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