Saturday 2 May
01:00 The wind is fitful, the waves left over from yesterday’s breeze still moderate and without enough motive power from the wind, they stop the boat dead frequently. As the batteries needing charging we decide to motor for a bit rather than unfurl more genoa. We use the opportunity to sneak in a few extra degrees towards our destination. It’s slow progress though with the waves still slowing us down all too frequently, Temptress is averaging under four knots. Where is that westerly? At this rate it could be another four or five days to Crete.
Saturday morning was grey and cold. The cloud we saw coming in bought little wind and no change to its direction, just north of west. The seas are a not very high, long swell indicative of wind elsewhere, a long way away. A new forecast was downloaded, a blog and position updates posted. The new forecast basically points to a beat in light winds on a port tack with wind lifting us up towards Ierapetra as we approach. After our morning coffee we shake the reef out and tack, turning the engine off (which has an old gremlin back, the solenoid is sticking so pressing the cockpit button is a bit hit or miss). It’s going to be a slow sail. Jules in his early morning call said Silver Tern being a catamaran will carry on a bit further west before tacking north so he is not so hard on the wind.
On the new tack with full sail, Temptress is making just over four knots in a northerly direction, the waypoint bears 312. There are 240 miles to go and heading on a northerly tack means we will knock those off faster than we have been doing even if it’s not directly heading to Crete, more like Rhodes. The coasts of Egypt and Libya which lie over the horizon fifty miles to the south will hopefully soon be gone. When the sun comes through the cloud it is quite pleasantly warm, could be a Spring day off the coast of the British Isles. We are wrapped up and cosy, morale has been improved by both sleep and the weather forecast!
By late morning Temptress is bowling along comfortably averaging over five knots with a course over the ground of around 330 degrees. Progress at last. Time to go is estimated at a day and a half but in order to achieve that we need a twenty degree lift from the wind, however the miles are being eaten up. Every so often we sneak a couple of degrees up on our course, occasionally we have to give them back again in half an hour or so but every one that sticks is a bonus.
After lunch we speak to Silver Tern again, they are still following the coast, now around 80 miles behind us. We furl up some gennie and ease the traveller. A little slower but more comfy. The first mate, learning from the past two days prepares supper in these quieter conditions. A chicken boat stew; chopped up chicken breast fried with onion and tarragon, then add a veg stock cube (our last), a chopped carrot, a small chopped pepper and a few potatoes cut into quarters. The smells waft up through the companionway.
By mid afternoon our heading is much the same as the bearing to waypoint. Sadly a combination of current and leeway is pushing Temptress east some ten or twelve degrees so we need the wind to go round a bit more west to compensate. The wind is generating some charge via Mr Wibbly-Wobbly which is good.
The second reef went in at about the same time as the distance to go fell below 200 nm. The wind hasn’t been doing us many favours over the last couple of hours and the best we can manage is twenty degree to leeward of the waypoint. Thus far we have covered 250 nm to reach the halfway point of the 400nm distance between Port Said and Ierapetra. I guess we have much the same therefore to go. Late Monday looks like a potential arrival time.
22:00 It’s dark, cold and the sea has built considerably since the afternoon. Temptress seems to be taking it her stride even though she slams from time to time into or rather onto the wave in front. A bit more gennie is furled but it’s a compromise between having the speed to get through the waves and not going so fast that we bang onto the wave ahead. One hundred and seventy one nautical miles to Ierapetra but our course is still a few degrees off and we are going towards somewhere to the east of Crete. However the current is now adding about half a knot to a knot to our speed. Still looks good for arriving on Monday.
There are fewer ships out here and though most seem to be heading to or from Suez the odd one has a different angle. The VHF has been quiet all day, a complete contrast from the busy airwaves of the Red Sea and Suez. The wind instrument keeps loosing its data, wind speed hasn’t worked in months but the direction has usually been fine until now. The head has power and the direction data is in the system because it can be viewed elsewhere. There’s a gremlin somewhere in the network as the VHF periodically complains it has lost its position data too but until we can be settled in somewhere with access to spares we nurse the whole thing along. Then after five or ten minutes the wind instrument is displaying the wind angle again.
Sunday 3 May
04:30 At the watch change, I discovered that the hatch vent above the master bunk has leaked in the waves coming over the deck. The bedding feels damp. Just how much water will have to wait until daylight. For now a folded rug has been moved to catch anything else that comes in.
It’s getting light already. Does Greece use Summer Time hours like the west of Europe? Will have to look it up when we get in. After so many years in the tropics the idea of dawn at four in the morning is welcome, it promises long summer evenings and seasons. The tropics are one long monotonous spring autumn, leaves constantly falling and new green shots eagerly taking over. The tropical evening warmth, poor recompense for the short daylight hours between seven in the morning and seven at night.
Finally in the last four hours the wind has swung to the west. Temptress is now making a course over the ground of around 300, about the same as the bearing to Ierapetra. One hundred and forty one nautical miles to go, at five knots that’s a day and a few hours sailing. It’s still hard on the wind and not the most comfortable for the crew but we will make it.
Boy is it cold! I’m wearing so many clothes I had to adjust my life jacket to fit; socks and shoes, oilies, mid-layers, a fleecy t-shirt and a thermal t-shirt together with a hat and scarf yet still feel chilled. The trouble with watch keeping is there is little opportunity to move around and warm up. I’m huddled on the leeward cockpit seat up against the cabin tucked out of the wind but it is still cold. The seawater temperature has dropped to twenty degrees, that’s twelve degrees lower than Langkawi!
