Week 59 - Snapped dock lines

Adventures in Greece cruising the Mediterranean on our boat Matilda. It’s upgrade time, new electronics and the simple beauty of the right…

Week 59 - Snapped dock lines

Adventures in Greece cruising the Mediterranean on our boat Matilda. It’s upgrade time, new electronics and the simple beauty of the right tool for the job.

There is a lot more to ropes than you might think. For a start when on a boat, they aren’t called ropes at all, they are lines. Dock lines, stern lines, bow lines, spring lines and that’s just a motor boat — sailing boats have even more. A rope is something coiled up in a box, but a line does work. In the case of Matilda, perhaps more work than other boats of a similar length. Karina calls her a “tank” — unstoppable, but no lightweight either. We’ll come back to this later.

We left Athens on Sunday morning after meeting our friend Thymios for breakfast. It’s always fun to catch up and we always learn a lot from him about the mechanics of things here that we don’t understand. He has a good perspective with a lot of time overseas as an expat, but also growing up here and returning — he can appreciate both the absurdity of some of the systems we encounter, but also add perspective on why. After breakfast we had a couple of hours to kill and he suggested the Athens Coffee Festival, so we headed there and proceeded to drink far too much coffee. We also came across a small startup (https://butler.chat/) and I think they were surprised with the intense interest that we all had in the mechanics of the business — us ex-Silicon Valley types all love startups still.

Returning to Matilda on the ferry was straight forward and we got back to find her still in the same place, but now with a freshly cleaned bottom. There’s a bad pun to be made here, but it’s probably a little on the nose. I’ll save you having to wipe it from your memory. We had divers in while we were away to clean the growth off the hull which is important every few months to check the anodes, clean the thrusters and the underwater sensors as well as just keeping the hull clean in general for better fuel efficiency.

The one surprise was that one of the dock lines had sawn through at the point it ties to the dock — there had been strong winds and the back and forth motion of the boat at the point it was looped at the dock had caused it to fail. Fortunately we were prepared and had three lines on each side in this instance (usually we put out two). It was a good lesson on the importance of using the rope protectors we’ve purchased which we are now doing all the time.

After a few days away from Matilda, we were keen to get underway again. Ivan and Julia, the Bulgarian and Russian couple we met for drinks last week arrived and we set off from Ermioni to Dhokos.

I know nothing about Dhokos. Which is frustrating, because I’ve tried to learn! We’re so used to Google having all the answers, especially in the US, that it’s a constant adjustment finding out that’s just not the case here in Greece. Despite being a fairly significantly sized island in a well trafficked waterway, there’s very little information about it. I’ve read and seen on different sites, or from asking locals that it’s:

  1. Uninhabited except for a crazy old lady.
  2. There’s a colony of nuns there.
  3. A few shepherds and fisherman.
  4. Actually it’s a colony of monks.
  5. 40 people live there (which is clearly VERY wrong. At best there’s housing or shacks for 5–10 maybe).

Regardless, it’s very isolated, despite being close to the mainland, the stars are amazing and all you can hear overnight is the bleating of goats, a few local fishing boats and the 80’s revival disco playing till 1AM on the charter yacht 50 metres away.

On Monday morning we headed off from Dhokos to Spetses. It’s a small island just outside of Porto Cheli which we’ve not managed to get to as yet because the weather hasn’t been quite right.

Spetses ferry harbor

Unlike Dhokos, Spetses has an extensive history and has generally been successful. It played a key role in the war for independence with its captains (along with Hydra) making up the backbone of the Greek naval forces. Despite its wealth (evident in all the large houses the captains built in the 1800’s) it was in serious decline at the beginning of the 20th century. Its ship building industry had ‘missed the boat’ with the new fangled steel ships and the economy was suffering. Enter Sotirios Anargyros.

A poor son of a forgotten branch of a wealthy Greek shipping family, he’d immigrated to the US, made his fortune in cigarettes and then returned. He more or less single handedly decided things needed to change on Spetses and did several very smart things — he built a very classy hotel, he built a road around the island, he replanted all the pine plantations devastated by wooden boat building and he eventually opened a very exclusive private school. With his family connections, wealthy Athenians flocked to Spetses and it became a very upmarket retreat destination. In the 50’s and 60’s lots of families built summer homes there and they are still maintained there today.

It all went a bit sour in the late 80's and 90’s when the island flirted with becoming a package destination and attracted hordes of drunken brits which scared the money away, but after 2000 when they banned them again, it’s recovered nicely and is once again firmly entrenched as the respectable holiday island that Sotirios Anargyros had envisioned. Its tourist population is very much Greek and independent travellers.

The water taxis queuing for passengers.

