12 August 2009
Belinda and Kit
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19th July - Kea: With only very light easterly winds Kit hoisted the MPG - multipurpose Genoa - a light, brightly coloured headsail, and we enjoyed a leisurely downwind sail to the island of Kea, 12 miles to the east. Anchoring in Ormos Vourkari in 12m - relatively deep water for an anchorage - Kit had to let out almost all of the anchor chain. This was to be our home for a week as next day the Meltemi finally started to blow - and how!! It blew relentlessly night and day, F6-7 from the north, stretching the anchor chain out and twisting the boat this way and that with strong gusts off the hills, despite the fact that we had good shelter in the bay. We held firm, thank goodness, and soon got used to the motion - in fact the wind brought relief from the soaring temperatures and we were much more comfortable in 25-26C. Kea is an attractive island close enough to the mainland and Athens to attract the rich and famous - prices in the seafront tavernas certainly reflected this clientele!!! One or two 'superyachts' were anchored in the bay complete with crew and servants - we watched amazed as a panel opened up on the back of one of them and a set of 'toys' emerged (jet- ski, windsurfer, canoe etc.) - an incredible display of wealth!!
A Welsh yacht - 'Dawn Chaser' came in shortly after us and anchored nearby. As we passed in the dinghy one afternoon they invited us over for a 'cuppa', and we shared sailing tips and tales. Norman and Gill have been cruising for several years in the Eastern Med and are now slowly heading westward on the return journey to the UK. They kindly offered to keep an eye on Quilcene one day whilst we caught a bus up to the Chora - a picturesque whitewashed hilltop village - where we wandered through the narrow streets, out past the graveyard and up a steep hillside to see the famous Kea Lion. The Lion, with its enigmatic smile, dates back to the 6th Century BC and is chiselled out of the slate rock. It looks incongruous reclining regally halfway up a steep slope on the open hillside, and is a bit of a mystery as there is little explanation to be found of its origins.
We managed to get the bus time wrong for our return trip to Vourkari so decided to have lunch, a lovely Greek salad, and a wander around the interesting little museum in the Chora whilst we waited - still no more information about the lion tho'!
On the bus as we rounded the corner overlooking the anchorage we both heaved a sigh of relief to see Quilcene exactly where we had left her - we are always anxious when out of sight of our floating home, especially in such strong winds! We thanked Norman and Gill later over 'sundowners', and again on Friday night when we shared one of Kit's yummy curries with them!
25th July - Syros: The forecast showed a two day slot when the Meltemi would drop to manageable strength so we upped anchor early and set off to the island of Siros, 35m miles to the east. Siros is only 20 miles from Mikonos where we shall meet Marcus and Clara in a few days. After a week of strong winds the crossing was a bit lumpy but now more moderate winds gave us a sail most of the way. It was deliciously cool out at sea but approaching the island, a blast of hot wind off the land reminded us just how hot the afternoon sun has become!! We entered the Bay of Finikas, dropped anchor off the beach in crystal clear water and dived straight in to cool off. It is a delightful spot with a small beach and whitewashed houses - a perfect place for our visitors to come to. We didn't even try to get to Mikonos as it has a reputation for industrial noise levels, raucous behaviour and nudity - some combination!!
The anchorage on Syros is safe even in the Meltemi, which blew up again as predicted, but after a few days we moored bows-to on the quay where we could safely leave the boat and go to the main port of Ermoupolis to meet the ferry from Mikonos. In the evening a charter yacht arrived and pushed his way into a small space beside us. He only had a few tiny fenders - not much use really - so we had to run around the decks re-arranging ours to avoid damage. Kit had a few strong words about safety with the German skipper, who claimed to have lost fenders overboard. We then noticed that his Genoa was shredded and realised that he'd had a bad time contending with the Meltemi! Next day skipper Manfred apologised, Kit capitulated and good international relations were restored!!
We spent the rest of the week in Finikas on the outside of the quay where we could still swim off the boat and had a nice view of the bay whilst we enjoyed our 'sundowners'. Marcus and Clara arrived and we spent a few days relaxing, snorkelling, swimming and sampling the local fare.
