Sail away with Paul Chopin.
A blog highlighting the steps taken to purchase a yacht, getting out to sail her and the adventures, not to mention the cost(!) in putting her to sea.
Leaving Greece for Rome, May 2014
Well, the decision had been made to move my yacht from Greece to Italy. I had been informed by Evangelos at the boatyard that the greek government were intending to raise revenue by charging all boat owners, regardless of nationality a tax for sailing in their waters. Although for my boat it would probably only amount to an additional £400 a year, with the flights, car hire and travel time between the airport and the boat yard, I had made the decision to relocate to Rome. My brother was living out there who could keep an eye on Electron in my absence, flight time was half that to Athens and the marina was only 10 minutes from the airport. However, it is quite likely that we will drive out there as the marina fees include a parking place for the car. Taking everything into consideration the extra cost of the marina fees in Rome (Porto Turistico di Roma) would probably even itself out with the additional expense of getting to Athens etc. Also, with the boat being much closer it is very likely that more use will be made of her - that said, I do have two brothers who will expect to take advantage of her being in Rome! My intention was to have a team of at least four during the passage as this would make watch keeping less stressful and provide all with sensible non -contact time. I had been let down by one who informed me that he could not make the trip. I was now scratching around to find at least one other as, a couple of weeks before we were due out there was only myself and my brother. We managed to find a third person, keen but not a sailor with lots of experience. Fitted in nicely then as I had very little experience, having owned the boat for less than a year, and my brother who had owned his own boat but that was a few decades ago!
Fight into Athens with EasyJet - good and ahead of schedule. Hired car with Pops Car Rentals as knew I could drop it off in Ermioni. Got to the meeting point - no one there. Many a number of calls but nobody picking up. Went into the airport to get on the internet to look act their website to see if further details of contact were available. Got another number and finally got through to Eleni. The booking had been recorded for the following day! Anyway, she came out to meet us (on her birthday - bless her) and took us back to the office where all paperwork and a car was taken care of. Left Athens just before 22:00 and drove to Kilada, just in time to get a couple of pints in at the local. On board the boat and a good nights sleep. Wednesday 21.05.2014 Took car to the supermarket to get the rations for the trip. Put the solar panels on the newly made roll bar and wired the first one up. Needed some more cable for the second one, which Andreas my electrician, said he would buy for me in Porto Helio. He went through the jobs that I had requested him to do. All the spaghetti of wires leading to the batteries had been tidied up, excellent but not requested, battery monitor wired up, isolation battery switch not put on - told me it was the wrong type. Water leak, not done. He thought it was the newly installed holding tanks rather than the actual water tank leading to the domestic water supply that was leaking! Replace all the gas pipes, not done. After I had shown him what needed to be done, he came back later that afternoon and checked out the water leak fault. Showed me that the calorifier was leaking and needed replacing and isolated the water lines leading to it to prevent further leakage.
With the new cable the second solar panel was wired in. On checking the wind generator charge regulator it wasn't registering any power being stored. Thought I would check the wiring from the batteries. I isolated the fuses and disconnected all the wires from the wind generator, the solar panel and the battery itself. In replacing the wires I managed to touch the positive and negative battery wires together as I was putting them back on the regulator. It blew the fuses. I had forgotten to remove the shore power cable and these wires were still live! A new charge regulator to buy when I return to the UK. Met Kevin, one of the crew to help me sail from Greece to Itsly at Ermioni ferry terminal and dropped the car back with the rental company. They were good enough to drive us back to the boatyard without charge. Thank you Pops Car Rental. Meal in the Greek restaurant in Kilada the we went to last time. Superb food and meet up with the couple from Norfolk that were saw last time (there, and in Hydra and Poros!)
Had been on the phone many times yesterday to find out the state of play with regards to the new life raft that I had ordered at the start of the month in the UK, to be delivered to Kilada by the 20th. Promised that it would be with me a.m. today. The boat was lifted into the water at 11:00 so I phoned the shipping agent in Greece and Seago in the UK. Lorry broken down, just outside Ermioni. Asked if I could collect it, NO! More phone calls and a latest time for it to be with me would be 17:30. 17:30 came and went and I phone back Seago in the UK and told them that the order would be cancelled and I would sail to Italy with my old life raft. I had already given Seago prior warning that this would happen if it failed to arrive by a certain time, and I had extended this by a further 2.5 hours. Kieron at Seago did say that he would try to get it shipped to Italy for me and I said I would be happy for this to be done. Finally left the mooring in Kilada for the trip to Italy at 17:45. An hour or so into our journey I get a phone call from the delivery driver with my life raft. Where am I and what can he meet me to make the delivery. I gave him my Lat and Long and said I was willing to have it brought out to me. He couldn't do that so he got the shipping agent to call me back. I also told him what would happen if it didn't turn up by the agreed time. More excuses, traffic busy, lorry broken down, etc, etc. Return it to Seago and they will sort it out. Safety at sea and all the necessary talks were given as we were making our way on the planned route via the SW peninsula of Greece, watch rotas were agreed and three happy people (I think) were finally on the way to Italy.
