08/31/2009, Saronic Gulf, On the way to Athens
Our first stop after leaving Ithaca was Messolonghi, the town where the poet Lord Byron, a passionate advocate of Greece independence, spent his last days. To reach Messolonghi, we motored up a long marshy inlet, where tiny houses were raised above the water on posts. Many of these houses, which were originally built by fisherman, appear to have been converted to cottages, but they are still very picturesque. We anchored just off a partially finished marina, debated about whether to put the motor on the dinghy and go exploring, but in the end decided to eat aboard and make it an early night. (For more information on the new marina at Messolonghi, see the cruising notes below.)
The next day, it was a bracing motorsail into a headwind of 20+ knots for our passage through the gulf of Patras, under the Rion bridge and into the Gulf of Corinth. We would have liked to stop at Navpaktos, but we were worried that there might not be room in the tiny medieval harbour so we pressed on, satisfied that at least we had sailed through the waters where the famous battle of Lepanto took place. By the time we arrived at the tiny island of Trizonia (the only inhabited island in the Gulf of Corinth) the decks and rigging were coated with salt and the cabin was in complete disarray. We were relieved to feel the wind abate as we turned the corner into the well-protected anchorage.
The tiny island of Trizonia is an enchanting place. No sign of the madding crowds on Trizonia! For anyone who truly wants to get away from it all- do some painting, write a book- Trizonia is the perfect hideaway. A small "ferry" (similar in size to my cousin Donnie's fishing boat) carries passengers back and forth (fare 1 euro) to the small town of Glifadha on the mainland, where groceries and the other necessities are available. Otherwise, you might be lucky enough to find what you need at the small general store, where you can also buy bread if you have had the foresight to order it a day in advance. (We hadn't, but they were kind enough to sell us a loaf anyway.) In spite of the miniscule size of the population, a new and imposing Orthodox church sits on the point, positioned so that its large windows overlook the mainland on one side and the fishing dock on the other side. As we peered in a window on one side, we could see a woman walking along a path on the other side, making the sign of the cross-a common practice among those of the Greek Orthodox faith when passing a church.
Four small family-run tavernas line the fishing harbour, all with limited menu choices and (at least at the end of August) very few customers. Both the Taverna Porto Trizonia and the Poseidon restaurant had good food and low prices, although surely anything eaten in such a beautiful setting would taste great! At sunset, the light is exceptional, with shadows outlining the contours and crevices of the mountain across the water on the mainland. At any time of day, it is pleasant to sit by the water in Trizonia and watch the fisherman coming and going, as the elderly men sit in the shade thumbing through their worry beads. At night, the star-gazing from our cockpit was terrific, since there is little ambient light in the anchorage.
Our most exceptional evening was at the Poseidon, where the regular staff spoke no English and a friend of the family, who introduced himself as "Billy the Greek", was helping out with table-side translations. After explaining the various menu choices, Billy amiably agreed to teach us a few simple phrases in Greek. Now there's an oxymoron-nothing is simple in Greek! But by the time we'd finished our meal and two of those dangerous little "half kilo" jugs of wine (it sounds so much worse than a half-litre, doesn't it?) we had a sheaf of notes with a list of phonetically spelled useful phrases like "What do you call this?" (pos toh len afto), "like that" (san afto) "I live on a boat" (zo sto karavi) and "shut up" (skas-eh). We didn't ask for that last one, Billy just seemed to think it would be useful. I finally understand why so many of the elderly Greek women in Canada still struggle with the English language! The differences in the alphabet make things very difficult. When I occasionally successfully decipher a Greek word on a sign or label, I get that same triumphant "I can read!" feeling I had as a child when I first sounded out "Here I am, my name is Nan" from my mother's old reader.
As we were paying our bill, a French family from another boat in the marina sat down at the table beside us and Billy effortlessly switched to French as he chatted with them. When we finally left the restaurant, we had another piece of paper with Billy's phone number in Athens (just in case we needed him to help us with anything) and a most excellent drawing of a whale made for us by the little girl from the French boat.
