Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Nothing Goes to Weather Like a 747

We're home on the north coast of California. Beautiful weather here, cool, clear and sunny with a breeze off the Pacific. The house sits on a heavily wooded bluff two hundred feet above Clam Beach and the view out to sea  is worth the long trip  from Marmaris.
Haul out at Marmaris Yacht Marina, Marmaris, Turkey
Marmaris Yacht Marina is where we left the boat. It's where we started our time in the Aegean after shipping the boat from Singapore last spring. All in all I believe it's the best place available to haul out the boat, leave it over the winter, get the usual haul out work accomplished and get back in the water early next May. There's nothing unusual to be done. The boat came through the season in pretty good condition. We've got a reputable guy checking on things regularly when we're gone and he'll have a few of the projects done before we return. At least that's the 'plan'.
Under full sail, heading north
And the plan for the season just completed worked fairly well. We planned to work our way north along the Turkish coast with the weather and then move over into northern Greek waters before the Meltimi kicked in full blast. We'd mess around in the north out of the Meltimi until it was time to move on and then use the Meltimi to sail southwards through the Dodecaneses and home to Marmaris. Of course there were times when a big southerly would make life difficult in the Turkish anchorages. There were times when we had to wait out the Meltimi for longer than we wished or get beat up a little going anyway. There were times when we wished we were somewhere else. But almost the whole season went by without a real scare. More about the "almost" later.
Restored mansion in Symi town
For Americans and most other non-EU type people our time in the EU is governed by the "Schengen Agreement" which gives us a ninety day multiple entree visa that is good for one hundred eighty days. You can spend ninety days out of one hundred eighty days in the EU. Come and go as often as you like but you only get ninety days. This is BS for a lot of reasons and since Turkey is not part of the EU and it's citizens are subject to "Schengen" the nation of Turkey reciprocates (read "retaliates") by enforcing its own rules exactly like the Schengen countries. The significance of all this to us cruising types is that out of one hundred and eighty days we can spend ninety in Turkey and ninety in the EU, Greece for instance. Sounds OK right? You spend ninety in Turkey and then go to Greece. Then you spend ninety in Greece and go back to Turkey. Or various permutations of the above. If you watch the dates you'll never exceed the ninety-in-one eighty day provisions of your visas.
View from the Symi fortress towards Pethi
Beyond that, for us boat owners, a non-EU documented vessel can remain in EU waters for eighteen months before becoming subject to "VAT", a tax on an "imported" vessel. This is a very hefty tax but can be pretty easily avoided by leaving the EU for any length of time, one day  in Turkey would do, and then the eighteen month clock is restarted. Not a huge problem.
Church in Symi
Ahhhhh, but we had much to learn about the mindset of the international bureaucracy. And that after I thought  with a working life of international flying, travel and some sailing we were pretty darn sophisticated  travelers.

We actually spent eighty-eight days in Turkey before checking out. We then checked into Greece and spent eighty nine days in Greece before checking out. We spent a couple additional days "at sea" before going from Symi, Greece a few miles over to Bozburun, Turkey to check back into Turkey. The Meltimi was blowing hard but on our tail. We had a customs agent there for only 30 euros to handle the check-in. Bozburun is a lovely place. Everybody was very sweet. Even the customs guy was nice when he informed us, through our English speaking agent, that we had only two days left in Turkey and had to leave "tomorrow"! What! This was the 28th of September. We weren't hauling the boat until the 5th of October and weren't flying out until the 9th. We could not understand, we had only spent eighty eight days in Turkey and it was now one hundred eighty days and each day that passed we would only have eighty eights days out of the last one hundred eighty in the country. What was the problem?

The problem is that the international bureaucracy chooses to interpret the agreement by looking back one hundred eighty days, seeing how many days you've spent in the country and then issuing a visa for only the number of days less than ninety you have left. We'd spent eighty eight days in the country ninety days ago so we had two days left! Pretty unbelievable, especially since we'd been told it worked the way we thought it did by the agents we used coming into Turkey the first time.

