Week 55 - Hydra, Ermioni, Porto Heli and a broken windlass

Adventures in Greece cruising the Mediterranean on our boat Matilda. We end up in Poros for longer than expected then head east to Ermioni…

Week 55 - Hydra, Ermioni, Porto Heli and a broken windlass
Rosie looking majestic on the sea wall.

Adventures in Greece cruising the Mediterranean on our boat Matilda. We end up in Poros for longer than expected then head east to Ermioni and Porto Heli.

There is a saying which seems pertinent that cruising is really just fixing your boat in exotic locations. That’s certainly felt true this week! It’s a week full of lots of boat drama (not just ours) and exotic locations.

Literally five minutes after I shared last weeks’ post, we hauled anchor to head off to the outside of Poros… and the anchor jammed. The chain jumped off the gypsy and jammed so hard that several parts of the windlass broke (to be fair they were plastic and fairly weathered now). Karina cruised us back and forth in the channel while I tried to unjam it, but with nothing moving, we decided to head into Poros docks and side tie up there.

Fortunately as we docked, one of the lovely port assistants (people paid by the town to help the yachts coming in and out and collect docking fees), said “oh, you need a mechanic? He’s just here on that boat, I’ll let him know.” 30 minutes later the mechanic had unjammed the chain (it turns out this is easier and more brutal than I expected involving a cold chisel, a large hammer and a lot of noise). However the plastic “clacker” or “finger” that guides the chain had broken, a metal plate was bent out of shape and a bolt had sheared off.

Chatting with the mechanic about what needs to be done to repair the windlass.

The mechanic says “I can fix these, I’ll take your number and I’ll be back”. He promptly walked off with several parts of the windlass, never gave me his number and disappeared. A very Greek experience. We sat on the boat enjoying the sights of the port and the comings and going of other boats and a few hours later he returned and the anchor was back in action, but still needed the replacement plastic part which he promised he would order for us on Monday. By Tuesday we were back in business, and overall, fairly cheap at that to repair.

It gave us a chance to explore Poros in a lot more depth which was actually quite pleasant and our first real experience of sleeping at the town dock which was a very different vibe from anchoring out. On the positive side you have shops, tavernas, can walk the dog, there are people to chat too, on the negative side you might just get a boat of young Brits pull up beside you blasting music late into the night. There was also a great chandlery that let us stock up on a few missing items we were still seeking.

We’d read in the pilots guide that Poros port can be very challenging. Basically it’s huge, with room for maybe 100 yachts to moor stern to. It’s a very popular port with charter boats, which as we’re learning often means people with little practical experience and not enough common sense. We watched people anchor stern to, who forgot to drop their anchor, someone else anchor ACROSS the anchor chain of five other boats, who then got stuck trying to leave the next day and way too many party pink flamingos tied to the top of boats. It kept us amused.

Oh dear. What a mess. The boat on the left caught his anchor on the boat anchored to the right, tried to pull it up, got jammed and spun around and got stuck on the bow of the boat on the right.

We needed to send paperwork to a yacht registry based in Spain to help with getting the MMSI for the radios but the local courier was on the mainland, a two minute, €1 trip from Poros. We got the paperwork away but when we went to board the next ferry back to Poros, we were stopped by the coast guard… “COVID papers please”. We’d forgotten that to GO to an island, you have to have a vaccination certificate or show you have a negative COVID test. Fortunately they were OK with the digital copy we had saved on our phone, but we didn’t have any actual ID (passports) with us to prove who we were. Still, they let us on our way easily enough. It was a timely reminder you have to pay attention when moving around at the moment in these COVID times.

Poros at night from the air.

With the anchor repaired, the plan was to head back towards Athens and explore Aegina island, but for the first night we were going to anchor out on the far side of Poros still in a quiet anchorage and do some swimming. As we were motoring over there we noticed that the depth gauge (which had been intermittent at the best of times) had stopped working. You really need to know how deep things are under a boat and while we could use the charts reasonably well, we felt a depth gauge was important (especially as the digital charts have a tendency to say the water is from 0–10 metres here… that 0–2 is the problem!).

We stopped overnight in the anchorage, tying up stern to at the rocks with some new straps we’d found in the Poros Chandlery (you use essentially Tow Ropes / Snatch Straps to wrap the rock then tie your line to that to protect them). While still not very fast at it, we did get tied up smoothly enough and had beautiful clear water in which to swim.

So safely tied up in our exotic location, I researched the best place to get our depth gauge looked at. There were a lot of Raymarine people in Athens, but getting the boat to them is problematic — instead, we saw that we could head to Ermioni (back around towards Kilada / Porto Heli again!) and completely the opposite direction from our plan to go to Aegina. We called them up and they said they would fit us in tomorrow, so Ermioni it was.

Rosie exploring the ruins of an old wall in Ermioni

Ermioni is also home to Dimitris, the skipper who helped move Matilda from Porto Heli to Lavrion before we had our license, so we messaged him to say we were coming and he kindly met us as the dock to help us tie. We had a great time catching up with him and we got had coffee on his boat with him the next morning. The Raymarine techs arrived “late afternoon” (which in Greece means anytime up until 8PM), and replaced the faulty cable which was causing the issues. Mission accomplished!

Karina and Dimitris enjoying coffee on his boat.

Given we were now in Ermioni, we decided we should explore Hydra. Hydra is stunning (number 11 on the list of the 20 best islands in the world to visit apparently, and number 1 in Greece), but because of its popularity it’s also problematic — very small port, too many boats wanting to tie up, and chaotic. So the ferry that ran several times a day from Ermioni there and back at €7.50 seemed like a great solution for a day trip.

