The Eventider's News
Issue Eight, Summer 2007
Page No 2
Goosander goes to Greece
Goosander goes to Greece, a log by the designer, Colin Faggetter.
This is a long account of Colin's building of Goosander and her subsequent voyage to Greece. It contains many good tips and sailing and cruising hints. a long but enjoyable read.
You might like to make this page a PDF file using adobe, and print it out for more leisurely reading, I found I had to read it right through! If you click on the link below, hopefully it will open it as a pdf and you can save it or print it from that.
Boats have played a prominent role in most of my adult life. I don’t know where this all-consuming interest came from. It certainly is not inherited, as my father spent his leisure time drawing, painting, writing and gardening.
From rowing a small boat on the park lake to navigating cargo ships to foreign parts and all manner of craft in between, I have loved being on the water.
Whilst in the Merchant Navy I managed to go sailing in Rangoon, Burma and also Cyprus. This gave me a taste of what it was like to be under sail. It was an exhilarating experience that I thoroughly enjoyed.
In 1960, now married and with a seven year old daughter, I felt settled enough to be able to build a boat for my own use. I obtained the plans for a Yachting Monthly Junior, and set about constructing my first sailing dinghy. As I was building it in my spare time, it took many months to complete, as well as having to wait for spare cash with which to buy the materials. The completed dinghy was trailed to Lake Rudyard in the Midlands for a test sail. Much to my relief it stayed afloat and performed just as it was meant to do. I had learned a lot with this initial build, which was to stand me in good stead in the future.
Then sadly, my fortunes plummeted. As a consequence I had to sell our house, and also the dinghy, and move my family to East Anglia where the cost of living was less high than in the Midlands. For the next few years I was without a boat, but I was lucky enough to be invited by friends to sail in theirs. Finding a crew is always a problem in the boating world as I was later to find out.
Thus it was that I found time to try my hand at designing a boat. The result was what I called a Gipping Sloop, and I was commissioned to build it for a local entrepreneur in the gardening business for use as a family boat and occasional business perk.
From this early start there was no stopping my design prowess. To gain the more professional skills of boat building, I joined a boatyard situated on the River Orwell at Ipswich. Learning about my latest design of a 23ft. sloop they agreed to build one. This sloop was launched in 1972 and tested by Des Sleightholme, who was editor of Yachting Monthly magazine at that time. The test result was favourable, and Y.M. agreed to sponsor this new class of boat, calling it the Goosander Class.
The 23ft. boat was followed by the roomier 27ft; a superb, safe family boat. Much later on I designed several different boats ranging from a pram dinghy of seven feet to a thirty-six foot cruising yacht. They had been given design names by John Williams of the Eventide Owners Group now who have the plans available on CD, such as Mallard, Pochard, Grebe, Curlew and so on….
In 1977 I was able to make a substantial start on building my own 27ft. Goosander with money which was bequeathed to me by my step-father. It took me five years to build in my spare time but when completed, it was launched at Ipswich and I named it ‘Goosander.’
The next six years were spent sailing the coastal waters of East Anglia. Holidays were taken in it to the continent in France, Belgium and Holland. The canals in Holland did not necessitate having to drop the mast as all the bridges opened on demand.
As I mentioned earlier, finding a crew was the most difficult part of arranging any trip. No members of my family were sailors, and none of them shared my enthusiasm. Only reluctantly did they ever accompany me on long or even short ones for that matter. Apart from finding the actual sailing rather boring, the English weather was a serious factor in deterring them from joining me on most of my trips. My wife and son suffered from acute seasickness; a condition from which I have never suffered. Sitting in an open cockpit with heaving seas all around, grey skies and being soaking wet into the bargain was not my family’s idea of a pleasant day out!
There was of course one answer to this. And that would be to take the boat to sunnier climes. The more I thought about this idea the more I could see myself doing it. Gradually I got my family to go along with my plan as long as it did not involve them physically, meaning, ‘no we are not coming on the boat with you to sail it to this sunny paradise.’ I had long wanted to visit the Mediterranean again having had a taste of it in my M.N. days, so I started to make plans……
The Boat – Crew – Finance.
Ipswich – Ramsgate – Cherbourg – Brest.
Brest – Carino – La Coruna.
La Coruna – Sesimbra – Vilamoura – Gibraltar.
Gibraltar – Ponte Romano, Sardinia.
Catania – Patras.
Patras – Corinth – Palea Epidavros – Methana.
Fig. 1. Ipswich to Patras.
Fig. 2. Patras to Methana.
Chapter 1 Reasons
There are many owners who sail or motor to the Mediterranean via the canals each year whose reasons are many and varied. Most have a common purpose, to enjoy the sunshine and idyllic lifestyle that the Mediterranean has to offer. I was no different in this respect. However, I had another reason, and that was to visit after many years some of the places I had visited during the Second World War while serving my apprenticeship aboard a troopship. The ‘Princess Kathleen’ was a Canadian Pacific ferryboat, which ran between Victoria on Vancouver Island and Vancouver on the mainland during pre-war years.
During my time in the Mediterranean, which was to last three years, we carried many thousands of British troops as well as German and Italian prisoners of war, and Jewish refugees to Israel. We sailed the length and breadth of the Mediterranean, and in particular to many ports around the mainland of Greece together with many of the islands. As our top speed was twenty-one knots, much of the time we sailed out of convoy, sometimes alone, and at other times with a destroyer escort. We had a charmed life, although our sister ship, ‘Princess Margaret’ was torpedoed and sunk quite early on when carrying out similar troop movements.
It was sometime after hostilities had ceased when we were ordered to a dockyard in Naples where we were stripped of our troopdecks and guns. The hull, superstructure and funnels were painted in peacetime livery; a great contrast to the battleship grey that we had become accustomed to. When all this work was completed we were relieved of our wartime commitments, and ordered to return to Victoria for a complete refurbishment. As the ship’s bunker capacity was limited, we had to return to Victoria on the west coast of Canada in stages. We called at Gibraltar, Trinidad, Manzanillo (Mexico), San Pedro and finally Victoria where we were given a tremendous homecoming welcome by the townspeople who inspected their much loved ferryboat from stem to stern.
Our Chinese crew and all officers were paid off. We said our goodbyes to all the Canadian officers, and after a few days of sightseeing, boarded a Canadian National Railways ferry to Vancouver. This ferry was brand new, and had only been in service for a few months. It made us realise that the ‘Princess Kathleen’ would need much updating to compete for style and comfort with the opposition.
In Vancouver, we boarded our train, which was to take us to Halifax (Nova Scotia). Our night berths were made up by the staff at ten o’clock each evening, and folded up while we were having breakfast, much to the delight of all those who were travelling. The train was very comfortable, and boasted a superb restaurant car. An observation coach at the rear was crowded with people, eager to observe the breathtaking panorama of the Rockies as it sped along the seemingly endless route to Halifax.
The journey took five days with many stops, sometimes up to four hours, when we were able to go ‘ashore’ and have a good look round. Some of the younger ones, and I was only twenty, used to walk along the train and gaze in awe at the size, and wonder at the power of these huge locomotives.
At Halifax we boarded the Cunard liner Aquitania for our final voyage to Liverpool. This beautiful ship served for an amazing thirty-five years, through both world wars, and was for a long time the last remaining 4-funnel ship in the world.
Although rather old fashioned by today’s standards, the Aquitania had a certain air of grace and elegance about her. To my mind, todays ships, especially cruise ships are neither graceful nor elegant. They appear to be blocks of flats with no aesthetic charm whatsoever. The naval architects of today seem to have no imagination, although some attempt has been made to mitigate this travesty with the Queen Mary 2.
Container ships suffer from the same lack of imagination, and therefore lack any character. However, there is an excuse for container ships in that they are specifically designed to carry the most amount of cargo that is safely possible.
Though not a large ship by today’s standards, the Aquitania was one of the largest of its day. The interior was very nicely fitted out with mahogany panelling. Public areas such as the lounge and restaurant were extremely spacious, and the staircases were grand in every sense of the word.
I was privileged to visit the bridge, where, behind a huge spoked wheel was a large binnacled compass, and an equally large brass engine telegraph. Instruments that we take for granted today were non-existent. Navigation was done with sextant, chronometer and nautical almanac. However, she never got lost!
After a well earned three months leave, I attended the Sir John Cass nautical school in Aldgate London for a further three months, and obtained my Second Mates Certificate. Armed with this, I joined the British India Steam Navigation Company, and spent two spells of three years each in the Far East. It was all a long time ago!
My wife and I usually spend five months a year living and sailing in Greece. During this time we have met many yachtsmen of all nationalities sailing around the Greek islands. They seem to be divided into several categories. The most dedicated of which are the couples who have sold their home and belongings, and bought their boat to simply wander about as their fancy dictates, using surplus money from the sale of a house, and perhaps a pension to keep them going. Anyone with a skill, particularly where boats are concerned such as a boat builder, engineer, or a wizard with electronics, can usually pick up some useful work, earning a few pounds to supplement their income.
Living aboard a boat in Greece is a relatively cheap proposition. Mooring or anchoring in most harbours was free, but as from 1994, charges have been growing steadily upwards although they are still quite modest. Water is in short supply, and is normally charged for, unless of course, you frequent a friendly Taverna where you’re invited to fill your containers. The cost of hauling out and laying up ones boat has increased enormously since I first went there, and is now exceeding the average cost at home. This is probably due to an enormous increase in the number of yachts requiring the limited facilities available, most of which are in the area around Pireus.
About three-quarters of those who seek this way of life seem to manage without selling their property. In some cases they let out their property in order to help with living expenses. Others merely keep their boat in Greece to use for holidays, perhaps two or three times a year. Friends might also be invited to make use of it. However, some caution is advisable here, because at the time of writing, actual chartering of a foreign flag yacht is illegal in Greece although I was never asked by any Port Police about people I had on board apart from their names, or whether in fact I was chartering Goosander.
Several people that I met told me that they had sold their business and taken early retirement, using their interest from investments to finance their lifestyle. Some, like my wife and I, had to leave things until our retirement, when we were lucky enough to be able to buy a small property in Greece, and spend a considerable time there each year.
There are, of course, owners of what I call ‘mega’ motor yachts. They appear to live on a different planet; quite different from us ordinary mortals. Many of these ‘mega’ motor yachts call into Epidavros where I have lived and kept my boat. They have a uniformed crew, including many stewards who flitter about looking after the slightest whim and fancy of private guests or charter party. These super yachts are always festooned with massive radio aerials, multiple radar scanners, and of course, the large and impressive dome, housing the latest technology in world communications, and not forgetting the helipad, runabouts, skiboats and upmarket mopeds.
We can all dream, but for us who cannot, and never will own such a yacht, it’s back to reality, trying to make ends meet, so as to at least enjoy a lifestyle that we have long dreamed about.
Careful planning, and having adequate finance with a little surplus in hand in case of emergencies is the best way, although many people we met, really do live on a shoestring and they still seem to enjoy this way of life.
Chapter 2 Our quest for a place in the sun.
Having made up my mind to take Goosander to the Mediterranean, my wife suggested that we should live there as she did not want to be permanently tied to the boat.
We have a friend, who some years previously had bought a piece of land to build a house on, and now he spends most of his time there. He was able to give us some useful information on the pros and cons of owning foreign property, which started us off on our quest for a home in the sun! It seemed from what he told us that we shouldn’t encounter too much difficulty.
Being single at the time, he was able to go to Greece to have a good look round for anything that was on offer. Eventually he bought a plot of land with a building licence.
As my wife and I were both working at the time, it would not have been possible for us to do this, and so we agreed to find a company specialising in Greek properties.
It was about this time that I noticed an advertisement in Yachting Monthly. The advertisement was for land for sale – freehold at a cost of £5000. I was both interested and curious, and so I telephoned for more information. A couple of days later, I received a comprehensive information pack, which I eagerly studied. It seemed that the land was owned by an Englishman, and the enclosed site plan showed some sixteen plots, some of which had already been sold.
Once a plot had been chosen, a local architect, who also happened to be the Mayor, could be employed to design a house for a sum of £700. A house of 40 square metres would it seems, cost around £19,000. Examples of the various designs were included in the pack. The houses were quite small, but had one balcony, and the traditional Greek low pitched red tiled roof, and judging from the drawings, looked very attractive. Each house had a reasonably sized garden enclosed by a natural stone wall with an entrance gate. The Greeks are very fond of their wrought iron gates.
Greek properties are always measured in square metres, and this total includes all floors. This measurement is used as the basis for assessing the rates, or Mayor’s tax as it is known. There is also a one off payment of government tax, which is approximately 8% of the purchase price. The purchase price, strangely enough, can and usually is, challenged by the tax authorities as not being the true value of the property. This happened to us when we finally bought the property, the value being increased by £1500. You can of course appeal, but you are unlikely to succeed.
It is an interesting point, that the Mayor’s tax is added in instalments to your electricity bill together with the cost of your television licence, whether you own a set or not. At least you cannot dodge paying for your T.V. licence or local tax unless you want your electricity supply very promptly cut off! The reconnection charge is pretty steep and it may take some considerable time to be reconnected.
The location of these properties was on the island of Alonisos, one of the islands in the Sporades, a mile and a half from the small harbour of Patitiri. This we thought would be an ideal place to keep Goosander. Having talked this proposition over with my wife, and the price being just within our budget, decided to go ahead.
I telephoned the owner who was delighted with our decision, and confirmed that Patitiri was an ideal place to keep a boat, and he would also like to do some sailing with me. After a long pause, he then dropped a bombshell by telling me that the price of the plots available had increased to £7000, and that the houses were now to be sold for £25,000.
‘I have been advised by my lawyer,’ he went on, ‘that I’m just giving them away.’
I was completely taken aback by this, and told him that it was only a fortnight ago that I had received his information which I took to be the correct figures on which we were prepared to go ahead. He then tried to convince me that it was still a good deal, and certainly good value for money, but my answer to him was that it was now beyond our means, and we would have to look elsewhere.
In hindsight, it turned out to be a difficult place to get to, and would mean flying to Skiathos and catching a ferry to Patitiri. Later of course, there would be a problem of buying furniture. This would mean that we would have to go to either Skiathos or Scopolus; a daunting prospect, having only one metalled road which circles the island.
We had learnt our lesson, and decided that in future, an inspection of the property, the site and accessibility was imperative!
The seeds of possible ownership of a property in Greece had been sown. There was no turning back. An Estate Agent not too far from where we live, specialised in Greek property sales, and a visit to them had us returning home much encouraged. In our hands now was a folder full of available properties, many with coloured photographs, and some useful information regarding the laws and regulations governing the purchase of Greek property.
We looked through these documents many times. Firstly, we excluded those that we knew we could never afford, then using all our Greek maps that we had accumulated over the years, eliminated those properties that were not accessible to a harbour.
The cheapest properties were in need of considerable renovation, and one in particular took our fancy. It was on the island of Corfu. It had originally been a school, which years before had been converted into a dwelling by an Englishman, and then left empty for five years.
Another property that interested us had the most spectacular view of the sea a few miles away, but it could only be reached by a donkey track! We were very sensible over this, and took a week or two deliberating which would be the most suitable place to put down some roots in a foreign country.
As previously stated, we needed somewhere with a suitable harbour. By a process of gradual elimination, we picked out some apartments in a place called Palea Epidavros, which is on the east coast of the Peloponneses some thirty miles south of the Corinth Canal, and ninety miles from Athens.
Getting there from Athens is by taxi, (difficult, and not yet tried by us) train or ferry. Taking the taxi from the airport is the quickest but most expensive. The ferry is the cheapest but not always available the whole year round. However, between March and September when they do, they start from the port of Piraeus. In peak season there are about five ferries a week, which are efficient, run on time and very cheap compared to U.K. prices.
Having made up our minds once again, we were advised by the agents to fly out and inspect the apartments. The agents themselves did not run inspection flights, and we were expected to arrange this for ourselves. However, we were given the name of a Greek travel agent in London, and were told that once we had booked a flight, the agents in the U.K. would arrange a taxi to pick us up at Athens airport. From here we would be transported to Epidavros where rooms would be reserved for us. It was also arranged that we would meet the English agent who represented the U.K. property firm with whom we were dealing.
On settling down at our hotel, we decided to take a preliminary look at the complex and the area in general just to get a feel of the place. It was almost dark by the time we reached the building site, and we couldn’t see very well, which tended to give us an unfavourable impression of the whole place. While we strolled back to the hotel we both said, ‘What have we let ourselves in for?’
In the cold light of day, and after having met the agent, we were taken to the complex and given a proper guided tour of the five remaining apartments for sale. One of the owners had given us permission to inspect her own apartment. This gave us an idea of what an apartment looked like furnished. They varied in size, and the floor area and number of bedrooms determined the price.
We returned to our hotel feeling much better about the whole thing than we had the previous evening. We talked about nothing else for the rest of the morning, and we were convinced now that we were doing the right thing.
