Richard’s charter, the Savage family arrive and begin stowing all their gear as well as their sizeable selves on board Rosalind. They leave the harbour and sail off on their two-month charter.
I have now taken up residence aboard Archangel, a 65-foot, perama-type caique. She was Peter Throckmorton’s research vessel for his underwater archaeology expeditions (See National Geographic, February 1968). Peter recently got a chance to buy Stormie Seas, a famous local boat that just came up for sale. Peter sold Archangel to Buddy and Ann Sherman, an American couple who plan to live aboard and cruise the Aegean. Buddy invites Nigel and me to join the crew and puts me in charge of the engine. It is a beautiful, old three-cylinder Kelvin marine diesel and I love it. It starts on a cupful of gasoline and switches over to diesel just like our TD-14 bulldozer at home. It idles at 350 rpm and runs wide-open about 850. I love to sit down in the engine room and listen to it chugging away.
April 28 Poros (aboard Archangel)
We finally put to sea at 16:00 today. We make a reasonably good exit, except for the anchor being fouled on the chain of the yacht next to us. The Mediterranean has no tides and the common practice is to “Med-moor”. The anchor is dropped in the middle of the harbour and the boat backs in to the quay. Stern lines are made fast and the anchor chain is taken up. This method makes efficient use of quay space allowing many boats to tie up side-by-side, but occasionally the anchor chains get laid over top of each other. When we try to raise Archangel’s anchor, it is caught on the chain of the next boat. We have a very nice crossing and arrive in Poros about 21:30. Poros is one of the Near Islands in the Saronic Gulf. It is very picturesque as the island lies close to the mainland, separated by a narrow channel.
April 29 Spetsai
We get up at 06:00 and make Spetsai by noon. Buddy makes a real hash of berthing stern-to. He tries several times and each time, the boat drifts downwind. It is difficult to hold the boat against the wind when going astern, especially when the prop-walk is pushing you in the same direction. In fairness, Buddy has had no chance to practice with the boat and get used to its eccentricities. A few more anchorages and I’m sure he will be pretty proficient. We hope to meet up with Richard in Spetsai and cruise along with him for support, but we miss him by an hour or two, as he has already set out for Port Ieraka. I buy a good set of skin-diving gear for $6.50.
April 30 Port Ieraka
We set off from Spetsai towards Port Ieraka and meet up with Richard and The Rosalind just outside the harbour entrance. Port Ieraka is a very small village on the east coast of the Peloponnesian Peninsula. The entrance is narrow and then the harbour opens up and turns to the right so that the anchorage is completely protected from the sea. Only about thirty people live in this village, with no road access and no electricity. We row ashore and find only one very small and primitive taverna. Some fellows are stuffing feta cheese into goat skins by the light of gasoline lanterns. We find out that feta is their only cash crop and it is to be shipped to the mainland the next day to be sold in a market. The taverna only has bread, olives, feta cheese and retsina wine – pretty much what the villagers subsist on. It is a peaceful and beautiful place – completely unspoiled and primitive!
Unfortunately, the tensions and disagreements between Richard and his charterers, reach the boiling point and Richard informs them that he is terminating the charter and intends to proceed directly back to Piraeus. It’s a long and complicated story, but the Savages accuse Richard of being incompetent and say he is only trying to swindle them out of their money. As they are ranchers from Colorado, it seems odd they would know a competent sailor when they meet one. They seem to be very odd people, almost mentally unstable.
May 1 Hydra
Richard asks me to sail with him as crew as he does not wish to depend on the charterers to operate the boat. We sail back as far as Hydra, where we tie up for the night in the main harbour. Hydra is very touristy and picturesque – with real, live girls!! The town is built all around a small circular harbour. No motor vehicles are permitted on the island. The primary means of moving goods is by donkey. We find a really nice taverna, called Lulu’s, with good Greek music. The local donkey-drivers entertain us with traditional Greek dances.
May 2 Piraeus
We arrive back in Passilimani around mid-afternoon. The Savages are making all kinds of threats about suing Richard to get their money back and having him charged with various heinous crimes. Unknown to them, Richard telephoned his British friend, John Miller, a maritime lawyer in Piraeus. As the Savages come down the gangplank, a distinguished gentleman, wearing a tweed jacket, smoking a pipe and speaking with an impeccable English accent, steps up to them and says: “Good afternoon, I am Captain Griffith’s solicitor.” It seems to quite take the wind out of their sails!
I spend most of the day with Richard in the lawyer’s office. After several hours of negotiation, John Miller expresses a desire: “…to really hammer the fellow!” Eventually, even their own lawyer throws up his hands in disgust and goes home. When we get back to the harbour, Buddy tells me that he can’t afford to keep me on the boat and he will look after the engine himself.
May 5 Kythnos
I am sitting on the dock this morning, contemplating my future, when Felix and Roger come around with the offer of a job on another boat: “Are you interested in a job for 7 days for 2000 drachmas? There is a boat leaving on a charter at noon and it needs someone to look after the engine.” Lady Finn is a beautiful older boat built in Ecuador as an ocean racer. She is a 56 foot cutter, with lovely woodwork and a HUGE mast. She belongs to Takis Kaligroulis, a wealthy Greek fellow, who bought the boat in neglected condition and spent a lot of money refitting her. Now he hopes to charter to help pay for the costs. The captain is a Greek merchant seaman called Manoulis, who speaks very little English. Like many Greeks, he has little knowledge or experience with engines, so I have been hired as Chief Engineer (and deckhand). Unhappily, the engine is an ancient four-cylinder Perkins and Takis didn’t waste very much of his money updating the engine room. The charterers are a couple from Ohio, where the fellow is an executive for Firestone Tire. They seem very impressed and not a little intimidated by the fact that they are paying $100. per day to charter this boat.
I come on board about 11:00 and we leave Piraeus around 13:30 so I don’t have much time to check out the mechanical systems. So far the engine runs perfectly – if it doesn’t, I shudder to think…! We sail down the coast to Cape Sounion, where we stop briefly to take the dinghy on board. Then we round the headland and sail eastward into the Cyclades, arriving in Kythnos around 22:00. Kythnos seems a dingy little place – neither picturesque, nor charming -- but very “true Greece”.
