Thursday, 31 May 2012

Talassa, talassa, or The Sea, the Sea

Sea thoughts from the crew...

Each day is different, and immeasurably long. Especially when you wake at 4 a.m. in order to journey before the wind gets up -- this is when force 5 on the Beaufort Scale is forecast for the afternoon.
Some days unroll into exceptionally blissful afternoons and evenings; the sea's surface remains gentle, never a wave over half a metre, the wind is not sneaky (i.e. on the nose or right on the stern) and although at times we need the engine's help to get to our destination before dark, the chug-chug need not be too frantic.

But there are also times when a sudden gust heels the boat onto her side, causing unseen objects to crash within, or when the instruments unaccounatably stop registering, or when the engine overheats and smoke puffs over the stern.
And, at such moments, I wish I were not here (or there, depending on your perspective...)
It is, understandably, great food for poems: I compose powerful lines while cowering in the cockpit (or, when very scared, I retire into the boat, lie down and shut my eyes!).
This will doubtless sound very familiar to many a sailing-wife (or captive companion...)
On the other hand, as one might say, sitting in the cockpit with a quiet sea, watching the mighty mountains growing purple in the evening shadows, or at noonday, observing the rocky islands with their noses dipping into the water like somnolent dinosaurs (and bare rocks like a plucked chicken's back, sprouting a few black feathery trees) with the occasional swooping seagull and the clouds shaping like dragons' heads... well, this brings such peace into my soul (you know what I mean) I do not need to sing!

Here is a pic of the sleeping dinosaur:
And this is the unforgettable anchorage near Porto Germeno. A half-moon lit the water after the sun went down, the waves lapped softly against the white rocks, the stars came out, the wind dropped, the air was warm.
You can't get it much better than this...

So here is David feeling happy.

In search of the Sibyl... (or the Sphinx?)

A visit to Delphos

Lowering grey clouds, blustery wind -- just the weather for climbing up to Delphos. We caught a bus from Itea (sea level) and ascended via many a hairpin bend to the small town of Delphi (Delfi). There we alighted, together with Steve, from the UK, also on his boat (a Vancouver) and sailing towards Kekira (Corfu) with many sea stories behind him...

We walked up and down (roller-coaster effect) through the small town and then entered the site past the Archaeological Museum (of which more later) and started the climb. The highest "remains" is the stadium, and on the steep climb you encounter huge lumps of crumble from temples and a wonderfully intact theatre.
Some pix:

Here is the theatre -- most inviting, a visiting Frenchman declaimed a little Phedre for his delighted (French) audience...

As we advanced, so did the rainclouds. But we were not to be deterred. And so reached the stadium (urgently requiring weeding!) where we sheltered beneath an ancient fir tree. Lots of very pretty wild flowers growing up here, and mulberry and other deciduous trees mingled with the evergreens.

Above, temple for Apollo, which has been restored.Various earthquakes and fires have wreaked their toll on this once enchanted haunt of gods. (Well...) No sign of the Sibyl.
But a most magnificent Sphinx, removed from her pillar and placed for safe-keeping inside the museum.
She has a lovely face, definitely a lady with whom to engage in discourse ...

And of course, the beautiful Antinous, lover of emperor Hadrian, has his niche...

Outside, swarms of thin stripey cats waiting for the tourists to feed them... or possibly, guarding mysterious secrets while the Sybil sleeps.
Then down into the town again and a very fine Greek lunch (moussaka, spaghetti and salad, followed by Greek yogurt and coffee) while waiting for the bus back down to Itea.

It's the location that is so memorable. High high looking down to the sea -- and enclosed by immensely steep rugged rock. Requires stout shoes and no heavy bags!

Monday, 28 May 2012

An engineering wonder

Some pix of the Reno bridge, under which we slowly motored -- into the gulf of Corinth.

Other pix on my gmail -- well, I hope so, never really know with these etherial activities...

The mutterings of the Sybil...

So we have reached Delphi -- well, almost.
Many adventures, met many fascinating folk.
After leaving Corfu and Judith, we sailed southwards through the Ionian Sea and anchored the first night off Paxos (Paxoi) in a blissful small bay, sunlight glinting on the gentle wave-tops. Complete silence, only the occasional slap-slap of the water lapping against the sides of the boat.

Next day we progressed past Levkas to Cefalonia, passing Ithaca (a name to conjure with!) and me sitting in the back cockpit, writing a few poems.
These will be published later (!).
Went into harbour at Sami (where Captian Corelli's Mandolin was filmed) and enjoyed the sunlight and the colours. Had fine Greek fish-filled supper and walked round the quiet streets. Talked about Greek economy with sad restaurant waiters...

On towards the Gulf of Corinth and under the Reni Bridges -- see pix of our approach, view from beneath (awesome!) and the view from the rear (of course, it all depends which way you're travelling!).

