Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Pelagia’s Greek Odyssey. Part 3 Force 10 from the Northern Sporades back to Athens

The Northern Sporades islands have one of the oldest histories of human habitation in the Mediterranean dating back to 10000 years B C . They first became part of what is now known as Greece when the Romans under Mark Anthony in 42 B C granted the islands to Athens. In 1965 much of the property then here was destroyed in a major earthquake so little is left of earlier buildings. They are sparsely inhabited, only 5 of the 20 islands being inhabited and much of the outer part designated as a Marine National Park which is the one remaining habitat for the Mediterranean Monk Seal. The coastline consists of many bays often deserted and pine clad and a few small hamlets with little harbours. Sailing here is interesting especially if you consider the islands are called the “gates of the wind” because of the prevailing northerly winds blowing viciously through the gaps between the islands.
We left Skiathos seeking quiet bays so sailed to Skopolos Island and a beach on the south coast said to be popular by day but quiet at night. It looked perfect. However the beach bar livened up at 10 pm and heavy metal music wafted over us until the early hours.
A 10 mile sail the next day took us to the very protected bay of Peristeri on the largely uninhabited island of Peristera. The only boat in the bay, we anchored just off the small beach in perfect peace and although joined by two other yachts later it was a quiet night with only the bleating  of wild goats. Such a good place we stayed the next day as well and rode out a spectacular thunderstorm.
Intending to get some supplies on board we headed downwind towards Patitiri town on Alonnisos Island, but the anchorage was now buoyed off as a swimming area so we ended up anchored in Milia bay a little further north. This was a beautiful bay with a wonderful  sandy beach but the swell from the strong northerly wind rolled us all night. A short upwind sail the next morning brought us to the lovely little hamlet of Steni Vala where we berthed on the quay directly in front of a café supermarket, great for carrying the shopping. The local people were so wonderfully friendly and helpful and we enjoyed two nights here. The café owner showed us how to discourage the wasps that annoy on this island, she put as all amount of ground Greek coffee in a saucer and lit it. The smoke certainly kept the pesky things away so we bought some Greek coffee. We tried walking the coast path but it proved too hot and we returned to the bar to cool off. Lighter winds the next day helped us to sail the 12 miles up to the uninhabited island of Kira Panayia in the north of the island chain and anchored in the serene South Bay in turquoise water. The no fishing zone of the National Park seemed to be full of fishing boats but very few fish! We stayed two nights here enjoying the spectacular scenery and colours of the bay even though we had some concerns over the anchoring of nearby boats.
The strong northerly winds gave us a spectacular downwind sail in between Alonnisos Island and Peristeri and we sailed round to Skopolos town on the north side of Skopolos island. The approach to the harbour was very rough exposed to the north, but inside was quiet and we berthed stern to the quay.
From Skopolos we returned to Skiathos town ready to pick up Edward who joined us for two weeks. We had a couple of days before our other crew Corine arrived so we sailed to Panormous bay in beautiful conditions and anchored up for the night. The next day we gently sailed to Loutraki harbour with the intention of visiting the town up the hill, Glossa which was said to be interesting. After a short lunch ashore we saw a charter yacht had moored alongside us with six Germans on board. They laid their anchor over ours and when I told them about it they became abusive and told me mine was in the wrong position. One of their friends said it was the Schnapps talking which was a bit worrying. After they had moved their anchor in one of the worst displays of boat handling I have ever seen, ours was dragging as they had disturbed it and in view of the bad atmosphere we decided to go off back to Skiathos a day early. That turned out to be a good move because that night a thunderstorm set in and we were on the Quay in the town. That storm was very heavy but not too much wind with it, but the next morning, just after a flotilla had berthed 11 yachts on the quay we were hit by a hurricane! Force 10 winds hit suddenly. Visibility was reduced to zero. The stern hit the dock and it was all hands in the lashing rain to stuff more fenders in whilst motoring full throttle to keep her off the dock. Trying to tighten the anchor chain to pull us off failed as it was bar tight and we blew the fuse on the new winch in trying. All the boats on the dock motored for nearly two hours at full throttle in the blinding rain and wind, soaked through, trying to prevent more damage and praying for it to ease. The harbour was a turmoil of wind, rain, spray and muddy surface water cascading off the harbour roads. Boats that had run in for shelter were trying to hold their positions in the harbour in the tumultuous seas. Some of the boats anchors were pulling out but nothing could be done until it eased, we were all thankful that the quay was full of boats as it helped to keep each other in position. We seemed to survive except for some chips on the stern which are repairable. We prayed that another storm would not come! Later we learned that Skopolos harbour had been devastated by landslides and dozens of cars washed into the sea. I suppose we have to be thankful that we were not there instead. Corine’s flight in was cancelled and the next day at the first attempt the flight was sent back to Athens. It came in later at the second attempt.
