Scintillating Skyros

Skyros is the largest of the Sporades islands and has been inhabited since Mycenaean times. The houses and architecture are more reminiscent of the Cyclades with their square white houses than other islands in the Sporades group but that may have more to do with the fact that they are the most southerly of the Northern Sporades chain and hence nearer the Cyclades. Skyros seems to draw the artistic crowd and has developed a tourism trade linked to alternative therapies. Some say that the creative nature of the Skyrians comes from the fact that they used to hide art plundered by pirates.

As we had hired scooters for 24 hours from 6pm on the day we arrived , we decided to go out and explore by having a sundowner at a windmill bar called Anemomilos on the opposite side of the island followed by a meal at a fish restaurant called Istories, on the beach. Both were recommendations from George, our harbour master and scooter rental guy. The windmill was wonderfully quirky, which sums up the island itself. The fish restaurant, whilst open, clearly wasn’t expecting any customers this late in the day as we were the only ones. We had fresh red fish (no idea of the name) and also part of a ray. The red fish was delicious but the same can’t be said for the ray. We got back to the harbour around 11pm having negotiated the somewhat varying road quality on scooters with not great lights!

Great venue for a bar!

We woke up relatively early and had a leisurely breakfast before leaving the boat to continue our exploration. The previous evening we had passed a sculpture park by the side of the road so we wanted to return in daylight. A truly lovely gesture by the islanders in a lovely setting by the sea.

Sculpture park by the sea

Onwards to a couple of museums in the old chora (original village up in the hills so it could be defended easily). The first one was the Monas and Anastasia Faltaits folk museum. The family were very respected and prominent on Skyros and started collecting cultural artefacts to ensure the unique heritage of these people was preserved. The house, where Anatasia still lives aged 83, is filled to the brim with his paintings, cultural archives including the Proclamation of the Greek Revolution against the Ottoman Empire. Fascinating stuff. The archeological museum nearby wasn’t quite as interesting! There was a square close to both museums that was dedicated to the eternal poet in memory of Rupert Brooke, the WWI poet.

The eternal poet

On then to the chora which seemed to consist of a church on every corner. Given how small the town would have been, it is extraordinary how many churches there were! Right on the top of the hill was a monastery and a castle. Sadly, the monastery shut at midday so we were only able to visit the castle which must have been quite intimidating in its time.

The Chora up on the hillside

By now it was time for lunch so we wandered down to the beach where we found a lovely beach bar/restaurant called Asterias and had a delicious crab salad. We also ordered Skyrian cheese. It was a cross between feta and a creamy goats cheese but was too vinegary for us. An acquired taste, methinks. The restaurant had sun loungers on the beach so we availed ourselves a couple of them to while away an hour or two. Very relaxing.

Great beach bar

It was then time to make our way home via Mouries Farm. The Farm is a charity that looks after the endangered Skyrian miniature horse. They were originally used as work horses but they have fragile backs so couldn’t really be used in that context. They are only found on Skyros and there are less than a hundred left. Volunteers from all over Europe spend the summer helping to look after these lovely creatures.

Our final stop before returning the scooters was up to the church of Agios Fokes where we saw the shallow channel we negotiated coming into Linaria.

The channel is between the green island and the brown one!

As we needed to return the scooters by 1830, we decided to have a sundowner at a bar overlooking the harbour. They made very good passion fruit caipirinhas with a view to die for.

Sundowners overlooking the harbour

We decided to continue to splash out and eat at one of the harbour restaurants. It was good, staple Greek fare and as always the house wine was cheap and perfectly quaffable. Just before we went to bed, we heard a commotion outside and saw the ferry coming in to the strains of 2001 Space Odyssey. The music was blaring across the harbour. Fabulous. We had a relatively early night as we wanted to get away before 0800 as we had around 70nm to cover to get within spitting distance of Lavrion.

We awoke early and got away before the ferry left. We knew the journey would be lively as 30 plus winds were forecast but with them behind us, we figured we would be ok. Typically, the wind got up but after a couple of hours it was dead behind us and the swell was coming from the NE so it meant we either had to gybe a lot or motor for a few hours until the wind backed to the NW. As we had a long journey ahead of us we put the engine on so we could make good time. After a few hours the wind moved round so we could sail and we started to make stonking progress. It also meant we could deploy our Hydrovane which is an autopilot that harnesses the wind so doesn’t use any power.

Look no hands!

We were blessed with a small pod of dolphins who played in our bow waves for over an hour.

