Sunday, 2 June 2013

Flashes of silver and red

Heading north, with Ormos Neon Liman ahead of us

There was a moment when we seemed to have it together. The water in Ormos Neon Liman, a sweeping dent in the top right hand corner of Lesvos, was so clear that I could see the anchor when it landed on the sandy bottom about 8 metres down. It dug in quickly. We had the bay to ourselves and were savouring that pleasure as the light drained slowly out of the sky.

The wind had dropped and shore sounds came very clearly to us across the water. Birds were making a joyous racket and somewhere far away bell-clanging goats were heading home. From inside the thick curtain of olive trees covering the hills came the voices of a man and a woman tearing strips off each other. Then the domestic was over, just like that. In the village at the end of the bay, someone turned on the red and green lights marking the entrance to the fishing harbour. The men would be home after dark.

We were still thinking about the swordfish. We'd seen him when the afternoon light was bright, about 200 metres from the boat. He'd leapt out of the water, pointed his needle nose straight up to the sky and spun on his tail like a dancer on points.  For a split second, his slender body was a spinning silver rod, hung above the water, and then it splashed down. He made about six leaps and splashdowns. It was incredible. Perhaps he'd been caught on a longline and what we were watching was his dance of death. Surely the little fishing boats out in the bay were too small to haul in a big fish like that....we hoped, against hope, that he had swum free.

The next morning we were ready for an early start. The forecast looked good to sail to Limnos, 60 miles to the northwest, but first we intended to motor, to make some distance west before the wind came in. I remember Alex saying, "Gentlemen, start your engines." He turned the key in the ignition, and waited as usual for the alarm lights to go through their rotation before kicking the engine over. But one light stayed on -  the red triangle with an exclamation mark - and a whining alarm. A quick flick through the manual told us we had a "serious problem". That's all.

Mytilene harbour

So, to cut a long story short, we aborted the passage north, and by evening, were tacking back into Mytilene harbour. There is nothing fun about coming into a small harbour under sail when you don't have the option of turning on your engine. Alex did it extremely well, but he got some practice last season.  I'm over it, just as I'm over the whole rigmarole of trying to find an authorised Volvo dealer who has a diagnostic computer to plug into our electronic engine bits. Without the computer, it's very difficult to know what exactly the problem is.  But it seems that a) there is no authorised Volvo mechanic on Lesvos and b) the authorised Volvo mechanic on the nearest island, Chios, doesn't have a diagnostic computer, and doesn't want to come to Lesvos anyway.

Mosaic floor from the house of Telephos, midtown Mytilene 100-200 AD
Today, which is Sunday, we turned bad fortune into good and visited the archeological museum in Mytiline. It's closed during the week because there's no money to pay for staff. We think the council must have no money to pay for rubbish collection and weed spraying either because Mytilene's streets are very unkempt.

Sixty years ago a lot of people from this island migrated to Australia, and apparently the story is starting again. A liquor shop owner, an affable man of about 50, asked us how much he would have to pay to rent a single room in Australia - he was thinking of going there. A friend who was there already had told him  you could earn $30 an hour. His wife and daughter were against the idea,  he said, but they'd built a new house seven years ago and now he couldn't afford the payments and taxes on it, and there were no buyers even at a bargain price. Everyone else was trying to sell too. As for business  - "look at my stock", he said. His shelves had missing teeth. Like Greece itself, he has a dire cash flow problem. He feels like a marked man, he told us. We bought a Greek sparkling wine on his recommendation. All we want now is a good reason to drink it. No flashing lights please.

A commemorative service on main street Mytilene


  1. hey guys...

    First, a truly-felt "bugger!" at the news of recurring engine problems. I hope you're able to sort it out without too much drama.

    Second, your travels continue to have their topical side, and I'm glad to get your first impression of life in crisis-stricken Greece... since you guys have about 1000 times more insight into contemporary Turkey than anyone else we know, do you feel game for posting your take on the recent/ongoing unrest there?

  2. I wish I did feel game, but I simply don't know enough. Our experience in western Turkey has been too narrow, and the language barrier is too high for me to make judgements about the whole country. That said, I'm optimistic that this unrest will be converted into a stronger secular democracy rather than the opposite, which many commentators fear. We've regularly encountered anxiety and resentment towards this government's policies, and I think it was inevitable that these feelings would burst through the skin at some stage. It's ugly now but I think there'll be some cleansing - I hope - and Turkey will be the better for it. But who knows....