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Cyclades, Storms, Old Friends and Safe Havens

June 14, 2014

Being in the safe haven of Kalamata I finally have a couple of days to get our recent travels written up.  Looking back at my diaries, we were last here in June 2010 and the weather hasn’t changed much!  It was raining then, and it has been raining now for the past few days.  Only on and off, with thunder and lightning, but enough to make us have to take in damp washing and then hang it out again the next day!

Washing winter clothes in Kalamata

Washing winter clothes in Kalamata

But back to the beginning.  Brian returned from Manchester (cold and wet) having passed his medical checkup with flying colours.  He needed a couple of days to get back into boat mode.  One day we cycled down the coast cycle path to the bird sanctuary – lagoons and marshes near the coast.  We didn’t see much out of the ordinary, but spent an exciting hour or so pushing through overgrown paths covered in brambles.
When we cannot get local wifi we use a 3G dongle from Wind (Greek mobile provider).  Back in 2013 I had bought a 7 day topup (you get a piece of paper with a code on it from one of the roadside kiosks that sell cigarettes, drinks and snacks) but we hadn’t used it.  I thought I would try it out – and it worked!  But we would need more so I bought a 1 month topup for later on.  However if we are tied up in a harbour (or at anchor) near tavernas, these usually have wifi which we can get reasonably well from the boat so we can eke out our use of the paid for 3G dongle.  They almost all need a password, so we are honour bound to go and have a beer or frappé there!
Also in Greece there are rarely public toilets available, so patronising one of the tavernas is requisite for being able to use their loo in the mornings!  I have to be careful to select one which opens good and early….

Emborios Bay, Kalymnos

Emborios Bay, Kalymnos

We were ready to go, and on 2nd May set off for Emborio Bay on Kalymnos.  We had been there before and found mooring buoys which make life a lot easier.  While we were finishing packing up the sail etc (yes we had managed to turn the engine off for a while) there were very loud bangs from the shore.  Finally I saw one of the café owners setting off bangers under the tamarisk trees.  We later discovered that there had been local elections and this seemed to be some kind of display either of disatisfaction or the reverse – we couldn’t work out which.  A lot of climbers were walking and on scooters – the island is a good rock climbing centre.

Farmer loading goats into his small boat

Farmer loading goats into his small boat

Bye bye goats

Bye bye goats

We were aiming to get to the Cylades during May and spending some time looking around, so headed off the next day to a small island called Levitha.  A lovely sheltered spot on the south coast protected us from the big swell that built up the next day.  Again we were very pleased to find buoys in the bay which we tied up to – they looked secure.  There is only one farm on the island, and the farmer charges 7€ for the use of the buoys – no taverna although apparently you can eat at the farm.  We spent a couple of nights there, cleaned the dinghy bottom (very weedy) and went for a short walk up to the farm and around the edge of the bay.  The first night we were amused to see the farmer load half a dozen loudly complaining goats from the back of a trailer (their feet were bound) into his small boat.  He then disappeared into the distance round the end of the island, returning a couple of hours later sans goats.  One of them had wriggled free during the transfer process and was standing at the prow looking most upset!
A lifeboat had appeared and tied up to the small jetty, unloading a number of men and a lot of gear.  The farm tractor came and took loads of the gear away – we later found that the men were setting up camp in a field up the hill and were setting up big radio aerials and tents.  We wondered what it was all about.
We made an early start to get to Amorgos on 5th May – bank holiday Monday I remembered.  The waves were quite big and the wind was on the nose so we just hunkered down, didn’t bother with the sail and gritted our teeth.

Cliffs of Amorgos

Cliffs of Amorgos

Once we got into the lee of Kinaros and then across to the north side of Amorgos the sea and wind abated considerably but with a strong current against us it still took 9 hours.  We thankfully tied up stern to in Katapola bay near the ferry quay.  As there was no-one there to take our ropes, we had to be resourceful, I put a bit of resistance on the anchor windlass, then scooted to the back, jumped on shore (fortunately a low quay) and got ourselves secured – then back to the anchor and tightened it up.  It all went rather well so we were pleased with ourselves.
Mythos café was about 5 metres from our stern and fulfilled both wifi and toilet requirements!  There were a few small shops, a laundry (hurray), a good bread shop and plenty of car hire places.  Looking at the forecasts of strong winds until the following Sunday, we weren’t going anywhere for a while.