As it happens, my watch was from 00:00 - 04:00. Nothing to report seeing, as it was pitch black! Sleep until 08:00 and then back on watch. Breakfast provided for the crew, cheese and ham toasted sandwiches and then general lookout. A few dolphins seen and many large tankers but that's about it. The day went through unspectacularly but by about 19:00 the weather turned foul and it blew up to F5. I know this as I was being thrown about in my bed by the waves! Michael was feeling poorly so we ran for cover in Porto Kayio. Anchored down for the night, both bow and kedge, and rested for the following day.
I lifted the kedge anchor whilst waiting for the crew to stir. Once they had, and water and oil checked we began to lift the bow anchor. It was straining to be lifted and finally it appeared, snagged with another! Swinging off the pulpit (at my age) trying to separate the two was very difficult. All three of us tried to release the offending anchor but with little success. Two anchor lines attached, they finally parted company, but only after one of the lines had broken the casing on one of my newly fitted LED bow lights. More expense! Off we headed with the intention of getting to Pilos to fuel up before the main run across to Italy. It was a 15 hour trek to Pilos so we re routed to Kalamata, thinking that we could fuel up be 18:00 and then continue our journey through the night. Oh no. The Greeks were holding their European elections and everything was closed for the day. We were left with nothing else to do but to stay in the marina for the night and await the fuel truck in the morning. We all showered and set off for a bite to eat. A typical Greek restaurant, we ate, burgers, chips lamb ribs and chicken! We did have some Greek local wine - best to avoid for future reference.
I started to repair the bow light but needed some super glue. I sent one of the crew off to get this and the other to get some provisions. I had to wait for the fuel truck, which was punctual. 72 litres at a cost of €103. Super glue purchased, I proceeded to stick my fingers together. The tube was leaking! Anyway, it's back in a new position, hopefully out of harms way. Tender repositioned on the stern we set off, later than anticipated at 10:45. No wind or at least not in our favour. Motoring hour after hour is quite boring, especially if there is little to see or do. A few freight vessels and then, joy of joys, alight plane was doing some aerial stunts close to the island we were passing. Excellent break in the monotony. A cruise liner and, when I was on my rest period in my cabin the other two crew members saw a pod of dolphins. Just my luck. Nothing else to report.
Very confused seas, churning in every direction. The boat was being push in all directions and our speed went down to 1.8 knots. I don't think I've got a spare month to make this passage at that rate. Later on in the day both sails were out and we sprinted up to a lofty 7.4 knots. If only we could keep this up. No we can't! That was it for the day, a couple of freight vessels, a few fish jumping out of the water and three sea birds were all that was spotted.
After the 20:00 to 04:00 watch I woke to cloudy dull weather with hardly any breeze. Both sails set, trying to eke out what little power there was, we managed to get just around 5 knots out of Electron. Nowhere near the 7.4 knots we achieved yesterday, albeit just for a short period of time! Nothing to be seen on the horizon. During the course of the day the weather brightened up but still hardly any wind to assist. Very little to see in this vast expanse of sea, save for a couple of container ships / ferries, four dolphins, two that swam close to the boat and a couple of insects, taking respite from wherever they had travelled from. Later that day we noticed a pair of jet streams on either side of use. The weather vane was spinning through 360 degrees so now, no wind whatsoever!
The night watch for me began, as it always does (!) from 20:00 the previous day until 04:00. During the midnight to 04:00 session there was very little to do or report. We recorded the usual facts and figures, including the barometer pressure. At 04:00 when I turned in it was 1009mb, 05:00 it had risen to 1010mb. The next hour it was back to 1009mb and by 08:04 it had jumped to 1017mb. Oh dear, what did they tell me about a rise of 8mb over three hours? Oh that's right, a gale is on its way. Correct. No where to run or hide, we just had to ride this one out. Being pitched all over the place, trying to maintain any sort of course was nigh on impossible. We tried to find refuge by steering away from it, but that was taking us way off our intending route. Steering north of it wasn't much better so we returned back to our original bearing of 290 degees, speed down to just over a knot, and bashed our way through wave after wave! Four hours later we are still finding the water very lumpy, but at least we have a little bit more speed, 3.6 knots, with a postage stamp size main sail out to help. We thought we might have got to mainland Italy today. Somehow I doubt it, with probably a further 20 hours ahead of us until we get to a marina on the southern part of the mainland. We actually did, well no, not really, it was 03:30 the following morning. The intention was to go through the straits of Messina that evening. Attempting to steer any course on that bearing was nigh on impossible, helped mainly with a poorly wrapped head sail which was not fully furled, leading to it being taken as a tri sail! This meant that as soon as the intended course was reached the boat swung away from it as the sail came into play! A change of course to a more northly approach gave us some headway but was taking us further and further away from the entrance to the straits. A quick check in the Italian Pilot guide for another refuge port found Roccella Ionica.it wad twenty miles in the wrong direction but at least we manage to steer towards it, and at between four and five knots. The guide also indicated that an attempt at night should not be made but we had no other option, we were going in. A call to the port authority gave us a pontoon to berth on. A reconnaissance of the entry into the marina and Electron was going in. Difficult to see the transit marks at 03:00 but we made it over the sand bar and on to the dock. Spring lines attached, three bottles of beer were cracked open to celebrate the horrendous day that we had just experienced!
