Travels with S/Y Thetis

Thetis only

2001: Pylos to Yerakas

This web page contains the logs of the eighth leg of a trip that I took with S/Y Thetis from Greece to Tunisia and back. The logs cover a period of 6 days of sailing from Pylos, on the SW Peloponnesos, to Yerakas. During this leg I was accompanied by my nephew Nicky Iliades and his father Dr. Chris Iliades. On the way we stopped at Methoni, Diros, Mezapo, Porto Kayio, and Elafonnisos, a small island off SE Peloponnesos, and Monemvasia.

The logs are illustrated with maps and photographs, and also include some historical and geographical descriptions of the places visited as well as several links to other related web sites.

Route to Pylos
Route to Pylos

Friday June 15 2001, Day 43

The day started well enough. After a phone call, the fuel truck came, around 9 AM, and we topped the tank and cans with 115 L. This was less fuel than I expected given how much we had motored. Taking into account the fuel we purchased in Pantelleria, we had spent 153 L for the distance of 558 M from Sidi Bou Saïd to Pylos. The engine had logged 84.5 hours which comes to an average of 1.4 L/hr. Not bad!

The marina in Pylos
The “marina” in Pylos

Water is not available in the “marina.” Let me add here that the Pylos marina is like so many “marinas” in Greece: a concrete harbor that can accommodate many yachts but with no infrastructure whatsoever. The project, mainly financed by EU funds, is usually abandoned. Years go by but the well built concrete harbor remains surrounded by dirt. There are provisions for water, electricity, and lights but none of these have been installed yet. The marina in Pylos has not changed since Thetis’ last visit in 1996. In these “marinas” there are no buildings, no attendants, and very often their land access is a dirt road, if that. It is a shameful waste of funds. So, no water here. We were told that water can be had at the old port. Nick and I walked to the old port and we concluded that given the brisk breeze and the swell Thetis might sustain some damage if we docked along side the tall concrete quay with its old car tires and protruding iron tie-downs. Water will have to wait for another place.

The Main Square in Pylos

During the passage from Pantelleria we ran out of Camping Gaz and now we had to replace the canister. We inquired at the supermarket, off the main square, about a replacement. We were directed to a marine supply store some distance from the port near the Museum. The proprietor of this store is Fotis, a retired merchant marine radio operator. He is very friendly and helpful. He exchanged our empty canister for a full one. In town we also bought two dozen bottles of spring water (I do not like drinking the water from the tanks), fresh bread, ouzo, fresh fruits, and vegetables. Here they claim that the local ouzo is the best in Greece. Similar claims are also made in Lesvos, Limnos, and Samos. We carted everything to the boat.

Our plan was to sail either to Porto Kayio, about 35 M away, or, if the sea was too rough, to anchor at Methoni, 7 M south of Pylos. After we stowed everything, Mimis, our friend from the S/Y Homati, untied our lines and we motored out of the marina. The time was 1245. We were just outside the harbor when I noticed a change in the sound of the engine. No water was coming out of the exhaust. We stopped the engine and I opened its compartment. It was full of exhaust fumes. After the fumes cleared and I could see inside, I found that the compartment was flooded with hot water. The sea was very choppy and the wind was coming from the N at a speed of over 20 knots. We opened the headsail and that gave us back control of the wildly yawing boat. Nick steered and trimmed the sail while I tried to find out what was causing the problem. We kept sailing to the S and out of the Sfakteria Channel.

At first I thought that the problem was with the raw water pump, but after I restarted the engine, there was no water leaking out of the pump. I turned the engine off, disconnected the output hose from the pump, and briefly ran the engine again. Plenty of water was flowing out of the pump. This ruled out both the pump and any problems with its intake. I used the hand pump and a bucket to empty out the water from the engine compartment so that I can best see what was going on. In the meantime, Thetis kept on sailing. I reconnected the output hose and restarted the engine. All clear around the pump and water hoses but a lot of hot water flowed around the crankcase. I thought that maybe a drainage plug had fallen off but I could find no such plug. I also checked the oil level. It was OK. I then turned off the motor and went inside the right cabin, undid my berth and opened the access to the shaft and exhaust system. It did not look suspicious, all hoses were tight. While crawling under the berth, I had Nick re-start the engine. It was obvious. Hot water ran out profusely from the plastic water trap which also acts as a silencer (muffler). Its plastic was burned and cracked. There was no way to repair the water trap, it had to be replaced.

