While at a cocktail party in Montenegro- before we left on our 3-month tour of Greece, we met someone who had cruised the Cyclades the year before. One of the highlights of enjoying time with other cruisers is the wealth of information we can share with each other from one year to the next. Rarely do we all have the same itinerary. Even if we are wintering over for more than 1 year together, we will have varied cruising schedules. So, imagine my shock when the person replied, “they were all the same – one was as the other and honestly I can’t recall even the stops that we made to recommend or not”. Even though I had only been to Greece 30 years earlier, I had the memory of knowing that the few stops we made on a short cruise ship itinerary involved places of completely different (if similar) character. Suspecting that our conversation was unlikely to improve, I made my way to others in the room.
But as I sit here on the fly bridge approaching what is scheduled to be the last and final island on an exquisite tour of some of the most stunning and soul rich places we have been, I am in true awe of what makes the Greek Isles so special. And I can promise you that after stopping at 20 islands, each is decidedly NOT as the other. Each of the islands is as each of the people we met – unique and special and a treasure we will keep with us forever. I’m at once joyful at what we have experienced and sad to have to leave this wonderful place. (Americans are only permitted 90 days out of each 180 days in the Schengen area of which Greece is a part). I haven’t updated the blog lately because we have been living living! Living! but now, I’d like to get some words on paper so we can preserve some of the special memories we have made in this stunning archipelago.
At first glance, our routing would look haphazard and as Alec said it, “like a drunken sailor.” But we had a motive in mind when we resumed our course East ward following the Peloponnese to port. Even though Santorini was not intended to the be the highlight of OUR summer cruise, we knew from polling our guests who were joining us that it was an important stop. And why wouldn’t it be? It is so unique in terms of geology and scenery with the gleaming white buildings crowned with the iconic blue domes. It is likely the most photographed of all the Greek islands and it is an Instagram/social influencer dream.
But we are far from influencers aboard Gratitude. We aren’t looking for the perfect shot to convey the perfect image. Rather, we are looking for the perfect person who can sum up the perfect soul of a place.
So, for that reason, Santorini was further down on our list of favorite islands but what I CAN say about it – the caldera in the center, the largest in the world, with water of 300 meters depth climbing to mountains of 100 meters high was incredible. I could sit and stare in awe imagining the amazing cataclysmic explosion in 1400 BC, felt around the world, that left this gaping hole in its wake. People are an adaptable species and given the high cliffs and abundant sea life, for centuries, donkeys have carried goods up and down the 566 steps to the top. Today, that effort is augmented by a cable car operating from Thira which shuttles cruise ship passengers up and back to their ships. Speaking of cruise ships…
There is, near where the cruise ships ferry their customers to the port, a large, enclosed net which sits on the surface attempting to contain seepage from a cruise ship which sunk on April 5, 2007. I heard this shocking tail of a cruise ship, damaged and with a Captain dithering about for 8 hours, and then going to the deep commercial port to disembark the fortunate customers who made it safely to land, from someone sharing our ride to the port. Rumors abound on the island about what became of the captain, though the most credible is that he changed his name and ran off to avoid prosecution. Remembering that we have friends who were on a sunken ship in Greece, I asked them if this was their ship and, in fact, it was. The cruise company offered them compensation of 2500.00 each and a voucher for a future cruise. 2 passengers were lost and presumed dead. And the wreckage is still a ticking time bomb on the bottom of the caldera. Every day this ship sits is one more day that the fuel tanks suffer the corrosive effects of salt water. The insurance company and cruise ship company have already been ordered to contain the wreckage and remove the ship, but they are appealing the decision and the biggest loser (aside from the poor missing passengers) may well be the environment and the people who call this special place home. Today there are roughly 10000 regular inhabitants who work incredibly hard to support the 500,000 yearly visitors on this tiny island. But enough of that poor misbegotten adventure, on with ours… The weather, warm over much of the Mediterranean, is cool and comfortable in Santorini (and many of the Cyclades islands) owing to the pleasant cool air funneling down from the North. This same North wind, called the Meltemi, is also what has kept us moored in several locations a few days longer than we may have preferred to remain, and to arrive earlier.
Santorini is made up of lava, ash, and oxidized iron which accounts for the 3 beaches, black, red, and brown.
I was able to enjoy Santorini a couple different ways, first while we were moored in Thirassia while awaiting my sister Kelly’s arrival, and then later when I took a ferry to meet Jen and Tracy. Both trips were totally different but equally enjoyable. With Kelly we were aboard Gratitude, and we took the dinghy over the Oia where we hiked, shopped, and dined on beautiful food. We met a few lovely humans away from the hustle and bustle of the main island and it was these encounters which left me with a sense of the soul of the place. With Jennifer and Tracy, I met them at a lovely hotel (for lack of a better word). But “hotels” on Thira are truly in a class by themselves. The nicer of them, such as where we stayed, provided multiple rooms housed in one shared space with our own small wading pool. Truly God help the humans who daily deliver luggage to the inhabitants perched on the side of a mountain. These men (I didn’t see any women doing this job) climb up and down the cobbled stoned paths carrying cases larger than a child. They do this with a smile on their face and commitment of service.
We rented a car for a day and traveled from end to end seeing all that we could see and again, we ate and ate some of the most gorgeous food I have ever seen! If you are heading to Santorini, highlights included Mia’s, and a home cooked meal but I can’t remember the name – Jen or Tracy – Any help??
It is hard to imagine anyone being disappointed by a trip to Santorini (Thira) but I beg you to make certain to include some smaller islands on your itinerary if you come to Greece. It is the smaller islands who hold the soul of Greece and in the absence of throngs of short-term visitors, the locals have the energy to share and impart that soul to you. What will follow in the next blog entries are the smaller islands in which we stopped making our way Northward to Athens.
Rounding the peninsula of the Peloponnese, we had opted to head due East, rather than make the turn North heading to Athens. Our primary considerations for the next 6 weeks are the 7 guests arriving in 4 different increments. Since all our family and friends arriving should see, at a minimum, Athens- and most want to see Santorini. Our challenge is that we don’t wish to spend 6 of our precious 12 Greek weeks in these locales, so it has involved a bit of “visitor calculus” to make sure everyone is getting what they want after traveling 5,000 miles to be with us.
While we have only hosted 2 people thus far, we have high hopes for achieving these goals – though weather will certainly play a big role in this. The summer wind events in Greece known as the Meltemi have been causing a few disruptions to the schedule and we must plan to make sure we are where we can receive guests – i.e., near an airport or ferry. In fact, during the most intense Meltemi, even the ferries cancel service. That said, we have had 2 events so far and we arrived in Milos ahead of the first, and we tucked into Folegandros for the second. So far, so good. But back to Milos, where we entered the Cyclades….
Our first visitors arrived in Athens within a couple of days of our arrival in Milos. We planned this so that they could spend a couple of days acclimating to the time change in Athens and see the Acropolis and anything else they wanted to see, then take a ferry to us in Milos. This worked perfectly as we were then “stuck” in Milos for several days while the Meltemi blew. We had several days of 35 knot winds during which travel would have been in violation of rule number 1 on Gratitude – “Keep the pleasure in pleasure boating”. That said, by the time they arrived, we were rested, ready and had some family time “in the bank” so that our week together was enjoyable.
Milos is an amazing island and since I had never heard of it before this visit, I can only assume it is considerably underestimated. The southernmost island in the Cyclades Island group, located just north of Crete, it is known for its stunning beaches and is also famous for the location of the discovery of the Venus de Milo.
We originally planned to anchor in the south of the island due to the prevailing Meltemi from the North but opted instead to try out the harbor as the journey around the island to collect our niece from the ferry would have been a long one. Surprisingly, the harbor was very comfortable and reasonably protected with the 30 knots of wind we encountered on several of the days we were there. This can only be attributed to the excellent holding of the anchor and the ‘flopper stoppers” we deployed to counter the effects of the swell. I don’t think we would have been any more comfortable at the marina and, In fact, as it was much warmer at the dock, I can only imagine we would have been far less so.
The port town of Adamantas was busy but lovely and contained many shops, restaurants, and bakeries as well as a salon where Jack got his hair cut. He has been letting it grow long but found that it is interfering with the seal on his snorkel and mask, so he has decided to cut it. I love function over form, and I personally prefer his hair short, so this was a welcome change. We also toured the old caste near Trypiti, and after Ryan and Sarah arrived, we went to the fishing villages, Sarakiniko beach and the Catacombs. Discovered in 1844, The Catacombs of Milos are an ancient burial site for Christians as well as a place of worship during a time when it was dangerous for Christians to openly practice their religion.
Wishing to avoid further delay, we opted to head to Folegandros, to wait out another weather opportunity for our planned destination of Thira (also known as Santorini).
A smaller island than Milos in terms of occupancy and historical sites, it more than made up for any perceived deficiencies in terms of beauty and hikes. We found a perfect little anchorage, again in the South, and out the path of the Meltemi but the surge was remarkable and probably given other circumstances, we may have gone elsewhere. Still, the flopper stoppers performed admirably and, mindful of lockers closed and locked, we had a wonderful stop. We were here for US Father’s day which we were happy to celebrate with Sarah and Ryan. The Chora in Folegandros was adorable and we found one of the best meals we have eaten there. And this little shop housed handmade toys and crafts that reflected the sweet nature of the shop owner and craftsman who made them.