I hadn't realised, or had forgotten to put my watch back one hour due to the time zone difference between Greece and Italy. Consequently I was up an hour earlier than intended and woke up the crew! They were not amused. Round to the port police to register my entry into Italy, form surely filled in, I then went in search of where I could get some diesel. No telephone numbers around, I asked one of the fisherman on the quayside.. He made a telephone call and told me that it was all taken care of. A couple of hours later(!) the fuel man came along to me and told me that as I wasn't going today another person would be fuelled ahead of me. I pointed out that this was not the case, he went off, had a cigarette and a chat with colleagues and returned to explain how payment would be made. Another hour passed and I eventually got my fuel - very expensive at €1.65 per litre,but at least we could now crack on. We left the marina at mid day heading for the straits of Messina for a second time. As I type this, at 22:29, local time we are still some 20 miles away from the entrance. However, we are making headway and, hopefully, the tides and currents in the straits will be in our favour - please!
It was a hard long slog against the currents in the run up to the entrance to the straits. The lighthouse forever seemed to be on my starboard side. Even adding a few more revs to the engine didn't seem to do the trick. Eventually we were on the TSS. At this point the tide turned and was now in our favour and we were soon approaching the heady speed of 6.2 knots. At 03:30 the was very little traffic to worry about as we made progress. By the time we reached the roundabout system a ferry wanted to come across the TSS, so I eased of my speed to let it pass. Back on the throttle we were through. I hadn't contacted the port authority. It is a voluntary scheme. However, once contact is made then you agree to all of their rules and regulations. Fine, but step a foot wrong and it could cost you dearly, as others have explained in their blogs. One of my crew was jumping ship. He had to get back to work for Monday so we headed for Gioia Taura marina, about 10 miles further north and dropped him off. Hopefully he should have little difficulty picking up a taxi to take him to the train station and then off to Rome airport. My othe crew, my brother and I cracked on. We contacted our third brother who lives in Rome to get an idea of the weather we could expect as we made our way up to him. NW to W winds of little speed. No in our favour again. We looked at alternative approaches, Naples, Ischia, etc but decided with time running short we would go on without an overnight stop, yet again. Stromboli on our port side for quite some time it reminded me of last night and the lighthouse. It's still there, over my shoulder and it's been in view for the past three hours. It's now 18:27, local time. Maybe well get a light show from it later on this evening?
Well we didn't get a light show from Stomboli, which must have upset all of the tourists that had gathered there on the cruise liners. We did, however, get an almighty light show from a pretty close thunder storm. Fork and sheet lightening is something that you really don't want to see when the tallest thing around you is your mast! It went on for at least a couple of hours and thankfully, it past by without any heart stopping moments. It did throw up a stom and the waters were very churned up. Battling our way through these meant the speed had dropped from a lively 5+ to between 2 and 3 knots. On top of that I had to remember what lights were presented to me on different vessels. Fishing vessels, trawlers, ferries, container ships. One trawler was going up and down a section of water. I couldn't see where it's nets were and it was going at a greater rate of knots that making a decision as to where and how to avoid it quite demanding, at 03:00 in the morning! We ploughed on taking turns to man the helm until it was my shift (again) at 05:00. My intention had been to continue up to Rome and take up the berth that I had arranged some time ago. I had booked flight to leave on Wednesday and it was still possible to make it. However, I had to consider the strain it was taking on us all and I decided that, for the time being, we should cut our loses and head for a much closer marina and lay it up there for a period of time until either I could move it on to Rome or I could arrange for someone to do it on my behalf. So, we are now heading for Acciaroli marina and hope to be there within the next three to four hours. Having arrived at Acciaroli we moored up on a private pontoon. I headed off to find the harbourmaster, not to be found. I then enquirer with another sailor where I could find him and he made a call on my behalf. Five minutes later Antonio turned up. Told me I couldn't moor here, which I expected but then told me to leave immediately. I tried to reason with him. No way. Resetting the lines to springs he thought I was tightening them and proceeded to try and take a line off me and throw it towards the boat. Uncalled for. I asked for 10 minutes to prepare and he walked off muttering something to other Italians on a boat just up the jetty from mine. We left the pontoon and went to the wall on the other side of the harbour, directed by another friendly Italian, Fabio, who told me, one night. So much for support and help when you need it. My brother had driven down from Rome with a view that he could help me sail her for a day whilst my other brother, crewing for me, could drive his car back and have a good rest. We mulled over the options and decided that a good nights rest for both of us would be more beneficial and, instead, we would go off and have a nice meal before resting up for the night. A beer and a couple of bottles of wine, and a lovely fish meal were just the trick.
