'Sundancer' - 2009 Epilogue

'Sundancer' has been a major part of our lives for some 24 years now, 7 years fitting out, 10 years as a weekend retreat from work and 7 years cruising from UK to Turkey and back to Greece.

Well, all good things must come to an end sometime and 2009 was the year we decided it was time for another change in life-style. 'Sundancer' is still fully functional but unfortunately, we are not! Mike has developed a gammy left knee which seems to be beyond the comprehension of the medical fraternity and my hips are giving in to the advances of arthritis. We are no longer wanting to make passage and explore new areas and though we are happy to spend more time here in the Ionian we do not want to sail the same area for 5 or 6 months in the year. If we limit ourselves to a month or two then regrettably we feel that it is not economically viable to keep our own boat here. After a great deal of soul searching we have decided, somewhat reluctantly on Mike's part, it is time to sell 'Sundancer' and move on. But not until the end of this season or even perhaps next if she does not sell quickly.

On Saturday, 18th April we drove down to Heathrow in a hire car and caught a BA flight to Athens from Terminal 5. On our previous trip through Athens last year we were very unimpressed with the view from the coach However, I read a couple of guide books which said that the old central area near the Acropolis had been largely pedestrianised for the Olympics and could easily be explored on foot, so we decided to break our journey there. We found the airport bus to Syntagma Square very easily. A taxi driver accosted us and when we said we were walking to the Amazon hotel he warned us 'It's a long way!' We said 'No thank-you' and wheeled our bags all of 300 yards to our hotel which proved to be clean and comfortable and very well placed for the sights of Athens.

Mike's BBC weather forecast had prophesied rain for the Sunday but in fact it was a beautiful day, and just the right temperature for exploring. It was the Greek Easter so there was very little traffic but the museums and ancient sites were closed. This didn't matter as we climbed up the lovely green hill of Philiopappus which has a splendid view of the Parthenon and most of the other ruins could be viewed very adequately through the fences. We have explored enough old Greek temples now to imagine the detail. The Parthenon was covered in scaffolding when we last viewed it 30 years ago and now it was still in the same state.

We wandered round the attractive streets of Plaka, and climbed up and down lots of steps. There are shops selling shoes for 300 Euros, gold jewelry and fancy clothes and of course many open air restaurants under attractive flowering trees. We sat in a square by a park enjoying a coffee and watching the African traders play 'catch me if you can' with the police. They set up their stalls of watches or handbags close to the tourists, either on folding tables or very large bags which open out. When the police drive past in cars or zoom up on bikes, the traders hurriedly fold up their stalls and, with impassive faces, walk swiftly away round the corner where they open up for sale again.

Later in the day we watched the soldiers as they changed the guard at the Presidential Palace doing their strange high stepping routine where they paw the ground like horses doing dressage. In their frilly white skirts and shoes with bobbles on they make our guardsmen look sensibly dressed.

From here we walked through the National Gardens and climbed another hill for a view over Athens down to the sea at Piraeus.

Towards Omonia Square we found ourselves in an immigrant area, crowded with hundreds of Africans, many of them with wares spread on the ground trying to sell to passers by. The atmosphere was quite friendly so we did not feel intimidated, but I don't think I would fancy it after dark.

On Monday we caught the 1.30 pm coach to Preveza, arriving at 7.00 and then a taxi to Cleopatra yard.

Next day it rained most of the day! The day after that Mike retired to bed for a couple of days with a really nasty cold - no doubt caught on the plane - while I sanded down the antifouling on the hull ready for repainting - a dirty job so I felt very virtuous.

Over the next few days we slowly proceeded with the annual jobs and a few extra ones such as scraping and sanding down, repairing and oiling the rubbing strake which had been looking a little worse for wear. At one point when Mike was crouched in the cockpit locker greasing some fairly inaccessible sea-cocks, he had a painful few minutes when we wondered if he would ever manage to climb out again. There has been some light rain on several days, occasional bursts of sunshine and one very windy night so far. We have had the electric fire on a couple of times in the evening. One evening when we were eating out with friends, we had a torrential downpour for two hours with accompanying lightning and had to pick our way through deep puddles on the way home. Apparently it has been a wet, cold winter here, as I think it has been in much of Europe. Meanwhile people have phoned us from England while sitting in the garden in the sun or e-mailed to say what a lovely day they had sailing on the river Avon.

