Lost in Translation, Ep. 159

As a group, sailors complain a lot about the wind. Either it is not enough, or it’s too much, or it’s come from the wrong direction. Karen and I are likely further jaded by the tempestuous weather of the Med, and the often repeated refrain, “There’s either no wind or too much of it!” But in reality I don’t think it’s a Med-specific phenomenon. When we sailed throughout New England with our young kids, there would be many summer days where we’d be searching for a breathe of wind. As a kid, with my Hobie cat off the beaches of San Diego, it wouldn’t take much to accelerate through the water, yet I spent many weekend days floating on a glassy sea. There’s nothing particularly wrong with this. Sometimes the gift the water can give to us is merely the peace and separation from our troubles ashore. But sometimes you have a destination in mind. And having a suitable wind speed and direction is a highly preferred companion to your solitude.

We knew our stay in the Egadi Islands of western Sicily was going to be cut short. The forecast would only allow us to stay one night. If we didn’t leave right after that, we’d have at least 2-3 days of headwinds to wait out before the crossing to Sardinia. The weather window was now and we had to strike while the iron was hot. The only wrinkle was the wind direction. While the forecast called for about 15 knots of wind, ideal in most situations, it was going to be coming from our stern. The adage, “Fair winds and following seas” is more of a carryover from the old square-rigger days, when the only winds these old ships were designed to handle was from nearly behind you. The modern rigged sailboat can take winds from astern, but is best suited for winds from the side (beam reaching) or close-hauled (at about 45 degrees to the wind). In truth, not many sailors like to go directly down wind. The boat moves slower, the inevitable waves generated by the winds easily push the boat off course, and the motion onboard is a double axis gyroscope of sorts, with the boat rocking from side to side, while also pitching forward and back. 

A farewell to the Egadi Islands as we head west to Sardinia
Continue reading “Lost in Translation, Ep. 159”

On the Run, Ep. 158

The surprise gift that was Malta had come to a close and it was time for us to head back to the big island of Sicily and continue our march westbound. Normally we sleep very well at a marina like Mgarr, on account of the few sources of worry, like dragging anchors and lumpy swells. But there had been a ‘technical problem’ with the ferry we had booked back from Valetta the night before. In the past, companies would just come out and say, hey, the engine won’t start, or the gangway won’t retract, but nowadays, with everyone appropriating the lingo of a high-tech world, it’s always just a ‘technical problem’. I think it makes it sound more like a complex NASA rocket launch being delayed because of a misbehaving sensor rather than the unglamorous nature of a recalcitrant carbon spewing diesel engine. In the end, we got back to Sea Rose and in our berth by about 1 am. I really liked Malta, but she wouldn’t let go of her grasp. Some might call her clingy!

We had about 70nm to cross to Sicily, to the harbor of Licata, which gave us a slight progress to the west as well. 

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Anything Worth Having Is Worth Fighting For, Ep. 157

This quote is loosely attributed to Oscar Wilde, and I believe to a few citizens over the centuries living on the island nation of Malta. The spirit of the phrase would mark our amazing visit to this geographically strategic spot in the middle of the Mediterranean. The price of admission was a long day of motoring south from Sicily, about 70nm, with occasional course changes to avoid the heavy east/west shipping traffic. Sometimes it felt like we were pedestrians trying to cross a busy Los Angeles freeway. At least the seas were flat and the engineers at Yanmar apparently well paid, on account of the reliable performance of our engine.

Sunrise departure from Sicily
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Crossing into Summer, Ep. 156

Karen and I knew when we planned this summer out that we would have several long crossings to do. With a goal of ending up in Northwest Spain by the end of the season, we would have to keep moving at a good clip and not spend as much time as prior summers ambling along the coastlines. That’s not to say that we wouldn’t stop to smell the roses. It is just that when the weather gods were in our favor, we’d have to pick up and go. Such was the case early in the morning at Argostoli, Kefalonia. We had set a departure of 0300, which would mean only one full overnight before arriving in Siracusa, Sicily the following evening, some 270nm away. As is usually the case, Karen drives us out of the harbor, and then I take over for the first watch while she goes down to catch up on sleep. I’m more of a morning person and actually enjoy these pre-dawn watches. And getting sleep whenever you can is really important on these long passages. If we are sleep-deprived at the helm, it puts both us and others in our path at risk.

