Well, what a day April Fool’s day was. After banging our way through the military area, happily without a hint of submarines, I slept a little and got up five nautical miles from the Corinth canal. Captain briefs us as to how we’re going to moor and we carry it off just about successfully, the slightest crunch from the boat as one of the lines gets pulled a bit tight. We’d passed a tanker that we recognised from the Straits of Kithira, many moons ago, it seems. I should have taken the name down, it was huge. Anchored off an oil refinery, it was the daddy of an armada of tankers.
Land. For a short time. Mark had to go to the canal offices and pay the fee, somewhere around two hundred euros. Dan went to find a shop, we need proper coffee. I finally figured out how to get phone credit through my laser card so I can stop hassling my sister to do it online. She’d forgotten this time, but it is her birthday weekend, after all. Land. Briefly. A bit of stretching, and a hop, skip and jump. Just because I can. It raised the eyebrows of a passing tourist couple. I felt like the cured leper in The Life Of Brian. And nearly twisted my ankle. My muscles are sore from all the bracing, especially in the last while. Even when asleep, you’re using them to stay in the one place. And these are muscles that normally don’t get much use. My festival leg hurts a bit, but my shoulder’s grand.
All done, the Cap’n points out a pilot boat heading out to meet a rustbucket of a tanker holding offshore, “We’ll be following that, where the fuck’s Dan?” I photograph the ship as it passes, it’s crew photograph us. Dan returns in time to witness a bosomly lady on her stern answering our wave, and we cast off with the precision of a well-oiled machine, Indiana Jones-like flicks of the wrist freeing the lines from the moorings. We’re getting the hang of this boat lark. Finally! And into the canal we follow the ship. Two cafes on either side give us an audience. A girl shouts “Au revoir!” I shout “See yis later!” in me best Dublinese. Another girl, “Buongiorno!” Christ, they sound lovely. I haven’t talked to a girl face to face in over a month, except for waitresses and shop assistants. I have to get off this boat soon.
Another spellbinding experience to add to our ample list. The wind buffets us as we pass through this man made gap in the earth. At the highest point, some seventy metres above, we pass under a couple of bridges. “Hello!” echoes up to a few folk waving down to us. A platform of sorts is under the second bridge, a line looping down slightly from it. “Are they painting it?” Dan asks. I can see a few people on the platform. There’s no painting going on. “It’s a bungee rope, someone’s going to jump off.” The old boys are disbelieving for a second, but yeah, of course, it’s a perfect spot. We pass underneath and I get Mark’s camera ready to film. I can see the poor bastard with the harness on. The idea of it is alien to me. If on land, don’t jump off! I’ve never done a bungee jump and I would do it but not after too much time at sea, I don’t feel that the two ideas mix. But then again maybe that’s a good reason to do it. Maybe. The guy beside him shouts to us, “One minute!” I give thumbs up, the victim prepares, and jumps. What a sight. Unfortunately they probably had to wait for us to pass, it would have been cool to see this body hurtling towards the water with the canal walls at either side from right underneath it. All the same, we get a fine view. Unexpected, the Captain can’t believe it. Corinth Canal Bungee from the good boat Farceur.
On we continue following this ship that barely fits through, fighting the turbulence the walls create. It’s a credit to the ship ahead and the tug towing it for keeping their track. It’s a strange place. They tried to build it a long time ago, it seems, but was finally done in the 18th century, I think. And how many died in such a construction, just to let us take a shortcut? It’s peculiar, passing through a gap in the earth, the joining of two seas, a remarkable feat. Hawks scream overhead, seagulls hold their perch. One, responding to my “Howaya!” with a haughty glare. The west gate approaches, the onlookers here less generous as we are holding up a nice line of traffic on either side. One girl sitting on a rock waves back, her companions don’t. Thanks, girl, it’s always appreciated.
