Travels with S/Y Thetis

Thetis only

2001: Kythera to Malta

This web page contains the logs of the second leg of a trip that I took with S/Y Thetis from Greece to Tunisia and back. I was accompanied with Manos Castrinakis. The leg covers a 4-day period of blue water sailing from the Greek island of Kythera, to Valletta the capital of Malta.

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 Malta
Route to Malta

Thursday May 10 2001, Day 7

More preparations for the trip. I tried to call the Greek Meteorological Service. Their number does not work for GSM mobile phones; it only works from fixed phones. I used a card phone but I has placed on a long hold and by the time I was connected to a live person the card ran out and the line went dead. Catch 22! Now Manos has a retired Greek Navy officer working for him. He called him and asked the officer to call the Greek Meteorological Service for a forecast. Within a few minutes we had our forecast with precision: light NW wind for today turning to SE tonight, then SW and increasing to force 6 by Saturday. No bad systems on the horizon other than possibly bad visibility. It was a go. We did some provision shopping. We had already replaced the two missing mast-sail slides and the flares. Manos had also brought a new circuit breaker but since I had cleaned and tightened the contacts of the old one in Donousa it has been behaving and there was no need to replace it.

Leaving Kythera, the islet Ovo

By 1125 we left Kythera and were on our way to Malta. Outside Kapsali the wind was a low 7 knots but coming from the SW, our course for Malta was 266°. At the beginning we raised the full main-sail and motor-sailed, then turned off the motor, opened the full head-sail and sailed slowly for a few hours after which the wind had veered more to the S.

Manos made for lunch a wonderful salad with fresh lettuce, corn, dried apricots, scallions, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar. Manos loves to prepare elaborate food and he is always a pleasure to sail with.

Later the wind died out and we had to roll-in the genoa and motor-sail with very light variable winds anywhere from the SW to the NW at 3-7 knots. It was a little cool but still pleasant out in the cockpit. Manos and I spent the time bringing each other up to date with our activities since our last meeting around Christmas time. We discussed all shorts of things from taxes to delinquent tenants, to music and literature.

By nightfall the wind situation was basically the same, we lowered the main sail and continued motoring, but some swell had developed. Manos felt slightly off key and I prepared some rice with tuna fish, capers, and olives. It was too cold to eat outside so we ate inside the cabin. A few ships crossed our path but we only had one encounter, with a large oil tanker, close enough to alter our course.

After dinner we started two hour watches. I took the first watch 11 to 1.

Friday May 11 2001, Day 8

Nothing happened during my watch and Manos’ watch, but when I relieved him at 0300 the wind had veered to SSE and increased to 21 knots. This allowed me to raise the main sail, open the genoa and turn off the motor. Thetis, as if released from the tyranny of the engine, responded by making better than 6 knots.

We continued sailing until Manos’ watch. He later woke me up to check the proximity of a ship on a course reciprocal to ours. I showed Manos how to plot her course, using the radar, and determine that she was due to cross our stern at about 2 M as the closest approach. The early morning was overcast with a lot of surface water-vapor which created plenty of clutter on the radar screen.

By sunrise we were still sailing. Later in the day we crossed the 100 mile mark from Kythera. We were about ¼ of our way to Malta.

All day we sailed. The SE wind freshened and we took in a reef. During this maneuver the 2nd reef line came undone and we lost it inside the boom. Now we only have the 1st and the 3rd reefs at our disposal because retrieving it would be a difficult operation to be undertaken while under way. Other damage: a loose floor board, due to a broken screw and a loose screw on the table bracket.

By evening time, the wind had veered to the E and we were sailing completely downwind. Later, the wind died and we started the motor but no water came out of the exhaust. The belt driving the water pump was completely loose. I fixed it.

Just before sunset, a small yellowish-green bird circled Thetis a few times and then landed on the deck. It then flew off, circled again, and then it landed right next to Manos. After resting for a while, it took off again and once more landed on our bow and rested next to the warm sun-shower bag. I put out some sesame seeds which it ate before taking off, for good this time.

Without much wind Thetis was rocking a lot in the large swell and Manos once again was somewhat affected. At dusk, another bird, a swallow this time, landed on deck and then flew inside the cabin. It flew around as if inspecting the accommodations and then left. A few minutes later, changing its mind, it flew straight into the cabin and perched right on top of the barometer. Finding this spot unsuitable, it flew around and then nested in a shopping bag and settled in for the night. It did not stir while I made a spaghetti with garlic sauce for dinner and while we ate it. The motion of the boat was wild and I spilled my wine while eating. Quite a mess. Manos went to sleep and I took the first watch.

