Porto Heli, Nafplion

"Heli" means "eel" in Greek and the water here looks like it could harbor a bunch of those fishes, if one could only see them in the murky green. How did we get here of all places? Well, it's actually the second time we're here in a week. This was our chosen port to ride out the forecasted blow from the North and leave the boat to go sightseeing with the kids. But we're back here now after experiencing the REAL blow, called Medicane Zorbas. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Departing Milos early in the morning got us to Spetsai by mid afternoon, sailing a surprising portion of the 80 miles given the forecasted no wind conditions. I've been to Spetsai earlier this year right after launching Kincsem. It's a picturesque sort of place, particularly if you disregard the 4 old freighters that are anchored in the outer harbor with stern lines ashore, awaiting either death or better times. It was here that we practiced using the rope cutter which is supposed to prevent our propeller from becoming enmeshed in lines that might be in the way of the propeller turning. It was not good that we practiced this on our port gennaker sheet during the docking maneuver. But all went well and I can confirm that the rope cutter works as intended!

The next day we motored over to Porto Heli and anchored the boat off the North shore in 4 m depth with 50 m chain. Ready for the blow. Only problem was that right next to us was a half sunken motorsailer which we learned was leaking diesel!! Actually an interesting story: every year, the Greeks on Spetsai celebrate gaining independence from the Turks some centuries ago by setting ablaze a Turkish-flagged wooden boat in the Spetsai harbor on Independence Day - think about that! First time that didn't happen was this year. So miraculously, this motor sailor, also Turkish flagged, sinks on Independence Day in the Porto Heli harbor across the bay!! Well, we were assured that the diesel was being contained and anyways, the current was flowing away from us ....

So we were off to Athens later that day and met Corinna and Gabriella for dinner that night. Unfortunately, the forecast got a bit more aggressive next morning so I decided I needed to return to the boat to watch what was going on (nothing much as it turned out). So I hear that everyone was having a great time in Athens while I took that bus back to Porto Heli. A couple of days later, everyone was back on board and we were supposed to sail towards Athens. Only problem was now the grib files were showing a low forming just north of Tunesia that looked pretty intense. The American grib files - the GFS model - were showing that low moving over the Southern Cyclades and only moderate Northerly breezes developing where we were, but strong Northerlies on our planned route. The European grib files - the ECMWF model - were showing that the low was moving North toward Sicily and the Ionian sea - far away from us. We had now heard that this was a special low: a Medicane - a hurricane in the Med! Sounded ominous but neither the Greek forecast nor the grib files gave any great reason for concern. But it was supposed to rain a lot. So we decided to sail to Nafplion, a nice town some 25 miles North of Porto Heli where we could explore the ancient Mycenae, a nice old town and no less than two fortresses. Well, the forecast 10 knots from the North east turned out to be a lot more so getting to Nafplion turned out to be a bit of a struggle. We should have turned around right there but we did not and tied up in the North East corner of Nafplion harbor in time for a sporty 1000 steps up the fortress. Wonderful views from up there but the weather was not sunny. The next morning, the port police came and told us we had to move to the South dock because a passenger ship was coming within a couple of hours - it actually never came. At the South dock everyone ties up stern-to with one's own anchor. The harbor is very deep so you need a lot of chain. We were set with 70 meters and the anchor was holding like a rock. Until a nice French couple arrived in their 45 foot Jeanneau. By now it was blowing 20 knots plus from the NW and the couple made a bit of a mess but no damage was done. But their anchor chain was definitely short and clearly over ours. By the time night had fallen, the wind increased even more and strong grinding noises came from our anchor locker - the chains were grinding on each other. I have no direct experience with this but I think it's only a comfort issue. To that end, I suggested to our neighbors to haul their boat a bit forward from the dock to get their chain off ours. They moved by about 3 feet and then their anchor was loose! So now we had a boat to windward of us without a holding anchor and they had to leave. It was blowing 20 knots plus, was dark and raining hard! They asked me whether I could come with them to help and stupid me, I not only agreed but also took with me our large stern fender to fend off Kincsem as necessary. The owner turned the wheel over to me and I managed, with the help of Rainer manning the windward stern line at the dock, to get the boat out of the slot without touching anything. I then turned the wheel over to the owner who proceeded to steam full head. It took me a couple of seconds to ask - "what about the anchor"? The owner smiled: "no problem monsieur, my wife has it brought in"! Well, that was fake news of the real kind. She was at the anchor winch and hauling it in, together with ours! I couldn't believe it but could see it with my own eyes: their anchor and ours in one big bundle at the bow. Given that the wind was blowing Kincsem onto the dock, I thought this was going to be the end of this year's Kincsem cruise! But I had no way to get back to Kincsem so I jumped back at the wheel and tried my best to keep the French boat from drifting into Kincsem and the other boats to leeward which worked, to my great surprise. But after 10 minutes, the nice French couple had not been able to clear the anchors so I told the owner to get back to the wheel and took over on the bow. A few minutes later, I was successful in getting a line under Kincsem's anchor so we could get their anchor lowered and freed from Kincsem's. I then dropped Kincsem's anchor back in - I thought pretty far from the dock. But I declined the opportunity to anchor the French boat next to Kincsem again and asked the French to moor and drop me off at the East dock. A few seconds after Corinna had the first line tied to shore, I was back on Kincsem where everyone was - surprise - pretty relaxed. As it turns out, Rainer had noticed immediately that something was up when the boat moved back although he could not see what was going on on the French boat with the heavy rain. The Admiral quickly had the engine and bow thruster working and pushing Kinscem away from the dock and the American boat to leeward. Everybody did a phantastic job keeping Kincsem fendered off the dock and the leeward boat and Rainer pulled the anchor chain in when the anchor was back in the water. Only damage: two small nicks in the gelcoat and one broken off roller on the gangway. Enough excitement for one harbor? No, obviously not.