May 6 Sifnos
Greek captains seem to expect quite a lot of work for their money. I am pumping the bilges at midnight and scrubbing the boat at 6:30 this morning. Charterers on board make everything rather tense -- it’s a bit like running a hotel – nothing must ever go wrong as far as the guests are concerned. If the engine quits, you smile and say: Why don’t we sail for awhile?” I check my engine as we are getting underway in a few minutes. Whew! it starts perfectly and runs like a top! We are about a mile out of Kythnos and heading for Sifnos. We have the huge mainsail up under a light breeze and the engine ticking over, motor-sailing along nicely. This is a great life!! If only, the engine keeps running. We spend the night in a pretty little fishing village with an enclosed, well-protected harbour on the island of Sifnos.
May 7 Mykonos
We leave early and motor-sail to Paros where we visit the village of Nausa for a few hours. I have fun driving the Zodiac, our inflatable dinghy with a 40 hp outboard motor. I take the husband ashore and when we arrive back to the boat, his wife is in the water, swimming. She says: “Come in for a swim, the water is lovely.” He replies: “No, there isn’t time. We have to get to Mykonos today.” I think to myself: “Boy, there is really something wrong with this picture. These people are paying a hundred dollars per day to charter this beautiful sailboat, so they can do anything they want – and he doesn’t have time to go for a swim!” I am making $7.00 per day working on this boat, so that puts me $107.00 ahead of them – and I am having more fun than they are!
We push on to Mykonos, a very popular, and therefore very “touristy”, island. There are a few “birds” here, though. Captain Manoulis and I go ashore to have a beer and try our luck at “hustling”. I see the prettiest Greek girl I have seen yet, but she doesn’t speak any English and neither Manoulis, nor I, have any luck striking up an acquaintance.
May 8 Siros
After leaving Mykonos, we stop at Delos for an hour or so. Delos is an uninhabited island near Mykonos and was the centre of the Delian confederacy in Classical times. It was considered a holy place and no births or deaths were ever permitted on the island. There are many ruins and beautiful antique marble statues and carvings. It is very impressive! We arrive in Finikas harbour on Siros and drop anchor. While I am checking over the motor and greasing the stern tube, I discover that the flange bolts in the propeller shaft coupling are loose. I scour the village for washers and come up with ONE. I make repairs as well as possible and cross my fingers that they will hold. If we were anchored in the main harbour town of Ermoupolis, I would have better luck, as it is a major commercial port.
May 9 Hydra
We leave Finikas at 04:30 and stop at Merichas on Kythnos for an hour. Then we set course for Hydra. We cover about 100 miles altogether, in 13½ hours and are actually out of sight of land for a short while. We arrive in Hydra about 7:30 pm. After we tie up, the charterers go ashore for dinner. I check things over and decide to restart the engine to pump out the bilges. I press the starter button … and there is only a click! At first I think the batteries are dead, but eventually conclude that the starter has packed up. I go to Lulu’s, order a glass of retsina and contemplate my troubles. I meet Kristine, a very nice girl from New Zealand, but she doesn’t know how to fix my starter either.
May 10 Hydra
An electrical guy comes on board and works on the starter all day. He reinstalls it, hooks up the wires, presses the starter button and … there is only a click! This is not progress! I go back to Lulu’s again and order several glasses of retsina. I meet some American kids who think I am a Greek. That’s pretty cool!
May 11 Poros
This morning, Manoulis decides that we will sail the boat back to Piraeus without the engine. He arranges with a fishing boat to tow us out of the harbour, as there is a stiff breeze blowing directly into the entrance. We take the tow line on board and just as we are passing through the narrowest part of the harbour entrance, the fishing boat’s engine quits. Our boat immediately starts drifting toward the rocks. We cast off the tow line and get the sails up as quickly as we can and just make it clear. Very exciting! We begin beating to windward up the Hydra Channel, but we seem to make very little progress. I am not convinced that Captain Manoulis knows all that much about sailing. In very light air, the boat tends to round up into the wind and stop, fall back for a few minutes and then start sailing again. This is a very sleek boat with a huge mast and enormous sails. It should sail like a witch and move along nicely, even in very light wind. Of course, I don’t know anything about sailing, either, but I know that there is something wrong. Much later, I find out that Manoulis has sheeted the forestaysail to the mast to make it self-tending. This puts the sail aback, so the boat is essentially hove-to. No wonder we go backwards half the time. We finally clear the channel after four hours and then the wind dies completely. It takes us until evening to creep into Poros and drop the anchor. By this time the charter is up and the people go back to Piraeus on the ferry boat. They seem fairly understanding about the whole thing and even give me a ten dollar tip (of which I have earned every penny!)
May 12 Piraeus
This morning, I remove the starter from the engine, put it in a basket and catch the ferry back to Piraeus. Pretty embarrassing for a Chief Engineer to arrive back in port without his boat! I don’t know if Takis ever gets the starter rebuilt. A few days later, Lady Finn arrives back in Piraeus under sail, with the engine still not running.
May 16 Spetsai
This weekend, Richard decides we will all go on a holiday to Spetsai on his boat. He invites his old friend Groovy John, who brings along Tony, one of many girlfriends. Groovy John is an American expatriate who finished his army hitch in 1958, took his discharge in Germany and never went home. We sail to Hydra, go ashore to Lulu’s and have a fine meal and quite a lot of retsina. We also meet three girls who think they might enjoy a cruise on an English yacht. Adrianna, is a bountifully-endowed California girl from Los Angeles. Richard takes one look at her and goes cross-eyed with lust. Deanne is a very cute Canadian girl who grew up mostly in England. Åsa is a bouncy, blonde Swede, stunning in a bikini, but totally neurotic. Fortunately, she is going home to Sweden in a few days. Richard decides that a moonlight sail would be just the thing to impress our new lady friends, so he sets us to getting under way. I am vigorously cranking the anchor windlass when the handle flies off the shaft and fetches me a crack on the ear. The retsina effectively anesthetizes the pain but the blood on the foredeck is a minor nuisance.
