Gaia is launched! Finally after 4 years of hard work Spirit of Gaia was lifted back into her natural element.
We returned to Messolonghi on September 11th to prepare Gaia for launching and to take her on her first trial sails.
We travelled in company with Glenn Edney and his wife Janey. Glenn helped us the year before with building Mana. He is a New Zealander who has spent many years in the Ha’apai Islands in Tonga, using a Wharram Tiki 38, ‘Catknapp’, for dive charters, studying and interacting with humpback whales and dolphins. ‘Catknapp' then went on to be used for 3 years by 'Oceanswatch’ helping and instructing locals in reef conservation work in Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands. Janey, an experienced ocean sailor herself, is a founder trustee of Oceanswatch and a committed environmentalist.
Glenn is an Ocean ecologist, sailor and photographer, has lived (on and off when his Visa allowed) in Dartington (Devon) for the last three years, doing a Masters Degree in Holistic Science at the Schumacher College. He is now being invited back to lecture there. He has recently published a book called 'The Ocean is Alive’. It is a seminal book and is in our opinion the ‘ocean’ companion to prof. James Lovelock’s books on ‘The Gaia theory’.
More trouble in the marina
On arrival we were faced with a marina in deadlock. ALL work in the marina had come to a total standstill. Whereas in the Spring, during the so-called ban on ‘work’, the marina was still lifting and launching boats on a daily basis, this had now totally ceased. The last boat being launched the previous week had instigated a legal check into the activities of the marina while it still had not been granted its Environmental License. Lifting and launching were now also forbidden. No work could be carried out whatsoever until the License was granted.
What were we to do? We had come with a launching date planned for the 21st of September, so Glenn and Janey would be able to have a first sail on her before they had to depart on the 25th. Discussions with the marina staff became a daily routine while we waited for what was going to happen. A Frenchman, owner of another catamaran, also desperately wanted his boat launched. He needed to do many serious repairs to his boat and with the ban on work he wanted to get to another boatyard where he would be allowed to do this.
Meantime we quietly got on with some of the jobs on our list. It was obvious that antifouling was going to be a major problem. You can’t do this secretly so no one would notice the evidence. The port police drove by regularly, so the sudden appearance of fresh antifouling paint on our hulls would be glaringly obvious.
Checking the outboard motors
Glenn had worked with outboard motors for many years, so he got on with checking them (they are hidden under our platform), changing oil, fitting a new prop to the older motor, checking sparkplugs, putting fresh petrol in the tanks, etc. and giving them a test run. They still worked after 4 years inactivity. He then moved on to the dinghy motor and finally the rubber dinghy itself. It was pumped up and checked and we all got in for a short ride round the harbour. Then to our consternation the next day we found the dinghy grinning at us with a wide-open mouth! The front end of the floor had parted company with the tubular sides. Oh dear.
We were lucky that Glenn had spent some time working in a dinghy repair shop, so he knew how to go about gluing the floor back on. With the help of Janey he did an excellent job and so far it is holding up. There’s just a little problem with leaky valves.
We were able to carry out all this work quietly underneath the boat without drawing attention. Any sighting of the port police was a good excuse for a tea break.
Janey meantime started to dismantle the manky aft walkways for which we had prepared the new slats in the Spring. I planed the old bearers and confirmed they were still good enough to be reused. They were soaked in wood preservative to prevent future rot. The bearers under the bow decks were not good enough, so we bought ply and timber to make new composite ones.
We had hired a car for the first two weeks and made regular use of it to drive to the beach for a swim and to get away from the stresses of the marina. James and I needed a holiday after all the hard work in the last year and so did Glenn and Janey after their major work in getting Glenn’s book published. With the prospect of no sailing for them, we let them take the car and enjoy the local countryside instead.
James and I spent many hours in discussions on how we could get Gaia launched. James wrote a statement of affairs, which was published in the local newspaper and we visited the new tourist office in Messolonghi to discuss the situation in regards to the harm it was doing to tourism to the area. Many local people were distressed by the impasse, all wanted the marina to be a success; it was vital for the local economy.
The Dutch marina owner/manager wrote a candid email to all the yacht owners in the marina explaining how this situation had come about. As he could be sued for libel if what he wrote was not true, we believed his story, a story of serious misdemeanour by one of the marina shareholders, a man with influence in the town who now holds the boat owners to ransom. The Dutchman sincerely believes that when the correct licences are granted (expected in a few more months), all work in the marina can resume and the problem will be over. We hope he is right.
At the end of our first week we were joined by Pierre-Yves, our French yacht Design Internee. He has been working with us since the beginning of July, had worked extremely hard on getting Mana ready and sailed her with us in Brest and Douarnenez. On return to Cornwall he and I got Mana fully finished for her official launching on 20th August, after which we worked on fine-tuning her CNC cutting program together. He then cycled back to his home in Normandy, from where he was going to re-join us in Greece.
Pierre-Yves, ever enterprising, booked himself an extremely cheap Ryan Air ticket from Paris to Thessaloniki. Thessaloniki is in the far NE of Greece; Messolonghi is on the Ionian Sea in the West, a distance of around 430km. He planned to hitchhike and ‘experience’ Greece. He didn’t just hitchhike along the main roads; he chose the mountain tracks for their scenic beauty AND still managed to join us in a couple of days. Quite a lad.
