Home! 13th November 2015. The Last Post

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Moored up in Lefkas

As I mentioned before, the passage to Cyprus was uneventful.  The sea was empty, the winds were kind and the sun was in its sky.  It was with great excitement that we first sighted land at 1820 on 12th November but we still had a full night of sailing ahead of us.  The lights of Pafos came into view just before dawn on the 13th and it was looking good for an early morning arrival in St Raphael Marina in Limassol.  I sent SMS messages to Joan and Isabel, Jon’s wife, so that the reception party could be organised.  Joan suggested we go around again as they were not ready!

The actual length of the trip had been a matter of discussion for the crew.  We organised a sweep steak to guess the number of miles we would have covered by the time we moored in the final marina.  We each put in €10.  My estimate was 1303, which was way out.  Jon Over’s bid was the nearest to the actual mileage – and he won.  Now I am not one to cast aspersions on the integrity of a fellow crew member but I would only say that Jon was on the helm in the final stretch from Pafos to Akrotiri while the rest of us were sleeping below, and I am sure I sensed the boat doing a full 360 turn on a couple of occasions just off Aphrodite’s Rock.  Jon will have to live with his conscience.

Some stats:

  • 1362 miles covered
  • Departed Portoroz 30th October, arrived Limassol 13th November – 14 days
  • Average miles per day (24 hours) – 97 (includes time in port)
  • Number of days at sea – 9.3
  • Fuel consumption (approx) – 2.3 miles/litre
  • Fuel consumed (approx) – 585 litres
  • Fresh water used (approx) – 1775 litres (includes the full tank that emptied into the bilges on the first night)

For me an epic journey indeed but probably modest in the general run of ocean passages.  As John Campbell said, we learned a lot more about sailing and probably even more about ourselves.  Certainly for my part I owe a great debt to those who gave up their time to help me bring my beautiful boat from Portoroz to Limassol.

John Campbell, still a working man unlike we retired gentlemen, and yet a man with a big heart and a joy to be with.  I am hoping that we will be able to do some sailing on the Clyde on his Bavaria.  I have heard that it is good there, but my concern is that I am a fair weather sailor.  It is to John that I now owe my addiction to Hariboos.  It’s OK John, I’m getting help and support.

Alistair Campbell joined us in Athens and immediately added a new dimension to the team, nothing to do with his intellect as I mentioned earlier, but he called the fault with Mr Bean correctly.  He also noticed that the boat did not have cupholders at the helm stations and so when he got home he ran up two on his 3D Printer.  They are too small to take a cup or a coke can but they do fit on the rails perfectly!  Now every time I am looking for a place to put my drink down I will think of Alistair.

What can I say about my brother-in-law, Jon Over?  Well nothing that I could put on this blog!  Jon is a great mate and a man you want to have around in a crisis.  His struggle with the water hose over a period of two weeks was enough to try most men’s soles, but did he give up?  …. well yes he did but that’s a mere technicality.  He won the sweep steak … hmmm. And he managed to clutter up the main saloon after he decamped when Ruth came on board.  But, actually, I am not sure the trip would even have been possible without Jon.  It was his connection with Alan O’Boyle that secured us a great passage director, and through Alan, John came on board.  I really owe Jon, and I am already paying for it!

Alan is the consummate professional and a seaman and educator of remarkable quality.  Although I was nominally the skipper there was no doubt who was in charge on the boat.  The relationship between the owner and the “skipper” can be tense but once we had our “clearing of the air” chat a couple of days into the trip I think we all settled down.  I am truly grateful to Alan for delivering my boat and its crew safe and sound into the St Raphael.  I shall try to forget his many anecdotes and “wee stories”, but I will always know where the expression “he is on the fiddle” came from (Google it).  I had underestimated the enormity of what we were undertaking and it is no exaggeration to say that if Alan had not been there on that first awful night it could have been a very sad ending almost before it had begun.  Thank you Alan and may you continue to sail safely.

Of course the real owner of the boat is my daughter Ruth!  Jenny, the other daughter, gets the jewellery.  Well at least that’s what they tell each other.  It was such a joy to welcome Ruth on board at Kefalonia.  For one thing she doesn’t snore, unlike her uncle Jon whose place she took in the forward cabin, but also she is such a supportive person.  I think it is something to do with her bedside manner as a doctor.  Anyway the quality of photography improved immeasurably when she arrived as she had her Sony Gopro, but also the manners of the rest of the crew also took a turn for the better.  In fairness I did say to them that what happened on the boat stayed on the boat and give them their due they have respected that.  For Ruth this is just the beginning of her sailing life.  She is already confident and skilled and I look forward to her lugging me about the eastern Mediterranean for a few years to come.  Hopefully we can get the rest of the family involved a bit more also.

“So’, I hear you ask, “what about Mr Bean?”  Well when we got to Limassol he had to go into hospital (trouble with his plumbing) but I am pleased to report that all his troubles are over and he is now performing in the way all good autopilots should; quietly and confidently.  If he keeps going like this I might even change his name.

