Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Jerry Building

Name that tower.

It has to be admitted that this entry is somewhat late. About a month late to be honest. We were passing through Pisa on the 9th. October. We took the photo, resisted the T-shirt but did succumb to a rather nice Italian coffee.

It is some years since I was last there - 1967 to be precise. It has not changed much. The tower is still leaning thanks to some British engineers who have created a concrete raft under the landmark so that it continues to lean but not topple.

It draws thousands of tourists - it has to be one of the 'must see' locations in the world. But, if truth be told, once you've seen it and taken the photo pretending to hold it up, there's not a lot left to do. You can again climb the steps and gaze out over the city beneath. I did that in 1967 but for many years it was 'no entry' because of safety fears. Safety fears in Italy - really?

Our visit to Pisa was unexpectedly extended. We got back to the car to discover a flat battery. Luckily Mrs. T. had taken out European Breakdown Cover and within an hour or so we were back on the road thanks to a very helpful Italian garage. We bought a new battery in Genoa. Why not Pisa you may ask. Well, it was lunchtime. Great if you want to buy a panini but not so good if you need a bag of volts.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Nose cells herald medical breakthrough

What could be a major breakthrough in medical research was splashed across the world's media this week.  Here's how the Telegraph covered it.

However, I'm not sure it should be that much of a surprise that nose cells can aid walking. My nose has been running for years.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

4th. October - Cleopatra – tricky lift-out

Traditional final shot of Jo and the anchor
Like Ceasar , we have fallen for the charms of Cleopatra. Sadly our Cleopatra is not the femme fatale who seduced the Roman general and left this world by falling on her asp – this Cleopatra is a marina in Preveza. Well, when we say marina it’s more a dusty yard really but home to 1,000 yachts. It has an excellent reputation, is well run, professional and efficient. It does have a reputation for being a bit tricky to manoeuvre onto the Travelhoist thanks to an unpredictable current and gusty conditions. “Oh it’s a nice marina but very, very difficult because of the tides. Be very careful or you’ll get caught out.” we were repeatedly told.

Having had enough dramas this season we didn’t want any more and so it was with caution we eased ourselves off the mooring and into the hoist. As it happened it was windy and there was a current running. The dory nudged us in and the lift went like clockwork.

Breeze is now in her cradle for the winter and close to Cantski and Lucina Jane – so she’ll not be lonely.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

It’s a Hard Life

Sunset in the Ionian - as we prepare to head home.
The theme of this year’s sailing, apart from unreliable kit and engines which fall-apart, has been the unreliable weather. This theme has dogged us all summer and was right up there to the last as we headed for Cleopatra Marina, Preveza ready for the lift-out and a winter on the hard.

Usually the weather here is as predictable as politicians entering the run-up to an election. But not this year. The cycle has been broken – instead of the usual north-westerly blows in the afternoon with more-or-less calm conditions over night and in the morning, we’ve had unseasonal southerlies, strong winds from the east and storms from every direction.

We came to Preveza a couple of days early because two forecasts predicted strong easterlies and given our last visit to these parts a strong blow is not what we wanted. It’s funny how a forced change of plan actually turns into an advantage. It’s our first time in Cleopatra Marina and first impressions are good. It’s tidy, neat, well run and professional. That cannot be said for all marinas in Greece. We are within a hundred yards of the Travelhoist which will lift Breeze out for the winter and we can get the car close to the pontoon so loading up ready for the trek home will be easy.

We have already bumped into two boats we know with very friendly crew who we have not seen for ages. We are starting to think we may have spent too much time in the Ionian –  whichever anchorage, town quay, harbour or marina we enter there are folk we know.

Now we are ticking off the jobs so come tomorrow we’ll be able to wave farewell, handover Breeze to Olaf and Akis, our trusted engineers, and head off into the hills. Well, to a monastery to be exact, Yes, a monastery. But, worry not, I have not seen the light. I have not been conversing with a higher being and I am not about to undergo a religious conversion, although, I will admit that after sharing two litres of rough Greek plonk I did start to hear voices  but as they were telling me to consume more I think we can assume they were not of a spiritual origin. Of course, had the voices been encouraging me to drink more Ouzo then they may well have had a spirit dimension.

No we are off to Meteora, to visit monasteries perched on a mountain top in what is apparently one of Greece’s most spectacular sites.

Some monks belong to an order which requires silence; where speech is banned, where to utter a single syllable is a sin, where vocal chords are redundant. We can all think of people we’d like to send there.

All this awaits. Meanwhile, for Breeze for the next seven months it’s life on the hard.

