Monday, 31 December 2007
Tuesday, 25 December 2007
I was sad to leave Greece. We were just starting to build up proper relationships with people and I’d been looking forward to roughing out the winter in Tranquil Bay. Lefkas was comfortable and somewhere to call a home (aahh, will I ever learn? Nottingham for 17 years etc etc). Anyhow, I had to face facts: we had no income and couldn’t guarantee that work would come up in the new year. This offer couldn’t be bettered - it was a fantastic opportunity to get valuable work experience and some money. Plus winter was setting in; it was getting colder, more frequent crap weather and nights of broken sleep, were all taking their toll. There was also the odd hankering for heat and hot water going on.
Monday 10 December
So on Monday 10 December we left Nidri and motored up to Lefkas for a night in the marina (hook up = hot water, heating and a soulless floating suburbia). Unfortunately we got there too late to refuel so our plans to meet Ruairi* and leave at 7am the next day were already scuppered. So we arranged to get fuel at 8.30am, moved the Ruairi pick-up to the fuel pumps then get the 9am bridge. (Lefkas is connected to the mainland by a swing-bridge that only opens on the hour).
[*Ruairi: Outspoken, convivial Irishman who very kindly offered his services as crew/skipper for the journey when we got drunk in his yacht club a week ago in Vliho, Lefkas. We will never agree on politics but he is a superb sailor, an excellent coach and a strong man. We couldn’t have done it without him]
Tuesday 11 December
We were awoken at 3am by an approaching thunderstorm which kept going for most of the night. Another night of broken sleep – we were absolutely knackered before the journey started. I wanted to delay but this was supposedly a “good weather window” – I can’t say it looked it when we got up at 6.30am to pissing down rain and the thunder rumbling around. Dear god; please let someone say we can’t go. Anything will do – maybe if I just dangled my leg off the boat near this pontoon…
8.30am: the hand of fate tried to help by catching the prop on another boat’s lazy lines as we left our berth which took a while to escape from. Moments later, as we approached the diesel pumps, the engine gave out completely. We were yet to leave the marina. I could see Ruairi’s look of utter disbelief from 200 yards away. Welcome to our world!
So, day one started 3 hours later than planned as we just missed the 9am bridge so had to sit on the quay for an hour. Yep! When we eventually left, the rain subsided and the skies temporarily cleared (though not in the direction we were headed). The storms of the previous night had raised a relentless swell which stayed with us for most of the day. This, coupled with a multitude of wind directions and strengths plus a few heavy rainstorms, made for an uncomfortable ride to Sivota Murta, a mainland harbour south of Corfu. We berthed as the light faded and Ruairi set about installing our autopilot. An autopilot is an incredible piece of equipment which steers the boat for you. It is, apparently and (now) understandably, essential to passage making so the fact that it was still sitting in a cupboard as we hadn’t bothered fitting it was a tad daft. After a few hours of frustrating man-work by Ruairi, the autopilot wouldn’t work so we settled down to food, beer then bed by 9ish.
Wednesday 12 December/Thursday 13 December
Tim and Ruairi were on first watch and we left at 4.30am – Ruairi obviously possesses some skills to get Tim up and off in 30 minutes. It was cold and drizzling. I stayed in bed with the dogs; it was ace. We decided on a 6 hours on, 3 hours off watch system for the rest of the voyage. This was it – we were at sea now. The route followed the Albanian coast, keeping around 12 miles offshore to prevent straying into minefields (no joke). We had approximately 40 hours of sailing ahead of us, with no ports of refuge. A few weather forecasts came in. They weren’t great and pretty much all Northerlies (the direction we were headed) but the worst was a N6, gusting 7. This didn’t appeal but we were in safe hands with Ruairi and there seemed little alternative but to continue. On the positive side, it was a good opportunity to go through a bit of rough weather in our boat with someone experienced on board. How bad could it get?
In preparation for what might come, I learnt to rig the small stay-sail to our second forestay. We all ate dinner around 5pm as darkness began to fall. There was an eerie sense of calm over the water as we tried to second guess which way the wind would blow that evening and what weather it would bring. Tim did some last engine checks before the pig push and just as well, he spotted a fuel filter problem. After half an hour’s tinkering, it was sorted. However, 30 minutes of hot engine and diesel for pudding is not what the doctor ordered, as he would later realise.
I went on watch at 8pm. We were motor-sailing to windward, it was pitch black (no moon) when I took over the helm. It was quite scary at first, feeling like driving on ice, blindfold, at great speed. I then had an amazing three hours of hurtling along; the only means of steering a course was by the stars and the boat felt like it was flying. I stood at the helm, alone, wind rushing against my face, trying to hold a course against the waves which bounced us this way and that. It was only possible to see the waves by the foaming crests, a flash of white in the darkness, as waves rushed by the boat. We then noticed that the breaking water was full of phosphorescence – luminous green sea-sparks, like an electrically charged glitter, exploding into the foam as the waves broke. It was breathtaking. The background worries were still nagging away but I managed to put them to one side, despite the fact we were clearly heading into cloud, the wind was getting stronger and the waves were getting bigger.
My helm watch ended as the stars completely disappeared and conditions were beginning to feel a little hairy. Just as I was about to go below, the boat dipped low then a freak wave came crashing over the boat, blasting through the sprayhood, sending gallons of water below decks and soaking all of us. Umm, maybe I wouldn’t go down below after all.
Recalling the subsequent events is like the aftermath of an extremely drunken evening. It is hard to work out the chronology and length of each event - but I shall try. This is also written entirely from my perspective.
There was a point which went from sitting alongside Ruairi with the wind and waves in my face, feeling quite uneasy to cowering under the sprayhood, feeling scared. The wind was starting to howl and the waves changed from cresting to breaking. In the meantime, Tim was down below, attempting to calm down two terrified dogs while the boat pitched and lurched as it was hit by rolling waves. At some point I volunteered to help Tim – grudgingly, but I sensed desperation and he was obviously getting seasick – I sent him up top and dragged both dogs onto the saloon berth, turned off the light and lay horizontal with them both pinned down beside me. The only way of not getting sick was lying that way, eyes closed and something takes over; almost a semi-conscious state. But this was difficult to maintain as I had to hold Louis with all my strength as he was completely freaking out and struggling to escape. It brings tears to my eyes every time the image comes back to haunt me: panting as though every breath was his last, lips drawn back, uncontrollable shaking and desperate scrabbling about. We can never allow this to happen again.
John, very sensibly, buried himself into me and the berth, probably wishing that Louis would shut up barking so he could get some sleep. He had the right idea. Every few minutes, a huge wave would hit us broadside, tilting (what a delicate word for such a violent act) the boat at a ridiculous angle and I had to hold on tight to prevent us being thrown across the floor. The floor was several inches deep in sea water which poured from one end of the boat to the other as we rolled. I knew I should bail it out but couldn’t move – it would make me sick.
Tim, at this point, was head over the leeside, sick as a dog. Or worse than a dog, as it happens.
Every time Ruairi came down the steps to do something useful – attempt to bail out the water or check the radar – Louis would break free, barking frantically and being hurled across the boat, desperately hoping it was Tim or a saviour of some kind, who knows? I don’t know how long I lay there (several hours) but the position was getting impossible to maintain as the sea-state grew worse. The sounds inside were terrible: slamming and cracking of the hull as the boat heaved, water sloshing across the floor, roaring of the sea and waves crashing over the deck above my head.
Ruairi asked me where the bilge switch was – my response was too mixed up and woolly so I tried to show him. Bad move. After only a few seconds of standing/being thrown across the boat, I lost it. With no time for even the bile to rise, I was violently sick all over the galley-sink, pots and draining board. I had to get outside. I managed to get the dogs and myself into the cockpit to find Tim, holding on for dear life, puking his guts up. I fell into the space next to him and did the same.
For probably the next hour or so, Ruairi continued to helm whilst dodging waves and getting a drenching every few minutes. Tim held Louis, I held John and each of us shivered, attempting to hold onto what was left of our stomachs. What little experience I had of wind and waves told me that this was no force 7. This was a storm and it was getting worse.
Tim took over the helm, despite his sickness, as Ruairi radioed a ship whose path we were likely to cross. I don’t know how Tim did it as it was at that point I realised the level of skill that was required to keep the boat afloat. I was utterly terrified – this is in no way a criticism of Tim’s helmsmanship – he did amazingly well – I had just got to the point that I feared for my life and wanted the pro in charge.
I cannot tell you how it feels to be out at sea in those conditions. It was difficult to see the huge, breaking waves in the darkness but when a particularly large wave was about to hit, we’d be sucked into it for a few seconds before it would crash over the entire boat, then race away behind us with a trail of foam flying through the air. You are filled with a desperate hope that it will calm down then an even bigger wave hits you. Stress isn’t the word. We were looking at force 9 winds by this point and unexpectedly large seas. The same thing prayed on my mind as it did during our adventures in Cephalonia – how bad was this going to get? It was unexpected and freakish – it could become more freakish.
