Friday, 26 August 2016

Pelagia's final log of 2016. 50 shades of blue.

Once back in the Ionian Sea we had four weeks of gentle cruising. Brian and Valerie joined us for a week during which we sailed each day out of Spartachori. Being July it was getting very busy with charterers and getting spaces became increasingly difficult. We were to learn later that this was nothing compared to the crowds in August when the Italian holidays started.
We have reached an impasse about our time left in this old enclosed sea. So many memories are wonderful in sailing these turquoise seas with azure blue skies and the seascape will always be etched indelibly into our psyche. These once distant dreams suddenly become a reality and it was good. After leaving Athens with Pelagia in her 14 th season having voyaged over 30,000 miles she was soon in her stride eating up the miles slicing to windward around these Greek waters. 
We have enjoyed mooring up in front of tavernas and eating on shore but most of all we have enjoyed eating late in our cockpit when the fierce sun has set on calm balmy evenings under velvety black star studded skies. Many nights we have tried to trace the distant stars and planets in the canopy above us. Such dark skies are a joy to behold on this planet of glitzy bright lights in our modern world.
Pelagia this season has zigzagged through the Saronic gulf, the Kithera sea and back into the Ionian giving us a wealth of enduring adventures. She has yet again poked her bows into umpteen anchorages and harbours giving us a small snapshot of Grecian life. Greece is not a gourmet destination, it's food is simple and unsophisticated. However, if you find, as we have, a good taverna such as Spilia, the food is as good as anyone would want. Spilia is an example of good honest fresh simply cooked and appetising food with an exceptional ambience. The food is still cooked on an open fire and tastes divine. Our experience of wine has been from excellent to terrible, the red wine thin and undrinkable Sailing in 50 shades of Grecian blue in shorts and T shirts is a great experience. In the depths the sea is deep blue but on the edges of the islands the shallow area is a fringe of azure wrapping the rocky shore reminiscent of the Caribbean. All around dancing sunbeams glint on the water like a million diamonds and the swooping shearwaters with outstretched wings appear to be trying to capture them. Sunsets are stunning as the huge red ball dips below the waves staining the sky and sea with a rich rosy glow. Twelve hours later it will rise again heralding another cloudless drippingly hot day. Sunrise and sunset are much appreciated for it is the coolest part of the day and we raise a glass with a sundowner. 
Calm mornings are amazing and we often seem anchored on a huge mirror where everything is perfectly reflected and the faint tinkling of goat bells can be heard on the steep mountain slopes. All around, hanging in the morning air are the smells of mountain herbs growing wild and the sound of cicadas chirping away endlessly. These are the things you think of as quintessentially Greek. One day we heard a cicada whilst setting off for our sail and realised one had hitched a ride on our sail. We tried to get him to fly off and he eventually left us hopefully still flying and not trying to swim! Tragically Greece is becoming inundated with yachts coming from Turkey following draconian escalating costs for yachts there plus the political uncertainties of that country. Yacht charter companies have increased in Greece with people hoping to cash in on a growing industry but to the point where prices are being forced down and the good companies cannot compete. Meanwhile the pressure on berths and anchorages is huge. When you find a berth which you have to do early in the day you end up stuffed cheek by jowl with some unpleasant charterers behaving in a manner befitting of them with no consideration of the health or enjoyment of those alongside. One instance was the yacht with an overflowing toilet holding tank which gave rise to an incredible smell in the heat of the day. Although we could see the overflow down the hull he refused to admit a problem. Swimming in the normally crystal clear waters was no longer attractive to us. We ate out at the taverna that night and when we returned to our yacht the atrocious smell was accompanied by the familiar sound of toilet pumping. As we walked down our side decks we could see into the toilet compartment on their boat only to observe a full bowl of sludge actively being pumped into the sea but with difficulty because it was blocked. We remonstrated with her but she still denied it. A hot smelly night was spent on board and without a word spoken they slipped away early in the morning taking their embarrassment with them. Miriads of giant stinky super cruisers and small hire cruisers race past the anchorages raising a wash that would do any storm justice and makes eating and sleeping quite difficult. Yachts are getting bigger and you get two inexperienced people on huge yachts with the enormous wide sterns on them these days when the true sailors are on their modest smaller models. We had a German man on a 46 foot Bavaria charter boat, the model I call the big arsed Bavaria which is 20 feet wide at the stern. He was alone with his 8 year old son! He tied up the side of us on a quay thus overhanging our mere 36 feet by a long way. He then proceeded to tie his dinghy and surf board alongside such that we could not get down our stern ladder to swim. He grudgingly moved it when I asked. Later in the day he started his engine, the exhaust of which was near our stern, and went ashore to a cocktail bar. The light breeze from the stern wafted the fumes into our cockpit and open hatches until we were dying of carbon monoxide poisoning in the heat of the late afternoon. In the end I went on board and stopped it! It was never mentioned upon his return, but his feelings may have had something to do with the fact that that his child's chocolate ice cream was splattered across my deck the next morning. As well as the growth of larger wide stern yachts, there has been an escalation in the number of catamarans. These are three times the width of a normal yacht and just fill the quays and harbours. They rarely seem to sail but barge around intimidating smaller vessels with their sheer bulk. In our last weeks we tried to find bays that were quiet to anchor but frequently had to move late in the evening because charter flotillas had filled the bay and anchored dangerously in the often turbulent winds you get as the sun goes down. We had to remonstrate with the flotilla leaders more than once to get their anchors properly set and spaced. Many nights were broken by the sounds of anchor chains from yachts that had dragged trying to find new positions in the pitch dark. 