A great trip, a great crew and a magnificent boat.  I would not have missed it for the world.  Would I do it again?  Not on your life!

…. or?

To anyone who has managed to get this far may I take this opportunity to wish you and yours a Merry Christmas and a happy and prosperous New Year.

Rhodes to Cyprus, 11 to 13 November

As we emerged from Rhodes Harbour we had the first intimation of the tragedy of human despair that we knew was going on all around us.  A patrol ship passed us on the way into Rhodes and at first we thought we saw people on its deck but we were mistaken.

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Greek patrol boat with the coast of Turkey in the background

Rhodes is only 11 miles from Turkey at its nearest point and we were surprised, but also very relieved, that we did not see any evidence of small vessels in the water.  Having said that I for one would not like to have made even that short trip in a dinghy.

But it was time to turn our attention to the final lap of the journey.  The guy in Rhodes had advised us to wait until the following morning to set off as he said there were high winds on the route to Cyprus.  Alan had assessed that we were following the bad weather south but he reasoned, correctly as it turned out, that we would not catch it up. It seemed that those gods of the wind who had treated us so badly in the northern Adriatic had undergone a change of heart and started to smile down on us.  Throughout the first day we had cool breezes and bright sunshine.  As the mountains of Turkey started to recede behind us we moved further and further into the empty sea.  Throughout the first night as we started to clear Turkish waters we had encountered a couple of ferries ploughing their way northwards to Rhodes and a one tanker which looked as if it was heading for Brindisi in Italy.  In the morning, for the first time in the whole passage, we finally lost sight of land.  There was nothing between us and Cyprus; we encountered not one single vessel.

Looking around us it was easy to see how ancient sailors would regard this area as the end of the world.  The early Crusaders were unable to take this more direct route to the Holy Land because they had no way of navigating in the open sea, they didn’t know where the Holy Land was!  They had to follow the coastline, which was much longer and very much more hazardous because it meant they had to fight their way through many hostile countries.  When they got to the Middle East they found that the barbarians and primitive heathens that they had come to conquer had already invented the astrolabe which enabled them to navigate with considerable skill using the stars and the position of the sun and moon.  These navigation skills had taken the Arabs and the Pheonecians as far as the west coast Ireland long before christianity had visited those shores.

By the time of Richard the Lionheart western mariners had caught up and we read about Richard capturing the island of Cyprus on his was to fight Sala’adin and gifting it to the Knights Templar who had been expelled from their castles around Acre.

The passage to Cyprus was uneventful.  We sailed, we ate and we slept, some more than others.  I mentioned the sunrises and sunsets in an earlier blog.  Words cannot really do it justice so I thought pictures would tell the story.

Athens to Rhodes, 11th November

It took us nearly two days to get to Rhodes.  As far as we could see there had been no signs of refugees and as we weaved our way in and out of the various islands the sea remained relatively calm. Late on the afternoon of the 10th the wind got up to around 25 knots as we passed the narrow passage between Nissos Nisiros and the Turkish coast.  I’m proud to say Ruth, on the helm at the time, handled herself like a veteran.

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The path to Rhodes

Despite our best efforts we did not arrive at Rhodes until just after midnight on 10/11 November.  Strong currents in the approaches to Rhodes and a steady headwind slowed our speed to 2 knots.  Jon reckoned at one point that we were actually going backwards!

This was the first time we had arrived at a destination so late and predictably but in this case understandably, we could not get into the harbour for safety reasons.  I had already called ahead to the Mandrake Marina to be told that they would not allow us to enter the marina after dark.  They advised us to anchor outside and enter in the morning.

So our first exercise in anchoring the boat took place at around 0100 on 11th November.  We dropped anchor just off the three windmills to the east of the harbour wall after a faultless anchoring manouver by Alan and we settled down for the night – all except me as at every bump or scrapping noise I had visions of Lothian Sky slowly breaking  herself up on the rocks and I dreaded to see what I would find in the morning.  I knew that these were the sounds that a boat makes at anchor – just the movement of the chain can sound like the keel coming apart – but it didn’t help.

In the morning we woke to a sunny day and a brisk 10 knot wind which messed up the sea and made the weighing of the anchor a bit of an adventure.  Rhodes would be our port of exit from Greece so we decided that we would call in there for only the time it would take to fuel up and for me to get the exit processes sorted out.  We were now so close to Cyprus that, really, all we wanted to do was get there and make an end to the odyssey.

Rhodes is a beautiful place with a rich variety of architecture mixing the ancient site of the Colossus with crusader castles, Venetian-Style towers and archways and modern marina facilities.  It’s the sort of place you could spend weeks exploring.  As we sailed into the harbour we had given ourselves about four hours.  Arriving at Rhodes is quite something.