The final island on Sarah and Ryan’s itinerary and the place where we will continue to stay awaiting Kelly’s flight on Wednesday, we were fortunate to secure a mooring ball in Thirasia. Warned by multiple sources that the Infamous Thira – aka Santorini – would be difficult to manage in terms of anchorage or marina opportunities, Alec worked hard to find a suitable option for us. And here is why: Santorini is so incredibly well known that for us or our family to miss it -would be a shame. Added to that is the convenience of having an airport large enough to accommodate arrivals and departures from Athens. While we probably wouldn’t have planned a week here, this week is necessary between guests to clean the boat and hit the master reset on our family time. While we love having family and friends visit, having 2 back-to-back would fail to honor their visit with our best selves.
THIRA (SANTORINI) Anchoring… or not…
The island of Thira is a giant volcano which most recently erupted in a cataclysmic event in 1400 BC. For this reason, the mountains climb to 100 meters and descend to depths of 300 meters leaving little in the way of suitable anchorages. Not only are all the shallower depths littered with volcanic rock (not the best medium in which to anchor), the depth alone prohibits suitable anchoring. We typically use a scope of 5 to 1 meaning that in 300 meters of depth we would need more than 5000 feet of chain. So, you see the dilemma. There are also no marinas on either of the 2 islands. There ARE, however, mooring balls. Used primarily by the day tripper boats shuttling tourists from Thira to the smaller neighboring island across the caldera called Thirasia, the owner of the substantial mooring offered to rent it to us for several nights. Problem solved. We have the privilege of watching 5000 thousand daily tourists invade this tiny island of approximately 150 year-round inhabitants. Honestly, it’s not as bad as it sounds. They come to deliver people en masse to the handful of restaurants and have a little swim in the cool clear waters away from the main towns of Oia and Thira. I don’t blame them; the water is gorgeous and the respite from the busy streets a wonderful break. The cost of this service ranges from 1035.00 per person on the catamarans to 2200.00 for the faster speed boats. It includes lunch and drinks. I’m not sure what the charge is for the giant, filled to the rafters, tourist boats but for those lunch and drinks are not included.
But with Ryan and Sarah we only had 1 day to make the most of their visit here so with little time to spare, we enjoyed some traditional Greek music at a sweet small festival on Thirasia, and we went to Oia for the day.
Charming and quintessential, Oia is the lovely cliff top town on the North side of the island. The shops, though certainly catering to tourists, (and there are many that have the cookie cutter “evil eye “likely made in China), are many artist shops and special places that reflect the unique nature of Thira. The lovely and Jet set abound up and down the streets crammed with restaurants and those iconic white buildings with blue accented doors and domes. But it works. Arriving by dinghy at the port, we were all a bit daunted by the site of several hundred steps to the top but Laurie, Sarah and Ryan climbed up while Alec and Jack (worn out from our 2 very large and steep hikes in Folegandros) opted to take the donkey to the top.
There is a reason why Thira is the most famous and photographed island in Greece. There is simply no other place like it. End to end the island is only approximately 9 miles long but the interior Caldera is roughly 6 miles. Which is to say that much of the volume is water of depths exceeding 500-900 feet. Fascinating.
Following Ryan and Sarah’s departure, we spent a family day on the small boat, searching out snorkeling spots and in search of the famed “White” “Red” and Black” beaches. The “Red” Beach is probably the most famous and interesting with oxidized iron accounting for the red color of the cliffs.
Jack has spent some time building the huge project that Sarah delivered. Jack had ordered and paid for the immense Lego with birthday and job money months ago. And Alec and I have gotten caught up on some “life admin” tasks. Gratitude is all shiny and clean following an entire day spent cleaning her inside and out and we are ready for Kelly to arrive next week.
Correction: There are 18 UNESCO world Heritage sites in Greece as of 2021. The caves are still not on the list, however, there are far more than the 5 that I read about in my (clearly outdated) travel guide.
Lefkas, Nydri, Ithaca, Cephalonia, Zakynthos, Katakolo (Olympia), Kalamata, BWA Yacht Service, Olive Route Tours, and so long Kim, Steve and Missy….
After only a short 6 weeks in Greece, we have all fallen in love. It isn’t hard to see why, given that just mentioning the country evokes feelings of old-world charm, azure seas and the famous Mediterranean food which has fueled countless food crazes over the years.
We have been cruising down the Ionian seaside of Greece (Western side) and island hopping the whole way with only a rough draft in mind of the places we would see. As we wrap up 5 weeks of cruising, eating, traveling, and immersing ourselves on the Ionian side of this beautiful country, I knew that I needed to get writing lest 1 single detail of this adventure be lost. As I type, we have just departed Kalamata (yep, the same Kalamata as the famous olives) and we are heading to Milos where we will begin our Aegean portion of this Greek Odyssey. But I digress, let’s start at the beginning. When I last wrote, we were in an anchorage just South of Corfu.
First, a word about BWA Yachting and the services they have provided for us thus far:
The anchorage on the north end of Paxos called Lakka is a lovely place to spend some time. There was hardly any swell and a very protected crescent shaped anchorage which gave us restful nights and stress-free days spent exploring the towns. BWA Yachting continues to provide our yacht agent services. You may remember that we discovered how amazing it is to travel stress-free when someone else is assuming legal responsibility for your status and paperwork requirements. When we checked into Greece in Corfu, we first made the acquaintance of Johnny with BWA who cleared us in, had our port documents stamped, delivered the garage full of Amazon products which we had sent to them to hold for our arrival (very hard to get products in Montenegro and we wanted to prepare for Jack and Alec’s birthday). When we discovered in Paxos that Jack had left behind one of his most prized possessions (his scooter and primary form of transportation), it was Johnny who facilitated its transport to Nidri on Lefkada and George in Nidri who arranged the reunion with Jack and his scooter and made restaurant recommendations for Alec’s birthday. He also forwarded items which were promised in April to our next port. The Paxos agent handled our paperwork, delivered books I had ordered for Jack, and even graciously provided us a car for our use for the day. In Cephalonia, the BWA agent Sofia drove from the other side of the island to deliver a package which I had sent to Athens for our arrival there. In absolutely no hurry to have the package, the agent thought we may need it, so it was transported to us via a fairly long drive from Argostoli to Sami. And finally in Kalamata, Andriani collected our transit log to have stamped in and out, made our marina reservations, recommended an exceptional olive oil tour (more on that later) and got us an air conditioning mechanic through other sources which we could not have found on our own. We continue to marvel at the level of service offered by BWA and we remain incredibly grateful for their knowledge and experience. To say that it is well worth the cost is, for us, an understatement. We are en route to Milos and we have already been “handed off” to the BWA agent there who will continue to look after us. BWA has taken so much of the stress and unpleasantness out of the regulatory aspects of cruising and made it so easy, anyone can do it!
We celebrated Alecs birthday on the Island of Lefkada and after several days hanging on the hook here and meandering around the shops and restaurants, we cruised further South to Nydri where we viewed one of the natural wonders of Greece, the waterfalls pictured below.
Lovers of Greek Mythology and Literature will appreciate the stop we made in Ithaca. Believed by some scholars to be the home to King Odysseus in the famous Homers’ The Iliad and Odyssey, walking in the footsteps of such iconic history has been thrilling. We went for a bit of an explore to the remains of what is believed to be his palace from 2800 years ago. It is astounding to me that structures remain, in whatever form they persist – especially given the unstable nature of the region with catastrophic earthquakes happening with some regularity in the past nearly 3000 years. Still, we had a wander around the olive groves and crawled all over stones placed 3 millennia ago. We also went to the cave of the Nymphs.
Cephalonia has been on my bucket list since I read Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis De Bernieres. The book is so achingly beautifully written, I have been anxious and excited to see the place which was so eloquently brought to life by Mr. De Bernieres. We had the added joy of being reunited with acquaintances from a past life who we would now freely consider to be friends. Paulette and John are experienced and capable cruisers, sailors and yachtsmen in their own right and had considered crossing the Atlantic in their Kadey Krogen. Opting instead to purchase a home in Argostoli, Cephalonia, the birthplace of Paulette’s father and home to many other relatives, we had the great joy of spending a couple of days together. Seeing any place through the eyes of a “local” is an opportunity not to be missed, but from a speaker of the language and relative of the island, it was even more exquisite.
We continued to eat (and eat) the glorious food of the region, and we drove all over the island stopping at the charming seaside villages of Fiscardo and Assos. Just 2 km from the town of Sami, we discovered the Melissani (the Cave of the Nymphs). Located in a landlocked lake and being tended by men in oar boats, the cave is up to 39 meters deep in places and has stalactites dating back 20,000 years. And I thought a 3,000-year-old structure was amazing! Listed in the guidebook as one of the greatest natural wonders of Greece, we were shocked that it wasn’t mentioned on the UNESCO heritage list. Excavations in this cave have uncovered evidence of 3rd and 4th century BC worshippers of the god Pan. Leaving behind the Cave of the Nymphs, we traveled on to the Drogarati Cave. 3 km from Sami and 120 m above sea level, the cave descends to a depth of 95 meters. The literature provided states that it is considered the finest cave in Greece, but I would go much further than that. Completely full of Stalactites and Stalagmites, and home to bats who feed on the mosquitos due to the damp environment, it was the most extraordinary and enchanting caves we have ever seen. We could easily have spent another whole week on the lovely island of Cephalonia, but after a day spent at the beach; where snorkeling Steve and Jack discovered a lovely octopus who treated us all to a view, it was time to continue.
