This web page describes the fifth leg 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 leg described is the solo passage from Reggio Calabria, Italy to Fiskardo 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.
Wednesday October 16, 1996 Day 34
I got up early to listen to the Italian weather broadcast. Force 7 SE for the next 12 hours, decreasing, with occasional showers. It is looking better. Maybe I can leave later today but I will wait and see. I hanged the wet laundry to dry and finished with the wiring labels. I then cleaned again the fuel pre-filter. The fuel coming out was clean and without water. I ran the engine for 10 minutes and then for 10 more at high RPM. It behaved normally. I got another weather report from the VHF. It sounded reasonable, as reasonable as recent weather could be. I tentatively planed to leave later today.
I walked to town for last minute shopping. On the way back I spoke to the German boat that has Navtex. They also got a forecast from the German weather service. According to them the wind will decrease a lot, starting tomorrow. So, I think I must go today to be able to sail at least part way and not risk running out of fuel. The only problem were the damn “temporali” (thunderstorms). I paid the harbor dues, 87,000 lira. I called my mother Pitsa who also had a weather report confirming what I already have learned. I then called Alice and told her that I was leaving.
On board I gathered the laundry and prepared to depart. Cornelius helped me with the lines and the passarella and I departed at 2:30 PM for Cephalonia. About 10 M south of Reggio we got drenched by a very strong shower. The winds were from all directions but no stronger than 18 knots. I kept rolling in and out the genoa and trimming the main just to keep up with them. I also alternated between motoring and sailing. The motor behaved very well. Finally we were out of the Messina channel and turned east, the wind was a little more steady so we mostly sailed. There were very heavy clouds over Sicily. I saw Mt. Aetna towering over the clouds. This is, at 3,323 m (10,902 ft), the tallest mountain of the Mediterranean.
Night fell and I could see lightning from almost every direction. As we were approaching Cape Spartivento, the last point of Calabria on our course, the wind increased a little to better than 14 knots SW and from 10:30 on we were sailing at a reasonable speed. Around midnight at the Cape a fishing boat with many high intensity lights came straight at us at high speed. I changed course as she overpassed us. Few minutes later she changed course and came back again. I dodged her once more. I was glad to be leaving land behind us so that I could go to sleep.
Thursday October 17, 1996 Day 35
Finally we are far away from land and no boats were visible. I went to sleep and got up every 20 minutes to check for traffic. No problems other than the distant lightning flashes. At 02:00 the wind died out and I had to crank up the engine.
The day was totally uneventful. Hardly any wind, most of the time we were motoring, every so often there was a puff and we motor-sailed. I ran the engine at reduced RPM in order to conserve fuel but at this rate it would be unavoidable that I would have to siphon fuel while under way. In the morning there was strong sunshine but in the afternoon the clouds rolled in. I hoped there will be no thunderstorms tonight.
We crossed the half way point to Cephalonia. Reflecting on the passage through the Messina Strait, it was indeed frightful. Had I known what it would be like, I would never have crossed it all by myself. I cannot help but remember that the last and only other time that I had crossed it I was a student bound for the first time towards the U.S. Little did I know then that I would one day return, in the opposite direction, sailing my own sail boat.
In the evening, the sun just went down in a spectacular display of colors. We were still motoring. A little bird, a swallow I think, had been circling Thetis for some time now. Occasionally it landed on the rigging high up. As it was getting chilly I retreated into the cabin, soon the bird flew right in and landded on top of the radar screen! After observing me for a while it took off and flew out again. It spent the next couple of hours flying in and out of the cabin. The wind picked up a little, so I set the sails and turned off the engine. We were now doing 7 knots, under sail and it was getting very dark with lightning flashes everywhere again. The little bird flew in again and perched on the curtains. Maybe it intended to spend the night here. It stayed, perched on the curtain for over an hour. But, as I started cooking I must have scared it and it flew out and landed inside the cockpit. An hour later it was still there, but when I went out to reduce the sail around 10:00 it was gone.
Friday October 18, 1996 Day 36
Around 1:00 AM the wind died out, and I started the engine again. Immediately the engine sputtered and lost RPM. I cleaned the pre-filter and the engine worked well for about ½ hour, then it lost RPM, picked up speed, lost speed, and sometimes it stopped. This intermittent behavior was only when I ran it at reduced RPM. If I increased the RPM it stalled completely. In the meantime it started to rain and lightning strokes were everywhere, some nearby. To my amazement I could see the storms quite well on the radar and I could avoid them. All of this while there was no wind at all. So on we moved slowly all night, 20 minute naps, checked the horizon and radar, avoided clouds, and back to sleep. All hatches and the companion way were closed to keep the rain out of the cabin.
