Lots to read!
10 June 2013 | Xhios
It’s been quite some time since I’ve updated the blog and even longer since I wrote anything to do with our travels! Raft Up has come to an end although there is still a collective of cruisers’ experiences at www.themonkeysfist.com if you’re interested.
I’ll try to update as best I can and will start at the point at which we left Epidavros at the end of last season.
We were heading back to Crete for the winter again and decided to cruise through the Dodecanese islands on our way south. We sailed to Angistri for a night and then headed for Kea, our first stop in the Cyclades. We had an exhilarating sail across the channel between Kea and the mainland; we were surfing on three metre seas and doing 7.5 knots at one point. The galley sink backed up with sea water so we had an emergency five minutes whilst we closed the seacock and tried to empty the sink with a bucket, not easy at 20 degrees of heel with the wind howling. We have learnt from this and we now have a much better arrangement for the galley sink which I will come to later. We spent five nights in Kea, anchored in the same place as last year. We spent a lot of the time walking over to the headland and looking at the sea state, waiting for it all to die down so that we could get on our way. Whilst we were there we watched a commercial diver using a fixed line air supply (very similar to Andy’s) to dive and direct a concrete pump under the quay to repair damage.
Eventually we left Kea and sailed to Syros, new ground at last. We anchored just outside the commercial port of Ermopouloi and stayed there for eight nights as my brother, Mark, was coming to visit and it was an ideal spot for us to collect him from the ferry. The anchorage was very rolly due to the frequent movement of shipping and the coming and going of the ferries. There was a typically unfinished Greek marina not far from us but the quay sides were very low and the protection provided was negligible with no other benefits so we decided to put up with the swell and stay in the anchorage. Ermopouli is a lovely town. It was the principle port of the Aegean in the days of steam with a major coal-bunkering station for shipping. There are two villages behind the harbour, one on the top of each hill. One village is largely populated with Roman Catholics and there is a cathedral on top of one hill whilst on the other is an Orthodox church to identify the Orthodox quarter of the town.
We had several walks into the town to explore and resupply. On one of our walks into the town we noticed the diving company that we had watched in Kea. We went up to have a chat with them, they made us coffee and gave Andy lots of advice about filtering the air from the compressor when he dives. We’ve since had a stainless steel filter tube made (thanks Andrew); we just need to fill it with silica gel and charcoal now.
We were lucky enough to be in Ermopouloi for ‘Ochi Day’. A public holiday on 28th October to celebrate Mr Metaxa famously saying ‘NO’ to Mussolini’s ultimatum in 1940. The huge town square was lined with hundreds of people to watch the parade of school children in uniform (the only time they wear it), local sports groups and groups in traditional Syriot dress. We had a birds’ eye view, sitting on the steps of the town hall, and the parade went on for a good couple of hours. We’ve watched other Ochi Day parades in different towns but this was definitely the most organised and colourful.
Once Mark had arrived we set sail the same day and headed to Rinia so that we could visit Dhelos. Rinia was lovely, we anchored in a deserted bay in clear water and all went in for a swim. Mark was first! We spent two nights here waiting for the right weather to take Norna to the neighbouring island of Dhelos so that we could go ashore and explore. We were unable to get into the harbour at Dhelos so spent several hours trying to anchor outside. The sea bottom was thick week on top of rock so we didn’t have much luck; it was also either very deep or very shallow, not ideal for anchoring. At one point the depth sounder was registering 10metres so Andy instructed me to drop the anchor, I could see that it was going to hit bottom incredibly quickly as we were almost on a rock shelf! Eventually we decided that we would choose the best spot we could, drop the anchor and masses of chain and then go ashore. There was no wind forecast, no other boats around due to the time of year and we could see the boat easily from the shore.
Dhelos was an important island in ancient times. Apollo was reputedly born there and it was the centre of politics and religion. There are a massive amount of ruins still in situ, despite the island being pillaged over the centuries. The museum on the island houses some of the more important finds but just wandering around the streets and through the many temples gave us a feel for how the island must have been when it was the centre of the trade route between east and west.
