This sailing season began in Kos, Greece, across the Aegean touring the Turkish magical coast, and then south through the Corinth Canal into the Ionian Sea to southern Sicily where we wintered. By land, we flew to Canada to present at the Toronto Boat show and promote my book, “Sailing Through Life” flew back to Europe through Genoa and toured the Prosciutto, Parma, and Balsamic vinegar region experiencing a few earthquakes. In a rented car, we drove through the Anatolian Region of Turkey to the Syrian border. See Off the Beaten Track. Another land tour had us exploring Prague, Vienna, Budapest, and Bratslava. Ending the year in Sicily we rented another car and toured the small southern towns. Spectacular!
Wintering in Kos, Greece
January 2, 2012 -- The Greek culture like so many European cultures has its traditions and New Year’s Day is no exception. Massive-sized cake is served, always with a hidden coin inside symbolizing the generosity of St. Basil, the forefather of the Greek Orthodox religion.The marina president wished all the guests and staff a "Happy New Year" and cut us each a great big piece. The first slice of cake was served to God, and sat on the table. Slices were cut for people in the room and for those who couldn't be there. The coin was found in the slice for the receptionist who had the day off. A gift was then put aside for her and now she will have good luck all year.
January 6 -- Epiphany Day in Greece. The priest throws the cross into the sea, representing fertility and abundance in the sea. The men in the fishing boat are about to dive for the cross. Only men -- no women are allowed to compete. Whoever retrieves the cross becomes the baptismal representative of Christ and enjoys kissing the town women and free drinks and food in all day in all the restaurants.
Con and I flew to Canada to enjoy the kids and then to Toronto as presenters at the Boat Show. This invitation came as part of my book promotion from the Nautical Mind book store.
January 20 -- This is second day of six days at the Toronto Boat Show, and my second presentation. I'm thrilled with the response and the numbers of books selling!
January 22 -- We said our "good byes" to the Nautical Mind book store staff, a great group to work with. They featured my book in their booth. The presentations were well received, and my messages seemed to resonate with the audience -- Don't Just Dream -- Live it! A message from an attendee who emailed me this morning: "Just had to say hello and let you know how much I am enjoying your book and website. I picked up your book at Nautical Mind at the Toronto Boat show yesterday and have been engrossed ever since. You are helping me get through the last five years of my career when I can attempt to do what you two are living."
Con and I were interviewed for the Ontario Sailor's magazine.
The bonus for us while in Toronto was visiting Doug & Merrilee (my brother and wife) and connecting with cousins I've not seen in many years.
January 24 – From snowy cold Toronto, we flew into coolish Genoa to be tourists in this beautiful northern region of Italy. Genoa is a seaport city bursting with churches, palaces, beautiful architecture, promenades, walls and fortresses. Below: Piazza Di Ferrari, 100 metres from our hotel (Hotel Bristol Palace).
January 26 -- We wore down our treads walking over nearly every square inch of Genoa. Through the UNESCO protected areas, passed Christopher Columbus' house, through the streets where prostitutes have been soliciting for centuries passed the pastry shop where dogs are invited to drool.
January 27 -- Our location
A damp and drizzling weather has wrapped around the Italian Riviera for our last few days. With today being the best weather day, we took the bus from Rapallo to Portofino. Portofino is a beautiful fishing village that transforms into a mega tourist area in summer season. The town, pictured below, is the inspiration of Disney's Universal Studio's "Portofino Bay" in Florida.
January 28 -- Today we remember my dad who passed away peacefully two years ago today. I miss his laughter and love.
We purchased train tickets to Pisa, about 1 1/2 hours from Rapallo. The forecast was heavy rain in Rapallo, but the sun came out in Pisa. The Leaning Tower began to lean when it reached its third story during construction in 1360 because the foundation was built on soft ground that had difficulty supporting the weight.
January 29 -- Our suitcases have begun to split at the seams so we invested the day in a train ride from Rapallo back to Genoa to shop for new ones. Enroute, Con asked me, "Do you think there are blue jeans there too?" I nodded, and then stated, "But there's blue cheese in Kos too." Umm, either his Dutch accent is getting stronger, or my hearing is getting weaker.
February 1 – In Parma, we toured a parmesan cheese factory, a family-run business--part of a co-op of farmers. The cheese making industry hasn't changed in hundreds of years, just rules and regulations to protect the integrity and excellent taste. The milk arrives twice a day, from cows specifically bred for parmesan cheese who are fed a specific diet. A full day's work (mom, dad, their son and his wife) prepare the milk in five vats and by the end of the day, ten cheese wheels are completed, each valued at around 600 euro wholesale. The mother and father inspecting the first vat, which is nearly ready for the two huge cheese wheels to be extracted. The son breaks the cheese into rice-sized pieces as part of the process. Then he and his wife pull out the big ball of parmesan. The son cuts it in half, making two cheese wheels from one vat. The whey cream is skimmed off the top of the vat, and the rest is fed to the pigs.
Our next tour was the Prosciutto Factory.
Young pigs are selected at six months to become Prosciutto ham, and are fed a glorious menu for the next three months, until their hind legs are cut off. Prosciutto means "to dry." The pigs are selected because they're lean and contain low cholesterol.
Kind of takes the joy out of the good taste, doesn't it. The legs will hang for two years and then sold to retailers for 600 euro each.
Our next tour was the Balsamic Vinegar winery, also a family-run co-op. The final product comes packaged in small glass dispensers selling for 40, 60, or 80 euros! It is a balsamic vinegar like you've never tasted before! Use it on salads, or a drop on cooked fish or pasta or on top of ice cream.
Success! We purchased new suitcases and bright and early slugged them through the fresh-fallen snow in Parma to the train station for an 8 am departure to Milan. We asked the hotel staff if we could leave the old suitcases in the room to be discarded. They said, “Yes.” A month later, the hotel contacted us to say our suitcases were still being held in their offices and could they deliver them.
February 2 – An incredible Night
Dressed in our very best get-ups, Con and I walked through the slushy roads, leaving horrid marks on our shoes, and sat in the front row of the second main in Milan’s La Scala Theatre enjoying the ballet “Excelsior”. The theatre is old-world elegant, the set was extraordinary, and the dancers memorizing. We loved it. Con snapped this photo before being told "no photos."
That morning, we got out early, layered our clothing to ward off the cold -6 C temperatures. Light snow was falling. We walked around the block where Milan's massive Duomo fills the landscape. The Gothic church is the fourth largest cathedral in the world which took six centuries to complete. Work began in 1386. Walking to Santa Maria della Grazie church we saw Leonardo Da Vinci's painting, "The Last Supper" painted in 1495. He captures the last days of Jesus when he shared supper with his 12 Apostles. A beautiful expressive painting.
We trekked through the salt slush to the Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele, a beautiful covered mall filled with designer shops and an upscale McDonalds, and spun on the Torino Bull's balls, yes, the testicles. You put your right heel into the tender spot and spin three times for good luck. Passing the finance centre, we stopped in front of the statue with the middle finger up, approved art by the previous mayor.
February 3 -- We're nearly home, arriving at the Athens airport, with a long layover before boarding the Canadian-built Dash 8 to the island of Kos.
BACK ON THE BOAT
February 5 -- Back in the old routine and lovin' it. We rented a car at the airport, (because it’s more affordable than hiring a taxi. As a bonus, we can tour the island and pick up provisions and we did, filling the mini-sized car with smoked salmon and chocolate chip cookies from the Lidl, wine from the A&B, cheese, cold cuts, and everything else from the Carrefour. We stopped at our favourite veggie store and carted away bags of peppers, oranges, grapefruits, cucumbers, butter lettuce... Everything is fresh and tasty here. It's good to be in Greece.
February 6 -- CON'S BIRTHDAY! Celebrations have been postponed when the winds wouldn't let up. By 7 pm we clocked 80 NM on our wind speed indicator--that's 148 KPH. We'll gather the live aboards and celebrate tomorrow.
February 11 -- It's a crucial day/weekend for the Greek as they work through the terms of the Greek debt bailout taking it to a cabinet vote Sunday. Six ministers quit the cabinet yesterday in protest. More than 5,000 police are on guard in Athens, anticipating protests as major cutbacks have hit the elderly and the young adults. The marina staff had had a 40 percent wage cut. The Greek recession is cutting deeper, with tougher days ahead. The Communist party jumped the fence and hung two signs on the Acropolis, "Down with the dictatorship of the monopolies of the European Union."
Meanwhile, the live-aboard crowd took advantage of the t-shirt weather and enjoyed a barbecue in the marina yard.
