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From Ionian islands to the Cyclades

August 12, 2016

As mentioned in the last episode, we hung around in Vathi, Ithaka for a few more days at the end of June and set off again on 1st July.  During that time we met up with the Norwegians, Belgian/Portuguese friends and generally did a few chores, including buying new mats for our cockpit – long overdue!

Sunset in Oxeia bay

Sunset in Oxeia bay

We had a great sail from Vathi to Oxeia bay that had been recommended by Syd and Birgit.  We found a good spot in the north east corner, surrounded by a few fishing boats and a couple of yachts.  Peaceful after the busyness of the Ionian.  Also it was great to be able to drop into the sea for a swim – it was a bit cool but great to be able to cool down.  During this time it has remained very hot – which we have only just escaped since heading into the Aegean.

Missolonghi canalside shacks

Missolonghi canalside shacks

Another great sail awaited us the next day as we headed towards Missolonghi, only spoilt at one point to avoid a huge catamaran that didn’t seem to want to give way.  We briefly put the engine on and took avoiding action and didn’t return the friendly wave that the catamaran helmsman gave us!

Missolonghi canal

Missolonghi canal

As we headed up the canal towards the harbour the wind increased.  We were ushered into a small space but the wind caught the bow and pushed it into the large steel yacht next door – oops.  Fortunately the owner was phlegmatic about it despite having to sand and repaint the scratch we had made.   I made up with a “sorry” card and €20 for the annoyance – which was received with much gratitude.  Our Norwegian friends Morten and Ann-Inger were on the  pontoon to greet us, as well as Syd.  Birgit had gone to Germany for various anniversary and birthday celebrations, leaving Syd to look after himself.  He was pleased for the company.

Church in Missolonghi

Church in Missolonghi

Missolonghi marina was pleasant and it was great to have electricity, water, toilet and shower facilities again.  After a day or so of eating on board, we found it more pleasant to eat at the excellent Sunset café in the marina – it was just too hot to cook.  This has become the norm!

Man with parrot but no wooden leg!

Man with parrot but no wooden leg!

We decided to leave the boat for a week and head inland towards the mountains for a bit of cool and booked a rental car from Patras.  The deal there was a lot cheaper than getting one locally, and we could get a bus from Missolonghi to Patras without any problem.  Morten and Ann-Inger were leaving for Norway (with Loeve the dog) that week, and Syd was off to Germany for a week to renew his residence permit.  With a pile of washing done before we left we collected the car and explored the lagoons around Missolonghi on our way back to the boat.

Loeve gets a bath before his flight

Loeve gets a bath before his flight

We saw loads of Black Winged Stilts, Egrets, Short Toed Larks, etc.  The full list of our bird sightings is in Brian’s notebook and I won’t go into more detail.  However the lagoons are famous for Dalmatian Pelicans and Flamingos – both of which we saw but at a distance.  The tracks around the lagoons are not very car friendly and the lagoons themselves are large.  Of course the birds stay in the middle!

We set off the next day having loaded the car up, hoping to find the route to Drimonas around the eastern side of lake Trichonida despite Google maps urging to take the western route.  We soon found out why – as the road deteriorated into a dirt track which continued for about 20 miles!  However it was a lovely trip through oak woodlands where we rested in the shade for lunch.  The road improved eventually as we neared Thermos (where we didn’t explore the ruins I am afraid) and headed up to our hotel outside the small hamlet of Drimonas.

Shady pools, Drimonas

Shady pools, Drimonas

There was one car outside the hotel which we found out belonged to the sole resident – the woman who was receptionist, chambermaid, cook and cleaner!  We were the only guests for the three days we had booked – what splendid isolation.  Our room had great views down the valley, the climate was cooler (although still hot in the sun) and we had a dirt track that started outside the hotel leading around the hill and along the side of the valley.  Goats and sheep wandered, bells ringing, on the fields and scrubland outside the hotel.  Swallows and swifts screamed around the eaves.

