July 3, 2011
Seven hours of mostly motoring brought us to the village of Vathi on the island of Ithaca. We anchored among the other yachts in a quiet corner of the bay. This big safe harbor attracts a lot of charter (you drive) boats. Chartering is a great way to spend a week or two in many of the most attractive cruising areas of the world. You just rent the boat, play, return it, and let somebody else take care of all the dirty work. These days, it sounds pretty appealing. Most charter-ers are reasonably knowledgeable in the ways of the sea. There are always exceptions. These exceptions make crowded anchorages ....interesting... Around about 2PM every afternoon they start arriving. This causes some stress among the crew of Freebird. You just never know what's going to happen. We have been ~ banged, slammed, smashed, drug down on, anchor ripped, etc. our share of times, usually with minor or no damage. So when charter boats start dropping anchor all around us, our antenna go up. It goes like this: Judy: "there's a loose one coming our way".... Dave: Keep an eye on em"... Judy: "They look pretty close"... Dave: "Naw, they're okay"... Judy: "you better look again"... Dave: #$#@%$#.! Then we go out on the bow and try and convince the offender that they are too close. This is done either by submissive begging, glaring at them with stern faces (stink eye) and selected hand signals, or a polite "Get the fuck off our anchor!" No approach is 100% effective. This is the biggest challenge we have found in the Mediterranean Sea. It's crowded. Close anchoring is the norm and we have had to adjust our tolerances. In the Pacific we used to spend our afternoons diving, kiting, or hiking etc. Here we are entertained with anchoring duels. All that said, we have met some expert sailors and lovely people in this neck of the woods. It's all part of the experience.
Ashore in Vathi we found tasty little restaurants, cafés, good bakeries, wine shops, and a small market, all the necessities. The town suffered severe damage in the 1953 earthquake. Most of the town has been since rebuilt and it's still an attractive place. We rented a car for a day and toured around the island. The views were spectacular. We had an exceptional lunch in a small fishing village. On the Fourth of July, we were the only American boat so our Independence Day celebration was pretty pathetic. (non -existent).
July 6, 2011
Meganisi, Levkas, Paxoi
We spent the next 10 days island hopping toward Corfu. Our days were spent swimming, reading, walking, finishing up small boat projects, and anchor dueling. We would occasionally head out for dinner at a local fish taverna. Sarah brought season 2 Glee with her so we got to catch up on that! Hurray! Or, we would just sit out under the stars and inhale that warm night air. We rented a car on two of the islands for sightseeing and coffee stops. Freebird got to sail a little between islands.
July 15, 2011
Corfu was the last and one of our most enchanting destinations in Greece. We spent over two weeks here anchored at the foot of the old Venetian fort on the bluff. It felt mystical to drop the hook where other craft have anchored for thousands of years. You could feel the history oozing out of the place. We took our dinghy up the narrow mote that surrounded the castle and tied up with the fishing boats. A stairway took us to the old town above, a town full of ancient stories. We walked the narrow alleyways on cobblestones that were polished smooth from centuries of countless footfalls. The coffee was good too.
Judy decided that this place warranted yet another trip to the dentist. The same tooth that we just got fixed in Athens just cracked off. The tooth saga continues....... One tooth, eight dentists, two countries.....so far. What fun!
We said a sad good by to Sarah. She caught a flight back to Seattle. Luck would have it that the day she left there was yet another taxi strike. Fortunately the airport was easy walking distance. We fell back into the rhythm of living on Freebird all alone.
To cheer us up we rented motor scooter and "rode like the wind." Breezing into the countryside and along shorelines with azul crystal clear waters, we arrived at the Achillon Palace. This was the summer residence of the Empress of Austria built in the 1800s. Later it became Kaiser Willhem's residence. It's full of beautiful artwork, painted ceilings, murals, sweet smelling wisteria covered walkways, gardens with impressive fountains and sculpture. It all stands high above the sparkling Ionian Sea below. Quite impressive!
Our expedition continued around the island where we found a seaside café for lunch just inches from the beach.
