This web page contains the logs of the first leg of a sailing trip that I took with S/Y Thetis from Greece to Gibraltar. The leg covers a period of 4 days of singlehanded sailing from the Greek island of Samos to the Alimos Marina in Athens via the islands of Rhinia and Kythnos. In Athens I was joined by my friend Manos Castrinakis and we sailed for the next 6 days to Reggio Calabria in Italy via the Corinth Canal, Corinth, and the islands of Trizonia and Cephallonia. The logs are illustrated with photographs and maps. They also include some historical and geographical descriptions of the places visited as well as several links to other related web sites.
Saturday September 25, 2004
The Big Trip appears to be happening. Both Manos and I are very excited. The Big Trip has several phases. Phase I is to get Thetis to Gibraltar and leave her there until right after New Year’s. Phase II is to sail to the Caribbean. After that…
Until now, I did not even dare believe that one of my older dreams and certainly the biggest is about to become a reality.
My wife Alice, oldest daughter Cynthia, and grandson Alexander left Samos on Thursday. Since that time I have been closing our house in Kalami and preparing Thetis. Manos is presently in the US but will be returning to Athens on the 28th and we should be able to depart from Athens by the 30th. I have contemplated, recognizing my family’s concerns after my last health episode, to wait for Manos to come to Samos and leave together but this would push our departure to the 30th, at the earliest, and we will lose 3-4 days. In that case we may even lose more since the Corinth Canal is closed on Tuesdays.
The weather here was very calm up until last Thursday but then the S wind came with a vengeance. It blew all day yesterday and last night. By this afternoon it has calmed down somewhat. All the forecasts, National Meteorology Service, Wetter, Poseidon, and Meteo (Athens Observatory) predict that the wind will lessen substantially tomorrow and then stay calm until Tuesday. So, I decided to move myself to the boat and sail tomorrow morning, weather permitting. This way I should comfortably reach Athens by the 30th, or even before, in which case I can do some more provisioning and buy some extra spares.
When I got to the boat she was full of dust. I washed her down. I decided not to lower the dinghy but leave it lashed on the deck.
In the evening I met with Anastasis and Moo Raftopoulos who arrived on Thursday in Pythagorio with M/S Vassiliki. We had a nice dinner together at the Riva restaurant in Pythagorio which is recommended by the Alpha Guide. Anastasis was full of advice for the Ocean crossing and the Caribbean, where he had sailed few years ago.
By the time I got back to the Pythagorio Marina and Thetis the wind was much reduced.
Sunday September 26, 2004 Day 1
I was so excited that I woke up around 1 AM. There was no wind at all. I connected the computer to the internet and checked the latest forecasts: winds of force 4-5 SE for both the Samos and Ikaria Seas. I decided not to wait for daylight but leave right away. My plan was to get as far as Fourni and, depending on the weather, decide whether to stay there and wait for further improvement or to continue as far as Rhinia.
We departed at 0200 without any problems. Outside the harbor there was still no wind at all and we motored towards the south side of Fourni. At 0440 there was a ESE breeze of 4-8 knots. I raised the mainsail and motor-sailed. We reached Fourni at 0700. By that time the breeze had stiffened to 10-14 knots SE, a tail wind. I decided to continue. I opened 40% of the head sail and turned off the engine. We sailed nicely for a while but the wind dropped and we were back to motor-sailing. We alternated sailing and motor-sailing until 1300, when the wind increased to about 20 knots SE with gusts reaching to the 30s. I set two reefs. During the passage I noticed some water accumulating in the engine compartment but it was too rough to investigate. Now I looked for the cause. Fortunately the raw sea-water cooling system was fine. I traced the source to the stuffing box which was too loose. I tightened it and removed all the water. While the engine was running I kept checking the shaft, it was cool, so I had not over-tightened the box.
We sailed fairly fast but the sea was very confused and rocky. As we were approaching the SW of Myconos we were met by a pair of dolphins that played with our bow wave for quite a while. This I took as an auspicious sign for the long trip. Our usual anchorage in Rhinia, on the S side of the island, was exposed to the S wind and waves. So, I turned N, after lowering the sails, and motored up the Delos Channel, rounded Delos and reached, at 1705 and after 85.7 nM, Schino [37° 23.6' N 25° 14.4 E] on the N side of Rhinia. A very good anchorage for the S wind.
The sea was flat and I anchored in 3.5 m over sand. The barometer during the day had gone from 1015 mB to 1018 and is now back down to 1014 mB. I have this nice anchorage all to myself. I had a warm shower and an ouzo. There was a small problem with the fresh water pressure pump. It would not shutdown. I have had this problem before. I fixed it by cleaning its intake filter.