View from our room, Drimonas

View from our room, Drimonas

For the duration of our stay we just wandered along the track from the hotel, stopping in the shade for lunches and hiding in the woodlands to bird watch.  We saw red backed shrikes – a first for us I think.

Further down the track a barricade had been erected which we walked past, finding a rather worn out JCB and then the remains of a huge rockfall that had obstructed the track.  It had been cleared, obviously with a lot of effort, evidenced by the broken bits collected under the JCB!

The track ran down the valley to another small hamlet that we reached with small streams feeding a trough.

After our three nights were up we headed down to Trichonida lakeside, stopping at one of the large cafés lining the water.  It was strange to be surrounded by people again!  We saw a few grebes, but not much else.  We headed along the lake finding a shady track alongside the reed lined water’s edge.  Despite pushing through thickets of reeds and bushes to get to the water, we didn’t see anything much of interest apart from many bluetits and great-tits and hearing terrapins rimmet in the undergrowth.

Lake Trichonida

Lake Trichonida

That night we stayed in Agrinio – a large town and a rather posh hotel – but so hot.  The receptionist cheerfully informed us that it is the second hottest town in Greece! The next day we headed north to a seaside town for lunch, then turned round and drove back to Missolonghi, stopping off again at the lagoons where we saw a woodchat shrike.

Tortoise

Tortoise

The next day we did a big shop while we had the car, did a bit more exploration of the lagoons, then eventually took the car back to Patras, returning on the bus.  It was quite memorable driving over Rion bridge, having sailed under it a couple of times. If you look it up on Wikipedia it is interesting to see how it was built.

Very smart cafe in the bus station, Patras

Very smart cafe in the bus station, Patras

Syd had arrived back from Germany and was keen to find out where we were.  Another yacht we knew from Licata had arrived while we had been away and so five of us had a good evening’s reunion, sharing stories of the past month or two.

It was getting time to move on – we had various options to meet up with my sister Jessica and husband Mark at the end of their Greek holiday on Andros.  Another load of washing, stocking up, and also finding a new pair of sandals for Brian – his old ones disintegrated.

On 18th July we set off again intending to stop at the small island of Trizonia which has a small harbour and attractive small town.  As we headed out of Missolonghi canal the wind picked up behind us, we set the sails and headed towards Rion bridge.

Rion Bridge by car!

Rion Bridge by car!

There are strict instructions for getting permission to pass the bridge which we followed and were cleared to go.  Although we had had no problem getting the bridge control people to acknowledge us, a British yacht beating against waves and current in the other direction wasn’t having the same luck despite many attempts to contact the controllers.  I contacted them on the radio to let them know that their radio was working fine, and that we had seen another yacht ahead of us ignoring the rules without being penalised, so they should just carry on.  The woman I spoke to was most appreciative of the advice as we sped past them.

The wind was heading up towards 20 knots behind us and the current flowing fast helping us along.  We were doing 8 knots over the ground at times – wow!  At this speed we decided to pass by Trizonia, enjoying the sail, and head for the marina at Galaxhidi.  By the time we arrived in the evening the anchorage outside the town was full as was the harbour.  So we headed around the coast and anchored in splendid isolation about ½ mile away, and relaxed.

Galaxhidi town

Galaxhidi town

The next morning we headed into town in the dinghy, found a fruit shop and butcher, had a frappe and headed back to Alixora for lunch, a siesta and a swim.  We were a couple of days away from trying to get through the Corinth Canal so I emailed to book a slot – but received no answer.

Galaxhidi quay - full as usual

Galaxhidi quay – full as usual

A very small grebe adopted us – swimming around the shady side of the boat most of the morning and evening.  Possibly a black necked grebe?