We returned via center of the island through ancient olive groves, the grand old trees shading our path. Around every corner was a picture perfect view of the countryside with the sea sparkling far below.
An exceptional day!
So ends our Greek adventure. Next up.... Italy!
06/15/2011, Gulf of Corinth
We're headed West through the Gulf of Corinth. The following is a summery of the stops along the way to reach the Ionian Sea
We spent the next 6 days in this bay with the small village of Epidhavros ashore. We have shifted gears and are in neutral. Our time was spent reading, swimming, and eating ashore with friends from other boats. Many evenings started with sundowners on various boats around the bay. We enjoyed walks around the area, especially up to the Greek theater. The source of our only excitement was a large power boat that kept insisting on anchoring on top of our anchor. We tried without success to explain that this won't work. He finally tied his stern to the shore in such a way that when the wind shifted we swung very close to him. For those non sailor readers it's important to understand that there are rules to the anchoring game. Number one rule: When arriving in an anchorage you must anchor in such a way that you stay clear of all boats currently anchored. This guy didn't read the rule book. Or most likely he felt that he was far above and beyond the rules. We were unable to convince him to follow the rules so we upped anchor and moved to an area that was already quite congested. As soon as we moved he pulled up his anchor and re-anchored exactly where we were... anchored....Hmm. I guess that was HIS spot.... He left the next morning, so we returned to "our" spot.... Then in the afternoon, he returned to start the dance all over again. So we played anchor tag with this bozo for about 5 days Hey! What else would we do for entertainment? We are rendezvousing with Judy's granddaughter, Sarah in Itea in a week or so and so, we should move on.
After an uneventful overnight stop in Korfos we got underway early for the Corinth Canal. This canal is the most expensive per mile to transit in the world. Lucky for us, it's only 3.2 miles long. Still it cost us almost $300 US for the 30 minute transit. The canal cuts through Greece saving a lot of sailing miles. After hundreds of years of attempts it was finally completed in 1893 after being started by the French finished by the Greeks. In the very early days the Greeks and Romans drug there ships across the Isthmus. Today you just hand them your credit card. The feeling is like sailing through a tunnel with the top removed. The walls are 250 feet above and the channel is only 75 feet wide. The walls are vertical.
Gratefully, we emerged through the canal to find nice sailing conditions, not a gale on the nose! We laid a course for Andikiron 25 miles away. As we approached the wind began to scream right on our nose (OH, here it is). We poked into the little harbor to find it full and dangerous to approach in these high winds. A quick look at the chart showed a promising anchorage around the corner. Thirty minutes later we were anchored in calm tranquil waters in our own private cove. We spent 2 days here doing the usual walking, eating, and swimming
Itea is mostly an agricultural town but it has a surprisingly nice city marina. We tied to the quay in the well protected harbor. After we put our bikes together off we went on a reconnaissance. It just so happened that there was an International Optimist Dinghy Regatta happening. When we returned to Freebird over 500 dinghies with kids at the helm were sailing out to the race course. Some of the kids looked like tiny tots, just one per boat. Amazing. On the horizon they looked like tiny butterflies. Fun to see!
One of the key attractions of Itea is it's proximity to the ancient ruins of the fifth century BC city of Delphi. We became acquainted with Grant and Lorraine on the catamaran Matariki moored on the quay with us. They invited us to join them in their rental car for a visit to Delphi. We spent an memorable day with them roving through the ancient metropolis. This is truly a place to see, perched on a precipice overlooking the basin below.
Finally it is time for Sarah to arrive from Seattle. She's been touring the Greek Islands with her cousin and is scheduled to arrive back in Athens. We are a little worried because all transportation has been shut down by a nationwide strike. There are massive demonstrations in the streets. She has been stuck on the island of Ita waiting for a ferry for a few days. With help from their guide they managed to snag a ferry back to a different port Athens. We decide to rent a car and organize a rescue mission. We charged up our trusty GPS navigator and plugged in her hotel. Two hours later we snatched her from the clutches of the chaos. Okay, I might be over dramatizing a little. It turned into a piece of cake and there wasn't a demonstrator in sight...Happy Reunion! We stopped at McDonalds on the way back for a little comfort food.
