Plans and realities
In the 20 months since we left ITIKI in October 2019 there have been so many plans that we have lost track. We lost a whole season that we had planned to split between Greece and Turkey (Plan A), avoiding the dreaded Meltemi season in July/August. Then there were the plans in case we got back late in season 2020 (B, C, D etc), which we didn’t. Finally, we settled on a plan for when we actually got back in July and launched in August 2021. Who would have thought we would once again find ourselves in Aegean Greece in the middle of Meltemi season - but rather be here than in Prison Australia. We are keen/determined to go some way north in defiance of the prevailing winds. It seems like the most interesting stuff is up there, and we can’t leave it unexplored. Lesvos and Limnos are both islands we really do want to visit as are Delos and Mykonos. We aim to be in Gibraltar mid-October so and there is a long way to go to get there. The Corinth Canal, which provides a short cut through to the Ionian sea, is closed due to a landslide so it’s around the Peloponnesus again for us – adding a few extra days. We hope to meet up with Team Argonauts (Rob and Kylie in their FP Saona) in the Ionian before we skip across to Sicily and into the Aeolian islands, trip up the east coast of Sardinia, The Maddalenas and then across the Balearics - Menorca and down the west Coast of Mallorca. With the demise of our AGM batteries our plans to upgrade the inverter in Gibraltar have now evolved into a “major” – the conversion to Lithium – so it looks like we will be there for a couple of weeks.
Missing our Mojo
Looking back over our first couple of weeks in the water, it has taken us a while to get back into the rhythm of cruising. We didn’t expect that, but we probably should have after 20 months off. Planning where to go and what to do has been complicated by the need to dodge the northerlies, find appropriate anchorages, find a place to get our gas bottle filled, ongoing set up of the boat and sorting out the odd teething problem. All the time keeping an eye on our timetable to get out of Greece and continue good progress west - we ended up doing 18 islands and just under 1000nm before exiting! Initially we felt like we were always in a hurry to get somewhere else, with no time to appreciate where we were - and it was causing a great deal of stress. Once we made the decision to head south and get away from the Meltemi it was a weight lifted off our shoulders and we seemed to click back into our former routine. Sometimes what you think you want to do or think you should do because “you just can’t miss <insert name of someone’s favourite Greek island here>” just doesn’t really feel right. We finally realise that we are on a delivery run, with a bit of time to enjoy ourselves along the way – not a relaxed cruising season where we have all the time in the world. Anyway I am getting ahead of myself. Here are a few highlights from the northern Aegean.
Highlights of the north
From Leros we moved to Lipsi and the Arki, aiming to head north to Chios for the gas bottle refill – having no idea how much gas we had left in the remaining bottle, this was a bit of a concern for us. It was only meant be blowing 12kts from the north so it should be ok, right? Wrong! Well the breeze was ok but we are banging into short chop so we make a detour to Marathokampos on the south coast of Samos. This was actually a bonus as it’s a really lovely, laid back little coastal town with a penchant for murals - we decide to stay a couple of days, hire a car and explore the island. We are staying on the “town quay” – a half finished marina with dodgy electricity but no charge. Samos is really mountainous in the middle (like most Aegean islands) with steep descents down to coastal towns.
Of course we took our empty gas bottle with us in case – we managed to turn up at a helpful servo about 1 minute before the local gas guy arrived. Not good news though as the gas factory is closed on weekends and it seems our French gas bottle is ever so slightly different from the fittings in Greece. This may not be easy.
Anyway we continued our tour visiting a lovely little mountain village called Manolates. It’s a car free village with steep and narrow winding streets. One of the things I love about Greece is the way that fruit (and some veg) just grows so incredibly in the tiniest of spaces, seemingly without any human effort. Meanwhile I struggle to grow some basil in a pot with extensive (maybe too much…) TLC. Grape vines hanging over a trellis, providing much needed shade, fruit laden, citrus, pomegranates and fig trees growing through a small hole in the concrete of a tiny terrace house front porch. One tiny house here had what looked like zucchini vines covering it almost completely! We drove on through Samos town and into the hills to Mitilinii, another traditional hillside village with winding narrow streets, but at 45oC heat defeated us and our walk was very short.
Meet me in the middle
We visited the amazing Eupalinus Tunnel. Built in the mid-6th C BC, this double mouthed tunnel was an incredible feat of engineering and mathematics. Intended to carry water through a clay pipe from the springs on one side of the mountain down to the town on the other, it stretches 890metres. Construction took place from both ends of the tunnel with workers meeting in the middle and despite some twists, turns and the fall to facilitate water flow they were only 40cm out of alignment when they met up! Not bad considering the engineering tools available at the time. And the big bonus was a cool 25oC inside!
Eupalinus Tunnel, Samos:
We take a short and accidental drive through the charming, narrow and touristy streets of Pythagorio town. This looks like a very popular village and the yachts lining the town quay are practically an extension of the harbour-side cafes.