The crossing from Greece, about 270nm
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Test, Test, Can You Hear Me OK?! Ep. 155

If I learned one thing from working in the software industry, it was the value gained from methodical, systematic processes. It’s relatively easy to picture in your head how a web page or predictive algorithm might work, but when writing the code and then communicating across a team diverse by location and language, any matter of alchemy could arise. It was easier when I was younger, writing my own code. But still, unexpected results or functionality came up, and it was no fun when a customer discovered it first. Any good developer has to have a healthy amount of humility. Mistakes happen, it’s a reality of software development, and, after all the fancy visioning sessions are complete and fingers start hitting the keyboard, it’s crucial to hunt down the gremlins and fix them promptly. In larger organizations, a full-fledged testing team, divorced from the developers, is called in to look at the product – people with no emotional attachment or pride of ownership. Clearly we are all heavily dependent on software in our daily lives. And it can be frustrating when a bug arises or functionality is missing. But a reality check is necessary. These products can contain literally millions of lines of code, and so to, at least that many points of failure. What seems small and benign when we stow our smartphone in our pocket, is in fact a vast array of complex algorithms that would blow the mind of an IBM researcher just a few decades ago with a campus full of state of the art mainframe computers. It’s not sexy, but following a strict regiment of review and testing has provided us with some of the sexiest of software tools, and I don’t just mean Tinder!

And so it was that we started our first week onboard Sea Rose – our shakedown week – checking all of the systems and fixing any issues. The list of systems included Karen and I, as any sailor will tell you that if you’ve been away from it for awhile, it takes some work to get your head back into the game. Our strategy for the week was to not go too far from our comfort zone and from access to chandleries for spare parts. That meant the safety of the Greek Ionian islands, where we had spent the last six weeks of previous season island hopping with our good friend Theo. Once we were confident everything was working OK, we would make our first big crossing of the summer, to Sicily. 

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In Search of Water, Ep. 154

When our kids were younger, and as our family pulled out of the depths of winter, I couldn’t wait to get back on the water and start sailing again. To feel the warm air on one’s face and hear the gurgling of water down the hull as you slipped by under gentle afternoon sail was magical. Launching the boat in New England was a tricky affair of timing. Too early and you’d need to bundle up like the Michelin man to fight off the cold, too late and you risk missing out on a few gems of unannounced warm weather. But once we had the boat in the water, it was all about finding time to fit our sailing in between the kids commitments and other obligations. If we sailed every other weekend, I was satiated. On the other hand, if we skipped more than one weekend, I would notice an uneasiness come over me, an increased frustration with normally trivial life events and a general lack of groundedness. Sailing, and water in general, has always been an elixir for me. It gives me peace and comfort, like the fit of a favorite shoe or the melody of an acoustic guitar. I feel drawn to the water by some extraordinary otherworldly force. Knowing its healing power to my psyche, I don’t resist its powerful draw.

So it is not lost on me how fortunate I am to have a partner that enjoys sailing too, along with a gaggle of friends that seem to want to climb onboard at a moments notice. And after a long stretch of pandemic woes, there was a lot of psyche to be healed this Spring.

Karen and I boarded our flights from Boston on British Airways, making sure to follow all of the travel restrictions to the tee. Last year, we had slipped into Greece under a loop-hole, using our French visas as a means to blend in with the rest of the EU citizenry, before Greece closed that option a few weeks later. This time, we made sure to be 14 days past our last vaccine shot, and we visited the local clinic for a fast turnaround of PCR tests the day before we departed. I had tested the travel restriction waters a month prior, flying into Athens as soon as Greece opened to Americans to knock off a long list of spring commissioning projects; I was nearly alone in a quiet boatyard calling out for more owners to visit. But this time, with Karen and all of our gear in tow, we felt like the odds were in our favor, and excitement was in the air.

