2009 May -
After a hurried week of maintenance and preparation, Kathleen and I left our winter base in Preveza on 9 May in 'Kabardar'. The yacht had been in the tender care of Mr George and Mr Nico at Preveza Marine for 4 winters and it was time to move on. The overall passage plan, if our vague intentions can be graced with this technical term, was to go east and then north up to the second city of Greece -
As we have tended to use some Greek terms in this log as they somehow lie better with the local names, the following translations should help.
The 9th took us a short 10M to the anchorage at Levkas Town, being fortunate to be just in time for the 1400 opening of the floating bridge at the northern entrance to the Levkas Canal. It opens on the hour during daylight but there is nowhere really satisfactory to tie up to wait. The following day we had a good run down to the large anchorage of Limin Petala, covering 37M with a light but generally favourable wind. On again on 11 May, round the corner into the Gulf of Patras and up the short channel to Messalonghi, with very little wind and mostly under engine, covering 29M. We were surprised to find that the long planned marina at Messalonghi does seem to be moving towards completion. When finished this will be a an excellent winter hide-
Next stop on the 13th was another old friend, the anchorage of Anemokambi, another 22M of our delivery run ticked off. On the 14 May the plan had been to stop at Corinth before going E through the canal on the 15th, but as we reached the western entrance by 1500 we opted to carry on. We did not have to wait long for permission to enter and were told to follow a coastal tanker and ' go at full speed'. This instruction was puzzling as the tanker, pulled by a tug, went so slowly that it was not easy to keep steerage way at times. Clear of the canal we made for the anchorage at Korfos in the Kolpos Saronicos arriving late but having sailed 67M. We were by then a day ahead of our schedule and so we had a leisurely start on 15 May and pottered the 17M east to the island and town of Aegina and found a place on the town quay. We then had time to shop, do the laundry etc before Katie's arrival on Sunday 17 May. Aegina harbour and quays are probably always busy but we had several hours of free entertainment on the Saturday evening as all the weekend sailors from nearby Athens tried to find a place. It is amazing how determined some skippers were to fit big fat motorboats into spaces very obviously too small for them. Still, time was passing and desperate measures were needed because the tables of their favourite restaurants were filling up!
With Katie aboard we left Aegina on 18 May and sailed round the top of the island and then SE towards Cape Sounion. The wind was NE4/5 with a forecast of more, so with the wind up NNE 6 at times, we went into the sheltered bay of Ormos Anavissou and dropped the hook. We had sailed 34M. We were then stuck in this bay until 22 May with gale force NNE plus gusts, perhaps an early dose of the Meltemi. Fortunately the bay was sheltered and the sea was no problem. There was one other yacht (British) holed up in the bay waiting to set off to the Cyclades and we exchanged visits for drinks and a chat. Anchored in 7m we veered 30m of chain, later increased to 45m.On trying to raise the anchor we found that the chain had got under the edge of some flat rocks and it took some 30mins. of going this way and that to free it. Finally, on 22 May we completed the 9m round to the anchorage below Cape Sounion and the famous Temple of Poseidon. The wind was still NNE6, but forecast to ease, and we were keen to be moving again.
On 23 May we sailed 18M east to the island of Kea, the northernmost of the Cyclades, and tied up to the quay at Vourkari. Nearby was a taverna where we had a relatively expensive but unremarkable meal which was followed by having to get the bill corrected, downwards of course! Kea, which is not far from home for the Athens motor yacht set, did seem to be relatively expensive by Greek standards. From Kea we headed north 22m to Ormos Vassiliko on the uninhabited Nisos Megalo Petali. Katie's time with us was almost up so on 24 May we headed back 15M west to Porto Rafti, which is on the western side of Attica and almost a suburb of Athens, and is close to the new Athens airport.
