Thursday, 7 July 2016

Italy or Bust

After a lovely last night in Greece, in the little harbour of Lakka on the north side Paxoi Island, we set off across the Ionian bound for Italy. The winds cooperated some, but we still did a lot of motoring. We rounded the bottom of the Italian "foot" at dawn and motored up into the Messina Straits, the body of water between Sicily and the Italian mainland. Now, mind you , the Straits are notorious, since antiquity, for violent squalls, water spouts, fast running tidal currents and giant eddies that will swallow ships, or so the legends go. We had no idea what to expect as we approached with wide eyes and vigilant recognisance, except Homers Greek mythology about Scylla and Charybdis.

Scylla and Charybdis were mythical sea monster on opposite sides of the Straits. Scylla was a rock shoal (described as a six-headed sea monster) on the Italian side and Charybdis was a whirlpool off the coast of Sicily. Many idioms came from this, like "having to take a narrow path between two bad choices", or "between the devil and the deep blue sea" or "between a rock and a hard place". Now a days, you also have high speed ferries and heaps of fishing boats to contend with. But hey, if this guy can do it, so can we, no worries.

And so as it turned out, we only got tossed about a bit, no violent squalls (early in the morning), no monsters tugging at the keel, nor any water spouts to flip us over. We did have to actively make our way across the shipping lanes full of rather boisterous eddies and rips. At least we were able to keep moving forward, unlike the Komodo islands with their massive tidal currents.

And so we kept going and landed later that day on the side of another daunting natural wonder; Stromoli, a very active (though somewhat sleepy) volcano, complete with puffing clouds of smoke, streams of lava and floating pumice known as "the wandering rocks". We hoped she would stay asleep so we could get some sleep ourselves before heading off to Pompeii and another notorious volcano; Mt. Vesuvius. We also had in the back of our minds that this area is called the "Aeolian Triangle", not much different than the Bermuda Triangle in the Atlantic. Hummmm...., and we still have 130 miles to get to Pompeii. Gales blow here without any prediction, but brave little sailors we are (and fingers crossed) we set off the next morning, nothing in the forecast to worry about. We did make it as we are still here, though we had to motor the whole way, again.

The next morning, we found ourselves sliding along the cliffs under the Sorrento, a beautiful peninsula to make landfall on the Italian mainland. The Roman ruins, some dating back to 600 BC, are obvious and grand, still standing with many buildings perched on top.

But we are on our way to Pompeii where we have a marina berth reserved so we can leave EQ safely while we travel inland to Venice, finally. :)

So, that's the news from EQ, where the winds are fair (if at all), seas calm (flat), and the crew content to be in Italy. Hippeeee. PIZZA!

With Equanimity and Joy...

Saturday, 2 July 2016

The Ionians

Approach to Galaxidi

FINALLY! a decent sail in the Med! We managed to get the timing right to actually have the wind behind us, all day even. After a lovely stop and meal in Galaxidi, we left early for the 70nm run down the Gulf of Corinth, under the massive new Rion-Antiron bridge and into the Gulf of Patras all the way to the Ionian Sea. 25-30 knots behind us was very welcome and kept us scooting along just fine.

And so, after 3 times cris-crossing the Aegean, EQ finally makes some more westward way, now in the Ionians, a favourite cruising ground for the Italians. But that doesn't make it any easier as there are so many boats and not enough decent anchorages. So many lovely little spots are full of boats backed up to the shore with anchors in deeper water. It's like a car park, but it's the only way you can fit so many boats into such tight little bays. We managed to sit on a rocky little mole outside a bay, until the wind switched, our anchor came loose and we had a late day fire drill to resettle in sandy shoal waters.

But the islands are lovely. Beating up into the wind through the Lafkada Canal was interesting. We had to drop anchor near the town and wait a few hours for the bridge to swing open. Once it did, a few dozen boats beat as hard as they could to make the dash through before they closed it again for all the road traffic. We let the madness pass and managed to scoot through at the end of the pack, just as the bridge was swinging back. :)

Corfu is quite the destination as well. There's a huge old fort on the east side. Corfu has heaps of history as well. Even though now a part of Greece, since 1864, they were mostly under Venetian rule since the early middle ages, so there is much Italian influence.

