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Surfing South (or, ‘I would Sail 5000 miles!’)

The Meltemi is coming

We timed our departure from the Northern Aegean to coincide with the Meltemi; a strong southerly wind that rushes from high pressure in the Balkans to low pressure over Crete.   The wind gathers pace and fury as it heads south and pummels most islands on its way past.  The wind isn’t a constant threat, it comes and goes, so in between there is virtually no wind.  It’s a frustrating because it limits your choices of sailing direction and possible sailing days.  On the plus side, it does mean that temperatures are a very pleasing 27 degrees, which is just about perfect.

So, with the Meltemi due we knew we would be whisked south at a great rate of knots in order to meet up with my brother Paddy, and his family, before the end of their holiday.  We were looking forward to some long days of sailing down wind and surfing along on the waves.

We left Thassos with an accompanying juvenile dolphin twisting and turning near the bow and made it to Myrini  on Limnos in good time.  Initially, we anchored in the bay but couldn’t find a spot we were happy with in strong winds and so spying a small space on the quay, we reversed in on the end.

The next day,  we awoke to a layer of fine sand over everything in the boat.  The wind had picked up and swept with it tonnes of black sand motes.  A boat sticky with salty air provided a large surface that these particles love to cling to, so very soon the boat, ropes, sprayhood and new bimini had a tinge of charcoal hue about them.  Hey ho!  No point in cleaning anything until the wind dies down in about four days.  Whilst gusts tossed chairs and tables about on the quay, we decided to hire a car and have a little exploration of the island.  It is a dry and dusty place in summer. Myrini was the prettiest place we saw with its imposing castle high above the town and the beautiful neo-classical buildings with their Juliette balconies, tall shuttered windows and tiled roofs.

We enjoyed wandering the vine covered alleyways of the town and sampling the delights of the restaurants away from the sea front.  We felt in with the locals when we played backgammon in a very popular ‘ouseria’.  Six euros for two ouzos, two carafes of cold water, a bucket of ice and a plate of meze snacks.

We spent a very moving afternoon visiting one of the Commonwealth War Graves Cemeteries on the island.  The island was the launch place for the ill-fated Gallipolli campaign in 1914 and thousands of lives were lost.  Here we met yet more friendly Australians, originally from Limnos, who come back every year to visit family.

After pre-dinner drinks on board Linea with fellow Cruising Association members Nigel and Lawrence on Cormorant we set sail early the next morning to Lesvos where we were due to meet Bryn and Jill.

After a five hour bus journey from Levkas to Athens, a flight from Athens to Lesvos and a two hour bus ride across the island to our western anchorage they were well in need of a beer or too as we caught up on our respective summer adventures.

Next morning, we set off to Khios.  We arrived in the late afternoon after a great downwind sail and parked stern to the new quay.  Yanis was there to meet us and we were delighted to see that there were showers and loos on the quay.  In the morning, we took a walk up to the village of Volissos where we found an old saddlemaker and joinery shop. The joiner was at home and switched his garden fountain on in our honour!  We had a peek into his workshop all twisted olive wood and wooden saddles for donkeys. The supermarket was small but superbly stocked and I was pleased to be able to buy some eco-friendly washing up liquid for the first time in Greece.

The owners agreed to give us a lift back to the port with all our shopping in an hours’ time so we continued our walk up into the village and found a lovely taverna for a late breakfast and a traditional wood fired bakery complete with sooty walls and doddery baker.

Once back at the boat we motored off to an anchorage at the south part of Khios and spent a calm night there in a deserted bay.

The wind had got up again the next day and we had a fair sail towards Ikaria.  Famous as the place where Ikarus flew off towards the sun.  Our pilot guide says that he believes Ikarus’ feathers were blown off not melted off, as the wind around Ikaria is renowned for its ferocity.  However, on the day we were there, there was no wind.

On arriving at Evdhilos port, we were informed by our lovely Greek neighbours that there was a traditional festival on in many of the mountain villages where there would be food and dancing to enjoy.  So we quickly organised a taxi and headed up to one of the villages at about 2200h.  The square was packed with people, tables and chairs.  The boys queued for food and Jill and I bagsied a table.  The food came wrapped in paper.  A huge amount of roasted goat, chips, Greek salad, tzatziki and bread, all to be washed down with locally produced red wine. Yum!

