Having reached Artemis Boatyard on the island of Leros, eastern Cyclades, and survived our dance with the Meltemi, we can relax a little. The wind has backed off for the moment and it seems to be less intense closer to the Turkish coast (although it hasn’t finished with us yet…) We have covered a few of the 6000+ Greek islands but we don’t feel like we have seen much ashore, as the priority has been ducking for cover and getting to Leros. We barely had time to read about what we were missing in the guide book! Now we have a good week ahead to catch our breath and slow down and run south with the prevailing wind.
The island is best known for the “Battle of Leros” during November 1943 when the German troops displaced a Commonwealth division that had occupied Leros following the Italian capitulation. On our return in October we had more time to drive around the island and noticed some bomb nose cones and shell casings that had been decorated and used as garden ornaments or gateposts! From our anchorage at Archangelos, we unfurl the gennaker to take a short hop south, down the west coast of Leros into the main harbour town of Lakki for a couple of days. The dominant feature of the town is the not-quite-art-deco Italian buildings along the foreshore, one of which now houses the cinema. Lakki is a very sheltered anchorage and a great place to chill out, check out cafes and restaurants and provision. There is a fabulous Australian butcher here that sells great Aussie style meat and the best mutton and rosemary sausages in Greece! We also do a reconnaissance on the Port Authority, Customs house and ferry wharf that we will be visiting when we leave for Athens at the end of October.
Then it’s another short hop to the south of the island to the bay of Xirocampos. This is a long, narrowish bay, again well protected but a little crowded. We end up anchoring further out in deeper water than we would like to and need a couple of goes at setting the anchor in the hard sand. We returned to the bay by car in October and discovered a WW2 German/Italian Army barracks high up in the hills overlooking the bay. The building was run down and full of goat droppings but housed several remarkably well-preserved paintings and cartoons done by soldiers stationed there. A bit of a hairy drive to get there but well worth a visit.
Some strong winds are looming on the forecast so after consulting with Team Reflexion we decide to head further south to the island of Kalymnos to wait it out at Emporios. Here we find some well-maintained restaurant buoys laid by “Captain Kostas”. We are helped onto our mooring buoy by Tony from Kostas in a dinghy. We need to attach our lines directly to the metal loop at the top of the buoy, rather than picking up a floating line, so its great to have someone to pass our mooring lines down to. We run a line from each of our bow cleats to the buoy to hold it in the centre under out bowsprit so it doesn’t bang on the hulls in the middle of the night! If there is no one around to help, picking up these type of buoys can be challenging in a cat as you can’t reach it from the foredeck to pass the lines directly through the loop and there is no way you can lift the buoy with the boathook to do this. We normally motor starboard side to the buoy and get the transom close enough for me to lean over the side to loop a line through. I then walk the line and buoy forward while Keith reverses the boat until the buoy comes around the starboard bow and I can cleat off both ends of our first line. Getting a second one on either involves hanging over the front and poking it through with a boat hook or launching the dinghy. Sometimes a fellow sailor will come over and help - please note that we have paid it forward on that score…
Our first day here is relatively calm but it kicks in the next day with strong catabatic gusts. It is hard to explain what this feels like but I would so much rather be in an anchorage or on a mooring buoy than attached to a concrete town quay or even a floating dock in these conditions. Even with two mooring lines attached to the buoy we will surf from side to side. The lines creak on the cleats and unfortunately our massive buoy decided to rotate, twisting our mooring lines back onto themselves 6-7 times! It was challenging to unravel that between 30+kts gusts after returning from dinner ashore! Looking around the moorings I was so glad to be on a catamaran as the monohulls were swinging around even more and regularly being pushed onto their sides as the gusts catch them broadside to. I put the GoPro on the side to try to capture the action. The noise of the wind across the deck, through the rigging and down the mast, combined with the cabin fever of having to stay on your boat, really does get to you after a while. We were comfortable enough on the buoy to leave ITIKI for the day and enjoy our first Greek island bus ride into the main town of Pothia on the south of the island. Kalymnos is quite mountainous and there are three high limestone ridges which are very popular with climbers and its easy to see why. The top section of the hills are sheer rock faces that would test the breaking strain of your fingernails. Its also a popular diving island with caves and wrecks to explore. The bus ride along the narrow winding road around the large bay to the east of our anchorage is an adventure in itself. The bay is reminiscent of Kotor in Montenegro, the bus ride itself is more like a theme park experience, but the view is spectacular. We have a short stop at a beach and then cross a saddle and head down into the town. The lively but noisy town sits on a large bay ringed by cafes & restaurants, and boats of all shapes and sizes fill the harbour. The island of Kos can be seen in the distance. We spend some time wandering around, enjoy lunch here and then head back on the bus with our chain-smoking driver to our anchorage. Tonight is the last night we say farewell to Team Reflexion who are heading north to meet some guests.
