We settled ourselves into Rhodes Marina and eagerly awaited the arrival of our daughter Em and her boyfriend Flo from their home in the South of France. There was plenty to do in getting the boat ready, including some boat chandlery shopping! Damian has an ongoing ‘project list’ of upgrades and improvements for the boat and anyone coming out to join us will invariably start receiving packages of ‘boat bits’ in advance of their departure. Em was coming out with a whole load of parts to improve our water filtration (including a pretty heavy new water tap and various pieces of water piping and metal bits!)

When we top up our water it is filtered before it goes into the tanks and we also have filters on the galley sink tap, to enable us to drink water directly from the tanks. Since we have been using the watermaker more regularly, it seemed a good idea to separate our two water tanks and add a higher-level filtration system to keep general use and drinking water separate. This would ensure that water in the ‘drinking’ tank would be super-filtered through fine and charcoal filters, making it purer than bottled water. Bottled water takes up a huge amount of storage space on the boat, so being able to drink water directly from our tanks is incredibly useful and we save ourselves a few pennies too!

The boat was thoroughly cleaned inside and out, and we re-provisioned ready for the next week. Our French flag was hoisted up the mast in honour of Flo’s arrival and Em and Flo arrived late on 29 August.

We decided to stay in the marina one more night, to allow our weary crew to settle themselves in, discuss where we were going to sail and give us all an opportunity to explore Rhodes Old Port and Town.

Next morning Damian made a start on the new plumbing and Em, Flo and I took our selves off for a walk to the local beach to get out of his way. The weather was baking hot, so we had decided to wait until early afternoon to head into town. Rhodes is the largest of the Dodecanese islands and a very popular tourist destination, with a large amount of ferry traffic coming in and out of the port.

We walked into town and had a very pleasant afternoon exploring the cobbled streets and alleyways of the Old Town, but it was incredibly crowded and we decided to head back towards the marina where we shared a very tasty Greek Meze supper. We discussed ideas for the next few weeks of sailing together and planned an early start for the next day.

Slipping our lines early on 31 August we set our course for Simi Island, retracing our steps back up into the Dodecanese.

We had a very pleasant sail with the wind behind us and arrived back in Panormitis early afternoon. The water in the bay was clean and clear and perfect for some swimming to cool off. Damian and Flo inflated the paddleboard and a relaxing time was had by all. We cooked onboard but then took the dinghy ashore to take a look at the Monastery on the quayside and to treat ourselves to some dessert.

Next day we headed back to Livadhia on Tilos and went alongside on the harbour quay once again. We were surprised at how quiet it seemed, there were only four boats on the quay and not a single boat anchored in the bay. We all went to the beach and our favourite restaurant – Nicos!

This was to be our last stop before heading down to Crete, where we were hoping to spend the next few weeks sailing around the island. It was very obvious that the school summer holidays were over, such a contrast to when we had been in Livadhia just a short time ago.

We slipped our lines very early on 2 September with an overnight sail planned to take us down to Iraklion, the capital city on the north coast of Crete.

The bulk of the journey passed reasonably peacefully under sail and we took turns to keep watch overnight.

All went well until we drew closer to the north east corner of the island, when the wind picked up considerably, gusting up to 34 knots. We quickly realized that we were going to have to change our course as our planned journey west was proving increasingly impossible and after a couple of hours trying to find somewhere safe to take shelter, we made our way to Nikolaos marina, on the north east coast of Crete. Our 28-hour passage had been rather an arduous start to the trip but the crew were all on fine form and we decided to stay in Nikolaos for a couple of days.

The original plan had been to start in Iraklion, so that Em and Flo could catch a ferry to visit Santorini on the Island of Thira and fortunately it appeared that this would still be possible, with a bus ride from Nikolaos to the ferry port in Iraklion. Plans were made – ferry tickets and accommodation booked online and Em and Flo set off at 6am next morning. By lunchtime they were both back onboard courtesy of a Greek Ferry strike in Iraklion. Much cursing was to be heard (in French) but fortunately a walk to the beach, a couple of hours in the sunshine (plus a couple of medicinal beers), eased the frustration a tad.