The sight of the ancient Colossus can still be seen as you enter between the harbour entrance, guarded by what appeared to be two deer or antelope of some kind – not sure about them.  There are various stories as to the founding, building and dimensions of the Colossus and several paintings show it astride of the harbour entrance

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The look on the statue’s face as the boat mast edges under its nether parts would suggest that the “legs akimbo” stance was probably not recommended!

but the Rhodians themselves seem to be comfortable with its location to the left of the harbour entrance, where stands today some kind of defensive rounded battlement, built I think at the time of the Venetian occupation of Rhodes (or it might have been the Knights Templar).  In the painting it is where the right foot of the statue is planted.  The harbour itself is remarkably unchanged since the time of this painting.  We eventually moored up to the left at about the middle of the picture.

Now to give you some idea of the bureaucratic logistics of Rhodes Harbour, the Port Police Offices are located today at a point just to the right of the statue’s left foot, out of scope of the picture.  The port authority and customs offices are located just about where the blue-domed building is located in what is now a very up-market tourist marina area where the large Mediterranean cruise ships come in.  The distance between them is about a mile and a half.

I was directed to go first to the police office, but that was wrong.  The police officer told me that I had to go to the port authority first to check out the crew list, and then come back to them to hand in the duly stamped Transit Log. A total distance of three miles ….. on foot!

The bureaucracy for once was not a problem.  Everyone was very helpful and friendly and I completed the processes without misadventure.  The problem I had was trying to navigate my way to the tourist area and back.  The streets are narrow and the traffic is challenging.  I decided in the end not to use the pedestrian crossings as it seemed to me that the locals looked on them as target zones, accelerating with obvious indignation towards anyone with the audacity to step out in their way.  I gradually noticed that no one else was using them, I took the hint!

After a good hour or so I managed to get back to the boat, intact, to find that we were all fuelled up and ready to go.

Images of Rhodes

So after a quick coffee frappe,  at 1145 on 11th November

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Restaurant where the crew breakfasted while I grappled with the port authorities

we exited Rhodes and we were on our final leg to Cyprus, a distance of 275 miles that would take us the best part of two days.  We expected to arrive in St Raphael Marina, Limassol some time on Friday morning ….. Friday the 13th!

Hello Alistair, Farewell John

What you have to keep in mind is that as we approached Athens for the purpose primarily of picking up Alistair, but also to take on fuel, it was still Sunday, and getting late on Sunday for that matter.

Athens AIS

Zea Marina is a splendid haven adjacent to Piraeus Port and just to the west of Athens.  Piraeus is one of the busiest harbours in the Mediterranean and, as you can see from the AIS image below the route in is through a maze of anchored and moving cargo ships and tankers plus the occasional high-speed ferry running at right angles to our route.  On the image Lothian Sky is the black solid triangle with the blue circle at its point.  The other triangles mark the location of other vessels in the approaches.  This was going to be a challenge.

As we had lost some time crossing over to Athens the plan was to collect Alistair, take on fuel and continue on our journey.  John Campbell had been in frequent contact with his company back in Scotland and it was clear that there were matters there that required his attention.  It was with great sadness, therefore, that we received his news that he would have to leave us in Athens and make his way back home.  He would be greatly missed on board, not only for his excellent seamanship but also for his great good humour and sharp wit, to say nothing of the Haribbos.

Once we had managed to thread our way through the labyrinth of parked up tankers and container ships, I eventually managed to hail the guy in the Zea Marina on my phone and he somewhat apologetically informed me that there was no fuel station in the marina!  The pilot book assured us that there was but the man was adamant, and still apologetic.  He suggested that we might be able to get fuel in an adjacent car filling station just outside the marina if we were desperate but that would involve carrying the fuel from the filling station to the boat, a prospect that appeared uninviting on several levels.  Alternatively, he advised, we could wait until the morning when the mobile fuel pump would be available.  So that’s what we did.  The irony was that if we had held on a bit longer in Isthmia we could have filled up there, Alistair could have joined us there and we would have been a good way towards Crete by now.  What was I saying earlier about being flexible?

Alistair Cameron

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Alistair is an old friend from our days in Doha.  He and I did our Day Skipper certificate together.  Here you see him in his normal sailing attire!  He is a keen sailor and, from what he told me later, had been looking forward excitedly to joining us.  For my part I was feeling a bit guilty about the trouble I had put him to.  After the Corfu debacle I asked him to stand down as it looked like we would be going nowhere.  Then it was on again and he confirmed that he had re-booked.  I then asked him if he could get to Corinth rather than pick him up in Athens and he confirmed that the train was booked.  Then when the fuel crisis kicked off in Isthmia I hurriedly asked him to cancel the trip to Corinth and to stay put in Athens.