The westerly didn’t hold for long, by 06:00 it had swung back to the north west. Grey clouds gathering ahead. The sun is up but behind yet another bank of cloud so no warmth on offer.
Falling asleep in my seat at 07:30 I tottered into the offwatch bunk Kevin had just vacated. Not for long though as he spotted a hole in genoa just up from the stanchion patches. We tried to stick some Dacron tape over it but the sail was just too wet. Temptress has a couple of other headsail options, the Yankee was discarded as too much sail in favour of the storm jib. By now it was blowing about 20 knots from the north west.
It took a while to get the inner forestay set up and the storm jib hanked on. Then Kevin hoisted the sail on the starboard spinnaker halyard catching as he did so the flag halyard which broke. A few minutes later as we tidied the cockpit I realised the inner forestay had come loose. The fitting it was clipped on with was not a load tested one and in tightening everything up it had stretched open. Our mistake, it was just the clip used to keep the inner tidy at the shrouds when not in use.
It was replaced with another more suitable shackle but in doing so the sail had to come down requiring both of us on the foredeck, shackle fitted and sail rehoisted. We both got rather damp, neither of us have seaboots, those succumbed to the tropical heat several years ago. This time the skipper got caught up in the grubby, desert encrusted starboard lazyjack lines which gave way and tumbled to the deck. All those muddy lines were freed from the boom and bundled into a carrier bag for washing and sorting later.
Once the bright orange sail was set it was apparent it was just too small to give us any drive through the big seas. After a bit of a discussion about swapping sails we decided to motor sail, it will use precious fuel but is a safer option than the yankee (approximately a #3 sized sail) and we can hopefully point closer to our destination. Eventually everything was tidy again, the reef was tied in a more seaman like fashion to the boom and the genoa halyards fastened to the foredeck fleets out of the way. The skipper cold and damp from the waves tumbling over the foredeck that his ancient oilie bottoms can no longer repel, retired below to change and sleep in the bunk until he was warm again.
We are beginning to think neither we nor the boat is in a fit state to continue, both crew are dog tired; not sleeping or eating well. Simple tasks take far longer than they should and mistakes are being made. Temptress has a series of nagging little things that need fixing, several of which need a chandlery. Somewhere to tie up safely for a few weeks to recover completely from the Red Sea and the stresses and strains of the past few months as well as the two ocean passages that preceded all of this, would be ideal. Attractive though the thought of reaching Bangor is, we don’t think we or Temptress are fit enough to get there at the moment. And we certainly can’t face another upwind passage at the moment.
Once we reach Crete finding a safe harbour to rest awhile will be our priority. Ierapetra Harbour is too shallow for Temptress to use, we will be at anchor there and it is exposed to southerly winds. Our options are a couple of marinas on the north coast of Crete, possibly somewhere else in Greece or those in Sicily, over 500nm further west. We have no idea how safe any of them are at this time of year weather wise nor what facilities they havens wehave no pilot guide for this part of the world onboard. Whether or not the authorities will allow us in somewhere is another matter entirely and if they do, we probably face 14 days quarantine on the boat. Hopefully we will be able to plead our case somewhere.
For now Temptress has 115nm to go to Ierapetra, our current course will have us reach land on the eastern end of Crete. At five knots we should be in tomorrow morning.
By lunchtime the skipper had recovered enough to press on with producing the meal he’d planned for breakfast, eggy bread. The last of the tray of white eggs were mouldy inside. They are several weeks old, from the shopping in Port Ghalib or Al Qusayr? We can’t remember. The brown eggs from Suez are still fine and there are a couple of dozen more in the provisions got for us in Ismailia. For once food is not an issue.
The afternoon is pleasant enough though rather cold despite the sun appearing from behind the clouds. Temptress plods on north, her crew lounge in the cockpit discussing options endlessly. Eighty eight miles to go and we are only seven degrees off the course. The wind is slacking off and the seas a little less high. Our original plan back in January had been to sail to Messolonghi, would that work as an option now? It’s 350nm from Ierapetra. Is there somewhere else we have overlooked?
Supper is another rough and ready boat meal, cooking at an angle has lost its appeal so tonight is pasta, frozen veg (ps & cs) with Sainsbury’s pesto stirred through it. The pesto bought from Redmart before we left Singapore last year!
Monday 4 May
02:05 Another extremely chilly night damp with dew. Temptress is just twenty miles south east of Koufonisi a small island off the south east corner of Crete. Forty miles to Ierapetra. The wind is very light, the seas slight. It’s almost a full moon tonight. We picked up a Sécurité message on the VHF but though the channels listed for the actual announcement to be broadcast on were in English the only message we could hear seem to be an endlessly repeated female voice stating something in Greek.
At 03:45 land was seen, or at least the lights of Eastern Crete. Having lowered and tied the storm sail to the deck when the wind dropped completely Temptress was now motoring directly to the waypoint in flat seas. A few hours later the scenery was spectacular from ten miles out; a huge ridge of mountains dominates fringed with buildings reaching from the lower slopes down to the sea. Fluffy clouds dot the mountain tops.
By 09:38 ships time, 10:38 local, Temptress is on her final approach. The harbour master heard our call on VHF 12 and issued instructions to stay at anchor, not to go ashore.
Distance: Port Said, Egypt to Ierapetra, Crete – 468 nm