Around 4am, based on the deteriorating conditions and the sorry state of the crew, the decision was taken to go one step down from survival and hove-to (almost). Ruairi set the boat to sail just off the wind, locked off the steering and suggested we all went below. Neither of us wanted to move and continued to sit in our own, freezing, scared little worlds watching the waves race away behind us, wide-eyed and feeling slightly mad. Then a ridiculously large wave hit us, sending every last book spewing from the highest bookshelf and for a few seconds it looked like the boat was going over. I’d had enough of this. If the boat was going over, I wanted to be in it, not held underneath it. Puke or no puke, I was off.
On my way down, for the sake of everyone else on the boat, I made a feeble attempt to clear up the galley puke. I lasted around 3 seconds before I was sick again. I tried to get to the heads (toilet) – an almost impossible task when you are being hurled from one side of the boat to another and you can’t tell whether you are standing on your feet or your head. I made it into my cabin and my beautiful Indian bedspread became a huge sick bag as I was thrown into a corner - and there I stayed. Shaking, freezing, soaked and scared, I fell in and out of an almost unconscious sleep-state, plagued by crazy thoughts and waking nightmares. I felt hugely guilty to have abandoned any form of seaman-like behaviour and was helping no-one but I just couldn’t take any more. I desperately wanted the others to make themselves safe and was so worried that something was going to happen to them up there. Every time waves swept across the decks or crashed into the hull I shuddered, “I knew this was going to happen; what are we doing here? Why did I let this happen?”
I will point out at this point that Tim had packed the seasickness tablets at the bottom of the grab bag (our survival pack) and both of us were so incapacitated that neither could manage to get them out. That is how debilitating seasickness is.
I must have stayed in the same position for 3-4 hours when I finally forced myself to rejoin the crew. It was a dull daylight, someone appeared to be steering again but the conditions were still terrible. I made it the two yards to the toilet then just puked uncontrollably. I wasn’t going anywhere. I fell back into the cabin. About 30 minutes later, Ruairi appeared in the cabin, attempting to fix the steering cables. We had lost steerage. Brilliant. This was just the news my nerves needed but taking advantage of the drop in speed, I staggered up to the cockpit. My first visit was straight to the leeward side of the cockpit and unbelievably, more puking. Even more unbelievably, Tim was still sitting there, looking grey/green and must have been frozen to the core.
Somewhere between 8am and midday, the sky cleared and the sea looked so beautiful, sparkling and foaming in the sunshine. But I was too sick, too exhausted, too wrung-out, spun-out and pissed off to enjoy it. Tim shook himself out of his malaise and did some heavy weather helming under Ruairi’s tutorship which looked like an amazing buzz. I watched and wished I could move – but the sea had taken everything from me.
We had lost some ground overnight so Ruairi did most of the helming that day (I have no idea where he got the strength from as he hadn’t rested for a moment). The day slipped by; all I saw were waves and the inside of my heavy eyelids. The mountains of Montenegro, snow-capped and steep, grew ever closer and we finally entered the Boka Kotorska around 4pm.
As we entered the bay, the sea flattened out and we came back to life, as though we’d been given an antidote to some poison we had been fed the night before.
[Now, Ruairi thinks seasickness is psychological. I disagreed with him on day one of the trip. Now, with all this behind me, I think he may have a case – to a point. More discussion of this in the future as I do not wish to digress].
After stopping at Customs in Zelenika, we moored up in the harbour of Herceg Novi, looking every bit like we’d been at sea for a week. Our clothes and faces were soaked and encrusted with salt. Ruairi looked like he’d walked to the South Pole. The dogs got a walk on land and were suddenly back to normal, lucky things. Saying we breathed a collective sigh of relief is true but a gross understatement. We’d made it.
I was never going to sea again.
[Tim’s bit: Regrettably I haven’t written anything about the last 5 months, but I can’t let this story go, not with my memory!
The voyage was one of contrasts and extremes. The conditions and events are already described here better than I can do, but the emotions are only from Katie’s perspective. The highs and lows on a trip like this are, more accurately, periods of exhilaration and dread. The ‘dread’ I felt was a feeling of hopelessness – that I was in a more dangerous and difficult situation than ever before, incapacitated to a high degree by seasickness, that left me fighting reclusion and exhaustion unnecessarily. Seasickness is dangerous. Not only does it make you weak, it causes mental confusion and acceptance to your own fate. Precisely the opposite of what you need to get through such events. Never again can we allow both of us to get ill.
Fortunately, I discovered one cure for it, which happens also to be the other half of my bit. The ‘exhilaration’ of taking the helm for parts of that night is forever engrained. Dragging myself up to the wheel periodically to give Ruairi a break, (so he could bail us out some other way, literally or otherwise, which wasn’t the intention), was a revelation. Never before have I been so acutely tested mentally and physically. Taking the helm in those seas felt like being teleported into a rally car during your first driving lesson. From sitting in a corner of the cockpit – cold, soaking, frightened, sick, a resigned and reluctant spectator – I was suddenly in control of ten tonnes of vessel, and our lives. Sitting here after the event, I’m wondering whether that is an exaggeration. Whatever, at the time it was pretty sobering. When you stand up, brace yourself into position and steer up the first wave, gauging its power and effect on the only thing keeping you alive, you suddenly forget about seasickness and tiredness and thirst. And when you see the man, to whom only moments ago you’d happily abdicated all responsibility, disappearing and reappearing below a plunging deck, you quickly realise that this is not a YouTube video – this is me and this is now and this needs to be dealt with.
So that’s how it feels. What does it look like? At all times I can remember thinking ‘this looks worse than it is.” Funnily enough, it does look like a YouTube video, except it’s 3D, panoramic and the screen keeps hitting you in the face until your eyes sting. In these conditions, there are breaking waves everywhere you look. You have to keep one eye on your course ahead and the other on what’s heading for your course. So while you’re weaving between the worst of the sea that’s crashing over your bows and deck, the greater danger is actually the one that slams into your side and knocks you for six. And it never ends. As far as you can see in any direction it’s the same. Looking behind, you can watch your own surf breaking over the wave you’ve just gone through or over. Around you, the phosphorescent blobs swimming down your deck are momentarily beautiful, until you join up the dots and realise that that’s the sea on the wrong side of your boat! On many occasions at the time and since I have wondered how on Earth solo sailors like Ellen MacArthur can keep it up for days on end. It’s more than just “because they’d die if they didn’t”, because actually, most of us would just die.
So why ‘this looks worse than it is’? Because it looked like we were going to capsize, our skipper looked like he just had to fall overboard (he wasn’t tied on like we were), and the boat felt like it was going to tear apart. I knew that none of these things were going to happen. We now debate which event was worse – this or Ithaca (see ‘odyssey of our own’ entry). Katie reckons this one, as we were in worse weather, for much much longer, with no way out. I’m sticking with Ithaca – we had no idea of what was ‘normal’. There were moments when I thought we wouldn’t make it and if I could have ploughed Monty B into a beach, I would have. One of the great things about this trip though is that we’ve learnt so much. Whilst we’d still be in big trouble without a Ruairi if this one happened again any time soon, we’d handle the Ithaca scare with relative ease.
One day we’ll know what to do in every situation, and then sadly, we won’t have anything worth reading. Right now though, we’re all glad that we’ve got nothing too dramatic to write about.
Friday 14 December
The following day we motored down the Boka Kotorska to Kotor. Nothing happened – we just left, motored and arrived. Brilliant! The only point of note was the stunning, high mountain scenery and the harsh northerly wind which was blowing minus-temperatures. Snow was swirling around the craggy mountain tops – the contrast with the Greece we had left couldn’t have been greater.
That evening we got outrageously drunk – seriously drunk. It was great.
The following morning, still drunk, we got up early and Ruairi planned his escape. Instead of days spent on ferries/in ferry ports, we decided a taxi back to Greece was a great plan and just reward for his efforts. His tale of the journey home is on our blog. Read it.
Postscript: So much to think about after this experience. I asked Ruairi at several points during the trip “Am I meant to be enjoying this?”, to which the answer was always “No”. But even so, it has made me – and Tim for that matter – question whether we are cut out to be mariners.
A week ago when I wrote this, I said “I know I probably will but I don’t want to go through anything like that again”. I have already amended this to “I know I will go to sea again but I really don’t want to go through that again in a hurry”. Even a week’s distance from the event and the memories of what it truly felt like are waning. Which is why we will, no doubt, end up being scared witless again.
The other issue for me was anger with myself for “giving up”. I just couldn’t deal with the situation any longer and with hindsight, that had a lot to do with seasickness – it is so all encompassing. It saps you not only of strength and stomach but also messes with your mind. I do think that if I was needed – if there had just been the two of us – it would have been a different matter. But I guess the important lesson from this one is that we make sure that we prevent seasickness at all costs – which includes looking out for each other. And why did we both end up getting sick? Because of looking after the dogs. And that is ridiculous. The dogs will not survive if we are incapacitated. We have to find a better solution for them.
Seasickness aside, I think I would still have been very scared. It IS bloody scary and you’d be a fool if you thought it wasn’t. Yes, I have more faith in the boat now and yes, we survived. But you can never guarantee it will be okay so the fear cannot ever go away. Or that’s how I feel at the moment anyway.
Ultimately, I want to avoid getting ourselves into a storm situation again. The conditions were severe, far more severe than any of us had expected, but the forecast hadn’t been great and I wouldn’t take that risk again.