It was a bit of a relief, therefore, to actually see him standing on the dock as we slid into the marina, complete with all of the provisions we had asked him to procure in the expectation that we would be doing a quick turnaround.  Anyway he was quickly aboard and settled in and we all went off to do what we do best, food and beer!  And the Zea Marina is particularly well set up for those two pursuits.  Despite its end of season feel it had several good restaurants and what appeared to be the potential for a very lively night life.  Its close proximity to Athens presumably had established it as an ‘in place’.

John had decided to stay with us one final night and from what I was able to ascertain in the morning it had been an epic finale.  Again we have to draw a veil over the actual details but suffice to say that in the morning John was stretched out in the main saloon rather than in his normal cabin, presumably so that he did not disturb Alistair.  He would be missed!

We fuelled up, I completed the necessary formalities with the Marina and by 1100 we were on our way to Rhodes, having said our farewells to John we “Resolved to meet some ither day”.  I hope I will be able to take up his very kind offer to sail with him on the Clyde some time next year.

I had expectations that when Alistair came on board the intellectual level of the crew would elevate. Alistair is one of these people who sees a solution to every problem. But he had no answer to Mr Bean!

It is sad to report that my expectations were not fulfilled. Perhaps it was the influence of Mr Bean, who knows, but he quickly descended to our level. In his favour I would concede that he did have a better knowledge of the night stars than any of the rest of us, but only by a small margin. He was able to point out that the three vertical and very bright stars that we had been following in a generally south-easterly direction actually constituted Orion’s belt. He tried to point out to me the various facets of the Orion constellation – his belt, his foot, his sword, other bits – but frankly I couldn’t see it so I humoured him. It’s always best to let a man live in peace with his delusion. If only I had remembered that I had the stars at night App on my iPad I could have blown his socks off!

Talking of socks, it was now getting to the stage that we had to do some clothes washing, particularly the socks. We had hoped to make use of laundry facilities at our various stops but in both Corfu and Athens they were, you guessed it, shut. So we improvised using the guard rails.

300 miles to Rhodes, threading our way between the archipelago of islands that make up the Cyclades and the Dodecanese,  at a point 36O 39.55’ N :  026O 58.57’ E just off the southwest tip of Kos we recorded in the log that we had completed 1000 miles. You might just be able to make out the arrow on the chart.

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We were also aware that we were now deeply into refugee territory but the sun was shining, the sea was calm and the gods were in their heaven as we left Zea Marina.

Of Hercules, Argonauts, Oedipus, Refugees and Diesel

Boat maintenance on a journey such as this is very important.  The engine has to be checked regularly for oil, ware on drive belts, blocked filters etc.

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This is not what it seems – I hope!

Washing of the boat usually fell to Jon and his entanglement with various forms of hose pipes became quite worrisome – see below.

My money is on the hose.

Diesel

The boat’s control systems gave us a real-time indication of the state of the batteries, use of fresh water, the current state of the holding tanks and, very important, fuel usage.  After transiting the Corinth Canal our fuel level was at 20%.  Our pilot book told us that we could take on fuel at the exit station near Isthmia but, you guessed it, when we arrived there at around 1000 on Sunday morning it was shut!

We did spot an ancient VW Camper Van with lots of telephone numbers on the side encouraging us to call up for fuel, but my guess is that the guys at the other end of the line were off having an early Sunday lunch.  Despite trying four separate numbers listed on the van I got no reply.

The capacity of the fuel tank is 140 litres so at a rough guess we had around 28 litres in the tank.  We had a further 40 litres in two jerry cans that we had carried with us from Portoroz, a total of around 70 litres, give or take.  I had worked out earlier in the trip that we were getting 2.36 miles per litre.  Athens was some 32 miles away, so we had barely enough in the tank and the wind would be against us in the next leg.  It would be tight, so we emptied one of the jerry cans into the tank and set off.  Although we had been sailing mainly by engine since we left Portoroz we always had the option of hoisting the sails, but the problem with that was that it made our progress less direct and arrival time less predictable.

Nevertheless, we had backup.  By the way, some two hour out of Isthmia I received a call from the owner of the clapped-out VW Van saying that he had a number of missed calls from me and could he help me?  I managed to stay calm and polite in my reply.

Refugees

One thing I have learned from our experience on this trip is that you need to be flexible.  Our intention when we left Kefalonia was to make a break south after passing through the Canal towards Crete and from there on to Cyprus.  This had the advantage of being a shorter route than going over to Athens and also it would significantly reduce the chances of us running into refugee traffic.  In the few weeks leading up to the trip we had debated what we would do in the event of encountering refugees.  We acknowledged that we would have to provide assistance if we encountered any vessel in distress but equally we were clear that we could not do anything to put ourselves or the boat at risk.  The problem is that these situations can easily get out of hand and we reasoned, prompted I would have to say by a very clear steer from Ruth, that the best policy was to avoid confrontation if at all possible.  As seemed to always be the case the decision was taken out of our hands.  We did not have enough fuel to get us to Crete, so Athens it was.

