Travels with S/Y Thetis

Thetis only

2005: Preparation

This year is dominated by the second phase of the “Big Trip” from Greece to the Caribbean. In October 2004 I had Thetis hauled out and left her at Puerto de Sotogrande. In preparation for the transatlantic crossing I had inspected her rudder and axle. I asked the yard to scrape her bottom and apply new anti-fouling paint before my arrival in early January. I also asked them to change the axle bushing, replace the sacrificial anodes, service the engine, and to look into an intermittent problem I had with the starter.

I then flew to my home in Washington D.C. where I spent the holidays with my family. During this time I made further preparations for the upcoming trip. I bought paper charts and cruising guides for the Atlantic islands and the Caribbean. I also bought C-Map cartridges for this area. I have been debating with myself the issue of communications while in the ocean. Given my technological background I have been hesitant to undergo the expense of installing a SSB transceiver because I think that it uses unreliable and obsolete technology. I finally decided to rent an Iridium satellite telephone. With this I could send and receive text messages and voice almost anywhere in the globe. I got new fender covers to replace the ones that were damaged in Cagliari, two mooring lines, a replacement DC/AC converter, a replacement chart light, and new cushion/life savers. I also got a strapping belt for the galley. At the insistence of my wife I also got a heart defibrillator. This is a very simple to operate device that could save one’s life during a heart failure. Finally, on an impulse I got 4 plastic place mats. These proved very useful as anti-skidding surfaces during the voyage.

Seeing how much distress and apprehension this trip was causing my family I had decided to make it one way only, that is to sail Thetis from here to Martinique in the Caribbean. From there I had already made arrangements for her to be transported in June by Dockwise Yacht Transport to Marmaris, in Turkey.

Wednesday January 5, 2005

I am in the cabin of Thetis, where it is cold, 5°C (41°F). She is now afloat and berthed in the marina of Puerto de Sotogrande. During the past few days, while preparing for this trip, I became rather nervous and apprehensive thinking that I have been missing something vital, despite my careful planning, or that we will encounter very bad weather and/or serious equipment failures. But now that I am in the boat and closer to the reality of the trip I am calmer.

I flew last night from Washington, D.C. to Gibraltar along with two heavy bags full of “stuff” for the second part of the “Big Trip,” the transatlantic crossing. Thetis was on land and there was a wicked wind blowing and the boat was shaking. The bags were very heavy and I had to lift them up with a winch. Before even considering going to sleep, I had to connect the battery charger to the yard’s AC because I wanted to start the refrigerator right away. Thetis looked lovely with her new undercoat.

After some preliminary unpacking I climbed down the boat and went to a restaurant within the marina complex to eat. When I returned I was exhausted. It was extremely cold. I put on long underwear, a heavy woolen pullover and pants, plus 2 pairs of woolen socks. I used two blankets. Despite all these clothes and being very tired I had trouble sleeping. The cold and the wind which shook the boat on her cradle, kept me awake. Eventually I drifted into a deep sleep.

I woke up around 9 and started preparing Thetis to be launched. I went to the marina office to settle my bill which was substantial, over 1800 €. There was a snag. Two weeks ago I had sent them an e-mail requesting for the amount I owed and asking if I could pay it with a personal check drawn on a Greek bank. They did not answer me. Now they refused to accept a check and wanted either cash or a credit card. I gave my US Master Card but after they fed it to their machine it was rejected. The same thing happened with a Visa card. Desperate, I convinced the lady to let me use her phone to call the card’s toll free US 800 number because my mobile phone could not call such a number. I spoke to the card representative who indicated that indeed a very recent authorization request was rejected. After I properly identified myself she authorized the payment. My card was fed into the machine once more and this time it was accepted. Next, I had to pay an 80 € deposit for a special electric plug for the marina berth. Since tomorrow and Friday are holidays, Epiphany, the marina office will be closed but they will make arrangements so that I can return the plug and the bathroom key to the guard station and get my deposits back.

Back to the shipyard they refunded me my 90 € deposit after I surrendered the yard key. I hardly got back to Thetis and there was the travelift ready to launch her. She was launched at 1100. Right after the launch I inspected all through-hulls, there was no water leakage. I then hit the engine starter. The engine came to life but no cooling water came out of the exhaust. I stopped the motor right away, filled the water trap, and re-started the engine. Joy! Water came out this time. I had the same problem with the electric head pump. I slowly motored within the marina to the assigned berth. An attendant was already there. I moored bow-to. He took my bow lines and handed me two mooring lines. They were incredibly dirty not having been used for months. However there was a problem with the engine instruments. They had come to life after I started the engine but within the few minutes of motoring to the berth they went dead. Now I saw that the whole engine electric circuit was dead. No electricity to the starter nor to the instruments. I suspected a loose connection which the engine vibrations had disconnected. This may have been caused by the work done on the starter.

I walked to the yard office and spoke to Fe, the capable office manager. She immediately picked up the phone and made several frantic calls to locate the yard’s electrician before he went away for the long weekend. Arrangement were made and the electrician did come to Thetis at 1 PM. He quickly located the errant connection on the instrument panel. He replaced the whole wire rather than just its contacts. I gave a sigh of great relief. While I could have done the work myself I was pleased that the yard did it. I was particularly relieved that the alternator was working properly. There is a real danger, especially with a high output alternator such as the one on Thetis, that if the electric power is shut off while the engine is working, its Zener diodes get burned because there is suddenly no load to absorb the current still being generated by the rotating alternator.

After that I walked to the mini-market within the marina and bought some bread, eggs, cold cuts, and cheese. The evening was cold, about 5°C (41°F) inside the cabin. I made an omelet and some rice. In order to make my bed warmer than last night, I filled two bottles with boiled water and put them under the blankets. I then put on two sets of long underwear, woolen pants, pullover and socks. It was cozy now and I had no trouble falling asleep.

Thursday January 6, 2005

The morning was very, very cold. I installed the new AC to 12 V DC converter I had brought. This one is rated for 700 W and draws a lot of current. I had to make a special connection from the panel. Unfortunately I had no 40 A circuit breaker, so I connected it directly. I will have to get a circuit breaker in Gibraltar. I then replaced the broken chart light with the new one which I had also brought. To do so I had to remove the ceiling panel and the Navtex unit. I soldered all the connections; the old light, installed by a professional electrician, had just twisted wires. I then turned on the computer and checked my e-mail. I also called Marina Bay in Gibraltar and reserved a berth for tomorrow. The next task I wanted to do was to wash down the deck but it was too cold. This will have to wait for later in the day.

I had a light lunch and went for a long walk. After I returned I put on the storm gear, connected the hose and washed the deck and the cockpit with soap. They needed a lot of scrubbing to get the several months accumulated dirt off. I then topped up the water tanks and filled the Sunshower. I also replaced the old dirty and torn fender covers with the new ones that I had brought. Now Thetis looked presentable, at least on the outside. The inside however was still dirty.

I rearranged the front cabin, stowing the less often used items in the bins under the berth. I also checked the First Aid Kit and the defibrillator. I then tried sending an SMS to Nikos’ mobile phone from the Iridium phone. This did not work. I had no trouble sending messages to either Alice’s mobile phone or to mine, so it must have something to do with his provider. By then it was dark and I was very tired.

I took a hot shower and went to the marina bar/restaurant for dinner. It was nice and warm but there was too much cigarette smoke. After I returned to Thetis, I turned on the water-maker and verified that it worked.