Katapola harbour, Amorgos

Katapola harbour, Amorgos

The first night we ate at the recommended restaurant, the Corner Café, and had an excellent dinner.  The rest of the time we self catered.

Tuesday was bright and dry so we packed a lunch and headed up the path to Chora – the town above the harbour.  It was a 300 metre relentless uphill path, but lovely with spring flowers and great views.  A small cistern was half way up, still with running water. Panting we found a small square in the town, had our lunch and returned the same way for well deserved liquid refreshment.

Cistern on the path to Chora

Cistern on the path to Chora

We met another Cruising Association member couple on Hamble Dawn III.  Frank and Lin invited us over for a drink and as they were on their way to Turkey we passed on the phone, 3G dongle, dictionaries and the Bay Express cruising guide that shows all the restaurant quays along the south and south east coast.  We also swapped Kindle book collections – we passed on those acquired from our friends on Sassoon, and received an equal number from Frank and Lin.

Kalotaritissa bay

Kalotaritissa bay

Taking advantage of the car hire offices we took one for a couple of days and toured most of the island.  In strong winds we found Kalotaritissa bay and some shelter with a couple of cats for company where we ate our lunch.  We stopped to walk along the inlet where the wreck featured in the French film “Le Grand Bleu” was and were amazed that it hadn’t moved – a cargo ship run aground in a small cove.  There were a lot of French tourists around but we didn’t see any looking at the wreck.

The famous wreck

The famous wreck

The next day we headed over to the south east coast where amazing down gusts of wind threw circular sprays of seawater out among the small bays.  It was hard to stand up in the wind on the top of the cliffs.  We drove to the parking area at the bottom of the cliff where the famous monastery hangs suspended half way up – and watched an old monk climb up the path loaded with his bags and shopping.
The island is covered with ancient terraces – as are a few of the other Cylcladean islands.  Some of them have been recovered and look fantastic with their crops of vines and cereals.

Sprays of water spreading out from huge gusts coming down the cliffs

Sprays of water spreading out from huge gusts coming down the cliffs

The famous monastery

The famous monastery

 

Terraced mountains all around

Terraced mountains all around

On the way back we stopped at the ferry port of Ayios Annas which had a bigger supermarket and stocked up for the next few days.  As we wandered around, we saw a Black Tern skimming around the harbour and resting on a lump of concrete in the middle.
Finally the winds dropped and we motor sailed the short distance to Skianoussa where we anchored in a small bay and sunbathed on the boat for the first time this year.  From there the winds were supposed to be favourable to sail up to Naxos but as ever the forecast was wrong and we just motored in heavy seas until we headed up towards Naxos itself.

Naxos town, viewed from the southern lagoons

Naxos town, viewed from the southern lagoons

By then we were skimming along with a handkerchief of jib out and the wind behind us and zoomed into the harbour.  A rush to get fenders and ropes out, and we were guided onto a rather precarious corner of the quay reserved for yachts – anchor out and all that with 20 knots of wind behind us!  We found a good café for a deserved beer, and found that there is indeed a public loo, so all was sorted.
The next day (Tuesday 13th May) we negotiated a safer mooring with a mooring line inside the quay.  Then after lunch we set off to walk to the lagoons south of the harbour.  The wind was still blowing hard from the south, but there were loads of wading birds along the lagoon shore including black winged stilts and a couple of ruddy shelducks with a brood of baby ducks I think out in the middle of the pond.  Brian thinks he saw a ruddy turnstone too.
We planned to stay here a while to explore the Cyclades, including taking a ferry to Ios and Santorini – the harbours there are not really very safe.  So for a couple of days we hired a car and toured Naxos, following routes to see if we could spy more birds.