We turned off the engine, came about, and sailed right back to Pylos “marina.” When we were right at the entrance of the harbor, we rolled-in the headsail and started the motor. We ran it only a minute but long enough to come side-to at the same berth that we had left an hour ago. Mimis was still there as well as Philip and they took our lines. Philip is a colorful Frenchman who speaks some Greek and lives in a small ketch, he does odd jobs to finance his cruising, we had given him some of our abundant tuna last night and he was very grateful. The time was 1345 and our adventure sailing was for 3.5 M.

Back in the marina
Back in the “marina”

Since the time was past noon Friday, it was important to do whatever we could as soon as possible, before everything closed down for the weekend. I removed the water trap and Mimis drove me and the trap to Fotis’ marine store. Fotis referred us to a Mr. Drougos who repairs outboards. Fotis’ son came with us to show us the way. We drove to the Drougos’ shed. No, there was no such thing as a water trap to be found anywhere in Pylos. Mr. Drougos made several phone calls to Kalamata, the nearest large city, but he was unable to locate the part. It had to come from Athens. He could order it for us but the earliest we could have it would be on Tuesday. In the mean time, we were supposed to meet Chris, Nick’s father, in Kythera tomorrow. I called my brother Nikos on his GSM phone. He was getting ready to sail this weekend with his Faneromeni for the Chalkidiki in N Greece. Now he was on his motorcycle running last minute errands. He promised to call back as soon as he got his address book and some paper to write down the model number of the water trap. He did so within minutes. He will try to call Vetus (the maker of the trap) dealership and arrange for them to ship us the trap.

Not being able to do anything else, we drove back to Thetis. In the mean time, Nicky had completely cleaned the boat, bailed out all the water from the engine compartment, and put up the tent. We invited Fotis to join us for lunch under the tent. Soon somebody from Vetus called. He had been contacted by Nikos and he had already located the part. He promised to ship it right away to us in Pylos with a courier service. We should have it by tomorrow morning. We had nothing more to do but to contact Chris in Crete and tell him not to go to Kythera but take the ferry to Kalamata from where he can link with us tomorrow. There was no answer at his hotel. I used a rarely used function of my GSM Nokia Communicator and sent him a fax.

A sailboat flying the Polish flag came and docked next to us. The crew of 7 had sailed from Poland to France via canals and from there to Italy and Greece. Nick and I walked to the castle but it was closed for the day. It closes at 5 PM. We went to a hardware store next to the supermarket by the main square and bought 4 new stainless steel hose clamps to replace the old ones at the water trap. To my surprise, they had several Camping Gaz canisters. When I asked why the lady at the supermarket next door had directed us to Fotis’ half way around town, I was told that she and the hardware store proprietor belong to different political parties and do not speak to each other. This is Greece!

My cousin Chris finally called us back. He will take the ferry to Kalamata tomorrow and he will call us again before boarding. We went out to dinner with Mimis and had the last of our tuna.

Saturday June 16 2001, Day 44

All is well that ends well. But there were times today that it looked very doubtful that all will end well. First thing in the morning Chris called. Yes, the Kythera ferry does go on to Kalamata. He will be there around 6 PM.

Neocastro in Pylos

While killing time until the part delivery and while Nicky slept, I walked to the Neocastro Castle. It is a marvelous castle, full of green bushes and pine trees, and it is kept very clean. It was built by the Ottomans. It is very romantic to wander along its ramparts. Being fairly early in the morning there were hardly any other visitors and I had the place all to myself. Its small museum has many interesting engravings and water colors, mostly by foreign Philhellene (Greek lovers) volunteer fighters of the 1821 Greek war of independence, as well as from the battle of Navarino. After the Castle, and on my way back, I visited the Archaeological Museum (open 8:30 to 15:00). It has a small and not too great collection, considering that this is Pylos, but it also has two precious bronze statuettes possibly of the Dioscouri.