To go north to the Northern Sporades, we could either go up the inside channel west of the big island of Evvoia or through the Stenon Kafireos and up the eastern side, which can be rough and windy if the Meltemi is blowing. This 6M wide strip of water between Nisos Evvoia and Nisos Andros gets a rather stern entry in the pilot book as it funnels the wind and sea from the NE. Kathleen was keen to go ‘out and round’ and as it was still rather early for the Meltemi to be fully established, we decided to take the outer route. So, on 27 May we left Porto Rafti and sailed 32M to Ormos Kastri which is on the south of Evvoia and part way into the Kafiras Strait. Up to about three quarter distance we fetched east in style with a NNE5, but as we reached the strait the wind was funnelled to be on the nose and up to F6. So we had a rough and windy ‘bash’ under engine for the last few miles. The next day we stayed put in our sheltered bay as the wind was stronger and forecast to be NE6/7 but with variables or even southerly for the 29th. We were away early on 29 May bound for the island of Skyros, the isolated south-
The Northern Sporades are a group of islands strung out roughly west to east from the Greek mainland about halfway up the east coast. The name means ‘scattered’ and they range from the developed package tour island of Skiathos in the west to uninhabited and protected wild islands in the east. Skyros is the odd one out being off to the south-
After a very pleasant few days at Linaria, on 2 June we continued north 32M to Ormos Prasso on the uninhabited Nisos Skanzoura, which is another outlier SE of the main group of the Northern Sporades. The wind was SE5/6 and we had an exhilarating ride under genoa only. The sea was up but of course was behind us. The anchorage was not ideal, being rather open SW, also I made a poor choice of anchoring spot, so that when the wind went SW at 0200 we had to re-
The following day we soon ticked off the 19M north to Nisos Pelagos, which is owned by one of the monasteries on Mount Athos, and whose only inhabitants are supposed to be one monk and a caretaker. The island, which is within a marine nature reserve, has two beautiful anchorages. We went first to Ormos Kira Panayia, which is on the S of the island, and anchored behind an islet, over white sand and with water so clear that we could see the anchor and chain below. We shared this perfect anchorage with only an unmanned fishing boat. From there we motored round 11M on 4 June to the island’s other perfect anchorage, Limin Planitis, which is like a small fiord with a narrow (80m wide) and shallow (6m deep) entrance. It is on the N coast and the entrance faces NE which means that entering when the Meltemi is blowing hard may be a little exciting and yachts can be trapped there for several days waiting for the wind to moderate
On 5 June we sailed and motored in light and variable winds to the neighbouring island of Alonnisos, first to Ormos Tzorti, and then on the 6th into the harbour of Patitiri where we found a place on the town quay, a total of 23M. Alonnisos is known for its clear and clean sea, and for good walking trails. We spent a day ambling along, or rather up and down, donkey paths and unmade roads. We were however too much into the heat of summer for serious walking in terrain that goes up and down by hundreds of metres. We did however get down to, a tiny ‘picture postcard’ beach complete with windmill and bee hives. On the quay at Patitiri there is a coin operated water tap. This did not seem to work so I asked the Port Police about it. They commented that it had not worked for a long time which had caused no end of problems for visiting boats. He suggested that we ask the skipper of a large trip boat if we could use their separate metered supply. He kindly agreed to our request and his hose was then used by several other yachts. An offer of a payment for the water was refused. To get water to our boat we had to use a series of hoses joined together and just as we had got the system working, a coach arrived to meet the ferry and drove over the hose smashing one set of connectors in the process.
From Alonnisos, on 8 June we sailed 11M to the harbour and main island town of Skopelos, which has whitewashed houses tumbling down the slope of a natural amphitheatre into the large harbour. This lovely island was the setting for the blockbuster film of the musical ‘Mamma Mia’. The islanders do not seem to try to cash in on their new fame, but postcards of the unlikely singers, Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan, etc, are on sale. We used the local bus service to see some of the island’s interior and to explore the hilltop village of Glossa, which is the image of a Greek island village with white painted houses on a steep slope. In Skopelos harbour we saw a pretty ketch rigged day-
At this stage we had not found a boatyard or marina where we could leave Kabardar whilst we were home for July/August or for the winter 2009/10. There is a yard at Volos so on 10 June we headed W and, with overnight stops anchored at Koukounaries on Skiathos and Amaliopolis in the Gulf of Volos, we arrived at the yard on 12 June having sailed 75 M, a fair part of which was with the kite up.
