Travels with S/Y Thetis

Thetis only

2001: Tunisia to Pantelleria and Pylos

This web page contains the logs of the seventh leg of a trip that I took with S/Y Thetis from Greece to Tunisia and back. The logs cover a period of 7 days of blue water sailing from Sidi Bou Saïd, Tunisia to Pylos, Greece. During this leg I was accompanied by my nephew Nicky Iliades. On the way we stopped at Cap Bon and the small Italian island of Pantelleria.

The logs are illustrated with maps and photographs, and also includes 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 8 2001, Day 36

First thing in the morning I called with the GSM phone my brother Nikos in Greece for a weather forecast. He had done his homework: the prediction for the Sicilian Channel was good, wind 10-15 knots NW. Based on this we started getting ready to depart Sidi Bou Saïd for Pantelleria. My plan was to depart from the marina as soon as possible, to stop at Cap Bon and delay there so that we can arrive in Pantelleria during daylight. I am definitely allergic to night arrivals especially in unknown places.

Alice with the Harbor Master
Alice with the Friendly Harbor Master

We filled the tanks and the sun-shower bag with water and then went to the Capitanerie. The Harbor Master on duty today was our English speaking friend but he had not arrived in his office. Yesterday I printed the photograph I took of him standing in front of his office next to Alice. The print drew the general admiration of all the marina staff. The lady who seems to run the office, Awef (Emotion) speaks fairly good English and is rather competent. She started preparing our bill. It was a shock. They charge here 263 TD/day (~$27) which is almost four times higher than the charges in Monastir which is a much better marina. Furthermore, they take no foreign currency nor do they honor credit cards. The statement “change at the Capitanerie” in the North Africa Cruising Guide is simply in error, so is the cost per day.

Before I could pay the marina though, I had to take a taxi to an ATM and draw 200 TD. After I paid the marina, Awef took me to the Police. Several officials looked at the triptych (transit log), the well stamped marina receipt, Thetis’ papers, and our two passports. They took their time. Then there was a heated discussion between 3 of them but finally they stamped our passports. Then a policeman and a customs officer wanted to come and inspect Thetis. I told them that before departing Tunisia I must stop at the fuel dock, get fuel and make sure that the dredge does not block the marina exit. They came aboard, looked at my iMac computer, and left. I then asked Awef to speak to the dredge. She assured me that by the time we re-fuel the marina exit will be free. Now we were cleared to cast off. We took in the passarella and our friend the straw hatted attendant came and helped us with the lines. I gave him $2 as a tip which delighted him and off he went to make sure that the dredge will not block the harbor’s mouth.

We motored to the fuel dock, just at the mouth of the harbor. The dredge also pulled away to make room for us to exit the marina. Right at the fuel dock the policeman and customs man were waiting for us. They wanted to make sure that we were indeed leaving Tunisia. We filled the tank and our two small jerry cans with 93.7 L, the cost of the fuel was 45 TD. This consumed all but 8 of my remaining TD. Now we were really ready to depart.

We departed Sidi Bou Saïd at 1015. While motoring we kept smelling Diesel fuel. I checked and found a small leak at the bleeding valve, I must had not tightened it properly yesterday when I replaced the filters. I fixed it and after we were out in the open sea pumped out, after diluting it with detergent to act as a dispersant, from the bilge the small amount of spilled fuel. The wind was 10 knots NE and we could only motor. The now revised plan was to stay at Cap Bon for the night and depart for Pantelleria very early in the morning. As we were approaching the cape the wind kept increasing and veering to the SE. We had to take wide detours to avoid large areas of tuna nets.

We arrived at Cap Bon [37° 04.8' N 11° 02.2' E] on 1730 after 34.9 M. The wind here was very gusty 20-32 knots. We anchored without any difficulties other then the unpleasant howling wind. Nicky went spear fishing and I rested.

In the evening I made rice with tuna and capers. We went to bed early to the sound of the furious wind which if anything became stronger.