One of the apartments seemed to be just right for our needs in every way, and so we returned to the site, giving all our attention to one of them. It didn’t take us long to make up our minds that apartment 3a1A was the one for us. It had been finished up to second fixing, and would take six months to complete.
From then on, we set everything in motion. The apartments were essentially built as holiday homes, but if fitted with a fireplace or gas heater, they were quite suitable as a permanent home. Several are used as such by Greek and English owners alike.
I enquired to the port police regarding the possibility of keeping my boat in the harbour, as I was about to become a semi-permanent resident there. He told me that this was no problem, but I would have to supply my own mooring buoy with heavy fore and aft anchors. I then asked him how much I would have to pay for harbour dues. It was good news. He said it would be free of payment and that I was most welcome.
We still had another five days before returning to the U.K. and spent much of the time getting to know the area, and where all the essential shops were situated. It was at this point that we realised that we would have to go further afield when it came to furnishing the apartment. The owner of our hotel was extremely helpful on the subject, and dismissed any difficulty of us buying and transporting furniture. He told me that he had a truck, and would be willing to take us to the nearest town and get us a good price on our purchases.
The purchase of our apartment took just under a year, and was quite straightforward, thanks to the U.K. agents who provided a Greek and an English lawyer.
When we were ready to furnish our new home, we decided to forego the kind offer of the hotel owner and do everything ourselves as we didn’t want to be rushed. We had learnt a little Greek at evening classes in the U.K., but when it came to negotiating prices in a town shop away from the tourist areas, we felt completely at a loss. But that’s another story!
Chapter 3 The boat, crew and finance.
My boat is a Goosander 27, and was designed by the author in 1973, and was originally sponsored by Yachting Monthly Magazine.
I started building in 1977, and whilst building, made several modifications to my original drawings. The transom was changed to retrousse, thus adding another fifteen inches to the overall length, giving a largely increased stern locker. The doghouse was eliminated, and the coachroof carried straight through. The fore end of the coachroof was brought aft some two feet, mainly to give more room on the fore deck. This, unfortunately, caused everlasting problems with the sighting of the toilet. It reduced the headroom as the toilet had now to be sighted under the fore deck. However, a hatch was built in the deck above the toilet, which does go some way to solving the restricted height problem. My wife has never forgiven me for this change of plans!
Anyone who remembers the advertisement for a Simpson Lawrence SL400 toilet showing a head popping up through the hatch will appreciate my thinking.
Accommodation is for three full-length berths with the port quarter berth being suitable for a child. There is ample locker space including dry trays under the saloon berths. The galley is fitted with a two burner gimbled gas cooker, sink unit, worktop and drawers. Opposite is the chart table, which takes a folded Admiralty chart with storage space for about twenty charts. Alongside is a bookcase deep enough to take the largest format of pilot books.
Decca and Loran C are sighted on the chart table bulkhead, and the V.H.F. is mounted under the deck head. I placed the echosounder and a cassette player under the side deck. Forward in the bow is the chain locker with a sail and oilskin locker separated by a half bulkhead. The toilet is aft of that, and a pair of louvered doors closes off the cabin.
The engine I fitted was given to me. It was a 1959 Ford E93a side valve petrol engine as fitted to the old Ford Anglia cars. It had been taken out of a Norfolk Broads cruiser and was professionally converted by Watermotor. The engine was in a dilapidated state to say the least, and the gearbox, which had an aluminium case was badly corroded. However, not being daunted by the state of it, I made a few enquiries, and was able to secure a new case together with ball races, clutch plates and triple drive chain, and most importantly, a very detailed instruction manual.
The two years I had allowed myself for preparing Goosander for our trip was coming to an end. I had, over this period, methodically bought and installed all the equipment that I thought we would need. Would the day ever arrive when I could tick off the last item? Long lists were made and invariably added to, and you will find a list of equipment in the appendix.
Three weeks before the set date of our departure it was time to think about other things. We could now concentrate on food, fuel, gas bottles and water. We already had two Calor Gas bottles, and a third one was purchased. Using Calor Gas turned out to be a mistake, because we later found out that we couldn’t exchange them. Nor could we get them refilled in any of the countries we visited.
My crew consisted of Brian, my son-in-law, and Bert, my brother-in-law who is sadly now deceased. And no, we didn’t throw him overboard!
Brian is a builder, and having sold his house, bought a plot of land for building, and was waiting for planning permission, which on past experience could take some time. Time off therefore would not cause any problems for him. He had sailed with me several times, and I knew him to be a very conscientious and competent crewmember. He had just obtained his Coastal Skipper and Yachtmaster Certificates.
Bert on the other hand had no experience of sailing other than the odd trip out of the harbour on Goosander. He had recently sold his engineering business and retired, giving him plenty of time on his hands. Being an engineer, he was an ideal member of the crew. He was also very good with electronics; a subject in which I was not conversant. Bert was looking forward to getting away from the busy life of running the family Company, and was willing to experience something unknown and completely different.
As for myself, I was a self-employed boat builder and had come to the end of a project. In my case, taking eight weeks off was no problem. I had managed to secure another long-term project for when I returned. The thought, excitement and nervousness of the impending trip had put the work ethic and temporary loss of income to the back of my mind. I was going to enjoy this trip. I would enjoy it!
My crew had done the shopping for most of the food, leaving the perishables until a day or two before departure. When I saw Brian and Bert with the Marina trolley grinding their way along the pontoon, I wondered where we were going to stow it all. It took some two hours to sort out, and whilst being stowed, a list complete with diagram was made, showing where the different types of food were stowed. Like for like were put together as far as possible. Many of the tins had to be consigned to the bilges, as was the beer because the drink’s locker was already filled to bursting with harder liquor! There is, after all, much entertaining if visitors are invited aboard. Well, that was our excuse for the unseemly quantity that was queried by our families.
Our final checklist was ticked off at last, but we still had to buy the perishables, which were to be purchased the day before departure.
One of the many aspects of the trip discussed, was the matter of finance. To cover all running expenses such as fuel, marina charges, food on board, eating ashore and of course, maintaining our drinks locker, we thought the best idea was to have a ‘kitty’ into which we all contributed equally. We were all smokers at the time; Bert with his pipe, Brian with his cigars, and me with cigarettes, but our vices in this field were to be our own responsibility financially.
How the ‘kitty’ was to work in practice proved more difficult than we had imagined. We would be using over the course of the trip some six different currencies, and at this stage we really had little idea how much of each particular currency we would need. However, to cover the initial likely cost of marina fees and fuel, we agreed to buy twenty-five pounds worth of each of the six currencies. Bert was dispatched to organise this. He came back with the cash and a cash book, and we could see from the start, that for efficiency he could not be bettered, and was immediately promoted to chief cashier.
It was also agreed that we would put £250 into the kitty. How to do this in practice would be difficult. After all, we didn’t need a kitty full of ten pound notes, which would have to be changed into local currency, probably at high commission rates. Therefore we decided that each of us would buy travellers cheques, and as chief cashier, Bert would issue them when required, and as far as possible, use them equally. We found that there was no easy way to do this, but Bert kept very detailed accounts of all relative expenditure. It was agreed that at the end of the journey, any surplus would be equally shared between us. We also took our credit cards to pay for our airfare home.
All this may seem rather petty, but arguments over money, (who spent what and how much?) can soon lead to a fractious situation, and had ruined many a well planned voyage. As it happened we were lucky, and experienced no such problems. We even arrived in Greece with a small surplus, but sadly not enough to pay our air fares home! We found that if we were reasonably careful we could manage quite well and didn’t go short of anything. Mind you, we did go off the rails occasionally!
We found in general that we always bought too much food, and when we finally arrived in Greece, we had enough tinned food to last another nine weeks! When looking in the bilges for tins, we found Brian’s cigar wrappers everywhere. I even found some under the engine! But I will say at this point that I’m not entirely blameless with my cigarette ash.
Chapter 4 Ipswich-Ramsgate-Cherbourg-Brest.
The day for our departure had dawned and we assembled on board for last minute checks, the final shopping having been bought and stowed away. I think we were all rather apprehensive. We were certainly quiet, and as for myself, knowing there was no turning back, I once again wondered what I had let myself in for.
Being close to the marina, we had arranged to meet our families and friends at the Ostrich pub for lunch and farewell drinks. As we opened the door we were glad to see everyone enjoying themselves, which seemed to take some of the pressure off our doubts and emotions.
We had set the time of departure at 1400, so an hour before we were to set sail we drank up and made our way down to the marina. As some of our crowd had never seen Goosander, they came aboard. They couldn’t believe the amount of things we had packed in such a small space. There was much clicking of cameras and time was moving on, so having said our fond farewells we started the engine and many hands let go our mooring line.
It dawned on me the awful knowledge of what we were about to undertake. We would be but a speck upon the ocean at the mercy of the weather. During my experience at sea in ships of 7000 tons, I have witnessed glorious sun and calm waters turn into storms, whipping the sea into a lethal maelstrom. My thoughts were only momentary and soon forgotten.
FOX’S MARINA IPSWICH
So it was, that on 15th May 1988 at 1400, we motored out of Fox’s Marina and into the River Orwell. The weather was fine, and the forecast NE 3-4. We were to make out to the Rough Towers, and by then, pick up the flood to the North Foreland. Our first port of call was to be Cherbourg, and we had decided to use the inside passage once past Ramsgate and on to Dover, passing Dungeness, Beachy Head, and finally turning off SW some 15 miles south of Brighton, thus clearing the western end of the shipping lanes. We would then set a course of 230° T to Cherbourg. We would use our Decca backed up by D.R. and visual bearings when available.
We made good progress to North Foreland where the wind was freshening, and the sea state was becoming a bit lumpy. Bert was looking a bit green, but assured me he was all right. Brian was getting into his stride, but was not his usual self. In fact, we were all noticeably subdued, and none of us said any more than was necessary.
As we approached North Foreland it was getting dark, and the navigation lights were switched on. We were about a mile north of Ramsgate when Brian, who was on watch, noticed that they were not working. Although the sea was pretty lumpy, he took a torch and a small screwdriver up to the deck plug just forward of the mast and tried to sort things out. One of the wires had broken off, which would mean cutting back the sheathing on both wires and reconnecting them. In conditions as they were at the time, it was almost impossible to repair properly, and in the busy shipping area we were entering, highly dangerous to continue without lights.
We decided to call into Ramsgate to effect a repair. I called them on V.H.F and gave them our position and the nature of our problem. They informed us that the Sally Line Ferry was about to leave harbour, and to keep well clear of the entrance until we were advised that it was clear to enter. The Navik was disengaged, and we circled round, keeping clear of the channel.
A CLOSE ENCOUNTER
After about fifteen minutes the ferry appeared, and when clear of the channel we were suddenly bathed in light from its searchlight. We waved to them, and then the light was extinguished. The control tower called us up and gave us permission to enter, adding that the ferry had picked us up in its searchlight and all was well. We made our way into the channel when the lights changed to enter. Once inside, we found ourselves a pontoon berth in the outer harbour. It was now 2100, and although quite tired, we decided to have a meal ashore. All of us were curry fanatics, and I knew where there was a good Indian restaurant. So much for my plans for eating on board!
The next morning I had a closer look at the lights problem and decided to replace the old fitting with a ‘dry plug’ similar to the one I had used for the Nautech Pilot. We soon found the appropriate one, which Bert was enlisted to fit. Hopefully we wouldn’t have any more problems in that department.
The 1400hr forecast was much the same, E. 3-4, so we paid our harbour dues, and at 1430, informed the control tower of our departure. The ‘No Entry’ signal was hoisted, and we cleared the harbour.
We used the inshore passage, which gave us some pilotage exercise and kept our minds from thinking back to our departure and all that we had left behind. Good progress was made to Dover, where, advised by our pilot book, we passed just over a mile off the harbour entrance where we had to keep clear of several ferries entering the harbour. Our progress along the south coast was steady.
Like many yachtsmen, I find it frustrating bucking the tide, but once the tide changes and we start covering the ground, spirits are transformed, and we know that we are really getting somewhere.
By now, we had had ample opportunity to get used to our windvane, (the Navik). It was very sensitive and reacted very quickly and positively to very slight changes in heading. This is due mainly to the small trailing rudder on the servo paddle, which is activated by the wind vane and starts the paddle in motion, thus quickening the response from the paddle. This brings the boat back on course very quickly. Attatchment of the tiller lines is by camcleats, so there’s not a problem of quickly disengaging in an emergency. The Navik was later to prove very good down wind.
We had made good progress, and had reached our waypoint some fifteen miles south of Brighton. It was now low water, and course was set for Cherbourg direct. We estimated that the two tidal changes would cancel out. This is not something that I would normally do, unless the probable speed and distance allows the full two tides to be used. I prefer to do my tidal vectors every three hours and adjust the heading accordingly.
DRIFTING ALONG SLOWLY
The wind was more or less abeam, and we made good progress at just over 5 knots. Our two-hourly Decca position produced a nice sine wave either side of our track. We only saw four or five ships when in the area of the EC2 mid-channel buoy.
After a very pleasant and trouble free crossing, we sighted the entrance to Cherbourg harbour, and at 0700 we entered the outer harbour through the western entrance, and motored towards the inner harbour. As we approached, we were met by hundreds of small fishing boats coming out. Keeping a steady course, we had several anxious moments when in the entrance. None of us had seen so many small craft, all funnelling through a relatively narrow entrance, rather like pouring peas into a funnel. We presumed that they must be in a fishing competition, and that they were under starters orders.
The marina that I had visited many times was now non-existent. It had been completely destroyed by the storm that had devastated so many of our own marinas, along with many buildings and trees. We tied up to a large buoy in the centre of the otherwise empty harbour, where there were only six yachts, mostly British. The Avon dinghy which was partially inflated was unleashed from the coachroof, and, fully inflated, was fitted to the outboard bracket together with our new and untried Evinrude 2.5 and given a trial around the harbour. Being satisfied that all was well, we motored over to the yacht club for a shower and to sample a few drinks.
Brian had a fetish about showers, and if possible would have several every day! I was not that fussy. We had a walk round and bought fresh chicken for our evening meal. After paying our dues at the Harbour Master’s Office, we made our way back to the dinghy, getting thoroughly soaked in a sudden thunderstorm. A lot of water had collected in the bottom of the dinghy, but what the heck, we were already too wet to care.
Back on Goosander we shed our wet clothes and turned in for a couple of hours sleep. Brian and Bert slipped ashore in the early morning to telephone home, this time wearing oilies and boots.
I was duty cook so it had to be chicken curry, what else? We had stocked up with several types of curry powder, bags of Basmati and easy-cook rice, poppadoms, and several jars of hot and extra hot chutney. The curry was ready as soon as my crew returned with a couple of bottles of wine. It was then, every man for himself. We ate ravenously, and not a single grain of rice was left on our plates. The washing up was done; not a very nice task after eating curry, and as we had had a long day we turned in to sleep. Curry and wine make a good anaesthetic!
We awoke next morning to find more yachts moored to the buoy. After a good breakfast it was off to shore again, this time for petrol and water. Lugging jerry-cans in and out of a rubber dinghy is not exactly my idea of fun, and would have been so much easier alongside a pontoon.
By mid afternoon, and with a good weather forecast, we were ready to leave for Brest. After clearing the inner harbour, we hoisted sails and made for the western entrance. By 1900 we were into the Alderney race with the tide in our favour, and were soon moving along Alderney’s south coast. When nearing the S.W. corner of the island, the tide had changed, and the wind that was northerly, had dropped to force 3-4, and we found ourselves pushed back.
Over Brian’s four hour watch we had lost three miles. He had watched the shore lights actually go forward of the beam, and had remarked that his watch had been a complete waste of time. I agreed with him! After another hour we began to forge ahead again. The wind was now coming round to the west, and to maintain our course, and a reasonable speed, we decided to motorsail.
The engine had been running an hour when it started to splutter and then stopped. Bert, who was asleep at the time was woken up and asked to investigate. The plugs were all right and all producing a good fat spark, so it had to be the petrol supply. The supply side of the pump was disconnected and manually primed; no problem there. Suspecting that the carburettor must be at fault, Bert disconnected it and found that the jet in the venturi was blocked. Ten minutes later we were motorsailing again.
Bert had helped us out with a little watch keeping, but at this stage, with his lack of experience, opted to do most of the cooking and tea making. After his initial feeling of seasickness near Ramsgate he coped quite well down below, even in bad weather.
At 0800 on our third day out we sighted the rocky coast north of L’Aberwach. We altered course slightly to pick up the cardinal buoy at Basse de Porsal, working our way down to the Chenal du Four, and further on to Point St. Mathieu where we could turn off to port and make for Brest.
Navigating in this area with its fogs, mists and rocks was made easy for us due to light winds, slight sea and excellent visibility, and the various navigation marks being picked up well in advance.
The tide was against us in the approach to Brest. We struggled a bit, making only two knots, so it wasn’t until 2100 that we eventually tied up to one of the visitor’s berths in the marina. During this last leg, Brian had taken over the cooking, and had concocted what turned out to be a rather tasty stew, so we decided to stay on board, have a good rest and do our exploring the following morning.
