Saturday, 29 July 2017

Cycladic Dream

Hey. Long time no blog.



The strangest part of the trip is that I’m still craving my old life’s regular Pret breakfast: chocolate croissant + white filter coffee. Not just for the mind clarifying caffeine and sugar boost, but also for the efficiency with which it’s served. The efficiency one craves in the Greek Mediterranean.


The first few weeks of the trip seemed to last forever - the next month has flown by. We are at the end of our route around the Cyclades, the group of Greek islands in the middle of the Aegean sea, and the navigation saw two weeks of visits from friends and family which also kept us busy and keen to keep moving.

We have also had comparatively few maintenance and engineering issues relative to the first three weeks - which suggests our amateurism was at least in part responsible for earlier problems. As a result we have sadly spent less time sampling the regional chandlery offerings, but if you want to know anything about Cycladic ice cream shops let us know. Emily only accepts coffee flavour so we tend to visit at least three in each town before finding the one she wants. I’m easy – I just get the most artificial looking one because, as we all know, artificial flavours taste the best. [thumbs-up emoji]


Slow walkers haven’t stopped annoying me yet.


The winds in Greece tend to blow from the North. When they blow really hard they call it the Meltemi. This is important, because when the Meltemi comes, you aren’t going anywhere. And you want to make sure you’re held up in place with decent protection because the Meltemi winds can last from two days up to two weeks. In general though, the winds build through the morning, give a happy sailor’s blow in the afternoon and quieten off in the evening to provide a good night’s sleep.

Consistent northerlies also help with passage planning. People tend to work from east to west (or west to east) whilst slowly dropping down south. This provides a pleasant sailing angle for most of the trip and also ensures you have more options of islands and safe refuge when you need them. So when we left the Saronic and the wind was blowing a cool North West we decided to climb North East and obtain a good ‘height’ to explore the Cyclades with ease.

The first day we saw a new pod of dolphins to add to our tally, although they weren’t much interested in playing, as we motor sailed much of the 42 miles up to Korrisia on Kea Island. The town quay was closing the next morning, so we re-provisioned that evening and started early the next day to climb upwards again to Batsi on Andros Island, which took a few progressive tacks against the Force 5 as the wind slowly veered (rotated clockwise) through the day. The gruelling sail found the weakness in our rigging, with a broken batten car (which holds the main sail to the mast) ripping through the front of the sail. This rendered the main sail obsolete and we didn’t have the spare materials or tools to fix the eyelets that hold the car to the sail. So we had to find a sail repairer in the vicinity to which we could get to using only the head sail. Dropping south to Siros (the old capital of the Cyclades) with the wind behind us was the only viable option, even though it would give away most of the ‘height’ we had managed to build over the last two days. We decided to head off the next morning due a heavy bought of weather forecast to begin that evening and last most of the week. The forecast was wrong. The weather came in late morning and we spent the day frantically trying to outrun the lightning storm coming from the North using only the headsail. It got close, but we just about managed to tuck up into the large town of Ermoupolis on Siros island where the sail repairer lived, before the storm came overhead. Boom town.


“ahhh... uuhhh, unfortunately he cannot do it. He does not have to tools to refix to this part of the sail.”

Of course he doesn’t.

But we spent a couple of days in the large pleasant market town anyway, as the winds ripped through the harbour, and we had a few odd jobs to do besides. The gyros was great, the ice cream was better and chandleries served a purpose too.

The harbour master informed us that Paroikia on Paros island was the place to get heavy sail repairs done. Fortunately it was south, so we could sail under head sail alone. Unfortunately it was South, so we were now down to the middle Cyclades already. But the weather had cleared and it was a relaxing, albeit slow, sail down into Paros. As we entered the tiny harbour we passed a yacht on its way out. Which was lucky, because the harbour had filled up hours before, with boats now anchoring off the outside mole (harbour wall). We expected to be there for a few days and also needed to transport sails around. The Greek God’s have a sense of humour, but they can also take pity on a couple of souls in nead.


Apparently you are able to make sail repairs? Is it something you can fix?
He looks disappointingly at the rip. Makes a phone call. Ends the phone call.
Yes, I think we can fix this.
Sigh of relief.
Great. How long do you think it will take?
His look turns to confusion.
Like, when do you think you could do it by?
Uhhhmm, half an hour?
I challenge anyone to get a sail repaired in the UK within an hour of arriving in a harbour. Pret has some work to do.


By this time we also had a small repair to do to the head sail - which we could manage ourselves. We also happened to moor up next to an identical boat to Hodja, realising we had a few corrections to make to our rigging! By the end of the day we had the vessel in clean health and celebrated with a Gyros and beer for five euros.

Culture vulture. Bryzantine church yah?


