We arrived back in Palma de Majorca early in 2000, at the end of the first week of April. We felt this gave us a real jump on the summer as it was a full month more than we’d had the previous year. We didn’t feel pushed to get going right away and could take the time to get Icarus in ideal shape and also enjoy Majorca and our sailing friends who were already in the marina. We had the boat ‘on the hard’ or out of the water in the boatyard for a full five days, doing the usual cleanup, particularly the bottom which had accumulated about an inch of barnacles and other growth over the prior year. Here’s Payman, one of Bonnie’s nephews, applying his expertise to sanding the bottom after it had been powerwashed.
We hired an electrician to go through Icarus’ entire electrical system since we had lost some of our electronics through an electrical failure the prior season. Once he finished, we knew we wouldn’t have to worry about having another failure since he had literally checked out every wire on the boat. We also replaced the fabric on the seats in the main salon and added matching curtains for the windows which surrounded it. The fabric was a Majorcan design the color of the Mediterranean Sea and uniquely beautiful.
We also had time for a good deal of socializing, including evenings out with friends and parties on our own boat as well as others. One night we had a party for twenty-seven adults and children and Bonnie’s chili was an amazing success. We hiked and traveled the island extensively in our rental car, enjoying a repeat of the same hike down the north coast with its thousand year old olive trees.
We finally left Majorca early in May and went first to Minorca for a few days in the Mahon harbor, and then across to Sardinia on a thirty-one hour passage to its main port of Cagliari on its southern shore. It is not exactly what you would call a pretty place, so having reprovisioned with food and water, we set off for Sicily, our next stop to the east. That thirty-three hour passage was mostly under motor since the sea was so placid, and the only real excitement was when we ran into a joint naval exercise between the U.S. and Italian navies midway through our trip. We were first warned to go around their ‘playground’ over Channel 16 radio, and when we unknowingly continued to get too close, a patrol boat came next to us and told us over the radio where to head and for how far to continue on that heading. The necessity became clear when we were passed by a submarine on the surface and another with just its periscope above water. Both were moving at perhaps thirty miles per hour, and looked real threatening! We were also told that the reason to stay away was because a number of the ships were towing long cables used to listen for submarines and there was some possibility of getting snagged on them–just about the last thing we needed!
We experienced the usual high that accompanies seeing land for the first time after a long passage but this time it was especially beautiful to us as Sicily seemed to rise out of the sea, green, mountainous and enchanting in the late afternoon sunlight. The town ahead was Marsala, famous for its wine and a favorite of ours for cooking, and a lovely red roofed town set against the sea. We spent a quiet night there recovering from the prior night spent trading watches. These involve a look around and a radar check, then twelve minutes of “sleep” ended by a very loud kitchen timer, then another look around and radar check. This continues for each of us for three hours before we trade off. A little rough, but the night skies, so often free of ‘light noise,’ are spectacular!
We then moved around the western end of the island to a marina close to Palermo but not the marina in Palermo itself since we had heard from others that it was so dirty that even the smell was at least unsavory. The marina we stayed in was called Vergine Maria and turned out to be a real gem. The town had a hardware/lumber store where Dave was able to get what he needed to build a set of shelves into a closet of sorts in the port hull which had absolutely no use in its production form, but now gave us enormous room to store food goods and thereafter acted as our pantry. The family running the hardware/lumber store all spoke English from long years of previously working in the auto plants of Detroit, so we had that to share as well. We also noticed that the signature in the marina logbook just above us was non other than Rob Heikell, author of the Pilot Books which were our Bible for sailing the Mediterranean. A further irony was that the cover photograph for his Italian Pilot Book was of the very marina we were in! We were really sorry to have missed him by a day as his books are absolutely invaluable to sailors in the Med.
After wandering Palermo, a surprisingly beautiful city dominated by a Norman cathedral, we sailed further down that northern coast to a lovely town called Cefalu where we spent a couple days while Dave worked on the shelving and we hiked the hills and spent time exploring the town. It appeared to be very old with much of the town built of bare stone, unlike so much of Italy which has had its stone walls plastered and painted white. Here’s a look through an archway at a family enjoying a meal, the sea visible in the background, fishnets hanging along the wall beside them.
We also loved the narrow lanes and alleys found everywhere, this one with an elderly woman sitting outside her home enjoying a little snack.
