All Tied Up In The Ionians


By Tom Morkin

Fiskardho Bay
Cephalonia Island, Greece
38 27.5 N, 20 34.9 E

Our first two days in Vathi Bay on the famed Greek isle of Ithaca were about as idyllic as a pair of cruisers could ask for. We had the amenities of a small, picturesque Greek village nestled at the head of a crystal clear turquoise bay surrounded by ancient mountains, once the home of Homer, Odysseus, and Penelope.

Our first two days in Vathi Bay were idyllic. We hiked the ancient paths that Homer, Odysseus, and Penelope might have hiked.

When we felt as though we’d enough exercise for the day hiking the hills, we could sip ouzo in the shore side cafes or drink horrible Greek coffee in ridiculously small cups that were half filled with coffee sludge and as my friends would predict, Liz drank the sludge, I drank the ouzo. The universe was unfolding as it should.

However, just like old cruiser buddies Glen and Glenna from the California based Califa would wisely tell you: “In sailing – and in life -- really good times, like really bad times, don’t last long.” This Califa-ism has over the years given us comfort when our universe was not unfolding as I felt it should. Now, however, while contentedly contemplating a full well of wandering the hills of Ithaca on foot and perhaps by rented motorbike, my bubble was burst by that nasty inveterate bubble burster, the weather woman. Yep, her again, and now, her promises of Beaufort 7 strength winds --- 30 knots for us North Americans, out of the southwest -- that would mean on-the-dock winds with about a mile and a half of fetch -- not dangerous, but definitely enough wind to cause us a rough ride against a concrete quay. Recognize this scenario? Yep, it’s yet again leavin’ time!

That was the bad news. The good news was that we only had 10 miles to go to the northeast side of Ithaca and the small harbor of Frikes where we’d be in the lee of the island. So off we went and with the exception of a few small fishing boats, we had the harbor to ourselves. We dropped the anchor with 200 feet of chain in 20 feet of water, then proceeded to take two stern lines ashore so our stern was presented to the southwest -- the supposed direction from which the wind was to come.

Feel Free is tucked neatly in Vathi Bay anchored with 200 feet of chain in 20 feet of water, and two stern lines ashore so her stern is presented to the southwest, the direction the wind was expected to come from according to the forecasts.

We then went off for a hike for the remainder of the afternoon, arriving back at the boat about the same time as the 30 knots of southerlies and south-easterlies arrived! Wait a minute, the weather woman promised south-westerlies, not south-easterlies. Southeast winds put the wind on our beam and if the wind increased, we’d see our anchor drag with unpleasant results.

It’s times like this that I offer thanks to the previous owners of Feel Free who had the foresight to invest in over 1,000 feet of rather expensive double-braided three-strand 7/8-inch nylon line. The line comes in three segments, the longest being almost 400 feet long. On more than one occasion, having such a large inventory of nylon line saved our bacon.

I hearken back to September 1992, when we were anchored in a fishing harbor in Fukuoka, Japan, during Typhoon #19 (the Japanese number rather than name their typhoons). We were Med-moored, with our bow facing the concrete quay with four lines securing the bow to a bollard on the wall with three stern anchors off the stern. But, most important was the 400 feet of 7/8-inch braided nylon that was tied off at the stern and taken 300 feet to a bollard at the far end of the harbor. In preparation for the typhoon, we moved the boat back so the bow was some 20 feet away from the wall.

The previous owners of Feel Free had the foresight to invest in over 1,000 feet of nylon line, and it’s really paid off. Here it is drying after being given a fresh water rinse in Tranquil Bay. It had been put to good use in the blow at Ithaca

During our 4½ years of living on our previous cruising boat Hoki Mai in Japan, we experienced no less than nine typhoons. It became my custom to don my thickest wetsuit complete with mask and sit in the cockpit to monitor events during the height of the storm. It was at the height of #19 when we got peak winds of 90 knots shortly after the eye of the typhoon passed overhead that I came to truly appreciate the value of such anchor line. The wind was from astern and would’ve pulled all three anchors out of the mud had the 300 feet of nylon not been at work. I vividly recollect the line, bar tight, go from 7/8 inch to ½ inch in diameter as the wind drove the boat forward 15 feet, then slowly the boat would come to a gentle stop just short of the wall before being pulled back, much like a bungee jumper in slow motion. We won’t leave home without it.

In Frikes, we had the luxury of no other anchored boats, and a big steel bollard 250 feet to windward -- off our starboard bow. This was a golden opportunity to put our precious nylon line to work. So into the dinghy I went as Liz paid out all the line into the dinghy. She tied off the bitter end at the bow and off I went paying out the line as I went. For those who haven’t been through this, it’s important to pay out the line from the dinghy rather than from the yacht because if the line is paid out from the yacht, you end up pulling the line through the water, which results in a surprising amount of drag. Paying the line out from the dinghy results in virtually no drag.

