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Saturday, July 30, 2016

Yithion

Envoy is currently anchored at Ormos Manganari, Ios Island

Most of the places we've visited during the last few weeks we'd already cruised to in 2012, but now we move on to a new destination - Yithion, for a delightful surprise. Some places don't live up to expectations but Yithion surpasses when we drop anchor behind the causeway linking the mainland to the tiny island of Nisos Kranai, mentioned in Homer's Iliad as where Paris and Helen (of Troy) spent their first night together after eloping.

Envoy at anchor off Yithion

The island of N Kranai where Paris and Helen of Troy spent their first night together

Yithion has been inhabited since ancient times and was once the principal port of the Spartans. Now it's a small town of about 5,000 working Greeks and although the waterfront is lined with tavernas it's not a real tourist or cruising destination.

We enjoy a great lunch with Kevin and Diane at a really atmospheric tavern loaded with relics (including us!)

An interesting old cannon with huge stone wheels

Here Kevin and Diane catch a bus to Athens to continue their travels and while our general plan is to cruise east to Santorini to meet Doug and Sharon in about three weeks we stay on for a few days to soak up more of Yithion's atmosphere.

This sledge is used to haul fishing boats from the water for maintenance - the same system as used for many hundreds of years.

We take our RHIB into the nearby well-protected harbour and meet a Dutch cruising couple, Marcel and Leena from the yacht Tomskii Kastan and it turns out they own a property in Kerikeri (New Zealand), where their son now lives and knows our friends Bruce and Leslie of catamaran Midi.
The next day we return to the harbour and find a very elderly American guy having real problems berthing his 9m sports style motorboat in a strong beam wind. His wife is in semi-shock and tears as their anchor has fouled another anchor and they can't free it. As they are very close to Marcel's boat I take him out in our RHIB to see if we can help. Marcel dons a face mask and pulls himself down the anchor chain six metres below to the seabed and on the third attempt frees their anchor. We feel very sorry for the extremely grateful American couple but it's obvious from their next berthing attempts they're a disaster waiting to happen as they get their angles of approach all wrong, don't put out enough anchor chain and maneuver at excessive speed.

Vista of Yithion

Shipwreck on beach north of Yithion

In a rising northerly we cruise south-east to a large bay called Ormos Xilis which offers good shelter from the north. We no sooner anchor off a small village called Plitra at the head of the bay when the wind turns south gusting 25 knots and soon we have whitecaps rolling in. Envoy is well secure at anchor and reasonably comfortable bow on to the seas and with the forecast still saying the wind will turn to the north we stay on. Sure enough within a couple of hours the wind turns right around and the sea quickly calms again. We often find over here that in the couple of hours before sunset the wind does some strange things, often blowing quite strongly onshore and then settling offshore after sunset.
Early next morning I take our RHIB to a fishing boat jetty to find some fresh water and meet Alexander, who lived in Sydney for 40 years but moved back here to retire. He now does casual commercial fishing and time for both of us is no issue so we shake hands and enjoy a long chat about life in general. I find water from a dripping tap on the end of an ancient pipe and find the right hose connection from the large selection I took ashore with me.
Later Diane and I go ashore for a look around and Plitra is virtually deserted, but we have coffee frappes at Jimmy's Taverna. Jimmy is a Canadian who tells us that about 250,000 Greeks ancestry live in Canada. After chatting for a while we ask for our bill but Jimmy won't accept payment and says the coffee is free.