May 17 Spetsai
In the morning, we meet up with Archangel with Buddy and Anne and their daughter, Sarah (2 years old) and also Don and Julia on board. We have a great weekend, swimming, skin-diving, sailing and exploring the island. In the evening, after several gin-and-tonics on the afterdeck, we hire horse-drawn amaxis to transport our group to a large taverna in the village of Aghia Marina, at the east end of the island. The taverna is a place Richard knows well from a time when he lived on this island. Spetsai is a prosperous place with many well-to-do middle class families. Also, many wealthy Athenians have summer homes on Spetsai, so the crowd at the taverna is sedate and respectable. For the most part, the Greeks politely ignore the raucous, drunken foreigners who so rudely disturb their Saturday evening. However, they look decidedly uncomfortable when Richard starts breaking plates (an old Greek tradition, now strenuously discouraged by the military government) and they become quite cranky, indeed, when he throws a glass of wine in the air and it splashes all over them. Groovy John disappears part way through the evening. Richard says: “Don’t worry about John. He is probably passed out on the beach…but he WILL return!” Sure enough, an hour later, John staggers in the door, covered with sand, with seaweed in his beard and looking like Poseidon risen from the deep. The mood of the more sedate customers is not improved, when John roars at the top of his voice: “C’mon, all you fucking Greeks, get up and dance!!”
May 18 Spetsai
The trip home from the taverna is forever lost to living memory but all wake up safely on board The Rosalind in varying states of ill-health. Groovy John nearly makes us puke when he staggers up on deck, spies a forgotten glass of retsina sitting in the sun and tosses it back. Turpentine-flavoured wine was quite tasty last night, but it has limited appeal this morning. Retsina is an acquired taste at the best of times, but stale and warm, it is revolting.
We leave Spetsai bound for one of Richard’s special places. Vathi is a tiny settlement of less than a dozen people on the backside of a peninsula near Poros. It is completely isolated, has no road access and is far off the beaten track. Richard explains that he never takes charterers to this place, but only goes there when cruising with friends. As we round the point, we catch sight of a tiny Orthodox chapel, built on a rocky ledge hanging right out over the water. It is dedicated to: Krassopanageia, literally: “The Church of The Wine-Christ-Mother”. Legend has it that a freighter caique with a cargo of wine was caught in a fierce storm and being driven onto the rocks. The captain prayed to the Virgin Mary, offering to build a church in Her name if he (and his cargo) survived the storm. With typical Greek business acumen, he built the smallest chapel he possibly could and still fulfill his promise. Richard blows the ship’s horn as we come in sight of the village. Upon hearing the horn, old Petros goes out and kills a couple of chickens and starts cooking them for us. This tiny village is an absolute gem of a place; primitive, and virtually untouched by the modern world. The people make us very welcome, as they have so few visitors.
Åsa, the Swede, has to catch a plane this evening (and none of us want her to miss it) so we leave Vathi before dawn for the trip back to Piraeus. There is no wind and an early-morning mist blocks the heat of the sun, making it cool and pleasant on deck. I underestimate the ability of U-V rays to penetrate the mist and I get one of the worst sunburns of my life.
Richard is hired to varnish the wood paneling on a gin-palace (motor yacht) called Silver Chickie in the near-by harbour of Glyphada. Silver Chickie is owned by a newly-wealthy Greek couple and her main claim to fame is a recent charter by Brigit Bardot. Richard is gaining a reputation for his varnish work and is often sought out by boat owners for jobs of this type. I go along as his helper to do some of the sanding and clean-up. I certainly do not presume to touch a varnish brush.
While John Miller was helping Richard deal with the Savages, his wife, Thea, decided that our rag-tag group of ex-pats is way more fun than the stuffy middle-class Greeks she and John usually associate with. She invites us all to a party at their lovely house in Glyphada. Richard, feeling he ought to dress appropriately for such a distinguished affair, rummages around in an old canvas sea bag and emerges with a formal, pin-striped morning suit, complete with tails. Richard would look quite dashing and elegant in this formal attire, if the suit weren’t quite so wrinkled and rumpled from being in the sea bag…and if he had been able to find a pair of shoes. His only pair are much the worse for their duty in the shipyard. “Not to worry”, says Richard, “this is Greece after all. Who needs shoes?” Our large group of harbour rag-a-muffins clamber onto a transit bus for the thirty-minute trip to Glyphada. The bus is crowded and inevitably, one of the passengers steps on Richard’s bare foot. Pat Whitmore asks why he isn’t wearing shoes. Richard replies that he doesn’t have any. Pat says: “You have sandals -- why didn’t you wear your sandals?” Richard draws himself up to his full five-foot two-inch height and in his most proper British accent declares: “To wear sandals with a morning suit would be in very bad taste! To be barefoot is merely eccentric!”
Richard is once again being harassed by Greek officialdom. I don’t quite know what the issue is but they are prohibiting him from doing any chartering. “So”, says Richard, in his best West Country accent: “Let’s just go on a cruise. Idle rich, y’know. Off to do a spot of yachting!” It promises to be really fun; just Richard, Adrianne, Deanne and I with no charterers.
As we are getting ready for our cruise, Roger comes along with six young Americans, all about our own age. They don’t have a lot of money but they would awfully like to charter a sailboat. Richard offers them a terrific deal: they will sign on as crew, not as charterers -- because charterers are now forbidden on The Rosalind -- and they will pay all expenses for the boat, as well as the four of us. What a plan!
May 27 Mykonos
Richard always insists that, as we are sailing on a British vessel, we must comport ourselves like proper, civilized British people. By this, he means that we are never, under any circumstances, to get excited, shout and wave our arms in the air like Greek people are prone to do. We must at all times be calm and never show signs of panic, even if some catastrophe is occurring.
