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Barry's Blog #108 - Nervously navigating and the nuances of Greek fishing boats

On the phone oblivious to the world around him

Small Greek fishing boats are something we keep a really keen eye out for because they present a lot of unknowns.

They don't transmit AIS so the only information we have to work with is what our eyes tell us and due to the methods they use to catch fish; nets, long lines and traps, our eyes are telling us things that change by the minute.

If they're using trawling nets out of the back of the boat they like to fish in a grid-like pattern, so one moment we're pointing A B Sea to pass well astern of them, we don't want our keel, rudder or prop to get fouled in their trailing net, then the next thing is they've turned 180 degrees and now we're either on a collision course with their boat or their trailing nets. It's the same set of problems for us when they're long line fishing.

Fishing boats deploying or retrieving their traps are somewhat easier to deal with as they generally lay the traps out in a straight line. If we can spot a couple of the poorly marked trap floating flags we can guess the general direction the boat will be travelling in order to retrieve them and avoid as necessary.

Eretria to Chalkis

Why am I giving you a short lesson on Greek fishing methods? Because on our way to Chalkis from Eritria in the Evia channel we encountered a small fishing boat and there were some unknowns.

Through the binoculars we could see that he had no nets out the back and was possibly heading home. He may still have had long lines out the back but he was travelling in a straight line and not the usual grid pattern. We could also see that he had a mobile phone up to his ear and was having an animated conversation. We also noted that he was oblivious to our presence.

Three thoughts happened next.

If he was not engaged in fishing, then we were the stand on vessel and that meant he was obligated to avoid us, which he could easily have done by going astern of us.

If he was still fishing then we were obligated to avoid him.

If he hadn't even seen us then it was up to us to take avoiding action. After all who wants to crash and sink their yacht just because they were in the right. We decided to take avoiding action and this is the first time we got to use the very versatile Greek word 'malaka' which had been taught to us by our friend Nikos.

I suggest you Google it for a full and fun description, but in everyday speech, the word is used metaphorically to mean a person who uses no common sense.

Four more hops until haul out

Our initial plan had been to explore a lot of the anchorages in the northern parts of the Evia channel before getting hauled out at the boat yard at the end of November. But the worsening situation with our engine exhaust system which was spewing diesel soot and exhaust fumes into the engine compartment, dictated that we haul out at the end of October when our pre-paid Greek cruising tax expired.

The morning of Saturday 19th October was once again windless as we brought up the anchor in preparation of motoring 5 hours further north west to the small protected harbour at Eretria.

During the passage the wind remained elusive but fortunately the faithful engine of A B Sea didn't miss a beat despite her ever worsening air intake and exhaust issues.

Our chart showed a cable ferry travelling north/south between Eretria on Evia and Oropou on the mainland but it didn't go into any detail regarding the depths of the cable. An Internet search didn't provide any helpful info either. A cable ferry basically works on the principle of a vessel pulling itself along the cable by use of a powered cog or drum on board. The cables or chains have slack built into them, so that as the ferry moves away the cable or chain sinks well below the surface which allows other vessels to pass without becoming entangled.

Our chart also showed lots of very shallow water around the entrance to Eretria harbour which we carefully navigated and timed our arrival to perfectly coincide with the arrival of one of the ferries. Once we saw it was safely tied up at the loading ramp we nipped into the harbour and dropped our anchor into sand in 6 metres (19.5 feet) of water.

Diesel soot slick

Checking that the holding of our anchor was good, I slowly applied reverse power to 3,000 rpm while watching Aannsha's hand signals at the bow. Once we were both happy that the anchor was firmly set I turned the engine off and glanced over the side. I didn't like what I saw. A very large deposit of diesel soot was gently floating away from A B Sea on the water's surface. We try to be as kind to the environment as we can on board A B Sea and seeing the slick of soot made us feel bad. But the reality was there was nothing we could do to change the circumstances of our engine problem until we had A B Sea hauled out.

The bridges of Chalkis

Sunday morning there was some wind, but it was blowing the wrong way to be of any use to us, so it was another day of motoring.

About halfway to our destination Aannsha asked me if I was OK. When I'm stressed I go very quiet and still and Aannsha picks up on that.

I explained about how I was feeling edgy about navigating the shallow water, the narrow channel and passing the bridges, but it wasn't really any of those things that was bothering me.

What was bothering me was a fear of the engine dying at a moment when it was needed the most. With little to no wind we'd be royally screwed if we suddenly had no engine power and given what we were about to navigate through I was naturally feeling apprehensive about the whole situation.

Nine times out of ten things are always bigger in reality than they appear on our charts and the narrow portion of the Evia channel was no exception. The channel is well marked with channel marker buoys, the depths are sufficient to allow vessels of most sizes to easily pass port to port and on the day we traversed through we only encountered one other yacht and a half dozen fishing tinnies. It may be very different during the busier summer months.

The only part that may require some consideration would be following the narrow channel under the cable-stayed Euripus suspension bridge. Two way traffic there between large vessels would be a tight squeeze and if I were to see something big wanting to come through I'd quite happily do lazy circles until they were through and past.

Once under the Euripus bridge the very large anchorage area, to the south of the Chalkis opening bridge, was soon in sight and we dropped anchor close to a handful of other yachts. I breathed a sigh of relief that the navigation had not been as tricky as I thought it would be and that our faithful engine had faultlessly taken us one more step closer to our haul out destination.

Time to chill out and have a beer. The following morning we'd be taking the dinghy into town to pay the fee and register our intention to pass the old Chalkis bridge. But I'll tell you all about that in next week's blog.

To watch the video that accompanies this blog click here.

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