“Our three years in the Mediterranean is still treasured and everything we’ve done since has a long way to go to measure up. The ancient culture is incredible and Greece, still our favourite country, gave us the opportunity to sail the mythical route of Odysseus from Ithaca to Troy. How can you beat that? So, our time in Greece, Turkey, Italy, Croatia, Montenegro, Albania, Cyprus and Egypt is going to take a while to tell..!” Marie
Where do we start? We got together following the collapse of our marriages and decided to spend time onboard Sänna from April 2004. My own family difficulties continued following the death of my mum, then my dad was diagnosed with altzeimers and so had to be taken into care. My ex-husband offered to take Henry for a short while to give me a break which then caused some longer term problems in that he became officially designated as Henry’s primary carer, a situation that wasn’t fully resolved until Henry joined us onboard Sänna for a large part of his time. His eventual home education on the boat became a key a feature of our lives together… but more on this later.
In early June we left Croatia for Montenegro, a fascinating country still suffering the aftermath of the Balkan wars and we then crossed the Adriatic to Brindisi in Italy. Making our way southwards down the Italian coast to Otranto gave us a really nice opportunity to sample wonderful Italian culture and from Otranto we crossed to Corfu in the Greek Ionian Islands. We then sailed further southwards to the Islands of Levkas, Kefelonia and Ithaca – the birthplace in ancient Greece of Odysseus. This gave us the fascinating idea of sailing the mythical route of the Greek Odyssey, through the Aegean Sea and culminating in the ancient ruins of Troy on the northwest Turkish coast. This turned into an incredible sailing adventure, allowing us to immerse ourselves into ancient Greek culture which even today is entirely driven by a seafaring way of living.
From the island of Ithaca we continued south along the western shoreline of Greece, eventually arriving in Kalamata right at the southern tip of the Peloponnese peninsular in the beginning of August. Along the way we visited the ancient ruins of Olympus and also came across a British yacht Fat Annie in the small Greek harbour of Methoni. Robert & Jill became lifelong friends who you will read about on many occasions in our blogs as we both eventually made our away around the world.
In Kalamata I myself returned to the UK to be with Henry and to see my dad. Dave was joined by his father, an avid sailor, who travelled out to Greece with his close friends Shaun, Colin and John. They had a fine time for nearly three weeks, taking the opportunity to sail eastwards from the Peloponnese through the Greek Cyclades islands of Ios and Santorinni and from there to the island of Kos in the eastern Aegean. I returned to Sänna in Kos town and we continued eastwards to enter Turkey in Marmaris, in the huge boat yard of Marmaris Yacht Marine where we planned to complete some of the abysmal repair work which had been previously carried out in Dubrovnik. In Marmaris we came across many yachting friends we’d made during our sailing adventure from Croatia… Stephan in the French yacht Blue Way, Robert & Jill in Fat Annie and Peter in On The Run. Peter sadly died from a sudden illness just a few weeks later.
We had a good Turkish winter ahead of us which proved to be exceptional, the sailing community of many nationalities in Marmaris providing loads of new exciting friendships. We also met a number of sailing couples heading around the world westwards in their sailing vessels, especially Americans, Australians and New Zealanders. Amongst them were spattered various other nationalities such as Brazilians, Japanese, Argentines and Chileans which just goes to show that not all long distance sailors are English speaking. Anyway, we made really good friendships, not the least with the local Turks… who we quickly learned are a wonderfully genuine race of people. We have Turkish friends we still treasure to this day. We both slowly recovered our sense of composure from the difficult times we’d experienced and began to think about what we should do. First I once more returned to England to be with my son and we began to think about how Henry would join us onboard. But my dad was now in a bad way.
After a treasured time through the winter, spending much time with Henry and my dad back in England, we made plans to head north through the Aegean, heading to the more remote Greek Islands and ‘hopping’ between Turkey and Greece. This gave us the opportunity to continue our voyage on the mythical trail of Odysseus and we visited the ancient ruins of Ephesus and, eventually, the pinnacle of our time in these seas… the fabled ruins of Troy itself located on the northern shoreline of Turkey. First we spent some time in magnificent Gocek Bay near to Marmaris, with Sue & Paul Brittain visiting us from England for a week or so. Sue was a mutual good friend and a fellow director of Dave’s business. From the ruins of Troy we continued into the Dardanelles to explore the tranquil First World War battlefields of Galipolli which we visited from the Turkish port of Canakkale. We were also fortunate enough to be able to travel to Istanbul to complete our love affair with Turkish culture. Then we headed back eastwards across the Aegean…
Greek Island culture is fantastic to experience. We sailed through island after island, stopping for days in idealic anchorages well away from the tourist enclaves. Eventually we found ourselves in Thesolonika where Henry again joined us, he was spending more and more time with myself and Dave and was undoubtedly integrating himself into boat life. Our future lifestyle began to take shape.