I am steering the boat towards the lights of Mykonos. It is a beautiful, clear and warm night, with no wind and we are motoring along at eight knots. Richard is regaling the Americans with his many tales. Suddenly, the lights of Mykonos disappear! Then they are back! A few seconds later, they disappear again! I peer forward into the darkness until I see that we are headed towards a low, rocky island about 500 yards dead ahead. I am about to panic and start shouting and waving my arms – but that would be neither proper nor civilized. So, I say, as calmly as I can manage: “Excuse me, Captain Griffiths!” “Yes, what is it Mr. Skene?” says Richard. “Uh, there seem to be some rocks ahead.” Richard stands up and peers ahead into the darkness. “Why, I do believe you’re right, Mr. Skene” he says, as calmly as can be. “ I suggest you put it hard to starboard!”
Before The Rosalind left England to come to Greece, she badly needed a new engine. Richard found a good deal on a used Perkins diesel engine from a truck. Unable to afford a proper marine transmission, he installed the original four-speed gearbox from the truck. It works fine in forward as fourth gear is direct drive and turns the propeller at engine speed. However, in reverse, there is a 6:1 reduction and the propeller turns so slowly as to be almost useless. Richard compensates with expert seamanship and boat-handling skills and I learn a great deal by watching him.
On arriving in Mykonos harbour, the wind is blowing strongly off the quay, a direction which makes it impossible for Rosalind to back in with her limited reverse. Richard has us lead a long stern line forward, outside the standing rigging and coil it up in the bow. We drop the anchor in the middle of the harbour and let the chain run out under the boat as Richard steers forward into the slip. When the bow is close, we toss the mooring line to a fellow on the quay and he makes it fast to a bollard. Richard puts the engine in neutral and lets the wind push us back until the 17-foot bowsprit is clear of the boats on either side. Then he puts the rudder hard over to spin the boat around, while we haul in on the mooring warp. Our efforts, combined with the modest reverse thrust of the propeller, soon have us tied snugly to the quay. We crank the anchor chain in until it is taut and we are secure. Time for a gin-and-tonic!
May 29 Paros
Today we enter the harbour in Paros and Richard approaches the quay dead slow. He decides that we will cross the end of the dock, drop the anchor on the far side and back in to tie up. There is no wind, so the boat will back, although very slowly. Just at this point, a Liminarcheon (Harbour Police), runs down the quay, shouting and waving his arms. Richard remembers that the far side of the quay is restricted to naval vessels and we will have to tie up on the near side. He throws the transmission in reverse and revs the engine up, but knowing it will take some time before the boat loses way and begins to go astern, he suggests that we should refill our wine glasses, sit down and patiently wait for the boat to respond. Of course, he also knows that the Liminarcheon will think we are ignoring his instructions and turn purple with rage and frustration. The louder and more frantically the Greek official shouts and gesticulates, the calmer and more civilized Richard insists we must be. Eventually, Rosalind does go astern, we finish our wine, drop the anchor and tie up to the quay.
May 31 Santorini (aka Thira)
This afternoon we arrive in Santorini. This is a place that defies my abilities to describe it. The island began as a typical circular, cone-shaped, volcanic island, like most of the islands of the Cyclades. Some time around 1600 BC, a massive volcanic eruption blew out the entire centre of the island. The eruption left behind a massive caldera, 7 Km by 12Km and 1300 feet deep. The remnants of the original island, a large, crescent-shaped part and two small fragments form the boundaries of the caldera. Repeated volcanic activity in 1707, 1866, 1928, and 1941 created a new island, called Nea Kameni, in the centre of the caldera. This black, barren islet demonstrates that the volcano is still active. The only harbour in Santorini is at the base of sheer cliffs, which rise nearly 1,000 feet from sea level. There are a few houses and a taverna at the harbour, but the main town, Phira, is perched high above on the edge of the cliffs, overlooking the caldera. A cobblestone pathway with hundreds of steps, switchbacks up the face of the cliff to the town above. Dozens of donkeys stand ready to carry us up the steps. We later find it quite exhilarating to scamper back down the steps to the boat, but the donkeys are a blessing going up. We aren’t sure how the donkeys feel about it. The rich volcanic soil on Santorini produces a wonderful (non-resinated) rosé wine that is renowned throughout Greece. We imbibe a great deal of it and take several bottles on board for the rest of the journey.
June 3 Astypalea
Astypalea is the first of the Dodecanese Islands, an archipelago of twelve (hence the name) Greek islands which lie off the coast of Turkey. Following the break-up of the Ottoman Empire, the islands were controlled by Italy and still display many Italian influences. After the defeat of Italy in the Second World war, the islands became part of Greece. Astypalea is remote, visited by relatively few tourists and achingly beautiful.
June 4 Rhodes
After all I have said about the beauties of Greece, I have to start all over again. Rhodes is by far the most beautiful part of this beautiful country. In contrast to most of the rest of the country, it is lush and green. Huge bushes of rhododendrons and oleanders grow everywhere. The main town is busy and cosmopolitan with a strong Turkish influence. There are minarets and great domed buildings everywhere. Rhodes has a very interesting history. In 1309, the island was captured by the Knights Templar who fought in The Crusades. They later became the Knights of the Order of St. John and ruled Rhodes for two hundred years until they were defeated by the Turks in 1522. During Italian rule, many of the buildings and fortifications from that period were restored and rebuilt and they add greatly to the appeal of the town. In ancient times, the Colosus of Rhodes, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, supposedly stood astride the entrance to Mandraki Harbour. There is no sign of The Colosus today. Rhodes is only twenty miles from the Anatolian coast of Turkey and we can clearly see its mountains from the harbour.
June 5 Rhodes
We rent little motor scooters and set out to tour the island. Our first stop is at Petaloudes or the Valley of the Butterflies. During the summer, thousands of Tiger Moths collect in this sheltered valley. We drive through forests of pine and olive trees and pass beautiful deserted beaches. We stop for lunch in a village and a little old lady gives us some apricots picked from her own tree. We meet a Greek fellow from Fort William, Ontario, who is revisiting his home village.
June 6 Rhodes
We go out to a taverna for dinner and, as usual, drink way too much wine. I meet a charming and very pretty French girl who lives in London and is in Rhodes on a holiday. Her name is Dominique Couve de Murville and it sounds vaguely familiar to me. It should -- her uncle is the prime minister of France! She offers me a place to stay when I get to England.