It’s all a Myth

I touched on Greek Mythology in an earlier post when I mentioned the link between Odysseus and Ithaca.  Clearly the stories of Greek mythology occur all over the the Greek Islands but Corinth is particularly rich in reference sources for some of the more famous events.  Hercules (or Heracles to give him his proper Greek name), for example, performed at least two of his twelve labours only a stones throw from Isthmia.

The first of his labours was to kill and flay the Nemean Lion.  Nemea was located somewhere just south of Corinth.  He achieved this without too much trouble but the lion did manage to bight off his finger.

The second of his labours was to kill the Lernaean Hydra, a many-headed dog-like monster which terrorised the people of Argos.  Argos, please note, is not the convenient cut-price electronics store with which we have all become so familiar in the UK.  And the Hydra was not upset at the counter staff for slow service!  Argos is the ancient city on the Peloponnesus Peninsula, very near to Sparta and only just down the road from where we were currently located.  Heracles performed a further ten labours, the reward for which was immortality (I think that tops the Capital One Cup) and it is said that the twelve labours formed the background for the twelve signs of the Zodiac.

Heracles was also one of the Argonauts who set off under the leadership of Jason in the good ship “Argo” in search of the Golden Fleece.  You might recall my reference to this in an earlier blog.  Argo, as you might guess, took its name from Argos.  See how it all fits together?

Now Oedipus, of “the complex” fame, killed his father, Laisus, on the road from Corinth because he ran over his foot with his chariot.  Of course, he didn’t know Laisus was his father because he had been cast out by Laisus when he was born, and I would have to say I have some sympathy with Laisus on this point it having been prophesied that the first child born of his wife, Iocaste, would kill him.  Anyway, having killed Laisus, Oedipus calculated, not unreasonably, that his kingdom of Thebes now needed a king so off he went to Thebes.  Being a handsome sort of chap, albeit with a very distinct limp on account of his crushed foot, he caught the eye of Iocaste, his mother (although he did not know this – I hope you’re taking notes!), and he married her and became the king of Thebes.  It all ended very badly as you might imagine and the story skims over what if any odd deformities might have afflicted the offspring of Oedipus and Iocaste.

I could go on and on about this but, “No!”, I hear you exclaim, “What about Alistair?”

The Corinth Canal

Most people have never been through the Corinth Canal.  Not surprising since it doesn’t really go anywhere, most shipping is too big for it and the traffic between the Adriatic and the Aegean is limited mainly to tourists.  However, Ruth and I have now been through it twice, and the first time we did it was part of another epic journey some twenty odd years ago when we traveled overland from Saudi Arabia on our return to the UK after our first adventure in living and working abroad.

We were on a ferry from Alexandria in Egypt, heading for Barri in Italy, having visited Crete, Athens and of course the Corinth Canal.  Unfortunately we have no record of this as our camera was stolen when we disembarked in Barri, but that’s another story.

The canal is a single channel some 6.3 km long which cuts through the Isthmas of Corinth northwest to southeast.  The walls are almost vertical (80 degree angle).

New Canal
The Corinth Canal

In ancient times there were several attempts to cut the canal but all came to nothing.  Emperor Nero made most progress and actually started excavation, but he died very shortly after work began.

The canal was finally opened on 25th July 1893 having taken eleven years to complete.  By contrast, some 20 years earlier, the Canadian Pacific and Union Pacific Railway, which covered some 3000 miles from St Lewis to the Pacific Ocean, blasting through the Rocky Mountains and the High Sierras, was completed in two years.

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First passage through the Canal

Almost by the time the canal was built, it was obsolete.  The wake of vessels passing through it undermined the construction and caused the walls to collapse.  It has never been a commercial success and nowadays it is used mainly as a tourist feature, or to allow easy passage into the Aegean for worthy vessels such as Lothian Sky.

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You wouldn’t catch me on that bridge!

Perhaps it is a folly, but it is a glorious folly and the experience of passing through it is unforgettable, as was the fee – €239!!  So if you go there, take your cheque book.

Rio-Antirrio Bridge

The Rio-Antirrio Bridge is a spectacular crossing that links the town of Antirrio in the south to Rio in the north spanning the Gulf of Corinth just east of Patras.  It is widely regarded as one of the engineering marvels of the modern age.  Not only is it beautiful, as can be seen from the pictures below, it has been constructed to accommodate a number of features of the area around Corinth which combined to make the design and engineering a problem of unprecedented complexity.

There are of course the usual problems of cantilevered bridges such as wind, heat expansion etc.  but this bridge had to cope with three other very significant factors.  The first was that the Isthmus of Corinth to the south is actually moving away from the north at a rate of 1.6cm per year and is tilting upwards at the rate of 1mm per year, so the bridge has to be able to cope with this separation in the period of its lifetime.

The second is the constant threat of seismic disruption through earthquakes.  This part of Greece is notorious for seismic activity, for example the earthquakes in Kefalonia which brought devastation to that island in the early 1950s and also during the Second World War, so the bridge had to be built on platforms which would act as dampers in the event of earthquakes!  It is actually floating.  How do people work these things out?