Soon the music livened up and people started to gather in the centre of the piazza to dance.  They linked hands and began to circle round demonstrating nimble foot work.  Irresistible!  We jumped up to join in.  Some of the dances went on for about 20 minutes.  We struck up a conversation with a lady on our table who told me she was 76 years old.  She was extremely fit and agile.  She lived in California, was married to a Brit and wanted to return to live in her native Ikaria.  She was on her annual sojourn to the island. I asked her about the secrets of the islanders longevity which we had heard so much about.  She said it was too complex a thing to explain in a five minute conversation.  She mentioned that it was to do with so many factors such as diet, exercise, mental well-being, family and social connections and so on.  Makes sense.

The following day we arose a little later than normal and hired a car to go off exploring.  We drove along the hairpin bends that skewer the rocky island slopes and wound our way towards the south coast and Kirikos.  After a quick stop at a pebbly beach and a dip, we headed back to watch the sun set.

Next day, the wind was perfect for the final leg of the journey south.  We surfed down huge waves and in big winds to arrive in Agia Annas on Naxos to a welcoming committee from Paddy, Sarah, Sam and Louis waving frantically from the quay.  How marvellous.

The evening was topped off with a visit to the open air cinema to see Zorba the Greek!

Next day, we chilled on the boat in the strengthening winds and then met up with my friend Jane Blanshard (an ex-colleague from Malsis) back at the open air cinema for a viewing of Mamma Mia!

We waved a fond farewell to Bryn and Jill and look forward to seeing them soon.   We were so pleased to have them, with their sailing experience, on board for the 300 miles surfing south and we celebrated reaching another milestone – our 5000th mile on Linea.

Reasons to be cheerful (in Greece)

Well, Greece IS the word.

Not only is the food fantastic, fresh and delicious;  the countryside and nature varied and beautiful but the Greek people are amazing!

Everyone we have met so far has been the epitome (Greek word, I believe!) of helpfulness and friendliness.

I am not intending any hyperbole (Greek word!) when I say that all of the people we have met have been a delight.

I can site at least three examples.

First new spreader in place.

First, was with the delightful and verbose Stavros of Manitsas Marine, who was arranging for the replacement of our mast spreaders.  We took advantage of his address and ordered some essential boat items from our marine suppliers in Germany – an order that would take a maximum of nine days.  We waited patiently but by the 27th July we were resigned to leaving it behind.  DHL could still not give a firm idea of when it would be delivered, even though it was apparently in Kavala some 20km away. We needed to depart as the winds were favourable and we had a long way to go.

We set off for Thassos Island about 20miles away after a very productive beach clean, up operation (200 litres of rubbish plus about 20 polystyrene boxes).   We arrived at Limenaria where we discovered a huge marina development was still underway.  We counted 14 trucks, diggers, steam rollers, etc., standing idle on the half-finished quay.  Anyway I digress.  In the morning we planned to leave early so Ian was up at 0530h to do his engine checks.  He discovered a bilge full of water and coolant.  Not good.

We called our friend Stavros at Manitsas Marine.  He gave us the number of a mechanic in Kavala.  He put us in touch with a mechanic on the island.  An hour later, Georgio arrived.  He contacted a friend who came to the boat on Saturday and spent four hours fixing new core plugs to the engine block.  He charged us 60 Euros.  All of this involved numerous calls to Theo the mechanic in Kavala who acted as translator.  What a star.

Second, Stavros was concerned because we asked him if he had any of the core plugs we needed. He didn’t have any in stock but said he would go into Kavala and buy some for us and not only that he would bring them to Thassos as he was coming that afternoon by boat with his family.  He also said that our parcel had arrived and he would bring that too – which he did at 2030h at night.  How incredibly kind!

