An Ithacan Odyssey
I shall tell you a tale of the sea. A tale of heroism and tale of self sacrifice – a salty yarn if you will. This tale takes place in the Ionian sea off the coast of Ithaca.
The Ionian and Ithaca! Two names synonymous with courage, and fabulous adventure. For Ithaca was the land of Odysseus, the fabled Greek hero, whose name has passed into our language, and even given us our word for 'Great Adventure' – odyssey. For you to appreciate this tale I will have to tell you two background facts to help our story on its way.
The Ionian Sea is a placid, warm and friendly sea, for the most part at least. This first fact leads us to the second; the warm inviting nature of these waters has led to the mooring up technique of swimming the lines ashore. A technique where a vessel drops her anchor in a harbour or bay and a rope from the other end of the vessel is swum ashore by a crew member. This line is then tied to a tree or rock or even, in our modern world, a lamppost. This line then prevents the vessel from swinging about her anchor and allowing all the crew on board to have a restful night, secure in the knowledge that their ship is firmly attached to terra firma.
Our yarn begins on a beautiful summer's day off the northern coast of Ithaca. On board the yacht 'Alkis Dimitra' is my crew, consisting of my wife Alison, my sister Anne and her husband Paul. Alkis is nearing the end of a day's pleasant sailing and is about to enter the port of Frikes (pronounced frik-ass). The harbour entry is negotiated easily and soon Alkis is securely berthed. Her stern safely attached to the harbour wall by two short stout lines and her bow held securely by her anchor buried deep in the sandy bottom of the harbour. It's one of those warm sultry Mediterranean evenings that late summers brings. The sort of evening that Virginia Wolfe and the Bloomsbury set would have constructed steamy holiday romantic affairs around. My crew were preparing for a run ashore and looking forward to a delicious meal in one of the many tavernas surrounding the harbour. While Paul and I had put on clean t shirts and shorts for the occasion, Anne and Alison had dressed for dinner; beautiful strapless summer dresses, exquisitely applied makeup with hair to match.
Alkis' gang plank had but touched the harbour wall when pandemonium broke out! It was as though Alkis' gang plank had touched a secret switch on the harbour marked DO NOT PRESS! For out of nowhere the Meltemi – that late summer scourge of the eastern Mediterranean hit with full force! A hot blast of gale force ferocity struck the harbour out of the north west, heeling boats over to 45 degrees or more. Mooring lines strained, boats creaked under the loads and anchors were beginning to be eased out of their sandy burrows on the harbour bottom at the behest of this mighty force. At exactly the same moment as the Meltemi struck, a huge swell, at least a metre in height began to feed into the harbour an unending rhythmic procession of marching waves sending boats into violent, sickening rolls. Masts clashed, ropes broke, one boat had a hole ripped into her side as the relentless army of waves continued to roll in.
The inevitable happened. A boat broke free. Her anchor torn from the sea bed. Now with this new weapon at their disposal, the waves and the wind could really go to work. The wind sent her across the harbour, her crew unable to regain control as the waves sent the boat into violent drunken rolls as her anchor began dragging the bottom, scouring the harbour for other anchors, first locating them and then releasing them one by one from the seabed. With their anchors no longer set into the bottom they too joined the rampage. And the chain reaction started – more and more boats joined the fray as the wind and waves continued to work their malevolence unabated.
Alkis was soon amongst the rampaging mob, albeit as an unwilling accomplice I like to think, we had barely enough time to get back on board to start the engine, haul in the anchor, separate our anchor chain from the others that Alkis had inadvertently scraped up and head out to sea for a rethink.
Back out at sea, we regained our composure, We tidied up Alkis and discussed a plan of action. Frikas, despite the lure of decent tavernas and the promise of good food and Mythos beer was clearly an untenable option for the night. There was a couple of inviting bays which looked not only inviting but also peaceful but, being bays they lacked tavernas. The thought of doing without tavernas would quite likely be too much to bear.
Kyoni, a delightful harbour with a beautiful name, lay to the south, about an hours motoring away. It was decided to make for there. The short passage was uneventful, actually it was pleasantly relaxing after the trauma of leaving Frikas. The entrance to the harbour was easy, but what we saw once inside was a disappointment: the place was jammed full of yachts, all with exactly the same thought as us. Get into a harbour with good shelter, and then a decent meal.