Red sky in the morning, shepherds warning? A beautiful start to an event filled day!

If you’re counting, so far we’re only three days into our week at the end of Wednesday. It gets wilder from here…

We woke up up Thursday morning, ready for our trip to Hydra. Another captain, John, came past and we got chatting, he and his wife are also from Australia, “stuck” here in Greece for the last two years due to COVID. As we were talking we saw a boat anchored out in the harbour start to smoke and we could smell burning plastic. The port authority arrived, Dimitris went out to them on his boat to assist and get them off if needed— it turns out their generator had caught fire, it was “touch and go” for a moment but they managed to get it out. Fire on a boat is a terrifying thought.

With the boat locked up, the ferry pulled in next door and we hopped on to go explore Hydra. It really is a stunning island, very picturesque although it’s almost too perfect at time, a very “disney” like experience. I think it would be fun for a couple of days, but you can soak up the atmosphere in the main village in a few hours too. It’s FULL of tourists… Its entire economy is tourism — the island itself is so rocky, stark and indefensible that it’s gone through periods of boom and being literally uninhabited until it become the next big tourist thing.

As a little history aside — it’s quite interesting that both Poros and Hydra initially resisted the Greek Revolution against the Ottomans as they had very favourable trade deals and some very wealthy people! Although eventually Hydra did commit and its fleet was apparently quite decisive in several battles.

We enjoyed a stunning lunch overlooking the entrance to the harbour and were then surprised with an equally stunning bill! €50 FOR TWO PEOPLE IS DAYLIGHT ROBBERY. If you do plan to visit Hydra, be prepared to pay maybe 200% more than equivalent tourist places in Greece.

So back to the boat drama. While we’re wandering around Hydra, I get a WhatsApp message from Dimitris. “The swell has built up in Emioni port and when a ferry came in, the waves were so violent your boat has broken loose on one side. The Port Authority are ordering all the boats off the dock, when are you coming back?”

No time soon unfortunately, we’d just missed the ferry and the next one wasn’t for two hours. “No problem” says Dimitris, “I move your boat for you.” So the next 10 minutes was me on a video call directing him how to “break in” to the boat (I left one hatch unlocked), where to find the boat keys I’d hidden away, how to enable the stern thrusters and then off he went. We’re incredibly grateful to him for his efforts — it meant we were able to enjoy the rest of our time in Hydra knowing the boat was safe.

The damage, while very real, isn’t too bad — it’s fortunately cosmetic and nothing that impacts the seaworthiness. One of the deck cleats literally ripped clear off the deck and on the opposite side it hit the wall hard and damaged the fibre glass. Both will need to be repaired, but don’t need to happen now — most likely we’ll wait until haul out for it to be looked at.

Arriving back in Ermioni, there was even more drama on the docks. The Australian we’d met earlier had tried to leave the dock but then a rope had caught his propellor and stopped his engines. He got washed sideways into the stone dock and his boat was being slammed up against it with the swell. His wife Trish had hopped off with their “go bag” she was genuinely worried that the boat was going to sink and they had no idea where they were going to spend the night.

We had some extra fenders and ropes, so I helped John get some more tires between the boat and the dock and fortunately the swell begun to ease off. Dimitris said he thought he could tow it off and they could anchor out (much safer) so I jumped on board with John and another Greek guy, and while Dimitris towed us out, we were able to get the boat anchored securely where it stayed overnight. The next morning John was able to bring it back to a space on the inside dock (where we were) and fortunately the damage is all cosmetic, although much more expensive than ours. These fibreglass boats are tough!

After an experience like that, there’s a bit of debriefing, so we spent some time with both John and Trish, enjoyed a meal and heard more about their experiences. It’s a comfort when stressful things happen to meet people who speak the language and know where you’re coming from and we really enjoyed our time with them.

We’re are we? I think it’s Friday now…

The swell stayed bad and the Port Authority was advising people to stay in port for the afternoons, so we just stayed tied up in Ermioni. Throughout the day people came in to try dock on the outside edge and both John and I were there advising them it was a bad idea… Three of them tried anyway, two gave up within a few hours and the third spent 3 hours fending their boat off the dock, eventually had their anchor lose holding and drifted sideways where they then ran a line from the bow to the other corner of the dock and had a very sleepless and stressful night, although fortunately not too much damage at all.

The lesson as always, watch the weather, don’t believe the apps, listen to the locals and if you think you should go, then go!

With this in mind, the forecast for this coming week is for some very heavy weather which has everyone thinking about shelter. We asked Dimitris and he said “go to Porto Heli”. So we left Ermioni on Saturday and we’re here anchored up in Porto Heli where we will be safe and sound. We could have visited an island, but we thought it best to get a spot, I expect it will be busy tonight here as boats try to come in and seek shelter but find it’s all full.

I was so determined to anchor securely I wanted to put out a LOT of chain, so I started anchoring a fair way off the dock. OK, that’s fine… but then we were a little embarrassed when we pulled up 20 metres short of the actual dock with the full 80 metres on board paid out…

This week it’s enjoying the charms of Porto Heli and replacing the tender which we’ve decided really is too big. Given we’re here for a few days, we can arrange deliveries etc. which works well for us. The plan now is once the weather improves, to continue on our way down the Peloponnese, but who knows — we might end up back in Athens!

It’s interesting returning to a port we have been to before — already the pace is changing. It was a lot quieter here last night than when we were here two months ago and a couple of cafes have already shut down for the end of the tourist season. The further we get from the main tourist ports like Poros, the more the crowd changes too — less charters, more liveaboards and people who are up for a chat.

Want to see where we are now? Check us out on NoForeignLand https://www.noforeignland.com/boat/matilda

Until next week!

Tim and Karina