Thirdly, we were keen to go to the Nestos gorge to do the river trip but car hire was very expensive in Kavala so we decided we would have to go by bus.  We found it difficult to suss out where the buses stopped and how we would get to the little village where the tour started.  We rang Helen at www.riverland.gr  and she offered to call the various bus companies to find out the score.  She rang us back in 20 minutes with all the details we needed to know.  Not only that, she agreed that they would drive down to the main road and pick us up at the bus stop and drop us back there after the trip.

Once again, above and beyond!!

Commonwealth War graves commission cemetery on Limnos. A very beautiful and moving place to spend the afternoon.
Windmills on Limnos

I met a lovely lady in Limnos who was down at the quay to drum up business for her laundry service.  (Vicky at FAME laundry 6936815902 2254024727 10 Euros for a 6KG load.)

She was handing out cards to boat owners and chatting.  Just as she was talking to some people about when to pick up their laundry she accidently dropped her car key, house keys and business keys into the sea!  Nightmare!  But she responded to this problem by saying, ‘If that is the bad thing that is supposed to happen to me today then I will accept it.  It is certainly not the worst that could happen!’

Such a positive and optimistic attitude.  I liked her immediately and quickly offered Ian’s services to dive down and retrieve the keys.  She said that wasn’t necessary as her brother is a diver and would come to find them and her husband was already on his way with spare keys!

So, plenty of reasons to be cheerful in Greece.

 

Best Kept Secret – The Northern Aegean

We sailed North on a close reach with favourable winds from Alonnisos in the Northern Sporades to the Sinthonia Peninsular in the middle of June.  From that moment on, pretty much, we were one of a mere handful of yachts sailing around this fabulous area.  Admittedly, there are not that many decent harbours with the same sorts of facilities or mooring space as the Ionian, the Sporades or Evia but there are lots of good anchorages depending on the wind direction and, if there is a town quay, it is nearly always free to park there.

Not only is the scenery stunning, the scent of the pine trees noticeable and pungent, the coast is quite unspoilt and development is fitting and limited.

Full of ‘Tsipouro me’!

We have anchored in virtually deserted bays. We  have moored on a rickety pontoons,  rubbed shoulders with fishing boats and, we have parked on a town quay between posh charter motor boats (with friendly skippers who plied me with the local tipple – ‘Tsipouro  me’) in a small place called ‘Nea Fokkaia’ – easy for you to say!

We found the paradise island of Dhiaporos off the east coast of Sinthonia Peninsular (rivaling anything we have seen in Thailand) and enjoyed the crystal clear waters.

The journey by car from Ormos Panayia to Kavala allowed us to see more of this beautiful part of Greece.  The road wound through stony mountains, along precipitous coastal routes and through lush rural farmland.  There were huge round bales of hay like giants’ draughts pieces; fields of nodding sunflowers, heads bowed like ashamed drunks; huge glimmering mirror lakes and gentle rolling hills reminiscent of the land around Ripon.

On the road home was a shop selling every imaginable size, colour and design of pot and ready-made shrines. 

 

The gods were benevolent the day we skirted the most holy of holy pieces of land in Greece – The Atki Peninsular.   A place where time is still reckoned by the Julian calendar (13 days behind the Roman  calendar) and the day is ruled by the Byzantine clock with hours of variable length.

It is an awe-inspiring view.

This rugged peninsular has for centuries existed as a world unto itself.  Divorced from the modern world, the holy community has a few roads or mod cons.  The medieval monasteries occupy spectacular sites on the rocky bluffs and cliffs-sides teetering over the rocks and sea below.

Think Potala Palace, Tibet; Bavarian castles; St Basil’s cathedral; onion-domed minarets; Colditz’ impenetrable walls; Tudor balconies and cool blue-green paint. 

At the tip of the peninsular is the spectacular Mount Athos that rises some 3000ft towards heaven.

Mount Athos

Once home to some 80000 monks, there are now only 3000 monks living on the peninsular.  However, even the monks must have realised the value of the tourist dollar, as building and restoration work was in evidence, as were roads, solar panels and phone aerials.

On the day we dropped Sam and Rory at the airport in Kavala, we visited a photographic exhibition.  The images featured the monks and scenes from their lives on the holy peninsular.  The culmination of 8 years work by Stratos Kalafatis.  He trailed around the vast peninsular by mule to visit hermits and far-flung communities.  The exhibition has been shown around the world and the quality of images is excellent.