As we got closer to the channel between Evia and Andros, the wind started to really pick up and it was touching 40 knots which meant we were making 10 knots. As we came through the channel (reputedly one of the windiest places in the Aegean), we came to the conclusion that it would be less than an extra two hours to continue to Lavrion and our home berth rather than try and negotiate turning north towards an anchorage with such big seas. So, we continued south towards Lavrion with the expectation that the sea and wind would calm down. Of course that didn’t happen and we continued to race along at 8 knots. By the time we arrived at Olympic Marine, Lavrion it was still very windy but the berthing lads helped us get into our berth so we could finally relax knowing we had an extra day to get Nimmie ready to be lifted out. In the end, we covered nearly 90nm in just over 13 hours – quite an achievement.

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Peace and tranquillity

At last the wind had abated so we could leave Loutraki on the Monday morning (June 13). After sorting ourselves out and getting some fresh provisions, we slipped our lines at 0950. First stop on the itinerary was viewing the the Mamma Mia church (aka Agios Ioannis) from the sea.

Mamma Mia church from the sea

This meant we ended up going round Skopelos island clockwise into the wind and waves. The church itself looked more dramatic from the land but you never know it might have been spectacular. We knew the wind would be quite light after this as it would be behind us so most of the day was spent motoring although we did manage about 80 minutes worth of sailing!

The Northern Sporades

Our destination was meant to be Ormos Xero on the small island of Peristera (north of Skopelos) but could we get the anchor to hold? Could we hell. After six attempts, we gave up and moved on. We are so glad we did as our final destination was a bay called Agios Petrou on the small island of Kyra Panayia (aka Pelagos). The only people living on it are two monks. There are goats, olive groves and tranquility. Nothing more. A heavenly place. We anchored in turquoise water and we able to watch the stars with no light pollution. The whole area is a marine conservation park and they are very strict (quite rightly) as to what you are allowed to do. The endangered Mediterranean Monk seal lives in this part of the Sporades. We had a much needed swim then a G&T in the hammocks. Wonderful.

Hammock time!

The next day, we decided we would spend the day chilling. We had hoped to walk round to the monastery on the eastern side of the island but the wind had got up so we were loathed to leave the boat. The anchor was well dug in but you tend to get very wet in a dinghy and I’m not sure turning up at a monastery looking like drowned rats would have been appropriate! Instead we had a leisurely breakfast and, once the wind had calmed, played on the paddle board. There were only 3 of us in this anchorage on the second night. Just gorgeous.

Leisurely breakfast on Pelagos

On Thursday morning we knew we needed to start our way south towards Lavrion but we weren’t quite ready to leave the Sporades. But before we left the island, we sailed round towards Monastery Bay to see whether we could anchor there and visit the monastery. Alas, the wind and swell came directly into the bay so it was untenable as a stop. So, we sailed towards Skyros. It was a fantastic downwind sail of around 40nm. The waves were big at times but Nimmie took them in her stride as always. We arrived in Linaria harbour on Skyros around 1600 and managed to refuel before being guided into our berth. It’s a bit like valet parking as they attach a rope to the front of the boat and guide you back into the berth. It’s very helpful as there are always strong cross winds there so it reduces the drama for everyone. Although a town quay, it has lots of facilities including showers and toilets, washing machine, free wifi, free water (not potable so we haven’t bothered to fill our tanks) and electricity and even a library. Mind you, at €31 a night, which is €25 more than Loutraki on Skopelos, it should be fabulous! We decided to stay a couple of nights so we could explore the island more fully.

View of Linaria harbour from a fab bar
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Day trip to Skiathos

With strong winds still forecast for Sunday and Monday, we decided to take a ferry over to the smaller but busier island of Skiathos. We had booked the ferry for 1115 and had assumed it would be on time or late. Imagine our surprise when it came in early! We legged it round to the other side of the harbour in record time. It left 5 mins early. Not what you’d expect in Greece!

Old port Skiathos

We had a lovely day in Skiathos, celebrating our wedding anniversary, exploring the back streets as well as the Bourtzi peninsular. It used to be a fort there that guarded the entrance to Skiathos Town but now it’s an oasis away from the hubbub of a very commercialised tourist town. On it was a small but lovely maritime museum and a fab outdoor cafe with lovely views.

Lunch at Bourtzi

After an early lunch, we wandered the streets with Liz getting her fill of retail therapy.