Chapter 5 Brest – Carino – La Coruna.
We woke early the next morning after a peaceful nights sleep. Bert cooked us a mammoth breakfast of eggs, bacon, mushrooms and tomatoes. Feeling very replete it was now time to go exploring.
At the end of the visitor’s pontoon we came across a rather strange structure. Had it come from outer space? It was certainly hi-tech and seemed to be some kind of toilet. It was so complex that none of us was brave enough to use it. It must have been newly erected because we didn’t see anyone attempting to use it, only people doing a lot of head scratching! None of us even dared to stand on the footplate in case of being showered with water and liquid soap. We wondered if it would even take a photo of the bravest amongst us with enough guts even to stand on it. We would never know!
Having had our senses highly bemused, we continued our investigation of the marina, and found it was well laid out with the extensive facilities one would expect from a French marina. There was also another large marina next to us but separated by a substantial breakwater.
We reported to the Harbour Master’s Office where we paid our dues and were invited to use all the many facilities available. The bar and launderette were open, but the shop was closed so we returned to Goosander to collect our dirty washing. We had to visit the bar to get some change for the launderette, and of course, where else better to pass the time than in the bar while the machines washed out the grime and sweat from our clothes. Luckily the launderette also had a tumble drier, which made life a lot easier. Up to now we had found it difficult to dry three lots of clothes on a small boat in indifferent weather.
HI-TECH TOILET ON A PONTOON IN BREST MARINA
We also needed some ship’s stores, and as the marina shop was closed we decided to take a bus into Brest some three miles away. Up to this point, none of us had wondered why, or even bothered to ask why the shop was closed, but we were soon to find out. Outside the marina we found the bus stop and studied the timetable, which showed that the buses ran every half an hour, and that there should be one due in ten minutes. We waited and waited, and after three-quarters of an hour, no bus had arrived. We decided to start walking, and fortunately had not gone far when along it came.
We were dropped off in the centre of Brest, and immediately noticed that the place was almost devoid of people and traffic. Worse still, every shop was shut. In our schoolboy French, we asked one of the few passers by why all the shops were closed, only to be informed that it was a public holiday! We walked round for an hour, and although several cafés were open, we declined and returned to the marina.
After having lunch on board, we spent the rest of the afternoon lazing about. In the evening, we returned to the bar to telephone home to let our wives know that everything was all right. Returning to Goosander the decision was made to leave the following day.
We waited for the marina shop to open in order to do some shopping, fill our water tanks, then motored to the fuel jetty. The two o’clock forecast for Biscay was SW-6 becoming SW4-5, so it was to be a 2100 hrs departure. This meant that we would face a less strong wind against us for about thirty miles to the Raz de Sein.
We motored out of the marina into a stiff, almost headwind, and decided that due to the probable rough weather we may encounter, we would not attempt the Raz de Sein, but would go outside all the outlying dangers. This would mean motoring into a stiff wind for perhaps thirty miles. Our petrol engine was using about three quarters of a gallon per hour, and with a considerable distance to our next port, La Coruna, we would have to use it as little as possible. At 0700 the next morning we were clear of all outlying dangers, and could set a course for Cabo Villano.
By now, the sea was becoming rather lumpy and the wind was westerly 5-6, so we hoisted our sails and reefed down to the second batten. This certainly steadied us up and we forged ahead. By noon, the wind had increased to 6 gusting 7, and it was becoming extremely uncomfortable, so we reefed down with great difficulty to handkerchief size. The seas were now building up, and Goosander was coping quite well although beginning to ship a lot of heavy spray and the occasional sea. We were also falling off the tops of the waves, and when this happened, the noise down below was quite frightening.
This is the time, when having built the boat yourself, you hope that you have done the right job, and done it properly. Much food for thought here. Everything in the boat that wasn’t properly secured was getting thrown about, and wet into the bargain.
There were two of us in the cockpit at any one time, securely clipped on, on watch. Bert was supplying soup, coffee and biscuits. Being in the galley was difficult to say the least, and any one using the cooker had to wear oilskins in case boiling hot liquid was thrown across the cabin. Bert turned out the least affected down below, doing a splendid job in keeping things going, and everything in its place.
The Navik wind gear was coping very well, and all in all we maintained quite a steady heading. However, we were ready to disengage the gear quickly should things get out of hand.
By now, the seas were some fifteen to twenty feet high. When on top of a crest, Brian shouted, ‘Look at that lot!’
By the time I had stood up and gained my balance we were in the next trough. We topped the next crest, and to my horror, saw about twenty warships ahead of us, steaming directly towards us. They were about two miles away, and in the brief sighting of them, appeared to be in a three column line ahead.
There is nothing like bad weather and being soaked right through to dull the senses. A state of lethargy follows and twenty-four hours of these conditions in a small boat is enough for most people. I must admit that we had been rather lax in keeping a proper lookout.
On the next two or three crests we were able to count six warships in each column; one leading from the centre column; nineteen in all. They appeared to be steaming quite slowly, making light of the prevailing conditions, and we were now about one and a half miles away. We would have difficulty avoiding them so I asked Brian to call them on V.H.F. to advise them of our presence in case they hadn’t seen us, and also the difficulty we were in. There was no reply, and by now they were only half a mile away with the starboard column directly ahead of us.
We disengaged the Navik and altered course to port, at the same time, freeing sheets so as not to be pressed too hard despite our miniscule sails. We were then within a distance of about one hundred and fifty yards; far too close in the prevailing conditions, and it seemed to take a long while before they had passed. The tops of the waves provided a grandstand view, and we were more than relieved to see them steaming away in the distance. We returned to our proper course, hardened sheets and reset the Navik; not an easy undertaking in these conditions.
Sometime later the Navik jammed. It was immediately disconnected in order to find out the problem. The small locking catch securing the main pivot had lifted, preventing one of the ball joints working. This was soon sorted out and held in place by a couple of turns of insulating tape. While Brian had been working on it I had taken over the tiller, which seemed to be rather ‘dead’. I let go, and Goosander sailed herself despite being knocked about. It wasn’t until six hours later, and getting dark, that we connected up the Navik again.
After about thirty hours the barometer started to rise slowly, and by this time, we were all very tired and hungry. During the next six hours there was a dramatic change in the weather. The wind was dropping and the sea became less confused. Another six hours would see us motoring in a calm sea with a light breeze, and lots of warm sunshine.
Out came all the bedding, bunk cushions, oilies and anything else that felt wet. Our Decca had now ceased to work properly so I took a noon sight followed later in the afternoon by a longitude. We were twenty miles east of our track, so our course was altered accordingly to make our proposed landfall.
Our cockpit cushions, which had been stowed in the small quarter berth had escaped getting wet and were brought up into the cockpit where we took it in turns to doze in the warm sunshine. We were now feeling a lot happier, so I took a few tins of steak from the bilges and made a Vindaloo curry with all the trimmings. After the meal we were feeling even more pleased with ourselves, and especially the way that Goosander had performed in the rough weather. Our bedding was drying out nicely, and things were getting back to normal. Now there was a nice westerly breeze. The motor was cut, and we jogged along at nearly five knots. However, it was not to last much longer!
The barometer started to fall quite rapidly, and as it did, the wind increased slowly. Three hours later it had increased to SW6 gusting to 7. We had already taken the precaution of reefing early, and securing all things moveable. In another four hours we were back to square one again, only worse. I quote from Brian’s diary for Saturday 28th May.
‘Can’t believe the change in wind strength and sea condition, force 8 all day, everything thrown about the boat, everything wet right through again. Boat continually leaving the water and crashing into troughs sounded horrible when down below. Very little sail up. Exciting, frightening, tiring and many more ‘ings’. There seems to be no respite. Skipper and I are very tired as we both have to be sailing the boat, we can’t leave Bert by himself in the cockpit. The weather conditions did not let up at all throughout the night.’ And once again I quote from Brian’s diary for Sunday 29th.
‘No respite still. We’re running for shelter. We know that land is only a few miles away but cannot see it for the rain and massive waves dramatically reducing visibility.’
I won’t attempt to add anything to what Brian had succinctly described in his diary. However, during this nasty spell we had just crashed into a trough when the main hatch shot forward. I was just about to close it when we were hit by a breaking wave. This completely covered the deck and coachroof, and we suddenly found the hatch overhanging the cockpit. Brian pushed the hatch forward and put the latch on, which should have been done anyway. Lethargy had its way again. We were both so exhausted that neither of us realised, or even wondered why the hatch had been able to do this!
A few minutes later, Brian said that we seemed to have picked up a bit of timber. There was indeed, a piece of timber trapped under the coachroof handrail. It was the fore end of the hatch! Brian grabbed it and threw it down on to one of the quarter berths when I made a weary mental note to repair it as soon as possible. Although the hatch lining was a good fit under the hatch, a lot of water was to find its way in.
At last we could see the coast ahead of us, and we desperately needed a bolt hole. I managed to get a D.F. bearing of Punte de la Estace, (such long names,) which showed that again we were well off course to the east. The wind had now come round to slightly north of west, and gradually we were able to sail towards the point. The study of the Spanish Pilot Book showed the small fishing port of Carino to be about forty miles away. We would make for it, and hopefully arrive there early next morning. At 0400 the following day we eventually made the lee of the land, and things were much improved. Once in the bay, the wind, which was still strong, headed us and we had to tack for the last four miles. At this point I refer to Brian’s diary.
‘We’re running for shelter. We can’t see land for the rain and massive waves dramatically reducing visibility. We finally make Carino. The last few miles took nearly two hours. We are shattered. Pick up mooring buoy in fishing harbour. Can’t begin to explain the feeling of having something that isn’t moving wildly about you all the while after twenty-four hours. We all crash into wet bunks and sleeping bags, we’re so tired it doesn’t matter!’
OUR BOLT HOLE AMONGST THE FISHING BOATS IN CARINO
Carino is a moderately sized fishing port with all the shoreside facilities to service the industry. All the fishing boats both large and small use swinging moorings, and there is a long quay backed by fish sheds for offloading the catches. There were no other yachts there when we arrived early in the morning. We motored around and found a vacant buoy, which we picked up. As there was no one we could ask, we took a chance that we wouldn’t be turfed off while sleeping. As Brian said, the three of us crashed out once more into soggy wet bunks, and didn’t wake up until 1500 hrs. I made some tea for each of us, and we sat in the cockpit to have a good look at our refuge. The one thing that I noticed was that we hadn’t hoisted our Spanish courtesy and ‘Q’ flags, which was corrected immediately.
We were surrounded on three sides by steep hills, which were green and lush. It was still very windy, and every five or ten minutes we experienced fierce gusts coming down from the hills, which had Goosander ranging about wildly on her mooring. We also noticed a French yacht moored close to us. A few minutes later another yacht, British this time, had just entered the harbour, and anchored amongst the moorings. Within minutes he heaved up his anchor which appeared to be fouled. He went over the side with snorkel and fins, and after a few minutes surfaced, and climbed back on board. He was hen able to lift his anchor and pick up a vacant buoy. Later, we were to meet up with both these crews and hear of their experiences, both similar to ours, and finding Carino as a bolt hole.
The British yacht was a 45ft ketch, which had four adults and four children on board. The skipper, who was also the owner, told us that everyone on board except himself had been seasick, and unable to do anything at all. Like us, he was glad to have some respite and get some rest.
The French crew of four were young men, glad to be in, but not too worried about their recent experience although they pointed out that their boat had sustained a broken hatch and had taken in quite a lot of water.
We brought all our bunk cushions and sleeping bags up on deck to dry out, and because of the consistently strong gusts, secured them to the rails by lines. The dinghy which had been lashed down on the coach roof was pumped up, and with the outboard mounted, we set off ashore. As we rounded the transom I noticed that one of the tubular stays supporting the Navik was bent, and decided to take a closer look when we returned.
Once ashore, we had a stroll round. Although the town was not very inspiring, there were plenty of shops and several lively bars. Having agreed that after our recent experience with the elements, we deserved some liquid refreshment, which brought us to the Bar Australia. We made use of the metered telephone to phone our families, but no one mentioned our recent formidable experience. When I had finished telephoning I read the meter, wrongly assuming that the reading was given in pesetas, but the ‘number’ turned out to be units and had to be multiplied by six in order to calculate the cost in pesetas. This call turned out to be very expensive indeed!
By now we were all very hungry, and deciding we couldn’t be bothered to eat on board, took a meal at the Bar Australia. Having been suitably fed and watered we walked back to the dinghy in high spirits.
Once on board we were glad to find that our bedding was still where we left it, and outwardly dry. I had another look at the Navik, and found that not only the stay was bent, but that the paddle was also damaged. It had cracked, and was badly bent. We tried to repair it without success, but hoped we could get it repaired at our next port of call.
THE WATCH BELOW
HENRY THE AUTOHELM WITH PERSONAL OILY
In our euphoria we decided that the dinghy would be safe tied up astern, despite the gusts that were still with us. I was first up in the morning, and made the tea while I looked through the windows. Things seemed to have calmed down considerably. After I had finished my second cup I opened the hatch to look round. To my horror I could see a black propeller sticking up above the transom. I leapt into the cockpit, and saw that the dinghy had capsized with the head of the outboard under water. I called Brian, and between us we managed to right the dinghy and lift the outboard into the cockpit.
Brian looked through the manual, and found a section dealing with outboards that had been immersed in salt water. This was obviously not an unknown phenomenon! I quote, 'It should immediately be immersed in fresh water and taken to your nearest dealer within two and a half hours!'
Well, we could do neither of these things, so it was up to us to sort things out as best we could. The casings, plugs and carburettor were removed, and the carburettor was stripped down and cleaned out. The plugs were dried out, as were the cylinders, but my main worry was the rather sophisticated electrics. However, apart from the snap-on leads, the whole box of tricks was completely sealed with resin. After about an hour and a half the engine was reassembled except for the casings, because the foam insulation was completely saturated. The motor was then put back on to the dinghy, and with two pulls of the cord it was running again, much to my relief, as it had been a present from my wife! To make sure everything was all right and properly dried out, it was left to run for half an hour with the odd burst of revs to prevent it oiling up.
While the engine was being sorted out, I turned my attention to the main hatch. I was glad to see that the end had come out clean, and hadn’t caused any damage to the surrounding timber. I had used half lap joints on the corners, which had been glued and screwed, and the top of the hatch had been glued and stapled, which had been removed once the glue had dried. The repair was thus quite straightforward using Epoxy resin and longer screws. Finally, I touched it up with a few coats of Sikens.
We needed some more petrol and water, and also some more cash. Water we were able to obtain from the fish shed, but petrol would have to be bought from a petrol station in town. Whilst ashore, we paid another visit to the Bar Australia where we enjoyed a mid-day snack together with a little liquid refreshment, and afterwards, returned to Goosander for a good tidy up.
The volume control on our portable radio was not working properly, so we were unable to get a weather forecast. We went to the office in the fish shed to enquire, but they couldn't tell us either. A decision was made to leave early the following morning, and having noticed that both the other yachts had left, we assumed that the forecast was reasonable. We ate on board that evening and turned in for an early night so that we would be refreshed enough for an early morning start.
We awoke to a fine sunny day with a light southerly breeze. After a quick breakfast we got under way, clearing the harbour at 0725. Sails were hoisted, and we were goose winged before a light southerly breeze making up to Punta de los Aquillones. When approaching the point, the wind quite suddenly changed to west, and the sails were adjusted accordingly. We could now see that things ahead were not quite so good, and that there was a lot of white water about. We were just clear of the headland, when without warning we were nearly flattened by a gust. Sheets were let off, and Goosander brought round into the wind. Looking out to sea, we decided that discretion was the better part of valour, and motored back to Carino. We would have to try again the next day, keeping an eye on the barometer in the meantime.
Although La Coruna was on our itinerary, we thought we would give it a miss in order to make up for our enforced stay in Carino, and a decision was made to carry on to Lisbon. However, fate was to intervene. We set off early the next morning making for Punta de los Aquillones, and things were quieter now as we altered course for Cabo Prior. The weather looked set fair, and the wind was WNW 3 and the sea slight. By 1100, the wind had died away and the sea was calm, so it was on with the motor. We had been motoring for about an hour and we were about six miles from Cabo Prior when the engine slowed down and stopped.
My first reaction was that we must have caught something round the prop. We looked over the side into the crystal clear water but we could see no trailing bits of rope or plastic. Brian suggested that the engine must have seized up. Bert removed the engine box and had a good look round, but couldn’t see any loose wires or anything else untoward, so he removed the plugs and found that the number one plug was wet.
‘Looks like the head gasket has blown, and the only way to find out is to remove the head.’ he surmised.
I was looking anxiously down the hatch and suggested that he turned the starter motor to see if there was much water in the cylinder. As he did so, a spurt of hot dirty oily water hit me in the face! Bert removed the cylinder head. On close examination of the gasket, Bert gave the opinion that it was perfectly sound. He then mopped out the cylinder and with the starting handle slowly, very slowly turned the engine over, and as number one piston descended, all was revealed. The cylinder wall had rusted through and water was trickling in.