From Dhelos we headed to Naoussa on Paros were we spent four nights anchored off the town. We had a few trips into the lovely local town and started Mark’s quest for the best gyros (pitta bread with pork or chicken, tzatziki, salad and chips). Andy found a pair of night vision binoculars and, after extensive trials, was very keen to buy them. I became devil’s advocate, questioning how much we would use them and were they really worth the €350 price tag. Eventually we decided that we’d send Mark in to haggle and if we could get them for €250, then we’d have them. Unfortunately/fortunately (?) the guy in the shop had priced them wrong the previous day and they were for sale at €500 – decision made, they were staying in the shop!
Mark decided that he wanted to climb the mast and dive from the top into the water. Andy allowed him to climb the mast and strapped Mark well into the climbing harness. He wasn’t going to get out of that easily to dive off! We had our last swims of the year in Paros, the water was getting cold by then and the air temperature had definitely dropped, it was November!
We went ashore for a walk to the point whilst we were in Naoussa and came across a nice looking taverna on our way back. We headed back to the boat and then came ashore again later for dinner. We beached the dinghy and walked up a sandy path to the taverna. Several hours and a few litres of wine later we spent an hour climbing over rocks trying to find the dinghy! We got back to the boat and sat in the cockpit drinking coffee and suddenly heard a bird squealing whilst Fluff was doing rounds of the deck with it in her mouth. It was the first time she’d caught something so she was very proud but did give the poor bird up easily. Andy checked its wings and found that there appeared to be no broken bones, however we did expect it to die from the shock. We got it some water and some alfalfa seeds and the bird eventually recovered from the trauma to the extent that it was climbing up and down Andy’s arms. Puss and Fluff were very interested but didn’t go for it again. We left the bird wrapped in a sock in the cockpit with water and seed and headed to bed. The next morning we were woken by a crow on the deck, Andy rushed out to see the small bird fly away having eaten all the seed and shit all over the cockpit!
We left Naoussa on the 6th November at 2am for an overnight sail to Patmos, our first experience of the Dodecanese islands.
Patmos is the northernmost of the Dodecanese, a chain of islands that runs down the east side of the Aegean, very close to Turkey. The islands have been occupied by various forces over the centuries (Turks and Venetians) and were only handed back to Greece in 1947. Patmos town is in a natural harbour, open to the south east but sheltered otherwise. A monastery tops the surrounding hill and there is a new theological college which is attended by students from all over Greece.
We decided to go for a walk to the monastery and, on the way, stopped at a small chapel which was mentioned in the Rough Guide to Greece. It was apparently where John the theologian wrote the book of Revelations. There is a groove worn into the rock where he apparently laid his head to sleep. We were visiting out of season so the chapel was opened especially for us. We couldn’t see what all the fuss was about but, we’ve been told that if you visit in busier times, the chapel is full of people crying and praying over the rock groove! The walk up to the monastery was long and, as usual, uphill, however, the views from the top were fantastic, we could see for miles. The islands of Arki, Lipso and Agathonisi were visible with the Turkish coast in the background.
Four days in Patmos was plenty of time to try another gyros before heading to Leros, the next island south. Friends from Kiladia had given us their brother’s telephone number, he lives and works on the island, so we called Bob and arranged to meet him and Terri for a drink the next lunchtime. We had a lovely couple of hours with them in the taverna before they invited us for dinner that evening. The anchorage was safe enough for us to leave Norna so Bob collected us in the car later that day and we had a lovely evening with roast pork on the menu. Bob and Terri live aboard their catamaran in the summer but house-sit for an American couple in the winter. The house was huge, built in an Italian style, with ceilings so high you’d need a cherry-picker to get up to them!
The buildings in Lakki, the main town of Leros were all very art deco, left over from the Italian occupation in the Second World War. The town was then an Italian naval base. Some of the buildings were used as hospitals after the Italians left and many were used for housing people with mental illness. Leros became Greece’s ‘mental asylum’ and became known as ‘Devil’s Island’. The hospitals have since been shut and clients placed within the community.
