Yacht Pipit


The Great Escape, and Greece (sp) is the Word... - 16th June 2013

No, not the titles of films we've watched recently, although of course we had plenty of time to do so whilst waiting in Sicily for a weather window, but we have finally escaped our winter berth in Marina di Ragusa and arrived in the Ionian.

Very frustratingly we waited for the whole of May in MdR for a suitable weather window to leave, but alas none came, and we were still there in early June, as were a surprising number of other people, mostly much more experienced sailors than ourselves, so the fact that they were also waiting for the weather to settle suggested that perhaps we were not being too cautious.

The winds were still often very strong and easterly, which deposited red sand all over Pipit, and we lost count of the number of times we washed the boat. Andy even went to the top of the mast with a hosepipe on one occasion to wash the mast & spreaders.

The sand en-route from Pantelleria to MdR.

Red red rain...

The sand had to be washed from not only the boat, but the canvas and particularly the lazyjacks so that they wouldn't make the sails, which we'd paid to have cleaned last autumn, dirty again.

The boredom of waiting for weather was greatly relieved for me by our recent purchase of a Kindle. This was more timely than we thought and I managed to get through nearly seven books by the time we left! Andy was occupied for some of the time by designing and writing a new website for a friend's consultancy.

We finally had a favourable forecast to make it 'round the corner' to Porto Palo so, on Wednesday the 5th June after topping up with diesel, we departed Marina di Ragusa. Alas perversely there was very little wind so we had to motor most of the way to Porto Palo, a pleasant and calm anchorage to spend the night. The following morning we headed for Siracusa, and even managed to sail some of the way, partly just for the enjoyment of it, but mainly to ensure everything was set up correctly and we remembered how it all worked!

The anchorage in Siracusa is lovely, with plenty of space and good holding, but we headed straight for the marina, as we needed to buy fresh food to pre-cook meals for the passage to the Ionian, fill with water and make final preparations for what would be our longest passage yet. Unfortunately, in easterly winds, the marina in Siracusa suffers from lots of surge so we were bounced around a bit, but the anchorage also looked quite rolly.

Siracusa market was lovely, but we were keen to take the weather window and get to Greece, so we didn't linger long. We did though, wander through the old town of Ortiga and along the seafront promenade where we had a final Italian meal at a restaurant overlooking the bay.

Siracusa market viewed through the remains of the Temple of Apollo.

Promenade along the seafront in Ortiga, the old town at Siracusa - anchorage in the background.

Superyachts at the quay in Siracusa. One had impressive underwater lights along the waterline - not sure if that's an optional extra on a Bavaria...

We couldn't resist a final photo of a classic Fiat 500.

So, after a bit of a hectic Saturday morning in the marina getting ready, we anchored for an hour or so to finish preparations prior to setting off. We weighed anchor at 1330 and headed out expecting to find 10 knots of wind on the beam. Of course what we actually found was 12 knots on the nose... This didn't last too long though.

Arrivederci Italia!

The sea was no more than slight, but with less wind than originally forecast it was a largely uneventful motor-sail. As the sun set on our first day, we could see Mount Etna in the distance astern, quite spectacular and a reminder of how imposing it is, as it was some 60 miles away. The calm of the first night was rudely interrupted just before midnight when the gas alarm went off as I was coming to the end of my first off-watch snooze. Andy came below in a flash and having confirmed that the gas was off at the tap, went to the other most likely source of gas - the domestic batteries. One of these was too hot to touch and was clearly gassing vigorously - not good! We had a suspicion during our final week in MdR that one of the batteries may be coming to the end of its useful life as one cell had used more water than usual and there was some bubbling. Fortunately it was an easy job to disconnect the offending battery and continue on our way. When the gas alarm was fitted 3 years ago I never imagined it would alert us to a boiling battery!

The sun setting behind Mount Etna.

During the second day and night the sea was even calmer but so was the wind, so the engine stayed on. As dawn broke on Monday morning we could see Cephalonia, some 60 miles distant, and just as the sun rose above the horizon we were greeted by a lovely Ionian dolphin reception committee. We had had brief visits from seemingly shy dolphins en-route, but these stayed with us for quite a while, darting about our bows - absolutely delightful. At about breakfast time we actually had a bit of useful breeze, so the engine went off and we drifted peacefully along at about 3.5 knots in sunshine and flat seas - a reminder of why we were making this passage! Pleasant as that was, if we had continued at that speed, it would have meant a third night at sea, and an arrival in Argostoli in the dark, so after an hour or two the engine went back on.

