Peloponnese Blog 4 (9 August 2019)
21 August 2019 | Preveza but blog about Saronic Gulf
Martyn Morris (Veronica ed.) | Wall to wall blue sky
We have had guests on the boat for 24 days and hence the skipper and blog writer has been slack, so probably best if I divide this blog into two to cover the period since we left Spetses on 15 July with Dylan and Amie on the boat and then have a separate chapter for the period that Mike was on the boat which was essentially the Gulf of Corinth.
From Spetses, we headed for Koiladhai, a big bay with a well-known boatyard and a laundry; such are the things that interest yacht people. Actually, although the town was unremarkable, the constant comings and goings from the private island across the bay were interesting, as well as the massive Franchthi cave opposite the town, which after being extensively excavated yielded Mesolithic skeletons, apparently the oldest indications of human habitation in Europe.
The night we were there we ate on the boat and listened to thunder and lightning rumbling on the horizon. The crew said, don't worry it is miles away. By the time the braai was done and the food ready to be served, it was on us and in typical thunderstorm style it went from dead calm to 30 knots plus in about 10 minutes as the downdraft and the torrential rain spat and growled at us. The anchor held as the boat sailed around it, straining at the leash, so the meal was slightly distracted. It was the only thunderstorm that we have had to date.
Dylan and I went to visit the cave in the calm of the next morning, necessitating a clamber up over rocks and a traverse around the front of the headland, being careful to avoid lethally-sharp dolomite and limestone. The cave is huge and we only got to look down on it from above. As we left the bay, our curiosity about the private island directed us out of the other entrance to the bay, whence it became obvious we had risked life and limb unnecessarily as around the other side was a jetty and easy access to the cave!
Porto Heli is a massive sheltered bay and reputedly the former King of Greece has a home there. A fancy new Marina is still in the process of being built so we just dropped the hook in the middle of the bay and stayed two nights. Aside from the upmarket eateries, the main attraction was a large supermarket from whence you could wheel their trolleys straight to the tender. Dylan and I explored on the bicycles while Veronica chilled and read in her hammock and paddle-boarded around the bay instead. I should just say that in a boat both Spetses and Porto Heli, which are separated by a one nautical mile strait, are definitely worth a visit.
New crew arriving meant that we needed to head for Poros. We left at 09h00 and arrived in the Poros channel at 16h00 after sailing and motor sailing most of the day. There was another "megálos ánemos" predicted so we were lucky to get a spot on the south quay, in the lee of the hill and the town. Only downside was the nightclub, which had a fearsome reputation but ended up being a bit of a non-event. The narrow and shallow channel just off our bow was continuously plied with traffic including the jet ferries and tripper boats of all shapes and sizes. They were courteous and we experienced no ferry wash issues.
We bumped into Peter and Heather, from Plettenberg Bay, on their cat "Absolutely Amazing" last seen in Cortone on the foot of Italy when they were on their way to Sardinia and we were on our way to Greece. They had a full contingent of Surf Africans who were hell bent on finding a bar to watch the Australia/Bokke test match. I told them I thought their chance were about as slim as finding a unicorn in Antarctica. They found one, although it was mute and I had to eat humble pie: a taverna which managed to find an illegal live stream and put the match on a big screen TV but being without sound meant that unfortunately I did not even realise that half time was dedicated to Johnny Clegg playing Impi. We were sitting in the tavern, in the middle of the match, when Amie's ferry arrived. I guess you cannot hang out with Surf Africans and not be assimilated into the rugby thing, even if Dylan is a diluted SAFFA at this stage.
Poros is a wonderful and busy place with numerous tavernas interspersed with little shops. Behind the waterfront row are narrow cobbled passages lined with more shops and narrow sets of steps leading higher up the hill to yet more winding passages and lanes becoming residential as you climbed the hill. A good climb affording the four of us worthwhile views and the morning's exercise!
