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

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