TECHNICAL
Replacing incandescent or halogen lights with LED lights is a current topical subject in boating and technical magazines.
Until recently it has been necessary to replace the light fitting in order to use LED bulbs, but now LED drop-in replacements are available for most types of conventional bulbs.
LED lights use less power, last longer and generate less heat, but they are more expensive and their light is not as “warm” as conventional lights (although this situation is improving). Incidentally LED bulbs are not rated in watts like conventional bulbs but in lumens (lm) – a measure of the light produced from a lamp.
Envoy has mostly halogen lights and we did an exercise in replacing a bulb with an LED in a light above our galley sink where the amount of heat generated is excessive. We bought a Chinese-made “Dixplay” brand bulb and it fitted the socket with no problem. The cost was 10.80 Euros (about NZ$18) compared with 2.50 Euros (about NZ$4.17) for a standard bulb. This purchase was made at a chandler and both bulbs would have been cheaper in a specialist lighting shop.
The result was the light was bright enough, was not excessively bluish and did solve the heat issue – but would we use LEDs generally? No - LEDs are great for an application where power saving is all important, for example in a sailing yacht or freedom caravan, but aboard Envoy we generally run the engine for several hours daily as well as the generator for three hours daily (to power the refrigerator) so electrical power and battery charge is not an issue. In addition we have a considerable number of spare conventional bulbs aboard and we cannot see any advantage in paying the considerable additional cost to go LED. How's that for being a Luddite!

Saturday, July 23, 2016

THE MANI REGION OF PELOPONISSOS

Envoy is currently anchored at Ormos Manganari on the south coast of Ios Island in the Aegean.

A few days after Chris departs our Kiwi friends Kevin and Diane join us at Kalamata Marina for their fourth visit to Envoy. Kevin and Diane have been boating for many years, own a sailing yacht in Auckland and Kevin has been active in all sorts of other boating activitiess ranging from a long association with Auckland Coastguard (of which he is a former President and current Patron), to boating education and writing books on knots.

Kevin repairing a splice in our Dyneema RHIB hoist


Kevin and I visit the Port Police to have Kevin and Diane added to our Crew List – this is necessary whenever new crew join a boat cruising in Greece.

First thing one morning I ask Kevin's Diane if she'd had a good sleep and she answers with a laugh “yes I had several good sleeps”.
This is a very good point to ponder as sleeping on a boat is quite different to home. There's nothing as great as sleeping on a boat is there? Well maybe!
Firstly very few anchorages here are perfectly calm, in fact even most of the marinas and harbours have some surge. So you've got constant movement to some degree and this causes various noises – a creaking of the hull, a groaning of the anchor rode, a rattle in a cupboard, a drink can rolling in the fridge, the sound of the sea outside the open porthole, the occasional wavelet on the hull and in most places fishing boats and ferries moving around during the night making exhaust noise and causing small wakes. Then you have wavelets lapping against the RHIB moored alongside or astern. In a boat fresh water is circulated to the sink taps by a 12V electric pump which makes a humming noise every time any tap, shower or head is used as well as periodically for a few seconds even if not in use. We have four sinks aboard Envoy and three of them make gurgling noises as the boat moves to wave motion. In nearly every anchorage (but not in marinas) we use a GPS anchor position alarm to warn us if Envoy moves from her originally anchored position. It's quite normal for a boat to move around a bit with wind changes but we do want to know about it so the anchor alarm beeping is yet another noise to add to the list. Often we can hear tavernas playing music until the early hours and this is worse in harbours often continuing until 0300 plus the traffic noise, particularly motor scooters with their loud exhaust. So Diane is spot on with her assessment that what you get is a series of short sleeps.

