Stormy seas off Corfu
08 June 2012 | Corfu
We weighed anchor early from Tranquil Bay with the intention of anchoring at Paxos after transiting the Lefkas Canal. We cleared the canal after waiting for another yacht to pass us so that we could follow it through, after reading about other yachts hitting rocks in the channel. Not on our wish list! The sea was calm as it often is when we decide to leave an anchorage or port and with our Cosmote 3G connection we keep a sharp eye on the weather, especially as it seems to be virtually always coming from the direction in which we wish to go.
That night, we anchored at Lakka Bay, Paxos island, half way between Lefkas and Corfu. A good calm anchorage, but somewhat overcrowded after being asked to move on by the port authorities in the well protected inner passage further south on the island.
The next day dawned overcast and drizzly, but the forecast only indicated up to F 4 favourable winds. As we approached Corfu an enormous thunderstorm bore down on us, thunder and lightening - the lot in fact. The wind shifted from south through to north then F 7 NE...with nowhere to hide. The normal Corfu Fort anchorage was a raging mass of white water so we headed further north using the GPS only and finally managed to anchor just off Gouvia Bay tucked in behind a resort and that is where we stayed for two days. The sea finally abated and the sun came out and the green and lush landscape of Corfu penetrated through. Not so bad after all. We stayed comfortably at anchor and left the dinghy in the marina while going on a bus to the town. Gouvia Bay is a lovely sheltered bay but unfortunately yachts are not allowed to anchor there.
Now we are on our way to our last island in Greece - Othoni - nearly half way to the Italian mainland. We will have an overnight stop there and this will be the end of the more than 12 months of stay in Greece which saw us visit more than 30 islands.
Threading the needle through the heart of Greece
01 June 2012 | Lefkas island, Ionian
Geoff, calm, getting hotter
Pic shows the 3 mile long Corinth Canal from one of the several roads that cross it from above.
Emerged into the Ionian side of Greece a few days ago after quite a long struggle through the two gulfs that separate mainland Greece from the Peloponnese massif. To get through into the gulfs first meant traversing the amazing Corinth Canal. This is only three miles long, but is incredibly narrow and is surrounded on both sides by high limestone walls.
The Aegean side is relatively protected and we anchored off Isthmia for two days waiting for the winds to ease before making our way through. The canal was built over a hundred years ago but is relatively little used today as it is too restricted by depth and breadth for most commercial traffic.
Once into the Gulf of Corinth we battled the westerly winds through to several good anchorages at Antikirion, Galaxidi, Itea and Trazinion island. With a 11/2 to 2 knot current against us we eventually passed under the Patras suspension bridge - the world's longest - into the Patras Gulf and the strange lagoon at Messolonghi. Here we cycled past the huge sea lagoons looking for birds but we saw more when anchored behind the sand spit that marked the mouth of the Acheloos - Greece's longest river.
We are now anchored in the quiet and extremely sheltered waters of Vlicho Bay on Lefkas island waiting for our ancient anchor winch to be fixed before making the short crossing over to the Italian manland - between 50 to 150 miles across the Ionian Sea, depending exactly where we start and finish.
Calm seas in the Peloponnese
10 May 2012 | Poros island, Saronic Gulf, North East Peloponnese, Greece
Alison, windy again, warm to hot
Photo above shows Saraoni ploughing westwards across a glassy sea along the Northern Crete Coast
Crete, we had discovered was a windy place. The summer meltemi winds from the North are replaced by strong southerlies in winter. We knew that our route westwards towards Gibraltar lay naturally counter to the prevailing Mediterranean winds, so our exit from Crete was always going to be problematic. The North Coast of Greece's largest island has only one all weather anchorage and a harsh, bold mountainous, if beautiful, coast.
It wasn't until we had motored out from Spinalonga lagoon, just to the north of Aghios Nikolaos, that we finally made up our mind to turn directly west rather than head north to Santorini, or even north east to Astypalaea. As it happened, the next two weeks saw hardly any wind at all - every day as we made progress under motor along the Crete North Coast and then over the normally windy Kithyra strait and up the Peloponnese east coast we were met with calm seas and cloudless, windless days.
Long days burning diesel were punctuated by short stops in the Cretan cities of Rethymno and Chania, tied up to a pontoon or wall and an open anchorage at Kithyra island. Passing Greece's "Cape Horn" - the infamous Cape Malea, at the very bottom of the Greek mainland - we did get some wind at last - up to twenty knots, predictably on the nose, but a flat sea and the wind dropped off quickly as the cape was passed.