Our adopted grebe

Our adopted grebe

The next day we set off for Kiato – a large harbour that used to be a ferry port but is now disused.  We had been there before and had found a rather scruffy town with not much going for it, but it is conveniently close to the canal entrance.  We arrived to find several yachts tied up, but found a space and tied up alongside the harbour wall.  Gosh – alongside – that was a nice treat!  We headed into town to find it transformed with a large pedestrian street running parallel to the seafront, lots of shops (mostly fashion) and lots of rather posh looking cafés. After a drink at one café we found a fish restaurant where we had an excellent fish dinner – Brian with a huge plate of his favoured gavros (fried whitebait) and I had a “sporgos” – some kind of bass – which was very good.

The next day we headed towards the canal and I phoned their customer service department to get a booking.  They just advised to radio ahead when we were 2 miles off the entrance which we did.  The instructions were to radio again at ½ mile distance which we did.  After arriving at this point, we would be called when they were ready to let us through.  We circled around for about an hour, joined by a large motor cruiser and a smaller yacht.  Finally we saw a convoy of yachts and motor cruisers heading down the canal towards us.  They were preceded by the sightseeing boat.  As soon as the latter turned around for the trip back we were told to follow – the motor cruiser first, us second and the small yacht third.  The current in the canal was against us (as usual?) so we struggled to keep up, and the small yacht even more so.  Both of us were harangued frequently by the canal controller to put on more speed.  I radioed back that we were going as fast as possible!  Nothing new there then.

Go faster, go faster!

Go faster, go faster!

At the far end we tied up and paid the exorbitant fee (€165) but it hasn’t changed since 2010 (our last visit) which is surprising.

The famous bridge made in Stockport - Corinth Canal

The famous bridge made in Stockport – Corinth Canal

We decided we had had enough for the day, so dropped the anchor in the small bay near the east end of the canal and relaxed.  I had a swim (warmer water here) and we planned the next part of our trip.  We had a few days before we were to meet Jessica and Mark, so decided to visit Korfos – somewhere we had missed on previous trips.  The wind swung round and we were motoring most of the way but it wasn’t far.  We found a good spot to anchor off a new public pontoon, had lunch, swam and then rowed ashore equipped with scrapers, bucket and scrubbing brushes to clean the thick layer of barnacles and weed off the bottom of the dinghy.  That completed we headed back to put the outboard motor on to head into town for dinner.  However Brian couldn’t get the outboard started.  So it was back to rowing again – good exercise.

Korfos quayside and anchorage

Korfos quayside and anchorage

The next day Brian had another go to start the outboard – but it refused to cooperate. So more rowing for our morning frappe and pick up fruit, milk, bread and wine.  After swims and siestas, we headed back ashore again for dinner – a better one this time.  What a busy life we lead!

It was time to head for Palaia Epidavros for our appointment with Jessica and Mark.  We found the harbour (only 10 miles or so from Korfos) around 1pm, but were beaten to the available spaces by four flotilla yachts that powered in before us.  So we anchored off a small jetty near a French yacht.  They then decided to put a long line to the jetty, meaning that if we were to swing in the wind, we might hit them.  So we had to put a long line out too! Hmm.  We fixed a small buoy to the middle of our line so that small boats wouldn’t think they could drive across!  That was then copied by the French whose line was black and invisible – sensible.

Palaia Epidavros harbourside park

Palaia Epidavros harbourside park

We headed into town to re-acquaint ourselves with the layout – just as remembered.  We had drinks at our favourite bar (Hotel Christina) that had been very helpful the last time we had visited.  Then we treated ourselves to the first of many gyros and the occasional ice-cream during the following week.  It was so hot, it was a pleasure to be able to drop into the water off the back of the boat.  Unfortunately this isn’t an option when tied up, but we needed to be accessible to land and toilets and Brian needed to be able to get the outboard onto land to try to fix it.

When we returned from dinner for an early night, we found a small yacht had decided to anchor between us and the French boat – far too close really.  Then they put their own long line out – wound round over the top of ours on the small bollard on the quay.

