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Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Any port in a storm

Over the VHF we hear that lots of our flotilla have had difficulty making Paxos and a change of plan has sent them all to Sivota which is about six miles from where we're heading. We make a quick calculation that we could also make this port putting an extra hour onto our proposed plan. By the time we're approaching Sivota it's getting dark and before we enter the calmer waters on the approach to Sivota we are night sailing. Now we've done this on the Clyde and down the Menia straights but with a qualified yachtmaster aboard, but here we are in foreign waters with just me and Jackie aboard. We check the chart which tells us there's a light house right on the point ahead. This is easy to spot, but the chart also has a red flashing light every five seconds near the harbour. So far we can't see that so we motor on towards the lighthouse until the lights of Sivota are away to our port side. Well is it Sivota as we still can't see a red flash every 5 seconds. Our lead skipper is on the VHF asking if we can see the red light in the port, but amongst all the street lights it's impossible to tell. Never the less we head towards the twinkling lights straining our eyes to pick out this illusive light. In the gloom we can barely see the shape of land, we check the pilot book and discover that there's a sea wall around the harbour and we're aimed straight for it, we turn quickly starboard and there in the distance is this red light. It's not flashing at all and there was nothing on the end of the sea wall to indicate that this also may be a hazard. Now within sight of the masts of our flotilla we cut the engine revs and glide slowly in the dark towards the red light that's next to where our leader wants me to dock. Just turn around now and come in stern first. WHAT! This is going to be rather tricky as I've never done this manoeuvre ever. He wants me to squeeze between two other yachts. Just point the tiller the way you want the boat to go, oh right and do the throttle at the same time, why not. Actually at this point some inappropriate air of confidence sprang out of nowhere and before you could say bobs your uncle, or some more appropriate nautical term we were throwing our lines to the crew on the dockside. After two hours of night sailing we were safely tied up and ready for a well earned G&T.
We didn't expect to be using our night sailing training here but so glad to have done it as we felt on top of the situation all of the time.

Ten yards from our boat is a bar and we order a series of G&Ts whilst we recant our adventure to Pat and Dave whilst we get nicely drunk before falling into our berths aboard Othina for a good nights sleep.

Incidents and accidents

Sciroco scuttles off and we set about raising the sails again which I had hurriedly taken down when Tom came to check our leak. I had dropped it in some what of a hurry and although I took little notice, I did clock that some of the plastic bits that hold the main sail to the mast had slipped out as the sail came down. By now the wind had freshened, as us nautical types say, and the sea had become decidedly lumpy. Raising the sail on a Jaguar has to be carried out stood by the mast, on top of the coach house. This is a job for Cpt Col as Jackie tries to hold the boat heading into the wind.

It's a rolly polly ride and now I discover what the problem is with these bits that keep the sail hooked into the mast. Somehow we've lost a stopper and it turns out that about half of these "cars" have slipped out. Hanging on tightly with one hand around the mast I feed each of these "cars" back into the mast with the other, whilst hauling the halyard to the main sail with the other hand. Hang on that makes three arms, but that's what I needed. The sail went up a foot at a time and beat about wildly, whipping one way and the other on this bucking bronco of a boat. After a real struggle the main sail reached the top of the mast, I cleated it off and returned exhausted to the safety of the cockpit.

We unfurled the jib and once more we are underway and heading for Paxos which is still some 20 miles away. In about 2 hours we've covered about two miles. We spend the next four hours tacking, but we're getting nowhere fast. I check the GPS but it keeps giving me the same reading. I turn it off and back on again thinking it's maybe hanging like computers do, but no, it comes back on with the same position. Looking back at where we've come from we seem to have hardly moved. A quick calculation on the chart tells us that at this rate we'll be lucky to make Paxos by tomorrow never mind today.

We decide to switch from sailing to motoring, at least that way we can head straight towards our destination. Unfortunately the waves and the wind are pounding the bows of Othoni and try as we may we can't make more than 2 or three knots. At this rate we wil not be in Paxoe for another ten hours.
Sciroco Sciroco this is Othoni, over, Go ahead Othoni, we have decided to head for our home port of Patricas as we won't make Laka with our present speed before midnight, over, OK keep in touch Othoni, will do Sciroco, out.

It's a hard slog through very choppy seas and we're still six hours from Platarias. We've put away the jib but the mainsail is still up and is perhaps slowing us down. We need to lower it but if we do we're concerned that it will fall out of the mast and end up in the sea. So time for an improvised repair.

I find a harness, as it's very rough, and clamber up to the mast, one hand for the boat and one for me. At the mast I use a spare halyard to wind around the mast to act as a temporary stop for the sail when we drop it. Once that's done I drop the main and the fix works, I get back to the cockpit and we gain an extra knot.

We're still bouncing along when we hear a loud mechanical noise behind us. We whirl round to see the kedge anchor chain, which was sitting in a plastic bucket on the back of the boat paying itself out behind us and threatening to snag the propellor. This could spell disaster and I make a grab for it. Slowly and carefully I haul it back into the boat with no prop wrap problems, talk about incidents and accidents.

Not exactly sinking

Tuesday we were told at the 9.30 briefing we were to sail to Laka in Paxos, a distance of some 20 miles south, the wind was forecast force 4 to 5 from the south east. We had a slight delay getting away as we had to wait for the lead crew captain to change one of our main sheet jammers that had been slipping yesterday, this meant that by the time we got away it was almost 11am. It later transpired that this replacement was almost as bad as the old one, but that was to be the least of our problems today.