NIGHT CRUISING
With Kevin and Diane we retrace our steps to show them Koroni and Methoni and then with about nine hours cruising eastwards ahead of us to reach Porto Kaiyo we decide on a night cruise. Although Diane and I have done night cruising several times it's much easier with someone of Kevin's experience aboard to share the watches and Kevin was also keen to do this.
So what's so special about night cruising? The first is safety and nobody can go for'ard of the Portuguese bridge after dark – it's extremely difficult to locate a man overboard at night. If it were necessary to go for'ard the person would need to wear a life jacket with strobe attached and be under observation the whole time.
Other main issues are navigation and avoiding other vessels. During daytime it's easy to see approaching vessels and their courses and to take avoiding action in plenty of time. By night we pick up other vessels first on radar and plot their course on screen to determine if they will come too close – if so a course change may be required to maintain a safe distance (see an upcoming Posting with more detail on this).
Another issue is that while it's easy to leave your current familiar location in darkness it's not so easy to arrive at a strange location by night, so we choose to leave Methoni after dinner at 2100 hours to arrive at Porto Kaiyo in daylight at 0600. It's important to conserve your night vision by having very dim lighting (Envoy has red interior lights for night cruising) as if you inadvertently shine a bright light in your eyes it takes up to 30 minutes for good night vision to return.
Most days I enjoy a beer and wine or two after Envoy is safely anchored but when we cruise during the night we become a dry ship. We enjoy a smooth, uneventful but enjoyable trip under a full moon with the two Dianes sleeping all the way and Kevin and I standing 1-2 hour watches with some rest in between. We only see one sailing yacht, several fishing boats including some with no navigation lights, and several large ships at safe distances away.

THE MANI REGION
The central of the three peninsulas of the Peloponnisos is called the Mani, and the local Maniote people are very hardy, independent and isolated, and claim to be direct descendants of the Spartans. Historically many of them were pirates, operating from the region’s many hidden coves, riddled with caves. It's from the Maniotes that our words mania and maniac derive.
The Manis have different clans who used to live in fortified castle-like houses with large central towers from where they conducted clan wars from the 17th century. Many of these are still used as hotels or Greek holiday homes.
Porto Kaiyo is a quaint small hamlet with a horseshoe-shaped bay providing reasonable shelter and several tavernas lining the shore.

Kevin and Laurie at monument to Maniote pirate and freedom fighter, Katsonis at Porto Kaiyo

Porto Kaiyo

An intriguing assemblage made from driftwood. This tavern owner was really friendly and helpful

 

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

KALAMATA AND THE HILLTOP FORTRESS OF MYSTRAS

Envoy is now anchored at Ormos Milopotamou, Ios Island in the central Aegean Sea.

We made a conscious decision to use our Yanmar wing engine more this year as last season only used it for about two hours in total.
Engines must be used regularly and for periods of an hour or more so they reach full operating temperature. It is our emergency engine so we do want it to start easily if required. It's called a “wing”engine as it's installed to the port side of the main engine and has its own propeller shaft and folding prop. With such low power it only pushes Envoy along at a sedate three knots or so, but being not in any hurry we've now completed several short bay-to-bay trips under the wing engine alone with the Yanmar's alternator charging the battery banks and powering the inverter.
It's not suitable for rough weather due to its low power and the fact that only the main engine drives the hydraulic stabilisers, but it's perfectly OK in calm conditions.

We move on to the village of Koroni, again dominated by a Venetian fortress. It's an interesting village to wander around in with plenty of friendly locals to talk to and not over-spoiled by tourism. The water is superbly clear and we can easily see our anchor and chain seven metres below with a few small fish swimming by.

View of Koroni anchorage

We enjoy exploring some still operational churches and a monastery in the castle grounds, and one of the small churches is built on the site of an ancient temple where we can see the foundations and remnants of marble pillars.

Old church and monastery

Chapel with ancient temple pillars

Inside the chapel

An excellent use for an old boat

Castle at night viewed from Envoy at anchor

This “Quality House Construction” sign took our fancy

We spend one night anchored off the small village of Petalidhion and going ashore for dinner notice ominous black clouds looming before dusk. Later we just get back to the boat before a 20 knot squall and heavy rain descends on us. This is no problem for Envoy but would have made a tough trip for the three of us in our smaller RHIB.

Rain clouds loom in Petalidhion

Market day in Petalidhion

Chickens destined for the table in the market

From here it's a short cruise to the marina at Kalamata, a large town where 50,000 Greeks live and work, with little tourism and which of course is famous for olives. The town centre is about 20 minutes walk from the marina through a park containing a museum of old trains. Kalamata has a hilltop castle too but little remains of it and it's not worth a visit.