Eventually, and the Turks were really very nice about it, they just said to forget we were  there. They disposed of the new paper work. We would go "somewhere" and come back in eight days which by their calculations  we would have accumulated ten days to be in the country and have enough to to do what we wanted and depart legally. The problem was not with them but there would be big problems at the airport when we flew out if we did not change the situation. So we upped anchor and departed Bozburun to "somewhere". Of course the obvious 'somewhere' was back to Symi and the anchorage at Pethi we had departed that morning, a short but very wet ride back against thirty knots of Meltimi.
Pethi in a calm
So what the hell, Symi is a very nice place and we now had eight more days to kill before heading back into Turkey. We hiked around the town every day. We found a breakfast place in the hills with the best carrot cake I've ever enjoyed. We socialized with a few other boats in the anchorage. We were hooked up solid for seven days with no dragging in an anchorage with a poor reputation for holding. 

The seventh day the winds swung 180 degrees and of course we swung with it and got a little closer to the beach than I liked. We re-anchored a few hundred feet further out and hooked up solid again. It was gusty and there were bullets coming in off the surrounding mountains but I watched the set for over two hours and we seemed very secure. Janet felt like just lazing on the boat but I talked her into going ashore for a hike around Symi and  carrot cake with some English friends we had been seeing every morning for the last week. So we had one last prowl into Symi and then took the bus back to Pethi.
Pethi anchorage, Airstream at the far right
Coming over the mountain from town we could look into the anchorage in the distance and I couldn't see the boat. I said to Janet " It makes me crazy when I can't see the boat somewhere." The anchorage is only partially visible from that point and we'd had trouble spotting the boat from there before. She said, "Aw,  it's there." So we trundled on down the mountain for the last time in a bus where we had gotten to know the driver and some of the other regulars. We got down to the anchorage and off the bus and looked around and the boat was nowhere to be seen! No boat! Not on the anchorage, not even washed up on the beach! No boat! Believe me your cruising life is not complete until your boat has gone missing. Pretty darn shocking. About the time that was really sinking in we heard a whistle behind us and one of our friends was waving to us from the wharf. Our first question was, of course, where's the boat. He pointed over to the other side of the bay where a new concrete wharf has been under construction for years but not completed. There was Airstream tied up safely. Big relief.

The story was that about a half hour after we left there were some really viscous gusts in the anchorage and the boat broke loose and began to drag. In fact it dragged very close to the beach and near the one taverna in the bay. A very sharp and experienced South African businessman and sailor who  lives in the village above Pethi got in his dingy with one of his Greek workers and went to the boat. They started it up and motored off the beach. They got the anchor up by hand, they couldn't find the windlass controller. And with the help of our other friends moved the boat over to the partially completed wharf where some other boats had gone after dragging earlier that morning. What a relief. No damage! We were very, very lucky.
With Nicholas Shum. Thank you Nic!
So we spent our last night in Symi with friends and a new South African friend who was definitely the toast of the evening. It could have been very bad but it wasn't and that's usually the case with the cruising life. We had dodged the bullet.
Mike and Tracy of SV Rio Luna

The rest is history. We went back over to Bozburun and checked in again with the same Turkish customs people. There were a few laughs all around. We spent a night at Bozuk Buku which was one of our favorite anchorages on the way north.  We got into Marmaris as planned and enjoyed a little more time with Berni and Di and other friends while we got the boat hauled and put to bed for the winter.
Back in Bozuk Buku
So the "plan" for next year is yet to be defined. The vagaries of the "Schengen" agreement are certainly a consideration. We can get residence permits for Turkey that eliminate the problem there. But if we get a residence permit for somewhere in the EU the boat can only be in EU waters for thirty days, not eighteen months,  without becoming subject to VAT. We know many countries in the Med look the other way with cruising yachts and the agreement. But the problem comes when you want to fly out from an EU airport. The airport customs people often do not "look the other way" and people get fined heavily and then refused entree back into the EU for two years.
See you next spring
So we're working on ideas. In the meantime we're home after a very interesting season. Thank you for following this blog. We'll be updating again in the spring when whatever we do starts up again.