Arrival in Preveza, Greece. Yippee!
Continue reading “In Search of Water, Ep. 154”

That’s a Wrap! Ep. 153

We start out each sailing season without an idea of where we will end. To a couple of people in technology management, where our lives revolved around project plans and status reports, this gap in definity might be surprising. I know it is odd, in a world where we can typically have so much precise control, to miss the opportunity to solidify a start at point A and a finish at point B. But it is one of the things that I love about sailing. With advanced GPS technology telling us inside of a few meters where we are on the globe, and down to the minute when we will reach our next waypoint, it’s still impractical, not to mention undesirable, to lock yourself into a destination. There’s the weather, and although we are able to forecast it with greater accuracy, it still defies our control. There’s our own health and the health of our craft. A modern sea-going vessel is a microcosm of a locomotive, with thousands of points of mechanical failure, any of which can cause an emergency diversion. And finally, there’s change in sentiment, the most important factor in my mind. If, on the way to point B, you discover an indigenous population at Point C worthy of a National Geographic exposé, it’s important to have the flexibility for change. Our point A this season was Leros, one of the most eastern points of Greece, and our point B was maybe going to be Portugal. Then the pandemic hit, we were fortunate enough to even make it to the boat, and early on we decided to stay in Greece to discover more deeply the character and history of this diverse country. We knew of Preveza, and its home base status for the Ionian Sea, but we put off the decision to lock in our haul-out point until the last possible moment. It was like my first grown-up trip to Europe, with my high school degree and a Eurail pass in hand. I knew I would be flying into Amsterdam, but that was about it. It was an eye-opening six weeks of adventure, made all the more memorable by the lack of a concrete schedule.

As we steered Sea Rose back to Preveza from the interior Gulf of Ambracian, the preparation for shut down was already underway. We were dropping and folding sails, deflating paddleboards and thinking through the actual haul out. We had booked a few nights at Cleopatra Marina, one of the neighbors of Aktio Marina. Theo was not hauling out for another couple of weeks, but he anchored nearby in Preveza, so we could at least enjoy the town of Preveza with another playmate.

The evening was growing dark quickly, a deja vu of the darkened skies before we left Antipaxos. Checking the forecast, another storm was indeed headed our way, likely arriving sometime in the early morning hours. We, along with many other boats in the marina, started preparing with additional dock lines. Marina staff tried to button up boats with no owners onboard, including the powerboat next to us. This is always a dicey affair. Obviously the marina doesn’t want boats to get damaged, but they are not going to take the level of care that a boat owner would take with extra lines and fenders. The fact that the owner was not onboard when a significant storm was approaching was also alarming.

We headed into Preveza for a last supper with Pedro, which gave us a chance to meet up with Theo as well. Preveza has a long waterfront with lots of space for charter and private boats to med moor, attracting lots of gawkers from ashore, and boaters that like to be gawked at. There’s plenty of drinking and eating establishments along this prime waterfront area, but we let our feet wander off the main drag and, to our delight, found an alley stuffed full of tables, chairs, rushing wait staff, and the din of many dozens of people’s dinner conversations. It was perfect. Theo took care as he always does with the PR, confusing wait staff yet again with his fluent Greek with an out-of-place accent. We dined on fresh fish, souvlaki, and enough appetizers to crowd out any spare space on the table.

The dinner scene off the main drag in Preveza

A content stomach made it easy to fall asleep that night, which was a good thing as the morning came early, with lightning nearby, sending momentary daylight images of our surroundings.

A momentary lightning flash lights up the powerboat next to us…
…and then it’s back to night time.