As we said earlier the prevailing wind in Greece is northerly so why did we have a southerly as soon as we set off South? We tacked our way to Orei on a pleasant sunny day and saw some Dolphins. The next day southerly again but we managed a beam reach in the first part of the trip when we also saw a Monk seal. Once we rounded the end of Evia Island it was a force four from the south east so we tacked all the way to Loutra Adiropotamous where we berthed alongside the harbour wall as before. The next day a storm forecast kept us in harbour but the day after the northerly wind came back and we got a slow run downwind sail to Limni. This harbour is so close to the shore and so narrow if you do not turn hard to port on entry you are on the beach! A night there in this quaint little town was followed by  a long downwind sail back to Khalkis. The force four wind kept us going at a good speed for the 25 mile sail and Corine trailed the fishing lure even though we had never previously caught anything. What a surprise when she caught a good size Horse Mackerel. Later it was followed by two more so our tea was guaranteed for this night.
The bridge at Khalkis only opens between 10 pm and 4 am for traffic reasons but they cannot predict exactly when the fast currents will relent enough for a safe transit so you have to wait with the radio on. Apparently nobody has ever been able to predict the effect of this tidal phenomenon and even Aristotle is said to have hurled himself into the raging waters in frustration at not being able to work it out. Our call came at 10 pm luckily, and much to our relief as the northerly winds were setting up an uncomfortable swell on the mooring. Tying up on the other side of the bridge for the rest of the night was much more comfortable.
A long downwind sail the next day took us to Karavos where we had been before. A pod of dolphins joined us for a few minutes and played at the bow on the approach to the harbour. The town which had previously been buzzing with Greek tourists was now dead and very end of season. The taverna that I promised Edward and Corine would be nice was empty but we managed to get the owner to cook us what was a tasty meal as well as an amusing evening. We had to tie up alongside the harbour wall here and the now strong wind was pressing us on. So we had to spring off backwards into the wind and we set off on what turned out to be a very lively downwind beat of 20 miles in force 7 winds. The anchorage was sheltered at its upper end when we arrived but later and all night gusts from the mountains hit us first one way then the other, recording up to 41knots at times. An anchor watch had to be maintained all night. Anxious to get away the next day we sailed to the  harbour of Marmari where we hoped we could get some rest. We set off with the Genoa sail set partly reefed in  a force 6 downwind which rapidly rose to 7 and for the last half of the 20 miles it was force 8 to 10! The last 6 miles was around a headland and we thought it would give us some shelter but as we turned with the wind more on the beam the sea was a maelstrom. We were doing well over 7 knots of boat speed which hastened the trip but we  had up to 48 knots of wind and the seas were tumultuous with spume being carried in clouds over Pelagia. We were all glad to see a harbour and a space in front of a fishing boat where we could moor head to wind with a friendly fisherman there to take our lines. The only gale warning given on Greek radio was for a different area!

The next day was still very windy so we stayed on in this town and decided that the final leg would be direct to Lavrion to get Edward back for his flight. The wind did ease and the next day we set off on the final leg in a force 6. We had a fast and wild ride 27 miles to Lavrion with winds mainly force 6 gusting 7 and a big sea running all the way down the Evia channel. We finally arrived at Olympic Marina to end our 2015 cruise on an exciting note. Whoever said the Mediterranean Sea was always calm!
This year we have completed 1177 nautical miles and explored many areas of Greece from the Ionian to the Northern Aegean. The conditions have ranged from the benign to the utterly horrendous and it is the speed with which such conditions can change that caught a lot of people out. Our various crews all coped well, especially the last two who were not expecting to be so challenged but have learnt a lot. I hope you have enjoyed sharing our cruising experiences yet again through these logs.

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