Getting to the boat, well that was a different kettle of fish. Initially I thought about flying out. But I had so much equipment to take out this wasn’t going to be possible, especially as I also wanted to take out my scuba diving gear! If I drove out to Vonitsa, where I had made arrangements to sail the yacht to, could I leave my car there and get a taxi to take me and two others plus all the gear to Kilada. Yes, but at a cost of over 450 euro. Not a consideration. What about driving to Vonitsa, leaving my car there, picking up a hire car in Vonitsa and leaving it at Argos or Emioni and then getting a taxi. We could then sail to Vonitsa and my car would be there waiting to take us back to the UK. Initially I though the problem was solved when I had hired a car, only to find that the hire company were not able to fulfil their side of the contract. Back to square one. Drop the car in Kilada, sail to Vonitsa, hire a car, drive back to Kilada with either Helen or my brother, pick up my car and drive back to Vonitsa and then back to the UK. This was the solution. Well it was until I checked my insurance policy; it didn’t cover me for Albania, Montenegro or Serbia, so another route was needed. TomTom to the rescue and a new route planned, and what a route!!!
We booked the shuttle to depart England on Sunday 15th September. One way ticket bought as we didn’t know what date we would be returning. The original route was somewhere in the region of 1800 miles. The new one put on an extra 600+ miles but this way we avoided the countries blocked out by my insurance policy. It was my intention to drive all the way to Greece, stopping only for fuel, food, drink and loo breaks and catching forty winks here and there, sharing the driving with Helen. Into France. What a pleasure not to pay any tolls. Then Belgium, Holland and into Germany. The heavens opened up and torrential rain stayed with us for the next day. Next country was Austria. Now this is where George Osbourne could learn a lesson and bring in some extra revenue for the country. We had to buy a vignette, a pass allowing us to drive through the country (on their motorways?) We were only passing through so a single day vignette was asked for. No, 10 day minimum was all that was possible to buy. Same applied to Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria, the next few countries we travelled through. Everything went well until we got to Romania!
Romania. First problem, the officious lady at customs. Now my Romanian was as good as her English and I couldn’t make head or tail of what documentation she was asking for. Eventually sorted, we left with our vignette, but for only seven days, what a bargain compared to the other countries! The motorways disappeared and we were left with single carriageways. Very little opportunity of overtaking – many trucks on the road which slowed down our progress, lots of un-gated railway lines to cross, hardly any road signage and TomTom did not have the best of routes planned – or maybe it was the only one available. It took us up and down the same road several times and it appeared that we were going round in circles. We were! Eventually we found a sign that pointed us in the general direction we wanted to head in, so we took it. As we drove through Romania I found that animals of all shapes and sizes took delight at running out into the road and chase the car. Cats, dogs, the odd hare but worst of all a horse! Three in the morning, extremely tired and thankfully no other cars coming in the other direction, all of a sudden this horse ran into the road from my right. I swerved, it changed direction, we missed each other and it was gone into the dark of the night. The other two were fast asleep and knew nothing of this. Nor the horse and trap that was being driven down the road without any lights. As I approached it, not knowing what it was at the time, someone on board shone a white light giving me the chance to make it out and take avoiding action. [Must be under 7m in length?] We drove through / over the mountains and passed by a lake that seemed to go on for mile after mile. I’m sure it was very pretty but in the dead of night it was very difficult to make out the scenery. Tarmac roads then turned into dust roads, single track with few passing points. It was obvious that work was being carried out to upgrade these roads but, my goodness me, what an experience. Just as well I had recently changed my car and we had a four wheel drive one. Bulgaria was better, but only slightly in terms of their road system. Again, passing through the mountains brought a new challenge but this time Helen was at the wheel and I was trying to grab some shut eye. Eventually we got through Bulgaria to the point when we wanted to drive in Greece. But there were road works and the deviation told us to head towards Serbia. No insurance, no go. We parked up, studied the map book, couldn’t see any other way of avoiding Serbia by taking this road so turned around and headed in the other direction, hoping to find an alternative. We went pass the road works, found a different road, only to have us back on the same road again. We must have been up and down the road about four times before deciding that we had to go along with it. However, had we gone on this road the first time a little bit further than we did, we would have found the road did avoid the need to go into Serbia and took us back on the right road to enter Greece. Greece, the tenth different country on our journey to the boat, was a welcome sight. We headed towards Thessalonika and then Athens. What was noticeable this time that was; on their motorways cash and not credit card was the only acceptable method of payment, and the toll booths were more frequent than before. I know the country is hard up and need the cash, but this was taking it to extremes. Every few miles another toll booth, another two or three euros! We decided to ignore Sat Nav and take a more direct ‘line of sight’ drive to Kilada, via Corinth. Stunning scenery over yet another ranges of mountains, we eventually arrive in Kilada having driven over 2400 miles through ten different countries in around 52 hours (adding on the 2 hours time difference between the UK and Greece). Just in time for a couple of glasses of Mythos and a bite to eat before back to the car for a night’s sleep as the boatyard would not be open until 08.00 the following morning.