Ruairi was fantastic as skipper – in too many ways to mention here. We learnt so much from him and owe him a huge debt of gratitude for getting us through the journey. His stamina was incredible. We hope to be able to repay him one day.
Monday, 24 December 2007
The things I am worried about:
· Whether I am going to get on with Ruairi.
· Not being listened to (see above) or having control over the situation.
· Getting seasick thus unable to operate as crew
· Coping with a watch system – it’s a long enough journey to get very tired but not quite long enough to adapt to only getting 2 hours sleep at a time.
· Being able to sleep at all if there is a lot of movement.
· Sea state – what is it like being properly at sea? Well, I’ve seen what the Atlantic looks like 200 miles offshore when we were on Stavros S Niarchos (tall ship) and the thought of being in that, in a yacht, scares me. But this is the Adriatic – less swell; shorter, steeper waves.
· Storms – what if we bump into one? The weather can change rapidly at this time of year and even if it’s a nice high pressure system, set fine, there is always the chance of thunderstorms/squalls.
· Threat of a knock down – though if we suffer a knock-down and right ourselves quickly with no casualties (either boat, us or dogs) then it will at least be one of my fears experienced and survived so I will be better prepared should it happen again.
· Threat of a capsize – My main worry about capsize is being held under the boat whilst tied on and unable to get to the surface. My automatic reaction would be to attempt to unclip myself (I assume/hope – rather than lose the plot, try to breathe underwater and drown) and attempt to get to the surface. However, most capsizes will right themselves quickly and you would rather hope that you make it back with the boat (god knows how many injuries you sustain in the process but it’s better than being dragged away by the sea). If you unclip, you are a man overboard and will be taken away by the sea with little hope of recovery. A dilemma. I am not convinced our boat is watertight enough to come out of a capsize (for any length of time) without taking on a lot of water. But I can’t worry about stuff like that.
· How the dogs will cope. They are not going to see land for a few days so no walks and no land toilet for Louis (John will go on the swimming deck). They are still quite jumpy from our Frikes/Fiskardo experiences; they’re not happy when the wind howls and particularly hate thunderstorms. Unexpected movement of the boat or banging sends Louis into a barking frenzy. There will be some turbulent weather on this trip, without a doubt. I am very concerned about how they will cope.
Oh, I nearly forgot lightening strikes. I don’t understand how or whether we are sufficiently earthed. I’ve narrowly escaped being struck by lightening twice. Enough said.
I thought I’d feel better once I’d written these down but it’s put the fear of god in me instead. I do feel unusually nervous about this. It isn’t helped by Tim sitting by my side going through the dozens of out of date flares that we have on board. An insomniac wired on caffeine with deadly incendiaries in hand, saying things like “Did you see where I put the one without a top on?” does not make for a relaxing morning.
The journey will undoubtedly be an adventure. You cannot leave port without something unexpected happening and this is one of the truly exciting things about this lifestyle. I would just like to limit the adventure to a level below terrifying. In many ways, it will be fantastic. At last we will get to sail properly. Not just pottering about on the easiest point of sail or flapping around in light winds – we should get some good downwind sailing. I am looking forward to sailing with someone who knows what they are doing. That is what tips the balance for me when it comes to the adrenalin buzz v white-knuckled fear. We will learn a lot; pushing the boundaries far more than we ever would alone.
One positive aspect of our preparation is that it has focused the mind on the dull things that need to be sorted out and keep getting overlooked. Here are some of things that have kept us busy over the last few weeks:
· Got the liferaft serviced. A very interesting exercise as Laurie, who serviced it, took us along to his workshop to see our raft in action. It had been wrongly packed on its previous service and water had seeped in. We got to see it inflated, looked at how to get into it (and added an additional ladder for hauling ourselves in) and sat in it. We learnt that it was a great quality liferaft - £2K worth – so well worth servicing. We went through all the kit so we now know exactly what is in the raft and what we need in our grab bag. Yet to find out how much all this has cost (it will be expensive) but it is money very well spent. Postscript: It cost 428 euros to service! 428 euros! Jesus.
· Put together a grab bag of emergency supplies. You can imagine how much Tim enjoyed this.
· Sewing up the sprayhood as it is on it’s last legs. An arduous task using a huge needle, a hand thimble and strong thread. My mother can attest to my stitching leaving something to be desired so it isn’t pretty. It is a knackered, green and ugly affair which we are getting replaced soon so attention to detail is not required.
· Had custom made lanyards made to my spec – one short line (for clipping onto a strong point while you are working on deck), one longer line to clip onto jack stays when moving around on deck. Thanks to Mark from Neilson for very kindly making them for me.
· Installed new jack stays (secure, strong webbing that stretches the length of the deck which you clip onto when moving around at night or in rough weather). Thanks again to Mark.
· Tightening the guardrails and putting up safety netting to prevent you being washed overboard if you get hit by a wave or slip on deck.
· Tested our VHF radio and re-wired the Navtex so we can reliably get weather forecasts en route.
· Serviced the storm jib and stay sail so we how have an alternative to the roller-furling gear if we have to sail to windward in strong winds.
· Re-installed automatic bilge pump switches (I spent an entire day crouched in the bilges being a wiring monkey but now they work so if the bilges fill up with water to a certain level, the pumps will come on automatically – quite important really!)
· Need to get motoring lights working. Tricolour is working (navigation lights for sailing) but the port, starboard and stern navigation lights (for use when motoring) are all knackered.
Saturday, 22 December 2007
Friday, 7 December 2007
Sunday, 2 December 2007
We’ve been offered a job. It’s exactly the opportunity that we’ve been looking for (or more accurately, hoping for). We met an English liveaboard couple in Lefkas, the morning of the Round the Island Race. In fact, it was their lovely lad, Orin, who followed and found John when he went cat chasing. We only spoke to Janet and Orin briefly – and didn’t talk to Sean at all – but they seemed very sound. You know when you meet someone who is alright. They were heading to Montenegro to start work there as Base Manager for a charter company.
They have emailed us to offer us a job there, working on 12 charter boats. General maintenance, body work, electrics, prep for the summer etc – and possibly work once the season begins if we want it. They know our level of experience and are happy to show us what to do. Free mooring, electric, water and enough money to live on and save a voyage fund for next year. We would be based in Kotor which is apparently the most well preserved medieval walled city in Europe (yes, another one), is a World Heritage site and surrounded by stunning scenery. It’s very cheap to live, the locals are exceptionally friendly and many speak good English. How can you say no to that??!
(It turns out there is only one job - so Tim's having it. I argued hard to get it so Tim could hang out all day doing nowt while I worked my ass off - but he was having none of it. So, I'm a kept woman! About bloody time.)
However, we have one problem. We have to get there. In December. There are a choice of routes. Either hammer it up from Corfu non-stop, keeping at least 12 miles off the Albanian coast (unless you want to arrested or meet a minefield), which would take three days or so continuous sailing. Not the best with our level of experience and the dogs.
Or we do it in hops from Corfu, over to Italy, up the Italian coast then cross back over from Brindisi to Bar. This last bit is what we are worried about. A 100 mile sea crossing in winter. Obviously we’d choose our weather window well and only go when it was set fine. But this is winter. If there’s enough wind to sail, there’s enough wind to chop the sea up. This may sound nowt to any seasoned sailor – but to us it seems like a huge undertaking. I’m scared of getting caught out in a storm. It is also going to be hard work with just two of us and I’m worried about the dogs.
I’m not happy about doing it alone (though I know that with enough reassurance from the “experts”, I may get there). I would, however, be much happier about doing it if we could take someone with us. I am sure, if we made a decent offer, someone may be up for it. It is worth it as an investment to get the experience that this job will give us and it feels like one of those “right place at the right time” opportunities. Plus I like the idea of being somewhere a little more off the beaten tourist track.
28 November 2007
Ruairie, who runs the Vlicho Yacht Club, has offered to sail with us to Montenegro. He is an excellent sailor and we will learn a lot from him. First leg will be to Corfu and should take around 17 hours. The second leg from Corfu to Kotor will take around 40 hours.
Sean, the guy who offered us the work, rang us today and said all is good at that end so we are off! Planning to leave on 11th December for Montenegro.
Most important job before we go – training Louis to pee somewhere on the boat. He still refuses.
12-16 November 2007
During the next four days we had another two gales. One force 7/8 and the other a force 9. These were recorded winds on our pontoon, not out at sea. I struggled to deal with it and started to feel like something really terrible was going to happen. The fear became very wearing. It was just a shock reaction and I’m fine now but the wind still gives me the fear. I speak for both of us I think. As I write, we are stuck in Lefkas town, moored against the wall (oh no!), with the wind howling through the rig, lightening flashing and all of us a little nervous. According to the pilot book, there are 4 gales on average in this area each winter. So far this winter there have been gale force winds almost weekly and we have been through four full on gales.
Not wishing to talk endlessly about the engine as it is very dull, but I have to give poor old Tim some credit. The lad spent 8 days sorting out the fuel tank so we could get the engine working again. The battering we took in the storm had stirred up all the crap out of the bottom, of which there was a lot, so it had to be pumped out and drained. Then almost immediately, the seawater impeller broke (which causes the engine to overheat) which was another load of work. His love affair with the engine is waning.