An inspection of the boatyard showed that it was relatively cheap, but used wood and oil drums to support boats and the showers and toilets for clients were very rough. Staying on board to do maintenance etc. would not have been much fun and a hotel room would have been essential! We then went onto the city quay as we needed a chart for the Halkidiki area. Volos is supposed to be the place from which Jason and the Argonauts set out on their quest. We caught up with a vessel named Argo later in our trip. The quay and visitors pontoon were covered in graffiti and the area seemed to be a meeting place for local teenagers. It was sad to see an attractive steel and timber bridge and sculpture on the quay badly defaced with graffiti. We had met this problem last year in Corinth Yacht Harbour and it can be quite concerning to have a group of youths close by and joshing until the small hours of the morning even though the vast majority of these young people would not be a problem, they just needed somewhere to meet their friends. So we did not stay the night there but went back S down the gulf to Ormos Vathoudi, another 13M. Nearby was a large Sunsail base serving the Northern Sporades. After a peaceful night, on 13 June we crossed the gulf, going W to the large and deserted Ormos Nies covering 19M. It was however the 13th and we suffered the only gear failure of the cruise. During our first shot at anchoring in this bay, the electric windlass failed. Something had broken inside as the motor was running but not winding chain. Hence for the next 2 weeks I was having to haul up the chain and anchor by hand! We sent a text to son Philip who contacted Lewmar as the windlass is still under warranty. The part needed was immediately sent to Phil who in turn posted it to the marina at Thessaloniki to await our arrival.
On 14 and 15 June we went back E to 56M to Skopelos town, with an overnight stop again at Koukounaries on the S of Skiathos. This sandy bay backed with pines is supposed to be one of the most attractive beaches in the Aegean but we reckon that this claim is now very debateable. The sand and pine trees are there all right but so are beach bars, water-
Our next focus was to complete the ‘northing’ up to Thessaloniki which was about 120M to the NNW. We decided to do this by going first back to Limin Planitis on the monks’ island of Pelagos so on 17 June we made the 26M crossing in freshening NE winds. We planned to spend a day at anchor there to go walking on the island but this turned to two as the wind was up to F6. The island is supposed to have only one monk and a caretaker living there, however, this seems doubtful in view of the extent of cultivation and goat husbandry that we saw. The goats, did not have bells on them which is unusual for Greece . Normally one hears them before seeing them. In this anchorage there was no mobile phone reception and VHF was also very poor because of the surrounding hills. We commented that getting help in an emergency could be problematic.
With the wind down to F4 and with a forecast of a veer to SSE we left Limin Planitis on 20 June and headed N to Porto Koufo which is at the S tip of Sinthonia , the middle finger of the Halkidiki Peninsula. We sailed almost all of the 39M. Koufo means deaf in Greek and this natural harbour is so called because, once inside, one cannot hear the sea outside.
We spent the following day going up the coast to Porto Carras, one of the small number of marinas in Greece, to see if it would be a suitable place to leave the boat. We found a marina with grand-
With a forecast of ESE F5/6, later WSW, on 22 June we headed NW round the end of Kassandra, the first of the Halkidiki fingers and into the Thermaikos Kolpos. The wind direction was about right to begin with but never more than F3 and by mid afternoon we were bashing into a F5 NW wind plus squalls and with an unpleasant chop. We went into the harbour of Nea Moudania having covered 48M. On 23 June we went on 27M to Nea Mikhanonia where there is a boatyard that was claimed to be able to haul yachts. We took one look from seaward and did not go ashore! The harbour there was full of inactive trawlers, perhaps it was the wrong time of year for their target catch. So we had to anchor just outside the harbour and, to keep clear of the entrance, have a bit of shelter and keep clear of some moorings, we were in less than 3m of water, which did not leave much margin for shelving in our swinging circle. We had been tracking up the E side of the Thermaikos Kolpos but with the misty bulk of Mount Olympus, the highest mountain in Greece, visible 30M to the W. We were to get a closer look at the home of the gods a bit later in our trip. On 24 June, after a delay for an early morning thunderstorm, we completed the last 14M to the Thessaloniki Marina at Aretsou. Over the telephone the marina staff had only offered a visitors berth for a few days but stood in front the desk we were able to arrange to stay until mid September. We were a little surprised to have to provide our own 25m span line, which the marina ‘sailor’ fastened to the mooring chain and a small pick up buoy. Local practice did not seem to use a pick up line to the quay. When returning to a berth the first job is to catch the buoy, which may drift well clear of the berth, and then get lined up to go into the berth.
