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4th May - 9th June Drive across Europe, launch and start of 2013 Cruise

So our 2013 voyage starts. Slightly different to our last few seasons as this time we are here prematurely and for up to 6 months (it depends how quickly we spend our money). We started our trip by taking a week to drive across Europe to Greece. We took the Newcastle-Amsterdam ferry on Saturday 4th May and headed to stay with our friends, Tracy and Adrian, in Haarlem, The Netherlands.

Smudge had to go in the kennels on the ferry and wasn't very happy about it but there wasn't a lot we could do about this. The only alternative was leaving her all alone in the car. The kennels weren't the most pleasant of places but they were clean and she was on her own in there so she didn't have lots of other dogs whimpering and barking and upsetting her. She survived the trauma of abandonment and still loved us the next day.

So we arrived in Haarlem on a beautiful sunny Sunday morning ready to celebrate Jake Bank's 1st birthday. Cake for breakfast - perfect! We stayed in Haarlem and as always had a lovely time. On Sunday afternoon, in order to work off the cake, we all went for a bike ride - including Smudge. Tracy had Rose on her bike and Adrian had a bike with a cart\trailer at the front and inside was Jake in his car seat and Smudge harnessed in with her nose sticking out the front catching the breeze. We're not sure if she enjoyed it or not but we found it amusing. Karl and I didn't have to take any passengers so got off lightly.

On the Monday the weather was lovely again so after a good walk into town with Tracy and the kids (poor Ade had to go to work) we returned to the Banks residence and had a great BBQ - the first of the year so a special occasion.

After a good nights sleep in Haarlem we waved goodbye (with plans in place for a visit from the Banks clan in Edinburgh at Hogmanay). We headed to Switzerland to stay overnight at my aunt and uncles', Allison and Thomas, in Zofingen, near Basel.
The drive through the Netherlands and Germany was reasonably good except for when we hit road works in Germany and again in Switzerland. We arrived in Zofingen about 8pm which was a few hours behind schedule. Unfortunately the car had started making a funny noise and we were going to have to keep an eye on it. Thankfully Thomas had cooked us a lovely dinner ready for our arrival. It was a flying visit through Zofingen but we managed to have a good catch up with the relatives and see my cousin Rebecca's two little boys that we hadn't met yet.

So on Wednesday we set off again this time for Italy. We were looking forward to driving through the Alps but were worried about the noise that the car had developed. Just before the Gotthard Road Tunnel (a 17km long tunnel) we decided to pull into a garage and ask them to check out the noise. The owner of the garage thought it was a wheel bearing and said we should be fine but to get it looked at in the next few days. So onward we went and enjoyed a lovely drive down into Italy. After negotiating the mad Milan traffic, we spent two nights in Italy, one near Rimini and one in San Vito dei Normanni, near Brindisi. The B&B Grottamiranda near Brindisi was fabulous and just what we needed. It was pet friendly and there were a couple of resident dogs for Smudge (she was missing her Scottish pals although the Italian dogs were a bit too amorous at times) and also a lovely swimming pool for us to have a dip after a long days driving. The owners of the B&B, Fabio and Maria were very helpful and hooked us up with a local garage to check out the noise the following morning. We are so glad we did this as it wasn't a wheel bearing at all but the actual wheel starting to come off. So 1.5 hours later and 80euros (bargain) the car was fixed and ready to go again. We wish we could have stayed longer at Grottamiranda as it was fabulous but we needed to catch the ferry that night to Greece. We went off into Brindisi after checking out and enjoyed an afternoon there before heading to the ferry terminal. Fabio warned us not to put Smudge in the kennels on the ferry as they were terrible and to discreetly take Smudge to our cabin so we gladly took his advice. He had done this on other occasions too. The Grimaldi ferry from Brindisi to Patras, Greece left us very disappointed. The kennel was shocking and not fit for purpose, as was the food and we will not be using it to return home. The only positive point was that our cabin was a large one so there was plenty of room for the 3 of us. All the rules went out of the window and Smudge got to sleep at my feet. Needless to say an email has been sent complaining about the conditions and I await a response and a partial refund (delusional I know).

So on Saturday 11th May at 14.30 we arrived in Greece…Opa! After giving Smudge a quick comfort break as we stepped off the ferry we set off for Halkoutsi to see Madison and also meet our friends, Derrick and Diane - Yacht Kouros, who were already there preparing to launch. They had kindly arranged to cook us dinner so we didn't have to worry about this after all the travelling we had done. They cooked us a lovely chicken dinner and it was great to see them and catch up.

We had managed to arrange an apartment in the centre of Halkoutsi, while we prepared Maddie for launch, so we turned in for the night so as to be ready to go and meet Karl's dad, Ken. He was to arrive the next day as he was flying in from Edinburgh to help us for a few weeks and to have a wee holiday too.