1st August - Paros: We decided to take advantage of another lull in the Meltemi and sail to Paros, 27 miles southeast. With the hatches firmly battened down we set off with a reefed in mainsail hoping that the sea state wouldn't be too bad. A pleasant sail took us down the west coast of Syros but we emerged from the lee shelter of the island into rough seas and gusty 25-30 knot winds! It was all going in the right direction so we carried on and had an exciting sail down to Ormos Naousis, a large sheltered bay on the NE corner of Paros. We tucked in behind the headland and dropped anchor. An idyllic spot with clear turquoise water, sandy beach, a small white chapel perched on a rock and in the distance, a taverna and a small boatyard with brightly coloured caiques hauled out on the shore. A few moments later Gerard from 'Mermaid' appeared rowing a dinghy - how lovely! They were anchored not far away and he had come over to say Hi! The last time our paths had crossed was on Ithaca in the Ionian; they had chosen to sail around the Peloponnese instead of through the Corinth Canal. Small world!
Next morning Marcus and Clara set off, with a few Euros and some sun cream in a plastic tube, to snorkel over to the beach and walk around the bay to the taverna. Later Kit and I launched the dinghy and met up with them for lunch; the Taverna sits behind a small beach where a local tripper boat operates a service from the main town of Naoussa. It is all very 'low key' and peaceful and we enjoyed a very relaxed lunch under a shady parasol.
3rd August - Naxos: Sadly, Marcus and Clara's holiday was coming to an end, so we set off for the nearby island of Naxos where they could catch a ferry back to Mikonos and the airport. The sea was still a bit lumpy and confused as we left the bay but soon calmed down as we rounded the NE headland and made our way down to the busy ferry Port of Naxos, where we anchored inside the breakwater. Naxos is picturesque with its whitewashed buildings spread prettily over low hills behind the harbour and the white marble archway of an unfinished Temple to Apollo standing on Nisis Apollonas, a small islet joined by a causeway to the town. But what a busy contrast to our previous anchorages! Huge ferries constantly coming and going disgorging passengers, motorbikes, cars and lorries. The bustling seafront is lined with tavernas, including many seafood ones with octopus and fish hanging on lines outside! We picked out a nice looking one for our last dinner together later that evening. The Kastro, or old walled hilltop town is one of the few remaining that is still residential and relatively unspoilt. It was lovely to explore the warren of alleys, archways and tunnels set around a Venetian castle on the summit.
4th August - Dhenoussa: It would have been great to linger for a few days on Naxos, as the interior is reputedly beautiful, but the Meltemi was forecast to return in 3 days time. There is no knowing how long it may blow and we needed to get somewhere near the island of Kos from where we fly back to the UK on 21st. So after we said our goodbyes to Marcus and Clara and dropped them off by the ferry we prepared the boat and pulled up the anchor. We were heading for Dhenoussa, a small high island 9 miles off the eastern coast of Naxos; it has only 110 inhabitants and is well off the tourist track. In the lee of Naxos we had to motor up the west coast but once clear managed a leisurely sail across and anchored for the night in the small cove of Ormos Dendro, the next bay to the small village of Stavros. What a fabulous place! The cliffs rose steeply from the water and were covered with a surprising amount of vegetation. Snorkelling showed that underwater was brilliant too - probably the most colourful and full of life we've seen for a while. There were brightly coloured starfish, anemones, sea squirts and millions of small fish darting about. We didn't go ashore but the only building was a wooden shack - probably a beach tavern, and there people camping in small 'bubble' tents on the beach.
