Travels with S/Y Thetis

Thetis only

1996: Cephalonia

This web page describes a portion of a 7 week trip with S/Y Thetis in 1996 from Greece to Malta, Sardinia, Ustica and Calabria in Italy, and back to Greece. The portion described is the stay in Cephalonia, Greece. It is illustrated with maps and photographs, also included are some historical and geographical descriptions of the places visited as well as several links to other related web sites.

Map of Cephalonia
Map of Cephalonia

Saturday October 19, 1996 Day 37

During the night, while I was asleep, a heavy storm came with rain and wind and something felt wrong on the boat. Sure enough, the anchor, which I was too lazy to re-set, had dragged and we were about to hit the rocks. I started the engine and moved away from the shore. I then put on the storm gear as it was pouring, and went out with the zodiac and set the second anchor. It was now 5:00 AM and Thetis once again was secure and I went back to sleep.

[Photo of Fiskárdo]

In the morning I went ashore and called Olympic Airways. No, they did not have a packet for me yet. I found an old sailor, Mr. Makis, who now runs a small hotel. He knew a mechanic, his nephew, whom he called. The mechanic said that he will come to Fiskárdo within the next hour, and he may have a filter. Makis also advised me not stay anchored off-shore where the boat was because it was vulnerable to the Sirocco (SE) but to move into the harbor where there was plenty of room.

I got back into the boat with the intention of following Makis’ advice. During the night’s anchoring maneuvers, the rear navigational light lens must had been knocked off and fallen overboard, because it was now missing. Since it was a pleasant day, I put on my bathing suit and looked for it with mask and snorkel. I could not find it and as there were many jelly fish around I gave up. I raised both anchors and moved to the harbor. I anchored, and using the second winch controls operated from the cockpit, brought the boat stern-to without any problem. Docking the boat by myself is not so bad, if there is no wind and if the harbor is not crowded but I was still nervous doing it. Now the boat was very secure.

I called Olympic again but nothing yet, while they did have the shipping papers they did not have the package. There was no sign of the mechanic either. I prepared lunch, and as I sat down to eat the mechanic appeared. He opened the fuel filter and it was very dirty indeed. The filter desperately needed to be replaced, it was a wonder the engine worked as much as it did. Unfortunately, the filter that he had, although it was for a Yanmar engine, it was the wrong size. I called Olympic once more and I insisted that the package had arrived. Amazingly enough, after placing me on hold for a long time they did locate the package. Now all I needed to get it, was to go to the airport which is 65 km away before they closed at 7:00 PM. I looked for a taxi, there is one at the taxi stand but it had no driver and no one knew where he is. There was a store that rents motor scooters but it was closed. Makis called the store owner, and he promised to come before 4:00 and rent me one. I bpught some Greek coffee since the aromatic Arabic I had bought in Cagliari was annoying me.

I waited, sunning myself on the deck, reading. It was a very pleasant day. Most of the boats that were here in the morning seem to belong to flotillas and they all had left by now. As the afternoon progressed a new batch of flotilla boats came in groups of two or three at a time. A small one came next to me. She was operated by an elderly British couple and they were having a most difficult time anchoring. I helped them, that is, I anchored and tied their boat, partly by a sense of altruism and partly to prevent any damage to mine. This was the second day of sailing in their life! They were very grateful and chatty. They insisted on inviting me for a drink, but I declined thanking them and asking for a rain check. I was nervous that I might not get to the airport in time.

It is 4:00 PM and there is no sign of either the taxi driver nor of the motor scooter store proprietor. No other taxi has shown up all afternoon. The waiter of the restaurant adjacent to Thetis is very helpful and spends over ¾ of an hour telephoning to various taxi drivers. No luck. It seems that there is a wedding somewhere nearby and all the local folks, including taxi drivers, are invited. The uninvited taxi drivers must be driving other guests who do not have cars. Also tomorrow is the date that St. Gerasimos, the patron saint of Cephalonia, died which makes it one of the most sacred and festive days of the year. As I am absorbing all these complexities, I see with the corner of my eye a taxi driving down the road. I run after it and waive. No, it is not free, the driver explains, he is to wait for a group of people who are to be transported in 1 hour to the wedding. I explain to him my problem and that I have to get back to Athens but cannot move my boat without the filter, which is at the airport etc. He listens sympathetically, and promises to talk to his clients and see what he can do for me. Amazingly he comes back in 15 minutes. He has made other arrangements for his fare and he is now free to take me to the airport.

[Photo of Assos]

The taxi driver was very talkative during the long drive to and from the airport. He is a retired seaman, like at least half of the island’s male population. After many stories from his days in the merchant marine, with harrowing adventures in Malta and Gibraltar, he focused on the local lore. A big holiday for the island, in addition to tomorrow’s St. Gerasimos day, is August 15 in which they celebrate both the virgin Mary and one of St. Gerasimos’ miracles:

once was a convent by the sea which was under attack by pirates. The nuns, afraid of being captured and ravished, prayed for deliverance to St. Gerasimos. Soon, a multitude of small, 10 -15 cm, snakes appeared on the monastery grounds. The pirates, who had landed in the mean time, were bitten and scared away by the snakes and the nuns were saved. From that day until today these small snakes appear for a few days around August 15, and they are considered sacred. If they fail to appear it is considered a terrible omen. Last time that they did not appear was 1953 which was followed by the earthquakes that practically demolished Argostoli and Lixuri, the largest towns on the island.