The third, and for me the strangest, hazard is that of potential tsunamis.  The Gulf is quite narrow and the concern is that in the event of an earthquake the shock wave would create a surge either into or out of the narrow opening spanned by the bridge, bringing the whole thing down.

It is stunningly beautiful and Ruth and I were lucky enough to be on the pre-midnight watch and from some eight miles off we were able to view the orange and blue glow outline of the pillars as they slowly grew in the lens of the binoculars.

John came on watch just before midnight and we were babbling on about how spectacular the lights were and how awesome the bridge looked even from this distance.  So we all turned to have a look ….. and it was gone! One minute it was there, the next it disappeared.   Obviously, I suggested, they must turn off the lights at midnight.  John looked at us both with a worried expression on his face. So we did not get to see the bridge in all her luminous glory and that had some relevance later.

Now I hear you say ” well that’s a big bridge, no trouble getting under that”. Think again.  There is a very strict protocol for passing under the bridge.  Commercial vessels pass under the high bit where there is some 55 meters of clearance.  We lesser mortals have to go around the side where clearance gets to as low as 25 meters.  Lothian Sky’s mast (including the VHF antenna  is 22.5 meters from the water line.  Too close for my comfort.  What if someone had left something dangling over the side? Or, they had road subsidence or a bolt came loose?  You laugh, but only two months after it opened one of the main suspension cables snapped on the north pillar!

Alan had to call in to the bridge control the length of the boat and the height of the mast and was then given instructions on which part of the bridge to go under.  Not understanding at the time the significance of the tolerances and the margins of clearance I had told Alan that the mast was 21 meters – it was only afterwards that I checked the boat specification to realise that I was 1.5 meters short!

The photo below is taken looking west so we were approaching from the left side of the bridge as we look.

So numbering from the left in the above photograph we had to pass between pillars one and two.  Looks OK, doesn’t it?  Not if you are standing on the deck of your brand new boat in almost pitch darkness apart from the street lights on the bridge, watching some seriously sturdy metal girders reaching down to wrench your mast from its bearings, and wondering why the top of the mast looked so much nearer than we expected.  Closer and closer we came and not a sound was heard from any of the crew, not even Alan.  John said that he actually stepped to the side to give the mast free room to crash onto the deck!  I think he was concerned that he might get blood on the deck.  Such a gentleman!

Was it close?  It looked it, but in the dark it is difficult to judge distance.  We looked, we listened and we felt no shuddering grinding that would have signalled the end of Lothian Sky. John’s entry into the log at 0200 sums it up, “Passed under the Patras bridge – mast intact!”

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Pillars 2 and 3.  Pillar 1 is to the left out of shot.

So this picture was taken after we had passed under the bridge and as you can see we did not go particularly near to pillar number 2!

The really curious part of it all for me was that Lothian Sky was the only vessel within several miles of the bridge.  We could have gone through at any point, back and forward a couple of times, sideway even, and would not have hindered any other shipping.  But it was 2 O’Clock in the morning and I reckon the bridge control boys were bored.  Nothing like putting the shits up a group of merry matelots to lighten up the night shift.

Fairwell to the beautiful Rio-Antirrio Bridge.  Forward to the Corinth Canal.

Ruth, Kefalonia, Myths

Until last year when Jen got married to Garry I lived in a household of women.  At one point there was Joan, Jen, Ruth and Joan’s mum Ina.  We did have a cat, Gus, but Joan had him neutered at a very early age.  So you will appreciate that keeping women happy has taken up a great deal of my time over many, many years.  So I cannot describe to you the importance of making sure we were in Kefalonia on 7th November to pick up Ruth, who was flying in that day.

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Ruth with her Mum

In planning the passage I stressed to Alan that we could go anywhere and do anything as long as we made that date.  In fact we had been on an easy schedule to do just that, and then there was Corfu.  Suddenly, time was tight as we left Nidry.

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Arrival in Aye Euphemia

Our route to Kefalonia took us past the island of Ithaca which as you all know was the location of Odysseus’s kingdom.  It was to Ithaca that he returned after his ten year odyssey (see what I did there?) after the fall of Troy.  The story goes that after ten years he arrived back just in the nick of time as his wife, Penelope, was just about to take another man.  She set her suitors the task of firing an arrow using Odysseus’s bow through the ring handles of twelve battle axes standing in a row.  But the game was rigged because everybody knew that the only person strong enough to bend the bow was Odysseus himself.  Well his son Telemachus could do it also but that takes us down a whole other route that we don’t want to travel.

Clever lass that Penelope.  Anyway, right enough Odysseus dressed as a tramp steps up, bends back the bow, cocks  the arrow and fires it through the hole in the rings (not much sexual imagery there then?).  Penelope was beside herself thinking she was going to have to marry a tramp, but he threw off his cloak an lo and behold it was the master himself.  So they all lived happily ever after …… well  for a year at least then Odysseus was expelled from his kingdom over a legal matter and it all gets very complicated after that.