Our second Ionian greeting was far less welcome and came in the form of a nasty thunderstorm with 35 knot winds, pelting rain and the subsequent nasty sea building up just 3 miles off our landfall waypoint. Not what we wanted at the end of a two-night passage, but it lasted only about an hour and by the second hour the seas had calmed a bit, so we were soon able to head into Argostoli. A worry at this stage was the amount of diesel we had left - because we had had to motor-sail for almost the entire passage with a less than clean bottom and the consequent reduction in speed, the gauge was getting perilously low and we were worried about the pitching we were doing in the short & steep seas and the possibility of stirring up any muck at the bottom of the fuel tank.

After 54 hours at sea, we tied up to the quay in Argostoli, relieved, excited and a little emotional. Three years, 22 days and nearly 4500 nautical miles after leaving our home port of Plymouth, we had finally achieved our goal and were now in our new home waters - well almost - we were still on the outside of Cephalonia. A young lady from the Port Police came along and welcomed us, asking briefly our ship's flag and last port of call and asking us to visit the port office when we were ready. As we were extremely tired (although of course not too tired for a celebratory beer...), we were very glad when she seemed happy for us to do this the next morning. We delayed our celebration meal ashore, opting instead to square the boat away, have an easy dinner of leftover chilli and an early night of very sound sleep.

Despite the frustration of having to motor-sail nearly the entire passage, it was a far more preferable option in hindsight than the passages of several other boats which left MdR before us. All who took the Golfo di Squillace route (our original plan) had anything from distinctly unpleasant weather to full gales, thunderstorms at sea, and a few gear failures. Our passage was pleasant and comfortable - we've yet to read that of anyone we know who headed north! Some who left MdR before us are, in fact, still on the south coast of Italy. We hope they all make safe passage here soon.

Checking in the next day with the Port Police gave us an early indication of Greek bureaucracy. Most forms were in 'quadlicate' with each page requiring not one but two rubber stamps, it seemed that at least 3 people had to look at each document, there was no computer in sight and all records were in quaint old ledgers - one requiring a special red pen to be used for one column. Another ledger had a big 'Top Secret' label stuck on the front of it - we think that was tongue-in-cheek but perhaps not! Anyway as expected they had no DEKPA forms, but were able to issue us with a 'not DEKPA' form, so we are now legal.

We spent three nights at the quay in Argostoli, allowing us easy access to the town for shopping, filling with water and investigating mobile internet dongles. We came away with a WIND SIM card as this was the cheapest initial solution. What we really need is a Cosmote contract as the rates are about half that of PAYG and Cosmote are reported to have the best coverage in these parts, but for that I need a Greek tax number. No problem, the tax office was around the corner, but most of the staff were on strike following the shutting down of the 3 state TV channels, so issuing a tax number was not possible. We shall try again in Preveza.

We enjoyed a typical Greek meal at the Captain's Table, along with ice cold Mythos beer and very acceptable Greek wine, and the following morning, we motored to the Port Police quay to fill up with diesel. Sure enough we had only 20 litres left, so as it turns out the gauge is pretty accurate. We then anchored off the quay from where there is a much better view of the town and surrounding mountains. We saw a number of enormous loggerhead sea turtles whilst at anchor - perhaps 2 feet in length.

Argostoli anchorage.

The next morning we headed out and encountered slightly confused seas for the first few hours out of Argostoli, but as we rounded the southeast corner of Cephalonia, the seas flattened and we had a lovely sail all the way to our favourite anchorage of Pera Pighadi on Ithaca, one of our possible destinations depending on what wind we found. There's not room for many boats and as it was now about 7pm we were too late so pushed on to 'Big' Vathy, where as well as tying to the quays it is possible to anchor off, which we did. The wind dropped with the sun and we had a calm night.

We took a similar photo leaving Big Vathy in 2008 - only this time it's from our own boat and the skipper now needs glasses...

On Saturday we headed for our probable winter berth of 'Little' Vathy on Meganisi and as we rounded the southern tip of Meganisi we had a perfect 8-10 knots on the beam and enjoyed a beautiful sail up the length of the island - this is just as we remembered sailing in these parts - idyllic!

Panos was waiting on the quay to take our lines and immediately made us feel welcome. Our initial impressions of this intimate little marina, which hadn't been built last time we were here in 2008, were exactly as we hoped.

Leaving Plymouth in 2010...

...and arriving at Little Vathy in 2013.

Our new local...

We have had 3 wonderful years cruising and passage making in British, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian waters and we have finally reached our target destination and what we now consider to be our 'home' waters. In fact, we feel very much at home here - we've already had discussions about a winter berth, an annual berth, a number of villa possibilities for the winter, some winter IT work and plots of land for sale...

After lifting out later this week for anti-fouling and polishing we are looking forward to spending the rest of the season just 'pottering about' - the Voyage Map page shows where...

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