We opted for the more protected eastern side of the Peloponnese as the "forecast" predicted strong north westerlies arriving as far as the eye could see making progress up the western (Italian) side of the huge peninsula difficult.
Instead, we motored, motorsailed or even occasionally sailed, from one lovely anchorage to another. First was the island of Monemvasia, with its ancient fortified town perched precariously on the island's gaunt hillside; next was the little, perfectly protected inlet of Ierakas, with its tiny fishing village nestled underneath the Peloponnese mountains.
A long day saw us up in the Argolic gulf, where we used the daily sea breeze to sail to and fro up the gulf to Napflio and back to the round all-weather anchorage of Porto Cheli.
Another long day took us around the point into the Saronic Gulf and closer to the busy waterways near Athens.
We are now in a well protected anchorage behind Poros isand with northerly winds keeping us at anchor for a couple more days before heading on to the Corinth Canal. Poros is sail and motor boat land in a big way - there are penty of huge motor boats for charter here along the town wharf, but they don't really impinge on our quiet anchorage and we have spent the time cycling around the pine covered hillsides on our bikes.
Summer is coming as we leave Crete
27 April 2012 | Elounda, Crete
Throughout the last four months we have been enjoying virtually everything that Crete has to offer. Pic shows Alison at home in a nylon domatia on the rugged South coast of the island.
The winter is now firmly behind us but was a lot colder than we expected, with the snow reaching almost sea level a couple of times, but all was quiet in the marina most of the time with prevailing north west winds causing an occasional undulation amongst the boats.
Once the days started to get longer, southerly gale force bursts blew through with alarming regularity every week and there was a need to winch Saraoni off from the pontoon a couple of times.
Apart from a lot of rather dull, routine boat jobs, we hired a car for a few days and went to the western end of Crete on a bird watching expedition which was good, but the only migratory bird we saw was a hoopoe and most of the small lakes were full of resident waterfowl and snappy geese. They were all quite tame so they at least don't get pinged with catapaults. Our trip also took us to Rethymno and Chania on the North Coast and up into thick snow in the White Mountains above the Samaria Gorge.
The next trip was a cycle ride around the eastern corner of Crete with just the right temperatures. The first day was almost 60 kilometres from Aghios Nikolaos across the island through olive and orange groves to the southern coastal town of Ierapetra and then onto the small port of Magriagialos. There were no tourists around but we managed to find a guest house that had good rooms for 30 euro.
The second day took us over the mountains at 600 metres in near gale force winds and then back down to the North coast at Sitia. Here we stayed a couple of nights so that we could cycle a return day trip to the palm forest at Vai, which was a bit unusual for Crete as most of the trees here are Aussies, the eucalypt and the wattle, not of course forgetting the uncountable number of olive trees that cover any where that will support any greenery.
March is about the best time of year for cycling and walking as the temperature is just right. There is less rain and the days are getting longer.
Our final land trip took us over the White Mountains again, this time by bus to the tiny coastal port of Xora Sfakion. We walked and camped for several days westwards with the blue Libyan Sea on one side and maquis covered slopes stretching up to the snowy peaks on the other. Our way blocked by sheer scree covered slopes, we detoured up a twelve kilometre gorge and emerged up onto the plateau where small Cretan villages were dotted around amongst the olive groves.
Brrrrr! Cretan Chills
29 January 2012 | Aghios Nikolaos, Crete, greece
Alison and Geoff, cold and grey
Photo shows the snow covered Katharo Plateau and neighbouring hills behind Aghios Nikolaos marina
Winter kicked in well and truly here in Crete around Christmas and the high mountains - Dikti, Idi and the Lefka Ori were all covered in snow by the New Year. Now, with every rapidly moving Mediterranean depression the snow advances down the hillsides then retreats with the intervening calm spell.
When the sun comes out and the wind stops blowing, it can be quite warm and the land is now beautifully green with the first of the wild flowers carpeting the olive groves and maquis slopes.
We are still tapping furiously away, planning both for our sailing adventure to come and a possible trip to Africa later this year. We have driven, cycled and walked all over the Eastern part of Crete in rain and sunshine watching the huge, soaring griffon vultures that are nesting in the steep sides of the Cretan gorges.
We are slowly plodding along too with boat jobs. March should see us on a longer cycling trip and a trek along the South Western part of the E4 - the interkriti - this is the long distance path that crosses Crete from East to West from Kato Zakros to Kissamos, then jumps over to the mainland, eventually ending on the Atlantic shores of Portugal.
Arrival in Crete - sailing over for 2011!
27 September 2011 | Aghios Nikolaos, Crete
Alison and Geoff, gusty north westerlies
Pic shows kingfisher at the marina - there's only one and probably too tame and trusting - apparently its partner was eaten by one of the local feral cats!