Next day we had a relaxed start, heading up to Spinalonga Lagoon for an overnight anchor before beginning our circumnavigation of Crete.

The wind was steadily increasing and we explored the lagoon pretty thoroughly for a safe spot to anchor for the night. We use a combination of Rod Heikell’s Greek Waters Pilot, Tony Cross’s Crete pilot and The Cruising Association’s ‘Captain’s Mate’ App for guidance and these points of reference were especially helpful, as the lagoon is very shallow and required a cautious investigation. We have Sonar onboard which gives us a picture on the plotter of the sea bed below us and it was particularly helpful in this situation.

After checking out several recommendations of where we might safely anchor, we settled ourselves for the night. The lagoon proved not to be the calm shelter we had hoped for and overnight the wind picked up again, gusting off and on up to 30 knots (something we were now getting used to!).

Over the next few days we kept a close eye on the weather and attempted to seek out some safe anchorages where we could all relax and get in the sea for a swim. Travelling clockwise around Crete we anchored in Erimoupolis and Zakros, with good sailing wind and beautiful sunshine by day and the usual gusty weather at night. Most of the time we were the only yacht out it seemed until we sailed south of Crete to the tiny Island of Gaidouronisi, where we anchored in the most beautiful bay with a golden sandy beach and the clearest aquamarine sea.

There were several other boats anchored in the bay, joining us in our enjoyment of the beauty and tranquility of the surroundings. Sadly this was only to be a lunchtime stop, as we needed to be anchored somewhere more sheltered for the evening.

We made our way to Ierepatra and after another bouncy night at anchor outside of the town harbour, we got an early start at 5.30am to try and beat more windy weather due to hit later in the day.

We saw the most magnificent sunrise as we got underway and had a fast sail westwards along the coast, with just a small amount of headsail out.

We made the decision to try and get alongside in a fairly newly built harbour in a place called Lentas, so that Damian could get a more settled night of sleep (he never sleeps soundly at anchor in unsettled weather).

The tiny harbour was home to a handful of fishing boats and one other small yacht and had no facilities. We had a restful afternoon and later in the day we decided to get off the boat to go for a walk and investigate what we thought was a small taverna up in the hills around the harbour.

It was a bit of a hike but it was good to stretch our legs and there was indeed a small, family-run guesthouse and tavern high above the harbour. We were the only diners but were warmly welcomed and treated to a very tasty traditional meal, complete with spectacular views out over the sea.

The harbour proved to be the perfect safe haven and had been a well-needed, restful overnight stop!

With another early start we turfed Em and Flo out of bed to help us with a carefully managed exit. The shallow water in the harbour and high winds meant that all four of us were needed to pull away from the harbour wall safely, releasing our lines exactly as directed to keep the boat under control. Over the years we have seen many skippers lose control of their boats coming into and exiting from harbours in high winds and it really helps if you know your boat well and keep your cool. This is something Damian is very good at and we all do as we are directed, without question. With 30 knots of wind yet again we slipped our lines and set our course for the town of Agia Galini.

This was to be a substantial stop for us, staying in Agia Galini for five nights in the little town harbour. We were the only yacht there when we arrived and we moored alongside, amongst the local fishing boats.

The harbour was not really geared up for visiting yachts it seemed, but a trip to the Port Police confirmed that we were welcome to stay and surprisingly, would not be charged. There were a couple of antiquated power points and water taps on the quay and after a bit of a walk out of town to buy some extra water pipe, we were able to extend our power cable and water hose to make use of the sparse facilities set up for the fishing boats.

