DeDannan sails to the Cyclades
Having come through the Corinth Canal in convoy with some other cruisers and a cargo ship at the front, we were relieved of €360 for the pleasure, it was late afternoon as we set course for Epidavros, we arrived into a pact port with no mooring on the town quay due to a sunsail flotilla that had moored up earlier, so it was out on the anchor as the sun was setting and a couple of nice steaks,mash and veg and a quite night on anchor for the Olins, the auld paraffin lamp was lit and it was off to bed for me, we had done over fifty miles in good wind and I was ready for some sleep.
I was awake at dawn the next morning, a quick cup of tea and it was up anchor and away as Linda slept on to our next port, Poros, we had a grand sail for the last hour or two with the wind behind blowing us across a flat calm sea past the port of Methana, one always knows when near mathana as the smell of the sulphur baths is only breath taking, its hard to believe that there are several liveaboard cruisers based there.
We had two days here on the town quay in Poros, a really nice port to spend time, we have been here several times before so we didn't delay in pushing on out to the Cyclades as the weather was looking good with moderate northerly winds forecast, we had a good sail for most of the way across to kythnos and the port of Loutra on the north east of the island, it was over forty miles and we arrived into a packed port with thirty knots of wind that had come from the south east in the last hour, there was only one space on the quay next to some very hostile looking rocks at the end of the breakwater, there is a good marinero called Costas runs the town quay here and I felt good about his ability to take a line and tie us off, there was little room for error in this wind that was forecast to blow for the next few days, any delay in getting a line ashore and DeDanann was on the rocks, we dropped anchor way out and well up to windward, then gunned it back keeping up wind until we got into the berth, Linda had the windward line ready to throw to Costas as he took it and made it off like a through professional, I pulled in tight on the anchor windlass and said a little prayer to auld Neptunas that the anchor was dug in. We had a comfortable enough night there tucked in behind the rocks, next morning in twenty knots we moved into the harbour to a berth that came free with the help of a French sailor Jean-Marc who knew his stuff and we were comfortable for the next few days.
Kythnos is very much a fishing port, it has some really friendly fish tavernas and a mini market that screws the cruisers that come and go, I'm sure the locals don't pay these prices for food on the modest incomes that they earn from fishing in small boats. Linda paid €1 per potato here and wasn't too happy about it, you see it's supply and demand in these little islands.
We took a hire car from one of the local fishermen come farmer etc, €30 for a stinking banger and the tank empty, we arrived at the only gas station on the fumes, no need for a license he said, I'm not sure if we even had insurance as there was no papers other than the three tenners I gave him. We took a drive to the Chora, which is the village high up above the port were the locals all live, it's a really pretty place with narrow streets and fine traditional Greek dwellings all painted white with blue doors and windows, dogs, cats and chickens run around all over the place, some good tavernas and Greek musicians make a good night out here. There is an abundance of tiny church's all over the island all kept in good order by the locals, some of these church's are in very remote mountain areas with nobody living near bye, hand build with local stone including the arched roofs, rendered with a sand lime mix and white washed in lime, they are surprisingly dry and in good condition for there age.
The winds came down to around fifteen knots from the north as we headed out for our passage south east to the port of Naousas on the island of Paros, some thirty miles distant, we arrived in the port and tied up next to two other Amels of the same vintage, one of them had sailed from Portland USA the other was a seasoned Cruiser from Germany.
Naousas was a typical fishing village of old but has been turned into a holiday centre with lots of hotels and tourist shops, it was doing good business and is a very pretty place to visit, lots of trendy boutiques and bars and plenty of good tavernas all offering only Greek food, its amazing that the Chinese are all over the world running their restaurants but never any in the Greek islands which is a pity, One gets fed up having to eat Greek every time we go to dinner, the menu is the same from taverna to taverna.
We moved on for a short trip to the port of Naxos the next island to the east, coming into the big harbour we were under sail heading for the town quay, a huge SeaCat car ferry came up behind us and started to blast us out of it with his great horn, he came up behind us so close bullying us out of the way that we were under the shadow of this huge craft, we were on AIS, under sail and there was plenty of room in the bay for him to hold off, it was like David and Goliath, and on this day David won because I was going nowhere other than to the town quay.
Naxos is a big town and popular tourist centre, lots of quaint shops in the narrow side streets of the port, lots of tourist boats running trips to Santorini, fishing and diving etc.