Now securely berthed in Aghios Nikolaos marina getting ready to fly to Kathmandu with the many last minute jobs on the boat still to do before we leave, including replacing the marina's rather spindly looking stern ropes. The marina is run by the town council and is generally well run, small and compact. The council threw a party in the square by the lake yesterday with music, Italian flag waving and free Cretan food, beer and raki to which the whole town it seemed was invited. The little city was celebrating International Tourism Day, which may be the saviour of the local economy in these troubled times - the town is still teaming with tourists on sun loungers and many cruise ships make Aghios Nikolaos one of their destinations as well! There is not much blue and white in evidence and it doesn't quite have the stunning scenery of Santorini.
We had left Santorini more or less on a whim at about 11 pm at night, and safely navigated our way through the middle of the caldera and out into the Aegean. The wind forecast on Bouy weather showed 9 to 12 knots WNW / NNW winds. As it turned out we actually had a great beam wind that blowed at a magic 10 to 15 knots right across to St John's Point (Ak. Aghios Yiannis) at the entrance to the Mirabella Gulf on Crete. As we approached the coast, the wind freshened to the occasional 17 knots, still on the beam. We thought that it would probably lighten as we sailed into the lee of the cliffs but it didn't. Up to 28 knot gusts swept down from the cliffs as we turned towards the entrance to Spinalonga lagoon. Never mind. The water was a vivid deep blue colour and we could see 20 metres down to the sandy bottom. This was easily the best 80 mile sail we have had either in Turkey or Greece so far.
Spinalonga is a fantastic anchorage as long as the wind does not blow too strongly from the North but it is possible to find an anchorage for pretty much every wind direction- the water is clear and shallow and the lagoon is entirely enclosed and it is easy to access either the shops and services on one side or the uninhabited peninsula and the fortress on Spinalonga island on the other. The entrance to the lagoon is 8 m deep at first then it does drop to around 3m as you progress a mile or so southwards and then off the small sun lounger lined town of Elounda it rises again to a depth of 5m - all in sand and no weed. Winds sprung up to 25 knots now and again while we were there but the holding was good and access to the shore was still easy. There is a regular bus service into Aghios Nikolaos.
Our gentle Grecian gyration has been just that for most of the nearly five months since leaving Finike. We have clocked up about eleven hundred miles but have had only one annoying windy bash - inside the protected Evia channel at that. Having the modem and access almost everywhere to good weather forecasting sites as well as not having too much distance to cover made all the difference.
Crete is our 24th Greek island and easily the biggest. The potential for exploring looks good -there are plenty of mountains and tracks to tramp. Aghios Nikolaos is a touristy town with the fish and chip mob burning themselves to pieces on the beaches at the moment but no doubt it will have to transform itself back into a genuine Greek small city by the time we return from Nepal.
Moored in the middle of a volcanic caldera
16 September 2011 | Santorini
Alison, light to moderate North west winds
We left the southern anchorage of Manganari Bay on the island of Ios with the aim of arriving at the moorings below Oia on Santorini at around 10 am with the expectation there might be a free one. The ten mile crossing had a mix of winds so common amongst the Cyclades. On this short trip it gradually increased to 15 and then died again to 5 knots as we motorsailed into the caldera at Santorini.
The island villages were severely damaged in the 1956 earthquake but the towns of Oia and Fira gazed down on top of us as we sailed under them, restored to their original states, mainly white but not quite the same sugar cube, flat roofed style as the other Cyclades. Quite an amazing colour contrast with the barren volcanic cliffs below them and the deep blue waters of the caldera.
We wandered around the moorings for a few minutes, wondering which were available to be used as there were a number of local boats cruising around the caldera who might own the moorings. We grabbed a conveniently placed one drumming up in our minds what reason we could give for taking one if a belligerent boat owner turned up, shaking his fist.
Once tied up we took the dinghy over to the taverna where the zig zag track could be seen winding its way up the hill. We walked about 3/4 of the way up and discovered the falling rocks warning sign at the bottom was actually a full slippage of the cliff and not even a fear freak would attempt to cross it.
In the end we took the dinghy around to the small port and tied it up at the rather bouncy wall and then walked up the road to the top where the scenery over the caldera was quite captivating. There were at least three cruise ship loads of people wandering through the narrow streets of Oia.
Odd winds at the heart of the Aegean
12 September 2011 | Schinoussa, Little Cyclades
Geoff - hot and calm
Pic shows from the top: The Little Cyclades, Paros street, windmill, Kalando Bay on Naxos with huge superyacht (not us!); Naxos town - the Hora and the Apollo temple columns with Saraoni framed behind.
