Med Arrival: May 10 2009
Curiously, we find ourselves still in Egypt. And the Ismailia Yacht Club has begun to chafe...feeling a bit restrictive it has been newly christened an "open prison" by yachties. We can come and go as we please as long as we pass through the armed immigration guards with our passport. Each exit is met with a slow, page-by-page review of our passports and each entry is met with a scrupulous review of the contents of shopping bags...anything deemed especially "interesting" is accompanied with a need for baksheesh (cash is preferred). Yikes.
The process for garnering a pilot for the second half of the Suez Canal transit was much the same as the first half; however, getting a straight answer has become nearly impossible. Two days before our desired departure we notified our agent, Felix Maritime. The agent then attended a 9pm meeting matching yachts with pilots (Apr 17). We were called at 10pm with the thumbs-up and be-ready time of 9am. Okay, off to bed we went. Then the phone rang again at 11.30pm and our departure was modified to 5am on April 18. No worries, rise and shine at 4am and we readied the boat for departure...5am, 6am, 7am...no pilot. Multiple calls to the agent assured us of the pilot's imminent arrival...until Noon...when we were told no one would transit the canal that day due to warship traffic. Aaagghhh. Missed that weather window so we went back to the drawing board. April 19 did not look like good weather so we arranged for a pilot on April 20. The same process repeated itself and again the pilot was a no-show. Our confidence in departure scheduling is now completely shot. Accordingly, we have increased our possible landfalls after exiting the canal from solely Rhodes to also include Cyprus and Israel. We will simply wait and see what Mother Natures deals us whenever our first opportunity out of the canal happens.
At this point we were frustrated and utterly exhausted. We needed a change in latitude so we had a party...a "Can't Leave Ismailia Party" (Apr 20). We managed to squeeze 30 people aboard. Barefeet's water line dipped lower than we have ever seen it and everyone took turns manning the grill. Our mood was lifted with the fun evening and our pilot karma was changed. The next morning the pilots were hollering on the dock for boats to get moving...at 5am. Off we went bleary eyed but happy for being one step closer to the Med (Apr 21).
Our pilot stepped aboard and seemed like a good fella...oh, except for the callus in the center of his forehead which brought Cyclops to mind (a mark of his devotion to Allah and that he spends a lot of time with his head bowed in prayer). Quickly moving past the callus Erin warmly extended her hand in greeting to which she was met with a limp arm bent at the elbow...impossible to shake. Jeepers, evidently women are not even allowed to be touched in public salutation with husband standing within arm's reach...a bit off putting to say the least but we were moving ever closer to the Med, the Med, the Med...keep focused on the goal. Erin silently thanked her lucky stars to have been born in a country where women fought for equality and today enjoy freedoms that most Arab women cannot even fathom. The canal transit Part II passed as uneventfully as Part I and by Noon we are in Port Said offloading the pilot (Apr 21). Our pilot departed with an extra large haul of baksheesh. Since we do not smoke we passed along all eight remaining boxes of Marlboro red box cigarettes to him...hhhmmmmm...he stuffed a few in his socks before transferring to the pilot boat and we can only speculate the need for this secretive behavior. The weather forecast was not perfect for a passage anywhere but we chose Rhodes as our destination. Egypt is in the rearview mirror and that is all we needed to know. Yippee!
The weather gribs seemed accurate; calm weather for the first portion of the trip giving way to strong winds close to on the nose and finishing with slightly reduced wind speed but angle still on the nose. It sounds academic enough but turned out to be anything but. Twenty-four hours after leaving Port Said the port engine needed a water pump belt replaced and the starboard engine needed its fuel filter replaced. We slowed the boat to give Chris a more stable platform on which to work...and made a discovery. At this point water clarity had improved and we noticed a polypro rope snagged across both hulls and trailing behind Barefeet with at least one plastic soda bottle buoy...must have picked that up in the canal from one of the many fishermen?! Phew, it was able to be removed with boat hook and knife (no wetsuit this time). Engines back in order and we were off again. April 23 the winds increased, as forecast, and seas became bouncy. After sunset both engines went kaputzkie...yes, of course after dark...and the generator was coughing. Relying solely on reefed main sail and headsail was slow going but the engine diagnosis would have to wait until the light of the next day. In the meantime, the winds increased to 35 knots and both Erin and Chris were tossing their cookies (ALMOST always hitting the bucket). Then a bang and the main sail reef let go. Drat! No engines to point the boat into the wind so the sail was slowly manhandled down...reducing our speed even more...to an average of 3 knots of forward progress. This was, hands-down, our worst 24-hour period of the journey thus far...yuck.