Not Mount Za, but nearby

Not Mount Za, but nearby

The first day we went to the lagoons again but without much success.  The next day we headed up to Mount Za where we found a fantastic display of falcons – Eleanora’s and Sakar – wind surfing on the side of the mountain.  We followed the trail up to the cave of Zeus (not much to see but lovely views) and finally saw Griffon Vultures circling above the top of the mountain.  A couple of wheatears were on the rocks as well.
Friday was domestic work – cleaning, filling up with diesel, etc. and we booked hotels and ferry tickets for our excursion to the other islands on Saturday.
The ferry was very posh, lots of comfortable seating and a quick trip to Ios, where a few people disembarked.  Our hotel was right in front of the ferry dock, simple but perfectly adequate.

View from our hotel in Ios

View from our hotel in Ios

We dumped our rucksacks and went for a tour of the harbour, to find that our friends Duncan and Julia on Rampage were tied up there!  They weren’t on board so we went for a beer at the taverna with a view of their boat and distracted them from a planned walk when they appeared.  It had been 5 years since we saw them last in Gibraltar, and it was great to catch up again.  We knew that they had been heading for Ios but hadn’t known that they had arrived – so it was an amazing coincidence. Duncan cooked a great chicken curry which we shared that night.  It was weird not having our own boat there – but nice to sleep in a hotel away from the swell that came into the harbour.

Duncan and Julia at our first meeting in 5 years!

Duncan and Julia at our first meeting in 5 years!

On Sunday we shared a hire car and toured the island, checking out Homer’s tomb (just a marble slab in a ruined building) and having a good lunch in Psathi.  A huge modern museum had been built in the Chora, but was empty – very strange.  We went out for dinner, bade au revoir to our friends the next morning  (they are heading in the same direction as us) and caught the ferry to Santorini.  By this time it was spitting rain which got heavier as we approached the island, so the fantastic views of the caldera were a bit washed out.

Neolithic village in Ios

Neolithic village in Ios

Getting the bus to Fira – the main town – was fine, but we got lost after that and the hotel owner kindly came to give these two drowned rats a lift to the hotel – which was only 200 metres from the bus station! A huge room greeted us, very nice facilities and breakfast thrown in for a change.  We headed out in the rain to find some dinner, toured the passageways of the old town and finally ended up in a small, not too pricey taverna.  Santorini, being a tourist mecca, is not cheap!

Wet Santorini

Wet Santorini

We took the bus the next day (fortunately bright and sunny) to the massive archeological site of Akrotiri.  The Minoan ruins have been enclosed in a huge covered hall and were very impressive.

It was the epicentre of trade with Crete and the rest of the area until the volcano erupted and they all fled.  It was amazing to see intricate wooden furniture petrified by volcanic ash and lava.

Beachside lunch in Akrotiri

Beachside lunch in Akrotiri

After a good lunch at the beachside taverna we headed towards “Red Beach” – yes it was very dark red.

Red cliffs at Red Beach

Red cliffs at Red Beach

Being adventurous we headed further and found a road heading back up towards the modern  village of Akrotiri.  It was very steep and we got very hot!  Finally we found our way into the village and found a bus stop – just missing one bus by a minute.  However that gave us an hour to sit and recover with a beer, before catching the next bus back to the hotel and having an excellent dinner  (I had lamb casserole in a minty yoghourt sauce with cracked wheat) at another taverna we had seen on our perambulations.
On Wednesday we went to see the amazing wall paintings, pottery and artifacts recovered from Akrotiri and other sites in the local museum.

We had time to have a sandwich before heading back to the bus station for the ferry back to Naxos where we treated ourselves to gyros and an early night, getting a better view of the caldera on the way.

View of the stripes of lava and "tuff" in the caldera

View of the stripes of lava and “tuff” in the caldera

We waited another few days for the weather to improve before setting off again to Dhespotiko bay at the south end of Paros.  It was a lovely setting, turquoise water and loads of space to anchor, with excellent holding. I had the first swim of the year (and haven’t had another one yet)!  It wasn’t terrifically warm but it was bearable.

