With August drawing to a close we were ready to contemplate our last month of summer sailing and the journey back west, which would take us through the Cyclades to the Peloponnese and across to Malta before heading back to Marina Di Ragusa in Sicily. We were hopeful that our exit from the Aegean would take us into some calmer and kinder weather, with a little more leisurely cruising (it was good to be hopeful!). We had the whole of September to sail before our winter liveaboard contract in MdR was due to start and we were looking forward to exploring some more new territory.
After dropping our daughter Beth off in Kos for her flight home it was time to get going again, so after one more night in Kos marina with a bright and early start for provisioning, we slipped our lines and set our course to return to the island of Leros. With the weather looking unsettled again for the next few days, the plan was to hunker down in the familiar, well-protected bay of Xerokambos on the south coast of the island and await the next weather window to start making our way back across the Aegean.
Having been in this bay before, we knew there was lots of space with decent anchor holding, so it was as good a place as any to sit out the 30-35 knots of wind expected to come our way over the next couple of days.
True to form the predicted weather didn’t quite match the reality for the 25 nautical mile journey from Kos and with the wind hard on the nose and rolling seas, we battled our way back to Leros. I have become very good at ducking under the spray hood when the waves come crashing over the deck, but the poor skipper did not escape so easily as he hand steered Tahnee Mara through the wild, confused sea. It was another exciting (wet and challenging) day of adventurous sailing and back in familiar territory in the early evening with the anchor well dug-in, calm was restored again – for a while at least.
Our decision to stay put for the next couple of days proved a wise one, with Xerokambos Bay providing the shelter we needed from the high winds blowing hard through the Eastern Aegean. As wonderful as it is to be at anchor when the weather is calm, the experience of waiting out bad weather at anchor is often not quite so restful. There is a constant state of alertness and a sense of vulnerability, which involves broken sleep and restlessness and with our friends on ‘Dream On’ having already made the big hop across to the Peloponnese, we were keen to follow suit.
As soon as there was a break in the weather we ventured back out and our journey from Leros took us via a series of long hops to Ios, back to Milos and into the three fingers of the Peloponnese.
Having spent a few nights at anchor and a couple of over-night passages at sea in more unsettled weather, we knew we were missing out on some amazing cruising ground but were desperate to find somewhere to rest up alongside and get off the boat. Having followed some of our MdR family on social media during the summer we knew that the islands we were now shooting past deserved more than a cursory glance and it is easy to see why so many cruisers return to Greece year after year.
As we rounded the west coast of the Peloponnese towards Pilos we came into contact with more friends from MdR on their boat ‘Tickety Boo’ and followed them into the marina, rafting up together in the one space available. The little marina was unmanned with no services available, but fairly sheltered and perfect for a couple of nights alongside.
The picturesque town of Pilos is arranged around a large shaded square of restaurants, cafes and shops looking out into the beautiful wide bay of Navarinou, providing a relaxing respite from the previous week at sea.
Over the next couple of days we enjoyed some much needed time on dry land before moving out to anchor together to be closer to the beach and to take advantage of the opportunity for a beach BBQ.
Our liveaboard boat life has proven to be an experience of extreme contrasts over the last couple of summers, with weather and sailing conditions presenting us with challenges that sometimes lead me to question the life that we are leading…. But that evening on the beach watching the sun go down with our friends, the challenges of our summer sailing were forgotten for a while and there was no better place to be!
The next day we waved off ‘Tickety Boo’ who were heading back into the Ionian and were joined at anchor later that evening by ‘Dream On’. We had talked about ‘buddy sailing’ the passage to Malta together and after conferring on the different weather models we used, agreed that the three to four day journey was now looking possible, with wind and sea state looking favourable for a comfortable sail.
Sailing away from land into open sea for a number of days with no phone signal and no weather updates available is a little scary, but the thought of sailing with company in sight was very appealing and we made plans to head off together just before dawn on 11 September.
The alarm provided a rude awakening at 5.30am and we both got up straight away. With ‘Tahnee Mara’ secured for sea, navigation and deck lights on, we pulled up the anchor in the dim light of dawn and both boats steadily motored out of Navarinou Bay.
The sun rose but the sky remained a little dull and overcast and with the wind comfortably off the beam, we were making a steady 7/8 knots and the two boats remained in sight of each other as we settled ourselves into the passage.
By early afternoon the sea and sky had begun to darken and there was a definite change in air pressure.