As we were motor-sailing directly down wind, I tied a strong line on the boom to prevent accidental jibes. All day we received only two messages on the Navtex: one from Malta about a pipeline and one from Kerkyra about an inoperable lighthouse. No weather update. Around midnight, the wind backed to ENE and once again we were able to turn off the engine and sail with the main, still on its 1st reef, and half of the head-sail. The waves got smaller and the motion less pronounced. It started to drizzle. Our avian stowaway is still with us.

Saturday May 12 2001, Day 9

When Manos woke me up for my watch, the wind had backed some more and I was able to increase the head-sail. We were now sailing nicely, doing about 7 knots. We had already passed the midpoint to Malta. The swallow is still asleep in the shopping bag. No other events during my watch.

During Manos’ watch I was very rudely woken up by a very loud banging sound. Manos thought that we had collided with some flotsam. I immediately checked the bilge, sails, and everything else I could think of. All in order, no water. I went back to sleep.

The next thing I knew, Manos was calling me. A ship was bearing down on us. We turned on the motor and made a 40° turn while illuminating our sails with the floodlight. She went by at less than a ¼ mile from us. Although the wind was 20-25 knots and at a very favorable direction, from NNE, I left on the motor for the rest of Manos’ watch both as an insurance while I slept and to charge the batteries.

During my watch, I turned off the engine and continued to sail. The drizzle had stopped. Some stars and an anemic moon were visible behind the clouds. A new message had been received on the Navtex from Heraklio about the sighting of a distress rocket near Crete but still no weather report. We have not received a weather update since leaving Kythera. Very infuriating.

Later two turtle doves landed on Thetis and nestled over the main hatch. They stayed with us for a few hours. We were still sailing, making good time, but the wind had backed further to the NNW. After sunrise the swallow flew out from the bag inside the cabin and after twice circling Thetis, as if to thank her for her hospitality, flew off.

Manos Resting

At noon, Manos made another one of his wonderful salads using all sorts of leftovers. The waves were appreciably smaller and we had a pleasant lunch in the cockpit. At last the Navtex received a weather report from Malta: NW wind of 4-5 on the Beaufort Scale valid for 50 miles around Malta and for the next 24 hrs.

After lunch I took a nap. While I slept a new weather report came, from Kerkyra this time: gale warning for the Sidra area (the sea around Libya) and for the Kythera sea, winds from the N of force 7-8. It seems that we have avoided this system and it is to the E of our position, at least we hoped so.

By 1800 we were less than 100 M from Malta. The wind however was now from the SW, a headwind. The nice ride was over. We were forced to lower the sails and to motor. The progress was slow and there was some banging into the waves and spray. We opened the sprayhood for the first time since Kythera.

While Manos was preparing supper the wind was about 18 knots, totally against us, and the waves became rather violent. Manos made spaghetti with a sauce from chopped turkey, mushrooms, fresh tomatoes and peppers. Very tasty. After we cleaned the dishes, Manos took the first watch and I went to sleep.

In a while he woke me up. Another ship was bearing down on us. We slowed down and avoided her.

Later, during my watch, I avoided several more ships. The red navigation light stopped working and I rigged a spare one, battery operated.

Sunday May 13 2001, Day 10

I came on watch at 0300. The chop is a little less and so is the headwind. As a result we were making better headway. If this speed keeps up we should be reaching Valletta by 1300. This is good because I definitely do not want to arrive after the customs closes down for the evening. There was heavy traffic in this area and I had to take evasive action several times.

At 0600, and as I was getting ready to wake up Manos for his watch, I noticed a change in the engine sound. I looked at the exhaust. No water. I turned off the engine and opened the engine compartment. The V belt which drives the water pump was completely gone. Bits and pieces of it were in the bilge. I woke up Manos to keep an eye for traffic and while we were drifting and rolling in the waves I replaced the belt. Soon we were back into business and motoring toward Valletta.

After daybreak we siphoned about 40 L of Diesel fuel from the small jerry cans, lashed on deck, into the main tank. This was not really necessary as we had enough fuel in the tank to make port but it seemed a prudent precaution against anything unexpected.

As we were nearing Malta the waves increased in size and the SW wind was once again 18-20 knots. Bang-bang, spray-spray we went. The main hatch had developed a small leak, most likely from its seal, and some water was leaking on the table. So far, the new windows have been water tight.