Inside the Castle
Bronze Statuette in Pylos Museum

Being of a suspicious nature, I walked to the office of Speedex (the courier that will deliver the part) to check on the part’s arrival. The shipment from Kalamata had not come in yet but I got the Kalamata office’s number and called them. I explained the situation. The van that delivers to Pylos had already left and was on its way, so we should have the part rather soon. Just in case, I gave the man my mobile phone number. About 5 minutes after I hung up, he rung me back. The part did not get into the Pylos van but was there in the Kalamata office. It was marked “hold for pick-up.” Either I had to get to Kalamata and pick it up, before the 3 PM closing time, or he could send it to Pylos on Monday. What a foul up! How to get there on time? Buses are rather slow. I thought of renting a car. I checked at the Car Rental near the “marina.” They had no cars (neither did they in October of 96).

Hrani I got back to Thetis and roused Nicky. We walked briskly to the square and, after some inquiries, we found Mr. Nikos Houmas at the travel agency under the Miramare Hotel. Not only did he have a car but he is also from Samos. He wanted to talk about our trips but we were rather in a hurry. After getting the car we drove rather quickly the 100 or so km to Kalamata. Eventually we found the Speedex depot and recovered the part.

Now, once again, we had time to kill before Chris’ arrival. We drove towards Koroni. On the way, we stopped for lunch at a restaurant off the road. They featured suckling pig on the spit. It was delicious. We continued towards Koroni and stopped for a swim at nice beach, called Hrani, located near Petalidi. Fed and refreshed, we drove back to Kalamata. We were just in time for a cup of coffee before the ferry arrival. Chris came ashore. I had not seen my cousin for several years.

The Marina in Kalamata

Having now both Chris and the water trap in the car we drove back to Pylos and Thetis. Before driving back we went to inspect the Kalamata Marina. It looks very good. It is one of the few marinas in Greece that, after being constructed were leased to a private company who operates it.

While I was installing the new water trap and checking its operation, Nick and Chris assembled the zodiac. We then topped the water tanks by ferrying jerry cans with the rented car after filling them from a water faucet near the “marina” entrance, about 200 m away from the pier. We rearranged the front cabin to make room for Chris and his things. We are definitely back into cruising mode.

By the time we had finished all these tasks, had returned the car, and were ready for dinner it was past 10 PM. We ate a not very remarkable meal at the Diethnes (International) restaurant.

Sunday June 17 2001, Day 45

The Castle of Methoni
The Castle of Methoni

We cast off from Pylos, for the second time, at 0620. There was almost no wind and we had to motor. There was some swell. We opened a small amount of the headsail, just to stabilize the boat and ease on the roll, as we rounded Cape Methoni. We swung in the gulf to allow Chris and Nick to see the Castle of Methoni and take pictures. We then set a course across the bay for Diros.

We experienced some problem with the GPS/Chart-Plotter. It froze when I zoomed-in the harbor. This problem seems to happen only with the C-Map “Western Greece” cartridge. When running the unit’s self-test diagnostic it gives a “bad contact” indication. The strange thing is that without this particular cartridge it still gives the error indication but it seems to work correctly. I am not sure what to do about this.

We arrived in Diros [36° 38.4' N 22° 22.8' E] at 1325 having covered 41.7 M from Pylos. We anchored off without a problem in about 7 m depth, just across from the famous cave also an important neolithic site. The sea was perfectly flat and there was no problem leaving Thetis, in this rather exposed anchorage, to visit the cave. We boarded the zodiac and went ashore. There were very few visitors which was nice but it was fairly hot.