In a little bay on Schinoussa island in the little Cyclades - left Naxos this morning. A very tight squeeze in this tiny place, but quite nice. Even more of a tight squeeze when a huge fuel tanker arrived to berth at the quay later in the day, but I digress.
The gap beween Paros and Naxos is a natural wind acceleration zone, so it was no surprise to get a nice downwind sleigh ride to the south of Naxos, but the wind seemed to vanish down there - we even had a sea breeze in the afternoon. From a vantage point high above Kalando bay in the morning we cold see white tops streaming down each side of Naxos and far to the west and east, but a total calm to the south. Today was the same - calm all the way to Schinoussa and a light sea breeze.
Schinoussa is a sleepy little place - the village is cycladic blue and white with the now familiar flat roofs and narrow streets on top of the hill above the little port. From the highest point on the island a fantastic view in every direction - towards Turkey was Amorgos, Koufonissos, Keros and Donoussa; towards Libya - Santorini, Amalfi and was that Crete? Towards the Greek mainland - Irakleia, Ios, Sikinos and Paros. All surrounded by a sparkling blue sea.
It certainly seemed that we were in the heart of the Aegean.
Blue and White in the Cyclades
06 September 2011 | Naxos island
Heather swapped a Bundabergle of Queensland zucchinis for a churchload of Parian Greek blue and white.
Now anchored behind the breakwater at Naxos island - very hazy, with no wind -again! Naxos is only a short hop from Paros, but is bigger and more rugged. An abandoned temple is oddly situated at the foot of the breakwater and the typically blue and white town is scattered down the hill below a Venetian castle.
Paros was certainly quite unusual with dominant white and blue colours painted on the buildings with their completely flat roofs adorned with an assortment of chimneys and dovecotes.
Hiring a car was the best way to see the island even though, as with most of the 18 islands we have visited, the government bus company KTEL puts on a regular service to most key places on each of the island. There is a great mix of transportation racing around on the narrow winding roads.
The tourists dash around on motor bikes and quad bikes and there is actually nowhere to park a car in Parakoia by evening as everyone takes to the town at night. The anchorage for a change is only 5m in sand but there are tie up facilities with power and water as well.
Into the Cyclades - the windy isles?
01 September 2011 | Between Syros and Paros - the Central Cyclades, Greece
Geoff - hot, light wind from the North
Pic shows the old town above Erimopoulos, Syros island in the Cyclades.
Motoring between Finikas harbour on Syros island to Parakoia on Paros - the strong meltemi while behind Evia island eased to nothing, quickly, and we have spent the last few days in almost windless conditions moving out to Kea island, then Syros. It seems as if it's hard to get the right balance - when the meltemi is blowing at this time of the year its too windy, and if it's not - there's no wind!
Another meltemi is due to start in a day or two so we'll be staying on Paros until next week, when we will head off towards Santorini, then Crete.
The Cyclades seem dry and barren - they have a reputation for being in the windiest part of Greece, half way between the Greek mainland and Asia Minor. Amazingly, communities prosper and thrive on these rocky lumps. We spent a few hours wandering around Erimoupolos - Syros' (and the Cyclades') largest town - 14,000 people live here - and the place was buzzing with activity. Friend Heather from Bundaberg is soon off back to Athens on a short European tour before resuming grandmother duties in Belgium for the last few weeks.
A few days later - still on Paros. The wind is up, bringing cooler conditions and sweeping away the mozzies. Have explored Paros by car - amazing architecture here in the Cyclades with the profusion of white washed houses with Greek blue everywhere, flat roofs, dovecots and windmills. What is more amazing is that somehow all the modern buildings also have white walls, blue windows, flat roofs, dovecots and all - even the local post office, the Carrefour and the Cosmote (govt telephone shop).
The visual appearance is something of an illusion, however, as the social relationships represented by these buildings are totally different. The new white washed mansions are apart, separated from each other by barbed wire, Prozochi skylos (Beware of the dog) signs whereas the original village buildings were knitted together by family connections and the need for cooperation. The new mansions have family churches within their compounds - blue and white - it's true - but not places where the community gets together, gossips and bets on God. A mark of progress seen everywhere in the Western world, perhaps.
Paros is a dry, brown rocky lump like the other Cyclades. It has marble to dig up and sell - apparently the marble from here was used for Napoleon's tomb and the Venus de Milo statue. Old terraces indicate crops were grown here - like Turkey, the new crop of tourists from the mainland and real estate seem to have supplanted the wheat, olives and goats.
