After six days in Milos, the wind relented and we were able to set sail to Hydra. The extra days were useful to clean and fix things on Esprit and explore Milos by car. We drove up to Plaka and climbed up to the highest point on the island to visit the Venetian castle and the church at the very top.
We visited a number of sheltered beaches on the south coast where there are some volcanic hot water vents in the shallow waters, just off the beach. Pollonia village in the north west of the island was very windy.
We booked airline tickets for the end of the year and for Esprit to be slipped and stored on the hard in Preveza, western Greece, at the end of November. This will also give us the opportunity to have the rudder and steering system checked, the hull pressure cleaned and the topsides polished. It will take some of the pressure off me, with Annie always listing things I need to fix. I have explained to her a number of times, that when I say I will fix something, I will fix it – she doesn’t have to remind me every six months.
Back in London on the 21st September, Michelle and Karen were revving it up on Karen’s 30th birthday. This milestone was celebrated with 30 friends at a buffet lunch at the top of the iconic “Shard” building and concluded with an all-night party at the Royal Albert Hall, where DJ’s of the “Inner Visions” label performed.
The plan was to visit the islands of Serifos and Kithnos to the north of Milos, before crossing to Hydra, but the wind was on the nose, with a big sea after the six-day northerly blow. So we set off on the 22nd for the 68 nm sail to Hydra, to complete our crossing of the Aegean Sea. As sometimes happens, we had a mixed bag – the first 35 miles was on a terrific broad reach, averaging 8.5 knots. Then the wind dropped to a whisper and we had to motor the remaining 33 miles, before anchoring in the bay of Agio Nikolaus in south Hydra.
There were some seriously big gin palaces anchored in the bay and a competition was on to see who had the most water toys. We were glad to leave the next morning and motor to Hydra harbour, which was full to overflowing, so we turned around and motored for a mile along the coast to Mandraki bay, where we tied up stern to the shore. By the time we got back from our walk to Hydra town to buy provisions, there were more than 50 yachts tied up, or at anchor in the small bay. First night excitement amongst a flotilla of charter catamarans rafted up together, had them partying through the night – about 50 metres from us.
The next day, Monday, Michelle and two of her friends, Monica and Luke from Sydney arrived by ferry from Athens, to join us on the boat. The weather forecast didn’t look very good, with a very strong weather system developing from the north, potentially turning into a cyclone between Greece and Italy. As a precaution, we sailed to the sheltered bay of Porto Kheli in the gulf of Argolikos Kolpos, to get out of the main blast. The following day we motored deeper into the gulf to Koiladhia, as the weather deteriorated.
Even in this sheltered bay, the wind was gusting at 25 – 30 knots which was OK, compared to the 40 – 50 knots offshore. The locals informed us this was the worst they have seen in 40 years and that cyclones were very rare in this part of the world. We spent a sleepless night with katabatic gusts hitting the boat and rocking it about. By morning, after going ashore to climb a mountain for exercise, our three young guests decided to take a bus to Athens to go and see the sights, rather than spent their time waiting out the storm.
After studying various weather forecasts, Annie and I decided to motor sail to the top of the gulf to Navplion on Friday, to be out of reach of the cyclone as it tracked back from Italy, crossing just south of the Peloponnese. We tied up to the town jetty at 12 pm just before a crowd of boats came in looking for shelter.
The harbour in Navplion was crowded, with yachts crashing into one another to tie up to the wharf which was in the teeth of a 20 knot northwester. In the melee, our portside primary winch overwound with a mooring line, bending the stripper arm, imploding the stripper arm support and twisting the three screws. We cast off in a squall at 6pm and anchored in the big outer bay of the harbour, as a swing anchor under these conditions is infinitely safer than being tied on to a concrete wharf. We had a peaceful night.
First thing on Saturday morning I got onto the web to search for Harken 46 self-tailing winch parts, as we could not set sail without a working primary winch. A call to Yannis at Tecrep Marine in Piraeus harbour confirmed that he had the parts, so Michelle who was still in Athens, kindly took a train down to the harbour to collect the parts. Next thing, the Coast Guard arrives to tell us and some other yachts on anchor, we are not allowed to anchor where we are, but should tie up at the wharf – clearly more concerned with rules than safety. It was quite tricky backing into the wharf in 18 knots of cross wind and the rain bucketing down.
Saturday 5pm and the wind from the northeast has built up to 30 knots and it is mayhem with all the yachts tied up to the concrete wharf, bouncing off the wharf and into one another. The two yachts tied up next to us drag their anchors and crash into us, before casting off from the wharf. Take 2: At 6pm we cast off again crashing into the next boat in line on our port side, before anchoring again in the harbour, with a mooring line fouled in our prop. The wind now gusts at 40 knots, double the predicted wind strength, with rain squalls so heavy, visibility is down to 50 metres. I am cursing the Coast Guard and the Harbour Police – we should have stayed at anchor in the harbour. The wind spray off the water is sometimes heavier than the rain.
All our sailing gear and clothes are drenched at this stage, so Annie and I take turns in our cossies and lifejackets to keep watch until 10pm, when the wind starts to drop. By 11pm we are able to sit down with a stiff whisky and by midnight we have tidied up the boat and hit the sack as the wind has dropped to 5 knots. Sunday morning, we wake up to a flat sea and a steady drizzle – we have survived Cyclone Xenophon (also called Zorba by some) and celebrate this with a strong coffee and rusks. Cheers for now.