Up at 05:30, boat checked over, or so I thought, and we set off on the last leg for Rome. Once outside the harbour we began to get good speed, over 6 knots and sometimes 7. However, the water was beginning to get pretty choppy so we reefed the main and took in the head sails. Speed down to five knots. As we were approaching Capri I looked at the transom and noticed that the fuel filler cap had been left off from the night before ( in our hurry to leave the private pontoon before Antonio got his 'brothers" down. Thoughts of water in the diesel tank ran through my mind, out at sea, with a deadline of being in Rome before midday tomorrow! So far the engine is running beautifully so hopefully all is well and no water has got in. Another thing to check before setting off in future. During the course of the day the sails were out, reefed back in, out, main sail only and all other combinations. The winds were light to begin with and then got progressively stronger. By late afternoon all sails back in and were were battling against strong headwinds with a short wave gap, sending the boat skywards as we tried to make as much distance as possible. By midnight the weather had settled down and we managed to maintain at least four knots under engine as opposed to the 1.5 - 2.5 we were previously achieving. Target of arriving in Rome by tomorrow still on.
Over the course of the preceding 24 hours we manged to clock up over 100 miles. Another 60ish to go before arriving at the marina. A few checks on the charts to avoid the marine reserves and a new course was plotted. Off we set, no sails though. Although the wind vane showed we could be on a run there was no wind at all to talk about. As we approached Cape d'Anzio a motor launch was fast approaching us. They indicated to get on to Channel 8 on the VHF radio and informed us that we were in a military area. Apologies, we were told to head on a bearing of 270 degrees for 3 miles before changing course. Duly done, next port was Rome. We had to avoid a marine reserve and, rather than go west of it, seeing another yacht go between this and the coastline I followed the same course. When Michael woke from his sleep I told him of my actions. He decided to cut back and join the original track, taking us into the marine reserve! Another boat was once again fast approaching us. Each time we changed direction so did it. Engine cut, just sail, the other boat stopped about 20m from our bow. It weighed up our position, just outside of the restricted area, and then sped off, straight through the marine reserve!!! At around 15:30 we finally made it into Porto Turistico di Roma. We had got there despite the lack of crew, sleep, weather and wind all being against us. We had covered just under 1000nm. Quite an accomplishment considering that Michael was the only really time experienced sailor amongst us. Frank came to join us later that night and another fine meal and wine was had by all.
The day was to be spent thoroughly cleaning the boat from head to toe before heading back to the UK. We had plenty of food and drink left in the fridge so a big hearty lunch was made. The quantity of beers were slowly being reduced but we weren't able to dispose of everything. The food was given to Frank to take home, the drink left for next time we came out. Frank came to the boat after work with another exceptional bottle of red before we headed off to the airport. Bag booked into the hold we moved through security and then decided to have a bite to eat. A low quality meal ( compared to the ones I had been serving up!) we then had to find a bar / cafe to get a drink of coffee. Whilst sitting there I could not see our flight on the board. I walked over to the Norwegian Air desk and asked where it was going from. Gate G was the response and we were at Gate D! We ran as fast as we could, caught the shuttle train to G and finally got to G14, where I thought the flight was leaving from. It was all closed up. There had been last calls for our flight so I thought we had missed it. In panic I spoke to one of the staff who put us right. It was Gate 11 and as we approached the gate there were still a few passengers waiting to get on the plane. Relief! We flew back with Norwegian Air so, with wifi available on board I decided to get my IPad out. Damn, I had left it in the back of my brother's car, so it will have to stay there until we go out in September!!!
The first night at sea. Beautiful sun set. We were all keeping watch for the 'green flash' which is something that is said to be seen when the sun goes down at sea. It wasn't seen that night or any of the following nights.
As we were battling to get anything close to three knots this blessed cruise ship came rattling pass doing something close to 15 knots. At least that's what AIS said she was doing, but I think it was more.
We had a choice of routes to take the boat to Rome. Either to go through the Corinth Canal and then across to the eastern side of Italy or, the shorter route, go south west from Kilada and then diagonally across to Italy, cutting in between Italy and Sicily via the straits of Messina. I chose the shorter route but, with hindsight I wish I had gone north! Might have avoided the gale at least.