Love to all,
Bill and Janet
SV Airstream

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Back in the Dodecaneses

On the Quay at Symi
Back on the island of Symi to be more precise. And Symi is my very favorite Greek island. One of our favorite places anywhere as a matter of fact. But why, you say? Ahh grasshopper, many reasons! As a man I am accused of being visually oriented. I like stuff that looks good. Few places are prettier than Symi. The island has the usual craggy and sparsely vegetated Aegean aspect surrounded by the clearest and bluest of seas. Its thinly populated with most of the inhabitants clustered in Symi town itself. There are a few lovely isolated anchorages but what really makes Symi special is the town itself. Its terraced up the sides of the mountainous little bay which forms its harbor. 

Views of Symi town
Masonry homes with red tile roofs painted in light shades of yellow, blue and brown amongst the bare stone. Narrow nearly vertical passage ways between the homes. Bougainvillea, olives and figs growing alongside and overhead as arbors. From the ultimate heights above town the view is simply magnificent. And the town remains unspoiled despite an active tourist trade. It retains its "flavor" and, compared to some island towns which now could be anywhere after  thirty years of mass tourism,  its a haven. 

The sweet streets of Symi
There's no airport on the island and its unlikely, given the terrain, to ever have one.  We stopped here on the way north last spring, anchored in Pethi, and took the bus to town. This time we're fully 'documented' and on the quay in town itself. This evening we'll check out of Greece, our ninety day visas are up, and head back into Turkey. With maybe a stop or two on the way.
Temple of Hera, Samos. One free standing pillar remains since 560BC
Our last update was from Samos at Pythagorion. We stayed there ten days exploring around and killing a little time until Janet's sister Susan and her husband Jim could come over from touring around Turkey a little and meet us. Of course the day they were to catch the ferry from Kusadasi to Samos was the day the Greek government and the Turkish ferry company decided to escalate an old pissing match over new taxes and the Turks cancelled the ferry indefinitely. Perfect timing! There  were enough permutations of this silliness that I won't go into it all but they did arrive after only a thirty six hour delay and we were happy to have them aboard at last.
Vineyards on Samos
We rented a car and drove around Samos for a couple days prior to their arrival and with them. Samos is a beautiful island. It's like most Aegean islands but written large with higher mountains and more vegetation and lots of vineyards inland. There are truly beautiful mountain villages.
Jim, Susan and Janet on Patmos
View from the monastery
From Samos we had a smooth trip over to Patmos which had been a major goal for their visit. Patmos is another airport less island. The port of Skala is nice enough and the island is barren/beautiful but the real reasons for visiting Patmos are the Chora (village) and the Monastery of St. John above the port and the cave of the apocalypse where St. John wrote the Book of Revelation while being banished there in 95AD. 
Monastery of St. John, Patmos

Patmos is almost a Cycladic town in  the cubist white washed homes with blue trim. In the chora itself there's little evidence of foreign influence and its a quiet and beautiful place with lovely views. The monastery is a massive fortress built in the 11th century which still has an active population of about a dozen monks and much of it is closed to the public. Of course the chora was built around the fortress/monastery as protection against pirates.
Interior of the monastery
We anchored out the second night in Patmos at a nice spot and had that most rare of Aegean experiences, a nice anchorage and we were the only boat there all night, amazing!
Skala village, Patmos
From Patmos we had a nice thirty mile broad reach down to Kalymnos and the anchorage at Emborios. Kalymnos a very rugged and precipitous island with little vegetation anywhere, starkly beautiful. We had a mooring for once. As a matter of policy I don't trust moorings so I did a quick little snorkel to check this one out before we spent the night. Turned out there was a massive new chain from the surface buoy down to a concrete block that weighed at least ten tons. Very nice indeed.
Emborios anchorage, Kalymnos
Jim and Susan had to catch a flight out of Kos the next afternoon so we departed early and motored in calm conditions to the marina at Kos. We had time for nice lunch at the marina and they were off to the airport and a flight to Athens and then home. It was very nice to have them aboard but the time was too short.
Broad reach to Kalymnos
For those of you contemplating a little time in the Dodecanese I will say the marina at Kos is the best we've encountered all year and the prices are very reasonable, especially when compared with what the Turks charge just across the straits at Bodrum or Turgetreis. The marina has all the amenities and is well run and a very nice place to spend a little easy living time.
Asklepion of Hippocrates, Kos
Unfortunately Kos is that other side of Greek island tourism in that it's almost totally lost its identity. It's completely flavorless, as a friend said, it's been neutered entirely. You can walk the streets of Kos and have to look twice to know you're not in Puerto Vallarta in the winter or Skagway in the summer. Once tourism reaches a certain level it seems to devour identity and masses of 'all-inclusive' weekend travelers wonder the streets looking at each other shopping the same shops they would anywhere else in the world.  The last day we were in Kos there were sixty four flights in from northern European destinations. There are things around Kos worth seeing, the castle is excellent and the Asklepion of Hippocrates is lovely and serene, but Kos town is an example of what not to let happen to your beautiful city.
Inner keep of the castle, Kos
We had another motor in nearly calm conditions to the island of Nisiros where there is a very nice small anchorage. Its a sweet and unspoiled island. We had the best swimming to the trip on the other side of the breakwater from the quay. The visibility was more than 100 feet and there is a nice drop off into deep water and the best fish population we've seen this year. Unfortunately our visas are running out and its time to get to Symi where we can take care of the formalities. We'll see Nisiros again next year.
Palon harbor, Nisiros
So we're happy to be back in Symi. It's Saturday and the ferries  dropped off about two thousand people a couple hours ago. I'm sitting in the cockpit of our boat watching them stroll back towards their drop off point. Another couple hours and they'll be gone somewhere. Symi has managed to enrichin itself a little  yet retain its soul. Good for Symi, I wish them and all the Greeks, who are amongst my favorite people,  the very best.
Cat on the menu, Samos

