OUR CUTE NEW GREEK CREW

          Our voyage aboard New Chance, my North American 40, from Amsterdam to the Black Sea had taken us through 73 locks and a multitude of countries. The entire transit had been free of any fee. Now on our way back to my home port of Sam Juan, I got the shock of my life when I discovered, in Piraeus, the port that serves Athens, Greece, that the cost of transiting the Corinth Canal, a 25-mile waterway would be way over $500, closer to $1000. This to save under 200 miles or a day and a half. There was no question we’d sail down and around the Peloponnesian peninsula.

          My crew out of Istanbul was Miro, a Bulgarian I had befriended in Balchic, on the Black Sea, and owner of a 40 foot sailboat he chartered during the summer months to nouveau rich Russian tourists. Once we had hit most of the Athenian must-see tourist spots, we set sail towards the south with a gentle 15-knot breeze out of the west. Our course took us down around three southern capes and using a wind shift to the southeast we picked out the small port of Pylos on the west side of the Peloponnesus Peninsula for a needed rest stop. I was coming down with some kind of bug and felt lousy.

          During the next two days I lingered in my bunk with a fever three degrees over normal. I hobbled into town twice during this time and over to the town pharmacy where the druggist prescribed something that got me back on my feet. Each time I’d gone in, Miro and I had stopped for refreshments at a small cafe off the tree filled town plaza. Running around the tables lining the sidewalk was a small friendly kitten. Feeling better and back on my feet we ventured to the same cafe where the little kitten virtually adopted us. It would purr on my lap and enjoyed being cuddled.

          On the day we planned to leave I asked, mostly through the use of sign language, if the cat had an owner. I understood out of the lengthy exchange the cat had no owner and that we could have it if we wanted. Well the cute kitty became crew and quickly made herself right at home aboard New Chance. The upper port bunk became her hangout. She never complained about ship’s chow, stood most watches, and evacuated very discretely I know not where. Four days later in Valetta, Malta, having been a British colony, she became a stowaway, as I feared the authorities would raise a stink if I reported a cat of unknown origins aboard. All went well considering we hauled out for three days in an attempt to repair the rudder seal. By this time she had a name, Pylos, for her hometown.

          Once we were back in the water we overnighted to Agrigento, an ancient Greek citadel on the southern coast of Sicily. Pylos easily jumped ship several times while we were off touring, then ran wildly all around the pier. Thanks to local fisherman, she was cared for and returned aboard.

On departure we then took a long tack towards Tunisia, where I had hoped to stop. Fate got in the way. As we approached the Tunisian coast at midnight in a very light breeze and a fair westerly current, in ever shallowing water, the Borg Warner transmission connected to Bertha gave up the ghost. My instant reaction was to get away from the coast and I tacked north with a brisk easterly. Two days later we were off the coast of Sardinia when a 20 knot westerly pushed us right into Palma de Mayorca four days later. When we tied up at the Club Naútico, I left more than four feet between the bow and the dock since Pylos was growing leaps and bounds and was becoming more frisky and curious every day.

          With my first priority getting the transmission fixed I hunted around town until I found a  French Mayorcan shyster who dismantled my old transmission only to announce he could not repair it since he would be unable to offer a guarantee as one of the parts was too worn. I spent an hour trying to convince him I was leaving town as soon as the drive was fixed and would never be back to use the warrantee. I failed. He won. He stuck me with a used transmission.

          While we were out doing transmission duty, Pylos has leaped from boat to boat until she was able to jump onto the pier and disappear into the boat yard. Miro and I searched for the cat all of two days without luck. On the night before the transmission was to be delivered, Miro found Pylos cowering and crying in a corner of the marina with a broken leg. Back aboard, she barely moved and screamed when I handled the paw. We locked her below and went to supper at the Real Club Naútico where I met and chatted with an engaging British couple and their crew. I told them both the cat and the shipwreck in the Pacific story and they promised to come by in the morning to see the boat.

          The transmission arrived first thing in the morning. We had already pulled the engine, turned it 180 degrees inside the cabin, and connected the transmission when the British couple came by. Pylos was curled up on deck towards the bow, feeling quite sorry for itself when I, covered with grease, came out to greet them. When I told them that I would handle the cat once the engine was running, they grabbed Pylos, took it to a vet, had the leg fixed and filled it full of shots. She was still feeling quite low when she curled up down below that evening. We sailed in the morning for Gibraltar, where we again hid her from the authorities.

Nine days later we pulled into Palmas in Gran Canaria where the yearly ARC was gathering. Pylos adopted everyone in sight, loved all the attention and when the day came, allowed her bandage to be removed by one of the ladies. Our big job while we crossed the Atlantic was to keep her from going overboard. In her kitten frenzies she would climb half way up the mainsail, race around the deck like she was crazy and jump atop huge freshly caught mahi-mahi. Twenty five days later, when we arrived in St. Martin, Pylos had turned into a mature cat.  

Once we arrived in San Juan, she stayed aboard until I shipped her to my daughter in Texas. She became instant family with both the. children and her two Labradors. 

 

 

©  William Butler, 2004