Agia Galini is a very attractive, bustling village, busy with tourists considering the lateness of the summer season. The village is home to a huge assortment of tavernas and roof-top restaurants looking out over the sea, bars, cafes and shops which can be investigated via a myriad of cobbled, winding alleyways steadily winding upwards through to the back of the village. We rented a couple of scooters between the four of us and ventured out of town to explore some of the beautiful beaches along the coastline that Flo had found online. Em and Flo found the sight of us two oldies on our scooter pretty hilarious, but we all had a fab day riding out to seek out ‘Red Beach’ in Matala, further along the coast. The hike to the beach was well worth the view on the way over the cliffs and the beach was beautiful, with clear aquamarine sea.

There is something, however, a little uncomfortable about finding yourself amongst avid, aging nudists when in the company of your children and I have to admit that I wasn’t as relaxed as I wanted to be!

That night Flo proclaimed himself ‘chef’ for the evening and treated us to a meal of spaghetti carbornara, not bad for a traditional French lad who ‘does dishes, but does not cook’! We rounded up the evening with some severe card playing, eliciting a little Francais-Anglais rivalry!

Em and Flo took themselves off on their scooter again next day to seek out the famous ‘Palm Tree Beach’ in Preveli and Damian and I amused ourselves for the day.

That evening we all walked along the front away from the main village and had supper in a beach-side restaurant, which ended in an enthusiastic and hilarious game of darts (Eric Bristow eat your heart out!).

We had booked a rental car for the next day to take Em and Flo to Iraklion again, where they were going to re-attempt their trip to Santorini. Up bright and early we drove them to the Ferry Port in Iraklion, then parked up in the City and checked out the Port Marina, with a view to maybe heading there at the end of our trip to get Em and Flo to the airport for their flights home. Iraklion was crazy busy so we decided to head out of the city to the Minoan Palace at Knossos and spent a couple of hours wandering around the famous Cretan, archeological site.

Having decided that Iraklion Port Marina was probably not going to be the good drop off point we had hoped for, we got back in the car and drove back west along the coast to Rethimon, to check out another marina for the end of the trip.

It was strange being in a car after so long without driving and the precarious drive back to Agia Galini through the mountains in the baking sunshine from Rethimon was quite a ride!

Next day we set off late afternoon to drive back to Iraklion and after an extremely fruitful shopping trip around a big Lidl we found en route, we picked Em and Flo up from the ferry port and headed back to the boat.

We had stayed in Agia Galini for six nights in total, with no charges for being alongside, or for the water and power. The little harbour was very rustic, but everyone was so helpful and friendly and this had been a good place to hang out for a while and allow Em and Flo to make their desired trip to Santorini.

With a ‘crack of dawn’ start next morning, we slipped our lines from Agia Galini and headed west along the coast of Crete. With steady 15-20 knot winds we had a comfortable sail to our next destination of Palaiokhora, anchoring outside the small harbour for a lunchtime swim before heading in alongside. As we entered the harbour the wind suddenly picked up considerably and coming alongside amongst the local fishing boats proved a lot more difficult than expected.

There were a couple of other yachts already berthed alongside and initially there was no sign of life. With the winds now gusting beyond 25 knots a young guy suddenly appeared and assisted us in by taking our lines and helping us to tie up. The small harbour was very typical of other fairly new harbours that we had visited around Crete – unfinished with no organized facilities available and quite a distance away from any real civilization. The benefit for us was the shelter it gave us as the wind continued to blow through the night and checking ahead on the predicted weather, it looked like the next few days were to continue with similar conditions.

Flo had put a lot of effort into researching places to visit around Crete and we had planned to seek out the famous ‘Pink Beach’ in Elafonissi on the south west coast, before heading up to Gramvousa Lagoon, reported to be one of the most beautiful anchorages in the whole of the Greek waters.

