Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Great Voyage

It was a calm sunny Sunday at the end of May 2012 when we arrived on our yacht, Cape Farewell, in Rogoznica Marina, just north of Split in central Croatia. We had been berthed there for four years, exploring the beautiful Croatian coast and offshore Islands each summer, but now it was time to move on. The previous November I had booked a berth in the new Cesme Marina near Izmir and now we had assembled a strong crew for 740 mile voyage there.

Our crew was my wife Andrea and me as skipper, with an old seafaring friend, Malcolm McKeag. Then we had recruited Andrea's sister Marilyn with her partner Patrice, a French Consultant Haematologist, who were due to fly in and join us that evening from Paris. We went to bed having readied the boat and eaten early but were awakened by a call from Marilyn at Split airport to tell us she couldn't find Josco our regular driver. Eventually they found him and arrived on board around midnight.

During the night the wind increased and the rain poured down on our cabin roof. We were snug enough with our stern to the concrete jetty and larger yachts on either side, but we had been told that we had to take Cape Farewell five miles north west to Kremik the following day to clear customs and police so that we could depart from Croatia.

We bade fond good-byes to the girls of Marina Frapa's reception whom we knew so well. Then we sailed out into the storm, with south-easterly winds of about 40 knots. Fortunately the wind was on our stern and the seas were fairly small inside the islands so the trip was not too rough. Kremik sent a boat out to guide us in to the customs berth just outside marina reception. Kremik Marina is in a sort of Croatian fiord and the wind funnels in through the surrounding hills, covered with ancient stone walls delineating long past family grape, wine and olive growing areas. Three chaps jumped aboard, and a large man took over the helm and engine controls from me. He was an expert and berthed Cape Farewell very neatly in an awkward spot with a big, gusty cross-wind. A lovely, competent team.

Less lovely were the police and customs. The latter didn't turn up and the former would not complete the process if we weren't sailing that day, in spite of our being stormbound. We certainly couldn't go for ten hours south-east into the teeth of a 40-knot gale. That evening we staggered the few yards to the marina restaurant and managed to have a serious dinner with bottles of Primosten wine to wash it down. Walking back to the boat in the dark, the wind had dropped and a light rain was falling. On the saloon table was laid out a nearly empty bottle of Balvenie single malt whisky and a nearly full bottle of Hine brandy. A classical CD was found in a drawer and put on the ship's stereo.

"This is MacRaminof's piano concerto number three in C." opined Malcolm.

Tuesday 22nd May dawned cloudy, light rain but mercifully calm. At 0800 sharp a young, friendly policemen arrived, complete with gun in holster. He fiddled about with a growing heap of papers and the five passports, all of which he had checked the day before. The Harbour Master arrived and inspected our insurance policy and my qualifications as captain. He seemed well satisfied, wished us a pleasant voyage in excellent English and departed. Then a smartly-uniformed customs man arrived in a rather battered little car. He had an air-force blue uniform, a crew cut and tinted, gold-rimmed glasses. Much stamping and signing of papers and further passport inspections and then the policeman stamped them with our exit stamps. Finally both the policeman and the customs man walked down the dock to Cape Farewell to inspect the removed parts in their box that we had to export from Croatia. These consisted, as per the signed list, of three condensers, a nearly new alternator belt and the box itself. They wouldn't stop for coffee and pronounced us free to sail for Corfu, having officially cleared out from Croatia. Ten minutes later we sailed. The sea was still lumpy but there was only a small following wind about the same velocity as the ship as we steamed south-east. Gradually the wind dropped and the sky cleared and it became flat calm, warm and sunny. We arrived at Korcula fuel berth at three thirty and took 230 gallons of diesel in half an hour. With over 500 gallons in the tanks we had plenty of fuel for the long overnighter to Corfu.

Entirely against all regulations we pulled into the little isolated bay of Prozura on the remote island of Mljet, where there was an excellent restaurant with a free berth and electricity. Dinner ashore; a huge fish and a grilled crayfish for me, several brandies and so to bed.

Wednesday May 23rd dawned sunny and calm. We trouped ashore for omelettes, washed down with squeezed orange juice and strong, black coffee. Marilyn wandered around the adjoining garden and announced that she had found some 'marijuana poppies' which rather puzzled the rest of us who thought opium came from poppies. Marilyn assured us it was not so however.