Kioni is truly beautiful. Brightly coloured houses and tavernas line a small harbour which are themselves in turn surrounded by steep pine covered hills. A harbour, both picturesque and practical, but sadly for us, it appeared full. We motored around for a while looking for a spot to moor up. Our first thought of mooring against the harbour wall next to a taverna was soon abandoned, there was not so much as a space to fit a canoe in, let alone Alkis. We widened our search area until we found a likely looking spot. It might not have been against the wall, nor was it close to a taverna, in fact the journey from it to a taverna would involve a trip in Alkis' inflatable tender, safely stowed in one of the cockpit lockers. However, it was a berth and it looked both peaceful and safe for the night. The was a bit of a sea running and a bit of a wind blowing, but nothing like Frikes so we thought it perfectly suitable. The chosen space was against a steep cliff face offering a snug little berth, away from the northerly Meltemi. My plan, or at least my original plan, was to drop the anchor in about eight metres of water then reverse the yacht gently up to the cliff, feed two mooring lines, one from each quarter of the stern to two mooring rings that we had spotted on the cliff face, presumably put there for this purpose. Alkis was put into astern and, I like to think skilfully, reversed toward the cliff face. All went well, initially at least. The anchor clattered out of its mounting on the bow and quickly buried itself into the seabed. I felt the drag o the anchor chain and eased back the throttle to slowly manoeuvre Alkis into her allotted berth for the night.
Alison and Anne were on the stern with me as we searched below the waves for any rocks. Closer and closer we got to the cliff, no rocks, just nice deep water. We gingerly edged further and further back. Paul was steadily paying out the anchor chain. Ten metres to go, still plenty of water, I steered toward an iron mooring ring that I'd spotted earlier. Eight metres to go.
“OK get ready with that line Anne, as soon as we get within reach quickly tread the line through and bring it back on board please”. Five metres to go,
“Rocks!” shouted Alison. She was right. Just about a metre behind Alkis were indeed rocks. Great big chunky ones immediate blocking our path. “Hold the anchor!” I called to Paul There did appear to be a little room to manoeuvre around the rock and continue toward the morning ring. In fact it would have been a pretty straightforward task to to so if it wasn't for the Meltemi, which, at that very moment, had decided to reassert itself. Not the full force of the Meltemi you understand, just a capricious little side gust. Just strong enough and certainly malicious enough to send Alkis swinging on her anchor toward a neighbouring boat! There was no way we could get a rope around that mooring ring. I though flashed through my mind – a Greek hero from the 'Age of Heroes' would now have dived over the stern, swim strongly toward the ring with the rope in his teeth, threaded it through the ring and averted disaster.
Anne may be my sister, but I'm guessing that she can't read my mind. But, somehow, it was as though Odysseus himself was on board. There was a splash! Anne was swimming strongly through the water toward the mooring ring towing the rope behind her! She swam swiftly toward the ring, skilfully threaded the rope through and without so much as pausing for breath swam back to the boat. I was absolutely in awe and about to lavish praise of her when there was another splash, smaller that the last, but clearly a splash. I was filled with horror! Alison is nowhere near as strong a swimmer as Anne. 'Oh my god!' she'll drown! I remember thinking. Actually, before that thought had even fully fully crystallised in my mind, I spotted that Alison had not so much dived over the side, more stepped onto the rock and was now walking toward the other mooring ring! Alison has spotted that although the journey to Anne's mooring ring was through deep water, her's merely involved a short walk over rocks, not more that 30 cm below the sea!
When both Anne and Alison were safely back on board, I called to Paul “OK Paul haul in the anchor a little please, let's take the boat further from the rocks”. “No wait! Stop please!”
You'll no doubt remember the short stout mooring lines from Frikes? Well I stared in horror! I'd given Anne the short line! Way too short for mooring here. I retrieved the longer rope from the locker. “Anne…..?” I said. Without saying a word or even a moment's hesitation, she dived back over the side towing the new longer rope.
With the longer ropes in place Alkis settled peacefully for the night. I looked at both Alison and Anne. Alison was looking a little splashed, with her hair rearranged by the wind giving her an interesting windswept look. Anne however, looked drowned! Her dress soaked and quite possibly ruined, her hair stuck to her head and her makeup had run and streaked. She had every right to begin to admonish her brother for being so stupid as to hand her the wrong rope in the first place. But she didn't. She simply smiled whilst panting heavily from swimming that heavy mooring line ashore.
“I'm surprised that I had so much difficulty swimming that line ashore”, she mused.
“Ah yes, umm sorry, that'll be because, umm, I gave you the wrong rope again…..” I said “We have a lightweight floating line on board for that………….”
Anne looked at me from her makeup streaked face, looking not a little unlike one of the early 'Hammer Horror' gothic zombies, she didn't say anything, because sometimes sisters just don't need to……..