Lessons from Lipsi | Escape Under Sail

“There are vicarious lessons to be learned everywhere in sailing. You just have to be willing to look and listen.”

– Charles Maxwell on the dock of Lipsi, Greece

The meltemi winds are no joke. It isn’t that we thought they were, I’m just confirming that fact. And if you aren’t sure what meltemi winds are (I hadn’t heard the term before we went to Greece) they are basically extra strong, potentially destructive winds from the North that get bigger and bolder as the day progresses.

They also offer the opportunity to build your sailing knowledge-bank, either through your own trial and error or vicariously through the hard lessons of others.

Here are some important lessons from Day 4 of our July Greece charter, the day the Meltemi winds arrived.

Lesson 1: When in doubt, arrive early

Given our new status as “using an anchor to Med Moor” sailors and the fact that we were new to the sailing area, we’d been playing it safe on our trip and arriving at each destination early to ensure that we could always execute on our Plan A and be safely moored for the night. Heading to Lipsi from Patmos was no different, and we knew the winds were coming, so we were extra diligent about making sure we arrived early.

Our short sail from Patmos to Lipsi was lovely. Steady wind in our favor, not too hot, not too cold. Perfect. As we neared the opening to the harbor, the winds did pick up, we lowered the sails, and motored in slowly, as we turned around to the protected North side of the dock, it was clear that many others had the same idea, as there weren’t as many mooring spots available.

The wind did steadily increase as the afternoon progressed and we watched more than one boat attempt to moor but get blown back, ultimately retreating and heading back the way they came, although given the weather situation, that didn’t seem like an altogether good choice.

The Lesson? Better to be safe than sorry, and always pay close attention to the weather forecast.

Lesson 2: Be careful and confident

Thank goodness my husband keeps it together in new or stressful situations. I am working on it.

As we surveyed our options for docking, I’d already picked out a nice larger space at the end, but the dock master, skillfully taking stock of the size of our boat, motioned for us to moor between two other boats in – what seemed to me – a very tight squeeze (commence internal panicking).

The skippers of our soon-to-be adjacent neighbors on either side looked concerned when they noted that a charter boat was about to pull in. I am not sure who was hoping for a good docking outcome more: us or our new neighbors with expensive, privately owned, well-maintained boats.

Charles backed toward the dock, motioned for me to drop the anchor at the appropriate time, and it appeared to hold on the first try.  He paused to check that the anchor was set, then went the rest of the way to the dock, tossing the lines ashore.

“Good job skipper,” the dockmaster said.

I must have looked terrified because the Danish woman on the boat next to us said, “relax, it is ok, you did good.”

Lesson 3: Accept well-intended advice

This is one of those lessons that is critical, and we saw it fail time and time again that afternoon in Lipsi.

As much as confidence and trusting your knowledge and skills is important, it is possibly more critical to be open to the advice of others, especially as a newer sailor.

A catamaran with just two passengers pulled into the south side of the dock, and even with the dockmaster’s assistance and no other boats on that side, the skipper struggled against the wind. Once tied up, it was clear that his location was not ideal.

Our neighbor Hans, a longtime sailor in the area, walked over and attempted to share some advice on how to improve his holding, but the catamaran’s skipper rudely rejected the advice. It became clear at one point, that the catamaran’s anchor was not holding, and more drama ensued. At one point, the catamaran skipper pulled out an extremely large, robust mooring line and with the help of a good Samaritan on the dock he tied to a dock cleat farther away from his boat. When our neighbor Hans noted that the line had a knot, a potentially dangerous situation because of the significant degradation of the rope’s strength, the catamaran skipper yelled at him. In fact, many people tried to help and each time he angrily sent them away.

Had he set his ego aside for a moment and taken the advice of strangers who were only trying to assist, he would have been far safer for the night. He was gone before everyone else was up the next morning, and we aren’t sure what ultimately caused that untimely exit.

We also watched as skippers arrived, no fenders on the sides or stern, and bashed into the dock despite the calls out from helpers who tried to warn them of potential damage.

Long story short, be open to advice and assistance. You might learn something and, more importantly, you might elevate the safety of your crew and others around you.

Lesson 4: Observe other sailors

I will never forget the first time we encountered a mooring buoy with just a metal loop at the top and no line, and to this day I am amazed at the agility of my husband being able to lean over the bow and somehow thread our rope through. Later, we watched a single-hand sailor who was clearly experienced in the area, slowly approach a buoy from the stern, grab it with his boat hook, and easily thread his line through. Then he simply walked to the front of the boat and tied off. Brilliant. But we wouldn’t have learned that important vicarious lesson without witnessing the real-time example.

Look around and see what others are doing, especially if you are in a new place or in a new weather pattern as we were in Lipsi. You can learn so much by just watching what more experienced sailors are doing to prepare and care for their boats. Our neighbor to the left snubbed his anchor with a relatively hearty chain, others had springs that they used for their dock lines. We watched how other sailors positioned their fenders, managed their distance from the dock, and tied extra lines for security.

Lesson 5: Ask for help

Our new friend Hans and his son were delightful neighbors, and we loved hearing his stories and advice about sailing in the area. He directed us to a fabulous restaurant for the night, explained how the mooring fee process worked at Lipsi (a woman in a red scooter will come to your boat), and he told us all about the Meltemi winds.

We were struggling with what plan we should execute for the next day. Should we stay safely in Lipsi while the meltemi winds blew and try for a very long sail back to Kos in two days, or should we try to get closer even if it meant leaving the security of Lipsi and sailing in less than ideal conditions? We’d landed on the former, but when we bumped into Hans, we wanted to know what he would do.

Of course, staying put was a safe option, but one he felt would be risky in terms of getting us back to Kos before the full strength of the winds. His suggestion? Leave very early in the morning and head to Kalymnos Island. He recommended Palymnos as a secure spot for the night.

And that’s exactly what we did.

We were so grateful for his advice and reminded once again that relying on the insight of local, seasoned sailors is such a valuable component of a successful trip. You’ll see the best places and avoid unnecessary risks.

Hans does assist with charters in the area, and you can find his website here. If you do reach out, be sure to let him know how grateful we were for his assistance and advice in Lipsi!

Lesson 6: Explore

This one we’ve got down pat.  Once your boat is safe for the evening, be sure to enjoy all that your new home for the night has to offer. Lipsi is a perfect place for exploration and if we’d had more time, we would have rented a scooter the next day to see even more.

The town of Lipsi is charming and easily accessible from the dock.  From our boat, we could see the waterside shops and restaurants, the small fishing boats, and the church in the center of town. As you wander along the waterside, you’ll find fresh calamari hanging on racks, groups of locals playing music and drinking at outdoor cafes, fishermen tending their lines, and small markets offering additional provisioning options.

It is a lovely place that demands more than just a quick stop as we did on this trip. Perhaps one lesson we’ll learn soon enough is to build in extra time to really soak in the places we visit as it seems all-too-often we are just scratching the surface of what there is to know about these special islands and places. Make time to explore.




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