We sailed south-east along the coast until we cleared the land and could set course for the turning point at Vliore, Albania. It was a calm, cool day with frequent patches of sunshine. After an hour's successful running while Andrea made tea, coffee and hot cuppa-soup to nourish the crew, the generator wouldn't start in the evening. It was cold food from then on, as we're an all-electric boat. Otherwise the weather remained light and visibility good. We split into watches for the night and left Patrice and Marilyn on for the eight to twelve, with Malcolm and Andrea for the middle watch and me for the morning watch and the arrival.

I was awoken by the sensation that we were now heading into what had been a force three, following wind. I got dressed and went up to the wheelhouse to find all was confusion. Marilyn and Patrice had tried to move the plug-in auto-pilot from the flying bridge to the wheelhouse "because we were getting cold up there!" They had both become disorientated in the process with the result that we were now 180 degrees off course. I grabbed the wheel and steered by hand until we were back on course again and the motion had eased. Not best pleased, I stayed up on the flying bridge with them for another hour or so.

"What happens if it rains?" asked Marilyn plaintively.

"Then you get bloody wet!" I told her, "You'll keep a much better look-out from up here. I remember a captain at sea when I was a young apprentice who said that you never keep a proper watch at night through glass, so he sent me out on the bridge wing to face the sleet and biting wind. Then the steward came up with hot tea and buttered toast for the captain and the officer of the watch which they consumed in the warm while I had to remain outside.

The weather stayed calm as we closed the Albanian coast, heading for the mile-wide gap between Corfu and Albania. The dawn revealed small Albanian towns huddling under the huge and forbidding-looking mountains, full of square, concrete apartment blocks. There were some brightly painted ones, but the place didn't look attractive. We berthed at Corfu Marina at 0815 after a run of 225 miles. Then the paper chase began! Marilyn and I went to the marina office to pay for two nights berthing. Then we found a friendly taxi driver, Kostas, to take us to immigration. They wouldn't accept Marilyn's Australian passport as she was not an EU citizen. So we drove off to the ferry immigration terminal. There Kostas shouldered aside a group of Spanish and Japanese tourists and marched straight through security to an office where a chap with four stripes on his epaulettes and his, heavily pregnant wife were situated. Marilyn got her passport stamped and we proceeded to customs who waved us away after a cursory look at the ship's papers. Then back to the marina to have a ship's Greek Passage Log made up. There was a long queue. We got to the head of it, and showed the solitary young man our papers.

"You need to pay in the marina office and get me a receipt first," he explained. Marilyn went off to do that.

"We could fill in all the details on the Passage Log while she's away," I suggested as the queue was lengthening.

"First the receipt," he replied, turning on the TV to look at the Greek news. Back came Marilyn with the receipt for 88 euro-cents and twenty minutes later the official had filled in the Passage Log and entered every detail by hand in two, separate, grubby account books. We departed for a drink in the bar next door. Past us came the man who had been next in the queue.

"Had to pay and get a receipt before he'd issue the Passage Log," he explained as he trotted back, "he might have mentioned that while I was waiting for you to finish!"

That afternoon Angelo the engineer arrived to fix the generator which turned out to have a faulty solenoid valve. He ordered a new one up for delivery Saturday..

Friday 25th dawned fine and clear. The crew went ashore for a tour with Kostas, while Malcolm and I stayed on board. It was a hot, sultry day. Malcolm varnished out the bare bits of the wheelhouse and saloon while I cleaned the old oil and cigarette butts out of the engine room bilges, left there by the Croatian engineers. In the evening we got the electric barbecue out and Patrice grilled five little fishes he had bought, wrapped in silver paper. The menfolk sat up a little late and finished the Hine Brandy before going to bed.

Saturday May 26th dawned cloudy, calm and sultry although it became sunny later. We tried to get our Passage Log stamped but that involved producing the registration certificate, passports, skipper's qualifications and the insurance policy in Greek, all of which were inspected by the same people yesterday.

"I thought there was free passage in the EU for citizens and their boats," I queried the lady in charge.

"All the visiting English say that," she replied, "It's not us, it's the government rules we have to obey."

Angelo came aboard with the solenoid for the generator and soon had it going. The generator worked on load so all was well so we moved to the fuel berth to top up the tanks. Then we sailed on the 65 miles to Levkas on the little canal separating the Peloponnese from the rest of Greece.

