Finding the right people to go sailing with isn’t easy… On a small boat you need to get along fabulously with your crew because there is little or no privacy and no room for disagreements. Make a poor choice and all will suffer for the duration of the voyage…
So when I advertise for crew, they must (at least) meet a few criteria including:
An ability and eagerness to do what I say…. preferably before I say it;
Failing that, (I’ve yet to find anyone meeting that first criterion) an ability to do what I mean, even if I didn’t say it;
Thick skin or selective deafness for tolerating the captains tantrums;
Somewhat masochistic tendencies in order to deal with the inevitable sleep deprivation, exposure to the elements, seasickness and frequent irate outbursts from the captain;
Most of the time I forgo the difficulties of finding such ideal crew by sailing alone, but on occasion, I have been fortunate in sourcing sailing companions (they didn’t know what they signed up to) and this post is a tribute to the courageous few.
Gianluca (a.k.a. The Animal). Now isn’t that a face you can trust! An accomplished musician and lyrical poet, one look of those puppy eyes and women swoon..
The Bart Man (Armed and ready for pirates). Faster than a speeding caterpillar, more powerful than a mosquito, able to leap small small furry animals in a single bound!
The brave Eva Kangaroo Ears. A vivacious and ferociously loyal sailing companion. The only person I know that’s able to get seasick before setting foot on a boat, yet she keeps coming back for more!!!
Herr Matt. (a.k.a. White-Beard). The wild-card crew member… Artist extraordinaire, such a tranquil aspect could only be attained after decades of friendship with said captain.
Chester (Yea Old Sea Dog). The best looking and most hirsute crew-member by far!
Jean Gustave (The rabid ribald rapscallion). This photo had to be censored! No further comments on the grounds that it may incriminate him…
Captain Dave (a.k.a. The $@^#@# and (&*(!@ etc. etc too many more expletives to fit here…) That’s me! What more can one say….
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.
Dodging Ifalos Panayia I headed for Prevenza. The sea had become a little rough and the waves were just the right size to set Eileen of Avoca rocking so I wanted to get into the lee afforded by the mainland. At dawn the weather had settled and I pushed on to Lefkada. Refueling at the marina I returned to the main city quay for 4 hours of sleep.
While the town square is quaint, Lefkada is not on my list of must see Greek destinations. There isn’t much in the architecture department, and my frustration with obtaining Internet access (the local children occupy Internet Cafes playing network games all day) may have coloured my opinion, but what really tipped the balance for me was the smelly garbage disposal site just south of the town. Apparently it’s their way of doing land reclamation.
With olfactory relief I approached Nisos Meganisi, 15 miles further south, found a quiet anchorage, and settled in for the night.
Too many little jobs left undone, so I spent another day on boat miscellanea. No doubt I could have squandered a month mucking about on Eileen without going anywhere, but after stating my plans to a Dutch couple moored nearby and finding a lovely little goodbye note and gift the following day, I felt obliged to make a start and head South. I redoubled my efforts to finish up and get Eileen of Avoca ship shape.
I asked the manager of the boat yard for some assistance in fitting the gear, but he made such a song and dance of how complicated it could be that I decided the path of least resistance was to DIY.
Perhaps the temperature had something to do with his reluctance. I never knew the human body could perspire with such exuberance!
Several blasphemous hours later the recalcitrant contraption was where it should be, but I still needed to modify the Autohelm bracket, fit some internal bracing to the through-bolts, and mount my flagstaff elsewhere.
The Autohelm bracket was essential because while the Aries is now bolted in place, it will not yet be operational until I get around to rigging blocks and running gear. A long sail to Gallipoli across the Gulf of Taranto without my trusty robotic assistant would be tiring to say the least. After negotiating access to the yard’s workshop I enthusiastically hammered the old bracket into a U-shape contrivance which mounts laterally on top of the tiller. Voila!
The other tasks would have to wait for another day.
A few celebratory drinks with the gregarious Neapolitan berthed nearby followed before I cast off from the pylons (a rather tricky maneuver), waved goodbye, and motored on through the much-improved (i.e. recently dredged) marina channel to the sea.
I set a heading of 70° and raised the mainsail as the sun set. Free at last.
Sunday the 20th of April
Late afternoon start for the 1500km drive to Rome.
Monday the 21st of April
Arrived by 6am and attempted to sleep in the car waiting for Delta Italia to open (no easy feat in a Fiat 600 unless you are a contortionist on Valium).