At a distance of 15-20 M from Valletta and a depth of about 100 m there were a number of ships waiting, under anchor, their turn to enter the busy port. They were a problem for the small boat navigator because while they were way too far to distinguish their black sphere indicating that they are anchored, they did appear as large targets on the radar screen, and were indistinguishable from slow moving ships (which were also present). The bad visibility and the rough seas compounded this problem even further. We passed by at least 10 such ships. It was a tense passage.

Slowly we crept closer and closer to our destination. When we were about 10 M from Valletta I hailed, as is required, Valletta Control on the VHF, first on channel 12 and then on 16. They responded and asked us to switch to channel 9. They asked for the name of our vessel but they had a hard time with “Thetis.” I had to spell it: “Tango, Hotel, Echo, Tango, India, Sierra.” Then they asked for our flag, the number of passengers and crew, and the name of our agent. After I replied with the information and that we had no agent they responded, just like the last time I came to Malta, with “Proceed and report when you are 1 mile from the harbor.”

When we were about 5 M from the shore we acquired a GSM signal and I was able to send an SMS message to Rozina, who is not only my brother Nikos’ friend but also Manos’ cousin, that we are all safe. She called us back almost immediately. The weather in Athens was very bad. Nikos was away on a motorcycle rally, but they had all being wearied about us. I then called my wife Alice in Washington D.C. She was rather surprised that we had made such good time and sounded very relieved. Manos called his wife Mary but she was out and he left her voice mail.

Entering Valletta
Entering Valletta

About 1 M from the harbor, I reported on the VHF, as we were directed. We were told to go directly to the customs in Marsamxett. We need not anchor off but we were to dock next to the “black schooner.” We entered the harbor and following both my memory from my last trip in 1996 as well as the plan in the 2001 edition of the Mediterranean Almanac, we headed for the S side of Manoel Island in the Lazzareto Creek. Tired as we were, we could not locate a docking space by a black schooner. We were hailed in the VHF and after a somewhat confusing conversation it dawned on me that they wanted us to go to the Msida Creek [35° 53.8 N 14° 30 E] instead. Sure enough, as soon as we entered the creek there was a uniformed gentleman waiving for us and indicating to come side-to. We waved back that we had understood and made a wide turn to allow us to put up the fenders and docking lines. Then we made our approach. Two customs officials were waiting for us and caught our lines. With their help the maneuver was executed without any trouble despite the rather brisk wind. Imagine Greek officials ever condescending to be so helpful! We had definitely arrived in a different country.

We had arrived in Malta. The local time, one hour ahead of Greek time, was 1500. We had traveled 411.8 M from Kythera. I got our passports and the ship’s papers and followed the officials to a nearby office, right next to the black schooner which was totally on the ground and used as a restaurant. At the office the officials were friendly, polite, and above all efficient. They asked if we had aboard any pets, firearms, or drugs, in that order. They did like my computer printed crew list. Another uniformed man, a policeman, took a second crew list and looked at our passports. They had a large ledger into which pertinent information about Thetis was already entered: Thetis, Greek registry, registration number: 3643, owner: Vasilis Riginos, my address in Washington D.C., her length and beam, etc. I was very impressed and asked them how they got all of this information. The answer is simple. They keep good computerized records. So when we declared via the VHF the name of our yacht and her nationality all they had to do was to pull the record of her 1996 visit. Very impressive and efficient.

They asked us to move Thetis away from the customs area and to come inside the breakwater and tie side-to next to the “black schooner” and the Marina Office. We were to understand that when the office opens tomorrow they most likely will assign us another berth for our stay here in Malta. They not only once again helped us with the lines but also showed us where the showers and washing facilities were.

Thetis in Valletta
Thetis safe in Valletta

Hot shower. What bliss! Then hot coffee. We were moving very, very slowly but we were also very pleased with ourselves and the accomplishment of such a fast passage. After we put on fresh clothes and had a well deserved toast to Poseidon with ouzo, we took a walk along the water-front to Sliema and the Strand. We took out 100 ML from an ATM without the foggiest idea what the exchange rate was. I was looking for the wonderful small Maltese restaurant that my previous companion Lewis Unger had discovered on a side street. Amazingly enough I found it, but it was closed on Sundays. We ate instead at a hotel restaurant. The food was OK and the wine even better. Tired but pleased we walked back for some solid and uninterrupted sleep.