We did find a haven of peace in one of the Meganissi bays where we anchored and tied to a rock and having found our heaven we stayed there for four days. However even that was tainted when a 100 foot long stinky motor yacht prowled around looking to anchor close to us. He eventually tied to a tree some way from us and his equally massive catamaran friend joined him tied to the same tree. Where does the seamanship come in? Inevitably the catamaran dragged as the evening breeze set in and in the dark he had to reposition himself whilst we all prayed not to have our anchors disturbed. August in Greece is to be avoided at all costs. Whilst adding to this note the small German yacht next to us decided to leave as the wind was rising and in so doing he dragged our anchor up. We had to very quickly put engine on, lines off the shore and exit the bay ourselves even though unprepared. So much for our little heaven!
We decided to spend our last few days in the almost landlocked bay of Amvrakikos hoping to avoid the crowds, but all this has just confirmed that our Mediterranean experience will end and we will return to the U K over the next two years. These once beautiful waters and idyllic settings are being stretched to the limits by those with no concern for the environment and with too much money to bully those around them. The poor Greeks have to accept it to earn a decent living but can see what is happening to their World with regret. We did find an empty anchorage in Amvrakikos gulf where we saw turtles and dolphins to end our sailing trip this year.
We leave Pelagia in Greece for another winter having completed 915 miles this season and next year she will begin her long voyage home to the UK.

