Troubles between Lesvos, Skyros, Skopelos, and Alonnisos

In July of 1994 I was with the “Faneromeni,” anchored off at Sigri on the island of Lesvos. For some days a strong meltemi wind had been blowing, and for more security I had moored “Faneromeni” south of the Sigri peninsula. In addition to the anchor, I had taken a shoreline from her stern to the rocks ashore.

My plan was to depart from Lesvos in a few days for Alonnisos, stopping over-night in Ayios Efstratios. In Alonnisos I was to meet a group of friends coming from Athens.

As mentioned, the winds were strong during those days; in fact they had reached force 8 on the Beaufort scale, and the Greek Coast Guard had issued a sail pro-hibition for commercial shipping. I was snug in the lee of the cove and was wait-ing for the wind to subside before departing. During those days the Internet did not exist nor were there websites where you could look up weather forecasts. Instead you had to wake up early in the morning and listen to the 6:30 AM marine weather broadcast on the AM radio.

After a few days the wind seemed to be lessening and I asked the local fisher-men, always experts in interpreting the local weather signs, for their predictions. They told me that the weather will be fine and, having seen the “Faneromeni,” they added: “Perama caïques are all-weather boats and you will be safe.” So I de-cided to depart the next morning, July 29.

I went to sleep for a while but before falling asleep I set the alarm for 04:00 so that that I would have an early morning start, the time when the the weather is usually calmer. Of course, by the time I took Argos ashore for his constitutional, untied the line from the shore, and raised both outboard and dinghy on the dav-its, a considerable amount of time went by, given that I was by myself with Argos as my only companion (and he did not usually help with these tasks). Despite all this, I managed to depart, running the navigational lights, by 05:45.

After clearing Megalonisi and when headed out to sea, I saw that the weather, while fresh, was manageable. But after 10 miles or so the wind started to streng-then, and it was hard to continue on my course for Agios Eftratios since the waves were on the side and the caïque was suffering. Because of these condi-tions I decided to change course and head towards Skyros so that the waves would be more to the boat’s quarter.

After this course change, conditions were somewhat improved. But the wind kept slowly increasing and large waves began to form. By the time we were at about the halfway point between Lesvos and Skyros (the distance between Sigri and Agios Fokas, Skyros, is 73 nM) conditions had completely deteriorated. The waves covered the caïque from one side to the other. The motion was so large that the gunwales were completely submerged, first on one side, then on the other. The deck was continuously flooded by half a meter of water because the scoopers could not empty it fast enough. Argos, who was a true sea-dog, was now so scared that he had his tail between his legs. The skipper, normally not afraid of the sea having grown up in boats and having faced very rough seas, was now thinking that perhaps he should be afraid.

I had never before faced such rough seas!!! Here I was far away from land in the middle of the North Aegean Sea. I thought that by turning back to Lesvos I would face worse conditions than continuing on my course to Skyros. There was noth-ing I could do other than stay on my course and hope for improved conditions as we progressed westwards. The boat’s speed, under power, had been drastically reduced and the headway was minimal. Of course, under these conditions, and being alone, there was no chance of raising a sail to ease the motion. So I car-ried on patiently enduring…

After several hours of indescribable hardship I closed in on Skyros. As I was ap-proaching the weather began to show signs of petering out. Finally “Faneromeni” dropped her anchor at 15:35 in the lovely and secure cove of Agios Fokas, hav-ing covered 73 nM from Sigri. The anchor was from the bow and for more secu-rity I took a shoreline from the stern to a rock.

After the boat was secured, Argos and I went ashore at last. We had been at sea for about 10 hours. When we returned to the caïque––as I was dead tired and full of salt––I went straight to bed without even a thought of eating.

Next morning, July 30, I woke up at about 5:00 because, as I have already men-tioned, I wanted to get to Alonnisos to meet my friends who were due on the next day. After the obligatory stroll ashore with Argos, I untied the shoreline, raised the outboard and the dinghy on the davits, and weighed the anchor. We departed at 05:55 heading for Alonnisos. The weather was good, about force 6, and bore no resemblance to the previous day’s. Although the wind was favorable, I de-cided not to raise the sails because I wanted to conserve my strength which had been depleted the day before. But after a while, because the sun was strong, I raised the all the tents.

Under such benign conditions we made good progress and after a few hours we were just south of the Adelphi islets and 28 nM from Agios Fokas, our departure point on Skyros. Lovely sunshine, today was paradise in contrast to yesterday’s hell. But paradise does not last for long.

Suddenly the sound of the engine changed. It sounded as if someone had shifted to neutral. I looked at the controls and verified that the lever was indeed in for-ward. I thought that perhaps the rod that connects the controls to the crankcase had broken. The time was 09:45. I looked at all possibilities and made sure that all was in order. Still the engine did not turn the propeller and as a result the caïque was not moving…

After eliminating all possible causes that I could think of, I decided that the pru-dent thing was to switch off the engine that, after all, was not propelling the boat and to collect myself, calm down, take my time, and think what was to be done next.

And I did so. I lay down on the couch of the stern pilothouse. After I calmed down, I cooly thought what actions I should follow and I decided:

a) To try via the VHF (Very High Frequency marine radio) —there were no mobile phones then available in Greece—to make contact with the me-chanic Mr. Antonis Mpecatoros, who had been servicing “Faneromeni’s” Kelvin engine, and ask him for instructions as to what I could do.

b) To read again very carefully the Kelvin engine’s manual in case I had missed something


c) In case the above steps proved fruitless, to raise the sails and proceed under sail to my destination.

