Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Greece sailing, day 1 - getting wet

I woke up relatively early, and found Ayelet up and about. She suggested we search for a cafe to enjoy coffee while everyone else slumbers. Most places were closed at the wearily hour of 8am, but we a nice place that just opened and sat down next to the water. Although it was in the harbor, the water was clear and we could see the small fish darting here and ther in the water.

The Ester, moored in Fiskardo

Afterwards we went to check the area and look for local diving clubs. 

View of Fiskardo bay

In the first one we found a nice French guy that told us about the diving options around Fiskardo. The club however did not rent equipment and only had group dives. We did get to photograph a map of the recommended dive site.

Dive site map

We continued to the second club, which was a small booth along the promenade. It turned that the club itself was on a boat that was moored nearby. We talked with the divemaster who gave us prices for rental. These seemed rather high, but he gave us a whole speech on the greek tax burden and how the club sees 4 euros out of 10 we paid. We said we will think about it, and he suggested that the price for a private guided dive will not be much higher than rental. We went back to the boat to consult with Udi, and decided to go for one dive. We returned to the divemaster and said we will go for a guided dive. He said that he wil, be free in the afternoon. We set a time for 4pm. His name was Takis, and he recommended places to buy breakfast food.

We went into a restaurant Takis recommended and indeed they had nice baked good. We bought some tiropita, cheese pie, and spinakipita, spinach pie. Both are very reminiscent of Bulgarian pies that my grandmother used to make.

We returned to the boat. The plan was to sail for few hours and then return In the afternoon when Ayelet, Tomer, and I will dive, and Udi and Roni will fill the water tank and rest.

Exit from Fiskardo harbor

Leaving the port I learned form Tomer how to operate the anchor. We slowly exited the harbor toward the eastern passage between Kefallonia and Ithaca. We headed north toward the tip of the island. Once the course was set, we sat down for breakfast.

Roni and breakfast table

We sailed around the north shore of the Fiskardo peninsula. The northwest corner has high cliffs that faced the elements and from afar we saw structures that looked like caves. We anchored the boat.

Fiskardo area, courtesy of Google Maps

This was the first time I saw the procedure. Basically the idea is to release the anchor while the boat is moving backward. The release is by an engine that unwinds the anchor chain. Usually the captain asks to release about 10 meters more than the depth. This allows for a diagonal anchor chain which avoids the boat scraping on the chains. Once the request chain length is release the captain continues to reverse the boat until it is clear that the anchor is secured on the bottom (in Hebrew the term is "pinned", I am not sure what is the proper English term).

I'm our case this was done smoothly without issues. We donned swimsuits and snorkeled and jumped to the water. The first observation was the clarity of the water. The sound directly above created a ray-like effect that I found mesmerizing. We swam around the rocky shore and watched the rock structures both above and below water. Tomer turned out to be an ideal companion for snorkeling and a great model.

Water level view of Ester

After a while we tired of this and sawmill back to the boat. After rest and rehydration, we decided to explore the cliffs to the south of us. Tomer, Ayelet and me went on the dingy (small inflatable boat). This time I took my fins, as I discovered that swimming with a camera is very inefficient. Going along below the cliffs we saw a large diversity of shapes and colors. 

 At some point we discovered a small cave, and further along, a larger one that we could enter with the dingy. The plan was to tie the dingy to a rock. However the attempts to do that resulted in a messy failure. So we decided to take turns on the dingy.

The caves are vertical structures that start high on the cliff edge and continue underwater to the bottom about 10 meters or so below. The water color inside the caves was a special fluorescent blue and provided dramatic images.

At this point Ayelet decided that staying on the dingy was boring and so she continued snorkeling with the dingy in toe held by its rope. We continued along the cliffs back in the direction of the boat.

When we tired we boarded the dingy and Tomer took us to the boat. By then Udi raised the anchor and came looking for us. We boarded, tied the dingy and we started sailing back toward Fiskardo.

Upon arrival to the harbor our aim was to find a mooring berth along the side where there was water and electricity so we could fill the water tanks. I learned that yesterday's mooring space was a less favorable since all the good positions were taken. On entering the harbor it seemed that once again this the case. Udi, however, said that we can squeeze in. An important lesson is that parked boats are not as immovable as parked cars for example. While the boat was moving backward into the intended spot Tomer and I pushed the boats on our two sides and created space. It was tight but worked like a charm.

After a small meal we hooked with Takis. We sat down for cold coffee and Ayelet talked with him about the current situation. It turns out he had two shops in Athens (diving and yacht supplies) and and had to close them when the crisis came in. He gave us examples and talked many people's income dropped to less than a fourth of what it was in parallel to tax increases. This is beside the growing unemployment. Overall, he painted a rather bleak view of current Greece life. According to him, ,many people have nostalgic sentiment to the pre-euro days.

We then moved to Takis' boat and Tomer got equipped while Ayelet and I set up our own equipment. Takis took us on a his speed boat out to the dive site. This was more less the trip we did earlier, but now it went by much faster. The dive site is on the northern most tip of the island. There is a cliff that angles into the sea and continues underwater. There caves on the "cliff side" that allow passage from the top to the cliff bottom. Since Tomer is a junior diver, he could not go all the way and he and Takis took a tour above the cliff.

Sea star


Tomer checking the colorful walls

Cave, diver, and sea star

A colorful worm

Ship wreck

Ship anchor

Takis and Tomer

Afternoon light

From the caves we continued to a wreck that was situated around the corner. My air was running low, and so we started angling toward our entry point. We returned as happy crowd to the port. Takis unloaded our equipment on the pier next to our boat, and we washed it and loaded onto the deck for drying. We invited Takis for tea, and sat down to chat. This took a while and it was getting late. While we were gone Udi refilled the water supplies and did some shopping so we were ready to go.

Roni on the helm
The plan was to moore in a bay south of Fiskardo. There was one that looked like a natural harbor on the map, but it was already occupied by three boats. We decided to continue south to a bay that was shallow but long. We got there and found that it was occupied by the huge boats. And so we ended in the next bay which was small but relatively deep, suggesting it will shelter us.

By then it was already twilight and the light was fading quickly. We did the anchor procedure like I learned earlier, but the anchor wouldn't hold firmly. Instead it would allow the boat to drag it on the bottom. And so we pulled the anchor back and tried again. I lost count of the number of attempts and the different strategies and locations we tried in the bay. In the end, Udi pronounced that since the weather was calm and the bay was protected, it suffices to lower a anchor with chain to sit on the bottom.

As you might imagine by this point we were a bit cranky and hungry. Luckily Roni started preparing dinner after we left Fiskardo and so relatively quickly we were sitting for dinner. By the time we cleared the dishes it was close to midnight and everyone was exhausted.

Moonrise (over Ithaca)

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