Sailing in Greece 2011, by Neil Armitage
Thoughts of extended cruising in the Eastern Mediterranean were seeded after our 2008 flotilla cruise in the Saronic and Argolic Gulf of Greece. We talked about sailing for several months each year and so we transitioned into bareboat chartering, at first spending 6 weeks sailing in the North and South Ionian seas in 2009. Again in 2010, spending 4 weeks sailing north through the Dodecanese and out to the central and southern Cyclades.
We had been attracted to the notion of buying a yacht; the ultimate ticket to freedom but we never did pursue this in any meaningful way until returning home last year from the Dodecanese trip. Not unsurprising, sitting at home in the middle of winter having just returned from a wonderful cruise our thoughts immediately return to Greece and we wished that our stay could have been for much longer. And couldn’t we buy a boat and spend half of the year cruising in the delightful waters of the Eastern Mediterranean.
Idly browsing brokers websites for yachts of a type that we were familiar with we chanced upon one Greek broker whose philosophy gelled with us and to whom we sent an email to begin to unravel the mystery of buying a yacht in Greece. It was a carefully crafted email outlining our previous yachting experiences, our advancing age, types of yachts that we had sailed recently that we thought would be suitable for living aboard for extended periods. The broker seemed to read our needs quite well obviously having dealt with many people just like us. In his reply our perceptions we had gained from chartering were interspersed with the realities of owning our own yacht. “The main difference between chartering and your own boat is that in your own boat you will need more space. The main reason is that the new boat will be your ‘cottage’. Slowly you will move many personal things on board that will not be very easy to move as you travel between Greece and New Zealand each year.”
Sage advice indeed, but more to the point the broker went to great lengths to identify annual costs of owning a yacht in the mid 30 foot range. One that could have reached the lower end of its depreciation cycle so might be expected to hold a resale value closer to the purchase price than a newer yacht would. There were many yachts in this category. Most having started life in the charter fleets of the eastern Mediterranean. Some now 10-15 years old and may have undergone recent refits, others just 6-7 years old that would last a year or two before requiring a refit that would incur a great expense. Annual survey costs, engine and sail maintenance, lifting and under water servicing including antifouling, marina fees. In addition, coming from outside of the European Community we would be exempt VAT but we would have to deregister any Greek registered yacht and re-register it as a New Zealand vessel and then purchase a six month transit log each year.
The broker was a great communicator he was very thorough in his advice to us and clarified any issues that we had. He tempted us with descriptions and photos of 3 fantastic looking yachts. We had to try and assemble all the information from the broker into a coherent model that could handle variables of yachts of different ages, lengths and types. We constructed an excel spreadsheet that identified all costs, including the variables associated with age and length and the time cost of capital and depreciation. The model then produced an annual cost, which was clearly greater than the actual amount spent each year, but we thought would be a realistic cost of yacht ownership based on the data we had been given. A downfall with this model at the time was the very favourable NZ-Euro exchange rate. While the annual cost in Euros looked ok, when these were converted back to NZ dollars the model painted quite a rosy picture.
Having now a method by which we could estimate an annual cost of owning a yacht, which might only be used for 5 months a year at the most, it was time to do a reality check. I contacted the charter company that we had used for the last 2 years and explained what we were up to and asked if they would quote on the cost of chartering a 34-foot yacht for 5 months. We stressed that the yacht should be near the end of its life in the charter fleet and therefore typically one that we might consider buying. Having received a reply we then added the charter cost to the excel model and reduced both the charter cost and the equivalent annual ownership cost to a weekly rate over 5 months. It was quite surprising that no matter how we adjusted the inputs for ownership the costs broke even at about 13 weeks chartering.
We sent the excel model to both the broker and the charter company explaining how the model worked and asked both if they had any comments on the cost assumptions in the model. Both concurred the assumptions were reasonable and the annual ownership costs were realistic. Well the next step was a bit of a risk because we then asked the charter company if they would charter us a yacht for 13 weeks (3 months) at the same weekly rate that we had used in the model. The charter company agreed to a price that was based very closely on the weekly rate used in the model. It took no time at all for us to accept this offer and so planning began once again for another extended cruise in Greece in 2011.
We were please when the charter company offered us Spyros again, the Bavaria 33CR that we had chartered in 2009. This brought back great memories because we thought back in 2009 that she was very comfortable, spacious, light inside and the set up made her easy to sail, particularly with headsail and in-mast mainsail furling systems.
Spyros carried 150 litres of diesel and 210 litres of water so we knew how long we could go before finding a port to replenish water and fuel. On Spyros the bimini could be easily folded away so it was going to be great to have a clear view of the sails while sailing and shade when we got to port. While the wind instrument on Spyros used to give a fair account of wind speed it was not to be relied on for wind direction. In 2009 I tied strips from a blue plastic shopping bag to the shrouds to appreciate apparent wind direction. For this new charter I made two wind pennants from some wire and plastic that I could tape to the shrouds in the hope they would be robust enough not to buckle or blow away during sailing. Few, if any charter yachts, would have a light line on board that would be so helpful for retrieving anchors or towing out a long line ashore, so I added to the luggage a 17metre 8mm polypropylene line.
Preparing for our previous cruises was always exciting and quite straight forward but preparing for the 3 month cruise to which we were now committed was of a much greater scale. Assessing the various debit card options for obtaining cash while in Greece was something we had not done in the past as previously we had carried cash. Staying in contact with home and managing banking were important issues that needed a better solution than internet-cafés. Having innocently sailed into a couple of force 7’s and 8’s in previous cruises there became a more pressing need to get better weather information. We researched PAYG mobile-internet plans in Greece to ensure, as best we were able, that we could get a 3G SIM card to fit in our Telecom USB T stick. Researched web-based weather sites and added the Greek site poseidon.hcmr.gr and windfinder.com to our favourites. Calculating the quantity of contact lens solutions Yvonne would need over 3 months, as well as quantities of other staple items that we usually brought with us so as not to be reliant on trying to find supplies when we ran out in Greece.
Spyros was based out of Lefkas in the Ionian Sea. There were only a few options to get to Lefkas, more so when we started making our travel arrangements in October 2010. After spending a few hours searching the internet we decided to fly to Athens by the most direct route we could find, via Hong Kong and London. We then planned to rely on the coach services to Lefkas that could be arranged on the day. For our return journey at the end of July we would retrace our steps to Athens by coach, to London with BA then home to New Zealand via Los Angeles. We weren’t looking forward to the short transit in Los Angeles, even less so when we realized just before leaving NZ in April that we needed to obtain an authorization under the Visa Waiver Programme before we would be allowed to embark on the home flight from London. The bitterness in the pill came with a US$14 fee each for just a 1 hour 45 minute transit at Los Angeles.
A cold Thursday 28th April was soon upon us. With bags packed and sporting ultra short haircuts that were to last 3 months Yvonne and I headed to the airport for the 8:30pm flight from Wellington to Auckland, then to London and on to Athens to arrive at 2:35 on Saturday morning.
Athens and Lefkas
A long but not so uncomfortable first stage of the journey ended in London. The flight was ahead of schedule but the skies over London were closed to air traffic because of the fly-over for the Royal wedding. The six-hour transit at Heathrow’s Terminal 5 became a series of power naps and flashes of the highlights of the Royal wedding being played and replayed on the TV screens. During the 3 and a half hour flight to Athens my eyes were glued to the inboard screen and snail trail as the flight crept it way across France, Italy to finally cross the Adriatic Sea and come to rest on Athens at 2:45am on Saturday morning, 30th April.
We cleared immigration, collected our luggage and in 5 minutes we were across the road outside the terminus and checked into the Airport Hotel. What a relief. The journey had all been quite civilized but it had also been very fatiguing. The hot shower, the clean sheets and the soft bed were all blissful. Sleep was elusive for a while but we were aroused from a deep sleep with the 9:00am wake up call. After leisurely packing, breakfasting and checking out we made our way back across to the Airport, walking the 100 metres to the X93 bus that took us to the main bus terminus in Athens. An hour later we were on a very comfortable coach for the five-hour drive to Lefkas.
Arriving at the quay in Lefkas we were met by Vangelis and Yannis from the charter company, Sailing in Blue (SIB). Spyros was still being prepared. The cleaning; crew had just finished and a new anchor winch that arrived on the same bus as we had needed to be fitted. Spyros had undergone quite a re-fitting. The settees in the saloon had been re-covered, she sported a new main sail, new jib sheets, an additional water tank and cockpit seat cushions; the helm had been swapped for one of a smaller diameter which made moving around the aft end of the cockpit so much easier.
Yvonne and I busied our selves at the local supermarket gathering provisions whilst the workmen were fitting the winch. Some items for the next few weeks, some food items to last a few days because the next day, Sunday, the shops would be closed and we had in mind to leave Lefkas on Sunday only for one night. We boarded Spyros about 9:00pm, stowed our gear and provisions then went across the road to a taverna for our first real Greek meal.
It rained quite heavily Saturday night and at times the wind was quite strong. Sunday morning dawned with an overcast sky although the wind had died down. Yannis arrived at 10:00 and we went through our briefing. We couldn’t take over Spyros until Monday as the Port Police were closed but he was quite happy that we could sail down to Porto Spillia on Meganisi for the night and return on Monday. We also need to set up a broadband connection as soon as the shops re-opened. The wind started build about midday Sunday and blew from the south gusting over 20 knots. We busied ourselves setting up at Spyros, attaching our homemade wind pennants,
marking the centre point on the new helm, tying on coloured wire at 10 metre marks on the anchor chain, washing the muddy dust stains that covered Spyros following last night’s rain. By 3:30pm the wind was still strong so we gave up the idea of trying to leave Lefkas, just getting Spyros out of the berth would be a major physical effort then pushing into the head wind down to Meganisi would take the shine off the reason for doing so; Porto Spillia was our first overnight stop and fantastic experience 2 years ago.
Monday greeted us with a moderately clear sky, and a light nor westerly breeze. Vangelis and Yannis arrived to complete formalities including a trip to the Port Police to get our papers duly registered. Yannis accompanied us down to the Wind shop to help, should we need a translator, to sort out a suitable pre-pay broadband connection. A brief visit to a supermarket for a couple of items and a bread shop then we were ready to leave by 11:30am. I dropped the lines and Yvonne steered Spyros out of her berth into the town harbour then out into the Lefkas Channel heading south.
We had sent a text to our friends Ron and Elizabeth, who has arrived in Lefkas last evening and were now based in Nidri on a 2-week Neilson holiday’ we arranged to meet them there that afternoon. Out from the Lefkas channel a following breeze allowed us to pull out the headsail and reach down towards Nidri at a respectable 4 knots. The breeze soon died and we resorted to motoring the rest of the way, anchoring Spyros clear of the Neilson pontoon. A veritable hive of activity as their flotilla fleets changed over. We launched our dingy and paddled over to the base of the pontoon making our way to the Athos hotel to meet Ron and Elizabeth. It was great to see them after 2 years. They were to spend the first week at the hotel on R & R then join a flotilla for the second week; we arranged to meet up again once they were underway on their flotilla.
Yvonne and I returned to Spyros and headed to Sivota, a small port on the south of the island of Lefkas. We motored out into the Meganisi channel, several yachts were tacking into the 15-23 knot southerly breeze; we motored on. Clear of the channel the breeze steadied at 12-18 knots the swell was a bit lumpy and an hour and a half after leaving Nidri we were motoring into the delightful bay at the head of which lay the small town of Sivota. At very attractive spot and, it seemed was known to all as everyone seemed to be there. We arrived about 5:00pm and moored in one of the few spaces we could find; but yachts still came in and with a lot of squeezing by the flotilla masters most were eventually moored to the various quays.
Ionian Inland Sea
The Sivota town quay was lined with tavernas and coffee shops. After showering Yvonne and I slipped into our usual routine of drinks and nibbles in the cockpit before heading off to review the menu boards of the tavernas.
Enthusiastic waiters greeted us at each taverna; all eager that we should sample their food. It was very early in the season and although the harbour was crowded with yachts the land based tourist numbers were almost absent. There was obviously an under utilization of the available eateries and an enticement of a free carafe of wine didn’t go amiss. I really enjoyed the fried octopus, something I can only get in Greece.
With Spyros squeezed tightly between two other yachts in this crowded little port the warps and fenders creaked all night. At one point I got up and eased the warps, Spyros was pulled forward by the tension on the anchor then the fender creaking became worse. We endured the night, slept in till 9:00am and awoke to a fine morning. Several yachts had left, or were in the process of leaving, which took the pressure off Spyros who rested neatly stern to the quay while we contemplated the day.
It was 11:30 when we left the quay, not certain of where we were going. The weather forecasts suggested light winds for the morning. We thought that if there was a reasonable sailing breeze we might head for Astakos, an off the beaten track town on the Greek mainland about 24 miles across the Inland Sea. If the winds were not so good then we might have to motor so we would likely head for Kioni only 15 miles away on the Island of Ithaca. Out of the Sivota bay there was a light southerly wind, not enough to sail by at first so we pointed south to Kioni and motored for an hour before picking up enough of a breeze to sail on.
In a light 5-knot breeze we made slow headway but later Spyros picked up the pace as the breeze filled in. She was soon hustling along at a good 6 knots in 12-13 knots of wind. A cruise liner crossed in front of us; and a large tanker appeared on our starboard quarter. The wind built to 15-18 knots and we took in 3 rolls on the headsail and put in 1 reef in the mainsail. Spyros was up to 6 to 7 knots we tacked away before the tanker crossed our bows to soften the effect of her wake. Spyros handled the wind gust of up to 22 knots beautifully, she felt great in those conditions with the reduced sail. After 2 hours sailing the wind died and we motored Spyros the rest of the way to Kioni.
Kioni was tucked away in a small bay on eastern side of Ithaca. The harbour at the head of the bay was the centrepiece of an amphitheatre of houses that were scattered amongst the olive trees and conifers covering the hillsides. Our arrival early in the afternoon meant we had choices as to where we berthed. We moored up, had our usual tea and biscuit then set off on a walk that took us up zigzag road amongst houses, olive and citrus trees, tall Cyprus pines, wild flowers and gardens with bright red geraniums. We came to the summit where our path joined the main road to Frikes, by which we returned to the harbour. Kioni was out of cell phone range so we would have to guess the weather tomorrow, we showered, sat in the sun and had a brandy then made up our simple onboard tea that had evolved over the last 2 years. Based on a Greek salad we use tomato, cucumber, red onion, green capsicum, a green pepper, olives, feta cheese, boiled eggs dressed with olive oil and tostada (bread drizzled with olive oil fried to a crisp in a pan) washed down with local Greek red wine.
Wesnesday 4th May, with a clear sky and light winds we left Kioni about 10:30, again uncertain of our destination. We had thought of going to either Poros on Kefalonia in the south or across to Astakos depending on the wind. Out of the bay a light 5-7 knot northwest wind was blowing so we motored Spyros for half an hour to charge the batteries then set the sails and headed east towards Astakos. Spyros would do better reaching in a light wind than running before it. From a slow 2 knots the breeze filled in and soon Spyros was up to 5 knots. In the light winds the headsail seemed too large, flapping often when the breeze lightened. We took in three rolls and the headsail set much better, drawing without flapping Later as the breeze got up to 15 knots we put a reef in the mainsail. Spyros revelled in the conditions, a 1-meter swell lifting her port quarter and kept her trucking along at 5-6 knots. Yvonne was on the helm and with the reduced sail she was quite docile.
We made the entrance to Ormos Astakos in 4 hours and encountered a few strong gusts around the headlands of the bay. Taking the sails off was, in the case of the new mainsail a body building exercise. The new sailcloth had a lot of spring to it and needed winching in very tightly otherwise it would not fit inside the mast.
Astakos is a larger town, we had visited here in 2009 and liked it then, it was not a tourist centre and did not attract the flotillas or many yachties; perhaps because there was only space on the quay for about half a dozen yachts. Wind gusts came down from the high hills surrounding the town for most of the afternoon shaking Spyros but our moorings held so Yvonne and I took off for a walk. The wind had lightened by evening when we walked across the quay into the nearby taverna for a pleasant diner at a real non-tourist price.
Thursday, an early check on Winderfinder indicated that we could expect a good breeze today so we thought we would head across to Kastos, a small island about 15 miles sailing. We loitered about this morning before ducking into town for a few supplies where we located a wonderful market in a street leading off the town square. The vegetables were fresh and cheap as were clothes, shoes, nick knacks and general goods. We stocked up on tomatoes and bananas at the market then found a baker for the daily loaf of fresh bread and a supermarket in which we stocked up on soda, wine and eggs at really good prices. Astakos being on the mainland does not have to rely on shipping for supplies, further as is it is not a tourist town there is no advantage in charging tourist rates.
