When you look at travel guides for Greece, many tell you that visiting during the fringe seasons, May/June and September/October, are best due to milder temperatures and fewer crowds.
We had already witnessed the peacefulness of the islands of Patmos and Mykonos, which were very pleasant experiences, but upon arriving in Ios, we were surprised that this, one of the busiest Clyclades islands, was not only quiet but also hardly even open.
Our cruising guide states that in addition to being the burial place of Homer, Ios is popular with young sun lovers and partiers, where signs state "Clothes are prohibited" and loud bars and discos pack the Chora and waterfront.
Websites dub Ios as "The Hedonistic Island." So being the nudists, wild partiers and literary buffs that we are, we went to Ios to see for ourselves.
But this decadent description was far from the Ios that we found in mid May. There were quiet towns, empty beaches, hotels and restaurants not yet even close to being ready for the masses of people that will visit this year.
There were some young people, but all were fully clothed. And the only loud music we heard were tunes from our very own stereo on Berkeley East.
The word "Splendidoing" is a term coined after some cruisers we know who, when crossing oceans refuse to allow any other boat to get ahead of them, but while island hopping tend to move very slowly, lingering on one dock, or in one anchorage, for weeks at a time. It is a wonderful way to immerse oneself in the local environment, and while we envy the "Splendidoing" style, we have never been able to sit still for long.
But as we raised the anchor in Elia Beach, Mykonos after four days (already more than our typical rest time), we had two possible plans, go south or west, when suddenly another idea emerged; just stay in Mykonos! So we moved Berkeley East an hour around the island to a protected anchorage near town and began "Splendidoing" for what ended up being another week.
We had been to Mykonos twice before, so this visit was much more relaxed with no pressure to tour the island. We took the dinghy to Mykonos Town and wandered among fewer people than we had ever seen there before.
We lingered over lunch at our favorite waterfront restaurant, and discovered more local dining options in the back streets.
We enjoyed an afternoon of sushi at the beach club.
We visited with friends, Vanessa and Neal, our self-proclaimed stalkers on Berkeley East's younger but much larger sister ship, Amante. And flew the drone, capturing the Hylas Yachts 2016 Mediterranean Rendezvous.
We took long hikes, finding new vantage points of the town.
We shopped a little, read a little, napped a lot. We even bought some basil plants, something we have never done in our nine years on Berkeley East (pets and plants have always been banned from BE, as we have enough trouble taking care of ourselves).
We marveled at the quiet anchorage and wondered if the weather forecast had been wrong, or if the cove was just well protected. As we pulled the anchor up at the end of the week, we noticed an enormous truck tire just inches from where we were dug into the seabed. Had we dropped a little bit to the left, BE would have been stuck and we would have had to remain in Mykonos; which would not have been a terrible thing.
We have a running joke that one of us spends the winter making a plan for the cruising season, and then, once we are back on Berkeley East in the spring, the other one changes the plan. It is not completely untrue, as one of us doesn't really think about cruising while on land, except for gathering all the sandals and sunscreen one might need for the summer. But there are also other things that can change the plan, like boat repairs, weather, and the need to go to Mykonos for sushi. Cruising plans are always etched in sand.
We typically begin the season in April, with two weeks of boat work and an intended marina departure of the first of May. But every year that we've been in the Mediterranean, the weather has been a bit nippy until June, and we tell ourselves that we should not leave so early. So last year, we scheduled our return to Turkey for late May, with a June 1st marina escape. But one cold winter afternoon in North Carolina, we forgot about the cool May temperatures in the Med and decided that we would go back to Berkeley East in April again, instead. Change of plan #1 caused by fair-weather memories.
Then, one evening in Turkey (after stowing all the new shoes and hand waxing BE's 54-foot hull) we were discussing the season's cruising plan to move quickly from Turkey to Italy, when one of us came up with a brilliant idea! Why not go south instead, to visit some Greek islands that we missed and take Berkeley East to Santorini, one of our most favorite destinations in Greece. Santorini is a difficult place to take a boat like BE, as it is surrounded by a caldera so it is too deep to anchor, and the only marina is too shallow for BE to enter. There are, however, some very big moorings where one might be able to tie up a boat like ours. So we called someone on the island about the moorings and added Santorini to our course. Change of plan #2 brilliantly suggested by the Admiral.
The new plan was to sail from Turkey to Greece, check in as crew at Patmos in order to extend our time in the European Union, go on to Mykonos for some leisurely chill time on the beach, and eventually head south with the north wind to Santorini. Sounded great.
We left our winter marina in Didim Turkey fairly close our May 1st goal, in light winds and small seas for the short passage to Patmos to check in as crew. This is a process by which seamen, who are moving a vessel, are checked in without stamps in their passports and they are essentially considered still in the country in which the ship is flagged. We have done this before in Greece because Americans are only allowed to stay in the entire European Union for three of any six months. Since our cruising season is typically at least six months, and just about every country in the Med is a member of the EU, this can be problematic. So we contacted an agent (for Greek language skills) to help us check into Greece, in Patmos, as crew. Ah, but as we discovered, once again, every Greek official has a different rule and this year we were told it was impossible to check in as crew in Patmos. So we had to check in with stamps in our passports instead, which means we now only have three months in the EU. No problem, we would just adjust the cruising plan and spend some time in Croatia, which is currently not part of the three-month Schengen regulation zone. Change of plan #3 caused by fluctuating Greek regulations.
One of the best parts about cruising early in the season is that there are so few boats out. While many things are still closed, the air is frigid and jumping in the clear water can take your breath away, we have beautiful coves to ourselves. So while we are sitting at anchor in peaceful surrounding enjoying a colorful sunset, we are thrilled with our decision to begin the cruising season in May. Upon trying to beach the dingy in windy conditions when we have to wade knee-deep into freezing water, we tend to question the logic.
After a few days, we had a craving for sushi, sun and sand so we continued on to Mykonos, with thoughts of hanging in the south-facing beaches for several days.
We chose an anchorage off our favorite beach there, Elia, which we discovered a few years back when we went on a land search for the best beaches in Mykonos ("Life's a Beach" blog 7/27/2013). We spent a couple of peaceful nights anchored off Elia, resting, reading, eating at the great restaurant, and contemplating which villa on the hillside we would like to live in.
On day three, the weather report gave us bad news, south winds coming, big south winds. We were in a south-facing anchorage and our plan was to go south. The Cyclades have always presented difficult sailing challenges for us and we were beginning to wonder what we were doing here again. During our first year in this island chain, our plan was to go north and the winds were almost always from the north ("Just a little north" blog 8/9/2013).
So now we had to change plans yet again. This time, run south before the winds come up and find a place to hunker down. Or head west, reverting to our original cruising plan of moving to Italy quickly. Both options are good ones, we hope. The most difficult part is deciding. Change of plan #4, or change or plan #5, motivated by wherever the wind will take us.