Friday, 19 August 2016

From the Peloponnese islands to the Ionian part II

After a few days restocking the boat and some domestic chores it was time to leave Kalamata for the trip around the last peninsular of the Peloponnese island and back up the Ionian Sea. The first leg was a gentle run back down to the lovely town of Koroni.
Anchored off we swam to cool down on the hottest day we had yet experienced at 39. The next day it was south around the point and then north west up between the small islands off the end of the peninsular. Winds varied all over the place but eventually settled in the prevailing north westerly before we arrived at the beautifully sheltered bay of Methoni to anchor just off the sandy beach along with many other yachts making the transit either west or east. This town is dominated by an old Venetian fort and a beautiful tower on the rocky promontory.
We were up early the next morning to leave at first light when the prevailing wind was lighter because now we had to punch into it for the next two days and we had lost the shelter of the island and got the swell running all the way down the Ionian Sea from Italy. Fortunately the wind was light all day and after 37 miles we put into the quiet harbour of Kiparissia and tied alongside.
The countryside along the coast here was delightful with much cultivation of citrus, grapes, olives and salad crops in the verdant low slopes of the mountains but backed by dramatic high peaks. As soon as we had tied up alongside in the harbour some Loggerhead turtles showed themselves swimming in the clear harbour water. The town was pleasant and quiet but van loads of immigrants were sleeping in the shade of the trees and the children begging. A lady in the local shop shook our hands when she knew we were English for having the courage to vote for Brexit. She said Greece wanted to do the same but the politicians did not have the courage. She said Britain will do well outside the EU.
Another long leg the next day took us north to Katakolon. After an early motoring start the wind came up and we tacked north until the shallow sandy shore of the bay near Katakolon came close and the onshore wind was causing a confused sea in the shallow water so we motored into the bay to anchor. We had logged another 31 miles. The countryside here is so different as it is all low lying land and sandy shores. Katakolon is a strange place with a large harbour capable of taking cruise ships but looks as if it rarely does. We later found out that there were several cruise ships using it to take people to Olympia. The town is small, built in 1875 as a harbour to export Corinthian currants mainly to Britain but now seems sadly forgotten.
The ancient remains of Olympia are near here and we took a bus to see the site where the Olympic games started in the year 776 BC. It was Sunday and the bus stop looked deserted. Luckily a bus came along and we learnt that there was a limited service this day but we could get to Olympia by changing buses in Pyrgos. On route through beautiful countryside the roads were strewn with bags of rubbish as they apparently have not collected any for six months! There is some dispute about building an incinerator and so nothing is happening except the risk to health. After a somewhat slow trip we arrived at Olympia and it was wonderfully quiet.
The site at Olympia is quite dramatic set in the valley between two rivers. The remains include the stadium, called this because it was 600 feet long which was a stadion. There were also gymnasiums, buildings for the athletes and the officials and swimming baths. They had elaborate water systems with hot water as well as cold and kitchens to feed everybody. Most of the buildings were destroyed in an earthquake but the site is interesting for its age and incredible to think this was 2800 years ago.The picture shown here is where the Olympic flame is ceremonially lit for every games today. The modern Olympic Games were started in 1896 by Baron Pierre Courbertin and his heart was buried in Olympia after he died We had a slight problem getting back as the return bus was early. We had stopped for a drink to cool us down in the intense heat and 15 minutes before the bus was due it came past. We ran after it but it did not stop and disappeared through the town. This is Greece you know! We had to walt another 2 1/2 hours for the next one. We therefore had something to eat in the restaurant and whiled away our time until the return bus. Pelagia was waiting for us on her anchor in the bay and we had a welcome swim to cool down after the hot but fascinating day.
Our final leg in the Peloponnese was to Killini about 30 miles. The winds were light and variable so we motored, then tacked a bit under sail and eventually after logging over 36 miles we anchored in the bay just outside the ferry terminal harbour. Our anchorage was sheltered but close to the noise of the harbour and the surroundings were uninspiring. We did not bother to go ashore.
From here we set sail to Cephalonia island to the town of Poros about 25 miles. We were lucky that a force 3 wind set in at just the right angle to sail well nearly all the way. We moored stern to the town quay where the concrete harbour side was reflecting the heat and we melted in the near windless harbour at 39 degrees. Luckily we could swim just a short walk from our mooring to cool down. Poros is a little town we have visited before and although it is bustling with ferry traffic it is quite quaint nestling into the hills around the small harbour. Water is available on the quay for topping up tanks and for a cool shower after a swim before the evening.
We intended the next day to go to a small anchorage on Ithaca island. We sailed on a light wind for a while before the wind died. On arrival at the bay it was crowded so we decided to press on to Vathi town. The wind came up at force 2 to 3 and we gently sailed the next 10 miles. Mid afternoon we entered the large bay and anchored amongst many yachts. The wind almost immediately came up to force 5 to 6 and although it is a safe anchorage it is still uncomfortable. Yachts piled in from all directions and we were surrounded especially by horrible catamarans! We thought the wind may go down at dusk as it should. The weather was quiet and stable but still it blew relentlessly at force 6. We kept anchor watch for many hours as it was so congested with boats and you never know what will happen even though our anchor remained secure. It is clear that we have left the lovely quite Peloponnese and rejoined the crowds of yachts swarming through the Ionian. Also it seems that the number of catamarans has increased alarmingly. They fill the anchorages, crowd the town quays, are often crewed by eight men on a booze cruise and we hate them with a vengeance! The wind finally died in the early hours and we got some if little sleep.
The next day we decided to get a good night on the town quay at Frikes, so set off early to be sure of a space. After the 8 mile run we timed it just right as a similar sized boat to ours was about to leave and we got a perfect alongside berth. Frikes is a lovely little town on Ithaca island with a quaint harbour set around with tavernas but it is not big. Yachts started flooding in and as the afternoon breeze picked up and the available berths diminished the antics and arguments began. A 53 foot yacht wanted to tie alongside our already double berthed 36 foot boats but we managed to persuade him to span two sets of boats to lessen the load with the now strong wind pressing him on. Later a 46 foot charter boat full of Italians had tried to anchor in the harbour several times and failed. They then came alongside the 53 foot one so adding more pressure to us all. Luckily one boat on the pier with a couple from Sicily set about them verbally and insisted they try elsewhere in the harbour. With their lack of boat handling skills they set off to get off this position being blown onto all the boats and nearly demolished the Sicilians boat in the process. The air was blue!!! Eventually with help from other boat owners they got anchored on the other side of the harbour and a regional Italian war was averted. The afternoon breeze died down and we all had a good nights sleep.
A gentle breeze the next day took us north to one of our favourite bays, Vlikho, on Levkas island. A large bay with good holding for the anchor and space for everybody surrounded by the most magnificent mountain views and azure blue water. It is hard to imagine that this island suffered an earthquake in November and the whole island is now 36 centimetres further south. We hope it does not move again tonight!