“Bollox!” The Captain announces our arrival into the Corinth Gulf. There’s no shelter, a small harbour with no invitation to stay. We have twenty knots of westerly wind. Slap slap bang on the hull as we hug the coastline to try and avoid the worst of it. I see a car perched on the cliff above us, the front end smashed in. It had left the road somewhere above it. I had to scan it with binoculars thinking that maybe it had just happened, maybe no one else had seen it. I couldn’t see anybody. Or any body. Perhaps a lucky escape, it had obviously come from a height but had caught where it was and hadn’t plummeted into the sea, without a handy bungee cord. It’s a bit creepy to see this. And the wind’s steadily increasing. We’re searching the maps for cover, somewhere sheltered. We’re at the east end of this long Gulf, in the southern bay, smaller than the main bay to our north. The wind has turned into an easterly, making heading east difficult, and we don’t have much to our west, it’s a hundred metres to the beach. There’s a lake on the headland, it looks perfect if we get in there. An intriguing place, Vouliagmeni Lake, hidden behind the headland looking like serenity herself from our wilder perspective. We are a couple of hundred meters out from the channel, it’s at sea level, this lake, but bears no resemblance to our sea. We’re being happily tossed about at this stage, and we can see the calm flat waters through the channel. It looks too small, too risky. A bar is beside it. Land, shelter and a beer. So close, but so far away. It may as well be France, goddamn it.
The sea is rougher now, the wind ever increasing. Four people, early season tourists themselves, appear by the bar and wave to us with what I feel to be sympathy. It probably looks bad to them, we’re moving a lot, but we wave back with smiles, and envy. We have to move on, there’s no chance of shelter here. Our only place to go is around this headland and across the gulf proper to the northern shore, dotted with bays and showing some anchorage spots. Dolphins appear, playing in the rough seas. Common dolphins again, we haven’t seen any of these since our approach to Lipari, it’s been all bottlenose since. They're smaller, the common ones, faster and seem to be loving the high seas. And they seem to like greeting us, I wonder if they think we’re enjoying it as much as they are. We prepare to turn starboard, “It’s going to get bumpy!” Yes, indeed. Bumpy. Motoring with a touch of headsail we power northwards to the promise of shelter, aiming for a spot straight across. I described the sea in the Aegean as mesmerising once, I believe. That was a couple of days ago when we got our first big wind. This wind is bigger, this sea is bigger. And it’s greener. A deep Rolls Royce green. Dark and dangerous, with turquoise tips as the breaking edge captures the sunlight. I can’t take my eyes off it save for the bay that we slowly creep towards.
A decision has to be made, the Captain consults his crew, “Look at where we’re going, I’m not sure about it, will we get any shelter there? And I’m not happy about the banging this boat is getting. I think we need to change course, head for the next bay.” Further east, this bay is the last in the gulf. Our last chance. To not find shelter there would mean staying out in this all night, heading into the wind, grinning and bearing it but we’re near our limits, myself and Dan, at least. I check the wind gauge during a lull. Thirty two knots, a gust to thirty six before I return to a safer place on the weather side. Hanging on, I try to photograph it, just a little. The waves look smaller through the viewfinder. Decision made, we turn to starboard and the motion eases a little. More dolphins join us. One springs straight out of a wave on our beam as we’re in the trough. It’s like one coming out of an upright wall, considering our angle. Next life, I want to be a dolphin, they have the right idea. They have it better than even the Turks. They’ll cheer you up, no matter what sort of state you’re in. I have to say though, this rough sea was easier than the first one. I didn’t hide under the spray hood. I wasn’t scared. We’re tired, in good spirits but strained somewhat. Grinning and bearing it we head for shelter in Kolpos Domvrenis.
We had been heading for shelter in Kolpos Antikiras but to continue in that direction was putting the boat and us in severe danger. The battering was too much, if something breaks, we’re in a whole lot of trouble. And there’s no race on here. We have to deliver this boat, intact in all her glory. So we changed tack towards the most easterly bay. There’s a town on it’s eastern shore, we glimpse a possibly abandoned industrial quay wall to port as we enter the bay past a flotilla of fish farms. The plotter showed a couple of anchoring possibilities. The town is a no go, the wind making shelter unrealistic there. We head for the first, a small one in the lee of a small dinosaur shaped island. Darkness is nearly with us, we're exhausted, the boat keeps banging up and down. On and on we struggle as the sun loses it’s influence on the day. Reaching the lee-side of this peculiar island, I can’t help feeling that we’re not welcome here. The beach is tiny, barely existing. The rocks look like the grumpy old guys from The Muppet Show. Captain says there’s not enough room to anchor, the seabed shelving off quickly. Regretfully, we round the island and turn into the wind, making three knots against it. Three knots, bang, bang, bang.