February 12 -- George Tromaras arrived in town, claiming to be the “strongest man in Greece”. News cameras and a small crowd gathered outside the marina to watch him demonstrate his strength and of course we were there to witness too. He started with an iron sledge hammer and smashed it against his forehead three times and then took a 2 x 4 and cracked it against his forehead, falling to the ground, nearly passing out. He got up, took a two or three inches thick telephone book and tore it in half, and then the halves in half again. It's a tough way to make a living!
February 15 -- Happy Birthday to my mom -- 85 today. I dare you to keep up with her schedule!
The last of the oranges and the appearance of the spring blossoms is the signal for Con and me to get ready to set sail. Just a few more weeks, and we'll head east toward Cyprus.
This past weekend, the Greek Parliament voted "yes" for the new austerity program, lining them up for the next financial aid installment of 110 billion Euros from the International Monetary Fund and the European Union. A quick calculation: the total aid package translates to about 12 million Euros per Greek citizen! This parliament vote was highly controversial, resulting in six cabinet members resigning. More than 100,000 Greeks gathered in Athens to protest. It was peaceful until 5:30 p.m. when all hell broke loose. Starbucks and a bank were burned, and three people died.
February 22 -- Caryn had been talking about this spa treatment with fish. I asked her to join me. She went first, "It's wonderful and relaxing” and not her first time. For fifteen euro, I had my feet washed and then slipped them into a warm aquarium where dozens of fish nibbled (took bites) off my feet and legs--exfoliating. I couldn’t stop laughing. It was one of those moments when the laugh bug gets into you and there’s no shutting down.
I'm sharing the YouTube video at the Fish Spa. Laughter can be contagious. In the afternoon, we played Botchy Ball. Serious competition. Men against women: women won.
March 2 -- Finally the rain has stopped in Kos, but not the wind. It's blowing steady from the northeast--Siberia. It's cold. Big Sky keeps us warm, and for the last few days/weeks, we've been in a semi-hibernation mode. Today, we filled up the water tanks; took down the winter house, and put up our new bimini. We're ready to set sail Sunday as we make our way slowly toward Rhodes and onto Cyprus.
March 5 -- Our planned departure from Kos yesterday in a-bit-stronger-than-I'm-comfortable-with winds was delayed a day. Con went to the Port Authorities with a pocket full of cash, ready to check out and pay our hefty tax bill. They promptly informed him that the tax office was closed until Monday. Con said he had planned to take advantage of the winds to sail south and that he'd make payment in Rhodes when we get there. They argued, and then the customs agent accused Con of attempting to sail to Turkey. Con said, "In my country, you're innocent until proven guilty. If I were to sail to Turkey then you can send for me. How much is the fine anyway, because if it's less than the diesel I'll have to burn because there are no sailing winds on Monday, I may like to pay that instead." They then promptly confiscated our boat and insurance papers. Con conceded, believing the next step was jail. (We had no intentions of skipping out on the Greek tax!) This morning, he paid and collected our boat papers. We said "good-bye" to our live-aboard friends, and motored to Nisyros.
The island of Nisyros, our first stop for the year is actually a volcano that makes hissing noises and gives visitors and locals a light show at night.
March 11 -- At the Rhodes quay, in summer an obscenely busy harbour, we're the only ones there at the moment. The daily cost is 8 euro, including electricity! Rhodes has a remarkable medieval wall that surrounds the Old City, and leads to the Palace of the Grand Masters. Rough weather with three-metre waves are breaking on the outer harbour wall creating white spray higher than street posts. We're cozy inside, enjoying home-made soup. Yesterday, we rented a car and toured the entire island--the largest of the Dodecanese island chain.
Spring has sprung and it's gorgeous in the fields and canyons. We drove into Butterfly Valley, home of millions of Jersey Tiger moths, who are attracted to the Liquidambar orientalise trees in the secluded stream canyon. The butterflies won't be flying until July and August. Millions of them swarm this canyon valley, making it the second most visited site in Greece, next to the Acropolis. We stopped at a road-side restaurant and ordered calamari, fish and a salad. The owner said, "You're my first visitors of the year, can I offer you a glass of wine or Ouzo on the house?" We chorused, "Thanks." Con asked, "Will you be very busy during your busy months?" He said, "No, not too many people, but just enough." That sums up the Greek people. Always generous; never giving with a second motive, and never motivated by money.
March 14 -- Weather reports are fickle. Last night, we studied Windfinder and Windguru seeking the best weather and sea window to depart on our three-day journey to Cyprus via Kastellorizon. There was the possibility of a small weather window but with large waves and a following wind that would chase us to our first anchorage. But then, the same report indicated, "no wind," and we were having 26 knots in the Rhodes harbour. We decided to postpone our departure for Thursday.
March 16 – Today we departed. Things started out okay, until our tenth hour when we had to call the coast guard for help. Leaving Rhodes at the crack of dawn in much higher winds than predicted made the detachment from the concrete wall tough. The waves were more confused than expected bashing us at the stern and starboard for six hours. The sea changed to steep controlled waves, (about three meters) rolling at us from the stern and out at the bow. We'd been sailing on a broad reach when the wind swung around coming at us from behind and increased to 40 knots--too much for the canvas we had up. Con attempted to take in the jib and the sheet got away from him. The wind took control swinging the boat about putting us into heel laying our rail deep into the water. He put on the engine to turn us into the wind to take the pressure off the sails when pandemonium took over. The jib sheet found its way overboard and into the prop, stalling the engine instantly. With just a bit of jib up and partial main, I took the wheel, turning Big Sky back on course while Con investigated our situation. The Turkish coast guard is always watching and zoomed up beside us asking if we were okay. Con responded, "Yes," explaining that we'd continue to the Greek island. A half an hour later the wind stopped and we were dead in the water. But then it started up again, directly on our nose making our destination impossible, especially because there are rocks and islands surrounding the entrance. We sailed for another 20 minutes away from our destination, Con intent on staying out all night, hoping for calm waters by morning to dive under the boat and free the line. I didn't think that was safe as the wind was too fickle. We called the Turkish Coast Guard and they arrived within five minutes. The sea wave action calmed somewhat, but attaching the tow line was difficult with both boats rocking madly. The wave swells were at times two metres. Two hours later, we were tied up safely in the Kas Marina in Turkey. The Coast Guard insisted that we go to the hospital for a medical checkup; standard procedure when rescued. Learning that we were illegal in Turkish waters, they took lots of pictures, scribbled down notes, had deep discussions in Turkish, and then bid us a good sleep. In the morning, a diver freed the sheet from our prop and we were politely asked to depart Turkey and motored to the Greek island of Kastellorizon, a beautiful harbour, arriving within 45 minutes later. Pictured: we're having the best fish and chips in front of Big Sky.
In a few days, we'll do a legal entry into Turkey, buying Visa's, cruising log, and paying the agent to get all the necessary stamps. That's the way they do it. We've decided to forfeit our journey to Cyprus.
March 17 -- The moment we entered the bay, we realized we'd arrived at Greece's lost jewel, Kastellorizon, population 240. It's tucked so far away from the other Greek islands in the Aegean Sea, just a stone's throw from Turkey. It took about an hour to climb to the top of the mountain, well worth the effort for the views. Across the sea is the Turkish town of Kas. During WWI, the French launched bombs from just behind where we are, at the Germans as they approached Kastellorizon from Turkey.
We sailed to Turkey, leaving the boat in Finike and did a land trip to see the intriguing Anatolian region. Visit OFF THE BEATEN TRACK
Back on the boat in Finike
April 10 -- Tucked into the Finike marina, we're in a waiting pattern for:
Karen and Nadina joined us in Antalya sailing along the ancient Lycian coast (south eastern coast of Turkey). Our first day sailing was to Simena, an ancient Lycian village, accessible only by sea, and tied onto a small pier for the night -- or so we thought. The price was dinner at their restaurant. Thank you Karen and Nadina for the treat.
The site holds remains from a 4th century BC castle and the landscape is dotted with sarcophagi's (tombs). The Lycian history goes back to the six thousand years. We climbed up the ancient steps to the top of the castle for great views. Early afternoon,
Nadina, Karen and I paddled to the partially submerged sarcophagi and played in the warm waters. The pier seemed light weight for Big Sky, but the owners assured us we were okay. Wind was expected that night. And, it came! At 2 am, the owners came running down the pier calling for us to leave. In the pitch black, before we'd prepared the boat, set GPSs, and strapped on our life jackets, they untied our lines. Thank God Con had started the boat! He immediately back us out and into the reef-filled waters blowing Big Sky’s bow hard against the pier nearly causing the woman to be struck by our anchor but she’d ducked just in time. Karen and Nadina woke with the sound of the bow thrusters and remained calm at the pilot house seats. The archipelago and reefs make the area beautiful but also dangerous to boaters. Blinded by the dark, I held my iPad for navigation. Con remembering where the reefs were from the view from the mountainside yesterday reversed carefully and cleared the shallows. With winds blowing madly, I then gathered our life jackets, put on our navigation lights while Con remained steadfast at the helm. Moving toward the bow, I opened my eyes wide hoping to see – anything not indicated on my iPad map. The wind howled. I could make out a few boats at anchor and called navigational instructions to Con to avoid hitting them. Thirty minutes later, Con had us in a safe bay, dropped anchor, tested it, and we all went back to sleep.
