There are cruisers who happily spend weeks on end island-hopping through the Aegean sea, but we aren't among them. During the summer months, the fierce meltemi howls down from the N/NW, and although Aisling is better suited to the task of sailing in Force 7-8 winds than many boats, I really don't have much of a taste for it, especially when the seas get big. So, when we arrived at the island of Syros on Sunday afternoon and discovered that a five-day stretch of gale force winds was predicted to begin on Tuesday, we decided to make tracks for the mainland. The dock in the fishing harbour of Ermopoulis (the capital of Syros) was clearly not an ideal place to ride out a gale, nor is it a picturesque or comfortable location. The main harbour is prettier, but even less secure with all the wash from the many ferries coming and going.
Don't get me wrong, Ermoupolis is a really nice place. We loved it when we stopped there two years ago, as we made our way eastward across the Aegean. It has beautiful "neoclassical" buildings, a large town square flanked by palm trees, good restaurants and a nice variety of shops. Unfortunately, this time we'd had the bad luck to arrive on a Sunday. Arriving on Sunday is something you should always try to avoid when arriving in any small European town, and especially in Greece. On Sundays, shops that are normally filled with colourful displays of fruits, vegetables and flowers are locked down with corrugated metal doors, often defaced by graffiti. You will think you have arrived in the bleakest place on earth, only to rise on Monday morning to find everything transformed.
From the fishing harbour, I took a long, hot and dusty walk to the marina, hoping it might be suitable place to take a berth and wait out the weather. (It wasn't.) During the even hotter walk back, I remembered it was Father's Day, which at least provided a good excuse for taking Rick out to dinner. After a pleasant walk through the town square and along the waterfront, we made our way back to a small taverna near the fishing harbour. (By the way, in case I haven't mentioned it before, a taverna is one of many types of restaurants in Greece. The tavernas tend to be less formal and slightly less expensive than "estiatorios" but not always.) Due to a misunderstanding caused by our significant language limitations, we ended up being served enough food to feed four people, including two massive platters of the tiny fried fish that had reeled Rick in to the taverna in the first place. We slept well that night in spite of the rocky ride Aisling was getting at the dock.
The next morning we set out for Olympic Marina, near Cape Sounion, west of Athens. We pulled in to the fuel dock at about 4 p.m. and experienced serious price tag shock when it cost $438 to fill one tank that still had 9" of fuel remaining (1.535 euros/litre including a staggering 23% VAT!) It was a some consolation to realize that we would have paid even more in Turkey. With marina fees at 50 euros/night+VAT (about $85, water and electricity NOT included) this would be an expensive stop, but it was here that we hoped to be reunited with our lost bag. After several frustrating and expensive cellphone conversations with the Turkish Airlines baggage department, it had become clear that our best chance of getting the bag back before we left for home was to have it sent to the Athens airport, which is very close to Olympic Marina.
Olympic Marina is a fairly forlorn place, where most of the slips are filled with boats owned by Athenians who aren't around during the week. Aside from a mini-mart and a small chandlery, there are few amenities on the site, and the town of Lavrio is a 2.5 km walk or bus ride away. Lavrio is a pleasant town though, especially on market day. One friendly vendor at the market (who told us that his uncle owns "Mamma's Pizza" in Montreal) even gave us a big bag of delicious tomatoes for free! There seemed to be a nice variety of restaurants around the town square and along the waterfront. We did not eat out while we were there, but we did take a break in a little taverna one afternoon and were served a plate with several types of smoked fish, cheese, tomatoes and olives for only 2 euros! (We can also highly recommend the ice cream shop beside the bus stop.)
We ended up staying at Olympic Marina for four nights. Even though our bag arrived on the first day (a banner moment!) the winds were still howling, with gales blowing outside in the strait. It could have been a dull four days, but luckily there was another CCA boat in the marina, and we greatly enjoyed the company of Bill and Angela Chapman ("Bones VIII") during our stay. Coincidentally, Bill and Angela were also experiencing problems with a leaking stuffing box and had decided to have their boat hauled for repairs. At Olympic Marina, time on the hard really seems to be "hard time", since the marina refused to issue a key to the yard gate and they were confined to quarters after 4 p.m.! After the third day, some kind soul in the office finally took mercy on them and slipped them a key, but based on their experience we decided we'd better have our own shaft problem dealt with elsewhere. Rick had adjusted the packing yet again, and the leak seemed to be more or less under control.