We met up with a couple of old friends from Portimao days - Merve and Cynthia on 'Thursday's Child' - and shared a car with them one day to stock up on basic stores in Levkas. The hard standing where we have left the boat - Cleopatra Yard - has the advantage of being relatively cheap but it is across the water from the town of Preveza and not at all convenient for shopping. A minibus from the yard goes over daily at 10am and returns at 12.15 but it wastes a whole morning. There is a well stocked chandler but nowhere nearby to buy bread, though the Marina Restaurant which is due to open on 1st May is reputed to be planning to operate a mini-market. There is a busy little taverna 500 yards away along the front where you can choose from a range of ready prepared cooked meals.

Getting Sundancer ready for the off is pretty expensive. Anti-fouling is well over 100 Euros for 2.5 litres. A tin of anti-fouling thinners (white spirit with some additives?) cost 22 Euros. Another tin of anti-fouling for the waterline was 40 Euros, though it will last a few years, and a tiny tin for the propeller was another 22 Euros. Prices generally in Greece seem to have gone up, with the added cost of the falling £ against the Euro.

We launched on Saturday 2nd May at 9.00 am and motored to the quay at Preveza for some provisions, then round to the anchorage to join 'Thursday's Child' and 'Three Fishes' manned by Dave, a single hander we had met in the yard. Mike has given his cold to Merve.

On Monday we set off after 'Thursday's Child' to the pretty anchorage behind the island at Vonitsa. The island is joined to the shore by a causeway whose walls are illuminated at night. On the way it rained so it was out with the wet weather gear. Tuesday 5th was my 70th birthday and the weather was beautiful. I was served breakfast in bed and opened my cards and presents, and had plenty of phone calls and e-mails. We took a walk ashore in the morning and climbed up to the castle through the eucalyptus trees (The castle is still being repaired with 2,500,000 Euros of our money and is still closed). In the evening we all went to a small taverna. The food was reasonable and the company was fun so all in all it was a pretty good birthday. Cynthia was sneezing constantly. Poor Dave took the cold away with him as an unwelcome birthday present.

We dallied in Vonitza and then back in Preveza anchorage where we had a text from Phil and Jill on 'Deliverance' saying they were in Aktion preparing to launch and asking where we were. On Sunday 10th, we moved back to Cleopatra Marina to have a meal with them before they left for Croatia, and to pick up our friend Derek who is joining us for a week from UK.

11th - 17th May - Island hopping

Inspired by Derek's company we planned a few longish sails. We sailed down to Levkas and glided under the genoa through the canal. After a night at anchor in quiet Kapali bay on Meganissi, we had a great sail down to Petalas anchorage. Mike and Derek scrambled up a cliff through the brambles to explore a cave full of bats and came back somewhat scratched but pleased with themselves. They found a tortoise on the way. I have decided that at 70 I am entitled to chicken out of expeditions like this, so I waited in the dinghy.

'Lucky Star' was also in the anchorage having suffered something of a trauma as Alan has been very ill with a kidney infection. Next day we moved to Ay Eufemia on Cephalonia but the wind had dropped and most of the sailing was a little slow. Next day we moved round to Vathi on Ithaca with even less wind, then up to the anchorage at Vlicho on Levkas.

On the way here Mike decided to pump the bilge and found an awful lot of water in there. Checking the engine he found water spurting out of the fresh water expansion overflow but it was sea water suggesting that a seal had failed at the heat exchanger. Oh dear! We could still motor slowly but this meant we couldn't risk going far from the anchorage so that was the end of sailing for Derek.

We found an engineer at Ionian Boat Services who is coming out on Tuesday. On Sunday we moved up to Tranquil Bay at Nidri and in the evening Derek caught a taxi back to the airport.

As usual we had enjoyed having his company with lots of games of cards and Scrabble in the evenings, but were sorry he got so little good sailing. The weather was sunny and warm, and occasionally sticky hot, while he was here.

