Monday, September 29, 2008

Ormos Manganari, Nisos Ios to Santorini and back again.

The Rough Guide has a bit of a downer on Ios as an island, all
backpackers, clubbers, nudists and troublesome sorts. We anchored in the
bay at the far south of the island in a wide sandy bay, well protected
from the wind and seas that are blowing down the sides of the island.
There are no naked ladies here, much to Stuart's disappointment - its a
little chilly for that. There was a charter boat with 8 naked Poles, I
mean Polish men, so that was alright entertainment. There are no
nightclubs here, just sand beach, blue clear sea, 2 tavernas (closed),
and a lot of peace and quiet.
As we could see the famous island of Santorini (Nisos Thira) from the
anchorage, 12 miles away, it would be a shame not to go there on this trip.
So we set off downwind this morning in a F5-6, with the Captain weeping
about how much ground we would be losing by going south, but a jolly
nice sail we had. Unfortunately, since Thira is a volcano with a sunken
central caldera (crater), this means it is 300m deep virtually up to the
shoreline, meaning that anchoring and mooring options are limited. The
central island has a little port and quay but is apparently home to big
bold rats that don't think twice about coming on board. So we thought it
would be a jolly idea, to sail around the caldera for the lark, take
pictures, avoid the tourists - most of whom had arrived on one of the
five cruise ships moored in the bay, and sail back to Ios for the night,
as it is the next closest island. Well it all went to plan until I lost
my hat overboard. In trying to retrieve it before it sank, we gybed and
broke a part of the mainsheet traveller, not a vital safety part, but
does help to facilitate good sailing trim, and broke a sail slider too.
But the wind and sea had got up to F6 gusting 7 and we want to go
directly upwind and arrive in Ios before dark, to the unlit anchorage.
Well we sailed, shook, rattled, rolled, and pitched 20miles through the
water to make just 12 miles upwind over the ground. It was long and
tedious slog, made worse with the Captain moaning 'Why did we come here?
I knew this would happen!' Anyway we are safe and sound back at Ios,
and there are no other boats, tourists or naked people. It is chilly and
windy outside, but 21 degrees inside the boat with a hot chilli con
carne on the stove to warm us up after a long day.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Mirsini, Nisos Skhinousa

A challenge to you Google Earthers...... 36 53'.7N 25 32'.6 E
This sleepy idyllic bay was home to a couple of cruising yachts for the
In the morning all boat crews were up in the tiny Chora, enjoying
coffees or frappes (cold coffee with ice) in the pristine kafeneio with
polite service. This tiny island has only recently been 'discovered' by
a few hardy tourists and walkers. Out of three tiny local food shops,
not one of the many lounging locals or staff responded to my polite and
cheery kalimera-sas (good morning), which by Greek standards is just
plain rude. Too many tourist €'s have passed by them this season, and
what with the weather closing in on their bleak landscape they were not
a cheery bunch. Shame on them, it is otherwise a delightful place. I
bought some eggs in what has to be the smelliest shop from the smelliest
and grumpiest old woman I've met to date. Hopefully a winter with only
their own company will sharpen their enthusiasm for visitors of the new


26 September 08
A short but satisfyingly breezy sail to Naxos, we anchored in the
shelter of the man-made breakwater. We spent the evening pottering
around the old town, another warren of alleys and arches within the
fortified walls. It was a Venetian duchy for 300 years and the houses
surrounding the old church at the top of the hill still are marked with
the coat of arms of the Venetian families, some of whose ancestors still
live there. One ground floor was given over to an antique shop, so we
could see the internal timber ceilings/floors. Four marble pillars
supported the ceiling, recycled from the former citadel that the
Venetians replaced.
We were looking forward to exploring further the next day, not least
because this is the island of Dionysus, the god of wine, and we were
hoping to taste some examples with a view to stocking up.
Unfortunately, while we were discussing our plans for the day, the port
police representative came alongside with much whistle-blowing and told
us we must leave because 'no anchoring is allowed here'.
We politely told him that our pilot book and charts show it as an
anchorage, but he said ' It is a new rule! Only for swimming now! If you
want to stay you must go to the marina!' Without a doubt he is in the
pay of the now privatised marina, which having empty berths was keen to
encourage yachts not to anchor. Along with two other yachts treated to
the same instruction, we all left, refusing to pay for something we
don't need, and so depriving the tavernas and shops of Naxos of the
tourist €'s from at least 8 people. We all disappeared to other islands,
which was probably not what the port police/marina had in mind leaving
the 400m long unbuoyed bay, sorry, 'swimming area' to the 1 or 2 brave
souls paddling on the beach.