26 August 2011 | Aliverion
Alison - strong meltemi
The passage down through South Evia wasn't quite as peaceful as the North. The unmanaged port in Halkida breathed hardly a whisper of wind, but once we had left we felt the full force of the Meltemi as we went under the suspension bridge to Eritria. The 12 or so miles was at least in our favour but heading on towards Aliverion in an easterly we hit upwards of 40 knots on the nose. We retreated after a couple of miles out on the 1st attempt but the next day a similar pattern emerged but we plugged on to the sheltered harbour of Aliverion with the idea of hanging out there for a few days. The weather forecast was issuing gale warnings anyway. Even though the seas aren't particularily big, the force of the wind is the same as the open waters of the Aegean.
We are now nicely anchored in the port. It's a little noisy from the night activities but there is a good bus service, so we can explore the surroundings in relative comfort.
There was a great Saturday market on the road to town - almost like a Turkish market - cheap and varied. We took a bus over the island to the town of Kymi, perched above the East coast port of the same name that serves the island of Skyros. The Aegean was definitely in angry mode as the waves crashed over the breakwaters. On the present forecast, the wind is due to die off in two days with enough respite we hope to get well into the Cyclades.
Through Aristotle's gap
21 August 2011 | Halkida, Evia Island, Greece
Geoff, hot and windy northerlies
After anchoring in the great little landlocked bay just west of Glyfa in the southern side of Volos, the next day we progressed further down the Gulf of Evia to Loutra Adipsou, a small town on the island of Evia which mainly serviced holidaying Greeks. We managed to tuck ourselves up into the corner of the inlet in 20 m but very calm conditions. After a quick call to the Port Police in Halkida, they informed us that the bridge would be opened on Tuesday. It seems that it's not opened at the weekend so as to allow weekend traffic undisturbed use of the Bridge.
On arrival at the bridge in mid morning we were beckoned over to the port wall so we just managed to tie alongside for the afternoon. It was quite alarming to watch the tide racing in one direction and then the other. We paid our 18 euros passage fee and waited for the allotted time of eleven o clock at night to pass through in company with about twenty other boats lined up on either side. The bridge only opens for a brief period because of the holiday traffic across the gap betweeen Evia and the mainland.
The radio announced that everybody was to follow us through the gap (maybe because we had paid up first!) The actuality was a lot more chaotic and nobody took a blind bit of notice of anything - but at least only boats in one direction went through at a time and the current helped us through at about 2 knots. A good, quiet anchorage lay on the South side.
We then found an odd sort of "free" marina where we were able to tie up and get water. After several days here we are still not sure who owns what but its all been quite useful. We used the bus to walk halfway up Mt Dhirfys in central Evia - it was surprisingly cool with rushing clear streams through the pine forest 1000m up.
Old friend Heather off "Kindred Spirit" in Bundaberg is visiting for a while as part of her European trip to see her daughter and grandchildren in Belgium. We now have to keep moving a little faster than we would have liked as we want to be in Aghios Nikolaos in about a month from now. The meltemi has decided to make a serious comeback in the Aegean, though where we are it is a little too calm.
Entering the Gulf of Evia
13 August 2011 | Ormos Vathi Kelon
After spending several days in the tranquilty of Ormos Vathoudi in the Pagasitikos Gulf we weighed anchor for the start of the Gulf of Evia. The forecast gale hadn't blown as much as expected overnight so we thought it was time to carry on. About an hour later with the wind the nose and an ominous swell, we dropped the anchor in a delightfully peaceful bay not far from Vathoudi and spent the afternoon watching the fire service planes scooping up water and dumping it on a bush fire in the olive groves up on the hillside.
We had an early start the next day and, after anchoring behind a little island for a couple of hours to wait for the morning north westerly to die down, we finally sailed into Ormos Pigadion - a bay on the mainland, where we remained for the rest of the day, We climbed up to the rather ramshackle castle site towering above us.
There was a lot of night club activity well into the night which is not that unusual in some of the bays we have anchored in. There must be virtually nobody left in Athens as it seems everybody is on the beach. Fortunately for us, the anchorages are still quite surprisingly uncrowded. The Gulf of Evia is not that well known, except to Greeks, but it allows passage North and South without the swelly anchorages and lumpy, windy seas of the Central Aegean.