After breakfast, with the wind still howling we pulled up anchor and motored to the outer pier in Ucagiz - 40 lire per night. Remaining at anchor was safer, but we wanted our guests to be able to tour Myra. Con remained with Big Sky as she bucked like a wild bronc in the winds. By taxi, we arrived at the ancient ruins. Myra, scholars believe it was part of the Lycian alliance between the years 168 BC and 41 AD. The amphitheater was destroyed in the year 141 and reconstructed in recent years. by shell-like silting. The Greeks tried to colonize the Lycians unsuccessfully. The Persians with their strong armies tried to overtake and enslave them. Instead, the men and women set their capital city on fire and went out to fight them to the last person--a suicide rather than surrender. This is known because of the ash that covers the destroyed city and the written accounts in Persian history records. Those surviving Lycians became part of the Persian nation and grew in economic prosperity. The Greeks and Roman's ruled them with heavy taxes, but they continued to survive, only falling into demise when two huge earthquakes took down their cities, some which can still be seen underwater. The most interesting person in Lycian history is St. Nicolas, the Bishop of the Lycians (later known as Santa Claus) in 323 AD.
The four of us set sail when the winds calmed, heading for Kas. On the way, Con and I wanted to sneak into Greek waters to show Karen and Nadina the pretty town of Kastellorizon, and nearly got into a mess of trouble. The Greek port authorities gestured our flag and whistled for us to pull over. We rounded the harbour and bee-lined it out of the Greek waters, holding our breath until we were back in Turkish seas. You cannot cross countries like that and know better too! Karen had one final task before flying home; a dip in the Aegean Sea. It was cool. She dove from the bow spit and swam leisurely to the stern.
April 20 -- Karen and Nadina left for Canada today, after nearly a week aboard. What great fun filling up with girlfriends! In the next few days, we’ll wrap the boat in netting for Courtney and three-year-old Hailey’s arrival on the 24th.
April 27 – Courtney & Hailey Arrive! My heart skipped a beat seeing them walk toward us at the airport. Courtney packed all her can't-part-with stuff, and so far, on day three, there has been no sign of her luggage. Turkish Airlines is a nightmare to work with, sending us in circles. Immediate needs for Courtney & Hailey were summer clothes: shoes, bathing suits, hats, sunglasses, and a life jacket for Hailey. Con, always thinking ahead booked us into the pretty older area of Antalya for three days so they could fight jet lag and relax at the pool.
The pool wasn't heated and in April it's ice- OLD! That didn't stop Hailey who called, "Opa in the water!”
In Turkey, "kids" are the most important and cherished being on earth. Everywhere we go, Hailey is adored. She calls out "Merhaba" to everyone (hello) and they can't resist her.
"Can I have a kiss?" they ask. She passed one store and the proprietor gave her a maraca. A man held her by her free hand, Con had the other and they walked her all over the square, swing-jumping her over everything, including a sleeping dog. She giggled calling out, "Teshekkur," (thanks).
Courtney watched her closely but let her experience everything. Hailey can't resist the kids everywhere and runs up to play with them, "Soccer, I play too."
It took nearly four hours to drive from Antalya to Big Sky in Finike. Courtney slept, and Hailey sang herself to sleep. Boarding the boat was the thrill Hailey had been waiting for, for three days. She wants to drive the boat and was disappointed when she got behind the helm and the boat didn't move. "We need the key," she said.
April 28 – LOVING our guests! Courtney bought a really cute bathing suit... so, so did I, navy blue and white stripped, so we call it our "crew" outfit. We’re closing in on DAY FIVE without their luggage, but a ray of sunshine arrived this morning when Turkish Airlines informed Courtney (when she called) that the bag is in Antalya. That's 220 kilometers from where we are, and we've been told "Tuesday," for delivery. Luckily the weather is outstanding with bright sunshine every day, temperatures in the upper 20s. Grounded in the Kas Marina, we wait. A typical day: wake and dance to the Iman's song; walk to town for donairs, and a round of delicious Turkish ice-cream; play in the big park chasing kids and dogs; chats with ducks; and a swim in the sea or the beautiful marina pool.
Today, Hailey was given a free toy, and as always, a free ice cream cone. The young ice cream sales guy called to the crowd, "Ice Cream!" Hailey shouted back from across the square in a big clear voice, "One minute," holding up her index finger, "wait for Opa, he has money and we're buying ice cream!"
May 1 – A massive debilitating migraine accompanied by vomiting has moved in on Courtney. This is her second day without food and very little liquid and her temperature is climbing. She’s lying in the hot V-berth with cold clothes on her head and neck. Con and I keep Hailey entertained at the pool, and every hour I race back to the boat to check on her and refresh her cold clothes. Con picked up migraine medicine (over $100 in Canada and prescription needed) from the pharmacist (no prescription needed in Turkey), for about $15 CND. When the pain caused tears, Courtney agreed to have the doctor come to the boat who arrived within 10 minutes. She assessed her condition, took blood, gave her powerful anti-nausea pills, instructed her to take the migraine pill Con picked up, and to eat soup and salt in her water. Within 30 minutes, she was able to rise from her bed. The doctor had called in the meantime giving her the results of the blood test--normal. Other tests ruled out parasites and meningitis. Her temperature returned to normal and her headache subsided.
Can you believe, we’re STILL waiting for their luggage to arrive from Antalya.
Hailey has been wonderful and a complete joy aboard. The adults spell P-O-O-L to each other and she responds excitedly, "Ya!" We just love her, her sensitive and caring nature and her love of life. She’s a wonderful story teller, and keeps us entertained all day.
May 2 -- Yesterday, while hanging out in the pool, we received word that THE LUGGAGE ARRIVED. It was time to move on. We secured everything and set sail for the first time since their arrival seven days ago. Our destination: Kalkan, just a few hours from Kas. Hailey drove finally. Just before our arrival, she fell asleep, the first nap of the trip.We secured Big Sky in a perfect spot, just before a big blow arrived, showing 50 knot winds on our meter. Stepping off to explore the town, we stopped to watch as three gullet boats (about three times the size of Big Sky) arrive, filling the harbour and then they squished in on both sides of us--sandwich style. Kalkan is a cute touristy town, with a more restaurants than people, or so it seems. Hailey was given two bracelets, and one hundred kisses by the locals and made friends with Khan, a boy about five years old.
May 3 -- Our departure from the Kalkan harbour was dramatic, with Con and Courtney at the bow untangling our anchor chain from the large ship's chain as one of the gullet captains had laid his chain across ours and linking anchors. Hailey helped me at the helm. Once we were freed, the crowd cheered, "Well done captain," to Hailey. We motored for nearly five hours to Olu Deniz, a beautiful turquoise-coloured bay and took a line ashore. The moment we were secured, Hailey took her first dip in the Mediterranean--following Opa into the deep blue. Even Courtney swam, and with just 23-degree waters. After, we picnicked on the bow.
May 5 – We moved on to another bay, as smooth as glass and the water temperature has risen to 25.6 degrees! It's delicious and inviting for Hailey who spends more time in the water than out. By 10 am, we lifted anchor and had a beautiful sail to Fethiye.
May 6 -- Dolphins visited us at the bow on our way into the marina this afternoon, performing for Hailey, jumping high in the air right at our bow. Video just above. Hailey and Con swam from Big Sky to the shore, about 150 metres. Courtney and I took the dinghy. It was Gypsy Day; the crowd was wild, so we left before it got too far out of hand.
May 7 -- On our last day aboard (before heading to Istanbul for a few days) we motored from the Fethiye Marina to swim in a beautiful bay for the day.