Love to all,
Bill & Janet

PS: Any of these images can be viewed full size by double clicking on the photo.

Saturday, September 7, 2013


Food poisoning! Yetch! We're on the quay in the village of Pythagorion, the island of Samos, Greece. Lovely place. Two nights ago we ate at a  recommended restaurant and had a lovely meal, well served, with friendly cats begging under the table. I had Kokinnsto, which is a rich beef stew in a red wine sauce. Absolutely delicious, memorable. Shortly thereafter I was praying to the porcelain goddess with all the other symptoms as well. It took another twenty four hours to feel human.  Janet was fine, her Moussaka was harmless. I'll never be able to order Kokinnsto again.
The quay at Pythgorion
Pythagorion, named after Pythagoras who was born on Samos, is the main yachtie hangout on the island. Of course there are a number of nice anchorages and we spent three nights anchored out at Posidonion, which is a classic Aegean spot. Vathi is the main town on the island but the bay there isn't well protected from the the Meltimi (the prevailing north wind this time of the year) and few boats want to get beat up in Vathi. Here there are about twenty five boats on the quay and another dozen anchored out. Its costing us six Euros a night and so far no one has said anything about charging us for shore power or water. What luxuries. We have nice neighbors, a Brazilian couple to starboard and Canadians from Montreal to port. Pythagorion itself is a touristy place but its nicely done and pleasant enough. 
Janet and friend, Pythagorion
Once off the main drag the town has character and the usual recorded history going back at least three thousand years. The island of Samos has always been a rich and influential place in the eastern Aegean. Polykrates brought the place to prominence in the 5th century BC until the Persians invited him over to a little diplomatic meeting where they crucified him. The rest of the history is similar. Samos played a major part in the Peloponnesian War and  throughout the centuries, including the Greek War for Independence, has always been a very involved place. Physically its a big mountainous island with some agriculture inland, some very good white wines and great rugged beauty.
On the quay at Mandraki
The last blog post was from Psara. From Psara we did a short passage twenty miles east to the island  of Oinousses just east of the northernmost point of Chios. The town there is Mandraki. What can I say? Another beautiful quiet mountain side village? Yes, but this one is a little different in that  a few of the wealthiest ship owning families in the world call it home. There are some truly regal mansions on that mountainside. There's also one of the nicest maritime museums we've seen with one of the best collections of ship models anywhere outside the Smithsonian. The town is very quiet and I don't think we ever saw more than twenty people during a day. 
Lovely, quiet, Mandraki. Chios in the distance.
However, there is a rather nice yacht club near the quay, open to the public. By about midnight the place is blasting away with Greek boom boom music and it doesn't stop until six in the AM. Incredible! One night I went up just to see what was going on and the place had 100-200 Greeks between the ages of 25 and 45 having a very good and very loud evening out. There are only about 450 people on the island, supposedly, and no nightly ferry service. Where these folks come from and where they hang out during the day is still a mystery.
Chios countryside
From Mandraki it was ten miles down to the 'marina' on the island of Chios. I say 'marina' because although it is a well constructed and secure facility it was never completed and sits untended and completely empty except for the concrete quays. No one watches over the place and there's no charge for being there so naturally cruising yachts come in and tie up for a secure, and free, berth. Its only about a click into the the main town of Chios where there's another poorly protected harbor so the 'marina' is the place to be. We rented a car for a couple days of driving around Chios where there are some of the most interesting medieval fortified villages we've ever seen. 