After another night in Vlikho and having got more provisions in the town of Nidry which seemed to get more scruffy and dirty every time we visited it, we sailed to Spartachori on Meganissi island. You can tell it is July as the number of boats coming in for moorings was unbelievable. Somehow Gerry and his team from the taverna Spilia managed to find spaces. We had a splendid meal in his taverna that night and a beautiful quiet night to follow in the most magnificent surroundings.
From there we sailed to Varka bay on the mainland the next day. Only 8 miles and we managed to do it on one tack as the gentle wind gradually bent round in our favour to take us right into the bay. There is a holiday complex there behind the sandy beach which has long since closed. Small bungalows set in beautiful gardens are now starting to deteriorate and become overgrown. Someone still lives in the house come restaurant as there were lights at night but no other sign of life. One wonders what went wrong to fail like that. Whilst we were sitting in the cockpit after dinner in the dark a wild fire erupted just behind the house. It raged for a while and then died down. Luckily there was no wind otherwise it may well have spread across the hills.
Finally on this leg we motored the short channel to Levkas marina to do some cleaning and shopping.
This leg has added another 240 miles to our log since Kalamata, making just under 600 miles this season so far. We loved the Peloponnese and the surrounding islands. They were quintessentially Greek. Small villages, beautiful surroundings, and very quiet and unspoilt by tourism in most places. From here we shall potter around the Ionian area until mid August when we return to the UK. Pats brother and sister in law are joining us for a week for day sails out from Spartachori where they are staying in an hotel. The increasing heat means we shall have to do more swimming to survive the days.

Regards to all Chris and Pat.

