Now we are in the Aegean in the middle of Meltemi season. This means our journey across the northern Aegean for a pit stop at our winter port (the island of Leros), and down south to Turkey, will be at the mercy of these winds. They will very much dictate where and when we stay and what anchorages we choose. No point planning too far ahead or having a timetable to be somewhere.
The Meltemi is a catabatic wind that blows from May to November, peaking in strength in July and August. On average you can expect 17 – 33 knots during the day, it will persist overnight and can continue for 3-10 days… Gusts may be 40% stronger of course and over open water it will whip up a pretty nasty sea of 2-3m or more. Needless to say we are checking the forecast regularly and carefully evaluating the “stay or go” status as well as the “Meltemi rating” of each prospective anchorage. Even the sheltered ones can be are subject to catabatic gusts that will test the nerves and the anchor!
So from our anchorage in Monemvasia, on the east coast of the Peloponnese Peninsula we head off early afternoon expect the westerly that has been pounding us all morning to take us quite quickly northwards. Sydney friends and fellow med sailors, Soni and Martin on SY Reflexion (FP Lucia 40) are not too far away and we are heading in a similar direction so decide to sail together for a bit. Sadly the westerly loses its puff as soon as we hoist a sail so the Volvos do most of the work. As the sun is getting low we decide to anchor off the south west of Idra (Hydra) island. It’s a deep bay so lines ashore with a few other charter boats lining the shore. We catch up with Soni and Martin the next morning and head to the island of Dokos to a small anchorage which we have to ourselves.
Cruising in Company
We first met Soni and Martin on Reflexion (a Mahe 36) at a MutliHull Solutions (MHS) Pittwater Rendezvous in Sydney. We were “in the process” of conceiving Too Up (our FP Lipari 41) and we sailed with some of the other catamarans that had joined the fun for the weekend. We were re-acquainted with them at a MHS Whitsunday Rendezvous a couple of years later with Too Up and have been following their adventures as they purchased a new Lucia 40 and picked it up in La Rochelle a few years ago. They have been so helpful to us as we planned and picked up ITIKI and followed in their footsteps. It was great to hear from them suggesting we meet up. Cruising in company is not something we had done before. Although we had met numerous other cruisers along the way, some going the same direction, others not, we had not deliberately sailed with another boat to the same place so this was a whole new experience for us. Team Reflexion are in their 4th season in the Med and have spent a lot of that in Greece. They seem to know every island, bay and anchorage and have a good understanding of the weather patterns so we are very happy to tag along and learn. The other great thing is the chance to “compare” our boat’s performance with theirs. Of course when there are two boats it is always a race… While ITIKI is 4’ longer than Reflexion she is an older design. Reflexion is a lot lighter boat with less “stuff” on board. Martin is a very good sailor and after 4 seasons these guys know how to get the best from their boat. Travelling with Reflexion made us really push ourselves to perform. Our percentage time sailing increased (some thanks to the Meltemi!) as we were conscious of not being lazy – with a race on we only found ourselves trimming the sails 3-4 times per minute… And the skippers and crew can debrief at the end of the day’s sailing. We definitely saw a lot more of Reflexion’s transom thank we expected, and had to keep checking if they had tied a bucket to ours!
Also it was a great opportunity to compare the set-up of each of our boats, which have a lot of similarities, and get some ideas and tips on stuff we might want to add or change (will it ever be finished?!) Socially it was a lot of fun too with drinks and dinners ashore and on each-others’ boats, while still retreating to our own space at the end of the day. So a big thanks to Soni and Martin, it was a great experience and a lot of fun and hope we can do it again next season.
We started out early from the Island of Dokos with a long schlep of 55nm to Serifos. We sailed most of the way with the gennaker but as we got closer to the island it died out so we furled. It kicked in again as we got even closer so we unfurled again but it built rapidly and we were soon over-canvassed. Seems to be a compression zone close to the islands, many of which are quite high. Of course the strongest breeze of the day is always just as you are ready to drop your anchor… It was a long day so we don’t go ashore but we do get our first glimpse at a distance of a white church with a blue painted roof, which means we really must be in Aegean Greece now!
Next morning we left around 8am, kite up initially and then engines on for a while before unfurling the gennaker as we try to keep up with Reflexion. Another cool thing about cruising in company is that you get some cool photos of yourselves under sail! The breeze picked up to 20s as we approached the island of Sifnos and we have anchored off the beach at Ormos Vathi with a dozen other yachts. Dinner ashore tonight, and as it is 1st of August I can have my first glass of Greek wine! Sadly it does not really cut it so I will have to wait a bit longer to break-out after dry July. The wind remains strong overnight from the north of course, winds but anchor holds us well.