We picked Ruth up in Aye Euphemia which is a small port on the eastern side of Kefalonia.  Kefalonia sprung to prominence  following the publication of “Captain Corelli’s Mandeline”, a war-time story of the Italian/Nazi occupation of the island which culminated in a massive earthquake that destroyed large parts of the island.  Because of the war not much notice was taken of this natural disaster but when it happened again in the early 1950’s it received much more attention.  There are several fault lines running through this part of the Adriatic/Ionian Seas and the risk of earthquakes is a a constant companion of the people in this part of the world.

Now that Ruth was on board, sleeping arrangements had to alter.  I kicked Jon out of the “owner’s cabin” and Ruth moved in with me.  I suppose I should say that Jon and I had been getting on particularly well together in the forward cabin and it was with some misgivings that we parted company, but I am sure you would see right through me.  We also agreed to keep the watch rota undisturbed and Ruth would join me in my watch.

Domestic arrangements sorted, it was off to the Corinth Canal to pick up Alistair.  The log showed 660 miles covered.

Nidry. 7th November 2015

Our route south was through the Lefkas channel to Nidry to connect up with some old colleagues of Alan’s from his days in the sail charter business.  We pressed on hard to reach the channel before night fall but alas we were just too late and Alan did not want to risk going through the channel at night – in the morning I fully understood why.  So we woke up the man in the bridge control to lift the bridge for us and we sailed into Lefkas harbour and moored up alongside.

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We had to chase off some fishermen to get this berth

As usual food and beer were the order of the day.  We found a decent restaurant just off the quay and settled down to the most enormous dishes of pasta, fish and other varieties the like of which I have never seen, and would have to say would not want to see again.  There was so much food Alan couldn’t even finish his starter!

The other curious thing about this restaurant was that everyone was smoking.  It seems to be the norm in Greece.  I don’t know if they have any laws banning smoking but if they do it was clear that everyone was going out of their way to ignore them.  Fending off the waitress’s exhortations to take away in a “doggy bag” what was easily the major part of our dinner we broke out into the fresh air to explore Friday night in Lefkas.

Now it was off-season and it was late.  Jon and I retired to our beds leaving Alan and John to paint the town red.  Although from what I could see they would not have needed a very big paint tin.  I did hear John stumbling in at some unearthly hour, trying not to make a noise and he was nowhere to be seen in the morning.  He would not give us the details but he looked like he had had a good night!

We exited Lefkas at 0800. The Lefkas channel is a snake-like cutting through an area of peculiar attractiveness.  It is about two miles long and is marked, somewhat haphazardly, on either side.  It is regularly dredged and winds its way through what appears to be a haven for all manner of wading birds, herons and other wildlife.  The channel is surrounded by rolling fields and meadows and, for all the world, it reminded me of parts of the valley around the River Medway in Kent.  We could have been in England, except that the sun was shining!

We were on our way to Nidry and I have to confess I had my doubts about this.  Niddrie to a man from Edinburgh conjures up images a world away from the Greek islands.  In Edinburgh, Niddrie is a small hamlet just to the south east of the city renowned for its unconventional welcoming of the hapless, needy or lost stranger.  So welcoming are the people of Niddrie that the crows fly through in pairs, one riding shotgun.  But one thing it has in common with Nidry is that it is near the sea, sort of.  If you stand on the top of the bing in Niddrie you can just see the Firth of Forth through the gathering fog.  I did wonder if Niddrie took its name from its near namesake in Greece and you will laugh at the suggestion.  But I hasten to point out that the seaside resort in Edinburgh is called Portobello, no doubt after the beautiful costal town in Spain.  Many a happy summer day I spent at Portobello, or Por’abelly as we locals used to say.

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Settled in Nidry

When I saw Nidry for the first time I knew that any comparisons with the place in Edinburgh could only be that they shared some of the same letters of the alphabet!

Nidry was a sleepy, out-of-season little marina town which I am assured by Alan and Jon fairly throbs with activity in the summer season.  When we got there it was shut, a condition as you know from reading this log that was becoming all too familiar to us.

We did, however, have time to get provisions and to take a look around.  It was just a perfect day.

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After one week at sea Lothian Sky was bearing up quite well

We met a woman from Holland who was getting ready to sail off to the Azores single-handed, well she had a dog but I don’t think that counts.

Jon had his usual fight with the water hose and we managed to find a nice cafe for a light breakfast.  Jon discovered a house with a caravan on its roof!  German apparently.  Must have been a high tide that summer.

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The island behind them was once owned by the Onnasis family.  Jacquie stayed there once I think.

Corfu. Welcome to Greece!