Pierre-Yves’s first job was to check the rudders. The rudders on Gaia sit through slots in the sterns, there is a heavy pintle at the bottom fixed to the skeg. The metal rudderstock sits over this pintle on a nylon bearing and a specially shaped nylon washer. One of these washers had broken and needed replacing. The rudders also appeared to sit a bit too high and were jamming on the underside of the keel when pushed hard over. Pierre-Yves patiently ground/filed down the washers until both rudders swung smooth and clear. All the metalwork is galvanised mild steel, coated with epoxy where the galvanising as worn off. P-Y then fitted the tillers and connecting lines, which were made new in Dyneema.
On Thursday 22nd, three days before Glenn and Janey were due to leave us, we had a meeting at the port police office. The marina had submitted an official request for dispensation for launching the two catamarans, which had been sent to the ministry; they were still awaiting an answer. That morning the local paper had published an article about the marina situation, which included James’ statement in full.
The police officers were polite and tried to be helpful, they regretted the situation, but had to abide by the law. They then made the decision that the two boats could be launched, but the marina would have to pay a penalty and the police and environmental representatives would have to be present to observe procedures. We then had to persuade the crane driver that it was safe for him to do the job without prosecution. It turned out he had just started another job unloading a cargo ship in the harbour, which meant we had to wait till the next week. Monday became Wednesday; on Wednesday it blew a gale, so it finally became Thursday, a week later than planned.
On the Sunday we were joined by Dutch Michael, who had taken part in Gaia’s restoration from the beginning. We were very glad he could make it and with the delay in launch date he would be there for the launch.
On Tuesday morning I looked out over the harbour and spotted what I thought was a turtle; we often see them swimming, even copulating, close to the boats. I got out the binoculars and had a closer look. It didn't move. It slowly drifted closer on the easterly wind until it became lodged next to a moored yacht. On closer inspection it was most definitely dead, entangled monofilament fishing line could be seen wrapped round its neck. Poor beast, a sad way to die. We were so glad that Janey was no longer there; she would have been in floods of tears. The marina organised the conservation agency to come and collect the turtle, which was scooped out with a JCB.
Janey and Glenn were totally committed to keeping the environment clean from plastics and other pollutants. They did not eat any meat, fish or seafood as they considered them their friends; on reading Glenn’s book many other people will probably follow their example. On their joint morning run (Glenn) and cycle ride (Janey) they collected all the plastic rubbish from along the long causeway and the local beach. When scrubbing our old fenders Janey carefully collected all the dirty water that could contain plastic particles and disposed of it in the special ‘oily liquid bin’ supplied by the marina. Micro plastic particles are now considered a major pollutant in the oceans.
It was with great relief that we got ready early Thursday morning, cleared the sun awnings, removed the slatted side decks to make space for the strops, tidied the space under the hulls, and stood ready for action. We were sad that the underwater ship looked so shabby without new antifouling, but at least she would be launched and able to sail.
The crane first launched the other catamaran, then moved in close to Gaia. The four heavy strops were fed round the hulls, the cables rigged and the weight gently taken up by the crane. The crane driver and his helpers were careful and professional and lifted Gaia higher and higher in the air, then she was slowly turned and swung round, so she would fit in the space by the dockside. It was like an aerial ballet. It is always scary to see one’s boat flying high above and a great relief when she touches the water and … floats. A cheer and a sigh of relief.
On the water
How different a boat feels when afloat, there is the crackle of talking shrimps through the plywood hull sides, the shimmering reflections of the water through the ports, the view over the water. It was a wonderful feeling. We all felt lighter and happier.
We spent one day tightening the rigging and getting all the sails on the masts, making everything shipshape. The boat suddenly looked so different, it brought back all the memories of past voyaging.
On Saturday we were ready to leave the harbour. Both outboard motors started sweetly, mooring lines were cast off and with a push away from the quayside we were off. Down the 2Nm channel, past the fishing huts on stilts and the little wooden piers with small local fishing boats, and out through the pier heads into the open sea. James stood proudly at the wheel and felt ten years younger.
Pierre-Yves and Michael cast off the sail ties and as soon as we were in clear water the sails went up and the motors were switched off. The breeze was light, Gaia started to move easily, she was alive again. The photos say it all.
We anchored out for the night, dark and quiet, off a strip of low land along the edge of the Nature Reserve lagoons. We swam like dolphins in the warm sea.
We returned to the marina because Pierre-Yves had to fly back to France. This time he took the bus to Thessaloniki. We also had to tighten the new rigging again. Over the next two weeks we did this a number of times as every time, after a sail, the forestay was slack again. We think that the new splices have to settle, which cause the stays to stretch, maybe the Dyneema itself also stretches at first. Then there are the new polyester rope lanyards, which will also be stretching.