After a quick lunch we left the quay and motored for three quarters of an hour out of the deep bay and into a 12-15 knot wind and a lumpy sea. We set up Spyros with a reefed mainsail and 3 rolls in the jib and proceeded to beat into 1.5-2 metre waves that knocked the wind from its sails and slowed the pace to 3-4 knots. We held the beat for 3 miles until we needed to tack onto port in the lee of a small islet. The wind was gusting 22-23 knots and Spyros settled into the new beat quickly getting up to 6-7 knots of boat speed. The waves were now striking Spyros from abeam and were an advantage rather than a hindrance. She stood up in the wind beautifully and we enjoyed a wonderful sail to Kastos.
There were two flotillas berthing in this small harbour this evening. Several yachts were already in and we had to encourage them to squeeze up to give us room to moor stern to the quay. The lead crew of one of the flotillas comprised of 3 New Zealanders and one Australian, easy to spot as the lead yacht was flying one NZ flag, one Australian flag a Kiwi flag and the Silver fern. They were a very busy crew fitting 15 flotilla yachts into Kastos harbour. Yvonne and I retraced our steps from 2 years ago through the partially derelict settlement out into olive trees and the old stone fences of the countryside that once was a thriving agricultural community. It was fair to say that we did see some houses in various states of reconstruction and a few quite well refurbished as holiday homes. Yvonne and I ate in this evening leaving the flotilla crews to face a cool bracing wind as they trudged off to one of the two tavernas of the town.
Friday 6th May, we awoke to a clear sky and a cool breeze from the east. Windfinder indicated light winds in the Inland Sea. I checked with the flotilla leaders to find out where they were heading so we knew which harbours to avoid. I was surprised when they said their intelligence suggested that winds would reach force 6 today. We headed Spyros out of the harbour rather early and before one of our neighbours as I knew we had crossed their anchor chain; they had anchored a quite an oblique angle to the quay so the crossed chain had been unavoidable. We headed Spyros into a 12-15 knot breeze as soon as we left the harbour and set a reefed mainsail and a full headsail then ran before the breeze. We had an idea that we might head across the inland sea to Vathi on Ithaca so settled on a course in the general direction of Vathi. The wind was quite fickle, shifting through several degrees but eventually settled from the southeast. Spyros was set on a fine reach, she was much better on a reach than running in softer winds, so we decided to go to where ever she sailed best, which was to Poros. Windfinder was very true; we ran into almost no wind out in the Inland Sea and resorted to motoring for 3 hours to reach Poros.
Poros was another revisit from 2 years ago, a picturesque little town on the Island of Kefalonia, a busy tourist centre but also an important terminal for the ferries from Killini that connect the Island with mainland Greece. One of the attractions of Poros for us was the ‘water on the quay’, taps and hoses to refill water tanks that we did and also washed Spyros of the dirty red stain brought by the rain last Saturday. On our afternoon walk we were lured up the 99 steps to the Taverna Agrapidos – ‘A Greek Name for a Greek Place’ said the advertisement. We met the young couple with a young daughter and surveyed the menu. Maria recommended her Squid Saganaki, small squid rings cooked in a sauce with tomato and feta cheese, we said we will be back tonight. The squid was delicious and the view from the taverna over the bay and north to the silhouette of Ithaca against an orange hue of the setting sun was stupendous.
Saturday 7th May, Poros was bathed in sun when we ventured out of the cabin; there was a light sea breeze and not a cloud in the sky. Yvonne and I walked over the small rise to the main village passing the Police Office we asked directions to the bakery. Behind the beachfront façade there were several streets with tidy looking houses and each had a healthy looking vegetable garden. We found the bakery and explored a supermarket to check on prices of our usual supplies. Leaving Poros about 11:15am we pulled up sail as soon as we were out of the harbour but Spyros struggled to make much headway in the swell and light following southeast breeze. After an hour we had made an uncomfortable 4 miles so the sails were rolled away and we let the automatic pilot take us to Vathi on the Island of Ithaca.
At the entrance to the secluded Vathi harbour we met a stiff breeze and a flotilla of Optimus dinghies out practising; we made our way over to the north quay. With plenty of available space we berth stern to in a wide gap between a yacht and a motor cruiser. The anchor chain held well at first but the breeze was pushing the head about. We put on a spring but still the mooring was not holding so we decided to pull away and re-set our anchor. The motor cruiser had gone out for a while and we had to wait while it had re-moored before starting our manoeuvre. Little did we know that the motor cruiser had laid an anchor line across our path and as we pulled out from the quay our anchor picked up this unsuspected line, we freed it and had to quickly engage the motor before the cross wind blew us onto two moored fishing boats. The propeller picked up the freed line and wound it tightly about the prop shaft. We were stuck. I jumped into togs and a lycra top, grabbed goggles and dropped into the rather cold water to see a tangled mass of heavy rope wound 5 or 6 times around the propeller. With the help of the boat hook I managed to slowly unravel the mess and eventually freed the line. Spyros immediately drifted towards the fishing boats but the episode had seriously affected the propeller drive and we had no propulsion at all. A small crowd was now on the quay and a couple of yachties were quick to help. While we held Spyros off the fishing boats someone rowed over with a long line and several hands pulled Spyros over to the other side of the quay. Eventually we managed to get her securely berthed alongside the quay; all in all quite a mission.
Sunday 8th May, Vangelis worked hard to try and get a solution to our predicament. As best as we could describe the event and the state of the propeller he figured the loss of propulsion was due to a friction fitting designed to give way under these circumstances and arranged for a diver to meet us and replace the fitting. The diver duly arrived about 5 pm, changed the propeller for the spare we had on board but still there was no power. After several phone conversations with the mechanic he said that the gear change cable had broken and the mechanic would come in the morning. The mechanic and another assistant arrived on the dot of 8:30am Monday. An older man, large, big hands, grey haired, spoke a little English but was efficient and really charming. He had the whole console apart in a flash, sized up the situation and said we needed a plastic fitting that he didn’t have but could get one from Lefkas in 2 days. Alternatively he could make a temporary repair and we could go to Lefkas to get it fixed properly, we elected for the temporary repair, which required 3 electrician ties!
In mooring Spyros alongside the quay we had inadvertently taken the space that 2 fishing boats normally occupy. They were due to return to port on Sunday so we had shifted Spyros back along the quay to make way for them but could not shift the beam anchor that had been set on Saturday during our rescue operation. One of the fishing boats arrived on Sunday and moored stern to the quay laying out two anchors across our beam anchor. When the mechanic left, Spyros had propulsion so we untied her and slowly pulled away from the quay on the beam anchor whereupon another drama evolved as we heaved on lines to untangle 30-40 kilos of anchors, twisted chain and rope. The fisherman spotted our predicament and managed to clamber onboard Spyros as we drifted close to other boats, at least there was only a very light breeze and there was no danger of wild collisions. Eventually we freed the mess, got our anchor on board, returned the kind fisherman to the quay and set off for Lefkas. It took a good 20-30 minutes to unravel and stow a mess of ropes and to unship the fenders and make Spyros shipshape for passage.
There was only a light breeze out in the Inland Sea so we charted a straight-line passage to Lefkas set the motor on 2000 revs and switched on the autopilot. Spyros sat on 7 knots and we sat back watching the 34 miles tick over and sending a text to Vangelis saying we would be in before 5pm. Later we confirmed an ETA of 4pm and berthed in Lefkas on time. Yannis had the mechanic booked, he arrived about 6pm and was done by 7pm, including giving the engine a good inspection and fixing a diesel leak. He was a young chap running his own marine engineering business; he had a fantastic work ethic finishing the day only when all the jobs had been done. He was the chap who finished fitting the anchor winch to Spyros at 9:00pm on the day we arrived. Yvonne and I ended the day with a call to the great little taverna on the North side of the town that we had discovered in 2009. The proprietor’s wife has a connection with Lyall Bay Wellington, which added spice to the conversation.
Tuesday 10th May, it had been windy all night and we had rocked and rolled quite a bit. Windfinder indicated force 6 winds from the west this morning but reducing in the afternoon. These conditions looked good for a trip south to Kioni to eventually meet up with Ron and Elizabeth. In Lefkas harbour a strong easterly wind was blowing at 20-28k knots. We did a bit of shopping, re-filled the water tanks, topped up with diesel and waited until the wind abated before we could safely leave our berth. About 1:00pm the wind had died down to a steady 10-15 knots. Waiting for a lull we then released Spyros, pulled her off the quay with the lazy line and motored out into the channel.
Clear of the Lefkas channel the wind was 14-18 knots, setting a reefed mainsail and 4 rolls in the head sail; Spyros took off and soon the speedometer was reading 7.5 knots, and 8.2 in the gusts. It was a thrilling ride for an hour until we came into the wind shadow of a group of small Islands off Nidri. We took the sail off and motored in the light shifting condition for an hour until we were clear of the Meganisi channel when we re-hoisted sail in 12-16, gusting 20 knot winds. So for an hour and a half Spyros again revelled in great sailing conditions until the wind lightened, her speed dropped and the sloppy sea started to knock the wind out of her sails. Motoring for the last half hour we arrived into Kioni at 5:30pm to a very crowded harbour with no space left on the quay. There was room on the south side for us to anchor and take a long line ashore, which we did and met up with Ron and Elizabeth who were waiting to take our lines.
We spent a very pleasant evening together, a few drinks on Liberty, Ron & Elizabeth’s yacht then to a local taverna for dinner. Wednesday dawned sunny and little wind, we slept in but there was no rush today as we intended to follow the flotilla (back) to Vathi, which was just around the corner in the next bay, and to spend the evening with the Bulmers’ again before heading on our way south. The light wind from the north east gave us a wonderful reach and gybe run into Vathi harbour; where we moored this time away from the dreaded anchor of the motor cruiser, enjoyed a couple of walks and a pleasant diner at Dimitris Taverna across the road from the north quay.
Thursday 12th May, a sunny morning with little wind. Yvonne and I walked the 25 minutes back into town to the Wind shop we located yesterday to see if we could buy two 2 monthly PAYG vouchers for the internet connection. We had tried to buy these in Lefkas but they had run out. The Vathi shop gave us two receipts that were the same as the cards; we don’t know why Lefkas couldn’t have obliged, but now we were set up to connect to the internet for the whole of our stay in Greece and wouldn’t have to worry about finding anymore Wind shops. Back at Spyros it was time to leave. I found a willing and capable person to take photographs of us all before it was time to bid Ron and Elizabeth farewell.
It had been wonderful to see them again and enjoy their company. With a vague idea of perhaps meeting up again next year we pulled up anchor and, for the third time in Vathi extricated Spyros from another laid mooring. We motored out of the harbour into a very light easterly wind the Bulmers’ followed us. Out at the mouth of the large bay we pulled on sail and headed Spyros very slowly southwards towards Poros, Liberty turned northwards heading for Fiskardo.
South from Vathi Spyros drifted slowly in the very light wind; after 2 miles we pulled in the sails and motored to Poros, moored then Yvonne and I set off for a walk along the waterfront and out onto a long pebble beach. The pebbles were rounded, various sizes and coloured from pearly white to inky black. We picked up nice ones then discarded them as we found nicer ones, white, cream, pink, yellow and black; they would make some decoration back home but I had a heavy pocket carrying them back to Spyros.
Friday 13th May, a light breeze was blowing in from the east but Windfinder said this would die down around midday then pick up to around 10 knots from the west this afternoon. Yvonne and I loafed about for the morning, called into the supermarket for bread, made lunch then decided to leave. We had planned a short trip to Ay Nikolaos thinking also that the westerly breeze might give us good sailing. We motored for about an hour to the south of Kefalonia, the breeze had turned to the west, settling in at 9-10 knots. It looked such a great sailing wind and, to reach Ay Nikolaos we would have to beat into it so we turned south and had a wonderful reach to Zante on the Island of Zakinthos. A little further than we had planned but with the wind on our beam we sailed faster than we could have motored, mooring in Zante about 4:30pm. By the time we had had our coffee and biscuits, walked a couple of miles around to the to the office of the Port Police to register, wandered back through town checking stocks and prices in a couple of super markets on the way, it was nearly 8:00pm. Time for a shower, skipped the brandies and went straight into fixing dinner with a couple of wines.
We had found that the red house wine at all the tavernas we had dined at over the last few years was quite palatable and seemingly all from the same source. So, when in Lefkas we happened to spy a supermarket filling 1.5 litre plastic bottles from a barrel, and beside these bottles were 5 litre casks of the same wine. These were in the same casks as I was shown in the taverna in Astakos when I had to decide between demi sweet red or dry red, so we bought a 1.5 litre bottle and a 5-litre cask and reduced our in-house wine costs by 50 percent. The plan was to decant from the cask into the 1.5 litre bottle every so often!
Saturday 14th May, we awoke to an absolutely still morning, not a cloud in the sky and warm sun streaming into the saloon. I went to the laptop and turned on Windfinder, these conditions would hang around all morning then a light south westerly breeze would arrive after lunch building to about 10 knots later in the afternoon. Not day to start out early, unless we wanted to waste diesel, which at 1.60€ a litre was a 60 percent increase on the price last year. Our plan today was to reach Katakolon, about 25 miles away and easily reached in an afternoon with a reasonable sailing breeze.
Yvonne and I got back to Spyros after noon, we had a quick lunch then got underway; motoring for a bit over an hour until we were south of the Island of Zakinthos and started to pick up the forecast westerly breeze. It was a light breeze that settled in at 9-12 knots for most of the afternoon. Spyros made 4 to 6 knots of boat speed with the wind from the starboard quarter, not her best point of sailing in the light, but it was a pleasant relaxing two and a half hour sail before having to motor the last 4 miles into Katakolon.
Sunday 15th May, the baker was only going to be open between 6:30 and 8:30 this morning so I rushed over at 7 am to get a few sticky buns for a birthday treat today. Ordinarily the shops are closed on Sundays except for the occasional small food outlet. Oddly this morning we saw a group of workmen refurbishing a house so perhaps the rules don’t apply to them or that rules are only advisory and not mandatory. Windfinder said that a light wind would come in from the west again around midday. There had been no cruise liners in port today so Yvonne and I spent an hour wandering through the near deserted town before motoring Spyros out of the harbour around 11 am.
Outside the harbour a light breeze was blowing from the west but not enough to sail on. We wanted to motor for an hour to charge the batteries so waited until the breeze had lifted to 7-8 knots before trying to sail. Spyros made 4 knots of boat speed, not great with a 30-mile+ journey ahead but the day was sunny, it was hot and we had lots of time so we worked on our suntans and had one sticky bun each for lunch. After another hour while Yvonne was on the helm the breeze lifted to 10-11 knots and Spyros began making a respectable 5+ knots. It was during Yvonne’s shift that a couple of dolphins called by to say hello. They appeared off our quarter then ducked and dived beneath the bow for a minute or two. The breeze then started to lighten, we had our second sticky bun each for afternoon tea and about 10 miles out of Kiparissa we took the sails in and motored Spyros into the port.
A large trawler had followed us into port and began to unload fish. The folk in a neighbouring yacht went to see if they could get some fresh fish, I don’t know if they did but they were given a large box of freshly caught shrimp. They were quite embarrassed with the quantity, more than they could handle and not wanting to waste them pleaded with the other 4 yachts in port to take a few off their hands. I took a small shopping bag full, about a kilo then spent an hour and a half boiling and peeling them. I had a cup full on my salad tonight the rest went in the refrigerator for another day. Not a bad end to a birthday.
Monday 16th May, Windfinder said we shouldn’t waste diesel today so we stayed in Kiparissa. Although even Windfinder can be wrong because by midday there was a fresh breeze blowing from the west giving those who arrived in the afternoon some magnificent sailing. Anyway, we had sort of planned to stay here for the day so Yvonne and I slept in then wandered up to the town cruising through the supermarkets and stopping at a bakery for a couple of sticky buns. We continued on our walk uphill to the old Venetian castle overlooking the town and harbour. It was a glorious day in full sun, hot and at that time only a very light cooling breeze blowing. We ate our sticky bun in the small amphitheatre in the castle then wandered back to Spyros picking up a few supplies on the way.
Tuesday 17th May, Windfinder said we should have light sailing winds all day so we left Kiparissa at 9 am with dark clouds covering the high hill tops behind the town and motored into a very sloppy sea. The aftermath of a blow yesterday left a 2 to 3 metre swell; Spyros pitched and crashed as we pushed our way into the light breeze and swell. After an hour we rounded a headland and came off the wind and were able to set sail in 9-11 knots of breeze. We made 4-5 knots but it was a lumpy ride with the swell on our beam knocking the wind from the sails. We made slow progress. The sun soon had burnt off the clouds that were around in the early part of the day but the sea remained lumpy for the rest of the journey south through the Proti channel off Marathopolis down to Pilos. The sail was pleasant enough though and certainly better than the force 7 near gale we face two years ago.
The Pilos marina looked as full today as it did two years ago but we were determined to find a berth this time and not moor up on the town quay and suffer the discomfort of the swells than roll into the large Navarinou Bay. A kindly local yacht owner called us over and, together with the owner of an adjacent yacht helped to squeeze Spyros into the small space between their yachts, not the easiest mooring we have accomplished.