Laurie and Chris play engine drivers

An old hand-operated rail crane

This rustic taverna caught our eye

Here we rent a car and visit the World Heritage fortress of Mystras, near the town of Sparta, named after the legendary, militaristic Spartans who dominated this entire region from around 850BC, although little remains to be seen from their time.
We pass through the spectacular rugged Langada gorge, about 50km long, climbing to 1,524m, where the Spartans are reputed to have left any children too weak or unfit for military service to die.

The Langada gorge is extremely rugged with many caves

The Mystras fortress was built much later in 1249 by the Frankish Principate of the area, William 11, although the Byzantines took it over soon afterwards and ownership passed back and forth between them and the Turks. The castle looks impregnable, built upon the steep, craggy, natural fortress hilltop of Myzithra and in times of attacks the villagers living outside the castle and farmers tending the fertile valley would move inside.
We visit many castles like this and on hot days its exhausting enough walking up to them in shorts and t-shirts as we wonder how did soldiers walk the same steep paths laden with weapons and armour and avoiding spears, arrows, stones and hot oil poured down on them by the defenders.
Like Koroni the site has churches dating from the 13th or 14th centuries still in use.

Mystras fortress

The fertile valley that supported the populous with produce

The Despot's palace currently being restored

This 14th century church is still in use

Laurie points out a recess used for heavy wooden beams to secure the main gate against attackers

As Envoy only uses about 8 litres of diesel per hour we don't refuel often but Kalamata Marina was a convenient spot to do so as a tanker comes right up to the boat, so we take on 400 litres of diesel.

Here Chris departs for further travels leaving us grateful for his excellent company and tremendous contribution to Envoy's maintenance, only a small part of which has been detailed in the Blog.

Fishermen repair the hull of their boat pulled up on rollers at Ormos Kitries

TECHNICAL
For navigation we use a Toshiba laptop loaded with MaxSea C-Map, receiving a position signal from a Raymarine GPS. In case of a problem with the Toshiba we have a spare Compaq laptop, but this has not been working properly. On screen is an icon in the shape of a boat representing your position and pointing in the direction of travel. On the Compaq the icon was pointing to the north rather than the direction of travel and our course over ground (COG) and speed over ground (SOG) wasn't being displayed. So Chris takes a look at this.
On pulling the spare computer from storage we find another more physical problem – it must have somehow got crushed by something heavy in storage, the hinges were damaged and the screen won't open. So first Chris spends several hours pulling the case to pieces to remove the hinges. I confess there were so many pieces of the computer on the table I wondered if it would ever be in one piece again, but Chris's patience and expertise together with Supa-Glue and epoxy prevails and he rebuilds the case. After a couple of attempts to resolve the icon issue Chris changes a setting to resolve it, so it's now comforting to have a spare navigation computer that works properly.

Our dismantled Compaq laptop spread over the saloon table

One of our two engine room ventilation blowers had failed and while in Kalamata we remove it and Chris dismantles the motor and determines that one of the motor brushes was badly worn. Kalamata's only chandler doesn't have a replacement so I ask them to use their local knowledge to find an electrical shop to replace the faulty brush. “Oh no my friend you can't repair these” is the answer (in Greece and Turkey conversations often start with the opening remark 'my friend'). I say very politely something like, “my friend let me tell you that virtually every town of this size in the world has electrical repair shops that can replace brushes on electric motors, all we need to do is find one. Please help me by finding someone who services auto starter motors and alternators.”
A few days later the unit has been repaired for 30 Euros (about NZ$50) and the chandler is delighted he now has someone to use for marine electrical repair.

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

AT THE PELOPONNISOS

Envoy is anchored at Avelomona on the SE coast of Kithera Island.