From Sifnos we head to the island of Paros. Great sail with building breezes, reefed main and genoa. Hit 10.2 max speed, yee haa! Bypassed a couple of possible anchorages before selecting Aliki Beach on the southern end of Paros. South of where we are there are some smaller islands, very popular with kite surfers, so you can be sure some strong winds come through this area. Our anchorage is protected from the swell but still quite strong winds and gusty. We had a reasonably relaxing afternoon despite the crazy wind, then drinks ashore with Reflexion crew to compare notes after sailing with them today. We have some strong northerly winds coming (yes the dreaded Meltemi) in a couple of days’ time so it’s all about finding protected anchorages over the next few days.
We opt for a bay on the northern end of Paros (Naoussa), which might sound a bit counter-intuitive, but it has a narrow entrance and opens up into a wider bay with a well-protected anchorage on the western side, which is where we choose to dig in. Once it kicks in we could be here for a few days.
Reflexion arrive with some guests they picked up in Paroikia, the main port of Paros. We all go ashore to Naoussa town in our respective RIBs and while the girls wander around the shops, the boys solve the problems of the world in a nearby coffee shop. Now when I see all those Greek men sitting around drinking coffee, I know where the women are! Well actually they are probably not shopping... The town has some lovely clothing and homeware shops though ladies! I could have gone crazy here but would need a bigger boat! We head back into Naoussa for dinner, it’s a fairly quick trip over with a following sea. Lovely meal and really nice wine (at last!) The trip back in the RIBs was quite memorable... Of course it was dark, the breeze had gotten up and we were heading into the swell to get back to the boats. With Reflexion’s guests evenly distributed we were three up in each RIB. We could not see the waves in the dark, probably a good thing, but we could hear each-others squeals and laughter as we got hit with yet another wave! Even taking it easy and sticking close together, we were all completely soaked by the time we got back to the boat. Lucky no-one was wearing their best, new outfit! The Meltemi is here for a few days now so best to stay put until it backs off. There are worse places to be stuck I guess!
We go ashore near our anchorage and explore the nearby beach and the headland. Facing north we can see how well protected we are in our anchorage, despite some catabatic gusts hitting ITIKI regularly. It is really blowing out there. We watch another catamaran go out through the heads, looking like a bucking bronco! No thanks! Reflexion decide to go over to another anchorage on the east side of the bay to give their guests a change of scenery – apparently they were quite convinced they have gone to another island! Our anchor is dug in well here so we stay and put up with it.
The next day we decide to get Keith to a doctor as his right ear has been blocked for a few days and causing him grief. As it is too rough to cross the bay in the RIB we decide to head down the western shore and look for a bus or taxi around the southern end of the bay and into town which is on the east side of the bay. We stop at a water-sports joint and the lovely, and not very busy, guys there are really helpful. They offer to mind the RIB, call an ENT specialist that they know and then managed to book one of the few taxis on the Island of Paros to get us there! Amazingly helpful. Keith is seen straight-away, his ear unblocked and has his hearing back (and relieved of quite a few Euros...) in no time! We still have time to grab a coffee and do a provisioning run before catching the bus back, which is packed to the rafters as no ferries are running. Lucky the guys were keeping an eye on the RIB as the anchor had come out! They had kindly tied it to their dock! We gave them a 6-pack for their troubles. The kindness of strangers! Hopefully the wind backs off enough tomorrow for us to get out of here! As lovely as it is, the howling and gusting wind is really starting to do our heads in. A change of scenery would be nice too! Plus the holding tanks are getting full...
Reflexion have headed down the west coast of Paros island back to Paroikia to drop of their guests. They had been hoping to drop them at Mykonos but as that is north of Paros, forget it! Fortunately they can take a ferry there instead. We decide to head down the east coast of Paros and across to the island of Naxos. Its pretty bouncy coming out of the harbour heading into the wind, which has kindly backed off to low 20s! It’s a relief to round the point and start heading south, albeit through a narrow and shallow gap (sonar on for a bit…), and we speed across to Naxos Town. The breeze is down to a very manageable 15kts. We can see a huge yacht in the distance with 3 masts, and check it out on the binoculars. Could it be? Yes! AIS confirms it is The Maltese Falcon looking really amazing under full sail! She gybes down the channel between the islands and as we are trying to drop an anchor in Naxos harbour she passes us by. Meanwhile a ferry comes in, drops an anchor and spins around way too close to ITIKI. We decide to hot foot it out of here, this anchorage is not for us. Will have to visit Naxos town another time! We opt instead for a lovely beach anchorage a few nm to the south. Definitely worth putting on the favourites list. Lovely sleepy resort town with a nice long coarse sand beach and crystal-clear water. Meanwhile Reflexion are making their way south down the west coast of Paros but have to cut their trip short as the winds build to 34kts! That area really has some local wind effect and the crazy kite-surfers seem to enjoy exploiting it.