Aretsou is a smart suburb of Thessaloniki and a totally different view of Greece from the islands. The marina had a large and well kept area of grass and shrubs and seemed to be very popular with local residents as a place for exercise. We saw joggers, power walkers, cyclists, people skipping, t’ai-
Suburban bus services ran past the marina and we used these to spend a couple of days exploring this large city (c. 2,000,000 inhabitants) which is a strange mixture of modern concrete and a few historic buildings, mostly churches and fortifications, that date back to the 4th century. Everyone seems to have left their mark there, Ancient Greeks, Macedonians, Romans, Byzantines, Crusaders and Turks. Once the city was home to 80,000 Jews, but very few of these were left by the end of the second world war. In the region there are towns and villages with names prefaced with ‘Nea’ (new). These date from the ethnic cleansing of 80 years ago when there were huge exchanges of Turkish and Greek speaking peoples between Anatolia and Macedonia. Before the wars between Greece and Turkey of 1913 and 1922, and these movements of people, only about one third of the population of Salonica, now called Thessaloniki, spoke Greek.
In Thessaloniki we did see the Argo, berthed quite close to us. No, it was not an early model trireme, but a tackily converted fishing boat complete with mock shields and oars and with a tiled roof to keep the sun or rain off the punters. We wondered if the skipper was called Jason!
We were expecting a friend from Beverley for a weeks sailing on 2 July and had all the usual boat cleaning, laundry, and maintenance jobs to do, including repairing the anchor windlass. In the Eastern Mediterranean, the anchor is used most days and sometimes twice, hence an electric windlass is an essential bit of kit. They are sometimes fitted to small RIBs and tiny fishing boats.
Alison arrived on schedule on 2 July so on 3rd we were off SW across the Thermaikos Kolpos 43M to the small town of Platamos. This is on the mainland coast at the foot of Mount Olympus, which at 2917m, is the highest mountain in Greece. It is also graced by a large castle on a nearby headland. The harbour was crowded so we anchored just outside, sheltered from the SE wind. However, by mid evening, clouds were piling up over the mountains and by 2200 a king size thunderstorm was under way. Fortunately this was to the N of us and it eventually passed round to the E, giving us no more than a few gusts and a bit of rain. We watched with interest the spectacular display of forked lightening with strikes down to the sea several times per minute. Boss man Zeus was certainly throwing his toys about, perhaps one of the nymphs, or Hera, had been giving him a hard time After an unexpectedly quiet night, in the morning we could see Olympus without a heavy cloud cover, although this was quickly restored as the day warmed up. During the days that we spent in the marina at Thessaloniki, there was thundery activity most days, but rarely down at sea level, the hills inland seemed to be mostly in the firing line.
From Platamos, on 4 July in light and variable winds we motored and sailed 38M SE and anchored on the S side of the long sand-
On 7 July we meandered back NW, with a lunchtime stop off a beautiful sandy beach for a swim, and on 21M to Nea Moudania. This previously rather basic harbour is being partly converted into a marina with pontoons with water and electricity boxes, all very posh for Greece. On the 8th we covered the remaining 42M back to Thessaloniki.
In total we had sailed 1042M and the trip had taken us from the familiar and rather flotilla friendly Ionian, through the Gulf of Corinth and its canal. We smiled at the Saturday evening mayhem in Aegina, rounded the famous cape Sounion and headed up the windy side of Evvoia to the Northern Sporades. These were a great cruising area with great sailing, attractive islands and villages and even some ‘wild’ places to anchor. Although there were charter boats and flotillas about these were in a minority. The Thermaikos Kolpos was hugely different with miles of sandy beaches, few natural harbours and relatively long distances between places suitable for a yacht to tie up or anchor for the night. It was also an area where we sailed sometimes all day without seeing another vessel or yacht. From the Sporades northwards the dreaded Meltemi is less pronounced and in the Thermaikos Kolpos, the winds are much more variable and with sea breezes in the afternoons.
