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.
The airport at Preveza is a seasonal affair. It wasn’t open and available for me in May, but now in June, we were lucky that our second leg from London flew directly into Preveza, just a 5 minute drive or 20 minute walk to the Aktio boatyard. It’s not uncommon to see arriving boat crew walking down the road to the boatyard with their luggage in tow.
The option was available for us to sleep onboard Sea Rose until we launched, but boatyards the world over, and especially in dry arid Greece tend to be dirt factories. We opted instead for a little apartment in Preveza, in a residential neighborhood with a cross-section of daily Greek living experiences, backing up to an alley that had more cars retired than working. The proprietor had coyly named it ‘Peaceful Corner’. It was perfect for our needs, with a short walk into town and only slightly further to the mind-easing waterfront.
Pleasingly, the English we overheard was mainly from Europeans from outside Greece, speaking in the universal tongue that we are so lucky to have inherited. It makes me so happy, when we ask a waiter in English for menus, and they respond back whether we want them in German, Belgium, or Dutch. To my ear, our English is a deadpan give away that we are from the United States. But apparently to many non-English native speakers, our English is indistinguishable from the English the Germans and other Europeans learn in school. It’s a brief moment to blend in as an EU citizen when there are so many other reasons to pluck us out of a crowd as glaringly obvious Americans.
It seemed like the appropriate thing to dine at the waterfront on tzatziki, fresh bread, and house wine, followed by local sea bass and even more local greek salad. How easy it is to slip back into the Mediterranean lifestyle of fresh, healthy eating.
The next four days were a hot, dusty affair of climbing up and down ladders to get Sea Rose ready to launch. I had worked 12 hour days for 10 days straight a month ago, but Sea Rose kept calling for attention. Some of her pleadings were for upgrades and improvements – it seems the more we sail her, the more ideas we come up with on how to make the sailing and living onboard more efficient. But some of the work was straight up repair. There’s only so long that a boat’s parts and pieces can standup to wind, wet, salt, and stress before it’s time for replacement. Of note, we had been in contact with a sailmaker last fall to replace the fabric for our bimini, a critical component for avoiding the searing heat in the cockpit. It was brand new three years ago, but that was before we decided to have it altered to hold four flexible solar panels, which the following year got modified again to be seven panels. Together with the wind storms we had encountered, the Sunbrella fabric was starting to wear through and it wouldn’t be long before the next storm tore the whole thing to shreds. Karen came up with an unusual idea of sewing the panels onto a separate layer of Sunbrella, and then zippering that big piece of cloth to the main bimini fabric. I think Spiros and Mirella, the husband and wife sailmaker team thought we had a few screws loose, and perhaps in a busier non-Covid season they would have passed on the project, but they came through for us at the last minute and delivered the whole contraption, along with new side screens and some tweaks to the cushions in our cockpit. It took some shoving and pulling and groaning to get the new fabric to fit around the bimini frame – the final product ended up being slightly shorter than the original. To attach the zippers on the solar panels, yours truly had to shimmy out the end of the boom, like an inchworm, as there was no other way to reach the zippers in the center. If I slipped or rolled off the boom, I’d land on top of the bimini and crush the whole setup. But it all worked out in the end.
The other big project we had was the installation of a fancy fishfinder sonar in the hull. We are not fishermen and women per se, but our Raymarine chart plotters are setup to work with a high tech sonar that can read the bottom contour and produce a 3D image of what is under the boat. It’s popular with larger sport fishing boats, since you can pinpoint the location of fish and bottom structures where the fish may hide. For us, it was a long shot experiment to see if it would help us identify the bottom contour and composition for a better anchoring experience. It involved a 12 inch long oval plate that mounts on the outside of the hull, and a nearly 3 inch diameter hole through the hull to secure it and run the wiring. Vasillis was our new best friend, with his handy hole saw. It was a little alarming having such a large hole in your nearly new boat, but we all worked together to get it bedded with sealant and tightened so hard it would take a saws-all to get it off again. The underwater 3D world awaits. And maybe a few fish should be at Defcon 1 alert!