[Photo of the West coast of Cephalonia]
West coast of Cephalonia

Another story was that during the second World War:

After the Italians surrendered to the allies and after the Germans invaded the island, they rounded up the Italian division which until that time was occupying the island. They executed the lot, about 3,000 men with only very few escaping, helped by the locals. Every year on the anniversary of the massacre, the survivors and their families, accompanied by Italian and Greek dignitaries, come for a memorial service.

I also later read about this story in the fascinating novel Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernières which is set in Cephalonia.

He also spoke about all the famous Cephalonians—politicians and men of letters, starting from Metaxas, the pre-world war II fascist dictator of Greece, and ending with Tritsis and Arsenis, the ex defense minister. The late Tony Tritsis, a friend of Alice, was an MP from Cephalonia and a very energetic and controversial education minister under the Papandreou government. He was widely loved by all the islanders but they all strongly disapproved when he became the mayor of Athens.

With all this talk, time went fast and we arrived at the airport, got the package, and drove back to Fiskárdo. all within 2½ hours and for only 8,000 GRD. Of course, although I was low on cash, I had to eat at the restaurant with the nice waiter who tried to find me a taxi.

Sunday October 20, 1996 Day 38

I slept very deeply but nevertheless woke up spontaneously by 6:15. I listened to the Greek weather AM radio broadcast, it predicted SW winds 5 - 6 on the Beaufort Scale turning later to NW and thunderstorms in the southern Ionian.

[Photo of a cove near Fiskárdo]
A cove near Fiskárdo

After coffee, I took a long walk from the town of Fiskárdo to the first cove south of the town, up to the restaurant that we had such a good meal with our friends the McMillans a few years ago. This is the first time that I am walking in the Greek country in late October since I was in the Greek army 28 years ago. It is lovely, all the colors are very vivid, there is an abundance of cyclamens with their delicate aroma and mauve color as well as many other wild flowers. The earth is full of fragrances, there are birds singing, and colorful butterflies are everywhere. The sea is a translucent blue-green. The town of Fiskárdo is really very small, its houses are not very special but they predate the earthquakes and are well kept and freshly painted with different pastel colors: pink, terra-cotta, yellow, azure, a few whites… Also everything is very clean.

When I got back into town I went to Makis’ to ask about the mechanic Makis was with his boat out fishing but his wife called the mechanic who promised to come soon although he just woke up having stayed late at a party for his father-in-law Gerasimos. Indeed he came within the hour and changed the filter and bled the fuel lines. The engine now sounded great once more.

I left Fiskárdo at 12:30 and since there was hardly any wind I motored the 12 nM to Ayia Efimia [38° 18.05' N 20° 36.10' E]. The engine behaved normally and had plenty of power. As we enter the Ayia Efimia cove it started to rain heavily. I anchored offshore and waited for the rain to stop before going ashore for fuel. The rain got stronger but there was no wind and the sea was very calm. The cabin was leaking again and everything looked very bleak, it was hard to imagine that this was the same sun-drenched island of this morning. I was now planning to go back to Athens via the Corinth Canal rather then risking going around Cape Maleas, and I am pressing my brother Nikos to meet me in Galaxidi so that he can help me during the canal transit. If I could get fuel here today I will leave sometime after midnight so that I could arrive at Trizonia while there will still be daylight. I was also hoping that the thunderstorms go away because the Gulf of Patras can have waterspouts, according to Heikell, and I had already seem more waterspouts than I ever want to see. I was also low on cash, I only had 15,000 GRD, so maybe I could charge or pay for the fuel in traveler’s checks.

After the rain stopped I went ashore with the empty fuel cans. Right there was a pension with a sign “Exchange” so I cashed a $100 traveler’s check and found out that they can do laundry. After getting the fuel aboard I took all my dirty clothes which they promised to have washed by the evening. I then tried to call home but all I got was the answering machine. It then started to rain again.

Later in the evening it was still raining relentlessly. The clothes were ready but wet, everything was wet! The cabin was already covered by various clothing items trying to dry, and now in addition I had a bag full of more wet clothes. I went ashore, in the storm gear, for dinner. I went to nice restaurant, which had tables on the sidewalk, all enclosed in plastic. Now I understood how Alice feels after a few days in the boat. The whole restaurant was bobbing up and down. It was really strange that the restaurant seemed to move more than Thetis. All of the clientele consisted of Britons who were renting rooms here. Next to me were sitting two sisters of a certain age with peroxide blond hair and heavy makeup. They asked me if I came from the yacht which anchored earlier in the afternoon when the heavy rain started. I guess my storm gear had given me away. They were all very bored with the rain and they watched with great interest my anchoring as it provided some brake of the monotony.

After dinner I tried to call my daughter Cynthia who was not there so I started leaving a message but the line was cut off. I then tried my younger daughter Corinna who was there but again the line went dead as we were talking. After several frustrating attempts I gave up on the calls. Rain kept falling. Back on the boat I set the alarm for 3:00 AM and went to sleep.