So I started placing a call with the VHF.
The procedure for this was to hail the central agency (then called “Hellas Radio”) on channel 16, then to switch to the working channel as per the in-structions from Hellas Radio, to give them Mr. Antonis Mpecatoros’ num-ber, and then to stand by, while listening to the telephone conversations from other ships, and to wait my turn to be patched in. Unfortunately, all this was not possible because “Faneromeni” was out of the range of any coastal relay station. So I had to give up.

After this unsuccessful attempt with the VHF, I started studying the Kelvin engine’s manual. I am not sure how many times I read it, very carefully, without achieving any enlightenment. That particular manual was in Greek. I next thought to read the corresponding English manual in the hope that Englishmen would have written it more clearly. In the end, I also learned that manual by heart and I abandoned all effort to restore engine propulsion to the boat.

I concluded that my only remaining option was to sail. Of course, in their day Perama caïques were cargo ships and travelled under sail power, but they also had an experienced crew of five or six seasoned sailors. As I have already mentioned, my only passenger/crewman was Argos, who did not have a lot of sail raising experience. So it was left for the skipper him-self to first remove the tents and then to raise “Faneromeni’s” four sails, that is the foresail, the mainsail, the main jib, and finally the fore staysail. This task was far from easy, especially since once I lowered the tents I was exposed to the midday sun. The sweat started running down my face in ri-vulets, flooding my sunglasses to the point that I had to take them off be-fore I could continue with the task. After a considerable amount of time I did manage to raise all four sails but I was dead tired. However, “Faneromeni” moved forward, propelled solely by her sails. Her speed was quite satisfac-tory, because, as I already have said, we had a force 6 stiff breeze, which was adequate to propel the heavy Perama. Relief!

But there was a slight problem. The caïque does not head well into the wind, making it difficult to go to our destination, the harbor of Patiri on the island of Alonnisos. Of course, under these conditions you sail where you want with tacks––but doing so takes much more effort and time. In addition, there was always a chance that the wind’s intensity might lessen, in which case it would take even more time to get there. So I came to the conclusion that it would not be prudent to lose more time, waste the rest of the day, and expend more of my strength. I decided to alter the course and head to the cove of Stafylos on the island of Skopelos. This cove is secure and I knew it well since I had been there several times in the past.. So I changed course and we made progress, lessening the distance steadily, albeit slow-ly.

However, while we were underway I was bothered by another problem. Af-ter our arrival in Stafylos, how would I manage, all by myself and under sail, to maneuver the caïque––hard to mange in the best of circumstances–– so that I could drop the anchor exactly at the desired spot? I thought that the best solution would be to tie the inflatable dinghy by the side of the caïque. I intended to lower the outboard on the dinghy and secure it with fenders. Then as soon as we arrived at the cove I planned to lower the sails as quickly as I could manage and then to use the dinghy as a tag to guide the large boat to the anchoring spot.

So when we were a short distance from Stafylos I lowered the dinghy by means of the davits, tied its fenders, and secured it alongside the caïque. So far so good! But now how was I to lower the heavy outboard which up to that moment I had never lowered by myself into the dinghy? To make mat-ters worse, there was an appreciable swell and relative motion between the dinghy and the caïque. In such circumstances necessity drives a man to accomplish the seemingly impossible. I tied one end of a cord to the shutoff switch on the outboard while keeping the cord’s other end aboard the caïque. This was to allow me to stop the outboard by just pulling the cord without the need to climb down to the dinghy and then back up on the caïque and so saving valuable time. I also tied the outboard so that it would not turn and would drive the dinghy straight while I would maneuver the two boats by means of the caïque’s tiller. Finally I lowered the anchor so that I could drop it very quickly. After all these preparations I figured that I was now ready to guide the boat into the cove of Stafylos.

When we were almost at the entrance of the cove I started the outboard and engaged it forward. As soon as the caïque entered the cove I lowered the sails as fast as I could. The boat’s speed was drastically reduced so that she was just making some headway. This was exactly what I wanted. I maneuvered the caïque very slowly to the exact spot I wanted. As soon as we reached it I pulled the cord, the outboard stopped, and almost simulta-neously I dropped the anchor. The time was 15:30.

After that I took a shoreline to a rock so that the boat was secured by her anchor at her bow and the shoreline at her stern. So now “Faneromeni” was safe inside the cove of Stafylos in Skyros.

Later on that afternoon my friend Paris Yiannikos arrived in his large inflat-able with a powerful motor. We departed at 20:30, the large inflatable tow-ing “Faneromeni”, for Patiri, the harbor of Alonnisos island, a relatively short distance of, 7 nM. The sea was dead calm. At 22:30 we entered the harbor. Waiting for us there was the rest of the group of friends with whom I was to rendezvous in Alonnisos.

The epilogue of this story is that the next day Mr. Antonis Mpecatoros, who services “Faneromeni’s” Kelvin engine, came from Athens and determined that the oil pump was faulty. He removed the pump from the gearbox and took it for repairs back to his shop in Athens. After two days Mr. Mpeca-toros returned with the repaired pump and re-installed it. Everything now operated properly. He explained what caused all this trouble: inside the pump he found a section broken off from a screwdriver. Apparently some-time in the past someone wanted to turn the large gear in the gearbox and for this purpose used a large screwdriver. The point of this screwdriver must have broken off and fallen to the bottom of the oil pump in such a way that it did not impede its operation all these years. But, due to the consider-able boat motion during the rough passage between Lesvos and Skyros, this small section of the screwdriver, dormant for many years, moved and caused the breakdown of the oil pump for the gearbox. As a result the mo-tor did not drive the propeller.


The route of “Faneromeni” from the Sigri in Lesvos to Patitiri in Alonnisos. For a larger view click on the picture, for a more detailed view click on Google.