A mikro gem of an anchorage on the Greek mainland
08 August 2011 | Vathoudi Bay, Pagasitikos Gulf, Thessaly
Geoff - light to moderate north easterlies, hot
250 miles to Crete and all down wind! At least that's the theory. Our route will take us along the 100 nm North and South Evia gulfs and then through the Cyclades to Crete. The theory seems accurate as we sailed from Skiathos to the Trikeri Strait in pleasant beam winds, then a brisk run as we turned the corner into the Pagasitikos gulf. By chance we found the best anchorage we have found so far in Greece - so good that for one mad moment we thought of overwintering here rather than Crete.
For both of us it was the first time we had stepped on the Greek mainland since we were 21 - at different times, but both hitchhikers. I was on my way from NZ to England, and hitchhiking from Istanbul to Dubrovnik via Thessalonika where I exchanged a couple of pints of blood for a new pair of shoes!
Back to the anchorage - plenty of room, pretty, complete all round wind and wave protection, a short walk to a village with cheap souvlaki and mythos beer, and a bus to the large coastal city of Volos, 45km away. Here in Vathoudi Bay, in the south eastern corner of the gulf, there is also a Sunsail base, a boatyard and moorings. We'll be here for a couple of days then will make our way down the two Evia gulfs, which are blocked in the middle by the Halkis bridge - this only opens for an hour at a time, at night and on short notice, so we have to be in the right place at the right time.
This part of the Mediterranean actually has something resembling a tide - up to 0.8 m at springs and apparently the tide changes direction 7 times a day in the Halkis area with the rate up to 7 knots ripping through the 50 m passage where the Erepus strait is located. Aristotle apparently (the Ancient Greeks must have been experts at telling absolute whoppers) jumped into the sea in disgust at Halkis as he couldn't explain the tide movements there satisfactorily. Maybe he jumped in 7 times? History doesn't tell us how he managed to get out again without being swept up or down the channel..........
Walking in the Sporades
01 August 2011 | Alonissos
Alison variable winds quite hot
Pic shows Klima islet off the little harbour of Neo Klima, from the pine forest ridge on Skopelos island.
The anchorages around these islands are not at all crowded, despite it being in the middle of the summer holidays. Most of the short term cruisers and charter boats tend to want to tie up in the ports, cheek by jowl, so they are close to services and tavernas. This frees up space for us and anybody who prefers the free flow of wind at anchor. Skopelos, with its attractive pine covered hillsides has a neat little harbour, Neo Klima, on its Western side which, along with free electricity and a small fee for water was generally uncrowded.
We walked up the hill to the large village of Glossa about 8 Km away and sprawled across the hillside overlooking the port of Loutraki, which is the alternative ferry stop to Skopelos harbour on the Eastern side, which is supposed to get untenable at times. Another walk took us right over the pine covered ridge about 450m high and down to the small town of Skopelos. We lost our way a couple of times so we didn't get back to Neo Klima until the middle of the afternoon. Probably about 15 km of steady walking.
Our next anchorage stop was on Skiathos, a bay just West of the well protected but very noisy harbour, called Megalos Amos. This was again uncrowded even though there were a few parasailors around and water skiers but no noisy night club to contend with. A good walk took us to the top of the ridge, with views over towards the Greek mainland.
After heading back to Skopelos and onward towards Alonissos we decided to go into Panormio inlet as a southerly was on the menu with a NW change so we needed an all round anchorage. In fact, it wasn't too bad and we even attempted the tie up thing so as to conserve on space. Arriving before most other boats we had plenty of time to dance around while trying to attach a stern rope to a protruding rock on the shore. There was no real wind to concern us and we were virtually completely surrounded by pine trees.
The next day we sailed on to Alonissos island and anchored in the tight little bay next to the port of Patitiri. This was a bit rolly, especially when the ferries disgorged their cargo of daytrippers, but it was o.k. We walked up to the old town of Hora, perched on the hill overlooking both sides of the island, then sailed to the almost uninhabited island of Peristera. No seals or dolphins. We learnt that the 50 something remaining monk seals in the marine reserve area were breeding on the island of Piperi, out of bounds to anybody without a permit, but we did see a few pairs of rare Eleanora's falcons.
Our last sail in the Sporades was back to Skiathos, with some unusual weather around kicking up the swell. A few thunderstorms rolled through, but no rain to speak of. We cycled to Koukanaries beach, touted as the third most beautiful beach in the world by somebody from the British Sunday Times. Probably would have been nice without ten million people and a similar number of sun loungers. We also did a long walk over the ridge from the monastery to the old fortified settlement of Kastro at the Northern tip. This was settled by Skiathos people in the fourteenth century as they were sick of being looted by pirates down in Skiathos town. The site is spectacularly spread out on a flattish hill top surrrounded by cliffs and the sea. The inhabitants had to lug water from the nearest valley and kept a tub or two of boiling hot oil ready for any invaders. With the Byzantine empire in freefall, around the time that the inhabitants of Capadoccia were tunnelling into the tufa pinnacles to escape the marauders, sounds a bit like Somalia today!