Got up at 7am as neither of us could sleep. Absolutely shell shocked and exhausted. Spinning, numb head and nerves shot to pieces. It was a beautiful, clear, sunny day – it looked like the day before had never happened until you looked at the bashed up backside of Monty B – boo hoo.
We wanted to get back to the safety of Tranquil Bay. So at midday, we set off towards Lefkas. Just was we cleared the harbour entrance, the engine lost revs and a few seconds later it cut out. We were worryingly close to the rocks that the lighthouse warns of so I pulled out the headsail and took us back into the harbour while Tim bled the fuel system. It worked and we decided to continue.
It took three chocolate and coffee fuelled hours to cross the choppy expanse of sea between Cephalonia and Lefkas. An hour from Tranquil Bay and with 1 ½ hours of daylight left, we started to relax. How silly of us! Moments later, the engine lost revs then cut out again. There was next to no wind but I hoisted the mizzen and headsail and got us sailing, albeit very slowly. Tim got the engine going again, we motored for a few minutes then it died. And again. And again.
With the light and our energies fading fast, we cut our losses and made the most of the tiny bit of remaining wind by attempting to sail back. After narrowly avoiding a collision with the Meganisi ferry (terrible timing), we neared Nidri. The sun went down and with it went what little wind we had.
Okay – now what? Next plan - Tim got into Billy and pushed us along, with Billy’s tiny and temperamental 2hp engine. Amazingly it worked and achingly slowly we shunted our way towards a safe anchorage. It was completely black again – it is very difficult to see when it first gets dark – and there is little shore lighting at this time of year. After much procrastinating and “discussion”, we dropped anchor but with no wind, we were pushed along beam on (sideways) rather than backwards so the anchor wouldn’t set. A quick flash around with the torch revealed that we were heading towards rocks, oh joy. So we gritted our teeth, hauled anchor and Tim got back into Billy to push us back into position.
In the process of a fair bit of swearing (at each other by this point – tempers and nerves had just about had it), there was a sound of paddles and a Lancastrian voice came out of the gloom asking if we would like to raft up next to them (they were on Viola’s mooring buoy). Fifteen minutes later, we were safely attached to Tangaroa and were sharing beers with our saviours, Dave and Eileen from Bolton. What stars!
It took a couple of days to start feeling normal after the Frikes incident but we couldn’t have been in a better place to aid our recovery. Plenty of pottering about in the golden autumnal sunshine countered the cyclical post-mortems of Tuesday night’s events. We still felt quite shaken up but the post-terror numbness was beginning to subside.
Thursday 9 November 2007
We started to run out of water so I paid a visit to the Port Police to find out how we could get the taps turned on. The news I was given wasn’t great. Everything was turned off – there was no water. And he told us we needed to move to the harbour wall as strong SW winds were coming in the following day and the pontoon would be untenable. It was already quite breezy so re-mooring was quite tricky but we ended up with a good spot.
Friday 9 November 2007
Awoke to another bright, sunny day. Southerly winds but not particularly strong. We spent the day doing boat jobs and storm preparation (much to the amusement of the locals – “Just relax” – yeh, right). I swam down to the anchor (visibility incredible, water deep blue and so clear) and was quite concerned that there wasn’t enough chain out and the anchor hadn’t dug in very well. There was only 10 metres of chain lying on the sea bed and the holding didn’t look particularly good. But it was better than most, whose anchors were simply lying on the bed. We would have reanchored but it was quite breezy and Tim was confident that it was okay.
The wind started to get up in the evening. Went to the only bar that was open, 5 euros a pint, total rip off poncey place. I drank a bit too much to fight off the feelings of foreboding.
Saturday 10 November 2007
4am – got up to do anchor check as storms flashing around. All okay. Shite night’s sleep though.
6am – was half awake when I felt a knock. It sounded like the boat had made contact with the quay. A few minutes later there was a big bang. Yes, we had definitely made contact with the quay that time.
Both leapt up, stuck the engine on and tightened up the anchor but it wasn’t holding. Purple lightening flashed all around, providing some light in the dawn gloom as we tried to hold the boat off the quay. The wind had changed direction. It was now a northerly not a southerly. It started to piss it down – told Tim to get some bloody clothes on (he insisted on wearing his dressing gown as usual). A fisherman came down to check his boat and told us that we should move to the other side of the harbour as the forecast had changed. There was a N/NW force 9-10 heading our way. Force 10 for fuck’s sake. We had to move.
Navtex: Storm Warning 10 November valid from 1100 to 2200 UTC: North Ionian NW strong gale 9 locally storm force 10.
Armed with this news and a bit of daylight, I woke up the crew of Riesling, a Croation boat that we’d given the Navtex forecast to the night before and told a man, dressed only in his pants, that we may need their help. Three of the six men offered their services and helped us moor up on the other side of the harbour. Took 20 minutes or so to get the right line as the wind was gusting hard onto our port quarter but with some brave helming (if I do say so myself), we got in. Lots easier with crew, I can tell you!
Spent the morning getting soaked whilst securing the boat as best we could with springs (ropes) out to parts of the harbour wall. I took the dogs up to the headland and the sea was looking very nasty. A few big ships were rolling and struggling. Pure exhilaration, feeling the wind, so strong and wild up there – yet it felt so safe! Enjoyed the land-based moment – rather than the lurching, stomach churning, nerve-wracking motion on board. Branches were starting to come down from the trees as I returned to the boat.
Around midday we started getting worried. Big surges were coming in and we were being lifted too near to the quay. We loosened our mooring lines and tightened our anchor some more. This worked for a short while but we were soon too close to the quay again. We weren’t being blown onto the quay – it was surging water, literally picking the boat up then dropping it. We “discussed” how much more anchor chain we could pull in before it put too much strain on the anchor – we had 40 metres down which seemed ample to me – but I could see Tim’s point. We still need to find out more about this.
1300: We were down below making food when the boat lurched forward then was carried back and CRASH. Everything went flying. Seconds later, the same thing happened again as we rushed up top. Stuck the engine on then ran to the back of the boat and burst into tears (not very Squireslike). Our scoop was splintered, bashed up and broken. The fenders were a sorry sight. The storm surge had picked us up and dropped onto the edge of the quay. The Greek men with their usual (amusing) two pennies worth of advice were suddenly nowhere to be seen.
1315 – 2030
The next horrendous seven hours were spent trying everything within our power to keep the boat away from the wall as the winds increased to F9-10 and the huge seas outside the harbour created an (apparently) unprecedented swell. Around every five minutes, the sea picked up boats of all sizes and attempted to lift them out of the water onto the quayside, reminiscent of the aftershocks of the Asian tsunami (this isn’t a trite comparison – I was there, I saw it). It was completely chaotic and after a few hours, I became almost resigned to the fact that the boat was going to get smashed to pieces. It was horrifying. I can confess to casting my eyes skyward on a couple of occasions.
I spent most of my time with hand on the throttle, powering forward whenever a surge came in. Tim ran around the quay trying to find new ways of securing us. Around 1600 our anchor chain went completely slack which almost certainly meant that the anchor had been bounced out by the waves and was no longer holding us. We were now completely dependent on the engine.
An enterprising powerboat owner called Dave, whose boat was getting an absolute battering, plus two voluntary rescue blokes had set up a line which stretched from one side of the harbour to the other. The idea was to tie the bows of boats to it so it would act as an anchor, holding them off the wall. After we’d despatched the dogs to his car (after the posh rip-off taverna refused to let someone look after them in there – wankers), Tim bravely took a line from our bow and got into Billy (our elderly RIB tender). He pulled himself painstakingly across the harbour, with the wind threatening to blow him out to sea, then discovered that the rope was too short so between us we managed to attach another two lengths of rope. Eventually he managed to secure a long line from our bow then pulled himself back across the harbour, in the dark, wind and rain. I tightened the line up and it seemed to work, holding us about 3-4 metres off the quay. Hooray!
Just as Tim was about to get back on the boat, another huge swell came in and we missed the wall by inches. I throttled forward yet again and the engine stuttered – then died. I tried to start her up again but she wasn’t having any of it. Momentary elation at a possible solution turned to soul-sapping disbelief – how could this happen now? It seemed to get yet darker, colder and wetter.
I tightened up the long line some more, Tim got the dogs and deposited them in an empty building (I know – believe me, I know) and got back on board. Wired to fuck and not making much sense, he refused to take a breather – god knows I needed one so he must have done – and set about bleeding the fuel system. We tried the engine again and thank god, it worked.
Then, as exhaustion really started to kick in, things appeared to be calming down. We didn’t want to raise our hopes too much but the wind did seem to have lessened. Our Navtex (provides weather print outs every 4 hours) ran out of paper and our brains were too addled to fit a new roll. Monitoring channel 16 (emergency VHF channel) was becoming too grim, listening to Mayday after Mayday. So no more weather reports. A good thing too as it turned out as the gale was forecast to continue all night and I don’t know how we’d have dealt with that news.