We rented a car and spent two days roaming the island. We’d been to Sicily twice before, each time staying in the magnificent hillside town of Taormina. It sits six hundred feet above the sea, is full of old and historic buildings including an ancient monastery converted into a hotel, and is famous for its food and pottery, some of which we purchased for our recently acquired house in Santa Fe, New Mexico. We returned to a couple of our favorite restaurants from prior visits and enjoyed that marvelous Sicilian cuisine in their outdoor gardens. Here’s a look at one of the narrow walkways leading to one of them, hung with profuse bougainvilla.
We drove up to see Mount Etna, a smoldering volcano that has been spewing rock and smoke for centuries. While we were there it performed several of its tricks, including thunderous rumblings and an occasional burst of smoke in the form of a smoke ring. Hardly what we expected, but quite amazing to witness. Here is Bonnie on the now cool lava bed with the cone of the volcano behind her.
Leaving Sicily, we passed through the infamous Straits of Messina, renowned for its swift currents. It’s a pretty strange phenomenon to steer almost 90 degrees off your intended course just to stay on it. The speed of the current is amazing, in our case carrying us along at about twelve miles per hour when without it we would have been moving at about five.
We then crossed closer to the mainland and followed it along the bottom of the ‘foot’ of Italy and around its heel to a new marina built by the Italian government where many boats stop before crossing the Ionian Sea to Greece or return. Because it was never been finished (no power or water to the docks), it was free and a major collection of international boats was there. The most interesting to us was the Dutch canal boat manned by an elderly English captain who had brought it down the canals to the coast of France and then crept along coastlines to here. Sixty feet long, twenty feet wide and of steel, it had Persian carpets below, a fireplace and crystal chandeliers. You have no idea how out of place it looked!
We were considerably delayed because Bonnie came down with some sort of strange infection which left her with a temperature as high as 103 degrees and would not improve over almost five days. At that point Dave found help from Mario, a local Italian, who happened to be at the guard station at the entrance and offered to take Bonnie and me in his car to a doctor in an adjoining town. The doctor, while not able to diagnose what it was, gave her some medicine which reduced her temperature and made her feel considerably better. Out of caution, we waited an extra day before departing for Greece but she seemed to be fully recovered so off went.
That passage took about another thirty hours across the Ionian Sea and brought us to the Gulf of Corinth, a considerable body of water which serves as the entrance to the Corinth Canal. Here is a photo of its entrance, populated by a beautiful red roofed town
where we tied to its pier for the night. Another photo further into the gulf and closer to the major city of Patras, Greece’s third largest city.
It’s pretty obvious that we did a good deal of hill climbing on our hikes since the views were so spectacular.
We did spend a couple of days in Patras repairing an engine mount which had separated its rubber ‘shock absorber’ from the steel plates anchoring it to the hull itself, but once that work was completed we headed directly into the famed canal. For those not familiar with it, the Corinth Canal was blasted out of solid rock to transport ships from the Ionian Sea to the Aegean and thus saving the long hard sail to the bottom of the Greek peninsula and around it to the other side. It is only a few miles long, but is an enormous time and life saver, much the way the Panama Canal is in the Americas. Narrow and over three hundred feet below the land surface, it is really fun to traverse and amazing to arrive at the other side of Greece on the Aegean in so short a time.
When we emerged from the canal, there in front of us was the entire Aegean Sea with its famous islands, one of the world’s top tourist attractions. Fortunately we were ahead of the tourist crowds and thus had many of the islands almost to ourselves. We had both been here before, most recently in 1994 when we chartered a small sailboat in Pireus, the port for Athens, and spent two weeks sailing across the entire Aegean to the island of Kos. Unfortunately that boat had no overhead shade or ‘bimini’, and we both got to Kos looking like a couple of rotisserie chickens!
This time, with a wonderful bimini overhead, we moved quickly across the Aegean headed for Kos. We made overnight stops at the islands of Aigina and Kea before reaching the famed Mykonos. This time of year it was a quiet place, and we explored the island and particularly the town itself. Early one morning, we encountered the fishmonger below with his three wheeled Ape selling fresh fish. We love this type of vehicle, much more common in Thailand and Southeast Asia as a whole, but there used chiefly as taxis through the streets of major cities. But this one was unique for its decoration!
The fish looked wonderful as well.
So we picked out a couple for dinner that night.
and in the town itself. This one below had a sense of humor with a teddy bear wearing a shirt and clinging to a tree just outside the patio where we ate.
We also found a couple of wonderful sculptures in a small plaza nearby, all done in grape vine.
And you never know what sort of companion you may share a narrow street with.
It was here that we met Manos in his small and unique watercraft who came by to visit. He came aboard for a couple of hours, sharing beers and regaling us with stories about the island.
