We checked out of Turkey on the 12th of May to sail to the Greek island of Leros, an island in the Dodecanese Island group, just 36nms from the Turkish coast. After a lovely sail with light winds from the northeast, we dropped anchor in a beautiful, protected anchorage in front of the village of Lakki. The next item on our agenda was to formally check into Greece with the Port Police, Immigration and Customs, each one checking that we had all our documents in order. Tepai, Crew List, passports, ships original documents, insurance documents, our exit papers from Turkey – the list goes on and on. However, we were prepared for this and we were stamped into Greece in less than three hours. Whew!!
This check-in process started our 90-day Schengen countdown. NZ has a bilateral agreement with some countries including Greece, Italy and Spain, which means we could negotiate to stay longer, but at this point in our travels, we are planning to spend the 2nd 90 days in Albania and Montenegro, which are non-Schengen.
The main reason for coming to Leros Island is that we had made a promise to some dear French friends, whom Kay met while working together in New Caledonia back in 1977. Pierre and Nicole, now live back in France and keep their yacht in Leros, spending their summers sailing in Greece. We have kept in touch over the years, then in 2016, Lane and I were invited to join them on their yacht, Tawali, to explore many of the beautiful Dodecanese Islands. That was a magical sailing trip for us and when we left their yacht to fly back to NZ we promised to return with our own boat Mai Tai, so that we could continue cruising together. So here we are, 7 years later, fulfilling that promise and experiencing the dream again.
After a wonderful visit with Pierre and Nicole, it was time to move on. We enjoyed some lovely sailing between the Greek islands, and a good bit of motor sailing, as we have come to expect here in the Med. We found some stunning bays to anchor in, and swam in the crystal clear warm waters. We were headed towards Naxos, and before arriving we turned the engine on to run our water maker and fill up our water tanks. We like to fill the tanks with the water maker, using clean sea water, before arriving in a port. All was going well until we heard the engine begin to cough, then stop.!!!! oh no!!! What this time???. More b….y engine problems, I mumble under my breath!!
Lane takes everything very calmly and says “I guess that when you put an old re-built diesel engine from the 1970’s in your boat, you should expect to have a few engine problems while sailing around the world on a 60-year-old yacht.”
Now, with no engine, we continued sailing toward Naxos and entered the large, protected bay, a designated anchorage, dropping anchor in about 6m of water. Fortunately, the bay was not too crowded. That may have been a bit exciting if it was full of anchored yachts when we sailed in! It didn’t take long for Lane to diagnose a blown head gasket. Cause unknown, at this stage. We soon found out that there is no place to get engineering work done here in Naxos, but Lane ordered a new head gasket to be flown in from England ( The engine is a BMC 1800). We soon learned that there is an excellent mechanic and reasonable machine shop in Syros, an island just 31 nms further north. So, we will wait here for the new gasket to arrive and then sail to Syros.
Naxos Island is the largest of the Cyclades islands. Our anchorage is very protected, and very calm apart from the massive swells caused by the huge passenger and cargo ferries that come and go all day long.
Meanwhile, we are safely anchored in front of the beautiful old walled city and the famous Temple of Apollo and have the time (while waiting for engine parts – isn’t it fortunate that the engine failed) to hire a car for a few days and explore this beautiful fertile island, with stunning mountain villages, little chapels, and famous marble quarries. The Naxos sparkling white marble has been very sought after for three thousand years throughout the Med for buildings and statue carving.
Once the head gasket finally arrived from England (17 days later) we set SAIL for Syros. This was a difficult beat to weather, and we were nervous that we would have to make many tacks in the 15 to 18 knot breeze in order to reach Syros. But with no engine, what choice did we have? Mai Tai Took the challenge in stride by tackling the windward course like a champion racehorse. We only made three tacks through the night and arrived in the early hours of the morning. We dropped anchor outside the old abandoned marina and went down below for a wee nap. At daylight, we launched our dinghy and went to check out spaces available inside the breakwater. Then we weighed anchor and towed ourselves into our chosen spot with the dinghy. Perfect! We were tucked in behind a big sea wall, and even though there was no water and or power available, we were safe. And it was free! Luckily Mai Tai does not rely heavily on her diesel engine for charging the batteries and running our refrigeration. We have solar panels that can keep our batteries topped up during normal sunny days. We use our windvane steering instead of an autopilot when sailing, which does not use electricity. However, we do need the engine to make water. So, with no engine we have to be very careful with our water use. We did find a water tap in the old marina that we used for showering and washing.
We had been recommended a mechanic who could help Lane with the engine repairs, so work was soon under way. Lane pulled the head off and found the split in the head gasket. The mechanic and his son took the head away to polish the surfaces and service the injectors. They returned it in a couple of days and in the meantime, Lane had cleaned and polished the block surface and removed each of the 14 head bolts to check them for wear.