Village scenes, Chios
Much of the island is stark and barren mountain after mountain with tiny villages set back from the sea. The town of Chios was leveled during a huge earthquake in 1855 so its relatively modern in appearance and not so charming but with a population of thirty thousand it had some amenities we hadn't seen for some time including English language newspapers available for purchase.
Chios Town
It was pretty bleak and barren at the marina so we moved a few miles to the Emborios anchorage at the very SE tip of the island. Emborios is very nice and as sweet as the 'marina' was bleak and barren. A couple nights there and we were ready for the major passage to Samos.
Anchorage at Emborios
  This is sixty five miles from Emborios to Posidonion and by Aegean standards a major event. The forecast was  for a nice breeze on the beam building through the day. It worked out to more wind than that, 25-30 knots backing around to almost astern so it made for a fast and boisterous sail around to the east end of Samos where we dropped sail and motored into Posidonion. 
Posidonion anchorage, Samos Strait and Turkey
 So we completed one permutation of a circumnavigation of the northern Aegean. We last were in Posidonion the 4th of June when we were headed north along the Turkish coast and decided to make a little 'undocumented' visit into Greece. This time we were legal and stayed three nights before moving here to Pythagorion.
Table beggars at Posidonion
The end of the season is in sight. We have family arriving in a couple days. Jim and Susan Tighe, Janet's sister and her husband, will join us for a few days and we're looking forward very much to the visit. We'll move into the Dodecanese with them and visit Patmos with out much of a set itinerary.  Our Greek visas are good until the 22nd of September so then we've got to go back into Turkey. We'll get back to Marmaris, put the boat on the hard and be home by the 15th of October. That's the plan!
Small world, Corona in Mandraki
Love to all,
Bill & Janet
SV Airstream

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Sporades, Part 2.

Look Close
We arrived in Skyros with a bang. Or maybe it was a "crunch". Whatever descriptive term used it was loud, sounded horrible, and was the first damage we've suffered at a result of the "Med tie" method of docking used commonly in the Mediterranean, and thankfully, nowhere else. Dropping anchor and backing in to stern tie to a concrete quay is the most common permutation. That was the case in Linaria, the port town on the island of Skyros, the largest and most southeastern of the Northern Sporades group. 
Linaria Harbor, Skyros, from Kavos Bar
 Of course the wind was blowing strong on the starboard bow as we backed in and although they have laid mooring lines (rather than anchoring) there was no one to help carry the line forward. I was standing off a few feet from the quay trying to keep from getting blown sideways into the concrete, reversing back and forth, when I got too much power in going back, the ZF transmission won't shift unless its at idle RPM , and by the time the shift occurred the Hydrovane mount made firm, very firm, contact with the quay. Expletives deleted. Anyway there was no hull damage but the very strong Hydrovane  mount was bent and a large stainless bolt broken and the Hydrovane shaft bent. All this can be fixed and luckily we're not using the Hydrovane on these short Med passages. As is sometimes said in aviation, the only really serious damage was to the ego. My personal status as a Med tie guy has slipped considerably just when I thought I had it pretty well down.
Taking the waters, Kira Panayia
The abrupt arrival in Skyros came after a nice sail down from the island of Kira Panayia where we spent a very nice night anchored in the southern bay. This was   the only place we've seen in the Aegean with no sign of human habituation, other than boats, and it was lovely. Prior to that we'd spent a few days in Patitiri, the port of the island of Alonnisos. We were a little disappointed with Patitiri, it seemed a rather soulless place to process tourism. Even the magnificent site of the village above the port seemed somehow less than satisfying and after a couple days we left the island.
View from above Alonnisos
So after Alonnisos and Kira Panayia we "arrived" at Linaria in Skyros. And Linaria was quite nice. There's really not much of a village there, just a few tavernas, shops and a couple markets but the atmosphere is friendly and welcoming. The actual town of Skyros is on the other side of the island on a mountainside above the sea and is spectacularly beautiful. 
Lobster spaghetti in Skyros
We rented a moped and did the island tour. We walked the steep pathways of the town and in general enjoyed the atmosphere of the place. In Linaria on a cliff above the anchorage is our  favorite bar in the Aegean. This is "Kavos" and  is a series of platforms on a rocky cliff leading down to the water. The drinks are good, including the first and only decent chocolate milk shake I've found in the Med. The music is nice, varying between the Grateful Dead and  Strauss, and it is a great place for a swim off the lowest platform, a warm shower on the rocks above and an icy Ouzo to watch a great sunset over the Med. 
Kavos Bar, Linaria
Most evenings a ferry arrives and whenever a ferry arrives Kavos cranks up the music to about 150db and plays the first movement from Strauss's "Thus Spoke Tharastrula" better known as the theme from "2001: A Space Odyssey". Given the circumstances this is very cool and a great piece of music while the ferry maneuvers for landing is enjoyed by everyone. The other nice thing about Kavos, they turn the volume down at night so you don't listen to boom, boom till the wee hours. 