Before leaving we drop into one of the local homes offering some produce for sale. I have become addicted to the fresh figs which are plentiful and oh so sweet at this time of year. While English is widely and well spoken in Greece it still comes as a surprise to hear a broad Aussie accent, but here we meet a Greek guy whose parents had moved to Australia where he had grown up (in Melbourne of course). He had now moved back to Kalymnos with his wife and family. We stock up on freshly laid eggs and freshly picked figs and say our farewells to Kalymnos for now. We did drop in again on our way back from Turkey, heading north to say hi again. Sadly the figs were done for the season but we got some beautiful Corinth Pomegranates, more eggs and the last of the seasons sweetest cherry tomatoes ever! Nothing like home grown produce, picked fresh.
The remainder of our journey through Greece was much quieter weather wise and we were able to relax and enjoy the sights. Our next stop was the island of Kos where we anchored off the beach at Kamares on the south west coast of the island, and we stayed for a couple of days. A sandy bottom and clear calm water ensured good holding and we were comfortable enough to leave ITIKI and hire a car to explore the island. We visited Kos Town which was very lively and touristy but still with a lot of character. There are some Greek and Roman ruins here including a Roman barrio. The harbour is well protected and there is mooring off the beach outside the harbour - important to check these things out in case we come back on our way north again (we didn’t).
Next we visited the Asklepion. According to ancient Greek mythology Asclepius was the son of Apollo and Coronis. Asclepius became such a great healer and eventually the god of medicine and healing. Asklepion was an institution where healers cured their patients, tried to systematize medicine and teach other people the art of healing. It was also the temple of the gods who were concerned with medicine. The site is quite large and there is a great view from the top, but not well presented in terms of information. We head to a small beachside town on the north coast for a late lunch. From here we can see across to the island of Kalymnos where we came from. Despite the stiff northerly breeze there are quite a few people on the beach chairs. We make a stop at Lidl. This is more like a pilgrimage, something other cruisers will understand the significance of, non-cruisers I will do my best to explain our now distorted relationship with supermarkets over a glass of wine one day. After that much excitement it’s time to head back to ITIKI to enjoy the rest of the afternoon relaxing and cooling off.
Tour de Tilos
Pushing further south we head to the small island of Tilos. We pass the Nysiros, which is wild, and rocky with an active volcano crater in the middle (don’t worry we visit on our way back north). On the way we “rescue” several inflatable beach toys, probably lost from the same boat - we will find new owners for these along the way. Our first night we anchor off a beach in the bay of Eritos. It’s a nice enough anchorage and the bay is popular with hippies and free campers, oh and clothing seems to be “optional” ashore. Sadly a very unpleasant swell coming in overnight so not the best night’s sleep. We move on to the main town of Livadia early the next day and tie up at the town quay as Keith is keen to pressure wash ITIKI with his latest toy, the Bosch pressure washer, using the “unlimited” dock water supply. The small quay is pretty empty when we arrive but soon fills up. We have a rather large Turkish gulet tie up next to us and they soon get sick of the noise so we have to finish the cleaning with the hose. We have worn ourselves out so freshen up with a shower, followed by a beer at the nearby restaurant. The island is small and we were keen to hire a scooter to get around it. No luck at the rental place but the waiter at the bar we had been chatting to during the afternoon kindly offered us his! We took him up on that and the next afternoon, after finally figuring out how to start the scooter, pretty much covered the whole of the island in a couple of hours. It was a great fun way to get around, with very little traffic, no roundabouts or traffic lights to worry about - just need to make sure you give way to the goats! The have a tendency to step out onto the road without looking both ways… The island is very hilly and rugged and we visit a couple of bays, including the one we anchored at the day before. Livadia is a lovely town with a nice vibe, some good restaurants, shops and clean and quiet (well it was once we finished guernying…). We decide to move off the town quay and spend the night at anchor off the beach so we can swim and paddle, as the weather is lovely and calm. The water is crystal clear too.
