Escaping the rat race to live aboard your boat is many a sailor’s dream fuelled by books from Jimmy Cornell, the Pardies et al and by articles in magazines like this one. But what is it really like? I’ve just spent 18 days in the Ionian with close friends Pat & Tony Puttock aboard their Waiquirez Centurian 40, Full Flight. Before I left the wet and windy UK weather that is supposedly summer I’d heard that Greece was hot – news of brush fires and deaths from heat exhaustion had reached me. My instructions were just to bring shorts and t-shirts and in fact that plus an ample supply of swimwear and suntan lotion was all I needed.
The days were made longer by the heat; reading in the cockpit over coffee before a few chores after breakfast, decide where to head for based on guide books (The Rough Guide to Greece ), the pilot (a Rod Heikel classic), followed by a short sail, 30 nm at most, downwind preferably with a light lunch at sea – tomatoes, olives, salami, cucumber and feta being a favourite. Then it was time to choose the best spot on the quayside or in the anchorage before the charter boats arrived. A swim, a siesta spent reading and dozing until the air cooled a little, a trip to the shops or an explore of today’s island followed by a simple supper of goat or lamb chops and a Greek salad. In between we fitted in the odd bike ride, evening drinks on other boats or a spot of snorkling. Tony had invented a new snack by pressure cooking the enormous, local butter beans in some tasty stock – great with beer or the local white wine.
Life in the heat though is not as easy as it might seem. Talking with my friends and the crews of other cruising boats during my trip there were a number of things that might they have been done differently if they had known better earlier. Being in the early stages of planning for a cruising life ourselves, I jotted down various hints and tips gathered during our evening cockpit gatherings and offer a few of them here in the hope that you too might find food for thought if you are planning to sail somewhere warmer.
Does anyone know the Greek for net curtains?
Keeping mosquitoes and other bugs that bite at bay was second only to obtaining water as a topic of conversation. This despite the fact that Nidri, at the start of my trip, was the only place in our cruise south, where I needed to apply insect repellent (and was bitten nevertheless). During her travels Pat had acquired several different materials from which she’d constructed bug nets for hatches and the companionway. All were advertised as suitable for (fixed) bug nets across house windows but none was substantial enough to withstand the frequent fitting and removal that’s a feature of cruising life. Two of the boats we met “Roam” and “Vonasi” had put net curtaining, purchased by the metre, to good use across hatches or cabin doorways but in Messolonghi on the Gulf of Patras, one of the largest towns in the area, we failed to find anything similar possibly due to our lack of language skills.
It was a useful lesson; rather than wait until a bug-ridden port is encountered you need to be prepared. How do you effectively cover the open companionway, often the largest aperture on the boat, without blocking the airflow essential to a good nights sleep? Several boats deployed a length of net with short canes that dropped into the channels for the hatch runners together with some means of fixing the rest of the length of fabric round the washboard area. A rectangle of elasticated net is great for the hatches on the deck but I quickly realised when I arrived back in the UK it wouldn’t work on the opening ports in Temptress’ topsides. As these are vital for good ventilation in harbour I’m going to have to find something stiffer that will fit into the oval opening. And what about the dorades? Each of Full Flight’s vents contains a disc of wire mesh preventing ingress through them. This was something I’d not considered at all but did explain how we’d all ended up bitten over night on a totally closed up boat in Spain a few years ago.
Mad Dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun
Well they might have in the days of Empire but not in a Greek heatwave. I‘d brought with me a thermometer, in fact two; one for the fridge to ensure food was being stored safely and one for air/sea use both requested by my hosts. Early mornings, in the cool down below, it was regularly 26 or more degrees and by mid afternoon this would rise to over 35 even when sailing. Keeping cool and drinking plenty of fluid is a must. On some charter boats we saw, the bimini simply didn’t provide enough shade for everyone on board or didn’t come back far enough to shade the helm. Even with FullFlight’s ample bimini pus overhead solar panels we sometimes found all three of us cosying up in one corner of the cockpit, towels over our feet to avoid the burning sun coming in at an angle over the heeled deck.
Arriving in harbour, once the sail cover was on, the next most important task was to put up the canopy to shade the boat forward of the cockpit. This ridge-tent like structure very effectively created a cooling draft over the cockpit occupants so we could snooze through the siesta (the Greeks are fiercely protective of their afternoon quiet, more so than the Spanish). Canopy designs are myriad but the key is to enable free movement onto and across the boat without having to stoop too much, otherwise they just become an inconvenience to both visitors and crew. More importantly, if you are erecting the canopy almost every day after sailing it has to be easy to do.
It’s an essential bit of kit but one that you must be able to stow somewhere too. Vonasi, a Westerly Discus, has a canopy with aluminium poles that run horizontally across the boat through tubes in the canvas. This elevates the outside edges making access along the side decks easy but applying this to my own boat a Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 47 with its wide beam would be impractical due to the length of the poles required. If the poles can be split it might make it easier to stow but would take longer each time the canopy is put up. As with many things on a boat you have to be prepared to make a compromise – easy of use versus ease of stowage.
Low sun, strong winds – more complications
What ever the design there are times of the day when the sun is low enough to shine under the canopy potentially burning the skin. Side panels that can be easily redeployed are a must as the sun moves round – purpose built, zip on rectangles of canvas, large beach towels and even a parasol are all handy items to have onboard for this purpose along with numerous short lengths of string to tie them securely in place!