Dhespotiko bay

Dhespotiko bay

As we were preparing to leave for Sifnos the next day (Sunday 25th May) I was surprised to hear the phone ringing – it was Eva on Nocturne!  We hadn’t seen her or Erik for 3 years and they were only 20 miles away.  We agreed to meet up in Vathi bay in Sifnos the next day where we arrived and parked at anchor at the end of a long line of other yachts – rather far away from the small collection of houses but quiet and calm.  We found one expensive café and then another cheaper one while watching more yachts arrive and some amusing antics as people not used to anchoring got it wrong – over and over again.

Entrance to Vathi bay, Sifnos

Entrance to Vathi bay, Sifnos

We had a very lazy morning the next day, expecting Nocturne to arrive some time in the afternoon.  However we hadn’t anticipated that they are early risers and saw them come in and tie up to the small quay just as we were about to take the dinghy over to a distant beach for its monthly bottom scrub.  We headed over to welcome them in instead and went to the nearby café for frappé along with their dog Arja – who didn’t recognise us – huh!

Erik and Eva

Erik and Eva

We had a very late lunch and did our dinghy work that afternoon, then met up again for drinks and dinner.  There was some delay as anchors got tangled and then a bunch of Russians tried to negotiate their way in to a non-existant space!  It was great to see Eva and Erik again and catch up on the news – Eva’s blog is a bit sporadic and in Norwegian so it was interesting to hear what they and their family had been doing.
They left early the next morning and we headed down to Milos – Brian remembering that it was our wedding anniversary too!  37 years but Erik and Eva have notched up 48 so we are put in the shade.
Milos is the jumping off place for yachts heading to mainland Greece – Monemvasia.  We managed to get a place on the pontoon – not somewhere you want to be in any southerly breeze but fortunately it was not windy that night.  Rampage was anchored in the bay along with a catamaran called Tantrum which we had seen in Amorgos.  Steve and Linda had spent the winter in Crete where Duncan and Julia had been, so they were good friends.  The weather looked OK to go the next day, then not OK for a while, so we rapidly sorted ourselves out and prepared for a very long trip starting very early.

Weird rocks outside Milos bay

Weird rocks outside Milos bay

Our alarm was set for 2am the next morning and we cast off at about 2.45- not bad!  We got the sail up quickly and negotiated our way out of the dark bay – no navigational lights around so thank goodness for our charting software that shows where we are and the route to follow!  We could just about make out the black outlines of the cliffs in the entrance to the bay.

North jetty, Monemvasia

North jetty, Monemvasia

We made good time and arrived in Monemvasia about 4pm, finding a number of yachts tied up alongside the old ferry jetty to the north of the causeway.  We tagged on the end, but then were asked to move up to the inside end as another yacht came in, and about an hour later Tantrum arrived and took our place at the end of the jetty.  It was soon time to head ashore to the taverna at the end of the jetty for a couple of deserved beers and we watched as Rampage finally appeared and rafted up next to Tantrum, turning up to join us for liquid refreshment.
The next day we woke to find that all the other yachts had disappeared magically, leaving the 3 of us to our fate as the wind howled from the south as predicted and it rained covering us with red sand.  We put a fender board out (our old gangplank) to keep the fenders from grinding against the jetty and made sure the ropes were protected from rubbing on the concrete.  We went into town to seek shelter in a café with wifi so we could check weather and emails, then on returning to the boat decided it was so horrid we would treat ourselves to a pizza at the local taverna – it was very good and lovely to sit inside in peace and quiet and dry!
The next morning we were all pinned against the wall in a strong westerly wind.  Duncan and Steve were putting out kedge anchors using Steve’s dinghy, dropping them about 20 metres to the side of their boats and then winching the boat away from the quay.  As they offered to take ours out, we took advantage and it certainly helped a lot and proved to be a lifesaver when we came to leave.
After that Brian and I investigated the path that goes all the way around the peninsula, and decided it would make a nice walk for the next day.