It turns out there is a British yacht in the harbour called Vallandra. She is a 65-foot converted motor fishing vessel belonging to an English lady who is an acquaintance of Richard. The lady and her daughter have been living aboard Vallandra in Cypress for several years. Earlier this year, they brought the boat as far as Rhodes and then had to return to Britain, so they are looking for a crew to deliver it to Piraeus. Richard calls Felix and Jane to come out on the ferry boat and help us with the delivery. Richard suggests Felix be skipper for the experience, which will help him get future jobs. Vallandra is a curious sight as she carries a tiny Fiat 500 car on her deck. There is a little crane rigged up to lift the car and swing it onto the quay. I have seen bicycles and even little motor scooters on boats but none of us have ever seen a yacht with a car on board.
Felix and Jane arrive on the overnight ferry from Piraeus and we all help get Vallandra ready for sea. Of course, we have to go out to a taverna for dinner and drink way too much wine. On the way home we stop to admire a pile of mediaeval cannonballs at the gate of the restored fortress. Richard and Felix think a cannonball would look very authentic on the foredeck of The Rosalind so he and Felix decide to steal one. It is too heavy to carry, so the two of them are rolling it down the street when the local police appear. We all nearly end up in jail!
We set sail on Vallandra and make it to the island of Symi, another one of the Dodecanese Archipelago. Now that we are on a delivery, the pace is quite different than cruising for fun, or even chartering. We don’t have a lot of time to spend going ashore and we make long passages, often at night.
June 11 Ios
Deanne and I are assigned night watch on a long stretch between Symi and Ios. Captain Felix gives us a compass bearing to steer, shows us the chart, points out a couple of navigation lights to watch for and then goes below to sleep. We sit in the wheelhouse, in the dim glow of the binnacle, steering by the compass, as the boat plows ahead at nine knots into pitch blackness. It is an eerie and disorienting sensation. We hope Felix knows his navigation. Sometime around dawn we arrive on Ios for a brief stop and everyone goes ashore for a quick look around. I have just gone off watch and am more interested in getting some sleep than sightseeing. By the time I am awake again we are already casting off for the next leg, bound for Seriphos.
June 13 Seriphos
We motor slowly into the harbour of Seriphos just after dawn on a luminous calm sea. The vision we see as we round the point will stay with me all my life. At the edge of the harbour, near the quay, there is a shabby taverna and half a dozen small houses. Just behind the harbour, a perfect volcanic cone rises seven or eight hundred feet, with a white church perched on its very tip. A cluster of whitewashed houses huddles around the church, like chicks under a mother hen. This is a classical Cycladean town site and is called the chora, or ‘high place’. Many island towns were built this way as protection against pirates. It is incomparably picturesque! At the harbourside, we find an ancient taxi – a 1946 American Ford – to take us up to the village, by the narrow, switch-back cobblestone road. After lunch, we hike back down, walking through the mostly-abandoned little farms (nearly everyone has emigrated) and back to the boat.
June 15 Piraeus
We arrive back in Piraeus and deliver Vallandra into the care and keeping of Roger who will look after her until the owner decides what to do next. Richard and the girls are going back to Rhodes to bring Rosalind home but I come to the disconcerting conclusion that I am running short of drachmas and better look for some work.
“Work?”, says Richard. “How sordid!”
This morning, Roger comes with a timely offer of a job. The motor yacht Georgios is an old 87-foot freighter caique that has been converted into a kind of floating youth hostel and flies the Austrian flag. I didn’t know you can even get to Austria by boat, but apparently there is a roundabout route through the Black Sea and up the Danube river. I sincerely doubt that Georgios would be capable of making that trip. There are cabins for about thirty passengers and Captain Amaxopoulos takes large groups of young people for cruises around the Cyclades. The Captain is retired from the Greek merchant marine and is married to an Austrian lady. He speaks German and has spent a lot of his life in Austria. Apparently, Georgios lacks an engineer and is in the process of leaving on a one-week cruise. Roger hustles me down the quay and I climb on board, just as they cast off the lines. As we clear the harbour, I ask the Captain why the boat is moving so slowly. He replies that one of the engines isn’t running, but they didn’t have time to get it repaired before setting out on this cruise. We will be doing the entire week-long voyage on one engine! This is not an auspicious start to my new job. At least, as Chief Engineer, I rate a private cabin and don’t have to bunk in the fo’csle with the deckhands. They also offer me 4,000 drachmas (US$135) a month, which is substantially higher than the going rate and I get free room and board, too. I soon find out that my new job is going to be quite a challenge. The captain says he was a marine engineer, which makes me wonder how Greek ships ever manage to sail all over the world. The engine room contains two huge Mercedes-Benz truck engines and a two-cylinder diesel of indeterminate make, driving a generator. The whole installation is haphazard and badly-done and the plumbing is a fright. Two pipes are never joined with proper couplings, but by a short piece of rubber hose and two screw clamps. The two pipes are usually way out of alignment and the piece of rubber hose has to be bent and stretched to fit.
Georgios has no engine controls in the wheel house. Captain Amaxopoulos shouts instructions down a speaking tube into the engine room. I jump around from throttles to gear levers trying to follow his instructions. It would be easier, though, if he were to shout in one of our common languages, instead of German. On the upside, we have 27 Austrian high school students on board, 16 of whom are girls. So far, I have been so busy trying to make sense of the engine room that I haven’t had a chance to socialize.
Once we get well out to sea, I decide to check out the dead starboard engine and see if I can figure out what is wrong with it. The Captain says there is a problem with cooling water flow and the engine overheats. I go over the system, making sure that all valves are open and everything is in order. Finally, I hit the starter and the big diesel roars to life. I immediately scamper up on deck and peer over the side. Sure enough, the cooling water is flowing like a champ. I go back down below and listen to the engine, which is purring like a kitten. After letting it warm up for ten minutes or so, I throw the transmission in gear and throttle it up to operating speed. Everything is working fine and the boat surges forward, picking up a couple of knots with both engines now driving. As I gaze proudly around the engine room, admiring my handiwork and patting myself on the back, I happen to glance at the oil pressure gauges on the bulkhead. Before my horrified eyes, the starboard engine oil pressure suddenly shoots up until the needle is pinned and then instantly drops to zero! The engine gives a mighty screech – and stops dead!