I find it really hard, when you are woken up with a dark sky all around, to get your bearings and understand what you are dealing with. We knew a storm was coming, but it was hard to discern whether it was headed for us, or passing in the distance. I stood up on deck for awhile and it became apparent it was blowing in from offshore, coming right down the Preveza entrance channel for us. There was a row of floating docks that circled the perimeter of the marina, but no sea wall or breakwater to stop the wind, waves and surge from rolling right into all of us inside. As the rain started, I went down below for cover. I really don’t like to be in a marina during a storm. There are too many other boats around and all it takes is one to break loose or lose a fender, and you’ve got problems. Besides, boats handle high winds much better on anchor. There’s typically much more spacing, the bow naturally swings into the wind, and you can trust your own anchor and gear. But here, we were tied with our stern to the dock, with the stern facing into the approaching wind. This orientation has its pluses and minuses. The wind is blowing you off of the dock, so if there is any issue with lines parting, you have some time as you blow away from the dock and before you hit objects downwind of you. However, with the wind blowing into the cockpit, it exposes all of the design flaws of a reverse wind. The dodger does a beautiful job of shedding wind and rain away when it’s coming down from the bow, but from the stern, everything gets soaked in the cockpit, and water will eventually make its way through the companionway slats and into the cabin. In addition, our bimini is setup to take the brunt of force from the bow. I had previously added struts to hold the frame rigidly in position. But with a stern wind, the whole structure lacks the same rigidity. It gets jostled around, shakes and vibrates like it’s going to come disconnected and fly off into the heavens.

Down in the cabin, I watched the anemometer as it increased to the mid 30’s, then 40 and finally peaking at just over 50. I really wanted to be Theo, in his anchorage off the Preveza waterfront, happily swinging with the bow into the wind. As the wind dropped, and it passed through about 17 knots of strength, the jib furler, now being more flexy without the jib sail wrapped around it, started pumping violently. Apparently the wind was at the same frequency as the natural resonance frequency of the furler, conjuring up images in my mind of the Tacoma Bridge collapse from 1940. I took a spare line, looped it around the furler and tied it taut back to the mast. This seemed to ease the pumping. By daybreak, it was time to say our goodbyes to Pedro as he hustled aboard a taxi for the airport. If it wasn’t for my trembling hand, it might have been a relatively normal parting of friends!

Mast checks, Preveza

After a day of catchup and climbing masts, we were in the haulout slip on Monday morning, enjoying the lack of breeze as I stared around at all of the decorative flags flying from each marina, most of them ripped away, down to a sliver of leftover cloth running along the edge of the flagpole. To this California kid, who grew up playing along the passive Pacific shores, this temperamental Mediterranean was a whole other affair!

Sea Rose, at Aktio Marina

With the able crew of Aktio Marina settling our boat down for her long winter snooze, we could rest assured that another fine sailing season was in the bag. If all goes well for our next summer season, we will re-ignite our plans to sail out of the Med and prepare for future seasons in Northern Europe. So it will be with a heavy heart that we say goodbye to Greece. How one country and it’s citizens can so deeply touch your soul and tickle your senses, I’ll never know. Efcharistó!


NOTE: This wraps up our blog posts from the summer of 2020. We are planning another season in the Med and hope to be onboard soon. However, it will likely be awhile before we have free time to get back into posting blogs. Karen and I thank you for your interest in our adventure, and all of your support. If you haven’t already, be sure to also subscribe to our YouTube channel LifeFourPointZero. Fair winds!

The Pleasures of an Inland Sea, Ep. 152

You’ve probably heard it before. “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.” This statement was credited to the explorer Sir Ralph Fiennes. Generalized, it’s the philosophy that if you get into trouble, it’s your own fault for not taking the time to prepare. For new sailors, hikers, campers and the like, it’s something you often learn the hard way and have to begrudgingly accept down the road as valid. Of course, one can’t deny the chance factor – seemingly random, unfortunate events that wreak havoc. But with hindsight, often many of these could be avoided, or at a minimum, prepared for through scenario planning. I’ve written before about how Karen and I will try to think through various bad events, of which there is plenty of material to draw from on a cruising sailboat, and consider how we would best respond. We’ll often look back at a bad event and puzzle out how we could have been more prepared. It’s not exactly like a Mykonos discotheque conversation, but thinking through the worst, and preparing for it, makes the other 99% of the time more relaxing and enjoyable. We are by no means perfect at scenario planning, but we try to remind ourselves to do it on a regular basis.