The main town is lovely, with cars (except taxis) banned from the centre and borders the strait with a stunning view back to the mainland. There are hordes of water taxis buzzing around back and forth, frequent ferries and really even as late into the season as October, it’s all quite a hive of activity. The way in which the water taxis operate is quite cool though — they form an orderly queue. There’s a designated drop off zone, then they go to the departure line, but instead of queuing like a regular taxi (nose to tail) they do it side to side out from the dock. A taxi pulls out, the next driver pulls all the taxis up to the shore and they wait.

We enjoyed wandering the streets and hiring a quad bike to drive around the island (23 kms), checking out the beaches and the scenery. When visiting by boat however, the unfortunate thing about Spetses is that it’s not particularly sheltered — even when there is no wind, there’s always some swell up and down the strait and the ferries are no joke. They rush in and out of the port causing everyone to be thrown up and down.

Which brings me back to the lines again. Boats are noisy, and the lines really contribute to this! We’ve discovered there’s an art to tying them — we found two things about them that really impact our quality of sleep. We have two different lines on board, the white nylon one (which sawed in half) and a much higher quality cotton braided one. A bit like guitar strings, they make different noises and it turns out the nylon ones are VERY noisy lines! Especially when tied tight to the stern of the boat, they literally “sing”, rubbing on the hull and vibrating the boat and it’s what I imagine trying to sleep inside the body of an off tune guitar would be like. The other thing we’ve found is to tie them as “wide” as possible — the less contact area with the hull, the quieter they are.

I’m not a car.

I mentioned that on Spetses that you are not allowed to bring cars into the centre of town — this has lead to what I would call some fairly creative solutions as to what constitutes a moped. It appears to be possible to basically fit out the body of a small vehicle to a bike frame or golf cart and get away with it.

After two days in Spetses, it was time to head back to Ermioni again. The wind was going to be blowing in hard from the north again so we needed some shelter and of course, our electronics upgrade was due to start! Ivan and Julia took turns driving the boat to get us there and then stayed overnight one last night with us before heading off on their journey.

The previous times we’ve been in Ermioni, the wind has been blowing more north easterly and the inside dock has offered good protection from these winds, because it blows more on to the stern of the boat. Unfortunately this time the winds were much more true north or even a little north-west, which meant that they were blowing directly over the bow. Given we were already docked it was mostly just an inconvenience for us — adding some stress as the bow moved back and forward in the gusts but the anchor did hold so we were fine.

It caused problems for several people trying to dock while we were there with one incident where a boat was really too long for the space and couldn’t drop enough chain to hold his bow. This mean it blew sideways across another boat. With the combined effort of several of us, we managed to attach a rope to his bow and get it back around so he could head out of there.

Having now seen several of these situations in the last few weeks (primarily with charters who don’t have the experience day to day), I feel like we have a good handle on how to help and also how dangerous some of these situations can be. The wife on board the boat was starting to panic, in these situations people don’t make good decisions. She was trying to fend off the boat from the edge with her foot — you never put body parts outside the boat — you’re not going to stop a 14 ton boat from going where it wants in the wind and she was in danger of serious injury. Thankfully she listened when we told her to keep her limbs inside the boat, but it’s a reminder of how easily serious injury could occur.

After a day of this, we decided to swap sides and headed out Thursday morning to the south dock in Ermioni where we felt much more secure in even bigger winds — a terrible choice if the wind was NE / E, but coming N/NW? Perfect location.

The upgrades have proceeded quite smoothly. Kottaras came in and ripped out all the old gear, replaced the cables and by the end of day one, most of the new systems were in place. They returned Friday and we’re all operational again for the most part, including new working USB outlets for phones at the helm stations and a light switch INSIDE the main cabin heads instead of outside behind the door.

The new Axiom9 Raymarine gear is amazing! While in some ways it doesn’t really do much different from before, the big change is the ease of use and accessibility of the functions. Want to go somewhere? Press and hold where you want on the display, generate a route, then click “follow” — it sends it to the auto-pilot and you’re off. Like everything theses days it comes with apps. I’m not sure WHY I want Netflix on my chart plotter, but it’s nice to know that I can if I like.

We’ve been having some issues with one engine triggering a voltage alarm, Kottaras tested the engine batteries and it turns out that one of them is bad, so we’ll get that replaced this week (not so much a “we broke something” as a “stuff wears out and these need to be replaced every 3–5 years anyway”). We’re also waiting on a couple of plastic inserts that are being manufactured to cover the holes from the old gear. It should all be completed this week, but in the mean time, we’re heading today up to Kilada and then north to Nafplio before returning to either Porto Cheli or Ermioni on Thursday or Friday to finish the upgrades.

Add a bird in the boat, re-tying lines at 3AM because I wasn’t happy with them when the wind picked up, a wedding across the bow (check instagram), a children’s party and lots of socialising with passing sailors, it’s been quite a week!

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

Until next time!

Tim and Karina