I should have sailed to La Coruna when I had the chance!

Leaving Gijon and following Avel Vat

After a one night stopover in Gijon, refueled and resupplied, Eileen and Avel Vat were getting along so well that we decided to tackle the next westward leg together and set our sights on reaching Ribadeo.

Unfortunately we didn’t make it.

By 2am the wind made a 180 degree about face and forced us into the small fishing village of Cudillero. With the weather deteriorating rapidly it now looks as though we will be taking up permanent residency status here.

The main square in Cudillero

On the plus side, it’s a free port! Stay as long as you like, no mooring fees in this picturesque and perfectly sheltered fishing village. Sailors heaven!

Mind you, there was some initial confusion when a port official came to chase us off the private pontoons. Apparently we were supposed to use the visitors buoys.

How you distinguish between a private or visitors buoy still remains a closely guarded local secret, but once we had moved to our designated moorings the officials demeanor markedly improved. Without an exaggerated stretch of the imagination, he might even qualify as friendly.

We are now off to savor the towns delights…

An anchorage off the beach at Finisterre

Beach anchorage at Finisterre

I was not going to round Finisterre with north to northwest winds (from Force 4 to 6), so I only motored as far as the headland for a peek at the conditions (in a word… ugly), before turning to plan A and making for the beach anchorage northeast of the town.

Provided there isn’t too much roll, and the wind doesn’t shift so that you end up in surf, I’ve come to enjoy staying at beach anchorages. They can be so easy! You just approach the shoreline until you arrive at your desired anchoring depth (5 to 6m for me), and drop your hook in the clean white sand. No fenders to tie, no rocks to rub up against your hull, and no weed to reek havoc with your anchors holding ability. Bliss! As an added bonus you get to ‘people watch’ landlubbers for your afternoons entertainment.

Dawn at Finisterre anchorage

The port of Finisterre has virtually no room for a visiting yacht, but the anchorage served quite satisfactorily for my overnight stay as the winds died down to Force 1 and the seas settled. Just as predicted in the weather forecasts… What a novelty!

Rising at dawn, I photographed the French yacht that had come to share “my” beach retreat before joining the rush of fishing vessels heading for the cape.

Sailing to Palermo

Palermo port

Palermo port

Setting the TillerPilot, I take 20 minute naps (using an egg timer as my alarm clock) between lookouts and manage to reach Palermo by 1pm the following day in a semi-rested state.

Thankfully there was very little in the way of shipping, though I still don’t like sleeping when the coast is just an hour or two away. Especially when this area has a reputation for being the “Bermuda Triangle” of the Mediterranean.

The port of Palermo is not a pretty sight. A forest of cranes, numerous decrepit ships and offshore rigs undergoing maintenance dominate the skyline, but at least I’ve found a spot to moor Eileen (an abandoned refueling station).

Stuck in Roccella Ionica, Italy

In the light of the following day, it was apparent that we had seen this yacht before (anchored out in the bay at Argostoli, Chephalonia). Curious I went to chat with the owners, a gregarious French couple who were more than happy to recount their ordeal at sea. When I asked how they had managed to navigate the breakers, they answered that it was simply fear and good luck that saw them through.

Over a glass of Ouzo with ice (such luxury), we swapped details of our traveling exploits, and it was only several (well lubricated) hours later that I returning to Eileen of Avoca, laden with fillets of swordfish generously supplied by my new French drinking buddies (they obviously had considerably more success in the fishing department that I did). The fish was delicious!

The weather has been atrocious and we have been stuck in port for four days. If it wasn’t for the excellent pizza restaurant at the marina and the sociable company of the other stranded yachtsmen we would be going stir-crazy. The local dogs have certainly gone mad. One attacked Matt yesterday and ran off with half his thong (the flip-flop variety).

Aigina (the tourist trap)

Aigina, Greece

Aigina, Greece

With continuing fair weather we set sail for Aigina near Athens, skirting the south of Sifnos and west of Serifos. The sailing was uneventful, and only the port of Aigina is worth a special mention.

Warning! This is a quaint but expensive tourist trap!

To be avoided, unless you don’t mind paying 3.50 for a lukewarm espresso or 3 Euro for just a few minutes Internet usage in a cafe exuding unpleasant plumbing odors. The miser in me suffered considerably. 🙂

Note: This was the only port I visited in Greece since leaving Kos that charged me for the privilege of tying to the quay.

Return to Ios

Windmill on Ios, Greece

Windmill on Ios, Greece

By early afternoon we arrived at the anchorage of Ormos Kolitzani for a swim and I was able to fulfill a promise I had made to myself more than fifteen years earlier, to return here in my own boat. I had briefly worked on the Island, carting alcohol around for the local tavernas in the 1990s.

Ios has changed considerably. While it previously catered for cash strapped party going backpackers, it now boasted facilities for a different (more mature and more affluent) clientèle.

At the port (which I remember as a slum), we found laid moorings, tailed to the quay, chic restaurants, and excellent provisioning.

I retraced my steps through the main town to the old windmills. The town had grown and it was apparent that the locals have done well from tourism over the last decade. Everything was clean and renovated.

No dilapidated houses or severed goats heads left to bleed in the sand under the mills at night this time.

Eileen of Avoca arrives in Crete

Day 11 and 12

Chania Light

Chania Light

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.

Resting in Zante

Zakinthos Port

Zakinthos Port

Day 7
The storm that had been following me from the north arrived so I opted for a rest day.
As the winds rose I realised that my attempt at Greek style mooring wasn’t as exemplary as I’d initially thought so I gave it another try with considerably more scope. Much better!
I restocked Eileen with fuel (carrying jerry cans to the nearest service station) and water (borrowed from an unattended Italian super yachts berth).

Eileen of Avoca in the South of France

GPS Track

GPS Track

Port St. Louis du Rhone to Port du Frioul 25NM

Ile d'If

Ile d'If

(15:00) It was a late start to my sailing week, as I had to wait for the Capitanerie to reopen following the usual extended French lunch break. With a planned 25 NM trip to Port du Frioul just off the coast from Marseille my girlfriend and I were eager to get started even after driving more than 1200km on Friday night from Amsterdam and having had less than 4 hours sleep. We considered ourselves lucky as the weather forecast for the next few days was fine with the Mistral (which really howls through Port St. Louis and the rest of the Camargue for that matter); set to return no earlier than Tuesday.

There really isn’t much to Port St. Louis and it’s a bit isolated (If you don’t take your own car you’ll need to catch a train to Arles; worth the visit; and then take the infrequently run bus from there). Taxi fares from Marseille airport will set you back as much as the airfare. The port lacks character but is reasonably priced (at 72 Euro a week) and the facilities are good. It’s no surprise that the nearby Port Napoleon is so popular for wintering (see http://www.port-napoleon.com/) but you need to get quite a way out of the commercial port before the scenery improves.

It was just on sunset when we rounded Cape de Croix and saw the chateau fort of Ile d’lf (made famous by the Alexandre Dumas novel The Count of Monte Cristo) and before long I had settled in by the visitors quay against the sea wall joining the islands of Ratonneau and Pomegues (at the far side of the marina and contrary to directions given by the pilot book). The buzz of quayside restaurants in the balmy evening set the holiday atmosphere and we toasted our successful first leg over a glass of port.