Week 108 - Hannah and Girokastër

Hannah, Gjirokastër and the art of fixing things in exotic locations

Week 108 - Hannah and Girokastër

Hannah, Gjirokastër and the art of fixing things in exotic locations

Surprise! We’re back in Corfu, Greece again. To date this season, while we’ve had our issues along the way (water maker wiring came loose, engines leaking water…) we haven’t needed to actually back track at all and have managed to have things repaired on the go without any delays. Unfortunately that’s not the case this week where a problem with the water maker has forced us back to Corfu to find the right support in order to repair it.

Breakfast with Gaya and Erik on Sunday morning.

Sunday morning Erik and Gaya joined us on Matilda for our traditional Sunday morning pancake breakfast. After the late night dinner the previous evening, it was great to spend a little more time together. They headed off back to Vlorë via several beaches, the plan is still to catch up with them later this month.

We needed to run the water maker on Sunday afternoon to make sure we had plenty of water for the week ahead and I noticed that it was making some unusual sounds. First step was to clean the sea strainers and filters, the pre-filter was filthy and stank, so we decided it was best to try replace it. While there’s no chandlery in Sarandë, there is a water filtration place and on Monday morning I headed out to buy new filters.

After reassembling everything, I fired it up to test and no joy, the water wasn’t flowing at all. Bummer. We decided to put the problem on hold as Hannah was arriving on the ferry. It was lovely to see her again and she was excited about a much more pleasant week ahead with warmer weather than last November when she was with us.

Tuesday we rented a car for the day and headed to “The Blue Eye”, a nature reserve and park with a water spring that pumps out eight cubic metres of water a second. It was interesting cruising around getting to see some more of Albania beyond the bay of Sarandë.

After the Blue Eye, the next stop was the town of Gjirokastër. We wound our way up over the steep hill and narrow roads into the next valley, passing more of the ubiquitous Albanian cold war bunkers on the way.

The old town of Gjirokastër is a UNESCO World Heritage site and it’s described as a rare example of a well preserved Ottoman Town. While the old town is stunning and definitely worth the visit, the part we enjoyed the most was the cold war era bunker built by the former communists under the castle which dominates the town.

The bunker was intended for the highest party members in case of nuclear war or invasion and stretches for around 1.5 KM underground. There are small parts of history left in the old beds, chairs and occasional magazines on desks. Unfortunately it’s all rotting away in the very damp, moist air which overall would have made the bunker a very uncomfortable place to spend the 90 days it was stocked for.

While we were touring the countryside with Hannah, Rosie was also having an entertaining day. Chuck and Kim kindly agreed to look after her and she spent a day with them being spoilt on their boat and going for walks.

Wednesday morning we went for a snorkel over the WWII wreck that I dived last week, it felt quite eerie seeing such a large ship just below the surface. Then it was back to Matilda and back into trouble shooting the water maker.

Boat life is frequently fixing things in exotic locations and this was no exception. The most frustrating part is that frequently in my case it also consists of fixing things I’ve broken. I saw that a pump from the sea water inlet wasn’t working and I couldn’t figure out why not. It seemed like if I could get it to run then the water maker, which clearly wasn’t sucking water should be fine. I disconnected it, rewired it, tested it (pump is actually working), but I couldn’t get it to run when the water maker was on. Eventually we traced the wires back to where they were connected in and realised that it was actually the inlet pump for the Air Conditioner, not the water maker — if you turn on the AC, the pump gets power and runs as it should.

Scratch that…

I then thought I’d had the water maker working, but realised to late I’d flipped a switch that sucks freshwater from our tanks instead of salt water. Now we not only didn’t have a water maker, we also had no water left as I’d just pumped it all over the side. The positive was that if I could get water to flow through the system, it did work, but I couldn’t get the pump to prime and hold when it was sucking sea water. Next was to pull off the impeller (that was fine) and that was it, no more ideas and we needed help.

We made a run to the dock in the mean time to fill up with freshwater which cost us a €20 docking fee, but dealt with the immediate problem of no water on board. No water is a major issue, not just because we use it for drinking, but we also have freshwater flush toilets — less smelly, but unfortunately won’t work when the tanks are empty! As a side note, this led us to buy a couple of buckets — if we get stuck again in the future, we can use salt water from buckets to flush and just drink water from bottles… Every challenge is an opportunity to improve things!

After chatting with our agent in Sarandë, we realised that there wasn’t the kind of support we needed easily accessible in Albania, so the best option if we wanted the water maker (and believe me, we’ve come to LOVE the water maker,) was to head back to Corfu. While not dangerous, it was a tense process trying to line things up and make decisions that were going to cost us money. It was made even more frustrating by having to deal with phone issues — our tourist Albanian numbers couldn’t call Greece and the Greek numbers wouldn’t work because we hadn’t enabled roaming.