FLEW TO ISTANBUL
May 10 -- Con booked us into a hotel in the heart of Istanbul's old city. The Blue Mosque, Haiga Sophia, Spice Bazaar and Grand Bazaar were all within a five minute walk. After two full days in Istanbul, Courtney and Hailey boarded their flight back to Canada. Con and Courtney spent an agonizing hour seeking financial compensation from Turkish Airlines for Courtney and Hailey's eight days without their luggage. Turkish Airlines has hired a very effective man whose job is to be as nasty and confusing as possible to turn people away. That doesn't work on Con, and moments before Courtney and Hailey's flight was to take off, the Turkish Airlines agent (otherwise known as "The Jerk") reluctantly signed the form and handed over $75 US compensation, less than half of what had to be purchased.
May 15 – Con and I are now about 3 NM from Iztuzu Beach, popularly known as "Turtle Beach," secured in a brand new marina. The only cost is power and a commitment to eat in their restaurant, otherwise, it's $105 Turkish lira per night. We ate in the restaurant last night which cost more than the mooring fee, but the food and view was well worth it, about $65 CND.
For nine years, I've anxiously awaited viewing the Loggerhead Marine Turtles (every since our 2003 charter here) and was thrilled that we're here just before breeding season (June to September) when we'd have been banned from viewing them. The turtles resemble amphibious landing crafts with each one weighing 140 kilos (300 pounds). The females are making their way from the West African Coast and will begin arriving in a few weeks (throughout June and July) almost always coming to shore at night, laying hundreds of leathery eggs resembling golf balls and cover them up in the sand. Lots of predictors arrive at night to eat them, like foxes finding the nests through scent. About six to eight weeks later, the turtles hatch and claw their way up the sand for air and make their fateful journey to the sea. Hundreds of them are eaten alive by ghost crabs that lay traps for them in the sand. Hawks and other birds feast too. It's a tough journey toward "life" and no wonder their endangered.
With a guide, we carried on through the swamp water to the Lycian and Roman ruins of Caunos. Many of the ruins were built in the 4th century BC. The Lycians honoured their dead by finding choice locations in the high rocks, and carving out pigeon holes to place them inside. For others, they carved intricate temple facades that remain today, however their tombs have long since been raided. Below, a small portion of the ruins of Caunos, once a thriving Lycian port city in the 4th Century BC, now marsh land to the sea in the far distance. Spring has sprung. The fields are a buzz with every sized bee, wasp, butterfly, dragon fly, beetle, spiders... It's a beautiful sight. This delicate helicopter flew passed me grabbing my attention.
May 19 -- We're remembering Larry Radu, frozen in time at 49, who would have been 60 today.
May 21 -- It was a quiet morning on the water, when out of my peripheral vision, I spotted a moving black object. A submarine crossed directly in front of us causing us to change course while under sail! We’ve been sailing a few hours each day, tucking into a cove one day and tucking into a village harbour the next. Temperatures are wonderful. We'll leave the Turkish village of Bozburun to anchor just around the corner in a protected bay where we can swim and enjoy summer.
In the news:
This past January we toured the Parma region enjoying the Parmesan cheese, balsamic vinegar and Prosciutto ham. While there, we experienced two earthquakes--a first for me. Sadly the Parma region experienced a 6.0 earthquake today killing six and damaging 200,000 wheels of cheese. Each wheel takes a full day to prepare, and the factory we toured made just six each day. Below, two wheels will come out of this one vat.
May 23 -- We're anchored in the lovely ancient harbour of Knidos, the site of Aphrodite. Imagine in 400 BC there were 50,000 people living here, and today, there's one restaurant. We anchored here nine years ago and access to this area was only possible by sea; today there's a small road. We ponder the harbour floor and all the crude sailing vessels built 2,400 years ago that anchored in this same spot. Entering is tricky, especially in rough weather like yesterday. The ancient northern breakwater is submerged, but the southern one is still above water. It's a beautiful view to wake up to. There are two amphitheaters, the small one clearly visible from Big Sky at anchor. This is the site where the statue of Aphrodite (long gone) carved in 400 BC was the first statue of a nude female. The Greeks who occupied the land then, only allowed nudes males up until that point. It must have been a major scandal in their day. Aphrodite is supposed to bring luck to sailors, among other things.
May 30 – BIG SKY’S ON THE HARD
We're in an all-inclusive resort in Bodrum enjoying a sea-view room, three gourmet meals a day, free drinks, swimming pool, squash, ping pong, billiards, mini golf, and a top-notch spa (gym, massage, haman) all at give-away prices. At these prices, we could live here for CND$36,000 per year!
June 12 – The rain! Pools of water drench the farmer’s fields for 900 kilometers from Calgary to Carrot River where we are visiting Brit, Kris and the family. For Brit's birthday, Rosco, her dog delivered two dead rabbits (by mouth) to Brit at the front door. That night after dinner, Kris took his 22 and shot a skunk in their yard right through its stink gland. The smell could have been worse, but the wind was blowing away from the house. Con and I have been left in charge of 3-year-old Nolan and as our reward, Rosco delivered another dead rabbit to us. Con lured it out of his mouth with a piece of cheese.
IN CALGARY -- Friends Roc and Lori invited us to a VIP treatment at the Calgary Stampede. We bought cowboy hats & boots for the occasion and the latter nearly crippled us both.
August 3 -- Our visits to family friends in Canada and The Netherlands is coming to an end as we prepare to fly to Prague (from The Netherlands) Tuesday. We'll tour Prague for a couple of days, take the train to Budapest for a couple of days, and then continue to Vienna, and ferry ride to Bratslava, which will top off our two months away from Big Sky. It's been blistering hot (in the 30s and 40s) in Bodrum, Turkey where Big Sky is having her annual check-up and maintenance. Can't wait to dive into the crystal clear blue waters again!
VISIT OFF THE BEATEN TRACK: Prague, Budapest, Vienna, & Bratislava
BACK ON THE BOAT
August 24 – Following our land trip to the Czech Republic, Hungary, Austria, and Slovakia, we’re back aboard in Turkey. It’s hot! To cool off, from the 40 degree weather, we're in an air conditioned hotel with a beautiful swimming pool in the heart of Bodrum. Big Sky is still on the hard undergoing repair -- some we anticipated and others that we didn't. It's so hard peering out over the blue Mediterranean just 200 meters from Big Sky -- so close and yet so far away.
Yesterday, I left Con behind as he was supervising the removal of our prop and shaft and took a bus into Bodrum and then another bus well out of town to pick up special LED lights for our mast. I realized too late that the driver short-changed me on my fare. When a British family climbed aboard, the man paid, and waited patiently for his change. Eventually the driver gave it to him, and the man had to tell him how much more he needed to give him. I wonder if the driver is purposely ripping people off, or can’t count to make change. I got off, shopped at the first store, made my purchase, then checked my change. Wrong! I had to ask for 10 lire more showing the cashier my bills. He smiled and gave me correct change (the equivalent of $5 Canadian). In the sweaty 40 degree weather, I hiked up the dusty road to the next store I was told was just 500 meters. There, I found four more lights inside boxes. When I asked the store keeper if I could see inside the boxes to make sure they were correct, he shook his head, put them in a bag, holding them until I made the purchase, all the while saying, “Correct, correct.”
I counted my change, thanked him, left and ran for the bus crossing four lanes of highway, chasing my hat down that highway when it flew off my head, and barely made it on the bus. Paying the driver the EXACT change, I sat and opened the boxes to check the lights -- THEY WERE THE WRONG ONES. I jumped up shouting, "Dur! Dur!" (Stop). The driver looked confused. I asked for my 3 lire back and he gave me half. I hiked back up the hill sweating dripping down my legs filling my sandals and showed the man what he’d sold me. He didn’t apologize, or say anything, just counted back my change and filled my empty palm, but not before asking me for the receipt that he KNEW he didn’t give me.
August 26 -- What are the odds? Con and I left the yard mid-afternoon when all the trades appeared to have ended their day. Temperatures hovering around 39, we climbed aboard the #2 bus, pouring ourselves out a block further than we had planned. Hoisting our back packs over our shoulders, we planted a we-can-do-it-grimace on our faces, ready to climb the 300 meter up hill to our hotel. Just as I positioned my heavy backpack for the hike, I heard, "Barb, Con, is that you?" Dave and Jane, two people we met in the yard last May (also by a weird coincidence) were driving by just at that moment and offered a ride. We tossed the bags in the back with their dog Sheba and climbed into their air conditioned SUV. Our friends Judy and Bruno said, "If you go to Bodrum, be sure to look for our friends Dave and Jane." That's a bit like, "Oh, you're from Canada, do you know our uncle in Toronto?" But there y'are!
We shared dinner at their place the next night. Jane's from New Zealand and Dave's from Scotland and for now they've settled in Bodrum in a beautiful apartment high on a hill with a knock-your-socks-off sea view.