Kabardar had rested in the marina at Aretsou near Thessaloniki for most of July and August and on 4 September we arrived for our second cruise of the season. Whilst at home we had secured a booking for a winter berth in the marina at Ayvalik in Turkey as from 1 October, and as this was only about 250M from Thessaloniki we had plenty of time to meander eastwards.
In our log for the fist cruise of 2009, there are somewhat flippant remarks about the inhabitants of Mount Olympus which must have caused some irritation because the first part of our second trip was marked by poor weather and an infestation of coral worm. On arrival back we could see that in only 8 weeks Kabardar had become well fouled up with trailing weeds, coral worm and a few barnacles. Over the previous 4 seasons, the Coppercoat antifouling had worked well but the conditions at Thessaloniki seemed to have defeated it. I was able to shift the crud around and just below the waterline from the dinghy but had to dive in the green soupy water to clear large shellfish from the propeller. While the boat was resting, the log impeller had been retracted into its housing and when I pulled it out to clean it before departure, a small fish, which must have been squatting inside the housing, flopped into the bilge!
For the first day and a half after our arrival, the weather was as ordered, warm and sunny but on the 6 Sept the wind went round to a gale from the NNE plus some rain. We had hoped to be off the following day but with the weather still very non-
In spite of the boat being slowed by the passengers underneath we were still able to cover 55M south to the S side of Akra Kassandra. This is a long sand spit that affords reasonable shelter on either side according to the wind direction. As we anchored in the gathering dark, it came on to rain again. We were initially puzzled as Kabardar did not lie head to wind or the slight swell. There was a surprisingly strong current running, probably caused by the strong winds over the previous few days. Fortunately we did not roll too badly overnight! On 9 Sept we covered the 26M SE to Porto Koufo on the end of the Sithonia peninsula. The wind was forecast to be NW5 but was always much less. However the sun made a brief reappearance. Anchored in the shelter of Porto Koufo I was the able to dive under the boat to hack off the worst of the coral worm with a flat scraper. Fortunately there were no ‘colonies’ on the keel!
The plan for the cruise had been to sail up the west side of the Singitikos Kolpos and then follow the eastern side down again close to the shore of the Akti (Mount Athos) peninsula. To stop the monks getting too excited all yachts with a woman on board are supposed to stay at least a mile offshore, but we hoped to sneak in a bit to get a view of some of the famous monasteries. After Athos we planned to keep north and visit the most northerly Greek islands, Thasos and Samothraki.
On 10 Sept we sailed and motored 30M up the Singitikos Kolpos in light and variable winds and with hazy sunshine. We anchored up in the very sheltered Ormos Kriftos anchorage on Nisos Dhiaporos, which is close to the head of the gulf. By early evening the sky was overcast and the forecast was for strong northwesterlies and rain. Also we noticed that the other yacht in the anchorage set a second anchor! However the night was peaceful and on 11 Sept we headed 9M across the head of the gulf to the tiny but sheltered and SW facing Ormos Ftelies on Nisos Ammouliani. The wind was up to NE5 and threatening rain which set in during the afternoon and kept going for the whole of the next 24 hours. The summer really seemed to be over and we noticed a beach bar being dismantled and the tables and chairs loaded onto a trailer. Only a couple of hardy beach fishermen remained.
In view of the poor weather and with no let up forecast, we decided to abandon the Athos sail past and head back to Ormos Sikias on the W side of the gulf because the wind was supposed to back to the NW. So on 12 Sept we rapidly sailed the 20M to Ormos Sikias in a strong NE wind, a rough sea and rain. We anchored in the NW corner of the bay and were well sheltered from the wind but the swell crept around the 2 reefs behind which we were hiding, and gave us a rolly night. We decided that we would scrap the plan to go north again and head SSE to Nisos Limnos to try to escape the poor weather affecting the northern Aegean. The following morning (13th) the Navtex forecast was for NW4/5 but later SE3/4. We grabbed the window and set out early expecting to ride the tail end of the northwesterlies and hoping that the sea would not be too rough. As soon as we cleared the entrance to the bay it was clear that the wind was already SE but very light, hence we motored all of the 54M to Mirina on Nisos Limnos. The sea was rather lumpy but we were cheered because by 1200 the sky had cleared and we were back in normal Aegean weather. We could however see all the cloud still hanging about to the N of us.
