Vasco da Gama
Ian Strathcarron
Tue 14 Sep 2010 07:49

Here we are back in Turkey, after a week in which we have tied up or dropped anchor in three countries, Cyprus, Greece and Turkey.  This is a beautiful part of the world, and we have had the usual mixture of splendid sailing moments with the travails which seem to be normal in the sailing life.

Although we were glad to leave Herzliya Marina in Israel, I felt a pang of sadness sailing away from the Middle East, as it has been such a fascinating destination, where almost everyone we met has greeted us with great warmth and kindness.  The only exceptions were in Israel where the ultra Orthodox Jews shudder and avoid eye contact with any foreigners, especially women (the Orthodox men that is, the women are usually nicer), and the Islamic guards at the mosques on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, who do not allow non-Muslims inside and are quite aggressive.

The journey to Cyprus was to take two nights and two days, our longest passage with just the two of us, and we settled into three hour watches, and all went well until the engine failed at midnight on the second night, just as my watch was beginning.  It did not want to start, so the only thing to do was to leave both sails up and hope for some wind to carry us the 80 miles to Cyprus.  I was not too afraid.  (For weeks I had been engrossed in The Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T. E. Lawrence, and his tales of drama, death and derring-do in the desert made our engine failure seem very puny.)  I thought the best course of action was to let Ian sleep and take over in daylight.  All night the radio crackled with messages from Port Said, the Port of Alexandria, Port of Haifa, United Nations Warships, the Israeli Navy, Port of Beirut, Lattakia Port, and evenutally Limassol in Cyprus.  At daylight the wind picked up and carried us towards Limassol, where we were met by a small motor boat and pulled into San Raphael Marina. 

The engine failure was caused by some polluted diesel taken on board in Malta, and was easily fixed, so we made our way to Paphos on the west coast of Cyprus, which was to be the jumping-off point for our journey west towards Crete.  There are a few beautiful anchorages in bays around the Cypriot coast, but it is not a particularly scenic island, as it is semi-desert and looks like a chunk of the desert of Syria or Palestine.  It is very popular with British holidaymakers and tax exiles and still has two large British army bases.   We spent one night in Paphos and watched the British holidaymakers parading around, looking like characters from a Donald McGill postcard.  We did not stay long in Paphos as they had no water and to pick up water we had to go to a port on the north west called Latci .  This was fortuitous as Latci is a small fishing  harbour in the only beautiful part of Cyprus we found, and we tied up in a half moon bay beside palm trees, low hills covered with grape vines, with wonderful birds and clean seas teaming with fish.   At this point I returned to London for a week as Rory had had a too close encounter with a sea urchin in St. Bart’s and was in hospital having an operation on his foot.

Having seen Rory back in action (on crutches) I flew back to Cyprus, and as soon as the wind was propitious we sailed towards the Greek island of Kastellorizon.  This is the season of the Meltemi, a very fierce northerly wind in the Aegean, so sailing moments have to be picked carefully.  On the 30 hour passage to the island the Meltemi was not blowing, but neither was any wind at all, so 30 hours of droning engine noise was not a lot of fun.  Our reward came when we arrived, as the island is a jewel.  The most easterly Greek island, a few miles from the Turkish coast opposite Kas, it was almost unpopulated as the residents emigrated to Australia during the upheavals of the 20th century, but many have come back and restored the houses and churches.  There are two bays, one with a small harbour surrounded by houses and palazzos, painted in pastel colours and looking like a mini Venice, and one beside a sandy beach, off which lie two islands, each decorated with a little white Greek church.  Having dropped anchor in the quiet bay, we dinghied to the town and found an internet connection which warned that the Meltemi was coming back with a vengeance.   After enjoying a carafe of local Greek wine with lunch, I almost fell into the choppy sea trying to get into the dinghy to make our way back to the boat, then our outboard failed and we were given a tow back to Vasco by a charming Portugese skipper.  Then we saw that our anchor had dragged and we would have collided with a wall around a cemetery on one of the small islands, but for a rock which had stopped its path.  The next day we extricated the anchor and moved to the main harbour, but our anchor dragged again (this time when it picked up a man’s thong or a large bikini bottom) and we just had time to get out of the way of the weekly ferry from Athens, and decided to drop the dreaded kedge anchor from the stern and tie ourselves up securely.

Trapped by the wind in such a beautiful spot was very pleasant.  Our neighbours were a jolly group of Australians from Sydney in a chartered boat, and a massive and slinky yacht which was occupied by six very glamorous Italian blondes, of a certain age, who all seemed to be dressed by Dior, with three men passengers, and six immaculately uniformed crew who kept everyone’s glasses topped up with champagne.

Eventually the wind stopped and all the boats prepared to leave.   Thus we find ourselves in Fethiye, after one night at anchor in a bay nearby.   Although this is a very agreeable place, a smart marina surrounded by towering, tree-covered mountains, we don’t want to spend another winter in Turkey, so will have another stab at reaching Crete after the Meltemi dies down in October.

Meanwhile we are returning to England.  Ian’s Byron book is coming out and I’m looking forward to rain, mist, and the English autumn.