In the shoulder seasons of the Med – September and October, and to a lesser extent March and April – the normally tranquil waters turn suddenly furious with rage on enough frequency to warrant your close attention. Coincidentally, September and October is a popular time for our friends to come visit, after the summer fun is winding down in the more northern latitudes of where they live. So, we often have the added challenge of showing our friends a good time while keeping all of us and Sea Rose safe. Pedro was our only guest this summer, and we had already dealt with the ferocity of the medicane just before his arrival. Clearly troubled atmospheric tempers were brewing. As we enjoyed our last evening in beautifully, peaceful isolation at Antipaxos, we debated the best strategy for a forecasted storm building to the west, estimated to arrive in the morning. Our anchorage was a gem for swimming and snorkeling and flying drones, but it was no place to be during a blow. We also had to eventually get Pedro back to Preveza, on the mainland, for his flight home. The earlier we raised anchor in the morning, the better our odds of avoiding the worst of it.

Dinghy love, on a quiet evening before our departure from Antipaxos

In the morning, cobalt clouds overlaid the sky from horizon to horizon and an edgy surge of agitated water was finding its way into our anchorage. The halcyon days of summer were fading quickly from memory. Anchors were freed from their watery home and both Paloma and Sea Rose headed off under engine power for the entrance to Preveza, 30 miles distant. The wind direction was not ideal – nearly on our bow – and due to its building strength, was giving us a challenge to motor up one crest and down the backside. In these shallower coastal waters, the period of the waves can be short, which means more crests to climb each minute, killing our boat speed through the water. I hate motoring in a sailboat as much as a power boater probably hates sailing. We decided to bear off course slightly so that we could raise and reef sails, and together with the assistance of the engine, could essentially tack up wind against the big waves. It’s a cheat for sure. Any racer would scuff at such an act, but then again, we have cold beer in the fridge and tasty food regularly coming out of the barbecue — scarce things on most racing boats!

Soon, we saw a dark squall line approaching from the East. Paloma, with her bigger engine and longer waterline, was ahead of us and getting hit first, healing way over. Trails of sea spray were racing downwind in sinewy white lines across the water. Then we saw and heard lighting. The wind always peaks our interest, but as soon as Zeus starts getting in on the act, nothing else matters for us. Lightning bolts were striking all around, and the anemometer went from 15, 20, 25 to 30 in rapid succession.

Watching the numbers closely can…
… stress one out!
Losing Paloma in the downpour

I turned Sea Rose into the wind to ease the impact, and to reduce the pressure on the paddle boards on the foredeck. The paddleboards were for sure a liability up on deck, something we had not fully thought through in our preparations. They should have been deflated and stowed. The wind briefly peaked at 42 knots. It eased slightly and I turned back closer to our original course. Paloma disappeared from view with the heavy rain and sea spray. Another two squall lines came through with the same high winds, heavy rain and lightning. If it wasn’t so stressful, I’d have time to chuckle at how dry the summer had been overall. We sailed from the very eastern part of Greece, for 2 1/2 months, without a drop of rain until we arrived in the Ionian. And now it was like mother nature was making up for lost time. 

The cloud ceiling started to rise and the rain diminished to a steady drizzle. We didn’t take any chances and pushed the engine to get us to the Preveza entrance channel as quick as possible. Preveza exists as a home base or sorts for boating in the northern Ionian. There’s a handy airport, a sizable town with everything one might need – boating and otherwise – and three large marinas for hauling and winter storage. We had picked one – Aktio Marina – as the winter home for Sea Rose, and Pedro was flying out of Preveza in a couple of days, so it felt good to be local to where we would wrap up the season. There was no longer a need to worry about time commitments and schedules. 

Aktio Marina, with its sea of sailboat masts

Still, there’s plenty to see in the area. Preveza is a kind of a mini Gibraltar entrance to a large inland sea, technically the Ambracian Gulf. The cruising guides don’t focus much on this area, so we’d be using our own wits to find the most interesting spots. We pushed on under light winds to the town of Vonitsa on the southern shore, attractive initially by its protected anchorage behind a long peninsula. We found out later that the peninsula was actually a skinny island connected to the mainland by means of a low arched walking bridge. Charming!