Siferi beach

We walked over to Siferi Beach to have beers and cocktails at Cafe Del Mar before heading back to Bourtzi for an early supper. We shared a plate of fresh, seared tuna with Mediterranean vegetables. Perfectly cooked. On the way back, we walked through Skiathos cemetery which was stunningly maintained with flowers on every grave. We caught the last ferry back to Loutraki where we then had a few beers with our neighbours, Sara and Brian. They are all year round liveaboards who were also storm bound in Loutraki.

Cafe del Mare, Skiathos. Not quite Ibiza!

We had hoped to leave Loutraki on Monday but it was blowing 25 knots in the harbour so we decided to stay another day, do more chores (like replace the shower pump in the forward heads) and chill.

Loutraki means small baths so we wandered round to the find the remains of the Roman baths that were signposted out of the village. We were somewhat underwhelmed and didn’t even bother to take a photo! After sundowners with Sara and Brian at a small bar by the harbour, it was off to bed as we would be making our way north to more of the Sporades islands in the morning.

We did take a photo of the Roman baths!

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Stuck on Skopelos

We left Theologos in the Evia Channel early last Wednesday (8 June) morning to make our way towards the Sporades. Neither of us had slept very well and as we had woken up around 0630, we decided to set off. There was no wind and the water was like a millpond. Breakfast on the go and by midday, we felt we had done a day’s sailing. It was all very tranquil but of course, that wasn’t going to last.

We turned the corner opposite the Gulf of Volos and all hell broke loose. The wind and the current were against us despite the forecast saying something very different. We were not making much progress and we thought we might have to divert to a safe harbour. In the event, we upped the revs on the donkey (aka engine) and made slow but steady progress towards the Sporades. The wind was on the nose (naturally) but the current against us eased over time. However, less than 4 knots an hour was not exactly swift! The seas were quite lively so we were regularly soaked with spray but at least the water was warm. We were rewarded by seeing some dolphins just before Skiathos. So, some 12 hours after we started, we arrived at Loutraki on Skopelos. We decided to anchor for the night in the small harbour and then bag a berth on the pontoon in the morning when one became available as it’s not a big harbour despite ferries coming in all day. We had decided that this would be a safe place to see out a weather system (now named Storm Genesis) that was coming through with rolling thunderstorms and torrential rain over the next four days. By 0900 we were on the pontoon and safely tied up. Time for breakfast! There aren’t any facilities here in terms of loos and showers but we were able to fill up with water and although there is no electricity, the solar panels and wind generator are doing sterling work as it’s with sunny or windy and sometimes both!

The harbour at Loutraki, Skopelos

As we were unlikely to be able to see the whole island by boat, we hired a car for a couple of days. First stop was Agios Ioannis church where the Mamma Mia wedding took place. We climbed the 199 steps to find a tiny chapel. The rest of the day was spent visiting various locations used in the film irrespective of the goat tracks we needed to go down. Thank god it wasn’t our own car! The final stop was a lovely beach at Kastrani where Sophie tells Sky she’s invited her fathers to the wedding. In the evening we ate at a wonderful family run restaurant called Agnanti in Glossa, the town above the port. We were seated on the balcony overlooking the harbour. As an early anniversary meal, it ticked a lot of boxes!

The Mamma Mia church!
A fabulous meal at Agnanti restaurant in Glossa

On Friday we decided to go to Skopelos Town before the thunderstorm arrived. Our journey there was thwarted for a while as a large herd of goats had decided to wander down the road!

Goats with Skopelos Town in the distance

The bad weather was due at around 1500 so we thought we had plenty of time. That was before Liz decided that she needed more sandals (Emelda Marcos has nothing on Liz). We continued to visit Mamma Mia sites but then made our way back to the boat. The heavens opened around 30 minutes out of Loutraki. The wind and rain were biblical. When we arrived at the harbour, all was now calm although we knew more was coming. Apparently they had had 30-40 knots of wind for about half an hour. For the first time in years, we put the sides on the bimini so we had an extra room outside as it would keep us dry. The rest of the afternoon and early evening continued to be stormy but we were safe and sound in our berth with the wind pushing us off rather than back onto the pontoon. We had chosen well. We ventured out around 2030 to treat ourselves to a meal at Flisvos, a local taverna as we hoped to be in secluded bays for the rest of our holiday so eating on board- once we get off Skopelos!

Saturday was a better day, weather wise although the occasional downpour still occurred. It meant we could do more jobs on the boat but once done, we finally got to relax. We have booked a ferry across to Skiathos on Sunday as high winds and thunderstorms are still forecast but at least we felt we could leave Nimmie safe.