The next day, we made out way to Galaxadhi, a beautiful town on the north side of the Gulf of Corinth. We chose Galaxadhi mainly because of its proximity to Delphi, but it turned out to also be one of the loveliest places we've stopped. But I've burned enough power already tonight, I'll have to save that story for the next posting!
Messolongi: As of August 2009, berths at Messolongi's new marina were still free. The marina has 100 mooring places (concrete mooring block, chains and lazy lines or moor alongside) water, showers and wifi. Haul-out facilities planned. More info on their website www.messolonghimarina.com. We anchored in 20' with good holding in mud. There are a couple of tavernas ashore. Good protection from all directions.
Trizonia has a small marina where you can either med-moor on your own anchor or tie alongside an outer wall. There is also a small anchorage with good holding just off the marina. We spent one night at anchor and one night along the wall. We anchored in about 18' with a mud bottom and good holding. Good protection from all directions.
|Greece Ionian & Gulf of Corinth||
08/26/2009, Galaxdhi, Gulf of Corinth
As we were running along the seawall in Galaxadhi this morning, an elderly man called us over, pointing to something in the water. Much to our delight, an octopus was swimming by. The three of us watched it swim along, settle briefly on the bottom and then disappear under the wall. Our new friend seemed very happy to have been able to share his octopus-viewing with us, and gave me a friendly slap on the back as he walked away, chuckling. How fortunate that Rick had brought his camera along!
|Greece Ionian & Gulf of Corinth||
08/24/2009, Trizonia, Gulf of Corinth
It is impossible to capture the beauty of the Ionian sea in words- even our photographs do not seem to do it justice. The short journey from Nidri to Syvota took us through one of the loveliest stretches of water I have ever seen. As we left the anchorage, the heat-haze that typically blurs the outlines of distant points was less pronounced than usual and the dramatic mountain peaks of mainland Greece looked deceptively close. We sailed past the islands of Scorpios (the Onassis' private island, which we had "circumnavigated" on a daysail in June with our Swedish friends Guy and Pia) and into the channel between Meganisi and Lefkada. The forest greens of cyprus cedars and pines and the dustier green of the olive trees on the shores of the islands contrasted dramatically with the intense blue of the sea. It would have been the perfect day for a sail, if only we'd had some wind. At least Syvota was just around the corner, so we didn't have to burn much diesel to get there.
We had the misfortune to arrive in Syvota on the peak holiday weekend of the summer, which coincides with the Greek Feast of the Assumption and Italian Ferragosto. Syvota must be a magical place in the off-season, but our view of its charms was obstructed by the crowds and the mayhem in the anchorage, so we saw no reason to linger. Late Sunday morning, we pulled the anchor (breathing a large sigh of relief when the windlass performed beautifully) and pointed the bow toward the mountainous silhouette of Ithaca- or Ithaki, as it is called here. A few hours later, we anchored Aisling in the deep inlet off the town of Vathi. The anchorage is very well-protected, but when a catabatic wind swept down off the mountains and blew at about Force 5 until sunset, we were glad that our anchor was well dug-in. We crossed our fingers that everyone else's was too!
Ithaca has captured the imaginations of the young and the old for millenia. The mythical home of Odysseus, it is an island of breathtaking natural beauty, sparsely populated and surprisingly unexploited by tourism. There is, of course, much debate over the true location of ancient Ithaca and numerous other sites described in the Odyssey. Perhaps the Ithaca of the Odyssey was not the place we know as Ithaca today-- perhaps Odysseus himself was a mythical character rather than an historic figure-- perhaps even the poet Homer never really existed. But why spoil the fun? Imagining Odysseus finally returning home to Penelope really adds to the fun of a visit to Ithaca, so we'll cast our lot with the believers.