Monday, 27 June 2016

Sailing the Peloponnese 2016

Cruising 2016 started in Olympic marina Lavrion near Athens. Pelagia had wintered ashore here and was launched on 1st June. After a week recommissioning her during which the weather was perfect, our crew Corine joined us as a storm broke and high winds held us in port another day. At last a short sail down the coast took us into our first anchorage under the ruins of Poseidon's temple at Sounion bay. After a quiet night we set off on the longer sail to Poros island. Light winds and a gentle sail for 31 miles brought us into the well protected large harbour of Poros town. The pine clad island is separated from the Peloponnese mainland by a narrow channel and the attractive neoclassical style town overlooks the channel and is set above with a clock tower dating to 1927. The next day we tacked in a light wind to the island of Hydra and anchored in the bay of Mandraki. The hotel here was derelict with abandoned pedalo boats and sun beds. We tied our stern to the derelict piers with only a couple of other yachts in the bay.the most incongruous item on the beach was a small seaplane in reasonable condition and we speculated as to its origin. The island of Hydra with its barren mountains was once a centre of maritime trade and its 17th and 18th century prosperity produced an extraordinary architectural flowering that endows the town with a spectacularly beautiful set of buildings. Our next sail was to Kipari bay to anchor where we could get shelter from the forecast north westerly winds. A wide bay with shallow azure blue water was ideal for swimming and the winds stayed light. However, the next day we motored the short distance into Ermioni town on the Peloponnese mainland to avoid a forecast storm. Moored on the town quay was excellent and we could stock up with water and supplies as well as enjoying the walks around the headland from the town. A wonderful sail of 15 miles the next day brought us to the island of Spetsia. The Italians named it that as it means spices and it has a wonderful aroma of pine and herbs wafting across the bays. The island had a public school modelled on Eton or Harrow opened in 1927 intended to educate the mercantile and professional classes from across Greece. A British teacher there, John Fowles wrote the famous book The Magus, based in and around Spetsei island. The school closed in 1983 but is now used for International conferences. We anchored in a bay on the north side relying on the forecast for light winds at night. The bay was beautiful and quiet and we were joined by a few other yachts. Just as we finished our evening meal in the cockpit a large swell started to roll into the bay and we had to grab our plates and glasses preventing a major breakage. One or two yachts decided to leave but at this stage no wind was apparent and we thought it might just dissipate. It was now 22.30 and suddenly we had a force 6 wind straight into the bay which made it untenable. Rapidly we donned our gear and set sail in the dark back to Kipari bay 15 miles away where we knew we could get shelter and good anchor holding. A wild ride brought us back to safety by 0100 hours only slightly dampened by salt spray. We thought the wind was a night time katabatic from the mountains or what we nicknamed a f___abatic, but it blew all night and was probably an unscheduled storm low pressure system. We slept in late and then the wind abated a bit so we set sail for a very sheltered port only a few miles from Spetsei island, called Porto Kheli. The large town bay afforded a great anchorage with shelter that we could rely on. That night the wind dropped totally. Sod's law I suppose! Although a good port, the new concrete construction of hotels and shops around the bay spoilt the otherwise idyllic setting.
Setting off reasonably early we sailed 25 miles in light winds across to a small port on the Peloponnese mainland called Kiparissi. Imagine our delight when we discovered this picturesque little town nestling at the bottom of high mountains and there were no boats at all on the town quay where we moored alongside. A long sail the next day brought us to Monemvasia.
The massive rock in the middle of the bay is said to be reminiscent of Gibraltar rock. We anchored to the north of it trying to avoid the sea breeze and had a quiet night just off the beach. When we set off the next day we motored around the huge rock and discovered the old Byzantine town nestling on its southern slopes, an impressive sight.