On Monday we spent the morning shopping, getting laundry done and collecting lots of large cans of water to fill our tanks. We then went back into the south east corner of Vlicho anchorage.

Chris, the engineer, duly arrived on Tuesday and seemed very competent. He discovered that the exhaust elbow was very badly rusted and we needed a new part. He got a quote from the Greek Perkins dealer of around 500 Euros! Mike got on the internet and found a UK company that would provide the same part for £270 including delivery so we went for that.

Since we were to be at anchor for up to two weeks we had to conserve electricity. Our only source of power was the sun panel. This meant minimal running of the computer, being very careful with lights, and not using the CD player. If we were to run out of water it would mean fetching it in cans in the dinghy, so we had very economical showers from the plastic solar shower bag, did no laundry and only washed up once a day.

We spent the waiting days profitably. Mike fixed the leaking rear toilet pump which I have been complaining about for some time. He also mended the bilge pump. Then he cleaned up the jets on the cooker so I can actually get a bit of decent flame to cook on.

We passed the rest of the time taking the dinghy into nearby Nidri, the bus to Levkas, or walking over the hill to the beach at Dessimi to swim and sunbathe, or just lolling on the boat. The days were uniformly hot and sunny and the nights were very calm. We read a lot of books! If you are going to be stuck somewhere for a couple of weeks, this place would be hard to beat.

Thursday 28th May - 18th June

Our part arrived from England on Tuesday. On Thursday Chris arrived at 9.00am and the engine was ticking over nicely by 11.30. Next day we motored up to Nidri and went ashore to pay the bill. Considerably poorer, we then motored over to Meganissi to the taverna quay at Karnayio at Little Vathi. and the joys of electricity, water, showers, a washing machine (clean knickers!), and being able to walk off the boat on to dry land.

The Karnayio taverna has a pontoon with room for about 20 boats. Haul off lines, joined to a heavy ground chain, hold the boats off the quay. We had a very nice meal in the evening but were woken at 6.00 am with a burst of heavy rain. Suddenly there was a clap of thunder straight overhead and a vicious gust of wind swept into the bay, swinging 180 degrees as it came. The yachts lurched towards the quay and then leant heavily sideways. I looked out of a porthole to see the surface of the water swept into the air and flung against the beach and onto the three yachts at the end of the line. It passed as quickly as it came and within minutes it was flat calm and windless again. The wind was so strong that the ground tackle had moved and everyone had to rush around tightening up the haul off lines. We later found a large streak of yellow paint on the bow where we had been flung against the pontoon.

The forecast now is for strong winds and rain on and off for a day or two and it looks as though the weather gods are giving us strong hints that it is time to call it a day so we decided to go and look at the Sunsail Centre in Vounaki which the Cruising Association notes says is a nice place to be pampered at 18 Euros a night. We found it very soulless and were charged 30 Euros a night with no electricity so spent 10 minutes in the nice showers trying to get our money's worth and left next day.

We pottered around familiar places for the next three weeks, retiring to the safety of Vlicho whenever big winds were forecast. One day Mike rescued four young Germans in their little dinghy who were drifting away fast in the strong wind because their outboard had given up. The weather has remained hot and almost universally sunny and we have had several good sails. Since we decided this year that we would not plan where to go, but would go with the wind, we have spent a lot less time with wind on the nose. We found a couple of lovely anchorages on Ithaca. One is just under the cape on the north east tip of the island. The other is on the east coast, one mile below the entrance to Vathi harbour. This one is very beautiful, with dramatic cliffs rising over turquoise water which is so clear you can watch the anchor fall all the way to the seabed. We also spent a peaceful couple of nights at anchor in Port Leone, a bay on Kalamos where there is a small deserted village and two more nights in Abelike Bay back on Meganisi where we moved the boat some 5 times before Mike was happy that we were well spaced from both shore and other boats!

We have really enjoyed these last few weeks drifting around the islands in pleasant temperatures (albeit sometimes over hot) with mostly gentle winds. However, we have definitely decided to put 'Sundancer' up for sale and have had a couple of men aboard from brokers to give us an estimate of value and what asking price we should go for!