On Sunday morning we went and had a morning pottering on Maddie before heading for the airport. We made a very long list of jobs to do for launch (unfortunately this list never seems to grow shorter). On the way to the airport the skies went black and the heavens opened and this was going to be the weather for the next few hours. After picking dad up we decided to wait out the weather by going for a lovely lunch where dad tasted octopus for the first time. By the time we had finished lunch the skies had cleared and the rain was clearing.

It's great in mainland Europe as dogs are welcome in most places so one of us doesn't have to stay behind on the boat or in the apartment with Smudge. In fact Smudge gets lots of admiring glances and people stop to talk to us all the time she is with us - she's quite the celebrity. It probably helps that she's very well behaved and very quiet so shop owners and restaurant owners don't have to worry about us having a frantic, boisterous dog.

For the next 8 days we worked hard on Madison in the boatyard preparing her for launch trying to get through the long list of jobs. Big improvements on Madison include a bimini, a passerelle, a new autopilot (although not yet installed), a new wooden toerail (installed in October 2012) and 2 new blue stripes down her sides. She's just too busy looking good. We had a couple of trips to Piraeus to pick up boat supplies too, which was a break away from the hard graft.

During this time we sometimes socialised with Derrick and Diane but other times we were just too tired and went back to the apartment and crashed.

Unfortunately for the first 3 nights we had fireworks and a thunder storm directly outside our window/overhead and Smudge got quite upset and decided she didn't like the apartment and we used to have to drag/carry her up to the apartment each day.

On 22nd May we were finally ready for launch. The engine started first time and so we headed onto the island of Evia, to a little port called Panayia, where Derrick and Diane were. The wind wasn't great, Force 4 or 5 and we were beating into it so it was a bit bumpy. We arrived a bit wet and salty but also hot as the sun was beating down. Smudge seemed to enjoy her maiden voyage and doesn't seem at all bothered about being at sea. She just finds a spot of shade (or sun depending on the time of day and her mood) and lies down and sleeps - no different from home then!

Derrick and Diane were there to help us tie up and as seems to happen when we're around Yacht Kouros, we had a few drinks on arrival that turned into a few more drinks and a meal out with a few more drinks so the next day we were a little bit delicate. We stayed in Panayia for a few days until Saturday 25th May working on Madison and generally enjoying the town as it was lovely. We caught up on boring chores like washing clothes too. We provided dinner for us and Yacht Kouros on our 2nd night, a reasonably healthy salad, but as they are slightly roomier than us we ate on board Kouros for comfort. An Austrian boat came alongside while we were there with a couple, Herbert and Kadiya onboard so on our last night in Panayia we all had a meal out together. It was very enjoyable and we are thoroughly enjoying being back out on Madison and cruising.

Smudge is very good at negotiating the various deck fittings and obstacles on boat and hasn't yet showed an inkling to jump off (there is netting all around) so we have our fingers crossed there are no mishaps.

Ken was due to fly home on 30th May but has changed his flight and extended it until 6th June. I hope we can survive his witty repartee for another week ;-D

Derrick and Diane's daughter, Lisa, was arriving on Sunday 26th May with her husband Steve and two boys, Jordan and Hayden so Kouros and Madison set sail for an anchorage, Porto Rafti, which is near Athens airport so that the new crew could get picked up.

We had a lovely sail across to Porto Rafti and Derrick got some photos of us under sail. We also stopped halfway to get our lunch of baked potatoes delivered by Kouros. We did this by sailing along their port side whilst they delivered a bag of freshly cooked spuds via their boat hook - a novel food delivery method. We heaved to, ate our lunch and then continued sailing to Porto Rafti.

Porto Rafti is a lovely anchorage that we have visited before. We managed to pick up a mooring buoy too so didn't have to mess about with our anchor. We stayed here for 2 nights. Lisa and the clan arrived safely. The boys are mad about fishing, just like Ken, and they started fishing almost instantly. They really are crazy about it. We are sailing in company with them for the next week or so.

On Monday 28th May we left Porto Rafti to go the island of Kea in the Kiklades. We have never been here before as our last attempt to cruise the Kiklades was foiled by constant gales. We had a lovely day sailing to Vourkari, Kea including a stop off for lunch in a bay on the virtually uninhabited island (there were donkeys) of Makronisi. Vourkari was a stunning little village and we had a great evening here chilling out with the Kouros crew. The fishing competition between the Kouros boys and Ken continued. Jordan and Hayden caught many tiddlers, sea urchins and even a starfish. However the competition got serious when Ken caught a fish big enough to feed the crew of Madison for dinner. We only stayed in Vourkari for one night and then moved on but would like to return.

