We have had a great month sailing from Kalamata round into the Aegean. Vaila got hauled out yesterday at Petros Marinos boat yard at 0630 and we are now safely parked on land doing the last few jobs before flying home tomorrow. It’s 43 degrees C today so we are not too sad about going home! I am sure we will feel the cold though, as the weather at home is no more than 14 degrees C at the moment! In heat like this here at the moment, you really can’t do much on land. Luckily the yard has an air conditioned room to sit in and the beach is just across the road. It’s hot even by locals’ standards.
We left Kalamata on 30th May and rounded the impressive 800 foot cliffs of Capo Grosso (the middle of the three fingers of the Peloponnese peninsula, The Mani). We spent the night in the shelter of Porto Kaiyo, just round the corner from the cape. It is a tiny village with a a few houses built in the Maniot style (tower houses). It’s a sheltered anchorage and “Sundance” followed us in, having left Kalamata at about the same time. Blasts of wind were coming down from the mountains that surrounded the anchorage but we were safely tucked in. We had a short walk ashore with Ursula and Sjur from Sundance the next morning. Andy had to move lots of spider webs that were strung over the path and contained some pretty big spiders! We were delighted to find the little chapel on the point open. It was dedicated to St. Nicolas (the Saint of Fishermen) and full of icons and beautiful paintings.
We decided not to go right up into the gulf of Lakonikos, as there are few anchorages there and the port of Yithion is a bit industrial, so we headed straight over to Nisos Elefanisos. We managed to sail some of the time before lunch but typically the wind got going after lunch and we had quite a rough couple of hours before we anchored on the east side of the island.
The easternmost cape of the Peloponnese , Cape Malea, gets a fearsome reputation in the pilot books. It’s another impressive piece of vertical rock, with a monastery half way up. The weather forecast was accurate and we slid past the cape and in to the Aegean under engine in calm waters.
Our first stop in the Aegean was the town of Monemvasia. We had been told it was a must see place and it didn’t disappoint. The old Byzantine town is built on a steep peninsula which is linked to the mainland by a narrow neck of land. The new town is on the mainland. We found a spot in the harbour. The town is small but has plenty of tavernas so no problem finding somewhere nice to eat.
The next morning we sauntered up to the old town. It was already getting hot at 9am! The road up to the old town was full of parked cars as you cannot get cars into the old Byzantine town. You enter through a huge gate in the massive walls and you are immediately in the cobbled lanes and steps of the town. This old town was a ruin until people started to rebuild in the late 1980s.
There are now tavernas and gift shops on the main alley, as well as many boutique hotels scattered within the walls of the island, but all on a small scale and without traffic. Everything is transported on barrows, so it is a massive operation keeping the Tavernas, shops and hotels supplied.
We found Monemvasia totally enchanting. We had a coffee in the shade overlooking the bay and watched a modern day schooner drop anchor just below the town. Andy climbed to the summit for a better view and to see the fortifications and the old church of Agia Sofia at the top. He has been to the big church of the same name in Istanbul and allegedly this one was a smaller version. The lower town is an eclectic mix of ruins (like Mystras), boutique hotels, huge walls, tiny stepped alleyways and everywhere breathtaking views. We loved it all.
We had a swim at the town beach to cool off and a Greek dad, with his two small daughters splashing around, practiced his English and the girls gave us some apricots. It’s so typical of the Greeks, they want to know about you and they want to be hospitable.
We were tied up beside another Scottish couple in Monemvasia, Louise and Gordon, also in the Cruising Association. They had sailed from Scotland on exactly the same day as us in 2013! Quite a coincidence. It was lovely chatting and comparing experiences, so we didn’t get away particularly early the next morning. Marc, Ursula and Sjur had left earlier on Sundance, as they were heading up towards the Corinth Canal and back towards the Ionian. We motored up the short distance to Ieraka, our next anchorage.