Overnight, the wind veered to the North East and the rain kicked into next gear. By the morning, the Greek forecast was for NE 7 switching to West-Northwest force 8 to 9 - 34 to 47 knots. Zorbas was passing directly over us. We were not in a good spot since the harbor is pretty open to the West although the land to the West is only 3 miles away. But given that there were no better spots close by, we decided to stay to see what happened. Corinna and Gabriella decided to go back to Athens early since there was not much to do in Nafplion in the torrential downpour we were experiencing. No sooner had they left, did the wind go to the Northwest and pick up. It became pretty clear that we had to leave soon. But now the 25 m, 80 ton Greek motorsailer 20 meters to windward at the dock was having problems with its anchor. But instead of steaming into their windward stern line to turn the bow to windward, they let go of their stern lines and drifted down to leeward. The first victim was the German 34 footer next to us and the collision ripped out their anchor together with their rail. We were next. The boat hit us about at the shrouds and slid forward over our anchor chain, luckily without getting the chain into its propeller. I quickly inspected Kincsem's port side and all seemed ok - I had seen the guy with the big round fender - but now the German boat next to us was swinging its bow toward us to lie alongside the pier, being now without an anchor. They missed us by less than a foot! By now, I had an even stronger desire to leave. I steamed into the windward stern line to turn our bow away from the boat to leeward and with the help of the bow thruster, we managed to get out of the slot without touching anything!!

Now the question was where to? Anchoring in the harbor was an option but there is very little room, much of it already taken by other boats, and we would have anchored without much protection from the waves. So I decided to go to the shore immediately North West of the harbor where the wind was coming from and anchor there on 4 meters. When we got there by nightfall - by now it was blowing 35 to 40 knots - it became clear that it had blown from the Southeast here - there was a high swell that was breaking on the shore. Not a place to anchor or spend a comfortable night. So I identified another anchorage off the beach in Tolo some 7 miles to the South which I hoped would be ok. If not, we had to continue to another place protected both from the North West and the Southeast, yet further away. The problem was getting to Tolo. As we were making our way downwind towards Tolo with the engine slowly in forward the waves increased quickly and it was blowing ever harder. We passed several large ships which were anchored to ride out the storm. But Kincsem is a good boat and an hour later we turned the corner toward Tolo and found no South east swell - at that point, we knew that Tolo was going to be ok. A few minutes later, the anchor fell in 9 meters, with 80 meters chain and we were safe. The wind was only down to the twenties but was blowing off the beach only 200 meters away.

By morning, I was in a taxi to Nafplion to give a statement to the port police about what had happened, another interesting experience. Among other things, they said I should have obtained permission from them before leaving the harbor! I explained to them that Kincsem was a little bit of the USA, I was its captain, and I didn't care one bit about the port police in a situation like we had. I also reminded them that they had caused this whole chain of events by asking us to leave the one safe place in the harbor - without reason. Surprisingly, inspite of what I had said, I did not get arrested and they even supplied the missing exit stamp for the transit log!! Things were looking up! We then had a nice downwind sail in 15-20 knots to Porto Heli yet again. It seemed like a total bore.


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