Travels with S/Y Thetis


Thetis only

2003: Leros to Donousa

This web page contains the log of the first leg of a sailing trip that I took with S/Y Thetis in the Greek Aegean Sea. The leg covers a period of 4 very eventful days of sailing from Lakki, Leros to Donousa via Archangelos, Marathi, and Patmos. The log is illustrated with photographs and maps it also includes some historical and geographical descriptions of the places visited as well as several links to other related web sites.

Route Past Patmos
Route from Leros to Past Patmos

May 21 – June 3, 2003

While Thetis stayed in Lakki, Leros her master flew to Athens and then to Washington, D.C. in the USA. From Washington, after a 6 hour drive, my wife Alice and I arrived in Durham, NC, where I met for the first time Alexander Riginos Shomer my grandson. He is a splendid young fellow, just 2 weeks old. He is the most recent addition to Thetis’ crew. We stayed in Durham visiting Alexander and Cynthia, our daughter and her husband, Scott for a week. During this time, Cynthia received word that she has been awarded a 3-year research grant from NSF (National Science Foundation) for her work in evolutionary genetics.

We drove back to Washington on Saturday May 31 and on Sunday I flew back to Athens. I spend Monday evening in Athens and on Tuesday morning I was in the airplane to Leros. By 1100 I was back on board Thetis. The only problem I was confronted, other than a considerable layer of dust, was that the AC shore power had been disconnected and the batteries were more than 60% discharged.

My cruising friends, Karel and Dita from S/Y Doffer, had left a note for me with Zac. They had launched their boat a few days before and had already left Leros for the Cyclades. I sent them an SMS that I too planed to go towards the Cyclades to which they replied that by the time I got there they will have moved further N, especially since Thetis will be moving slowly. My plan was to go first to Patmos and meet our friend professor Elizabeth Fisher, a Byzantinist, who is visiting the Monastery Library. Then I will move W towards the Cyclades and maybe link with Alice who will be flying to Athens in two weeks.

I called for a fuel delivery, and then washed down the boat, with soap. The delivery came and I topped the fuel tank and the two jerry cans that I had already used. Altogether I got 80 L of fuel for €60. Then I went to the supermarket and replenished the provisions. I checked with the tailor. The 5 Samos flags as well as the large Greek flag were ready.

On my return to the boat I met with Mike Millington of S/Y Gordian Knot. His wife, Nicola, is back in the UK selling their house. He will be going out with his boat tomorrow to test his new sail and then he will go to Partheni for a haul-out. They will be back in late August.

There was no time to sail today so I decided to spend the night here and sail early in the morning. I had dinner at the marina restaurant together with Mike and a crowd of other yachtsmen: British, Swiss, German, and Turkish.

Wednesday June 4, 2003 Day 1

Perhaps because of the time change (7 hours) I woke up at 4 AM and could not go back to sleep. I read for a while but I was too restless. I secured the “newer” sun-shower on deck and filled it with water. I had brought a new one with me in May but it was defective —it had a torn seam. I had temporarily patched it with some tape and then I took it for an exchange with me on my recent trip. The local West Marine store replaced it right away. Now this new one does not leak. After topping the water tanks I cast off at 0740.

There was hardly any wind, just 4-8 knots N, and against us while we were motoring to Archangelos 8.4 nM away. We arrived [37° 11.7' N 26° 46.2' E] there at 0910. I anchored in 6 m depth. This was going to be just a stopover on our way to Patmos; Just a pleasant place to prepare the boat for cruising.

I launched the dinghy. It was not as hard as I was afraid but still it was time consuming. I put up the tent and slept for a while. I called Elizabeth Fisher in Patmos. She and her friend will be waiting for Thetis in Skala at 2 PM. I will pick them up and then we will sail to Marathi for the evening. While killing some time, I cooked the two chicken cutlets that I had bought in Lakki yesterday, and organized the refrigerator. I then replaced the old worn out straps, which hold the extra fuel jerricans on deck.

At 1210 I raised the anchor and headed for Skala, the main harbor of Patmos. Again the wind did not cooperate. It was 4-12 knots NW and unsuitable for sailing. We motored. We arrived in Skala [37° 19.7' N 26° 32.7' E] at 1420 after 9.9 nM. I temporarily anchored off and went ashore with the dinghy and met Elizabeth and her friend Nancy Sevcenko who were waiting for me. Elizabeth Fisher, our dear friend from Washington, is a Byzantinist and a professor at George Washington University and Nancy, also a Byzantinist, is working with manuscripts at the Patmos Monastery library. Before going back to Thetis, I bought two cases of spring water for drinking.