Yvonne and I had a long walk, up the (closed) castle and through town. Pilos was a clean and tidy town that extended up the hill from the waterfront, with streets running along the sides of the hill intersected by wide steps running directly uphill. We returned to Spyros and enjoyed a wonderfully still and quiet night. We both slept like logs.
Wednesday 18th May, in our wandering yesterday we found a supermarket that offered our usual supplies at good prices so this morning we returned and stocked up, some items for immediate use others as a hedge against higher prices elsewhere! It was quite a calm day and Windfinder said the early part of the day would be dogged with light westerly winds but later in the afternoon things should be better. We thought about going to the small village of Finakounda, which had limited shelter but moorings were available. We had by-passed this town 2 years ago when we transited the Menthoni Roadstead.
Out of Navarinou Bay the swells from yesterday were still making for a sloppy sea and with very little wind it was useless to try and sail. We motored Spyros the 7 miles down the coast to Menthoni then another 7 miles to Finakounda arriving just as the westerly wind picked up to 10 knots, as Windfinder had predicted. We nosed in behind the breakwater and realized this port was most vulnerable to the westerly wind so spun around and immediately pulled on all sail and started heading for Koroni. Spyros sailed out of the bay doing 6 knots, soon dropping to 4-5 knots as the wind eased but we made good passage through the Roadstead and around to Koroni. Anchoring in the bay off Koroni, as is usual, we were initially sheltered from the westerly wind but within an hour Spyros’s nose was pointing to the east and into a fresh breeze. This continued into the night and to make matters worse the breeze had kicked up quite a chop, which had Spyros bucking like a bronco for a few hours.
Thursday 19th May, the sky this morning was a brilliant blue; there was a light breeze, a cool nip in the air and Spyros was still rocking in the aftermath of last night’s blow. Koroni was one of the beautiful remote towns typical of the Peleponnese that we ‘found’ 2-years ago but with the sea bucking away we didn’t feel like going ashore. By 10 o’clock we had pulled up anchor and were motoring Spyros into a 7-knot breeze from the north, we immediately set the sails then motor sailed for an hour until the breeze died. A light breeze picked up later on, which enabled us to sail Spyros at 2-3 knots towards Limeni, across the other side of the Gulf of Messiniakos. A very slow 23-mile trip, which did have its advantages as dark clouds and rainsqualls covered the high hills surrounding Limeni. We sat in the sun watching the rain system move away, glad we were not racing into it although we did don our rain jackets when one or two stray raindrops came our way. The breeze turned to the south and strengthened a little, Spyros started making good speed as we closed in on Limeni bay. The pilot recommended two mooring sites, one in the small south bay by the town, the other in the northeast on a small mole (or quay) if there was space. We opted for the mole and a local fisherman gave us the nod that it would be ok to moor alongside, we did.
This was now new territory. Up until now we had been following the same route south down the Peloponnese peninsular as we had taken 2 years ago so Limeni was new to us and quite different. Around the shore line of the bay there were several clusters of private holiday homes, apartments, tavernas, coffee houses and bars but there was no focus indicating a main settlement, except high on the hills above the bay there were two larger clusters of houses and dotted around the hillsides were many single houses. Interestingly, most of the single houses were quite substantial homes built in stone to the old Maniote style, these were private residences probably used only in the summer as it seemed no-one was living in them at this time. There were few local residents, some fishermen, bar and taverna owners and a few farmers.
The whole area seems to cater for summer migrants and the migration, in May, had yet to begin. Our mooring was at a place called Karavostasi, about 4-5 km from Limeni, it took Yvonne and I a pleasant 2 hours walking past olive orchards, wild flowers, several clusters of houses around the bay to Limeni and back. It was our first time off Spyros since yesterday morning.
Friday 20th May, waking to a beautiful morning we got under way just after 10am, motoring Spyros out of Karovastasi into 7-6 knots of wind. For an hour we motor-sailed southwards along the rugged Mani peninsular, the hills rising to 800-1000 metres with sparse vegetation on the tops. Lower down low scrubby bushes and plants gave the appearance of pasture but no animals could be seen. Lower still small hamlets surrounded by olive trees sat strategically on small plateaus and ridgelines. Near the shoreline steep rocky cliffs pitted with caves rose out of the sea. Rocky outcrops lined the faces of the hillsides and the occasional stone clad house and old castle blended in with the natural stone faces. This was a beautifully barren landscape although dotted with the odd private residence they paled into insignificance against the massive nature of the landscape.
After a frustrating 2 and a half hours slowly sailing south around the Mani peninsular we picked up a nice breeze after we had rounded Cape Tainaro, then managing to sail at a respectable 5-6 knots for the last half hour of the day to reach Port Kayio. This was a sheltered indentation in the east coast where many yachts stop overnight on their way around the Peloponnes. We anchored in quite deep water and were in the company of 3 other yachts. There was a small hamlet at the head of the bay that consisted of 2 Tavernas and a handful of houses, mainly occupied during the summer months. We didn’t go ashore as there were no shops and we had the makings for a dinner on board that night.
Saturday 21st May, we were the last to leave the anchorage this morning, motoring Spyros into a nice breeze that was being drawn into the bay from offshore. After leaving the confines of the bay we kept on heading out to sea hoping to catch a stronger sailing breeze but the local breeze died and there was no hope of sailing for an hour or two. We motored north towards Yithion, a larger town at the head of the Lakonikos gulf. After two and a half hours a steady 4-5 knot breeze filled in from the south. Running before a breeze was not Spyros’ strongest point but we did turn the motor off and crept along at 1.7-2 knots. A pod of about 20 dolphins, line abreast came leaping towards us surfacing in unison. They parted to pass on both sides of Spyros then continued in the same direction without pausing. Later the breeze lifted to 7-8 knots and using the boathook to pole out the headsail Spyros picked up to 4-5 knots and we managed to sail for the remainder of the way to Yithion, where we were welcomed by another small pod of dolphins just off the harbour entrance.
After mooring Spyros alongside the quay we were told that space was ‘reserved’ for a large trawler that would be arriving later that day. We were a bit miffed but moved Spyros further away down the quay just before the port police arrived to adjudicate on the issue. On our return to Spyros after dinner we could see that the trawler had arrived but had berthed in a different place, I resolved to move Spyros back to our original berth in the morning, particularly as this would be closer to the hose tap and we would also rewarded with a 240 volt power connection. We had Spyros repositioned before breakfast, connected the water hose and the power supply then in a very calm and sunny morning relaxed over breakfast in the cockpit.
Yvonne and I took a walk through the town to the north, following the main road hoping to find a petrol station on the outskirts of the town and to arrange a diesel refill on Monday. No luck before lunch but we did find a petrol station over the low hill at Mavrovouni and with a little bit of imagination conveyed to the minder what we wanted. He sort of arranged a diesel delivery for tomorrow but we would have to ring the truck driver. This was the problem few seemed to understand, the people we were likely to talk to did not speak English and that we would have to use a mobile phone which was effectively ringing from NZ to Greece at an exorbitant cost. This would not be so bad if we could talk to someone but otherwise it seemed a waste of money. On our way back to the yacht we passed by the Port Police office and explained our problem, they got on the phone and in a minute had confirmed a delivery truck would come to Spyros at 10:30 tomorrow, this was a great relief. On our return Spyros was bucking and rolling about. Earlier in the day a large 1000 passenger cruise liner had called and anchored in the outer harbour. At first we had thought a ferry might have been due in when buses began to line up on the quay but the cruise liner was quite a surprise. It launched 4 tenders and proceeded to disgorge hundreds of passengers that were fed onto the buses for tours to various sites. While all of this was going on the water in the inner and outer harbour was awash with wakes. The disturbed and confused sea lasted all afternoon only settling when the cruise liner departed about 7:30 in the evening.
Monday 23rd May, the diesel man arrived right on 10:30 and, to my surprise could only fit in 45 litres of diesel. We had used our engine for about 28 hours since we last re-filled Spyros in Lefkas and calculated that we would need about 60 litres of diesel. On our earlier charter in 2009 we reckoned that Spyros used 2.1L an hour, so we had to re-fill Spyros in Lefkas with 83 L after only 20 hours running we were a bit miffed. Since Lefkas we kept a careful record of our all the time the motor was on, including idling and battery charging. Furthermore we motored at lower engine revs, about 1700-1900 rpm so we were quite delighted to find this new fuel consumption rate was about 1.6 litres per hour.
After a quick call to the supermarket for a few supplies we cast off, motoring Spyros out into a light easterly breeze and setting sail in the direction of Plitra as soon as we had reached the outer harbour. At first the light breeze gave us slow travelling then as it started to pick up Spyros romped along on a reach, its preferred point of sail. It wasn’t long before we took in a reef in the mainsail and had 5 rolls on the genoa, later to be shaken out and even more drastically, taken in when we dropped into a big windless hole. Perhaps this was fortunate because the lull signalled a strengthening and shifting of the wind direction to the point where we wanted to go. We pushed Spyros into the wind and building waves for the remainder of the journey across the gulf of Lakonikos. Just as we were about to round the headland into Xilis bay a pod of dolphins joined us for a short while, one showed off its’ high jumping skills. At the head of the bay lay the small town of Plitra where we found a reasonable anchorage in preference to running the gauntlet of ropes and lazy lines behind the town mole and breakwater.
A fresh breeze blew for the rest of the afternoon and into the evening. We stayed on anchor watch for an hour or more because the pilot had advised the anchorage was sand and rock, not everywhere good holding. With 40 meters of chain out Spyros remained firm on anchor but yawed around in the 16-24 knots of wind. The breeze did die down in the evening and we had a reasonably comfortable night. Internet reception in the bay was good but the data transfer rate during the afternoon and evening was very slow, frequently the connection would time out. I did manage to get Windfinder up in the morning on Tuesday to find winds were forecast from the east-northeast at 5-10 knots at Plitra, and 15 knots to the south of the Elous peninsular and the island of Elafonisos. That seemed ok for a run to Elafonisos so we got under way shortly after 9:30. From a dead calm at anchor to 15 knots of wind on our beam after 20 minutes was an illustration of the fickle winds in this part of Greece. We set a reefed mainsail and 6 rolls in the headsail. The winds climbed to 20-24 knots and Spyros was soon fine reaching at 7.5-8.5 knots. We took another reef in the mainsail and later another roll in the headsail. Spyros was quite manageable with this rig and romped along eating up the 15 miles to a point off the south west of Elafonisis in 2 hours. The winds fluctuated between 10 and 25 knots, over to our right was a rain shower that had passed over us at Plitra and was now well out in the gulf. Dark clouds surrounded the Island of Kythera ahead of us and for half an hour we were treated to a lighting display, hoping that the angry weather system would remain in the distance and not come over to see who we were!
At the southwest of Elafonisis the breeze strengthened and came onto our head, gusts of 28 knots shook Spyros as we sailed hard into the wind around the headland. When we were clear of the gusts we took in sail and motored Spyros into Ormous Frangos, a delightful little bay at the south of the Island to anchor on sand in 4 metres of clear water. Two other yachts, both of whom we had met before on our way south were also sheltering here in this anchorage noted in the pilot as being sheltered and a starting point for the passage around Cape Maleas. We launched the dinghy and went ashore for a walk along a long beach of white sand. There were few other people present; the summer beach lovers hadn’t arrived yet.
Spyros rocked on anchor all night, the wind howling in the rigging and strong gusts shaking it from time to time. In the morning it was quite still, the wind had died down and Spyros swung on the anchor to a slight swell rolling into the bay. Without a mobile phone net we could not connect to the internet to consult Windfinder on what the weather might do. We used instinct and hope. Hope that the forecast from 2 days ago might by right and the winds might lighten, instinct that if we did a binocular search of the Kythera channel for white caps and couldn’t find any then truly the wind might have died down. There were no white caps. We were ready to leave by 8 am. Island Bear, who was also intending to head around the Cape shortly after us, asked if we would keep watch on the VHF channel 10. Leaving the anchorage we immediately met wind gusts of 20-25 as we rounded the headland to the south of the bay. Away from the headland though the gusts reduced and we pointed Spyros on a visual heading towards Ak Zovolo, the southern most Cape on mainland Greece.
The winds across the large bay, Ormos Vatika, were only 10-20 knots with 1-1.5 meter waves. It was quite pleasant motoring but it was a lull before the storm so to speak. As we neared the lee of the 700-800 meter high hills at the south of the Elous peninsular the wind rose to a constant 20-24 knots with wind and waves striking Spyros on the port bow. This wasn’t too uncomfortable as we could motor a course along the line of the tops and troughs of the waves. But the high hills accelerated the wind and created strong gusts that raced across the bay towards us. At first we would see the black line on the water followed by a sea of white caps racing behind. Spyros would lean with the wall of wind and press ahead under motor without changing speed. Then the charging waves hit her, the wind screaming and the anemometer wound up to 30 then 35 knots. The steep waves crashing against Spyros’ side sending sheets of water over the topsides, the spray hitting us like bullets. Spyros would shudder and almost stop.
Yvonne and I had made a plan that if conditions got too bad we would turn back. During the gusts there was nothing to we could do but keep Spyros heading towards Ak Zovolov. As soon as the gust died down and the wind returned to 20-24 knots, the steep waves receded and we could make reasonable progress. Nearing the southern coast of the peninsular we could see that the gusts were confined only to about a 3 mile section in the lee of the steep hills and beyond the white water caused by the gusts the sea looked more settled, so we pressed on. The gusts were regular and their onset quite visible; we had good warning of their coming. They all were in the 30-35 knot range although at its peak the strongest gust was 39 knots.
Reaching Ak. Zovolo the seas had moderated and the wind was back to a constant 20-24 knots. Spyros, no longer hindered by the wind and sea made a steady six and a half knots. The Monastery at Cape Maleas stood out clearly in the sunlight, we had made it through the worst of the conditions and after 3 hours motoring we rounded the infamous Cape Maleas in a relatively gentle18 knots of wind and into the Agean Sea.
Monemvasia was another two and half hours motoring although a nice breeze did arrive that we could have sail on for an hour but all the excitement of the early part of the day was enough. We moored Spyros stern to on the outside of the small pier in the boat harbour. The anchor didn’t hold and wind gusts had the stern of Spyros pinned to the pier. We tried for a second time to berth but the same thing happened. Several other yachts had arrived by now and it was a bit of a circus as several tried to berth stern to the pier. The owner of a large yacht that had had similar problems the previous night who had shifted and moored alongside the quay in the inner boat harbour to invited us to raft up along side. We did so and were really grateful for the offer. The pilot says the holding is not good in the outer harbour as those moored there found out and by Thursday morning most had vacated the pier and were rafted up alongside yachts in the inner harbour, one even alongside us making a raft of three yachts.
The weather forecast was not good for the next 2 days but we had planned to stay here in Monemvasia at least 2 days. Thursday 26th May we got to know the two couples on the other yachts in our raft as we all struggled to get the 3rd yacht moored alongside. It had caught its’ rudder on a lazy line and it took a bit of time and teamwork to sort the problem out. Invitations to drinks that evening flowed from all quarters so a social hour was arranged for 7:30.
After all the fuss of rafting up Yvonne and I eventually made it into Yefira, the small village adjacent to the harbour for supplies before heading off towards the large rocky island outcrop upon which stood the old 12th century Byzantine settlement of Monemvasia, a World Heritage site. We crossed the causeway to the island and entered the lower town through a portal in the perimeter wall.
Today the town has been resurrected and reconstructed there are no vehicles on the pedestrian only streets. Narrow streets were only 2-3 metres wide with small shops, stalls, bars, guesthouses and hotels in abundance. Outside the 12th Century church, rebuilt several hundred years ago was the large paved town square from which great views were had of the sea and Peloponnese coastline. The lower town is built on the slopes of the island and steep steps zigzag their way to the summit of the rock to the site of the old upper town, which is now a large mass of ruins except for one Church that remains in tact. This has stood since the 12th Century and served as an orthodox church, a mosque, a catholic church, a mosque again and finally now an orthodox church. It is reputed to have some very fine frescos entry was barred for us to see for ourselves. The whole upper town once housed many hundreds of people. There were relics of the old cisterns that stored and reticulated water to the settlement; this was incredible engineering of the day. The rock was a natural fortress, the lower town was walled but for the rest of the settlement there were only one or two walls built where the natural defences might have been breeched.
Friday 27th May dawned an overcast day with quite strong winds in the morning and a rain shower lasting a good 30-40 minutes. Dark skies about midday heralded a thunderstorm so no one was keen to leave, including us. Yvonne and I took a long walk in the afternoon as a break from playing patience. We three yachts that had rafted together planned to re-group before dark to shuffle the yachts so that the inner yacht was free to leave at 3:00am the next morning. After duly completing this manoeuvre Yvonne and I were able to clean up about 8:30 and have a late social hour and salad tea on board.
