While I had intended to reach Kalamata to haul Eileen of Avoca out of the water for winter maintenance, I had run out of time. I made some hasty arrangements to keep her in Crete for a month before bussing to Heraklion, flying to Athens and back to Belgium.
Prior to the gale I had contacted an Albanian Freighter for an update on the weather situation, but now at anchor and within mobile phone range I could check the forecast with my laptop and its GPRS Internet connection. Apparently there would be a lull lasting approximately 10 hours so without further ado I followed the coast, heading for the shelter of Ayos Nikolaos.
Arriving at dawn I wasted no time getting some desperately needed sleep. I was a wreck, on the other hand, Eileen of Avoca had weathered the gale admirably.
She is one tough little boat.
My last minute checks via the Internet (The Yacht Club boasted Wi-Fi) of the expected weather using several sites including
were very accurate for at least 48hrs.
The forecast for day 3 is included here:
Even the most pessimistic weather models did not prepare me for what I was to encounter on the 28th of November just 60NM SE of Crete.
The wind was consistently from the NW and considerably stronger than the anticipated 15 to 20kts but Eileen of Avoca was making steady progress on the auxiliary under control of the Autohelm. I had already dropped the mainsail and hoisted my new trysail so that the gaff would stop swinging from side to side.
I rested during the night and as I had only recently topped up the fuel tank assumed there was little to do until morning. I was right; all was well until daybreak (30NM from Crete) when the motor stopped. I sprang into action, heaving-to and adding another jerry can from my fuel reserve in decidedly heavier seas. The engine refused to start as it had probably sucked air into the fuel line!
Could I sail the rest of the way?
Could I bleed the fuel line in these conditions?
The first question was immediately answered after a quick 360-degree turn. With the wind from the NW I could choose to return to Egypt or head for either Libya or Cyprus. None of the options appealed given the worsening conditions, especially when I was so close to Crete. I would have to get the engine started regardless of the nausea overwhelming me while examining the fuel line. I gave the ignition another try and miraculously the Beta spluttered to life. Joy! Setting a course of 320° at 3kts, I put in two of the companionway boards and huddled in what shelter I could find to count down the remaining miles.
Progress was slow, and the waves grew gradually larger. I would conservatively estimate that the largest (coming from the North 40° or so from the general NW swell) were no more than 4 metres, and the wind speed at the low end of F7, but it certainly felt worse.
The VHF issued a constant stream of severe gale warnings, but I was relatively sure as I approached the lee of Crete to be sheltered from the worse of the gale. Nevertheless I had never been in such rough conditions with my Yarmouth 23.
The sideswiping breakers from the north were my main concern. While infrequent, they would slam heavily against Eileen and push her some distance laterally. The resulting propeller cavitation ceased all forward motion. Despite this Eileen did not seem too troubled by the turbulent seas. I was obviously the weakest link, especially after being thrown against the tiller (while adding the last of my fuel), breaking the Autohelm mount in the process. I would be hand steering for the rest of the journey, unable to shelter from the incessant cascades of water flowing over Eileen’s deck. I unwittingly refrained from any movement deemed less than critical so regretfully I have no photos to share, but perhaps I can be forgiven given that even getting a drink of water was a Herculean task.
Five miles from the coast and ten hours after dawn I was still battling a wild sea. The expected lee from Crete was evasive but as I turned north conditions did gradually improve. With immense relief I anchored off a small beach near Erimoupoleos for an hour to recover.
Day 26, 27
My engine temperature was above its usual 60° to 80°range. Checking the intake filter I found that the blockage was not in the sieve. Would you believe that it is possible to clear the line by blowing forcefully from the filter cap?
Subsequent uneventful sailing / motor sailing in a progressively more agitated sea. The nights were especially dark without the moon. I found this poor hitchhiker a little too late to put him back into the water.
I planned to leave on the 24th of November to make use of the most appropriate weather window but fell victim to more bureaucratic red tape, which would delay my departure by another 24hrs.
In the following 12hrs I discovered that the Yacht Clubs jetty becomes untenable under certain conditions. I was lucky to escape damaging Eileen as a vicious swell grew intolerable towards midnight. I abandoned my anchors (but not before attaching fenders for easy retrieval) and motored out into deeper water for the rest of the night.
Unattended vessels were not as fortunate, as I am sure the owners of at least one large fishing boat can attest. It spent the evening crashing its steel hull against the rock-lined shore.
By 12 noon on the 25th of November my passport was returned and at last I had permission to depart. I wasted no time hoisting my sails and heading for the open sea. To my amazement the local fishermen gave me a memorable send-off, cheering and singing as Eileen of Avoca made way under sail. It was moving.