Path around the island

Path around the island

Tantrum and Rampage moved over to the harbour on the other side of the peninsula so we were left on our own, still with a westerly wind pinning us to the wall.  We took packed lunches expecting to circumnavigate the peninsula then climb up to the old town on top of the rock.  We were pleased to see Western Rock Nuthatches and a kestrel on the way, but on reaching the lower town after a perilous clamber across the rocks at the end of the walk, found that the upper town has been closed for renovations.  We did walk up to the entrance and had a rest there, then headed back to the boat to eat our lunches.

Monemvasia Old Town - Lower section

Monemvasia Old Town – Lower section

On the way back Brian had noted a couple of thick pieces of hawser which he then rescued and we tied them between the plank and the wall to prevent the ropes supporting the plank from being chafed through (one had already suffered). This worked well and we were snug and safe.  We like the north jetty as it has electricity and water available – so Brian was finally able to complete his garden light project – remodelling one we had had for ages to make it brighter – and mounted it cleverly on the gantry.
We saw the big turtles that inhabit the harbour every day – they swim through the bridge under the causeway and come hunting for delicacies.  Finally it was time to move on.  At 6am on Monday 2nd June with forecasts of light winds around Cape Malea (notoriously gusty) we attempted to extricate ourselves from the harbour.  The light winds were not in evidence – we continued to be pinned against the harbour wall and no amount of forwarding and backwarding could get either end of the boat to swing out.

Choppy seas, south of the causeway

Choppy seas, south of the causeway

So I winched and winched and winched on the kedge anchor until finally we had enough space to swing into the wind and then pull in the kedge anchor.  Brian had to do the last bit – it was very heavy!  We pulled out to sea and round to the other side of the peninsula where the wind abated, the seas calmed down and we managed to get all the fenders and plank back on board and settled down for a quite pleasant motor sail round the Cape.
Our plan was to anchor off Elefanosis, but when we got there there was a heavy swell into the bay.  We turned back and managed after a couple of attempts to anchor in a quiet bay to the east of the island along with a ketch also there.  We checked the forecast which now warned of F6-7 north east winds and both they and we decided that this bay would not be sheltered. So we followed them to a small harbour called Paleokastro on the opposite side of the small gulf, just north of the Cape and supposed to be safe in a NE wind.

Paleokastro bay after the storm!

Paleokastro bay after the storm!

Again it took a couple of goes to get the anchor to stick (the harbour was full), but it seemed well in.  Our companions took several tries but they also seemed OK.  After an early start we turned in for an early night, then woke at 2am as the wind started howling.  Brian stayed awake from then, checking on our plotting software that we weren’t moving.  The waves crashed and the wind gusted and it rained with a thick layer of more red sand.  We noticed that one by one,  the local boats occupying the small harbour (a couple of cargo ship supply boats and a small coastguard rib) disappeared into the spray – headed we didn’t know where.
The wind was blowing so hard (45-55 knots) that spray was just blowing off the top of the waves up to 3 to 4 metres above the sea.  It was horrible.  Then at 2pm Brian saw that the anchor had finally given up and we were heading towards land!  He raced to get the engine on and powered us out of the bay while I put on safety gear and headed up to pull the anchor in.  It must have grabbed again a couple of times, but finally I got it up and got back to get the spray hood down so Brian could see where we were going and to get the chart up so we knew where we were.  It was amazing that we managed to move in such high winds, but stangely the waves weren’t that big and Brian had the engine revs racing!  We didn’t really have a plan, but on rounding the end of the harbour wall in Neapoli (only 2 miles away) we found the sea was relatively calm and there was a space on the harbour wall! I managed to get some ropes out quickly.  Magically three or four men appeared on the quayside and one jumped on board as Brian brought the boat alongside – they grabbed the ropes and we got tied up, eventually getting some fenders out too!  It took another hour to get it all arranged to our satisfaction with the fender board out again but we were really pleased to be somewhere safe.

Ferry on the east side of Neapoli quay

Ferry on the east side of Neapoli quay – Alixora on the west side….

..and now its on the west side, with a big hawser all the way to shore!