We spent one night in Mesolungi, place of Byron's decease, and where I had a wonderful cold shower. Brr, but most welcome.
This was a perfect day's sail -- we turned off the engine and zipped along at six to seven knots, a broad reach. Note my professional terms, sailing guys.
Beautiful entrance along narrow channel with small fishermen's huts -- reminded me a little of the river Arno near Arnovecchio, all very peaceful; and apparently a bird sanctuary nearby.

All quiet for exit next day -- indeed, the waters were oily smooth, so had to motor, but engine over-heated. (I don't enjoy these moments...)
Later on, wind picked up.
Passing the site of the Battle of Lepanto (1570s if my memory serves me ???) we tried entering the crenellated walls curving round the tiny harbour -- but it proved too shallow, even with Stroemhella's centre-board lifted.
So we exited and continued.
On to the island of Trizonia where we were able to go alongside and were helped by some yachties from the Thames Royal Yacht Club. (Wind had got up.)
Met the jolly people on motor-ship (all electric) moored extremely close to us, and they invited us to supper, on the waterfront looking from the island towards the nearby mainland.
A most merry encounter and good mussels!

Here you see part of Stroemhella and our nearby neighbours' electric boat!
The harbour cat (one of the many!) came to visit and even stepped aboard. But I told him, no mice to catch -- so he jumped off and found a piece of cheese...

In the night it grew very windy and the rain pelted down. At four a.m. David woke to wind-still (well, comparative!) and decided to set off. I swam up from some pleasant dreams and managed to help extricate Stroemhella from her cramped position (with a little damage to the toe rail) and we chugged off through the dark (me at the helm) towards Itea and the Delphic prophesies...

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Corfu from on hgh

Spent another day looking at the beauties of Corfu town and surroundings.
Probably sail southwards tomorrow to Paxoi (Paxos). David returns from a few days in the UK.
Today Judith and I passed one hour in the Vodaphone shop trying to establish internet contact via dongle -- didn't work...
So went to the wonderful market where we found vegetables and fruit and the most magnificent display of fresh fish ..

see pix above:

Our attentive host Spiros from the Argo hotel drove us into town and up to see the view of the airport landing runway and look down upon Mouse Island.

And one final picture of me, Judith and Spiro -- last day on Corfu.
Time appears to rush and yet at the same time creep-- or maybe it slithers at different rates.
One day appears very long -- yet when I think back to my arrival in Corfu (less than a week ago), the sequence is a flash...

A domani, thus

Monday, 21 May 2012

Language mystification...

Aha, English has reappeared, after little offerings of Greek, which did not help me to be blog-creative!
We are now in beautiful Corfu, which meets all the poems and dreams, glittering rippling blue blue sea, distant mauve mountians

Corfu United

No, not a football team -- today is the celebration of the unification in 1864, of seven islands off the west coast of Greece, with the mainland. Corfu was one of the islands.

We took the small bus along the zig-zag coast road into Corful town and walked up the marble-paved streets (reminiscent of Ostuni, Lecce and other Italian cities) towards the congregating crowds where music bands in 19th-century costume (!) were gathering, together with groups of women in their stunning costumes, bright-coloured embroidered blouses and flowery headdresses. 
The processions lasted an hour, wonderful to watch, many young (school) children, groups of boy scouts looking amazingly like England in the 1950s (except for the hair-length) and finally the Corfu sailors, with Kerkira in gold letters on their hats (Greek for Corfu).
The brass-and-woodwind bands were superb, a joy to hear. Very impressive, very nostalgia-making...

Meanwhile, I am conscientiously doing short audio lessons in Greek (BBC course on CD, played on the boat) so now can say at least ten words with great conviction!

Above some pix of yesterday in Corfu old town. Judith walking while Eleni studies the map.
It was a reunion -- Eleni came across by ferry from her home on the mainland. We first met in Manchester more than fifteen years ago, and Eleni was at our wedding in Manchester in 2002. Later she stayed in my house in Amsterdam when she was working there. We haven't met for about eight years. A very fine reunion!
Here a pic of Judith, Eleni and me, near the seafront where we had lunched before Eleni took the ferry back to Igoumenitsa.
Tomorrow will see another expedition into Corfu town to buy a dongle for Greece to encourage interent contact (after we have had to leave Spiro's wonderful Hotel Argo here in Benitses, where we ensconce ourselves each evening and Spiro has promised to teach me Greek dancing (like Zorba...)
On Wednesday the plan is to sail sountwards to Paxos...

Friday, 18 May 2012

Re-finding English in Greece...

We have reached Corfu. Blue mountains, glittering purple sea (or is it wine-red?) and black cypress trees pointing into the shining sky.
Really words come too short. I attach a pic or two.

And there are all the stories about Venice, Verona and so forth.

Now I just want to sit and watch...

That, of course, is Venice...

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Lecce's limestone curls...