Saturday 28th May, when I got up at 7:00am many yachts in the boat harbour had already gone. Our remaining neighbour left at 7:30 and 3 other yachts had departed by 9:30am. Yvonne and I made a quick trip to the supermarket, baker and green grocer for supplies to last the next 2-3 days, the next day being Sunday when the shops are closed. We pulled out of our berth and moved 200 metres up the quay to take on water as well as washing Spyros’ decks with fresh water before heading north to the small town of Paralia. A 10-12 knot good breeze met us just out of the harbour so we set sail and, at first managed a respectable 5-6 knots. Away from the effect of the rocky outcrop of Monemvasia the breeze lightened and became quite fickle. At times we struggled to make headway in the rather strong current sweeping down the peninsular so when we went through a tack at 180 degrees it was time to use the motor. We tried to sail one more time but to no avail so motored Spyros northwards to the small village of Paralia along an incredibly barren and rugged coastline with towering cliffs and steep hills rising to 12-1300 metres.
Paralia is one of three villages clustered together in an incredibly beautiful bay with a backdrop of high cliffs and mountains. We moored to the jetty. Although we were exposed to any swell from the open sea, the weather was calm and forecast to remain so for the next 2 days. There were two other mooring sites that may have provided better shelter but these were remote from the town. Paralia was clean and very tidy; it was old with a few recently built vacation houses dotting the hillsides. Small well-kept olive orchards separated the houses in the village. The walk around the bay to Chapel Cove, a remote sheltered anchorage reminded us of the Queen Charlotte Walkway in the Marlborough Sounds. A well-made pathway above the water through low shrubs and wild flowers with a sprinkling of pine trees affording some shade. The hillside dropped steeply to a rocky shoreline lapped by the deep blue sea.
Sunday 29th May, although no wind was forecast a sea breeze was blowing onto the quay ruffling the water and rocking Spyros. We got under way after lunch expecting to motor most of the 14 miles to Plaka. We did motor for an hour but soon there was enough wind from behind that we pulled out the headsail and Spyros ran at 2+ knots before a light breeze which later built and before long we were up to a respectable 4 knots the we held until reaching the small harbour of Plaka. Dark clouds had built up over the mountains during the afternoon and we had not long moored to the quay, put up the spray cover and bimini when a thunderstorm arrived bringing with it a heavy rain shower that last about an hour.
Monday 30th May, a brilliant morning, blue sky, a light breeze from the south refreshed the rather muggy atmosphere left over from last evenings’ rain. Yvonne and I took a long walk through the countryside trying and find the town Leonidhion, of which Plaka is only a small village and port. We gave up after about an hour or so and returned to Spyros, made a sandwich for lunch then got underway. Slightly undecided as to where we should go we motored out of Plaka onto a glassy sea heading across the Gulf and away from where the flotilla of 7 boats who had also berthed in Plaka last evening were heading. At first we set a course to Spetsai but when a breeze set in from the south we pulled on sail and finding the best sailing angle would take us to Porto Kheli we headed there instead.
The sail across to the major town and port of Porto Kheli was a pleasant 4-5 knot reach. We were now back in familiar territory, Plaka and Porto Kheli were re-visits from our flotilla cruise in 2008. After settling in on the berth, Yvonne and I headed for the supermarket, one of the better ones in maritime Greece, and the supplies we stocked up on were a hedge against higher prices later on.
Tuesday 31st May, Windfinder forecast there should be a good southerly sea breeze out in the gulf by mid-afternoon. In Porto Kheli harbour Spyros was rocking to 9 knots of breeze as we ate a lunchtime sandwich. Shortly after we got under way; motoring Spyros to clear the harbour before settling down to a 4 hour reach back across the gulf to Astros, another revisit from our 2008 cruise. By mid-afternoon the breeze increased, we put several rolls in the headsail and took a reef in the main; Spyros still trucked along at 6 knots. The breeze held all afternoon and we could have sailed into the harbour of Astros but at the expense of a warm refrigerator and a cold shower we turned the motor on for the last part of the journey.
Astros is an old village on a small headland at the north end of a large bay. Atop the headland sits the ruins of a Venetian Castle. A very picturesque site with the harbour and its fishing boats, the original small village clustered around the harbour and rising up the slopes to the castle. But the nearby beaches have attracted many residential developments and an infrastructure to support vacationers. It is now the end of May but the beach chairs, holiday homes, bars, cafes and streets of Astros are desolate; the impact of the Greek economy on the local tourist industry has never been so evident until now.
Wednesday 1st June, we breakfasted in the cockpit then wandered up the zigzag path between the houses to the church at the top of the hill and along a rough path to revisit the castle. There had been no change in 3 years, acres of olive trees covered the flat land behind the headland, the long curving beach and the views across the Gulf, were wonderful. The weather had become settled, winds were forecast to be light but the sea breeze that builds up in the afternoon was a local weather effect and by the time we had returned to Spyros there was a nice sea breeze blowing in the gulf. After a quick cheese and tomato sandwich we got Spyros underway and headed out back across the Gulf. A southerly sea breeze has kicked in each afternoon for the past few days and, to our advantage, we have reached back and forth across the Gulf making for easy sailing. Today was no different; our goal was an anchorage in a large but sheltered bay on the northeast of the Gulf called Khaidhari, only about 12 miles across from Astros. On a full main and full headsail Yvonne soon had Spyros reaching at 6-7 knots in the 12-knot breeze. As the breeze built to 16-18 knots we took in rolls on the headsail and later a reef in the main; we were still making 6+ knots. The trip took a little over 2 hours and we had to idle the motor for an hour while sailing otherwise we would have been out of power for the evening.
Anchoring Spyros in 9 metres of water the head of the bay, keeping well clear of the large number of laid moorings, we sat on anchor watch for a couple of hours until we were convinced the anchor was holding in the stiff breeze that was still blowing into the bay. It would have been a long bumpy ride to go ashore in the dinghy so we sat entertained by a flotilla of 11 yachts rafting up on the other side of the bay. It took more than 2 hours to get 9 of the yachts secured on the raft, the other two yachts decided to anchor on their own.
Thursday 2nd June, after a very still and quiet night we awoke to a brilliant morning; a light breeze refreshed the air. We pottered about until 11:30 before getting Spyros underway, motoring for 25 minutes until we were clear of the bay and set her sails for a windward beat south to Koiladhia, a secluded bay in the eastern most corner of the Argolic Gulf. We had a great sail at speeds in the 5-6 knot range, even after reducing sail when the breeze built throughout the afternoon. Koiladhia is a sheltered bay protected by a low tree covered island privately owned by a shipping magnate. We anchored Spyros amongst a crowd of other yachts and, again, sat out the afternoon watching the comings and goings of other yachts, large fishing trawlers and a busy speed boat shuttling back and forward from the private island. Again we didn’t venture ashore, preferring to sit back and relax.
Friday 3rd June, at the end of breakfast we had only enough bread for lunchtime sandwiches so we needed to go ashore today or go hungry. Our plan was to reach Ermioni tonight and spend a couple of days stocking up before heading out to the Cyclades. For two and a half hours we motored Spyros on a flat sea, the wind indicator reading 1-2 knots of wind speed. Almost on the dot of midday the sea breeze picked up from the south. We were at the south eastern end of the Spetsai Channel so after clearing the channel we pulled on sail and headed north east on a fine lead towards the Dhokos channel managing to sail through this but eventually the lost wind just off the end of the Ermioni peninsular. The town of Ermioni was another revisit from 2008. We had now left the Argolic Gulf and were in the Saronic region and were starting to concentrate on the next phase of our cruise out to the Cyclades.
Friday 3rd June, We took the same pretty walk around the peninsular that we did in 2008 although this time Yvonne did not have an excruciating pain from a back strain she acquired then when struggling with an anchor. Looking for superglue to repair one of our wind pennants we had been directed to a very large supermarket. This seemed to sell everything from food, toiletries, cleaners, alcohol, kitchenware, paint, hardware, garden tools and garden paraphernalia, a veritable (NZ) Wharehouse with similar stock levels in about one fifth of the space. The wind vane on one of our wind pennants had come adrift and needed to be re-glued. These were doing really great service; the windward vane always remained steady as a rock in all conditions and I don’t think it was because the headsail sheet had wrapped around it a couple of times that the vane was coming adrift. I think it may have been the glue I used when I made them, the port vane was still sound. I found a twin pack of superglue and managed to repair the starboard one.
The large supermarket also had great prices so, in preparation for the Cyclades trip we began to stock up on supplies; some that would last us a few weeks. We returned to Spyros just in time to shelter from a thunder and rainstorm that arrived and last half an hour. Next we re-filled the water tanks. There was a locked water tap on the quay that would be opened twice a day for a fixed fee.
Something to be avoided unless you want a cubic metre of water, but when you need only a 100 litres the cost can be exorbitant. A neighbouring yachtie, saw my predicament and offered his 30 L jerry can with trolley and pointed me to a public tap about 200 metres from the quay. After 3 trips I had filled Spyros’ tanks and gratefully returned the jerry can full to its’ owner.
Saturday 4th June, we slept in then continued with preparations for the Cyclades. Back to the supermarket, then to the green grocer and on to the baker. On our trip to the supermarket we called into a petrol station but as it was Saturday the man who drove the mini tanker was not on duty so the attendant could only offer diesel by the jerry can load. But we weren’t to get concerned because he indicated that getting a 20-litre jerry can of diesel half a kilometre back to the quay would not be a problem. We stowed the supplies on Spyros dug out the spare 20 litre can of diesel from the locker, emptied this into the yachts’ tank and wandered off to the gas station. True to their word, they filled the jerry can and provided us with a good strong barrow to ferry the diesel back to Spyros, which we did twice, filling the main tank and re-filling our 20litre spare supply.
Having finished all our tasks we sat back in the shade of the bimini and watched the world go by in the 30° heat of the afternoon. Later we took another walk around the Ermioni peninsular stopping off at a small beach for a swim, actually a snorkel. The water was warm and I saw the largest number of fish that I had ever seen in the Mediterranean. Small, large and many coloured fish; the water resembled snorkelling in the Pacific Islands.
From time to time a yacht turns up with a pet on board, frequently a dog, or dogs, but twice we have been neighbours to a yacht with a cat. The yacht on our right had a lovely charcoal long haired cat, quite obviously brought up onboard but keen to get its feet onto hard ground and twice struck out for the freedom of the quay only to be pulled up short by the leash attached to a shoulder harness. Not that it minded as it willingly returned to the yacht, I think it got scared when lost in its’ freedom. This morning I looked out from the ‘office’, the chart table that doubles as the computer station and through the window I saw cat sprawled out on the deck. The neighbours left a short time later and as they pulled away from the quay cat, who was now unleashed was pacing the decks with the airs of an admiral ensuring the departure went according to plan.
Sunday 5th June, the boat harbour at Ermioni was a bit small and with a breeze blowing Spyros off the quay we would have to be careful that we did not run onto the fishing boats on the other side of the harbour. Mooring in these small harbours usually means stern to the quay whereby the anchor is dropped 2-3 boat lengths out from where you want to berth and the boat is reversed back to the quay. This morning Yvonne wanted to ‘do’ the anchor, normally she does the helm but today thought that once the anchor had been pulled up helming Spyros out of the harbour might be a bit tight. When the anchor came up Yvonne called out that it was attached to something. Panic, as the dramas of previous snagged anchors flooded through the mind. The anchor was free and I was reversing Spyros away from the fishing boats. Yvonne thought the object was a boat hook, great, was it attached to anything? No, even better I said pull the anchor up and I motored Spyros out of the rather tight position we found ourselves in. We swapped roles, Yvonne kept Spyros heading out of the harbour and I attended to the now captured barnacle encrusted boat hook.
Out in the Idhra channel a good sailing breeze set us on our way, 15-miles to Ak Skillaion at the northeastern portal to the channel. After a frustrating time tacking on shifting winds and into a current we eventually finished motoring into a delightful little bay tucked in behind a small island. The water over the white sandy bottom was crystal clear, the shoreline was rock where depths started at 2 metres; we anchored Spyros to within 4-5 boat lengths of the shoreline. According to the pilot this anchorage provided good shelter in reasonable weather, but the pilot didn’t mention that the wakes from the high-speed ferries rounding the cape were very uncomfortable. These only lasted until the last ferries went by in the early evening. This was a very picturesque spot so I launched the dinghy to go ashore and take a few photographs. Amongst the wild flowers and low scrub were masses of thyme, I filled a pocket with sprigs and back on Spyros harvested a matchbox full of leaves.
Monday 6th June, we pulled up the anchor at quarter past eight, motored out of the bay at Cape Skillaion and pointed towards the Island of Kea in the Cyclades, 43 miles away. We picked up a light breeze from the north and motor sailed for 3 hours on a flat sea except for a slight disturbance when a pod of dolphins came by and the wash from ships moving to and fro in the busy shipping lanes out of Athens. The sails added about a knot of boat speed so we needed only to idle the motor to keep Spyros moving along at 5+ knots for an 8 plus hour trip. By mid-day we ran out of wind and put up the bimini as it was quite hot. Later on the wind picked up again and we tried for a while to sail without the motor, a wind shift had us on a heading that was taking us well away from our destination so we finished the day motoring into an anchorage at Kavia Bay on the Island of Kea. With little to see ashore in this rather barren place we remained on board, entertained by a couple of scuba divers, a few yachts coming and going and a huge ultra modern motor yacht (ship), the Ocean Star, anchor near to us.
Once the wind had settled down Spyros stopped bobbing about and only rocked when a liner or freighter passed by the island, albeit 3-4 miles away. The waterways in this part of the Cyclades seem to be constantly churned up by passing ships.
Tuesday 7th June, a moderate northerly breeze had Spyros tugging at the anchor when we left Kavia Bay about 10:30. As soon as we were away from the hills the breeze died, we continued motoring for 6 miles to the south of Kea rounded the cape and came head on into a strong breeze. We were nearly caught with a full mainsail and just managed to pull in a reef before the black line of a gust caught us. The wind settled into a steady northeaster at 15-20 knots. We set a reduced size headsail and in the steep chop we made very slow headway until we got Spyros steadied to the sea and sail trim when we slowly picked up pace and settled into a steady close hauled slog. After a while the wind eased back into the 13-18 knot range and backed so that we could lay Cape Kefalos on the northeast of Kithnos, the Island we were now heading for. The slog eased to a fine lead with Spyros happily charging along at 6-7 knots, rising and falling in the chop of the sea and the wash from ferries and liners that, at times looked like tidal waves. On rounding Cape Kefalos we came off the wind and being rattled by a choppy sea, doused sail to motor into the small harbour of Loutra.
We were most definitely back in the Cyclades. Low barren islands, although both Kea and Kithnos were covered with a lattice of old stone walls suggesting some form of animal farming took place some time ago, no animals could be seen today. But the villages and their white box form houses with blue shutters and doors were the real stand out feature. With all of our planning back in Ermioni, a visit to the ATM machine was essential but never written-down. It was a job that could be done on Sunday morning before we left but it slipped our minds and now there was a sense of urgency because Loutra did not have an ATM. We could have taken a taxi across the island to Merikha where there were two ATM’s but as we only needed 5€ for the mooring and 20€ for dinner we could wait until we sailed to Merikha tomorrow, we had 1.65€ in our pockets when we left Loutra.
Wednesday 8th June, we edged Spyros out of the very crowded little Loutra harbour and breathed a sigh of relief that we had no crossed anchor chains then retraced our route of yesterday around Cape Kefalos. Heading west through the Kithos channel we picked up a 7-8 knot easterly breeze and set up Spyros for a reach rather than running down wind and soon Yvonne had Spyros tracking along at 4 knots on a slightly ruffled sea. After about 3 miles we gybed Spyros for the reach back towards Kithnos on down the east coast to the town and port of Merikha. It was nice sailing doing 5-6 knots in 10-12 knots of wind. We really intended only to stay for an hour to visit the ATM and a supermarket but as it looked quite a nice spot we decided to join the 3 other yachts in port and stay the night. As the afternoon crawled by we watched the yacht basin filled up, several yachts anchored in the small bay, the large ferry that was berthed here when we arrived left, only to be replaced by another that went almost before it had stopped!
Thursday 9th June, Windfinder predicted a south/southwest wind so we thought the best place to go might be to reach across to Finikas on the island of Siros. The breeze was from the southwest as we left Merikha but we decided to retrace our route around the north of Kithnos and as Spyros does not do well with a following breeze we motored. When clear of Kithnos we expect to sail on a reach but found a light wind coming in from the northeast and not enough to sail on. We continued to motor for another hour until the southwester eventually arrived and we were able to sail. It was a fickle wind, at times gusting to 18 knots when we needed to reef, then shifting 75° so we ended up way off course, then it backed so we were just able to make our course on a hard beat. Eventually we made it to Finikas and moored in very lumpy conditions alongside the end of the quay. Luckily so as several large yachts moored stern to the seaward side of the quay where we would otherwise have had to berth, had a very ‘rocking-horse’ night.