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Never a dull moment

We continued to do jobs through to Sunday lunchtime as a) there were plenty to do and b) the strong winds forecast came through with a vengeance. We felt really sorry for the charter boats that had to be back in the marina by Friday evening, irrespective of the weather. Some very hairy parking but luckily the marina staff were on hand with their ribs to help.

We made friends with an Australian couple who have just bought a 50 foot Beneteau Sense. They aren’t allowed to sail her until the change of ownership is complete and that can take up to six weeks. In the meantime, the current owners are paying for their berth in the marina and for some remedial work to be done. We were invited to go round for a drink on Friday (June 3) and ended up staying 3 hours. The invite was reciprocated the following evening and they stayed until 1am watching the Platinum Jubilee concert. Wasn’t the concert fabulous?!

Sunday morning was a bit hungover for one of us but by lunchtime we were ready for the off. That was until we found a large amount of water in the engine bilge. We couldn’t work out why it had come from but suspected that it was when we replaced the shower drain pump in the aft heads. Anyway, we pumped it all out, waited a bit and it didn’t fill up again so figured we were good to go. By this time it was 4pm and we had originally wanted to try to get up to Khalkis at the top of Evia some 60nm away in time for the bridge there to open around midnight as our plan is to make for the Sporades (Mamma Mia) islands. Given that we only go between 5 and 6 knots, a change of plan was called for.

Back in 2019, we celebrated Liz’s birthday in the Petali islands just off the bottom of Evia. These are about 4 hours away from Olympic Marine, Lavrion so we were able to get there and anchor before dark. It’s a lovely secluded spot with just a beach, rock formations and goats. We were there with 4 other boats but there was plenty of room as it shelves gradually to the shore so you can get quite close in and be sheltered.

Vasiliko Bay, Petali Islands

The next morning, having checked the anchor a couple of times in the night, we left around 0800 to make our way north to Khalkis. We needed to register and pay to go through the bridge. We hadn’t realised that the Port Authority office shuts at 1630 until 1800 but luckily we arrived at 1600! That meant we could then go across to a large bay to await instructions sometime after 2100 with regard to when the bridge would open. We were both knackered so had a couple of hours sleep whilst we waited for the Port Police to give us our instructions. A thunderstorm rolled through so Nimmie also got a thorough wash. At 2300, a call came through to tell us to get our boat ready. This means getting the anchor up and standing by for the instruction to go through the bridge. Simple. Except that at that point, the anchor windlass (motor that lifts the anchor and chain) decided to stop working. As it’s quite a deep bay and we knew the storm was coming through, we had 45m of chain out. The bottom of the bay is thick mud so excellent holding but a nightmare to break the anchor out of. Poor Liz pulled most of the chain up herself. The anchor was caked in mud and weighed a ton. Luckily, the other side of the bridge is a town quay where you can moor alongside (unusual for Greece) so we didn’t need to use our anchor and could then look at it in the morning. After a stiff G&T we went to bed knackered, again! I thought this was supposed to be a holiday.

The sliding bridge at Khalkis

Khalkis is the capital of Evia and is a lively place with bars and restaurants lining the quay. Because of the narrow gap between the Evia and mainland Greece, it’s subject to tides, currents and back eddies that can make mooring up a bit tricky. Luckily for us, the currents weren’t too bad and in fact we used them to ferry glide into a spot between two boats. All very sedate at midnight.

Khalkis town quay

Next morning, it was clear the windlass motor had stopped working and not a temporary glitch. As we were having breakfast contemplating what to do, a van came by with a marine engineer on board to look at one of the other boats. We nabbed him and he diagnosed the motor brushes were the problem. Our windlass is as old as the boat and it is hard to get parts now. Even worse, we were planning on anchoring most of this holiday and when we would be on a town quay, we still have to deploy our anchor and then tie up at the stern (back). Anyway, the kind engineer took the motor away to see if it could be repaired. We had thought that we would have to stay in Khalkis for at least another day so imagine our surprise when another engineer turned up two hours later with repaired motor in hand. Whilst he’s fixed the problem, he did advise to get a new windlass fitted over the winter. Probably a good idea.

The engineers at work!

So, at 1400 we left Khalkis and made our way up the channel between Evia and the mainland to find an anchorage for the night. We are currently safely tucked into a bay on the mainland side at a place called Ay Ioannis Theologos with a beautiful sunset to finish off our day.

