Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Guest Blog - Matt & Inga

Guest Blog - Matt & Inga Cowan May 21

We are concluding 2 weeks aboard Three Rivers and have enjoyed fabulous hospitality from Ben and Eliza!
We climbed aboard at the harbor of the gorgeous little island of Poros (not to be confused with Paros- which will get you on the wrong ferry entirely), just a one hour hydrofoil ride from Piraeus. Lots of boats from all over the world moored stern or bow to on the pier. Takes some getting used to this squeezing into a tiny spot by backing in and rubbing bumpers with your neighbor.
Lamb and Greek salad for dinner washed down with some pretty “fresh” Greek wine in a tiny taverna, up the steep hill, along a narrow winding alley that has been there for a thousand years or more, makes you feel like you’ve really arrived in Greece.
If you sail with Ben and Eliza you will never go hungry. Ben is in charge of treats and will have sussed out all the places in any harbor that serve ice cream or sell cookies. “Sampling the local cuisine” after all! Eliza’s well stocked galley and precise menu planning deals with main course. Housekeeping on board is down to a fine art- no one can wash dishes as well or with less water than Eliza- don’t interfere with her carefully honed method!


In 2 weeks we have had all manner of different sailing conditions. No wind until noon seemed to be the main pattern in the Ionian Islands (look those up on your atlas!) but one afternoon we were gliding along on a close reach at 6 knots with main, jib and mizzen in the warm sun with rugged little islands floating by - as near to perfect as it gets.

Three Rivers with main and mizzen masts at anchor

One nice blowy afternoon got us up to 8.8 knots- honest speed over ground with Three Rivers just racing along through white caps on aqua coloured water. We won’t mention the times when we ran out of wind and had to motor. We also will not dwell on the breathtaking price of diesel fuel.
One night it was blowing hard in the tiny harbor of Galaxidi where we had tied to the main jetty to go off and find wisdom from the oracle of Delphi (apparently though she was not in residence). At 11 p.m. the harbor master asked us to move around the corner of our pier so that a mega yacht named Chi Qui (pronounce that how you will) 40 meters long! could have our spot. Well, executing a 90 degree turn in a howling onshore wind in the dark took our crew, plus assorted other boaters and locals, all with opinions and unintelligible Greek suggestions. In the howling crosswind we had 6 lines tying the boat to the dock. Our grumpiness was assuaged by the crew (in matching embroidered T-shirts) coming over with a nice bottle of wine to thank us for our trouble. A tour of the boat would also have been nice but our cooperation comes cheap. Next time we are getting “Three Rivers” gear made up!

Three Rivers with the 40 meter motor yacht ChiQui behind.

Corfu Yacht Club. Privileges with Conestoga sailing club?

From a sailing point of view, the big event on the trip was the 42 hour passage from Corfu to Dubrovnik (Get out your atlas again here, we certainly had to). Apparently Albania is not boater friendly and you don’t stop there unless the water is rising over the floorboards. We sailed just inside the territorial water limits – to stay out of the shipping lanes. (According to the chart, we transited an old world war 2 mine field.) Next came Montenegro which wants insane sums of money for the privilege of touching their coastline, even if it is only for a day, so off to Croatia it is. It was our longest passage ever and we got it all. Gorgeous south wind on the aft quarter pushing us along at 6-7 knots at the start. Then the wind moves forward, the waves build up and Three Rivers starts to heave up and down. The resulting standing waves were 2 meters high and under full engine power, Three rivers is occasionally pushed to a stop. Inga heaves once too, but the rest of the crew are made of sterner stuff. Inga then took some fantastic anti seasick drugs we bought in Greece (and found them to be a miracle cure) - better living through chemistry! So we had waves, then we had calm, we had wind from all directions and a fabulous enormous rainbow that would lead us to believe there is a pot of gold buried on the north shore of Corfu.

Sunset at sea

Not a lot of sail up in this picture! (nor many ripples on the water!)