Arched foot bridge at Vonitsa

Vonitsa was a locals town; the few other cruising sailboats that joined us were the side show. Here, villagers shopped and strolled their infants and met their school children at the siesta break. We did find a Venetian fort on the top of the local hill, built on top of a Byzantine fort, with a commanding 360 degree view of any invading armies and navies. Our invasion was of the civilized form, paying our 3 euros to wander the grounds, and maybe help the town cover a portion of the electric bill to show off the fort’s grandeur at nightfall.

Fortress at Vonitsa
Walking the streets of Vonitsa, it’s Karen’s three-man protection unit!

With our early start from Antipaxos, the nasty squalls and the trip into the Gulf, it was an early night for all of us.

The morning broke quietly with water as flat as a mountain lake. Indeed, in its peaceful solitude, with mountain peaks in the distance, this area reminded me of Montenegro’s Bay of Kotor. We set our sights on a cluster of small islets visible across the Gulf from Vonitsa, a spot called Nsis Vouvalos. As we inched our way in, we needed to keep a close eye on the depth sounder, as the water was too murky to see the bottom. We had a consistent 0.6m under the keel – the downside of a shallow inland sea. We could have probably made it work for the night, but caution prevailed as we continued north to the town of Koronisia, tucking in behind a headland from the building westerly afternoon breeze. With both Sea Rose and Paloma settled on our anchors, we decided on a picnic lunch back at the islets of Nsis Vouvalos, this time using Theo’s low draft dinghy. Karen spotted a beach landing filled with small sea shells and flotsam. Mankind was not a frequent visitor to this spot despite its striking views and quietness. And I mean real quiet. The kind where you can hear your breath. It is so rare to find a place these days with zero background noise. 

Islets of Nsis Vouvalos
Exploring the shallows of Nsis Vouvalos

We took the dinghy ashore to Koronisia in the morning, finding a long path along the shore and low bluffs, the kind of path that thins out enough to make you wonder if you’ve lost your way. The path circled a large interior lagoon that to our surprise was the home for several flocks of flamingos. Greece still seemed to have a few surprises up its sleeve. Eventually we found the village of Koronisia, with one small waterfront cafe, requiring a stop by my caffeine-tempted friends.

Walking the perimeter of the lagoon, Koronisia

Shrimp is the main attraction here, when it is in season. Instead, we found a half-filled town pier, and lots of stray dogs to accompany us back to the dinghy. Koronisia was not taking the economic hit of Covid very well, or perhaps its struggles started long before that. Throughout the summer, we had been watching closely to understand the impact of the pandemic, but Greece is a tricky read. So much of the economy and infrastructure came to a stand still back in the early 2000’s. But brace yourself, when they get into their stride, this country is going to come back with gusto; I can feel it in the passion of their citizens. 

It was time to wrap up our brief tour of the Gulf of Ambracian, head back to Preveza, and start prepping for shut down. These last few days in the Gulf had been the perfect antidote for the stormy weather earlier. A little work, a little play. The perfect balance!

Searching for the Remote, Ep. 151

When Karen and I adventure travel, we try hard to find the unusual and the less-trodden. I think a lot of travelers have this same goal. Most of us live in urban environments (55% by current measure) and it’s only getting more common. So, our travel ends up filling a need to escape the crowds and congestion and remind us that peace and beauty can still co-exist on our planet. With a sailboat as our magic carpet, Karen and I are able to get into some pretty small and rustic spots. But inevitably, there will be others there, maybe even a tour group, and it makes you look to the horizon again for something more remote. I don’t mean to imply that fellow tourists, and the tour groups they often leverage to find adventure, are inherently bad or somehow unworthy. It’s great that people are getting out there and discovering the world. It’s just that when you work hard to find an out-of-the-way cove or beach or mountain peak, and discover there’s nothing new to the discovery, it leaves you with goals unmet. And when you hitch up the wagon to find even more remoteness, and there too, other pioneers are traipsing around the site, you start to long for the folkloric Huck Finn days.