Jack has been looking forward to Zakynthos. An island on the Ionian, it is most recognized as the site of the second most photographed spot on Greece, the shipwreck. For numerous reasons, we opted to view the wreck from above and here is the stunning view of the beach below.
Much more amazing to us were the turtles. Home the one of the largest and most protected sanctuaries for returning nesting Loggerhead Turtles, we were able to spot several between Cephalonia and Zakynthos. We spent some time on the North End of the island tied to a pontoon which cost us nothing at all – literally, free. And then traveled to the South end of the island where we laid at anchor for a few days of swimming and – you guessed it… more eating with Kim and Steve. A sweet and enterprising man came by with a trolley which seemed to operate with the motor of a lawn mower. He sold us some honey which we bought even though we have more than enough on board.
Touching the mainland Greece for the first time, we anchored in Katakolo. Likely you would recognize it as the cruise ship port for passengers visiting the very famous Olympia. A Charming train will take you round trip to Olympia for 10 Euro, but we opted to take a cab for greater flexibility. This archeological site, which is currently, even now undergoing excavations, holds more than 750 significant buildings and ruins. This historical site is the birthplace of the original Olympic games, which were held every four years beginning in the 8th century BC through the 4th century AD. Even the fiercest of enemies who were currently at war laid down their weapons and agreed to a truce while the games were held and ambassadors from each city-state were sent to sign declarations of peace before the start of the games. The winner won not only a wreath made from olive branches but a lifetime supply of olive oil as well as fame and fortune.
According to Wikipedia, “The sacred precinct, named the Altis, was primarily dedicated to Zeus, although other gods were worshipped there”. There is also a lovely village which has restaurants and cafes as well as souvenir shops and a terrific Archimedes Museum where we spent an hour pouring over the wonderful experiments. This village has seen continuous occupation since ancient times.
Also on the site is a museum which houses many of the artifacts found from the archeological progress currently underway.( I was truly shocked that this too has not been added to the UNESCO World Heritage list. )I’m sure someone reading this will have a terrific explanation – if yes please let me know because if ever such a site should be protected, this is it. POST SCRIPT… SHOUT OUT TO ANNE FOR letting me know that Olympia has been on the list since 1989. I have no idea why I couldn’t find it but thanks so much for the update.
Leaving Katakolo, we had a 10-hour passage to a place high on Alec’s bucket list, Kalamata. Since the day that Alec saw it on the map, he has wanted to go here so it goes without saying, here is where we said goodbye to the Ionian side of Greece.
Some of you may remember a post I made last year after spending a week with our friends in Piacenza, Italy. I felt as though I was no longer looking through the window into Italian life but rather, I became a full-fledged member of the community. This connection was made more profound by the recency of our time in Venice, in which we felt absolutely no authentic connection to what is “Italy” but rather spent time in a town we felt existed only to support tourism. Reaching this connection isn’t as much a function of the amount of time spent in a place as one may think. It sometimes happens after months in a place, in our case in Kalamata, after only a few days. This is because of the special character of Kalamata and the incredibly generous spirit of the inhabitants. We weren’t treated as though we don’t belong. And when we took a tour of an Olive grove and Olive Mill, we were treated to an experience that moved us right into the kitchen of a 5th or 6th generation olive mill family. We were given a literal and proverbial seat at the table of Greek life in a way in which the previous month had only hinted.
There are two extremes in tourist travel – whether we like the term or not, we are tourists visiting another world. We try to be travelers who seek connection to a community. This can be easy or difficult largely based on the town. If the town exists to support tourism, it is far more difficult to connect to a culture since the culture of a tourist town is to accommodate visitors. If the town exists to support the community, it is far easier for us to connect to what is authentic and real in a place. There won’t be t-shirt shops or souvenir stores. The restaurants will be serving what the locals eat and how they eat. It may be harder to navigate and fewer of the locals will speak English but often the connection, despite these challenges, will be more authentic. This was the case in the lovely Kalamata, in the region of Messenia.
This is one of those times that I regret I’m not a better writer. I wish that I was able to transport you to this experience in the same way that this lovely, storytelling and multi-layered women transported us. It is the type of experience that has left me wanting more. More information. More flavor. And more time to digest the “meal” which was the day we spent at the ANDROUSA MESSINIAS OLIVE MILL. I have been left with a craving to connect with this culture where one wouldn’t dream of cutting down a tree which has fed and nurtured and even healed the ancestors and current occupants of the land in the Messenia area of the Peloponnese. A culture where the words of Hippocrates “Let food be thy medicine and medicine by thy food” are more than a quote, but rather an ethos by which the community lives and works and breaths. A place where the tradition of extracting the oil from the olives isn’t just a job but rather an avocation for all regardless of the vocation of the individual.
This is a land where 10 million (yep that’s right! million!) trees inhabit the space between and around yours and the neighbors’ homes. A place where, regardless of what you do the rest of the year, in October, everyone works to harvest their roughly 300 olive trees owned by each family in the area. A place where children are baptized in the oil of these trees and where a tree is planted for every child born so that they may grow together. This is a place of stewardship and reverence.
When I was trying to put my finger on the differences between our American culture and this organic and earthy existence, it occurred to me that in this place, the rough age of a “teenager” olive tree is older than our entire country. Trees last 2000 years or more! In this lovely region, traditions have been passed down for more centuries and generations than exist in the US. This reverence for earth and trees and fruit isn’t something new age but rather it is in the fabric and the DNA of the heritage. Property “owners” are mere custodians of the lessons and precious resources entrusted by the previous tenants.
Dimitra, thank you from the bottom of our hearts for sharing your beautiful love of your home and culture with us. The olive oil that we brought with us will surely nurture our bodies and the stories and knowledge that you shared will surely nurture our souls.
If you are reading this and have any plans to go to the Kalamata region or if you may want to take an agritourism trip – I can’t recommend this place highly enough.
In the 6 weeks we have been cruising and without putting a fine point on it, we have only spent roughly 14 days at a dock and approximately 30 days at anchor. Based on our current needs and without air conditioning, we have been delighted to see that we can live for 12 days without charging the batteries using only stored energy and solar power coming in. This is a HUGE IMPROVEMENT over our situation last year. When we began using air conditioning at night beginning June 1, our consumption went up enough that we could make it 2 nights on stored energy if we stretched it but likely we will run the generator to re-charge every day for 1 hour. Again, an amazing improvement as that one of hour of running will allow us to make water and cool the boat before bedtime and completely re-charge the batteries. So, all in all, this has been a worthwhile (if expensive) upgrade. The solar power coming in has been up to 2400 watts! Incredible!
Living at anchor in Greece has been amazing! The holding here is like setting in cement (a good thing) and we have never felt anything like it. We drop the anchor and the first time, it’s in! So having this solar power and self-sufficiency is incredibly timely. We hope to maintain this throughout the summer.
to our buddy boat MIMPI. We have been close friends in proximity and heart space since last year in Croatia and we spent the winter together in Montenegro in addition to cruising together in Greece for the past 6 weeks. Due to conflicting time schedules and with multiple family and friends coming to visit us, we had to say so long for the time being. We will miss you Kim, Steve and Missy and look forward to the reunion hopefully soon. Be safe!!
Well, that wraps up the Ionian travel experience. We have arrived in Milos and we expect the first of our visitors to arrive next week. Can’t wait to see you Sarah and Ryan!!!
A mere 2 weeks into our cruising season and so much is happening, I’m all ready to make a short post. This is going to have more photos than words but will include a bit of an update on our Victron/Solar upgrade, Jacks school (big changes), and our stops thus far.
We left Montenegro on 30th of April – 22 – right on time! We considered stopping in Albania but decided to press on for a couple of reasons. Primarily, we were so excited to get to Greece, we didn’t want to delay, and we planned to meet up with friends who had a similar ETA in Corfu as we did. We arrived on 1 May and hit the ground running, clearing into customs and dining on our first authentic Greek meal. Amazing!
The next day we met the other friends from Porto MNE and walked the old town, meandered in and out of shops, visited a local veggie market (one of my favorite things to do) and enjoyed a most amazing meal. Fish spas are an interesting thing here and, having never done it before, we all decided to give it a try. Jack LOVED it and felt like he was really treating the fish to something special. I was initially enthusiastic but quickly backed down when I saw the near frenzy the fish went into when the toes approached the water. While we all loved the result of silky-smooth feet, we had mixed reviews on whether we would do it again. Jack was by far and away the most likely and wanted to use his own money to go back the next day. Saying so long to Moray and Debbie on Sol Purpose, We, Kim and Steve on Mimpi (our buddy boat), and us, decided to rent a car and explore the island.
We enjoyed the “Old Fort”, the “New Fort” and the incredible architecture spanning many hundreds of years and several occupants. The most prominent architecture in this area would have to be from the time of Venetian Rule (400 years) and it was they who re-built the forts as evidenced by the iconic Venetian Lion at the gate.