Hydra is a highly recommended place with no vehicles and a special old town apparently ... we tried to go there but it didn't work. We left Poros late and there was a moderate Melteni blow. The initial plan was to go to an anchorage we had passed on the way to pick up Amie. The map indicated good protection from the Melteni, but in practice when we got there, the swell was wrapping around but there was this one tiny bay protected by a long rock finger. A large motor yacht was just leaving so we took our opportunity, however the bottom was rocky and it was dubious whether the anchor would hold. Dylan went ashore but the attempt to attach a stern line failed in the strong cross wind and a chafe protector was lost in the process, we decided to bale. We headed across to Mandraki on Nisos Ìhdra. It had been recommended by Peter, the sailing gynaecologist, saying that there was surprisingly good shelter there despite what it looks like on the map. We got there late and it was full. It is a tricky place as it is deep and if you are forced into the outer section of the enclave (as we were), you have to drop in very deep water. This we did and the anchor seemed to hold, also the wind was dropping. This all looked good, Dylan and Amie took a walk ashore to watch the sunset; we braaied on the boat and had a peaceful night. The plan the next day was to walk around 2km to Hydra town. In the morning Veronica went for a walk ashore. Meantime some Dutch youngsters provided us with some entertainment. They had spent ages the night before trying to secure line ashore, flying their colours as green chartering types. The rather brief bikinis added to the entertainment value for some. Just as the wind started building they departed and were frankly just too slow to get out of the slot and get their anchor up. They blew down on the medium sized super-yacht moored upwind of us. Much consternation as the crew of the super-yacht scrambled to get their super sized fenders down. Veronica was ashore and offered to take a line to secure the catamaran but ultimately they just walked it forward along the super-yacht and luckily they escaped around the front of it without becoming involved in their anchor chain. Our turn next, I noticed that we were dragging and we had to start the engine and drop all the stern lines in a hurry. Escaped that one but now we picked up a long mooring hawser laid on the sea floor. We managed to pull the hawser close enough to the surface to get an independent line under it. To my total amazement, the crew of the super-yacht with the owner in tow, came out to help. This amazed me, especially as we were well clear of them, downwind and no danger to them. Then as we were preparing to get in the water to dive the line through the owner of the super-yacht dived in and dived the anchor off the line without even putting a line under it to take the weight. A total first, help not just from a super-yacht but from the owner, massively grateful. This was all a little too much action in 24 hours and all in Amie's first 36 hours on the boat. We headed back for Poros and anchored with lines to the shore in Ormos Neorion, past the main town. A peaceful place, save for the big Greek mama that came down and went ballistic because we had tied to a tree. She claimed it was her tree and threatened to cut our lines. Actually, there were a bunch of kids swimming on the jetty as this spectacle started winding up like a jet turbine starting. They were sniggering and I suspect they had seen various versions of this movie before. Dylan went ashore and through the 11-year-old translator amongst the crowd of kids, managed to starve the jet engine into shut down mode; an act of deft shuttle diplomacy. We agreed to move our line, which by the way had a chafe protector on it and was going to do no damage to the tree. Later at supper in the taverna we enquired and discovered she did not own the land or the tree and they were massively apologetic on behalf of the community. What really got my goat was that she was telling the kids to cut our lines, something that is an absolute cardinal sin in the marine world and one with potentially massive consequences. We had a peaceful night and left early the next morning.