Although relatively new, having been rebuilt after a major earthquake in 1953, Vathi is a very pretty town. On Monday morning, we dinghied ashore for a run along the narrow, eucalyptus-shaded lane that follows the water to a little beach just inside the mouth of the harbour. A few dozen people were swimming and lounging on the beach under the diligent supervision of a young and beautiful lifeguard. A battered old fishing boat bobbed in the water by the sea wall. After running back to the town, we were so hot and sweaty that we immediately changed into our bathing suits and took the dinghy back to the beach. Floating on my back in the warm salty water, staring up at an old fort and a terraced olive grove, was one of life's perfect little moments.
Ithaca is a small island with a length of less than 30 km. With motorbikes available for hire at only 15 euros a day, we decided to do some exploring. The task of driving fell to Rick, but even as a passenger I had to give my inner scaredy-cat a firm talking to before I could relax and enjoy the ride. As we negotiated the sharp switchbacks beside breathtaking views down the coast and across the channel to Cephalonia, we passed several of the small roadside shrines that mark the sites of previous fatal accidents. Rick drove slowly and carefully, recalling an email from our friend Jean Francois Bourley, who warned that the asphalt on these roads becomes as slick as oil in the intense summer heat. Unlike the majority of Greek bikers, we chose to wear helmets, but they are unlikely to be of much help if we go over the edge!
Our first stop was at the "Cave of the Nymphs" which is purported to be the location where the Phaeceans left the sleeping Odysseus when they delivered him safely home to Ithaca after his ten years of trials and tribulations. Entering the cave is no longer permitted, so we continued on, climbing (about 1800 meters vertical) to an old monastery that , according to our Blue Guide, was restored with the help of a grant from Aristotle Onassis and Maria Callas. It is again undergoing some renovations but the setting is lovely, with an old tower overlooking the coastline, goats roaming the bushes along the headland and a beautiful garden in the interior courtyard. A sign on the gate says "Please close the door because the goats come inside" in Greek, English, Italian and German. As we continued toward the next village in search of water, we encountered a roadside farm and a large herd of goats unconcernedly rambling along the centre line of the road. Eventually, we reached the village of Anogi, where we found a small establishment whose three tables were occupied by a group of young people playing backgammon and sharing platters of delicious-looking home cooked french fries. The stolid and stout elderly proprietress spokes no English, but luckily I had recently learned the Greek word for water (nero). We sat outside and downed 1.5 liters of water in a few minutes while soaking up the ambience of the small village square. How much better our experience would be if only we could speak the Greek language!
We made a lunch stop at Stavros, where we chose the busiest taverna and had a delicious meal of briam (roasted vegetables in olive oil) with soft bread and tzatziki, a decadently sinful saganaki and (I had to do it) a plate of those home cooked french fries. Good restaurants are not as easy to find in this part of the world as you might think, but the chances of getting a good meal seems to improve as you get further off the beaten track. After visiting the small church in the town square, we continued on to Frikes, a small waterside village tucked under towering cliffs and then to Kioni, where the anchorage is obviously the preferred choice of the rich and famous of the yachting set. Near Kioni, we found a small beach with fantastically clear water, so we changed into our bathing suits in the bushes and cooled off with a swim.
By this time, our bottoms were getting a bit sore, but who could resist following a sign that pointed to an archaeological site called the School of Homer? To reach the site, we had to bump along a rugged dirt track, and when we reached the site we were equally as alone as we would have been in the back country of Nova Scotia. The cicadas were chirping wildly in the olive trees and the heat was intense as we explored the ruins, which have obviously undergone some recent excavations. Certain sections were under plexiglass. We were unable to find any good information explaining the history of the site, but I later found an internet reference claiming that examples of Linear B writing (an ancient precursor of the Greek alphabet) were found here.