A cove on the starboard side comes into view. A custom house is labelled on the plotter, there’s lights from a couple of buildings indicating some life. We head towards this possible honey pot of shelter. As we near, the dusk reveals an assortment of small boats, fishing vessel and dinghies moored to a small quay wall with a slipway to it’s side. A tavern is visible now, people coming to the door as this grand yacht suddenly appears before them. I’m at the bow, anchor ready. We drop it but the depth suddenly goes from four to twenty metres and it doesn’t hold. Moving closer to shore, the Captain shouts to go again just as a local starts hollering at us. The anchor catches in the bow, the chain spilling into the well, not the sea as should be the case. I have to lean around and kick it off just as it’s kicking off onshore. A lot of shouting now, pointing, flailing of arms. We pause. I shout “No comprendo!” at the annoyed sounding Greek. Furious even, he’s freaking out but we’ve no idea what he means. Is he indicating their own lines that we could damage or is he telling us to come in closer? It can’t be deep enough for us there. I figure that shouting in English is not a good idea, the same for French. Spanish sailors have a tough reputation so I shout, “Donde podemos vamos! Pa la ou pa ka! No lo se!!” (Where can we go, this way or that, I don’t know!) Somewhere in the back of my mind I find it hilarious that I’m using this expression here, one I learned on the streets of Granada in southern Spain. But it’s not funny, Mark orders the anchor lifted as the guy on land seems to calm down, a more conciliatory tone to his shouting, but we’re pulling away. “Sorry Stuart, but I don’t know what the fuck he’s saying, they could've been a hoot, or they might've had shotguns.” The Captain’s dead right, we could have had a ball there, or we might have been shot. We have one more place to try to find anchor, we head back out into the dark and the howling, honking wind.
The plotter shows shallow water to the west, on the other side of the dock we’d seen coming into the bay. Our last hope, it’s obscured from our view until we round an island. “Jesus Christ!” I agree with Mark. This is not expected at all. This seemingly abandoned place with a rusty derrick towering over the rough sea is suddenly lit up. A massive cargo ship is moored there, it’s lights showing off the cliff edge that seems to surround it’s bow. More comes in to view. A car, a security gate, a road heading up the mountainside, blasted out of it’s rock. We motor at a forty five degree angle to the quay, it being far to big for us to attempt mooring. Our spot is around the other side of it. Torch-lights from the dock flash at us, as if to motion us in. We’re heading into pitch darkness, the lights are a distraction. More flashlights, and a car races towards the corner we’ll pass closest to, it’s headlights serving only to light up the haze across our bow. BEEP BEEP BEEP! The GPS loses signal, Once again not following at the vital moment. And we’re aware of fish farms in the area, if we were to hit one… Skipper shouts, “Is there anything in my way? Am I heading towards anything?” I’m already running as Dan hands me a torch. I quickly make it to the bow while keeping very low to the deck. Grabbing the headsail I point the torch into the dark, my eyes adjusting. I shine the flashlight quickly left and right and back again but can see nothing. Shielding my eyes from the glare of that car’s lights to starboard I stare into the black, eventually making out water ahead, no obstructions. Lights from another car arc across the sky as what I imagine to be our friend from the last attempt at anchoring follows us to what end I don’t know. Land ahoy, a dim line of rocks approach quickly. Are they small or far away? Is it a hundred feet or fifteen? My mind is racing from the insanity of it all. What the hell is this place? Where in the world have we found ourselves now? One side of my brain is trying to come to grips with it, furiously trying to figure out how I ended up in this mess. The other side is loving it. It’s like the books I used to read as a kid. I’m hanging off the bow of a boat bouncing towards land, getting close, close, close. Is it there? How big are those rocks? Now! We’re close enough. I shine the torch back, hear a shout as we slow and I drop the anchor. Thirty metres of chain pour into four metres of sea. Mark joins me and ties it off in a way to protect the hull. We pause for breath. The wind fights the boat, it’s like a rodeo bronco underneath us. The car is to starboard, turned to face us, the other vehicle having gone back up the hill and over the headland. We seemed to have caused some fuss in our attempt to find shelter. We wait, checking the GPS. It will tell us if we’re holding steady.