It was late on Tuesday night when we eventually parked up in the Gouvia Marina.  All the restaurants were closed so we set off for the little town adjacent to the marina in search of something to eat.  Everyone there seemed to be drunk, and most of the people in the street were in various forms of fancy dress.  It seemed we had stumbled into the local sailing charter company’s end of season party, or rather the end of the end of season party.

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The Last Chance Saloon, Corfu

After much searching we did track down the only eating place left open in town and we ordered up whatever she had to offer.  As my mother used to say “Hunger makes a good kitchen” and the food was delicious.  A quick refuelling in the morning, get the formalities sorted out with the port police authorities, re-provisioning and we would be on our way again next day.  Or perhaps not.

Still nursing the scars of my encounter with officialdom in Croatia I set off early on Wednesday confident that we had done everything right this time.  Corfu was the first port of entry to Greece, the ship’s papers were in order, as verified by the man in Sibenik, and I had the crew list duly stamped by the Croatian authorities.  What could go wrong?

Her name was Vardia, or Vanda or something.  She was a lovely, pleasant and generally sympathetic young port police officer.  I greeted her in my best Greek, which admittedly was very limited, and all went swimmingly until she saw the boat registration certificate, or actually what was a copy of the certificate.  This was a problem.

Let me explain something about the boat registration.  Lothian Sky is actually owned by Lothian Sky Sailing LLC, a company registered in the USA for reasons that I will not trouble you with at the moment.  The boat is registered in Delaware and the registration documents are in transit from the USA.  The registration authorities in Delaware sent me a copy and assured me that this would suffice for the purposes of any official scrutiny.  They reckoned without the Greeks!

I explained to Vardia/Vanda that there had been no problem in Croatia where they had been very happy to accept the copy and assumed that as we were all part of the EU the same standards would apply.  That cut no ice at all.  It seems that comparisons with Croatia are not particularly welcomed in Greece.  Bit of cultural naivety on my part.  The choices she offered me, and here we get a very interesting insight into the Greek culture, were as follows:

  1. Produce the original certificate.  I explained that this was impossible as it was in transit from the USA.
  2. Go away.  Of course she was at pains to stress to me that she was not recommending this and if I were apprehended further down the line she would of course deny everything.

I think this is what is called “Hobson’s Choice”.

We did explore other options.  She suggested that I get in touch with the US Embassy.

She did agree to consult with her Ministry but would not be able to do so until the morning, and she offered me no great hope that this would be successful.  She did say, however, that I could leave the boat in the marina until the original certificate turned up!  Try as I might I could not identify any aspect of this suggestion that looked remotely attractive.

I telephoned the US embassy in Athens.  Having experienced the British Embassy abroad I held out not much hope that they would be able to help, particularly as I started off the conversation with the words “I am not an American citizen”.  In fact the fellow at the other end of the phone was sympathetic but made it clear that this was not an embassy matter.  It was a State issue and needed to be referred to Delaware.  He did say that the Embassy would be prepared to notarise a statement from me saying that the copy was confirmation of the registration of the boat, but of course that was not the same thing as them saying that the boat was actually registered.  In any event I would have to go to Athens to get the statement notorised.  Back to square one.

However, the conversation about notorised documentation put an idea into my head.  I went back to Vardia/Vanda and asked her if I managed to obtain a notarised version of the registration from the USA would that suffice?  She was noncommittal, which I took as a good sign, but it was not looking good.

Back at the Marina I delivered the news to the guys.  We talked it through and explored options but it looked to all of us that the expedition was about to come to a premature end.  John and Alan went off to explore how they could get back to the UK from Corfu, Jon said he would stick it out with me for the foreseeable future.  My other main concern was that we were due to collect Ruth, my daughter, from Kefalonia on 7th November and Alistair Cameron, the final member of the crew, from Athens on the 8th.  I had to tell them that in all probability the trip would have to be aborted and to tell them to stand down their travel arrangements.  Ruth was devastated and I am sure Alistair was equally disappointed.

It was not going well and I was actually seriously contemplating spending the winter in Corfu.  But first I needed to get the notorised documents from Delaware.  I needed somebody with grit and determination, someone who would not take “no” for an answer, someone who could give the Company Secretary in Delaware hell and still get her to cooperate.  I needed Joan, my wife.  She had been in Huston at a convention for most of the time I had been away and had only just returned to Cyprus, jet-lagged and exhausted.

How she did it I do not know but suffice to say that within four hours I had the notorised documents in my hand, having been faxed from Delaware to the Marina office.  That evening we had what I fully expected to be our last supper together.

Next morning Vardia/Vanda greeted me with the news that her Ministry had agreed to accept the copy of the certificate.  I gave her the notorised documents but she was not particularly interested.  Crisis over!  “Much ado about nothing”.  I cleared up the other formalities with customs etc and hotfooted it back to the Marina having already sent messaged to the guys that we were back in business.  By 1215 we were out of the Marina and on our way to Lefkas.