At the marina in Corfu, we continued to use the shore power because we have been having constant trouble with 1 of the 10 batteries which are connected and running in parallel with each other. Due to limitations within the system, if one battery misbehaves, the entire system can shut down. Alec tried to get them to balance for days at the dock but finally, Lloyd suggested simply disconnecting the troublemaker and operating with the 9 remaining. Having made that modification, we left the marina with fingers crossed that we would have some final success. And success we had! While I’m still not thrilled with the customer service of Victron or the installer we had, the product is amazing. We have been at anchor for over 1 week now and we have moved to our 3rd anchorage and in that time, we have only used the generator on 1 occasion and for 4 hours. Even that was not totally necessary, and we could have totally recharged our batteries in 2-3 hours. We continued to operate the generator only to make fresh water and we even performed power intense activities such as launching the dinghy and storing it 3 times. The solar power coming in during the day, while not completely meeting our power needs, is providing enough so that we could operate for a week with only a couple of hours generator usage to replenish. This is an enormous improvement over our time last year whereby we rarely even ran the boat without the generator due to the high electrical requirements underway, and at the anchorage we used the generator every day – not all day- but for easily 5-8 hours depending on the heat.
Jack’s school… This is a biggie folks! (Insert Deep breath)
We have been boat-schooling Jack exclusively for 3 years. We have used whatever resources we could get our hands on and, following a rough idea of what his peers were learning, we tried to significantly add to that curriculum a world view of US events. We have worked to, where possible, present a well-researched approach to any historical information, often finding 3 or more sources for the same historical event. I can’t tell you how this has contributed to our own education and world view as a family, and we have enjoyed it immensely. That is not to say it has always been easy, but the challenge has been worth the reward – for me anyway. But one of the challenges that Jack has had is that he wants me to be his “mom” and cheerleader, not his teacher. He takes my feedback incredibly personally and no matter how I try to temper input with honest praise, he only hears that he has in some way disappointed me. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth.
So, Jack has requested that we consider Florida Virtual School. We are incredibly fortunate to have this resource at our disposal, and having spent a few months on it, I’m surprised we didn’t do this sooner. While we had nearly finished the work that I had planned for the year, it was a good time to give the Florida Virtual School a shot. Jack signed up for 4 classes. The art class was a shortened class – and he is already finished with it. He loved it and interacted incredibly well with his talented art teacher. Mrs. Bass worked with Jacks current love of art to bring out his own creativity. We are so very much looking forward to next year and taking more art and elective classes. He also signed up for Social Studies, Language Arts (the very class we struggled with feedback in) and Science with Mrs. DiLorenzo. He loves her!!! The classes are a combination of independent study/ tests and quizzes, written work, lectures (though I don’t think he is attending these) and a few times a semester, a discussion-based assessment with the teacher. Jack participated in just such an assessment last week while we were in Paxos. Since we had the appointment scheduled, the rest of our day revolved around that meeting. We brought the wifi router with us and we found a nice, quiet café at which to have lunch and we enjoyed dessert while Jack had his meeting with Mrs. DiLorenzo. She really knows how to put him at ease and Jack doesn’t even know he is being evaluated while they are casually chatting about the things he has learned. Rather than dread the meeting, Jack was truly looking forward to seeing his teacher. Given that he has only known Montessori and boat school, this is a big relief to us.
One of the things I love about this lifestyle is how incredibly independent all the boat kids are. They are very comfortable problem solving, finding their way in shops and restaurants navigating foreign languages and cultures. They run wild and free in marinas without a care in the world. And I love it and support it. But when it comes to school – I admit – I hold too tightly. I have done since the first days of this little experiment and I’m doing it still. So, this is a challenge. Insert second deep breath…. Jack has asked me to trust that he and his teacher have this handled and I’m working to do just that. Working on it – not totally there… but closer. He is nearing the end of the 16-week class, and he tells me he is doing well. So, we shall see. Assuming this goes to plan, I see no reason why we can’t continue this again when we get to Turkey in late October. This coursework doesn’t take as much time as we used to do in school together so it should offer us the opportunity to do more off boat travel. Who knows? But to Mrs. Bass and Mrs. DiLorenzo – thank you very much for your work and efforts. You are such wonderful teachers; I’m humbled by you and grateful to you for your talent and time.
Finally, in only 2 short weeks we have seen so much gorgeous wildlife! Dolphins, mating turtles (not a good shot but you get the picture) and something out of Hitchcocks “The Birds”.
Well, that’s about it for now. Currently we are at an anchorage near Lefkada, Greece. We will be here for a week or more then head to Cephalonia and Ithaka- following in Homers and also St. Paul’s steps…
“Above all, do no harm.” This has been my motto since I began the blog. I am a big follower of reviews, but I have become pretty good at weeding out the weirdos and kooks – especially when there are 200 reviews and only a handful of bad ones or conversely a handful of good ones. When I review a restaurant or business, I only do so when the establishment in question either exceeds all expectations and therefore has earned a 4- or 5-star rating or conversely, only after I have given management a chance to fix my issue with a server or meal and they have chosen to ignore my concerns and then I will make sure that my review reflects the good and the bad. I only mention a business in the blog when they have exceeded my expectations. Thus far, I have chosen not to share any information of a negative nature. Too much of that in the world as it is.
But by request, at what point do I have an obligation to other boaters to be fair and honest? This is a place where people can find information and I want to provide it and be relevant. So, I’ve decided to address, at least in a small way, our recent Victron/Solar upgrade today and follow up as this unfolds.
If you have been following along, I’m going to be brutally honest- including the cost. This is a touchy subject amongst people cruising in this class of boat, but it is an important part of the picture and further, if this is to be of any use at all, it should be included not only for relevance but decision making by others considering this upgrade. Also included is why we decided to make this costly capital investment, the process of installation and the search for answers when the job was, in our estimation, unsatisfactory. We will include the place we found help and the current dialogue we are having with Victron as well as the proposed steps to remedy our situation.
WHY VICTRON AND SOLAR?
I have alluded to some of the reasons why we made this decision in previous blogs but to briefly recap, it was born out of a desire to make whatever improvements we are able to reduce our carbon footprint, become more electrically independent using solar power, remain at anchor for longer periods without the use of our generator, reduce our generator time while underway, and increase the efficiency of the generator when it was needed to refill our Victron batteries.
The previous batteries had far less storage capability and were able to take in energy much more slowly (resulting in the generator having to be used at reduced loads for longer periods – bad for the generator and bad for the environment- bad for the fuel expense). Further, we added 6 solar panels which would power most of our needs for several days at a time without need to replenish the batteries on sunny days.
What I am going to attempt to explain below is what I understand as described to me by my brilliant husband, Alec. Alec is not afraid of the mountain of manuals that should accompany any such decision and he has worked tirelessly to make certain that he understood the technology that he was adding to Gratitude. He takes his role of protector of his family and Captain of his ship very seriously and we are the most fortunate crew to be under his command.
The cost of this new technology was approximately 50,000.00 Euro. For this rough price estimate, we received 10 Victron Lithium-Iron batteries, 2 -5000 watt Quattro inverters, 2-Skylla-i 100 Amp chargers, 6 solar panels each producing 360 watts and a solar MPPT controller. The cost of installation was additional. We opted to purchase this technology by hiring a Victron Dealer who is an authorized installer and who can test the system to ensure that it is safe, efficient, and will provide a full-service life. This dealer is intended to explain the system fully and diagram it so that “work arounds” at sea and away from a technician can be affected. Some of you may have heard of the fires involved in the lithium-Ion Batteries – in fact, if you are in the airline industry you may remember some airplane fires which occurred from lithium-Ion batteries and even some laptops and cell phones. The batteries that we installed are NOT these. Our batteries are Victron Lithium-Iron, and they are considered much safer technology, but they must be installed under a specific set of parameters and fully tested before putting them into “service.”
Alec wanted the installation done as soon as possible after our return trip from the US so that he could, while tied safely to the dock and living aboard, monitor, test and get comfortable with the new system. Agreeing with this priority, I even agreed to postpone Thanksgiving dinner. Normally a big deal to all Americans, but for us specifically, we love sharing this tradition with foreign friends. We cancelled it so that we could live in a hotel while the work was done.