24 September 08
Fortune smiled on us, and the wind guided us straight to Paroika on
Paros. The wind died briefly when we said, 'Oh this is good, we're
pointing at Paros', but it filled in again shortly after.
The entrance to the port has some very large and obvious offlying rocks,
and some not so obvious below the water. In 2000 a ferry hit the large
obvious ones at night in a gale, which sunk the ferry and 500
passengers. The miraculous rescue of over 400 of the passengers was
entirely down to the local boat and fishing community. It is thought
that the ferry was on autopilot and didn't take account of the current.
This utter arrogance and incompetence, caused the loss of around 80
souls. When you see this huge rock in the daytime it beggars belief that
this accident happened so recently.
We anchored in the top of the bay, expecting 4 days of northerly gales.
We extracted the bikes from the forecabin, rowed them ashore in the
dinghy, assembled them in front of a taverna and set off to explore.
We'd been recommended a beautiful place, called 'The Butterfly Valley',
home to zillions of pretty butterflies. First we took wrong turn and
mounted an impossibly steep hill, which infuratingly only led to a
property development. The hill was so steep that it hurt to walk up, let
alone push a bike up it. Realising our error, we descended carefully and
slowly and continued along the main route, to find numerous signs
guiding us to Butterfly Valley. Up and over another steep long hill and
down into the valley, we found the entrance and the sign on the securely
locked gate in simple explanatory terms - End of Season - No
Butterflies! Shame they didn't put a sign on one of the 5 or 6 road
signs at the bottom of the hill!!! Grrr...
Anyway we had a great cycle offroad-downhill back to town. 2 hours up,
10 minutes down.
The town is a fascinating warren of arches and paved alleys, tavernas,
trinket shops, tourist tat, more than an average number of shoe shops,
and some stunning craft shops. Despite the tourists it is a lovely town
and some supplies are still delivered by donkey from the hills, and old
men sell their farm vegetables in the central square. After a walking
shoe and bikini upgrade in the end of season sales we packed the bikes
back into the boat, much to the entertainment of the tourists enjoying
sundowners at the taverna.
By morning the forecast had been downgraded to force 4-5 from the north
and the captain was twitchy to be on the move.

Finikas, Nisos Siros

22 September 08
Anchored off the small town of Finikas on the west coast of Siros, many
of the charter boats also here attempting to anchor and tie back to the
outer quay wall. Unfortunately some of them forget the bit about
dropping the anchor, which kind of messes up the plan when reversing
onto the quay. One boat dropped his anchor at the right time, but it
jammed and only got as far as the waterline, where it dangled uselessly,
however they still continued to tie up ignorant of the lack of grip at
the front of the boat. Linda and Martin (Marlin) have coined a phrase
for charter boats - the 'Oh my God's' - which is what they are often
saying as they cock-up their parking procedure. Well the Oh my Gods here
in the Cyclades are the worst we've seen in Greece to date. The German
skipper in Kithnos told us that it is impossible to fail your practical
yachtmaster in Germany (as it probably is in UK) as the training centres
are financially driven and examiners are discouraged from failing the
incompetents. That, and a lack of experience aside from 2 weeks
chartering per year, leads to some spectacular cock-ups, especially when
they don't have to fix the dents and scratches themselves, although they
do lose up to €1000 deposit, and many charter companies employ a diver
to check the underwater surface of the yacht on its return to base.
Feeling quite safe away from the quay wall, at anchor away from the
oh-my-gods, we left Matador to take the bus to the other side of the
island to Ermoupolis. This lovely old town is in 2 parts, the orthodox
settlement on one hill, and the catholic settlement on another. Of
course this meant a steep climb to the church at the top twice over -
neither of which were open in typical Greek fashion.
However it was fun just to wander through the back streets around the
neo-classical buildings and shipowner mansions in various states of
collapse or repair.
Back on board the forecast was gloomy for southeasterlies - the
direction we want to go, but there are so many islands around that we
decided to head out in the morning and point the boat for the best
sailing and then see where we would end up .