Speaking of Italy and sailing into Venice, just kidding. :) We are a few weeks too late this year as the winds have set in from the north for the summer. So, plan 'B', we sail to Italy around the bottom and take the train to Venice, not to mention Rome and Florence as well. :) Beating into it for 500 miles just didn't get us excited.

So, that's the news fro EQ, where the winds are fair (finally), the seas calm (and behind us) and the crew content.

With Equanimity and Joy...

Monday, 20 June 2016

Bye-bye to the Aegean

EQ has finally done it, headed out of the Aegean and into Ionian waters. It wasn’t easy, especially with our Greek friend Dino telling us we need to stay in Greece, particularly the Aegean, for at least 3 years to really understand the Greek islands and way of life. There certainly is a lure and pull on the heart strings to stay, but we finally got excited about a particular plan which overshadowed the enticement to stay, not to mention a decent weather window to head west. So we got ourselves to the Corinth Canal and successfully got through, no dramas, no worries. More on that in a minute.

I spent a couple of months in Finike doing a haul-out and replacing halyards, dock lines, sheets, etc. and a number of small projects to get EQ ready for another long journey, that is if we could escape the allure of the Aegean. Just in case as it were. Finike was a great place for EQ to hold up for the winter while I was off down under working at the NZ and OZ Vipassana centres, not to mention taking some time away from the trials and tribulations of life aboard EQ, which was a long season last year, like a 7026nm journey from Thailand.

Apollo's Temple, Didim
So, now in a much better heart and soul space, and more fenders to deal with charter boats J, we ventured out for the third time crossing the Aegean. We had some pretty good runs and nice stops along the way. I first worked my way up the Turkish (“the Emerald”) coast again, which was a good time for reflection and solitude. I always wanted to come to this coast for as long as I can remember, so was good to take some time and enjoy it again, the slow and easy way. Stopping in Fethiye for a full Humum (Turkish bath) endeavour was certainly a welcome stop. At Didim, I managed to get up to Apollo’s temple, an amazing old Ruin.

Pythagoras, Samos

Along the way I got an email from an ole friend from NZ (Elspeth) saying she was in Samos working for “Doctors without Borders” helping out at the refugee camp. She had no idea what hemisphere I was in, but I just happen to be 100 miles from there heading that way. So, that was an awesome surprise and loved catching up with her for a few days, waiting for my new crew to arrive. J

Interior by car, Samos Island

And so EQ’s new crew, Kim, did finally arrive, big smiles all around. I think EQ was even smiling as she likes a feminine touch. We stayed in Pythagoras a few days, rented a car and saw a good bit of the island. Samos is a lovely island and we hope to get back someday (more of that Aegean magic pulling on those heart strings).

Ermoupoli, Syros

But we finally did break away, caught a northerly down to Amorgos, and then a southerly up to Paros and then Syros. Syros was fantastic as always. We managed to catch a “Tango” performance in the old theatre of the main town, which was amazing. An excellent Argentine Tango performance (8 couples and 3 musicians) in Spanish in an 1800’s old Greek theatre was fully a Syros special event. J We loved it.

But sadly, it was time to make way again, which says a lot for the enthusiasm for the plan to head west, particularly after having a great dinner with Dino and Elli the night before.

So, what is this plan, you ask? J Sailing into Venice of course, what else could possible pull us away from Syros? J But it was necessary to make a stop in Poros once more, a delightful village on the water, where we had a lovely dinner on the waterfront with a warm breeze to say goodbye with. So, from there on, EQ is in new waters and a wonderful new Journey of the Heart and Sail in the making. 

Corinth Canal
The Corinth Canal is quite the journey in itself, not to be missed. The canal is 3.2 nm long and maybe 50 feet wide. There’s no turning around or stopping in there, you just keep pushing on. We were in a convoy of 5 yachts and a big tourist boat behind. The walls are steep and we lost GPS signal, but you can’t get lost. You can bang into the old walls though if you’re not paying attention looking at all the old stone work. Luckily it wasn’t windy and we had the 2 knot current running with us.