April 24 the sun came up, moods brightened and the engines were examined. The starboard impellor was changed and an air bubble was found in the raw water strainer which cools the engine...an air bubble had also stopped the port engine. We were back in business and the winds were slightly reduced. A careful calculation of fuel and distance had us motoring at 2-3 knots for the next 24-hours, one engine at a time...arriving at Mandraki, the ancient harbor of Rhodes, at 6am (Apr 25). The "marina" was not yet open and we did not have enough fuel to circle/hover so we anchored at the mouth of the harbor. Open for business and we were directed to a spot. Chris deftly shoe-horned Barefeet between two boats as Erin dropped anchor chain for our Med moor backed up to the stone pier in the old harbor. We had arrived and all but collapsed of exhaustion. Our agent, Kassed Harb, met us at the dock with pastries and coffee for a discussion of entry formalities (Bluebonnet Maritime and Tourism, email@example.com, www.yachting-greece.net). Kassed smoothed our entire process...from passports to boat papers and laundry to electrical connection...even on a Saturday. As for us, we showered and strolled into town where we feasted on gyros for lunch...juicy grilled pork or chicken with delicious french fries and creamy tzatziki all wrapped in a soft pita...$3 each...amazingly wonderful. Tower bells tolled the hour and Greek flags flew from every possible staff...including ours. We were over the moon to be in Greece!
The nights were cooler and we were chilled enough to wear jackets....and shoes and socks. However, the change of season was a welcome novelty. Dinner was another mouth-watering feast (Apr 25). This time at a seafood taverna recommended by our new grocer, Vassili. We ordered like crazy; steamed mussels, fried cod, calamari, Greek salad, tzatziki, fried potatoes...and the ubiquitous retzina (white wine). Gosh, you would think we just spent the last three months on Mars...it was loads of food...but not a problem and everything was fabulous!
We gave ourselves five days of no boat work to detox from Egypt before again diving into our list of To Do's that have accumulated since leaving Thailand in January...nearly three months and 4,500 miles ago. Rhodes (Nisos Rodhos) is the largest island of the Dodecanese island group and a mere stones throw from the west coast of Turkey. The island's history spans 3000 years and originates in myth...either a gift from Zeus to Helios (Sun God) when Zeus was dividing up earth after defeating the Giants...or...that Helios was so smitten by the beauty of Rhodos (daughter of Poseidon, God of the Sea) that he made her his wife. Regardless, the island has always been a stunning blend of sun and beauty as well as an important trading center between Asia and Africa and Greece and Italy. Its history includes ancient majesty, Byzantine era construction, the flourishing times of the Order of the Knights of St John (1309-1522) and Turkish settlements. The Knights left behind impregnable walls, massive gates and majestic palaces that are the base of the medieval town which thrives even today. Springtime in Greece...cool air coupled with bright sun...made for pleasant walks through the narrow streets of the old town. The streets are paved with black and white pebbles in geometric designs (chochlaki technique)....and the sun has coaxed out red poppies from cracks in the medieval walls and purple blooms between the stones underfoot. Sunny skies were also a magnet for locals which meant that the sidewalk cafes were packed with sunglass-clad, fashionable Greeks lingering over afternoon frappes (iced coffee). The backdrop to all of this were the snow-capped mountains of Turkey visible just beyond the harbor...across the Mediterranean Sea. Wow, we were enjoying being tourists in such a magnificent city.
We were happily unwinding after Egypt...slowly getting to know Rhodes, establishing a day-to-day routine and starting boat projects. We found a chandlery (Inox center www.inox-center.gr), textiles for window coverings (Apollon at 46 Agiou Fanouriou in Old Town), Greek language audio lessons and a variety of supermarkets, butchers and local Farmer's markets for provisioning. Saturday is the big open-air market and it was hard to be restrained when purchasing. There were bunches of fresh herbs, oranges with the leaves still attached, artichokes the size of melons, bright red tomatoes, piles of deep purple eggplants...all at the peak of ripeness and cheap as chips. Cleaning Red Sea desert dust has been a close second priority after eating and Barefeet is once again feeling like our comfy home...and ready for sundowners in the cockpit. Wow, something happened at sunset as we sipped wine and ate jalapeno and hamburger pizza (May 2). A ferry sped into the harbor with bells clanging ashore and fireworks spinning into the sky. Once at the quay there was a mass of military personnel in dress uniform, energetic band, orthodox priests in their finery, women in traditional dress and crowds of average folks. We got out the binoculars and tried to figure out what was going on?! The best we could deduce was that an icon was delivered from another island in order to honor a particular Saint...the Saint for the ill and sick (learned later from friend Leonidicia)...homage followed for the next few days with countless visits by individual practitioners. Never a dull moment...thank goodness. A few rainy days followed which gave us a good excuse to inventory and re-organize our stores (May 5)...huh, seems we can make spaghetti until the cows come home...and we successfully cleared enough room so that we have open space for our friends and family when they visit over the next few months.