Eileen of Avoca was still in her cradle, awaiting some finishing touches. I was assured that all would be in order by late afternoon, so after transferring my electronic gadgetry (GPS, EPRIB, Laptop, Handheld VHF etc.) to the boat I steeled myself for the additional 500km drive to Sibari. Arriving before 5pm, I had just enough time for a brief chat with the friendly marina staff and to look around the enormous marina complex.
First impressions were not encouraging. With nearly 3000 places for yachts, I was expecting a bustling metropolis of boating activity. What I found was dilapidated ghost town.
My major concern was with the marina parking, where I had thought to leave my car for 10 days (with my Aries wind-vane in the back seat). The prospect (real or imagined) of not finding anything upon my return was making me decidedly apprehensive.
After a short ride to what passed for the town centre, (20 Euro for the 6km in an unofficial taxi) my misgivings grew and when the regular coach to Rome arrived at 23:00 I could not bring myself to take it. Instead I walked the 6km back to the, marina, picked up the car and retraced my route back to Rome.
For peace of mind, if for no other apparent reason, I would leave the car at Delta Italia and carry the vane gear lashed to the floor of the pushpit.
A short but adrenaline packed solo hop from Ostia to Fiumicino. The previous day’s heavy rain coupled with winds from the west made for the occasional heart-stopping breaker in the following sea that accompanied me as I motored toward the rivers entrance.
Eva had taken the car to meet me at the yard where Eileen would be hauled out to spend the rest of the winter (see: www.deltaitaliasrl.it).
Several hours later and 900 Euros poorer (for 4 months dry storage), we set out on our return drive to Belgium. Time to get back to work and save for the next sailing adventure.
It started to rain. Rummaging about in the lockers I found the large green canvas I generally use as a shade. Tonight it would serve; rather poorly as it turned out; as my water-resistant blanket.
Eileen motored on through the night. The only other vessel to be seen was the scheduled ferry passing well to the North on its way to the mainland in the wee hours of the morning.
By daybreak (Christmas day) the swell and wind had vanished and we made good progress (5kts ENE) on a smooth sea. The crew was feeling better so it was time to open presents. I am now the proud owner of a captains hat two sizes too large. Well at least there is room to grow.
By 3pm we had arrived at the new marina in Ostia the ancient port city of Rome. I’d tried my luck at some fishing on route, but true to form (I’d been trying to catch a fish all season) I came up empty handed. My fishing prowess has become the running joke with friends and family so my New Year’s resolution will be to reveal my currently latent fisherman’s skill.
Any and all tips greatly appreciated.
Ostia itself is not much to look at but there are good connections to Rome and the marina area is excellent (www.portoturisticodiroma.net), Transiting yachts: 13 Euro a night from October to March but 33 Euro in July and August.
Locals pack the boulevard on their nightly promenade and there are a multitude of restaurants and boutiques close at hand. Enough to keep Eva content as we sat out another round of bad weather just after New Years Eve.
The big night was spent in Rome and Eileen of Avoca served splendidly as our hotel for the remainder of our stay.
**Snapshot of Eileen of Avoca’s route in 2007. Note that the GPS was switched off most of the time while traveling through the Belgian and French canals.
I’d ranted in my log for many paragraphs on topics ranging from impossible work deadlines, horrendous Amsterdam traffic, long airport queues, unhelpful service desk personnel, zealous airport security staff, unannounced flight destination changes due to storm-force winds and forest fires leading to hours on a bus from hell. To save the reader from too many diatribes I’ll summarize my journey to Calvi as follows: “emotionally challenging”.
For the next two days the wind blew at Force 8 and it rained proverbial cats and dogs.
Steady North Easterlies gave us a good run to Gulf de la Napoule.
I kept the mainsail double reefed but fears of a repeat of the previous days surprise were unfounded.
If you like to watch super yachts, this is the place to do it. Eileen would make a nice tender for some of the boats that overtook me.
By 18:00 I’d changed plans and decided to anchor in the shelter of Ile Sainte Marguerite rather than enter Cannes. I found a fabulous sheltered spot in 3m of water, set both the plow and the Danforth, rummaged for my dive mask and plunged into the clear water to ensure both were well set.
As the wind died all that was left to do was to watch the lights of Cannes (drinks in hand) while pondering the plight of the “Man in the Iron Mask” which history states was imprisoned in the very fort overlooking our anchorage.