By the time we were organized, removed the tent, the ladies installed, and the anchor raised it was 1605. We raised the mainsail but the wind was only 2-12 knots and we mostly motor-sailed. This was too bad because I wanted the ladies to experience the beauty and quietness of actual sailing. After 10.7 nM we arrived in Marathi [37° 22' N 26° 43.6' E] and caught one of Pandelis’ moorings.

Now, Alice had suggested that since the ladies were not used to sleeping on a small sailboat, they might be more comfortable sleeping in one of Pandelis’ rooms. But after some discussion they decided to stay on Thetis and experience sleeping afloat. After swimming and showers we went ashore and took a walk. Then we went to Pandelis’ where we had a sumptuous meal: octopus salad, fava salad, their special green salad with fresh goat cheese, and grilled melanouria (blue snappers). Well fed, we made it back aboard Thetis, gazed at the stars, but soon everyone went inside to sleep. It was long day.

Sunset at Marathi
Sunset at Marathi

Thursday June 5, 2003 Day 2

The ladies must have slept well because they did not stir until past 8 o’clock; although they had expressed a wish last night to be back in Patmos as early as possible. By the time we all had coffees and breakfasts and were ready to depart from Marathi it was 0840.

Skala from the Monastery
Skala from the Monastery

The wind was a nice 10-18 knot NNW stiff breeze and we were able to sail with full sails. After 10.6 quiet nautical miles (nM) we arrived in Skala, Patmos [37° 19.7' N 26° 32.7' E] at 1020. There was a small ferry and a Turkish gulet in the yacht quay. I did not want to moor near them because they could be noisy in the evening. There was only one other berth available next to a large 60' sailboat. Unfortunately they had let out a lot of chain but their anchor was not upwind, to allow for the prevailing crosswind, but slightly downwind. This forced me, against my better judgment, to anchor in a similar fashion. This I regretted very quickly.

As we were about to leave the boat and visit the monastery where Nancy was going to give me a private tour of the library the boat on the downwind side of Thetis started pulling off. It turned out that their anchor was properly upwind and now Thetis’ chain was crossing theirs. I loosened our chain but they ended up completely pulling up our anchor and then dropping it way too close and more downwind. I had to pull up a lot of chain until it was taut but this left us with too little scope. Fortunately the bottom here is mud and holds well. To compensate somewhat for the downwind position of Thetis’ anchor, I had to warp her downwind and then deploy a long spring line on her upwind side. All of these activities took time. By the time I felt secure enough to leave Thetis, it was past 12 and the monastery was about to close. This was a terrible disappointment for me. For many years I have wanted to visit the famous monastery’s library which houses many unique manuscripts. The library is closed to the public but with Nancy being a visiting scholar, I had my opportunity and now I missed it. Nevertheless we decided to visit the monastery in the afternoon but the library was out.

We bought some bread and fruits and made a lunch in Thetis’ cockpit under the tent. After lunch the ladies retired to their hotel after dropping the used bed sheets to a laundry that promised to have them ready by 7 PM. We arranged to meet at 3:30. I fell asleep and when I woke up it was very close to our meeting time and I had to rush without drinking my usual afternoon coffee.

We took a taxi up to Chora and then walked to the Monastery of St. John the Baptist. It was open but, as Nancy expected, the librarian was not there and without him, she could not take a visitor into the library. There was however a slight compensation to my disappointment. Two young monks, inside the museum, were practicing their Byzantine chant. We stood in the corner listening.

Nancy Sevcenko & Elizabeth Fisher
Nancy Sevcenko & Elizabeth Fisher

After wandering around the monastery, we took a nice walk and visited the convent of Zoodochos Pigi, in Chora, and few km downhill west of Chora the convent of Evangelismos. Then we walked back, uphill to Chora where we took a taxi to Skala just in time to retrieve the laundry.

Inside the Monastery

Inside the Monastery

Chora near Zoodochos Pigi

Chora near the convent of Zoodochos Pigi

The convent of Evangelismos
The convent of Evangelismos
The Monastery of St. John the Baptist
The Monastery of St. John the Baptist in Patmos

I had mentioned to Elizabeth and Nancy the nice restaurant, highly recommended by the Alpha guide, Benetos, where Alice and I had a good dinner last year. They did not know of it but after we called we were told that it had not yet opened for the season. Nor had most others recommended by the guide. We ended up, as a last choice, eating at Vegera just across from yacht harbor. It was a most fortunate choice. Everything was very fresh, most dishes made from local ingredients. We had a wonderful meal. Well fed but tired we bid each other good night and parted, the ladies to their hotel and I to Thetis for an early start tomorrow morning.