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Up to our elbows in sh*t

As you will remember, our launch date was delayed due to the yard extending the haul out bay to accommodate super yachts. However, they realised that the work was behind schedule so they had brought in a crane to launch us mere mortals. We had agreed with them that we would launch on Tuesday May 31st as we had flights booked for the day before. Imagine our surprise when we received a call at home on Monday lunchtime to say that they were launching n two hours! Ok we said and presumed they would move us round to the marina. We caught a BA flight from Heathrow (long story) that arrived after midnight. We had booked an Airbnb for a couple of nights as we had assumed we would still be on the hard Monday night. We arrived at the house around 1.30am to find our host there to greet us. Bless her.

The next day, with some trepidation, we caught a taxi to the marina having already done a small perishable food shop (we had no idea if the fridge would be working) to find Nimmie in a finger pontoon berth. Wonderful as it is so much easier to get on and off at the side rather than via a gangplank from the stern. The long list of jobs were started but the primary ones were sorting out the sails as we had light winds. The genoa (big flappy thing at the front) needed to be put on and the mainsail (slightly smaller flappy thing in the middle) needed raising and cleaning as birds had nested in it over the last three years! After that it was a question of trying everything to see if it all worked. The boat was a mess with every cupboard emptied so we were glad to be able to go back into town to our Airbnb and have a nice meal. The next day we found out pretty quickly that the aft heads (back toilet) was not working. No water coming in or going out. Long story short, it turns out that the discharge hose was completely blocked. Yes, blocked and you can imagine with what. So, we had to take the hoses off and replace them. These are hoses that haven’t been moved for 24 years so it wasn’t easy and combined with being in a very confined space meant that it took 11 hours all told to fix it. We also found out that the shower drain pump had stopped working so that also had to be replaced.

Sorry if you’re eating when you see this!

Yesterday, we finished at 9.30pm, had a shower (both of us smelt like a public lavatory) and just had a light supper before crashing. It feels like we have aged over the last three years and definitely not feeling match fit! We then found out this morning that the bow thruster (it helps us park the boat by moving the front of the boat sideways) had been incorrectly wired when they added more blades back in 2020 so when the joystick was moved to the right, the boat moved to the left. This could have been a nightmare if not fixed as I would bound to forget! Luckily, an electrician came round within an hour and sorted it.

We were planning on leaving today but the list of jobs keeps getting longer and we have missed our weather window. High winds came through today and are due to continue for another couple of days so we may be in port until Sunday. It did mean that we were able to watch some of the Jubilee celebrations via BBC iPlayer.

Still, after three years out of the water, we are fortunate that nothing (touch wood) has gone wrong since launching that we can’t fix ourselves or isn’t covered by the warranty of work done by the yard. We can’t complain. We are sitting on our beloved Nimmie in 30 plus degrees without a cloud in the sky. What’s not to love?

Another Greek sunset

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A slight delay to our plans

Everything was organised. We had booked our flight out to Greece for May 10th and would spend the next six weeks sailing around the Aegean. A few weeks ahead of this, we contacted the marina to confirm the launch date only to find out that they are extending the launch bay to accommodate super yachts and would not be able to launch any boats during May at all! How could they do this to us?! Simple, we missed an email in March informing us of the work!!! We’d booked the flights in February and, as they were with RyanAir, not exactly easy to change.

So, we decided we would come out for a few days anyway to see how Nimmie had fared over the winter. We rented a car from the airport as well as an AirBnB in Lavrion itself. It was a cute little stone cottage with a mezzanine floor for the bedroom. It even had a stairlift for the very steep stairs. No, we didn’t use it, before you ask!

A tiny house dwarfed by its neighbours

Having got up before dawn to catch the 0640 flight from Luton, we were a bit knackered by the time we got to Lavrion nearly 12 hours later. However, after a bit of lunch we went over to the boatyard to have a look at Nimmie. Apart from being incredibly dirty from three years of being in a dusty, windy boatyard, she didn’t seem to be looking too bad. We spent the next few hours checking things still worked. We were pleased to see the batteries at full charge with the new solar panels working wonderfully and the instruments also appeared to be working fine (see previous blog) although the test will be when she’s in the water.

Launch bay should be where the crane is!

Over the next two days we were at the boat well into the evening sorting things so that there would be less to do when we go back at the end of May. We even got the outboard motor to start which, for those of you who have them will know, after three years can be very fickle! On the Thursday, the wind dropped a little so Jo was able to wash the boat (took a good couple of hours) so she was at least cleaner if not clean! Thanks to Sam and Mags for their donation of an extra long hose. Later on, Liz went up the mast to try and sort out the tricolour masthead light. This is the light we use when night sailing so it wasn’t urgent and the anchor light seemed fine but it’s good to try and ensure all is working. In the end we couldn’t get it to work so it might well need to be replaced.

