Boat Life – Fabulous or Frightening?

Our latest update from Greece includes sailing, a visit to some iconic destinations, as well as a couple of small hiccups – the reality of the cruising lifestyle.

Our sailing and anchoring covered in this post. The Cyclades Islands Greece.

We left the island of Naxos looking for shelter from the next lot of Meltemi Winds, of which there were two fronts looming firstly a single day of winds in excess of 30 knots, then 3 days later a bigger blow of over 40 knots which was expected to last up to 5 days.  Whilst 30 knots is not terrible to sail in under the right conditions, it can cause the sea state to be really messy and potentially rough enough to break things on the boat which we consider unnecessary to be out in.  It is best to find a secure spot to anchor where we can be sheltered from the wind (behind a headland protecting us from the worst of it, meaning no waves on the water and less wind), and also ensuring the anchorage is secure, good holding so we don’t drag (float away in the wind).

Boats anchored in the northern bay on the island of Paros

To shelter from the first one day event of wind we motored (due to the wind being on the nose, making it difficult to sail in without having to cover twice the distance tacking back and forth) it was only 10 nautical miles (19km) about 2 hours to the island of Paros. We tucked into a really nice bay which offered good protection from the northerly winds whilst also offering a beach view and walking tracks on land to the top of the hills, lighthouse and lookouts.  We anchored in sand and motored back on the anchor to ensure it was set well (not going to be pulled out with the wind) and waited out the day.  We had chosen well as we certainly didn’t get wind anywhere near the strength predicted.  It was a peaceful day.  The following day we went to shore and walked the tracks to the monastery, lighthouse and look out.  We could see the leftover waves from the winds outside the bay.

Hiking to the lighthouse

The next day was another short journey 10 nautical miles to the West and into the main bay of the same island where the town was.  As we came out of the protected bay we came head on into the waves and slop left over from the previous days wind.  It was a very rough bumpy (holding on kind) of 5 miles taking the waves on the nose then the side before turning downwind again to reach our next anchorage.

This bigger blow that was expected had seen many other boats in the area have the same idea as us and the anchorage was quite crowded but we found a spot in the bay and anchored.  The following morning the wind was starting to build a little and we decided before it got too strong to move closer to the beach which would offer more protection from the wind for the next 5 days, with less fetch on the water.  We started the engine and motored forward to the new spot.  We got right close to the beach in shallow water where we wanted to stop the boat and drop the anchor.  I (Maree) was on the bow ready to drop the anchor when the boat stopped but the boat didn’t stop … it seemed to be going quicker as we had come into the shore out of the wind, and the beach was now only a matter of 20 meters away.  I looked back and couldn’t see Phil at the controls ???  What was happening???  Were we about to run aground, was Phil ok – had he collapsed??? I ran back to the helm and he was crouched down desperately trying to get the boat into reverse without success – we had to turn hard and fast.  Now out of immediate danger  of running the boat onto the beach, it appeared the boat had lost its reverse gear.  Not ideal when trying to anchor in a tight spot, in windy conditions.  We had to go around again and try to manage the wind by motoring forward with a little engine – enough to move and steer but not too much as we needed the boat to stop in the right spot without hitting another boat or the beach.  It was really hard with the wind but what choice did we have, we went around and unfortunately were still moving forward when it was time to drop the anchor, but drop it we did and although the boat went forward for a little bit over it, it did stop and eventually came back to sit in a reasonable spot.  We were ok for the moment, but definitely not properly anchored, we had just brought ourselves maybe 15 minutes to try and fix the problem.  Phil quickly had the quarter berth emptied and access to the engine controls and could immediately see that the pin holding the throttle cable in place on the gearbox had fallen out which made selecting reverse impossible.  No time to dwell on why or how, just time to fix it and re-anchor safely.  A temporary pin was installed and we set off again to anchor for the third time, this time in full control with both forward and reverse and successfully and safely anchored.  We were now safe in 4 meters of water with over 40 meters of chain between us and the anchor, a scope of 10:1 – perfect for the big winds. Then with the engine almost at full revs in reverse checked to make sure it was anchored well dug in for the big winds coming.  What had happened? It turns out the pin didn’t have a cir-clip at the end to hold it in place, and after 6 years of owning and operating the boat, going from forward to reverse gear thousands of times it had chosen that moment to fall out.  As frightening as it was at least it didn’t happen at a worse time like when trying to manoeuvre in a marina where we would have hit something, at least we had just enough space to drop the anchor pull up and also had the smarts (Phil), parts and the tools to re fix it securely.