The Bay of Diros
Inside the Cave of Diros
Inside the Cave of Diros

We had to walk all the way up the hill to buy the tickets and then down again to the cave’s entrance. The guide was a very personable young man. After a brief wait, we entered and, after putting on the inevitable life vests, we boarded the inflatable rafts and started our tour. The guide blissfully refrained from the trite descriptions, so popular with cave guides, of the stalactite and stalagmites as an “angel” or “Santa Claus” etc. It was a good visit. The Diros cave is one of the largest in Greece. Its water-filled caverns go on and on. Only about 10 km of them have been explored. What is shown to the visitor is only a very small part. When we emerged, our guide, fascinated by the visitors from the sea, invited us for a beer.

Inside the Cave of Diros
Inside the Cave of Diros Inside the Cave of Diros

After we got back aboard Thetis, we had a swim to cool off. I then topped the engine oil and off we went. We left Diros at 1610. The sea was still calm and no wind. This is the famed Mani region. Mani, before roads were built, was one of the most remote regions in Greece. During the Ottoman occupation, it was never subdued and kept a semi-autonomous existence. One of its main sources of wealth was piracy, the boats hiding in its many coves and pouncing at unsuspecting ships, heading for the Kythera channel. We motored to the Mezapo cove [36° 32.5' N 22° 23.2' E] where we arrived at 1725. We did not stop for long. Just took some pictures and left. It was a wise decision. We motored and rounded Cape Grosso. At that point we had some tail wind, so we opened the genoa. Past Cape Grosso, we negotiated Cape Tenaron where the wind started blowing from the W at 15-25 knots.

There is an old Greek sailor’s rhyme about these capes:

Από τον Κάβο Μαλιά		 From Cape Maleas
Δέκα μίλια μακριά		 Stay 10 miles away

κι’ απο τον Κάβο Γκρόσσο	 and from Cape Grosso
δέκα κι’ άλλο τόσο.		 ten and ten again.
Cavo Grosso

We arrived in Porto Kayio [36° 25.8' N 22° 29.1' E] at 2040, 24.6 M from Diros. Here we had a considerable amount of difficulty anchoring because the wind was strong and very gusty. We dragged after our first attempt. It took several tries before we felt secure enough to take the dinghy ashore for dinner. The outboard engine started acting up and operating intermittently. I suspected bad or old fuel. We had a nice dinner of grilled sword fish.

Porto Kayio, looking N

Monday June 18 2001, Day 46

Typical Mani Tower-house
Typical Mani Tower-house

Chris and I took a long walk while Nick was asleep. This whole area, the famed Mani is captivating with its long history of terrible vendettas, its stark scenery, and its Πυργόσπιτα, tall stone tower-like houses with narrow windows, built in the high spots and totally isolated from each other, so unlike anywhere else in Greece. They were designed to enable their denizens to easily spot their approaching enemies from a distance, usually these were their rival family, and defend themselves.

Porto Kayio which the Ανεξερεύνητη Πελοπόννησος - Unexplored Pelopannesos describes as Πόρτο Χάλιο (Porto Disgrace) has indeed spoiled the beauty of the natural setting by its ugly concrete-box houses that seem to have sprung like mushrooms in recent years. We bought some fresh bread from the tiny and stark “Mini Market” and went back on board.

We raised our anchor at 1030 and motored away from the cove. As there was a good westerly breeze, we raised the mainsail, set it on the 2nd reef, and started sailing. Right away we noticed a small tear on the sail and as we were debating whether to lower it and patch it or not, the rip quickly started to increase and before we could do anything sensible the whole sail had split across horizontally. I think that this is an old age failure because the sail was hardly strained. The wind was no more than 5-10 knots.

The whole sail had to come down as it was unusable. Despite this setback we managed to do some sailing with the headsail. By the time we reached our destination, Elafonisos, the wind had freshened to 20-30 knots SW. The south cove of Sarakino was not tenable so we rounded the SE corner of the island and arrived at Lefki (Λεύκη) [36° 28.7' N 22° 59' E] at 1540 after 26.8 M.

Lefki in Elafonisos

Here the sea was flat but there were some strong gusts. We tried to anchor but the bottom has a thick layer of sand over slate/rock and the anchor did not hold. We moved to the S end of the cove where the bottom is better. There were several other boats in the cove.