OUR DEFUNCT ENGINE
I was completely stunned, and after a few minutes, announced, without seeking my crew’s opinion that the voyage was over, and we would have to return home somehow. The reaction was instant, and was what I really wanted to hear. ‘No,’ they said. ‘We’ll get to Coruna and somehow procure another engine.’ If I didn’t have an engine, at least I had a loyal and willing crew.
We slowly gathered our thoughts and decided on a plan of action. The sea was by now flat calm without a breath of wind and we were just drifting. We would have to use our dinghy and outboard to push us the twenty or so miles to La Coruna. The dinghy was pumped up, the outboard tank filled, and the dinghy secured to our starboard quarter. As the new outboard was barely run in, we wouldn’t run it on full throttle, however long it took to get there.
The outboard was started, and Brian leapt back on board. We soon found out that the bow of the dinghy was rising dangerously, so we took it in turns to hold the bow down and watch for chafing on the hull. Sometime later, Brian said that there was a large sucker fish on the hull. Bert and I jumped into the dinghy to inspect our hanger-on. It was a beautiful blue colour, and attached to the boat by a sucker under its head. We tried removing it with the deck scrubber but it just slid further under the hull. Some fifteen minutes later it was reported missing!
Half hourly bearings confirmed that we were moving along at three and a half knots; not bad for a two and a half horsepower outboard engine. Cape Prior came abeam, and we turned south for the run in to La Coruna. Half an hour later, a moderate breeze filled in from the north, and we were able to cut the motor and goosewing.
To take my mind off events I went down below to make a curry. At least we would have something to eat when we arrived, and hopefully raise our morale, which for me was pretty low. At 2000 we entered the harbour; sails were stowed, and Bert jumped into the dinghy to start the engine. We slowly made our way towards the marina where there were several mooring buoys. Picking out a likely one we turned into a wind that was quite fresh by now, and oh so slowly made up to it. We had almost reached the buoy when a gust of wind blew us off. We slowly circled round and this time we made it. We left the dinghy tied to our starboard quarter but took the precaution of removing the outboard.
The curry, and a bottle or two of good Spanish wine went down well. We were all rather subdued, and decided to get a good nights sleep. Who knows what tomorrow will bring?
Chapter 6 La Coruna
I awoke next morning to make our early morning tea. Bert had agreed to cook the breakfast, but we were all very much subdued still, and none of us felt like talking. As we would have to report to the Harbour Master’s office, and being in a strange port, our enquiries about how we could aquire another engine would have to be the first consideration. After washing and tidying up, the outboard was mounted on the dinghy, and we made for the marina, which was about two hundred yards away.
We found the Harbour Master’s office just below the yacht club where we were met by a stocky grey-haired man. He told us he was in charge and that he doubled as the Customs Officer as well. He spoke excellent English, and told us his name was Mr. Roberto. We explained that our boat was on a mooring and that we had arrived the previous evening, whereupon he presented us with a form to fill in. He asked how long we intended to stay, and this was my cue to tell him of our problem.
On hearing that we needed a new engine, he thought for a moment, and said that there wouldn't be a problem because he knew a good engineer. He offered to telephone him and arrange for him to come and see us about acquiring and fitting a new one. He took us outside to show us which berth we could have, and to bring the boat in. Well, that was a good start. On our way back to the dinghy, we noted that there was a small hoist on the quay next to the pontoon that we had been allocated. This would be ideal for lifting the engine.
We returned to Goosander, our morale on a slightly higher plane than the previous day. We tied the dinghy to the port quarter this time, as we were going starboard onto the pontoon. We slowly made our way into the marina, and after a few hairy moments were made fast to our pontoon. Bert went up to tell Mr. Roberto, whose office was now directly above us, that we were in our berth, and that we would wait on board until the engineer arrived.
‘Wait, I will telephone him now,’ he said.
The engineer had told Mr. Roberto that he would be with us in half an hour. Whilst waiting, we sat in the cockpit drinking coffee as though it was going out of fashion. All this time we looked at the quay, and an hour and a half later a small truck pulled up outside the office. A few minutes later Mr. Roberto was introducing us to Pepe Tarpaza, a marine engineer who spoke a reasonable amount of English. He looked at our old engine, shook his head and smiled. What we need, he suggested, was a small diesel engine, and if we went to Motor 8, his friend there would be happy to get one for us. He also informed us that Pepe could fit it for us for a good price!
Well, at least we had made a start, and had something to work on. Motor 8 was the local Volvo agent that Pepe had mentioned. Mr Roberto kindly lent us his street map, and armed with this, we set off through the maze of streets to find Motor 8. During our wanderings we came across two other marine engine suppliers, and were able to get some information including drawings and specifications of a Yamaha and Kubota together with prices. Eventually, Motor 8 stood before us but it seemed to be solely motorbikes with accessories with no sign of anything marine anywhere. However, our enquiry confirmed that they were Volvo agents who brought forth Volvo specifications and prices, including their new 2000 series.
While we were wandering about we paid a visit to Pepe’s works, which were in the dock area, and according to our map, not far away. On entering the docks, we could see the name Tarpaza written in large letters on the front of a huge building akin to an aircraft hanger. Walking through the massive doors we spotted Pepe who asked if we would like to look round. It was very impressive. There was a separate machine shop on a balcony where precision machining was carried out. On the main floor there was heavy engineering where a huge ship’s gearbox had been stripped down, and was awaiting spares before being repaired. In another area that was partitioned off, outboards by the dozen were being serviced and repaired.
We were very impressed with what we had seen, which gave us great confidence in the work that Pepe would be doing for us. We thanked him for his time, and told him that we would let him know as soon as we had found a suitable engine for our boat.
On returning to Goosander, we had a meal, after which we got down to the serious business of measuring up, using the drawings that we had obtained. We thought that the 9.9 hp. Volvo 2001 would be the easiest to fit and mate up with the shaft coupling, but it would mean removing the existing engine bearers, and cutting away one of the floors. Brian unbolted the engine along with the shaft coupling, disconnecting everything else that needed to be liberated. The engine was then manhandled up into the cockpit ready for hoisting on to the quay.
As Roberto was nowhere to be seen, we hauled ourselves over to the quay and hoisted the engine up. The three of us lifted it on to a pallet, which we dragged under a covered area out of everyone’s way. We then had to haul Goosander back again to the pontoon where the engine box was brought out and stowed on the forward end of the coachroof. Brian and I started to rip out the old engine bearers and hack away at the floor. A couple of hours later we had completed the work and called it a day. All we had to do now was order the new engine and find the funds to pay for it!
READY TO RECEIVE BEARERS AND NEW ENGINE
That evening I telephoned my wife Sheila from the Royal Coruna Yacht Club. She was naturally shocked but very sympathetic, and suggested that I should make arrangements with the bank to accept a bankers draft. She wanted me to telephone her as soon as I knew the details of the bank and its address, and to do this as quickly as possible so as not to lose valuable time.
The following morning Bert was despatched to replenish our food supplies while Brian and I went off to Motor 8 to order the engine, and find a suitable bank. When ordering the engine I asked for a firm price in writing, and at the same time, confirmed the fact that it would have to be compatible with my left-handed propeller.
We had to visit three banks before we found one that would accept a bankers draft, the greatest difficulty being to get them to understand exactly what we wanted to do. It was rather ironic that having left this particular Spanish bank, we spotted a Barclays just across the road! I had no idea how much the labour would cost, so we made a quick visit to see Pepe. He would not, or could not commit himself. All he said was, ‘Not much,’ which I suppose was not surprising.
I phoned Sheila again that evening with the bank details, and the cost of the engine, and asked her to add another £500 to the draft, hoping this would be enough to pay for the bits and pieces that would be needed, plus the labour involved. I don’t know whether she had a stiff drink when putting the phone down!
After a good night’s sleep and hearty breakfast we had a visit from the manager of Motor 8. Our engine had been ordered, and was being flown in from Mallorca of all places! The good news was that it would be with us in a couple of days. Our next problem was that we had finally used up our last bottle of Calor Gas. Agreed, a far lesser problem than the lack of an engine, but nevertheless a problem all the same.
On making local enquiries it seemed that nobody stocked Calor Gas. Nor was there anywhere we could get our bottles refilled. Camping Gaz was obtainable everywhere, and was our only solution. We found the nearest hardware shop where we purchased two bottles together with a suitable regulator.
Something else we had to do was to dispose of the ten gallons of petrol that was left in the fuel tank. As the new engine would run on diesel, the petrol was now surplus to requirements. How, in a foreign country does one dispose of ten gallons of petrol? Brian happened to mention that he had seen Mr. Roberto arrive in his car, and that perhaps he would be willing to take it. Mr. Roberto was delighted, and would let us know when his tank was run down. Another problem solved!
It was our third day in La Coruna, and we were about to go ashore to do some shopping when a young man appeared and introduced himself as our engineer. He came on board to make all sorts of notes, and to take several measurements. He asked if we would be fitting the new bearers ourselves, if not he would be happy to do it for us. We replied that Brian was a good carpenter, and that he could do that himself, thus keeping the overall cost down. After making a comprehensive list of ‘wants,’ he thanked us and left.
We eventually did our shopping in a large supermarket that Bert had found on his initial foray into town. He had apparently met a steady stream of shoppers carrying bags with a certain name on them, and had worked his way back to the source of all this activity. This supermarket compared favourably with the best that we in the U.K. can boast. Upstairs on a balcony were small individual meat and fish shops. The fish shops had a dazzling array of species of fish that none of us had seen before. Some looked positively ugly and menacing. Although we noticed a brisk trade from the locals, we declined to buy, and even Brian declined who always liked to try new things.
We carried our shopping back to Goosander, and then went off to have a more leisurely look around the town. There were many beautiful buildings both old and modern. Near to the supermarket was a large and impressive square, where, under the shaded arches were stalls selling everything from second hand books to motors for washing machines. It seemed we had walked for miles, and continually stopped to have coffee whilst watching the world go by. The traffic was hectic and noisy with Traffic Police much in evidence, blowing whistles and trying to control a ‘monster’ that was more or less out of control.
With our concerns regarding the engine, and generally trying to organise things, we had been very abstemious. This had to change, and now was the time. An evening in the yacht club would put that right. The club was elegantly appointed, and commanded a beautiful view over the harbour. No sooner had we settled down to our first beer when we heard the noise of halyards hitting masts; an unmistakable noise in the yachting world. Several people started to look out of the windows. We did likewise, and to our astonishment saw all the yachts rolling dramatically, including Goosander, which was tucked up in the corner. Their masts were almost touching. This crazy movement lasted for about twenty minutes when everything quietened down, and things were back to normal. It was then that Roberto appeared and told us that this happened several times a week with no apparent cause. There was in fact a chart on the wall showing a new detached breakwater to help eliminate this phenomenon, but no one was sure that this would cure the problem.
Shortly after everything had settled down, a short, bearded, and most dishevelled man walked in. His jeans had more holes in than the denim that remained. His jumper was the same, and his plimsolls were falling apart. He ordered a scotch and beer chaser, and sat at the next table to us. We thought it rude to stare, but it was difficult not to, as this mode of appearance was most unusual in a prestigious yacht club! I went to the bar for some more drinks, and on returning, he had joined us at our table. He was a Scotsman, and believe it or not, his name was Jock! His boat was a Hurley 19, and he had hired a crew to help him with the sailing. His crew had left him, and he was now looking for someone to take their place in order to carry on to the Med.
At ten o’clock the bar was closed, and we found out later that closing time was quite arbitrary, depending on what time the barman decided that he had had enough. One evening we arrived just before eight o’clock, and within half an hour the barman announced that he was going home! We returned to Goosander to continue our conversation and drinks. Jock told us he was an engineer, and had taken early retirement; living on a modest pension, and was just interested in sailing from one place to another as and when it took his fancy. He was obviously lonely and wanted to talk with somebody. Despite this, he was quite a shy man. Jock finally left at midnight, and Brian and I volunteered to escort him back to his boat. We arranged to meet him the following day.
We still had another free day, which was our fifth, and took the opportunity to do some more sightseeing. We returned to the yacht club, and as we were about to enter, I saw a uniformed customs officer inspecting our old engine. We thought we should approach him, explaining that the engine was ours, and to ask him if there was a problem about leaving it there. He asked why the engine was on the quay. We told him it had broken down and we were having to replace it with a new one.
He pondered awhile and said, ‘You’ll need an import licence now that it is sitting on the quay. If you fail to get an import licence, then you’ll have to take it out of the country.’
I enquired as to where I could obtain an import licence, and he told us to go to the main customs office in the docks. I thanked him for the information, and said I would see what I could do. We all looked at each other, and thought, more hassle. It turned out that we were not the only ones with a problem, for as we entered the yacht club, Jock was on his way out.
‘I’ll show ‘em,’ he said angrily, and disappeared.
We asked the barman what had happened to our Scots friend.
‘He’s badly dressed, and its something we won’t tolerate in this club,’ he answered sternly.
We returned to Goosander for lunch, and later had a long walk to inspect the huge brick-built lighthouse, reputedly to be the oldest in France. On returning, we caught up with Jock who had bought some chicken pieces. As we intended to cook a chicken curry that evening aboard Goosander, we invited Jock to join us. He accepted our invitation immediately, and offered us his chicken. We parted company in the marina, arranging to meet him for drinks at six-thirty. I took a look at the piece of chicken that Jock had donated. It was mostly skin and bones, and seemed to be devoid of anything that remotely looked like a breast. As we only like the breast, and the fact that we only had three, Bert went off in search of another one. Sorry, Jock, it was a nice thought anyway.
Jock duly arrived, but had made no effort with his dress. However, we ate a good meal, and at eight o’clock we decided to finish off the evening in the club. Jock meanwhile, returned to his boat. Half an hour later the door opened and in walked Jock, resplendent in full highland dress. All heads turned, and the barman had a huge smile on his face. It seemed for a moment at least, all was forgiven.
OUR SPANISH ENGINEERS AND OLD ENGINE
OUR NEW ENGINE AWAITING FITTING
As promised, our new engine arrived the next morning, which was our sixth day here. The customs officer who had spoken to me before was closely examining the engine, and also the paperwork. A few minutes later our engineer arrived, and Goosander was moved over to the quay where the engine was lowered into the cockpit, after which we returned to our berth. The carpenter arrived, who was absolutely enormous, and I had doubts whether he could get through the hatch, let alone work in such a confined space! We asked him what hours he worked.
‘We work from eight ‘till one, and then five ‘till eight,’ he replied.
It was just as we expected, for it is far too hot to work through the siesta. For us, this was to present problems with our normal routine, and normal meal times. Still based on U.K. times we would have to reorganise ourselves to fit in with Spanish working practices. As the temperature was now in the mid seventies, we could very well see their point of view. A split working day would never appeal to me, but I suppose it is what you’re brought up to.
Our old engine box was slightly too narrow to accommodate the new engine, so various holes had to be cut in it before it could be replaced. These holes and the fact that there were no sound deadening fitted didn’t help with the decibels!
We left the workmen to get on with their jobs, and went to see if the money had come through. We collected the money and went to pay Motor 8. During the next five days our lives were completely disrupted, and we seemed to spend most of our time walking about aimlessly, and spending far too much money on snacks and drinking coffee.
Mr Roberto came to tell us that his car tank was nearly empty, and so at last we were able to dispose of our remaining gallons of petrol. Having filled his tank, he in turn took us off to fill our jerrycans with diesel, and afterwards, took us to the yacht club for a drink.
I had completely forgotten about our broken servo paddle until Brian reminded me. We decided to take it to Pepe’s works in the dinghy, which would be better than walking. The dinghy was tied up opposite the works, and we found Pepe in his office.
‘No problem,’ he said, as he looked it over, ‘leave it with me.’
Two days later it was returned to us with a stainless strap riveted round the break; a very neat job.
Fitting the engine was now in its final stages, and Pepe came down to help with the fitting of the morse controls with which the engineer was having problems. As I hadn’t done anything about our old engine as yet, I asked him how I could dispose of it. Apparently he couldn’t take it ashore without filling in many papers. He suggested taking the oil out, and putting it back in the cockpit when he would return the next day to take it out of the harbour and throw it into the sea. We drained the oil from the sump and gearbox, and to make things easier, removed the gearbox, and lowered them into the cockpit. Tomorrow, we hoped that another of our many problems would be solved.
Our engineer pronounced that everything was now ready, and proceeded to show us how to bleed the new engine. We were now ready to fire up, and after a few turns it started. The engine controls were tested, and Pepe took charge as we motored out of the marina towards the harbour entrance. Once outside, we said goodbye to our old engine with a prayer as we consigned it to the deep. It had served us well and it deserved a decent burial!