Promised over a 15-day period, the installation took 22 days. Alec discussed with the dealer/installer which materials should not be used for the installation such as wood and mild steel for the battery enclosure. In direct opposition to parameters that Alec gave the installer, he did exactly what he pleased. Normally Alec would oversee the installation and ask questions the entire time, but the workers were heavy smokers and the combination of odors emanating from them made it impossible for Alec to climb into the laz (a small and confined workspace) and work with them for the day. I hate to even mention this because it sounds so punitive, but it is important because most would ask “Why didn’t he oversee the install and ask the appropriate questions” as items are being disconnected and this is the reason. I’m sorry but the odor was just too much. So, he decided to wait until it was completed to go through the system and ask questions later. Our boat is wired for America and is 60 HZ whereas European power is 50 HZ. Plugging our boat into European dock power with all our American appliances and electronics could cause serious damage. Alec explained this several times to the installer and advised them that at no time could they have power applied directly to the boat. It must go to the chargers then to the batteries and from the batteries to the inverters and then the boat. Just to make sure everything was safe, Alec turned off and isolated every item he could on board Gratitude at the circuit breakers. We returned to the boat to find electrical power connected to Gratitude and our Bose system and our sons Wii no longer working. Thank God Alec had protected our oven, washers, and dryer and most of the rest of the boat. But we lost the Bose entertainment system and Jacks Wii. Thanks to Joe and Renee aboard Aquilla Renee for bringing Jack another one on their return from the states. But the Bose is gone. “”
Afterward, every time Alec called to ask a question, he was either referred to the manual (which he had already read cover to cover) or told “it was fine”. There were specific concerns that Alec had where the installation was clearly in opposition to what the manual suggested and the response from the installer was the same “it’s fine”. When the grill failed to work, Alec had to – without benefit of a revised electrical diagram which should have been provided, find where it had been disconnected and reapply power to the propane solenoid. In a similar fashion he had found that our hydraulic alternators had been disconnected without the benefit of explanation or information. Frustrated but not deterred, Alec attempted to contact Victron directly to ask for support. He was told that he would have to file a report and they would send it to his dealer and installer. Clearly, this wasn’t going to work since the problem was with the dealer. If we had found an installer on Craigs list and bought the components online, I would understand Victron’s reluctance to help but we used THEIR installer and in the strictest sense, they should be completely ethically and legally responsible for the installation of their products by their dealers. Trying to get help from Victron Europe and America produced the same result. “Contact your dealer or we can put you in touch with your dealer”. Giving up on that course of action, Alec sought out information from Victron Facebook group, the Nordhavn Owners group (NOG) and anyone who could help.
FINALLY… THE CALVARY ARRIVES!
Friends, Phillip, and Donna aboard Beyond Capricorn 1, whom we met in Croatia last year crossed the Atlantic, got water on the inverter which required the continuous use of their generator resulting in a much higher fuel burn and subsequent diversion to French Guyana. Not ideal – but thank God they were safe. They found Lloyd Chung in Trinidad and Tobago when they were seeking repairs. Amazed and impressed by his knowledge and familiar with our struggles, he put us in touch with each other. Lloyd agreed to help us figure out our system, for the cost of an hourly charge, by hooking in remotely from 5000 miles away. Over the following week, he made needed updates to firmware, wiring upgrades, reviewed and changed settings, made a diagram of our system, proposed future improvements and, to the best of his ability explained the installation to Alec. Lloyd worked at 0300 his time, when Alec was up at 0900 and he worked constantly monitoring the system, the solar input and discovered the reason why we weren’t getting the benefits we had purchased this upgrade to obtain. While trying to troubleshoot an issue with our Inverter battery chargers, Lloyd reached out to his Victron rep and together they discovered that while there was no problem in the inverter battery chargers, there were issues identified in the installation. Victron offered to send a technician to help but our departure for Corfu, Greece was arranged. Given that there were no glaring safety concerns, we all decided to wait until we are in Athens to have an audit of and fix of the issues with the system.
The jury is still out on what Victron will do to make this right. We have paid Lloyd for his services as we promised – but we aren’t sure what “fixes” Victron will propose and what, if any, will be our financial responsibility. We are due to arrive in Athens on 20 July, 2022, so hopefully we will have a qualified technician onboard by the 21st. In the meantime, here are some statistics which have given us hope….
We have been underway now for over 24 hours and have used our generator only for 3 hours. As we are 3 hours from our destination with hazy but not overcast skies, we still have 75% state of charge which is quite good. The use of the blowers in the engine room and the wheelhouse electronics taking the lion’s share of the energy usage. Normally we would have, at a minimum, used the hydraulic alternators which would have resulted in a higher energy consumption of nearly 1 gallon per hour.
So, stay tuned. Ill update after we finish this 6-month project hopefully in Athens and I’ll also update with new photos and new statistics at anchor, with and without a/c and the final verdict on this capital improvement.
As we approach the end of our winter and prepare to depart for Greece, it is a good time to acknowledge some of the businesses we have used who have truly made our life so much easier in our home away from home. The best way to do that is to let you hear of them so that should you find yourself here, you may use their services as well. I have mentioned before that I don’t earn a penny on the blog. I don’t try to sell advertising, nor do I accept any free or discounted services. I only mention a business because they have helped us, and I hope they can help you. If a business has failed to live up to our expectations in any way, I generally don’t include their information at all. So, if they are here, they did a better than average job for us. They are offered in no particular order.
Vet – Kotor Vetport Viber +382 69 250781 – Provided vaccines and blood testing for Pratt our cat. Also examined him for a small problem
Yacht Home Montenegro Raif Saglam WhatsApp +382 63 443 205 or email email@example.com – recovered Stid Chairs on the flybridge, provided cover for the aft deck, made a cover for the windlass, replaced headliners. Beautiful work!!
Massage: Jinny – Regent Spa in Porto Montenegro
Citizenship by Investment – Boka Place Katie WhatsApp +382 67 213664
Dockage – Porto Montenegro Roddy firstname.lastname@example.org
Carpet cleaning/laundry service: Zeljko WhatsApp +382 68 764 747 Small Maintenance Items. Pick up and deliver pressed laundry, duvet and dry cleaning at a reasonable price.
Interior Yacht Cleaning – Ivana WhatsApp +382 68 768 582
Vedran Gverovic – Exterior boat cleaning/waxing. All around point of contact to obtain propane, taxi, drivers and multiple services. He is wonderful and an employee of Porto Montenegro WhatsApp +38269490499
Assistance with non – standard immigration issues Bojan Bogarin +382 67 784 116
Tour Guide for Montenegro – she is amazing!! Sasa Cecur WhatsApp +382 69 852 034
The Victron Battery and solar power installation is complicated. The individual components are good, and they are working as advertised. We are still trying to work through some issues however with the installer. We’ve had problems with the settings and the interface between the components and displays. Every time Alec has tried to work it out, he has been met with either ignorance or resistance. Based on this experience, we would do more research on the installer. He did not live up to our expectations. Furthermore, Victron hasn’t helped to remedy the situation due to their loyalty and strong dealer relationships. They will only inform the dealer that the customer is having trouble. But when the dealer is unresponsive or uneducated, there is no place to go for help. Alec has been incredibly proactive in terms of reading every manual and webpage he can find for more information. He has joined FB message groups, he has networked, called friends, asked other Nordhavn owners and essentially, managed to gain knowledge of and made changes to the settings through grit and perseverance but in the end, we certainly did not get the service we should have received from this provider. Some of the issues include but are not limited to: -Improper settings resulting in incorrect data -Improper settings resulting in potential damage to the batteries (the most expensive component of this installation) -Improperly connecting the chargers which in the extreme could cause a fire -Absolutely no training – no explanation for the new wiring – -disconnecting electrical components without explanation including the hydraulic alternators, gas grill propane controller.
The lack of training may not seem like a huge deal to most readers but when one is in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, days away from help, it is crucially important that at least 1 person on board be intimately familiar with the system and how it is wired. This system, at a minimum, provides electricity to everything on board, not the least of which is all navigation instrumentation. While it is true we have generator back ups, the increased fuel burn could have serious consequences should we have an issue mid- Atlantic.
Lucky for us, we have friends who just crossed the Atlantic (Hi Donna and Phil) and they have Victron Inverters. Due to high following seas, water got into the laz and shorted out their inverters. This loss of the inverters required continuous use of the generator. For most boats of this size, the rough fuel cost is 1 gallon per hour. On an Atlantic crossing, that difference is huge and resulted in their having to divert to French Guyana rather than Martinique. But it could have been worse – they could have had a fire. Philip and Donna found a very knowledgeable Victron Dealer in Trinidad and shared this contact with us. Lloyd Chung has been helping Alec from 5000 miles away, get the settings correct and understand the possible failure work arounds giving us both new confidence in this new technology. But if we had it to do over again, we would never have used this original installer. We would have waited and asked a million more questions and ensured that we were satisfied that we would get the level of training and care that this very large capital investment deserves. If you are considering such a project in Montenegro, reach out to us personally and we can give more specific information and or questions to ask. But if you need help from a qualified and wonderful resource, contact Lloyd. He keeps his phone on and answers every time. He can hook into your system remotely and trouble shoot from anywhere in the world and he has been worth every cent that he charged for this help. We simply cannot say enough about him.
This completes our 3rd winter of living in Europe and Montenegro was fantastic. Living in Europe has given us so many gifts of perspective, but each country offers a treasure trove of experiences. I love Montenegro from many reasons, but it is so hard to distill it down to just a paragraph or put it into words. This is truly a place one must experience for oneself to appreciate fully but I would say that for us to fall in love with a place, it starts with the feel of and, dare I say, purity of it. As people have energies, I think places do also. I think a place can carry the energy of the visitors who inhabit it and the humans and animals who call it home. If this is true, it explains the unexplainable where Montenegro is concerned. Throughout the mountainside one finds chapels and churches everywhere. I never knew that I loved the mountains, but I have discovered a totally new side of myself I never knew was there. Every day awaking surrounded by mountains, I found myself looking at them and predicting what they would show today. Sometimes they were covered in snow and other times obscured by fog. Sometimes the sun would reflect off in a way that made them glow pink or orange and other times they would be gray or blue. Mostly in the summer they are a blanket of green but constantly changing and revealing new parts of themselves.