We hauled out for our summer break at Preveza Yard on Thursday 18th June. I had planned to do lots of oiling of woodwork but my resolution failed in view of the temperatures of nearly 90 degrees with 85 per cent humidity. Well, the oil doesn't take very well in the damp air. The local airport, Aktio, is only a 5 minute taxi ride away from the Preveza yards and we flew from here to Manchester on Sunday.

30th August to 7th September

We returned on Sunday 30th August, this time from from Gatwick to Aktio.

We had left all the sails on and the hood up so there was little to do except scrub off all the bird droppings and give her a thorough wash before we launched on Tuesday and sailed over to the Preveza anchorage.

The weather was pretty hot and sticky and it was much more pleasant out on the water. Our fridge, which has been temperamental for some time, has just died, so we shall have to repair that - probably expensively - before we sell her and meanwhile we are having to make do with buying ice. When we got back from shopping next day we got a call from one of our two yacht brokers to ask if he could bring a couple round next day to view the boat. They arrived after lunch and had a good look round and next day they put in an offer. We haggled them up to somewhere between Mike's asking price and what I thought we might get. We accepted and sat back feeling a bit shell shocked - it had all happened so quickly. The offer is subject to survey, so it could all fall through if the surveyor finds something nasty. We are going to haul out after our last visitors go home at the end of September and the survey will be done the week after that. There will be no point in putting her back in the water so we shall be home earlier than expected. We will probably come home not knowing whether the sale is going through or not which makes clearing things out a bit difficult. For instance there are lots of clothes which probably aren't worth bringing home but might be needed if we find we come back next spring. Do we take the electric drill and the sewing machine home, which we might need if we come back? There is a 'man with a van' who delivers to the UK so we will send the bikes and some other items back with him.

We met up with Phil and Jill on 'Deliverance' who have just returned from their summer in Croatia which they thoroughly enjoyed. They told us about a good fridge man up in Gouvia, Corfu, so we headed up that way. We had a rolling night in Parga on the way, a harbour our GP had recommended as a delightful place. Well, if you kept your back to the massed ranks of sun beds and faced the castle on the hill it was very pretty.

Next day we moved on to Lakka, a big bay at the top of Paxos. A really beautiful large yacht moored up next to us. We looked it up on the internet and discovered it was a charter yacht, cost £12,500,000 to buy. had a crew of 5, could take up to 8 passengers and had a built in cinema. The family of father, mother and three teenage boys seemed to let the crew do the work, had a swim and then disappeared down below. It didn't seem as much fun for them as working their own boat. They were probably busy playing with their Game Boys.

Next stop was Igoumenitsa Creek, a very peaceful, isolated anchorage we had visited on our way down a couple of years ago. Turning into the creek we passed two tripper boats full of twenty somethings happily throwing buckets of water at each other to the accompaniment of loud music. Those were the days! Peace returned some 200 yards further on as we turned the corner into our beautiful anchorage, surrounded by low green hills. As we sat there in the warm silky dark, with the reflection from a full moon tracing a path over the water towards us and the crickets chirping in the trees, we wondered if we were doing the right thing in selling 'Sundancer'.

On Monday we arrived at Gouvia marina, dodging dozens of ferries on the way and found the fridge man who is coming tomorrow. In the evening we went to the marina restaurant and had grilled octopus. Mike had remembered it from our previous visit as the best octopus he had ever eaten and it nearly (but not quite) lived up to his memory.

8th - 19th September.

The fridge man duly arrived and fitted a new compressor at vast expense - well that has knocked a hole in the profits if we sell. We moved out to Gouvia anchorage and then sailed gently up to a bay called Kapari which had been recommended by our friends from 'Thursday's Child'. It was pretty commercialised and weedy - not good for anchoring, so we turned round and sailed gently back to the Gouvia anchorage.