We went back to the harbour where Pepe used full throttle in short bursts, turning Goosander in tight circles. On seeing the questioning look on our faces, he told us that he was trying to find out whether our existing propeller was suited to the new engine. Much to our relief, everything seemed to be all right so we returned to our berth. We were advised to run the engine in for at least twenty hours, and that during this time, not to exceed three quarters throttle.
Pepe’s brother arrived the next morning with the bill. It was very detailed, written in Spanish, which filled a complete foolscap sheet. Pepe translated it into English for us. The bill came to just over £700 covering labour and materials. We told him that we would have to go to the bank as we didn’t have enough money at the boat. He then offered to come with us. Brian offered to use his credit card to draw the full amount, so that what we already had in cash could be used to top up the kitty to help pay for any other emergencies we may have in the future. The bank clerk was rather abrasive, and told Brian that it was too much money, and couldn’t have it on Access. Not daunted, Brian asked to see the manager, and after a bit of an argument with this gentleman, followed by a telephone call, the money was reluctantly handed over.
We settled the bill with Pepe’s brother, thanked him for a job well done and said goodbye. Phew! We could now continue our journey with a reliable engine, and a diesel to boot. Before returning to Goosander we went to see Mr Roberto to settle our mooring fees. The ten days had cost us £100 after a small discount at his discretion. We thanked him for his help and kindness, and hoped that one day we may see him again in more favourable circumstances.
We walked along the pontoon to find Jock to say our goodbyes. As we got closer we noticed that his boat was decked fore and aft with flags. He was sitting in the cockpit, and on spotting us came to the bow.
‘Why all the flags?’ we asked him.
In his engaging Scottish accent, he said that we should know that it was the Queen’s birthday that very day. We all looked rather shame-faced, as his was the only British yacht in the harbour to have honoured the occasion. We bade him farewell and hoped that he would be able to find a crew for his onward voyage to the Mediterranean. We never saw him again.
Chapter 7 La Coruna – Sesimbra – Vilamoura–
We cleared the harbour at 1400, and motored for three and a half hours against a stiff headwind until we were abeam of Islas Sisargus where we were able to set a course for Cabo Villano. With the wind now NW 3-4 we stopped the engine; hoisted the sails, and engaged the Navik. We were now sailing along nicely at 5 knots, and by 2200 were abeam of Cabo Villano. We continued to make good progress, and from Cape Finisterre to Cape Silleiro we were goosewinged; not something I like doing at night but I had great confidence in the Navik, which coped very well, keeping us within ten degrees either side of our course.
Making steady progress down the coast we approached Lisbon. There was some mutterings from the crew about calling there and a study of the Pilot was not too encouraging. We could see a couple of yacht harbours on the left bank of the River Tagus close to the city centre, which were not exactly described in glowing terms in the Pilot book. It warned of them being dirty with a distinct possibility of fouling your anchor. Six miles further on to the east of Cabo Espichel was Sesimbra, where the Pilot indicated that there was a good anchorage, and it looked ideal for a short stopover.
We soon picked up the leading marks, and when close in to the beach, turned to port, running along the shore for about a quarter of a mile where there was a yacht at anchor. Ahead of us we could see a small fishing harbour but there were no yachts moored inside, so we made no attempt at further investigation.
We circled around finding the water to be very clear, and the bottom was mostly covered with thick kelp with small patches of sand here and there. We went ahead of the anchored yacht. Brian, who was up in the bow, directed me over a sandy patch and we let go anchor in fifteen feet. There was quite a fresh breeze blowing along the direction of the beach, so we played out plenty of chain, and were able to get a good transit. We were holding well.
As this was to be a short stopover, we decided to go ashore, have a meal, perhaps a short sleep and then leave. Bert pumped up the dinghy and dropped it over the side. He’d just mounted the outboard when Brian noticed that the other yacht was moving away. Sure enough it was dragging. There had been no signs of life on board, and the main hatch and washboards were in place. Securing our dinghy to the transom we went in pursuit. The yacht that was British, was some hundred yards from the rocks near the entrance channel before we managed to get alongside. Brian then jumped aboard to secure a head and sternline. He then went forward to raise the anchor by hand, as we couldn’t find a handle on deck. We were still getting pushed towards the rocks, so I went full ahead, and slowly started to move.
So engrossed were we in what we were doing, and getting away from danger, we hadn’t noticed a small open fishing boat coming towards us at speed. It was almost alongside us when two young men leapt on to the other boat.
‘We’ll take over now,’ one of them shouted.
I tried to explain that their boat had been dragging but they had seen what was happening from the shore. Realising that speed was essential, they had abandoned the use of their Avon dinghy, which would have been too slow for any rescue attempt, and persuaded a local fisherman to motor them out to their dragging yacht. They seemed to make light of the whole incident. Perhaps they believed that we might seek some sort of salvage reward, which was the last thing on our minds.
While we let go our lines, we were passed three cans of beer with a thank you. We motored back along the shore with them and re-anchored. As they had no means of getting ashore, and with the use of our outboard in case we needed to return quickly, we offered them a lift, which they gladly accepted!
We found Sesimbra to be very picturesque with an abundance of whitewashed buildings, narrow streets and hardly any traffic. We found a nice little restaurant from where we could keep an eye on Goosander, which was tugging at her chain. After our recent experience we were rather wary about the boat holding, so it rather took the edge off our little excursion ashore. Nevertheless, we enjoyed our superb swordfish steaks helped down with a rather pleasant wine. We were glad to be back on board, and decided to have a couple of hour’s sleep before we set off again. By this time, the wind had dropped a little, and as the anchor was holding well we set the alarm for 2200.
At 2300 we were underway, again, back along the shore until we could line up the leading lights, which would then take us clear of the sandbar. The wind was W 3-4, slightly abaft the beam with the temperature pleasantly warm, which was very welcome during our night watches. During my watch I experienced quite a nasty squall early the next morning, which had us taking off like a rocket. I shouted for Brian, who, within seconds had the mainsail reefed down quickly while I was rolling in the headsail. No sooner had we resumed our course than the wind dropped and things were back to normal.
As a precaution, we kept our reef in for the next couple of hours. By 1500 we were rounding Cape St. Vincent in beautiful warm sunshine, and a light westerly wind. Forty minutes later we rounded Punta de Sagres with its high flat-topped cliffs, where we set course for Vilamoura, some forty miles away. With the wind 2-3 light westerly we were able to gooswing, and were averaging a modest four knots. We were able to check our position every two hours using the very powerful lights dotted along this part of the coast.
It was a pleasure to be on watch, and the four hours each that Brian and I were keeping soon passed. Bert was also sharing some of his time between us, but hadn’t really grasped the basics. Perhaps he never would, but he did assure us that he enjoyed it, which is the main thing.
After much searching against all the bright background lights, we managed to pick out the usual weak entrance lights to the marina. At 0300, we entered Vilamoura and tied up to the visitor’s pontoon, which is some way inside and to port. We had just tied up, and about to pour ourselves a celebratory drink when one of the marina staff hailed us. He was very polite, and suggested that as we must be tired, perhaps we would prefer to report to the office after a good nights sleep, which was very thoughtful of him.
After a hearty breakfast, and feeling much revived we made our way to the harbour master’s office where a smiling and cheerful Harbour Master met us. We told him that we wished to stay for two days. We paid our mooring fees, which were very reasonable compared to most U.K. charges. He then gave us a chartlet of the marine, and drew in the route to our berth. He also gave us several leaflets advertising their many facilities including shops and apartments for sale or rent. We then had to report to immigration and customs; all very courteous and business-like.
Within fifteen minutes we had completed all the formalities, and were on our way back to Goosander, firstly to fill up with diesel, which was on the end of the visitor’s pontoon, and then on to find our berth. The diesel pump was not open until 1200, so we decided to take the dinghy up into the marina to find a bank. We had by now run out of local currency, having used it to pay for our meal in Sesimbra, and the mooring fees. We tied up in the corner of the marina nearest the shops, and soon found a bank. On our way back we stopped at an open-air café for a drink, and as twelve o’clock was approaching, we returned to Goosander, to fill up, and returned to our berth.
When we got back to the dinghy, the skipper disgraced himself by stepping off the pontoon, and missing the dinghy completely! According to Brian, the first part of me to surface from the water was an out-stretched arm flashing a rather expensive watch. I soon pulled myself into the dinghy and continued our way back to Goosander.
Although the temperature was near 70° I was quite cold, and was glad to put on some dry clothes. The inquest that was inevitable did not go in my favour. My crew reckoned it was the drink. Of course, my version was quite different. I had merely stepped into the dinghy, and it had moved away. Well, that was my story, and I stuck to it! My crew was not convinced. Some years after this incident, my wife had a rather nasty experience with the same dinghy, but that’s another story!
The marina was very large and well laid out, with water and electricity easily to hand. It is surrounded on two sides with shops, restaurants, workshops and modern apartments. It looked like a very pleasant place to spend a couple of days of rest.
We moved into our berth, spending the rest of the day lazing in the sunshine, leaving our shopping and meal ashore until later. The restaurant where we chose to eat, served us with a splendid meal, but when we came to pay the bill, we found to our embarrassment that despite the rummaging in our pockets we were quite a bit short of money. We told the waitress who rushed behind the scenes to tell the manager. He approached us looking a little less than pleased. Brian offered his credit card but he refused to take it. Bert, our cashier, suggested a traveller’s cheque, and to our relief, replied in the affirmative. Whilst Brian and myself were held hostage, Bert went back to the boat for the travellers cheques. He soon returned, and after some quick exchange rate calculations, our problem was solved.
A very pleasant two days were spent at Vilamoura, which offered good food, good wine and glorious sunshine. This was the kind of life that I’d dreamt about for so many years. However, time was marching on and we knew we had to leave this paradise.
Having filled up our water tanks and containers at the berth, we left Villamoura. At 2100 the wind was W3 and we made steady if slow progress. The passage to Gibraltar was straightforward with some sailing where possible but rather more motoring. We did however, have to negotiate several quite large fishing fleets. The biggest problem I found was their constant change of direction and speed. At night this was totally confusing, especially as they were festooned with bright deck lights, which tended to obliterate their steaming lights.
Few other ships were sighted, and for the most part, the weather was fine and clear with occasional breezes from all quarters, so there were frequent adjustments to the Narvik. On rounding Cape Trafalgar, and perhaps a bit premature, we considered that at last we had entered the Mediterranean. Our course now took us along the north shore of the straits, and one mile south of the Isle de Tarifa where we set course close to the shore to avoid the strong west going current.
We finally rounded Punta Carnero, and altered course towards the harbour. On closing the harbour we had the usual problem with all the background lights, but as there were good lighthouses to get bearings from, we were able to update our position frequently, and eventually found the customs quay. It was now 0300, and as we tied up we were met by two rather sleepy officials; a policeman and a customs officer.
We were all summoned into a large office where our passports and ship’s papers were studied. Formalities were soon completed, and we asked where we could find a berth. Our instructions were to go stern to a quay which was some way away, but we somehow took a wrong turn and got lost among the pontoons, having to extricate ourselves from several blind alleys. Although there were several vacant berths, we thought it prudent to stick it out and find the quay. Eventually we found our berth; picked up the buoy that was tailed to the quay and backed in. It was now 0400, and we had reached our half way staging post where a little celebration was called for, followed by a well-earned sleep.
Chapter 8 Gibraltar – Ponte Romano.
We awoke to a bright and breezy day. The first thing on the agenda was to find and report to the Harbour Master. We eventually located his office in the middle of the marina, and a very pleasant and helpful person he turned out to be. Our berth was confirmed, and we paid our dues for three days.
While we were in the middle of the marina, we took a look round the many yachts and motor cruisers. Our immediate attention was drawn to a larger and more opulent yacht, which at the time was swarming with police and officials. On enquiring as to what was going on, it transpired that the yacht belonged to Clowes of Barlow Clows, and had been impounded, pending investigation of his business affairs. Up until this time we’d had no news of this entire affair, as our radio was still not working properly.
Gibraltar is an ideal staging post for yachts making for the Mediterranean, and further on to the Azores, Canary Islands and the Caribbean. All the yachts that we looked at were of different nationalities. Some were well founded, smart and presumably well financed, while others were obviously ‘doing their thing,’ on a shoestring. There were of course, the local residents with their well kept boats and tidy decks, unlike the ocean travellers with all the extra gear that is stowed on deck so as to survive with the least additional expense ashore. We found it so interesting that we were to have another look round the next day.
Our immediate concern was food, fuel and water as our next leg was to be five of six days long, with either Sardinia or Bizert Tunisia as our next stop. We went to the chandlery to enquire about a Tunisian courtesy flag. As this was going to cost us £25, we decided to go to Sardinia as we already had an Italian flag on board.
A large shop for food was next on the agenda, so Brian was dispatched to shop, as only he knows how! He returned an hour later, staggering under the weight of his shopping spree. Amongst his purchases was a 3lb chunk of farmhouse cheddar, which was consigned to the bilges, which acted as our overflow stores where we hoped it would mature even more.
OUR PRIZE PURCHASE OF MATURE CHEDDER
We had to obtain diesel from the garage nearby, which we later recognised as the garage we had seen on T.V as the scene of the controversial shooting by the S.A.S of suspected I.R.A. terrorists. We were able to get water from a standpipe on the quay, using our own hose.
There was one other job we had to do, and that was to service the engine. The engineer in Spain had given us a spare oil and fuel filter, together with two five-litre cans of engine oil. Servicing was a job for Bert, which he ably carried out. We were certainly pleased with our little engine, which pushed us along at just under 5 knots in calm weather. We had kept careful note of our consumption figures, which showed that we were using one litre an hour. Once the engine had been run in, we were running at 2200 revs, compared to the maximum recommended 3200 revs. I had not since been able to exceed 2800 revs. as the pitch of the propeller may have been too much. At these revs. we could only just exceed five knots and use more fuel.
Having got the basics out of the way we could now relax and enjoy ourselves. As Bert had some commitments back in the U.K in the near future, he decided that now would be a good time to leave the boat and return home. The problem with the engine had rather knocked his schedule out of phase. Brian and I had no plans to replace Bert, and were quite happy to complete the trip with just the two of us.
We were moored quite close to the airstrip, and so we accompanied him to the airport to enquire about flights to the U.K. There was one leaving for London in a couple of hours, so it was back to the boat, a rapid pack and back to the airport. Brian and I went upstairs to the balcony for a cooling drink whilst Bert went off to buy a ticket. He was due to join us for a farewell drink, but after half an hour there was no sign of him. Passengers were now beginning to walk across the tarmac to the waiting plane. We just caught a glimpse of Bert as he turned and waved before boarding the aircraft. He was on his way.
Now there were only two of us, and over drinks we discussed our new routine. We decided on continuous watches of four hours on and four hours off, sharing the cooking and any other chores that may become necessary. We found that four hours watch on warm nights, and warm sunny weather during daylight hours was quite pleasant with four hours off providing plenty of sleep. We were woken from our sleep ten minutes before watch time with a cup of tea, guaranteed to stimulate the sleepy one into watchfulness.
On the face of it, what with the Bobbies, pillar boxes and phone boxes, Gibraltar looked very British, but in general looked rather seedy and had no doubt seen better days. As we looked at the barracks and the magazines and battlements carved into the rock, a tremendous sense of history overcame any shortcomings we may have noticed. All in all we found it an interesting place. After a day of sightseeing, we agreed we’d had enough, and returned to Goosander for one of Brian’s super hot stews with a little something to wash it down.
Today was to be our last day in Gibraltar, and both telephoned home to let our respective wives know that all was well and to brief them on the next stage of our voyage. We could only find public phone operated phone boxes, which meant we would need a large amount of coins. We thought there must be a yacht club or two somewhere, and an enquiry brought forth the name of the Royal Gibraltar Yacht Club supposedly not too far away.
After directions from various people we at last found a door in a high stone wall. With some trepidation we entered to find a rather elegant clubhouse with lawns running down to the water’s edge. There were several members having drinks and afternoon tea on the lawn. It seemed to transport us into a time warp! What worried us though, was that everyone was smartly dressed in white trousers and navy reefer jackets. We, on the other hand were wearing shorts and T-shirts, and although not at all scruffy, felt distinctly out of place.
The clubhouse was very Victorian looking with its rich dark mahogany panelling and complimentary matching furniture. The usual old yachting prints hung on the wall, and a beautiful glass cabinet was full of shields and silver cups. Brian and I looked at each other; turned on our heels and made a quick exit. We both thought that they may have refused our request, and that our present state of dress may have embarrassed them.
Once again outside, we contemplated on our next move. Brian suggested that we should ask the harbour master; who else?
‘No problem,’ he said pointing to the telephone. ‘Use the phone there, and pay according to the meter.’ Problem solved. Why we didn’t think of that in the first place I really don’t know.
After lunch we took the cable car to the top of the Rock to visit the famous apes in residence. To get to the cable car we had to catch the bus just outside the marina bound for Europa Point. We didn't have to wait long before the bus arrived. This particular bus seemed to be near the end of its useful life because every time it stopped, the driver would keep the engine running by revving it and slipping the clutch. The reason for this behaviour was not long in coming when he had to make an emergency stop, which stalled the engine. It wouldn’t restart because the battery was completely flat.
