Toe Caps of Steel

Kalimera Christmas

My breakfast tea with cherry biscuits is waiting in Nea Agora on the other side of the street. Last view in opposite direction from Mandraki harbor, where Kostas Dimakis is only a fading rear left silhouette in the aquamarine morning haze, I notice Daphne’s Lullaby in the basin. There is a touch in my heart while I realize what a magnificent vessel she is. I breathe the crisp December morning air. Just before taking the next step on cross walk I just let the single moment take my breath away. At the same I probably save myself from disastrous accident with speeding biker accelerating heavily towards north-west on Evdomis Martiou street. Passing through the suffocating exhaust fumes I wonder if the Greek boasters will ever slow down due to the sky-high cost of petrol. Most likely they will not.

On the front page the Rodiaki newspaper list down the 10 most difficult things for the Greek to get over in tragical recession. Some celebrity, currently moved away from the island, has married her long-lost cousin and the stray dog situation of Rhodes is being bitterly argued between the mayor and active canine lovers. The second cup of excellent tea really makes me sharpen the eyes on magazine page. “The City Council has decided to increase the monthly port charges immediately five times higher. The Port Police is to share reminders and will monitor the situation against customers that should disobey.” My friend Dimitri on the next door table nods worried as I curse out excessively. What a devilish thing to do just now, as I have the agreed overhaul in shipyard just two months away. New engine for Daphne’s Lullaby is waiting as well as several other issues that will need service and attention. The relaxed atmosphere of sunny Christmas spirit of has just flown to the four winds.

Hear the whisper of waves

“You hear me now. You will either pay or we will confiscate your vessel!” claimed the dull looking young clerk at the harbor chief’s office. I was not given any elbow room. I was forced to do pretty fast decisions in order to avoid the next month fee, all of a sudden becoming way too high for my ability to pay. I had agreed for a long-term berth during last summer season ceased in October. After being calm for two months the office is raising thunder and hell by renewing all contracts with pretty one-sided decision.

I need someone to help me out with the boat. I have decided to take her near to my friend’s place, something like 18 nautical miles south-west of Rhodes town, where she can stay moored for the rest of waiting until engine change and general overhaul. However, it’s too risky to leave there single-handed. As my wife is having an off-season vacation in southern France for the next following weeks, I need to ask someone else to help me out.

So I give another call for Ned Andersen, the friend who has agreed to keep an eye on the boat, even he is no sailor kind at all. He probably hates the idea of going for a short sailing trip but he still agrees to do it, while being a gourmet lover, for juicy smoked leg of lamb that I promised to arrange. Ned is a helpful person, always ready to give a hand with a smile. His big grin reminds me of the wrench in my toolbox. Ned is a retired builder specializing in steel structures. He still occasionally receives some request for structure design. It’s more like a hobby for him. He has suffered a severe diabetes in the last 7 years but is by no means given to interfere with his life. Ned is living his retirement dream with her lovely wife Helene.

We decided to sail on the day before New Year’s Eve just to be sure there will not be any extra cost. In order to make the date I needed to accomplish several preparations. Even the route is expected to be clear and short, I still loaded fresh and canned food for two days journey, checked all tools and navigation equipment like a routine job as always when going out to sea. Open sea is a harsh mistress and especially when your crew is not too experienced sailors.

Daphne’s Lullaby is a wooden sloop built around 1970. The name was originally given by the previous owner. He built the yacht for his family and sailed several seasons along the Mediterranean Sea. As the yacht was completed right after baptizing of his youngest baby child, he then decided to use part of her name. The yacht did lull the infant in sleep over several voyages. Measuring 34 ft 9 inches long, with a 10 ft 14 beam and a 6 ft draft she is still easy to maneuver with crew of two. She is a bit heavier built than most of the modern sail boats but still pleasant for sailing with a 47 ft mast and a 17 ft boom. For some summers we have had charter based private cruises being arranged. Captain and boatswain with two to four guests. For a day cruise it might be even more guests but for the sake of convenient accommodation the number is kept fairly low. However, nowadays people tend to invest a lot more they used to. Guests clearly aim towards the premium class sailing vacations and unfortunately our boat doesn’t necessarily compete in that class anymore. As the competition has become tougher we decided to leave the business even it has been a source of income and helped with the maintenance cost.

Town of Rhodes is located at the northern tip of the spearhead shaped 1,400 square kilometers island. The city is relatively easy to go around with a bicycle though the classic folding bike from Brompton stays on board where it’s bolted into bulkhead below the sturdy one meter fire axe and Monte Bianco ice axe. There are no hills to climb in the town but Monte Smith. In there you certainly don’t need any walking sticks not to mention ice axe. However, it’s still possible to try out some moderately civilized hill climbing and walking along the way, if one decides to wander further for the southern tip of the island. There is the island of Prasonisi on other side of sound, less than 800 meters away and reachable by foot during low tide. Based on the experience I would recommend a scooter for daily commuting. They are pretty cheap and tough vehicles today. I’ve driven my Vespa over 10,000 km since I bought it some three years ago to back up my dying VW Beetle.