What a splendid city! Sumptuously decorated churches and palaces. Here some photos, showing the love of curling stone and plasterwork...

The streams of tourists have not yet arrived and the weather is just right, early May. The locals say it becomes unbearably hot in August. We admired  the rococo pillars in a fairly restrained cathedral.
And reached the Roman theatre at lunchtime -- deserted and serene in the midday sun.

Last night we ate Greek (for practice) with Heather (Amsterdam) and her sister Sandra (SF) -- both originally from Australia.
 This is a reminder of the sea at Gallipoli... How quiet and tranquil it can be at times...

This may be the last of my blogs for a couple of weeks.
Tomorrow I go to Como and spend a week up north (Venice and so forth) with cousin Nomi. On 16 May I fly from Milan to Athens...

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Wandering round Gallipoli

Today (6 May) was delightful -- sunny, sweet breeze, Judith (First Mate) and I set off after lunch to investigate Gallipoli, while David finished editing a learned book and sent the pdf file off to the publishers...

Gallipoli has a centro storico which is any architectural historian's joy -- and a cathedral which is a baroque joy (partly same archirect as Lecce's cathedral).
And of course, as we approached the old centre, we dropped into a gelateria for the most chocolatty icecream I've had in days...

The old centre is built on the end of a promontory and the sea appears glimpsed through the houses on either side as you progress down the Corso Roma...

All most delightful, and on our walk back we encountered the well-known Italian phenomenon of the Sunday afternoon passegiato -- crowds out, huge family parties, ambling along the main streets, licking gelati...

Back to the boat, waiting moored beside a glassy sea, and Judith made light Italian salad-ish supper -- washed down with Severio's white wine, followed by Aldo's limoncello.
What a life...

Pictures to come...

Friday, 4 May 2012

through the briny deep

Above some pix of our travels through the Straits of Messina and beyond...
Behind, you see the monsters (like, Scylla and Charybdis...) and yes, that's me disguised as a helmswoman, efficiently steering Stroemhella between the, well, actually there weren't any whirlpools to be seen that day... But plenty large ferryboats!
We set out from Bagna Calabra quite early, with very light winds. I have to admit, it was a cinch.
After about five hours we reached Reggia Calabria, where we soon met the redoubtable Severio (see Rod Heikell's Pilot on the Italian waters).
Happy as sandboys to be clear of all sirens and tentacles, we did a great wash (the next day) and hung up two weeks' worth of undergarments (!!) and tea towels in the briny breeze.
See Stroemhella Adornata...

Severio proved his weight in gold (metaphorically speaking) and supplied us with bottles of home-produced wine, cheese made by his wife, a taxi service to Reggio Calabria airport (to meet Judith our new crew member) and then, on our final evening, drove us to an enchanted pizza restaurant overlooking the water, with the lights of Sicily twinkling on the opposite shore, and we watched the sun set and had a delicious Calabrese pizza... And talked to Maria (the proprietaire??) about life, and war, and economics and families. All in Italian.
And back to the boat rady for an early departure.
Wonderful for me having Judith on board -- she likes getting up early (like, 3.30 a.m. ...) for the 50-mile crossings. Plus, she is a wonderful cook. We plan to keep her...
Above, our boat with party pennants (!), in the marina at Reggia Calabria.

The enchanted seas...
All our troubles (temporarily) over; life, as David says, couldn't get much better... The sea is calm, the sun is not too hot (there is the shelter of the bimini for midday heat), we chug along, at about five knots, we see porpoises and the occasional wondrous turtle with its patterned shell (green and yellow sqaures) and black flippers, cruising slowly near the surface. And sometimes jumping fish, and sometimes a gaggle of seagulls bobbing along having a subdues chat... The sea is indeed, ever-changing, riplets and silken undulations, sometimes criss-cross patterns as if incised onto metal, and never utterly calm, never withiut a breath of motion.
The days are long, ending with our own-cooked meal, always delicious, accompanied by local wine often sold to us by its maker.
Do I need to descibe the food? So fresh and flavoursome, and the fish, caught the same day and bought in a small shop right on the waterfront... So far my favourite is dorade, or it alled orate here?
I will devote a section later on to food in detail; for now, let it suffice to say -- simply delcious!

Here a picture of First Mate Judith holding a sample of David's lunch-time panini...

Good for the eye, good for the tum! (Hezi, Judith is wearing your fleece, bought about ten years ago in England). Another travelling note...

So now we arein Gallipoli the Italian one) for at least a week, and Stroemhella will be lifted out of the sea and cleaned and anti-fouled.
And I will go northwards to Como and Venice, to join my cousing Nomi.
David and Judith will set out for Greece probably on 15 May.

Above a picture of the plentiful wind-turbines providing energy in the Bay of Squalls (appropraitely named). Seen along the coast of Italy's toe.

Evening light across the water as we lie at anchor off Capo Rizzuto.