Finikas is an older village on the southwest of Siros set at the head of a very large bay. Very picturesque place, low barren hills dotted with a growing number of residences, tavernas and bars lining the beachfront, a small harbour with many fishing boats. The visiting berths in the harbour were run by a manager, who collected fees for water and power, and overseen by the Port Police. Water is not in abundance in the islands and during the summer months can become a scarce commodity especially with the influx of many tourists.
Finikas provided us with a stepping-stone to the island of Paros where SIB, our yacht charter company, had a representative. We had been concerned for several days that the toilet holding tank was leaking and it would be convenient to make the trip to Paros to get this investigated. Friday 11th June, Windfinder predicted a westerly wind, which should have been great for a reach south from Siros to Naousa at the northern end of Paros but the very lumpy sea put paid to that as it shook the light wind out of the sails. We resorted to motoring for all but a half an hour of the trip to Naousa. Nikiforos from SIB came to Spyros early in the evening; the problem was a bit beyond him at that stage so we arranged to have someone from a boat yard in Paroikia to look at it on Sunday.
Saturday 11th June, a brilliantly fine day with hardly any wind. As we had to wait until Sunday at least before we could leave was a good day to have a clean up. We sent a pile of laundry off for dry cleaning, tidied up Spyros, walked through the maze of narrow streets in the town all bustling with bars, boutiques and tavernas. Away from the glitzy central area were the hotels, villas, apartments and rooms for rent none of which seemed very busy. We rested up; I took a swim and helped a neighbouring yacht sort out how to set their spinnaker, as seven o’clock came along it was time for our daily routine of brandy and nibbles in the cockpit.
Sunday 12th June, the person from the boat yard arrived at ten thirty, he took 2 minutes to confirm the suspicion that a valve had broken and the Spyros would need to be taken out of the water to repair the problem. After talking to SIB it was decided that a repair could be done differently and it was not necessary to do it at that time so Yvonne and I decided to forego our 15€ a night berth in the marina and leave. There was a light northerly blowing as we motored Spyros out of the large spectacular Naousa bay. We had 2 options but so chose to go west around the island of Paros to Dhespotiko bay in the south of the island of Andiparos. The sea was very lumpy and although we tried to sail for an hour we made very slow progress and effectively motored the whole way to Dhespotiko bay. A large secluded bay although exposed it is reasonably protected from the weather. It has a pirate history dating back to the 16th and 17th centuries. A remote place surrounded by low hills, two tavernas near a fishing jetty and an increasing number of houses scattered over the hills to the north. To the south, on a barren hill, fences confined a flock of sheep, to me the first sign of animal husbandry in Greece.
Monday 13th June, Windfinder rightly predicted a 15-knot northerly wind that was already blowing into Dhespotiko bay causing Spyros to tug on the anchor. In fact the wind had picked up during the night rocking Spyros and creating disturbing noises as the anchor chain dragged across the bow roller. The sea in the bay was only ruffled but outside we could see a lot of white caps. We sat out the morning in the bay before deciding to leave just after lunch, motoring south around Dhespotiko Island then heading west with reefed sails towards the sheltered bay of Platis Yialos on the Island of Sifnos. The true wind sat on 13-18 knots, which pushed Spyros at 6-7 knots, but waves of up to 2.5 metres gave us a rocky ride and one rogue wave gave us a good drenching.
We had expected to anchor at Yialos but were pleasantly surprised to find a new boat harbour had been constructed since the pilot had been written. We tucked in behind a very large old (refurbished) gaff cutter and moored alongside the quay. The village was impeccably neat small with one street of villas rooms for rent a few art shops, 2 mini markets and a cluster of bars and tavernas, which opened onto the beach. We decided on a taverna to return to later this evening then sat back and enjoyed the place.
Tuesday 14th June, Windfinder was still predicting a northerly breeze but much lighter than yesterday. Still we thought we should have been able to reach west across to the Island of Milos. Leaving Yialos in 7-8 knots of wind we motored to clear a small island just off the entrance to the bay and raised sail. The wind played games with us for about an hour shifting through 180 degrees before settling in from the west but with no real power to sail on; we motored about 4 hours to Milos.
Adhamas, the port of Milos lies at the head of a very deep bay, an old volcanic crater. The surrounding hills are barren but not as spectacularly steep as the caldera on Thira. The chora on the hilltop is quite spectacular though. Milos is well served by ferries, through Adhamas, and is a popular tourist centre, which appeared to be reasonably well patronised compared to other places we had visited. Moored on the town quay in the area set aside for visiting yachts was quite exposed to the swells and wash from the ferries, and more so from the fishing boats that seem to roar passed at top speed. The pilot warns about the wash and recommends that yachts should moor pulled well off the quay, we certainly endorsed that.
Mid June is now half way through our cruise and in Milos we are now at the furthest point from Lefkas and the point at which we decided to begin our journey back towards Lefkas. Windfinder predicted strong winds for Thursday and Friday and although there was one small anchorage in the Milos group of islands that seemed an attractive overnight destination, getting away from Milos in strong northerly winds might have been problematical. So, on Wednesday 15th June we decided to return to the sheltered harbour of Platis Yialos where, if strong northerly winds did evolve we could ride them out in safety of the harbour.
We motored Spyros out of the large bay into 12-13 knot headwinds and when we reached the entrance, into an increasing chop. The headwinds followed us as we turned north but once clear of 2 small islands guarding the entrance to the bay we pulled on sail and started on a long beat towards Cape Monastiri at the northeast of Kimolos Island, one of the ‘Milos’ island group. We were making 4-5 knots in building seas but part way towards the Cape the wind headed us by 20° and we pointing at the lee shore unable to make the Cape. For 2 miles we motor sailed to clear Cape Monastiri then eased sheets slightly to reach across to the island of Sifnos. Spyros revelled in the conditions, heeling to the 18-20 knot wind, 2 metre waves and making 6-7+ knots. This was a real hang on tight ride.
Back in Yialos the northerly wind still funnelled down the surrounding gullies and into the small boat harbour but Spyros was quite safe moored stern to the quay. Yvonne and I followed a road up a nearby hill passed one or two modern homes that blended in with the stark surroundings of bare rock and dirt with a sparse covering of stunted bushes, broom and a prickly legume much like a stunted gorse, many flowering ‘weeds’ and wild thyme. The late afternoon views hilltop to Platis Yialos and its’ neighbouring bay, across to Milos and Andiparos and the outline of Folegandros and Skinos in the distance were wonderful. We dined in tonight and I won the game of crib, we must be about even so far.
Thursday 16th June, Windfinder predicted 10-15 knots of wind today and was predicting fresh weather for the next few days. We decided to return to Dhespotiko Bay today and make for Piso Livadhi, on the east of Paros, the next day. Outside Platis Yialos we motored into a fresh northerly gusting to 20 knots and put up a reefed mainsail and a headsail with 5 rolls. We were in the lee of Sifnos so nursed Spyros through the gusts until clear of the island. The wind steadied to 13-16 knots and we eased sheets slightly, hanging on as Spyros rollicked along, sliding off the 1.5-2 metre waves that came rolling through on the port quarter. We averaged 7 knots for an hour. As we neared the island of Dhespotiko the bucking seas abated but the current had swept us below our course so we sailed closer to the wind to regain our heading and round the southern tip of the island. As we did so the wind dropped to 10-12 knots; it was just after midday and with all the afternoon left and a good sailing breeze we decided to continue on up the east of Andiparos and Paros to the small port of Piso Livadhi on the east of Paros. In calmer conditions we pulled on the full mainsail, made a sandwich and bowled along a 6+ knots. From time to time we caught gusts coming down gullies off the land but when we reached the wide channel between Andiparos and Paros the breeze freshened and the chop increased, we put the reef back into the mainsail and continued sailing with eased sheets, Spyros was romping along at 6+ knots. North of the Andiparos channel we lost the wind that had been on our beam for most of the day. As we entered the Paros-Naxos channel a fresh northerly breeze came in from ahead, pushing before it a steep chop. We gave up sailing and motored for the next 12 miles to the sheltered harbour of Piso Livadh.
Piso Livadh was a revisit from last year, a delightful little port and village with quite a spread of houses, hotels and villas scattered over the surrounding hills. The quayside settlement boasted several tavernas, a baker and a mini-market but about a mile away was a large well stocked Carrefours supermarket that we discovered last year. Yvonne and I headed to the supermarket with a short shopping list and came away with 4 heavy bags of supplies; another hedge against higher prices in more remote destinations.
Friday 17th June, our plan now was to position our-selves for either a return to the island of Siros or to the island of Rinia just west of Mikonos depending on the wind. Windfinder was still predicting fresh northerly breezes for the weekend so we left Piso Livadhi and motored Spyros out into 13-18 knot northerly winds and a steep chop. With only about 13 miles to an anchorage in a cove in the north of Naousa Bay we flagged trying to sail and motored the whole way. At times the chop almost brought Spyros to a halt; we took a calculated risk to motor in less demanding conditions through a narrow gap between to islands guarding the eastern entrance to Naousa Bay then into the bay itself and around to join 18 other yachts at anchor in the sheltered cove.
Saturday 18th June, Yesterday afternoon was very restful at anchor in Naousa Bay although the wake from the water sports boats hauling water skiers and boogie boarders gave us a rocking from time to time. The northerly breeze came into the anchorage during the night, nothing to worry about but noticeable. Windfinder predicted it would stay in the north all day at about 10 knots. If it did come in from the north, as it had the past 3 days then we could get a sailing angle to Varis Bay on Siros, about 20 miles away. If not then plan B was to broad reach across to Livadhi on Serifos some 40 miles away. We pushed through a steep chop into 12-14 knots of wind leaving Naousa Bay. Outside the chop settled and we set a reefed rig, decided the wind at 330° was too close for Spyros to sail at and turned west towards Serifos. We had a great sail for an hour or more on a reasonably settled sea, bowling along at 6-7+ knots. Windfinder had predicted quite accurately that the north (westerly) wind would lighten and shift more to the west, it did. We struggled for quite a long time trying to get Spyros to sail at 30° to the wind eventually having to pull off 10° to get any sort of speed otherwise we would have been out all night. In the end the breeze died and could no longer fill a sail so we resorted to motoring for the last 13 miles into a beautiful bay and port of Livadhi.
Livadhi is a text book picture of a Greek island, an amphitheatre of a bay surrounded by high hills, the lower village hugging the shoreline and the Chora, described in the pilots as icing on the cake, looking down from a craggy hill high above the bay. We moored stern to the quay at one of only 2 spaces left on the south side of the quay. Later 2 large motor cruisers berthed directly opposite us blocking the views. Later still, 8:30pm, a larger skippered charter yacht arrived and decided to moor on a speck of the quay right beside us, shoving us aside as it reversed up to the quay. We had words but I could not effectively communicate in Italian so I vented an English version and left the intention hanging. I guess because of the picturesque nature of Livadhi it is a very popular tourist spot and, in contrast to many other places, was quite busy with visitors. The Tarverna we had chosen for the evening was busy and it was the first time we had had to wait any length of time before being served.
Sunday 19th June, the skippered charter yacht beside departed at 5:15am leaving us with slack lines. We breakfasted as usual then left, motoring out onto a flat sea. We continued motoring for an hour and a half then tried to sail on a very light breeze making a mile and half in an hour so motored for another hour and tried sailing again with slightly better success. Eventually we finished up motoring for another hour and a half to reach an anchorage in Varis Bay on the south of Siros. We had the bay to ourselves after the two other yachts left later in the afternoon. It was a sheltered bay but a swell from the westerly breeze drifted into the anchorage rocking Spyros during the night. Although we were on anchor there were tavernas, hotels and villas at the head of the bay and being Sunday a crowd of children were enjoying the water, diving off rocks and ballasting near the shore.
Our general plan now was to gain an easting then work our way north along Tinos and Andros, two of the larger islands in the Cyclades. We had reached the island of Siros from where we thought one of the secluded anchorages on the barren island of Rinia, lying just west of Delos and Mykonos, would be nice for the night. We had no intention of visiting these islands as anchoring on Delos is prohibited and Myknos sounded too much like a busy tourist centre that had very little appeal for us.
Windfinder on Sunday, and again this morning (Monday), predicted strong northerly winds for the whole of the Cyclades on Tuesday and Wednesday at least. The predictions did not extend to Thursday. Many of the larger ports within reach of Varis bay were not reported as having the best shelter in a meltemi (a summer condition of strong northerly winds for several days on end). Two anchorages on the island of Rinia were reported as having good shelter in a meltemi and the holding on sand made it quite secure, so it was to the South Bay on Rinia that we headed on Monday 20th June.
With supplies for only 2 days on board Spyros and no facilities on Rinia we launched the dinghy and motored over to the village, managing to find a mini-market where we stocked up with supplies to give us another 2 days self sufficiency if we had to sit out a meltimi. Leaving Varis in a light westerly wind, a clear blue sky and a flat sea we motored for 3 hours to reach the South Bay on Rinia. There was quite a heavy haze and visibility was not good but it was difficult to comprehend that in a short time this whole sea area would be tossed about with 20+ knots of wind. We passed many yachts travelling in the opposite direction and thought we may be going the wrong way. On reaching the South Bay we found two large fishing trawlers anchored up, a larger motor cruiser and 4 other yachts. We hunkered down happy that we had made this choice. Soon after we anchored a northerly wind started to push over the low hills at the head of the bay and ruffle the water. In anticipation of a rough night we loaded the second anchor into the dinghy and laid it out before the wind became too strong. We would be quite secure tonight.
Tuesday 21st June, we were very secure last night. The wind died shortly after we went to bed. When the wake of a ferry passing several miles away rolled into the bay disturbing our sleep, the sea looked like a millpond. ‘What a have’, we thought, all this preparation in readiness for strong winds for nothing. The two fishing boats departed late in the afternoon yesterday, as did the motor cruisers and several small motorboats that had tucked up in an arm of the bay outside our view. This morning two other yachts departed leaving only us and one other yacht. About 8:30 strong gusts of wind started coming over the low hills and by mid morning these were blowing at 20 knots and remained at this strength through to mid day when the other yacht departed, leaving us on our own. Later in the afternoon the wind softened and at times almost died away. We could have left then and motored across to Siros where we would have had access to facilities and the internet but we had set our minds on heading to Tinos, which was to the north and into head winds and mooring may have been a problem if the port was crowded. We didn’t want to change plan at this stage. Instead we launched the dinghy and rowed ashore to the very barren island to which had anchored for a short walk. A large motor cruiser came to join us in the bay and entertained us by laying out 2 anchors and 2 long lines to which they attached the vessel to the shore then proceeded to snorkel then barbeque on the beach in the, now rising breeze.
We sat out the day getting bored with cards, the wind, lack of internet and wishing we had left earlier for Siros where at least we would have some civilization. From late afternoon the wind started rising and soon the wind over the low hill had settled in at 25 knots. At least our anchors were well dug into the sand and Spyros was being held tightly against the wind, but was yawing left and right as far as the anchors would allow. Although we were tucked up at the head of the bay no real waves could develop but the sea was ruffled with angry little waves that poked their white heads up about a foot and raced off out to sea. It was quite an unusual event, the day and night were warm, there was not a cloud in the sky during the day and at night the sky was full were in a meltemi.
Wednesday 22nd June, last night was the pits, Spyros rocked and tugged at the anchor, the wind howled through the rigging tossing Spyros about and keeping us awake most of the night. We resolved to leave in the morning. The wind was blowing 15-25 knots in the bay, not much more, while we had handled Spyros in these conditions before we recognized that the sea outside would be quite large. We prepped Spyros and started to retrieve the anchors about 8:30. The second anchor had been set at 45° to the main anchor so it took a while to pull this in, tidy it up then stow it away. We left the anchorage about 9 o’clock motoring Spyros before the wind and out of the bay on a flattish sea. Turning right we were still in the lee of Rinia so the sea was not great and the wind on our quarter pushed Spyros along under bare poles, which added another knot of boat speed. We were clear of the island, and no more than 2 and a-half miles from the anchorage, in quite big seas and 20+ knots of wind when the engine alarm squealed and motor stopped. We tried to restart the motor but it sounded very sick and gave up again. We quickly pulled on the headsail leaving about 6 rolls on the roller reef and got Spyros sailing.
We headed towards the south of the Island of Siros where, in the lee of the island we would retry to start the motor and, if that worked we could get into Varis and have good shelter, internet, shops and tavernas. Spyros was broad reaching along at 5-6 knots with only the headsail. Part way across to Siros the winds started to gust 25-30 knots, Spyros handled these well and by 11 o’clock we were off the south of Siros and tried the motor again. It didn’t work. What to do now, the entrance to Varis was narrow and guarded by rocky headlands so we wouldn’t be able to sail into there. We kept heading west along the south of Siros thinking that we might be able to tack into Finikas on the south west of the Island. We cleared the southwest cape of Siros and came onto to the wind, as we attempted to tack up towards Finikas gusts of wind roared out of the bay at 30+ knots. We weren’t going to make it into Finikas so steadied Spyros back onto a reach and continued heading west towards the island of Sifnos, 25 miles away. Although Sifnos would be a lee shore we thought the entrance to Loutra in the northeast might be wide enough that we could run in without trying to tack.