We slipped our lines bright and early next morning but as we got underway, it quickly became clear that we were going to struggle to get to Elafonissi and headed directly up the west coast towards Gramvousa. As much as we all wanted to visit the lagoon, we knew that the weather was against us and we had to make sure we had time to get into a safe place for the evening. The wind speed crept up steadily throughout the morning and by lunchtime had reached 30 knots, with waves crashing over the bow of the boat. With lifejackets on, all confined to the cockpit and feeling the effects of the big sea swell, we motored through the lagoon knowing that we were unable to stop. As we rounded the northwest corner of Crete, we were punching into 2-3 meter waves with 39 knots of wind and a strong confused sea hampering our progress – it was not a comfortable ride!

Almost ten hours after setting off, we finally entered the harbour of Kolimvari, along the northern coast of the Island. The wind was a little calmer inside the harbour, but the sea swell made coming alongside precarious. With every fender we had available and a ‘cats cradle’ of spring lines, we secured ourselves onto the harbour wall, preparing for the high winds predicted overnight. We were all exhausted from the journey – sad that we hadn’t managed to make it to either of our planned stops but grateful for some reasonable shelter.

Over the next couple of days the wind continued to rage and the sea battered the sea defences, with waves crashing over the harbour wall onto the boat. The town’s beaches and seafront restaurants were all hit hard by the angry sea – an amazing spectacle from our viewpoint in the harbour.

Thankfully Kolimvari proved to be a good stop with plenty of bars, tavernas and a very good supermarket to replenish supplies. We made good use of our time alongside playing cards and Monopoly (the French play it too – who knew?) and when the sun came out we were able to get off the boat to go for a few walks and a final supper ashore before we set off again. We had been waiting for a weather window to continue on to Chania and after three nights in Kolimvari, we made the decision to push on.

We phoned the Chania Harbourmaster to check for space before we left and arrived in the busy port late morning and although the Marina was full we were able to secure a space on the town quay. We were all relieved to be experiencing some calmness in the weather and Chania seemed like it was going to be the perfect ‘last stop’ before Em and Flo were due to fly home.

Chania had once been the capital of Crete and was an impressive sight to behold with its’ Venetian houses, mosques and Venetian-Turkish lighthouse on the mole of the harbour entrance. The Venetian city around the harbour with its’ cobbled streets packed with shops and restaurants was bustling with tourists and both the marina and town quay were full with boats.

Em and Flo went off to investigate bus times to Iraklion for their flights home and Damian and I chilled out on the boat, a little weary from the less than peaceful sailing time we had experienced in our journey around Crete. We were amazed at how well we had all managed living together so peacefully in such a small, restricted space and in such challenging sailing conditions. The three and a half weeks together onboard had flown by and although we had not managed to get to some of the beautiful anchorages we had planned to visit, we had explored a little of Crete and experienced some ‘exciting’ sailing.

That afternoon we played Monopoly (the grudge match) with lots of laughter at the competitive edge to the game and had our last meal together onboard, with the rest of the evening spent playing cards. Precious family time together to treasure and a fitting end to our time on the boat.

Em and Flo left on a bus to Iraklion the following afternoon and as we walked away from the bus station, we were both acutely aware of how different it was going to feel to be alone again after almost a month. We had had a wonderful time with Em and Flo onboard, they were great company and made us laugh and smile a lot. We were going to miss them terribly.

We headed back to the boat to make plans for the next stage of our journey, the passage to Sicily to our winter berth. With the weather looking very unsettled still we knew that our window of opportunity was closing in and we needed to push on. We treated ourselves to what was a very decent meal out in town (I had my first glass of Prosecco in 5 months!) and had a last look at Chania before turning in.

The next day we were heading back up towards Kalamata in the Southern Ionian via a 26 hour overnight passage, and from there we would wait for a 3-day weather window to make the long passage across to Sicily. The weather forecasts were not looking very good with the whole of the Mediterranean subject to increasing winds and sea states, but for the next 48 hours at least, we knew we were reasonably safe to say goodbye to Crete and make our way to our winter home……

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Good to have you with us on our journey!

Sally x