Whilst we were in Lakki, Mark got his first taste of scrumping for water! He and Andy went with the drums in the dinghy to the quay and managed to get enough water to refill our tanks. We also found the best gyros of Mark’s stay – the gyros from Leros won the competition.
After Leros we had a one night stay in Kalymnos where we struggled to get the anchor to set so didn’t go ashore. The next morning we headed to Kos and anchored on the south side of the island off a long beach which is reputedly a nightmare in the summer. However, this was November, so we had a couple of peaceful nights here with a walk up to the local village to resupply. Mark left us here, flying back to the UK from Kos airport.
Our next stop was Tilos where we anchored in Livadhiou. We only stopped overnight and the next day made our way to Symi. We sailed round the top of Symi, through a narrow, shallow channel that was so clear that we could easily see the bottom and from there could see the colourful town of Symi open up in front of us. The town is built on a fjord-like bay with houses climbing the steep hills all around. The harbour is deep so we dropped the anchor and tied to the wall away from the ferry berth. When we saw the ferry come in later we were glad that we’d chosen the spot as any nearer to the ferry and we could have been in trouble. We walked around the town and stopped for dinner at a lovely taverna overlooking the harbour.
The next day we headed around the other side of the island to Panormittis, a sheltered bay with just a monastery and a couple of houses. We were the only boat there for a few days and had lots of walks ashore. An Italian yacht eventually came in to join us and we went to say hello on our way to the shore. Whilst we were talking to them their friend rowed his dinghy ashore. The sky started to turn black so we headed back to Norna. The heavens opened as we got aboard and the wind started to howl. Our anchor was well dug in so we were safe. Andy heard shouting, looked out of the cockpit and saw the friend in the dinghy trying to row back to the Italian boat but being blown out of the bay. He put his waterproofs on, jumped in the dinghy and went to rescue him before towing him back to the Italians. Later that evening we rigged up a tarpaulin and collected some of the rain that was falling (our first go at catching rain). We collected 250 litres within 30 minutes using just a 2x4m tarpaulin. It was so successful that Andy’s designing a rain catching system to go with the bimini that he’s making. We went ashore the next morning and the ground floor of the monastery (the living accommodation) was flooded, each room had it’s mattress outside the door drying in the sun.
From Panormittis we headed to Rhodes town where we tied up in the harbour at Mandraki. Rhodes town is lovely, very medieval. The old town dates from the Knights of St John and is protected by a massive encircling wall and moat (which is now dry). The streets inside are cobbled and lead to many tree shaded squares. The main building is the Grand Master’s house, a huge two storied place built around an open square. The Italians that we met in Panormittis own a hotel in the old town so we sought them out and had breakfast with them one day. We also have Dutch friends, Per and Elly, who live in the old town so arranged to meet up with them for dinner one night and went to their house the next.
The Dodecanese islands have a tax concession in that the VAT is only 19% compared to 23% on non food goods. We looked at the price of fuel and decided not to buy any as we’d bought it so much cheaper in Crete the previous year and hoped to do the same again. It was a big mistake as were unable to get the cheap fuel in Crete so had to pay the road price with VAT at 23%. We know for this year! We had four nights in Rhodes harbour, enjoying the company of friends and exploring the fantastic old town before sailing overnight back to Elounda in Crete.
We arrived in Elounda on the 28th November and dropped our anchor in our favourite spot – Miakoda Bay (named by me a couple of years ago!) – outside the Miakoda Mexican Bar owned by our friend Georgie. After a couple of days visiting our friends and catching up with news we started our winter jobs.
Andy raised the boom by 700mm so that it now clears our heads and is much less dangerous than before! He also found a company in Italy that would supply a designed and cut mainsail to sew together, so that was ordered along with a tig welder so that he could weld stainless steel. Whilst waiting for the mainsail to arrive Andy shortened our existing main to fit the new boom height and replaced the sacrificial strips on the headsails. We were lucky enough to be able to use the outside (but still lockable and dry) area of a local taverna, thanks to Michalis and Penny of Marilena. We were able to set up a massive table to work on and leave the machine there every night, which helped enormously.