The boatyard opened up actually before 08.00 so I strolled in to locate my yacht, Electron. It was in the same place when I had previously viewed her back in June. A quick look around her and then back to the car to wait for the other two to wake up. It wasn’t long before they stirred. We drove through the gates and parked by the yacht. As I had a spare set of keys we climbed the ladder and began to unload the car with all of the bits and pieces we had brought out with us. What a lot more space now in the car but the boat was beginning to feel somewhat cluttered. I had asked for Electron to be prepared for putting to sea and for the engine to be serviced prior to our arrival. All that needed to be done now was to get provisions and then get her put into the water. Off to the supermarket we went and it seemed as though we had brought out the store. As it was very hot we purchased plenty of salad stuffs, lots of water – still and sparkling, beers wine and a couple of pairs of crocs. (That’s actually how I felt after all of that driving!)
Well that's my cabin sorted out!!
How NOT to prepare the boat for sea!
Sailing it, now that’s a completely new chapter! Whilst Helen and Michael were getting everything stored away I took myself off to the Coastguard to let them know we were due to have the yacht put into the water and would be sailing off into the distance. The intention was to sail her to Vonitsa, in the Ionian area, as I had been in touch with a boatyard there with regards to getting work done on her. New holding tanks, some stern work and a bit of updating on the gas pipes / gas locker. We got Electron put into water by about 14.00 the same day. The previous owners had provided me with a set of starting instructions so I got them out of the folder and, as I read through the details my brother was at the helm carrying them out. The engine just would not start. Fortunately for us Phillip, a mechanic from Germany, was on deck of his boat on the same pontoon. He could see that we / I was struggling and he came on board to see if he could work out what was going on. Eventually he checked the batteries and found them to be at fault. Having two very new batteries he offered these to me at a discounted price. Not being in a position to do anything else I said I would have them and off he went to get them. Once fitted the engine started we made our way off the pontoon, along the dredged channel into the bay. We anchored temporarily in the bay so that I could give my safety briefing to all the crew, both of them, reading it off my prepared laminated cards so nothing was left out. A few interruptions later we were ready. By this time it was getting into the early evening. Without a passage plan we decided that we would head for one of the close islands, Nisi Ipsili, so with the electric windlass attached I began to raise the anchor. The cogs were slipping and the chain jumped off the winch so I started to haul it in by hand. 30m of chain later it was safely stored on board we were on our way. As soon as we left the sheltered bay we winds were beginning to pick up and the waters were getting quite choppy. I could remember that the coast guard had indicated to me earlier that the winds would be picking up so I decided that we would turn around, head back to the pontoon, and moor up for the night. It was getting dark by now. We remembered to go between the red / green channel marker cones as we headed for the pontoon but by the time we got there someone had taken the place we had vacated. There was nothing else for it, turn around in a narrow channel, head out for deeper water and anchor up for the night. In turning the boat around we found ourselves in water which was far too shallow and grounded. Fortunately with a bit of power from the engine we freed ourselves and got into deeper water. By now it was dark and all we wanted to do was to drop the anchor. Giving plenty of space to the other boats around us the anchor was dropped, bearings were taken to check whether the anchor was dragging, and the anchor light illuminated. Funny thing is, most of the other boats around us did not have theirs lit! Next problem, we could not open the sea cocks to both heads! Not a problem for the men but certainly a big one for Helen, so one of the many buckets on board was put to use. Later on a very welcome evening meal was had followed by a few drinks and we settled down for the night. The bearings were checked every half hour and it was decided that