Living on a sailboat-our ultimate dream and the dream of so many. But what is it really like to live on board a sailboat. I have tried really hard to give a realistic view of what life is like, the ups and downs of sailing and all that comes with it. But a few days ago Adam and I experienced a day that so perfectly sums up our experience of sailing so far that I had to write about it!
So, this, right here, really is a day in the life (and a microcosm of the last three months).
We woke up at sunrise to the strangely peaceful sound of the bells and monks in the monastery chanting and singing. The island we were anchored off of is uninhabited except for the monks in the monastery and we were the only boat in the anchorage that night. Our own private island. We dozed a little, made coffee, fished a little from the boat and then took a swim in the clear blue water.
Curious about the ferry loads of people that started arriving at the steps of the monastery, we made our way over in the dinghy and had a little chat to the local visitors. They were celebrating Madonna day, where Greeks from all over the world return to their home towns for family time, worship and big celebrations. People couldn’t wait to tell us about their heritage, and show off their homes.
We left the villagers to their prayers and headed off to explore the island. We got pretty lost on some goat paths but found some beautiful views of the other side of the island. Tired of getting our legs scratched up by the bushes we headed back to see if Hot Chocolate was where we left her. I made Adam look first because I get too nervous! Luckily she had stayed put even though the wind had picked up a little, so we took the dinghy round the corner to a dive site where there was a shallow ship wreck.
We dragged the dinghy up a tiny empty beach surrounded by cliffs and jumped straight into the water to see what was going on beneath the surface. True to the charts there was a shallow shipwreck in the tiny cove. Unfortunately there wasn’t much sea life around, the fish had probably got wise to the divers and snorkelers like us coming and poking around! But it was cool to see the wreck and have a go at a little more free diving.
A quick lunch back on the boat and it was time to head off. We had considered staying another day but the wind forecast was in our favour, predicting 12-15 knots of North Westerlies, blowing us downwind to our planned destination. It was only two hours away and we should be able to sail the whole way.
It took us a little while to untie our lines to shore and pick up the hook but it went smoothly and we motored out of the beautiful little bay and into the channel between the island and the mainland. For once the wind was exactly as predicted-a miracle we are unlikely to experience again! With the genoa alone we were sailing on a lovely broad reach at 6 knots. There were bigger waves than we had seen elsewhere in Greece, but sailing downwind we barely noticed them. It was perfect! We got the fishing lines out and relaxed into the journey.
As we neared our destination the wind had started to pick up a little and had turned, putting us directly downwind. We were 15 minutes away from the anchorage and questioning its suitability. On the charts and from peoples advice on the internet it looked to be well protected, but the wind had started to kick up biggish seas and the anchorage didn’t look as appealing any more. We decided to motor in for a look anyway, and head on another hour to Pilos, our bail out port, if we needed to.
We got the engine on and started to furl away the genoa when all hell broke loose. The spare halyard, that had been happily minding it’s own business for weeks, decided now was a good time to get tangled in the genoa. We couldn’t furl away the genoa without sorting it out, and we couldn’t control the boat without putting the genoa away. We had no choice but to head up to wind to take tension out of the sail and sort the problem.
I took the helm while Adam went up to the bow sprit to figure out what was going on. When you head up to wind lots of things happen. Firstly, which I cannot stand, the boat starts taking the waves on the beam and making it roll from side to side. Adam doesn’t mind this but I HATE it. Then once you’re heading up to wind the sail goes crazy (and it’s also not good for it at all), plus you’re bouncing into the waves. Adam was harnessed in, but I still had visions of him being thrown overboard and dragged alongside the boat.
Luckily it was a quick job and he was back safely in the cockpit in no time, but it was enough to shake us up a bit and remind us that we still have a lot to learn. We have learnt that one little mistake can very quickly send things spiralling but we’re slowly learning from each mistake. (We would love to know the ‘right thing’ to do in this situation, but as we’re learning in sailing, there very often isn’t a ‘right thing’, and even when there is sometimes it’s impossible to do it in the moment).
So the problem was solved, and my adrenaline was spiked. As we got a little closer to our anchorage we could see that it wasn’t going to be very sheltered from the 2 metre waves outside so we made the decision to sail on for another hour to Pilos. Determined not to chicken out of getting the sails out again after our little burn earlier, we sailed on fully reefed successfully, though a little more cautiously!
The scenery as we entered the huge bay of Pilos was stunning, almost enough to distract me from the rolling of the near beam reach we had to enter on. We watched jealously as other boats sailed gracefully through the short cut between two huge rocks and vowed that with more experience we would return and do the same. We did what every less experienced sailor would do, and got the sails away as soon as we came anywhere near the rocky coastline!
As soon as we entered the bay the waves died down and although we were motoring into 20 knots of wind, the hours journey to the top end of the bay was relatively calm, giving us a chance to take in the stunning surroundings that would be our home for as long as we chose.
This anchorage was perfect. A sandy/muddy bottom and well protected from the predicted North Westerlies. We dropped the anchor in 8m of water and crossed our fingers as we motored back. Sadly the anchor had not taken, but as the pilot book had said it may well take a few goes in this anchorage we were not discouraged. We picked up and found a new spot a little further down the beach, dropped the hook again and began to lay, using our fantastic new windlass.
Until it jammed.
With 20 metres out that was no where near enough, so I headed down to the anchor locker to see what was going on. 10 minutes of hauling around chain, stuck in a tiny space in a sauna of a room, I was no closer to untangling the KNOT the anchor chain had tied itself into. Of all the lessons I have learned from sailing, this is the biggest. Rope of every kind (from hose pipe to fishing line) will tie it’s own knots a million times better than you ever could, in all the places you never would, when given any lee way at all. Never, though, had I imagined the same was possible of anchor chain.
I threw a tantrum, exhausted, hot and done with the day. After cursing the chain loudly several times (for some reason it made no difference), I took the helm while Adam went below to have a go. 20 minutes later he returned from the dark depths of the forward cabin triumphant and we finally anchored successfully.
After a little debrief and a cup of tea, going over what we could have done differently on our ‘interesting’ sail, the wind dropped and we decided to have some land time. We could see a castle on top of a hill, so we headed straight for it, looking forward to burning off our earlier frustrations with a good uphill hike.
It didn’t disappoint. We arrived at the castle sweaty but happy. The views were INCREDIBLE. Some of the best views we have ever seen. And the ruined castle was pretty cool too. We spent several hours wandering the (slightly precarious) castle walls and watching the sun turn the sky to fire before disappearing into the sea. The evening was still hot and the sea was blissfully cool on our return to the beach, so we took a dip in the shallow waters. As we swam beneath the stars the sea reflected the sky, throwing a thousand luminous green sparks beneath us with every stroke. Swimming in bio-luminescent algae had long been a dream of mine.
We decided we deserved a treat (stuff the diet) and made pizza and chips for dinner. We relaxed under blankets in the cockpit and as our film ended and we started to drift off under the stars, the sky lit up with distant fireworks.
Sailing is exciting and boring. It is demoralising and fulfilling. It is beautiful and ugly. One minute you are living out your dreams and the next minute you are living through your nightmares.
Fireworks were the perfect end to a perfectly imperfect day.