Saturday June 9 2001, Day 37

We woke up at 0230, had a cup of coffee, and by 0320 (local time UTC + 1) the anchor was up and we were under way. The wind was still from the NE at 10-30 knots and contrary to my expectations did not abate even after we were well clear of Cap Bon. It was a head wind all the way. We managed to motor-sail with just part of the headsail open and a slight deviation of our course to the N. The sea was rough and irregular. Thetis was making a very uncomfortable corkscrew motion. Both Nicky and I felt it in our stomachs. It was a wet and miserable ride.

We arrived at Pantelleria [36° 50' N 11° 56.2' E] on 1330 (local time UTC + 2) having endured 50.3 very difficult miles. The wind in the harbor was about 35 knots. Entering the unknown harbor under these conditions was touch and go. We did not even bother going to Porto Vechio (old harbor) which the North Africa Cruising Guide describes as exposed but proceeded to Porto Nuovo (new harbor). It was full of boats participating in the Mediterranean Odyssey rally. We made several approaches trying to figure where we may moor. Finally several fellow sailors came and helped us dock side-to on a floating dock.

Map of Pantelleria
Map of Pantelleria

We ate lunch and then fell asleep for a few hours. After we woke up an American and his Philippina wife came and introduced themselves. Their boat Becky II, an incredible converted Swedish Navy torpedo steel boat, was docked near by. We had some coffee together aboard Thetis. George and Edna Ouken have been cruising for 11 years, mostly with sailboats. They gave us a street map and information on the small town and invited us to visit their boat.

We walked to town, about 10 minutes away, and got 200 IL (Italian Lira) from an ATM without really knowing what was the rate of exchange. We also did some grocery shopping and then had an excellent dinner at a very popular restaurant near the Porto Vechio.

As soon as we returned to Thetis the uniformed captain of a Coast Guard patrol boat, docked near us, came and told us that we were docked in a restricted area reserved for the Coast Guard. We had to move right away! I explained to the captain, in English and broken Italian, that before entering the harbor we had hailed the Capitaneria on the VHF for docking instructions but there was no response. Further, there was no sign to indicate that this was a restricted area and there is a 35 knot wind blowing which makes maneuvering in the dark dangerous. He agreed that we could stay where we were for the night but we have to vacate the dock by 8 AM tomorrow.

Porto Vechio, Pantelleria
Porto Vechio, Pantelleria

Sunday June 10 2001, Day 38

We decided to leave the harbor since we had to move the boat anyway. Once we are outside the harbor we can appraise the situation. If the weather permits we can then proceed to Gozo, else we can return.

Pantelleria from the Sea

We cast off at 0830. Inside the harbor and just outside the weather seemed reasonable so we raised the main, set it on the second reef and motor-sailed for a few miles. The wind kept increasing and coming from the SE against our course. By the time we had gone 4 M the wind was over 30 knots and we were not making much of a headway. I decided to turn back.

By 1030 we were moored stern-to using two permanent mooring lines at another pier of the Porto Nuovo. We had gone for an 8.6 M ride. After we deployed the passarella Nick went spear fishing with the crew of the Austrian flagged Gib Sea 37 S/Y Franchino. She belongs to Marko Conka who is an oral surgeon. He attended graduate school in NY. His father is Italian and his mother Austrian. He and his friend Elvis live in Catania. Some time later Nick, Marko, and Elvis returned but had not caught any fish.

I went to visit George and Edna at the M/Y Becky II. She is truly an amazing floating machine. Everything is of steel and she is completely enclosed. There are no windows anywhere but in front of the low superstructure. Inside it feels like a submarine. She is fast but consumes so much fuel that George wants to sell her and get back in a sailboat.

Nick and I transferred fuel from the cans to the tank and then carted the cans to a gas station and re-filled them with 38 L of fuel. I cranked Nick up the mast to remove a flag that was fowled on the rigging.

For dinner we went together with Marko and Elvis and ate some very good pizza.