Waiting 10 days for the wind on anchor in Paros

We ended up anchored here for 10 nights, waiting whilst the wind blew, blew and blew some more! Again due to good planning we certainly didn’t get the winds forecast but that was due to the shelter provided by the hillside and the bay we anchored in, as we were close to shore we were protected from swell and fetch and even enjoyed good nights sleep (rare when it is windy), we could certainly hear the wind but couldn’t feel it so much.  Because we had so much protection we were able to get to shore in the dinghy safely (as well as feel that that the boat was safe without us on board).  This helped the 10 days pass.  A day in town to do the laundry at the self service laundromat, a day to explore the main town of Parikia, a day to catch the bus to the north east side of the island to explore the town of Naousa, we could also go to town for groceries as and when we needed (always a highlight for cruisers).  We know the wind, waves and the weather wasn’t great outside of our protected bay, as the ferries to the island were cancelled for three days, and when we walked to other bays we could feel the force and see the sea state.  One of the other boats in the anchorage a friend of ours on a magnificent boat “Grey Wind” a really strong and well set up boat, went out for a “look” after 5 days hoping to be able to sail on but he returned within the hour.  His advice – wait.

Games Day on Red Roo with Caffe Latte while waiting for the wind to stop
The streets of Paros
Mending the nets, fishing boats didn’t leave the harbour for 10 days either

When the winds stopped blowing, they literally stopped.  Meaning not enough wind to sail!  Boat Life!!!  We waited an extra day for the sea state and waves to die down then headed off for the 29 nautical miles west to the island of Sifnos.  We were able to sail about half of it before having to motor due to no wind.  We found the small beach village of Vathi on Sifnos really pretty.  It is a very small village in a bay with everything built on the beach with big rocky hills behind the beach.

Vathi – Sifnos
Red Roo on anchor at Sifnos

The next day we had a fast sail, the wind was back and we were off, 20 nautical miles west to the north of the island of Milos.  We had some strong gusts during the sail, causing us to hang on and put some sail away to be cautious and safe.  We anchored in another really cute small bay for the night but didn’t go to shore.

Good sailing to Folegrandos

On a roll we set sail again in the morning for the 30 nautical miles to the island of Folegandros which was on the must visit list for Phil.  We had a really great sail – finally.  Safe consistent winds, flat seas, doing around 6.5 knots of speed in 8-12 knots of wind, with the sun shining.  Perfect timing to remind us why we enjoy doing this, and as a real bonus Phil caught a really nice size Bonito fish for our dinner – delicious.

Winner Winner Fish For Dinner

We spent the next day exploring Folegandros which we both really enjoyed for its authenticity.  It seems we have also finished with the tourists for the season.  A couple of the places we visited and spoke to locals said all the restaurants and the few tourist shops (they only had a couple) shut this week leaving only local essential shops open.

Clear water, the anchor is easy to see, here you can see it right beside the boat (no wind)
Anchor watch alarm earning its keep
Walking up to the Monastery
Folegandros the village on the side of a cliff!
Folegandros streets
Walking back to the boat from the village of Folegandros

Our next destination was quite exciting but also took a fair bit of logistics to visit.  We were planning two nights inside the very very deep waters of the dormant volcano that is the islands of Thira & Thirasia better known as Santorini – a tourist mecca of Greece. 

Sunrise during the passage to Santorini
Oia – Santorini

However it is challenging to visit in your own boat.  Anchoring inside is out due to the incredible depths of the water right up to the island, the one marina on the south of the main island is full of local day tour boats and doesn’t have room for visiting yachts, it is possible to anchor around here but only in very mild conditions which isn’t what was forecast.  We did however find a good option in taking Red Roo to the smaller island of Thirasia where for €50 a night we could secure the boat to a morning buoy both stern and bow (front and back tied off).  From Thirasia we could catch a local ferry for just €1 each across to the big island of Thira (Santorini) where we could visit the towns of Fira and Oia.

Red Roo anchored in the Volcano at Thirasia (Santorini)
The steps up to the village on Thirasia – we went up them once and down twice! Not sure which is worse up or down.
Oia (steps on the right hand side)

We explored both Oia and Fira on the main island as well as Manolas on the smaller island of Thirasia (where Red Roo was).  Climbing many many many steps to access each of them.  The colour of the volcanic rock in black, red and white, is truely unique as is the scenery and white and blue architecture that is so very easily identifiable on all the greek tourist items.  This was a big tick off our Greece to do list.

Steps at Oia, Phil going down, dodging the donkey droppings
Oia Donkey
More steps at Oia
The top step at Santorini from the harbour to the town #588 steps, with many more in the town.
Day two, (about 5,678 steps already climbed) I helped the economy and took a Donkey

It wasn’t however all smooth sailing (as they say!).  On our second day the weather and wind came in force.  The small inter-island ferry took us across to the main island warned us it may not be able to collect us later if the weather got any worse.  We took the risk, we wanted a second day exploring Oia, and luckily it was able to collect us later that afternoon.  Hats off to the ferry captain he did a fantastic job of bringing in the boat in large swell and safely motoring/holding it there whilst we all timed the waves and jumped (literally) on board – it raised the heart beat a little let me tell you!  That night, back on Red Roo the wind worsened and the boat next to us broke its stern (rear) mooring line.  Of course it happened at 12:30 at night in the dark.  Their boat swung around past Red Roo with only a couple of meters to spare.  They were still attached at their bow (front) but swinging full circles in the wind.  The people on the boat were very responsible and assured us they would remain on watch on deck until morning to ensure they didn’t swing and hit either us or the catamaran on the other side of them.  We went back to bed to get what rest we could knowing they were swinging and feeling the wind pushing us all against the ropes.  We got up several times during the night to check and it was a relief when morning came and the winds eased.