Liz in her favourite position at the top of the mast!

As we were finishing late every evening, we decided to sample new, local hostelries. The first evening was at The Captain’s (recommended by our AirBnB hosts). It was okay but we should’ve known it was never going to be great when it wasn’t in Trip Advisor and had no customers! The next night we went to one of our favourites, Artemis, and were not disappointed. Fabulous Mediterranean food with a twist. Such a shame it is in the middle of nowhere as you need a car or taxi to get there. The last night was another new one called Pezodromos. It’s the number one restaurant in Lavrion and you can see why. It was busy but the service was excellent and the food was very good and inexpensive. They threw in ice cream for dessert and an ouzo. Even the house white at 4€ for half a litre was very quaffable. We will definitely be back there. Topped off with a walk along the harbour and the semi final of Eurovision back at the house. What a wonderful evening to finish on.

All in all, whilst we were a little nervous as to what we would find, we were very pleasantly surprised that Nimmie hadn’t broken any more of her toys. However, she does seem to be sharing her boom with some feathered friends again, although this time it’s in the actual mainsail. We got a lot done in a very short period of time so feel it was well spent. Can’t wait for the end of the month when we are back out again. This time for a bit longer!

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A short trip out to (hopefully) fix the instruments

Olympic Marine Boatyard, Lavrion, Greece in gorgeous winter sunshine

I couldn’t complain about coming out to Greece for a few days of maintenance on Nimmie. The weather forecast was for 16-19 degrees with a cool wind. Very different to the UK! The reason for the visit was to try and sort out the navigational instruments that had decided to stop working on our final day in late September. Our initial thought was that this was as a result of the speed and depths logs’ anti theft codes being corrupted as they were the ‘master’ ones that then fed data to the other instruments. They were over 20 years old after all! So, once we were back in the UK we bought second hand but slightly newer versions from eBay that didn’t have the anti-theft codes built in. The theory being that the same issue couldn’t arise in the future. Given that we had no idea whether this would sort the problem or whether we would need to purchase a brand new nav system (costing mega euros), I came out this week to meet with the electronics engineer to see what could be done. Liz, sadly, had to work. AirBnB and car hire booked, I landed at Athens airport on Sunday evening. Up at 6am UK time on the Monday was a slight shock to the system but I managed to get to the boat at Olympic Marine, Lavrion in plenty of time for the meeting with the engineer. I wanted to check whether the problem was still the same before he came on board. The new domestic batteries that had been installed in October were working well with the solar panels charging them and showing a full charge on the battery monitor. The batteries were bought in Greece as the additional VAT and import duties from the UK are prohibitive post Brexit. They still ended up costing over €1200 for the three batteries including installation.

Once onboard, the instruments were turned on and, lo and behold, some of them actually worked although the wind and depth instruments were completely blank – very different to last time. I probably think that the problem was due to not enough power coming through the batteries when we only had one working. Anyway, Nikos, the electronic engineer from AMZ Yachting Services, duly arrived around 1030 and proceeded to source the cause of the new problem. It seems the VMG wind instrument that basically shows a zoomed in version of the main wind one had broken cables behind the mounting plate and the data from this instrument fed through to the others. Once isolated, the rest all worked! He replaced another connector that was also a bit dodgy so we now have fully functioning instruments. Hurrah! It could have been so expensive otherwise and we didn’t want to leave it until Spring 2022 to find out. We will keep the replacement ones on board for the time being and then sell them if we don’t upgrade in the next couple of years. Whilst Nikos was there, we asked him to install a remote windlass control so that we can operate the anchor from any part of the boat. This will be very useful when we are coming into harbours with just the two of us and we need to tighten the anchor chain as we go stern to or when leaving a windy berth.

New hatch covers

Whilst out here, I did a few other maintenance jobs including checking whether the hatch covers Liz had made fitted. They are slightly too big so they will be coming back with me for an adjustment but they look good.

It’s been interesting being out here in the winter. Lavrion is very much a working town so everything is pretty much open although bars and restaurants are looking quite quiet during the week. I don’t know whether that’s because of Covid or just people starting to hunker down. Greece feels like such an outdoor culture that it seems hard to imagine people in front of roaring fires in the depths of winter. What I have noticed is that everyone, and I mean everyone, wears a mask inside. The other is that when in non essential shops, they ask you for proof of your vaccination status and ID. No one batters an eyelid and just get on with it. The Greek government has just announced that vaccination will be compulsory for the over 60s with a €100 fine per month of not being vaccinated. A significant amount of money given the average wage in Greece is €21,000. Very different to the UK approach but then they also have much lower deaths (18,000) and cases (945,000).