Footnote: Just checked into the Meteora hotel, three hours from the sea, and bumped into Gill and Adrian from sy Lois – see I told you we’ve spent too long in the Ionian.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Spilia Bay with Spilia Taverna at the end of the moorings.
Spilia Bay is our Ionian spiritual home. Taverna Spilia was one of the first restaurants we visited many years ago and it’s stunning location, friendly welcome and reliable food is a winning formula. Known variously as ‘Ben and Jerry’s’, or ‘Tom and Jerry’s’ – because the two brothers who run it are Steve and Jerry – it is a very popular haunt for many Brits who sail these waters.

The brothers take it in turn, year-and-year-about, to be ‘harbour master’ and Maitre d’Hotel – no easy task as they have not spoken for many years. No one quite knows what caused this fraternal rift and it maybe they too have forgotten, but communication between them is conducted through Staffie – the nephew.

This year Jerry is harbour master – his nautical English, Italian and German are sufficient to communicate most instructions but sometimes nuances get lost in translation. “No anchor” shouted to an approaching boat has been interpreted by some as an instruction to clear off. What Jerry really means is that the tavena has provided lazy lines and so no anchor is needed. This ambiguous call must have cost them thousands of euros over the years.

Steve is a bit more dour and adds a whole new dimension to the term grumpy. When he’s harbour master first timers would be forgiven for thinking they were getting a less than enthusiastic welcome. But under that gruff exterior there’s a softie.

Neither Jerry nor Steve miss a thing. If a crab farts across the bay they know about it before the crab. Nothing in the bay moves without them seeing and noting it.

Breeze and crew.
This is our last proper evening meal of the year. We are here with David and Jan from Lucinda Jane and it’ll be a fitting end to our sailing year. They have been great company together with John and Lori (Cantski) sadly, now back in the UK. Mercifully there are no flotillas booked in tonight and so it should be quiet, peaceful and about as idyllic as it’s possible to get.

The Ionian shuts in three weeks when the charter companies wrap up for the summer. Tavernas close their shutters, souvenir shops survey the tat that even the least discerning tourists managed to resist, the tripper boats disgorge their last holidaymakers and head for their winter moorings. Even the sun packs up and turns its attention to south of the equator. The rains come and with them storms. The Ionian is lush and green thanks to the drenching it gets between November and April.

Some souls stay out here all year, the so-called ‘liveaboards’ – people for whom home is their boat. Most put on a brave face, “We stay here all year, so much nicer than cold England” they try to enthuse. “There’s lots to do, quiz night at Porto is great fun.” If truth be told most are here out of economic necessity rather than choice. The reality is that the Ionian out of season can be pretty bleak. With so many businesses shut it has an eerie resemblance to a Greek historic ruin – obviously once thriving but now empty, lifeless, dead.

We will miss the Ionian. We will certainly miss the sun, albeit somewhat shy this year. We will miss the absolutely staggeringly beautiful scenery. We will miss the food (well, OK not all of it). We will miss the friends and company (OK, not all of them), we will miss the Greek wine, (OK, we won’t).

Kioni on Ithaca. Waking up to that view makes us realise why we do it. 
It’s been a funny old year. We have had some really bad experiences – catastrophic engine failure, caught out in an un-forecast gale, engine blower packing up and some of the most unpredictable and unseasonal weather even the locals have ever seen.

Balanced against that we have had some of the best times too. A memorable trip to the Gulf of Corinth and Delphi with Lucinda-Jane and Cantski. We have not had so much fun in a very long time. We have discovered some ‘secret’ anchorages where we can dally and we could just as well be alone on a desert island. We have rooted out some new restaurants and bars and pray they are not ‘discovered’ by anyone else lest they should be overrun and end up sacrificing the very thing that makes them special.

But now it’s time to go.

A couple of days in Lefkas preparing for the lift on Saturday and then we start the trek north. Our European adventure through Tuscany, Provence, Rhone-Alps, Burgundy, Paris and Nord Pas de Calais will see us soon driving on board Le Shuttle laden down with wine, cheese and tins of confit de canard….. and before you can say sacre bleu it’ll be Christmas…after which we can start planning next year’s cruise. Yiamas.

Monday, 29 September 2014

Vliho and counting

David, Janice and Trevor on board Breeze in Vliho Bay
As regular readers will know Vliho Bay offers mixed blessings. It is normally a safe haven; protected, calm, good holding and a refuge when things get nasty outside. However, Vliho has a dark side. Southerly winds can whip up vicious seas. Boats have been sunk, people have died.