Michael would do the first watch and I would take over from him. Off to bed, laying out flat for the first time in three days. I must say it was very comfortable and the time went by all too quickly. A knock on the cabin door and it was time for my watch to begin. Sitting in the cockpit with little to do other than stare at the stars I got out one of the many boat books and read. The time went quickly and before long the sun was rising. Oh dear, a quick look over the side of the boat I could see that we were in shallow water again, some distance from where the other boats had anchored up. When the other two had awoken I changed into my swimming costume, put on flippers and mask and went into the water The draught of the boat is 1.85m. There was probably only 10cm between the bottom of the keel and the sea floor. Just as well we were in an area that had no tidal change! It was nice having a swim and it wasn’t long before Helen jumped in too. Breakfast served we planned what we would do. Checking the battery monitor it appeared that we wouldn’t be doing much. With two new (or newish) batteries installed we were surprised to find that we were down on power. Phillip had left me his business card so the phone was switched on and a call made to him. He arrived in his tender, climbed on board and checked the third battery. This one too was not charging, despite being connected to a trickle charge solar panel for the past year. Off he went to buy another battery for me but told me he would not be able to return until after 16.00.
And what else could go wrong?
Nothing else for it but to spend the rest of the day in the water swimming. Later that afternoon Phillip returned with a new battery and I was left 190 euros lighter after it was fitted. While he was on board I mentioned to him the windlass problems we had experienced. He checked this, dried all of the WD40 oil that had been sprayed between the plates and told us that we shouldn’t have done that. They are friction plates and cannot work if drenched in oil! At least we knew the batteries would be okay, having replaced all three. The tender was inflated, the outboard fitted and put into the water. We had moved from our morning position to deeper water and had set the anchor again. Bearings were taken and monitored every half hour. Another evening meal of salad, more beers and wine with the odd cup of Earl Grey, we settled down for night. The same watches were taken, Michael first and me second. More stars to look at but this time I saw a shooting star for the first time in many years. That was the event of the watch before daylight broke again. Another swim, breakfast and passage planning. Having experienced two days of very little movement it was decided that the third day would be exactly the same. It wouldn’t be wise to go far if further problems were to materialise. Bang go my big dreams, but common sense was to prevail. With the tender in the water I thought I would row to the shore to get some fuel for the outboard and then we had some faster transport to get us to the shore – as the heads were still not in operation. Fuel purchased I got back to Electron filled up the outboard and set off to check that it was working. It fired up quite quickly so I hitched it back up to Electron, got a shopping list and set off for the shore. It ran perfectly there but, having got all of the provisions, no sooner had I left the pontoon, she stalled. I had to row all the way back to the boat. Later that evening it was deemed necessary to get some more provisions. This time Michael and I took to the tender and set off for the supermarket. The outboard engine started but about 50m away from Electron she conked out so I rowed to the shore. Provisions purchased we, Michael and I, decided it was time to visit the local hostelry for a beer or two. We were part way through the second when the phone went. Helen was calling to say that she thought the anchor was dragging. We got back into the tender but the engine would not start. Another phone call from Helen, we’re going to hit another boat. A rowed as fast as I could but couldn’t see where we had anchored. Eventually we got to Electron, just as she was backing on to another boat. No damage, just the ignominy of finding that, somehow, the boat had managed to get knocked into reverse gear. We pulled the anchor up and moved Electron to a more open space to set anchor once more. More bearings taken, same routine really as the previous two nights.
