Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Limni and Loutra Edipsou, wild camping and wild spas

Following on from our previous blog, when we went ashore into the town
with no people, we realised that we'd thoroughly underestimated the
number of taverna seats, more like 2000!
Within a half hour a few people started to appear in the seats around
the shore, and they were very smartly dressed. This is very odd we
thought. Within another half hour there were about 3000 - 4000 people in
the town, out of nowhere. They had all emerged from the church or their
houses to follow the procession of the town's saint down to the shore.
It was a huge celebration complete with music and fireworks, probably
the towns saint-day. What a transformation.

Next stop was the tiny port of Limni, we had to squeeze inside another boat alongside the quay wall. It's a long narrow harbour due to the steeply sloping bottom and it is quite disconcerting when you enter the harbour and there are people standing in the water right next to the very narrow entrance by the beach.
More and more boats squeezed in after us, as it is an Athenian weekend destination. It was a wonder that any fishing boats could get out through the nearly blocked entrance, though they did. For any cruisers following in our wake, it is possible to tie on the outside of the mole,
but we were warned that when the tide turns at night it sends in an evil swell and it would be untenable. It was hard to believe during the day, but turned out to be totally true, as waves crashed over the shore side taverna seats that night.
We decided to cycle along the shore to an old monastery. It was hot, very very hot. Well it is Greece, and it is August, and they always put monasteries on hills, we should have known better. It was a lovely cycle through a 7km wild camping area lapped by crystal clear waters. The only
facilities are a single natural spring. I bet you could camp here in June, and be the only ones here, but it is only a 2 hour drive to Athens airport! I paid for the cycle big time, with a mammoth headache, despite having drank about 10 litres of water. The monastery was quaint, and very old but the nuns were not too keen on showing us around (probably as we are clearly the wrong sort!) and they didn't speak any English, not that we thought they would. I asked why the faces of the figures in the church frescoes had been damaged. 'Turks' they spat in unison. It needed no translation.....

We are now in Loutra Edipsou, which has been a spa resort since
antiquity, Hadrian and Augustus took the waters here, it is now a kind
of Greek Eastbourne, as it bustles with purple rinses and walking
sticks, I'm convinced I saw Augustus walk past on the other side of the
street. I had images of a plush spa hotel with massage etc, but instead we
climbed down onto the rocky beach, where the spa waters tumble down into
the sea, and we had a wild spa instead. The rock pools are too hot to
sit in (about 50 degrees) but mixed with the sea water are an agreeable
temperature. It's probably the outfall of the treatment plants above, so
we'll probably end up with scabies and amoebic dysentery! Sulphur mixed
with eau-de-drain kind of a smell. People pay loads of money for marine
algae treatments, we just sat in it, in its natural state.
We had a look at some of the treatment spas, but we'd suspect a high
incontinence factor by the age of the occupants, and decided to save our
euros and perhaps our sanity, the incessant chattering would try the
patience of a saint.

We're now anchored in the large bay at the head of Evvia, Stuart is
fishing, but luckily we have lots of provisions as the catch so far has
been illegal..We're off around the top end of the island tomorrow.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Halkida (Chalkis), capital of Evvia

Moving on north to get to Chalkis we had to negotiate 2 bridges. The
first is fine, you just sail or motor under it, into a large protected
bay. The next one is a road bridge, and the pilot book told us to tie up
or anchor and visit the port police as soon as possible to pay your dues
and find out what time the bridge will open. We anchored and picked our
way ashore through the railway station with no trains. It can't have
trains because it has no tracks ! It does have a large waiting room, a
timetable and a manned ticket office!
We headed for the port police office nearby, but it was clearly being
renovated and was empty. We found some local fishermen to ask, and they
directed us over the bridge and into the town. We found the new shiny
building, but it was locked and no-one was home. Port police with no
police! Back to the boat, we called Chalkis bridge on the radio, no
reply. A couple of hours later six large motor yachts in convoy anchored
in the bay and they raised the police on the radio, so we called in too.
We were told to present our documents to the office, so back we went
over the bridge. All 7 boats paid their bridge dues €18 for us, €50 for
the others, and all documents were scrutinised (but not stamped). The
bridge would open just before midnight and we would be called up one by
one to go through.
The bridge is about the same size as Poole bridge, but the tide worse -
and you thought there was no tide in the Med. It was still running at
about 5 knots against us at 10pm.
At midnight we were called up by name, one boat at a time, and told to
get ready, then told to go through. The streets are by now packed with
people in bars and from cars waiting to get across. As we went through
they all waved, cheered and clapped like we'd just done something really
clever !!! Can you imagine this at Poole bridge, with boats called one
by one to go through - it would take all day.
They do send rather large ships through too, so its just as well that
its regulated. The tide by this time had turned to run with us, so no
problems there.
You can tie up to the quay on either side of the bridge, with free water
(and electricity on the south side). Once through the bridge on the
north side, we tied up alongside outside a bar, providing some
entertainment as we underestimated the tidal eddy. We seem to have lost
the knack - thank goodness we don't sail in the Solent any more, we'd be
a disaster....
We stayed here for a couple of days enjoying the novelty of being in a
small city, but hearing beaches calling further north we've moved on
again to Nea Artaki. We're just about to go ashore. The tavernas lining
the bay would probably seat a minimum of 500 people, but despite it
being 8pm on a Friday evening in peak holiday time, there's barely a
soul to be seen.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Eretria, Evvia