Spyros sailed higher than the 280° heading needed to reach Loutra but this was necessary to counter the south drift we were getting from the seas. The winds sat at 20-30 knots with several gusts at 35 knots, Spyros made good speed reaching 8.5 knots at times but getting knocked back to 3 if we hit big waves. The waves were big, 4-5 metres high, in the gusts they towered over us. Racing up from the starboard quarter Spyros would rise then start to head down the wave leaning over at an awkward angle, spray flying and I would fight to control the bow from heading down wind. At times these huge waves came in pairs and we would find ourselves in a long trough with waves on both sides towering over us. We were constantly wiping salt spray from our sunglasses, so bright were the conditions. At one point a large ferry came up to within a mile from our port side, we thought it was going to pass us but then turned away in a completely different direction. It had only come to see how we were doing. It wouldn’t have known we had no engine.
About 6 miles off the coast of Sifnos Yvonne got on to the radio and sent out a call to see if we could get any assistance getting into Loutra harbour. We could sail to Loutra ok. There were a lot of exchanges but Yvonne managed to give our position, affirmed that we were a sailing vessel and not a motorboat, that we were two people and did not need medical assistance, that our only problem was that our engine had broken down. At this time I was trying to head Spyros higher into the wind as the south drift through out the afternoon had pushed us below our sailing course to Loutra. The eastern capes of Sifnos were getting awfully close and we were not making much headway against the sea and wind. With Sifnos being a lee shore and we about 2 miles off in 25-30 knots of wind and big seas I decided we were running out of sea room fast. I eased the sheet and turned Spyros south to run before the wind down the east coast of Sifnos thinking we might have a better chance of tacking northwards up the west coast of Sifnos where the seas might not be so great. Three miles down the coast we came to the headland behind which lay 2 bays that could provide shelter in the meltemi. I immediately headed Spyros towards the headland and into calmer water but still strong breezes. Yvonne conveyed our changes in plan to the rescue centre, with whom she was now communicating.
Spyros reached across into calmer waters and, as the first bay opened up we could see several yachts anchored in shelter. We tacked in order to sail up-wind towards them at the head of the bay. Immediately ahead of us was a charted reef, dropping below the reef we lost ground but managed to tack to the other side of the bay. With only a headsail we couldn’t tack very well but we eventually managed to reach the shelter of a small cove and drop anchor. The shelter was great but the cove was small and Spyros swung back on the anchor towards rocks. We were in the throes of getting the kedge anchor ready to row out to keep us off the rocks when a fishing boat came up to us. We passed a line to it, hastily made the dingy safe and pulled up anchor. Our assistance had arrived.
The fishing boat towed us around to another, more sheltered bay where there were a few houses and 2 tavernas. We dropped anchor and thought we were safe but the pilot book did warn the holding was not good. The fishermen then said that the port police, who had arrived from Merikha and who had been involved with our drama, wanted to see our papers. I had to row across to a small landing to meet them. Just as I reached the landing Spyros broke free and was dragging its anchor at a fast pace before the wind. The police officer whistled and alerted to the fishermen who immediately gave chase. Yvonne was unaware of the drama and was surprised when one of them climbed aboard, secured a line and the fishing boat started towing Spyros back into the bay and to security of its own mooring. It was six o’clock and we both were pretty whacked.
Thursday 23rd June, although we were held fast to a fishing boats’ mooring buoy the gusts coming down the hills has Spyros twisting and turning all night. We could send and receive text messages on the mobile phone but the signals were not strong enough to get internet. We managed to keep in touch with Vangelis (SIB) who arranged for a mechanic to fix our problem later in the afternoon. There was little to do all day. I did rig the dinghy and outboard for a brief stint ashore to reconnoitre the 2 tavernas and to meet the mechanic. The mechanic didn’t need anything as light as an inflatable dinghy; he had his own heavy open fishing boat moored to the very jetty I had tied up to. He lived locally, fished as well as being a diesel mechanic in Merikha. He was a large genial fellow who could speak only enough English to get the job done. He traced our problem to fuel blockages due to a shred of rag obstructing the fuel line as well as a lot of sludge from ‘bad’ diesel commonly sourced from small retailers. The engine worked well after his ministrations and he filed his report back to Vangelis and to the Port Police; who would return our papers to us tomorrow. Yvonne and I went to the nearest taverna for a rather disappointing dinner, there was no written menu and the owners did not have enough English to really say what they could offer or understand what we wanted. Suffice to say we didn’t get what we thought we had ordered.
Friday 24th June, we had been out of email range for 4 days and there were a couple of issues that needed following up on so we arranged with the port police that we would go around to Merikha, on the other side of Kithnos where we could at least shop, get diesel, pick up our papers and get internet reception. Vangelis sent us an SMS advising a F5 wind forecast so we got under way mid morning motoring Spyros out into 15-20 knots and a moderate sea. It wasn’t very long before we were punching into 3-4 metre waves and 20-30 knots of wind. It was slow going but we inched our way around the east capes of Kithnos, crossed the Loutra bay in slightly easier conditions before punching our way around the north east cape then turning to run across the north of the island and down to Merika. We contacted the port police and retrieved our papers but had to agree to go to Kalamaki marina, in Athens, to have Spyros inspected by the yacht certifiers, a requirement whenever a call is made for assistance. We re-filled Spyros’ tank with diesel. Although we had a little less than half a tank of diesel at the time of the engine failure, the 3-4 meter seas at the time heeled Spyros over so that the diesel in the tank sloshed about and may have also caused air to be sucked into the fuel line. To avoid this we resolved from now on to keep a full tank of diesel.
Saturday 25th June, Windfinder predicted a quiet wind window for today. For the next two days winds in the region were predicted to be Force 7/8 so we took advantage of the weather window and set off for the 50 mile run to Kalamaki at 8:30. The crew of two large motor cruisers which had hemmed us in on the quay kindly took a line from us and pulled us clear so that we could motor away without damage or embarrassment. This was going to be a long day. We made a call to the port police advising of our departure and motored for and hour on a heading of 280° towards the southern tip of mainland Greece. We picked up the scheduled light northerly breeze and set sail, this lasted about 25 minutes and we were down to 2-3 knots of boat speed; not enough for what we needed to achieve if we were to get to Kalamaki in daylight. We motored on for another hour and the northerly breeze kicked in again at 10+ knots so we set sail again. The breeze played around between 7-11 knots for an hour enabling Spyros to make 3-4 knots then picked up to 12 rising to 19 knots. Spyros scuttled along at 6-7 knots; we pulled a reef in the mainsail and took another 2 rolls in the headsail, Spyros stood upright and continued on at the same boat speed. In the lee of the southern tip of mainland Greece the breeze died to a point where again we could not continue to sail and make the passage we had planned. In the distance the sunlight picked out the Temple at Sounion on the headland. We motored Spyros making 6-7 knots constantly checking our position and heading as we were in quite foreign territory and we needed to find Alimos Marina at Kalamaki amongst a host of other marinas along this busy coast. The background of a dense ribbon of residential development along the coast, the outskirts of Athens, disguised the usual features that would point to a marina, instead it was by strict map and compass work that we managed to locate Kalamaki and we eventually picked up the lazy line and berthed Spyros stern to the quay at 6:00pm.
Sunday 26th June, we were secure in the marina with power and water to Spyros but no work could be carried out until Monday when the inspector would arrive and the holding tank sea cock could be replaced. Yvonne and I took the light rail into Athens. A half hour trip with many stops on a very crowded train where we had to stand the whole way, clutching handrails as it lurched around tight corners. Alighting at Syntagma Square in the centre of Athens was a revisit from 3 years ago. Rather than walk the hot pavements as we had done then we took the hop-on hop-off bus and sat for an hour listening to commentary in comfort while retracing our previous walking route. Nothing much had changed. Being Sunday the shops were closed so after the bus tour we strolled through the park then headed back to Alimos on the light rail.
Monday 27th June, the fixit man arrived and replaced the broken seacock and the inspectors arrived and cleared Spyros. Then Vangelis brought in his mechanics to fully check out the fuel lines, the diesel pre-filter was clogged with sludge. As a precaution they elected to discard the almost full tank of diesel, wash the tank and replace the fuel with new stuff. The responses to our misfortunes had been tremendous, Vangelis and his team spared no effort to ensure Spyros was sound and we were going to be safe.
Gulf of Corinth
The wind blew across the yacht harbour all afternoon and into the evening. Spyros was rocking and tugging at the warps. We were grateful to the boys who had helped us moor amongst the tangle of mooring lines in the marina, although the sting came when their tip came to 10€, we negotiated 5. We were trapped by the wind and the tangle of small boat mooring lines and our departure from this place would much depend upon the wind. Windfinder suggested tomorrow may be good but we would see in the morning. Corinth was a large city. Yvonne and I took a short stroll into the commercial centre near the yacht harbour. An extensive, well laid out system of pedestrian malls with featureless buildings and being Sunday it was almost completely deserted. The lifeless city, the incessant wind and feeling of being trapped did not stir any passion for Corinth.
Monday dawned with a clear blue sky, the wind had moderated and Windfinder predicted the wind would moderate further during the day and remain so for the next 24 hours. We could have extricated Spyros from the berth and the tangle of lines but decided to stay a day and visit the ancient city of Corinth. Following the advice of the pilot we found our way to the correct bus stop and half an hour later paid our 4€ each to enter the archaeological site. This was quite an extensive site but there is still a lot more work to do. The most outstanding feature is the six remaining columns of the Temple of Apollo. The shape and structure of the Peirene Fountain is intact but for most of the city, earthquakes and time have largely destroyed the structures.
Reconstruction of some features and the preservation of the overall layout provided an insight into what was once a magnificent city sited high on a hill overlooking the present city and out to the sea in the Gulf.
Tuesday 5th July, a light zephyr brushed the yacht harbour barely ruffling the water. We released the lines except for the stern spring and pushed Spyros off the quay. The zephyr caught the bow and took it further away from the quay, we pulled in the spring, which helped propel Spyros forward and clear of the tangle of mooring lines before engaging the engine; we were away without trauma. Once clear of the commercial harbour we pulled on all sail in a light breeze and began sailing straight away, figuring that we would have plenty of time later in the day to run the motor to charge the batteries. For four hours we had easy sailing and covered 19 miles in 4 tacks to clear Cape Melangavi, the northern point of Corinth bay after which the breeze died away and we had to resort to the motor. Our goal was to anchor in one of several secluded bays on the northern side of the Corinthian gulf where the coastline is very indented. We reached Domvrainis bay, a large area of water tucked away behind a string of small islands, and investigated 2 anchorages recommended by the pilot but eventually went into Ormos Vathi a more sheltered and secluded anchorage at the very western end of Domvrainis Bay. We anchored in sand with Spyros pointing into the light southerly breeze. A motor cruiser left as we arrived, a fishing boat far across the other side of the bay left an hour later leaving us alone to a chorus of crickets from the nearby shore and the call of one or two seagulls. We were surrounded by hills; bare rocky faces with sparse vegetation, lower down the slopes were terraced with stone retaining walls on which olive trees grew, perhaps a neglected orchard. Just as we were finishing dinner a moderate breeze sprung up from the north swinging Spyros on anchor to face the wind. We had anchored in 5 metres of water but the breeze in turning Spyros brought it back into 2 meters of water and much closer to the shore. For piece of mind, and with only half an hour of light left we pulled up the anchor and reset it further away from the shore in 7 metres of water. It was holding well but for added insurance we dropped the kedge anchor down the main anchor chain to weight the line and make for a heavier spring. The stronger gusts lasted only an hour or so; we had an uneventful night.
Wednesday 6th July, we left the seclusion of Ormos Vathi with a light northerly breeze blowing that intensified as we hugged the coastline, first heading south then west before rounding the light on Cape Tsarla and punching into steep chop and 13-15 knots of northerly breeze. We pushed our way northwards, once passed Cape Tambourlo we could veer off the waves towards the coastline for a more comfortable passage. When passed Cape Velanidhia we were then into Andikiron Gulf, a large indentation in the northern part of the Corintian Gulf. The wind dropped to 5-8 knots and the swell had no direction, it just slopped up and down making for a very uncomfortable passage. Heading deeper into the Gulf towards the town of Andikiron the hills engulfed us, and the breeze strengthened. Just off the western headland of Andikiron Bay we were battered by 20-26 knot gusts of wind. Even in the bay there was no shelter from the wind; we berthed with difficulty alongside the quay then had to endure several hours of bucking with waves kicked up in the breeze jerking the mooring lines; the sea tried to wrench Spyros away from the berth; it did managed to wrench one of the bow fairleads off Spyros.
Yvonne and I did a quick reconnoitre of the town which, apart from the petrol station, was almost completely deserted in the mid-afternoon. The petrol station could supply diesel but could not deliver it to the town quay, the mini-tanker had broken down and they had no trolley. However, we approached the owner of a neighbouring yacht who kindly loaned us a folding suitcase trolley, just the thing for these occasions, and we made 3 trips with our 20L container to top up the diesel tank. Between trips to the petrol station and helping one other yacht to berth, which took more than half an hour, the afternoon duly passed with only the incessant wind and uncomfortable berth to complain about. By 7:30pm the wind had died completely, the sea quieted down about an hour later and the whole town became alive. The quay seemed to be the central meeting place, it became crowded with people strolling, sitting and talking. The contrast between deserted streets in the afternoon to being fully animated at night was quite amazing.
Thursday 7th July, we awoke to a perfect day, not a breath of wind and the sea was like a mirror, what a contrast from yesterday. The town of Andikiron was tucked away behind a headland at the head of the bay, the surrounding hills were high, some reaching over 1500 metres and it felt like being in a fjord. The hills on either side of the Corinthian Gulf are all high which creates a wind tunnel with the prevailing winds. We motored Spyros away from Andikiron hugging the shoreline to the west as we headed for Itea at the head of the next large indentation in the Corinthian Gulf.
The rocky hillsides that are common to most of maritime Greece are quite fascinating. Sedimentary layers stand out in the fractured rock giving the appearance of a huge dry stonewall retaining the hillside. Clinging to the hillsides with roots anchored in the crevasses and fractured rock grew stunted pines. Ledges and shelves of rock where some soil had accumulated provided a habitat for grasses. The colour palate was simple, grey rock, dark green pines dotted over the hillside and streaks of pale wheaten coloured dry grasses. We motored Spyros all the way to Itea, like Andikiron the high hills of the Kissaisos Gulf seemed to swallow us up the deeper into the gulf we went.
Arriving in Itea in early afternoon was like coming into a ghost town. The sun beat down on empty streets. Some people were swimming, some were mucking around in small boats, the town didn’t come alive until after six o’clock. Yvonne and I located the bus depot and got all the information we needed about buses to the ancient city of Delphi where we had planned to visit the next day.
Friday 8th July, with a large bottle of water a couple of oranges and bananas packed we caught the 10:45 bus for the 20 minute ride way up into the mountains behind Itea to the town of Delphi. Delphi was perched on the cliff side with a spectacular view overlooking a huge plain of olive trees, the town of Itea and out to the sea. A 20-minute walk brought us to the archaeological site and museum of ancient Delphi. The museum contained many excellent exhibits of Greek occupation dating back 9000 years. The archaeological site was spread out on terraces over several levels overlooking a deep ravine. Earthquakes and invasions had destroyed much of the site but the amphitheatre and stadium were essentially intact, the foundation and 5 partial columns of the Temple of Apollo remained and the reconstructed Treasury of the Athenians stood on the original site incorporating much of the original material. It was really quite a magnificent site. Today many pine and Cyprus trees are growing for which we were really thankful as they provided shade during one of the hottest days we have had so far.
Saturday 9th July, we slipped the lines about half past nine, motoring Spyros out of the large boat harbour onto a smooth glassy sea heading for Cape Andromakhi, the western portal of the Kissaisos Gulf. Windfinder had predicted light 5-10 knot southeast breezes building during the day. After rounding the Cape a good breeze soon caught up with us on our port beam, we set a reefed mainsail and full headsail and settled down to a wonderful beam reach making 5-6 knots for an hour and a half before reeling in sail to motor into the sheltered harbour of Trizonia on the small island of the same name.
Trizonia is a popular port for yachts and boats some traversing the Gulf of Corinth and others wintering over. Although rough conditions must have occurred at some time as the 2 masts of a sunken ketch were all that could be seen of one misfortunate yacht. The small hamlet on the island included several beach side tavernas, a couple of hotels and modest tourist business, including that from visiting boaties. One enterprising hotel offered a laundry service and for 5€ we got 4 towels washed. We picked them up washed at 7:00pm pegged them to the railings and by nine that evening they were dry.