2100: The long line appeared to be holding us off the quay and the wind had definitely slackened off. Tim was nervously watching his knot that attached two of the ropes (a single sheet bend – t’was all) lifting out of the water when strained, waiting for the moment that it would slip and our last bit of security would be gone. But there was little more we could do. We turned off the engine, collected the dogs, went below, closed the companionway and made some food. Crazily enough, I decided to handmake some chickpea burgers from scratch which is complicated enough at the best of times. These are the days that Cup a Soups are made for. Idiot.
2200-2300: I slept, Tim on watch. Still gusting and surging but definitely calmer.
2320-0040: Tim slept, me on watch. Now feeling pretty bonkers from lack of sleep and too much caffeine.
0100-0200: Tim on watch, me lying awake, playing with dog ears, too wired for sleep. Tim came off watch and reported that all was calm. We decided to call it a day and go to bed.
And that, was that. Or was it…………..
Postscript: the locals told us that the storm surges into Fiskardo were unprecedented and the worst that they had ever seen. It was the same storm that had raged through Holland and parts of East Anglia earlier that week.
As for what else we could have done – well, not that much really under the circumstances. Not venture too far during the winter I guess. The hardcore would say we should have put out to sea as our position was too dangerous. There was no way we would have done in that weather. We could have laid a second anchor but it was unlikely that it would have held in those conditions.
We were quite lucky in the end. The damage we sustained was cosmetic, not structural though it was a bloody awful experience to go through. It wasn’t as frightening as the Frikes journey as our lives were not at risk but we did fear for the boat (which is our home) which was extremely stressful. Puts work stress into perspective anyway. However, for the second time in a week, we’ve seen how we work together in extreme circumstances and we both did very well.
Feel terrible for the dogs but at least we managed to get them off the boat. They have recovered but are still a bit jumpy around loud bangs – but that’s what dogs do I guess.
Monday, 26 November 2007
6 November 2007
We had to continue on a longer course than we’d have liked as we had to face into the waves. A course of less than 270 degrees sent the waves crashing onto the beam risking spinning the boat around and losing control. In daylight, at least you can see what is coming and counter it; in the darkness it was impossible.
Every time I went below to check our course, the noise was unbelievable. It sounded like the boat was being hurled against a wall. As she rose above the bigger waves, I’d hold my breath and anything else I could then thwack/bang/crash as it fell down into the trough. There were a few moments below, both of us later recalled, when we forgot where we were for a few moments, feeling strangely safe in the comparative warmth and light of the cabin. Then we’d remove the washboard and open the companionway to go up top and it would be like returning to an extremely bad dream.
We couldn’t look at each other except at one point Tim motioned me towards him and he managed to give me a quick kiss. It was not a good kiss. It reflected our worst fears.
Every minute of those few hours was an eternity. We had to get far enough west so we could make a sharp turn south once clear of Ithaka so the waves would be behind us. But we were terrified that this would be even worse. Tales of surfing down waves and being spun beam on were in our minds – would we be able to control the boat? Due to our inexperience, we had no idea of how bad it really was or what would happen. And would we make the turn through the waves at all?
The fear that we would not was so great Tim suggested continuing north to Vasiliki (2 hours away) – it may be lots further but at least we knew what we were in for – it would be like this. I said no way. For starters, it could be worse plus we’d been on the go for 9 hours by then and had to get somewhere soon. We were within spitting distance of Fiskardo. So we decided to make the turn and take our chances.
We waited for a relative smooth patch in which to make the turn. We had to turn soon otherwise we’d overshoot the channel between Ithaka and Cephalonia. There was no smooth patch so we agreed to just do it. With every orifice held shut, Tim turned the boat through the waves onto the new course.
The world fell silent. All we could hear was rushing water; breaking, spilling crests, worryingly high behind us but it was so quiet. The howling had stopped, the crashing of the boat had stopped, we were surfing but it was under control. The waves were still bouncing our stern alarmingly, trying to turn us side on to them, but it was predictable and manageable. The relief was incredible. We were going to make it.
The lighthouse on the headland of Fiskardo was tantalisingly close but it seemed to take forever to get there. We had to continue past the lighthouse for some way so we could turn back into the waves for the approach into the harbour, though the sea state had definitely calmed down a bit. Reassuring both of us with promises of only minutes remaining, we eventually made the sharp turn back into the weather and towards the harbour.
We abandoned the chart plotter and navigated by eye which was tricky as it was a dark, moonless night. Once clear of all hazards, real and imaginary, the pontoon lay ahead of us, lit by street lights. We moored up in a trance-like state. I looked through the aft cabin hatch from the deck above to see the dogs standing with their faces pressed to the door, lifejackets on, so still and quiet. I held back the tears.
We stood on the deck and held each other. It was over. Tim took my photo for the record. Half a bottle of Laphroig and a cup-a-soup later, we fell into a fitful sleep.
Things we now know from talking to other people: Frikes is a terrible harbour at the best of times and should only be used in the summer; the pontoon should be condemned and is dangerous; Vathi on Ithaka would have been a better option than returning to Cephalonia; it was very windy that night in Vasiliki; what we experienced was probably no more than a F6 but the sea state was worse than you would expect; we should have put a bit of sail out.
Learning from our experience:
We should have considered our options more fully before we left Frikes; we should have sought advice from locals in Frikes; we should have had our lifejackets ready for action and individual lanyards (the dogs had better safety gear than us); Chart plotters are life savers but we should have marked our position periodically on the paper chart; take account of local conditions re. sea state; have faith in your boat – we’d had the steering and rigging serviced expertly by IBA only a week before – thanks gents! And thanks Monty B for bringing us home.
One of our good friends, the local chandler Danny summed it up by saying “That’s about as bad as it will get”. Not because of the conditions – we will go through far worse – but because it was the first time either of us had faced anything like that. It was truly very frightening and we felt like we’d been run over for a few days.
Next episode – Force 10 from Cephalonia, can it get any worse?
A grim-faced Tim sat at the wheel as we took off into the gloom, the wind now blowing around a F4 on the nose as we powered into the waves (which had not been there an hour earlier). I nipped below to get seasickness tablets for us both (just in case) and some safety gear. Unfortunately we were in the middle of servicing the lifejackets so they were unpacked (next to useless) and the only lanyard I could find was the one we used to tie up the dogs. Hey ho – better - than nothing and we clipped ourselves on with it.
Ten minutes later the wind seemed to be increasing, as was the sea state. This was not what we were expecting. Only an hour before, in this exact position, the wind had been light and the sea calm. It was now almost completely dark and I remembered that it was black moon; we would have no light. It was at this moment, with spray starting to come over the spray hood and the wind now howling that I had a feeling that this was a bad idea. And I knew in my bones that it was going to get worse. And said so. We could turn around and try to moor in Kioni, the next harbour south from Frikes. But what if we couldn’t moor there safely? What if the wind was just as bad there? I could have checked the pilot book for other options but couldn’t face going below unless I had to. The movement of the boat was quite severe, making going below very disorientating (and puke inducing). I was already up and down the steps to check the chart plotter every 5 minutes which was bad enough.
It was around this time that we accepted that the lifejackets were useless. I couldn’t repack them in these conditions and couldn’t read the crap pen marking our names on them to tell them apart.
Moment by moment, the conditions were getting worse. The waves seemed to be passing very close to the cockpit as we went into them but it was so dark that you could only see foam rather than the waves themselves. Probably a good thing. Tim wondered where ‘foam’ appeared on the Beaufort Scale.
I took my turn on the helm as we reached the northern tip of Ithaka and entered the sea proper. As I had feared, it got worse. It had come to the point when you think that this is the limit – it won’t get any worse. But then it does. Most of the waves were now crashing over the deck and many onto and over the spray hood. I pressed the outside of my knees against the walls of the cockpit to hold myself in place, gripped the wheel with all my strength and kept my eye fixed on the compass, lit up by the red bulb of my headtorch. The boat rose up each wave then crashed as it fell down the other side. Every so often, I tried to half stand to see over the spray hood to make sure there was nothing in front of us but each time I got a faceful of water, taking my breath away and I laughed out loud (verging on hysteria rather than joy). When Tim went below, the fear started to creep up on me. I realised I was panting and fought the urge to panic. The only thing I can equate it to is being locked onto the worst fairground ride you can imagine by a total psycho, and knowing that the safety belt hasn’t locked, you hold on for dear life but have no idea when or how it’s going to end. The very real fear that the boat would break up into pieces was never far away. If something went wrong with the rudder, the steering or the engine, we were fucked. And potentially dead. We would not know how to deal with it and that was a very scary thought. We were also on our own. No lifeboats here. Our lack of experience was suddenly no longer amusing.
After a ship over 200m (thank you Yachtmaster Theory) crossed our path with less room that I would have liked in a calm sea in daylight, Tim took over the helm once more. Sharing my fears about the boat falling apart, he glanced up at the mast to check it wasn’t breaking in two! It was still there but the night sky lurching in all directions behind it wasn’t something to dwell on. “It’s fine.”
When you are helming, although frightening and exhausting, at least you feel slightly in control. You have to stay focused on the job and you can’t see much. After passing over the helm to Tim – a complicated manoeuvre involving lap sitting on and dual holding of the wheel, clipping, unclipping then tumbling into the cockpit – I made the mistake of looking at the size of the waves – then really wished I hadn’t. They were the height of our spray hood – which is about 4-5 metres above the waterline. This was bad. And on it went.