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Andros and Kithnos, North Cyclades

We left Skyros a couple of days ago, doing 2 legs to get to Andros 60
miles south. We would have done it in one hit but there was no wind the
first day so we motored 35 odd miles to Petries on Evvia and the next
day 45 miles on down through the gap between Evvia and Andros, Stenon
Kafirevs, synonymous with bad seas and high winds when the meltemi blows
hard - bad enough to lay up the shipping in anchorages when it's bad.
Still we were coming south, so down wind in theory. However, the weather
which we fought northward for weeks and weeks has decided to take a gap
week and after having already waited some days for north winds and
fearful of getting behind schedule we were pressing on in a forecast
south-westerly. Should have known better. The wind blew from the south
lightly as we motored south and as we entered the channel with 20 miles
to go it blew 35 knots up through the channel creating a short steep sea
and an adverse current. It was a hard wet motor-sail and it bit hard
into my plan to try to get to Turkey without refueling again. We have
about half a tank left so I will be surprised if we manage it but we'll
see. Gavrion, the port in the north west of Andros was very pleasent.
Tourism has had some impact but not destroyed it's natural charm. If you
are anchoring here take note of the warning in the pilot to keep clear
of the ferry turning area. They need a lot of the bay, as they steam in
at full speed pointing directly at the quay. Then it's hard to port and
anchors away at about 10+ knots, handbrake turn onto the quay. Thats if
it's south winds. North is another game and suffice to say that if you
are in the way you'll have a ferry-shape hole in the boat. The quay was
free although we were expecting a visit from annoyed police after some
fishing boats tried to stop a ferry tying up for the night at 2 am and
the police had to attend to convince them that whether they wanted it to
or not the ferry would tie up and they could be blocked in till it went
or they could move right now. It was a bit obvious that they would lose
the battle and they all went off fishing a couple of hours early,
leaving the police and ferry Captain stamping up and down the quay. Good
time for a low profile.
The next day we hired a jeep. It sounds extravagant but (1) you can't
cycle round this island as it's too hilly and (2) We wanted a quad bike
but there aren't any, (3) A scooter was the cheap option and fun but
after finding George, the scooter man, by wandering the backstreets.
Stepping over the dog lying in a slimy puddle of God knows what at the
gate to what at first smelt and looked like a goat pen, but was in fact
a pig-sty, full of scooters in various states of terminal decline, I
decided that a car might be a safer option. "George" was anyway not too
bothered, as he discussed some sort of repair to a cylinder barrel in
his hand, with someone who looked like the missing goat herder. I
suspect the scooter brakes, and insurance offered, were probably about
as reliable as each other.
The car was upgraded to a 4WD Jeep FOC, old but great fun and very
smooth for it's age. We had a great day buzzing about the island with
its quirky leftovers from Venetian control. Pigeon towers and mile upon
mile of strange dry stone walling which seems to have developed into an
The next day saw a forecast of north F4. There was no stopping us, thats
good for the challenge. Great sail, genoa only, down-wind, 25-35 knots.
A bit more than the forecast F4 and a bit rolly but 35 miles in 5 hours
with a total of 1 engine hour, most of which was used on a
buttock-clenching extraction from alongside the quay wall, with 35 knot
gusts pinning us on. We didn't touch anybody and got out cleanly with
just a little concern from the surrounding boats.
Now we are in Kithnos. Anchored for 2 nights but the weather is closing
in with rain and wind and we have today come in to the town quay of
Loutra for a more relaxed atmosphere, and are now enjoying the luxury of
the first plug-in electricity since April in Italy. Unfortunately it
seems that this port is on the charter list of places to visit. Four
boats arrived today, all either hit other boats, dragged and simply tied
up anyway resting on their neighbours or had all of the above. None were
driven by experienced skippers and none were below 50 foot. A resting
instructor was forced to offer his services to a 55 foot Bavaria after
it's 3rd attempt of demolition-derby. I think a small sum was paid for
expert driving, using no more than tick-over power to park without
damage, despite an engine stall for no apparent reason and 2 attempts to
get the 15 kilo anchor (smaller than our kedge!) to hold on all the
chain they had. The expression on the instructor's wife's face, who was
assisting, when the anchor chain came to the end was a picture. This
harbour is only about 70 m across so they must have less than 35m of
chain in total. That's not the charterers fault- it should be a criminal
act to supply a 55 foot boat to in-experienced charterers, let alone
with inadequate equipment aboard. It is supposed to be an enjoyable
experience for them, not an ordeal. Oh I forgot. It also is pissing with
rain and blowing F5 to 6 to add to their enjoyment.