I loved Syros. While Lane was heads down in the engine, I took off to explore the beautiful town of Ermoupolis, the capital of Syros, a 30 min walk from the marina. The city is blessed with much unique architecture reflecting its past history of its first settlers, colourful winding alleyways, many beautiful churches, and even The Apollo Theatre which was built as a small copy of la Scala in Milan.
Because of the large, protected bay, shipyards were established centuries ago and thousands of wooden sailing ships were built here up through the 1800s, and it remains an important shipyard today for large commercial ships.
Thanks to the infrastructure brought by the boat building industry and the availability of steel, they began to build cars, and in 1973, the first electric car was built here, the Enfield 8000. By 1976, over 100 cars had been exported to England. The museum explains this fascinating part of Ermoupolis history, and has one of the original cars on display.
While here in Syros, I learn that my cousin, who lives in Maine, USA, was throwing a party to celebrate his 84th birthday. There were to be several other cousins flying in from as far away as the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean, and from throughout the USA, so I decided I would take this opportunity to fly over to join them all. It has been 20 years since we had last seen each other. I booked flights from Syros, Athens, London, Boston then drive to Readfield, Maine. My daughter Francoise, who was in Europe at the time, decided to join me for this family reunion. This visit was a spontaneous, last minute decision, but so worth it and so, so special. Sometimes, you just have to make these things happen.
While in Maine, we drove over to Quebec to meet another friend with whom Kay had cruised with in the Solomon Islands and New Guinea, way back in 1979, and shared some precious memories. Our 2 daughters were born while we were cruising, just 6 weeks apart, one born in Guam and the other in Hong Kong, and began their lives on sail boats.
I was only gone two weeks but by the time I got back, the engine was repaired and running beautifully. Lane had already restocked the boat at the local supermarkets, so we were ready and keen to set sail again.
We enjoyed some wonderful passages, and stunning anchorages on our way to the islands of Paros and Milos.
We then stopped off at an ancient castle town of Monemvasia on the east coast of the Peloponese, before continuing south to catch up with our friends, Pierre and Nicole, from Leros.
Elefonisos Bay, Sarakiniko, a most stunning anchorage where we find Tawali waiting for us.
The Schengen clock is ticking, so we spend a few days hopping along the coast towards Pylos, a lovely old town with a marina where we can safely leave Mai Tai for some more land adventures. This is a disused marina that we can use free of charge along with several other cruisers and many local fishing boats, if you can find a space.
The Fortress of Navarino helps guard the entrance to the Bay of Navarino ( now Bay of Pylos) famous for the War of Greek Independence against Turkey in 1827.
From here we rented a car for a few days to drive up to the ancient city of Olympia, where the very first Olympic games were held. They took place every 4 years from 776 BC to 393 AD. The rules have changed over the centuries and now it is mostly in ruins, but it is here that the Olympic torch is still lit, every 4 years to be carried to the current Olympic games venue.
From Olympia, we drove to visit the ancient site of Delphi, which, in the 6th century BC was the religious centre of the Greek World, dedicated to the Greek God Apollo. Absolutely breath-taking.
On our drive back along the northern coast of the Gulf of Corinth, we stayed in some quaint Venetian fishing villages, until we came face to face with the huge forest fires that were burning close to Athens.
Twice we were turned back to find another road to get through to Athens. The smoke filled the skies for weeks as the planes and helicopters did their best to extinguish the fires from the air. Ghastly to witness so much destruction.
Once through the fires, our drive back to Pylos took us over the Corinth Canal and through the fertile mountainous regions of the Peloponnese, covered in grape vines and olive trees.
Our 90 days Schengen time is drawing to a close, so we will check out of Greece from here and still have time to enjoy some of the anchorages in Sicily and Malta, before heading for Tunisia where we have decided to keep Mai Tai for the winter.
We left Pylos for a 3 day sail over to Syracuse, on the Ionian coast of Sicily, Italy. We arrived in the morning after 3 days of sailing into strong headwinds, tacking our way towards the entrance to the large, protected anchorage of Syracuse. We passed the impressive fortress guarding the harbour entrance, and dropped anchor in front of the ancient city of Syracusa. The city is rich in Roman history with a beautiful old town filled with fine architecture. Cant wait to go exploring here.
The large bay offers excellent all-around protection, so we will enjoy relaxing here to visit this beautiful city.
Then, when the weather is right, and before our Schengen time runs out, we will set sail towards Malta, 150 miles to the south. Well, that is the plan for now, anyway. A cruising plan, written in the sand at low tide.