Entry and exit from countries by boat is very…bureaucratic which is to say frustrating if you are doing it, more amusing if you are watching. I naively thought when it was time to go you just hauled anchor and sailed into the sunset. Not without the proper stamps and papers you don’t!
Leaving Corfu was like something out of a bad cartoon
Scene 1:
We are in a marina 5 miles north of the port of Corfu and we are a non-EU boat (Canuks are special). With 550 boats in dock the marina office amazingly doesn’t know the exit procedure (or perhaps won’t tell us so they can watch the fun) and refers us to the Port Authority office next door which is …closed. We are a resourceful lot and drive our Corfu touring rental car down to the Corfu port where we are told to come back tomorrow when there may be someone there who knows or cares.
Scene 2:
We whistle off to Corfu first thing because the car is due back at 10. After much shuffling from one indifferent but officious sort to the next we are told the port authority back in the marina must first stamp the log and then we must all present ourselves and our passports back there. Back into the little car- Ben driving like the ex-taxi driver he is –to the marina where we cool our heels until the Port Authority doors deigns to open its doors around 9:20. The extra 20 minutes were no doubt for the official to iron her immaculate white outfit. She is young and keen and finds every word of Three Rivers log fascinating and review worthy-- sloooowly. Matt and Ben forgive all because she is gorgeous. “But the Corfu Port should have done all this for you”, she smiles.
Scene 3
Back into the car. Mild mannered ex taxi driver now driving more like Italian cabbie late for lunch. Careen into the Corfu Port Authority waving passports and much sought after stamp only to find that the room we were so recently shooed out of is … closed. By now I’m all for the” sailing into the sunset” scenario, officials be damned. I find it unlikely those gun emplacements have been used recently and we are a small target in any case. Our skipper is, however made of sterner stuff and after corralling an unsuspecting official who carelessly stood where he could be seen, we were hustled past exits and into a small office where a guy in jeans ceremoniously gets a stamp out of a special drawer (like this happens once a decade) stamps around a bit and sends us on our way. As we leave another official shakes his head and tells us the marina port office should have done all this!
By contrast, our arrival in Croatia, in the pretty little port of Cavtat, at 8 a.m was more orderly but much more expensive. We hoist the yellow Q flag to signal we are entering the country and are whistled and waved over to the pier with the big Q painted on it and a silly roped off area like at the bank, which everyone just climbs over. Ben goes off to the port office where he is duly stamped and relieved of 311 Euros for cruising permits and assorted taxes and we are shooed along. Now that our pockets are suitably lightened they don’t want us cluttering up the dock for other potential marks. I can’t believe the pirates of old made out any better although there was no ravishing of damsels (perhaps we were just not their type).
The town of Dubrovnik is amazing. Perched on a peninsula surrounded by huge fortified walls and framed by even higher rugged hills, its red tiled roofs huddle together in an amazingly preserved town from the 1600’s or so. As a UNESCO world heritage site it is a magnet for tourists from everywhere- us included. All evidence of the siege in the latest Balkan war of 1991-2 has been obliterated except for some plaques which show you where the Serbs dropped every mortar and pictures of burned out houses (actually only 6 burned, many more lost their roofs) with the motto “Lest we forget”. A guide gave us a remarkable history lesson on the war and the politics. He quoted Winston Churchill who said “The Balkans produce more history than they can consume.” The same could be said for us- while we learned a lot I still don’t understand why the Serbs hate the Croats so much and where does Bosnia fit into all this? It is amazing to imagine those great stone fortifications coming into use only 19 years ago and gazing up at hills where soldiers launched mortars on civilians below and now it all looks so peaceful. Speculation on when this might happen again is rife.
All in all it was a grand adventure. We are so grateful to Ben and Eliza for having made it possible and for being such great hosts. We’d do it again in a heartbeat. They are right though, it really needs more time and they have made that time. We wish them fair sailing, gracious officials, good company, and may there be an ice cream shop in every port.

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