The Charm of the Aegean...

Now we are off to Galaxidi in the morning, but that’ll be another story.

 So, that’s the news from EQ, where the winds are fair, the seas following and the crew content. J

With Equanimity and Joy…

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

The Hora and the Bougotsa

So, there we were, sitting at a café in the main square of the Hora, looking at the menu for lunch. Now, on most of the Cyclades islands, the Hora (or Chora) is the main village perched on top of the highest hill over looking the main harbour. The Cyclades islands are those postcard picture-perfect islands in the middle of the Aegean Sea, between Turkey and Greece. Most all the homes and businesses are painted bright white with blue trim (the traditional Greek colours), presumably every year as most are pristine. They really do look after their homes and villages with pride.

The Hora's were built many centuries ago, mostly to afford protection against the pirates that controlled much of the Aegean, on-and-off over the years. There's a long history of seafaring here, but that's another story. What would happen when an unknown ship showed up in the harbour was that everyone retreated to the Hora to wait for them to leave. If they didn't leave within a day or two, they would send an old woman down to ask what they wanted. If she came back alive, they knew it was ok and they could relax and get back to life as usual, trading, tending to their fields and goats or fishing boats.

Part of the protection against attacks was to build close together with narrow lanes. There is also limited room on top of a these steep hills so everything got packed together. Today, there's usually a narrow switch-backed paved road up to the base of the Hora, but from there on, you're walking up steeply stepped lanes. It's all very charming and laid-back. Most all the buildings are masonry to keep it cool in the hot summer. It's also very windy in the Aegean during the summer and stormy in the winter, so everything is built very well.

Still today as has always been, donkeys are used to get supplies, food, water, building materials, etc. up to your home. Being a donkey operator is an old and respected, not to mention invaluable business. They can also make an extra buck giving silly tourists a ride. They're lovely animals, gentle but strong, true beasts of burden, a long standing companion to humans. Imagine donkeys loaded with bags of concrete and piles of brick trudging up narrow steep lanes. They're always grateful for an extra carrot you might be carrying in your pocket.

Anyway, back to that menu. It was unusual as it was thick and packed with poems and quotes, mostly in Greek. But the first one was in English by a Greek philosopher.  God (I mean Zeus of course) knows there have been many Greek philosophers over the centuries, but this one is more contemporary. In our travels, I find it all so interesting to try to understand how the local people think, what's important in their lives, their views on life and death, and the daily trials and tribulations they deal with.

So, here's the quote that says it all:

" The Hellenic way of existence denotes 4 types of behaviour.
  • To accept the truth that derives from nature, not the quasi-truth that the human mind creates
  • To live according to morality of knowledge, not the molarity of superstition
  • To deify beauty because beauty is as mighty as your mind and corruptible as flesh
  • And what is most; to love man. How else! Man is the most tragic being in the universe."
              Dimitris Liantinis, "The Greek"

On June, 1st 1998 Liantinis disappeared, leaving a letter to his daughter, Diotima, where he stated his decision to vanish by his own free will after a lifelong and step by step preparation. As it was natural, his unexpected disappearance, evoked public opinion and led to many controversial speculations. After seven years (July 2005), Panagiotis Nikolakakos, cousin of Liantinis, revealed to Diotima the crypt in the mountain Taygetos, where her father layed,as has been instructed to do so by Liantinis himself prior to his "departure".

And so goes life (and death) in the Greek islands, year-after-year, century-after-century, which of course brings me to "Bougotsa". Bougotsa is a Greek speciality, found in most all bakeries in all the islands. It's a cream filled, usually semolina custard wrapped in phyllo dough and baked to perfection. It's usually served hot out of the oven, if you get there in time that is. When you're too late getting to the bakery in the morning and it's all gone, you tend to think about Dimitris as you walk away, shoulders slouched over, and moist eyes. But when you do make it, well, life couldn't be any better and you think Dimitris spent too much time in the city and not enough in the island cafes and bakeries.