Car tracks on the sand

Later we went ashore and walked for about half an hour to Sarakino on the S side of the island. There were several ugly buildings at the not-so-long-ago deserted cove. The once pristine sand dunes were despoiled by garbage and car tracks. The beach has been “decorated” by umbrellas. One more lovely spot has been sacrificed to the relentless gods of the quick drachmas. Saddened by this we walked back. We had some difficulty with the outboard. I do suspect stale fuel. I should throw it away and replace it by fresh fuel at the first opportunity.

By the time we got back on Thetis, the wind was howling with gusts well above 30 knots but the anchor kept on holding. The barometric pressure was a low 1005 mB, 5 down from yesterday. The wind direction kept veering to N, E, S, W and back to N. It definitely felt as if a gale was coming. We had not received any recent signal on the Navtex. Maybe I was paranoiac but I set the second anchor to the E to prevent Thetis from drifting towards the rocks since the first anchor, with 50 m of chain, was set very close to the western shore. The outboard would not start. We raised the zodiac and lashed it on deck. Now we were ready for a gale.

I cooked a pasta alla puttanesca which we ate with great relish and washed it down with a bottle of Sicilian wine.

Tuesday June 19 2001, Day 47

Chris and I decided to go ashore for a long walk. We had considerable trouble with the dinghy’s outboard. It started only with the choke all the way out, ran for a short time, and then it stalled. I was been suspecting stale fuel as I did not remember whether I had replaced it before departing from Leros. We had to row ashore. We stopped by the American flagged sailboat Shyena and asked if they could spare us a liter or so of fuel. The couple aboard, Larry and Doris (I think she is the skipper), very graciously gave us some but it had no effect on the outboard. It still stalled. We rowed ashore. It was long and hard.

The Small Harbor in Elafonisos

We then walked for about one hour the 4 km to the only town on the island. We bought some bread and a few provisions and then walked back to our dinghy. Then we rowed to Shyena and gave them a fresh loaf of bread. Larry and Doris started their cruise 8 years ago from San Diego. Larry is a retired civil engineer and before embarking had absolutely no knowledge of boating. They had just been married before starting on Doris’ dream: a world sailing cruise. From the Pacific they crossed into the Atlantic via the Panama Canal and cruised the Caribbean. Then they came to the Mediterranean via the Azores. They are, like most cruisers, very interesting and personable people.

Garbage thrown under the sign that forbids it

In the evening I made an attempt at troubleshooting the GPS. I checked all its connections but they all appeared normal. The problem seems to be related to the C-Map cartridge and not the GPS itself. It is only the “Western Greece” cartridge that causes the unit to freeze. I have not used this cartridge for over 4 years. I did not have any problems with it then, but it was before 2000 so it could be a Y2K related fault.

After the GPS, I attacked the outboard. I tried to remove its carburetor to clean it in case it had a stuck valve but it was too difficult in the rolling seas. I gave up for the time being. So far we have the following problems:

  1. Torn mainsail
  2. Watermaker that does not produce
  3. Stalling outboard
  4. GPS that freezes with one of its C-Map cartridges

The latest Navtex weather report called for 5-6, locally 7, force W wind in the Kythera Sea and for 5-6 SW in the Southwestern Aegean. No significant change is expected for the next 36 hours. With this information and observing that the wind has been decreasing here for several hours we made the decision to depart early in the morning. In preparation, before dusk, we raised the second anchor and took the zodiac aboard and lashed it on deck.

I made for supper a rice pilaf and omelets. After eating we went to our cabins for a few hours of sleep before the departure.

Wednesday June 20 2001, Day 48

We left Elafonnisos at 0300, our destination was Monemvasia. The wind was a strong westerly of 15-30 knots. We opened part of the headsail (we had lost our mainsail) but kept the engine running. I wanted to have its power readily available for fast maneuvering to avoid ships in this very busy channel between Cape Maleas and the island of Kythera. As it was we had several close encounters and had to take evasive action but always under control. It was a very nice and clear night.