Karen also took on the clean up and polishing of the dinghy. Anything sitting in this environment over the winter is guaranteed to be caked with dirt and debris, which she scrubbed off with aplomb. Next was the application of a UV sealant on the soft tubing material. Dinghy’s take a frequent thrashing–running into concrete piers, pointy limestone rocks, and pebble-strewn beaches. But all day, everyday, they are being hit with harsh UV light. At least us humans have the readily available option of polarized, UV coated sunglasses. For our dinghy, it was a special spray-on and scrub off UV sealant. I regret that in the process, Karen got more accolades than she wished for. Next to us was a crew of three men getting their boat ready for imminent launching. They took a liking right away to Karen, asking questions, offering suggestions, telling stories – a courtesy she returned in kind. Two were easy to identify with their American English, hailing from Wisconsin. My thoughts went back many years to when Karen and I ran a booth at a trade show in Taiwan, when I was trying to get a fledgling wine export business off the ground. It was nearly all men at the show, and since we were playing a bit of charades saying that Karen was in marketing and not my wife, the men around us immediately turned into piranhas. Some attention is good, but some is clearly not. One of the Wisconsin dudes was showing a large echo on Karen’s radar. Being our primary helmswoman, she knew quite well how to navigate around the hazard!
It wasn’t all work for us in Preveza, as we discovered that friends of ours from last summer, David and Allison from Living The Dream, were tied up to the waterfront quay. We met up for a delightful dinner, followed by drinks back onboard their boat. We had met them in Ithaki, right before they headed to Zakynthos and got hammered by the Medicane, a tale we told in our blog from last Fall. It was chilling to hear their firsthand accounts of trying to secure their boat from sinking, while other boats next to them went to the bottom. That was in late September. Then in November, Greece went under lockdown again with a new wave of Covid, preventing David and Allison from leaving the town of Levkas until April. Some of you may think being stuck in Greece is not such a bad predicament, but nearly all services were shut down except grocery stores, and one had to send an SMS message for permission to just leave your home/boat, and then only for short periods of time. I commend the Greek people for being willing to sacrifice their own personal freedom for the greater good of their society. Tourists like Karen and I have the Greek people to thank for their unselfish tolerance for hardship so that Covid spread was minimized and their tourism sector could reopen much sooner than their Mediterranean neighbors. Only now are countries like Italy, Spain, and France trying to figure out how to reopen to other nations and restart the flow of tourism revenue.
Before we knew it, Thursday, June 17th had arrived and it was launch day! With just enough time in the morning to use our rental car for a big provisioning run, we loaded up with over $500 of groceries, and headed off to the boatyard one last time. I was really impressed with the efficiency at Aktio Marina. At precisely 11am, when we said we would be ready to splash, their big trailer and launch crew appeared and had Sea Rose in their grasp like it was second nature. Indeed, we had been watching this crew pull boats out of their parking spots every day this week, leaving behind a cloud of dust and a few jealous boat owners wishing they too were celebrating launch day. At Aktio, like a few other boatyards in the area, they used a trailer to move your boat in and out of its winter stall, which allowed them to fit boats more tightly together on land. But when it came time to lower you into the water, they transferred your boat to a big travel lift, with its pair of slings, laying the boat down like a mother gently lowering her baby child into her crib. Except this time, we weren’t going down for a nap. It was show time!
And just like that, it was the start of another season of sailing. The travel lift crew disappeared and we looked at each other in the stillness of the air. I guess the rest of it will be up to us – no one to rely on anymore! With that spirit, we hopped onboard Sea Rose, started the engine, checked for leaks, and tossed off the docklines. There was a nervous moment of first-day-on-the-water fright when, in order to counter the cross breeze, we came too close to the concrete slipway. Fenders started rolling up out of position and inches separated our newly waxed and shiny white hull with the craggily edges of concrete aggregate. Holding our breath, for there was little we could do to stop the momentum of the boat, we slipped by without contact. Phew, our first heart-racing moment of summer, in just the first five minutes! We motored onward, to the Preveza waterfront to fill our tanks with clean tasting water, and reveled in the delight of being underway. It had taken a lot of winter planning, provisioning and plain old elbow grease to get to this point, but that was behind us and we set forth on a new summer of discovery – westbound out of the Med!
Thank you once again for your interest in our sailing adventures. We appreciate hearing from you, and we look forward as always to your comments. Happy summer!