Saturday, 8 June 2013

Mind games in Mytilene

Sappho's poetry on the harbourfront - remember it!

Playing on the foreshore of the old harbour
A year ago today we motored Enki out through the channel linking Port Napoleon, a mosquito-plagued French boatyard, to the Mediterranean sea and turned left for Turkey. Both the weather and the water in the gulf of Fos were dull and flat. Likewise our exhilaration at being finally underway was muted. I remember how much like a jail-break our departure felt. Unreliable, work-shy, mistake-prone tradesmen (apologies to Markus of Bowsprit, he was the exception) had effectively kept us hostage at Port Napoleon for a month, and our state of mind was fragile.

Past the sea wall and across the water there's Turkey
Enki sporting her new summer cover

A lot has happened since then and most of it marvellous. We need no reminding of how fortunate we are and yes, we are still having way too much fun (thanks yet again to Angel Louise for the turn of phrase). But the bizarre plot twists around our Volvo Penta D3 engine strongly remind us of dark days at Port Napoleon. We're playing the waiting game again, and our minds have re-entered crazed hostage mode. When will he call? When will he come? Will he ever come? Will anyone ever come? When will we get out of here?

The marina is a favoured exercise route for Mytilene walkers
Rain on the solar panels - which in sunshine give us all the power we need

A quick note about our beloved D3 engine, which is a marine version of Volvo's sophisticated electronic car engines: it's an EVC-A model, built in 2004, the first in what is now a long series of D3 engines. And there's the rub. The early D3 engine electronic warning sensors keep their secrets very close to their chest. In subsequent models, Volvo Penta has trusted the end-user with more information. So, for example, in the latest EVC-E model, you don't get a bald red warning light, period. It flashes up an error code/s. To the lay person, an error code means zip, but not to a Volvo technician on a phone. He can enter it into his diagnostic software and bingo, here's your diagnosis, or at least a partial diagnosis, and with that you get a mechanic on the job, or at least order replacement parts. 

Alex works the phones
We have fallen into a Volvo service black hole, and after a week in port we still don't know what's wrong with our engine. An Athens-based Volvo agent undertook early in the week to come to Mytilene on Friday with his Vodia machine, but that was washed away by a deluge of "disasters" closer to home. This morning he gave us another undertaking, which we choose to believe. He'll be here tomorrow or Monday, he says.

Ferries come and go daily in Mytilene harbour
We can find no sound reason to leave Mytilene with an instrument panel warning us of a "serious problem". Of course if our lives depended on it we could sail across the Aegean to a workshop in Athens or Volos without turning on the engine. But our lives don't depend on it. We're in a safe harbour here. There are planes flying in and out of the place. Someone will come, one day. Our frustration levels might be reading extreme, but our reason tells us that our insurance company might consider a decision to sail on in the hope that everything will be ok to be an un-necessary risk (reckless behaviour is their terminology) should we need to file a claim - say, if we got caught out in a small harbour with engine failure, there was no help and we rammed our boat or worse still, someone else's. You get to thinking like that. It's all very obsessive and corrosive. A good coffee in town is the best antidote.

The other thing that's been exercising our minds a lot is the notion that Greece is in Europe, for crying out loud. What if this happened somewhere truly "remote"? Is this the right engine for where we are planning to go? (Just for good measure, Alex has taken the bold step of buying electronic cigarettes! Refills should be available everywhere - no?)

The smoke is steam - he's willing, but his habit is an old one 
Can e-cigs unseat the Malboro man? 

The former estate of this derelict mansion is full of new apartments
We're getting to know Mytilene, and we like what we see. Yes, there's rubbish piled up in places you'd rather it wasn't, and business hours are Mediterranean i.e. the working day effectively ends at 2 pm when lovely cooking smells start to compete with the wafts from bad drains. The town - which has a population of about 36,000 people - has a lived-in feel. Students and other young people mill about the cafes on the harbour front and in the back streets, but so do families with kids, and middle-aged couples, and groups of old friends.

For all that we know about the Greek crisis, no-one seems particularly stressed, and people are dressed well. There are a few beggars, and some predatory gypsy kids near the bus station, but Mytilene doesn't feel like a town on its knees. Just before lunchtime, there are swarms of people tearing around its narrow streets on small scooters. They're like wasps which fly at you as you cling to side of buildings - there are mostly no footpaths. Mytilene has surprising and elegant architecture, grand Italianate buildings rather than cubist Greek. In its day you call tell it's been wealthy. Its harbour is not just a quaint fishing port, though it's that too. Every day there are new ships calling,  moving stuff in and out of the island.

Mytilene's church of Agios Therapon

Cherries on main street

Heirloom olive trees are all over the island

Lesvos is a seriously agricultural island - olive oil and ouzo are big business - and tourism is very much a secondary business here. Nobody takes much notice of us, who are so obviously not from the island, though they're friendly enough. Even the neighbourhood butcher speaks a bit of English. He has cousins in Sydney. The guy who delivered our fuel - we are hopeful - was born in Sydney, but he likes it better here, he says.

Most of Stathis' family live in Sydney. He was born there

Lesvos weather is island weather - variable. We love watching the clouds piling up over the Turkish coast - real clouds, not metaphorical ones. But let's talk about those for a minute.

Cloud build-up over Turkey

I started to write a post about what's happening in Turkey now, but I canned it for a couple of reasons. First, I don't think what I know as a result of our few months on the wealthy, western edge of the country adds much to what's being written in the mainstream media. I'm reading the BBC online, and the English version of Hurriyet, a Turkish daily, and we leap on the International Herald Tribune, with NY Times coverage, when we see it. There's good analysis in all these. For non-Turkish speakers, it's a big ask to get a good fix on what's happening. You're just grabbing at hearsay, or a few random conversations, and it's not really good enough. Second, I'm wary of what I write online. We hope to spend another winter in Turkey and I want to keep writing this blog. I don't want to get closed down. That happens in Turkey.

Back to clouds though. Sea Cloud, a sister ship to Enki, has been in Mytilene for a couple of nights.

Sea Cloud (in front) and Enki - the marina in quite empty 
Ian and Cathy Cook

Sea Cloud is owned by another Sydney couple, Ian and Cathy Cook, who bought her shortly before we bought Enki, and also in Europe from Swiss owners.  When we met up with them last year in Gocek, we talked about maybe cruising together up this way this season. They've had a few problems with an alternator, and we're now out of action for a bit, so we're yet to share an anchorage, but this morning they set off for our bay, the bay where we saw the swordfish. We've enjoyed their company while they were here, and as they pulled out of the marina, they spoke confidently of our catching up with them in a few days. You need to believe it.

Like peas in a pod - two HR48s flying the Australian flag
Sea Cloud heads north towards Limnos


  1. Arr the adventure you two have thanks to Mr Volvo. Love the stories plus the pics.
    Peter and Cindy

    1. We had a different kind of adventure in mind when we set out from Marmaris, but if nothing else, cruising with Mr Volvo cultivates greater elasticity in the mind. Those who snap lose...thanks for hanging in there with us even on a concrete quay in Mytilene. Appreciate the company!