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Sunday, 2 October 2011

Fashionably late

The landscapes of Cepheloniia and Ithica float like monochrome ghosts on  flat calm Mediterranean seas receding in graduated tones towards the distant horizons. Towering like Herculean giants above our scattered fleet of minuscule sailboats as we scatter in search of the slightest zephyr to waft us on to our next port of call. This is the scene that is to be repeated every afternoon on our weeks flotilla holiday in the Ionian seas. It's the end of September when the winds are more than predicable, according to our lead skipper, Dan, at this time of year, but for some inexplicable reason, this week the forecasters are stumped as to these freak conditions. It's always calm in the mornings, blows up through noon till late afternoon and then dies at night. This week it's   fickle winds in Fiskardo, and all around these splendid sailing grounds. Back in England they've had balmy Indian summer weather with highs of 30 degrees, unheard of in October.

Global warming brings strange bits of unlikely weather to all parts of the globe, and it looks like we got our funny bit in Greece this week.

There's ten yachts in the flotilla, and ours is called Pirgos, named after the Minoan settlement of 1450 BC.  Shes a 32ft Beneteau with in mast furling mainsail, which is a first for us and we're eager to see if we like this new fangled idea. We've only done old fashioned sails so far so this will be our chance to see if we get on with it or not.

Lots of little things annoy us about our boat, like the position of the mirror in the heads,-too low, the silly cupboard door above the stove, how the only place to prepare food in the galley is on top of the fridge which you always want to get into, and can't because that's where your preparing stuff. There's no holders in the cockpit for a bottle or can, and no cubby holes for your bits and bobs. And most annoying of all, the wheel squeaks, this is most annoying when searching for the wind at one or two knots. Apart from that shes an adequate boat and certainly a step up from our 27ft Jag that we sailed last year. In fact when we do catch the wind she's quite fun to sail.

All in all the week was without incident for us, and we found stepping up to this larger yacht was, to say the least, a piece of piss. We handled the changes in points of sail effortlessly on 99.9% of our voyages, and when we did get into a two and eight we simply started up Mr engine Sir and promptly brought us back to where we should have been, cut the engine and sailed on like we'ld been doing this for years.

Mind you the winds were never very strong and the seas were more than kind. Only one morning were we out in anything that resembled a blow, most of the sailing was in light airs. But that meant we had to trim the sails and search out the winds. We would seek out the on shore breezes by hugging the coast, or search for dark water where there maybe a bit more wind in our sails.

In previous sails we have inadvertently found ourselves hove too, this time we deliberately tried the manoeuvre, which was successful, and we stopped for lunch miles out at sea. When we had very light winds behind us one day we set the sails goose winged, with a preventer on the mainsail to stop the boom swinging across the boat. We sailed very long tacks to catch the best of the light winds, anything to avoid turning on the engine. Often this meant that we were out much longer than most of our fleet who were often home 2 hours ahead of us, but we were there for the sailing. Perhaps many of the others were looking for a nice bay to stop for a swim, or investigate the tavernas of the next port.

One of the days saw us attempt a gallant rescue of one of our flotilla companions who had the misfortune of getting their anchor stuck whilst stopping for lunch in a small bay at the southern tip of Ithaca. We were the only boat still in the bay, except for Nericos who had tried to leave but were stuck fast unable to raise their anchor. We tried attaching a line to their anchor chain. They had moored very close to a rocky shore and try as we may we only succeeded in dragging our boat close to the perilous shore. we gave up and promised to radio our lead boat when we exited the bay and could make radio contact. This had to be done via a relay with other boats further up the coast, as the VHF only works in line of sight and Kalypso, our lead boat was already home and out of radio contact. Eventually they made contact via mobile phone, Jackie was able to find the number as they,Nericos, couldn't find it. The message came back for them to cut their anchor and we motored slowly out at sea maintaining radio contact until they finally rounded the point out of the bay and we all sailed safely to Kioni.

We were confined to port in Kioni as the winds were up the next morning and it was impossible for us to sail directly into the gale that was blowing to reach Savota. I would have loved to have gone out to test our skills in the wind but prudence kept us in port and anyway it gave us a chance to swim and paint, and chill for a day.

We not only had a squeaky wheel, we had a very reluctant furling mainsail that refused all attempts to reel, or furl in easily. When we wanted to practise our reefing skills the sail refused to slip back into the mast easily. No amount of tugging and heaving would budge it. In fact we had to use the winch to extend the sail to its full capacity and this caused the sail to pop out at the bottom of the leach which fouled the sail on the way back in. we eventually found out how to deal with this but it meant going to the mast and cajoling the bloody thing to move from there. It sort of put me off the whole idea of roller reefing mainsails.

At the end of term party at the Captains cabin in Fiskardo the lead crew handed out awards to various crews for our endeavours of the week. First up was a rambling speech about some crew that had made the best of the fickle winds of the week, a boat that was almost always last into port, and a crew that had teased the best of a week of light airs, a boat that was fashionably late into every port. And the award goes to........PIRGOS.
We were a bit pissed by the time these awards were handed out and I hadn't exactly paid attention to what was being said but when all the other awards seemed to be for calamities that had befallen various boats I felt quite proud of our plywood cutout, that now stands on our mantelshelf a testimony to our progress from novices to navigators.