John Woolf writes this story while sheltering on the island of Naxos from Storm Daniel, one of the worst Mediterranean cyclones in history


Storm Daniel is, as I write, sending 45-knot Meltemi winds down through the Greek islands. We are sheltering aboard Celestine, an aluminium Carambola 38 masthead sloop, moored in Kalantos, a tiny fishing harbour at the southern tip of Naxos in the Aegean. Some areas of Greece have experienced record flooding of biblical proportions, with 730mm of rain in 24 hours. There have been 17 deaths so far.

I had been so focused on finding the perfect harbour to ride out the storm, that I had failed to notice that Kalantos was just a fishing harbour; no shops, no buses, nothing, apart from the tinkle of goats’ bells in the sun-scorched hills. An inventory of our supplies revealed some stale bread and cheese, and not much else.

My crew, Mark, looked like he had glimpsed the boiling pits of hell – we were running low on beer. The nearest village was Filoti, some 20km away over narrow twisting dirt roads. Fortunately, our fierce-looking but friendly harbour master, Vasilis, lent us a small green bug of a car to get to Filoti. There we bought half the stock of the local supermarket.

I had arrived in May, with three enthusiastic crew – Julie Brixton and Paul and Amanda Mitchell, all from New Zealand – to join Celestine, left up on the hard in Dimitri’s boatyard on the island of Evia, near Athens. We had worked on making her ready to launch including plumbing for a blackwater tank, a requirement for cruising in Turkey.

With Celestine now safely launched and moored in the nearby harbour at Oreoi, I headed off to the Port Police to fill in the crew list. Everything was going smoothly until they asked for my TEPAI (cruising permit) which I did not have, and did not know about.

This admission caused a sharp intake of breath from the three Port Police who then departed to smoke cigarettes and discuss my fate. Let off with a fee and a stern warning, the harbour master completed the TEPAI online and we were good to go.

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We set off northeast as soon as possible, cruising to the picturesque northern Sporades island of Skopelos, then to the port of Linaria on Skyros. It had a great marina, and the ‘disco’ showers were a treat. Another charming feature was the Sporades inter-island ferry playing Wagner’s stirring Flight of the Valkyries at full volume as it docked.

Six weeks and several crew changes later, I found myself several hundred miles southeast on the south coast of Turkey at Kekova near Finnike. The new crew of David Fisher, Teresa Ostapowicz and my mate Mark Beckerleg had all flown in together from New Zealand, straight into a brutal heatwave, which peaked at 43°C and lasted for about a month.

Kalanto was just a fishing harbour – no shops, no buses, nothing, apart from the tinkle of goats’ bells in the sun-scorched hills

Aboard, there was much discussion around cooling the boat below decks. Anchored in bays, life was doable, with frequent swims and reading in the shady cockpit during the heat of the day. Midnight swims under the clear starry sky were popular, with the buoyant water of the Mediterranean wicking the heat from our bodies. We then lay down with a wetted sarong over ourselves, the cooling evaporation making sleep possible.

We adopted the crew name ‘The Saints’ – Teresa, Mark, David and John. Tess, who had never been on a yacht before, proved to be a natural and became the go-to person to swim the stern line ashore at anchor.

Lycian tombs on the Dalyan River, approx 400BC

Despite the heat the crew were a happy lot, and we did have some memorable times such as being anchored in Kizilkuyruk Koyu near Fethiye on Turkey’s southwest coast, which Tess dubbed ‘Beautiful Bay’.

Making our way ashore in the cool of the early morning, we walked up a bush-clad ridge past abandoned stone dwellings to reach a plateau, the site of Lydae. This dramatic settlement from Roman and Byzantine times has extensive ruins including a theatre and Agora (market place). We spent a lot of time exploring and debated the purpose of low domed stone structures with one narrow entrance.

The Lycian Tombs hewn into the cliffs above Fethiye are a wonder, dating back to 350 BC

These proved to be for water gathering. The rebounding heat in Fethiye marina then forced us to abandon Celestine for a few days, as we sought shelter in air-conditioned apartments to recover from heat stress. Dave took this opportunity to make a ‘proof of concept’ boom tent which significantly reduced the amount of heat being radiated into the below decks area.

With Dave departing to meet his wife in Italy, and Tess returning to life in New Zealand, Mark and I continued east through the Greek islands to Naxos. After 13 days Storm Daniel had blown itself out and we continued north to return to Evia. There the boat was put to bed for the winter, back in Dimitri’s boatyard.

On the way, we picked up two more crew: John Howe from Northern Ireland and David Hill from Canada, both of whom I had met some 10 years earlier in a previous cruising life. Friendships forged at sea endure.

Next season we are bound for the Ionian Sea where the Meltemi doesn’t blow!

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