Ieraka is like a mini fjord, with an entrance that is narrow and quite hidden amongst the rocks. There was one other boat in, tied up to the little ferry pier, but we decided to anchor just opposite. Further up the bay got very shallow and lagoon like. It was a beautiful spot and surprisingly sheltered from the strong breeze that whipped through from the mountains in the afternoon. A friend of ours had been stuck for three days in this anchorage earlier thus year, unable to leave or go ashore due to the wind!
It was great swimming there with cicadas chirping in the bushes. A peregrine was hunting over the cliffs and got chased by a seagull and it all felt a bit like the west coast of Scotland, except for the warmth and the cicadas of course!! Everywhere round the Peloponnese has been lovely and quiet and we have really enjoyed being away from the bustle of the Ionian.
We went ashore the next morning and Andy headed up to the old Acropolis on top of the hill. I walked round the lagoon to see all the wee fishing boats and nice houses, watching two herons fishing. Although Ieraka feels like a backwater, there is a road right round and lots of people appeared at lunchtime to eat at the Tavernas (it was a Sunday, a big day for family lunches out in Greece).
We only had 15 miles to go to Kiparissi, so we did not set off till lunchtime. Andy saw some dolphins just as we were approaching the harbour, but I was too busy untying fenders to see them, and I managed to drop a fender in the water in the excitement of the dolphins, so we had to go back to get it…..all good practice! Actually, it’s the first time that’s happened this whole trip (she says smuggly).
Thunderclouds were building as we approached the little pier on the north side of the bay, so we were glad to get a spot alongside, just behind a small fishing boat. One of the fishermen took our lines, which was kind. We got a bit of rain and some thunder but nothing dramatic. The fishing boat went out for an hour, then came back and the three guys on board proceeded to cook tea, with lots of Greek shouting and gesticulating. Our guess is that it was a father and two sons team and they needed to go out again to get fish for their dinner. We put chicken skewers on the BBQ and hoped for a quiet night. Unfortunately, 2 motor boats arrived at sunset and tried to come stern too on to the pier. One managed fine, but the bigger one took 5 attempts with much shouting. Then they all went off to the hotel in the town. We were getting closer to Athens so we thought the quiet anchorages were probably behind us.
We did have a quiet night though, as the Greeks from the motor boats stayed ashore. We motored the 10 miles or so up to Leonidhion to charge our batteries up a bit. We were lucky to get another very clear sighting of a Monk Seal. They are still so rare but are slowly making a come back. This is the second one we have seen on this trip. A few miles before the harbour we put up our cruising chute and jogged along nicely. We don’t often get the chance to use it as it’s either too windy or not windy enough or from the wrong direction.
Leonidhion was a lovely small harbour with a dog-leg entrance. It sits amongst massive cliffs and mountains where rock climbers play. We came alongside on the quay, as no one was there to help and there was plenty of room. Margarita greeted us as we walked up. She and her family run the closest Taverna to the quayside and her son Michael has the shop next door. We got a few things in the shop and were given free aubergines and oranges as well. When we got back to the boat, someone had left a foil carry-out tray with aubergine bake on deck. What an amazing place!
There was a lovely shingle beach and good public showers and toilets too so we decided to stay two nights. The port police got busy in the late afternoon as a flotilla was coming in. This is the first flotilla we’ve come across this season and it was the usual fun and games watching people trying to come in. Then 2 enormous catamarans and a big motor boat turned up as well so they had to take up at the end. It’s obviously a popular spot.
The New Zealand couple (Tracey and Dave) who were tied up in the harbour behind us seemed familiar and it turned out that we had met them last year in the Ionian. We remembered them, as they had tied up alongside us in Kalamos relating their tale of the lost anchor from their charter boat last year. What an amazing coincidence to meet them again, as they only come to Greece for 2 weeks sailing charter. We had a lovely dinner with them, catching up on the what we had been doing since we last met.
Our next destination was Navplion, at the north end of the Argolic gulf. We spent a night in Astrous on the way and arrived in Navplion mid afternoon of the 8th June, motoring past the spectacular forts on the headland, hill and island. Navplion has been a big strategic base for centuries. The town quay was busy but there was plenty of space.