A small migrating bird had joined us on the boat and was obviously seeking shelter – a déjà vu moment from last year’s crossing just before we ran into a squall! Sure enough the wind picked up and we could feel that a storm was on its way. With engine on we took in the sails, dressed in foul weather gear, put phones, ipads and radios into the microwave and switched on the radar to check out the size and path of the storm. With eyes fixed on the instruments we watched the wind speed increase to 25 knots, still climbing as the rain arrived, driving down hard onto the boat and soaking the cockpit. Wind speed continued to climb – 30 knots, 36 knots and we could only just about see ‘Dream On’ behind us, visibility now heavily reduced in the driving rain. The difference in the sea state was incredible and Tahnee Mara rolled heavily from side to side, now being battered by the wind and sea as lightening lit up the sky. Still watching the radar we pushed on, changing course to try and escape the worst of the weather raging all around us and regularly checking that ‘Dream On’ was still in sight. This was not the first time that we had experienced an un-predicted storm but the intensity of each new experience is incredible. There is a reasonable element of fear, heavily laden with a real sense of wonder at the power of nature and an awareness of just how insignificant we really are….
The storm lasted 90 minutes and drew to a close almost as swiftly as it had begun. By now we were both drenched and huddled in the cockpit when we heard our friends calling us up on the VHF radio, to see how we were doing. The weather continued to clear, the wind died down and both boats were back on course once again, motoring into the sunset.
The weather remained calm as we settled into our overnight watches, motoring into the early hours of the morning when the wind picked up once again. It was reassuring to see the navigation lights of ‘Dream On’ in the dark, knowing they were close by… The two captains say they can tell when the wives are on watch – the sail plan doesn’t change much and speed is usually pretty steady. When they take the helm the sails are trimmed and competitive sailing ensues (well that’s how they tell it!).
On the second morning we continued our passage with full sails out, sailing upwind with plenty of sunshine to charge the solar. We had been running the watermaker when the engine was on, so there was plenty of hot water for showers (an interesting experience when the boat is heeling over!). Damian put out the fishing line and very nearly snagged a catch – unfortunately we were going too fast and ‘the one that got away’ made his escape pretty swiftly (there was of course a fishing competition on the table, so no prizes for our boat there!).
As we drew closer towards Malta we hoisted our Maltese courtesy flag and relegated our incredibly battered, wind-torn Greek flag to the trash.
Our original passage plan had predicted that we would reach Malta in the early hours of our fourth day at sea, but with the wind regularly reaching 20 knots off the beam we were making good time and were ahead of the predicted schedule. We remained in sight of our friends maintaining regular VHF radio contact throughout the remainder of the journey and as the sun went down on our third day at sea, the city of Valetta was a spectacular view to behold.
The three-day passage had certainly been an eventful one, we were all exhausted and ready for a rest.
After one night at anchor in Rinella Bay near the entrance to Grand Harbour, both boats moved into Kalkara Marina where we had a couple of nights alongside, taking the opportunity to explore the city. Valetta was absolutely stunning and it was good to stretch our legs and take time to wander around the city, taking in the sights.
Finding an English pub, an Indian restaurant and a supermarket selling English sausages were all noteworthy moments and a shared ‘full English breakfast cook-up’ together with ‘Dream On’ made good use of the sausages before we went our separate ways.
Over the next few days we explored the northern coasts of Malta and Comino, spending time at anchor – slightly overwhelmed by the number of boats around and the vast numbers of jellyfish!
Having been for a swim around the boat one afternoon I climbed out of the water and was horrified to see the company I had been keeping!
Malta was incredibly busy in contrast to Greece and finding places to anchor safely was a challenge. The weather was once again looking changeable with feisty winds heading our way and in our search for a safe, protected bay to anchor, we made our way to the west coast of Gozo and took shelter in Dwerja, a deep circular bay of crystal clear water surrounded by stunning high cliffs.
We put the dinghy in the water to explore what we could of the caves in the bay but there was no way I was getting in the water again – there were big brown jellyfish floating all around the boat like jellyfish soup – EEEEWWW!
Provisioning for fresh produce had not been terribly successful in Malta after the crossing and the added time at anchor meant that we were now down to the last of our fresh supplies, contemplating a few days on dry stores and cans. A rummage in deep storage was a bit of a surprise, especially when we found some long forgotten Ambrosia Custard – what a find!
The custard was a bit of a treat with a tin of pineapple slices that evening and we both reminisced over childhood memories of such extravagant fayre!
Watching the weather it looked like we might be forced to stay put for a few more days and after talking to the ‘Dream On’ crew, we realised that we weren’t the only ones beginning to feel restless. Early the next morning our friends told us they were going to head back to Sicily and later that evening we decided to follow suit, via an overnight sail before the weather closed in again.
The anchor came up at 18.30 on 19 September and we were off once again, destination Marina Di Ragusa and our winter berth. With full sails out and a steady south-easterly wind broad on the beam, we had a calm and steady sail through the night back to Sicily. This was the most peaceful sail we had experienced in a long time and it was a journey to be savored.
In the morning light Marina Di Ragusa came into view with the familiarity of the coastline that we knew so well and as Tahnee Mara rounded the breakwater through the entrance of the marina, we were waved in by our friends from ‘Dream On’ and escorted into our familiar berth, where the crew from ‘Felix’ were waiting to greet us from the dock..
After a summer sailing adventure that had covered 2600 nautical miles, we were home!
Thanks for joining us this summer, it’s been wonderful to have you along.
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