We moored next to a fine Dutch yacht called Flyer, 24 meters, she won the whitbread round the world yacht race in 1982, since converted to a very nice cruiser adding over ten tonnes to her displacement weight, crewed by a Dutch couple, she is a big boat with a huge ketch rig for such short handed sailing, the skipper crewed on her in her racing days before buying her for himself. She was owned and skippered by the Dutchman Conny Van Rietschoton in her heyday, he told me a story of Conny taking a heart attack in the southern ocean during Whitbread whilst they were in the lead, one of his crew, a doctor, wanted to consult with a cardiac surgeon who was crew on the yacht coming up on their rear, he said Conny wouldn't hear of it as he felt the other skipper would push even harder knowing Conny was no longer at the helm, they went on to not only finish but win the race, now there's dedication for you, he told me Conny died from heart failure three years ago having had health problems going back to that time.
We met a skipper of a big charter catamaran who hailed from cork, he said he had seen DeDanann come into port and the huge SeaCat towering over us, I'll tell uh Boy! DeDanann was like a through Irish warrior out there standing up to that langer!! Over some cans of Guinness that I keep on board for the paddies, he gave us some good info about where to visit in this part of Greece, we went to a very good taverna "Flamingo" hidden in the port on his recommendation, some of the best Greek music from two really good musicians, the waiters would spontaneously start dancing and singing and had the guests on there feet, it was a great night, you see, there's nothing to beat local knowledge.
Our friends Claude and Anna from France came into port having come around the Peloponnesus from Preveza, Claude won't pay the Canal fee, they had come up through the night from Milos punching into thirty knots of wind and big seas during the meltimi, great sailors the French.
We moved on to what is known as the small Cyclades islands, to an anchorage on nissos Schionoussa some twenty miles south east of Naxos, their is a small ferry quay that we backed up to and one very good family run taverna, the island is quite barren with a bit of goat farming and fishing, but it's a nice relaxing and peaceful place to sit out a meltimi although the weather has been kind to us so far this year. One needs to know how to bake bread cruising these islands as supply's are scarce, but there's always goats milk and eggs, along with fresh fish to be had from the locals. It's amazing, even on these remote islands (Nissos) you hear the bell ringing from the tiny church's that are so much a part of the Greek culture, along with the goat bells and crowing of cocks, the sound of the sea makes for a very enjoyable waking in the early mornings, a swim in the warm turquoise waters before breakfast sets one up for the day for sure, certainly beats heading out to work in the traffic back home.
A few days relaxing in Schionoussa we set off for Katapola on Nissos Amorgos to the south east, the wind was light and variable, the sea was flat as we motored into the port with good mooring on the town quay for about thirty boats, a lot of the boats moored here were flying the American Delaware flag, a flag of convenance used by the Turks, apparently they have to pay a tax on Turkish registered boats, it was a sure sign that we nearing Turkish waters.
Katapola is the main port on Amorgos, it's a big island in the southern Cyclades, but there is not much going on here other than some farming and small boat fishing, we hired a car to visit the Chora up the hill, the people of these islands I would think are monetarily poor, but they are rich in culture, and they are nice friendly people, they don't speak English so well, I was drinking coffee in one of the tavernas on the narrow streets of the Chora one Sunday morning, a young local boy, Yannis, was interested in Alfie, we had a conversation in two different languages, which neither could understand, I started to whistle a hornpipe and he joined in with me, music is a common language.
The average cost of mooring in these ports is around €7 per night, if they even bother to collect it, you may not have electricity but water is usually available and everything is within spitting distance, beats the fancy marinas any day.
We then set of for the tiny island Nissos Levithia, some thirty miles to the east, the wind was blowing at 15 knots from the north as we left the shelter of the port but soon built up to 20/25 knots as the meltimi started to kick in, the sea was soon running at two meters beam on as we sailed along the north coast of Amorgos, my friend Dominique, a French skipper had warned me that the sea between here and Levithia is bad, it turned out to be true as we rocked and rolled with a lee shore one mile off, two hours of this and we were off the last safe port on Amorgos, Ayios Anna's, we didn't fancy four more hours of this so the decision to make port was easily made, we tied up on the ferry quay among the fishing boats, not another yacht in port. It was a good choice, as this is a really nice little port that is not mentioned in the pilot book. It does a good business with small boutique hotels and some really quaint tavernas and reasonable shelter from the meltimi, although considerable swell makes its way into the port.
