My husband, Kostas, and I set sail on a chilly fall day aboard Allison, a Custom 580 racer-turned-cruiser. Our mission: to deliver the boat from Athens, Greece, to Rhodes, Greece, 280 miles away on the far eastern side of the Aegean, near the west coast of Turkey. The downside was that it was November, when rains, fierce northerlies, and sudden localized storms and squalls are common. The upside was that the boat’s owner had said we could take our time getting there.
Our plan was to get far to the east as quickly as possible, so we set our course for the island of Ikaria, 130 miles away in the mid-northern Aegean. The weather was benign; we spent the night motorsailing and arrived by morning, in time to explore the island named after the mythological Icarus. After a sleep, we strolled through the village of Ayios Kiristos and enjoyed mezedes (Greek hors d’oeuvres) and ouzo at a lazy taverna on the waterfront.
“This’d be pretty exposed in a northerly storm,” I observed.
“If there’s a storm here, you have to leave,” Kostas replied. “The waves break over the quay like waterfalls.”
Little did we know we’d relive that casual conversation later that night.
That evening, I was cooking pork ribs in the oven when there was a rap on the hull. A fisherman had appeared out of the darkness, his wizened face mapping the years he’d spent in the sun on the sea. In his hand he held a rose.
“Bad news,” he said solemnly. “Bad storm coming. Big winds. Better leave now.” With that, he handed over the rose and disappeared into the night. In Greece, when a fisherman makes such a proclamation, we listen. Simultaneously cursing the weather and blessing the fisherman, we secured everything and cast off for Samos, above the northernmost of the Dodecanese. The 35-mile run would take almost all night. As we motorsailed east, and no storm materialized, I mused to Kostas, “I wonder if he was right?”
“Just wait,” he replied. We munched on pork ribs and sipped hot tea as we sailed, and in the wee hours of the night, we stopped at a small bay to catch a few hours of sleep. We awoke early the next morning to gray skies and building winds. “Let’s go,” said Kostas.
We sailed under reefed main and jib toward Samos and the secure harbor of Pythagorion. As we neared the harbor, ominous clouds indicated trouble ahead. We doused sail and lashed everything down. Suddenly, with ferocity, the storm hit. Winds jumped from 25 knots to 45-plus in seconds; rain pelted down. Whitecaps obscured the gray sea. Eyes stinging, we made our way toward the harbor, heading dead into the wind. We docked at the empty quay, ducked below, closed the hatches, and then stripped off our dripping gear. It was cold. The boat had no heat. Kostas disappeared into the lazarette and re-emerged with two clay pots. We placed them upside down on very low flame on the propane stove to warm the cabin and left the hatch half open for ventilation. Soon we were cozy and dry. It was time for food.
“Spetsofai, ” I said. Spetsofai is a spicy Greek sausage-and-pepper stew. This easy, hearty, and warming one-pot meal is ready in about an hour.
While the storm raged and the stew simmered, we lit candles and set a fancy table with the rose from the fisherman. Kostas opened wine, and we drank a toast to our anonymous Good Samaritan.
Spicy Sausage-and-Pepper Stew
2 or 3 links spicy, herb-stuffed, firm sausage*
3 or 4 swirls olive oil
12 mild green Italian peppers
2 large onions
2 cloves garlic (or to taste), minced
1 or 2 12-ounce cans diced tomatoes
Healthy dash oregano
2 bay leaves
Slice the sausage into half-inch pieces. Heat olive oil in a large cooking pot. Saute sausage until browned; remove and drain on paper towel. Seed peppers and slice into half-inch rings. Slice onions into thin rings. Add peppers, onions, and garlic to pot. Saute until vegetables are wilted. Add sausages; stir. Add tomatoes, oregano, and bay leaves. Cover and simmer over low heat for about an hour, stirring frequently. Serve steaming hot with a robust wine and crusty bread for dipping. Serves two, with leftovers.
- In Greece, we use “village sausage” for this dish-but you can substitute kielbasa.