So we are sitting here not quite relaxed but on the bright side, we
found good food at two restaurants ( and we could only really recommend
a handful in Greece making an effort to be different, so far) . Goat in
lemon sauce was a big hit for lunch and a meze of interesting starters
for dinner, followed by a wallow in the natural hot spring that pours
straight into the sea on the beach 200 yards away. Great walk yesterday
up to the 'Hora', Capital town, on the hill, followed by more wallowing.

21 September

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Uninhabited Sporades, Skyros, and southerly winds

The uninhabited islands of Pelagos and Skantzoura were idyllic. A few
yachts and fishing boats came and went, but the islands remain desolate,
windswept and uninhabited other than wild goats and a very rare monk
seal (we weren't surprised not to see any, they are critically
endangered and very shy). We tried to have walk but there were no paths
and the scrub was denser than it looked, so we returned scratched and
defeated. The old monastery on the east side of Pelagos apparently
supports one monk and a guardian! He must have been a very special monk
or a very bad monk to have been sent to this lonely outpost.
The fishermen still treat the sea as their rubbish bins though, and
snorkeling in the clear waters of Skantzoura revealed truck and car
batteries - which must have come from fishing boats.
Stu tried to catch us some meals, with a little success, as the fish
were small or nervous and swam away. When we ran out of food, and more
worryingly beer, we headed south to Skyros, out on its own in the middle
of the Aegean, hoping for a big supermarket to stock up. That was not to
be found, Skyros resembling a remote Scottish island with houses
scattered in the hills and dotted on the coast. The tiny village of
Linaria has only basic provisions, and a bus ride to Skyros town (10km)
was necessary to find a butcher.

Now we are at the turning point of the season, when we want to head
south after staying in sheltered waters behind Evvia to beat north in
the almost constant northerly meltemi winds of August. Of course, as
soon as we were ready to head south the winds have changed to come from
Africa, bringing hot sticky air, 70% humidity and interfering with our
nice little plan of cruising gently though the islands to Turkey with
the wind behind us. So we are tied up in the little ferry port of
Linaria on Skyros for a few days, and we'll do a little exploration and
cycling despite the uncomfortable heat. It has its entertainments.
Every night the ferry arrives blasting out the theme of Space Odyssey
2001 as it docks close by, and opens its hold doors. It then disgorges a
new selection of tourists and locals returning from the mainland, and an
astonishing number of immense trucks which give an idea of the amount of
new building going on in parts of the island. The little port fills up
for a few hours, and the locals of all ages surround the harbour to fish
for squid and mullet until the early hours of the morning. The church
service is broadcast to the whole village from pretty church above, no
excuse not to pay attention, even if you can't make it to the service!
The old town of Skyros, the chora, is set high on a hill on the opposite
side of the island, with strange cubist architecture more commonly found
further south in the Cyclades Islands. It is a maze of narrow steep
streets where tourist shops nestle among traditional craft shops of wood
carving and embroidery. Make sure you get there before 1.30pm, as a
deathly silence and absence of people descends after the shops close.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Skopelos and Alonissos, Northern Sporades

We spent our last night in the Gulf of Volos in a smalll fishing harbour
called Pigadhi. As there was plenty of room we tied up alongside the
concrete quay instead of anchoring off. Tourism has mostly passed it
by, with just a few Greek holiday apartments and tavernas.
We had a lovely meal on the waterfront of simple steamed king prawns,
anchovies fried in flour, and Greek salad. There was lots of heads and
tails to feed to the local cats who are always sat just within reach, in
case of leftovers. They ate everything we offered, and later one jumped
on board in the night and showed their gratitude by visiting the cockpit
and spraying all over and leaving a pile of poo! Now I know why we
anchor everywhere, it deters all sorts of unwelcome guests.

