06 September 2009 | Santorini (Thira) Greece
We sailed from Athens to Santorini in only four days, visiting islands in even shorter sound-bites than those offered to cruise ship passengers. "Where are we again?" "Ermopoulis." Unfortunately we were without the deck chairs, sumptuous buffets and unlimited showers available to cruise ship passengers, and no one was magically moving the boat to the next port while we slept.
On Friday, we sailed from Siros to Delos, anchored off the ruins of ancient Delos for a few hours, and then continued on to Naxos town, where we anchored just off the ferry dock, with the marble arch of the archaic "Temple of Apollo" at our bow and a Venetian castle off our port side. Ashore, we ventured only as far as the restaurant "Irini's", where we had a delicious and inexpensive meal. Naxos is the most fertile island of the Cyclades and is said to be very beautiful. It was frustrating to get only a brief glimpse, but we had our sights set on Santorini and only two days left before the meltemi was predicted to start. The meltemi is the fierce wind that sweeps through the Aegean from the north during the summer months, at times blowing up to Force 8. We have no desire to battle winds of that intensity, nor to sail through the steep, short-period and bone-jarring waves that accompany it.
Shortly after leaving Naxos on Saturday morning, we noticed what appeared to be a large fog bank in the distance. Fog? Here? Fog is something we have not seen during our three summers of sailing in the Mediterranean, but within an hour we were equally as socked in as we've been on passages around Cape Sable. The VHF sounded a "Security" warning of reduced visibility in the vicinity of Thira (the official name of Santorini island) and reminding us to "keep a sharp lookout". Rick switched on the radar and adjusted the gain several times to insure that we were not missing any small craft in our vicinity. We have lots of experience with sailing in the fog, but making the tricky entrance into the Vlikhada marina in these conditions was out of the question. In order to safely navigate past a submerged ancient mole, we needed to take a bearing on a chimney ashore. We crossed our fingers that the visibility would improve as we approached the island.
The crescent-shaped island of Santorini is in fact a giant active volcano. To sail from the northern tip of the island to the southern tip, we would actually be sailing through the crater (or caldera) created by a giant eruption that occurred around 1600 BC. Prior to the eruption, the island was inhabited by the Minoans, who had developed an advanced civilization on par with that of the Mycenaeans. Eruptions and earthquakes have occurred fairly regularly on Santorini through the centuries, changing the geography and disrupting the lives of the inhabitants. A major earthquake essentially flattened the island in 1956, but the communities have been rebuilt in the charming Cycladic architecture, painted in the white and blue colours that define the Greek islands for so many travelers.
By the time we reached the entrance to the caldera, the fog had receded enough for us to see the shore, but as we sailed through it rolled back in. A power boat flying a large Greek flag appeared out of the mist and came alongside us. "Are you going to Vlikadha?" the skipper asked. "How kind!" I thought, "A little local knowledge is just what we need right now!" "Yes, we are going to the marina" we said. He nodded, did a quick 180 degree turn and tucked into our wake. We sailed deeper into the fog and started the circuitous route out of the caldera,around the small islands of Neokameni and Aspro and down the coast. The visibility ranged from 100 meters to ½ mile. Each time we looked back, the power boat skipper and his wife smiled and waved at us happily. Their little black dog sat upright on the foredeck, ears up, head cocked. So trusting, so naïve.... "If you get them in safely, you are going to have a big story to tell." I said to Rick. "And if I don't get them in safely, I'll still have a big story to tell" he said grimly, "But it might not have a very good ending".
After we made the turn at the southern end of the crescent, the fog miraculously lifted. Our travelling companions pulled out, gunned the engine and took off in the direction of the marina at a speed of about 20 knots, leaving us rocking in their wake. "With our luck they'll get the last berth" said Rick. But for once, we actually had a reservation, and all was well. We breathed a sigh of relief when we got past the area of the ancient mole without incident and an even bigger sigh of relief when we were safely tied up. And if we are have to sit out the meltemi for a while, I think Santorini will be a nice place to explore.