John and Angela, Australian friends of ours arrived to also spend the winter in Elounda. We had a few days catching up with them and Andy arranged to replace the sacrificial strips on their headsails, a job he hated as the sails are made of laminated fabric and are not easy to handle. Andy also picked up a job repairing a torn headsail and replacing the sacrificial strip on that for a family that were spending their winter aboard in the marina in Agios Nikolaos.
Once the mainsail kit arrived Andy was fully occupied with building that for about two weeks. Unfortunately the sail arrived with several parts missing that we had to order from the UK as the Italian company stopped talking to us about the problem. There wasn’t very much we could do about it as we’d had to pay by bank transfer so couldn’t even use our credit card providers to fight the problems. We won’t use the same company this year to provide our headsails and we tell everyone that they’re not a great company to deal with.
We spent Christmas with 3 other couples in the Miakoda Bar, using Georgie’s kitchen to cook the meal and bar area to eat and play games after. We were with Pete and Lynn, George and Leanne and Warren and Georgie and a great time was had by all. We had a traditional Christmas dinner with Secret Santa presents and played Cranium for hours afterwards. We all had plenty to eat and drink and left in the early hours to sleep it off the next day.
During the winter Georgie’s bar is open several nights a week and she established a routine of ‘Fat Tuesdays’, food from around the world with the occasional guest chef. Pete started with Pie and Peas (apparently a well known northern England meal) which went down well. I followed up with a curry night. I cooked a three course Indian meal for 16 paying customers – poppadoms with mint raita, onion salad and homemade mango chutney, onion bhajis and chicken dopiaza, saag aloo and pilau rice. It was a great success but never again! Fat Tuesday continued with Pete’s KFC (better than the real thing), Mexican, Thai and Jamaican dishes and the occasional roast. Georgie also did fish and chips on Friday evenings so we were never stuck for somewhere to go to eat.
Before we went back to the UK in March Andy managed to finish a lot of his winter jobs. The black water tank was finally fitted and is now in use, the sails were completed and put back on the boat and the stainless steel tubing was sourced and purchased so that we can make a bimini to provide shade.
Mark (my brother) and Lissa (his girlfriend) came out to visit at the end of February. Mark was staying to look after the boat and cats whilst we went back to England for a fortnight and Lissa came back with us. We had a lovely few days with them which included Lissa’s birthday. We went up to a local ouzeri for a great meal and the next day went sailing to Spinalonga to try out the new mainsail.
We had a whistle stop tour of the UK, a week in Cornwall and then a week in Kent visiting family and friends and stocking up with supplies for the boat – and us! We flew with Aegean and were able to book excess baggage on for €25 for each 20kg. We flew back with 105kg of hold luggage which included a new windlass, dive filter, saniflow for the galley sink, and cat toilet trainer (I’ll get to that!). It was great to see everyone and if we didn’t get to see you, we’re sorry we missed you but we were on a very tight schedule, maybe next time.
On the day that we flew back Mark was due to fly out a couple of hours after we landed in Heraklion. Unfortunately our connecting flight from Athens to Heraklion was cancelled due to high winds in Crete. We eventually left Athens at 12.30 and were the only plane to land in Heraklion all day. Mark was about to board his flight out so we managed to wave to him through the windows of the departure lounge. The gate security did allow him to come through to speak to us briefly. We were going to wait for him to take off but he insisted that we go home so off we set, only to receive a text 15 minutes later to say that his flight had been cancelled! We turned back and stayed with Mark until his travel details had been rearranged.
All this time we were worrying about Norna with no-one on board in 50 knot winds. We’d managed to get in touch with John and Angela and they were keeping an eye and sending us regular weather updates. Luckily we’d bought a new anchor during the winter and this was well dug in and holding us perfectly. We eventually got back to Elounda, unloaded our 105kgs and headed to bed to recover from our 24 hour journey to Crete.