I decide to leave the ailing engine alone before I do irreparable harm to it.
June 24 Piraeus
We finish the week-long cruise and now we are back in Piraeus. The Captain says we are going to stay in port this week and get the engine repaired. This morning, two mechanics from the Mercedes-Benz dealership come on board.
The Captain and his son, George, are discussing the need for a cook, as the previous one has jumped ship. I suggest that we go into the Athens Youth Hostel and see if we can recruit somebody. There should be any number of travelers that would be happy to do some cooking in exchange for sailing around the beautiful Aegean Sea. Off we go and sure enough we find two attractive German girls, Marian and Gertie, who have run out of money and are very pleased to accept our offer.
It’s a good thing Marian and Gertie are pretty, because they sure aren’t very good cooks!
The Mercedes-Benz mechanics are down in the engine room for three days. They disconnect the connecting rods and remove the crankshaft. Then they spend hours burnishing the bearings by hand with little scrapers. This afternoon, they put everything back together, fill the engine with oil and start it up. The engine purrs like a kitten for nearly ten minutes. Just as the mechanics are feeling pleased with their work and start packing their tools up, the starboard engine oil pressure guage suddenly shoots up until the needle is pinned and then instantly drops to zero! The engine gives a mighty screech – and stops dead!
Today we leave the harbour on our next week-long cruise, still on one engine. Our passengers this time are 25 young people from Germany, taking advantage of the cheap tours that Georgios offers. They are a laid-back group and are a lot of fun, but I am getting more and more frustrated with the engine room situation. I also find it frustrating not to be able to communicate. The deckhands speak only Greek. The passengers speak German. George speaks English but he is so preoccupied with the female passengers that he doesn’t have time to talk to me.
July 6 Piraeus
We arrive back in Piraeus. The Captain says the Mercedes-Benz mechanics are going to come back and this time they are going to remove the engine from the boat and take it to their shop for an overhaul. I tell Captain Amaxopoulos that I am resigning my position. He says: “But why, Bob? Why are you quitting? We need you.” I reply: “I’m sorry. I’m just not happy working here.” I pick up my bag and walk down the gangplank and I experience an amazing revelation: “Who knew you could quit a job, just because you don’t like it?” Until that moment, I had never imagined such a thing. It certainly never occurred to me to say to my father when I was working on the farm: “Gee, Dad. I think I am going to quit because I don’t like doing this anymore!”
The Rosalind, back from Rhodes, is tied up just down the quay and I move aboard for a few days. While I have been working on Georgios an American fellow has arrived and joined our ex-pat harbour community. Matt Pawley is a teacher at the American Armed Forces high school in Munich. He is on summer vacation and came to Greece in search of adventure and good times. Matt lost a foot in an accident as a child, but he manages incredibly well on a prosthetic. It certainly doesn’t stop him from doing anything and everything that might be going down.
Today the M-B mechanics are working on the engine on Georgios. They remove the deck and coachroof above the engine room, disconnect the engine and then bring in a truck with a crane to remove it from the boat. The crane winches the engine up out of the engine room, swings it around…. and DROPS IT about six feet onto the concrete quay. I don’t know how much damage is done to the engine, but they pick it up again, load it on the truck and take it off to the M-B shop. Imagine if that huge engine had slipped out of the slings just a moment earlier when it was still suspended above the boat. It would have gone right through Georgios’ hull and both engine and boat would have ended up on the bottom of the harbour. I am happier than ever that I left when I did.
As I am between engagements and in need of a place to stay, Buddy and Ann Sherman offer me the use of their apartment up on top of the hill called Kastella that looks out over Piraeus and Phaleron Bay. The view is breath-taking and at night even more beautiful. The good news is that I earned so much money working on Georgios that I don’t have to worry about finding a job for the time being.
Alone, upon a height
Before me lies a crowded void of blackness.
No sharp delineation of barren sky and busy sea.
A soft, warm coat of ebony fur
Enshrouds the world.
Around one outstretched arm,
A glittering cuff of pinpoint light,
As if the secrets hidden by the cloak,
At one place are exposed to view.
And if so many lights can here be seen,
Hides beneath the shrouds of time and history.
For glorious though this sight appears,
By dawn, all will have sunk beneath the Sea of Time
To join the lights of many thousand years
That went before.
And should I stand
Another spray of glory will be there
And it in turn will disappear
And contribute the present
To the past.
Well, if our luck isn’t still holding! There is a Greek fellow, Peter Matrangos, who likes to hang around with the foreigners in our harbour community. He was also in the merchant marine but gave it up. He and his friend, Costas Demetriades, have a yacht called The Bounty. The boat is a converted freighter caique, 48 feet long, about 30 tons displacement, with a new 145 hp Perkins diesel. Peter and Costa have invested a lot of money in refitting the boat and getting it ready for charter and now it is all set to go. The only thing missing is customers. Greek people have a lot of talents, but they often don't include business skills. At first, Peter offers me the job of skippering The Bounty if and when they ever find a charterer. Instead, Don and I put together a proposal, which we present to Peter and Costa. We offer to take over the operation and maintenance of the boat. We will line up business by going in to the Athens youth hostel and offering day-cruises. We get 40% of the gross revenue and the owners pay for all operating costs, such as fuel, water, harbour fees etc, out of their 60% share. Don and Deanne and I move aboard The Bounty, along with Cathy, a Canadian girl from Ottawa. She needed a place to stay and Peter offered her a bunk on the boat. By default, she becomes a partner in our new venture.
The Bounty is registered for convenience in Honduras and flies the blue and white flag of that country. Peter comes on board this morning and says: “We have to go into Athens today and get you a Captain’s license.” This prospect fills me with considerable trepidation as my knowledge of navigation and seamanship theory is pretty minimal.
The Vice-consulate of Honduras in Athens occupies an apartment in a high-rise with the Great Seal of Honduras over the door.
The Vice-consul says: “Mr. Skene, you understand that you have to pass an examination in order to receive a captain’s license.”
“Yes sir,” I answer, nervously.
“The exam consists of only one question. Are you ready?” says the Vice-consul.