Day 20, 21, 22, 23, 24
In the light of dawn Alexandria exhibited its curious and somewhat tumbledown nature. Visits by sailing vessels are reasonably rare since cruising the Egyptian coast is generally thought to be an expensive bureaucratic nightmare. You are much better off arriving in one place and staying put because each movement must be accompanied by a repeat of seemingly endless paperwork and fees.
Having said that, the members of the Yacht Club of Egypt were extremely helpful and made our stay most pleasant. We were able to use all the clubs facilities, have a driver assigned for a visit to Giza and to ferry my multitude of jerry cans to refuel with Diesel, which by the way is so inexpensive at 15 Euro cents a litre that I’m considering importing it ;-). It was all very easy and quite affordable.
I stayed 5 days and for 5 days Eileen of Avoca was the talk of the local sailing community. Many an enthusiast in the club came to admire her and comment on her design.
Unfortunately sailing for club members is now restricted to the Laser and to the Optimist dinghy. Only 3 larger sailing vessels belong to individual club members and none has moved in years.
Day 16, 17, 18 and 19
We left Ayos Nikolaos just after midnight to take advantage of favourable winds. After rounding Akra Sidheros I set a course of 140° and watched the GPS count down the remaining 300+ NM to Alexandria.
It couldn’t have been simpler. For the first 24 hours we ran with the wind. The next 24 were spent motoring in a calm sea and the last 24 were only slightly marred by a F3 headwind.
I had hooked up my shortwave receiver on day 3 of the passage to confirm the weather forecast (Area B) and have included my data gathering below for posterity:
Meteorological Forecast NE01 [Tu 10:10]
1010 UTC. 18 N*V.
ALEXRADIO F/C MED. SEA
AREAS : A,B,C AND D
VALID : 1300 UTC 18 NOV.
TILL : 0100 UTC 19 NOV.
T T T : NO GALE
G./INFERENCE : TROUGH OF LOW PRESSURE AT A,B
RIDGE OF HIGH PRESSURE AT C,D
SURFACE WIND : VRB TO SE AT A. SE/NE AT B.
E/NE AT C. ALL 3 – 4 BEAUFORT
SE/NE AT D. 3 – 4 BEAUFORT MAY REACH 5 B.
STATE OF SEA : SLIGHT TO MODERATE
H./OF WAVES : 01 – 1.75 MTRS. AT A,B,C
01 – 02 MTRS. AT D
VISIBILITY : 06 – 10 KMTRS. AT A
08 – 10 KMTRS. AT B,C,D
WEATHER : TEMPO RAIN AT A.
FAIR AT B,C,D
CLOUD* : 3 – 5/* LOW + MEDIUM AT A.
* – 4/8 LOW + MEDIUM AT B,C,D
OUTLOOK : NO CHANGE
We took 4-hour shifts during the passage arriving in Alexandria by nightfall on the 19th of November.
The city lights were resplendent and as I motored into the eastern harbor.
While winding my way past the myriad of anchored vessels a military official in a small motor boat pulled up alongside and made it known (in Arabic) that he required our passports.
Taking them in hand he indicated I should follow as he led us through a maze of fishing boats to a small jetty where members of the Egyptian Yacht Club assisted with mooring. After a surprisingly sincere welcome, and explanations that passports would be returned in the morning after completing the necessary paperwork, I spent my first night in this truly exotic port.
Day 14 and 15
Another long leg of 110NM to get to the eastern side of Crete. On route to Ayios Nikolaos we were treated to the best dolphin display I’ve ever seen. One dolphin was particularly playful lifting itself out of the water vertically on it’s tail and in a manner I’ve only seen in marine shows! Truly splendid.
I tried my hand at fishing while on route but only managed to capture a seabird. I think I was more distressed than my poor avian catch as I hauled him in to remove the offending lure. It appears I have been relegated to my former status of atrocious fisherman.
A rest day as I waited for my passenger (a.k.a. novice crew) to arrive from Heraklion. Jean-Gustave (a friend from Brussels) would accompany me to Egypt but then make his own way back.
Day 11 and 12
A long leg of approximately 135NM passing to the East of Kithira by night. The section between Ak Tainaro and the north of Kithira proved to be quite challenging because of the constant stream of traffic heading to or from Athens. At one point I made the mistake of sitting in one place too long while on watch and a large tanker managed to approach via my blind spot. I only noticed when his searchlight lit up my sails. Too close for comfort!
By morning Crete was in view and before long I was entering the old Venetian port of Chania, careful to avoid the partially submerged outer breakwater which now serves little purpose other than as an effective navigational hazard.