Along the south coast there is a long stretch of “beach”– all stones of course – and we are straight into the water to cool off. Its a refreshing 22oC but you are dry, hot and sweaty again before you even get back to the car. It’s been a long day so we head back to ITIKI, again taking a scenic route through “Upper Marathokampos” (thanks Siri!). The next day conditions are perfect so we leave the harbour and head west, but first let’s go for a sail! We need to get in to deeper, cleaner water to do some desalinating and fill our water tanks. We also need to get the main sorted with the new halyard and first reef which are now Dyneema. Turned out to be a great shake down hitting 11.4kts of boatspeed – Yee ha!!!. Its great to be a sail boat again! Our anchorage, off a beach at Limnionas is only 3.2nm from our last port of call however we took the scenic route and arrive with our water tanks 3/4 full and a load of washing done as well. We settle in for the night and have a visit from the crew of Vivere, an Aussie catamaran who have been cruising for 3 years already. Of course the first question we get asked is “How did you get out?”
With a forecast of 15-18kts from the north we decided to head west to Ikara – remember the story of the boy who made wings using wax and flew too close to the sun? Will this is allegedly where he landed. More likely the Meltemi blew him out of the sky! Anyway we had a tip off on filling our gas bottle here so we gave it a try – the tip turned out to be a bum steer but anyway we had a great reach with 1 reef in the main (must put that 2nd one in...) seeing gusts of up to 32kts coming past the top of Fourni island! We got the last spot in the "new" "marina", no management, no electricity or water and no charge – there are any number of these in Greece – we assume they are built (or started) with EU money but then it runs out and they are never finished, commissioned or managed. It’s very hot again today, we drag ourselves around the small village until our wings are well and truly melted. The only way to cool down is to take a paddle board out of the marina, tacking into the wind, to a small cave for a dip to cool down. There are some suspicious warm spots in the bay although there is no one else around – turns out there are some hot upwellings/springs around the island...
It was much debated over a game of Rummikub in the evening as to whether to believe the forecast of 9-11kts from the north. This is August in Greece after all and we have seen some “forecasting discrepancies”. In the end we agreed to wake early, head out and give ourselves 2 hours to evaluate and head back to Samos if it was shite. Turned out the forecast was spot on and we were able to "2 Volvo reach" the 42nm across to the southern end of Chios island. Along the way we make some more adjustments to the main and top off the water tanks. We are anchored off the popular Komi Beach, the anchor is dug in well and the water is lovely.
Below: Scenes from Chios
It’s a chilly 28oC for our departure to Chios Town today, but we are not complaining! Motoring north we notice a NATO warship on our charplotter. Apparently it's "Sleeping" although doing 14kts! No doubt patrolling the maritime border between Turkey and Greece as we are pretty close here. We continue a couple of miles north past the main port town of Chios and find “Chios Marina”- another incomplete project – and take a spot alongside on the eastern mole. There are a few other yachts here and a giant barge that looks like it has been there for a few years. That is the problem with these unmanaged marinas, they get filled up with marine “detritus” and eventually there is no space for freeloaders like us. We have made contact with the all-important “gas man” and wasting no time on completing this mission, Keith drops the RIB in the water and takes our empty cylinder around to Chios town and drops it off. We can pick it up tomorrow morning and then head off. We spend the afternoon on board doing some more work between dips to cool down – the marina water is surprisingly very clean. We walk into Chios town for a bit of exercise, catch up with the nightlife and get a bite to eat. It’s a bustling place with plenty of tourists coming and going. A huge BlueStar ferry comes charging into port at a great rate of knots and heading directly towards where we are sitting having a drink. Just as we start to fear for our lives (and remember that cruise ship in Venice) he flips his stern towards the northern end of the bay and holds this huge vessel in place on its motors (no anchor) as trucks, cars and people race on and off. An incredible sight and amazing seamanship.
Loving Lesvos and Lemnos
We have gas! Although there are no doubt Byzantine monasteries and amazing Mastic Museums here in Chios, we are going to forego these pleasures, pick up our gas bottle and head north while the weather allows it. It’s just a short hop north to the tiny island of Oinoussa. We are greeted by a mermaid at the entrance to the port and find a small bay to the east of the town to anchor. We have it to ourselves. We take the RIB for a tour around past the tiny town and smaller islands close to the entrance, and a closer look at the mermaid. It's lovely not to have the strong north winds blowing our brains out and some lower temperatures. After sunset we take the RIB out again to see if the mermaid is lit up, which she is. A beautiful sight and a lovely calm evening.