Poor Sarah, she had a nasty head cold after partying for the last 10 days. We hung around the marina for a few more days while she recuperated. Not a problem, we're used to being in neutral.
No wind, motoring as usual, we continue on our way West. Our route takes us across the West end of the Gulf of Corinth and under the Rhion Andirrion suspension bridge. This bridge is an impressive site. It's the longest cable stayed bridge in the world. At 2,252 Meters long, it's a true architectural wonderment to behold.
Delightfully, the anchor goes down and the monotonous drone of the engines are silenced. We're anchored in the pleasant little harbor of Missalonghi. Our friends, Tim and Rose arrived the day before and have hauled Rendezvous Cay out of the water for some minor repairs. We head straight for the marina bar for a cool refreshment with some new and old friends. We're then whisked away by car to the village by the entrepreneurial restaurant owner for a delicious dinner in his "other" quaint uptown restaurant. The intense conversation around the table went something like this: "blah blah blah.... heads'.........blah blah blah. ... bilges...into the night......poor Sarah......
At 0600 AM the next day we're off to the Ionian Sea
June 5, 2011
We caught the early morning hydrofoil for the one hour "flight" to the city of Athens. Covering the same distance would take Freebird seven hours. Cheating! Yep, and we're proud of it. Let somebody else do the driving.
After some confusion we found the train to the city center. Twenty minutes later we emerged into the sunlit Monastraki Square. Towering above us looms the Parthenon. At our feet are time worn cobblestones leading in every direction to a menagerie of narrow alleyways. You think we might be hopelessly lost....Well, we are. Our hotel is somewhere out there. Not to worry, we have our trusty gps navigator. Oops....Battery dead... hmm, TAXI! After about a half hour our taxi drops us a block away from the hotel and about a block away from where he picked us up. There are lots of one way streets and it can take a long time to go one block. It's costly when you have "Dumb Tourist" written on your forehead.
Our hotel is one of many three star "boutique" hotels in the "Plaka" (heart of the old city). There is a little ledge that they call a balcony. If you stand there and stretch far out over the alley below you can see the Parthenon... It's a "view" room. Only the finest for the Birdies.
We hit the streets to explore our new surroundings. Most of the Plaka is pedestrian friendly. It's a hot 90 degrees F. So we are trudging along in search of various ancient wonderments. Yep, there they are in real life... just like in the National Geographic. Finally, we plop down for a cold ice coffee and orange juice. Lunch is a donar wrap. This has become our mainstay for food when we are on the "run" (trudge) Pork or chicken is rotating on a vertical spit. The cook then slices crispy, tasty chunks off and wraps them in a flat (tortilla) bread with onion, tomato, and tzatziki sauce. Fast, easy, inexpensive and real. Our kind of food.... Okay, Dave's favorite. Judy comes along cheerfully. She's such a good sport. Oh yeh, a cold beer is required to wash it down.... for Dave.
By late afternoon we are out of gas so we return to our luxury suit for a little nap. Judy wants to take Dave out for his birthday and has made a reservation at a fancy restaurant. We are again on the streets in the early evening. We find a Taxi and say "take us to this restaurant". He warns us: "The streets are full of protesters demonstrating, It's dangerous to go there. maybe impossible!" "Wow!" we say. "Sure glad you're here to guide and protect us, What do you recommend?".....Twenty euro later we arrive at his cousin's fish restaurant. Wow! How lucky! We have one of the most expensive shitty meals we have ever had. "Louie" calls his cousin to come and return us to our hotel for 20 more euros. As we are walking back to our hotel I glance at my reflection in a storefront window... Yep, there it is, flashing neon red, "DUMB TOURIST" right on my forehead.....hmm. Happy Birthday!
Judy wouldn't consider a visit to a city complete without a trip to the dentist. Athens is such a special place.....Why not a root canal? She has been struggling with this molar now since Turkey. I can't tell you how many dentists we have seen in an effort to fix this aching tooth. So, the tooth saga continues. Off we go to Dr. Feelgood for another try. This guy is supposed to be a top gun. He roots out that bad tooth and we're done once and for all. Right? Wrong! He only does the rooting thing he doesn't do any crowns or fillings etc. Judy will have to see yet another dentist or six to complete the project. To be continued.....
