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.
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.