So, that's the news from EQ, where the winds are fair (somewhere on the planet), the seas calm (on very rare occasion in the Aegean), and the crew content (that it's finally cooling off after 3 years in the topics).

With Equanimity and Joy,


Monday, 7 September 2015

Glorious Greece - Part V: Southern Cyclades and the mouse

packed quay at Serifos
Serifos view to the Chora
We are working our way slowly back east across the Aegean to Rhodes and then to Turkey. We've stopped at Serifos, Sifnos, Kilimnos, Milos, Folegandros and are now sitting at anchor in Ios with the Meltemi blowing strongly. Each of these islands has it's own charms and challenges. Serifos has a beautiful Chora (main town) perched high atop the cliffs and a small harbor town below, but the anchorage was small and we decided to tie up to the quay when the winds looked like they'd come up into the bay from the south. They quay was jam-packed and people were noisy all night... not our thing.

Kilimnos Hora
We anchored in Vathi, a small bay on SW Sifnos island. It has beautiful turquoise green waters but not much else and with good conditions we decided to head on to Kilimnos then Milos. We found a lovely little spot just north of Psathi on Kilimnos and enjoyed a long swim through rock arches and along the coast. We didn't go ashore here either and the following day headed for Milos and to check out a few possible anchorages for the upcoming Meltemi blow. The Milos bay harborfront was generally uninspiring, but we picked up a solid mooring, which we liked. We decided we didn't really want to spend more time in Milos and headed back for a good anchorage we spied along a sandy beach under Kilimnos and happily sat there for a few days until we could continue on to Folegandros.

Folegandros Hora
The "main" harbor of Folegandros is small with a little bay and quay. There was only one boat tied there and we decided it would be better to tie up then to anchor... bad decision. Although it was easy to check in/out and the bus stop was steps from our boat, we had the typical issues of boats muscling their way in and being packed like sardines. And then there was the mouse.

There is always a possibility of getting rodents on board when tied to shore, but there were tons of cats around so I thought it was unlikely we'd have a problem. We took the bus that evening up to the Chora, then walked a zigzag path higher to the summit and enjoyed spectacular views across the island from the church above. We found a place for gyros (yummy!) and a Greek salad for dinner and then returned to the boat for a good night's sleep. And then there was the mouse...

Roger woke during the night feeling something tickling his hair and got up to take a look around. He spied a tiny mouse in the cockpit, which jumped up and through the open windscreen. Although I love mice, having any sort of rodent on board is awful because they love to chew on electrical wires, which would compromise our navigation and other critical systems on board. We needed to get him out. So armed with a fly (mouse) swatter, we moved the dinghy around on the bow, hoping to scare the small beast out and off the boat the same way he came. We discovered mouse droppings on the stove top the next morning so there could be more than one and they could be anywhere. Off I went to the only hardware store on the entire island, to buy a mouse trap. Once back on board we decided to leave the quay and anchor so we didn't acquire any additional unauthorized crew on board and to get away from the incompetent cruisers tied up next to us. We set the trap and our expectations of hearing it go snap in the night, then went to bed. Next morning, empty trap and no droppings. We were considering the possibility that our stowaway thought better of remaining on board and headed to shore. Two days later, still no sign of him. We're still keeping watch but we're hoping he made it off safely. On further consideration, all the cats at the harbor were pretty skinny, so what's up with that?

With Equanimity and Joy,

Friday, 28 August 2015

Glorious Greece - Part IV: The Saronic Islands

The Saronic Islands are south of Athens off the coast of the Peloponese. We motor-sailed to Póros and anchored about 1.5 miles west of the main harborfront, then decided to relocate to the harbor by the ferry landing where it would be easier to get to town. Póros Town is picturesque by day and even more so at night. We were delighted to be serenaded by live traditional Greek music from one of the cafés on shore and I danced happily all around the boat.

The archeological museum wasn't much to speak of (2 rooms only) but still enjoyable. We found an excellent place for gyros, which we visited 3 times while there (for one week), and homemade ice cream which was awesome. Our new cruising friends showed up a few days later and we enjoyed one more dinner together with everyone before they all headed back to Athens for the end of the season.

