Tag Archives: Mount Athos

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!!!!