Our next stop was into the Saronic so that we would be in the right area for getting back to Athens airport with relative ease. Our first Saronic stop was Fokaia on the mainland, SW of Athens. We anchored here for the night before setting off for Aegina Town on Aegina Island the next day. It was a quiet anchorage and we enjoyed our fish dinner before getting a good nights sleep. Kouros still haven't caught a fish as big yet.

We arrived in Aegina town (one of our favourite places) on 29th May and went stern to against the town quay. This is not our favourite spot as the bars and cafes are very noisy at night but there was no space at our favourite spot at the nautical club. It was quite busy but we managed to squeeze up and let Yacht Kouros in beside us so we were snug for the next couple of nights. The next day Yacht Kouros headed into Athens for the day on the flying dolphin, while we did a few jobs around Madison. Smudge seems to sleep a lot due the heat. Not sure what she will make of the heat in July and August. She's hasn't been in the sea yet but this could be the time she does it.

We had two nights in Aegina which included a great meal at the Avli Bar which is good for a reasonably cheap meal and beer. Then we headed for Poros town on Poros Island. We love it here. We arrived in the late afternoon and both yachts headed straight to Lidl to stock up (primarily on vodka, gin and beer ;-D). Then it was another quiet night on anchorage in the NE of the Poros channel in Russian Bay.

When we anchor Smudge has to don her Aussie Dog life jacket and get dinghy-ed ashore which she does without complaining. She doesn't seem to mind being picked up like a bag of shopping and being taken in/out of the dinghy.

There was a lovely beach in Russian Bay that we took her too where she had a great run around and went mad for half an hour. She doesn't always have this opportunity due to the traffic and it was great to see her running about wild for a bit. We met a Swedish chap, Harald, who was camping on the beach with his car whilst doing a tour of places he had visited 40 years ago. So Smudge said hello and we stayed and chatted awhile. Suspect it was Harald's salmon that was the main attraction.

We had one night on anchor here and then headed for the main quay in Poros. Going stern-to against the quay in Greece can be very trying at times as boats foul each others anchors quite frequently and Poros was to be no different. After attempting to go to sterns-to two boats crossed our anchor and we decided to free it and leave for another quay further round the north of the town before we got in an even bigger tangle. This turned out to be the best option and we managed to go alongside with space for Kouros too.

We found a lovely restaurant called, Geia Mas, on the front at Poros owned by Dimitris who not only did good food but also offered to take Ken out on his fishing boat. So we ended up staying in Poros for 4 nights. Ken had an early morning on the 2nd last day so he could go out on Dimitris' boat. The autopilot installation was completed so we would have an 'extra pair of hands' whilst sailing. We also met some great fellow sailors, one lot were an Aussie bunch on a charter and the other were a lovely couple, Ray and Natalie who were on their own 54ft yacht, a Jeanneau 54DS called Boz. We shared a beer with the Aussie crowd and a lovely meal with Yacht Boz. We also helped an 81 year old sailor, John, from Shoreham tie up in Poros just before we departed. We hope we're still as active as him at that age.

Yacht Kouros headed out for other destinations after a couple of nights in Poros but we planned to catch with up them later, hopefully around 8th June just before the grand kids go home and then maybe tour a bit of the Peloponnese with them.

On 4th June we headed back to Aegina Town, for a couple of nights, enroute to Zea Marina, Piraeus where we were going to drop Ken off for his flight home. Zea Marina was an expensive treat but we got some lovely hot showers which helped soothe the pain of handing over nearly 50 euros and 3.60 for a frape (it's only cold Nescafe). Ken got off safely to the airport and we had a quiet night in the marina.

After a few texts with Kouros we headed to Milos on the north of Angistri Island on 8th June to hook up with then and say farewell to the visitors. The fishing competition should be won by Kouros as they caught many more fish than Ken and a much wider variety (even if they weren't big enough to feed the crew). We have decided to stay in Milos for a few days as we lots of jobs still to do on Madison (the list still seems to grow longer rather than shorter). Angistri is a beautfiul place and I would love to come back on holiday staying on terra firma.

Since we have been away Smudge has had lots of treats including ice cream, cream, liver (leftovers from a restaurant meal) and freshly caught fish. Whilst we were sleeping in the saloon, as Ken had the v-berth, she also got away with sleeping on the sofa/bed with us. However now Ken has gone and we are back in the v-berth she is back to sleeping in her own bed/on sofa (she is allowed on the sofa at home so long as she on her blanket). I hope she doesn't come to expect this treatment everyday when we get back to Edinburgh (actually hope she doesn't expect this everyday in Greece!).























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