We are crossing our fingers that the scheduled (and unscheduled) work will be completed tomorrow and we can have Big Sky put back in the water. The complications have been created by the wind picking up and the topsides clean, wax, and polish will be delayed. We’re also having the antifouling applied, rigging checked, LED anchor lights replaced, shaft bearings replaced, minor repairs to the teak pegs and stainless steel rail, replacing the anodes, and lastly our bow thruster looked at – AGAIN. It’s never worked properly since our Victron inverter was hit by lightning and subsequently replaced, and the electrical wiring mucked with in Ibiza, Spain.
August 29 -- Not sure what the yard was thinking when they said we'd be ready to launch Big Sky Tuesday. The prop shaft wasn't put in until Wednesday and it will need another day to dry the filler, anti-fouling and paint, and then the propeller has to be refitted correctly. Maybe Thursday. While Con stayed in the yard yesterday, I shopped in town getting a few new outfits. Bodrum is in the western corner of Turkey with the enormous Castle of St. Peter seemingly floating in its dominating position in the waterfront. It's a conundrum, because one part is very touristy Turkish and the other very authentically Turkish, with narrow streets and white washed houses filling the land from the natural harbours up the hillside. Palm trees are scattered throughout the bougainvillea fuchsia-coloured flowing plants. The harbour is filled with gullets and leisure sailors like us. Kos, Greece is just on the other side of the water. The conundrum: it boasts the largest outdoor disco that runs from 11:30 pm until 4 am! We're convinced the people who go are deaf from the decibels, and that would include anyone living in the town of Bodrum. We selected a cute hotel close to the harbour and in the town core, what a mistake (before learning about the disco). Laser lights flooded our room, and the disco nearly drove us batty. In fact, the lasers from the discos can be seen across the Aegean in Kos, Greece. The narrow cobble-stone streets echo causing competition for the night with the noise from the disco, coupled with taxis, buses, motor cycles, and cars.
September 1 – With delight, we watched Big Sky's keel touch down in the water again. Wasting no time, we motored to the petro station and loaded up on 1,187 litres (yep, nearly 1,200 litres) of diesel which ought to do us for a year. (The price was 3.56 TL ($1.94 CND) per litre.) Our friend Dave suggested a quiet anchorage and gave us the coordinates. We got there and within minutes put on our snorkels and fins and splashed till dinner. Dave and Jane joined us aboard for a dinner. The next morning we motor-sailed to Didim, arriving 5 1/2 hours later. The sea was rough. Once settled, we walked to the bus stop heading in the direction of a Vodafone shop. We’d made a purchase in Bodrum and soon realized they’d ripped us off. Not only did they charge 20 lire for a 8 lire SIM card, 60 for a package, they never activated it. We were still dealing with the Turkish government’s law on foreign cell phone use. Either pay 100 lire tax and properly register it, or they lock your phone and it can’t be used. We explained that we’d registered a phone last spring, put the SIM card in, the phone broke, we bought a new one, put in the old SIM and the Turkish government locked our new phone.
September 4 -- With 48 hours remaining on our Turkish visa, (we’re only allowed 90 days in 180 days and on the 91st day, the fines begin) we wasted no time. Untying from the D-Marin in Didim, we pointed our bow toward Leros, Greece, the island Mussolini called home. For 160 TL we have to hire an agent to check us out. Checking in costs another 300 to 400 TL. (The Turkish government doesn't make it easy for cruisers here.) Following WWII the Greek people used the island as a place for the mentally challenged to live. An asylum still exists in their main town, mostly occupied by cats. The island has a completely different look from the other Greek islands, with the Italian architectural influence. It's a pretty island. Our lunch menu was interesting. Tripe you might know is stomach lining of a cow. Trotter is the hoof (we think). We didn't want to tripe or trotter it and had pizza.
So, we practiced preventative maintenance aboard and one of the many jobs we had done was replacing the prop shaft bearings. Big job. We didn't have them change the stuffing box, or re-stuff the stuffing box and our first sail was our first indication that that was a mistake. (The stuffing box is the gizmo that prevents the sea from running into the boat through the hole that the prop enters the boat and engine room.) During our first sail, the bilge pump was pumping out water and when Con checked the engine room, he could see that too much water was entering. We're seeking a cradle to lift Big Sky again and have the stuffing box re-stuffed.
September 5 -- What are the odds that we'd dock in the small harbour of Lakki on the small island of Leros beside a Nauticat boat, with another Nauticat beside them. To make it more odd, a chartered boat filled with Finns docked on our other side after this picture. (Nauticat boats are made in Finland.)
September 7 -- Happy Birthday Dex! Our grandson turns four today. Dex, Nick and Bryant will visit aboard in a few weeks. Yesterday, we motor-sailed to Patmos, officially checking into Greece. The cruising log was only 30 Euro, plus 15 Euro to the Port Police. Checking in was smooth and easy and we noticed they’re using computers now, so Big Sky is officially logged into Greece as of September 6th. Our priority was getting internet, at the expense of getting to the grocery store for supplies. We spend three days at anchor with two day’s worth of coffee. A northern blow is building today and will continue through until Saturday, so we'll enjoy this bay and swing on the anchor. Our Canadian friend's Jean and Trevor invited us for dinner aboard their beautiful boat last night, (at anchor beside us). There are four boats at anchor, two Canadian's, one from USA and another from Germany. We'll meet on the beach at 6 p.m. for a beach party.
September 9 – The second day of an anticipated three-day blow is blowing a steady 25 - 35 knots. It’s a north wind, blowing the boats off the shore, as it should. It's a safe sheltered area with sandy bottom. We spend the days swimming and lazing. LOVE IT! Today, we took our dinghies into shore to the restaurant on the hill for lunch. Jean and Trevor, two Canadian's we met in Turkey last spring, their boat Onward anchored side by side. Patmos is the island where St. John allegedly wrote the Book of Revelation in the Bible. The cave where he did the writing is a tourist attraction for the religious and curious. Con and I rented a motorcycle nine years ago when we chartered a boat in Turkey and visited the cave. Two young German women were so moved when they entered the doorway they broke into tears collapsing at the entrance.
September 11 – Day three: The wind died a bit, as predicted so we pulled up anchor for our blustery 9.5 NM trek to the small island of Arki dropping Bruce again and swimming to our hearts content in the delicious waters. We motored another 25 NM to the island of Samos tying at the quay and set off to the grocery store filling our cupboards with fresh foods and we have coffee aboard again. Our bow nearly fit inside the seaside cafe/bar/restaurant. Early evening the Greek music started, a pleasant sound to fall asleep to, not like the horrid Bodrum disco. That music got into our brain like chewing gum in your hair.
September 13 -- An interesting morning, leaving us with an overdose of adrenalin. At the Agathonisi, Greece quay last night (about 12 kilometers to the closest Turkish coast), we were drinking latte's, just starting breakfast, about 7:30 am when a whistle blew directed into our boat. The coast guard gave us loud and clear instructions to leave immediately. It takes about 30 minutes to disassemble our gang plank and store everything. As we backed away, bow anchor still down, we witnessed partially deflated dingy-load of Syrian refugees being towed to the quay. An Austrian-flagged Coast Guard boat had brought them in. (The EU is working together in Greek waters looking for refugees, as their coasts are too vast to do alone.) The dingy had about 19 adults and four children (an infant, two toddlers and an eight-year old girl). (Pictured above you can just see the collapsed air chamber.
Guards led them off the boat one at a time and had them kneel facing the hill at the back of the quay. Meanwhile, Con and I floated on our bow anchor in the harbour taking photos and videos. The whistle blew once again at us, and this time we were told to bring our camera to them. We told them we couldn't get there, as we're still on anchor but that we'd erase them. They marched to their Austrian-flagged coast guard boat, and we knew they intended to take our camera. I took out the SD card and raced below to my laptop and transferred as many as I could. Con smiled at them as they approached, saying without moving his lips, “Now Barb, I need the SD NOW.”
Just out of their sight, Con slipped it back in just as the coast guards arm leaned over our rail. They politely looked at each photo, shaking their head, “No, no, illegal…” and deleted them one at a time and handed back our camera adding, “You could be arrested, and now you must go.” True?
September 17 -- Summertime in Greece: swinging gently on the anchor in beautiful waters, swimming, lazing, and rowing to shore for supplies. The man above pictured on the donkey's back was on the island of Leros. To get to the town of Lipsi on Leros from the waterfront, it's a 300 meter climb uphill. This is an easier way to do it but not for the donkey.
September 22 -- A few days ago, we pulled up our anchor from the bay pictured and pointed our bow east toward Bodrum, Turkey. I know, we’re illegal there… We had prearranged to have daughter Nick, four-year-old grandson Dex, and first-time-sailor Bryant fly there. Anticipating 24 NM of motoring, instead we had a brilliant four-hour sail. When does that happen?