For dinner I finished cooking a pre-cooked turkey cutlet. I made to go with it a red wine-tomato sauce and some spaghetti. I went to bed very early. It was a very quiet night and the wind had stopped. I was woken up by the arrival of an SMS from Manos. He informed me that he had just landed in Heathrow airport in England and he is on his way to Athens. One more step bringing the Big Trip closer to its realization.
Monday September 27, 2004 Day 2
I slept until 7, then I slowly got ready to sail to Kythnos. First I checked the weather forecasts: wind from the SW of force 4 but there is a bad low front in Italy moving slowly E. The temperature in the cabin is 23°C, the humidity 86% and the barometer 1018 mB.
I raised the anchor at 0830. The wind, once we cleared Rhinia, was 8-12 knots from the S. I raised the mainsail, removed the reefs, and opened the full genoa. Nice sail for a while but then I had to motor-sail. Alternated between these two modes. On the way, I repaired some more nicks on the gel-coat of the dinghy which I had left lashed on deck. At one point the wind reached 16 knots SSE but it did not last. After 41 nM we arrived at our destination Loutra, Kythnos, at 1615. First I tried to anchor in the small cove between Loutra and Ayia Irene. I dropped the anchor in 3.5 m but after I let out a sufficient length of chain I realized that with this variable wind Thetis may drift too close to the rocks. I re-anchored in Ayia Irene [37° 26.4' N 24° 26' E] in 4.5 m depth. The bottom here is weed and mud and I let out 30 m of chain, the boat settling in 6 m depth. It was very calm with some light gusts.
During the day I tried calling with my GSM phone Alimos Marina in Kalamaki, a suburb of Athens, to ask if they had a berth available for 2 nights. None of the numbers in Heikell nor the one that Nikos, my brother, had given me got a response. I gave up and called Nikos and asked him if his secretary could contact the marina. She soon called me back. While she too could get nowhere with the marina she made arrangements for Thetis to use, for free, one of the berths belonging to Vernicos Yachts (Nikos is one of the founders of VY and he is now the CEO of their aviation subsidiary Veravia) and she gave me the GSM phone number of the VY supervisor to call tomorrow and arrange the details.
The anchorage here is fairly pleasant and there are only 3 other yachts: a beautiful mega-yacht with a Maltese flag and two charter yachts. For dinner I prepared the last of the turkey cutlets. I served them with a fresh tomato sauce and rice.
Tuesday September 28, 2004 Day 3
The night was very calm and it would have been fine except that some bloodthirsty mosquitoes penetrated the port screen and entered my cabin. I had to get up and light a repellent coil.
After a cup of coffee we departed at 0800. The sea was calm with only a very light northerly breeze of 4-6 knots. The temperature, like yesterday morning, was 23° C, the relative humidity 87%, and the barometer had risen to 1020 mB. Motoring was the only option. While we were under way, Manos called. He is in Athens and we agreed to get together tomorrow afternoon for provisioning. By 1040 there was a better breeze, 5-10 knots ENE, and I opened the genoa and motor-sailed. I covered the dinghy as it looks that we will not be using it until we transit the Corinth Canal. While we were about 5 nM from Cape Sounio we were intercepted by a patrol boat. We spoke on the VHF. They wanted to know where we were coming from and where we were going, our estimated time of arrival, number of people aboard, and their nationality. After I told them, they wished me a good trip and left at high speed. I guess this must be a remnant of the high security during the Olympics. After Sounio, the wind was down to 4 knots now from the NW and an ugly swell developed which slowed Thetis down considerably.
I called Vernicos Yachts and spoke with their marina supervisor. They had made arrangements for Thetis to use one of their berths in the Alimos Marina and were expecting us this afternoon.
We arrived in the Alimos Marina [37° 54.9' N 23° 42.2' E] at 1620 after 49.7 nM. I was not able to raise anyone at Vernicos Yachts on the VHF but I called the supervisor, Mr. George Atsigvatsis, on his GSM phone. He told me that everyone leaves at 4 PM but I should proceed to pier 3 and use one of the mooring lines from the pontoon extension of the pier. I did so unassisted without any trouble.
After securing the boat, I packed an overnight bag and took a taxi to Athens to spend the night at my mother’s apartment.