We hired a car to drive up to Mycenae, the centre of the Mycenaean civilisation between 1600 and 1200 BC. The site is quite small but situated on a hill and in a position to dominate the surrounding countryside and trade routes. There are pine and cypress trees everywhere and it feels like a magical place. The entrance is through the spectacular “Lion Gate” made of huge dressed stones called Cyclopian. Legend has it that the mythical Cyclops built the gate! Myth and legend is constantly intertwined in Greece.
The museum was full of artefacts from the site, beautiful pottery, glass beads and spindle weights, gold jewellery and a gold death mask.
The town of Navplion is quite big and also has a fantastic archaeological Museum full of finds from nearby Mycenae and even older, right back to stone age, 28000 years ago. There was a complete Mycenaean suit of armour made of bronze, too heavy to walk in but used by charioteers.
The next two nights were very windy in anchorages on the east side of the Argolic gulf, so we headed back over to Leonidhion to get some shelter, do some washing and fill up with water. We cycled up to the main village of Leonedhion, which we had not done on our previous visit. it was great being on the bikes and getting some cool air.
There was lots of market gardening on a grand scale in the flat bits between sea and mountains. Fields and polytunnels full of tomatoes, aubergines, beans and citrus trees as well as olive groves. They have an aubergine festival in August we were told. The main village is a delight, with little shops providing everything a small town needs and especially galvanised tin ware!! We received gifts of apricots and plums from Margarita this time.
We had a lovely night in Porto Heli, but the weather was poor for the next 5-6 days and we had some wild days and nights in Dhokos and Ermioni, with thunderstorms and torrential rain for several days.
So it was great to be able to move on to Poros in the Saronic Gulf on the 19th June. We were just in time to meet up with our friends George and Chris for an evening, before they flew home. Poros is a bit mental with so many boats, lots of ferries and a very restricted and shallow channel. We opted to anchor off and keep out of the way! It’s so close to Athens here so we had expected it to be busy.
We called in at Methana, a volcanic island with sulphur springs just north of Poros. The sulphur springs make it a bit smelly, but it was no worse than Vulcano in the Aeolian islands. The wee marina was lovely though and the sign at the entrance saying “no catamarans” made us smile, as they are the bane of small harbours.
The town has a slightly dilapidated charm and we really liked it. It was good to get water and check out our batteries. We have been struggling with power most of this trip, especially on days when there was no sun. The 2 oldest batteries seem to be pretty dead so will need replaced. Such is life!
Then it was further round in the Saronic to Nisos Agistri where we anchored in deep water and tied on to the shore with stern lines and all was fine until the wind changed in late afternoon.
Then we had to bale out quickly to a less deep anchorage. There was swell coming in, so a bit of a disturbed night, but safer. The Petali islands were special, with some really big fish round the boat and a lovely evening with Chris Robb and his two friends Bob and Philip aboard. Chris is also a Cruising Association member and Swan over to invite us for drinks. Our stocks were really low so we could only take some peanuts over!
We have been pleasantly surprised by the Evia channel. There are lots of lovely anchorages on the Evia side and although there is some industry, it doesn’t spoil the lovely scenery. There are wind turbines on many ridges and we have had some really good sailing.
So now we are in the boatyard near Khalkoutsi on the Evia channel. Thankfully it’s much quieter in these waters and we have enjoyed good sailing in great winds and seen lots of dolphins too. We have covered 800 miles sine beginning of May and loved the quieter waters with more wildlife. There are rafts of young gulls and shearwaters here and plenty of dolphins. We also saw a sunfish and some a couple of small flying.
The haul out went smoothly yesterday and the boat yard is lovely, with lots of feminine touches in shady areas with plants and decoration, immaculately clean toilets and shower, and the air conditioned room. Vaila will be fine here till September. We are looking forward to slightly cooler weather, but hope it warms up in Scotland a bit! We are very excited to see the family again and catch up with friends too.