There is a charming mixture of old and new and while it can be frustrating to live in an area without access to many products or services we have come to enjoy, there is also a charm in coming to a place that feels the way life must have been like 20 years ago. Simpler, easier, and more meaningful.
We enjoyed skiing here which was an absolute highlight and Jack was able to sail a few times, far less than we had hoped but some is better than none. We have made friendships that are truly meaningful and certain to continue into the summer as we play hopscotch meeting up along the way.
Every year we have loftier goals for travel further afield in the time we allot for winter and this year is no different. We had hoped to get to Serbia, Hungary, and Bosnia and except for Laurie’s trip to Medjugorje last week, (stay tuned for a future blog post) we didn’t make it. Lots of things conspired to prevent it and essentially none of us is terrifically disappointed. It has been a full winter and we have a very full season of cruising coming up and we are truly luckier than most.
Every year when I look back at our experiences, I must acknowledge that this would not be possible if not for the amazing new friendships who show up for us on our journey. Everyone traveling this path does so at the expense of the physical relationships which we have left behind at home. These relationships, sometimes temporary and sometimes they feel like they will last a lifetime, are crucial to our wellbeing, happiness, and joy. Below are some photos from the winter. From the bottom of my heart, if your photo appears below, or the picture was never taken, this comes with Gratitude for sharing this experience with us, however large or small our time together was. It is at this time of year we have to say so long as our homes may be taking us in different directions, but we are grateful that you are part of this journey with us. God speed!! And some of you are going to be our neighbors in Turkey next year so for you, we can’t wait to see ya in Kas!!
OMGosh Laurie, are you following what is happening in Ukraine?
This was the comment I received on a social media post I recently made. One which, by the way, had nothing at all to do with Ukraine.
It made me remember the early days of the Covid pandemic when concerned friends and family, certain that I was missing this important news, alerted me on FB and IG as well as sending the occasional email.
My reaction then, as my reaction now, was “of course” we know about a war that is happening 450 miles from our home. Just as we certainly knew about the Covid pandemic, which was, at that time, raging in the adjacent country, to where we were then living.
I sort of chuckle when I read these things and wonder what in the world these acquaintances from home must imagine our lives are like on board Gratitude. Do they imagine that we are floating around in a sort of alternate universe where bad things don’t happen, people don’t get sick or wars are somehow unimportant, or worse, do they imagine that we don’t care?
First and foremost, to answer the question “Are we aware of the Russian invasion of Ukraine? Yes, we are. Our hearts break for those poor souls who have been essentially kicked out of their homes in 2014, many of them living in makeshift accommodation intended to survive a year at most, and now having to again, uproot with whatever few items they can travel with, to seek shelter and safety among strangers in a foreign land. Yes, we follow twice daily the horror of watching, as brothers shoot brothers and country men invade their neighbors and friends. Relatives who speak the same language in many cases, being asked by despots and evil leaders to invade and steal the land and home and liberty of their neighbors and often their relations. And to do this because 1 maniac feels that he needs it – for whatever insane reason he gives.
This is probably a good time to talk about one of the greatest changes that we have witnessed in ourselves and each other in the past 3.5 years of living aboard and traveling.
Before we left, most of our life happened in a 5 square mile area. Apart from work, 95% of our life happened in that space. We went out with friends, most of whom looked like us, spoke like us, lived like, and worshipped like us. Most of our friends went to the same church, restaurants, bars, and grocery stores. If there was a tussle or dust up between neighbors, everyone knew (and dare I say, cared) about it. We lived in a sweet, small town probably like many of you reading this. The events that happened 4000 miles away, barely registered more than scan in the morning news. We felt for those suffering with hurricanes and tornadoes and volcanoes and other natural disasters. We felt a vague sense of concern for the victims of the fires out west, but we didn’t feel things viscerally the way that we do living in Europe. For whatever reason, we feel more connected globally since we left the US than we ever felt while we were there. We seem to be connected to the “world” in a way that we felt insulated from on the huge continent of North America. We are more keenly aware that what happens to “one” happens to “all”. We look at events from a global perspective rather than a regional or ethnocentric one. And mostly, we have gained, at least in some small measure, something that we had been lacking. Perspective. But please believe me, posts on social media are simply a way to chronicle our lives and share with friends and family our day. They are in NO way a barometer of what we are feeling emotionally or what we may be going through. The only way to know that is to pick up the phone and call us. It may look like rainbows and unicorns, but I can assure you, that is not always the case.
But back to our lives this winter…
There is simply no way anyone can have even the smallest idea of what our lives are like – day to day, nor do I think anyone would be interested. We often go for weeks without posting anything on social media because, well, we are busy. Busy living life and just as many of you, getting through the day. We have the huge benefit of working tirelessly on things about which we care deeply. The feeding, educating, nurturing, and loving our child and each other chiefly at the top of the list. Like most parents, if you removed from your day, the time spent caring for, arranging for the care of, feeding, nurturing, education etc.… of your child, you would likely feel as though you had endless hours to fill. Well, there you have our lives. Not exciting – certainly not IG worthy – just living and being and sustaining ourselves and each other. But in addition to school and feeding and intellectual as well as emotional stimulation of an 11-year-old, we also have a floating home which takes up most of the rest of our time. Alec has been working tirelessly getting work done to prepare for our departure end of April/beginning May. I’ll do a mechanical breakdown at the end of this post on the winter projects and to-do lists, completed and “to go”.
After the childcare, schoolwork, boat jobs the other 2 ways we spend our time is socializing with friends, hiking, sightseeing, traveling, or planning future travels. I am seriously behind in doing the planning for this summer and, while we try to minimize our fuel burn, we have even more incentive to do this now. All of this will involve careful planning and orchestration. We have been so fortunate that 2 people, previously unknown to us, have reached out via social media and the blog to share with us points of interest for our summer cruise. Certainly, this will be a huge help with the planning. Thank you, Karin.
A lovely group of ladies meets on Wednesday to knit – a new hobby for me. And Tuesdays we meet up with Kim and Steve for tacos and Glee. It is a lovely addition to our routine. More on that next update as we prepare to transition to cruising life.
A very big difference in the way that Europeans vs. Americans handle marina reservations, in Europe, typically, reservations can be made a week or 2 out. Perhaps in some of the busier Med destinations and for larger boats, this should be done further in advance, but this year, dock space in Turkey for winter is completely unavailable. Thank goodness we secured our reservation, otherwise, not sure we would have a winter home next year. This is due to a combination of Brexit and the additional need for non-Schengen winter accommodation. Turkey has a liberal policy of allowing temporary residency just as Montenegro does. This is a super important consideration for non-EU boaters. But if you haven’t been to Montenegro, my advice is to come here for the winter. Porto Montenegro is a premier and first-class, first-rate facility. I cannot say enough about how much we have enjoyed our time here. We would gladly stay another year except that we have made it a policy to move along each winter to explore a new country.
So back to the maintenance: While cruising last summer (and most summers,) we typically enjoy spending as much time as possible at anchor. The reasons for this are many, as you can imagine. In the summer, being at anchor is cooler, more relaxed, more peaceful than being in the marina. There is the cost of course, sitting at anchor is free vs spending several hundred dollars per night at the dock. Don’t get me wrong, there are times when nothing can take the place of being a simple walk to the “old town” or groceries or sightseeing – especially when that sightseeing trip is going to involve hours or travel during which we would be uncomfortable leaving Gratitude completely unattended all day. But, more often than not, we would rather be at anchor.
Floating in an idyllic anchorage either alone or in the company of others is one of the greatest joys of the cruising lifestyle. Our generator is quiet, but even a distant hum can be annoying in a peaceful and quiet anchorage when you are hot, sweating, and you know that the distant hum is providing cool comfortable air to someone else in the anchorage. That said, we have the means to be comfortable on super-hot nights and we want to be. I’m sorry for all the boating purists out there who are balking but we really don’t like to needlessly suffer – this is called pleasure boating for a reason. Alec swears that nobody can hear any element of our generator, but I can’t shake the feeling that we are being judged. Further, we didn’t build Gratitude, thus we had no say over what machine would power our electricity. The original owners opted for 2, very robust, 25 KW generators. They are great in terms of redundancy; and there is enough power to air condition the whole boat with 1 of them – but generators don’t enjoy being under loaded. Carbon builds up on the injectors and even when underloaded, they still need the same number of oil changes and consume nearly the same amount of fuel. Further, when we use the generators to top off the batteries from the downtime, the batteries took the energy back very slowly thus requiring more time on the generator at low loads. To sum it up, the 2 generators were not the most efficient way to power our electrical requirements at anchor, which is where we want to be most of the summertime.