Wednesday September 29, 2004 Day 4
Most of today was devoted to preparing for the Big Trip. First thing in the morning I took the metro train from the Evangelismos station to Piraeus where I bought a spare raw water cooling pump for the engine, a rivet tool with an assortment of rivets, etc. I then returned to the marina in Kalamaki using a combination of the metro train and the new tram line which links New Faliron to Glyfada and Glyfada to Athens. In Kalamaki, I exchange the half used Camping Gaz canister with a full one. I also bought plastic covers for the life lines. Back on board, I washed the deck and cockpit thoroughly with soap and fresh water. I also got a fuel delivery, after several calls, from a mini-tanker and refilled the fuel tank with 79 L of Diesel.
In the evening, as we had arranged, Manos came and we went with his car to a super market where we bought a number of provisions which we took to the boat and stowed them.
I had dinner with my brothers Byron and Nikos and their family at a new restaurant in Glyfada owned by the ex manager of all 4 Glyfada marinas, George Dimelas, whom I have known since childhood. The seafood was excellent. Byron drove me back to the boat where I slept.
Thursday September 30, 2004 Day 5
I waited for Manos to arrive with his personal luggage. Unfortunately although he left his home in Kifisia, a northern suburb of Athens, at 7:30 he was caught in the morning rush hour traffic and he did not make it until 9.
By 0953 we were under way. There was a mild 3-6 knot WNW breeze but the sea was very choppy. We motored but the chop was slowing us down. Our destination was the Corinth Canal. Later in the day the wind increased to 8-10 knots W, which slowed us down even more. It was not the most pleasant ride. We took down the tent, which gave us an extra 0.2 knot. I was afraid that we might have a long wait for our turn, get delayed before cleared to transit the canal, and then have to transit and arrive at the port of Corinth in the dark. There was nothing that we could do but grit our teeth and push on.
We arrived at the E entrance of the canal, Isthmia [37° 55' N 23° 00.6' E], at 1610. Before our arrival, when we were 5 nM away I had contacted the canal authority on the VHF channel 11 and had advised them that we wanted to transit and were 1 hour away. They asked us to contact them again when we were 1 nM from the canal. This we did and they directed us to tie along the S quay and then go to the canal office and pay the transit fee. We did so without any problem. We used 6 lines because with the passage of large ships their prop wash can be fearsome. At the office we paid the €112 fee and were told to stand by the boat as we may be transiting within half an hour.
Indeed we were hailed fairly soon and were told to follow the large Russian cargo ship that had just entered the canal. The transit went smoothly except that we were constantly urged to move faster. We were motoring with full RPM making 6 knots in the water but the E going current slowed us down, and I was reluctant to get too close to the large ship ahead of us.
After we exited the canal at Poseidonia we headed for the Corinth Yacht Harbor [37° 56.6' N 22° 56.2' E]. There was a considerable amount of swell but we made it to the harbor by 1800, after 39.6 nM of travel from Alimos. The harbor was full but we managed to tie side-to on the SW breakwater.
After a restorative ouzo we rearranged the cabins. We emptied the left rear cabin which I have been using as a storage space, and moved everything to the front cabin which now became our new storage area. Manos is to use the left cabin which should be more comfortable than the larger front cabin while Thetis is under way.
After this task, we went ashore and bought some fruits and bread which we took back to the boat. For dinner we looked for the Stengas Tavern, highly recommended by the Alpha Guide. It is some distance from the water front but when we found it, it was shut. We eventually ended up eating at the Achinós restaurant, near the harbor, where we had a reasonable if not very inspired meal.
Friday October 1, 2004 Day 6
I was woken up at 4 AM by vicious and very bloodthirsty mosquitoes. It seems that Manos was also disturbed by them. He also heard some noise and saw a flashlight and he thought that somebody had boarded Thetis with most likely not too good intentions. It was not so. The noise and the light came from my cabin while I was trying to get rid of the mosquitoes. Since we were both awake, we decided to depart.
By 0515 we were under way. The wind was almost nil, just 2-5 knots NW, and the sea had a swell but it was much kinder then yesterday’s chop. We motored. We arrived at our destination Trizonia Island [38° 22.2' N 22° 04.5' E] at 1520 having traveled 50 nM.
The unfinished, for the past 15 years, “marina” was almost full. There has been a change since Thetis’ last visit. Now there are some floating docks. It seems that many non-Greek boats, are taking advantage of the free access, winter here. We moored side-to on the outer breakwater. Mooring with a crew of two is amazingly easy.
I started cooking a pot roast with a wine and lemon sauce but I had to interrupt the slow simmer when we left the boat. Manos also cleaned some potatoes and pre-boiled them in sea water. These will be cooked later in the oven.