Monday June 11 2001, Day 39

We got a weather forecast from the Italian Navy on the VHF channel 68 because there were no Navtex signals here. The forecast called, over the Sicilian Channel, for force 6 SE for today soon becoming 5 tomorrow and for force 4 NW over the Ionian Sea. With this encouraging news we started getting ready to leave. I walked to the town and got some fresh bread, a jar of the famous Pantelleria capers, and a few bottles of wine.

We departed Pantelleria at 0745. Our destination Hania, Crete where we were to meet with my cousin, and Nicky’s father, Dr. Christopher E. Iliades. We also had several alternatives in case of either bad weather or trouble: Malta, South Sicily, and in Greece, Pylos. Almost everything will depend on weather and, in case of no wind, on fuel.

We managed to sail with the main on the 2nd reef and the genoa but, after we had gone for 6 M the wind settled to 6 knots SSE and we had to motor-sail with just the mainsail. The sea had some swell but it was not bad. Nick was doing fine. He was determined to catch a fish with my trolling line. Now this line was a virgin. I have had it for several years but it had never, ever caught anything. Now Nick has gotten some trolling pointers from George and Marko and 2 new Italian lures from Elvis. It was kind of boring running the engine but at least we were moving. No fish.

We had a lovely sunset. I made for supper rigatoni with mushrooms and fresh tomatoes. We ate it along with some Italian wine at the cockpit table. The night was very beautiful, too early for the moon, and full of stars. There were many boats here: fishing boats and large cargo ships. We had to change course several times to avoid them.

Around 2300 the moon rose. A glorious sight. We started a two hour watch system. I took the first watch: 2300 to 0100.

Tuesday June 12 2001, Day 40

We continued to motor-sail as we were approaching Sicily. The humidity was high, 75%, and the wind which had earlier died out was now a mild breeze from the NW. Another indication that we were near land. The sea was illuminated by the moon but the land was not visible. We got a GSM signal and I sent an update message to Rozina, our link with the world. I fixed the bathroom door that had come off its tracks.

Later I called Nikos’s phone and Rozina answered. I told her to make sure that when Chris arrives in Greece not to fly to Crete, as we had arranged, but to wait for news from Thetis because we have been motoring now for two days and we may be running low on fuel in which case we will make our landfall in the South Peloponnesos.

In the early morning I removed all the reefs from the mainsail and continued motor-sailing. Nick slept late, way past his turn at 9 AM. I woke him up because I was getting sleepy. The day was hot and still no wind. In the afternoon we stopped the motor, trailed a safety line, and took turns jumping in the water to cool off. We opened the genoa and motor-sailed wing-to-wing for 2-3 hours.

In the late afternoon the wind did finally arrive at 14 knots from the NNW. We opened all of the genoa, turned off the motor and actually sailed for 3 hrs. Then the wind weakened to under 5 knots NE and we had to start the engine once again.

We transferred the fuel from the 2 large cans to the tank. We decided not to proceed to Crete but set our course for Methoni instead.

I made a potato salad for dinner. Nick took the first watch tonight.

Wednesday June 13 2001, Day 41

During the night we were moving with full sails plus the engine operating at reduced RPM (1,700) to conserve fuel. There was hardly any wind, just a 3 knot NE breeze. Around 0400 the wind changed to 13 knots NW which made it possible to turn off the engine and sail at a reasonable speed. By 0600 the wind stiffened to 15 knots N and we took a reef and reduced the headsail. Now we were moving at 6 knots over the water in addition to being pushed by a favorable current which gave us an extra knot and we were beginning to recover the time we had lost yesterday in the calms.

Ats 0900 we were experiencing substantial waves but the wind was holding. We continued to sail some times fast, other times slowly.