He threw his arms in the air and ordered everyone off the bus. There followed a lot of shouting and arm waving from the passengers who reluctantly disembarked. Several attempts were made to start the engine, but all to no avail, so we left the bus, its irate driver and the rest of the passengers to walk the half mile to the cable car, and bought the tickets. We were soon being whisked to the top of the Rock. On arrival, and disembarking from the cable car the whole vista of Gibraltar and beyond was laid out before us. The view was truly magnificent. We could just see Goosander, which looked so small; almost like a dinghy from this height.
GIBRALTAR FROM THE CABLE CAR
There were several notices warning visitors about the apes ability, and frequent habit of snatching handbags, cameras and other such items as tourists have about them. I wondered what the apes did with their loot. Perhaps they had established a nice little earner for the local shopkeepers! An official keeper looks after the apes, and winter accommodation similar to that found in a zoo is provided for them as well as food when necessary.
At the time we were there, a new restaurant was being built with the shuttering of wood for the base overhanging the sheer rock face by ten feet. I hoped they would use plenty of reinforcement rods, because at that stage the structure looked as though it was to be unsupported.
A SENSE OF HISTORY
We took our leave of the apes after checking that we still had our cameras and watches, and descended back down into the hustle and bustle of life on the ground floor. We took the bus all the way back to the marina, this time without incident for a final stroll round, and another look at the yachts. Where had they come from? Where were they going? Why were they doing it? All these questions came to mind as we gazed on a myriad of colours more intensified by the bright mid-day sun. Perhaps some of them had the same reasons as us, to enjoy a slower pace of life in the sun.
We had thoroughly enjoyed our time here, but now it was time to move on, hoping that from now on it would be ‘downhill’ with no more nasty gales to contend with.
We awoke to a fine cloudless day with a light westerly breeze. Everything was checked. The diesel tank was full with nine gallons in reserve, and the water tanks were topped up with ten gallons in reserve. We still had a considerable amount of food that we had brought from home as well as additional food bought in Gibraltar.
Our Decca was working accurately, and was to do so for a further two hundred miles when we would be able to switch over to the Loran C, as yet untried. Mainly Brian, who was more computer literate than me did much of the reading up on Loran as I would have found it rather complicated and hard going. I found the sextant more to my era, and enjoyed the mathematical workings, which, after forty years had slowly returned during the trip. The sights I took were a good check against the Loran, and generally speaking never exceeded one and a half miles from the Loran position.
There was some discussion about where we should make for. We could go to Mallorca and on to Sardinia, or sail along the North African coast, making a decision at some appropriate point whether to go to Bizerte, (for which we had no courtesy flag,) or Sardinia and thence on to Sicily. Having lost so much time on our engine change we decided on the African coast and then up to Sardinia. We would stay about fifteen to twenty miles off the coast as boltholes were few and far between on this coast. We hoped we wouldn’t need one, but made a note of any possible port of refuge just in case.
By the time we had had a good breakfast and final stowage, it was 1000 when we cleared the marina. We headed down towards Europa Point, which was rounded at 1115 and our course was set towards Algiers where we could close the coast. The wind was westerly F2-3, and we sailed along at a leisurely pace. By 1800 the wind had freshened considerably and was now F5-6 and dead astern. We were reefed to the second batten, and the reefed headsail was poled out with a preventer rigged on the boom for safety. The waves were growing in height, and we were surfing at eight to ten knots with the Navik keeping us on a remarkably good course. It certainly kept us on our toes, ready at a moments notice to take the tiller should things go wrong. This exhilarating sailing lasted for twenty-four hours and gave us a good start. The wind eventually died away, and once again, on with the motor. This was to be the format for the next five days; some sailing, and long periods of motoring.
At about one hundred and fifty miles from Gibraltar, our Decca became wobbly with the red and amber light showing up more than the green. It was now time to switch to the Loran. Brian duly punched in our approximate position, and we both waited in eager anticipation. The position didn’t alter at all, and after about half an hour some investigation was required. The power input was okay as the display was there, so we assumed that it must be the aerial connection.
When I fitted the set I had to remove both plugs so that the cables could be threaded through various bulkheads. We found that the aerial plug really needed soldering to work properly. This we managed to do with great difficulty, having to heat the soldering iron on the cooker. After plugging into the set, fifteen minutes elapsed before things started to happen. Our position popped up together with a speed of 4.75 knots, and our true course of 092° . The latter two we knew to be correct, and our position we tentatively took to be correct until we could confirm our position by sextant. As at present we were too far away from land to get any kind of bearings. The Loran subsequently proved to be extremely accurate, and didn’t seem to suffer from any night time aberrations. I managed to obtain sun sights the following day, which were only a mile different from the Loran. We gradually closed the coast, and after three days we were able to make out Algiers some eight miles away. A 180° bearing of the port confirmed Loran’s longitude to be spot on.
We were visited by many dolphins. About half a mile away we spotted a huge school coming towards us, churning up a huge area of water. Although we knew there was no danger in their antics, we were slightly alarmed at the sheer numbers, and the speed at which they were approaching. They stayed with us for about twenty minutes completely surrounding us and churning up the water. One in particular kept jumping clear of the water in spectacular style, doing what can only be described as a belly-flop. Perhaps it had some parasites it wanted to be rid of! Eventually they disappeared and we were left to ourselves.
We could just make out the dim outline of the mountains far off to the south of us. The wind was southerly F4/5, and we were reefed down to the first batten, and the headsail balanced. A few minutes later the mountains had disappeared, and the sun and horizon were almost obscured. The whole scene became brown and dark as though someone had put up an umbrella. Ahead of us we could see that it was raining, so I dived below for my oilies, but not Brian. He stripped off and plastered himself with shower gel, not intending to miss this opportunity of having a good shower.
It was so dark, it seemed that night had fallen. As suddenly as it happened, the rain stopped, the sun shone, and the wind, which was still southerly dropped to 2/3. To our amazement the decks were now covered with fine brown sand. It was more like mud, which we would have to allow to dry before we could sweep it away and wash down the decks. In contrast, Brian was once more a very clean man!
Now that the wind had dropped we shook out the reefs, and to our horror found dark brown stains where both the main and headsail had been rolled, No attempt was made at this stage to remove them. Future attempts were to prove difficult, although today the stains have all but disappeared.
The following day we were motoring; something that was now becoming the norm. The sea was calm, and ahead of us were three large pilot whales acting rather like dolphins. They had crossed our bows at about three hundred metres, and were now about 45° on our port bow. Suddenly one of them peeled off from the others and started to swim towards us at high speed. Brian and I stood up in the cockpit, and when the whale was about forty metres away we could see that it was about five metres long. Both of us feared that we would be holed and stood there petrified. Suddenly, when we thought it was about to smash us to pieces, it dived under the boat. We both scrambled to the starboard side to see the whale surface off our starboard bow, and speed back to join the others. After watching them for sometime just ambling along, it was hard to believe what had happened. We broke our rule about not drinking at sea, and both had a rather large Scotch.
It was about this time that a rather pungent smell was emanating from the bilges. On investigation, we found that the cheese had finally festered, so we unwrapped it and consigned it to the deep. We had however managed to consume two thirds of it, and very good it was too. Some sliced wrapped bread that we had bought in La Coruna was still edible after all this time. The Spanish must know something about bread making that we in the U.K. don’t know about.
On our fifth day out from Gibraltar we arrived at a position where we would have to decide our next port of call. We were 130 miles from Sardinia, and 150 miles from Bizerte, and although we were running short of diesel and water, we still had plenty of food. A decision was made that Sardinia was our best bet, and set course for Cagliani, set in the gulf of that name on the south coast. We were approximately 50 miles from Cagliani when the wind which had been easterly, went round to north east and started to head us. A quick look in the Italian Pilot Book showed the small port of Ponte Romano on the southwest coast of Sardinia. We were just able to sail our course to Ponte Romano, so Ponte Romano it was to be.
The approach was quite straightforward with the approach channel buoyed. It was time to hoist the Italian courtesy and ‘Q’ flags, but on looking in the flag locker, I couldn’t find the Italian flag, and a search of all likely places proved unsuccessful. It seemed that it had completely disappeared. This meant that we would have to buy a new one as soon as possible after our arrival.
PONT ROMANO. REFUGE FROM OUR BATTERING ON THE MAIN QUAY
Our first impression of Ponte Romano was a bleak industrial place with its cranes and huge silos, which we later discovered were for holding cement for export. Once inside the harbour, which is quite open to the elements, we noticed two large yachts alongside on a long and otherwise empty quay, so we tucked in behind them. The quay was backed by a long building, but we found no sign of life. Nor was there any sign of customs and police. The place was deserted, even on the other yachts, so we decided to go in search of a chandler to obtain a courtesy flag.
The town appeared to be some distance away, so we pointed ourselves in the direction of apparent civilisation. After a steady walk of about a mile we were on the outskirts of town. It was here that we spotted a small chandlery, and with a little sign language, came away with our courtesy flag. We also made a mental note of a petrol station nearby where we would fill up our jerrycans with diesel. What little we had seen from the outskirts of town looked promising, and we wandered back to Goosander at a leisurely pace.
On our arrival back at the quay we noticed that two uniformed persons were on board. One was sitting on the coachroof, and the other one was in the cockpit. They were customs officers who greeted us with a smile. The one who spoke English apologised for invading the boat, and remarked that it was more comfortable than waiting on the quay. They wanted to know why we had left our boat without waiting for the authorities to look at the ships papers. I told him that when we arrived we couldn’t see any customs officers about, or anyone else for that matter. I also told them of our rapid departure from the boat and our concern over the missing flag being connected. Both Brian and I had felt that they may have been offended by our seemingly lack of courtesy, and that was why we had rushed off to try and remedy our failure.
They smiled when I hoisted our new flag together with ‘Q’, but they didn’t seem to know what the yellow one was for. I went down below to fetch our passports and SSR, which they studied in great detail.
‘It doesn’t say what tonnage the boat is,’ said one of the officers.
‘No,’ I replied, ‘but it’s three and a quarter tons.’
He then asked how I knew that, and I told him that I had designed the boat. He then wanted to know why this information was not recorded on the boat’s papers, and I told him that it wasn’t required on this form of document. There was then a discussion between them, and I was beginning to feel a little uneasy.
‘Where is your insurance?’ he asked.
It was the very question I had hoped to avoid, and an explanation is required here. I had purchased the Italian Waters Pilot sometime before we left the U.K. and gleaned much information from it, including the necessity to have insurance while sailing in Italian waters otherwise there could be dire consequences from customs. Bearing this in mind, I had in fact insured the boat specifically for this particular voyage. The policy document had not arrived before we left the U.K., so I had asked my wife to post it on to our niece in Catania, Sicily. By calling into a small port in Sardinia, which, according to the Pilot Book was rarely visited by yachts, I had hoped that it would not be asked for. Well, now it had!
After a long and detailed explanation of the facts, the two officers showed signs of weakening. I think that in the end they believed what I was saying. One snippet of information they let drop was that if the tonnage was less than three tons, then insurance was not essential. This fact was noted for possible further use.
After about an hour of filling in forms, business was concluded and things were now more amicable. Brian brought up four cans of beer, and the atmosphere became more pleasant and relaxed, in fact, positively friendly. As we said goodbye, the English speaking officer looked at me and said, ‘I hope your insurance arrives in Catania, otherwise they will lock you up and take away your boat. Have a nice voyage!’
I thanked him for the information and they departed, but the thought that anyone taking away my boat filled me with dread.
We were able to obtain water from a standpipe by collecting it in our water containers, which was hard work and tedious. Getting the diesel was our biggest problem though. We started walking with our two jerrycans, eventually reaching the petrol station we had previously seen. Brian who was pretty strong preferred to carry both of the filled cans as he said it would give him better balance. After walking a hundred metres or so, a Volvo estate pulled up. The driver asked us if we were from a yacht, and if so, would we like a lift. I sat in the back with the jerrycans in case of spillage, as anyone who has spilled diesel will know what it is like, and how difficult it is to clean up. I didn’t want this to happen in the car. We soon arrived back at the boat and offered the driver a drink, which he declined because he was on his way to pick up his son. We thanked him for his help, and he went on his way leaving two very grateful sailors.
Brian and I needed a drink and decided to explore the town. It was indeed, a very pretty place. The main street was lined either side with trees, forming a complete canopy over the street, reducing the temperature to a very pleasant level. At the end of the street was a beautiful square laid out with flowerbeds showing a riot of colour. The shops and cafes were clean and smart.
As we both needed some local currency, we paid a visit to the first bank we came across. This was to be our first experience of being trapped in what might be called an ‘airlock’, with security guards opening and closing the two sets of doors. Once inside, we were scrutinised by a guard before actually being let into the bank proper. It seemed to us it was a one hundred percent deterrent to bank robbers. Even if they managed to get in, they would certainly not be able to escape. We later found that the same system was in use in Catania.
We had a tasty but fairly expensive meal in one of the many restaurants, and afterwards visited a couple of bars. The second one we entered, we were able to telephone home. While we were having our drinks a young man approached us who we had failed to recognise in his ‘civvies.’ He was the English speaking customs officer who had invaded our boat. We offered him a drink, and spent a pleasurable evening in his company, which left us in good spirits by the time we returned to Goosander.
WHERE DID THE SKIPPER PARK THE BOAT?
The wind was quite fresh, pinning us against the quay, but as we had plenty of fenders out we decided that things were all right for the time being. Brian woke me at about 0200 as Goosander was now beginning to hit the quay quite hard despite all the fenders in place. The problem being that the quay had a slight overhang at the top, and as the fenders took most of the brunt, our rubbing strake was sustaining some damage, and we had no choice but to move.
A quick look at the chartlet in the Pilot showed the possibility of a berth on the other side of the jetty that ran at right angles to our present mooring. Our biggest problem was to be able to prise ourselves off the quay. Some good hefty shoving by Brian, and the engine full astern eventually worked although we still had to do an almost complete circle going full astern to get us well clear of the quay.
We motored round to the other jetty where many fishing boats were moored, and managed to find a vacant slot and tied up. Here, we were completely sheltered from the wind. In fact it seemed as though we were in a different world. As we went below to continue our sleep we wondered if anyone had seen two men manoeuvring a yacht in their ‘Y’ fronts. Not a pretty sight!
The following morning was bright with a light south westerly breeze. We had enjoyed our two days in Ponte Romano, which had turned out to be pleasant and well worth another visit in the future. I think that our enforced side tracking from Cagliari had certainly turned out to be a bonus.
Chapter 9 Ponte Romano – Catania.
We left Ponte Romano at 1700, and soon after rounding Cape Spartivento we set course to take us close to Palermo on Sicily’s north coast. We discussed whether to round Sicily by its north or south coast and came to the conclusion that it would be nice to go through the straits of Messina. This northern route would take us close to the Aolian Islands, which we thought would give us something of interest to look at.
We made good progress towards Palermo, and we were averaging 4.80 knots with the same old story of some sailing and some motoring. We were abeam and four miles off Palermo at 1800 on our second day out, and by 2000 it was getting dark. I had just relieved Brian for my watch when an hour and a half later, hundreds of lights came into view. They were everywhere. Even in my sea-going days, I had never seen so many lights stretching over such a large area. They were, as I was soon to discover, fishing lights, and according to the Pilot it was the tunny fishing season.
The nets were at least half a mile long and lit about every hundred yards or so with gas lamps on poles. They stretched out to seaward as far as the eye could see. They were in long lines about five to six hundred yards apart and staggered, thus presenting only what can be described as a carpet of lights.
As the lights were very bright, I slowly approached one of the lines as I wanted to see if there were any signs of the nets or floats on the surface. When I had reached the first row of lights I was reluctant to try and cross as I had no idea if the nets were on the surface, just below or quite deep. It became a matter of motoring up alongside the net, nipping across to the next one, then down and back again. The biggest problem was being sure that you had actually reached the end of the net. After an hour of this I was getting a bit fed up, as I didn’t seem to be making much progress. It was rather like being in a maze and it began to disorientate me because I couldn’t go where I wanted to.
Suddenly a fishing boat nearby swung his searchlight on me and at the same time swung round and started to come towards me. I stopped Goosander. The searchlight was blinding me, and when he was no more than ten yards away he hailed me. I couldn’t understand what he said but I think he must have seen our ensign, for he shouted, ‘Follow me.’ He must have thought we had a turbo charged engine because he took off at full speed. I dutifully followed him but was getting further and further behind as I struggled to keep up. At last, some way in the distance he appeared to have stopped.
As I gradually came up to him I could see that it was the end of his net. He hailed me again. ‘Don’t cross the nets. Goodnight,’ he said. I thanked him and bade him goodnight, and with that, he steamed off again at high speed.