Friday June 6, 2003 Day 3

I had a fairly early start, departing Skala without any problems at 0730. Destination: Donousa. Everything went very smoothly, the wind was a favorable breeze of 10-15 knots NNW. I raised the mainsail and motor-sailed south to round Cape Ilias, the southernmost point of Patmos. After this the wind backed to 10-20 knots NW which gave me a very pleasant sail with the full main and 40% of the headsail. This nice state of affairs continued with an occasional loss of wind but only for short periods.

Route from Patmos
Route from Patmos

I crossed course with a Turkish warship. She was part of a squadron of three warships. As we went further into Sea of Ikaria, the seas became larger and by the time we were approaching Donousa there were considerable breaking waves. I had to deploy Pavlakis, the spray hood, to keep the seas away from the cockpit while the faithful Yakoumis, the autopilot, did a great job in keeping us on course.

Around 1500, after reaching Cape Glaros in Donousa, in preparation for dousing the sails I turned on the engine. While rolling-in the genoa I smelled something burning. I looked inside the cabin, and saw dark dense smoke coming out of the engine compartment. I immediately turned off the engine and opened all the main electrical switches. I took hold of the fire extinguisher. I cracked open the peep hole on companionway which is also the door of the engine compartment but the smoke was too thick and I could not see anything. I closed the hole right away because I did not want to feed more oxygen to the fire. I was very scared. In the mean time, Thetis was under the main and with the electricity gone the autopilot could not maintain course. I had to attend to our course less we come too close to land. I found the special cord, which I keep for such occasions and secured the tiller in a more or less straight position. This cord has a loop for the tiller and hooks at its end that snap to two metal rings to the left and right of the cockpit. After securing the tiller, I eased the main sheet and I returned to the cabin. I opened the engine compartment hole again and looked. I still could not see very much. I took a flashlight but it did not help. I thought of using the fire extinguisher on the engine since clearly the fire was in its compartment but I held back. I checked our course and then returned to the compartment. The smoke now seemed somewhat less. Back to the cockpit for a course correction. Then I looked again into the engine compartment. There was definitely less smoke and no visible flame. I closed the main switch of the service circuit. Immediately there was a flash and more smoke. The circuit bus went dead. No further smoke. I now closed the main switch of the engine circuit. Nothing happened: no flash, no smoke. I cranked the engine. It turned and purred into life. It was a most welcomed sound. No new smoke. Thank goodness for that. The idea of having to enter the narrow cove of Dendro and anchoring single-handed under sails alone and without any instruments or autopilot or windlass was most unappealing and rather scary.

I lowered the mainsail and lashed it as well as I could. I prepared the anchor and headed into the cove. The wind was blowing very strongly with violent gusts. Even the water in this protected cove was frothing. It was very hard, under these conditions, to judge the depth just by color. Another complication was that there is the wreck of a ship in the cove, which changes the depth rather abruptly. With the froth disturbing the water surface I could not see it. Staying on the conservative side I dropped the anchor in what I guessed to be 8-10 m depth. The wind blew Thetis away from the shore and I let go a lot of chain but the anchor did not bite and dragged. While we drifted off-shore, thank goodness, I had to painfully and slowly hand crank the windlass while keeping a careful eye to our drift and engaging the engine, from time to time, to keep the boat clear of the rocks. At last the anchor was up. It took over half an hour of cranking. I made a second approach, coming this time closer to the shore. I dropped the anchor again in what I estimated was 5 m depth and sandy bottom. Again it was no go! At least this time I had not let go as much chain as before. Back to hand cranking. I made a third attempt. This time I went to even shallower water and I kept the tiller lashed in the center while keeping the engine engaged in slow forward to counteract the wind and slow down the drift. The anchor did catch and held for a while which gave me hope and a rest. But soon my hope was dashed as we dragged again. By this time I was not only very tired but desperate. I decided to replace the primary CQR anchor by the secondary, a Brittany. After hand cranking the anchor for the third time, I replaced it with the Brittany. This took some doing as I had to use some tools, and we had drifted way off. Finally all was ready for the fourth attempt. Again I came to even more shallow water, less than 4 m, but definitely over sand. Crossing my fingers, I dropped the anchor. It held. Slowly, ever so slowly, so that it will not jerk, I paid out more chain, as much as I dared realizing that I may have to hand crank it for a fifth time but it held. We were stable, we did not drag. We were safe. The ordeal was over. Our position in Dendro, Donousa was [37° 05.8' N 25° 48.2' E] and we had come 46 nM from Patmos. The time was past 1830. I had been fighting since almost 1500, about three and a half tense hours. I was physically spent.