The following morning we lifted the anchor after breakfast and decided to just ‘motor’ around the islands that we had seen in the distance for the last few days. The sea was very calm, hardly a breath of wind and no sign of any other yachts either under sail or motor. A quick trip and we headed to the pontoon to get rid of all the rubbish that had built up over the last few days, especially the three batteries as they were cluttering up the stern. Straight onto the pontoon, springs set, trundle unloaded to carry the batteries to the dumping area, off I went to get rid of everything. I also made a trip to the supermarket to get some more still water – too much tea being drunk by someone. Back on board we started the engine, only to hear the alarm going off. Engine switched off, let the engine cool down, engine switched on ,alarm on! Here goes. A phone call to Demitris, the engineer who had serviced the engine. Unfortunately he was in Athens but would send his father and he would be with us in an hour or so. Before long his father climbed on deck and proceeded to check out the engine and its cooling system. A couple of calls to his son and then the phone passed over to me to let me know that he thought that it was either the thermostat or pump. He couldn’t be sure until it was removed and this would be the following day. Next day Demtris’ father returned with some more tools, a further look and, even where I was standing I could see it wasn’t looking good. It was confirmed, it was the thermostat AND the water pump. Another call to his son to confirm and the bad news was relayed to me. Nothing else for it, take the boat out of the water, back into the boatyard and do some cleaning on it. The next day Demitris came on board to give me the bad news. Pump, thermostat and bits and pieces would come to over 800 euros plus VAT at 23%. I did know that parts were expensive but not that much. Advice that I had received suggested I buy the parts back in the UK and have them shipped out. Demitris removed all the parts, and bagged them up, ready for me to take them home with me.
Sorting out Electron - on LAND!
The next few days were spent sorting out all of the rest of the equipment, checking out and tidying up the lockers, throwing away any bits and pieces that we didn’t need. It was at this time that I found that I owned duplicate / triplicate numbers of anchor balls, steaming cones etc. We also discovered that there was a fault in the electrics. We had connected up to the shore power but there was still a drain on the batteries. The wiring to all the batteries was checked, diagram drawn first so as not to make any mistakes when it was all replaced. The solar panel wasn’t charging the batteries because there was no fuse in the holder! Pity I had cut the cables off it when I installed my two 100w panels, but then I needed the cable to wire mine in. Everything else appeared to be as it should but I wasn’t going to risk it, I contacted another local, Andreas, an electrician, to check out the charging issues whilst we were away from the boat. So that’s the water pump and the electrics that needed to be sorted out before our return.
Another trip to the local bar, but this time with a legitimate reason. I needed to book our return ticket for the shuttle. I also had no intention of driving all the way back to the UK taking the same route so it was decided to get the ferry from Patras to Ancona, book an hotel for the night in Piacenza and then spend a night in Geneva with an aunt and uncle I hadn’t seen for many, many years. Ferry booked, hotel booked and a couple of beers, we returned to Electron to settle in for the night. The next day we stored everything away, taking down the bimini and canopy cover, emptied the tanks, oiled all of the sea cocks so the problems we had earlier were not repeated and locked everything away. Keys handed into the office we set off for home. Michael had much more room on the return leg and was happier with this, I was happier as I only had three countries to go through and Helen, well she had her kettles and ciggies so she was happy. An uneventful trip down to Patras we got to the port in plenty of time but needed to be. It took ages to get on the ferry as the port police were checking every single vehicle. Once on the ferry we were instructed to park in a particular way. The person sorting out all of this was certainly not clear in his instructions, only giving hand signals and no verbal instructions. Needless to say it took time. Even more time getting off as vehicles and lorries were parked in every conceivable direction. Once in Ancona it took over an hour to leave the dock. Maybe the ferry company ought to check how they do it at Calais and Dover. A quick dash up the motorway to Piacenza and the hotel, just in time to get a beer before last orders. The hotel was nice and clean, the breakfast very good and reasonably price, especially as I had tried to book hotels in Bologna and couldn’t get anything for less than 500 euros.
Getting out to sail Electron - 1st. time.
Sorting out the wiring, setting up the two solar panels I had brought out and finding out that the trickle charge solar panel on the yacht did not have a fuse in the fuse holder. No wonder the batteries were flat! Also, checking out contents of the lockers.