By Friday the wind had dropped to around 20 knots and the forecast was improving, so we ducked around the corner to Sounion. The shaft was leaking more than ever but once again Rick managed to get it down to a drip. We anchored under the stunning Temple of Poseidon for the night, where supposedly Lord Byron carved his name on one of the pillars. Since it was nearly sunset when we arrived, we didn't make the long climb to check it out, but enjoyed the view from the cockpit.
The next day, we made our way across the Saronic Gulf to Porto Heli. In the anchorage, we were delighted to find the Canadian boat "Breakaway" with our friends Jim and Liz onboard. Poor Jim had sprained an ankle jumping onto his boat from a dock, but he didn't seem to mind hosting us on Breakaway on two different evenings. Although the main purpose of our stop was to find a mechanic to look at our shaft, our time in Porto Heli was a very pleasant interlude. Sometimes the cruising life can get a bit lonely, and for me it was especially wonderful to have Liz's company. We took long walks together, did errands, explored some ruins on the shore, and traded books and life histories. Even my kamikaze dinghy docking didn't seem to put her off! By Monday evening, Jim was feeling well enough to test his ankle on dry land, and we headed to shore for drinks and an Italian meal. Jim had also arranged a rendezvous with his doctor at the bar, and it was interesting to meet him and hear his perspective on Greece's economic woes. "In Canada, you have the perfect system", he said. We decided not to argue. A little later, we watched a Greek orthodox priest blessing one of the fishing boats.
This seemed to be a long and complicated ceremony. I wanted to walk over and ask what it was all about, but Rick talked me out of it.
We eventually got a mechanic from Frank's Yacht Station to adjust the packing on the shaft, but after only a short test run to the mouth of the harbour it was leaking as badly as ever. The mechanic recommended that we have the boat hauled, the packing replaced and the shaft checked. Suddenly, our plans to explore the Argolic Gulf were out the window. Since Frank's did not have room in their schedule to haul the boat, we headed around the corner to the Basimicopouloi yard in Kilada. We are at anchor in Kilada now, and Aisling will remain in the Basimicopouloi yard when we fly home to Canada on July 13th.
Next up: A road trip on the Peloponnese!
Free docking alongside at the fishing harbour in Ermoupolis but this is open to the south east and the waves make their way into this area even when the wind is from the North, so be careful and get the forecast. Water available at the dock. There is also lots of room available in the main harbour, in front of the restaurants where you can go bow or stern to. Water and electric is available in some spots. The marina appeared to be unattended when we were there and mainly suitable for smaller boats. Big supermarkets near the fishing harbour. There is a big ship yard here.
Olympic Marina is well protected in the meltemi and has a fuel dock and full service yard with travel lift and hard standing long term storage available. Water and electric is available at the slip.
Porto Heli is a great anchorage with lots of room for 100+ boats at anchor in addition to those in the mooring field, I would guess. There were maybe 10 at anchor there when we were there in late June. Part of the anchorage is open to the south east. The bottom is mud with excellent holding in anywhere from 9' to 30'. There is room at the quay for bow or stern to and water and fuel are available here by tanker truck Franks Yacht Station is a full service facility with moorings and some hard standing but he has to lift boats by crane and can only do this at season start and end. There is free dingy docking when space is available at Franks dock near the large A&B supermarket. Two small chandleries are on the main street.
Kilada is a well protected anchorage with depths between 6'-14'. Lots of room and you can raft up on the North west dock to the fishing boats where water and electric available. 7 euros per night at the dock. There was no charge for anchoring as according the port policeman the rate was too low to charge. Basic supplies available in the town with fish, meat and fruit and vegetable markets and a good selection of nice fish restaurants along the quayside. Camping gas available at the supermarket. The Basimakopouloi ship yard has 2 travel lifts and looks very professionally run with steel cradles and full service on site. They are still building wooden boats on site.