We sailed into the Greek Island of Skiathos and arranged for Dave’s daughters to join us and meet me for the first time. Dave’s own mother and brother had already stayed with us onboard Sänna whilst in Turkey so I was slowly being accepted into Dave’s family. From Skiathos we headed towards Athens and the Greek mainland before making our way eastwards once again through the islands of Naxos, Samos, Mykonos and various other smaller islands. It’s difficult to describe the Greek islands and the Greek culture to those who have never visited Greece, the laid back way of life, fine taverna food and their genuine wish to be your friend. Sampling the Greek way of life from the freedom of a sailboat is an incredible experience we’ll both treasure for the rest of our lives. Of course, this wonderful time together was made even more profound in that we were falling deeply in love. My life was slowly coming back together although Dave still struggled from time to time with the demons inside his head. His relationship with his daughters was sometimes not easy… even more so because of the impending finalising of his divorce. Neither was my own situation particularly easy, my dad was not expected to live for very long.
We once again decided to overwinter in Turkey. Dave was talking about making some major modifications to Sänna so that we could make more long distance voyages and there are real professional boat building skills in Turkey due to their large Gullet building history. These traditional Turkish sailing boats are found all over the Mediterranean and are a testament to their craftsmanship skills. They are wonderful sailing ships to see under full sail. So we headed for Bodrum, the centre of their boat building industry… and a small Turkish boatyard called Yacht Lift. What we found was an absolute treasure.
The Mediterranean and the Suez Canal – 2006
This is when things really began to change. Dave spent most of his time in Yacht Lift boatyard over the winter, with his little rigged up bench under the shade of a tree and everything began to take shape. The little boatyard was a memorable place, with Jodie, the young boatyard manager becoming a close friend who made huge efforts to make a fine job on Sänna. She had a tremendous amount of boat knowledge and ran the yard like a dream. The two Mehmets as we called the two electricians spent many hours with us drinking tea and discussing everything from boats, the sea, politics, their kids… we will forever miss both them and Jodie too – and so it proved when we eventually left Bodrum in the March. Over the winter we’d had a full set of solar panels fitted on stainless steel roll bars, installed a wind generator and more importantly, fitted a large watermaker capable of producing a hundred and eighty litres of fresh water an hour… far more than we would ever need but it was a Turkish design made for the Gullets. Sänna also had a complete hull re-spray… testament to more poor quality work carried out back in Croatia after the marina accident.
Our plan was to explore the southern Turkish shoreline and to eventually make our way to Syria. We made our way southeastwards, through the small harbours of Fethiye, Kas and Kemer to once again meet up with Robert & Jill in Fat Annie in a quiet anchorage close to Antalya. Shortly afterwards we were joined by Dave’s daughters Lauren & Louise who planned to spend a few weeks with us. They came onboard in Antalya and we decided to head south for Cyprus, but not for northern Turkish Cyprus because that would prevent us from visiting Greek southern Cyprus… it’s a very sensitive political situation deriving from the war between the Turks and the Greeks in Cyprus which is still divided by a border with heavy military presence. So we sailed into Cyprus, entering through Paphos illegally because we didn’t have a Greek cruising permit. It wasn’t a particularly nice place to be, the harbour was crowded and unfriendly and so the four of us decided we’d instead head for Syria. We already had authorised permission and the correct visas to enter Syria through the port of Latakia… all we needed now was favourable winds.
Well, the southerly winds we needed to make for Syria just wouldn’t blow and our presence in Paphos was becoming noticed. Although the Greeks do not overly concern themselves too much with protocol the harbourmaster was beginning to ask questions and we were in Cyprus illegally. So Dave came up with the sudden idea of using the persistent northerly winds to head south for Egypt, to Suez and the Suez Canal. From there we could explore Cairo, head through the Suez Canal into the Red Sea and stay a while before returning north back into the Mediterranean for the winter.
Leaving Paphos early the next morning we first decided to first anchor in a quiet bay so that we would become less suspicious but were suddenly intercepted by the Cypriot coastguard who demanded to know where we were heading. I had a heated conversation with them over the VHF radio and soon realised the Greek laid-back attitude would prevail and they allowed us to proceed… I told them we were heading to a quiet bay to swim and relax. In fact we later pulled up our anchor to head due south straight from our quiet bay to Port Said in Egypt, a nearly three day three hundred mile sail with the four of us onboard.
It was by now early July and we entered Port Said in the dark… which was not an easy experience with the many cargo ships anchored around the harbour entrance waiting to transit the canal. I could not get an answer over the VHF from the Egyptian harbourmaster for permission to enter harbour… I later found out that Egyptian harbour authorities do not answer a female caller and we didn’t get official permission to enter Port Said until Dave himself called in on the radio. We tied up in a designated area for small foreign yachts, alongside the Australian yacht Four Winds, and were informed by the harbourmaster that we must use a shipping agent to arrange for our transit through the canal.