Nick with his catch
Nick with his catch

Later Nick, who had gone to sleep, got up and checked the fishing line which he had left trolling a few hours ago before going to bed. He gave a squeal of delight and announced that there was something caught on the line. Sure enough, he hauled a lovely tuna of at least 10 kg. I had not been prepared to catch such a fish and had no equipment to help bring it in. I used the bucket! The fish seemed to fill the whole cockpit. We cleaned it, using my diving knife, and cut it into slices by hammering the knife over the wooden breadboard. Because we were afraid that the fishing line may tangle we just let it back into the water while dealing with Nicky’s catch. It took us over 2 hours to cut the fish and put the slices into plastic bags and in the refrigerator. When the bloody operation was over and we had cleaned the cockpit from the gore, I told Nick to reel-in the line and “No more fish.” To his utter amazement the line had caught a second tuna, smaller than the first. We let it go.

I prepared our lunch: potato salad, left over from yesterday, and pan-grilled extremely fresh tuna. It was unbelievably good. We ate it in the cockpit along with some white wine.

The wind kept up all day. It was only just before sunset that we had to turn on the engine and motor-sail again.

Dinner was rice, tomato salad, and lots of fresh tuna. We had more tuna than we could possibly eat. We advanced the clocks to Greek summer time (UTC + 3). Nick went to bed and I took the first watch 2300-0100. All together, today was a very good day at sea. We were only 123 M from the SW tip of Peloponnesos.

Thursday June 14 2001, Day 42

The night was singularly uneventful. No encounters with ships, no wind, just the drone of the motor. Later in the morning there was some breeze from the W and I managed to sail, after removing all the reefs. It lasted for only one hour, then we were back to motor-sailing.

Land after more then 4 days

In the afternoon we transferred the fuel from the two small jerry cans into the tank. Maybe this was not necessary but I did not want to take any chances of being caught short.

We arrived in Pylos [36° 55.1' N 21° 41.9' E] on 1920. We had come, non-stop, 473 actual nautical miles from Pantelleria. The log showed only 422 M the extra 51 were what we had gained by being pushed by the favorable currents. Before entering the harbor I called, as required, the Limenarchio (Coast Guard) on the VHF channel 12 and advised them of our arrival from Italy. They informed us that there was plenty of room in the “marina” and that we could go side-to. They asked us to report to their office as soon as it would be convenient but we certainly could take the time to shower and change clothes. Docking was no problem. We had made it back to Greece!

Entering the marina in Pylos

After picking up around the boat we took hot showers, shaved, put on clean clothes, and walked to town and the Limenarchio (Coast Guard), about 10 minutes away from the “marina.” The officials were friendly but the room was full of smoke and I almost got sea-sick. They took just a few minutes to check the boat papers and told us that we were done with all the formalities. I asked how about getting an entry stamp on Nick’s US passport. They said it was not needed but if we wanted it we had to go to the police. We went there and were received by the very polite and attractive young woman who was the officer on duty. She also said that the stamp was not needed but just to make sure she called her superior who also confirmed it. So Nick got no stamp.

On our way back to the boat we stopped at the laundry, which I remembered from Thetis’ last visit. The lady there told us that if we brought the clothes right away she can have them ready by 2 PM tomorrow. I was not sure if I wanted to do so because we were uncertain where we will meet with Chris, Nick’s father. It seems that he did not wait for us in Athens but had gone on to Hania in Crete. After many calls and messages left there at his hotel, he called back while we were at the police station. We agreed that the best we can do is to rendezvous at Kythera. He will take a ferry which will arrive there at noon on Saturday. Now, if we were to be there we must leave tomorrow morning. For this reason I did not want to delay our departure for the afternoon waiting for the laundry.

Thetis in Pylos

We met the very friendly owner of the German flagged 33' sailboat Homati. He is Mimis Zafiris, a retired quality control engineer. Mimis is originally from Pylos and he not only keeps his boat there but also has a house outside the town. He studied in Germany and he worked for many years at Siemens. He lives with his German wife in Munich where she own a pharmacy. She does not particularly care for the boat and Mimis copes the best he can under this situation. He is now preparing Homati for the summer season.

We had a wonderful dinner at the Koukos (Cuckoo) restaurant near the marina. They agreed to grill some of our fish. This we ate with plenty of mezedes (appetizers) and lots of wine. This was our celebration for the successful completion of our passage.