Mykonos was also the first island where we found a sign for ‘Ice Cubs,’ something we would see all the way across the rest of the Aegean.
From Mykonos we made a long day passage to the island of Patmos, famous as the site of St. John the Divine’s exile and where, living in a cave, he wrote the Book of Revelations. We enjoyed wonderfully calm weather across, but knew from the Hamburg Weather Forecast which we received each morning over our SSB radio, that a major Aegean storm was brewing and was going to hit soon. These storms are called Meltemis, come out of the Balkans, and sweep down the Aegean from the north. The winds are strong, the seas dangerous as a result, and in this case virtually all of the ferries in the Aegean stopped service and made for the closest harbor for shelter.
It proved to be as promised. We did our usual Med mooring in the small harbor on Patmos, but by evening the wind was blowing, all the boats tossing around, and we felt threatened with banging into the concrete dock which would certainly do significant damage to the sterns of our two hulls. By 10 PM we were concerned enough to go forward and attempt to pull ourselves further from the dock with the anchor windless. Fortunately the French couple on the boat next to ours came aboard and helped us pull the anchor chain in enough to make us secure, though it was quite a struggle, with engines pushing us away from the dock as we brought the anchor chain in further.
On the other side of us were several charter boats whose crews had gone off for an evening of fun, but their boats was all over the place and in serious danger of significant damage. At about 1 AM they returned, but had no idea how to deal with the situation. Fortunately a skipper from the same charter company was also in the harbor and he came aboard each boat, took each out and reanchored and secured them so that they faced no further damage from the winds, now certainly at least fifty miles per hour. We were amazed by what he was able to do by himself.
What was obvious from the forecast in the morning was that this Meltemi was going to last days–perhaps as long as a week. In the end we spent eight days on Patmos, rented a motor scooter and were thoroughly able to enjoy the island. We explored both the main town and the island itself and even had an afternoon on a beach on the south side of the island and thus somewhat protected from the winds. We enjoyed ourselves so much that we spent a couple of extra days on the island after the Meltemi was over and the pictures which follow are all from that period.
Patmos is, of course, a very religious island given its connection to St. John the Divine, and its most important town is sprinkled with churches and monasteries. Here are three Orthodox priests outside one of its churches.
The harbor even after the storm was pretty crowded and you can see the main town atop the hill, white and gleaming like most Grecian towns but for the stone fortress-like monastery at its summit, built as protection from pirates who raided the island for centuries.
We also encountered a couple of darling little girls who enjoyed just sitting on the edge of the dock and sharing young secrets.
There were also the customary beachfront restaurants
and it took no time at all for the fishmongers to be out doing business again, this time from dockside.
Before leaving we filled up with diesel fuel and photographed the truck if only for its color. You might also notice the motor scooter we rented parked beside it, and our dingy, ‘Zipper,’ secured between the two hulls aboard Icarus.
We then sailed on to the island of Kos, large and a real tourist hub, particularly for the British. The harbor was busy with day tripper boats returning when we arrived, but we had no intention of staying long. We were there to cross the few miles to Turkey to meet our daughter, Susanne, who was flying from San Francisco into Bodrum. Because of the animosity between Greece and Turkey, sailing Icarus to Bodrum and then back to Greece would have involved hours and hours of paperwork for the boat in both countries. Instead we took a ferry to Bodrum from Kos, met Susanne and returned with her back to Kos and Icarus.
We spent more than a week sailing with Suanne and even had time to visit the fascinating island of Rhodes, to be detailed in a later posting when we were there for about a week. Here’s a picture of Susanne at the helm, steering us between islands.
Perhaps our favorite of all the Aegean islands was Simi, a modestly sized island, its harbor’s hillsides covered with buildings from the era when it was under Venetian domination. It was beautiful, peaceful, and yet the people so welcoming and friendly that we loved it. Here’s a view from the harbor to the Venetian hillside,
and a fishing boat sitting quietly in the early morning stillness.
We met an American from Aptos near Santa Cruz, CA who returned each summer to Simi for twelve years. He told us he rented out his house in Aptos and then would come to Simi where he could rent a house and spend the summer for less than what he collected in rent on his home in California. Sounds like a pretty nice way to live!
So after a wonderful ten days with Susanne, we again left Icarus on Kos and ferried back to Bodrum to get her on her plane back to San Francisco. We then returned to Kos and made the transition from Greece to Turkey, this time entering the giant Bay of Marmaris and tying Icarus up in the lovely marina in Marmaris the town, which we quickly came to love and appreciate. But more of that next time!