Tying up in the Med...Med mooring...requires the anchor to be dropped well beyond the pier so that the anchor holds the front of the boat secure and lines tied ashore hold the back secure. This becomes tricky in tight spaces when multiple anchors are dropped and raised, wind pipes up so that boats blow in unwanted directions...or a gigantic ferry catamaran pulls its anchor after being idle for the off-season. Yikes! The big catamaran ferry, King Saron, began by sending a diver to investigate which yachtie anchors would be affected by a move (May 6). Hhhhmmm, that lulled us into a sense of contentment about King Saron's level of professionalism...big mistake. Late afternoon and we were all on the decks of our boats...just as the wind kicked in, of course. King Saron raised one massive anchor and stowed it successfully but the other dragged the harbor, snagged several yacht anchor chains (alternately almost ripping us from the pier or slamming us back into the pier) and was eventually dropped to the harbor floor in a comedy of errors and narrowly avoided human injury. Chris mainly worked the anchor chain (adjusting as it was snagged and dropped by King Saron) and Erin primarily manned the helm keeping Barefeet from bashing into the stone pier...intermittently we sounded the air horn and moved fenders. Aaaagghh, much more drama than we had hoped for. Resolution was self-organized and self-paid...King Saron disappeared like a phantom. We hired a diver to untangle the three affected yachts and silently hoped that King Saron will get its chain and anchor off the harbor floor sooner rather than later...a summer full of merrymakers with fouled anchors will, unfortunately, quickly escalate to frustration. Chris and Trevor (s/v Little Cat) dinghied on the surface as the diver worked below...waving off charter boats coming and going and keeping communication flowing between yachties and the diver (May 8). All sorted out and we dove into numerous boat projects; diesel tanks got cleaned and filled, both engine oils were changed, laundry was delivered and retrieved, knives were sharpened, Barefeet's medicine chest was re-stocked and a couple of miscellaneous parts were picked up...eeeeek. It was a long day but we finally relaxed with a dinner of wine, steak, Greek salad and bread with tzatziki dip. Maybe tomorrow will be a bit more mellow?!
May 9 was a bright and sunny Saturday. We took a walk along what used to be the moat that surrounds the entire medieval city (36 feet wide). The architecture of the castle fortifications were new for their time (1480). Round towers replaced square towers in order to better deflect and withstand canon and catapult balls. The massive buildings and walls were magnificent...giant stone blocks creating endless expanses of solid wall. Catapult balls remain scattered around the grounds...and a few were even lodged in the castle walls. The imposing structures were a clear reflection of the military prowess of the Knights of St John; founded as a philanthropic brotherhood in Jerusalem that evolved into a military body under the control and authority of the Catholic church (particularly when the Crusaders occupied Jerusalem in 1099). Over time they shifted their base from Jerusalem to Palestine to Cyprus (just 18 years) to Rhodes (the most brilliant time of their history) and finally to Malta (in 1530). The Knights of St John took the island of Rhodes after two years of campaigning. What followed was a time of flourishing prosperity that did not end until 1522 when 400 ships delivered 200,000 men of Sultan Suleiman, an Ottoman Turk. 7,000 Knights battled for six months before finally departing Rhodes for Sicily and settling in Malta in 1530. On Malta they became the Knights of Malta and remain that to this day...still a combined philanthropic and military Order with presence in the United Nations and other world bodies.
Back aboard Barefeet we were eating our Farmer's market delights...entertained by the parade of vacationers looking at the boats. Several folks were quite tickled by the fact that Barefeet from Rhode Island is on the island of Rhodes...tee, hee, hee. But not all meals are aboard Barefeet. We make an almost daily pilgrimage to Steki Fast Food for gyros and french fries with tzatziki. Did we mention how excited we are to be in Greece?!