“Yes sir,” I say.
“Well then, Mr. Skene, do you have 1,000 drachmas?”
“Yes sir,” I reply.
“Passed!”, says the Vice-consul. “Congratulations, Captain Skene!”
My license is an impressive document, 18” x 24”, with an image of a huge freighter on it and it says “The examinations committee for naval aptitude hereby grants… etc, etc.” It is signed by the Vice-consul of Honduras in Athens and the Admiral of the Honduras navy. (Well the Admiral’s signature is actually a rubber stamp.) All my friends in the harbour think this is hilarious and politely address me as “Captain Skene”. Richard says: “Look at him! Two days ago, he couldn’t get a job as a deckhand and now he is a Captain!” In actual fact, we don’t really have the skills or experience to handle a boat this size by ourselves, but we have the opportunity and we aren’t going to pass it up. We will just have to learn on the job and get the experience the hard way. If we sink the boat, my next letter will be postmarked, Brindesi, Italy!
We take The Bounty out with Peter for a practice voyage and I think we handle it rather well. We get the anchor up and leave the harbour without incident. We practice maneuvering in open water until we have a feel for how the boat handles and especially how it backs up. Like all single-screw boats, it will not back up in a straight line. The stern always wants to veer off in the direction the prop is turning. However, this boat has a very long straight keel so it backs up better than most. The tricky part is the stern-to mooring procedure and I think we accomplish it quite skillfully. It is actually a very nice boat to handle. It has a powerful diesel engine with a large propeller and a big slab rudder. When you put the wheel hard over and give it a burst of power, it practically turns in its own length.
We have to go to the nearby island of Aegina to get duty-free diesel so we invite several friends along for a Sunday afternoon cruise. For two fellows, hitch-hiking around Europe with packsacks, we reckon there is a certain amount of class in being able to entertain friends aboard our “own” yacht. The excursion goes nicely, we have a fine afternoon and we gain experience and practice in handling the boat. In Aegina harbour, we drop the anchor and I back in to the fuel dock at about 2 knots. Bounty has a large wheelhouse and the helmsman cannot see the stern of the boat, so Cathy is perched on the stern to give directions. Suddenly, she shrieks: “STOP!!” I give the engine a strong burst in forward, the boat stops dead, rocking gently. The big rudder is about 2 inches from the concrete quay. Happiness is a BIG engine!
We go into Athens, to the youth hostel three nights a week, offering a day cruise with lunch and a swim for $10. each. There is lots of interest but few paying customers so far. Today, we find out something curious: we seem to be at war! The news says El Salvador has declared war on Honduras; it started over a football game. We wonder if we should find some cutlasses and mount a cannon on The Bounty’s foredeck in case an enemy ship heaves into view.
Finally, our first paying charter! Six young American fellows are on board. They belong to the Amherst College Glee Club and are on a round-the-world tour. They have a few days free before their next performance and they want to see some of the Greek Islands. They don’t have a lot of money so we are just what they were looking for.
Our first charter goes really well. The American fellows are laid back students, just like us and they let us chose where to go. We take them on a nice easy cruise around the Saronic Gulf: Poros, Hydra, Spetsai; all places we are familiar with and not far away. Somebody says: “Let’s stop for a swim,” so we anchor in a bay and all jump overboard. Just what we want for our first voyage. And, we make $120. which is pretty good money.
This morning, the American boys come down to the harbour and give us free tickets to their concert. Their performance is part of the Athens Festival and is in the Theatre of Herod of Atticus, at the base of the Acropolis. This is the ruins of an ancient amphitheatre, which has been partially restored. The seats and stairways have been repaired and the stage is modern but the backdrop is just the ruins of the ancient theatre. We sit under the stars in the warm evening and thoroughly enjoy the whole experience. Wondering about all the people over the centuries who have sat in these seats before us is enough to send shivers down your spine! There are 64 singers and they present a mixed program, ranging from sacred and classical music to folk songs from various countries, to negro spirituals.
We are not getting rich in the charter business very quickly. Today we have a one-day trip with a nice older German couple. They are quite congenial, seem to enjoy themselves and are pleased with their day.
We have had many “possible” charters but they mostly seem to fall through at the last minute, usually due to people not showing up, or the fundamental dishonesty and unreliability of Greek agents. The Greek business mind is truly incredible to us. It seems like the universal premise here is: “Take as much money as possible from this customer now and don’t worry if he or his friends ever come back!” The concept of customer service and building repeat business seems to be totally foreign. We watch a good example of this kind of mentality this morning. A large group of Americans are on a package tour and included in their program is a day-trip to Aegina aboard a yacht. The local travel agent has known about this arrangement for months and has quoted $600. to the tour company. Instead of contracting weeks ago for a boat with adequate facilities, paying $500 and keeping $100 commission for himself, the agent arrives at the harbour at 8:00 o’clock this morning, hoping to find an idle yacht that will be willing to do a last-minute charter for $100. A yacht next to us agrees to go and the owners are tearing around like crazy, trying to get ice and drinks aboard and round up their crew. The boat is far too small and entirely unsuitable for a group that big. Most of the passengers are furious and walk off the boat in disgust. The Greek mind is a weird and mysterious thing!
Today I have to go to the Aliens Bureau because my tourist visa is about to expire. My strategy is to show that I am not living or working in Greece because I am registered as the captain on a foreign-flagged vessel. Technically, I am now a resident of Honduras, not Greece! I take with me a letter from Peter and Costa attesting to my status on the boat and that I am not earning drachmas (I take along receipts that I got when I cashed the American boy’s traveler’s cheques). I take the ship’s transit log , which shows that I am the registered captain. The little tin gods of Greek bureaucracy flatly refuse to accept any of my documentation and I end up in a furious argument with them. (I think maybe I have been spending too much time with Richard!). The argument ends when they flatly refuse to renew my permit and order me to leave the country within two days. I can take the train to Yugoslavia and then re-enter Greece, thereby getting another 90-day permit but that option doesn’t appeal. I change my approach, politely ask them what hoops I have to jump through and what fees I have to pay and eventually after some protracted negotiations, I get my permit renewed for another 30 days.