On Thursday 10th September we decided to start making our way south again and planned to sail over to an isolated bay on the mainland called Pagania. Six miles out, Mike noticed that the engine temperature dial was reading nearly boiling point. There was still coolant water coming out of the side of the boat (as it should) and no apparent reduction in the level in the water tank. We dithered for a bit and then decided to turn back to Gouvia where we would be sure to find an engineer. After about five minutes the needle reading went down to normal so we turned round again, but it immediately went back up, so we gave up and headed back to the marina feeling very sorry for ourselves.

When we were tied up again in the marina Mike asked the couple in the boat opposite, who looked like permanent residents, whether they knew of an engineer. They did, and very luckily he was working on a boat further down the pontoon. He was a Brit and came about an hour later, dismantled the heat exchanger and took it away for checking and cleaning. He returned next morning and fitted everything back together, ran the engine and the temperature indicator still read high but his 'laser' gauge said the water temperature was normal. He then had to go of to Corfu Town to buy a new temperature sensor. When he returned with this he found it didn't work (apparently he has had this happen before) so he had to go all the way back again. It was 2.30 by the time he had finished which meant we had to pay for another night in Gouvia Marina so we consoled ourselves by eating out again.

We battled our way against southerlies to get back to Preveza before the threatened downpours set in. When these did arrive they were much less than forecast and happened overnight. We were relieved to find that none of the windows had leaked so at least that is something we do not need to repair. 'Deliverance' was still in the anchorage doing some renovations on their elderly Cornish Yawl in which they have been round the world. We shopped, played cards and Scrabble, read and relaxed for a couple of days. We invited Jill and Phil round for a meal one evening and they taught us a new card game called Five Hundred. Swimming is off because there are jellyfish.

Sunday 20th to Sunday 27th September.

Katey and friend Jackie joined us for a week. Unfortunately there was a long delay on their plane so they spent 6 hours in Manchester airport and finally arrived about 10.30 on the Sunday evening.

Next day we took them down through the Levkas canal, seeing several pelicans and herons on the way, and then pottered from Vlicho to Meganissi and back for the next few days, mostly anchoring but tying up to a restaurant pontoon one night so they could treat us to a meal.

We had a few gentle sails and the weather was ideal for the first five days, warm with a thin layer of high cloud reducing the risk of sunburn. Katey was very taken with Meganissi which is a very pretty little island.

On Saturday strong winds and rain were forecast so we headed back up to Levkas Marina via the canal. We had a dampish day in Levkas, without the strong winds. The same winds were forecast the next day but since they had not materialised yesterday and we had to get back to Preveza for our lift out, we left the marina in a dead calm for the 10 o'clock opening of the swinging road bridge which crosses the end of the canal. Once the other side we were suddenly hit by winds of force 6 plus with white water everywhere.

With only a quarter of the genoa set we still managed to plough through the waves at over 5 knots and in the right direction. We bounced for an hour up to the buoy marking the entrance to the dredged channel where it was engine on and we dropped anchor about 150 yards from the Preveza shore and relaxed for the afternoon under a clearing sky. What contrasts!

At 4.30 pm we dinghied Jackie and Katey ashore with their luggage, to catch their plane.

Next morning we hauled out at 9.30 and Mike managed to reverse 'Sundancer' into the narrow lifting dock like an expert pilot. (The German who came behind took three goes!)

We are now safely lifted out ashore and propped up, doing a final (we hope) thorough clean and Mike has even done an oil and filter change on the engine and greased the sea cocks for the new owner.

Over the last few days we have kept thinking 'this is the last time we will do this'. This is with sadness if we are sitting in the cockpit with a gin and tonic watching the sunset, or sailing sedately under a blue sky. It is with pleasure - at least on my part - when we are hauling down sails and packing them away or struggling to stow the heavy dinghy in the cockpit locker.

Will we be back again next season because our buyer pulls out? Who knows? We fly back from Athens on Friday 2nd October. The all important survey happens the next day.

Pauline Nixon, 'Sundancer'. Preveza Marine, Aktio. 30th September, 2009.

Postscript:

The survey didn't happen for various reasons until November but there was no fault found. The sale went through and 'Sundancer' now has a new owner. I trust he will get as much pleasure from her as we have . Mike shed tears as we left Preveza. I just hope he will forgive me eventually.