We saw a heavily illuminated large ship that was not moving and that, although it was hard to believe, looked as if she was aground. As we approached, I verified with the binoculars that she was exhibiting the two vertical red lights indicating that she was indeed aground. Later we were told that she was a large oil tanker that hit the land.

Approaching Monemvasia early in the morning
Approaching Monemvasia early in the morning

We gave Cape Maleas a wide berth, keeping 2 M to its south. After rounding the cape, the wind died out, to pick up shortly with renewed vigor from the NW at 25-35 knots. Before the rounding, we had rolled-in the headsail but with this new wind, we opened it again to about 40% and since by then we were clear of the shipping lanes, we turned off the engine.

We sailed nicely for several hours. Nick, Chris, and I took watches while the other two slept (none of us went to sleep until we were clear of the shipping lanes). When we were about 5 M from Monemvasia the wind veered N and it became a headwind forcing us to motor.

We arrived in Monemvasia [36° 41' N 23° 02.3' E] at 0645 after 30.1 M. The new “marina,” S of the castle is hard to describe. It consists of a floating dock to which are attached hinged long metal poles ending in a float, something like a comb. The idea is that you tie your boat at the dock and at the end of the pole, no need for either anchors or moorings. It is a good idea but unfortunately the poles are too short, about 5 m and they ride very low in the water. Thus, the bow is not well secured being held backwards instead of forwards and also the poles are too low for fenders to prevent them from scratching your boat. Further, the poles are so low that tying is impossible unless you step on them but their floats cannot hold your weight, so you sink while tying. A special prize must be awarded to the genius that designed this system and to the idiot bureaucrats who approved the stupid scheme. My suggestion is to anchor at any rate and come either stern or bow to. Despite these obstacles we managed to squeeze in one of these contraptions.

The strange arrangements in the Monemvasia “marina”
Inside the Lower Castle of Monemvasia

We left Thetis and walked to the castle for a visit. A visit to the lower and upper castles of Monemvasia is always a pleasant and interesting experience but an early morning visit is a real treat. There were no people and it was cool. The colors were lovely and vibrant. It was very quiet. This is a magic place, its Byzantine lower castle is tastefully restored and brought back to life. We climbed up the steep path and wandered around the ghost-like upper castle. By the time we descended the temperature was still pleasant. We had a nice espresso in one of the inviting cafés.

On the way back to the boat we did some shopping. I tried to call the number written on the “marina” wall for the “attendant” to come and open the water faucet, but he could not come until the afternoon. This is service indeed. We did get however some fresh gasoline for the outboard. Maybe this will fix its problem.


Chris and Nick in the Lower Castle


View from the Upper Castle of Monemvasia

Departing from Monemvasia

We departed Monemvasia at 1145 for Yerakas to the north. The wind was a brisk 15-25 knots from the SW which allowed us to sail all of the 9.6 M. It was wonderful to sail around the Monemvasia rock. It is sometimes referred to as the Greek Gibraltar. Its castle has never been sacked.

We arrived in Yerakas [36° 47.1' N 23° 05.2' E] at 1410. The approach was, as usual, breath-taking but inside the fjord the wind was coming down the steep mountains with violent gusts, well over 30 knots, which made anchoring in the narrow space quite hard. I definitely wanted to be anchored off and not alongside the quay where it is shallow and the wind may be pressing Thetis to the concrete. It took us several attempts before we got the anchor well dug-in.

Entering the Fjord in Yerakas

In the evening, when the wind subsided, we rowed ashore, as the outboard was totally inoperable. My theory of stale fuel is apparently wrong. We took a nice walk and then sat at the reliable Ίσαλος Μεζεδοποιίον (The Water-line Treat Maker) where we had an assortment of tasty treats: fried tiny fish (αθερίνα), fava spread, green beans, salad with toasted bread (παξιμάδι), etc. It was great eating and a very pleasant and quiet night. The husband and wife team who own the place could not have been more friendly and attentive.