We head off at 9ish and true to form the forecast is stronger than expected and there is a bit more west in it. We have some excellent reaching conditions followed by some goosewing action with the Genoa - the new tweakers come in handy as well. We took a shortcut through Turkish waters but seem to have gotten away with it. We have been messaging our Greek friend, George the Pilot, who has been getting increasingly excited as we head northwards. He is stuck in Oz and gutted that he is not here to show us around his hometown (Melinta) near Plomari on Lesvos, but he has recommended Plomari as a great place to explore the island by car. We tie back to the quay and spend the usual 2 hours adjusting our lines and setting up the (death-defying) passarelle before heading out for a walk around town and to organise a rental car. It’s very lively and noisy on the quay, it’s a main thoroughfare through town so traffic all night and nobody has a muffler on their scooter! What are kids doing playing in the park at 1am FFS?!
Our tour of Lesvos starts off looking for a monastery the car rental guy mentioned, we couldn’t find it, but we did find a Roman aqueduct in the small town of Moira. Trying to navigate on a stylised tourist map, we drove through ever the narrowing streets, with café patrons inches from our car windows having to tuck their feet under the café tables as we passed. Suddenly we spotted a sign and the road opened up to a stone paved boulevard leading down to the aqueduct. It seemed so out of place – again a sniff of EU money?! The aqueduct is well preserved and worth a visit. Next we headed down to Mytilini for morning tea and again get lost in narrow back streets. Thank goodness rental cars here are so small! The very large Mytilini castle overlooks the harbour town and boasts extensive “cisterns” for water storage (from that aqueduct no doubt). We wander the grounds and take in the fantastic views as well. Next stop is a monastery and then on to a cute town looking for lunch. We find plenty of cafes serving drinks only and hosting old men sitting around doing nothing - do people not eat lunch here? Next stop another monastery with a café where we could have lunch! The monastery had a bit of a military theme with model planes and weapons on display. Then on to a skala (bay) in the north with lots of lunch places here! It's heaving with people eating, it's 2:30pm - perhaps we just get hungry too early. From this bustling oasis we took a winding, dirt road along the north coast, looking down the steep cliffs we can see the odd shipwreck. Weaving our way through a few more costal towns but the northerly is blowing now so no good for swimming. Up into the hills we go to a castle near the town of Petra – closed 10 mins ago - bugger. I guess one castle a day is enough.
Of course we take the scenic route back to Plomari - a long and winding way through the forest and some tiny towns, then through to Melinta, where “agent” George the Pilot has booked us in for Sunday lunch tomorrow. Sunday lunch out with the family is a big tradition in Greece and we are looking forward to partaking. First of all we drive back to a village bakery to grab some bread and say hi to George’s friend, but sadly she is off at a baptism, so we just get some bread instead and go to lunch. The restaurant is in a lovely setting, on a beach with a beach club underneath. An aperitif and a swim at the beach is in order before heading upstairs for lunch. We have come to love the octopus and Greek salad (or village salad as the Greek’s call it) and the restaurant does freshly roasted chickens on the spit. Fantastic! We even manage enjoy a lovely bottle of Greek wine, it got better towards the bottom of the bottle anyway! Once we had polished that off we decided it would be a good idea to depart for Sigri on the western end of the island, the conditions were good, it would buy us another day and we would have a better chance of a good night’s sleep! We spotted George’s house from the water and sent him pictures. We had offered to water the garden but that would have taken all day apparently. From the water we also spotted the “Hidden church” perched precariously on a rocky outcrop on the coast – glad we didn’t try to get to that in the rental car!
Below: Lunch at Melinta
From Sigri and we have a great 2 sail reach most of the way across to Lemnos. Some very shy dolphins join us along the way. We checked out the bay of Moudros, which was used to prepare for the Gallipoli landings, and the town port at Moudros, but after a wander around this sad little place we decided to anchor off a small beach resort called Chill in the bay of Asprokavos. Fortunately the music was not too loud!
Myrina, the main town of Lemnos, is a a charming town. A wide and sheltered bay with a small town quay (full) so we anchored in the bay. The town is dominated by a large rock formation and overlooked by Myrina Castle on one side, and a traditional blue and white church on the other side. We pick up our hire car and tour the island. The cave church was the highlight. The walk up to it was hot and dusty but the scenery is spectacular, with some amazing rock formations and caves. The church itself is quite tiny and the cave forms its roof. We head through a couple of traditional Greek villages, even though the streets are so narrow there are still cafes with tables and chairs lining them and the patrons’ don’t bother to pull their feet in. We enjoyed a coffee in one tiny town (Portianou) which was popular with Allied troops stationed here ahead of the Gallipoli campaign, then a lovely lunch by the water on Moudros Bay. We continue our drive through the spectacular countryside, sadly the archaeological sites on the island are closed on Tuesdays - timing is everything - but we drop in to the war cemetery at Moudros. It was to the hospital at Moudros that many of those who fought at Gallipoli, were evacuated, including Australian and NZ soldiers, and they are now at rest here. We finish the day with a walk up to the church on the hill overlooking the harbour and a quiet night aboard. Moving on again tomorrow.
Lynda is slowly getting used to the transition from working to not working and racing to cruising.