We have headed on north, hoping to beat the forecast northerly winds due
to interrupt our progress for the next five days. We sailed on and off
to Nisos (Island) Stira but found it was incorrectly charted and too
deep to anchor in.
So we stopped for the night in a remote spot just opposite Stira, but on
the main Evvia island. The water was warm and delightfully clear. The
little fizz-boats left at dusk and we were on our own with a few small
fishing boats out at sea. When we went for our morning snorkel there
seemed to be a lot of pots and bits of pots buried in the sand. We
didn't disturb them, so have no idea if they are ancient or not. Its a
bit of a change from the usual plastic half-buried loot.

The following day we sailed on and off in light winds to a one-horse,
two-taverna town called Voufalo - I challenge you to find it on a map.
It blew like stink from the north by the morning, through the gap in the
mountains and by the time we had everything ready to go it was 30
knots+. I had to remind Stu that people still sail around the cans in
Poole Bay in this wind in winter, and that encouraged us to leave the
safety of the dogleg, sandbar entrance and head out to sea. In contrast
to Poole Bay, it was a flat sea and we flew along at 8 knots. As we
rounded the headland it was blowing 35 knots and we had to beat up to
the entrance of Karastos.
The pilot book says that Karastos is captivating and friendly and
bypassed by tourism, despite the power station on the opposite side of
the bay. As we beat closer and closer to the town for 2 hours, the
cement factory took over the landscape followed by what has to be the
ugliest power station on earth. We dropped the sails and headed into the
harbour, where all the mooring space has been taken up by local boats
and there appeared to be nowhere for visiting yachts. Apart from a few
people in the tavernas on the waterfront, it looked like the the bomb
had dropped here. So we put the sails back up and sailed on very quickly
downwind and on to Eretria. It is very touristy here (Greeks only) and
there are only 2 other yachts anchored with us but I'd rather look at
tavernas and other yachts than a post nuclear fallout zone.
It does have rather a lot of ferries going back and forth to the
mainland, which all appear to be mostly empty. If we find out why, we'll
let you know.
Tues 19th August

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Marmari, South end of Evvia (or Euboa)

After spending four nights in Sounion, waiting for the meltemi (strong
north wind) to cease, Peter went off in a taxi to the airport to return
to the rat race, and we have sailed in almost no wind to Evvia, often
seen as Euboa. It is the second largest island in Greece, Crete being
the largest, but is not one that you will have heard about on travel
programs or Thompson holiday brochures. It is only 1 hour from Athens by
road (there's a bridge!) so the tourists are mostly Greeks. We have to
keep pinching ourselves and asking each other: 'So this place is one
hour from Athens?', 'Yes', 'and this is August, the holiday season for
Greeks?', 'Yes', 'and this weekend is the peak holiday weekend in Greece
after the 15 August national holiday?', 'Yes -that's right' , 'but we
are the only yacht in the bay?', 'Yes ....and all the anchorages we
passed on the way in were empty....this is sailing heaven!'
We stocked up on much needed supplies, as the book says we should in
preparation for the simpler place to come!!!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Poros, Saronic Gulf

On our way to Poros (another motor in light headwinds) we saw ahead a
patch of turbulent boiling water surrounded by seabirds, a sure sign of
big fish feeding on smaller fish. After several passes through the area
we hooked a small bonito tuna - just right to feed 3 mouths for 4 days
with only a small risk of tuna boredom.

Poros has numerous anchorages, we chose 'Navy Bay' close to the town.
The only drawback being the church service being broadcast by
loudspeaker at 7am and the Naval marching band practice at 8am.

After picking up Peter, the following day we hired a car and sped up the
coast to visit Epidavros where there is an ancient theatre capable of
holding 14,000 spectators built in 4C BC. The theater is perfectly
proportioned and has perfect acoustics - apparently you can hear a pin
drop on stage from any seat. There are regular productions of greek
tragedies and comedies such as those of Sophocles and Euripides. We
could have bought tickets for Oedipus Rex but thought that we would be
unlikely to understand a word of it, especially in ancient Greek!