It was now midnight. I made Brian a cup of tea as I went down yet another line of nets. Brian came into the cockpit asking what all the shouting was about. I told him to look all around, and then explained what had happened, and what a nightmare my four hour watch had been, although it had passed quickly! By now, the lights were beginning to thin out and my only instruction to Brian was not to attempt to go over the nets.
Readers may wonder why I didn’t go out to seaward. The reason was that the lights stretched away as far as the eye could see, and it was really a matter of knowing exactly how far over the horizon they extended.
I went down below and fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. My nightmare was over and it could only be sweet dreams for the rest of the night.
By 0800 we were in sight of two of the Aolian Islands namely Alicudi and Filicudi, which were some fifteen miles off our port bow. By 1200 we were in view of Vulcano and Lipari, and decided that as Vulcano was not too far off our course we would take a closer look at it. By 1500, we were motoring quite close to the shore where many people were swimming and sunbathing. There seemed to be several small ferries doing a roaring trade with trippers plying between a small port round the corner and Messina.
The sea was mirror calm as we turned away from Vulcano, heading towards the Straits. By 2000 we had rounded Cape Piloro, thus entering the Straits proper. At this point they were one and three quarter miles wide with narrow separation lanes shown on the chart. Spanning the Straits were electric cables supported by huge pylons, and at their lowest point the cables were seventy metres above sea level. We decided that there was no point in removing our V.H.F. arial!
As we were approaching the port of Messina on the starboard side of the Straits it was beginning to get dark, and we were now beginning to realise just how many ferries there were, crossing back and forth from Messina to Villa San Giovanni and Reggio di Calabria. Although we were in fact sailing, we found that the rule of sail didn’t seem to apply and so, after several near misses we decided that the onus was on us, and consequently executed some fancy manoeuvring for the next mile or so.
Having cleared the Straits we were now on our last leg with one course and a slight alteration before the immediate approach to Catania. The night for both our watches was sheer magic. The sea was calm and the phosphorescence was all around us being the brightest we’d ever seen. We were only a mile from the shore and all the village lights we passed were crisp and clear. The most spectacular sight to add to this was the red and sometimes orange glow of the lava halfway up the hills for mile after mile. Putting this all together made for both of us the most memorable night at sea that we had ever experienced, and it was never surpassed, nor could it ever be.
At 0600 we entered the harbour at Catania. It was a large and complex place, and a study of the Pilot book showed two marinas, but recommending the one along towards the root of the main breakwater. The marina was not enclosed but was in fact part of the harbour. We motored around looking for a berth and found a vacant buoy that was tailed back to the pontoon. We swung Goosander round, picked up the tail and started to back in when a man suddenly appeared and told us in no uncertain terms to go away.
‘Where do we go?’ I asked.
‘Round there,’ he said, waving his arm in a circle.
We let go the tail and motored off thinking that this was not a good start to the day. After rounding a long quay, we saw a long pontoon in the corner of the dock, stretching out from the quay. Although it looked quite full there was just room for us right at the end. There were no buoys or tails to pick up so we dropped anchor and backed in. This was the first time I had carried out this manoeuvre, and although it was to my surprise a good example of how it should be done, I considered it to be a flash in the pan. I have since done this many times and still get it wrong. Although I’m getting better at it, I do seem to have a problem in running out of chain about ten feet from the quay!
Brian disappeared below and soon popped up with a couple of rather large gins. We sat in the cockpit discussing our next move, bearing in mind what the customs had told us in Ponte Romano. I hoped that my niece, Jenny had received my insurance documents and that when I telephoned her she would be at home and not on holiday somewhere. Obviously we would have to see the customs first, so I needed to have a good story to tell them. However, the most important thing at that moment was of course, to finish our drink. Although it was now only 0800, the temperature was rising rapidly, and it was obvious that we had arrived in the middle of a heatwave, and were in for a sticky time.
We had just finished our drinks and were contemplating a good cooked breakfast when a young man calling for us to follow him shattered our peace. We followed him along the pontoon and up to the quay where he invited us into a caravan.
‘How long are you staying?’ he asked.
‘Three days,’ I replied.
He then told us that three days would cost us 30,000 lire, and that water was on the pontoon and there was a garage where we could get diesel. We handed him the money but no receipt was given. A quick calculation gave the cost of mooring at £5 a day; quite reasonable we thought. After this, we returned to Goosander for a delayed breakfast.
Having eaten, the time had come to report to customs. Remembering the hint that we had gleaned from the customs at Ponte Romano, Goosander now displaced 2.85 tons! Armed with our SSR and our passports we entered the customs office on the quay. A young and rather pretty customs lady studied our SSR, so I thought that if we had any trouble, Brian’s comparative youth and undoubted charm could work wonders here!
She asked what the tonnage of the boat was and we gave our prepared answer of 2.85 tons. She looked me straight in the eye and shouted that it was not on the SSR. I thought her sudden outburst was in true Latin manner, so I tried to explain that as I was the designer, I knew that the tonnage was 2.85 tons. She fixed her eyes on me again saying that the book was useless as it told her nothing except the length of the boat. She emphasised that she must know the tonnage, and wouldn’t accept my word for it. I was stumped! She then wrote something on a piece of paper, handed it to me demanding that I take it to a certain building, which she indicated by a flourish of her arm, and to hand it to a person in the office.
Picking up our SSR and passports, Brian and I walked across the square to the door she had indicated, both wondering what was going to happen next. As I passed the piece of paper under a glass panel, a young man picked up his telephone, and at the same time beckoned to a passing customs officer, who signalled for us to follow him. He led us to the end of a long corridor where we were ushered into a rather grand office. Sitting at a desk that was equally grand was a large imposing figure immaculately dressed in whites, and sporting one very wide gold bar on each epaulette. He must be the chief of all customs I thought to myself.
I placed the documents on his desk with some trepidation, and he studied them at length. He then looked up and said that he did not speak English. Having said that, he pressed a bell on his desk. Within seconds a connecting door opened and a young uniformed man appeared. There followed a short conversation in Italian, after which the young man turned to me and asked what it was that we wanted. I then explained what had happened in the other office, and that the young lady had sent us here because our ship’s papers did not show the tonnage of our boat.
This explanation was duly translated to the big man, and a further study of the SSR was made. He put it down on the desk with indifference, and through the young translator asked where we had come from and where we intended to go. He seemed quite satisfied when I told him, and from a drawer he took out a form, opened our passports and proceeded to fill in the form with information gleamed from them.
He asked me who the captain was. When I replied that I was, he asked me the tonnage of my ‘ship!’ I told him it was 2.85 tons. He then wrote it down, turned the form round, requesting that I sign it. He offered me his expensive Parker pen to sign the form; perhaps another indication of his status? After checking the document he rubber-stamped it with a flourish. We were then asked to take it back to the young lady and pay our harbour dues. With that, the young man disappeared back into his office before we had a chance to thank him for his assistance. The big man handed me back our documents and the form, stood up and shook hands with us.
‘Well, gentlemen,’ he said smiling, ‘I wish you a good voyage and good sailing in Greece.’ Thanking him for his help in the matter we departed.
Outside, my first words to Brian were, ‘He speaks good English after all. It was a good job we didn’t make any derogatory remarks between ourselves.’ We both wondered why he had used an interpreter, and were glad that that stage of the proceedings were over and settled amicably.
We walked over to the other office and presented the form to the young lady. She looked at it, picked up a calculator, tapped in a few figures and wrote the results of her effort on the form, and yes, rubber-stamped it. With that completed, she asked us for 800 lire. Brian and I both went for our wallets. I offered her a 10,000 lire note, but the lady was horrified. She told us that she couldn’t change it. Brian then suggested that we would go shopping and come back with something smaller but the lady declined. She said that the amount to pay was so small, she would pay it herself! She wished us a ‘nice’ holiday, and after thanking her we left. Thank goodness that was all over with! I was beginning to get a bit weary about this tonnage business, and gave a sigh of relief as we could now relax and enjoy our stay.
We did some minor shopping to get some coins for the telephone. It took several attempts before Jenny, my niece, answered our call. As she was unable to pick us up immediately she suggested we took a taxi. After some time, a taxi came our way, and we gave the driver her address. He nodded, and took off at high speed down a side avenue. After some hectic and frightening driving, he pulled up outside a rather nice block of flats. We paid the taxi driver, and with the squealing of tyres and the smell of burnt rubber he sped off into the distance.
At the entrance we studied a bank of buzzers, where we could easily pick out the name of Smith amongst all the Italian names. A few seconds later a voice spoke to us in Italian.
‘Jenny?’ I asked.
‘Yes,’ she replied in English. On hearing that it was Colin and Brian she released the door and invited us up. As soon as greetings were over, and after being introduced to her young son Daniel whom we had not met before, ice cold beers were offered. The temperature was now nearing 100° F.
We were invited to a dinner party that evening, which was the normal thing to do on a Saturday in Catania, and she told us we would be very welcome. After indulging ourselves with another glass of beer, Jenny produced the much needed insurance policy.
Brian and I had a restful sleep on comfortable beds for a change, and about five o’clock, while Jenny busied herself preparing the evening meal, we went back to Goosander to spruce up. By the time we returned, four of Jenny’s guests had arrived. They were Italian colleagues from the university where she works as a translator.
Luckily they all spoke English, but it was quite an eye opener to hear young Daniel at the age of seven conversing quite fluently in either language in mid sentence. A great evening was enjoyed by all, and we were invited to stay the night.
The following day we were to have a grand tour around Catania. Jenny kept her car in a car park at the rear of the flats. It seemed to possess every anti-theft device that was ever invented. It had been stolen three times in the last year, but luckily the police had been able to recover it without it being damaged.
To keep up with the general flow of traffic, we had to take off at breakneck speed, but around the city centre it was totally chaotic. In the course of a few minutes we had what Brian and I thought, several near misses. When we stopped at traffic lights, and the lights went green, everybody except the first cars on the grid honked their horns, including Jenny. I suggested to her that it was a waste of time and asked her what was the object of doing so. She replied that everybody did it here and that was a way of life. The hooting wasn’t just at traffic lights, but was used when there were any close encounters.
In the afternoon we had a quiet stroll round Jenny’s locality, stopping at a pavement café for coffee and cakes. That evening we took Jenny and Daniel out for a meal at a restaurant of her choosing after visiting the most famous ice-cream parlour in Sicily. We arrived there at half past five, and I must say that I have never seen so many variations of ice-cream. We sat down at one of the inside tables and scanned the menu listing over one hundred varieties, and had to ask Jenny for her suggestions. These were ordered, and in minutes were brought to our table.
She told us that at six o’clock a large black limousine would pull up outside and several men would enter the parlour and order ice-creams. Yes, they were the local Mafia! Sure enough, at six o’clock the limo stopped and four men came in; sat down and ordered their ice creams. Nobody seemed to take any notice of them. I felt almost a sense of awe and rather uncomfortable, but neither Brian nor I could resist a few furtive glances in their direction. Fifteen minutes later they collected their order and drove off.
We had a superb meal that evening on the balcony of a restaurant high above Catania, and I could see and understand why Jenny chose to live and work in this part of the world. It was a truly memorable evening.
We invited Jenny and her dinner guests aboard Goosander for drinks the following day, which was to be our last. As we waited for then on the quay, the young man from the caravan came up to me and asked when we were leaving. I told him it would be the next morning. He then said that I would have to pay 60,000 lire. I was completely taken aback and reminded him of the 30,000 lire I had already paid him for the three days we were there. He informed me that that had been for the first day only, and I must now pay for two more days.
It was no good arguing with him so I told him that I would have to go back to the boat, but at the moment I was waiting for friends to arrive and I wasn’t going to leave the quay. At that moment my guests arrived by taxi. I explained to Jenny what had happened and asked her to have a word with the gentleman, as perhaps there had been a mistake. It transpired that the pontoons belonged to him, and he set the charges, and he would be along shortly to collect the money.
Of course, I should have known better. It is mentioned in the Pilot that certain harbour facilities for yachts are controlled, and where more so than in Sicily.
Our Italian friends had never been on a yacht before, and wondered how two of us could live and sleep in such a small space. After what turned out to be quite a party, we said goodbye and thanked Jenny for her hospitality as they went off in search of a taxi.
Brian and I decided to have an early night. Our guests had left at eight o’clock and we turned in an hour later. It was difficult to sleep in the still hot and sultry atmosphere. I made a mental note to see if I could get a wind shute for the fore hatch. At the time of writing I still haven’t got one!
Next morning Jenny came down to wish us farewell, and asked if there was anything that we needed. We had completely forgotten the diesel, which gave us the opportunity to have a look round and enjoy another relaxing hour drinking coffee, eating cakes and chatting with Jenny. One famous sight that we were unable to see was Mount Etna, as visibility was limited due to the heat haze hanging low over the whole city. We extended our thanks to my niece and cleared the harbour at 1200 on our last leg to Greece.
Chapter 10 Catania – Patras.
We set our watch system of four hours on and four off, which had worked well since leaving Gibraltar. We shared cooking duties and anything that needed attention during the day. The sea was calm with just a light breeze, and to help maintain a reasonable speed we had the engine running at half throttle.
I checked the Loran in Catania, and on each occasion when land bearings were available, it was proving to be extremely accurate and reliable, especially considering the distance of the shore stations. I did however, take occasional sights using the longitude by chronometer method as I had in the Merchant Navy. There is less plotting to do than with the Marc St Hilare method. Longitude by chronometer is most accurate when the sun is more or less east or west, and is not affected by any substantial inaccuracy in the assumed latitude used in calculations.
In this case, the position line runs roughly north and south, and is run up to the noon latitude sight using the transverse tables. I still had my nautical tables and sight book that I had some forty years ago, and using the Ephemeris from Reeds, was now well back into the swing of things. I did however, miss the generally steady platform of a ship’s bridge and a forty foot height of eye, which helped a lot of the guesswork as to what was the true horizon.
My sextant was bought secondhand, and had never been used. It was a Cooke Kingston; an updated version of the model that my parents bought for me when I joined my first ship. For me, taking sights was a very satisfying exercise, and it also gave me something to do. I also took a few star sights, working out their approximate altitude and azimuth in advance, thus making them easier to find before they were visible to the naked eye. A small quartz clock was used as a chronometer and kept on G.M.T.
We had set our course to pass between the islands of Cephalonia and Zakinthos about 330 miles away. This particular part of the voyage was notable for its lack of anything interesting. The wind was now light and northerly and the sea slight, but we still resorted to motor sailing to maintain a reasonable average of about five knots. We still had a long way to go. On our second day out we sighted a large motor yacht about two miles off our port side steaming in the opposite direction, and called them on V.H.F. They were in fact British, and told us that they were on their way to France to pick up the owner and his party, and would be returning to the Ionian Islands for a months cruise.
We sighted the Islands at 0600 on our third day out. The weather was clear with little wind and the sea calm. We altered course a few degrees to close the southern tip of Cephalonia where we saw our first ship on this passage together with several small fishing boats. Some were laying nets, and some were hauling in. Once clear of the southern tip of Cephalonia, we made our way to Araxos, and we eventually rounded it at midnight.
I could now see the loom of the lights above Patras ahead, and by 0530 when it was just getting light, we picked up the long centre breakwater of the harbour. Having called Brian from his slumbers at 0630, we entered the harbour through the westerly entrance. The easterly entrance was being used by the numerous large ferries that were now beginning to arrive from Ancona, Brindisi and Bari in Italy via Corfu and Igoumenitsa in north west Greece.
FERRIES AWAITING DEPARTURE IN PATRAS
We saw that two yachts were berthed on one of the quays so we berthed alongside, despite the fact that they were moored stern to in the traditional manner. The time was now only 0700, and we were exhilarated at having achieved our goal of reaching Greece, although we still had another 120 miles to go to our final destination. We celebrated our arrival as usual with a drink.
Sitting in the cockpit halfway through our drinks we noticed a rather unkempt body approaching.
‘I think we have a visitor,’ muttered Brian.
The man stopped, looked down on us and said, ‘Customs. Come with me. Bring your passports, money and ship’s papers.’
I thought to myself, ‘Here we go again’. I asked him who he was and he repeated again,
‘Customs. Come with me,’ etc. etc.
‘We would like to finish our drinks first, thank you,’ I said.
He was almost certainly not a customs officer, because I happened to know that customs officers in Greece wear smart white uniforms and caps, which are always worn in a horizontal manner. He returned about twenty minutes later. This time I was ready for him. Brian said he would stay on board to look after the boat and tidy up. The strange man and I walked quite a long way to the port offices, and once inside, I was led upstairs into a small office. The ‘minder,’ for that is who he turned out to be, handed me over to a customs officer who asked to see the passports. I laid both passports on the desk and now waited for the now familiar train of events.
He asked me if we were two persons, seeing of course the two passports. I told him, yes, there were two of us, the other person being on the boat. He then enquired if I was the captain, and I told him that I was indeed that person, and that I and my crew member had come from Catania in Sicily, and that we were going to Methana in the Peloponnese. He then asked for proof of our visit to Catania. Luckily I had been able to get a receipt for the 60,000 lire I had paid in the marina. Although it was just an ordinary piece of paper he seemed to accept it without question.