We arrived at a quarter to eight in the evening and entered the northern end of the canal. We waited only five minutes for the floating bridge to open and then to Levkas Marina where we spent the night. We had a simple dinner ashore in the excellent, cheap, marina restaurant and went to bed, all dog-tired.

The next morning, we enjoyed a good breakfast at the same café. At breakfast we discovered that we had been under the impression that Greece was in the same time zone as Croatia. Not so. We were an hour behind local time. Malcolm took off the wheelhouse clock and adjusted it, as did Andrea with all the other clocks on board. Meanwhile I went to the reception to pay the berth fee. No stamps, no papers, just a credit card and the girl gave me the ship's registration certificate back and we sailed.

We sailed down the Levkas canal and around the little islands. We passed under the long Riou bridge at four thirty pm and then on to an abandoned marina at Trizona Island where we planned to berth for the night. There was a strong north-westerly wind and we slid in to a very tight berth between two yachts on the inside of the outer breakwater. The forward one was a large sailing yacht with an anxious skipper on its stern. The other was the home of Wendy and David, recent live-aboards on their aluminium sailing boat 'Stromhella'. They helped us to fender off the rough concrete jetty as we berthed and we invited them to dinner in the little village square. Wendy had previously been married to (and later divorced from) a Dutch Jesuit priest. It was a boozy, pleasant evening with a Thai-Greek waitress who was very beautiful. Andrea ended the dinner a trifle over-served with wine and loved everyone. We helped her back to the boat muttering.

At around four in the morning there was the sound of an educated English voice aft and the noise of a boat engine. I got up in my pyjamas and moved swiftly to the darkened end of the saloon to see what was happening. David and Wendy were trying to motor, bow-first, off the dock, into the wind. They would have made it except that our passerelle had been left sticking out to make room for our stern line. As it was he just managed to push his boat clear, with Wendy on the helm gunning the engine,. With a polite apology coming across from the darkened harbour, Stromhella's navigation lights gradually vanished into the distance.

We left shortly after the big yacht berthed ahead for the western entrance to the Corinth Canal and arrived off the canal entrance at 1220 calling them on VHF. We had to wait an hour steaming up and down. It was a delightful, sunny run through the high banks of the Corinth Canal, three and a half miles long. We stopped to fill out the inevitable sheaves of paperwork and pay the canal authorities at the eastern end, then off to the Olympic Marina at Piraeus, where we arrived after a calm and sunny 33 miles among numerous anchored ships waiting for cargoes. The girls went ashore to reconnoitre and I to the marina office to deal with the inevitable blizzard of paperwork and pay for two nights alongside. The marina presented us with a bottle of Greek brandy, another of Ouzo and some yachting magazines, all in a neat basket to welcome us. Meanwhile the shore party reported squalor with graffiti, rubbish blowing about and a lot of small, crude shelters full of what appeared to be Rumanian Gypsies. We decided to eat on board and Marilyn cooked up scrambled eggs, fried chunks of ham and new potatoes with a tomato and feta cheese salad on the side.

Tuesday May 29th dawned grey and cool. After fixing the engine room bilge pump I was ready and we all went ashore. We got the security man to call two taxies and visited the Acropolis and the Parthenon. In spite of the state of the Greek economy there is a lot of restoration work going on. Then to lunch at a family restaurant with an undecipherable name. We had sardines, calamari, grilled prawns, salad and some beautiful little white fish fillets in a mixture of olive oil and lemon, all washed down with good, Greek wine and their home-made liqueur. Marilyn and Patrice, being of a cultural bent, went off to the museum; the rest of us back to the boat.

A quiet afternoon on board, Malcolm varnishing and me writing up the log and having an hour's sleep. Early to bed, although a slightly disturbed night with loud rap music from car boom-boxes and much revving of motor bikes outside the perimeter fence until 0300 in the morning.

The next day dawned fine and cloudless with light breezes from the west. The police, who were due to appear at eight hadn't turned up to stamp our papers by ten to nine, so we dispensed with their assistance and sailed for Batsi in Andros Island.