Sunday 10th July, another brilliant cloudless morning, a light draft coming through the window keeping the yacht cool. By 9:30 we were motoring Spyros out of the harbour onto a flat glassy sea. As we turned west around the southeast corner of Trizonia the four columns and cables of the Rion Bridge stood out like a mountain range. The bridge spans 2.2 kilometres with 3 navigable spans of 500 metres each; it is the longest cable bridge in the world. After 7 miles motoring a nice 15-20 knot easterly breeze filled in which allowed us to motor sail with the headsail for the next 8 miles. We rolled the headsail away about 2 miles from the bridge. Protocols required us to call Rion traffic control 5 miles out from the bridge advising them of our intention to transit beneath the bridge; we did so then had to repeat the call within a mile to gain permission to make the transit. Heading westward, as we were, we had to transit under the north span yachts heading eastward used the southern span leaving the central span with its higher clearance for ships. We were instructed not to cross lanes until 4-5 miles beyond the bridge, which would have been a nuisance as we were heading for Patras and would have caused us to make a 5-mile detour. We crossed the lanes only 2 miles after the bridge, as there was only light small craft traffic and no ships in sight.
The breeze from the northeast was blowing at 20 knots as we entered Patras marina but still we managed a reasonable job of mooring stern to the wind at the visitor’s pontoon. The marina management, keen to take our 31€ for a minimum stay of 2 nights were pretty lax in giving any information about toilets and showers. In fact to use these facilities we would have to find the cleaner who had the key! Suffice to say we didn’t try to find the cleaner. At least the marina had water and power included in the fee, we filled the water tanks and washed Spyros but our power adaptor was the wrong size so we could not take any power. Pity really as temperatures were in the 38-40° range and the refrigerator took all our onboard power. The marina did have a glossy brochure on things to do and see in Patras so Yvonne and I headed off towards the castle high on the hill overlooking the city. Being Sunday, and with 40° temperatures, the city was deserted. We made the climb to the castle expecting it to still be open at 4:30pm. Then we found out the brochure was not well written and it had closed at 3:00pm. We were also keen to find out information about a rack railway through a gorge, which the pilot had recommended and could be accessed from Patras. We asked about but no one could help us. Returning to the marina we still had to check in with the Port Police, so along with the boats papers I wrote down the information about the railway and asked the police. They were quite helpful saying that I needed to catch a bus, at the bus station where we had already made enquiries. An information breakthrough we thought, we resolved to investigate the bus and railway the next day.
Monday 11th July, we lay in bed for a while listening to the hum and clatter of a large city, then the piercing wail of sirens which shook us out of bed. By 9:15 we were out on the street walking under the shade of shop verandas as the temperatures began to rack upwards and no indication they would stop before 40°. We found the bus station and produced the note we had written about the rack railway, the attendant was helpful, gave us 2 tickets for a bus leaving in 15 minutes. He told us that we could expect returning buses at 1:45pm, but that might be a bit tight, otherwise it would be 6:55pm or 8:45pm. Well we had set our minds on doing the railway so we thought that this might be a long day. The bus was the Patras-Athens bus and we needed to get off at Dhiakofto, the second stop. No wonder few in Patras had heard of the railway the bus trip took an hour and Dhiakofto was a third of the way down the Gulf of Corinth It stopped at the railway station in Dhiakofto and there was a sign that said Rack Railway, we bought tickets for the trip that was departing in 15 minutes.
The Rack Railway had been an old narrow gauge steam railway into the hinterland of the Peleponnes, now a tourist attraction with modern air-conditioned trains that wound their way through the tortuous Vouraikos gorge. The train entered into the gorge almost immediately after leaving town and started to climb the 750 metres to Kalavryta over a journey of 22 kilometres. Deeper into the gorge the lower part narrowed, the train hugged the steep sides twisting and turning the whole time. There was hardly any straight track at all. The river at times was at track level, at other times would disappear into deep chasms below the track. The gorge would narrow in places to 30-40 metres wide.
The train wound its way slowly onward and upward, the tracks etched into the rock often overhanging the train often supported by half bridges, many short tunnels and steep cuttings the side of which were barely a foot away from the carriages. At the steeper sections the train slowed down to engage the 3rd serrated rail to which it attached its gear wheels to help traction when going uphill. Towards the upper part, the gorge widened into a valley with trees and small, cultivated tracts of level ground all surrounded by high rocky hills. Eventually we came to the top station Kalavryta where, after a 10 minute stop the train retraced the journey down hill; a journey just as spectacular and awesome as the uphill one. On our arrival back at Dhiakofto we waited only 15 minutes to catch the 1:45pm bus back to Patras. This had been a great day more so in that we had avoided much of the 40° heat by spending most of it in air-conditioned buses and train.
Tuesday 12th July, a 20-knot northerly was keeping both the air cool and Spyros pulled off the pontoon. Another glorious day without a cloud and the temperatures set to return to those of the past two days. We made a lazy start before deciding to check out the charts for the voyage to Killini; to our surprise it was going to be a 38-mile day and we were not ready to leave Patras until eleven o’clock. We motored Spyros for fifteen minutes to clear the yacht harbour and outer breakwater and set sail. With a reduced rig in 20-23 knots of wind over the quarter Spyros was soon bowling along at 6-7 knots. As the breeze slowly reduced in strength over the next few hours we progressively pulled out more sail. By 4:00pm we had clocked up 24 miles and although the breeze, now at 12 knot and still giving us 3-4 knots of boat speed we needed to close the gap between 24 miles covered and the 38 miles to Killini. We reluctantly dispensed with the sails and motored for two and a half hours reaching Killini about six thirty.
The small fishing harbour was full so we had to use the only available mooring place at the end of the quay, displacing a genial wharf fisherman for a moment or two but not to the extent that we interrupted his fishing. He proceeded to catch several small fish while we were having brandies and dinner. Killini was a revisit from 2 years ago, not a popular port for yachties, but the fishing harbour was home to a large fishing fleet and many local boats, there were only 6 visiting yachts and one motor cruiser. It was a busy port with the frequent coming and going of ferries plying between mainland Greece (Killini) and the islands of Zykanthos and Kefalonia.
Wednesday 13th July, if we hadn’t been aroused by the clatter of diesel motored fishing boats passing a few meters away, or the wash from the fishing boats or ferries then the rattle of anchor chains of the ferries would certainly do it; their noise was enough to wake the dead. Windfinder had predicted a similar day to yesterday. Our objective today was the small port of Ay Nikolaos, theoretically a perfect reach of 22 miles which should have taken us about 5 hours. We made a quick call to the supermarket and by 10:30 we were the last yacht to leave, motoring for half an hour to clear a reef off the nearby headland before pulling on sail for the start of a great reach. The wind was blowing at 12-13 knots giving us good boat speed but gradually it eased during the next 3 hours and we had to turn on the engine to finish the last 9 miles. The small harbour of Ay Nikolaos was quite popular, four yachts were berthed stern to the quay and 7 or 8 were anchored at various sites in the small bay. There was still space on the quay so we moored stern to and went into anchor watch for the next hour. I snorkelled over our anchor to find it was only just holding and we didn’t have a great length of chain out. Mind you none of the anchors of the nearby yachts appeared to be well dug in either. The wind was blowing us off the quay so there wasn’t going to be a lot of pressure on the anchor except when swells rolled into the bay. As a precaution we dropped the kedge anchor to weight the main chain and increase the spring effect.
An enterprising family in the small hamlet owned one of the two tavernas, the petrol station, several of the tripper boats and could arrange almost anything one might want. We were greeted on the quay by one of the family members who tied us up, welcomed us to Ay Nikolaos gave us a menu pointing out that the house wine was on the house, the taverna had a free wifi internet connection and invited us to have showers, it was all very welcoming. We had a great dinner at the taverna and arranged for a trip to the Blue Caves in the morning. The northeast corner of the island of Zykanthos is limestone and pitted with caves. The blue caves are a popular tourist destination and about 10 minutes in a fast motorboat from the hamlet. The hamlet also is a ferry port and a popular overnight stop for yachts people, so there is quite a lot of traffic for a small place.
Thursday 14th July, we were ready and waiting for the Blue Caves trip by 9:30am, quite early for us but the trip was to take about an hour and we wanted to be away as soon after our return as possible. Armed with camera and snorkel gear we hung on for a fast motorboat ride around to the pitted coastline, nosing into several caves one of which we, me and 4 others on the trip dived into the water and swam through the cave. We made several stops around the coastline, motored through a couple of ‘holes in the rock’ and for the finale the boat anchored near a small opening at water level through which we swam into a large cavern. Yvonne and I arrived back to Spyros by eleven o’clock but for the short exercise of clearing the kedge anchor from the main anchor chain, we were away without much fuss motoring out on a flat sea. The breeze never got above 5 knots; we motored the whole 22 miles to Argostoli on the island of Kefalonia and apart from seeing one other yacht and a large sea turtle it was a rather boring journey in the 40° heat.
Argostoli was a revisit from 2009, a rather large out-of-the-way town in the south of Kefalonia tucked well up in the Argostoli Gulf. After passing the southeast headland it was another 7 miles into the gulf before we reached the town. At least the gulf and the secondary bay in which the town lay drew the breeze, which cooled the air a bit but a walk along the waterfront to a supermarket was stifling. Yvonne and I didn’t venture too far, preferring to sit in the shade and consume bottles of water. We were back on the internet in Argostoli, there had been no cell-phone connection in Ay Nikolaos, and Windfinder was predicting very little wind for tomorrow so we thought that we would stay for two nights. We had about 2 weeks remaining of our 3-month cruise. It was time to put our minds towards what now do we wanted to do, how to do it, what supplies do we need to get us through the next 2 weeks and what do we need to stock up with.
From Argostoli we had two options, either to go west or south around the island of Kefalonia. Windfinder suggested that south around the island might be a better choice for Saturday as the breeze was predicted to come from the west and we would be slogging into the wind most probably on motor. There were two places that we ‘must do’ on our list: the taverna of Babas on the island of Meganisi and Georges Taverna on the island of Kalamos. However, both of these places are in the Ionian Inland Sea and are extremely popular with yachties, in particular flotillas. At this time of the year we thought these ports would be very crowded so our Plan A was to wait until the weekend, Friday and Saturday nights when the flotillas would be at their bases changing crews. Plan B of course would be to get into these ports early to ensure a berth. So, going south around Kefalonia to Poros on Saturday could usefully set us up for either Plan A or Plan B, the winds for Sunday looked to be staying in the west so we could be setting up Plan B with a good sail northwards in the Inland Sea and tucking up on anchor nearby to Kalamos or to Porto Spillia on Meganisi.
Friday 15th July, the sign outside the chemist in Argostoli read 40° at eleven o’clock as Yvonne and I went down to the supermarket for supplies, some of which would now last us until the end of the cruise, and two 6 x 1.5litre packs of drinking water that we were now consuming at a great rate and our monthly sticky bun treat. Actually we got a slice of spinach pie and a sticky raisin wheel with a fresh peach for afterwards, sat in the cockpit and had a gourmet lunch washed down with cold water. We retired inside for the rest of the afternoon. Most other people had sensibly stayed in doors during the afternoon but once the sun had passed below the line of the buildings the quay became a promenade, crowded with people literally strolling up and down, we recognized several couples going backward and forward. A very large motor cruiser had berthed alongside us and became the centre of attention, many strollers pausing to pose for a photograph in front of the cruiser and many photographing. Needless to say I don’t think we featured in any snap shots like the rich or famous.
Saturday 16th July, after a quick trip across the road to replenish our cash holding from an ATM, we got Spyros under way motoring out of the port into a light northerly breeze where we pulled on sail in readiness for the long run down the Gulf of Argostoli to the open sea. We actually motor sailed for the 7 miles out beyond the entrance to the gulf and passed a wicked looking reef before angling southwest to run across the south of the island. The, now following wind was too light to be any help so we wound the sails in and settled down for three hours of motoring to the south east cape of Kefalonia then beyond for another 2 miles to clear the shallows off the Cape. The wind had picked up and we were able to motor sail with the headsail until clear of the shallows before gybing then putting on full sail to run north to Poros. We had now returned to the popular sailing territory of the Ionian Inland Sea, there were already eleven yachts berthed in Poros when we arrived and another 7 or 8 were to join us before nightfall.
Sunday 17th July, Windfinder predicted a westerly wind, light at first but building to 10-15 knots in the afternoon, just the wind for a run across to Kalamos we thought. After a short walk we hastily got underway as our anchoring yesterday had fouled the anchor chain of the neighbouring yacht that was trying to leave so we needed to help untangle the chains. Having freed our shackles we motored out of the harbour into a light northerly breeze, pulled on all sail and spent a fitful two hours sailing only 4 miles. With a 30-mile day ahead we had to pick up the pace so we motored with mainsail set for and hour and a half. The breeze went through 180° during that time then at 13 miles out from Poros the northwest breeze arrived. We pulled on the headsail with 3 rolls in and started sailing hard on the wind but at 10° south of our course. The breeze built and we took a reef in the mail and 2 more rolls in the headsail. Spyros was enjoying the relatively flat sea, the 13-16 knots of wind and scampered along at 6-7 knots. The wind stayed in the northwest backing slightly so that eventually we came up on our course and could free the sheets a little. We ran an almost straight line from Poros to the northwest bay on the Island of Kastos where, in the lee of Kastos we pulled in sail and motored the mile across the narrow channel separating Kastos and the Island of Kalamos. George was there to help us moor just as he had done 2 years ago. I thought the trip ought to have taken 6 hours but with the slow start to the day we ought to have been rather later arriving into Kalamos but the moderate breeze took care of that, the journey took 6 and a half hours and Plan B worked. Yvonne and I enjoyed a great dinner at Georges Taverna. Many yachts continued to arrive after we had berthed and although it was not the most crowded that we had seen Kalamos boat harbour it was still very full. George was kept busy piloting yachts into berths, the last as late as 9:00pm.
Monday 18th July, a moderate cross wind in the harbour last night had tested the holding of our anchor, we had been pushed back onto the quay at times but strong fenders ensured that no damage was done. The morning dawned calm and clear, a procession of yachts began leaving Kalamos from eight o’clock. With only a short trip to Palairos today we were in no hurry and didn’t leave the harbour until 10:30. We motored down the Kastos-Kalamos channel into a light breeze, which strengthened near the western entrance but was very variable in its’ direction until we were well clear of the headlands. Eventually it settled into a steady northwester at 5-10 knots, we set up Spyros on a fine lead with full sail. The sea was flat and the autopilot did a good job holding Spyros on a steady course at 3-4 knots for a couple of hours until the breeze died away and we resorted to motoring into the small boat harbour of Palairos mooring at one of only 4 remaining berths.
Palairos is one of the few ports in the Inland Sea that is on mainland Greece and the prices, especially diesel, is much cheaper than those on the Islands, which incur a freight surcharge. We were by now fairly savvy about diesel prices and 1.50€ per litre seemed to be about the average price for mainland Greece. Two garages in Poros were offering diesel at 1.56-1.57€ per litre so we were quite happy to get into Palairos and pay only 1.49€.
Tuesday 19th July, by eleven o’clock the sign over the chemist shop in the village was reading 43°. There was a light breeze when we returned to Spyros so we got under way motoring out of the harbour and setting sail. The light breeze carried us along at 3 knots towards the Island of Meganisi, a journey of only 9 miles. It was a fickle wind that shifted direction making sailing a matter of great concentration; broken only by a flurry of little fish as a swordfish carved through a nearby shoal looking for a snack. We covered half the journey by sail before resorting to the motor.
Porto Spillia, the port of Spartachori and the place of Babis’ Taverna had surprisingly few yachts, it was still only three in the afternoon and it seemed like Plan B was working quite well.
The mobile phone reception at Porto Spillia was weak but improved when we went outside. The signal strength on the mobile phone was usually a good indicator of the likelihood of internet reception so I wondered if I took computer and dongle outside would the internet would work in a similar way. It did, with the laptop on my knee the dongle on a 1-metre extension cord and the power cable snaking down through the window to the inverter balanced on a cupboard door we at least got our emails read and answered. Later Yvonne and I headed for the beach to spend a good hour swimming and taking up more sun. A few more yachts came in later in the day but according to Babis these next two nights were going not going to be busy. However he said that come Friday, Saturday and Sunday the port would be overflowing.
We were glad now that we had gone for Plan B rather than Plan A. Yvonne and I dined at a table on the beach only a couple of metres from the water lapping the stones at the same time being entertained by a very large rather unusual looking motor cruiser mooring in the bay. We thought that it was the same vessel that we had first seen in Kea and again in Nassaou, Paros but it turned out to be a sister ship.