The following morning the flotilla left and Brian skinned his knuckles as we rearranged the lines on the tiny concrete bollard, dropping ours (the wind fortunately making us swing away from the other boats) and picking up the line on the way back.

We successfully reversed into a gap on the town quay – a lot of chain out but that can be useful if people pick up your chain as we found out.  There was no-one to help us tie up so I had to lock off the chain, dash to the back of the boat and jump off with a line in my hand to get it onto one of the rings!  But it was fine, and we managed to get secured without much trouble.

We hooked up to electricity and water – luxury – and the harbour mistress said she would call a mechanic if Brian couldn’t fix the outboard.

A late frappe, siesta to escape the heat, then another trip around town where we found the laundry and supermarkets.  That afternoon, the inevitable happened.  A large steel yacht came in alongside us, then decided their anchor hadn’t set, went out again and hooked our chain!  I managed to give them a few meters of slack while Brian got the engine going in forward gear to keep us off the wall.  They eventually got loose of our chain and I wound it back in – only losing around 2 meters of “scope” as they call it.  All sorted and the offending yacht went out into the bay to anchor instead!

Initially we were near a very smart Icelandic schooner where the older owners were assisted by a couple of very fit English guys.  The latter kindly helped us get the outboard onshore and Brian spent an afternoon in the shade of the pine trees in the park next to the quayside giving it a good overhaul.  However it still wouldn’t start so eventually we called in the mechanic who took it away – Brian thought it was just the carburettor clogged up.  It was returned a couple of hours later with the information that the spark plug (which B had tested) had hairline cracks which were probably the cause.

Bay south of Epidavros

Bay south of Epidavros

Brian had managed to upset a local with the noise of running the outboard in the park – so we were a bit careful after that.  We also upset a chartered yacht skipper by refusing to let him push into a space that was obviously too small for his huge yacht.  Another afternoon a flotilla arrived blaring loud music from the one that parked next to us.  That night we were astonished to find them running a cinema on the back of the boat – bizarre.  We upset them too by asking them to keep the noise down and by taking a photo of the cinema!  Oh well….  In the latter case the yachts were full of young people just along for the partying – no interest in sailing at all.  I managed to make it up to the young skipper the next morning – he was also apologetic.  I commiserated with him that he had to do all the work – including cooking – but he felt it was better than sitting in an office!

Cinema next door? Bizarre

Cinema next door? Bizarre

Meantime we met up with Jessica and Mark and caught up with all the news over icecreams and frappe.  They went off to the hotel on a beach around the next headland.  We met up again that evening for a light supper.  They headed off to remind themselves of Epidavros the next morning and collected me in the afternoon to go for a swim at the hotel.

Jessica and I snorkelled around the beach looking for the subterranean ruins but they were a bit further around the bay.  A couple of hours lounging on sunbeds in the shade and more catching up, then time to collect Brian, have a proper shower (luxury) and a very nice dinner at the water’s edge.

Dinner with Jessica and Mark, near Epidavros

Dinner with Jessica and Mark, near Epidavros

The next day we met up again at lunchtime, then it was time for them to head back to the airport for their return to London.  A short but very good reunion.

The next morning we tested the outboard again (keeping an eye out for the irascible local) which worked fine, got it back onto the boat.  We filled the diesel tank from our jerry cans, Brian took a taxi to the petrol station to get them refilled.

I was assisting a yacht to tie up – but the professional (?) skipper panicked for some reason, let his very long passerelle down, leaping down it with the other line.  Unfortunately he had left the engine in reverse and the anchor chain wasn’t tight – so the boat pivoted and the passerelle swung round and demolished the electricity and water box!  Everything still worked, but it wasn’t safe so it all had to be removed and a replacement installed.  That kept us amused for a couple of days.

IMG_20160730_102050

The wrecked electricity and water stand, and its rather tatty replacement

A big fire on Evvia brought smoke across the sky one evening – it must have been huge.  We had seen another couple of fires in previous weeks being dealt with by the sea planes.