5th August - Levitha: Again it would have been great to linger for a few days but we pushed on to Levitha, another small island and the most easterly of the Cyclades. The sea was flat and without even a tiny breeze we motored the 33miles to a deep inlet on the south of Levitha. The population of the island consists of a few fishermen, a lighthouse keeper and a farming family! - well off the beaten track with not even a ferry or a phone mast to connect it to the world!! The enterprising farmer has laid a few moorings so we picked one up and dived in to cool off. Not so much underwater life here but Kit pointed out the largest gastropod shell (snail-like mollusc) I have ever seen and I thought I'd get it for our collection. I dived down and picked it up before I realised that it was still alive, with a large rippling white and black spotted foot!! Naturally I replaced it - the only live animals we would take are fish for dinner - if we could catch any!!! There were also quite a lot of brightly coloured polycheate worms, which I've not seen before, swimming over the bottom - I made a mental note to buy a Mediterranean species guide!
Later the farmer and his young son came rowing around the moored yachts to ask if we wanted dinner in their farmhouse Taverna. It sounded too good to miss so we rowed ashore armed with torches to find our way back. The farm is about 15 minutes walk away across dusty stony fields and consists of a little cluster of whitewashed buildings between which a rush roof covers a few tables and chairs - really rustic and charming! The farmer and son were spruced up and acted as waiters whilst Mum cooked. With just local fish or meat (goat) on the menu we chose fish, with Greek salad to start. The feta was also made on the island with milk from the herd of goats that we'd passed en route to the farm. The whole evening was enchanting, I wish we could take all of our friends there to share the experience!!! Finding our way back to the boat wasn't so easy tho'; the night was very dark and the moon didn't show until very late. We managed to lose the path and strayed to another small inlet! All part of the fun!
6th August - Kalimnos: Although sad to be leaving Levitha this was the final leg which would take us further east to the island of Kalymnos in the Dodecanese, where we hoped to find a safe place to leave the boat whilst we return to the UK. It was a perfect day with light winds, blue seas and the islands of the Dodecanese on the horizon - the sort of day when we are reminded how lucky we are to be here exploring these beautiful islands. Kit was literally brought down to earth with a bump when he banged his head on the boom; luckily not a bad injury although it certainly bled a lot and he felt a bit sorry for himself with a large dressing on his forehead!! With the wind in the east we made a long tack southeast, then one northeast and motored in on the final approaches to the island.
Kalymnos is the home of sponge diving; originally the divers fished in shallow water, jumping overboard from the traditional 'trehandiri' boats with a heavy stone to weigh them down and scooping sponges off the bottom. Today, many still 'free dive' but some also dive using compressed air and collect from deeper waters off Cyprus and Africa. All species, shapes and size of sponges are displayed for sale everywhere!
We found a spot on the town quay in the main town of Pothia and moored bows-to with stern anchor and a tailed mooring. Later a huge 65-70ft 'gin palace' decided to moor next to us - as it reversed in towering over Quilcene, its prop caught our mooring line and pulled us roughly into its side! Whilst Kit and I did what we could to fend off and avoid damage, the Greek skipper announced that we were to blame as we were too close! Even when it was clear that they had pulled Quilcene into them he did not concede and continued to be offensive, telling us (in perfect English) that he didn't understand English, and swearing in Greek (we recognised one word!). Eventually Kit cut the rope and we were free with no damage (hurrah!) but the 'gin palace' needed divers to cut the end from around his prop! I must say we felt no pity and may even have gloated a bit!!! This is the first time we have encountered unpleasantness from a Greek person - everyone else has been very friendly and welcoming.
Fellow yachties beware this motor boat - it is called 'Notus' (should we have noticed the subtle reference to shunning responsibility? !!)
Pothia is a lively place with ferries coming and going to Kos regularly. As our water tanks were a little low we filled up from the quays' water supply. It wasn't until we made a cup of tea that we realised the water is a little 'brackish' and not for drinking - yeuk!! By that time we had three full tanks! Never mind, it is OK for washing and pasta etc.! ....just not for drinking and certainly not for tea!! We soon replenished our stocks of bottled water for that.
Next day we arranged to moor the boat in a safe spot whilst we are away. Until then the plan is to sail around the SE corner of the island and explore anchorages up the east coast and possibly on the nearby islet of Pserimos. First tho' we have to wait out the next blast from the Meltemi!!