At daybreak, after my coffee, I siphoned fuel from the jerry cans to the tank on the not so solid theory that maybe I have had bad fuel and by diluting it, the engine will suffer less. After that ordeal, there was no improvement of course. Once again I dismantled and cleaned the pre-filter and the engine now stalled even more frequently. The working RPM was now down to 1500 (normally we cruise at 2600) which moves the boat at most with 4 knots. There was zero wind and we were bathed in sunshine. Absolutely no trace of last night’s clouds.
We were now only 45 M from Cephalonia, but I could not say that I was sure we will make it with the engine. I did hope for some wind. When we were approximately 36 M away from Cephalonia, land was sighted. Unfortunately together with the land came the clouds again. They were dark cumulus clouds laden with rain. First I saw at same distance a vortex from a cloud to the sea. Could this be the dreaded waterspout? Heikell does mention that this part of the Ionian has them in late October and November. Later I saw a storm cloud and after checking with the radar I verified that we were on a collision course. It was 8 M away so I changed course. Our closest approach was about 1 M. As we crossed paths with it I saw a vortex forming and within a few minutes it reached the sea. I looked at it with the binoculars, sure enough I could easily see the water circulating and rising towards the cloud. It was a waterspout, no doubt at all. I ran for the camera and photographed it. This was the closest that I ever want to be to one of them, fascinating as they are.
Now there was a small amount of wind so I cautiously raised the sails, as I was still petrified by the waterspouts. The sails gave some relief to the tired engine and together they pushed us towards the land, ever so slowly. I did hope that the the weather in the channel between Ithake and Cephalonia will not be too fierce. I now seemed to get good reception on the VHF and I head Hellas Radio on channel 16 so I hailed them and placed a call to my mother Pitsa and asked her to find my brother Nikos so that he can get me a replacement fuel filter. I was sure that this was what was wrong with the engine. I also asked if he could locate, through his contacts, a reputable Diesel mechanic. I was not sure if dear Pitsa got all of these but I told her that I will be listening on channel 16 so that Nikos could call me. Sure enough, 2 hours later Hellas Radio was hailing the yacht Thetis. This was the first time that I had received a call via the VHF. After some confusion we were connected. Nikos had located the filter and he will send it to Cephalonia with Olympic Airways tonight, so I am sure to have it by tomorrow. He will look for a mechanic. Thank goodness for modern communications!
We were now 22 M from Fiskárdo and 34 M from Ayia Efimia. I was not sure where I wanted to go. I preferred Ayia Efimia which has fuel facilities and is closer to the airport and, in addition, one can anchor off-shore which in my case is much easier. On the other hand Fiskárdo is much closer and it was getting late and we were moving at a very slow speed. As we got closer to the island, the visibility was excellent, I could clearly see Lefkas, Cephalonia, Ithake, and the mainland. It was 6:00 PM, and very calm with almost no wind. I made up my mind to try for Fiskárdo. Heikell says that you can anchor off-shore and take a line ashore to a rock on the north side of the cove.
It was almost 10:00 PM when I entered the cove of Fiskárdo [38° 27.66' N 20° 34.56' E], Cephalonia. I had not dropped the anchor since Malta, as a result the chain had been tossed around in the locker and did not come out freely. This made for a less than perfect anchoring. Being tired I did not raise the anchor and re-anchor as I should. I was lulled into complaisance by the mirror calm sea. I assembled the zodiac, blessing Lewis for repairing the electric pump. I took the line ashore and all was well. The town is named after a famous French pirate who was a one time king of Sicily and who died here, named Guiscard, Giskardo in Italian, which was then corrupted into Greek as Fiskárdo.
I went with the zodiac to the picturesque little town and made phone calls to my mother Pitsa and my brother Nikos, who had already send the filter but had not located a mechanic. I had a bite to eat in an outdoor restaurant right on the harbor. I then tried to call Alice but the phone did not work for overseas calls. Tired but pleased with myself I drove the zodiac back to Thetis and slept.