We spent the next couple of days at some acclaimed anchorages, peaceful and secluded. This part of the Cyclades hadn’t been renowned for its beaches but we explored some beautiful bays, hidden away between rocky outcrops and low lying islands, totally deserted of civilisation both of the land and sea variety. The dolphins in the area are pretty friendly too.

A few new friends we made along the way. Just chillin' off the bow, you know.

Eventually we discovered a cooked battery (think burnt rubber and rotten eggs smell). So the next stop saw us held up in Naxos marina for a few days while we waited for a Sunday and a ‘worker’s holiday’ Monday in order to allow an electrician to look at our engine’s battery and starter circuit. We also replaced our engine blower and anchor markings which had both warn out. These circumstances tend to start out as frustrating but in the end force us to slow down, ‘stand and stare’, explore and discover the little things that differentiate the little corners of Greece.

Naxos marina, teaching us to slow down.

Even more culture. Do your feet hurt yet?

In Naxos we picked up on a pair of ‘ferry watchers’ sat on the harbour wall frantically capturing departing and arriving ferries. “So weird” - according to Emily - but it kind of makes sense if you think about it...


An old and rugged Greek farmer, mounted on the back of his little black donkey and accompanied by his dogs. He ushers a heard of goats along dry stone walls, through a rickety old gate and across a coastal stretch of brown barren land as the sun sets behind the hill. Returning to a single roomed white washed goatherds cottage, a hammock swings under the veranda as the dusk turns to night. How long until this quaint humbling scene is sold out to another private villa. Most of us would – that’s the tragedy.


Spells of temperamental weather lasted for a few weeks but the summer hit home as we hopped between secluded anchorages from Naxos island up to the West coast of Serifos Island. Here we tucked up into an idyllic anchorage surrounded by the remnants of an old Iron ore mine that closed down just after the first world war. In true Greek style there was no ‘wind down’ process and much of the old equipment still lays rusting away on the top of the small cliffs, including the rickety bridge, railway and even railway carts that would have once rolled the iron ore from the mine to the waiting cargo ships. We hid here for three days while the Meltemi screamed down past the entrance to the bay before we could circle back round to the ferry port of Livadhion on the south coast. It very quickly became very hot. Then it became too hot. Greek summer is here.


We picked up the old man and his partner for a ten day sailing lesson (!) on the way to Mykonos island, one of two islands in the Cyclades with an international airport (the other being Santorini). Fortunately the weather was good to us and Hodja also resisted throwing her toys out of the pram for a solid fortnight, allowing us to explore with relative ease.
Our first stop took us North to Kithnos Island, making the most of a windless morning, anchoring off ‘sand bar bay’; a large and popular anchorage either side of a raised sand bar that connects a small island/rock to the main island. It offered clear swimming water, an up-market taverna with a solid view for a short sun-downer and even a natural hot spring! Which we took the tender round to sit in for less than 30 seconds – did I mention summer was here?

The next day we tacked up against the decent wind to the top of the island before rounding the headland and preparing for an easy and enjoyable run back down the eastern side. The wind suddenly dropped for no apparent reason and after a morning of beating up we were now motoring down wind. We later found out that the Cyclades is renowned for its tricky wind patterns as the weather is channelled through the mountainous islands. Although the area can be blissful and idyllic, things can change very quickly both with time but also as you turn the corner into a new system.

Just another Cycladic town... lots to explore.
We dropped down into the small town harbour of Loutra, taking residence in one of the last remaining spaces before lunch. The town was quaint but the real business happened in the chora (an islands capital town traditionally located on the hill to evade pirates and benefit from more manageable temperatures) so we headed up after dark to enjoy traditional Greek souvlaki et al. The next morning we acquired some fresh fish from the returning fishermen before sailing East on an easy beam reach to Finikas on the South West side of the island of Siros where we anchored for the first night and moored up on the second. The weather had its final moment of madness with a day of rain and cool weather. We should have made the most of it.

Yes I made some bread along the way. Yes it looks better than it tasted.
The following day we rounded the island in excellent wind, using every point of sail and tacking up the East side in a spritely sea. We cruised into the well protected harbour for the second time, staying a couple of days to explore the large town and make use of local provisions and hardware shops. The next port of call was Tinos with its accompanying Chora and a final run down into Mykonos yacht marina to see the most miserable marina master in Greece. We dropped off Dad and Sheila to catch a flight the following day after exploring the comparatively busy town.

Mykonos, like most Greek fishing towns we have visited, boasts beautiful architecture and interesting winding lanes of small shops and cafes hugging a little port of clear calm waters. It seems unfortunate that this one has suffered from its honey-pot status, bringing mainstream restaurants, crowds of thousands disembarking cruise ships and expensive beer! Saddest of all though is its sparse and depleted harbour where it appears any boat smaller than 50m, including the colourful local fishing vessels, have been banished and hundreds of metres of local town quay space lies empty - a space that in most other Greek towns would accommodate the miles of fishing nets, local fisherman chatter and accompanying hustle and bustle. Maybe the fisherman can no longer afford the beer...


