Trip Reports

City-States (28-Jun-2002-12-30):
12:30 PM local time, Friday, June 28 (0930 June 28 UTC) 37 25 N 025 19 E. Temp. 77, Humidity 67%, Cloud Cover 05%. Wind 30, gusting to 45. Anchored at Ornos Bay on the island of Mikonos, Greece.

When the Captain was in the fourth grade and had as yet no military rank, his battle-axe of a teacher, whose name he has finally purged from his hard drive, taught us that the ancient Greeks lived in "city-states." Oh, they started you young. Then no doubt in junior high school and in high school and so on, city-states, city-states, city-states. To my shame I forgot most of what they taught but that stuck in my mind because they gave no reason, at least that I absorbed, for why the Greeks would organize their society so much differently from the Egyptians, the Romans, the Persians, and everyone else. You never hear of Chinese "city-states."

We're here in Mikonos waiting out a blow. The meltemi got up a day earlier than predicted so although we had planned our departure for the morning after we visited Delos, the wind came up at about 0300 and we're still here. It's been blowing a steady thirty since then and sometimes it gets in a mood and picks it up to the mid-forties. When he's feeling peevish, it wouldn't be much of a challenge to get the Captain to say that the he has seen enough of forty knots for this lifetime, whether at sea or in the harbor. Delos is right next door and it's a mystery to me how an important port would be located in this area, the worst in the Aegean for the meltemi. "Cyclades" comes from the Greek word for circle, and the Cyclades are the islands in a circle around Delos. I'd move if I were they.

The meltemi is the result of a very large squash zone, a meteorological phenomenon we have had occasion to be squished by before as we have traveled along our merry way. To review, it occurs when a high, which in the northern hemisphere pushes the wind away from itself in a clockwise spiral, is next to a low, which pulls the wind towards itself in a counter-clockwise spiral. Where they commingle the winds are amplified. In this case the high is over the Azores in the Atlantic Ocean while the low is over Pakistan, and we're in the squishy place between. Your barometer doesn't do you any good because the pressure where you are stays about the same as the low and high weaken or strengthen way the hell and gone out there, and make your timbers shiver.

We've been on the boat, standing our regular 24-hour watch in case we or someone else happens to drag, for well over forty-eight hours now. Except for the howling of the wind that works on your mind, we're pretty comfortable but we don't feel like it's safe to leave the boat to go ashore so it's a bit on the dull side. Making matters a little worse, somehow the knob on the barbeque got jammed under a support rod for the solar panel and leaked two months' worth of butane out into space where we can't retrieve it, and since the other one is empty, we've got no stove.

Our arrival at Mikonos was a bit of a circus. We tried our faithful Bruce anchor half a dozen times but after backing down on it, it would drag in a rather dramatic way. Finally, we wrestled the 45-lb. CQR out of the starboard lazerette and lugged it up to the bow to give it a try. It dragged even worse and on the second attempt, as it dragged it snagged the anchor at the bottom of someone's mooring. Ship's Frogman Terry Shrode dove in to see what he could see, as the Captain has to douse his glasses to don his mask and can't see ten feet. The bottom was thirty feet down and Mr. Shrode couldn't quite make out the tangle but could get the general idea. We made a loop of chain and put it around our anchor chain, and jiggled it down to the bottom. The idea is to try to work the loop all the way down the shank of the anchor to the crown and then, pulling laterally on the new chain and easing the old one, pull the anchor free. It was a great idea but didn't work and the new chain also got fouled. Did I mention it was blowing twenty-five? Eventually we managed to raise the whole mess using our windlass, after popping the circuit breaker a few times, and this revealed that the mooring anchor was attached by a cable to something else on the bottom. We passed thirty feet of 5/8 nylon rope under the cable, cleated it off to the bow, and then eased off on our windlass. This took the strain off our anchor and Mr. Shrode was able to release it. Then we eased away the nylon and we were free. Took about two and a half hours.

When you go through stuff like this you attract an audience of folks that are interested, at this point, in not being too close to you when you set your anchor, the assumption being you're idiots. And you open yourself up to receiving some unsolicited advice from other boaters who really are trying to help and are making the assumption that you're idiots. Since it's already been a bit of a frustrating day the Captain has gotten a bit testy and there's a temptation to say, "My good man, it is apparently the case that you are unaware of whom you have the honor of addressing." But he thanks them kindly for their assistance, even if it is wacko, as it was.

We finally got the plow to bite and set it real well, but overall, our view of the holding in this bay was tinged with not a little skepticism. Aside from our personal experience, it didn't help that one of the other boats said he had dragged twice and that we witnessed several others dragging. So when the meltemi hit a day early, we were sitting in an anchorage that, in addition to the fact that it is open to the wind if not the surge, was not to our liking. We were glad to have made the extra effort to be positive the anchor was well set even if it did take all day and cause us some humiliation.

The truth is that if we had to, we could sail to another island. It would be a pain because where we need to go is dead upwind so with these conditions and the short chop you have to power into, you need all available sail plus the engine unless you want to do 1-2 knots or sometimes zero. The seas would be lousy but we've seen lousy seas before. However, we really don't have to leave if the anchor sticks, and we've kept a good watch and it has held. The guy next to us made a run for it but came back, saying the sea state was "a bit grim."

But the Greeks could not have sailed at all in these conditions, which brings me back to city-states. Mainland Greece (and for that matter, we can also include the coast of Turkey, which was in ancient times usually part of Greece) is made up of plains and peninsulas cut off from one another by rugged and sometimes impassable mountains, and islands that are separated much of the time by some nasty seas and formidable winds. Although from the top of the peaks on most islands they could see at least one other island inhabited by people who shared their language and culture, they couldn't sail there for a large number of days a year and if they could they wouldn't be able to return. And since there was no email, the best you might be able to do is send a homing pigeon over there to tell your boyfriend you think he's sooooo cute.

The Greek sailors were tough guys. You could strip all the electronics, the entire electrical system, the engine, the dodger, the winches, even the deck (replace that with some ribs to stiffen the hull) off of Maverick. You could remove the autopilot and the self-steering vane, the compass and charts and binoculars, the stove, sink, head, and berths. Toss the fire extinguishers, life raft, bilge pumps, dinghy, strobe, EPIRB, flares, and life jackets. There was certainly no calling a mayday on the radio. Forget that night-vision scope for sure. Replace the Bruce, CQR, and Danforth with a rock with a stick lashed to it, and disconnect the steering wheel so you're just using the emergency tiller. You'd still have a craft that was way more seaworthy than a Greek galley, but they went out in them anyway.

The Greeks would not have sailed intentionally in the conditions we have now, but they certainly would have been caught out in them. When they were, they could do nothing except go where the wind took them, and if that's not where they planned to go the best they could do was reduce sail and hold on. If there was a lee shore nearby, they were dead men, and this is not just a figure of speech. If the wind lasted long enough, the whole sea was on a lee shore.

So now I understand why the Greeks had city-states. There were other reasons; they were independent-minded, contentious and vainglorious. But the main thing was, they couldn't get there from here.

Next report from this location: The Oddyssey

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