We had been warned about lazy lines, they're ropes that lie in the water to tie your boat onto and can foul your prop, so you have to be extra careful as you leave the quay. I'm on the helm as we drift away from the quay, Jackie insists I should wait a little longer before putting her into gear but I'm keen to show off my getting underway skills and ignore her advice.

I push the tiller hard to starboard, engage the engine, and line her up with the port exit when the engine suddenly dies. I try starting her again but she instantly stops. We've snagged a line, we've got prop wrap. Sciroco, Sciroco,(thats our lead boat) this is Othoni, I think we've got a lazy line around our propeller.

This requires Hannah, one of the lead crew, to come over in their dingy who has to dive down and free the offending line from round our prop. This is not the best of starts and it's another half an hour before we're underway again. Luckily most of the flotilla have left by now so miss our embarrassing start to todays' voyage, Hannah wants Tom, the engineer to come and check that all is OK for us to go but Tom, , doesn't think it necessary to check it. We're drifting perilously close to a menacing looking rusty metal jetty when he radios to say that all should be fine. If the engine fires up we'll be OK to get on our way. When I press the start button the engine coughs into life and we sheepishly putter out into the open water beyond the harbour.

Once we're clear of the harbour and headland the seas are considerably bigger and choppier than yesterday and the wind is coming directly from the way we want to go. From our training we know that we can't sail into the wind and will have to tack our way south. Jackie has marked a waypoint on the chart which is about three miles off the coast where we will head before turning south. On reflection, the next day we realise that this was perhaps a mistake, but at the time it gave us a point to aim at. We turn into the wind and hoist the sails, main sail first, then the jib. With the wind blowing on our beam, that's the side of the boat, Othoni takes off at a pace, heals over and scampers off at a steady four knots, sometimes touching five.

About half an hour into our exhilarating sail I notice that we have a trickle of water seeping from the engine cowling which seems to becoming more of a flow with every passing minute. The floor of our cabin is very wet, not that we're actually sinking but we decide it's serious enough to call up Sirocco on the VHF. Scirroco Scirroco this is Othoni, over, Go ahead Othoni, Erm, not sure if this is serious but we've sprung a leak, over.

They are a few miles ahead of us and ask us to heave to. this is a way you can stop a sailboat, and as Jackie has accidently learned how to do this once or twice since we started this morning,we do, and they turn back to come check us out. This takes them about half an hour to find us and Tom leaps aboard to see what the problem is. He removes the bits around the engine and scrabbles around the back of it to check on our leak. After about ten minutes he declares all is well and that the prop wrap may have allowed some water into the boat. However there's none coming in now and this water is just old stuff sloshing about once we started sailing, and healed over.

He gives us the OK to carry on but suggests we keep an eye on it and pump the bilges occasionally. The only thing is we can't find the bilge pump handle. He gives us a spare off Sciroco, but it doesn't fit. "Have you got a wooden spoon on board?" Yes we've got one of them, OK he say's that should do as a makeshift pump handle, and we'll sort out a proper one when you get to Laka in Paxos. Great well that's reassuring, at least we'll be able to use the pump if things take a turn for the worse. We don't have cause to use the wooden spoon on the rest of this voyage but when we do try it the next day whilst in port it makes two or three pumps before snapping.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Grab a Jag

Grab a Jag, the advert said and sail the Greek islands, so last Monday we set sail with the flotilla of 16 yachts from Plataria on the west coast of Greece bound for Corfu town. The day was bright and sunny with light winds and although we were a little apprehensive being all on our own on a yacht for the very first time, the training we'ld had from our day skipper courses kicked in and we soon felt at home on our little caravan on the water. I had thought that being in a flotilla meant we would all stick together but we were soon separated by a good few miles and to all intents and purpose we were out there on our own. Othoni, was our boat, she was 27ft long and about 35 years old and in many ways it showed. But she floated, and when we hoisted the sails she managed to bob along at a sedate 2 to 3 knots in what I suppose they call slight seas. The voyage of about 15 nautical miles took about six hours with the last hour and a half with the engine purring away as the winds had completely died. We docked without incident, broke out a beer, and congratulated ourselves at completing our first solo sail without incident, tomorrow would be a different day.

Friday, 1 October 2010

Flotilla in Paxos, Greece.

It's really getting into autumnal weather here, today we had high winds and driving rain, so just the right time to get on a plane and fly to a Greek island. A few weeks ago we had one of those Fxxk it moments and booked ourselves a 7 day flotilla holiday in Paxos, which is a little island on the west coast of Greece.

This will be the next step in our learning curve, and we hope a way to ease us into handling a yacht all by ourselves, albeit with an expert on hand if we go wrong. We did think about going back to Scotland and doing a solo sail back up in Largs but then we spotted this end of season bargain on the net and now it's almost time to pack our grab bags and go do it.

We'll be sailing in a Jaguar 25 footer, which is a lot smaller than we have been training on, but funnily enough the same sort of boat that we almost bought a few weeks back on Windermere.

We're both excited at the prospect of casting off all by ourselves into the blue Med although the forecast is for rain at the start of the week. But Hey, who cares, it can't be anything like when we did our Day skipper up in Largs. The one thing we don't want is no wind, perhaps about force 4 or 5 would be great.

It's just over a year now since we started this adventure and I think we have a grasp of the basics, hopefully by the time next week is over we will have gained the confidence we need to take it to the next level. Day Skipper Coastal is the next one after this and then it's back to the Dominican Republic in January. Whoa, can't wait.