Back at the marina it was turnaround day for us: washing, cleaning, some fixing and more cleaning! The next day Nikki and Dipo landed for the week and after an evening’s exploration the next day we set sail on a long run down to the small island of Dhenousa which offered us a convenient stop-off in a small overnight anchorage spot before continuing down to the long flat island of Amorgos. We were making use of favourable winds and weather, with the island known for its unpalatability when the winds pick up! We waited for the strong afternoon heat to subside before venturing over to the south side of the island by land and scaling the mountainside to reach the large 11th century working monastery of Panagia Hozoviotissa, forged to the mountain rock 300m above the sea. The climb, sweeping sea views and walk back across to the Chora offered a welcome change to our usual means of exploration. With free shots of Rakki upon arrival, it was clear the Greek Monks knew how to throw a party. Remain respectful(!)

Shots Shots Shots
The swallows of Amorgos are a persevering kind. I spent the evening clearing out a half made nest and blocking up the front of our sail bag so as to save a feathered couple more work than necessary when the inevitable happened upon setting sail the following day. But in the morning we woke to find a second half built nest on the other side of our sail, this time harbouring an egg. From memory swallows lay more than one, so I didn’t feel so bad upon raising the sail that morning. We tried to incubate the egg next to the warm fridge compressor, but after two weeks accepted failure.

I couldn't be bothered to rotate the photo - you get the idea.
On to Koufonisia, our first of three stops in the ‘small Cyclades’, the group of small islands running east to west just above the bottom of the wider Cyclades. These small islands are generally low lying undiscovered jems with fewer tourists and sightseers than the bigger names that make up their surround. They’re barren and brown but, as I understand it, particularly trendy... who knew! We anchored for the most part in and around the little rugged bays and inlets. The towns and choras that we visited offered a noticeably more authentic Greece. Although we did meet some American trip-goers there...

Trendy joints = craft beers. LADS!

The final stop off for Nikki and Dipo was the island of Ios. The sail was frustrating for more reasons that one: after taking a long tack North on a North Westerly with hope of dropping down around the island’s northern tip the wind died, and we had to motor as far as we would have done had we just motored anyway! The second problem? Reeling in your fishing line with the honest intentions of avoiding a pod of dolphins splashing off the starboard bow only to find out you’re crossing a school of Tuna!

The town quay if Ios was surprisingly quiet but we were firmly under the moon to learn of the island’s status as the Irish equivalent of Magalouf. An unsavoury surprise but we rolled with it...

Rolling with it.
We were left on our own once again with a couple of stops to go before our long night’s passage across to the Peloponese. We hopped over to Folegandros with its impressive protection from the strong winds that provided us an intense sailing speed of 7-8  knots despite two reefs and half a genoa. We left early the next day for a journey through the old pirate hangout of Stenon Milou-Kimolou (a channel surrounded by three islands (Milos, Kimolos & Poliagos) to end up at the enormous natural harbour within Milos Island. It was clear to see why the pirates of yore favoured the area; at a crossroads between the east and the west the cosmopolitan chora of Zefyria offered ample ‘trade agreements’, secure shelter with its innumerable coves and three escape routes between the islands meant they could never be cornered. The wind doesn’t hell blow in all – plenty of propulsion!

Just another bay. Just another anchorage.
It was here that our tour de Cyclades ended, in the quaint port town of Adhamas at the north end of the natural harbour. It was fortunate that the town did not disappoint - the night we arrived the Meltemi began to blow, stranding us for seven days as we waited for a gap in the weather to venture the overnight passage across to the Peloponese.


There is never a good time to discuss fishing in the Med. Historically a notoriously spars sea according to the Romans. It’s comparatively small and cut-off nature - relative to the surrounding settlements that lived from it through the ages - few people seem to have a lot of ‘luck’. It has also been hit by human factors in more recent history with dynamite fishing, pollution and EU legislation that has pushed local fisherman on to lines rather than nets but with no one checking the number of hooks per line! Local fishing boats tend to show up with small versions of species and many a sailor will tell you of their punitive reaping compared to the number of hours they’ve had a line in trail. On the other hand you also meet the few skippers with ten tuna tails hanging from their rigging talking of how easy it is. We finally got some decent local advice whilst in the small Cyclades: a sardine lure with a scoop at the front, 50kg line, 5 knots, sunset or sunrise. Low and behold, the day we ticked every box at the start of our night sail from Milos a 30lbs tuna was ours for the eating. Easy!

This is not an illusion!


Our first night sail begins...

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