IN THE MELTEMI GALE WIND

From the Sporades, a full days sailing south with engine, when needed, at over six knots took us to Skiros – course southwest – hoping for following winds…but it was headwinds. The old town the other side is reachable by bus.  Not seeing attractions in the harbour to tempt us, we left at 5.30 next morning heading south for Andros, 66 nm away. The main was up, but the wind died later and in a rolling sea the boom crashed a lot. Stowing the main and continuing for the gap under genoa only At the end of the day the passage was through the gap, a wedge shape “ As any fule kno….” Said Parrot, “The wind and waves increase in a wedge shape channel as you get through it to the narrow end.” Wind increased to 22 knots from behind and Shearwater shot round the corner to reach the outer bay by the harbour.

We liked the port and stayed long enough to get in the next day without the help of the quayside man who had said it was full the previous evening. No it wasn’t. and he had nothing to do with the port – he just took stern lines for a “tip”. The wind stayed strong, onto the quay. It was not a safe place and the forecast was for increasing strength. Mayhem crashed around our bows as a 6oft Italian ketch came in, fast as Italians often do. Their bow thruster jammed with a rope. It reminded me how often we have nearly had the same thing happen to our main propeller. Once in Salcombe a coal bag wrapped round it, stopping us dead in the strong tide. “It’s a good idea to have fenders out before entering a port…” said cheeky parrot. Then an Israeli benetau anchored the other side and crossed with our chain. “That was very polite the way you told our skipper,” said his mate. We have had several noisy clashes with Greek skippers, crossing our chain or purpose, and then shouting, as they often do, louder than anyone else.

In the clear water we saw the small European shag fishing by diving and accelerating at astonishing speed. At the nearby y tavern they refused to give us tap water. This was unlike the larger island and the mainland where there has been a ministerial decree to stop selling single use plastic bottles.  We waited a day for piped water to come on again to the quay so we could fill up – it tasted fine to us. After this came the decision to depart because a Meltemi was forecast. We had heard enough stories about what happens when a yacht is blown onto a quay- and Andros harbour definitely is not sheltered from the wind. In fact it is focussed like a funnel down into the harbour because it comes between a col in the nearby y mountain.

Some choices arose, and a feeling for risk then helped us to decide where to go. There is a sheltered mainland marina….but also we have experienced this uncertainty before when wondering what to do. It’s not the money, even at 70euros a night. We knew about a big bay with a sticky muddy bottom because the same thing happened on a previous cruise before.  Knowing the wind would last for days from the north we motor-sailed west in a flat sea, into the large east facing bay on the mainland called Porto Rafti.  As we dropped our main while passing the tiny island at the entrance we saw the seated roman statue of “the tailor”.  This bay is named after her, though it was Marco Polo Bay. Before sunset, a day early,  the wind increased to 30 knots gusting at over 40, which is gale force 7. The howling noise made it impossible to hear speech, and the anchor chain went straight with tension. Our 60 metre length of ten times the depth was let out and holding well. We stayed up taking turns on anchor watch ….the old fashioned CQR had dug into the lovely muddy bottom and did not move. Some sailors prefer their more modern shapes. “But they would say that wouldn’t they, having spent a lot on a new one…” offers Parrot. We think the art is in the laying down of it….not too quick, not too hard at first, not too….( continued on page 981.)  In the night there were torches flashing as half a dozen other yachts nearby had to motor around to re-anchor. All the local yachts on buoys downwind had extra fenders out. Something told me they had suffered visitors like us dragging down onto them.

 Porto Rafti had contemporary coffee bars and fish restaurants on the north side, from where the wind blew. So it was placid on that shore for eating, swimming and drinking.  The chilled table water came in jugs, not the terrible single use plastic bottled version that we hope will be banned soon. We like Greek tap water! This period of relaxation became a different kind of holiday, for we had plenty of time to stay. The baker had queues outside every day and after stocking with healthy food at the greengrocer we also indulged ourselves with baklava and spinach pies. Just being in the sun looking at boats is a similar pleasure to sitting on the boat itself. The 2.5 Suzuki started first time thanks to my giving the carburettor a good spring clean with ether. (but not perfectly as it turned out weeks later). It more than coped with the furious winds on each journey back to Shearwater, still pinned successfully to the middle of the bay. Even the invasion of jellyfish had halted, and our anxiety about the meltemi wind faded the next night when we stopped anchor watch, having got more confident in our taut chain.

Our half day passage motoring south to Cape Sounion a few days later was in a glittering calm sea, as forecast.

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