Later we walked up the hill to Lize’s Yacht Club, an establishment run by Allison, a British lady. We had ouzo and some very tasty humus and tapénade but we were not properly dressed and it was cold. After returning to Thetis and putting on some warmer cloths we walked to the hamlet and had a rather indifferent meal. We should have gone back to Lize’s.
Saturday October 2, 2004 Day 7
We woke up at 3:30 because we wanted to have an early start for our next port on the island of Cephallonia, some 75 nM away. Manos had already drained and cut the potatoes. I had my obligatory cup of Greek coffee and we cast off at 0410. There was a light W breeze and as the sea was calm we motored. Under way, I restarted the simmering of the pot roast. We approached the new Rio-Antirio suspension bridge which is reportedly the longest cable stayed bridge in the world with a continuous deck of 2,250 meters. I assumed that we should proceed to the right side of the central span but a coast guard inflatable intercepted us and directed us to use the left side. When the roast was done, Manos put the potatoes in the oven. It was very calm after the bridge. While cleaning the stove I managed to cut my finger deeply. After we passed the small island of Oxia we got some wind and some waves. We even managed to sail with the headsail for about 10 minutes, then we had to motor-sail for the next 30 when the wind increased to a 10-15 knots, a headwind from the WNW. With all this motoring we consumed plenty of fuel and while underway had to siphon 2 jerry cans into the main tank.
We arrived in Ayia Eufimia [38° 18.2' N 20° 36' E], Cephallonia at 1815. We had come 74.2 nM. While entering the bay we debated whether to anchor offshore or moor to the quay. If we were to anchor off, which is what I usually prefer, we would have to launch the dingy and then, before departing for Reggio Calabria some 260 nM away, raise it again. Laziness won. We moored stern-to.
This is the place where the movie Captain Correli’s Mandolin was filmed and it must have left some resources to the locals as new three story buildings are present and new ones are going up. But the people are nice. We berthed near an Irish boat, which we were told has been kept there for the last 25 years and her owners come every year from Dublin to enjoy the Ionian. That is what I call customer fidelity.
As soon as we stepped ashore I asked in a restaurant about a fuel delivery. They gave me the number of the local gas station which usually delivers. I called them and I was promised a delivery within the hour. While waiting Manos and I walked to a local grocery store and replenished our provisions so that we will have plenty of supplies and a comfortable margin for the estimated 3 days’ passage from here to Reggio Calabria in Italy.
We agreed that if we manage to re-fuel tonight and if the weather forecasts continue to predict mild winds for the next 3 days for the North Ionian Sea and the Boot regions we should depart at 6 tomorrow morning. This, assuming an average speed of 5.5 knots, should get us to Reggio by late morning on Tuesday.
After 2 hours of waiting for the fuel delivery we gave up and shifted to a new strategy. We siphoned fuel from the other two jerry cans into the tank and filled it. Then Manos set out to find us a taxi that would take us and the 4 empty cans to a gas station which we were told would be open until 9 PM. He called 3 different taxis but they were all away. The fourth said that he can come in half an hour. Indeed he did so, not with a taxi but with a pickup truck. I rode with him and soon all 4 cans were filled, all together we bought 78 L. Back on Thetis we stowed 2 of the cans in the left sail-locker and lashed the other 2 on deck.
After this long and frustrating exercise we were both tired and hungry but satisfied with the accomplished mission. We went to eat in a taverna right across from Thetis. As an appetizer we had a Cephallonian pie (meat pie), which was very good. Manos had strapatsada (omelet), another local dish, and I had roast lamb. All were very good. Before calling it a night we checked the weather on the Internet. The forecast called for NW winds of force 3-4, locally 5, for bothN Ionian and the Boot. It was a favorable wind and for us. It was a go.
Sunday October 3, 2004 Day 8
We woke up early again and by 6 we were undoing our lines. Our anchor, however, had gotten fouled with the long line of a day-trip boat anchored at the other side of the harbor, but we soon disengaged and departed at 0620. It was very calm going N on the Cephallonia-Ithaka channel. No wind. The light was gorgeous. We left behind us the just-waking Fiscardo and, after rounding Cape Vliótis, the northernmost point of the island, we set our course for Cape Spartivento at the toe of the “boot” 210 nM away. There were fairly large waves but the wind was only 5-7 knots from the NW. We motored. Around 1130 the wind picked up some force, 8-12 knots, and we opened the headsail. Then at 1300 the wind increased further, up to 14 knots, and we were finally able to raise the mainsail and turn off the engine. By 1430 the wind had reached 19 knots and we reduced the headsail. It was a nice sail but Manos was feeling the effect of the rolling waves.