High Tide Santorini
Red Roo is over on the island at the top of the picture near the white path just visible.

It was time to leave Santorini and we prepared to go, however when we went to start the engine we got nothing.  No lights, nothing!  Phil removed the start panel to take a look and immediately saw the problem, it was something which he had been warned of the year previously when the new engine was installed.  The push button start switch relies on flimsy plastic tabs to hold it in place and enable it to contact the starter circuit and start the engine. Half of these tabs had broken so contact with the starter circuit couldn’t be made. Phil was able to use wire and cable ties to secure the switch and contacts as an interim fix until we can contact the engine supplier for warranty parts.  One more thing to stress about.  Again this could have been frightening if it had of happened at a time when we needed to start the engine immediately and got nothing.

At the ferry dock on Thirasia, Phils perfect Greek meal a Gyros and ice cream.
Lunch with a view at Santorini

It was a voyage under motor from Santorini to the island of Ios (23 nautical miles).  After the day and night of strong winds, there was nothing but waves on the sea, no wind to sail the boat.  We anchored off the eastern side of the island protected from the swell.

The following morning we set off for a short sail 9 nautical miles east to the island of Irakleia.  A nice light wind helped us sail all the way without needing to motor.  We anchored off a beach in a lovely bay and awaited the arrival of our good friends on the boat Caffe Latte whom we hadn’t seen for  a week.  Together with Jean and Yolene we explored the island, lovely views and a very small community.  We found two small shops open, one the local store (very small but were able to get milk, eggs, bacon, cheese and a few vegetables to keep us going), and there was also one Taverna in which we enjoyed a great traditional greek meal of grilled squid and roasted eggplant with veal – delicious!!

Caffe Latte and Red Roo on anchor at Irakleia

We were at Irakleia for 3 nights hiding again from the wind, not a strong Meltemi this time but average winds from the south west with storms and rain forecasted.  The rain we welcomed as we hadn’t had more than 3 drops since leaving Tunisia in March.  The first night we saw lots of lightening around, still some distance from us but very regular.  Lightening can be very frightening and dangerous to sailors and boats, especially as we have a great big metal stick up in the sky (mast) which can be very attractive to the lightening.  We know of two other boats who have been hit and very badly damaged.  Before turning in for the night, we turned off all our instruments, power, lights, etc and isolated our aerials, antennas, AIS and engine, so in the case we did get struck hopefully it would minimise damage.  We were woken around 3am when the storm was directly over us.  It was loud, very loud, windy, very windy, blowing us around, with lots thunder and lots of lightening.  I admit to being a little frightened.  The wind was a lot stronger than forecasted and if we had of known we would have put a lot more anchor chain out.  It was too late now, we were in the middle of it and wouldn’t have been able to get the snubber off to let anymore chain out.  Usually when we get big strong gusts of wind and are worried about the anchor dragging (us being blown off anchor) we know we can start the engine and be ready to – if we have to – motor against the wind (we have done this before and thankfully not had to use it).  However we had isolated everything due to all the lightning, which was still going strong and right above us now.  So if we did drag it would take a minute or two to start everything.  That unsettled me, as well as the pure chaos that was outside, the rain, wind, thunder and lightening was quite overwhelming.  I couldn’t even look at the instruments to check how strong the wind was due to them all being turned off as a precaution.  The storm finally eased around 6am as daylight broke, and we went back to bed to get some rest.


Our next stop just to ease the mind from all the events above was the island of Amorgos, a 14  nautical miles sail where we visited the shipwreck of Olympia.  In February 1980 the captain tried unsuccessfully to anchor seeking shelter from a force 10 storm when he was blown onto the rocks.  All the crew were rescued and the site today is a popular hike to visit and snorkel the wreck.

The Olympia Shipwreck at Amorgos

The small anchorage at Amorgos is a sweet little natural cove where the locals keep their fishing boats, Red Roo joined them for the night.

Amorgos Anchorage

Is boat life fabulous or frightening … the answer is it can be both and change at any given time.

One Comment on “Boat Life – Fabulous or Frightening?

  1. This is hairiest blog yet!!! Wow, it must have been so frightening at times. Well done, Phil, for all your ability to fix problems. The photos are amazing and as usual the whole item is so interesting. Keep up the good work! Love from Cornwall Wendy & Mike xx

    Liked by 1 person

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