It’s been a few weeks since I have written anything and a LOT has happened. We have fondly farewelled Turkey, entered Greece and started our own Odyssey through the Greek Islands. 3 months of jewel like islands in azure seas stretch ahead of us as we need to reset our Turkish visa which means we need to leave Turkey for 90 days (much the same as the Schengen Visa for Europe.) We plan to head back into Turkey for October to both cruise and to find a place to winter our boat while we go home to Australia for the European winter months (and the Aussie summer months!)
We have island hopped between Symi, Tilos, Nisiros, Khálki and Rhodes, picked up the kids who managed to arrive together despite last minute visa issues and now finally dropped one off in Rhodes as she makes her way home to Sydney. We have also had disasters, embarrassments, irritations and boat issues. I have had my worst moment so far which I am sure will prove to be therapeutic in the telling later on in this blog (well perhaps). And it’s been pretty windy! And, it probably goes without saying but we’ve had some absolutely gorgeous moments with the kids, both sailing and exploring the islands.
We checked out of Turkey in Marmaris and sailed to Symi to check into Greece. This was easy on both borders although a bit of walking and quite a bit of money to check into Greece. Changing the owner and name of the boat meant a new transit log for Greece which is kind of like its passport to show where it has been. Greece has also just introduced a cruising tax that is paid monthly and is dictated by the length of our boat meaning all up was around $500 AUD for us to sail for 3 months in Greece this season. Still a good deal we believe.
The Dodecanese Islands are quite different to the usual image you would have in mind of classic Greek Islands. They have had a chequered history of ownership from lying so close to the Turkish coast and the housing is influenced particularly by the Italian occupation in the early half of last century. They have been conquered and occupied by everyone but that said, there is absolutely no doubt that they are Greek in heart and mind. Each is different and charming in its own way.
So, confession time. We had an absolute horror show getting into Symi harbour for the second time. Our first time, when we entered Greece was a perfect arrival….no other boats, no wind, no gear malfunctions. Second time was a different story. But firstly, a word on what is known as Med Mooring. This is where the stern of the boat is tied at right angles to the pier with your anchor stretched out in front. So, the procedure on approach is to drop your anchor in a perfectly straight line out from your boat (without fouling anchors of opposing anchors of other boats across the harbour) and then reversing back to shore to throw 2 stern lines out to tie the back of the boat to the pier. This requires making allowances for cross winds, knowing the exact amount of anchor chain to release and how far out from the pier to drop it. And ideally having a boat that reverses in a straight line (not like reversing a trailer). When there is only one tight spot to squeeze into and there is wind across the beam of the boat things get more complicated.
We had been happily tied up to a pier in a nearby anchorage. It was super windy and we had watched boats anchored out in the bay dragging the previous day and evening and some narrowly miss ending up with fines for crashing into the fishing boats well across the other side of the bay. All were boats whose crew had left their boats to go see Symi town despite it blowing over 35 knots. Even on the pier we had elected to stay on board despite our relative safety.
However, our safe haven was abruptly brought to an end when at 6pm a guy came to tell us we had to move as the local freighter was coming (yep just before nightfall) to tie up where we were. Rick didn’t want to anchor in the bay as it was already quite full so we decided to go around to Symi harbour and see if /hope there was room. Out of the bay we headed. It was blowing 40 knots with spray coming off the water and I didn’t get the hatches and windows closed quickly enough and salt water poured into the boat…my precious boat. Salt water the biggest enemy of below deck life.
As we continued on I noticed some yachts leaving the harbour and wondered why. Could it be worse in Symi than the bay we had just left ?? Rick said no we weren’t turning around so we pressed on and arrived outside the harbour and a couple of yachts were anchored out but it was super deep so decided there was no alternative but to go in. Yes! There were a few spots and being 7pm by then we were directed by a port authority where to go. No worries, right? Fenders out, stern lines ready, bit of cross wind but nothing too awful. All fine until the anchor winch jammed with about 15 metres of chain out….it was out far enough to be like a fishing line looking for a fish….in this case someone else’s anchor chain. Rick had to come up the bow and trouble shoot with me how to get the anchor up in a tiny harbour. He freed it and I pulled it back up but, of course we were attached to someone else. The special hook didn’t work so there was nothing for it…Rick gets out the fins and goggles and in he goes. We are held fast to the other boat (being hooked on their anchor its holding us both). After a few tries Rick sorts out what we need to do…I drop the anchor just a bit and it comes free. He’s still in the water – we are now freewheeling in the harbour. Crew on the nearby super yachts are quietly getting fenders ready in case we blow into them. I dash back to the cockpit in order to get clear of the boats with Rick still in the water. In my head is “Don’t hurt Rick…no matter what happens!” I put the boat into neutral and put the boarding ladder down. He gets back on and we go for anchoring attempt 2. Anchor winch plays up again and again but eventually I get the chain down despite my heart nearly banging out of my chest. Then our propeller kicks the boat a bit in one direction when in reverse and while we are heading in the general direction of the space we have been allocated we are way too close to the anchor chain of the superyacht next to us and the one next to him. Out to the front of his boat comes Nick the owner of superyacht number 2 along with his paid skipper. He is in his 70’s and yells “Rule number one: Don’t panic!” We both breathe for about the first time in an hour. Nick’s skipper takes our stern line and walks it across the next-door boat (which is empty) and helps drag us into our berth. I am a puddle but holding it together for now. We get tied up with many thanks. The bored harbour lady who has seen it all before is still sitting there a good half hour later waiting for us to sign in and pay our fees. We have provided entertainment for every boat and every restaurant. We are shaking and I am wondering whether I really want to go sailing. Nick comes along the wharf and asks if we need a Gin and Tonic. Well, YES! Please!
After this we go to the other side of the harbour to speak with the yachts opposite to find out when they are leaving in case we have laid our chain and anchor over theirs. A lovely Turkish couple say they felt it go over theirs and we amicably arrange to be ready in the morning when they leave in case we have to help them get free.
It’s 9.30pm and we do our usual and discuss what went right and wrong and we congratulate ourselves for the wins: We didn’t damage our boat or anyone else’s, nor did we hurt ourselves, we were safe now and tomorrow is another day.
The next morning in a calm still, morning Rick pulls the anchor winch apart in an effort to figure out what is going wrong with it and what it is that I am doing that sometimes causes it to fault. He gets into the guts of it and discovers all 4 bolts that hold it to the boat are loose. Unexpected to say the least and dangerous to boot. We still have some troubleshooting to do but after a service it’s all looking a whole lot better.
I am still feeling queasy after the night before as I try hard to stop my mind from thinking about all the “What if’s” despite the fact I know it serves no purpose.
We have the kids both arriving in the afternoon and first night in gorgeous Symi Harbour (that perhaps I never want to anchor in again) before heading off on adventures as a family. But more on that later!