Today we are seeing the more benign side of Vliho. We are at anchor in calm conditions. David and Jan (Lucinda Jane) are just astern. We met for coffee this morning and drinks this evening.  This is quintessentially why we came to Greece. Good company, easy free-ranging conversation, no ‘edge’, a convivial bottle or three of wine (French not Greek) and all with a backdrop of clear blue skies and pink mountains.

Janice on Breeze in Vliho - we will miss the Hobarts

With just days to go before we bid farewell to David, Jan and the Greek islands we are preparing for Breeze’s hibernation and the start of our European excursion. We will have completed most of the laying-up jobs by the time we are hauled out. Some people save all that until they are out of the water and then spend a week sorting themselves out and living on a boat on the hard. Awful, we think. We prefer to have everything organised and so all we have to do come lift out day is a few tasks that cannot be completed beforehand and then hand over the keys to trusted staff who will look after Breeze during the winter.

We then look forward to our journey through Italy and France back to Blighty, it is a holiday all on its own.

We are already making plans for next year.

Just a few more days left now. Precious days.

And before you know it it’ll be Christmas.  Ho Ho Ho.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Whether to Sail.

The local fishermen rarely get caught out by the weather.
Nothing consumes the minds of sailors more than the weather forecast. Every decision we take about when and where to go is informed by the forecasts. Usually the Ionian is very predictable – calm overnight and into the morning. By midday the winds start to pick up and in the afternoon you get a North-Westerly Force 3 or 4. That dies down come the evening and so the cycle repeats. Except this year that dependable, predictable, comforting pattern has been tossed overboard and has sunk without trace. This year the weather has been rubbish. Almost two weeks ago we set out in a predicted southerly force 3 only to find ourselves battling a north-westerly force 8 and violent thunder storm!

John and Lori from Cantski

Last night (Monday) we met Lori and John (Cantski) and David and Jan (Lucinda Jane) for dinner and to plan our next few days. The forecast was for southerly force 3 this morning veering west, north-west by lunchtime. There was rain forecast for around one o’clock. We resolved to leave at nine this morning, take advantage of the southerlies and head to Meganisi arriving at the island’s Abelike Bay for lunch and, hopefully, beating the rain shower.

At half past eight this morning (Tuesday) David and Jan came over in the dinghy with news that the forecast they’d seen showed a change for the worse. Higher winds, sooner, making the passage to Meganisi far less attractive, possibly dangerous. We compared forecasts. The Greek Met Office’s sailing forecast for the area didn’t look too bad. The rain had vanished from the forecast and the high winds were now due later. Poseidon, a popular forecast site linked to Athens University, tended to agree with the official met office site. Wind Finder Pro, a site used by wind surfers, showed more wind earlier.

All sites were showing North Westerly winds force 4 at the time we were debating what to do. What we actually had was a dead flat calm. This conspicuous inaccuracy cast doubt on the accuracy of all the forecasts.

Lucinda Jane underway between Ithaca and Meganisi. Calm seas after the gales the night before.
Based on these conflicting reports we had to make a decision. How on earth do you take critical, possibly life threatening, decisions if the best available information is so contradictory? This is a real problem out here. There are many sites providing forecasts for the Ionian. People tend to have their favourites, usually based on what has proved to be accurate in the past. The temptation is to play safe and stay put and if the high winds come either sit them out tied-up somewhere secure or ride them out at anchor.

We took a leaf out of Scotland’s book and held a referendum. By a tiny majority we opted to stay and ride it out at anchor.

Wednesday Morning

"I think I’ll mend my nets and skip the gales"

Well, we had a very uncomfortable night last night.  The winds did blow and thanks to the design of Breeze the stern slapped and banged all night as the waves came in. A nearby yacht dragged anchor and had to reset a couple of times during the night. That kept John and Lori on Cantski awake. We had almost 50 metres of chain out which held but gave us an enormous swinging circle. I stayed up until about 2am on anchor watch and then as the winds reduced I tried to sleep. I didn’t, of course, far too alert to every sound to be able to enter the land of nod. At around 3am there was the unmistakable sound of anchor dragging across rock. My reactions were instant. I was up even faster than when I’m allowed a full English Breakfast, but all was well - the anchor had reset as fast as it had broken out and we were once again secure. The winds dropped after about 4am and I managed a few hours sleep.

We are now at anchor in Abelike Bay with Cantski and Lucinda-Jane. A pleasant trip, we even managed to sail part of the way, and the forecast for the next two days shows light winds and a blow on Friday. But can we trust the forecast? How accurate will it be? Forecasts, sadly, don’t come with a guarantee. Pass the seaweed I’ll just double-check.