Roger and Felix show up with another job opportunity but I am not so sure about this one. A 35 foot power boat has arrived in the harbour. The middle-aged owner and his young ‘companion’ have brought the boat from Nice, France, and are bound for Mykonos. Not hard to tell what is going on here; Mykonos has a sizeable gay community. The captain wants someone to go along and help them with this last leg of their journey. My first response is: “The Cyclades in August? Are you out of your mind?” August is the height of the meltemi, the powerful prevailing wind that blows out of the northeast at this time of year. Every day starts out flat calm, but the wind begins around ten in the morning and builds throughout the day. By late afternoon, it is usually blowing a howling gale. Typically, the meltemi drops off after dark and it stays calm through the night. It is clear the owner is well aware of the situation and quite nervous, but he really wants to get to Mykonos. He tells me that his boat has two Detroit diesel engines and can make 25 knots. He proposes that we will leave at dawn and accomplish the 60 mile passage in less than three hours – we will be safely tied up in Mykonos harbour before the wind even starts to blow. He offers me $70.00 for a day’s work and a ferry boat ticket home. Against my better judgment, I agree.
We leave the harbour at 5:00 am. The sea is not flat calm, even at this early hour and the sky is unsettled. I don’t like it. We run down the Attica coast at 25 knots, just as the owner promised, but when we reach Cape Sounion and leave the shelter of the mainland, the wind is already blowing Force 3. This is not a good sign so early in the morning. Because of the swell, the boat now cannot travel at anywhere near 25 knots. We motor on throughout the day as the wind increases and the seas build. By four in the afternoon, we are off the island of Tinos and now we have to cross the channel to get to Mykonos. As we leave the shelter of Tinos, we are exposed to the full force of the meltemi at its worst. The young crewmember is huddled on his bunk down below in the fetal position. The owner, his face as white as a sheet, stands in the companionway with a death grip on the railings. I steer the boat for three solid hours as we fight our way across the channel. The seas are so big that as we drop into a trough, the wind dies away to dead calm, except we can look up and see it tearing the tops of the waves off, high above the boat. Then, as the following sea begins to pick the boat up, the wind gets stronger and stronger until we are in a shrieking, spray-filled maelstrom. The boat surfs down the front of the wave and I have to fight the wheel to keep it from broaching. As the wave passes underneath, we slide down the backside into the temporary calm of the trough again. Mykonos is not my favourite harbour because it has minimal protection from the northeast, but it sure looks good to me when we finally idle through the entrance. The wind is blowing furiously over the quay and it is a challenge to get the light, shallow-draft power boat backed in and tied up. Eventually, we make everything secure and I ask the owner for my money. He says: Oh I thought we could go ashore and have a meal and you could spend the night.” I reply: “No thanks. There is a ferry boat to Piraeus loading on the other side of the harbour, and I am going to be on it!” He thanks me for my help, hands over my pay and I am off around the harbour as fast as I can run. The ferry, a large ship, heels over nearly 15 degrees with the force of the wind on its beam. This meltemi does not die away at dark but continues to blow furiously all night. The Coast Guard reports the next day that the wind in the Tinos Channel was clocked up to Force 9 on the Beaufort scale, defined as a strong gale with wind speeds to 50 knots. I am ever so glad to get home, shower the salt out of my hair and finally relax for the first time this long day.
Our time in Greece seems to be drawing to a close. This morning, Don, Deanne and Richard leave on the train for England. There doesn’t seem to be any charters on the horizon, so we terminate our four-person partnership and start getting ready to leave. Since I’m not in any hurry, I plan stay around until Monday, get everything settled and then head for Italy.
Well! Ya’ just never know what is going to happen! This morning a booking agent comes along looking for a boat to take nine young German people on a week-long cruise through the Cyclades At first, I refuse, because it is still meltemi season and I don’t want to go there again. The agent is quite persuasive, so I talk to Roger and Felix. They say the meltemi hasn’t been blowing for a week or more and perhaps it is over for this year. They suggest I give it a try, watch the weather and always keep a safe harbour in mind in case it gets bad. Cathy is still here and I offer to hire her as deckhand for the cruise. Since our partnership has been dissolved, I am under no obligation to split the profits with her. The agent insists that I must provide breakfasts for the charterers, but our passengers always provided their own food. After some haggling, he offers me an additional 15 drachmas per person per day to serve coffee, bread and jam. Then he gives me a boxful of little jam and honey packets. I just made an extra 900 drachmas with no cost to me other than fresh bread from the bakery each morning!
The charter is very successful! We visit Karistos on the island of Evoia, Tinos, Mykonos, Paros and Kea. The meltemi holds off until the very last day, but by then we are in the lee of the Attica mainland, heading back towards Piraeus and sheltered from the northeast winds. The charterers are very accommodating, seem to have a great time and make few demands. I find it very stressful, being essentially on my own and I worry a great deal about the weather. By the time I get the boat tied up in Piraeus and disembark the charterers, I am pretty sure it is time to leave Greece and move on to new adventures. I make a sackful of money on this last charter and I can now afford to travel for a couple of months before I have to find work again.
Back on the road, again. Hallelujah! After six months in Greece I am looking forward to traveling again. This afternoon I go into Athens and take the bus for Corfu at 18:15. I meet a young German maiden on the bus named Heidi who seems to enjoy my company.
September 4 Corfu
The bus arrives in Corfu at 10:00 am after an all-night journey, involving two ferry boat crossings. We find a pleasant modern hotel on the waterfront and catch up on the sleep we missed during the bus ride.
September 5 Corfu
We stroll leisurely around the very pleasant town. It consists of two parts: one is new and modern and the other is old and shabby. Interestingly, the two parts are all mixed together. There is a great deal of greenery, reminiscent of Rhodes, but not so many flowers and the gardens all seem neglected. Heidi’s company is rapidly growing irritating, I’m afraid, and I’m looking forward to getting away tomorrow on the ferry to Brindisi. She is greatly interested in psychology and reads a lot of Freud, Jung etc. and either because of, or in spite of, this, she seems to have acquired most of the known neuroses… and possibly a few new ones that she discovered all by herself.