Once we arrived back we made sure that we’d managed to finish important jobs and started to look for a weather window so that we could start to head north for this season’s cruising. We had to replace the argon gas bottle that Michalis had found for Andy as the gas had been used quickly due to a dodgy connection, that took a couple of weeks as the supply was interrupted by bank holidays and Easter. We sailed to an anchorage on the other side of the island that makes Spinalonga lagoon and had a peaceful night there and also spent a few nights in different bays in the lagoon. One night we were sitting in the cockpit and Andy could see a fire on a floating taverna extension which was in its winter storage place. He got into the dinghy with a bucket and headed over to try to put it out whilst I contacted the fire brigade and Pete and Lynn who knew the owners. Andy managed to put the fire out and eventually the taverna owners came out on a boat to check the damage. The fire brigade called me back several times and despite me telling them that there was no road access we could see them driving up and down the road a mile away on the other side of the bay about an hour later. We, stupidly(!), thought they’d send a coastguard boat out with a pump.
The back flow of the galley sink was solved by Andy fitting a saniflow type of unit under the floor to pump the waste overboard. The galley sink was emptying into a grey water tank but we didn’t want all the fats etc collecting in there making the capacity smaller and smaller until we’d have to open it and clean it out. The macerator unit runs on 240 volts so we have to have the inverter on when emptying the sink, but it hardly draws any power as it is so quick.
We’ve been training Puss and Fluff to use the toilet since we got back and progress is slow. We’ve moved a few stages and are now much better off than when we had a massive litter box in the corner and carried tons of cat litter; however we still have a way to go. Puss is getting the hang of it quickly enough but Fluff gets distressed whenever anything changes so we have to go slowly for her sake. We now have a small bowl sitting inside the loo with a small amount of cat litter around a ramekin of water. The aim is to increase the size of the water bowl whilst reducing the amount of litter so that they get used to not digging. Eventually we take the bowls away and they just use the loo. I think we’ll struggle to get them to flush though!
We eventually left Elounda on the 15th May after all our mail and deliveries had arrived. We headed to Sitia where we tied up in the harbour and made our way to the Port Police for our annual stamp on our cruising form. We tried to arrange a delivery of diesel but the first garage we went to wasn’t interested in the cash we had in our hands to pay for 1000 litres. The next garage was out of town so we found the police station and they very kindly rang the garage, did a deal and arranged for a delivery of fuel for later the same day. We filled up with water and the next day headed north to start this season’s cruise.
We had a brilliant overnight sail from Sitia to Alimia, a small island just north of Rhodes, on the same tack all night doing 4-5 knots all the way. We arrived at Alimia at about 8am and anchored in a bay that was sheltered from all directions except west. Unfortunately it was very rolly and uncomfortable. Several charter boats came in and anchored before going ashore for a walk. Andy and I were eating our lunch as the wind started to get up and two of the boats started to drag to the shore. We sounded our horn to alert them and one managed to sort himself out, however the other one had a lady on her own as the others had all swum to the shore and were wandering on the beach. Andy did his hero bit, got into the dinghy and went to help her out, managing to re-anchor the boat before the skipper got back on board.
We left the next day and sailed to Tilos where we anchored on the west coast in a large bay for a three nights. I walked up to the local village to get some fresh veg, a bit of a waste of time but a nice walk anyway. After Tilos we went to Giali to shelter from the northerly wind that was coming through. Giali is an uninhabited island where pumice is quarried. There is a large commercial port area for loading the pumice and very little else. We anchored at the southern end of the island and stayed for the night as the shelter was good.
The next day we sailed to Kos, anchoring off Kos town. My next door neighbour from Tanyard Way was in Kos on holiday so we were trying to meet up. Unfortunately the wind was howling and there was nowhere safe for us to leave the boat whilst we went ashore so we didn’t manage to meet – sorry Rhian and Jason, maybe next time! We left Kos and went to a small island between there and Kalimnos called Pserimos. We anchored in a deep inlet on the north of the island with good shelter.