Leaving the Gulf of Volos, we headed across to the islands of the
Northern Sporades, first stop the beach resort of Koukounaries,on
Skiathos, according to some, one of the best beaches of the Aegean. Well
I guess it's OK if you like to be lined up like sardines on sunbeds, and
listen to waterskis and fizz boats all day. Our advice is to keep going
east and leave Skiathos to the droves of package holiday tourists, and
head for Skopelos where the beaches are simply divine. We have not yet
seen the film Mama Mia, but this is where it was filmed, and the island
is enjoying the increased tourist euros that result from extra interest
in their island. We had a special meal at a restaurant called Agnanti in
Glossa, the old town 300m above the little port of Loutraki, the first
'decent' or non-taverna meal we've had in Greece. It was a serious climb
up the steep path, but well worth the effort, even if we arrived sweaty
and crumpled at the posh restaurant.
The beaches south of Loutraki are really special, the best we've seen in
Greece, or even the Med to date. The colours of the forested slopes,
clear sky and sparkling water defy all attempts at capturing them with
the camera, and they are virtually empty. In our opinion the islands are
much more attractive than the Ionian, and less exploited.
Tonight we are in an anchorage called Ormos Rousoumi next to the tiny
town of Patitiri on Alonissos. The island is home to some wealthy
expats, we believe, so the shops are more inspiring than the usual
tourist tat, but way beyond our simple means. I (Steph) had a haircut
brought about by desperation after the ravages of sun and swimming all
season. It took all of 5 minutes including wash and sort of dry. No Tony
and Guy or Scissors here, just the one choice, like it or lump it!
We've booked our winter home from 1st November which will be Finike in
Turkey. This leaves us 350-500 miles (depending on how many islands we
visit) to go in 6 weeks. The nearest airport will be Antalya, if anyone
is hoping to visit us there.
Despite Finike being southeast, we still have a few islands to visit to
the northeast in a marine reserve, and then we are hoping for a
downhill, downwind blast through the islands to Turkey.

6th September 08

Monday, September 1, 2008

Gulf of Volos

Since our last update we have been to Orei, a pretty little holiday town
on the north coast of Evvia. We stayed a couple of days, but the port
police were based at the end of the quay and had actually gone onto the
quay to ask a boat to bring their papers to them, a very rare event,
usually initiated by a visit from their regional boss who gives them a
nudge to get up and do something. This is not a problem, but as they are
also lumbered with the responsibility for taking money for the use of
the quay, a visit usually incurs a charge for the quay wall. We have
been told to check in once a month to get our cruising papers stamped
and this we make every effort to do when at anchor, as then there are no
port charges or paperwork associated so it is quick and free. One of the
cruisers said 'One shouldn't make a habit of disturbing the busy chaps
with pointless work', and I agree with that!
So we cut short our visit to this port and headed the short distance
north into the Gulf of Volos. Here we anchored in the south-eastern
corner near Milina, in an almost deserted little cove with good shelter
from the forecast bad weather on its way the next day. With remarkable
forecast accuracy the thunderstorm started up at about 7.30am and by 9am
it was in full swing. An impressive firework display with a flashes and
bolts of lightning, and associated cracks or booms of thunder every 10
to 12 seconds. We counted 30 in 12 minutes, thats about 250 bolts per
hour! There was not much else to do......The very active part of the
thunder and lightning lasted about 2 1/2 hours - thats about 650
lightning bolts.The associated rain was heavy and we were glad of our
chosen anchorage tucked between two hills of the bay which served to
attract the closer lightening away from our mast. There is not much else
you can do to avoid unwanted attentions of thunderstorms, so we sat with
big mugs of tea and went 'oooh' and 'aaahh' at the impressive reminder
of the power of nature. After about 7 hours it was starting to clear and
this morning is more or less clear sky and about 30 degrees again.
Last night we had to sit inside the boat to be warm and wear socks - it
reminded us of an English summer! We had a walk to the small town today,
about 8 miles round trip. Its a lovely area, but unfortunately must have
been 'discovered' by Location, Location, or some such program, as there
are many invitations to buy land or property all addressed in English only.