Entering Didim, Turkey we needed an agent again, Visas, and a new cruising log. No one asked about our 90 days in 180 day status and we didn’t volunteer.
Next, we had three men boarded and expertly fixed our bow thruster and put in a new relay. It's been a subject of angst for four years as it seems to break down as soon as we fix it. Con suggests that maneuvering Big Sky without a bow thruster makes us better boat handler. While the bow thruster men were cleaning up, two more men arrived with a repair kit and fixed the gel coat on our stern to the point where I dare you to see where the damage was done. While docking stern to quay in Agathanisis and securing our gang plank, our stern locker door banged against the concrete causing a chunk to crumble off the door. First thing the next morning, two men arrived to inspect the stuffing box to see if the pecking rings should be replaced. Verdict: yes. Outcome: we'll do it next time we're lifted. You can't beat the workmanship in Turkey when you're in the right place and you'll be guaranteed expert technicians and translator.
Yesterday, we climbed aboard the $1 CND fare dolmus (bus) into town searching for a hair salon. I walked into what I thought looked pretty professional. It's always a crap shoot. A woman said in pretty good English, "Colour and a cut 85 TL." That's about $50 Canadian. I sat down, pulled out a picture and held it waiting. A man with long purple fingernail polish studied it as if he’d do a precision cut, and I knew it would be anything but that as soon as he took the first snips. He’s toss my hair around and snip it here and there, then go back to the photo, tucking a little behind my ear, pushing it around. When cutting layers, he held a chunk of hair and clipped it completely straight across leaving seams! He interrupted the cut to chase a few young boys who ran through the salon teasing him and he stopped, pointed his comb and scissors at one of them and reprimanding and then chasing him to the back corner. The boy shouted what might have been the equivalent of “Don’t kill me! Don’t kill me! Don’t kill me!” When Purple Fingernails returned I was standing.
“This is good.” I said, “Finished. Thank you. Merhaba.”
“But you want colour.”
“No, not needed. How much please?”
“10 TL” ($5.50 CND). When I got back to the boat I saw the horrid mess. In fact one side of my hair was long and the other short! Con laughed, “Well, you really did get a 10 TL haircut alright!” Sometimes you get a good cut and sometimes you get a great story. I fixed it myself back on the boat.
October 2 -- The weather in Turkey was still hot and sweaty when the kids arrived. Each day we sailed to a new anchorage or tied at the town quay to visit small towns and swim. Foiled Disaster, but isn’t that always the way it is when guests are aboard. Topping up our diesel in Bodrum, 3.83 TL per litre because it would be the best price in Europe this side of Portugal, chaos ensued. Spying lazy lines (lines attached to the quay you pick up and secure at the back of the boat to keep it off the wall) Con motored forward. Bryant communicated with a man at the quay asking him to catch his port line and tie on. He refused! It was a maneuver that required quick action with the wind, and unfortunately, without the port line, we were blown starboard against a powerboat. Another man picked up the starboard lazy line and handed it to Nick on the port side. The two of us pulled as hard as we could trying to keep the boat off the powerboat and get the line to the stern. Con meanwhile had the boat in reverse to keep us off the concrete wall. The line immediately got sucked into the prop and stalled the boat, now there was nothing to keep us off the wall and to complicate it, we couldn’t exit because we had NO engine! I jumped ashore and helped three other men push Big Sky back from the wall and the power boat kept Big Sky from swinging into the shallows. Eventually someone pulled up another line and rigged it so we could be held back somewhat by attaching it to our boat from another boat. In the wind, it still wasn’t enough, but we had the motor boat to our starboard still. THEN, the motor boat decided to leave. Now we had a half dozen people (including me) trying to rig another line portside to keep us from the quay. It seemed an impossible task, but we managed. Nick and Bryant didn’t hesitate to dive and began preparing. The boat was bouncing wildly in the winds and waves, a dangerous situation and I was so grateful for them and that they were doing it together to spot each other. Using our kitchen knife and many dives, they freed the line from the prop. Meanwhile, Dex was happy as a lark in the V-berth with the iPad.Once the engine worked again, we tied up correctly and topped up our diesel and instructed the attendant to untie. In the chaos, someone had macraméd the line to the post making it near impossible to untie! Looking like we’ve never done this before, Con (not knowing about the macraméd line at the bow) released our lazy line and now we were locked to the quay with a silly knot! I took the wheel while Con and Bryant tried to unleash the line from Big Sky’s cleat but the wind was too much of a competitor. At the helm, it was a near-losing battle to keep Big Sky off the concrete quay as our stern was being blown alongside. Fenders would have done nothing to protect the boat as a concrete block jutted out a meter or so from the quay leaving the depth just a meter. Our keel is 2.1. I couldn't motor in reverse, as they needed as much slack as possible to untie the line. I couldn't allow Big Sky to come alongside because we'd destroy our keel. The wind had pushed our stern to starboard. If the line freed now, reverse would put me into the shallow sandy beach.
FINALLY, with seconds to spare, they freed the line and I used the bow thruster along with the attendant pushing our bow desperately away from the concrete. Con then jumped behind the wheel and floored it, our stern missing the concrete by a hair. On to an anchorage. Dex's first impression of the Mediterranean, "It's too wet!" Dex was in his element with a digger or some kind and sand. It took until his last two days to realize that the water was fun and he played his heart out splashing with a giant blow-up sting ray at the sandy beach in Datcha. Seeing them off at the bus for their departure to Istanbul was difficult. They filled our boat with love and laughter.
We loaded up on water, untied and motored for 5 1/2 hours to the south end of Kos and began our slow sail through the Greek islands toward the Corinth Canal and then south to Sicily, our winter destination.
October 3 -- Since the departure of Nick, Dex and Bryant, we've been threading ourselves through the Aegean Greek islands, slowly moving toward Athens and then through the Corinth Canal. It's the most expensive motor-way in the world on a per mile basis.
October 4 -- Happy Birthday Courtney -- 29 today.
Just 30 minutes into our ten-hour journey this morning, about a dozen dolphins visited at the bow.
October 7 -- We slipped into the Piraeus Zea Marina for a few days to stock up on groceries and a few boat parts, as mariners can get just about anything in the port of Athens. Today is Thanksgiving in Canada, and I'm reflecting on the things we're grateful for in Canada. Food, shelter, freedom. Since our last visit a year ago to Piraeus we see that the Nigerian street vendors have been rounded up and sent back to Nigeria. Many well dressed and not so well dressed Greeks are picking through garbage bins for bottles and whatever. Life is tough for the Greek people. We're docked beside a Dutch boat with Syrian crew. We chatted with Fute a man about 30, whose family is still living in Aleppo, and on the run constantly moving from one spot to another as bombs and missiles are destroying their neighbourhoods and killing the innocent. We're thinking about the dinghy of Syrians towed into the small Greek town where we were tied at the quay. They were seeking safety and a better life for their children. Live is tough for the Syrians. Our hearts go out to the innocent Turkish people killed in Akcakale near the Syrian border, a place 18 km from where we visited this past spring, that was hit by a terrorist’s bomb.
October 9 -- Yesterday, we traveled 51.5 NM from the Aegean Sea through the Corinth Canal and into the Ionian Sea. It was difficult finding a shallow enough anchorage, especially when unpredictable winds had churned up the sea. Detouring 10 NM off our route we found a bay just as the sun was setting and dropped the anchor in 20 meters, (about 15 meters deeper than we usually like) and slept soundly.Pictured: entering the canal--the first vessel behind the lead tug boat. The Corinth Canal was majestic-like, with the high canyon walls and blue waters below. Unfortunately, the canal was filled with lion-head jelly fish. We have been blessed with clear waters in the Aegean all summer. The cost to transit was 237 euro (about $300 Canadian) for four NM, (6 KM). That's the most expensive canal in the world per NM. It was dug at sea level, so there's no need for locks. Because the channel is only 70 meters wide, it's impassable by most modern-sized cargo ships. They must take the route around the Peloponnese. The digging of the canal started as early as the 7th Century BC but was tossed aside as "too difficult." Instead, a transport system was built to carry the boats through the Isthmus. The remains of that ancient construction are still seen from the canal and remnants of the ancient mooring.
On our journey west, dolphins lazily frolicked at our bow again today. They were in no hurry and remained there for a while.