Still heading south now we pop the kite as soon as we leave the anchorage and have a great run down to Kalandhon at the southern end of Naxos island. Here we catch up with Reflexion again who also had a quick trip across from Aleki on Paros. Not much to do here though so we move on the next day. Only 7nm to a lovely spot on the SW of Schinoussa. We bypass the busy town quay in favour of a beach anchorage. There is a small restaurant ashore and we opt for a lovely dinner there. The next day the bay starts to fill up very early with the weekend crowd and there are anchors going everywhere so we decide to head off as its 20nm to the next anchorage. The forecast was for high teens gusting high 20s but the first half of the trip we had at least 10kts more than that, with the highest gust spotted of 41kts! At that point we decided to drop our sails as the jammer for the 2nd reef downhaul has broken under the strain. At least the swell is not too big, but it was a bit hairy. We had been making water and doing a load of washing too so that had to be cut short! It was a relief when the wind backed off to 20s and we could pull out a headsail again. A few lessons learned and ITIKI did handle the conditions well. Our anchorage is really lovely and well protected, tucked between a small island and the main island of Amorgos. There is a small beach resort ashore and a herd of goats comes down to the beach foraging once the tourists have left. Feeling a bit shell-shocked so a recovery day is in order. It is lovely to be able to hide from the Meltemi madness going on outside, it really does get your nerves on edge. We took the SUPs to go exploring and ended up doing a walk up to a small church on the headland and then a big beach clean on the way back. So many of the places we go ashore we see so much plastic. Much of it washed up but quite a bit of escaped terrestrial garbage, water bottles and coolite boxes feature heavily!
Headed off around 8am as we have a long trip today, 31 nm, through the narrow channel between the main island of Amorgos and the small one to the west protecting our anchorage. Very lumpy seas with swell coming in from the NW and bouncing back off the rocks. Reflexion got airborne a few times! Breeze a lot lighter than forecast, one reef in the main and genoa. Spectacular coastline and swell a little more settled once we got past the end of the island, but not as much as expected. Had a couple of dolphins playing on the bow for a while, quite big ones. One of them jumped right out of the water in front of us, always a treat. Breeze shifting around behind us, so climbed up and then goose-winged to head down before climbing again. Our anchorage is in the eastern end of a hammer-head bay on the southern end of the island of Levithia. Here we are on a Taverna mooring buoy and there is no phone coverage whatsoever! It’s a short walk up the hill along a fairly rough track to get to the Taverna which is run by the one family that lives on the island. Surprisingly busy, seems like all the yachts anchored in the bay have come in for the night. A very simple but good meal and great value. We also buy some fresh eggs from them. Fortunately it is not a big night for us, it is not too dark (and we are not too drunk) to find the track back to the dinghy wharf or it could have been ugly!
An early start again and a great sail today with the gennaker. So good to pace ourselves against Reflexion again, we have done a lot more sailing with them pushing us. One of our aims as we crossed the Cyclades was to drop in on ITIKI's winter home, to meet the family that runs Artemis boatyard, get the lay of the land, book our lift-out date and most importantly pick up a number of items that we have had sent to the boatyard. Online shopping is really challenging when you are on the move the whole time so it was great to have a base to send some important stuff to. Keith is so excited that we now have a pressure washer! This may sound indulgent when we have to make our own water, however we can now give the boat a really good clean and it is more efficient than using a hose or a bucket and sponge! We take a tour of Artemis Boatyard, where ITIKI will be lifted for the first time and rest on her keels over the northern winter. We will stay on board for a few days as we do final preparations and winterising will be a little different this year on dry land. There are of course showers, laundry and a BBQ area for boaties to use and a chandlery as well. There is no marina here however so we anchor in the bay for our visit. Later in the afternoon we move across to anchor off a small island to the north of Partheni to have a swim and enjoy the evening without dead fish floating around us. Did I mention there are numerous fish farms in the area? Also a couple of sunken boats in the bay.
Artemis Boatyard, ITIKI's winter home:
Well we have made it from the western side to the eastern side of the Cyclades during Meltemi season in one piece and with only minor damage to a rope jammer. A big thanks to our guides Team Reflexion who know all the good anchorages and best protected places, not to mention the best tarvernas! I think we got off fairly lightly - but I dont think the Meltemi is finished with us yet!
Lynda is slowly getting used to the transition from working to not working and racing to cruising.