Tuesday 6 November, 1200
With a forecast for a NW 3-4, it looked like we’d get a good sail to Frikes on Ithaka. According to the pilot book Frikes provided good shelter though the pilot book warned of NW down-draughts off the mountains.
There was quite a swell to the north of the islands and we were rolling a bit under motor as we sorted out the sails. Once the sails were up it was much smoother and the wind was lighter than forecast and we headed to Ithaka under full sail. It was the best sail we’d had so far – the boat felt perfectly balanced and glided across the water. It felt really natural rather than forced – I’m finally getting the hang of it.
As we approached Frikes, we could see wind on the water ahead caused by the down-draughts. We started to take the sails in, got caught by a couple of hard gusts, but nothing to worry about. As the sun slipped behind the mountains, we motored into the tiny harbour and the place instantly took on a more sinister air as the gusts increased. There were two pontoons which, strangely, were not connected to the shore and the power boxes seemed to have taken a battering, some lying on their sides and dented. However, with no obvious space elsewhere in the harbour and a “Berth alongside here” sign pointing to the pontoons, we decided to go for it.
We hadn’t gone alongside before (not that common in the Med) and space was tight so Tim attempted to crab the boat into position – not an easy manoeuvre with very strong gusts coming off the mountains and onto our beam. I jumped onto the pontoon – a fair leap with our high topsides (worth remembering) – and judgement had to be spot on as if I missed, I’d be Squires pie, as by that point the gusts were considerable.
Anyway, all seemed good. We secured the lines, turned off the engine and congratulated ourselves with a job well done though there was a slight feeling of unease. There was something a bit weird about that pontoon. As I got back on board to grab a beer, a huge ferry wash came out of nowhere and appeared to pick up the pontoon and throw it towards our hull. We, in turn, rolled violently in the other direction, then both us and the pontoon swung back to collide. Utterly stunned, we jumped into action – me turning on engine and grabbing a fender; Tim shoving a tyre he’d just found between the boat and the pontoon – all the while the swell was being amplified by hitting the inside of the harbour walls and bouncing back. It was a very surreal moment, seeing Tim and the pontoon jerking violently one way whilst me and Monty B lurched hard away then towards it. This chaos lasted no more than 2 minutes then died down. We let go our lines, Tim jumped aboard and we took off out of the harbour. Both a tad shook up, with darkness falling, we tried to calm down before re-entering the harbour to attempt a plan B.
We re-entered the harbour and looked at all the possible (impossible) options while we kept the boat circling – very difficult with strong gusts and limited room to manoeuvre. Moving astern was going to be very difficult in that wind, the only space to med-moor was tight with another vessel alongside who we were worried could surge into us. Some locals were attempting to shout stuff to us in Greek from the north wall of the harbour. What little we could hear, we couldn’t understand, most regrettably as it turned out. We decided we had to go elsewhere. The preferred option was back to Fiscardo as we knew it was safe and well-lit so easy to moor at night. This was the only sensible idea we came up with and with clear skies and a chart plotter, once we were away from these gusts, we thought we would be okay.
Saturday 3 November 2007
Race day dawned clear and bright after a deluge of rain all night, moored up on the quay in Lefkas town. We narrowly avoided missing the race altogether when John decided to escape from the boat and run off into town after a cat. I heard a shout from a neighbouring boat whilst I was washing and legged after him, bra-less and barefoot (I did manage to put a fleece on). Luckily he was followed by a child from the boat next to us and only took 5 minutes to locate him, frantic and sweating (both of us).
Almost missed the 9am bridge out of Lefkas and only had one sail up by the time the starter pistol went – but hey ho – we were sort of near the start line and were off. As we crossed the start line, I realised we were the only boat towing a tender full of rainwater. Tim struggled to get it onto the scoop and propped up against the gantry. We now had a huge rubber and fibreglass brake instead. Coupled with us being the only competitor not to have launched a spinnaker, our finishing position seemed already assured.
The problem with clear, cloudless days is that they are often accompanied by a distinct lack of wind. Quite fundamental to a sailing race and after three hours of barely moving 2 miles, the dogs told us that there was no way we were going to make a harbour by nightfall unless we turned on our engine. So following the example of a Romanian entrant, we dropped out of the race and motored guiltily past the remaining competitors – so second from last, one better than we expected. Incidentally, the wind never made an appearance and it took the surviving boats 25 hours to complete the race so it was a good, if cowardly, call.
We motored in the unseasonably hot sun for 5 hours, with nothing to see other than the inhospitable cliffs of the west coast of Lefkas. As we neared the southern tip, we saw the mountains of Cephalonia (of ‘Captain Corelli’s Mandolin’ fame) rising from the sea to the south. We had two options: either continue towards Nidri with the promise of a drunken night ahead or be a bit more daring and go to Cephalonia. Full of the spirit of adventure, we checked the charts and decided to continue south to Fiscardo, a small harbour on the east coast of Cephalonia.
We arrived in Fiscardo as the sun was setting and moored up on an empty pontoon, the only cruising yacht in the harbour. It was extremely quiet with almost everything shut up for the winter. But we liked it.
We spent several days working on the boat in the exceptionally pretty little harbour, basking in the autumn sunshine and enjoying the peace. It was brilliant to be somewhere new – we both needed a change of scenery and it felt like being on holiday, despite being up to the elbows in Sikaflex sealant and masking tape as usual. On the other side of the harbour lay a pine covered headland, criss-crossed with paths and perfect for dog walking. My romantic notions of walking the dogs along a rocky foreshore, listening to the waves breaking, were finally realised. Above the rocks sat two lighthouses. One a Venetian ruin complete with house and walled garden – if only we had some money. The other was still in use. The ruins of a Norman church stood lonely and windswept on top of the headland providing 360 degree views of the sea, surrounding islands and mountains. All of this made up for the lack of a social life – and we talked about seeing out the winter there.
However, we decided we should make the most of the sunny, breezy weather and get some sailing in so after a few days we hauled anchor.
Saturday 20 October
I’ve been looking forward to going out for over a week, such a rare event as it is nowadays. It is the last weekend of pontoon life – the last of the summer liveaboards are going home and England are in the rugby World Cup final at 10pm (yes, I have no interest in rugby but it’s a guaranteed pissup). However, plans appear to be scuppered. Instead of sitting in the Tree Bar, making new friends and getting drunk, I’m on the boat listening to the rain hammering down on the roof (as it has been all day – got drenched 3 times). Listening to my music through crappy battery operated speakers and tickling a smelly dog’s tum is no consolation. The wine isn’t bad though – 3 euros a bottle and perfectly palatable. Made by a company called Dionysos, which is Greek for Dennis. Dionysos was the god of booze (my kinda man) whose claim to fame was trying of get everyone to chill out a bit by encouraging them to get pissed. He was killed by the fun police (the Titans) who in turn were destroyed by Zeus and somehow provided the origins of human existence and apparently a bit of Dennis is in all of us (some more than others). I’m not making it up, honest.
My marooned plight is worsened by Tim’s failure to recognise the horror of the situation as he sits, happy as a pig in shit, amongst a pile of used bulbs and our new multimeter. My only interaction with this man-play is to get him to test my resistance – 2 ohms apparently – rather disappointingly the same as him and Louis but thankfully more than the salt cellar. My! The winter nights are going to fly by.
More excitingly, we do have gale warnings forecast for tomorrow or Monday, up to F9, which would be terrifying if it happened at sea. Even here, it sounds potentially frightening – so I am working on the assumption that it won’t happen. Anyway, we couldn’t be better anchored if we tried. Re-anchored this morning in Tranquil Bay and dug our anchor deep into the mud. The holding is excellent here. We are semi-sheltered from southerlies and v well sheltered from NE to SE.
Hooray! There appears to be some respite in the rain – quick dog hair removal from clothes and we’re off to the pub.
Sunday 21 October
Spent all day waiting for the wind to come. Didn’t go out last night as it started peeing it down again. Shipping forecast this morning said S/SE 7-8 at 1600, F8-9 from 2000.
1600 came and went without event. By that time we were as prepared as we could be. We reanchored about 10 yards from our previous position – a vital 10 yards putting some land between us and the forecast gale. We lashed down all deck things that could move and set up a second anchor on the bow should our anchor fail.
Just before nightfall, the clouds parted to flood the sky, mountains and tops of the towering clouds with a luminous orange glow. It was one of those aliens landing/alternative dimension moments and we decided to jump into Billy and take the dogs for a ten minute toilet stroll (cat-chase/scavenge/no toilet/lots of telling off pointless expedition). Got safely back on the boat and cooked a big curry, slightly disappointed that the forecast seemed an exaggeration. As the last mouthfuls of curry went down, the boat was caught by a huge gust which came out of nowhere, plates were cast aside and we jumped up on deck. It was just a gust – that was all – but the wind was definitely rising. I forced the remainder of my food down to prove all was okay but I was surprised to find I felt a bit sick.
2300:After strong gusts over the last few hours, its now a constant F7 I reckon. I’m now used to the continuous screaming of the wind tearing through the boatyard on the other side of the bay, full of hibernating summer cruisers. There are two levels of sound; one being of the usual strong wind blowing type – whistling, building into a crescendo roar as it rushes up the bay. The other being a much higher pitched whistle which turns into a melee of falsetto screams when the gusts hit masts.