On the eve of the departure

We meet together with Ned on the early evening of 29th of December at Daphne’s Lullaby. Well, I’ve stayed on the boat since Christmas when I first read the news. We agreed to set the sail at the dawn but before that we decided to have a bit of a farewell party. Just the two of us, having some good food, drinks and maybe even few cigars and a lot of laughs. I have planned to prepare kalamari with Maltese style by stuffing the squid with rice, breadcrumbs, parsley, garlic and capers and then gently stewing in red wine. It’s easy to prepare in pantry gas oven. Dimitri fixed me a nice bowl of fresh kalamari and the rest of ingredients I have on boat already. There’s just fresh salad to go with olive oil and balsamic vinegar dressing. It is simple yet delicious. Well, a farewell party dinner would not be complete without decent drinks, so I reserved few bottles of Rhodian retsina. Exquisite and affordable thanks to escaping of the phylloxera epidemic so far.

At first, as it’s still daylight, we enjoy Bloody Mary SSSS (straight self-service style) from glass canning jars up on the weary deck chairs. We chat about daily business and the nonsensical saving and fundraising going on lately. There are other boaters like me that are expected to leave the harbor due to unfairly raised mooring fees as well. After dinner, that succeeded exceptionally well if I may say, there are a few glasses of Bowmore 12 year old. To be honest, it might have been too many in between some arm wrestling training we executed on the cabin roof. Right after Ned had beat me and while cheering out of joy he fell overboard into, not so clear, water. What a splash!

The dawn opened up as beautiful as always in Rhodes island. Unfortunately we did not. We both had a bit of hangover and felt pretty unable to operate the boat until sometime noon. Ned was even worse due to his nagging illness. He should be more careful with excessive liquor consumption. I blamed myself since actually I should have known better. It took us several hours before anyone requested breakfast and even that was reduced in half-burned La Libertad Demi Corona cigar. I felt being very much too old for such fiestas we did had last night. Once more I silently promised never to touch any booze.

That day Daphne’s Lullaby motored out of Mandraki harbor pool with two wasted men. Tired but anxious to get to open sea with mild but fresh northeast wind starboard side. We sailed about 3 nautical miles from the Rhodes island coast (290°) before turning towards southwest (245°). The wind was steady but could not have been more than 5-6 m/s with quietly surging waves. The clinker built hull of Daphnes’ Lullaby gave a good smack amusingly every now and then. This ship hull building method requires considerably less caulking in use as it’s not so prone to leaks caused by dehydrated planks. It is seldom when Daphne’s Lullaby needs to turn to the automated pump for excess bilge water removal.

Contact with Devil’s claw

We entered sunny Fanes bay after 16:00 30th of December after few hours pleasant sailing with no special events. Well, for me it was pleasure but slowly waving western rolls did not help poor Ned recover his hangover any better. I don’t know if it was just a sheer agony for him but his face often expressed funny theatrical smiles I never experienced before. Nevertheless we starter mooring by letting the anchor to hit the sea bottom at decent distance from the pier. Or at least we intended to do so since the following episode took place.

I need to point out that several things happened almost simultaneously. While I was at the helm we slowly motored closer to pier. We had agreed that I would give a sign for Ned at the bow to first loose the anchor chain tension, then knock the devil’s claw of and eventually let the anchor windlass lower the anchor at right spot. How stupid of me? I was soon to be felt like a monkey leading a lion but I gave the sign to Ned and he waved OK back. Ned is no sailor and despite the miniature devil’s claw of Daphne’s Lullaby it still did its duty amazingly well and did resist Ned’s brute force. Meanwhile I was discovering suspicious amount of burnt clutch smell coming from under the engine cover. Naturally, it drew all the attention for a moment even it obviously should have not. Next thing I discovered was Ned screaming his lungs out for shock! As soon as back on deck I saw Ned kneeled down for his foot that had my Monte Bianco ice axe sticking right out from his left foot shoe’s toe side. It took me few jump’s of a tiger to reach Ned that stood amazingly calm, most evidently in shock, on the deck smiling the widest smile I ever seen. I was devastated! Due to poor control of unexperienced guest on board I had generated a serious accident and possibly life long injury.

“Well, my friend, you know what? As an old hard hat I never leave home without my safety shoes and this is not the last pair I will wreck. Sorry about your fine axe, though.” Ned had decided to use my snow axe, unintentionally lying on the deck after yesterday’s presentation of equipment, as some extra lever arm. Unaware of the fact that a devil’s claw cannot be released while it is under tension he had used force and being excessively worried we would miss the agreed point of anchor release he had targeted the claw with a powerful hit. The axe didn’t release the claw but ended up landing on his toes. Miraculously only ruining his moderately new safety shoe and the tip of my, not so much used, snow axe.

This chapter is an example from yet unpublished volume
currently identified as "The Fast and Slow Rays"
by Yumatzuga (2011, 2012).

Cheerio

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