Now, I know you may think there’s nothing particularly remote about the Mediterranean – we’d have to go to the North Pole or the pole on the summit of Everest – but I would argue that even Everest climbers grapple with this same conundrum. I’ve heard base camp is pretty overrun these days. For our part, we were sailing away from the Greek mainland and heading for two tiny dots on the Ionian Sea – Paxos and Antipaxos. There are no airports, no cruise ship terminals, nor large passenger ferries. It’s only accessible by small boat. If you want to be in the company of crowds, you’d visit nearby Corfu. So across the sea we sailed, pointing the bow first towards Paxos.

We arrived at the northern harbor of Lakka, which has to be one of the most ideal island anchorages with its perfect blend of beauty and protection. Inside the nearly circular harbor are plenty of places to anchor and back down with stern lines ashore to rocks or metal pins. Usually, these med moor harbors are deep in the middle, causing captains to put out a lot of chain and increasing the risk and chaos of crossed anchors. But here, with 2-3 meters of depth, it was ideal, with the water clear enough to often see your anchor from up on deck. We had been here last summer, but with Covid I had assumed we would be experiencing this island on quieter terms. Yet, the harbor was filling up quickly, and a long line of boats could be seen from the entrance, sailing down from Corfu. Oh well, we’d be in the company of many other boaters this time, but maybe our next stop might reveal some element of remoteness. In the meantime, the harbor view did not disappoint.

The harbor at Lakka, Paxos
And Lakka at night

If Covid wasn’t going to restrict the number of boaters, we wanted to make sure we didn’t get skunked on a spot ashore for dinner. When Karen and I had visited Greece many moons ago for our honeymoon, I had reveled in the common practice of taverna owners encouraging you to walk right through their kitchen to see the night’s selections. Progress had been good for Greece, but I had missed this quaint little treat. Alas, our hostess at Alessandro’s, after talking care of our thirst, pleaded with us to come inside to see what was cooking. She had no hesitation, in her nice attire, to walk behind the counter and start pulling up lids and describing the huge array of options. I was blown away. All joking aside, I wanted to dive in and try them all! Lamb kleftiko is a specialty in this area, and it stood up to its reputation. Technically translated as ‘lamb stolen’, it is a slow cooked affair, with potatoes, onions, red peppers and tomatoes, and of course a good helping of olive oil, garlic, and wine, all simmered together. It’s almost a religious experience!

You can’t go wrong with this lineup! Alexandros, Lakka
A journey through the kitchen at Alexandros, Lakka

They say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, but I’d suggest this is sexist and outdated. I think all of our hearts were enriched from the evening’s experience, and with renewed vigor, we set out in the morning for the western side of Paxos, with its impressive cliffs and caves. Again, this should not be confused with Everest, but there are no safe harbors on this weather-exposed side of Paxos, and when you swim deep into the limestone caves carved out by centuries of storms, you can feel very small and trivial, and yes, a bit remote. We anchored Sea Rose off the first tall set of cliffs, with the term anchoring used loosely here. There is no sand or mud to grab the anchor’s flukes. You basically drop the anchor and a good helping of chain, and the whole thing nuzzles down in between big boulders, with the weight holding you in position as long as the wind and waves are not too strong. When it’s time to leave, you hope and pray that the many pointy parts of the anchor, designed to catch on the sea floor and hold you in a storm, don’t do exactly that and get wedged in between two boulders. It’s too deep here to dive and recover gear. We’d have to leave our cherished Bulwagga and chain behind and start all over sourcing a new anchor system. I breathed a sigh of relief as the anchor came into view.

Tall cliffs dwarf Sea Rose, west side of Paxos
That tiny white speck is Theo paddleboarding, west side of Paxos
Karen cave snorkeling, west side of Paxos

The west coast is a nearly continuous undulating course of cliffs and caves. We headed south to see and sample the next gift of rugged beauty. It came shortly after, as we rounded a tall point and aimed for what the chart simply called ‘Blue Cave’, an understatement for three large interconnecting caves with ceilings taller than a typical sailboat mast. And there were plenty of masts to take measurements from, as we nosed our way in to find depths shallow enough to anchor. Rugged beauty, check. Remoteness, not so much!