October 10 -- We're enjoying the last lazy days of the season, moving an average of seven hours on the water each day, making our way east across the Gulf of Patras readying ourselves for the long sail to Ragusa Sicily. Returning to Messolonghi is like old home week (as they say). We love this little Greek town, untouched by tourism. We met a Dutch couple in our last harbour, the pretty island town of Trizonnia, who made the same trek today as us. Tonight, we're heading into town with a few people for a real Greek meal and ouzo.
October 13 -- Just as I write about "lazy days," calm seas and blue skies... all hell broke loose -- again! That usually happens, the moment you announce, "Can't get much better than this," or "... "Can you believe it, we’re going 8 knots…” We sailed from Messolonghi to Poros, Kefallonia on a beautiful 10 to 15 knot breeze.. Arriving in Poros, we were told "no room inside" (the harbour) so we dropped anchor outside the harbour expecting 5 to 10 knot southerlies in the night and a calm sea. Nasty weather was to arrive in a few days, however, at 5 am we bolted out of bed when Big Sky began bouncing wildly on the anchor! The wind meter clocked 50 knots! The sky was angry; the sea angrier! North easterly winds arrived unexpectedly, leading the charge of the early arrival of the low, flinging winds and churning up the sea with ferocity. "Bruce" our 50 kilogram anchor is good, but we didn't put out enough lead (chain) for such conditions because the breakwater was right behind us (to the south) along with a nasty outcrop of rocks. Securing our life jackets, turning on the equipment, GPS and radar, I took the helm.
Con balanced at the bow as Big Sky swung like a ferris wheel heeling around the Bruce. The anchor chain came off the wheel with ten meters of chain left to lift. Con shouted instructions, "Forward, reverse, port, starboard," but his words were swallowed in the wind. He can’t lift the anchor without the chain in the wheel and he can’t lift the chain without risking losing his fingers with a snap swirl motion of the boat against the anchor. Con made hand gestures with his arms and when the lightning flashed, I made out the instructions likely getting less than half of his instruction. Using the bow thruster and engine forward and reverse, Bruce lifted and tucked into its spot on the bow spit (something it NEVER does). In all our years aboard, lifting Bruce requires a dance with the second anchor, dropping it slightly to lift Bruce into place and then lifting both into place. I figured someone was watching over us! I powered Big Sky out into the open sea, dodging lightning bolts with rain pelting down soaking us to the bone. Having been hit by lightning -- twice -- we know the damage it can cause to the equipment and in such a storm, we need all our equipment in good working condition.
The circle in the centre black and green picture above indicates our position. On a clear day, the screen is black and one or two dots will indicate another vessel. Surrounding us for 3 NM was the weather system.
For the next five hours, we tucked inside the pilot house motoring through the storm and tying at the quay in the delightful town of Argostoli and strolled the promenade. Three enormous Loggerhead Turtles were hanging out waiting for the fisherman's donations.
October 14 - 16 -- We set off from Argostini after consulting as many weather websites as we know (and trust) and believed morning departure to Sicily would be perfect – a light breeze, 10 - 15 knots with diminishing winds for the last few hours of our potential 48-hour journey. An hour into our trip, we were reefing the sails, in 40-knot winds. Our main sail seemed to slice through the first of five nasty thunder and lightning storm cells, sending bolts of lightning around our boat -- the sky was dark, menacing, and electrified. We tucked inside anticipating a hit that never came, thank God! We discussed returning to Greece, but agreed a better weather system would arrive so we carried on -- through four more wild storms. The second storm lasted nine hours! It threw dagger-like bolts haphazardly into the sea around us, and in between the sky lit up with electric flashes. I clocked 59 knots (no sails up). The sea was terribly agitated and down-right awful. Big waves rocking our 27 tons with deep side to side movements, washing overboard, with thick water running heavily down the windows. We arrived in the large Syracuse protected bay at 9 pm on the 37th hour of travel, (well ahead of schedule) both of us weather worn and me sea sick.
On the anchor, we slept just fine until 2 am when yet another isolated and not predicted violent storm cell arrived. Are they following us? Big Sky and its occupants were once more at the mercy of Bruce (our 50 kilogram anchor) and its ability to stay solid in the ground 10 meters below. The wind speed indicator registered a steady 45 - 55 knots (Force 10 -- very severe storm)-- in the bay -- with frequent gusts as high as 62 (Force 11-- violent storm). For safety, we stayed inside (never going half in or out, or God forbid outside behind the helm). We kept a watch on the three boats at anchor near us to ensure their anchors were also holding, as we were directly in their line if they released. Oh God, we spotted the owner of a British-flagged boat in the process of re anchoring beside us in the storm! They had been dragging. What a time to re-anchor! The once calm bay was running like a river with the wind, now lifting the bows and dropping them, spinning them 90 degrees back and forth. When the sky lit with sheets of lightning, we saw a person at the British boat’s helm and another at the bow outside in the lightning storm attempting to settle the anchor. Their dingy had filled upside down with its motor still attached. The lightning bolts were blinding at times from the brightness. Thirty minutes later, the storm moved on, the lightning bolts followed like giant monsters with their electric long legs walking south with the wind and chaos. The sea calmed and we slept until the next round -- this one arriving at 6:30 am along with the agitated sea ad 20 knot winds. From our pilot house windows sipping lattes, we saw a sailboat dragging on its anchor passing us very near to our starboard. Everyone aboard seemed to be asleep. It was heading toward the rocks. Con and I whistled (I have a tremendously loud whistle) blasted our horn, but we aroused no one aboard. The boat continued to drag. About 20 meters from the rocks and wall (depending on the fickle winds) their anchor caught. They finally woke about 8:30 and motored into the marina. We did too, a few hours later.
October 17 - 18 -- Syracuse is spectacular! There's a bit of history from every century captured in the architecture. And have I mentioned it yet -- YUM! We're back in Italy, the land of Parmesan cheese... well all delicious cheeses, prosciutto ham, deli specialties, red wine... Syracuse was founded by the Greek's in 733 BC and saw its power and glory between the third and fifth century BC becoming Europe's most powerful city at the time. It is one of the prettiest places to wander and get lost in for a few hours. We left mid-morning, sailing for about five hours, dropped the anchor. It was dragging, so we pulled it up along with a crab trap, and managed to twist our anchor around the line in a crochet fashion. It took some fancy maneuvering to untangle the anchor, but once done, we re-anchored and slept for the night.
Our last sail to our winter spot (Marina di Ragusa) was brilliant, with a following wind pushing us up to 9 knots -- averaging around 7 knots for the four-hour journey. Secure in our winter spot, we reunited with some friends we met in Portugal during our first winter (2007) and friends from our 2011 winter spot in Kos, Greece.
October 27 -- Now settled into our winter location, having stored our genoa, washed the salt out of our lines and sheets, we took the bus to the hillside town of Ragusa. Blown away by the unexpected beauty and breathtaking sights, we were caught off guard. Our Italian tour book doesn’t even include Ragusa. Ragusa and a few towns nearby were flattened in 1693 when the area shook with a massive earthquake. The town was divided about where to rebuild, so the aristocrats and wealthy built the more metropolitan city (today filled with stores and businesses). The rest of the population built Ibla, (pictured) in baroque style in the ravine and along the walls of the gorge in the site of the original city. It's a jumble of rock houses, churches built on top of each other with roads and pathways, stairs and plaza's crossing and bumping into each other. It's delightfully chaotic. It seemed as if we were the only ones in the town! Because the town is built in a ravine, you can imagine how many steps we took yesterday.
October 28 -- This is a link to an article I wrote earlier this year picked up by the Ocean Navigator magazine. It was when the spring winds got the better of us.
Right now, the African winds are blowing in a system kicking up the waves. Malta is about 50 miles behind southwest and Tunisia is 180 miles to the west.
November 3 – Nasty Job Day
The head (bathroom) requires a hose cleaning at least once a year. Beyond emptying the sea water dry from the toilet and locking vinegar in the hose by means of dumping it in the toilet a few times a year, we need to pull the darned stubborn hose out at least once a year. That was our job today to the stern bathroom. The hose is so tightly crammed into the twisty turning tunnel-like crevasses that it always becomes a sweaty job getting it out and back in. Cleaning it out is so much easier. We started at 9:15 in the morning, finally relaxing at 4:15 in the afternoon. Getting the locked-inside calcium (a chemical reaction to urine and salt water) requires a soft hammering to the hose followed by a fresh water wash. Exhausted, and with more than a day's worth of upper-body workout, we collapsed in bed by 8:30 watching an episode of "The Good Wife."
Waking to another blue sky and hot day, we carried on our cleaning tasks, scrubbing the window screens. Only 17 days remain until we closer Big Sky for our trip to Canada.
