Travels with S/Y Thetis

Thetis only

1996: Preparation

I have been dreaming of long sailing trips for many years, ever since my father got his first boat in 1950, the venerable Samiopoula, a boat constructed like a Greek caïque but in the shape of a motor cruiser and with sails. This was my first introduction to sailing. Later as a teenager, not being able to afford fuel for the small outboard boat I had, I converted her to a square rigged sailboat, using her tent as a sail and the tent poles as mast and gaff. This is how I learned to sail. All through that time I always dreamed of long distance voyaging to exotic and far away places. All such thoughts were put to rest during my student years and while raising a family. But in 1984, I managed to buy my very own sail boat, Thetis. Since then I have been sailing together with my family for at least two weeks every year. We have been to many wonderful places in the Aegean islands, the Turkish coast, the Ionian islands, and around the Peloponnesos. But as I had limited vacation time long distance voyaging had been totally out of the question.

During the summer of 1995 my situation changed drastically. I was offered early retirement from COMSAT Laboratories where I had worked for 22 years. This was an opportunity to realize my long held dream, so I eagerly took it, realizing that I may be sacrificing a steady income and limiting my practice of a profession which I did enjoy very much. I contemplated selling Thetis and buying a larger, more suitable boat for long trips. However, after some market research I realized that any used boat that I could afford was not much better than Thetis so I decided to upgrade Thetis for ocean crossings.

During the winter of 1995 I started studying routes and reading about ocean crossings. Originally I planned to aim for an Atlantic Ocean crossing for late 1996. Then I decided on a more conservative approach, so I changed my plans to make an extended test trip within the Mediterranean, instead, and to postpone the Atlantic crossing for the following years, based on this experience.

I started preparations for this trip by outfitting Thetis with several new items to increase her safety and comfort. These included: a radar, a new GPS/Chart Plotter receiver, a radar reflector, new night time binoculars, a wind generator, a redundant VHF antenna, an EPIRB emergency transmitter, an improved passarella (gangplank), etc. In 1994 I had a major overhaul on the motor. During the spring of 1996 I had the keel, rudder, and all the rigging inspected and any questionable item was replaced. In addition, I had an anti-osmosis treatment applied to the hull, repaired all the windows, and tested the cabin for leaks. During the summer all these changes and additions were tested. So everything was ready for the trip in the autumn of 1996.

There are two points about this trip: although I have been in and out of boats since I was kid, I have never gone before a distance further than one day’s sail, also most of my sailing has been with others. It is only in the past two years that I have ventured sailing by myself. First near Athens, and last year as far as Schinousa in the Cyclades for two weeks. But now that I finally have more time available I want to do some more serious traveling with my boat. The problem is that finding suitable people to go with you is not always feasible. So I have been training myself to sail alone on the theory that if you are definitely going on a trip somebody may decide to come along with you. Just as I expected, after I declared that I will sail in September to Malta and Sardinia, my brother Nikos said he will come with me. Then my old Stevens Institute of Technology roommate Lewis Unger indicated that he wanted to come part of the way. The last time I traveled with Lewis was in 1965 when we left the US with very little money for Frankfurt where we purchased an incredible used motorcycle with which we went to Greece after touring France, Spain, Italy, and Yugoslavia.

I wanted to leave in the late August and complete the trip by early October as this will have most of the sailing in September which is one of the safest months for sailing in the Mediterranean. But, there were two complications. My daughter Corinna was going to start as a freshman in Brown University and she had to be there after Alice’s (my wife who is a professor of Classics in Howard University) classes started, and a trip to EUTELSAT in Paris to complete the work which was to be finished in the spring of 1996 but was delayed. So instead of sailing in August I flew back to Washington. After installing Corinna, I left for Paris on September 1. I was to meet Lewis in Athens on September 12. For several reasons the work at EUTELSAT did not progress as smoothly as everyone expected, and as the time advanced I became more and more frantic. Should the departure be delayed further, we would be getting into late October and November with increased probability of gales. Well, after delaying my departure twice and working ridiculously long hours I left the EUTELSAT earth station at 5:00 AM of September 12 and here begins the log.

Thursday September 12, 1996

I left Versailles, where I was staying, at 8:00 after only one hour of sleep having worked most of the night. The traffic to the Charles DeGaull airport was crawling. I made it to the airport where I went to the wrong terminal, terminal 1 instead of 2. The signs there leave a lot to be desired. After returning the rented car, I waited in a slow line to change my ticket from Olympic to Air France. Finally, exhausted, I made it to the plane with 10 minutes to spare, although I had left the hotel 3 whole hours ago. I managed to sleep a little in the plane which arrived in Athens without any problem and on time. All of my three pieces of luggage containing several spare parts and a most elaborate first-aid kit full of prescription drugs were recovered and went through customs without any difficulty. Nikos and Lewis were double parked outside the terminal waiting for me.

We went straight to Thetis and left most of my stuff. Thetis appears to be in good shape. Rohalio, the man who looks after both mine and Niko’s boat, has done all that I had asked him to do when I left in August. The plan is to sail as early as possible tomorrow. Also, instead of going to Malta on a more direct course, I decide to take it rather slowly the first few days and give Lewis a chance to adjust to the boat.

We then went to Niko’s house in Voula where I checked for any e-mail etc. Later we all went to Athens at my mother’s Pitsa. She looked tired but was very glad to see Lewis after over 30 years. My brother Byron and Mirka, Niko’s ex-wife, were already there. No sign or word of Niko’s girl friend Rozina. Byron had arranged to go to some not so nice restaurant half way between Athens and Kifisia where he lives. Byron’s wife Ivi met us there. There were playing, loudly, the most annoying music and although we were the only customers they refused to stop playing it. Greece has changed! Nevertheless it was nice to have dinner with the whole clan. Later Nikos and Lewis went to Voula and I stayed at Pitsa’s in Athens where I was sequestered with Kirki, her beloved cat from Samos.