The wind stayed light, the sun stayed out and we arrived in Batsi at three pm after an uneventful voyage. We had to lay out an anchor ahead which was a bit unexpected and when we berthed on the smart, new breakwater we discovered that there was plenty of fresh water but the electric sockets weren't working due to a very bad storm they had a few months ago. On went the trusty generator. An old chap in a fluorescent jacket seemed to be in charge and issued numerous orders. He muttered something about giving him money, so I gave him twenty Euros and won a friend for life. All went ashore for shopping (girls), internet (Patrice) and a drink (Malcolm and me).

The next two boats were manned by professors of philosophy, theology and archaeology and their students from the University of San Diego. They had commandeered the five hire cars in the village to visit an archaeological dig about thirty kilometres away. We had dinner ashore at a restaurant run by an American/Greek lady who had moved back from New Jersey twenty-three years before. Calamari followed by special roast lamb cooked in aluminium foil. All was at peace in the little bay with lights twinkling from the houses on the surrounding hills.

The next morning started slowly; hot and sunny with light winds. Marilyn and Andrea collected some extra provisions, Patrice went off to the Wi-Fi café to continue his work on marketing medical products and Malcolm and I launched the RIB and gave it a run. Andrea and Marilyn went off in a pre-arranged taxi to visit Andros Town and at eleven am the fuel tanker turned up and gave us a quick three hundred litres in each tank. Malcolm and I went off for a long lunch of a shared Caesar salad followed by a shared pizza and copious glasses of local, red wine. We came back to Cape Farewell in a mellow mood ready for an afternoon sleep to be faced by a very hesitant Andrea reporting that Marilyn had, yet again blocked the guest head. Malcolm and I fixed it, showered and had a slightly belated afternoon sleep. That evening Malcolm took the girls out for a long tour of the bay and coastline of Batsi and then we hoisted the RIB.

We left Batsi at seven the next day for the 100-mile run to Mandraki. It was flat clam and sunny without a cloud in the sky, and twice we were accompanied by pods of dolphins. We were approaching the harbour on the south side of Mandraki Island when some discoloured water with a green fishing buoy in the middle appeared ahead and the echo sounder indicated rapidly shoaling water. I slowed down and turned ninety degrees to port, and worked our way around what was obviously a very shallow patch. When we were safely round and on course again we discovered that the shoal was shown on the Imray chart, but only as a very small mark on the plotter when on a very large scale. Lesson learned - always consult the paper chart as well as the plotter.

The abandoned marina at Mandraki was disappointing. We berthed and were greeted by a young policeman instructing us to bring all our papers to his office up the road by the maritime college sometime after six that evening. We discovered that there was neither electricity nor water available on the dock; as they say in the RN, 'Fitted for but not with.' The policeman redeemed himself by giving me a lift on his scooter to his office which must have been an interesting sight for the bystanders.

The town was run-down, dusty and fly-blown with some graffiti and weeds growing between the concrete slabs. The marina had been started but not finished. There was no charge for the night's berthing but we were back to running the generator for long periods. We ate ashore in an open-sided dining space, surrounded by thin, hopeful cats. The proprietor was kind and attentive although a serial, roll-your-own smoker. Various shabby middle-aged locals plus the host's wife and daughter sat around sipping coffee and smoking. The food was roast lamb chopped up into splintery ribs plus calamari and salad.

The next day we sailed the twelve miles to Cesme Marina without properly clearing out of Greece. It was a public holiday and I had visions of being asked to wait for a couple of days until a customs man came back on duty. We were soon in Turkish waters and hoisted our red Turkish courtesy ensign replacing Greek one. We berthed alongside at ten fifteen in our reserved berth. Then the paper chase began. First to pay the balance of the annual berth fee and then to the harbour master to get the transit log filled out. Then to the doctor to get the stamp assuring the world that we were free of plague, then we all had to troop up to the port police and customs to get entered officially into Turkey and get our visas and passports stamped.

That evening the marina held a barbecue on the terrace to celebrate its second birthday. Our crew all dressed up and socialised. The food and wine were excellent and there was a continual procession of smartly dressed, happily chattering people, young and old, through the very stylish shops and restaurants that fringed the marina. The pontoon lights shone violet, white and red and all the shop windows were lit up. The harbour was full of yachts, big and small and it looked more like Nice or Antibes than an outpost of Asia. It made an interesting contrast with the clapped-out and destitute Greek port that we had left only that morning and which was just twelve miles to the north.