I won't bore you with all the sight seeing stuff. I'll just say that it is quite impressive. The Greeks have done a great job making everything accessible. The photos will do the talking.
On our last night we meandered out for the evening and found ourselves at a very romantic outdoor restaurant at the base of the Parthanon. We ordered some delicious food and wine. The full moon was rising over the ancient ruins towering above. Magical......
05/28/2011, Poros Greece
We haven't had strong enough internet to post our blogs so..... here is our condensed story. We left our little hideaway in Symi and sailed to the island of Niseros. As the island appeared on the horizon we noticed many sails in the vicinity. Yep, it's a yacht race. People charter boats and join in regattas around the islands. As we are approaching the harbor we watch as the fleet headed in before us to completely fill the little harbor, they are rafted on each other, 32 of them... We decide that we aren't up for the crowds, noise and head around the corner where we find anchorage in an open bay. Soon our friends Catherine and Peter from the Southern Cross arrive and we anchor in company. It's a little rolly but we are all alone, just the two boats. We enjoy the solitude. ..... for about an hour. A big charter cat arrives... He tries to anchor directly on our anchor... We dance around and scream to show our disapproval and he moves off. As the evening progresses more and more boats arrive in our little corner. All are charter boats. Our quiet evening is gone but we are entertained as we watch "anchor dancing" by now, it's almost dark. The big charter cat has drug his anchor through the anchorage three times keeping everybody on their toes. We hit the hay hoping that nobody drags down on us or pulls up our anchor.
The next morning we reluctantly decide to move on to another less stressful island. After 7 hours of alternating motoring and sailing we arrive at the island of Astypalea. Not one other yacht in sight. A few fishing boats ...peaceful. We are offered a mooring buoy for 5 Euro/night. We gladly accept after trying to set our anchor 3 times. The Southern Cross arrives about an hour later. They hop on the remaining buoy. Nice quiet place. We woke up the next morning and headed into the small village. Really, there is nothing here, not even a restaurant so we start walking toward the big town on the hill across the bay. It's a beautiful day and it feels good to get some exercise. After an hour or so we are picked up by a ....taxi on the way back after delivering their fare to our bay. It was the ONLY car to pass us. We are dropped in the center of the hilltop village of Hora in the port of Skala. Judy finds the post office and we pick up a few bakery goods. The Venetian Kastro (walled in castle/fort) looming on the hill above us is calling but first we must have lunch. A sidewalk café does the trick. We are really enjoying the food here in Greece, especially the Greek salads and Souvaliki...We sometimes order a half carafe of local wine with our meal and sit and watch the action around us. Fun.
Up the windy cobble alley ways to the top we find the entrance to the castle. The views over the town below are stunning. We peek out of the small openings in the walls where archers could defend the fortress from attackers. Our imaginations run wild. What a great place for a game of hide and seek... Hmm....
We are under sail to the famous Greek island of Santorini. This island probably is what most people think of when they think of the Greek islands. We arrive at the fishing harbor looking for a place to tie up. The water is too deep to anchor around the island so there is no choice but to seek refuge in the crowded little fishing harbor. We are told to come along side the outer quay until a space becomes available .... "An hour" he says. Four hours later the wind has come up and we are being pounded on the rough concrete quay. The swell is high and is surging us up and down onto the solid dock like a rag doll. Freebird is taking a beating. Sand on the quay is blowing and getting between the fenders and the new topside paint. We are pinned by the wind on the dock..... Finally a fisherman loans us a large round fender (ball) and we just barely manage to power away from the mayhem. Once into the inner harbor we raft up on a large catamaran. They are Russians from a yacht rally and speak very little English. But we get their message..... come aboard for a drink! We do. Peter and Catherine from the Southern Cross join in and the party is in full swing. The owner/skipper is a giant of a man and gives Dave a bear hug that he is still recovering from...Pretty special....