Blue Cave, in the company of others, west side of Paxos

Still, there was good reason for the crowds. As you swam into the first cave, a shaft of sunlight encouraged you to swim through to the adjoining cave with tall sides opening to the sky. From there, a narrow hole in the rock guided you to a third cave with a deep overhang protecting a narrow sandy beach. This was quite the playground, whether you were swimming, paddleboarding, or just floating without a care in the world.

Exploring the Blue Cave, west side of Paxos

But the carefree life didn’t last for long. In the distance, we could hear a large boat blowing its horn as it rounded the point about a mile away and headed our direction. I thought this was odd. Was there an emergency? They were pushing a big bow wave of white water as they quickly closed the gap to the Blue Cave. I could hear the captain on the intercom saying something unintelligible. As he got closer, it became painfully obvious his intention to run Sea Rose down, as he followed a straight line to the caves, other boaters be damned. You don’t need have a captain’s license to know that an anchored boat (assuming it’s anchored in an anchorage like we were and not in a shipping channel) has the right of way over a boat underway. Yet this captain was aiming for our bow, and telling everyone in the area to move out of his way! I was shocked! Karen and I were a hundred feet from Sea Rose, and I watched in horror as the overhang of their boat towered over our foredeck. He was really going to run us down – this was nuts! The tour boat was overloaded with passengers, and the captain didn’t give a damn about the rights of other boats in the area. He just wanted to bully his way through. I started yelling at the captain to stop, and when this didn’t work I resorted to more colorful language. An embarrassing amount of it. I didn’t know I harbored such anger! But when you’ve invested so much blood, sweat and tears into your home, there’s no telling how far you will go to protect it. Thankfully, Theo was closer and climbed onboard, started the engine and motored a boat length forward, as the captain pushed past and drove right into the cave, despite swimmers everywhere. My anger turned to disgust and then to revenge. As the tour boat motored past us on the way out, I convinced Theo to join me at the bow for a traditional American act of rebellian. We dropped our drawers and gave them the moon!

Way too close! Thanks Theo for the quick action to save Sea Rose!

We pushed further south to find a perfectly quiet and drama free spot for lunch and a swim, with the added bonus of a natural arch to decorate the shore.

Triptos, on the southern end of Paxos

Despite the careless acts of others, it had been a great day together and fun to have Theo join us on Sea Rose so that we only had to worry about one boat. Upon our return to Lakka for the evening, even more boats joined us – by Pedro’s count 65 in total! The roar of a pair of fighter jets overhead seemed to confirm my foolishness for seeking remote discovery. I would have to learn to embrace my spot as one small cog in the greater gear of humanity.

Knocking us back into reality, another storm was brewing to the west of us, promising to bring high winds and rain for the next two days. We needed to find safe refuge quickly, before the favorable spots filled up. We had read promising stories about Antipaxos, the next of kin to larger Paxos to the north. We made haste under power and calm seas to a little harbor named Voutoumi, on the protected eastern shore. The only alarming part were comments online about how the tour boat captains here would demand everyone leave the anchorage so they could use it – oh no, not again! We took a chance that the approaching bad weather would keep the aggressive captains in port. It turned out to be a lovely spot. The one taverna ashore was closed for dinner due to lack of boat traffic, but they did sell me a bottle of wine to restock the Sea Rose cellar as we awaited the storm. Swimming through the shallows of the cove, salamandering through the rocks like the family of fish around me, I hoped they would allow me to interrupt their day for just a moment, so I could renew my vows with Mother Nature.

Voutoumi anchorage in the distance, Antipaxos
In the shallows of Voutoumi, Antipaxos

The Adventures of Jar Jar Binks, Ep. 150

Earlier in my working career, I was very cautious about making friends outside of the office. For one thing, life in Corporate America can be highly transient; you never know whether it’s going to be worth the investment. Then, you start working with someone, and you realize your connection transcends the workplace. It could have easily been a cafe, a flight departure gate, or a campground in the mountains. It just so happens that you each found the same employer. I was fortunate to have a few of these special people in my life, and one of them was my friend Pedro. We worked together at Autodesk, and while work conversation was required at times, we had a lot more fun talking about life outside the office. It helped that he was a lifelong fan of Bruce Springsteen!

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