With delays for repairs and then further delays for the hurricane, the sailing season this year has ended much too early. Lyra is now out of the water, enjoying her first winter ashore. We have a small number of maintenance jobs to do in the Spring before she goes back into the water and it seemed a good idea to give her a prolonged break from the sea.
Despite the lack of sailing this year, we have enjoyed visiting the wilder shores of the Peloponnese. We have met some incredibly good people- both Greek and international sailors and started to get under the skin of this incredible country. Kalamata itself seems quite charmless on first impression and, yes, it does have its issues, but it has found a new place for itself as an isolated city far from Athens and it seems to work. International flights have opened up tourism-despite the fact that the Greek Government has not supported this development. In fact that's one of the major problems that came up in conversation everywhere: bureaucracy is killing Greece. If the recession and the EU don't finish the country off then the civil service in its various forms probably will. Greece is hamstrung by ridiculous red tape and licensing and it is just hard to get anything done.
There's no doubt that with a small amount of infrastructure development (mooring buoys in rocky bays for example) yachting could develop much more along this beautiful coastline. It makes sense to everyone we talk to , but everyone says it is just to hard to make things happen- just look at the four or five unfinished marinas in this part of Greece alone.
Here's a word not often heard- a mediterranean hurricane. It was well forecast (unusual in this corner of Greece) and after four days of stormy weather, finally hit on Saturday. Kalamata marina was full of boats as everyone fled anchorages to find cover and we took down all of our canvas to prepare. We tripled ropes and left Lyra to her own devices, spending pretty much all day in the marina cafe, watching the waves break over the 4 metre sea wall. There was some small damage to boats in the marina, but given the severity of the conditions- 66 knots of wind recorded- no real damage. Reports of several boats sunk around the coasts underlined just how powerful a storm it turned out to be.
As we have sailed around since Saturday we have seen major storm damage along the coasts and are very grateful to the quality of weather forecasting of this event. There had never been a Medicane before 1990, now there's one in the Med nearly every year. This is directly the result of warming sea temperatures (27C currently) and whatever the cretinous climate change deniers say, is directly caused by man's activities.
It has taken quite a time to get everything on Lyra fixed. Electricians, insurers, assessors, surveyors have all added to delay and eventually I had to travel out here to Greece to supervise and hustle everyone along. Having said all of that, the work has been completed to a high standard and everyone has been very obliging. Just about everything with the brand B&G has required replacing and we have bedded in the new equipment and have enjoyed some test sails calibrating the new gear and getting to grips with some of the updates from the old equipment. It's amazing how four years in electronics changes so much these days.
The whole month of September has been lost for sailing, and of course, the weather down here in the Peloponnese has been perfect for exploring.
.In an intense lightning storm in Kalamata on Tuesday afternoon we were struck by lightning whilst at our berth. 180 boats and random electricity chooses us to earth on. No damage to crew but boat wounded. Strong smell of burning plastic and after the storm abated we were able to start inspecting the damage. No shorepower, engine electronics and a small red box called a Sterling voltage sensitive relay now a molten box of plastic and semi conductors. Later we found additional damage to all of our navigation equipment and the boat’s stereo. Still going through electrical circuits to discover faults around the boat and I expect sorting it out will be a slow process. Luckily we have a good local electrician and the insurers are being proactive but lots to do and only a week before we go home. Sailing obviously over for the trip as currently we have no engine and no navigation. Electrical strikes on boats (especially in marinas) are rare but I think we suffered an air strike rather than the full works. It was enough to completely destroy the VHF masthead aerial, just little bits of copper wire strewn across the deck the morning after. The rigging is being inspected for damage tomorrow. If there can be any consolation it is that we were struck whilst on our berth: if this had happened at an isolated anchorage somewhere it would have been ten times worse...
After four trouble-free years of Med sailing we have had our fair share of problems this year, defunct and expensive instrument replacement, being ripped off for boat servicing in Lefkas and now boom, electrical damage all around. At least the smell of burning has gone away...
Update: The surveyor and electrician are working their way through the boat and the list of electronic replacements grows longer. The insurance company are working their way through this and hopefully Lyra will be restored to full working order before we return to her in early September.