The next morning we are ready to enjoy the island. Wrong!... The Russian catamaran is pulling out mid day and we must be around to relocate Freebird. Well, mid day becomes late afternoon and by the time we are settled in, evening has fallen, another Santorini day lost. The town is a 30 minute car ride away so we have to rent a car. Tomorrow then..... Wrong again! A fishing boat is coming in and we are in their spot. The manager assures us he will find a place for us..... We wait...and wait... finally a slip opens up and we move. The wind is screaming but we manage to squeeze in. The dust is blowing. As the sun sets we find our decks covered with sand drifts. It blows all night. In the morning the drifts have turned into dunes. Freebird is left to fend for herself while we rent a car with our friends and take off on a tour of the island...We're on our third day and we have only seen the teeny fishing harbor.
Our island tour starts at the marine supply store to buy some really big fenders. We returned to deploy them between the dock and Freebird's topsides. Then we were off to the big city. We wandered the streets and alleyways of the two main towns . Truly we can see why people flock here. The views are stunning, the alleyways are quaint, and the food is tasty. If only we had just come here on a cruise ship like everybody else. We could have saved thousands of dollars in damage and days of stress...I'll let the pictures tell the story...
With our tail between our legs we sail our sand bucket North toward Mykonos island. We anchor overnight on Ios island and with a light wind forecasted continue toward our destination. The "light" winds turned into 30 knots ~ on the nose. As we approached the harbor it was still blowing 30 knots. We poked our bow in to see if we should try for a slip.... Nope! We saw sheer terror in the eyes of the crews of the docked boats as we approached. A quick 180 and back to the open water... The next island over provided us with a peaceful isolated protected bay for the night. We don't like to go back so.... Forget Mykonos!
We sail on toward Naxos. It's still blowing hard but we find refuge in the protected harbor of the Hora. The Gates of Apollo are towering over us and only one other anchored boat. We do the usual post office, restaurant, walking tour over the next few days. The third day we rented a car for a little island tour. We spent the day winding through little vineyards, olive oil groves and small villages. The day was a respite after all of our anchoring, windy, sanding, pounding, scary days . Again, I'll let the pics tell the story...
Finally, the wind came around to the South and lightened and we were off to Peros island. We headed into the easy little village marina. The manager was waiting to take our lines in totally calm conditions. What a relief. We enjoyed riding our bikes around the town and one day rented a motor scooter for an island tour.
After a few days of civilization we decided it was time to head out to the anchorage. The bay was perfectly protected. On shore was a state park with trails to a lighthouse. We spent about a week here enjoying the peaceful tranquility.
Next stop, Syros island. We arrived at Finikas marina early in the morning to get a spot on the dock. We backed down to the quay just like we knew what we were doing. After we were all settled in and got the bikes up and running we went looking for lunch. A friendly little place and the free moorage was not too bad. Then the dock manager proceeded down the dock and announced that water and electricity were free until June 5th. We got out the shore power cable and tapped in. Full batteries, hot water, wifi..... life is good. We puttered around the boat for a few days, took a few walks and a bike ride or two. A highlight was catching the bus into the big city of Ermoupolis. This is the capital of the Cyclades island group and a cultural hub. The marble paved alley ways are lined with art galleries, cafes, and antique shops. Towering over the city is the large Greek Orthodox church on one hill and on the other was the very old medieval settlement of Ano Syros. It is topped off by Agios Georgios, the 13th century Catholic cathedral. This was a thriving community in the 17th and 18th centuries. We enjoyed lunch in a little local café and caught the last bus back to the marina. We liked it so much that we rented a car a few days later for some more exploration.
Onward to Kithnos for an overnight stop in a nice little bay. As we headed in, we noticed boats coming from all directions headed into this tranquil little bay too. By the time night fell we had 9 boats keeping us company. We played a little bocci ball on the beach at sunset, enjoying the warming weather.