South winds were due from midday on the 13th July.  We set off motoring across the bay to get round the Atki peninsular.  We had read that should a cigar-shaped cloud develop over Mount Athos then it would be prudent to be far to seaward. The winds fly down the sides of the mountain and make for very big seas and frightening sailing.   So, it was with a certain amount of relief that there was no cigar. Close! But no cigar!

Although we were motoring, we were rewarded with a sighting of beautiful dolphins.  Not just your common dolphin either.  These are their snub-nosed cousins, Grampus griseus, and although a couple did briefly come and play at the bow, they clearly had more important duties in mind and disappeared off to concentrate on fishing.

As the wind picked up we were able to put the genaker up and knocked off the remaining 40 miles in good time.  After a heavenly few weeks up here we realised that the gods are truly smiling on us.

 

Teenagers on board – Sam and Rory come to visit

Fresh from G.C.S.E. exams, our nephew, Sam Hill and his friend Rory were due to come and stay.  We hired a car and went on a shopping expedition to Lidl and filled the whole boot and back seat with supplies.  The next day we were in the observation lounge at Thessaloniki airport in time to see their plane land. 

We whisked them back to the boat and gave them the most important talk of the day…how to use the heads, or toilet!

Not quite as straightforward as it is on land.

Only pee and poo go down the loo!  NEVER put paper down the loo or you will be the one to fish it out!  Use the manual pump GENTLY but firmly to flush and rinse Think about your levers.  There are levers for ‘tank’, ’empty’ and ‘out’ to be used in combination with levers for ‘rinse’, ‘flush’ and ‘lock’.  Rinsing is done with sea water which you are pumping in to the toilet bowl.  In the harbour, use the loo on tank mode.  Out at sea, use the loo in out mode.  Use appropriate combinations of these modes according to your output!  Always ‘lock’ the loo after use or water with siphon in and flood the bathroom.

Enough information for one day!

Next day, after a thorough safety briefing, we set off south aiming for the bottom of the middle ‘finger’ – Sinthnia Peninsular.  We practised some man overboard manoeuvres under motor to get the boys used to handling the boat.  The first rescue was of a child’s beach ball (Frozen themed to the boys’ obvious delight!  They never did play with it!) There was even time for a spot of keel hauling.  Once the wind got up we were sailing along really nicely but, of course, the wind was coming from the direction we wanted to go but gave us a good opportunity for helming and tacking.

Soon, it was clear that we needed a plan B and so anchored in the gorgeous bay of Paliourion on the bottom of the west ‘finger’ – Kassandra Peninsular. We went through the anchoring procedure, and how to ‘put the boat to bed’.  Then it was chill time.

The boys enjoyed jumping in, diving and going ashore in the tender.

Paddling home. Ran our of petrol!

On day two, we had them scrubbing the algae build up off the hull.  On the second night here the boys cooked up a storm – their favourite carbonara.

From this anchorage, we made it round the middle finger to a bay called Kalamitsi.  We anchored here for a couple of nights.

Every day at sea we worked through the ‘syllabus’; the golden rule of ‘A place for everything and everything in its place’; knot tying; winch handling; rope stowing; engine checks; pilot guides; charts and course plotting; plus learning all the names of parts of the boat.  A lot to take in.  So, might need to go over the golden rule again in more depth!

We were very impressed that Rory already knew his knots and could even tie. monkey’s fist; that is a very elegant knot!

Keeping hydrated.

Gradually, we headed north towards the island of Diaporos which has lots of lovely anchorages.  En route to Diaporos we spotted these huge white ghostly clouds in the water.   At first we thought they were sting rays but they were shape changing so much that we realised that they were algae blooms drifting along in the currents.  The boys bravely jumped in and swam with them.

We arrived at Diaporos and negotiated the narrow entrance to our chosen anchorage. We stayed for a few days soaking up the sun and swimming.  The boys got into playing draughts, backgammon, whist, 21 and Uno.

Paddy Challenge 1 – Check!