We kept on sailing, making good speed close to 7 knots. Around 1930, while there was still daylight, we took in a reef on the mainsail. There was a lovely sunset. No traffic.
While Manos was not up to eating, I made some rice which I ate along with two slices of the veal roast. At 2100 I took the first of the 3-hour watches and Manos went to sleep. There was a dramatic moonrise.
Monday October 4, 2004 Day 9
Thetis is moving nicely under sail and Manos feels better. We received a Navtex forecast from Italy: wind from the NW of force 3 in the Ionian. We were actually experiencing force 4-5 although as the morning progressed the wind went down to 12-17 knots from the N.
All day we had a good sail and the swell was not as pronounced as it was yesterday and we made excellent progress.
By 2100 we were only 20 nM from Cape Spartivento. When we reached the cape the wind that had brought us so nicely died out. We lowered the mainsail and turned on the engine. We motored in low RPM so that we could keep our speed around 4 knots and thus delay our arrival to Reggio Calabria until after daybreak. I do not like night arrivals in unfamiliar places.
Now that it was calm we had a sumptuous meal: the crisp lemon garlic potatoes that Manos had prepared in the oven, veal roast, salad, the last of the Kalami wine, and fruits. At 2100 we started 3-hour watches, Manos taking the first. He brought out a portable CD player. This with the diminished wind and waves made a good companion along with the half moon and the coastal lights for the night watch.
Tuesday October 5, 2004 Day 10
I took the 0000 to 0300 watch. It was a lovely night very calm and clear, the sea illuminated by the half moon. There was substantial amount of traffic. I listened to classical music on the CD player with earphones so as not to disturb Manos who was sound asleep. At 0300 Manos relieved me for the next 2 hours.
As we approached the lights of many inhabited areas, on both Calabria and Sicily, began to show clearly, and soon a fiery red sliver was hanging from the sky in the dark where Mt. Aetna should be. The open sea became a river with lots of traffic and even fishing boats at the early hours of the morning. During Manos’ watch he saw a flash of light ahead of our bow. He made a 10° turn but it did not make any difference, he was still on a collision course with the mysterious light. He then made a 30° turn towards the shore but the light kept coming. He assumed that we collided with whatever it was because he next saw it from our stern. It was a piece of styrofoam with a flashing beacon. Fortunately there were no adverse repercussions.
By 0500, when my watch came again, we were progressing slowly but steadily for an estimated 0700 arrival. We finally arrived in Reggio Calabria [38° 07.6' N 15° 39.1' E] at 0710. We had come 261.4 nM from Ayia Eufimia. We moored, without any problem, with the help of a British yachtsman, in the visitor’s area of the yacht marina within the large commercial harbor. We are in Italy!
After congratulating ourselves for a successful passage and sending e-mails to family and friends we went ashore.
The town is about a 15 minute walk from the harbor. The weather in Reggio was warm and soon we found ourselves in the city with its nice promenade looking across to Messina. We marveled at the huge Ficus Magnolia trees with the wonderful rippled trunks and roots, interposed among palm trees. We visited first the Museum with the justly famous Riace Bronzes, which are real masterpieces of the Greek classical world. The whole museum was interesting with mostly Magna Greccia items especially from the excavation of Locris, the colony of the people from the Fthiotis area, of central Greece, in Italy. Then we had a well earned coffee (cappuccino for Manos and espresso for me), did some light shopping and returned to the boat. I paid the marina €25, and we had a wonderful lunch under the tent: bresaola with arugula, gorgonzola cheese, melon with prosciutto, and fresh bread. All was well except Manos could not find a copy of the Herald Tribune to which he is addicted.
After lunch we both fell into a deep sleep but I was woken up by the phone. It was my brother Nikos who wanted to know details of our passage. We checked the weather on the Internet. It calls for no wind for tomorrow. I looked up the tide tables in the 2003-2004 Mediterranean Almanac and calculated that if we leave by 0800 tomorrow we will not encounter adverse tidal currents.
We hosed down the boat, shook out the rugs, and vacuumed the cabins. Following these tasks we had wonderful hot showers in the marina facilities.
For dinner we went back to town looking for the good restaurant where I had a nice meal during my last visit here in 1996. It seems that it no longer exists. Instead we ended up eating in another restaurant that advertised “Calabrese tipico.” It was not bad. All in all a good stay in this unfrequented venue before departing tomorrow to face Scylla and Charybdis. After dinner we went to bed early.