I have a file on board the boat in which I keep every scrap of paper I receive relating to the voyage, which come in handy at times like this. Satisfied, he then started to fill in the form. Then came the dreaded question. ‘What is your tonnage?’ I really thought I had heard the last of that. Once more I trotted out the tonnage as being 2.85 tons. He then made a few calculations, stamped the form and told me to pay the cashier who demanded 3500 drachmas, which at that time was worth £11.
‘Come,’ said my minder, and off we went back towards Goosander. We entered the offices of the port police where we were to get a transit log. There were two police at the desk where I was invited to sit down. The two were talking between themselves for about twenty minutes! One of them casually drew out a long form from a drawer, and asked for my papers. He then handed me a pen, and told me to fill in the form. The form was written in Greek, and thankfully, also in English. This was a great help because my understanding of the Greek language was almost non-existent. I was also presented with a list of possible equipment that I may have on the boat. These were noted in the appropriate slot. Next came the transit log, which was carefully scrutinised, signed and duly stamped. The officer then wrote out a receipt for 4000 drachmas, which I counted out to him. No wonder my ‘minder’ had told me to bring some money. The officer shook hands and we took our leave.
We walked back to Goosander where the ‘minder’ asked if we required any deisel, water, beer, Ouzo, cigarettes or anything else. We certainly needed diesel and water, and thought we would try some Ouzo. Seemingly out of nowhere a taxi appeared; obviously pre-arranged I thought, and we loaded our jerrycans and water carrier in the boot for which I gave him the 10000 drachmas which he had asked for, then off he went.
We both wondered if we would see either the money, the containers or even him again! Of course, we should have had more faith in human nature, for half an hour later the taxi returned. ‘Minder’ had written down the cost of everything and handed me the change. I took it, but then he asked if there was something for him, please. On reflection he had been very helpful, and had undoubtedly saved us a lot of hassle. I gave him what I thought was a reasonable amount and was thanked profusely. Had I overdone it, I wondered? It is always difficult in a foreign country to know at what level a suitable reward should be. However, he seemed more than satisfied, and walked off, no doubt hoping that another foreign yacht would shortly be sailing over the horizon.
We dropped our Q flag as nobody seemed to be interested in it, then had a wash and brush up and went ashore. Patras is quite a large city, being the second largest port in Greece after Pireus. It is noisy, dirty and dusty as one would expect. It is the main ferry port to and from Italy, and about a four-hour drive away from Athens along a good national toll road. We decided to have a short walk round, a leisurely lunch and leave for Corinth by mid-afternoon.
GOOSANDER ALONGSIDE IN PATRAS
The docks, which are quite extensive, are backed by dozens of agents selling tickets for Italy and any other country you may wish to visit including Egypt and Israel. Their adverts are quite garish, as are most of the adverts in Greece. They seem to be round every corner, and definitely meant to catch the eye.
We soon found a taverna where we could have lunch on the pavement, but the traffic was constant and noisy, despite the fact that we were in a side street. We were really quite glad to get away from the town and back to Goosander for some peace and quiet. We cleared the harbour at 1500 with a fresh to strong westerly wind blowing. We had taken the precaution of reefing while in harbour, and as soon as we cleared the breakwater we took off at full speed.
Chapter 11 Patras – Corinth – Palea Epidavros –
FERRIES AT RION IN THE GULF OF CORINTH
This was our best sailing since our twenty-four hour blast after leaving Gibraltar. As we approached the narrowest part of the Gulf of Corinth at Rion, we counted no less than ten ferries crossing in both directions. They connect the Peloponnese with the mainland at the narrowest part of the gulf. The ferries themselves are ‘flatties’, and more akin to the old wartime tank landing craft with their single bow flap.
My wife and I were to take our car over on one of these ferries the following year. All vehicles have to be backed on, including lorries with trailers, and we had to admire the latter for the precision of their manoeuvring to within inches of other vehicles, (providing of course it is not yours!) We were so packed in we couldn’t get out of the car. The ticket sellers somehow managed to squeeze between the cars, but often they had to slide over the bonnet. The crossing is only three miles and takes only twenty minutes, so having to sit in ones car for that time is not too bad. The only problem is that you can see nothing at all.
The wind gradually died and by nine o’clock in the evening there was no wind at all, and the sea was beginning to die down. The Navik was disengaged and replaced by the Autohelm. The coastline to the south of us seemed to be one long village, but there were no usable harbours on this side of the gulf. At two o’clock in the morning with a dead calm sea we were in sight of Corinth town, but at this stage it was impossible to make out the breakwater lights at the entrance to the canal. An hour later I could just make them out against the usual back drop of bright lights.
Goosander was readied for berthing, and once again I called Brian from his slumbers. We slowly entered the harbour, and after a quick look round it wasn’t long before we located a possible berth. By then it was 0300 hrs. We had just tied up and contemplating a rest when a young man approached us waving a piece of paper. ‘Are you English?’ he asked. ‘Yes, we’re English,’ I said. He then enquired if we wanted to go through the canal right then. Brian agreed and I replied in the affirmative. He handed over the piece of paper telling us to fill it in when we were in the canal, adding that when the red lights changed to green we were free to go. The piece of paper that we were given was a transit form, which required details of the boat and crew.
At that moment, the lights changed to green. We slipped our mooring and made our way towards the centre of the canal. There were in fact two green lights, one each side of the canal, and also two vertical red lights between them that appeared to be almost at water level. Looking through the binoculars revealed a dark shape crossing the canal. Brian wanted to know what it was. I wasn’t quite sure. It looked like a very low bridge, but it wasn’t opening! We slowed the boat down and stopped, and a few minutes later the bottom light disappeared followed by the top light. As we passed through we realised that it was not a swing bridge but one which was lowered to the bottom of the canal!
The canal is a little over three miles long, eighty-four feet wide and twenty-four feet deep. The sides are sheer, rising to a height of two hundred and fifty feet; quite spectacular. All ships are towed through using two towing lines, that is one from each bow thereby giving the tug more immediate directional control than a single line. It is only one way traffic of course, even for very small craft and yachts.
The canal is crossed by one major road bridge carrying the Patras to Athens national road, and only one train bridge. The two lower bridges at each end are used more for the convenience of local traffic.
We motored along the canal at about four knots. Looking up at the sheer sides was quite spectacular, and would have been even more so in daylight. The lighting was basic in the extreme, consisting of large light bulbs strung along each side about thirty feet above the water. After about forty-five minutes we were approaching the eastern end, and again saw two vertical red lights in the middle of the canal, and through the glasses we could make out the outline of a similar low bridge. As before, the bridge started to drop as we approached, and the main traffic lights turned to green as soon as we had cleared the bridge.
The control tower came into view to starboard, and below we could see a long pontoon. Someone waved us alongside. Our mooring lines were taken, and we were told to report to the control tower. Gathering up our papers together with the form, which we hadn’t as yet filled in, we ascended the steps to the tower. Two male bodies were dozing in their chairs as we sat down. We handed over our documents and recently acquired transit log. All were closely studied, and the form we had been given was completed.
We were of course asked for our tonnage from which the calculations for payment are made. After paying the fee of 11,250 Dx, Brian and I returned to Goosander. The time was now 0430 and a cup of tea was very welcome. We sat in the cockpit and drank, savouring the pleasant feeling that a good brew can impart to a tired body. The weather was warm and balmy with a gentle breeze, and there were several people sitting on the pontoon fishing. Brian produced his calculator, and after punching in some figures announced that our trip through the canal had cost £45, which was £1 a minute!
The Corinthe canal is well known to be the most expensive canal in the world, and at our rate of £1 per minute of transport, it proved to be so. Just think if your yacht is ten tons, you would hit the jackpot at £100. A couple of years later when my wife and I were sitting in our car watching some yachts come through, I spoke to one German skipper after he had paid his dues. He was quite staggered at having to pay £100.
By 0600 it was beginning to get light. We started the engine and motored slowly out of the harbour setting course for a distant headland on our way to Palea Epidavros some twenty-two miles away. The navigation from now on would be ‘eyeball.’ The scenery was beautiful; the mountains being covered in pine trees with olive groves on the lower slopes. The sheer rocky cliffs fall clear into the sea with deep water at their foot.
THE HARBOUR AT PALEA EPIDAVROS
After having motored all the way, by 10.30 we had entered the small bay, which makes up the harbour. We passed between the two beacons that mark a rocky outcrop, and berthed stern to on the quay. There were several other yachts in, mainly charter with a couple of private yachts at anchor.
We moored next to a charter yacht, where there was a young Dutch crew aboard, who after a short conversation became very interested in our voyage and invited us on board for drinks. As you may have guessed, it developed into quite a party, and when their drinks ran out we invited them aboard Goosander. At last Brian and I had achieved our aim, and now was the time to enjoy ourselves. We eventually ended up with four Dutch, one German, one Greek and two British on board. Goosander was drunk dry!
When everybody had left we turned in for some sleep, not waking up until seven o’clock that evening, and feeling not too bright either. As it was time to eat we went to the nearest taverna for a good meal and a couple of beers, and decided to call it a day, and what a day it had been. A visit to the apartment would have to wait until tomorrow.
The next morning after shopping we managed a good breakfast, and as the apartment was only one hundred yards away, we went to see how it was progressing building wise. We found the caretaker who let us in with his keys. It was certainly nowhere nearing completion and quite chaotic. I couldn’t see the builders finishing it in the time that we had been promised. Much of the workmanship was certainly not up to the standards we would expect in this country. The marble floors that had been polished were covered with cement, paint, mortar and other debris. The woodwork was splashed with cement and paint, and words could not describe the plumbing and the state of the electrics.
I managed to find the foreman who spoke a little English, and told him that I was very concerned about the lack of progress, and the seemingly chaotic state of the flat. I asked him what he was going to do about it. All he would keep saying was that everything would be put right and that it would be finished on time. I was not happy at all, and was certainly not convinced that they could possibly finish on time.
About six weeks after I returned home we were notified by our solicitor that the flat had been completed, and we were advised to inspect the property before making the final payment. As neither my wife nor I could afford the time off work to inspect the flat, we phoned one of the British residents, and asked if he would kindly inspect it on our behalf. He telephoned us the following day to say that everything was in order except the water heater that needed connecting up, and that he would be pleased to do that for us. We then felt happy to make our final payment.
The following morning we were up early, and were now on our last leg of the journey. I remarked to Brian that we really didn’t need our faithful Navik anymore, and as all the future berthing would be stern to, and that any mistakes like hitting the quay would not do it much good, we might as well remove it. We took it to pieces and stowed it in the after locker. Our Nautech Autohelm would now be our full time helmsman. After saying goodbye to our recently acquired Dutch friends who were leaving the island for Poros, we then motored out of the harbour.
There was no wind as we closed the tip of the Methana Peninsular where we visited the couple who had given us information about buying property in Greece. They had a small villa with virtually their own private beach. Although the beach was in fact public, the villa was so remotely situated that for most of the time it remained undiscovered. We anchored close in and were met by John in his dinghy and taken ashore. Here we met his Greek wife, Chrysoulla who handed us two bottles of ice cold beer. What a life!
After a superb lunch with them, Greek style, we caught up on the latest in world affairs. I asked John if he would drive me down to the port of Methana, which was a twenty-minute ride over the mountain. I wanted to see if there was a suitable berth available, and to arrange for someone to look after the boat during my absence in the U.K. Three of us piled into John’s car for the drive to Methana. This road was the only one going to the port, and John ably negotiated the many hair-pin bends. I noticed the absence of any crash barriers despite there being sheer drops, and I was relieved to arrive at the harbour without any mishap.
In the harbour, John spotted his Greek friend, Mitsos who looked after several boats. I asked Chrysoulla if she would negotiate for me, and after a very long and agitated conversation with lots of waving of arms, Mitsos said he could find a berth, and look after Goosander for £20 per month. £8 would be for the harbour dues and the rest would be for him. This was agreed upon and we shook hands on the deal.
I was to learn later that when two Greeks are negotiating or having an argument, it takes a lot of talking and shouting before matters are finally concluded. Even when they walk away they are just as likely to turn round and start all over again!
METHANA. JOURNEY’S END
Methana harbour is well sheltered from all directions except east, and has a narrow entrance with quays on three sides. There are berths for about eighty yachts, most of which winter there. The harbour is officially designated by the Greek government as a ‘marina', and all yachts are moored stern to, using their anchors. There is a mooring charge, which is paid to the port police who have an office in the town some distance away from the harbour.
During the negotiations with Mitsos I had noticed that a grey haired man was keeping an eye on us. When walking back to the car I asked John if he knew who he was. He told me that he was the Harbour Master, and that Mitsos just looked after a few boats privately. I must have looked puzzled because John assured me that there was nothing to worry about because Mitsos had been doing it for several years.
‘Isn’t it sharp practice?’ I asked John naively, but he told me that nobody seemed to bother about it. I didn’t want to know any more, and dropped the subject.
John drove us back to his villa where we thanked our hosts for the help they had given. I went back to Goosander where Brian had been looking after the boat while it was moored at Metanan peninsular. Brian weighed anchor and I started the engine to take us to Methana. An hour later we entered the harbour where Mitsos was waiting for us. We let go two anchors on the run and backed into our berth. Brian leapt ashore with our sternlines, and we were home and dry. It was the end of a challenging journey of approximately 2000 miles in all weathers, where we overcame a few pitfalls on the way, and I’m sure we were not alone in this. To celebrate the occasion, we settled down in the cockpit to have a celebratory drink. I looked up to a couple passing by when they suddenly stopped and looked at Goosander.
‘Excuse me,’ they asked, ‘I know this boat. You’re from Levington aren’t you?’
L.O.A. 28’2". L.W’L 22’00". Beam 8’9". Draft 4’3". Displacement 3.25. tons Keel 1.25 tons. Ballast ratio 38° .
Nautech autohelm 1000.
3 Life jackets.
3 Safety harnesses.
1 Lifebelt with light.
1 Radar reflector.
1 Offshore pack of flares.
1 Bow anchor (Danforth) with 15 fathoms of chain.
1 Stern anchor (Danforth) with 4 fathoms of chain and 20 fathoms of rope.
1Spare anchor (Admiralty pattern).
1 Simpson Lawrence ‘Anchorman’ windlass.
2 Boat hooks.
6 Mooring lines, each 30 feet.
1 Stern boarding ladder.
1 Boom awning.
2 Mainsails. (One new).
2 Headsails. (One new).
Mainsail Roller Reefing.
1 Bilge pump, whale gusher.
2 Gas bottles. (Camping Gaz).Comprehensive sets of tools, imperial and metric.
Spares for toilet, galley pump,engine,batteries for torch and instruments, Navik bulbs, Avon repair kit, paints,varnish, Epoxy, glue, ply, elm timber, and everything else I could think of.
Decca Navigator Mk.2.
Loran C L90.
Walkers log with speedometer.
Cooke Kingston Sextant.
Twin bulkhead compasses.
Binoculars, 2 pairs. 8x30 and 7x50.
Hand bearing compass.
Large rubber (for large mistakes!)
Charts (Admiralty) 42, covering U.K. to Turkey.
Reed’s nautical almanac.
Reed’s Mediterranean almanac.
North Sea and Channel tidal atlases.
France, Spain, Portugal, Gibraltar, Italy, Greece and Turkey.
FUEL 10 galls. plus 2 jerrycans.
WATER. 20 galls. plus 2 jerrycans.
BATTERIES. 2 Vetus 74 amp. And 104 amp.
Avon Redcrest with spare pair of oars.
INBOARD ENGINE. Volvo Diesel 2001, 9.9 H.P.
OUTBOARD ENGINE. Evinrude 2.5 H.P.
Plate 1. Goosander in Fox’s Marina, Ipswich.
Plate 2. The crew, (left to right), Brian Bert and the
Plate 3. A close encounter off Ramsgate.
Plate 4. Drifting along.
Plate 5. Brest Marina showing the Hi-Tech toilet.
Plate 6. ‘Henry’, the autohelm with wet weather
Plate 7. The watch taking a rest.
Plate 8. Our ‘bolt-hole’ amongst the fishing boats in
Plate 9. The defunct engine.
Plate 10. Ready to receive bearers and the new
Plate 11. The new engine awaiting fitting.
Plate 12. Our Spanish engineers and the old engine.
Plate 13. Gibraltar seen from the cable car.
Plate 14. A sense of history.
Plate 15. Our prize purchase of mature cheddar.
Plate 16. Ponte Romano. (Sardinia). Refuge from
battering on the main quay.
Plate 17. Ponte Romano. A shaded avenue of trees.
Plate 18. Where did the skipper park the boat?
Plate 19. Ferries awaiting departure in Patras.
Plate 20. Ferries at Rion in the Gulf of Patras.
Plate 21. Goosander alongside in Patras.
Plate 22. The harbour at Palea Epidavros.
Plate 23. Methana. Journey’s End.
By the same author
Boat Building in Wood
from Lofting to Launching