The next morning we headed off again to Leros. This time on Leros we went round to the east coast as the forecast was for westerly winds and Lakki didn’t have shelter from that direction. We anchored off the village of Agios Marina and stayed there for four nights. We were able to refill our water tanks and resupply with fresh veg. We met Phillipe, a French solo sailor that we’d first come across in Rhodes last year, and had a couple of evenings with him. We now have graphics on the side of the deck boxes advertising sail repairs, Phillipe noticed and Andy got the job of repairing his mainsail stack pack. Andy’s had quite a bit of sail repair work already this year. We walked up to the castle and could see the rest of the island from the top. Leros really is a lovely island with very friendly people, very welcoming.
Southerly winds were forecast so we headed north to Partheni Bay on Leros to shelter for a couple of nights. There we met up with Guy and Anneka, that we’d met in Nafplion last year, so we had an evening with them – such a busy social life! Once the southerly wind had calmed a little we continued our journey north and stopped just south of Lipso. We’d seen pictures of a small lagoon on one of the surrounding islands on Google earth so decided to seek it out. We found it and anchored for lunch before getting in the dinghy and going in to the island. Unfortunately the lagoon was full of rubbish and not very appealing and as we were walking over the island a gullet came in and tried to anchor in the small space beside us. We headed back to the boat, lifted the anchor and sailed to Arki where we found a very tight inlet on the north to anchor in. We dropped the anchor in 3 metres of water (we are 2.8m deep!), dropped 10 metres of chain and were only 15 metres from the shore! Luckily no wind was forecast and there was no room for anyone else to come in so we had a good night’s sleep there.
Arki was our last stop in the Dodecanese as from there we sailed to Fournos, a small island between Samos and Ikaria and our first stop in the Eastern Sporades. The wind was coming from the south so we headed round to the north of the island and anchored in what appeared to be a beautiful bay away from the village. On closer inspection the beach at the end of the bay was covered in rubbish, blown in on the summer northerly winds. However we had a couple of good nights here before the wind shifted and we headed in to the village for shelter. Andy got his spear gun out and managed to catch a bream and a couple of wrasse. We met Jim and Ann in the bay and had a couple of nights with them, passing on tips of where to go and what to see. Whilst we were there Andy repaired Jim and Ann’s headsail. The village of Fournos was lovely, very clean with a large fleet of small fishing boats. The streets were cobbled and everyone seemed happy and very friendly.
From Fournos we sailed to Samos. Our first stop was at a small beach resort called Limnionias which had just a couple of tavernas and hotels. Andy caught his first bass of the year here which we made into fish pie the next day. We went ashore and ate in a local taverna that night and, as is pretty much normal, we were disappointed with the quality! The next morning we sailed east to Pythagorion, a tourist resort, renamed in 1955, in honour of Pythagorous who was born on Samos. We anchored in a busy harbour, went ashore the next morning for supplies and then headed west again to make our way to Xhios where we are now. We arrived at an anchorage on the south of the island at 2am and the next morning moved to Mesta. Xhios is famed for its production of mastic which has been used in cosmetics, chewing gum and paints. Mesta is one of the original Mastic villages, developed due to its wealth coming from mastic. The village is about 2 miles up from the harbour and is worth a visit. A warren of stone tunnels leads eventually to a beautiful square with a few cafes. Many of the homes within the tunnels are derelict but many have been restored and are very quirky. We started to walk up to the village but got a lift most of the way there and back – in nearly every place we go the locals will stop and offer a lift.
We shared the bay with an Australian boat with Rosemary and Rob on board and had dinner ashore with them on Thursday night. They had a problem with their outboard engine which Andy repaired yesterday morning – he really is a hero! Yesterday we came north again and anchored in a bay called Ormos Elinta. There’s a church just back from the beach and a few people relaxing on the pebbles and not a lot else here. The wind is blowing from the north so we’re staying here for a couple of days before we head further north on our journey to Macedonia.