After this line was secure and tensioned, we put a third line off the stern, also to the weather shore, and felt quite secure even when gusts were strong enough to heel the boat, and the driving spray was enough to drench the wind-pelted crew.

Tom puts lines away after the blow

So there we sat for the night with one anchor down and four lines ashore with the wind howling, the boat rolling, but the crew pretty much asleep through most of it. Just before I nodded off, a line from Katherine of the boat Hiva Oa, who’d cruised the Med off and on for 25 years, came to mind: “When you cruise the Med this early in the spring, it’s not the rough sailing that gets the boat into trouble, it’s the harbors. Many are not all-weather harbors and being in the wrong harbor at the wrong time has ruined many boats.” For us, this may not have been a good time but it was a good harbor.

It was the next day when we connected with Dominique and Catherine of the French boat Socrate, a Dufour 32. Like many Europeans we met in Turkey and Greece, they bought their boat secondhand in the Med, and in this case, Greece. The boat is treated like a vacation home. Catherine is a primary-school teacher and Dominique builds classical guitars. During school holidays, they drive from their home in Marseilles to Brindisi, Italy, a distance of about 1,000 km., then take an overnight ferry to northern Greece, then a two-hour bus to their marina berth on Lefkas Island. Given the myriad cheap flights throughout Europe, others fly to and from their boats. A common scenario is to spend May and June on the boat, back home for July and August, thereby avoiding the crowds and the heat of summer, then back to the boat for September and October after the crowds leave, temperatures moderate and before the lows begin their pre-autumnal migrations. Not a bad life.

Dominique and Catherine on their (new) French boat Socrate, a Dufour 32, seen here in their marina slip on Lefkas Island. They’d spent a sleepless first night on board, during stormy conditions

Over drinks aboard Feel Free, the four of us using our high-school French and their high-school English managed to recount our previous stormy night’s experiences. It was a completely sleepless night for Catherine and Dominique. Socrate lay along the harbor wall with an anchor set to hold them off. Early in the evening the anchor dragged and they spent the remainder of the night bouncing off the wall, their topsides saved only by well-placed fenders. Not an auspicious way for them to spend one of their first nights on the boat. (By the way, Dominique would happily build me one of his custom classical guitars. However, I’d have to wait two years for him to start it, and it would cost US $9,000. I told him I’d get back to him...)

It was a gentle 18-mile sail to Tranquil Bay on Lefkas Island. This huge, landlocked bay is reputed to be one of the securest anchorages in the Med. So secure is Tranquil Bay that scores of Europeans have elected to leave their boats at anchor for months while they return home.

The heavily treed and mountainous shores of Tranquil Bay (Lefkas Island) make it a natural home base for hundreds of boats as well as large bareboat-charter companies

Remarkably, our great cruising buddies Karen and Graham of the Kiwi boat Red Herring with whom we’ve shared some fine adventures, and who we thought we might not see again after good byes in Turkey, hailed us on Channel 16. They left Turkey a week after we did, and were now heading north, bound for Croatia. Both boats Med moored to the Nidri town quay at the entrance to Tranquil Bay and together we hiked the hills and had happy hours and dinners, and talked and talked and talked. This apparent propensity to spend so much time talking together is somehow even more remarkable given the obvious impediment to communication; that is, their inclination to speak “Kiwi” English while we speak “Canuck.” “Two couples,” we all joked, “separated by a common language.”

The fact of the matter is, their company has been cherished because we share so many interests and experiences and each time we say goodbye we all know that it could be for the last time

Both Red Herring and Feel Free were Med moored to the Nidri town quay at the entrance to Tranquil Bay for a couple of days

Karen and Graham of Red Herring are seen here by a waterfall

Before setting off for Syracuse on the east coast of Sicily we had to visit one of the largest of the Ionian islands, Cephalonia, brought to world attention with Louis de Berniere’s Captain Corelli’s Mandolin -- one of our favorite books. Fiskardho was our only stop, located near the northern tip of the island. It was the only place on the island to escape damage in the 1953 earthquake that devastated most of the region, and charming, colorful 19th century houses, shops, tavernas and fishboats line the waterfront.

During our two hikes in the forests around town, I was continually reminded of our home cruising grounds, the Gulf Islands of southwest British Colombia with the protected bays, islets, emerald green waters, mountains, rocks, and of course pine trees. However, coming upon a clearing on a ridge and seeing the remains of a 2,500 year old castle fortress still easily recognizable, quickly brought back the reality that this was definitely Greece, not my Canada

In Fiskardho Bay on Cephalonia Island, charming, colorful 19th century houses, shops, tavernas, and fishboats line the waterfront.
A clearing on a ridge revealed the remains of a 2,500-year-old castle fortress still easily recognizable