There’s no doubt that flags and boats seem to go together. Cruising abroad it’s always interesting to discover the nationality of one’s neighbours without having to ask. But I’ve noticed an increasing problem over the last couple of years with regard to flags.
I’ve also been more than a little suspicious of the British blue ensign brigade. Their wasted attempts to prove they are somehow superior to the rest of us through the membership of a “royal” yacht club and its attendant privilege of flying a defaced blue ensign has always seemed rather pathetic to an unabashed republican like me and, whilst the red ensign has been thoroughly debased by the tax dodges of British Overseas Territories which means one often sees Russian billionaire gin palaces flying red ensigns from the BVI or Cayman Islands, the red ensign is our maritime flag and the blue flag is only recognised in UK waters. That doesn’t seem to stop British yachts flying them, much to the confusion of yachtsmen and women of other countries and port officials across the world. In fact I saw one British yacht this week flying both a blue and a red ensign from its transom: somehow legal and better than the rest of us at the same time. In fact it just looked rather stupid.
But this piece is not about the silliness of a certain type of British man (and its nearly always a man) wearing pink trousers, sipping pink gin, but refusing to fly our red duster. That’s for another day and after all it’s just idiosyncratic and mostly harmless and class-based and symptomatic of everything that’s wrong with modern Britain...
My recent concern about flags is a mostly British one but it’s not solely a British issue. In the Ionian, British flagged boats outnumber other foreign boats by a considerable number and at least one half of charter boats are crewed by Brits so my sample is somewhat biased. The concern is this: over these last couple of years the size and number of flags has grown like a virus. It’s now common to see 2 metre flags flying from the stern of 40 foot boats and charter boats are now routinely dressed with multiple flags flying from the port spreader displaying multiple nationalities (Welsh seems disproportionately popular?) football club allegiances and other assorted nonsense. I’m only surprised not to have seen flags with Instagram addresses and Facebook groups on them, it’s surely only a matter of time...
So what is it that is driving this passion to advertise one’s tribe so prominently? I’m at a loss to explain it. For British boats and charterers it could be a new nationalism created out of the train crash that is Brexit? We are Welsh and we don’t care? But we do really want to tell you that we are Welsh so that you can’t be in any doubt about it. Perhaps the wider weirdness of social media self-promotion is the root cause, not only do we want to send everyone we have any vague connection to pictures of our souvlaki and Greek salad, we also want to advertise and publicly promote our tribe in the somewhat artificial world of cruising. It’s a mystery. At least to me.
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Before we arrived here we knew some of the issues of sailing in the Ionian; too many boats, too few deserted spots and too many Brits. Despite the warmth and hospitality of the Greeks these problems are all too apparent to us after a few weeks here. It is delightful but there are just too many boats. Many have left Turkey because of the problems there and some of the bigger operators such as Sunsail have moved much of their fleet to Greece. The Aegean is too windy for summer chartering so they've ended up here.
That's fine except it means many of the popular stops are full by lunchtime and as the wind never switches on until lunchtime it means boats motor everywhere to get the next night's accomodation sorted. It's easy to fall into the same trap and we are learning the ways of the older hands to avoid certain places at specific times. We thought September would be quieter but chartering goes on at full blast through October so we will have to continue to adapt.
Having said all of that, it is lovely and it's pretty obvious as to why the Ionian is so popular with sailors.
We are back in Lefkas and getting ready to explore further. whilst we've been away for the hot Greek summer the Atlantic Peso, better known as the £ sterling, has sunk without trace against the Euro and Europe's poorest nation is now more expensive to poor Brits than shopping in Mayfair. When I say bread and olives I mostly mean bread and a few olives and then only at the weekends. I'm only exaggerating a little.
Lefkada is a lovely town, it hides it's charms from the casual visitor but upon closer inspection is a real working town under a tourist gloss.. It has few fine buildings and many of them are made of corrugated iron at first floor level but they are painted in vibrant colours and fit the sleepy nature of the place. Lefkada is a real sailing centre ( by which I mean charter centre) and has more chandlers than a Solent town. Lefkas itself is a mountainous island disconnected from the mainland by a canal that yachts use to transit north to south. The west coast is pretty inaccessible by boat so we explored it by car and saw some of the unusual surf that makes it famous for windsurfers.