After seven hours of mostly motoring and we arrived at the island of Poros. This is one of the most picturesque places we have sailed into. All the stacked little house boxes with red tile roofs climb the hill where the clock tower ....towers. This was one of our favorite stops. We spent a night on the dock then found that they wanted 40 euro a night PLUS $$ for electricity and water. Dave kept his eyes peeled the next morning watching the anchorage for the perfect spot next to the White Cat Restaurant/Taverna. We spent 12 days enjoying the views of the city and the food at the White Cat. A day was spent on a four wheeler zipping around the island. Dave even spent a day on a bicycle and slugged his way around the same route. Since this proved to be such a secure anchorage we decided to board the hydrofoil for Athens for 3 days (more to come on this brave move).
We rented a car for a day tour of the Peloponnese Peninsula. We saw the massive Venetian Palamidi Fortress in the ancient capitol of Nafplio, the fabulous 4th century Epidaurus theater that is still in use today. Nice warm weather, fellow cruisers, clean air, sunsets, and yummy food.... Hmm we had to pry
04/25/2011, Symi Island
We sailed out of Marmaris Bay for the last time. The day was perfect....10 to 15 knots ... a beat in smooth water. Freebird found her wings and we sailed most of the day. We arrived at a small bay with mooring buoys owned by the "King Neptunes Restaurant" at the head of the bay. The owner rowed out to meet us and took our bow lines to one of their buoys. We enjoyed the serenity of the moment..... calm and quiet after the chaos of Marmaris. A nice dinner was enjoyed at the restaurant and that night we slept sooooo good.
After our visit to Simi last fall with our guests, Anne and Jackie, we decided to sail into the town quay to fully experience this quaint Greek village. We were shown to a spot on the wall. We dropped our anchor and backed up to the wall and secured our stern as is the normal procedure for docking here in the Med. All went well. With the boat secure we headed to the various officials to check us and our boat into Greece only to find that (after here and there and back and forth....)all the offices were closed until 6 PM. Here in Greece everything closes down form 2PM to 6PM.
Just as we were heading out totry to check in again a mega 100 plus foot sailboat with the obviously rich owner standing at the huge helm (while 2 very young crew members raced around frantically and of course... the Babe, preening) proceeded to drag his anchor over several anchors including ours! The harbor was immediately in full chaos. The wind had come up and boats were blowing everywhere. We untied our stern lines and joined the calamity. Our anchor became hooked on some debris on the bottom and we were not even able to maneuver to defend ourselves from the bumper boat game in progress. Fortunately Judy was able to play with the windlass and free us. Freebird zigged and zagged dodging the disasters on all sides. We escaped into the open water unscathed. Our only option was the bay around the corner where we were last season. Sadly the wind had picked up and we had to beat into it. Unfortunately, it was not the best for protection or anchor holding. It's getting dark. We dropped the hook and backed down praying for that feeling when the anchor takes hold into solid ocean bottom. Bang! It grabbed. Relief.... We're secure. Not too bad, a little rolly but no bumper boats. We settle in for the night.
In the morning it's still blowing. Dave makes some coffee. Judy looks out at the small village behind the boat. Wow she says, it sure looks a lot closer. Yep, it is close. We had managed to drag toward the shore about 100 meters. And we're still dragging! Motor on, up anchor, re-anchor. There, should be good now.. We did this drill 3 more times during the day. We really don't want to do these "drills" in the dark. So, the last time, we headed out of the protection of the bay and turned into the teeth of the gale for a 3 hour pound. Finally we arrived at the calm tranquil little harbor on the South end of Symi Island.
A few other yachts were anchored there but there was plenty of room for Freebird. Two boats we recognized were among the fleet. "The Southern Cross" and "Just Jane" came by to welcome us to heaven... This time we really slept all night in peace. The next morning we headed into town on the bus to do the checkin. The ride was a highlight of our stay here. Fabulous views of bays and distant islands. Finally we descended down the switchbacks and dropped into Symi Town.
We completed our checkin with customs, immigration, and the harbor master. After a coffee and tea we were back on the last bus back to Freebird. We wandered around the hills for the next few days and enjoyed a visit to the 5th century Moni Taxiarhou Mihail Panormiti Monastery on the shore of the bay.
Well so far we have experienced the good, the bad and the ugly of the Greek Islands... Stay tuned