After a couple of days on the quay at Mirina, with a free water supply and no harbour dues!, on 16 Sept we made a short hop of 12M round to the S of the island to Ormos Kondia. A strange place for a Greek island with sandy margins and salt marsh behind. The wind was back into the N but predictably as we rounded the SW corner of the island the wind curved round to come from the E, so we had to tack. But, the sun was still shining!
With the forecast still for N winds, on 17 Sept we headed 23M S to the isolated small island of Agios Evstratios. This has only one village/fishing harbour and only about 300 inhabitants. It is a very sleepy place and the young Port Police officer, posted there from Pireus!, described his posting as “like death”. Most of the houses in the village are flat roofed concrete boxes, built after the old houses were mostly destroyed in a big earthquake in 1968.
After a day of walking on the island we left early on 19 Sept to head E to Nisos Lesbos. The wind was NE and our course was 116° so after clearing the island we had a rough but rapid close reach, averaging 6.4kts for the 54M to Sigri at the western end of Lesbos. This was probably the best day’s sailing in the whole of our 2009 season. On our way into the anchorage at Sigri we noticed a yacht wrecked on a reef. It was so high and dry we wondered at the wind/sea conditions that must have driven it up there.
For the 20/21 Sept we had to stay put because the Meltemi was blowing NE6 through the anchorage and likely much more over the open sea. By 22 Sept the wind had abated a little and we sailed 27M round the S of the island to Ormos Kallonis. This is one of the 2 very large bays that cut about half way into the island. After going to one anchorage which was clearly not going to be tenable in the N5/6 wind, we anchored off the tiny community of Apothikai, originally a fishing hamlet but now more a collection of holiday villas. However by the third week of September it was like a ghost village and the taverna was all shut up for the winter.
On 23 Sept we went on E to the town and harbour of Ploumari. We sailed almost all of the 20M in spite of a monumental wind shift from NW to S around the half way mark. This shift was very sudden and the calm patch only lasted about 15 mins. This harbour is supposed to have some visitors’ berths, complete with water and electricity, however it was Greece and all of these places were taken by local fishing boats. So we had to tie to the main quay which was rather exposed to the SE swell that was rolling in. We had a rather disturbed night with the boat rolling and snatching heavily at its lines. The following 2 nights were better but still not entirely comfortable. Still we found Ploumari to be a delightful town and we enjoyed another walk into the hills behind.
From Ploumari, on 26 Sept we sailed 15M to an anchorage at Skala Loutra just inside Ormos Yeras, the other huge bay on the S of the island, and on 27th had a slow 14M ‘bash’ under engine into a N5 and a head sea up to Mitilini, the main town on the island. This was to be our last port in Greece before crossing over to Turkey. On arriving at the entry to the inner harbour we were hailed by the Port Police, (Coastguards to us), quizzed about where we had come from and told where to berth on the town Quay. Perhaps this unusual pro-
On the first of October we jumped through all the bureaucratic hoops and motored the 19M northeast to Ayvalik where we had a reservation for a winter berth. Of course we then had to deal with a different set of forms and rules, although the marina staff did most of this for us. The marina is sheltered by a large breakwater and is located on a shallow salt ‘lake’ almost enclosed by several islands. Fortunately, before we left, the wind got up to near gale force from the NE and then on the following day from the W without causing any significant surging so we could be confident leaving Kabardar in the water for the winter. On arrival we were intrigued by the number of American flagged yachts in the marina, pretty soon we found out that the Stars and Stripes is just a ‘flag of convenience’ for some Turkish yachtsmen. A means of avoiding taxes!
Our second cruise of the season had lasted just under a month and taken us a total of 378M making a total of 1420M for the season. Having endured the displeasure of the gods early on in the trip, they got tired of sending us dirty weather and the second half was what we had hoped for. This period was however marked by a large number of depressions tracking across the south and central Balkans. By mid September the peak season is well past and harbours and anchorages are delightfully un-