Simply Stunning Symi
From Tilos we head down to the small island of Symi and have a great kite run until about 2nm out when the breeze dies. We stop for the night at a small bay on the south west coast called Panormitis – sounds contagious to me! The narrow entrance to the shallow bay is difficult to spot until you are quite close. It is overlooked by an unusual old windmill and we walk up to the headland for the sunset. The bay is dominated by the spectacular monastery of Michael the Archangel and the next morning we head ashore to take a look. There is an orthodox service in progress and the chanting which is broadcast from the steeple echoes hauntingly throughout the bay. We motor up the east coast of Symi and pass some spectacular looking anchorages but choose Pedi “town” another sheltered and picturesque bay with a small fishing and holiday village. We dine ashore and meet a lovely Kiwi couple who are cruising in their 56’ mono that they had shipped over form NZ. They are keen to see our cat so join us for a digestive. From Pedi we can access Symi town by bus, a spectacular ride over the headland and winding down into the steep valley and harbour. We could come into the harbour in ITIKI but the town quay area is notoriously tricky. It’s quite narrow and with boats mooring on both sides of the bay anchors regularly become tangled in the middle. On top of that the surge from ferries passing offshore and funnelling into the bay can cause quite some grief (as we find to our transom’s detriment when we do visit the quay on our way back north). Symi town is a really pretty town, cafes and restaurants line the shore and there are numerous clothing and homeware shops offering local items for sale. Times like these I wish I had a home to fit out or a bigger boat! There are a lot of places selling locally caught natural sponges and loofas too, seems that the waters around here are quite famous for those. As we enjoy our morning tea a large cruise ship docks outside the port police, might be time to head back to our anchorage as it is about to get a little crowded. If you don’t mind a climb the walk from Symi town back to Pedi is really worthwhile. A steep path climbs up to the Kali Strada (high town) and wanders through its narrow streets and through a few back yards down to the town of Pedi with spectacular views on both sides of the hill. Well worth the sore calves you will have the next day.
Stranded in Symi
The town of Symi is where we have our first close encounter with the “migrant crisis” that has swept across Europe. Symi is very close to the Turkish coast and has become a staging point for people wanting to get into Europe. The Port Police building and as well as the Port Authority building on the other side of the bay (and the adjacent street areas) are serving as makeshift camps for dozens of migrants waiting for documents and to be resettled somewhere in Greece. UNHCR tarps, tents and blankets are evident here of course, and everyday life - washing, cooking, eating, kids playing – is taking place in the streets while normal Symi life goes on. For us it was very confronting, as we had to walk through the makeshift “camps” to visit the authorities to check out of Greece. It was also very humbling to see first-hand the empathy with which the Greeks are handling the “refugee situation”. They are incredibly tolerant and even welcoming to these people in need. It is a stark contrast to how Australia treats our asylum seekers, demonising them and incarcerating them in terrible conditions. Here in this small village, on a tiny island the people arriving by boat are supported by the local community, who are by no means rich themselves, with food, water, clothing and essentials. We asked an officer at the Port Authority what we can do to help the “refugees”? She replied “You mean the people?” That distinction of terminology was really telling. She went on to explain that we could make a donation at any of the local supermarkets in the town and they would use the money towards required supplies which they delivered daily to the authorities for distribution. Restaurants are also donating food. The chap in the supermarket was keeping a list of donations with donors names and amounts and told us how he calls the authorities each morning to find out what the priority needs are, and makes a delivery before opening his store for the day. He lamented the human tragedy and the fact that it could take as long as 2-3 weeks for the people to get their documentation and to be resettled – Hmmm - sounds pretty efficient to me compared to Australia!
And so its time to move on again. We leave Symi Town for the 13nm journey across to Bozborun in Turkey, feeling very blessed and thankful of our freedom to do what we are doing and have a safe home to return to when we are done.
Lynda is slowly getting used to the transition from working to not working and racing to cruising.