That said, we wanted to make a modification which would be more environmentally friendly but also provide a means to keep the generator off all night long and have at least 1 small ac unit operating. Then, recharge the batteries in an economical way once we were awake (and the anchorage was awake) and complete the re-charge as efficiently as possible. We believe we have found the solution by adding solar panels to the hard top (which we had installed in Fort Lauderdale). We added 10 Victron Lithium Iron Batteries which should hold far more energy than our previous 12 Lifeline AGM batteries. Further, the solar power coming in will supply an additional source of energy and when we do start the generator, the new batteries should be able to accept power more efficiently, think pouring water through a garden hose to fill a bucket vs pouring water through an eye dropper. This should make running our generator more efficient (good for the generator, good for the environment, good for us). And since this was a large capital expenditure, our fingers are crossed that it has the planned affect. Alec wisely planned the installation for early in the winter so he would have time get familiar with the new technology. We have had a few “hiccups”, but we believe we have everything sorted now. We’ve discovered that most meals in the summertime can be cooked on the gas grill – even pancakes. We eat more salads and less actual food in the summer. Showers are quick and on the swim platform so water heaters can be turned off for most of the day also. Essentially, we sip energy in the summer at anchor and these batteries and their capacity should make all the difference.
I mentioned in an earlier post that our headliners have begun falling. The installation is nearing completion and should be done next week. Also, while we had the headliners down, we decided to replace over 100 lights with much lower energy LED lights which should further reduce our dependence on energy.
For those of you who remember or know Brian, our entertainment -electronics genius guru from Palm beach? He paid us a “house call” here in Montenegro. We had a failure of the Sat compass coming into Gibraltar 2 years ago. Due to Covid, we have been unable to have it properly repaired. Alec managed a basic mechanical fix whereby he attached some CAT 5 wire to the Sat Compass antenna at the top of the mast, and threading it through a port in the wheelhouse, attached it to the Sat Compass display. This was a basic and efficient fix, if a little inelegant. Additionally, the hard drive full of digital content hasn’t worked properly in our stateroom. He made some upgrades and modifications to the system which has been wonderful. Nice to wind down at the end of the day with some mindless media from the hard drive.
Alec’s maintenance list included servicing oil/replacing filters and air filters on the main engine, the wing engine and both 25KW generators on board. The coolant has been changed and the valves adjusted. Heat exchangers flushed on the wing engine and both generators. Raw water impellers changed; zincs changed. Alec rebuilt and replaced the hydraulic anchor wash pump and disassembled and cleaned and serviced the anchor windlass. We continue to be so grateful to Alec for the time and care he gives to our floating home. Many lesser men would have thrown in the towel a long time ago!!! It is a true labor of love, and we thank you!!!
Field trips off the boat thus far include skiing in Kolasin, Kotor, Perast, Sveti Stefan, Lustica, Podgorica, and Bar. I’m planning a trip to Medjugorje during Holy week in Bosnia, and we are also hoping to take a trip to Sarajevo, Mostar, and Belgrade before our time here is up. The current climate is a consideration as we Westerners may not be well received in all countries. More research is needed, and we still have time.
Again, this post is a bit longer than usual, but it covers a lot, as I haven’t written much lately.
We arrived for the first time back in May and we loved it so much, we stayed for a month (when only planning a week). For those of you who know us, you are thinking “nothing new there”. And you would be right – we often change our plans when we arrive somewhere new, and I fall in love. But this was different. I wasn’t sure if that “difference” was born from open restaurants and shops after months of lockdown in Sicily or was there something special here? …
Back in May, we did some of the standard touristic things such as Kotor, Perast, Our Lady of the Rocks, Budva, Stari Grad etc and if you came to this site to read about them, refer to our post in May 2021. We have some info there on some of the cool must-see spots if you are only here for a week or less.
But this post is going to be about wintering in Montenegro in general and specifically Porto Montenegro Marina. Our priorities when choosing a place to stay for the winter include:
1) The ability to stay in one place for 6 months and get caught up on schoolwork for Jack, 2) The presence (or promise) of a strong live-aboard community 3) The availability of maintenance and yacht care facilities to help facilitate winter maintenance and long-term care jobs. 4) Ample restaurants, shops, groceries, and diversions to keep us entertained all winter long tied to the dock. 5) Nice to have, and unfortunately lacking in PMontenegro is the availability of train service to connect to other cities/countries in Europe.
The non-EU status of Montenegro is itself a big consideration, but additional reasons to come and stay here are the outstanding facilities offered in Porto Montenegro – including yacht care businesses, and the extent of winter activities to enjoy.
If you are considering becoming a temporary (or permanent for that matter) Montenegrin citizen or resident, you probably already know that Montenegro is not in the EU or the Schengen area. For everyone except citizens of the EU, this is of particular importance since we Americans are only permitted 90 days out of every 180 days to travel within the EU and Schengen area. This restriction not only makes our summer cruising challenging, but it also makes our overwintering nearly impossible within the EU. We have been managing with extensions and in particular, extensions due to covid, but it is hard to plan for and count on in any event. One may not request an extension until they are nearing the end of their 90 days, and at that point, getting refused an extension makes it difficult to scramble and find alternative winter accommodation – especially when traveling by boat at 7 knots in potentially inclement weather in the winter.
While Montenegro has their own version of the 90/180 day immigration allowance, they are lenient in offering temporary residency to berth slip holders in the marina. Not only will the government permit a longer stay with proof of contract, but the marina also goes the extra mile in supplying an agent, at no personal cost to the berth holder, to obtain this residency card. The one hiccup we had aboard Gratitude is that, as Jack was too young to be considered “crew,” we had to hire an agent to handle just his paperwork. It was, unfortunately, 2500.00 Euro but knowing that we were legal and all paperwork in order, the money was well spent. I have no doubt that many have forgone the paperwork for the children, but we are attempting to gain citizenship here, so it was important for us that everything be done legally and carefully. So, for the first time since we arrived in Europe, we have been able to simply relax and not worry about our immigration status.
Not only are we free to relax in worry free enjoyment all winter, but the abundance of yacht care facilities is also impressive. Based upon the recommendation of other boat owners in the marina, we hired a Turkish company to install solar panels on our hard top, and we also purchased and installed new Victron Lithium Iron -phosphate batteries. We had a few small canvas jobs done and finally, as if by mutual agreement of each room/stateroom ceiling panel on board Gratitude, the headliners from the bow to the stern, from the port to the starboard all began separating. This is a job that we knew was coming. We had a couple of panels in the wheelhouse which needed to be done before we left in 2019 so we replaced them all there. We knew that the rest of the boat was on “borrowed time”, but I never would have expected that they would all decide, at the same time, to just let go. Such is the situation we find ourselves in today. But we are so fortunate that we are in a locale where this type of work is done routinely, and we can have it done before our departure in April. I say this whilst knocking on wood as the work has not yet even begun.
Alec has done a great deal of winter maintenance aboard, including oil/fuel filter changes, oil changes, fire extinguishers checked and recertified, and the emergency ditch bag contents inspected and replaced. Of course, he has also overseen the big solar power upgrade.
Jack and I have been busy with schoolwork and he is soaring through with 94% of 5th grade math done! Highlights from this year’s curriculum have included events leading up to and including the American Civil War, the Gettysburg address which he has memorized, and the events of reconstruction. This was all a very timely segway into the Martin Luther King holiday. He has learned about Polk and the Westward Expansion as well as the 49ers and the California Gold Rush. In Science he has learned about energy, the transfer of energy, we have gone further in depth into Newton and the laws of motion. Jack and Alec have conducted a couple of experiments involving electromagnetic forces. We have studied various scientists, biology, reproduction in humans, plants and animals and cell division. In writing we have worked to develop our outlines and to write cohesive paragraphs and he is continuing to work in Spelling Connections and Grammar books. So, we have had a terrific success on the home-schooling front. I only mention this here because it has not always been this way. But this is a terrific achievement for us aboard Gratitude and one that must be celebrated!
The Porto Montenegro has a lovely Crew Club which, though probably designed more to accommodate the crews of the large yachts in the marina, is lovely for the lowly owner operated boats also. This crew club hosts various events throughout the season, and these events facilitate connections and meetings with others. The liveaboard community is perhaps not quite as strong in terms of children as the previous 2 winters spent in Lagos, Portugal and in MDR, Sicily, respectively, but we are well and making friends and Jack has made a few local friends through the sailing center. An example of some of the trips the Crew Club have arranged, paintball -which Jack absolutely loved! the monthly trip to a different spa which I love, and a few bowling, beer, DJ type events for the people who don’t have an 11-year-old waking up to do school the next morning. We have made friends with hikers who arrange the odd hike which I’m hoping will result in a better understanding of the amazing country in which we find ourselves. There is nothing like a hike in the mountains to clear the head and warm the heart.
PM is a short 3-hour drive from the 1450 and 1600 Ski Centers in Kolasin and berth holders in the marina are treated to free accommodations at the ski lodge there. Additionally, the cost of the lift tickets is so reasonable 15-20 Euro per day, one can go every weekend. There is a nice mix of “green” and “red” (the equivalent of our blue in the US) slopes and a couple of Blacks which none of us explored. We were all delighted with the slopes, and we all took advantage of lessons. Alec and Jack together with Kim and Steve went to the bunny hill and after a small skills test, I went up the mountain with my instructor to tackle the mountain. We were all rusty, the last ski trip we took was probably 5 years ago, but we all survived with nothing more than sore muscles and fantastic memories of a wonderful adventure. I never knew that there was any decent skiing here in Montenegro but there is an effort afoot to improve the facilities and build more ski in/ski out accommodations. Westin is even putting a hotel right at the base of the slopes. I continue to marvel at how much there is to see and do in this amazing country – and yet it was a place I had hardly ever even heard of before beginning this trip! But if you do book travel – based on our short time here, we will not recommend arriving in December! It rained nearly every day during the month. January has been far sunnier, and rumor has it that the sunny days will continue to outnumber the rainy ones from this point forward.