That evening a young French singlehander livaboard arrived in a rough old yacht and tied up next to us, he joined us for dinner and regaled us with his adventure of sailing around the Mediterranean. He was a fine young lad living off some savings he had saved whilst working as a sound engineer for the film industry in France, it tuned out he was a keen tenor banjoist and had learned to play Irish music from a couple of Breton musicians in the pubs of Marseille.
We set off the next morning for the only anchorage on Nissos Levithia, the sea had calmed and with moderate north wind we arrived at lunchtime taking a buoy belonging to the only family on this island who run a taverna and the lighthouse along with some farming, it is a very secure anchorage that gives excellent shelter in all winds, the bouys are well set and worth the seven euros that they charge if you don't eat in the taverna. It is a good place to break the voyage between Amorgos and Turkey and good for swimming in the crystal clear water. We saw some very suspicious activity going on as we arrived off the island, a big motor boat came up behind us from the west and slipped into a tiny cove with little or no shelter, a few minutes later another big motor boat came into the same cove from the east, neither had AIS on at the time which is unusual for boats of this size, I think it may have been a migrant smuggling operation between Turkey and Greece for those fortunate enough to be able to pay instead of getting into overloaded dinghy's and taking your life into the hands of ruthless people smugglers.
Our next port Kalymnos would be our last port in Greece, some 30 miles distant to the east, after breakfast we set sail in the usual northerly winds that blow most of the time down here, the sea was running at about one meter until we reached the shelter of the south coast of Kalymnos, and made our way into the big harbour Patmos the main port on this island. We tied up to the town quay with marineros to take lines, water, electricity and all. The port is surrounded by mountains and the shelter from the sea is good, but the meltimi wind gusts off the mountain with great force when it gets going, we were in bed asleep the first night, all was calm until four am when the meltimi got going, within minutes there was thirty five knots of wind screaching through the rigging from the port side, we had four boats tight up to us on that side and no boat on the other side, it was lucky we were well dug in as two of these boats were having their anchors drag and DeDanann was holding them secure, every skipper in port was on deck taking in cushions and securing their lines, it didn't stop blowing for two days sometimes reaching forty knots.
The port was filling fast as cruisers seeking shelter came in from the anchorages.
Kalymnos is a decent size town with lots of good shopping and good tavernas, the prefecture building is a fine old building which overlooks the port, it is basically the town hall, I had a need to have a document notarised and attended at the great hall to see the notary, now this is a huge hall with domes, decorative mosaics and a fine marble floor, just two desks for the notary and his secretary, I sitting awaiting my turn, which by the looks of it was going to be a couple of hours, as he was busy dealing with the business of the towns people, when in walks this tiny old lady, she just walks pass everyone and takes a seat in front of the notary, he drops what he is doing to stamp her document and as she heads off on her way, a young student who had been waiting about an hour jumps up to open and close the door behind her, great respect for the elderly here.
In Greece, I can tell you, that a document has absolutely no value unless it has at least three or four stamps on it, I was tipped off about this some years ago and ordered two rubber stamps that I regularly use with port police and customs, one with boat name and port of registry, the other stamping Captain and a space for me to sign, this keeps them all happy. The civil service here is so inflated with politicians creating jobs for their supporters that the smallest ports have often four officers on during the day, and two during the nights, 24/7, they don't even have a boat at their disposal or any means to carry out a rescue, they just push paper from one to another, the office is usually piled ceiling high with files and ledgers, no computers, it's no wonder their economy is on the ground.
This is our last port in Greece, we are about to cross over to Bodrum in the bay of Gekova, Turkey, one can see the culture changing in the Greek islands as you get close to Turkey, the ports have traditional gulets coming and going, you start to see the odd mosque among the usual Greek Orthodox church's, the menus in the tavernas are starting to change to accommodate the Turks, the winds are becoming more to the west, north west and not so fierce as the winds out among the islands, we have engaged an agent to deal with the formalities of clearing customs on our arrival in Turkey, this is the first time for both Linda and I to visit this country, I have to say, the Turkish cruisers that we have encountered here in the Aegean are very friendly, we will keep you informed of our progress over the summer.