The Meltemi winds were blowing, so we decided to stay put for a while before continuing on. Much to our surprise, one of the boats we'd met up with returned to Póros to pick up their grandson and cruise for another week. We decided spur-of-the-moment to join them at an anchorage they assured us was good for all wind conditions. So off we went to Dókos, an uninhabited island next to Hýdra. We set the anchor near shore in shallow waters, put the anchor alarm on and hopped into the crystal clear water for a swim. The sunset was amazing and we had an impromptu pot-luck dinner on s/v Christa later under a glorious full moon with a cooling breeze. Unfortunately, the cooling breeze came from all directions and we were spinning this way and that, getting close to the rocky shore and a neighboring boat. Roger was up just about all night checking the anchor and keeping watch. At 4am it seemed that we were dragging some and shortly before 5am we were getting dangerously close to our friends' boat. We pulled up the anchor and looked for a place to reset. Unfortunately, with the waters so deep until close to shore and several boats surrounding us, we didn't find a place that we felt comfortable with. So off we went an hour before dawn into open waters and across the channel to the mainland. It took us over an hour to get there and get situated, but we found a good spot, good holding, with plenty of swing room. That's the flip side of glorious, wonderful, relaxed cruising... middle-of-the-night fire drills. A few days to wait out the winds here and then we're heading back east into the Cyclades again.

With Equanimity and Joy,

Friday, 21 August 2015

Glorious Greece - Part III: Athens

Athens - the big city. The marina was a beehive of activity when we arrived on Saturday... charter boats and private boats alike were loading up provisions and preparing their escape for the holiday week. There was no berth assignment and no one met us when we arrived. We picked a place we liked at the end of the pier and checked in at the office. We watched all afternoon as a comical parade of boats streamed out of the basin. By the evening of the following day the place had all but cleared out and enjoyed some tranquility. Aside from washing the boat and doing long-neglected stainless polishing, we planned to visit the highlights of Athens and then clear out before all the boats headed back for the barn.

Breathtaking ruins of Parthenon
Our first day as tourists in Athens was spent at the Acropolis and Parthenon, of course! Although most of the local Athenians had left the city for the holiday, there were still throngs of tourists sightseeing. We arrived at the Acropolis summit mid-day (although we know better than to do that!) and were queued up with hundreds of people on their way up through the gate to the top. Once there we saw the breathtaking ruins. The views were somewhat diminished by the scaffolding, the cranes and the crowds which covered most everything. Still, it was fantastic to see.

Parthenon with scaffolding, cranes and crowds
The Parthenon was amazing, as were several of the other temple ruins. The views of Athens from the summit were spectacular as you look down over an endless sea of new buildings puzzled in amidst old ruins. We walked back down to town and enjoyed gyros and Greek salad for lunch at a nearby sidewalk cafe.

We then proceeded to the Acropolis Museum, a new building situated directly under the Acropolis. Much of the first level was done with clear floor panels to view the preserved ruins of the site. The side of the building facing the Acropolis was all glass, so as you gazed at statues and artifacts within the museum you could look up at their original location.The sculptures were incredible... the flow and drape of fabric, the body's muscles and texture, the windswept locks of hair... softness and curves all magnificently chiseled in hard stone.

Our second day as tourists was spent at the Archaeological Museum. It is huge and impressive with its diversity, and we kept finding more and more exhibits around each turn and corridor. We started with gold and riches discovered in ancient burial sites and then viewed the statues carved over the many centuries. Some of the statues of gods, such as the one of Poseidon (right) were simply amazing. The style went from plain/austere taken from that of the Egyptian's to a more complex and natural expression of the human form (below). We took a short break for lunch at the museum's cafe and then continued on.
Changing style of Greek statues over the centuries
There were two other museums we would have liked to visited, but we were done after this one. We might have enjoyed spending another day or two just walking around the city itself and seeing more of the ancient ruins, but we needed to move on before all the boats came back to the harbour.

Sunset at the Alimos Marina in Athens
We enjoyed one last lovely sunset at the dock and were ready to go. For this season, this is probably the furthest west and north we'll be... unless we change our minds again, and again.

With Equanimity and Joy,