20 July 2011 | Skopelos, Northern Sporades, Greece
Alison and Geoff, calm and sunny
Pic shows route from Finike so far as a blue dotted line. From the Sporades our route will be either inside or outside the large island of Evvoia, across the Saronic Gulf near Athens, a touch on the Eastern Peloponessos, then through the Cyclades group in the Central Aegean to Crete. We are now booking our trip to a much cooler Nepal and the Himalayas for the beginning of October.
We arrived yesterday in Neo Klima harbour, a tiny little port nestled under the pine covered hillsides of Skopelos island after two long hops across the Aegean. Day one took us from Sigri on Westen Lesvos to Skyros island in light North East winds while the second hop took us up to Skopelos in very calm conditions. We didn't see much of Skyros or see it's little Skyros ponies as we were in a rush to get across the Aegean before the wind headed us. Skyros was apparently Achilles' hiding place. His mum was keen for him to evade a forecast death in the Trojan wars and had him shipped out to lonely Skyros disguised as a girl. All to no avail, apparently, as he was discovered and carted off to war and his death. This island group - the Sporades - will be our turning point on this Grecian gyration - after a few weeks here we will be slowly zig zagging our way towards Crete.
The meltemi is not as strong here as elsewhere in the Aegean and the anchorages numerous and close together with several islands part of the large Alonissos marine reserve. This has been set up at least in part to protect one of the last remaining populations of one of the world's most endangered mammals - the monk seal. We have seen little marine life generally anywhere in the Mediterranean, though these Northern waters seem to have quite large numbers of petrels and shearwaters, so we are hoping for more interesting things than flocks of tourists in the reserve!
Lesvos - island of migratory birds and plenty of the good oil
12 July 2011 | Skala Kalloni, Lesvos, North East Aegean
Geoff - moderate meltemi
Pic shows some of the migratory birds on Lesvos - our little warbler friend, an avocet, white and black stork, stilt, plover and flamingos.
Lesvos is Greece's third largest island, lying just off the Turkish coast near Ayvalik. It has two strange looking inland seas, connected to the Aegean by narrow entrance channels - the appearance of these 'sea lakes' looked quite intriguing so we just had to investigate. As the wind from Chios pushed us towards the western 'lake' - the Kalloni Gulf, that's where we ended up. We stopped in the sheltered channel at a small village called Apotheke for a few days, then sailed right up to the head of the gulf off the sardine fishing village of Skala Kalloni. Surprisingly, this was a perfect spot during the meltemi - flat seas and the wind relatively tamed. It felt as if we had anchored right in the middle of an island!
Lesvos is part of the route taken by large numbers of migratory birds as they make their way between Russia and the Black Sea and Africa, large numbers of wetlands in and around Kalloni attracting them to stay for a while. By the time of our visit the numbers of birds was a lot less, but we still saw a hundred odd flamingos, hundreds of avocets and many other waders as well as a wary red fox eyeing up his next breakfast. As if to greet our passage to the island of migratory birds a tiny warbler spent a couple of hours flitting around our cockpit well out to sea on the way from Chios. It seemed totally unafraid and hopped around looking for flies and even flew in and out of the saloon and all over our heads and hands!
Like many of the islands we've visited, Lesvos had two halves - the centre and the East was covered in olive trees and pines, while the West was barren, dry and volcanic. We spent time wandering all over the island by bike and bus - to Mytilini, the island's busy "capital" and Molyvos, a pretty little port on the North coast with it's kastro and narrow, winding streets. From the hill above the town we could see the Turkish coastline stretching the last 30 kilometres or so up to the entrance to the Dardanelles which lead to Gallipoli, Istanbul and the Black Sea. Not our route this time - we will be off across the Aegean to the Northern Sporades once the central Aegean has quietened down after the latest bout of meltemi winds.
A Little Chaos in Chios
02 July 2011 | Lesvos-Skala Kolloni
Alison, light northerlies.
Pic shows the Byzantine castle at Volossos, North Western Chios with the mediaeval village of Volossus below.
Chios harbour is just massive, not normally our preferable overnight spot but we spent 3 days moored in the harbour for Geoff's birthday and toured the island by car for a change. Deciding on a suitable mooring spot in this near empty harbour was a tactical nightmare with bits of rope and chain dangled all around the boat as we tried to work out whether one of us used the dinghy to motor a stern rope up to the stone wall, tie up and then reverse back letting the forward anchor chain out.
