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Hazardous adventure

Under the navigation table, a fire extinguisher and socket set lying around remind us of our perilous, nerve-racking journey away from Meltemiland. It all starts on the small Cycladic island of Koufonisi just south of Naxos. An adventurous trip, though. But not the adventure you are hoping for.

I wake up suddenly. Our Greek neighbors are busy early and it seems to be windless. Would there be a chance to sail today? I prefer to lie down for a while, but against my better judgment I get up and wake Ron too. We should not miss an opportunity to continue sailing. They are rare in Meltemiland, the land of the ‘national air conditioning’, the ever-raging north wind.

The neighbors are indeed leaving. For a trip of just three miles. When they leave the harbor, the wind has just been turned on again and for the rest of the day it howls and whistles at full speed. Not a chance after all. Maybe Wednesday. We will be ready. Today we take another long morning walk with the dogs and we use the luxurious facilities that this berth offers, such as running water, petrol pump and supermarket. Above all Koufonisi is a very busy place. Ferries with tourists are constantly coming and going. It seems as if people here are not bothered by Covid 19, but when you see the largely empty tavernas at night, you understand that it must normally be much more crowded here.

Hanging octopus to dry

A few days later we finally leave. There’s not a lot of wind and more than motor sailing is not possible. It is well over 40 miles to our ‘plan A’ destination Sifnos. If things go wrong, we can still divert to Paros or Antiparos on the way. We are only sailing for an hour or so when Ron notices that smoke seems to be coming from the engine room. After opening the door a large, faintly colored cloud does indeed blow out. We are shocked. It also stinks. All kinds of scenarios flash through my mind. “Where there’s smoke, there’s a fire,” is the first. We take out the fire extinguisher and put it at hand under the navigation table. But we don’t see any fire yet. We weigh the alternatives against each other. Sailing further without using the engine to an anchorage is virtually impossible due to the distances, shallows and lack of wind. Ron inspects the engine, searches the Internet, reads the manual, worries himself, and finally concludes that it is probably exhaust fumes that are escaping due to broken or dirty piston rings. We decide to motor sail further and see how it goes. The engine door remains open and we ventilate the cabin as much as possible. We no longer dare to stay indoors because of possible carbon monoxide. Noise, stench and cold sweat accompany us on this long journey, but in the end we dock safely on the south side of Sifnos.

Sailing with an open engine door

There, the harbor master of the Platis Giallos marina asks us where we come from. ‘Hollandia’, we report, whereupon he announces that we have just missed our Dutch king. Well, that also happened to us in Monemvasia last year too, so we’ll keep that tradition alive.

Hiking on Sifnos

We wait here again for ten days and then our perilous adventure continues. We decide to continue to Kythnos, also a trip of about 40 miles. The situation of the engine is unimproved, but it doesn’t seem to be a real problem. And we can only repair stuff when we are in a place that provides the necessary materials. We sail away peacefully early in the morning, round the southern tip of Sifnos and sail north along the island. When we pass the next island, Serifos, waves and wind increasingly turn against us. The engine has a hard time, which is noticeable by the increasing smoke development. With bowed toes and bated breath we motor sail on through the last tidal inlet before Kythnos. Tired of nerves and adrenaline we arrive at the harbor where we have to moor our Coco using our stern anchor. Arguing about where exactly we should drop it – I say earlier, Ron says later – it turns out to have been a bit too early. My fault. We just don’t make it to shore, drift towards a few capital yachts, the engine suddenly stops with the usual ‘BEEP!’ because when reversing the stern anchor’s ribbon has got stuck in the propeller. Our dogs are now tumbling over each other in the cockpit busy riding eachother. Ron stands with his legs tied between two dog leashes. The chaos is complete and the mood on board has dropped far below zero. Great! Adventure! I love it!

Fortunately, Ron quickly manages to untie the anchor ribbon. We take out our stern anchor and a little further we anchor freely on the bow anchor. The next day we sail to the mainland south east of Athens without any problems.

Only after contact with our sailing friend and diesel expert Bennie do we find out what is actually going on. The tube where the smoke comes out should actually be connected to the air filter and not hang loose in the engine compartment. Ron looks further in the manual and the engine and eventually finds a connection hidden on the back of the air filter. Would our problem really not be bigger than a loose tube and can we stop our already started search for a new engine?

However, the engine is not our only problem. We are busy selling our old Cornish Crabber Janna. There seems to be a serious buyer and we have to fill in, sign and print papers. The latter is a problem, however. We don’t succeed anywhere on Koufonisi. Nobody can or wants to help us. Once arrived at Sifnos we have to make a bus trip to the next village. At the same time we can take Sammie to the vet for his last vaccinations. Meanwhile, Jack is still acting like a priest in a boys’ boarding school with Sammie as a new apprentice.

Later, documents must also be sent by post. Again we go to Appolonia, this time on foot. A beautiful, but warm walk. You have to endure something to sell your boat. And then the payment of the buyer is also still too long in coming. Would the sale not succeed after all? Would all effort have been in vain? It gives us headaches for a few days, but fortunately all ends well.


Adventure. It all sounds so beautiful, but sometimes it really sucks. Then everything goes against the grain and I wonder why the hell we ever got into this. Fortunately, the answer is never long in coming, because fortunately the tide always turns for the better and then all suffering is quickly forgotten. What lingers are the beautiful stories. Like this one…

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