November 5 -- What a blast today in the waters two minutes from our marina. Mini sized waves were too inviting, so we suited up (bathing suits) and played the afternoon away. Temperatures were 26 - 28 degrees. Amazing for this late in the season.
November 9 -- Sicily's weather is near-perfect. We left for Ragusa by bus to get to our 30 Euro-per-day rented car for our three days of visiting southern Sicily's Baroque towns and quaint seaside villages. After our bus trip to Ragusa, we knew there was more to see. In Modica, we visited the chocolate factory where the 16-century tradition of making chocolate was taken from the Mexican Aztec's and brought to Europe by the Spaniards and then to Sicily. They don't use butter, and melt the chocolate at just the right temperature over heated water, and then add sugar. It was once the staple of the poor, and now quite a luxury. In Scilci "Shic lee" we visited the cemetery overlooking the town. It had just been All Saint's Day (November 1) and nearly every grave, crypt and wall slot had flowers in remembrance. Arriving in Mezamemi during siesta was a mistake. The town had rolled up the streets! (Located on the south east coast of Sicily.) They're known for tuna fishing and growing mini tomatoes. Their fishing traditions have been carried on for centuries. We didn't have the good luck to experience any of it. I had a bifstak (thin steak) and Con had spaghetti vongole. Our B&B in Noto was quiet and comfy. That afternoon, we walked through the town (again during siesta -- mistake) but made the most of it by stopping for ice cream. We had planned to head out in the evening for dinner and to join the locals. Con fell asleep at 5 pm and didn't wake until breakfast. We carried on to Caltgirone, another Baroque town known for their mosaics and pottery. We were specifically looking for the 142 steps all decorated in mosaic tiles (pictured above). As we rounded the bend, the town came into view. I realized immediately that it wasn't just a small town and finding the church with 142 mosaic steps in the densely populated maze would be like finding a needle in a haystack. To boot, fog had settled in and the rain was falling. Con turned willy-nilly through the streets, driving quickly, his elbows jerking wildly as he made hairpin turns. The streets became path-like roads, climbing, climbing, and some ending with stairways. Before I could say "umm, where are you going, I’m still trying to get a GPS fix…" he wedged the car into a spot on a 80 degree angle and jumped out of the car. Once I closed my jaw, I realized that we were at the foot of the stairway we'd come to see. Amazing -- YES! (He impressed himself too.) He said he simply aimed for the oldest part of town. By the afternoon, we rolled into Agrigento and checked into our hotel enjoying the view from our room. It overlooked the Valley of the Temples. The temple above is a beautiful example of the Doric style temples of the 5th century BC. The next morning, we scouted out the location of the Scala dei Turchi (Stair of the Turks). The white rich-lime mud-like sand is wedged between two beautiful beaches. The Pirates of the Barbary Coast used this location to come ashore to do their raids years gone by. We ended the trip with a lunch overlooking the sea. It's a beautiful life!
November 11 -- Remembering my grandpa today, veteran WWI and WWII. And dad, navy veteran WWII and others.
BACK ON THE BOAT
We biked to the Marina di Ragusa hardware store in town and bought 3 euro worth of hardware (screw driver and Allen key). "Wait," the proprietor gestured, returning with bag bursting with juicy tomatoes, the equivalent of about $7 or $10 Canadian. They're fresh, sweet and RED, and still on the vine. In this area of the world old fashion generosity is the way of life. When we tuck into the communities, we become part of the bigger sense of "family." This is what's left after we made a big bowl of bruschetta, and a massive-sized caprese salad.
November 30 – TO NETHERLANDS AND CANADA
We left Marina Di Ragusa in the rain, nevertheless, still warm pleasant weather. The Catania Airport was under construction. Once we went through security, we were ushered into busses and driven to the military airport for departure, however, since there was no security at that airport, and without explanation, (so we assume it’s because of security) WE WERE TAPED INSIDE THE BUS. People came out with rolls of tape and went around and around the bus, taping us inside!
Our first stop was the Netherlands, into a northern climate -- damp and cold, but greeted by Con's warm family. We were there just long enough to pick up a nasty cold each. But to experience a "winter" you have to come to the great north -- CANADA! We’re now in Alberta, located close to the Rocky Mountains. It's snowing, the really pretty light flaky stuff that sticks to the trees. It's the sort of weather where you want to light your fireplace, and drink wine, but then reality sets in when you have to go to the grocery store (or doctor, dentist...) and you’re scraping the car windows, walking with mini steps so you don’t slip, rubbing gallons of cream on your skin to keep from dying up, and bundling in layers to stay warm (and the really cold stuff hasn't arrived yet). Two days in Canada, and we're both now on a round of antibiotics! “Sickness” is a given for us when we leave the boat and we think it’s because our bodies aren’t exposed to germs. We spent our first great week in Red Deer with Lindsey and Les, and Courtney and Hailey. I've had two full fabulous days watching Hailey (3), a total joy to be around, but by 2 pm I’m exhausted. That’s why we have kids when we’re young! Later, we’ll be with daughter Nick and grandson Dex (4) in Calgary.
Boo! I’ve had a laptop crash and with Con’s expert help, we’ve purchased a new laptop, learning Windows 8, and we’ve been rebuilding my files. Getting the website working again has been a task. But alas, we’re back.
December 1 -- The days are passing too quickly! A few days ago, Hailey (our three year-old granddaughter who splits her day between being a princess and a Power Ranger) created a beautiful Gingerbread House. Today, Dex our four-year-old grandson who has taught me Angry Bird tips, helped usbuild a candy-loaded Gingerbread House.
December 8 – TO SASKATCHEWAN
Up early, was an understatement, we showered and were on the road to Saskatchewan by 2:30 am, hoping to arrive in time for son-in-law Kris’ birthday dinner and to watch step-grandson Kolton's hockey game in Tisdale. It’s a long ten hour journey by car. The roads were frighteningly winter-like. Leaving Calgary we drove through thick fog for hours, lifting a bit so the bottom few feet of our car was visible, but then burying us again. After seven hours of driving, we stopped in Saskatoon for food. Now totally exhausted, I was behind the wheel for what would be our last four-hour drive. Just outside Waca, and I swear my eyes were open, but I fell asleep. (I later read about that syndrome when through fatigue it is possible to fall asleep behind your eyes even when your eyes are open.) The Saskatchewan roads are for the most part straight and I veered off and into the ditch. The next vision was plowing into snow flying up onto our windshield. Thankfully I veered to the right. I hitched a ride from a helpful farmer while Con stayed with the car and the man drove me back to Waca where I hired a tow truck. He was a miserable guy, but did the job for $50 and a $10 tip because he couldn’t make proper change. Con drove the rest of the way. While I was getting the tow truck, Con said nearly everyone that passed stopped to ask if he needed help and many offered to pull him out. Most everyone drives a big truck.
We got to Tisdale, celebrated Kris' birthday, and then piled into the arena for Kolton's hockey game.
The next morning, we were in the Carrot River arena watching Nolan's hockey practice. The temperatures are reaching -26 C and the car is plugged in. Kolton (our 15-year-old step grandson) arrived by skidoo for dinner and then left by skidoo in the dark.
December 12 -- Back in Calgary, I had a fun Christmas party with long-time girlfriends. Calgary temperatures are hovering around zero with brilliant sunny big sky (hence the name of our boat). Following a few days with Nick and Dex, we drove to Red Deer (1 1/2 hours north) to stay with Courtney and Hailey.
December 22 – TO BRENTWOOD BAY
We said our "good-bye's" to our Alberta and Saskatchewan family and flew to Brentwood Bay for the last leg of our Canadian holiday. Spending time with mom is always a highlight. Doug and Merrilee are there too, making it a special holiday for us all. Mom's busiest time is the Christmas season with her choir and piano engagements. Con's brother Hugo and sister-in-law Elserine arrived for a sleep-over party at mom's. Con prepared a lentil soup with ham (delicious) and along with snacks. Great fun!
December 26 -- We gave our final hugs "good-bye" to my mom, brother Doug, and Merrilee Christmas morning and climbed aboard a DELTA flight to the Netherlands. There wasn't an empty seat on the plane! We've arrived to pleasant, Victoria-like weather in Hillversum and immediately went to visit Nomie, Con's mom. She's still doing okay, at 96, but slowing down.
December 28 -- Along with the crowds we took the train into Amsterdam and visited two unique and enjoyable small museums: Tassen Museum (a purse museum) and Van Loon Museum, the home of the co-founded of the Dutch East-India Company. The house was along the canal in the heart of the city.
December 31 -- Travel by train is the "cat's ass" as Con would say! We arrived in Enschede at noon, for our planned rendezvous with long-time family friend Sam, husband Evan and two-month-old Caden.