Wednesday 20th July, we left Porto Spillia quite early motoring north and west around the island of Meganisi and out into the Inland Sea with a vague plan of heading to Vasiliki. Although the breeze was reasonably brisk in the channels, away from the influence of the land it was barely noticeable. There was huge exodus of yachts from the sheltered port of Sivota and with no wind to sail on we decided to head into Sivota instead of wasting diesel motoring to Vasiliki; that could wait for another day. We had ample choice of where we would moor stern to the quay but no sooner had we berthed than a brand new 50-foot yacht came charging into the quay alongside of us. It had engine problems but little had been done to ready the yacht for a hard landing. We were spared any direct impact but the stem of the yacht took the full impact as it came to a shuddering halt against the concrete quay. The mechanic from Lefkas, incidentally the one who attended to Spyros 2 months ago, was waiting on the quay so we helped to secure the yacht and provided access while he looked at their problem. We were also able to alert him to our own little problem of a broken bow fairlead that would have to be repaired when we gave up Spyros. As the afternoon wore on we were entertained by a procession of yachts that came into the harbour, but the best entertainment was watching the flotillas and the antics of the lead crews directing the mooring of each yacht including using a rubber dinghy to push yachts around and reset anchors that had been dropped too short.
Thursday 21st July, Windfinder predicted 10 rising to 20 knots of wind in the Kefalonia channel between Lefkas Island and Kefalonia/Ithaca Islands so we like many others quite snugly tied to the quay in Sivota decided to stay for the day. A long day it turned out to be and the cards got a thrashing. A little afternoon entertainment was provided by incoming yachts having nowhere to moor other than anchor in the harbour then proceeding to drag anchors in the gusty conditions. One other exciting moment was a small motorboat pulling in beside us but first moving the dinghy of the neighbouring flotilla lead yacht from the quay where it had been moored and fastened it onto our bow. This incensed the lead crew who promptly took the motor boat away and parked it several spaces down the quay. Flotilla lead crews constantly use their dinghies when in port and in this case the dinghy was legitimately tied up to the quay beside their yacht. The owners of the motorboat caused quite a ruckus when they discovered their boat had been moved. So the afternoon wore on and soon it was time for drinks then dinner in the cockpit at which time we were joined by swarms of ‘benign’ wasps, large noisy and bothersome but quite harmless.
Friday 22nd July, Windfinder predicted a day of quieter winds, more so in the afternoon. Their in lies the dilemma; should you leave early so that you arrive early at your destination in time to find a berth but use more engine in doing so or leave later to take advantage of better sailing conditions, motor less and have difficulty in getting a berth. We left about 10:30 expecting to motor for a couple of hours across the Kefalonia channel hoping to find wind when we headed south down the Ithaca channel to Sami on the Island of Kefalonia. It all worked reasonably well. We motored for nine miles across the channel encountering quite a large swell from the blow yesterday, also the mess caused by ferries and ships that traverse the channel. It would have taken a decent breeze to get Spyros moving well enough to battle the swell. As we approached the Ithaca channel a good sailing breeze filled in from the northwest, we cut the motor and set sail making a good 5-6 knots on a fine lead until we were well into the channel then bore off on a broad reach for 5 miles before the fickle nature of the winds in confined seaways came ahead of us. We motored Spyros the last 8 miles into Sami boat harbour with a choice of places at which to berth. By seven o’clock there were no spaces left and a fresh breeze arrived that had yachts tugging at their moorings and had kicked up a short sharp chop that broke on the outside of the quay, spray flying everywhere. After an hour the breeze died as quickly as it had arisen, we had a pleasant evening dining at a local Taverna and a quiet night on the quay.
Saturday 23rd July, with Windfinder predicting very little wind and we having no agenda to keep, the objective today was just to change the scenery. We left Sami on motor but on reaching the southern portal to the Ithaca channel a local breeze of 8-10 knots was blowing so up went the sails. We spent about an hour tacking backwards and forwards trying to clear the channel and head east around Ithaca and up to Kioni. Frustrating is a kind word for the cruel tricks a light breeze can do in confined places seeming always to head you off or soften whenever you really need a lift. Needless to say we then continued to motor around to Kioni thinking that at three in the afternoon there should be some spaces on the quay. We were wrong, either those occupying the berths had arrived earlier in the day or were staying for their second night. Not to worry as no one had anchored with a line ashore directly opposite the quay so we had first pick of the mooring spots. We weren’t really ready with our long line but we were going to hang on anchor and sort out the long line after re-inflating the dinghy. A voice from the water beside us introduced himself as a fellow Kiwi and offered to swim our long line ashore, which he did and we were very grateful promising to bring a beer around later on. After a swim and dry off the wind shifted in direction and other yachts started to arrive. A large 50-foot yacht arrived and at first tried to squeeze into a space on the quay that had become vacant after we had anchored; it was not well skippered and the wind was taking charge. It retreated to the bay and anchored for a while but the crew kept eyeing up the space to windward of us so we needed to keep a watchful eye on it as I could see it being blown down onto us should they try to manoeuvre into the space.
Sunday 24th July, we never did get to leave Spyros yesterday to have that beer with the Kiwi’s moored across on the quay but I did call around before we left this morning for a short chat. Windfinder yesterday had predicted a moderate breeze but, as with our previous visits the internet reception was not good so we couldn’t confirm the wind conditions. That didn’t really matter because within half an hour of leaving port we had a slightly reduce sail plan up and Spyros was rollicking along at 6-7 knots in a force 5 wind. We had re-inflated the dinghy in Kioni, it had been deflated and stowed about 5 weeks ago, and as we were heading to an anchorage in Vlikho Bay decided to tow it instead of stowing it on the foredeck. Spyros was romping along at 6+ knots and as we came into the lee of a small Island of Arkoudhi there was a strange gushing sound as the dinghy was slowly becoming submerged. The towing ‘D’ had ripped out and 2 smaller ‘D’s’ that I used for accessory attachments were only just holding. Luckily we were in the lee of the small island because we let the helm and headsail go free; rolled in the main then stowed the headsail and with great effort managed to empty the dinghy, by now full of water, lift it on the foredeck and lash it down. We got Spyros moving again on motor, tidied up the cockpit then pulled on the headsail expecting to continue reaching northwards into the Meganisi channel. No such luck as the breeze had weakened we added the mainsail and barely made 3 knots. About a mile from the Meganisi channel we wrapped up the sails and motored on to Vlikho Bay anchoring, in what we thought was a good spot.
After an hour it was clear we were dragging the anchor so we re-anchored in the same place. Spyros hated being buffeted by wind while on anchor and would weave back and forward through 180°at times; I’m sure this had an effect on whether the anchor held or not particularly in not so good ground. We dragged again, so for the third time we had to re-anchor but this time we moved down to the south end of the bay where at last we held firmly.
Vlikho Bay must have been the meeting place for the four winds, we could be pointing north and the boat next door would be pointing south, others would be facing all points of the compass. At times it was difficult to judge whether the anchor was holding or not when all the reference points were shifting individually. Eventually the wind(s) died down, as they do at night, and as the evening progressed a myriad of anchor lights around us started to twinkle like stars. The morning dawned still and quiet, many yachts had left by the time we had surfaced but they didn’t disturb the tranquillity of this beautiful bay.
Monday 25th July and we head for Vonitsa in the Gulf of Amvrakikos. In 2009 we spent our last 2 days in Vonitsa, an agricultural town off the beaten (yacht) track, where it had been great to unwind, tidy up the yacht and begin to retrieve our things that had found niches and cupboards on Spyros as though it had been our home. Soon after half past nine we got Spyros under way, motoring slowly out of Vlikho Bay weaving between the dozens of yachts anchored both in the bay and just off Nidiri. At first the breeze came in from the south but as we cleared Nidiri it came in from ahead and stayed this way as we motored further away from Nidiri towards the southern portal of the Lefkas channel. On nearing the Lefkas channel it looked likely that we might make the 12 o’clock opening of the road bridge at the north end so we kept up the engine revs as we had about 5 miles to go. We made the bridge in plenty of time and motored around in lazy circles to fill in time and to save anchoring as there was a moderate breeze blowing. By quarter past 12 we were through the bridge, clear of the Lefkas channel and pulling on sail into a 15-knot breeze from the northwest. With 3 rolls in the headsail, half a reef in the main and the breeze coming across the beam, Spyros was in its element. The sea was quite lumpy, the aftermath of yesterday’s winds, but we trucked along making 5-6 knots for just under an hour when we doused sail and motored until we could locate the entrance to the dredged channel into Preveza. Not so easy with the swell. Fifty minutes motoring and we had passed Preveza and were heading into the big ‘S’ bend leading into the Gulf proper. The wind was now on our stern quarter; we pulled on the headsail reaching and gybing in the15-20 knot breeze through the S bend and around into Vonitsa Bay. The wind would have carried us all the way to the town quay if we hadn’t taken in the sail and motored under control into the boat harbour. It had been a great sail and we performed a good stern to mooring in the 14-16 knot cross wind.
Our first job was to rig up a long hose from the one and only water tap on the quay; one other yacht that had recently arrived was also in need of water so we attached our hose to theirs using PVC tape. This worked for only a short while. Another yacht owner seeing our predicament loaned us a proper connector we got both boats topped up with water and Spyros cleaned down for the last time. Next we checked the cupboards to see what was required to keep us fed and ‘watered’ until Friday morning, then to reconnoitre the town for a supermarket and a taverna to eat at tonight. We awoke on Tuesday to a very still and overcast morning that threatened rain and later delivered it, first as a light shower in the morning then quite a heavy shower in the early afternoon. We started to ‘de-camp’ Spyros, taking down the wind pennants, giving our sailing gear a fresh water wash before packing them away, retrieving our things which had personalized Spyros for us over the last 12 weeks, restoring yacht equipment and utensils that were superfluous to our needs and had been packed away, and returning to the supermarket to top up the cupboards. Later in the afternoon the clouds cleared and we retraced our steps of 2 years ago around to the small island to the east of the township, across the causeway following the pathway through the pine trees around the island.
Wednesday 27th July the sea was like a mirror, Windfinder confirmed it would be like this most of the day. We made a slow start; just before ten o’clock we raised anchor and motored Spyros slowly out of the boat harbour heading to Preveza, a short journey of 2 hours at a lazy 4 and a half knots, retracing the route we had come 2 days ago. The pilot book had recommended a visit to Nikopolis, an ancient city about 3 miles from the town of Preveza. Yvonne and I spent an hour trying to find a bus stop where a bus, said by some locals would take us there, but found out from others that no bus runs to Nikopolis. Nevertheless the hour or so walk in the 30° heat did us good as we had become quite sedentary over the past few weeks and had not been getting out and exercising very much. We were moored on the town quay and, very much like other towns, the pedestrian traffic increased in the evening with a veritable crowds meandering up and down the quay. The cafes and bars across the road were also busy by early evening and seemed to remain so well into the night.
Thursday 28th July, the day we leave port for the last time to make our way back to Lefkas. The diesel man called at 9:00am so we topped up the tank on Spyros. Later the Port Police turned up asking everyone to register at the office, off I went and after half an hour the queue shortened by the 3 people in front of me whereupon I paid my 1.53€ and returned to Spyros.
We pulled up anchor at 10:20am to motor the 2 miles out of the Preveza channel, a buoyed channel through some wicked shallows dredged to a depth of about 6 meters. Once clear of the channel we raised sail in 4-5 knots of wind managing 2 knots of boat speed. We were hoping to make the 12 noon bridge opening at the north end of the Lefkas channel, our 2 knots of boat speed wasn’t going to cover the 5 miles in time so we turned on the engine at 4 miles to go and motor sailed at 5-6 knots for 40 minutes. At 10 minutes to 12 we pulled in sail and pushed Spyros up to 6.5 knots covering the last mile to the channel just before noon. The shallows through the north entrance to the Lefkas channel are marked with red buoys; we hurried along following these and to our amazement found a buoy way out of place, we clipped a rock, we stopped, we reversed and propeller walked the stern of Spyros into deeper water, we stopped again and Spyros drifted off the rock, we throttled hard and just caught up to the last yacht in front of us before the road bridge closed. Fifteen minutes later we tied up to the Lefkas town quay and our three months sailing was all over.
For three months we experienced a wide range of conditions and events, some great and some not so great. But I guess that is to be expected when sailing for that length of time. So really it was a good test of living aboard and in that respect fulfilled one of our motivations for wanting to sail for three months. At the end we were both ready to come home. The experience this year gave us a different sense of achievement than that of previous years where we were challenged to navigate and sail in new waters. In those years we had planned rather ambitious itineraries and carried these out without very much consideration for the weather. This year we had no detailed itinerary only a general plan to sail south from Lefkas in the Ionian, around the Peleponnes and out to the Cyclades, retuning to the Ionia via the Corinth Canal. We had weather information, which helped with day-to-day decisions. We were familiar with many of the sailing areas and towns we visited and were confident in our ability to navigate and sail. But to some extent the cruise lacked an element of adventure and anticipation. Sure the southern Peleponnese peninsular, the northern Cyclades and Corinth did add spice but covering old ground was a bit repetitious.
Sailing in the month of July was a first for us and as expected the temperatures were warmer (hotter) and the harbors and anchorages busier. We could only speculate that August would be much of the same and we found ourselves planning to try and avoid crowds and to ensure we arrived at ports sufficiently early to secure a berth. There was a trade-off though, in the latter part of the cruise we were setting off earlier in the day and missing the great sailing breezes that would build up in the afternoons. If we were to try and extrapolate our experience of these past 3 months into a 5 month cruise it would have to include the months of April, July and August. We had sailed in late April 1981 in the Northern Sporades on our first flotilla charter, the weather at that time was fine and tourist numbers were very low. Recent commentary suggests that great sailing and the wonderful ‘Greek Experience’ can still be had in April. Unlike the many live a boards were had met on our several trips to Greece we don’t have the luxury of proximity to the Greece Isles as do those who live in Britain and Europe. From New Zealand, commuting to Greece entails a 30 to 40 hour flight each way and to break 5 months of sailing into 2 segments, avoiding the months of July and August would add a substantial commuting cost to the budget of owning a yacht and sailing during the months of April May June then September October each year.
Spyros was a good yacht it was our home for 3 months and it looked after us well. It did have a few annoying design features and a few sailing weakness but it gave no concern for our safety in the stronger winds and heavier seas we experiences on a couple of occasions. But Spyros was a charter yacht. It was not a yacht that we could personalize except in very small ways. The wind pennants worked extremely well and stood up to the rigors of the weather, I was more comfortable with our own binoculars and I bought my own small hand held GPS as a back-up. A folding barrow would have been very useful, we should have thought to bring one with us but as our luggage had built in wheels it never crossed our minds. But space and weight limit the amount of extras that can be carried on flights as personal luggage. Jack-lines would have been very useful. We had 2 lifelines clipped to the handrails above the companionway, one each side and another 2 clipped to each side of the push pit near the helm. These enabled each of us to have anchor points as we moved about the cockpit. There were plenty of warps, many were heavy and there were only a couple of lighter 12-15mm ones that we used constantly. A long light line would have been useful when anchoring and taking a line ashore. Anchor points amidships near the gunwale would have been useful to attach a preventer to the boom when running and of course a jockey pole would also have been a luxury when running. The jib sheets almost always got caught on the stern of dinghy stowed on the foredeck, the dinghy was a little long for the foredeck and could not be stowed hard up against the mast. In the end we deflated the dinghy and had to re-inflate it whenever we chose to use it. And the only means of charging the batteries were the motor and shore power. The availability of shore power was infrequent and we relied on running the motor about an hour a day to re-charge the batteries. Often an hour was not enough to keep the refrigerator going during the day, to spend an hour on the computer and to keep the anchor light going at night. Fitting solar panels or wind generators is the luxury bestowed an owner and not a feature to be found on a charter yacht.
It was very comforting to know there is an extensive network keeping a watchful eye on vessels in Greek waters. Once, when motoring Spyros across Ormos Vatika towards Ak. Zovolov a ferry came up behind us. We expected the ferry to pass us and when it didn’t we were surprised to see that it had turned away. We were experiencing 30-35 knot wind gust at the time and can only presume that this was the Palaiokastro to Kythera ferry that had gone out of its way to ensure we were not in trouble. Again when we were sailing in 30-35 knot winds across to Kithnos after our engine failed, a ferry came up behind us but didn’t pass instead it turned away after presumably being satisfied we were in no trouble. Then there was the rescue coordination center that stayed in contact with us as we tried to find a sheltered port or bay that we could safely sail into after our engine had failed. The Port Police who physically followed our progress around Kithnos at that time and coordinated the fishing boats who located us after we found refuge in a small cove on the eastern side of Ormos Ay Ioannis. And the fishing boat that towed us around to Ormos Ay Stefanos and secured us to it own fixed mooring. We were certainly very grateful to network of surveillance systems and to all those people who helped us on Wednesday 22nd June.
Sailing is very satisfying but never completely satisfies. Sailing reinforces the passion to sail the converse that it might detract from sailing does not exist. In spite of the bad days there were many, many memorable times; even the bad days were rewarding challenges. Should we return to Greece to pursue our passion is a rhetorical question, for which we don’t have an answer right now.