After trying this little experiment we worked out that reversing into the wind was not such a good idea after all so we finally went bow in and slowly dropped a stern anchor which proved OK. Fortunately as this tangle of rope and chain debacle was taking place most onlookers were too hot to look and the restauranters were half a sleep. There wasn't even a head turned by the port authorities. You wouldn't bother turning your head either as of the few boats moored in the harbour, most were 20 m motor launches.
Anyway, we manage to hire a car for 30 euros and took off for a tour of the island. The highlights were a cooked breakfast on a deserted hilltop, a swim in beautifully clear water and a visit to the medieval village of Mesta. We are not history lovers but this certainly was an old village kept alive by tourists' interest in its uniqueness. It is quite amazing how you can get so close to the past. Fortunately, many places on the Greek islands have preserved a little bit of history by maintaining the narrow cobbled streets and steep steps that are a nice, but steep shortcut up and down to wherever you want to go as long as you are not on a bicycle, motor or car.
Meltemi bound at the birth place of Pythagoras
24 June 2011 | Pythagoriou, Samos, Eastern Sporades, Greece
Alison and Geoff, windy northerlies, getting hotter every day
Pic above shows Turkey's mountainous coast within Samian spitting distance of Pythagoriou's little port and marina.
Anchored just outside the little harbour of Pythagoriou waiting for the meltemi to weaken before continuing our slow, Grecian gyration. We have more than once on this journey been reminded of ancient Greece's contribution to language, science, maths and philosophy. Never mind that Greece is in economic meltdown, with the request for a second rescue package causing ructions both in the homeland and wider across Europe and further afield. The glory days were definitely B.C.
Here on the island of Samos, Pythagoras, the author of the golden rule of right angled triangles and apparently much more, was born. Delving into his personal history becomes a little difficult - and much less clear than his mathematical formulae. Even the local council- the dimos - gives no information about this famous man, although it has built a statue in his honour - appropriately under a huge, metal hypotenuse! Pythagoras was a Samian, but left on an exploration of the known world in search of life's mysteries and secrets. He apparently eventually settled in Italy.
His old home town is now a rather quiet, small, tourist port, though once a busy city of 60,000, more famous for its engineeering marvels including the Polycrates inspired 2000 year old 1 kilometre water tunnel buillt into the hillside and the harbour mole than poor old Pythagoras alone.
Turkey is only a short spitting distance away, something which Samians apparently did quite a bit of when under the thumb of the Ottoman Empire!
We have hiked and cycled the hills, pathways and roads and collected fuel, and provisions and are now contemplating our strategy with the summer wind season apparently in full swing. We would like to go to Chios and then Lesvos but we are waiting for a weather window to make the 40 mile hop.
Patmos – where religion, ice cream and bicycles are pedalled
14 June 2011 | Patmos island, Dodecanese
Geoff; Clear skies, moderate NW winds
We're in Patmos - the Northernmost of the Dodecanese chain that starts with Kastellorizou near Kaş. To the North lie the large islands of Ikaria and Samos, shimmering on the hazy horizon. We have now visited or sighted over 30 of Greece's island complement.
That leaves only about 1370!
We have gradually reached the conclusion that religion is part of the social fabric here in this part of Greece no less than in Turkey - maybe more so. Everywhere on country roads are the little shrines with candles burning and offerings, much like Thai spirit houses. Churches are everywhere, named after the many saints. Boats, even people have been named after saints too. Saints' Days and Festivals have visibly and audibly come and gone even in our short sojourn here.
Patmos' known religious life started with a man called John the Divine who lived in a cave, heard voices and foresaw the end of the Earth. He and his biblical work "Revelations" was taken so seriously that the island became a source of pilgrimage and necessitated the building of the monastery which now tops the whitewashed walls of old Hora, the town on top of the hill above Skala. It is a curious reflection on human nature that whereas the apocalyptic warnings of global warming, backed up with reams of real life scientific evidence are virtually ignored, the ravings of a real life nutter get so much attention. Into Skala pour the legions of modern day pilgrims and tourists, many in cruise ships, most of whom visit the "Cave of the Apocalypse" and the monastery.....and eat ice cream! Whatever, Hora and the views in every direction are spectacular.
The wind is up a little and it is cooler to walk and cycle and this is the best way to see the islands. On one walk, up in the far north of the island we tried with no success to rescue a little goat, separated from its mum by a wire fence. The vegetation here is sparse - thyme, oregano and basil are everywhere amongst plants that seem to have made every effort to withstand the withering sun and goat teeth.
Tomorrow we head for the Samos Strait via little Agothonisi.