We passed Russian Bay and headed in a long loop around the top of the Methana Peninsula to Vathi. As luck would have it, we tacked up the east side, had a calm sail across the top and then down south towards Vathi (there are many Vathis) in a 20 knot cross wind! The northern part of the peninsula is an extinct back-arc volcano. This made for some spectacular landforms in what were clearly several volcanic cones. Vathi is a minuscule harbour, one of those that in a strong cross wind, you stick your nose into and take in the opportunities before rapidly scampering back out of the entrance to brief your crew and make your plans. We got in just fine but later there were antics to amuse us as another Dutch chartering type got blown down onto people's bows. Sorry, I know I seem to be picking on the Dutch in these recent blogs ... I am not it is just factually what happened. If you go back to the blogs on our time in The Netherlands you will find nothing but respect and that remains. This Vathi is an exceptionally quaint little place but the highlight was taking the restaurant taxi, driven by the very pleasant deaf and dumb guy, up to the volcano. From where he dropped us, it was a half hour super steep scramble to the cave (old lava tube?). The views were stupendous and the moonscape of rocks and craters interesting. We were glad we had taken the restaurants advice to leave at 18:30 as the heat started to come off. This back-arc volcano is on a line with Santorini and another one in the Gulf of Corinth. Of course Santorini "let-go" in spectacular Krakatoa fashion in about 2000BC. This volcano is of similar Rhyolite/Dacite composition, the explosive type, because the lava is a mixture of mantle material and other rocks containing water and other volatiles that are re-melted as they are subducted into the mantle (c.f. volcanoes in the Andes).
The next morning Veronica and I got up before the heat came on and the bread van arrived. We took a walk to the next bay and we fell into the company of a local charter skipper who was doing the same thing. He told us that the adjacent bay was 1000m deep and contained a submarine volcano that was still bubbling. Jacques Cousteau had been here with his submarine/bathysphere to study the black smoker; something of great fascination to biologists and geologists because these submarine black smokers support what is essentially a different marine lifeform that lives off the sulphur spewing from the vent.
Next on the itinerary was Epidhavros, where we were lucky to get onto the quay in the old harbour. Dylan and Amie went to dive the sunken city in the adjacent bay but the wind chop prevented that from being totally successful. The next morning we took the bus about 15km inland to see the ancient Greek Theatre of Epidhavros. It is amazingly well preserved, seats 14 000 people and is still in use today. It was not an exaggeration when they said that the acoustics are so good that you can drop a coin centre stage and it can be heard in the back row. We tested it with a handclap which even when done lightly could be heard.
Time was running down for Amie and Dylan and we set off to seek out that last isolated anchorage before we headed for Zea Marina and the big smoke of Piraeus and Athens. It was to be Nisos Angistri. There was not much there except a Taverna and a lovely mini satellite island with the ruins of a fort on it and a cross on the summit with a big Greek flag. We went long lines to shore right next to this 46m schooner that was beautifully appointed. Amazingly it had no professional crew and it was just a family of four on it doing it all themselves. Great spot and Amie actually did the SUP rather well for her first time.
The next day the wind played ball and we sailed all but the last 3Nm of the 23Nm to Athens. It was exciting stuff, with a lot of traffic. Large shipping which we were trying to figure were anchored or not and lots of high-speed ferries as well as hydrofoils converging on Piraeus. Zea Marina has all the super yachts in the front part of the marina but we were sentenced to the inner areas, surrounded by the high rises and the throb of the vibrant city. We were going to stay only one night and then leave and come back to drop off Dylan, we decided however to just pay and hang out in the snake pit as we had laundry to do and Mike to pick up once Dylan left. It did have advantages of course: power, water with no wanting and a 4-storey air-conditioned supermarket with everything you could think of. Amie left the next morning having done fantastically for her first time on a boat.
With a choice of chandleries, I got quite a few boat jobs done, including making our passerelle more sexy with grippy rubber mat. Dylan and I went into central Athens and did the Sunday flea market thing and a walk up to Areopagus Hill in the searing heat. It was worth it for the views it afforded of the sprawling metropolis of Athens but also of the Acropolis. We had been into the Acropolis in 2007 and this time the €25 entrance fee did not seem worth it. Veronica took in the shops and chilled at the beach instead [much better idea!]
Sadly Dylan left the boat on the Monday and happily, Mike Fitzgerald arrived. That seems like a fine place to end this chapter.