It feels good to be out here but there is a certain amount of worry that the rules will be changed again and I might have to isolate for longer or not get back at all. In the event, I managed to change my flight from Friday (tomorrow) to today for £20. It means I can get the PCR test completed and sent off on Friday and hopefully get the results over the weekend. It does make popping out to check Nimmie a lot harder. I can’t see us getting back out until May next year when we are planning on being here for a quite a few weeks.

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Mamma Mia

We decided that as we couldn’t do much on the boat whilst they were painting the decks that we would go away for the weekend. We set off around 1030 on Friday towards the Pelion coast in the north, between Volos and Thessaloniki. The beaches there were supposed to be gorgeous with small villages that somehow have been forgotten. It would be at least a five hour drive but on the toll roads so pretty easy driving.

Our hotel for the weekend. The blue dot is Olympic Marine

We arrived in Volos around 3pm having stopped a couple of times for the loo and changing drivers. Volos is famous for being the city where Jason and the Argonauts left on their quest and since then has become a thriving commercial port. Consequently, the town is a working rather than a picturesque place but the town quay reminds us of Prevesa in the Ionian where people stroll in the evening with bars and restaurants. Seems a good stopping off point to the Sporades or further north.

Volos Town Quay

We then had a lovely drive up to our destination on the other side of the peninsula near to Milopotamos. The drive up and over the mountain was wonderful, if a little hairy at times!

Overlooking the Gulf of Volos. Even the animals need shade!

The Hotel Faro is really off the beaten track with the last 600m unpaved road at a steep decline but so worth it. Set into the hillside with its own sea pool. We had booked a table at a nearby taverna, Aggelika, which was 100m away. What the map didn’t tell you was that it was on the next headland so it was actually a descent of 100m followed by a climb of 100m. However, the freshly caught dorado was exquisite. Washed down with the usual half a litre of house wine (€4) and the journey back didn’t seem as bad.

Sunrise from our balcony

We woke up to an amazing sunrise and decided to stay at the hotel and relax. The sea pool was something special – crystal clear, turquoise water with no sea weed, jellyfish or sea urchins. Bliss.

The sea pool at Hotel Faro. Can you spot Liz?

However, Liz couldn’t keep still for too long so we went for an explore as there looked to be a secluded beach about a mile away on another headland. As we walked down the track a couple of cars passed us but I definitely would not have wanted to put the suspension of our little Kia Picanto to the test! We were rewarded with a gorgeous beach with very few people on it. We were even able to find our own secluded spot to while away a couple of hours.

Limnionas Beach

Sundowners from another beach bar next to the Aggelika taverna, Cafe del Mare, and then dinner at the hotel. We really didn’t want to leave our idyll which was also a bargain at €50 per night for the room. Breakfast was €7 each with pretty much everything on the menu homemade from the yogurt, cheese, jams and honey. On Sunday we thought we’d explore the coastline further north before wending our way back to Lavrio. This meant going back into the mountain and then back out to the coast so 4km as the crow flies took an hour by car. Still, we were treated to a number of cute villages, including Damachouri where its harbour was used in the 2008 Mamma Mia film.

The temporary pontoons used in the film have long since gone

As we had a long drive back, we were back on the road by 1pm. We were amazed to see acre upon acre of apple trees all being harvested and transported down the mountain to waiting large trucks. We must have counted at least 50 pickup trucks in about an hour. Once we were at Volos and off the mountain roads, the driving was easy so we were back at our apartment by 7pm. There is a restaurant just south of the marina and on the way to Cape Sounio called Artemis that we found in 2019. We thought it was different and delicious back then so we were keen to try it. As it’s near to the end of the season they are only open at the weekends so Sunday evening was our last chance to eat there this time. They did not disappoint. The Prawn Saganaki and Risotto Veruna with prawns and truffles were both scrumptious. A perfect end to a wonderful weekend.