The canopy also needs to be sturdy enough to withstand the strong afternoon winds when it regularly blows F4-5. In Kalamos with the wind accelerated by the surrounding mountains it was closer F5-6 with gusts of F7 or F8. Spending a few days here we got to know the crew of a wonderful traditional 14m Greek sailing trader with a pair of masts, long bow sprit and gaily painted red and yellow hull – more fishing boat than Turkish Gulet in shape. Cream coloured awnings were supported by the topping lifts via guys attached at a number of points along the ridge of each piece. Horizontal poles kept the canvas open with the outer edges attached to the rigging some six feet above the deck. The shade and draft this created was superb, there were no obstacles to movement around the boat and her skipper never seemed anxious about its ability to withstand the stronger afternoon winds. They even put to sea with it up!
One final point on the subject of cockpit and boat coverings in general – in the UK we have a love affair with blue. White boats with blue sprayhoods, cockpit enclosures look wonderful in Northern European harbours but down in the Med it can get extremely hot under a blue bimini – paler colours like grey or cream would be more sensible as they reflect the heat better. A lesson that’s too late for Temptress to benefit from completely but I will be ensuring that any canopy we add to the inventory is cream coloured rather than match the royal blue of our cockpit enclosure/bimini and sprayhood.
Rapid aging in the Sun
One sunny morning in Aya Eufimia, Kefallonia, with water in plentiful supply on the quay we set about a few chores; washing clothes, warps and rinsing the dusty deck. The plastic dorade covers had after one and a half summers started to develop a nasty, sticky orange “icing” on top. They cleaned up nicely with a compound purchased for cleaning burnt-on messes on the cooker! But it also sparked a conversation about durability of various materials in the sun.
Besides our own skin and the boat’s dorades, dinghies also suffer from over exposure to the sun. I’ve seen many examples even one or two in my home marina on the UK’s south coast! Pat and Tony try to minimise this by deflating and stowing theirs in a canvas bag on the foredeck. It’s a pain to do this every time you make a short island hopping trip so inevitably there are times when the tender is left to its own devices upside down on the deck through the heat of the day. Why not cover it whilst it’s stowed inflated on deck or, as I saw on one well cared for dinghy, add covers for the tubes so that even when in the water it’s protected from the sun, lengthening the life of this essential and expensive asset. The traditional boats had seagrass matting or old carpet to protect their wooden decks and for one boat this care extended to include a purpose made mat for the rigid floor of the tender!
Warps become like wire – drying to be rigid and inflexible. FullFlight’s furling gear was becoming harder to use and when tacking the jib sheets inevitably kinked to jam themselves in the turning block. A large yellow flexible builders bucket (designed for carrying small amounts of rubble), provided as a going-away gift by friends when they left the UK, makes an excellent wash tub. It took both jib sheets and the furling line, add cold water and a little washing up liquid then tread well! A few rinses later and the lines were soft and flexible once more, furling and tacking problems banished for a few more months. Washing isn’t a chore in climes like this – cold water sploshing around resulting in wet clothing provides a welcome relief from the heat even at 10 am.
In the Ionian you don’t need a TV. Each afternoon and morning the arrivals and departures were entertainment enough – watching out for expected friends or simply enjoying the spectacle of the inexperienced not quite managing stern-to anchoring with either too little chain or too little speed in often breezy conditions. There was the surprise (to its crew) of one boat dragging forwards at speed. They’d laid their anchor rather too close to the incoming ferry’s route to its berth and found themselves swept across the anchorage by their chain at the same speed as the ferry which was reversing to the seaward quay whilst laying out a pair of anchors. This muddle wasn’t resolved until the ferry left in the morning.
We watched rude boat owners jump the queue of incoming boats, laying anchor and chain over others. In Kalamos this caused a huge song and dance one morning as two 50 foot or so yachts found their anchors entwined with each other as well as with the chain laid over them. Several dinghies joined in offering advice, diving with ropes to lift and pull the chains apart. A boathook is simply not the tool to use unless you fancy a trip headlong over the bow or have an inexhaustible supply. Lift the offending chain using a loop of rope and your windlass, drop your hook until its clear and it usually comes up cleanly. But this all depends on the offending boat slackening their chain – in this case the skipper refused to co-operate and the three boats remained entangled for over an hour until he was shamed by a not inconsiderable audience into leaving!
More bugs that annoy
Tied up stern to the rocks in a small deserted cove just big enough for one boat in the South East corner of Katmos island we were invaded. This triggered the great wasp trap design competition. Mark One was made by recycling a plastic bottle found washed up at the head of the cove – just one of several hundred water bottles piled up there blighting an otherwise perfect spot. A small amount of jam and water was added to attract the wasp. The flaw was that the intrepid wasp could walk round the sides of the bottle eventually finding one of the holes and escaping. We added a tube of plastic in each hole – improved the trap but making it more difficult to enter and hence its reducing its effectiveness.
Mark Three was an almost empty jar of cherry jam with holes pierced in the lid and suspended under the solar panels (another use for a short length of string). This attracted more than its fair share of wasps but most crawled in one hole and out another leaving us to fight them off at meal times. Back to the plastic bottle – we cut the conical top off and pushed it in upside down – the most successful model yet but not offering a completely wasp-free life. Mark Five was a modification to the jam-jar trap – Tony taped all the holes in the lid except the middle one. This seemed to flummox the wasps inside who couldn’t walk upside down on inside of the lid nor fly directly up out of the hole. Several days later we were still wasp-free at meal times and the jar needed emptying of its catch – success.
Time to Go
Reluctantly I returned to the damp English weather with not just a surfeit of sun and a desire to explore more of the Eastern Mediterranean but also with a fascinating insight into just how ingenious cruising yachtsmen and women can be. And, when faced with a niggling problem and limited resources, far from the nearest chandlery or well stocked shops, there is always someone willing to help debate the pros and cons of potential solutions over a beer or two.