In Porto Montenegro Marina there are 2 small grocery stores but another slightly larger grocery store approx. 5 km away. There is development happening which promises a larger grocery store, more shops and even a cinema but that is 2 years away. For now, the shops which are here are very high end with most boaters like us taking a pass. The restaurants, however, are another matter and we love nearly all of them. Within a very short (5-10 minutes’ walk) one can find pizza as delicious as what we enjoyed in Italy, a good steak, a Mexican kind of fusion restaurant, lots of local places and tons of bakeries. We have been having an amazing time enjoying eating out and socializing in a way we were unable to do last year in lockdown in Sicily. As residents we are permitted vaccines when we are due to have them, and we are very kindly received in the medical facility. We have taken Pratt to the vet for some weird behavior (thank God he is just fine) and the exam and blood tests cost 50 Euro. We have had our own blood taken and tested and it cost 18.00 Euro. This in contrast to the several hundred dollars we spent getting our blood tested in the US. I’m due to have a mammogram this year and a regular checkup is behind schedule so Ill update the blog when I’m able to accomplish this, but I have begun asking around and heard that it is a simple and inexpensive matter to take care of. Which is to say, if you are considering wintering here, I have found no reason thus far to indicate you should not. We have loved our time here immensely. On a slightly more indulgent note, there are a few spas very nearby and each priced reasonably. Also, there are people easy to come by who will wash the inside or outside of your boat and watch and maintain your boat while you are absent. The prices for these services vary so best to inquire before you book. So that is all for now! Wishing all of you a very Happy New Year!!
After 3 years of living aboard and 2.5 years since we left Florida to head East for Europe, we finally flew “home” for a visit. We certainly would have made the trip sooner if not for Covid, but our trip last year was cancelled, due to being unable to return to Europe. As restrictions were easing a bit and our need was increasing – we made the trip back to the US for a 6-week visit. Not certain how much time we would need, the 6 weeks was an arbitrary time limit we booked, but hindsight 20/20 – we barely accomplished all the items on the “to do” list before boarding the plane to return.
Most of the time spent in the US was overwhelmingly happy. We shared precious experiences with family and friends, we enjoyed worship in our favorite Church, we went to our nieces wedding, and we ate like kings! But we also had some “admin” tasks to take care of. Below are some of the details:
One of the crucial items on the “return to the US list” was to obtain documentation necessary for our citizenship request in Montenegro. This is a huge item and worthy of its own post, so I’ll leave it there except to say, one of the documents we needed was original Social Security cards – which of all the items we needed, this was the most difficult to obtain. Rarely one to complain and having spent the past 3 years wading in the bureaucratic quagmire of several other countries, I can only say that what is passing for acceptable in our Social Security system right now in the United States is deplorable. For us to merely get a copy of our cards, we had to mail, (not drop off in person) our passports, together with their forms obtained online, and pray that these documents (which we needed to return home to Europe) were received in their office and wait patiently, with no assurance that the documents were received, or that the cards would be forthcoming, or when this may happen. We went to 3 different offices, in person, praying that someone would give us any assurance or information at all, and each place only responded that we needed to call or write. They wouldn’t even let us in the front door, citing Covid. At what point are we going to stop using a virus as an excuse. I am all for requiring masks, even requiring vaccines if that is what is needed to ensure the health and wellbeing of your staff. But to refuse entry into a government building that I have paid for with my taxes for 40 years, while EVERY other business and government office in town is operating as business as usual, is an excuse. We did call – on hold for hours at a time, only to be disconnected to try it all over again. We Fed-Ex’ed the documents a couple of days after we arrived in the US and by some- not so small miracle, we got our documents back to us 3 days before we left. Phew… 6 weeks to obtain duplicate copies of our social security cards… But I digress… on to happier news…
Anyone who knows us, knows that Jack is a huge Star Wars fan. Disney bought George Lucas films and as only Disney can do, they turned a huge parcel of Disney Hollywood Studios into a Star Wars themed extravaganza. While this big change happened after we had already left the US, our friends Kay and Ron have been planning to show Jack this fantastic wonderland of imagination and fantasy. No detail has been overlooked to transport the visitor into many of the Star Wars movies, whether one is on the ride or walking through the park. Wanting this to be a memorable experience for Jack, Kay booked him into everything from the “build a light saber” and “build an R2Unit” to getting us fast passes to all our favorite rides. Certainly, together with our time with Kay and Ron, this would have been more than enough to make the trip completely unforgettable, but Kay and Ron also treated us to a VIP tour for the day whereby a cast member takes you through the parks and magically transports you to the front of the line for your favorite experiences. While lines are a part of Disney life – we were treated like royalty as we enjoyed the attractions in a completely unforgettable way. We love you Ron and Kay and we are so grateful to have had the opportunity to be together for those few days. Thank you for a positively unforgettable experience.
Maura (our niece) and Michael were married on October 6 in Cleveland, OH. We have been planning to attend this beautiful celebration and as they are the first grandchild wedding, it was not only a special family milestone, which we were so pleased to attend, it was a great chance to be with so many other family members who had traveled for the same event. Knowing that the wedding was going to be a busy time for the bride’s family, I decided to travel up for a weekend before the wedding to spend with them for her shower. It was the perfect solution- giving me some “one -on -one” time with my sister and her family – totally apart from the typical wedding frenzy.
But the bonus of these 2 trips, which I had not anticipated, was the opportunity to play “tourist” in my own hometown. While I was reared in Cleveland OH, I left just a month after my 18th birthday. When I return for visits, it is solely to see family, in fact, I rarely carve out time to even spend with childhood friends since my time there is so limited. The last thing I plan is time to explore the city of my birth, despite the wonderful changes that have taken place there in the past 30 years.
These 2 trips back afforded me the chance to do all those things, while enjoying family. We had the celebration of the wedding, I enjoyed a terrific time reconnecting with a friend whom I have known for nearly 5 decades, but hardly ever see, – and have our children meet (I love you Peggy). I spent time getting to know my sister’s friends in a very cool island town called Put-In-Bay, about 35 miles East of Toledo. Put-In-Bay, OH, boasting a year-round residency of 138 according to the 2010 census, was the locale of a famous battle in the War of 1812. High on Jacks wish list was to see the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, known simply as “The Rock Hall” to Clevelanders, and finally, I was looking forward to seeing the very popular exhibit, The Van Gogh Experience, which has been making the rounds on both sides of the Atlantic, both were terrific activities, which we shared with my mom and Stepfather (Thanks Mom and Craig).
Finally, the nicest memories will certainly be our re-connecting with our friends back in Stuart, FL, where we live. While I was going through photos for the blog, I was surprised at how few I have – but I remembered the moments as though they happened yesterday. While we were home, the trip back was far less about documenting an event or keeping a memory for later, but more to be in the moment and truly re-connect in a meaningful way with friends. The phone was tucked away, and I probably spent 3 minutes in total on any social media the entire 6 weeks we were in the US. I sat and talked with neighbors and friends, and it felt as though the miles and time between us evaporated. In so many ways, it was shocking how easily we slipped into old routines and navigating around our town felt as though we had never gone. We are changed – and even though we see things through a different lens, the landscape is familiar and comfortable. I have spoken of the “stickiness” of and inertia of our lives and how hard it can be to break free, to move into a new life – but this trip back reminded me of the incredible resilience – the human ability -to adapt to a new environment. It was nearly “jarring” how being back in our home returned us to our old lives so easily, and how quickly we all could imagine moving back home. Which is NOT to say that we want to move back anytime soon – just that if we needed to – we could. In fact, this trip got us considering just that…
Alec and I have talked about returning in time for Jack to enter high school with his peers (for the US it is the final 4 years before university), and this trip involved us getting more information to help us to make that decision. A friend of ours is a teacher at a wonderful high school in Palm Beach and she put us in touch with the admissions personnel who arranged a visit to the school. This visit put into stark contrast what the cost of continuing with boat school would be for Jack.
We have an ongoing balance sheet (metaphorically speaking) of benefits and costs of this life, and without a doubt, we are clearly in the black in terms of what this has cost Jack and us and what we all have gained. Going back and getting a tour of the High school he would attend, showed a growing deficit should we continue beyond high school. The reality is that Jack is incredibly bright, and not only would we be unable to intellectually and creatively challenge him sufficiently to prepare him for college, but we could never provide him with the resources of that the high school we visited. The final consideration that we are grappling with is that we would like for him to have the daily relationships with his high school buds that are unique to that life, including the dances, the football and sporting games, and the clubs that we just can’t arrange in this life. Don’t get me wrong, so far it has been fantastic and the relationships he made last year are ongoing. He continues to facetime and text with them all. But going forward in high school, this is going to be harder to maintain.
So, back on board in Montenegro, and we have so much to blog about next week or month – depending on when I get to it. We have new solar panels on the hard top, we changed to lithium ion batteries, we have really gotten down to business in school and we have fallen into a blissful routine of life here in Porto Montenegro.