Finally, we climbed to Exogi , a Venetian village high on the northwest side of the island, where standing on the wall was truly a "king of the castle" experience. By then we really were getting tired, so we decided to head back to Vathi. Along the way, we stopped once again for water at an old general store with glass-fronted wooden display cases. Stepping through the door was like stepping back half a century in time-- I'm sure some of the inventory on the shelves was older than me! After such a wonderful day, it was a bit disconcerting to return to Vathi and find that two boats had parked on either side of our dinghy, completely blocking it in. It was obvious we'd be waiting a while to get back to Aisling, so we crossed the road to have a drink at the Yacht club. It's a beautiful spot; the shady courtyard has tables circling a large pool that is connected to the harbour. The fish were plentiful here, eating treats from the patrons. Back at the dingy, with a little help from the staff of the charter company, Rick was able to get the boats pushed aside and squeak through so we could head back to Aisling.
The next morning, we took advantage of the few hours left on the bike rental to explore the southern part of the island. Unfortunately, the only available map had some serious limitations, so we never did find the road to Pigi Aretoussas, but we did have an interesting drive through the vineyards and olive groves in the valley, visited Alaikomes (previously thought to be the site of the castle of Odysseus) and followed a half-ton truck loaded with grapes up the hill to Filiatro before returning the bike to the rental agency. Seeing a young man riding in the back of the pick-up trucks with the grapes reminded me of the long-forgotten pleasure of riding in the back of my uncle Donald's truck as a child. Watching a young woman on a motorbike scoot down the hill with her hair streaming behind her, I felt a surge of envy and wondered if we have lost a little freedom in our quest for absolute safety.
On Thursday, we motored around to Kaminia, a gorgeous anchorage with room for only a handful of boats. We were fortunate that a charter boat was just lifting anchor when we arrived, so we were able to slide into its place. The warm , clear water made for great swimming and snorkelling, with visibility of about 20 meters and lots of colourful fish. It seemed like the perfect anchorage until the swell began to roll in at around 4 p.m. After a restless, sleep, we returned to Vathi in the morning and spent the day doing some cleaning tasks and preparing for our departure to Mesalonghi the next day. It's time for us to start gradually making our way toward the Aegean, but the Ionian will be tough to beat as a cruising ground!
Rick's notes for Cruisers:
Syvota on Lefkada is small and deep except near the town. It is well protected from all but the katabatic winds. We anchored in 25' and thick mud with good holding. I recommend you resist the urge to leave the boat in the late afternoon so you can "protect your swing room" . There are a couple of small groceries ashore and the harbour is a base for two charter fleets so there may be services to support those as well.
Vathi on Ithaca is also well protected except a sea can build up from the NE winds that arrive each evening. There is lots of room and we anchored in 17' with good holding in mud. Lots of small supermarkets and vegetable stands plus block ice is available from the butcher in the square. There is a fuel (1.13 euros/L) dock here that also sells water at .035/L.
Kamina is small and tight and it was difficult to get the anchor to bite although we were successful after a few tries. The water is deep. We anchored in 50'. There is a shallower spot further in but a sign written in paint on the rock said "Swimming Area, No Anchoring within 150m of shore, signed Port Police). The harbour is protected from all but the East. There were light winds from the NE when we were there and the swell managed to find its way around the point and was amplified by the narrowing harbour. A German boat took a line ashore in a small cove and med moored stern to the rock face.
|Greece Ionian & Gulf of Corinth||
08/17/2009, Vathi on the Island of Ithaca
My thoughts and observations on Greece, so far:
The women are drop-dead gorgeous and the men are too.
The hill sides are covered in maquis, evergreens and of course even more olive trees. Apparently you can't build a new home on a lot that has even one olive tree, because that is considered agricultural land..In the villages, the bright colours of flowers are everywhere.
There are lots of small vegetable gardens but the selection of veggies in the markets is slim. Fruit, on the other hand, is abundant in the markets with grapes, three or four different varieties of peaches, plums, apples, oranges, limes, bananas and a variety of other unnamed ones that I call surprise fruits.