I opened the engine compartment. No smoke no smell, everything looked normal. I inspected with a flashlight every visible electrical component. The only thing wrong that I could see was that the insulation of the negative main cable from the service battery was frayed. The service battery is located at the stern, next to the rudderpost. I could not see the positive cable. I disconnected both positive and negative main cables from the service bus, and measured the voltage across them with a multimeter. There was no voltage. I briefly connected the engine battery via the parallel switch. All service circuits (instruments, lights, autopilot, windlass, etc) were operational. I did not, however, want to risk depleting the engine battery and be in a position where I could not start the engine. So, I quickly opened the parallel switch.

Now I wanted to check the actual service battery. To access the battery I had to remove the life raft and unscrew a sealed cover held in place with 10 screws. There was a great deal of black smudge inside the rudderpost compartment, all of it from burned insulation. The actual positive cable had a section of about 40 cm completely vaporized, and the insulation of most of the negative cable was completely gone. I suspected that when I turned on the engine during the initial “bulk charge” cycle, which can draw up to 50 A, the cable overheated and burned, although the cables were rated for 150 amperes. Maybe their insulation was not meant for the sea environment. At any rate, I had in front of me the immediate if not the ultimate cause of the smoke and failure. I was very lucky indeed to have avoided a flaming fire and possibly loss of Thetis. I measured the voltage across the service battery, it was a respectable 12.75 V. At least the large and expensive 450 Ah battery was OK.

Now if only I could find a way to restore power to the service bus. I looked inside the cabin and found the jump cables. Their thickness was definitely adequate but they were too short to reach from the service battery to the service main switch. I separated the two jump cables and jumped, connecting both cables end to end across the cockpit, the positive pole of the battery to the main switch. I was not sure if the negative cable, despite its missed insulation, was intact and I did not have enough cable to replace both of them. Hoping, almost against hope, that it was intact, I closed the main switch. Joy of joys! The service bus came alive. It worked! Now for a better arrangement: I led the jump cables from the rudderpost compartment under the right cabin berth to the engine compartment and the post of the main service switch. I made temporary repairs to the negative cable insulation, and using tie-wraps and tape held the cables apart and well clear of any moving parts. Electricity and all amenities were restored but my hands were totally black. After watching them for several minutes I closed the open compartments and a semblance of order was restored to the boat. Also, now I had the windlass back into operation, not to mention light to cook and read, and instruments, and all the luxuries to which I had become accustomed.

Now with the windlass working, I let out more chain and with 50 m scope I felt much more secure, as the wind was raging with gusts over 28 knots. My spirits rose and I hoped that these improvised repairs wouldl hold for the next few days until I can reach a harbor with an electrician to replace both cables. But this problem will have to wait for tomorrow. Now I was very tired and hungry. I made some rice and warmed one of the already cooked chicken cutlets. After eating, I went to bed and instantly fell asleep.

The Cove of Dendro in Donousa

The Cove of Dendro in Donousa

The submerged shipwreck in Dendro, Donousa

The submerged shipwreck in Dendro, Donousa

Saturday June 7, 2003 Day 4

The hamlet in Donousa
The hamlet in Donousa

I slept rather late. All night while the wind was howling I kept getting up to check the anchor and the depth. All morning I was very lazy, reading for a while and falling asleep. After lunch, I fell asleep again. I also developed a pain on my shoulder. It must be due to tired muscles from cranking the anchor.

By 5 PM I was wide-awake and once again felt energetic. I rigged the dinghy with the outboard and went ashore. I walked to the hamlet, about 20 minutes away. In contrast to the last time that I was here, now there was adequate GSM signal and I was able to send and received some e-mails.

After I got back to Thetis, I had a well-deserved ouzo. The Navtex forecast calls for tomorrow “force 5 locally 6” for both Sea of Ikaria, where we are, and for the SW Aegean, where I planned to go. The wind seems here and now to be somewhat less fierce but it is still howling. According to some fisherman I talked to in the hamlet this wind is a local one, which may account for the discrepancy with the forecast. I will have to leave the decision whether I will depart for tomorrow. I want to go to Syros, with a stopover in Rhinia. In Syros I know of a reliable electrician who can replace the burned cables.

For super I prepared a potato salad and an omelet. It was very good along with a red wine from Mt. Athos.