Tightening Dyneema rigging
We devised a good way of puling on the lanyards. We raised our 6-part purchase pulley (2nd main sheet) on the end of a halyard that lined up with the shroud, then fixed the other end to the pulling end of the lanyard and pulled hard. While pulling someone has to ‘play the harp’ on the strands of the lanyard where they pass through the deadeye, some lubrication on the wood is also useful. There are four strands each side to tweak.
Tikis and walkways
We spent some time back in the marina, doing some more jobs, like cleaning up the two Maori Tikis, these were a gift by a New Zealand Maori carver back in 1968 for James’ previous boat Tehini. They are mounted on the aft deckpods and guard the ship. We also assembled the forward walkways. These make walking round the front of the ship so much easier. No stepping down into the netting and out again.
The last week gave us the hardest sailing. We were joined by our son Jamie, his girlfriend and our webmaster Perky. It was now late October and the weather in Greece becomes more changeable, the forecast predicted strong easterly winds. We ventured out on a short sail, but turned back when the easterly wind rapidly increased out in the funnel of sea that exits the Gulf of Corinth. This stretch of water frequently has winds much stronger than elsewhere. The rigging was stretching ominously and we went back to tighten it again.
Two days later the forecast looked better, we had a lovely sail along the coast heading west with a favourable offshore breeze. The coast is beautiful here with low-lying islands along the edge of the lagoons interspersed with sudden high rocky out-croppings and islands. We anchored in a sheltered West-facing bay, with the wind again blowing harder from the NE.
Next day was Thursday, we had to get back to the marina so we could prepare the boat for the winter. The weather was unsettled so we could not leave this too late. The sail back started nicely with a fair wind heading South, then when sailing past a high island we saw strong wind gusts on the water, we reefed the sails. Once past the island we had to turn east; in open water the wind stayed strong, but was less gusty, we took the reefs out of the main to make better progress. Again the wind was easterly, so we settled down to a hard slog to windward starting with a long tack South. I was anxious, I still didn't fully trust the new rigging, it was still stretching more, though not as bad as at first.
Jamie, our son is a senior sailing instructor, he had just finished the summer season working for a Children’s Charity in the Helford River (Cornwall), his last week had been hard with very strong easterlies, which blow straight into the mouth of the Helford and kick up high waves. He is a good and strong sailor, so we were very happy for him to take the helm and keep Gaia close to the wind and to make good progress. Perky, our webmaster, though not an experienced sailor, turned out to be a good helmsman as well, making the best of every wind shift to make good to windward. The wind was a Force 5 to 6 with fair sized waves, the skies overcast with heavy dark clouds creeping in from the SW. We sailed at around 6 knots most of the time, picking up to 8 and 9 knots in the gusts.
It took us 8 hours of hard sailing to reach Messolonghi, we arrived after sunset at 8pm, we sailed straight up the channel, the easterly wind gave us a reach on which we could sail right into the town basin where we dropped sails and started the motors to reach our berth on the outer pontoon. Within half an hour of mooring up it started to rain, the wind increased again and we were so relieved to be in harbour and not somewhere anchored out in an increasing gale.
It may seem reckless to sail like that up the channel in the dark, but we had done this already twice before in daylight with a similar Westerly wind. The channel is well marked with lit beacons and we knew all the features; the little wooden piers and the one missing light beacon. We had a watchman on each bow and Jamie at the helm. Our engines are small, two 9.9hp Yamaha high thrust outboards, they are too weak to push against a strong wind, so we felt safer under sail.
Torrential rain and thunder storms
Friday it rained on and off all day, how were we to take the sails off, dry them and stow them below? Friday night the rain stopped and I had hopes of a better last day (we were leaving on Sunday). Then at six in the morning the rain started again, this time it rapidly increased to torrential rain with continuous thunder and lightning. It went on for four hours solid. Poor Perky had walked to the toilet block just before the rain started. He was stranded there for two hours after which, in a slight lull, he could leg it to the marina café a 100 meters further on, from which he watched the incredible lightning for the next two hours over a coffee. This is the land of Zeus!
When the rain finally stopped I got into the hire car we had rented to take us all to Preveza airport, to buy bread and collect a new cover for our cockpit. Messolonghi town, which is low-lying and completely flat, was flooded, with 6” and more water on many of the roads. The shops were sweeping water out of their doors, some little low-lying houses by the roadside were under water, I felt sorry for their owners.
This was the end of the rain and with little wind we were able to hoist our sails and let them dry the best we could. Still damp round the edges we loosely rolled them and dropped them into an empty cabin, hoping they would dry in the weeks to come. All ropes were sopping wet and we hung them in the cockpit, which we cover with a PVC tarp for the winter. I hope there is enough ventilation in there for them to dry.
Spirit of Gaia’s future
Gaia now waits for us till next springtime. Where shall we sail? Who shall we sail with? As I wrote previously: “She must have a purpose; she is a tribal boat that must have a tribe to support her”. She could join in the work of ‘Oceans Watch’, or do other expeditions with an ecological or philosophical theme. Glenn is interested in running seminars on the holistic life of the ocean; he calls it ‘Ocean Pilgrimage’. We can run yoga or meditation workshops. We should set up a Gaia Club or Gaia Guild, with members who help care for her and sail her.
Anyone wishing to contribute or be part of this future, do get in touch.