There are very few seagulls or other sea birds (I've seen about 15 in two weeks) but there are lots of butterflies. Our first Grecian visitor prior to our arrival in Paxos was a beautiful largish yellow butterfly.
Some of the infrastructure in the country leaves us wondering at times. For example I had ordered a new set of brushes for our windlass motor and were told they would be here "tomorrow". There were about five "sorry, tomorrows" before they arrived. Tony, a friend of Horatio's, says that the Greek word for tomorrow, "avrio", really just means "not today". On day two, I asked Horatio if we could get a waybill number and put a trace on the shipment. Horatio got a bemused look on his face and said "It doesn't work like that here" in his Irish brogue. He said, it will come when it comes. When it does come, we have to jump quick because all the shipments are put on top of a pile of all the other shipments. If you do not get there right away there is a good chance you will never find it, even though you know (?) it is there somewhere. Eventually we did get our brushes and now our windlass is working like a charm again (knock on wood). Too bad the fridge stopped working yesterday. We had decided to live without it until we get to Athens, where there is a Grunert dealer, because we did not want to have to put up with any more "sorry tomorrows" for a while. But after realizing that ice doesn't last very long in this heat, I called Grunert in Florida and managed to put in a temporary fix. Bonnie is very happy.
There are lots of cruisers here, though many may be just taking their two or three weeks of holidays. At the moment, the Italian contingent even outnumbers the Greeks, followed by the Brits, French and Dutch. After that it's Swedes, Germans and Belgians and a light smattering of Norwegians, Swiss, Spanish, Canadians and Americans.Bonnie and I used to secretly cringe when we would hear one nationality putting down another, but I have learned that we probably all have our little idiosyncracies and some cultures are more vocal than others about them. We have noticed more than a few "International Incidents". I have also noticed that those Italians sure like to anchor up close and personal, and don't even get me started on the topic of scope.
After we finally left the dock in Vlicho we headed to the southern tip of Lefkada to a small town called Syvota. Syvota, I was told by an Icelandic girl who was working there, has a population of 17 in the winter but when we were there it was packed (maybe 5000) with holiday makers and two charter fleets med-moored to the wall around the harbour. I was a little apprehensive about this spot but we had been told by some other Canadians who live here that this is their favourite spot in the Ionian, so we had to go. My apprehension was based on the fact that the anchoring room was very limited because of the depths. About 500 feet from the end of the harbour the depths are about 200' and deeper. When we arrived there were three other boats at anchor and I saw there was room for one more, us. I thought probably another three or four could squeeze in if they were brave.... Well by sundown there were 34 boats at anchor and we were packed like sardines in a can that's too small. This is in an area that is like the west end of Rogues Roost at home. A classic example was an Italian 55' power boat that came in between two boats about 50 feet apart and dropped his anchor. There was lots of yelling in the morning, as collisions were taking place in the windless space, especially from the Greek whose boat was hit by the Italian power boat. The Italian gave as good as he got and he got a lot! None of them moved.
It's a treat to watch these big ferries (350' long) come into a small tight harbour and the Captains swing the boat around and then med moor stern-to without bow thrusters, like they do it every day, which I guess they do.. They use their anchors in ways I would not initially have thought of but that make perfect sense. The anchor is used as a brake, a pivot and to pull them out of a tight space. It is beautiful to watch.
How would I characterize Greece? It is a beautiful locale, with tall mountains on the many small islands sprinkled on the deep blue sea. The skies are almost always clear and in July and August the temps run in the 30's C. I think this is a place where life can be very simple and joyful. You can have a small house near the sea or way up on the mountain where you can see for miles, a little garden and a small boat for fishing. It is a sailor's paradise. You will probably live a long time eating their Mediterranean diet, as long as you do not smoke. Most of the locals do smoke. Though there are now laws about where you can smoke, no one follows them. Everyone is very friendly and polite. The streets ring in the morning with the sound of Kalimera (Good Morning) as you walk on by.
I like it here.
|Greece Ionian & Gulf of Corinth||