Brian had noticed that the manager of Hotel Christina looked very much like Michael Palin!  We had become quite friendly it being our regular evening haunt for pre-prandial drinks.  I found that our waiter was his nephew and that the owner was Granddad and his wife with two sons (one of whom was presumably married) and two grandsons all of whom still worked in the business.  I managed to get a family picture but the exposure was wrong – but here is uncle and nephew.

Not Michael Palin! Hotel Christina

Not Michael Palin! Hotel Christina

At this time we just couldn’t work out where to go next.  Eventually we decided to head across the Aegean, aiming at Paros initially then Amorgos – two long sails, leaving us with two more short hops to Levitha and then Leros.  If we could leave the boat in a safe harbour we might be able to take another trip inland and perhaps stay in the hills.  The Meltemi is a constant issue to be dealt with, so we needed safe places to hole up at each destination.

After leaving the town quay and anchoring off overnight, we set off for Paros on 1st August leaving mid-morning.  There was a lot of traffic at the bottom of the Traffic Separation Scheme south of Athens which we had to avoid.  I got a bit close to the wake of one large cargo boat and we crashed over two large waves.  Brian checked inside and found I had omitted to fasten the front hatch, so our bed and bedding was soaked with seawater.  Oh no!

Our island! Paros

Our island! Paros

The wind and waves were quiet so we had to motor sail the whole way, arriving in Paros on the morning of 2nd August.  Unfortunately the small harbour was packed with yachts so we anchored off a small island in the bay.  That day and the next were spent mostly sleeping after being up most of the previous night, with one trip into town – quite a long way away and a good trial for the now working outboard motor.  It was very pretty, very expensive and very full of visitors.  So much for our plan to stay somewhere.  And looking at hotel bookings in Naxos (next island along) the same story – full.

Venetian ruins, Paros

Venetian ruins, Paros

So we bided our time on our anchorage, weathering one stormy day and taking the next opportunity to head for Amorgos on Saturday 6th August.  We had a few hours just sailing, but eventually the wind changed.  We reefed the mainsail before heading round the bottom of Naxos, then hit rough water at times, especially between the small islands at the south of Naxos and Amorgos.  It was a relief to get into the sheltered bay.  Again the town quay was full so we anchored off (not very far from town this time) and rowed ashore to remind ourselves of the layout having been here a few years ago.

Katapola, Amorgos

Katapola, Amorgos

The next morning I was up around 8am and saw that some yachts had left the quayside, so raced down and woke Brian up – we raised the anchor and after some effort (wind on the side) managed to get ourselves tucked into the available space.  Phew!

It is a lovely small town with everything that you need but still very busy – August is not the ideal month to be anywhere around here obviously! Large ferries come into the small harbour every day, disgorging hundreds of new visitors and taking hundreds away – all interesting people watching stuff, especially when late comers run past to catch the boat by the skin of their teeth.

Dinner menu, Mythos restaurant, Amorgos

Dinner menu, Mythos restaurant, Amorgos

We have experienced the usual anchor and chain crossings, having to rescue one neighbour and tie his boat to ours overnight when someone else picked up his anchor and he was nowhere to be found!

In the mornings and evenings we patronise our previously favourite restaurant/café The Mythos for frappe, drinks and dinner – excellent food and not expensive either.

Alexis and Thanos, Mythos restaurant, Amorgos

Alexis and Thanos, Mythos restaurant, Amorgos

Another batch of washing went to the laundry, some handwashing, Brian did some skip diving and dismembered an old TV he found, and is now extracting useful diodes and mosfets – what can I say?  And I am writing up the blog.  We will be here until the next weather window before heading to Levitha (isolated island, one farmhouse, buoys to tie up to) and then Lakki on Leros.

The eastern Aegean will be quieter because of the fears of immigrants and Turkish issues – but we are assured they are not a problem really!

 

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