It’s interesting exploring your comfort levels in these situations. The boat is now rocking as the water has chopped up a bit, with the occasional lurch. Then comes a strong gust, around 35-40 knots. You can hear them build up down the valley, then you wait as the noise increases, the anchor chain tightens then POW! It hits, pushing us hard, you hold your breath – then it dies back, leaving us swinging through 180 degrees as the tension on the chain is released.
Every gust (around one per minute now) fills my tum with butterflies and breath is held while we are in its grip, waiting for something to go bang, clunk or crash. The storm is definitely on its way. I’m feeling pretty snoozy which is often my reaction to stress but I’m also tired – haven’t relaxed all day.
2330: Gale warning on shipping forecast but wind appears to have dropped.
0030: Went to bed as no further wind action.
0330: Awoke to wind whistling again and distant flashes of lightening. Listened to gusts getting stronger and more frequent for about 20 minutes then decided to get up to do some checks. Took fixes, did a hatch and leak check, had several discussions about whether we were moving and the “best” way of deducing it. Decided all was well and trooped off to bed.
I took a new book. It’s hard to sleep when your stomach lurches every time a gust pushes the boat and anchor chain to its limit – then releases it’s hold, sending the stern (our cabin) through an arc. It’s still unnerving to feel the boat travelling (speed over ground 0.3 knots according to the GPS) when you are lying down, with no points of reference. The balance mechanism in your brain tells you that you are moving but it is hard to determine in what direction. I need to know these things. Even on dry land, I usually know exactly where north is without thinking about it, regardless of where I am or what I’m doing. In a spinning cabin, it’s almost impossible and I find it very disorientating.
About 20 minutes after going to bed, I heard what sounded like metal dragging; a deep, distant reverberating for about 5 seconds. To me it sounded like an anchor doing something it shouldn’t. A few gusts later I heard it again. I decided we should go on anchor watch – Tim sleepily agreed and I told him I’d wake him up in an hour.
One look outside allayed my fears. Of course we were in the same position. Checked GPS and all was okay. Then the wind dropped – completely – and almost instantly, the sky was full of stars. I made myself a Marmite drink, read and enjoyed the silence for half an hour before returning to bed.
Monday 22 October
0900: Rain, thunder, more wind. Shipping forecast SW F8-9. Not good news as a bit close to shore for comfort if the wind turns westerly. Shoreline shallows and mud so not a bad landing but don’t fancy the embarrassment of being grounded!
1850: Spent all day on boat with 2 brief respites for dog walks. I now haven’t spoken to anyone other than Tim since Thursday. It’s taking its toll. Have started cutting off bits of my hair and cracked open a beer at 3pm. Cabin fever setting in.
The storms are completely different in the daytime. So much less frightening when you can see what is going on. Stormy all day but now completely calm.
1900: forecast S/SW 7-8. No huge blows overnight, just one storm with gusts. Tim’s turn to do a watch.
Tuesday 23 October
All quiet. Mike from IBA popped by to discuss steering cables. I talked his ears off for the best part of 2 hours, having not spoken to anyone for coming on a week.
Friday, 2 November 2007
The weather has dictated the past month to a large degree. Autumn arrived with the onset of spring, or so it seemed. Clusters of miniature cyclamen, Greek variations on crocus and snowdrops and lush green grass have appeared. With each rain, the mountains have turned from white to green and the crevasses have begun to run with water. Citrus fruit trees are heavy with oranges and lemons ready to be harvested. The olives now look big enough to eat.
The pseudo-spring then gave way to violent storms. Evening meals have been lit up by breath-taking lightening displays over the mountains towards Lefkas. Finger-like forks running horizontally across the sky producing an almost constant distant rumbling. When the storms swing our way, there is little warning. The wind signals its arrival with a growing roar, increasing in strength and volume within a minute while we chuck everything below and batten down the hatches. Then the storm hits. Winds spinning us around on the anchor, continuous lightening flashes illuminating the whole bay, thunder crashing and echoing against the mountains. The rain comes pelting down, drenching us from our positions under the sprayhood, completely overexcited and immersed in one of the finest spectacles on earth (and boat). I have video but it's a .mov file and cannot find anything to edit it with - help anyone?
Then we had the gale. For three days we waited and prepared for it. I will stick some of my diary on here at some point for anyone who can be bothered to read that much of my blether. It will be entitled The Gale. You can witness what happens to a fragile mind when you are stuck on a boat for days on end.
We’ve achieved a fair bit on Monty B this month. Our sailing is coming along. Met a lovely couple called Lesley and Barry who own a wee 20 footer called Antares which had a buggered engine. They were dog people so came over to see the lads – and we spent a v pleasant week or so hanging out with them – including going for a fantastic confidence building sail. We’ve been building on it ever since and have decided to throw caution to the wind (poor turn of phrase for this type of activity) and enter the Round the Island Race which takes place on Saturday (3 Nov). The game plan is to drop out half way through so we can walk the dogs. Nothing cowardly about that.
(At this point in proceedings, I had to stop writing as a NE wind appeared from nowhere – we were facing SW – and within a minute we had travelled twice the length of our well laid out anchor chain (40m of chain thus 80 metres) and were hurtling towards a pontoon. Stopped about 6 metres from it but scared the living daylights out of us and spent the next 2 hours waiting for the weather to make its mind up and ended up having to re-anchor at midnight. Lesson learnt? Always make allowances for a complete change in wind direction despite the forecast and make sure you are not going to hit anything). As Tim just pointed out, in all the years he’s lived in a house, he’s never woken up in the night to find it hurtling through the air towards another one.
Monty B is a great deal more sea-worthy than she was a month ago. We have had the standing rigging serviced and tightened up, new steering cable and replaced 40 metres of crap chain with shiny new anchor chain (now total 80m of good chain). That’s a good test of how much you trust each other – my knot has attached the chain to the shackle which attaches the anchor to the boat. That’s taking responsibility – how the fk did I ever work in an office?
Tim has spent much of the month with his head in the diesel engine armed with the instruction manuals. He has completely serviced it and the engine is now ace. It’s running like a dream and we’re confident it could get us out of trouble. There was mention of how women should come with a similar manual though Tim seems to think he could write one about me – sections on How to diagnose a problem, Troubleshooting Tips, Lessons Learnt – very droll (and at the moment would be in its infancy).
So, the Race is on – tomorrow. It will be a sizeable challenge and it might all go wrong - but we've decided we've got to be more brave. The dogs disagree. Photos will follow.
And finally, we’ve found a shop where you fill up plastic bottles with wine from a barrel which costs 3 euros for 1.5 litres. If only we could've got Banrock Station like that in England. That’s £1.00 for a bottle of perfectly drinkable red wine. With prices like these, you could find yourself becoming an alcoholic…………..
Tuesday, 16 October 2007
I'm putting up some posters in Nidri to see if anyone returning to the UK wants it but I'd rather it go to one of my mates if possible.
Friday, 12 October 2007
Every day we remind ourselves how lucky we are. But it is our dream way of life – it wouldn’t necessarily be someone elses. Do you want to know why?
- It is unpredictable. Most days we have a plan of what we are going to do. Most days it doesn’t happen – and not necessarily because we have hangovers or have spent the day playing with the dogs – but because something else happens which usually is out of our control. This is particularly true at the moment when learning about Monty B’s little quirks (why oh why would anyone stuff a hole in the fuel tank with tissue paper?)
- Pace of life – the days fly by faster than ever before – it really is so true that time flies when you’re having fun. I don’t want my life to go this quickly.
- Pace of life – we have turned dithering/faffing into an art form over here. Even the dogs don’t bother getting up when we look like we are leaving the boat – they know it’ll be at least another half an hour before we actually do. Though I think we can class it as pottering rather than faffing now we are on a boat.
- Lack of contact with other people. So far we just annoy each other – not bore each other – so it’s fine. But you are, in effect, on a tiny island with your loved ones and no one else 24/7. It's like living in the sticks.
- Constant injuries. There are a million things aboard to stub toes/hit shins/knees/lips/elbows on, two booms to hit heads on (which strangely, seems to be increasing exponentially week by week to the point that if it continues, I will be spending more time crouched on the deck, holding my head in my hands, than sleeping) and a never ending number of sharp edges to cut fingers and toes on. You must enjoy the sight of your own blood, daily pain and having blue/black skin.
- You cannot be a control freak – it just won’t work. You can’t control this kind of life which is part of the fun. You can try to limit fuck ups but that’s about it.
- There is always something which needs doing. If you find it hard to relax when there is an outstanding job to do, you would struggle (thankfully, I’ve never found this a problem).
- You must enjoy being scruffy and not be that arsed about having a shower every day.
- Not having a job. I know, I know – most people wouldn’t work unless they had to, blah blah blahh. But some people do seem to think they couldn't live without it.
- Broken sleep. You never get a full night's sleep unless you are so drunk an earthquake wouldn't disturb you. This has got better - the first few weeks were akin to having a new born baby - I don't think either of us slept for more than 2 hours at a time. We are now used to the creaks and the constant movement (though earplugs help).