..and now its on the west side, with a big hawser all the way to shore!

The ketch also in Paleokastro followed us a short time later and anchored off the beach in Neapoli.  It doesn’t look windy in the pictures, but it was hard to keep your feet on the jetty.
We hadn’t considered Neapoli as a safe haven as there were some negative remarks about it in the pilot book, but in the end it was fine.  Then we found that the boats we had seen down in Paleokastro were also tied up around us!  But this wasn’t the end of the fun and games – the ferry to Kithira left from the east side of the jetty (we were on the west) later that evening, but just turned round and came back to tie up on our side!  The supply boats had moved around and rafted up to make space, but fortunately we were able to stay where we were – it was still blowing hard.  The port police chap said it had been F9 at times.  The dock handlers passed us the lines to the ferry hawsers at the front of the boat and we passed them on in turn to the men on the supply boats and the hawsers were set from the bow of the ferry past us and the supply boats to bollards at the inner end of the quay!  So we were stuck, like it or not.  Just as well we weren’t going anywhere!
Neapoli turned out to be a really nice place – modern and a bit scruffy, but very pleasant and helpful people.  We managed to get electricity and water after a bit of a run around, and spent most of the next day washing red sand and grit off the boat.
The main casualty of the storm turned out to be the fresh water pump, which decided to start leaking.  It took us a while to track down the source of the water but have now ordered hopefully the right spare part to fix it from Italy!  So we are in Kalamata for a while longer than expected with a clever means of draining the leak into the bilge meantime.
The other casualty was the dinghy cover – the dinghy had turned over five or six times in the storm, and ended up upside down.  The cover had come loose and ripped where it was tied down to the handles.  That was easily fixed with the trusty sewing machine when we got to Kalamata.
We spent an afternoon walking along the coast from Neapoli to Paleokastro to take a belated look at the ruins. There wasn’t much to see but it was a pleasant walk and warm after all the storms.
We wanted to look at the next big bay (Lakonikas Gulf) in the Peloponnese having never been there before and headed over to Githion on Friday 6th June (by this time the ferry was back on the east side of the jetty).  It was a great day for sailing too with just the right amount of wind for a pleasant beam reach and decent speed.
Githion harbour we found to be under reconstruction and we had to anchor in a small bay next to the island of Kranai where Paris and Helen spent their first night after eloping (apparently).

Githion, Kranai island

Githion, Kranai island

By this time I really needed to get some laundry done, and more strong northerly winds were predicted for the next few days, so we abandoned our plan and gave in to being boring and sensible and headed for the marina in Kalamata, where we have been since Saturday 7th June.

Porto Kayio - keeping an eye on the boat

Porto Kayio – keeping an eye on the boat

We stopped for the night in Porto Kaiyo – last time we were there it took 4 goes to get the anchor in, this time only two!  Fortunately there wasn’t much wind and it was flat calm when we set off early again on a long day’s motor sail, but deteriorated as we neared Kalamata with strong gusts, lightning, thunder and heavy rain.  We got wet!

The Mani hills at dawn

The Mani hills at dawn

Since our arrival we have been subjected to rain and thunderstorms every afternoon.  But we have rediscovered the good shops in the vicinity and also have made a list of work to do on the boat as well as waiting for our water pump parts to arrive.  There seems to be an awful lot to do!  The hinged support on one side of our spray hood finally broke.  The originals were always a bit weak so we have sourced new ones and of course this entails different attachments etc.  However we shall rent a car and do a bit of touring as well as doing the jobs that have accumulated – now listed in the “cow book” (friends will know what that is!).
Despite the rain and thunderstorms the weather has finally turned into summer – warm days and nights.  Up until now we have still been wearing “winter” clothes – especially when sailing – woolly hats have been worn even up to last week.  Time to get out the shorts and vests and wash and put away our warm gear.
When we finally leave Kalamata we shall be heading for the Northern Ionian islands (Cephalonia etc) to meet up with John and Gill on Petronella and hopefully with Rampage again as well – our plans go no further at present!

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