Leaving the remote and inhospitable Nisidos Strofadhes Islands we cruise west to the mainland region of southern Greece known as the Peloponnisos. Now there's a spelling challenge!
We cruised this area in 2012 but are happy to return to favorite spots and spend time at other places we missed.
The Peloponnisos is the southernmost mainland area of Greece. Strictly speaking it’s not an island, but separated from the rest of Greece by the Corinth Canal with its eastern side on the Aegean Sea and its western side on the Ionian. This area is quite sizable being roughly 350 miles from NE to NW and contains many historic sites including the famous areas of Sparta and Olympia.
On the southern side are three peninsulas, each about 24 miles long, forming two large gulfs. The tips of these peninsulas are known as the “Cape Horns of the Med”, due to strong winds and rough seas often encountered here but so far we’ve had only had moderate winds and slight seas. The strong winds are very often katabatic, descending from the mountains that rise to 2,400 metres.

We anchor in Ormos Navarinou, a sheltered natural harbour some 5km long and 3km wide with castles at both north and south ends and where in 1827 a famous battle took place between combined fleets of 26 British, French and Russian ships against 78 Turkish, Egyptian, Tunisian and Algerian ships. The Turkish-led fleet was decimated with all but eight ships sunk and a loss of about 3,000 lives while only 181 Allied lives were lost and no ships were sunk. This was the last battle fought entirely by sailing ships and the beginning of the end of the Turkish domination of Greece.

Castle at southern end of bay

The whole bay looking south

Memorial to battle atop spectacular cliffs with archway

We spend a great morning walking up to and exploring the spectacular ruins of the Palaiokastro Castle overlooking the anchorage. This is just one of a string of castles along this once strategic coastline.

Chris and Laurie ready for exploration with Envoy in background

In ancient times galleys were rowed in these areas and would usually be beached at night or anchored in very shallow water.

Castle at northern side of bay

Signs warn of falling masonry from the fragile ruins

We look down on an ideal shallow water galley stopover area and try to imagine how the scene might have looked.



The only problem here was a huge invasion of mosquitoes after dusk and although we were protected by our insect screens there were hundreds of dead mosquitoes littering our deck the next morning. We won't overnight here again.

Our next stop Methoni, has another spectacular castle, this time right down at sea level once protecting the strategic harbour. Although we've been here previously we enjoy showing Chris around and finding some new sights.

Chris and Laurie at entrance to Methoni Castle

Solid impressive Methoni castle

Di and Chris on bridge over dried-up moat


This castle and the one at Monemvasia to the east (we'll be there in about three weeks) were two of the most important Venetian towns and castles as they protected the trade route from the Ionean to the Aegean, and for that reason these towns were called “the eyes of the Republic”.

When the Turks conquered Methoni they added this Turkish-style tower to the fortifications

Envoy anchored among fishing boats in Methoni harbour

Cannons embedded in Methoni's sea wall

Rusting old cannon beside village well


TECHNICAL
Last cruising season we had problems with our washing machine, resulting in Corfu-based Miel servicemen replacing the water discharge pump. We thought and hoped that would be the end of our washing machine problems but this was not to be when one day it didn't complete its cycle. Fortunately I had been involved in removing the machine from its difficult-to-access position last time and we still had Chris aboard to help resolve the problem.
Chris was sure it was the discharge pump not working as the water hadn't drained out – it's normal on automatic washing machines that the water needs to drain before the spin cycle. So we siphoned the water into a bucket, pulled the machine forward in its cavity and removed the metal base plate. We had an “aha” moment when Chris immediately saw that a extremely thin AC power wire to the discharge pump had broken loose, probably due to the high vibration levels normal in washing machines. The area was too difficult to access for soldering so Chris crimped the connection and this solved the problem. Two days later the same thing happened as the crimp was really too large for the very fine wire. But now we were “experts” at pulling the machine forward and removing its base plate and Chris modified some crimps to make them more suitable for the fine wire and we took a belt and braces approach making sure that all the wiring was secured and unlikely to shake loose again.

Chris underneath the washing machine re-wiring the discharge pump