- our first job was cleaning the filth from Monty B (or Perky Puffin as she was then) which took around a week, below decks all day and night, in 32 degrees and marigolds. I reckon we filled around 15 sacks with rubbish, no lie.
- day 2 - decided to go for a swim whilst filling water tanks. got back on boat to see inside under several inches of water. water tank lid had no seal and had come off, flooding boat. Learnt how bilge pumps worked and what it feels like to see your boat full of water.
- within a week, Tim learnt how to unblock and service the heads which involved removing poo sludge which had been stuck in the pipes since the winter.
- within 2 weeks Tim learnt how to bleed the fuel system when we broke down with less than an hour of daylight left and no clue as to why the engine wouldn't work. What a hero! We still ended up anchoring in the dark though (twice) which was quite scary.
- discovered that most hatches and the windshield leaked really badly during storms on our second week. Learnt the joys of removing old sealant (incredibly messy), the wonder of white spirit and how to use a Sikaflex gun. Took a whole week to complete. Windshield and hatches now almost leak free - but not quite.
- De-Puffined Perky Puffin on our first weekend away - removed the Puffin name and cartoon pictures from the hull.
- Took us 2 weeks to get the place into a fit state to move all our stuff on board.
- Had a renaming ceremony, anchored off in Tranquil Bay. In attendance were Sarah from IBA, Scottish John, Danny the Chandler, Martin, Maggie and Martin's son who were our new neighbours. After Poseidon and the winds had their share, we downed 4 bottles of Moet, 4 bottles of Friexenet, wine, beer then into town for dinner, more wine, then the Byblos where I was last seen dancing to Status Quo covers with the dogs. Next day clothes were filthy and wet and I was covered in bruises. Some things never change. Tim did us proud as Master of Ceremonies - a top job done and Monty B was born. See http://picasaweb.google.com/beormakate/RenamingCeremony
- Lesson learnt from the above - dogs do not come with us on nights out which involve alcohol and getting back to the boat.
- Discovered we had a rat on board (after a few days of things mysteriously disappearing). finally managed to trap it and to everyone's amusement/horror, took it in the car to the mountains to be freed. discovered it had chewed through the transducer cable (depth meter) which happens to be the only instrument on the boat that works. After over a week with no depth meter (not good), K found chewed wires and mended them. Also found the empty packet of her Agnus Castus (madness pills) which the rat had legged off with and eaten.
- Getting to grips with the art of anchoring - we now have faith and understand how it all works.
- Learning to manouvere astern and handle the boat under power - it's a big boat. K does all the close quarters helming as T has to operate crappy old and dangerous windlass.
- Getting to grips with the crappy old windlass (nearly took Tim under on week one).
- Witnessed a storm pass, literally, overhead while at anchor (a few nights ago). Have video. will load up soon. Unbelievable. By far the worst storm either of us have ever seen.
- Learning what happens when you pull a bit of tissue paper out of a hole - litres of diesel pour out into the bilges.
- We have been doing a bit of work for Neilsons, cleaning charter boats - work together, takes 4-5 hours and we get 100 euros. Only one day a week. ha ha!
- Discovering that even when up to armpits in diesel and filth, it's still more enjoyable than sitting at a desk all day.
- We haven't sailed anything like enough as we spend too much time working on the boat - but we are finally getting there and can now sail in light winds. Need to get more experience behind us before winter kicks in though.
- Made some friends.
- Made a few contacts for possible work over the winter. We need to start making a bit of money.
- Have decided we are going to stay in this area (Lefkas) for the winter as it's a great sailing area and we haven't done enough sailing to confidently go that far afield at the mo. Anyway, it's a beautiful place and there's a good balance here for the winter so it's a good decision.
- Discovered that our outgoings are even lower than we had dared hoped. We only need 200 euros a week to live happily. I thought we were being a tad unrealistic before we got here - far from it. This means we only need to work a couple of days a week.
- I have learnt to ask for brown bread in Greek.
- Tim has serviced engine and cooked tea once.
Next priorities are to service the engine coolant system, somehow drain the forecabin fuel tank and isolate it so hole can be repaired, remove rust from toe rails, stantions, pushpit, pulpit and guardrails, put up safety netting to stop dogs falling overboard, recommision Billy the tender so he can be rowed and has a rope to hold onto if we fall overboard. That's next week's jobs.
See photos at http://picasaweb.google.com/beormakate/SailingAndWorking
However, I lost everything I wrote due to f**king Vista ballsing up my laptop to the point I had to reinstall the operating system and wiped it all clean. So the above synopsis is all you get.
With hindsight, it was actually all quite exciting and we were completely safe – it was just quite unnerving at that point in the learning process. This is only the beginning.
Thursday, 11 October 2007
Our days and nights are dictated by the weather. The wind determines where and how we lie – if it changes, do we have enough shelter? Is our anchor going to hold? Will we hit another boat? Will another boat hit us? What will the sea state be? Is that storm heading in our direction? A drop of rain hitting home or a distant flash of lightening is enough to rouse us from slumber at 3am to close hatches and check all is secure on deck. And this is before we have even thought about sailing.
The sunshine that floods our cabin upon waking most mornings puts a smile on my face and ensures that our world glitters – but it also has a more practical function. Our power is provided, predominantly, by the five solar panels strung along the gantry at Monty’s stern. So if, like today, the sun is hiding away, we hand pump our water and think nothing of it. It’ll be a cold shower tonight too as we have a solar shower (simply a black plastic pouch, with a shower attachment, that sits on the deck in the sun all day - or not as the case may be).
As a matter of course, we only turn lights on that we are using – literally, the ones we are using in order to see something in the dark. Our solar churns out around 6 amps per hour on average (when the sun is shining) so our power is precious. We use every drop of water that comes out of our tanks. All loo roll goes in the bin so you use it sparingly (I’m sure I don’t need to explain why). Every drop of water that goes through our pipes ends up in the sea (much like at home – but you don’t watch the Fairy liquid spewing out into the sea) – so you think carefully about the crap you put in it or if possible, don’t put any crap in it at all (except actual crap – which we haven’t, as yet, worked out how to stop us producing it, bar starvation – and as a point of interest, the fish love it – particularly dog poo).
A month on and this is all second nature – and it’s great. Sorry if it sounds like cringe-inducing worthy nonsense and I sound like a massive sanctimonious arse – I can’t help it - ha!
p.s we can get hot water by running our engine if we are desperate, ditto power for our batteries. We have had to chuck waste diesel in public dustbins as there is nowhere to dispose of it - so you can rest assured that we are still doing our bit to pollute the planet.
Everything centres around our boat. Whether it be sleeping, eating, seeking comfort, washing, cleaning, repairing, travelling around, swimming, diving, lazing – it all happens here. We watch the mountains turn pink at sundown, lying on our backs in the cockpit with a beer in hand and have our own star-studded, candle-lit table for two every night. Other nights it isn’t so rosy when the galley turns into a rocking, bumping, jolting box, while I’m trying to cook dinner then I feel too sick to eat it. Sleep is always broken. Monty B is our new world and we love it.
I have finally managed to play out my childhood fantasies of living a simple life with the elements – and multiplied it by 100. I’ve always wanted to have a home with a sea view. I’ve always wanted to live near the sea. I’ve spent 36 years of my life in the industrialised Midlands – it was a great laugh but pretty it wasn’t – now I’ve finally got my wish – and multiplied it by 100.
Photos of what we've been up to:Pics of the first few weeks on Monty B
Monday, 24 September 2007
Tuesday, 18 September 2007
- Driving on the other side of the road - added novelty value to an otherwise boring drive.
- French autoroutes - okay, I'm not some kind of weirdo that has "favourite roads" but compared to driving on British motorways, they are quite good.
- Getting to the campsite each night and cracking open a beer.
- Campsite at Aubere, at 800m in the mountains of Alsace Lorraine - possibly the quietest place either of us had ever been to. The air hummed and my tinnitus squealed.
- Chance meeting with an American/Kiwi lesbian couple in a bar who gave us their Jungfrau passes which had a day left to run on them (to us they were worth around £150).
- Campsite at Interlaken with magnificent view of the Eiger and Jungfrau from our tent.
- Day out in the Alps around the Jungfrau with our donated Jungfrau passes- trains up mountains, cable cars across mountains, strange train inside a mountain, playing with dogs in snow at 4000m, hiking along the North Face of the Eiger - all stunning.
- Crazy alpine driving - decided to take the Sudenpass across the Alps rather than long way round by motorway. Not the best idea in a fully laden Nissan Almera but worth it.
- Seeing Venice.
- Leaving Venice on the ferry bound for Greece - Katie burst into tears - finally, the emotion came - overjoyed and relieved to be on the final leg.
- Getting off roundabouts on the wrong side of the road.
- Alpine driving.
- Piece of shite Mont Blanc roof box.
- Repacking the car every other day.
- Driving in Italy - arseholes of the highest calibre.
- Italian campsites.
- Italian campsite owners.
- Campsite in Venice which overlooked the runway of the airport - planes every 10 mins from 630am till midnight and riddled with mosquitos.
- Shit sleep due to having to share a 2 man tent with a long man, two dogs and a ridiculous succession of terrible airbeds.