The theatre is set among the ruins of the sanctuary of Asklepios, the
god of medicine. People from all over Greece would come to sacrifice to
the gods and consult the oracle. They would spend the night in the
sacred dormitory and hopefully have an instant cure, or Asklepios might
appear in a dream, which the priests would translate into a
recommendation for exercise, rest, baths or intellectual pursuits. After
their cure the 'patient' would make a votive offering in the shape of
the part of the body which had been cured. This explained to us the
reason for some of the exhibits in the museum of willies, boobs, ears,
feet, hands or whole legs. The doctors emblem to this day is the
caduceus, which represents the augur's wand and magic serpent of
Asklepios. From 5C AD to 19C the site was completely forgotton.

After that we sped on towards Argos – the site of the oldest city in
Greece (remember the Argonauts?)– to the hilltop site of Mikinai, or
better known to us as Mycaenae. This acropolis was built while in
England people were still making additions to the stones at stonehenge.
It was the centre of a great civilisation from about 1650 to 1100BC, the
dominant culture of Greece, the home of King Agamemon. The wealth of the
Mycaeneans was legendary. The dead were buried in tombs with lavish
treasures and gold death masks, only a portion of which has survived
grave robbers through the centuries.

It was yet another unbelievably hot and dry day, but we survived the
visit even in the afternoon heat. We thought this was the site to top
all sights. On the way back to Poros we saw signs all over to more
Mycaenean ruins until we had to say ' Oh no not another acropolis!' and
pass on by without a glance.

We were excited by the forecast of north force 5 the next day, for our
trip NE across the Saronic Gulf. As usual we burned diesel for hours in
no wind , and then fought a 30 knot headwind for the last two hours.

We didn't have high expectations of the anchorage under Ak Sounion, as
it was suggested just as a rest stop to wait out the meltemi winds
before heading up the east coast. Well, as a complete surprise yet
another stunningly ancient site adorns the headland. Built in 448BC the
Temple of Poseidon sits on the hilltop, with most of its pillars intact.
It is a simply perfect backdrop for a cockpit BBQ of – you've guessed it
- tuna, and I'm going to go back and enjoy it, instead of sitting inside
writing this!!!!


Steph and Stu xx

Friday, August 8, 2008

Corinth Canal

We have successfully navigated the Corinth Canal, the only damage being to the wallet at €4.40 per minute we went as slowly as we could to make it last, without being rammed by the following yacht. Considering the canal is over 100 years old, it is an amazing feat of engineering and a spectacle for transiters and onlookers. At least we know some of our euros are going to help the maintenance of the canal, we could see parts where the walls were falling into the canal due to erosion.

We are now in the Saronic Gulf, tonight in Korfos, a featureless holiday resort village but a good anchorage. We'll be moving on to Poros tomorrow to meet up with our friend Peter.

Our trip to Poros five years ago, on Paul and Elke's boat, was what decided us to come to the Mediterrean, instead of heading straight across the Atlantic.

Corinth Yacht Harbour

After a long and hot 40 mile motor we arrived at Corinth and are moored
alongside a Greek yacht in the tiny yacht harbour. Theres only a few
places here, but the turnover of yachts is high so the odds on getting a
space are good. Its only one mile to the canal entrance from here.
We spent today visiting ancient Corinth, a short bus trip away. It was
exceptionally hot and windless, and required several stops under shady
trees to avoid heatstroke.
Thankfully the museums are air-conditioned to preserve the relics, so
are always a welcome respite on hot days, and never boring.
Ancient Corinth seemed to have been a very popular shopping destination.
St Paul had something to say about the other activities that the
Corinthians offered in the precincts!
As you can see it was spectacularly crowded at the main shopping mall in
the peak August holiday season.
Later we took another bus to the bridge over the canal to have a look at
what to expect tomorrow when we go through it ourselves.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Galaxidi, Gulf of Corinth

Today we are anchored in Galaxidi, a lovely town 3 hours from Athens, on the north coast of the Gulf of Corinth. We went on an excursion to Delfi by local bus today, to see the site of the ancient oracle whose prophecies were sought by leaders all over Greece and from Spain to the Black Sea. It was awesome and hot - we'll write about it later for the website. When we returned to the boat, as it had been closed up all day, the temperature inside was 38 degrees.
We're off tomorrow to close the distance to the Corinth Canal.

Wishing there was water in the spa pool

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Navpaktos, Gulf of Corinth

We anchored off this ancient miniature harbour for 2 nights. We even walked right to the top of the castle in the midday heat. Being mad and English we wanted to acclimatise before our visit to Delfi.

The fort at Navpaktos was merely about 500 years old so not really all that ancient by the standards of things here. We walked to the top and around the walls and were impressed by how well the fort has stood up to its 500 years. Of course its origins are much older but it was in about 1571 that the Battle of Lepanto was staged here, when the Turks were convincingly ousted and lost 50 of their 200 galleys and 20,000 men either killed or captured by the combined forces of Venice, Spain, Malta, Naples and Genoa. The Venetians took control of the city / trading post and increased the fort to what it is seen as now.