To top it off there were also some some severe weather warnings which meant that although we’d be safe enough in Sarandë, we’d definitely be much more comfortable in a marina in Corfu. The best marina with the services available is fairly expensive so we wanted to try line everything up to avoid spending days sitting there paying berthing fees.

Eventually we secured a “maybe tomorrow” from a water maker company in Gouvia and decided to pull the trigger and check out of Albania and check back into Greece. This time with a passenger, Hannah on board. The check out process was easy, the check in smoother and more straight forward than leaving Greece. This time we only had to wait about 20 minutes at the passport control to enter.

There was some frustration working out how to “remove” Hannah from the crew list (she has to be on the list to check in, but once she leaves the boat what’s the correct way to remove her), eventually we gave up trying to get a straight answer at the main port and the small port authority in Gouvia answered the question very quickly (nothing we need to do as we are EU registered).

Gouvia Marina is one of the nicest Marinas we’ve been to, it’s very sheltered and has all the services you could want. It’s about 15 minutes from Corfu City (by bus) and is definitely the right place to bring your boat for repairs. We were like kids in Disneyland.

“Look, it’s a Mastervolt store!”

“They’ve got divers!”

“Oh wow, a sail maker store”

And yes, a water maker specialist.

Friday morning we woke up to a text message from the water maker company to say the boss was busy today and he wouldn’t be able to make it. Maybe Saturday. So we wandered around the marina and asked at store after store. The main guy at Nautilus says “I know someone.”

So he calls him up and we’re told, “be at the boat in 15 minutes.”

One hour later, the boss of the same water maker company that wasn’t available to us via phone, arrives. That’s the magic of Greece, the phone doesn’t really get you anywhere. It’s all driven by personal connections and a nested set of favours to people.

After briefly looking at the priming pump, the technician agreed that it didn’t seem to be working and the best bet would be to replace it. He said he would get back to me later that day with a price and if they had the part in stock.

Hannah left the boat and then headed off to a hostel on the North of Corfu. I think it was a much more enjoyable visit than last year although as always with boat life, plans can change dramatically. Ultimately it worked out well as she was going to end up in Corfu anyway (the plan was a ferry from Sarandë to Corfu), so crossing a day early with us was OK.

In the evening I heard back from the water maker company, he had a pump in stock, unfortunately it was €1650. It was at this point that the serendipity of being in a big marina really paid off.

Earlier in the day we’d met a fellow Aussie on the dock, Butch, solo sailing around the world, who also happens to be a marine engineer. He had offered to take a look and help if he could. After the technician’s visit, I wasn’t personally convinced that the priming pump had failed and I decided to ask Butch for a second opinion.

Butch came by, gave us a cool head lamp from his stash from the sponsors of his trip and walked through the problem with me step by step. There’s a lot of “we decided to install it like this,” subtlety and nuances to each installation that is hard to communicate sometimes so it was great to work with a fellow English speaker. After working through things step by step, he agreed with my gut instinct that the pump was in fact working properly, but that it just wasn’t priming (despite being a self-priming pump). There was an air leak somewhere in the system. His advice was to replace and reseal the inlet pipe from the sea cock to the priming pump and see what happened then.

So Saturday morning and several visits to the chandlery later, I did just that. Low and behold, it all worked again! Instead of €1650 it only cost €40 in parts. I learnt a lot more about the water maker and am now much more knowledgeable on how it all plumbs together and we’ve simplified the intake to avoid the problem in the future.

Ultimately, now knowing what the problem was, it probably could have been repaired by me in Albania, but without the expert advice to guide me I don’t think I’d have worked the problem out and even the basic parts we used would have been spread across four different stores and hard to source.

Still, it worked out OK. The problem is fixed, we hid out from the storms and the weather (as is almost always the case, you take action and nothing really happens, but better safe than sorry) and we cleaned Matilda from top to literal bottom. Yes, we contacted the divers and had her bottom scraped and prodded underwater for an hour to clean off all the growth from sitting at anchorage in Sarandë and in Lefkas Marina over the last two months.

This week we continue our journey north to Montenegro and keep our eye on a potential Medicane which in early indications is just starting to shape up between Corfu and Italy for next Sunday.

That’s some NASTY looking weather. We are the white dot, Sarandë is the green dot. If that holds and a Medicane forms, it’s positioned to move east and straight over the top of Corfu.

Also, you might remember that way back in Week 93 we had Matt and Avic aboard Matilda for a night and visited Epidavros. They’ve just published their video of that trip and Matilda features in the first part. Thanks Matt!

Until next time,

Tim & Karina

Want to see where we are, or check where we’ve been? Check us out on NoForeignLand https://www.noforeignland.com/boat/matilda