Street scenes, Skyros
We stayed in Linaria a week enjoying the island and then waiting for the Meltimi to calm down a little before doing the "passage" over to Psara. This Meltimi has been blowing for weeks and shows no sign of quitting until September so we waited until yesterday, the 20th, when it seemed there might be a little less wind, and headed over on the fifty-five mile sail. All in all it was fine. We had twenty to twenty five knots a little ahead of the beam and four to six foot seas, closely spaced,  on the beam or a little ahead. We put two reefs in the main, set the stay'sl and a little genoa and did about seven knots all the way. We could have gone faster but this was a comfort compromise and it was fast enough. It was  rolly and wet but we're getting pretty soft after all this Aegean sailing. Going hard to weather would have been much tougher.
So now we're in Psara, a small island about ten miles west of Chios (or Khios) and  this is technically the "Eastern Sporades". Psara is mountainous, barren, bleak and beautiful. There is one village and about four hundred and fifty people on the whole island. The only foreigners other than ourselves we've seen are a very nice Italian couple on another cruising boat. There are a few tavernas, a very small market and a couple very interesting looking churches, neither of which has been open yet while we were around.
Psara harbor
Psara has a typical Aegean history. Occupied since Mycenaean times its been the scene of periodic slaughter, massacre, annihilation, etc, etc. The last big one was fairly recent. Psara has always been a center for sea faring (sometimes considered piracy) and was one of the first islands to revolt during the Greek War of Independence around 1821. They gave the Turks (the Ottoman empire) a bad time until finally the Turks managed to land and kill every man, woman and child they could find. A very few survivors made it back to mainland Greece. As a follow up Constantine Kanaris, a young Greek naval officer from Psara, took a fireship along side the Turkish flagship as they were celebrating this victory and a much larger slaughter on Chios. Kanaris managed to blow up the Turkish powder magazine and kill the Turkish admiral responsible for the killings and two thousand other sailors. Kanaris and his crew escaped to survive the war and Kanaris was eventually elected Greek Prime Minister six times.

Tomorrow morning early we plan on heading over to the northeast of Chios to an island called Nisos Oinoussa. We'll get the early start to cross the ten miles over to the Chios channel before the Meltimi has a chance to fill in. We plan to anchor at the small town of Mandraki,  which all say is quite lovely,  and spend a few days before heading down further onto Chios itself.
Lunch on board
So  we will have completed a loop around the northern Aegean. It almost feels like going home to be back in the Eastern Sporades and the Dodecanese. We're looking forward to being out of the Meltimi, this wind gets very old, and to seeing some very nice places on the way south.
Latest candidate, cats of Greece
Love to all,
Bill & Janet
SV Airstream