It was extremely hot for those few days and that curtailed sea and sun activity until later in the day so there was a fair amount of sitting about trying to keep cool.  We did have an evening out at a nearby camp site and not only did they have a taverna they also had a washing machine.  So whilst I sneaked into the laundry, the boys diverted the attention of the staff in the taverna.  Looks like they had a great time!

Looking across Diaporos Island to Mount Athos beyond.

We managed to get through most of the syllabus but the wind was not favourable, as seems to be the case here – either there is too much or non at all! So there was a limited amount of sailing, but when it was good – the genaker came out to play. 

We cooked on board and ate out at some great tavernas and the boys tried octopus, fish, mussels, aubergine dip, taramosalata, tzatziki, fired zucchini balls, kebabs, cheese, whitebait, sardines and Greek salad with the biggest olives ever.

 

 

But, sadly, no humble pitta gyros!!!!

Mamma Mia

The next morning, we set about delivering laundry and provisioning up.  We left at about midday for Skopelos, the island where some of Mamma Mia was filmed.  We arrived in a large bay on the west coast but after trying to anchor unsuccessfully decided to go in a secluded inlet off to the south and took a long line ashore.  Soon it was beer o’clock.  What a lovely quiet spot – oh, apart from a noisy bunch of Romanians larking about and having fun!  How very rude!!

The wind was good from the south the following day so we had a fantastic run to the northern tip of the island and then tacked down the eastern flank.  We were in strong winds so couldn’t stop to take pictures of the headland with the church at the top of hundreds of steps where the wedding scene was filmed but the whole thing put us in the mood for watching the film as we listed to the score and sang along with all the tunes.

‘Do you think that’s it?’ Alice asked me casually, as we approached the headland from afar and were trying to pick it out from its backdrop through the binoculars.

‘I do, I do, I do!  I replied.  Which set us off – hooting hysterically.

Ah, little things…

We had a great dinner out and a leisurely start in the morning -this time aiming to close the circle and set of up the west coast again.  We parked up in a little harbour called Nea Klima.  It looked like a nice place, however, the constant slop from the waves rolling right in the mouth of the harbour would make for a noisy and uncomfortable night so we returned to the same inlet from the other night.  There was a bit more of a performance this time getting parked up but it was all good practice and I am now more confident about using the dinghy and tying up lines and bringing them back to the boat as Ian reverses in.  I dare say that we could even manage to do it with just the two of us.  But for now it was luxury to have Ian and Alice’s help and support.

On the Thursday morning, we set off back to Skiathos and arrived early enough to find a place on the town quay.  All too soon it was time to say goodbye to Alice and Ian.  They headed off to the airport after kindly helping us with laundry collection and shopping, including the purchase of a huge new gang plank from a Greek version of Merrit and Fryers.

Massive jet coming in to land on the shortest runway in Europe.

Ian checked the recently occupied cabin and found Daggett items.  So, we wandered round to the bottom of the airport runway, a mere kilometre from the quay as they walked down from the airport and we met in the middle.  Just in time to witness a plane come in to land literally metres from our heads.

Watch out for flying stones!

As if that wasn’t excitement enough, there, minutes later, coming straight at us down the runway was a plane preparing to leave.   After a neat pirouette it faced away from us into the oncoming wind.  We, along with about forty other onlookers were standing there taking selfies and holding up cameras to record the take off.  I wimped out and walked back a few meters to hide in a drive way whilst the jet engines roared to life and the full force of their power could be felt as a blast of hot air, sand, dust and small stones shot back over the people and pebble-dashed every one of them.

Back at the boat,  we met David and Sarah on Rozinante as they came in to a space beside us and we soon struck up conversation over a couple of beers.  We had a further three nights here enjoying the town, harbour and company.  We had yet more boat jobs to do.  The bowsprit that holds the genaker down had come adrift recently so we needed to try and find something substantial to hold it back in place.  Our kind neighbour David Beanie dug around in his useful bits and bobs box and came up with something that might just do the job – a huge bolt, complete with nuts.  Perfect.  From now on, in memory of Bob Monkhouse and the Golden Shot, between us (and maybe to his face) he will for ever be referred to as, ‘Beanie – the Bolt’!!