The anchor is designed to bed into the sand with the chain lying along the seabed, only rising when it reaches the boat’s position. The combined weight should hold her, but in these conditions we have to be careful. The buffering is still too much and we struggle to tie up the mainsail, it’s salty zip hindering us. People on shore shine torches towards us, and into the sea close to them. It’s such a strange place, and after such a day, my head is in a strange place. And now I can smell bacon. Bacon? It's the sign of an impending stroke, is it not? But Mr. Dan Doody, quite the legend, simply has a fry on for dinner. He cooks in stressful situations. During this saga, he’s been quietly preparing the evening’s meal. We’re satisfied that we’re anchored and head below, laughing at the craziness of it. Just because thing’s have turned for the worst, our short epilogue with Farceur containing more drama than all the time on Eve, doesn’t mean we eat in any less style.
Food, a beautiful beer (a rare treat at sea), checking all the while our line to the seabed, our safety chain. Another car appears, more people with flashlights move down the shore towards us, around this shallow cove. Where are we? Is this a government zone? Or owned by one of those Greek industrial magnates? Are we in danger? To remote to be helped by anyone but these people? Can we trust them? They seem to be searching for something along the shoreline. Bodies? Contraband? Is this a smuggler’s haven? Are they expecting someone? With all these NATO radio broadcasts going on could we be defined as acting suspiciously? Could they be defined the same? Will a security boat turn up at our side? Will swarthy Greek with Turkish knives show up too? We’re so tired. What’ll we do if someone shows up?” I ask the Captain. “Offer them a cup of tea”, he smiles, “diplomacy, ya know!”
38 12.963N 022 56.383E
Speed 0.0 knots
At midnight I had woken for my watch and it was too quiet. I went on deck with my knife at the ready. Where was everyone? An overreaction maybe, the knife, but considering the dream and our location in reality, I forgive myself easily. The GPS showed our last movements, the pattern we made when anchoring. We hadn’t shifted, just turned to a forty five degree angle. Makes perfect sense. I broke the cardinal rule this once. Never go for’ard on watch whilst alone. Stay in the cockpit at all times. Anchored here, it felt okay to do. I checked the chain, it was tight, heading straight down as it should. Secure. We’d dropped the whole chain down, it held fast. We need to get out of this strange place in the world. Calm now, Mark awoke to tell me that anchor watch was cancelled, I could sleep. Soon we go west to Vounaki. Off this boat. To land and all it’s promises. And to keep my own. Kalabatic wind, coming down the mountain. We’ll make progress today.
I slept some with the plan to wake at 4am and leave with the first light. I wake at 0357 with the changing of the wind, eyes open from a dream that has been eluding my memory all this time but was a constant when I got enough hours sleep. I think all is resolved, she is happy. I daren’t speak any more of it. The wind has come around, from due west to north. Checking the plotter, it’s at eighteen knots, starting to howl a little. We’ll make progress today. I sat and smoked a ciggie in the saloon whilst he slept. It was in a book called “Always Forward”, the best way to wake someone. They smell the smoke, but they know it’s not them, so it triggers consciousness. Works very well, I must say, the Captain’s up.
1023 38°15.168N 022°30.353E
One point eight knots of wind. What a difference a day makes. It’s flitted around before finally deciding that she’s a northerly, then changed again as I write. I’ve slept for a while, had a Chinese cup of soup from France with a Swedish name. No wonder my body’s digestive system is a mess, it doesn’t know where on earth it is! Snow capped mountains to our north and south, and we’re putting on suncream. Are we really here? After the events of yesterday?