From this moment we came face to face with the common Egyptian practice of corruption and, of course, ‘baksheesh’… the too often whispered demand for payment… or just straightforward bribery to get things done. Everything in Egypt is accompanied by ‘baksheesh’ and so it proved now. Our official agent told us there was no way we’d transit the canal for at least three weeks due to heavy commercial traffic but, following a small ‘payment’ of cash, it was arranged that a ‘measurer’ would stop by the same afternoon to officially measure up our vessel to calculate the canal transit fees. Following payment of the fees, plus a little bit ‘extra’ for the measurer, we would be joined by an official canal pilot the next morning to transit the canal. We hurriedly shopped for food and supplies in dirty Port Said to be ready the next morning… it was going to be an early start for the anticipated two day passage through the canal. Geoff, the Australian skipper of Four Winds, told us to be wary of the canal pilot and not to motor at full speed as the pilot demanded. Geoff had transited the canal on a yacht once before.
The Suez Canal was an amazing experience but our pilot for the first half of our transit to the canal harbour town of Ismailia was a nightmare. He was a devout Muslim and, of course, Dave and I weren’t married, a signicant sin under Muslim law, living together on a sail boat. He demanded to know why we were all together – Dave’s daughters and ourselves and where were Lauren and Louise’s mother? Why was their mother not here now instead of me? We had a long, heated argument with the pilot who was a complete bigot. However, it was also our responsibility to feed the pilot his food whilst onboard and so Dave cooked sausages… which the pilot eagerly consumed in great quantity after Dave assured him they were beef – Muslims and any type of pork are a massive no no. Of course, I found this fact quite interesting especially when I knew full well we had no beef sausages onboard, the sausages that the pilot was saying were the best he’d ever tasted were the spicy pork ones we’d purchased back in Paphos. Dave smiled when I later asked him where we’d bought beef sausages.
Later that day we tied up in the wonderfully quaint Ismalia Yacht Club about half-way through the canal. Of course, it’s not a yacht club at all but a lovely left over relic of colonial Britain. There we were told we’d have to wait a few days before we could continue, because warships were transiting the Suez Canal. These, we assumed, were various American and NATO naval vessels making their way to fight Saddam Hussein in Iraq and for security reasons we were not allowed to be in the Suez Canal at the same time. Whilst we knew this was correct, we also later found out that ‘warships’ was the common reason given to keep small vessels and yachts in the Ismalia ‘Yacht Club’ to extract as much moorage fees as they could and to maximise their ‘baksheesh’ take to extraordinary levels.
Nevertheless, Ismalia was a nice enough place to be and a good experience. Towards the end of July I returned to England to bring Henry to join us for the next few months. Lauren and Louise stayed with Dave a few days before they themselves left to continue their own travels through the Sinai and Jordon. Dave travelled to Cairo to meet up with Hen and myself and there we visited the Pyramids, astounded that the pyramids are not in the desert at all but set well within the Cairo suburbs… but the incredible ancient Egyptian sites still make Egypt so fascinating.
‘Warships’ still prevented Sänna from departing Ismalia but we were not overly concerned until it began to become just a little too frustrating. Dave then had a stand-up argument with the harbourmaster, saying that not a single warship had transited the canal whilst we had been delayed in Ismalia and that it was clearly a ruse. Just then, before Dave could say anything further, a huge American aircraft carrier slowly appeared behind him… and the harbourmaster smiled one of those smiles you love to hate. But, after further baksheesh, a canal pilot was arranged for the next morning for us to continue south to Port Suez and the Red Sea. We’d been nearly a month in Ismalia! But our departure from Ismalia was not without mishap… this time our canal pilot fell into the water whilst trying to board Sänna and we had to fish him out of the sea.
From Port Said the three of us finally made the Red Sea and then made our way southwards, a two day sail and Henry’s first overnight, to El Gouna just north of Hurghada. We had a glorious sail with cooling winds right on our stern, at first through the huge multitude of cargo ships waiting to proceed north through the canal and then through the numerous reefs and islands off the Egyyptian coast. EL Gouna proved to be a welcome dream, a Disney like construction of marinas, hotels and resorts but a fine place to moor up a while and relax with Henry. Lots of swimming pools and fine style eating finally made Egypt easy and we stayed tied up there for the remaining weeks of the year, relaxing and just chilling out. Occasionally we took local transport to explore numerous historic sites including a long bus trip to Luxor but, in the main, we saw out 2006 before I returned to England with Henry.
Of course, we never returned to the Mediterranean as planned.
Marie – Al Gouna, Egypt, 2007.