Still stuck in Agios Nikolaos

Port of Sitia, Crete

Port of Sitia, Crete

I’ve hired a car to stave off cabin fever and excessive skin wrinkling (due to too much time spent in the jacuzzi).

A morning spent diving to scrub the hull, lunch in sleepy Sitia, (much to the delight of the local restaurant strays whose plaintive feline cries I can never deny), then on to revisit Itanos beach Erimoupouli (where I had sheltered from last years gale).

Oh the joys of car air-conditioning. Had so much fun (more praise to ye almighty air-conditioner), it’s off to Irapetra in the South tomorrow.

Strong Meltemi winds delay Eileens’ departure

Typical Meltemi forecast

Typical Meltemi forecast

I tried and failed to leave Agios Nickolaos and sail to Rhodes. According to the locals in Crete, the Meltemi is a little more persistent this year, making travel by sea somewhat uncomfortable.

I thought dry humor was the sole domain of the English. Apparently not! So I guess I shouldn’t feel too bad about turning back to wait for the next weather window.

An uncharacteristically hot engine, vicious swell, sunburn, unresponsive jib furler and seasickness were my other ego consoling excuses for turning back.

A few days extra preparation shouldn’t go astray. Except that a few days looks like becoming more than a week and I have a deadline to reach Kos by the 5th. Let me rephrase that… I have a “preference” to reach Kos by the 5th.

Sailing solo across the Atlantic is too dangerous in a small boat!

Saling keeps you fit

Sailing keeps you fit

I cringe every time I have to hear this. Family and friends, with absolutely no knowledge of sailing have rallied to harangue me incessantly on the absurdity of my impending travel plans. They would all rather I find a new job, settle down, and be responsible.

Ha! No chance of stopping me now, but you would think they’d have had a little more faith given that risk management was my “bread and butter” profession. Let me digress a moment to reiterate my intentions:

Towards the end of this year I plan to sail across the Atlantic in my 23ft sailboat (a Yarmouth23). Not because it is a life-long dream, not because I want to set a record or publicise sponsors, and certainly not to prove anything to myself or others.

I just want to be alone at sea in my boat, free to travel where I please for an indeterminate period. It’s not a vacation, I’m not trying to “find myself” (surely that asininity has gone out of fashion), and I’m still insisting it’s not a mid-life crisis (surely I’ll live at least another 70 years!)

However, I am intentionally getting away from the Machiavellian machinations of corporate life to pursue a rewarding hobby / lifestyle that has helped me relax, get fit, see new places and put some melanin back into my pallid office dweller complexion.

I have not rushed into any of this. I’ve spent the last two years just equipping and getting to know my boat. Cruising trips have only gradually become more ambitious, and I’ve patiently acquired and familiarised myself with all the warranted safety gear.

I have confidence in my immaculately maintained craft and have left little to chance with regards to safety. I carry a life raft, EPIRB, PLB, 3xVHF radios, HF receiver, a parachute sea anchor, Jordan series drogue, second complement of sails, Aries vane gear, two tiller pilots, a pyromaniacs horde of flares, 3x handheld GPS and more.

The only pieces of cruising equipment I don’t have are a water-maker, satellite phone and HF transceiver. Prohibitively expensive on my budget so I’ll just have to carry the water I use, live without SMS at sea, and listen rather than talk all day on the HF.

Not that any of this is likely to allay their fears, so I’ll just have to weigh anchor, do my Atlantic crossing, sail back and tell them; “See, you needn’t have worried!”
With a little luck I might be able to stave off the alternative “find a new job, settle down, and be responsible” option for a while yet. 😉

So, how did you get into sailing?

Mauritius

Mauritius

Now that’s a question that brings back fond childhood memories, and I’m sure every sailor has a compelling tale to tell in answer.

For me it all started on the island of Mauritius at the age of 6 where my brother and I hired a little yellow sailboat for the day with the proceeds of our gambling habits.

Gambling at the age of 6?

Indeed! I owe my sailing passion to lady luck and the one armed bandit…

Old Slot Machine

Old Slot Machine

My brother and I had made a habit of hanging around the three slot-machines at a nearby resort.

What else were a couple of boys on holiday with too much time on their hands to do?

Anyway, occasionally a guest would tire of our incessant stares and hand over a few coins for us to try our luck on an adjacent machine…

We had a foolproof technique… gingerly pulling on the slot machine lever we would gaze as the tumblers whirled willing with all our might for a winning combination…. Somehow it worked because we always won!

Not that that always did us much good. Most guests would collect our winnings at the end of their loosing spree (I guess the rational was that it was their coin in the first place) and say their goodbyes… However on one memorable occasion, an anonymous tourist decided to let us keep our winnings!

A yellow boat

A yellow boat

What joy. We could suddenly afford to hire the boat we had been zealously eying for days.

At some point I’ll dig up the old colour photograph of that first days sailing and post it here, but it will have to wait awhile as it lies half way across the world in a dusty cardboard storage box that has not seen the light of day for 5 years.

The sun was shining, the sea crystal clear and the view magnificent. Who could fail to fall immediately in love with a sport having had such an exquisite introduction.

Those were happy carefree days.

Confessions of a disgruntled train commuter

train

The commute to Brussels

It’s 8am, as I listen to a chorus of nose blowing from the train-load of commuters traveling to Brussels, I am miles away in my thoughts.

I loose myself in the pleasure of anticipation, mentally manipulating potential sailing itineraries.

It helps block the revulsion I’m feeling for the passenger opposite me as he starts mining his nostrils to pass the time.
I have plenty to smile about… good grief there he goes again with the end of his pencil!!… should I say something?

And people wonder why I like sailing solo….

Back to more pleasant thoughts of itineraries.

atlantic-route

Hypothetical sailing route

I still have a lazy summer to pass in the Mediterranean, island hopping through Greece but bearing ever so slowly westward via Italy, Malta, Tunisia, Mallorca and Gibraltar. Then it’s through the legendary “Pillars of Hercules” and on to the Canary Islands by November.

Should I follow the “milk run” to Santa Lucia? No… I want to see South America… Natal Brazil via Cape Verde, and the Island of Fernando de Noroha sounds much more interesting…

At this point my plans are subject to change on a whim, but I’m surprised to discover numerous constraints governing my choice of travel destinations. Natures timetable of prevailing winds and currents, or the likelihood of storms including hurricanes, impose limits on my decisions.

If I sail to Salvador it will be three months before the winds are favourable to continue north. If I travel west to Aruba or on to Colombia I’m stuck until the trade winds gentle in April leaving precious little time to reach Bermuda.

The train stops… Two new passengers make themselves comfortable beside me, and in what appears to be choreographed synchronization they take out their handkerchiefs to trumpet their arrival. Does everyone have a cold today?

How I wish I were sailing…

The gale force winds die down

Day 29

Weather Check

Weather Check

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.

A memorable farewell from Alexandria

Day 25

I was there!

I was there!

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.

Fishermen

Egyptian Fishermen

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.

The Yacht Club of Egypt

Easter Port of Alexandria

Eastern Port of Alexandria

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.

Yacht Club of Egypt

Yacht Club of Egypt

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.

Three days at sea

Day 16, 17, 18 and 19

The Passenger

The Passenger

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.

Alexandria Egypt

Alexandria Egypt

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.

Worlds worst fisherman

Day 14 and 15

Sea Bird

Sea Bird

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.