The restaurant Artemis did not disappoint

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The saga of the solar panels and other electrical issues

Back in March 2020, Jo was supposed to come out to Greece to oversee the removal of the old and the installation of the new solar panels. We thought that it would be a few days work at best. That visit got postponed for obvious Covid related reasons like not being stuck in a country without being able to get home. The new solar panels had been delivered to the yard in Autumn 2019 and had been left on the boat. The new ones are smaller in size but still provide around 200W of power. The old ones had pretty much stopped working, which meant that we could only rely on our wind turbine to generate power when we were at anchor (and you all know how much we love to anchor!). The new ones had been found at the Düsseldorf Boat Show in Jan 2019 as we wanted ones that had the wires underneath thereby not been a trip hazard as they are mounted on the stern deck. We found a manufacturer, Sunbeam, who did just that and were made of tough material so that they could be walked on etc without being damaged. Our old ones, to be fair, had been installed in 2012 and had given us really good service the entire time we have been away from the U.K.

The old panels being removed

We realised that the old ones needed removing and the deck that they covered making good. We had had the decks painted back in 2016 in Malta so at the very least we would need some non-slip paint. However, once the old ones were taken off it was clear that there had been some water ingress into the GRP so that it would need repairing before it could be painted. So, instead of taking a day or so to prepare for the installation, it took four.

Nearly ready for painting
First couple of coats on

Whilst they were doing all of this, we couldn’t do a lot ourselves on Nimmie as there was so much dust from the prep and sanding as well as us getting in the way so on Tuesday afternoon we took ourselves off to a nearby beach for some R&R. It was lovely just to soak up the sun and chill for a bit. When we got back to the boat on the Weds they were still painting so we went back to the beach!!

Hard life at Pounta Zeza beach

By Thursday afternoon, they had pretty much finished the painting and had done a really good job in matching the original, faded off white. We did wonder whether they would get it finished by Thursday as high winds and some rain (yes, rain) was forecast but not only did they finish the work but they then washed the boat down! We had that on our list to do but thought it wasn’t worthwhile doing it until all the work had been completed.

Earlier this summer we asked the yard to check the batteries as they had had very little charging since we left the boat in August 2019. We should have thought about it earlier as batteries tend to self discharge around 2-3% per month so over 22 months that could mean between 44-66% discharge. Not good for the batteries at all. The yard inspected them and found that the domestic batteries were ok but needed charging and the engine starter battery needed replacing. This was duly ordered and installed in July. They then turned the engine over to check she hadn’t seized (as had happened to friends of ours) so we thought all was well. We checked the batteries today (Thursday) and found that two of the domestic ones had blown and tried to start the engine but to no avail. Even though the boat is out of the water, you can usually start them and then shut them down within 20 or 30 seconds without any damage. A conversation will be had with the yard as it means that once the solar panels are installed, there could be a fire risk if the blown batteries had any charge through them.

You can see the middle on each of these two batteries is split

We popped back in the evening to see how the navigation and anchor lights were. It seems that the nav lights at the top of the mast and the steaming light (bright white light you have on when you are motoring at night) aren’t working but the anchor light is so, hopefully, it’s just a question of changing the bulbs. Turned out after two trips up the mast that the steaming light was working but just didn’t have enough current going through with the batteries not getting charged. As soon as the solar panels started to charge the batteries, all was well. Don’t think that’s the issue with the nav lights as they are LED. Anyway, back to the solar panels. There was more painting being done on the Friday morning so we went off to the Pelion region for the weekend (see separate post Mammia Mia).

Newly painted deck and new solar panels

By the Monday morning, things were looking good on deck and they started to fit the new solar panels. The wiring was going to be a bit more complicated as they suggested having having an additional Victron MPPT Controllers rather than just the one we had. This meant that the two 38W panels could run separately from the larger 100W panel. By Tuesday evening, the wiring was complete although they had made a mess of the aft cabin headlining but at least Liz was on hand to sort (headlining being her speciality and the heads/toilets mine). They popped back on the Wednesday to reconnect a couple of ceiling lights that had taken down – Lord knows why. This gave us a few hours before our flight back to the U.K. to clear up the boat. Or so we thought.

Jo decided to check the instruments were still working given how long it had been. The chart plotter and radio seemed ok but an error message came up on the other instruments – it needed a code but wouldn’t accept the code we had. The old instruments we had, had an inbuilt theft protection that meant you had to enter a code if one of them was stolen. Anyway, after multiple tries, Jo rang Raymarine in the U.K. and it seems that the instruments have been corrupted. Not sure whether the battery failure was the culprit or just old age. They’d been installed from day one so 1998! Now we need to decide whether to just get secondhand replacements of a slightly newer model that doesn’t have a built in code or splash out on a whole new system.

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