The final leg down the long Peloponnese peninsular involved a long sail past Maleas head which has a fearsome reputation but in our conditions it was gentle. We took the opportunity to sail further south to Kithera island given the benign conditions and having piloted inside two small islets we anchored off Avelomona village. This island is very barren and dry and the village houses flat roofed, white and square like Israeli houses. The day temperature was now into the high 30s so all we wanted to do was swim and cool off. It was too hot to explore the land. Kithera island is said to be the birth place of Aphrodite although I imagine it was difficult for her to find her water !We had neither the time nor the inclination to explore more of Kithera so we sailed back to the Peloponnese mainland and anchored in the island of Elafonisos just off a beautiful white sandy beach sheltered by the encompassing cliffs on either side. On route we had seen some very large dolphins which are getting to be a rare sight in the Mediterranean Sea . An even hotter day meant we had to swim to cool off even though the water was now up to 27 degrees. We needed water and supplies so we had a long sail the next day in gentle winds up to Yithion town. The harbour was being extended and there were no berths inside so no access to water. We thought that two yachts had tied up to the outside of the wall but they were anchored off. Whilst looking a waiter on one of the many waterside tavernas indicated we could go stern to his wall. He assured us it was deep enough so anchor down we backed in, only to find our rudder was aground on a rock. Luckily we managed to pull off with the anchor and engine without damage. Never trust a Greek waiter! We anchored in the bay and went ashore in the dinghy to shop. Second problem was we were told all shops were shut for a festival day, summer solstice we think. Anyway we had a good taverna meal that night, found out all the shops were not shut and planned to use the ferry dock for water before we sailed off on the morning, problem solved. Yithion was a pleasant town after all. A gentle tacking sail followed after our water collection on the dock and we anchored in a beautiful little bay called Kotronas.
The only yacht there until late evening with a magnificent sandy beach and stunning scenery. The swimming was amazing with the water going up to 28 degrees! The hills around were dotted with villages consisting of ancient stone buildings from the Venetian period. The next day was again gentle tacking into a light wind, lovely to be at sea rather than static in the high 30 degrees weather. The wind strengthened as we sailed south towards the last port on this peninsular, Porto Kayio. The last hour was in a strengthening wind up to force 6 as we tacked towards the bay. Within the bay it was gusty and two boats already anchored were ranging around. It took us three attempts to get our anchor to hold but it was a beautiful setting amongst high hills and ancient buildings. By the end of the day a further 8 boats had anchored around us with the usual stress and anxiety of coming too close and putting us all at risk! We heard voices at 4 in the morning and sure enough two boats had dragged in the gusty conditions. We watched as one reanchored and the other one went round the bay, tried twice to anchor and eventually left at about 6 am as it was then light. The next morning we motored around the southerly point in very variable winds until it settled in one direction and we sailed, tacking again, north up to Mezapo, passing the massive cliffs of Cabo Grosso rising 800 feet straight from the sea. This cliff and the mountain are riddled with caves said to be the entrance to the underworld and Hades.
Anchoring off Mezapo was tricky as it was mainly rock but we found some sandy patches and got the anchor to hold. We were alone in front of a very poor village set amongst a fascinating rock structure. The bay was open and we hoped wind and swell would not be too uncomfortable. The swimming was good and it was not too rolly in the night.
Tim Severin, when retracing the voyage of Odysseus believed that this was the place where the cannibal giants threw stones down on Odysseus killing many of his men and it was the town of Laestrygones. Certainly a very strange place and we wondered what all the local people did here as it was so remote. The next day a long leg of 27 miles brought us to the lovely town of Koroni, where we anchored off the town. It was important for us to get a forecast as storms had been threatened. Ashore we explored the old fort of Venetian origin and wandered the gardens of the monastery within which was so tranquil. A lovely town but a bit noisy on the waterfront on that Friday evening. The forecast confirmed heavy storms later the next day and the following day so in the morning we set off for Kalamata Marina, motoring in the light air as rain started and thunder threatened. We were right to come here as we did because torrential rain and thunder storms raged all the rest of the day. Here the first phase of our trip ends and Corine leaves. We had completed 356 miles in the three weeks and enjoyed some very interesting and quiet places in generally good weather. The next phase will take us up the west coast of the Peloponnese into the Ionian Sea again