Mount Athos and the Monks (30th May-15th June 2018)

I am sitting here in Thesoloniki marina writing this in a tropical downpour, with thunder and sunshine and 25 degrees C at 0930! We have certainly had mixed weather in the last few weeks.

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Rain in Thessaloniki marina

We left Skopolos town again on the 30th May after doing the usual chores and meeting some lovely people. We were even invited to a full moon dinner at one of the Tavernas on the front. It was a very civilised affair with lovely food and good company, watching the moon rise above the hills.
Our sail to Panagia the next day was extremely frustrating. What should have been a pleasant 20 mile sail turned into 40 miles of thrash, as the wind and current were both against us and forced us to go the long way round. Vaila’s engine is not strong enough to bash through the nasty steep waves you get in the Med and motoring is very uncomfortable. So sailing a longer way round is often a better option.
The next day was much better and we made it to Halkidiki and a lovely, quiet anchorage just off Papadhia island, on the west side of the middle finger (Sithonia); lat 40deg 00’n, long 023 deg 49′ E. It was a quiet night and a lovely morning listening to terns, song birds and a hoopoe ashore, and watching cormorants and gulls. So we stayed there the whole day and a fellow cruising association member also appeared later in his yacht Carina.

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The next few days were spent cruising round the gulf, exploring wee anchorages on the east side of the Sithonia peninsula (the middle finger of Halkidiki). The whole area is really delightful, with granite rocks and beautiful sandy beaches and good anchorages. It’s a holiday paradise for Greeks and a few Germans, Americans and Brits that have discovered this area. Luckily there are only small resorts and not the massive hotel blocks elsewhere in the Med. Of course this beautiful place comes with the addition of motorboats and jet skis as people want to get out on the water. Luckily at this time of year there are not so many of them and the the motorboat drivers were generally very considerate in the anchorages (unlike the Balearics or Italy)!

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Lovely sailing with the Cruising chute up

We found another beautiful anchorage called Kristos on Dhiaporos island (lat 40 deg 13’N, long 023deg 47′ E). It reminded us of Puilladobhrain near Oban. luckily, it was very sheltered as there were a few thunderstorms and strong winds.

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Kristos anchorage, Vaila on the right

We decided to try a wee marina round the corner the next day, so we could get water and some shopping. It was not a good experience. According to our information, there were lazy lines on each berth, however they were buoyed a long way from the pontoon and it was not at all obvious which ones were for visitors. No response on Vhf and no one appeared, so we picked one buoy up then realised it was a mooring. When we picked up another buoy, a very irate harbour master eventually appeared, shouted in Greek and a few words of English and gesticulated to another buoy. When we did come in, he at least took our stern lines. Just as well it was not windy. Our next door neighbour, a young Greek man on a charter motor cruiser was lovely and extremely helpful, which made up for the bad arrival. He was the charter skipper and was waiting on the next clients arriving. He apologised for the harbour master and offered to take us to a bigger town for shopping and gas, as he was going to the bank. We gratefully accepted his offer and tried to thank him with some cans of beer later but he refused.
We left early the next morning (but we managed to leave a wee thank you present on his back step before he noticed), as we had a long day ahead going down the west side of the Akti peninsula (the easternmost finger of Halkidiki). The southern half of this peninsula, which includes 8000 foot Mount Athos, is a holy site with more than 20 orthodox monasteries. No women are allowed to visit and you are not allowed to sail within a mile of the coast if a woman is on board! It’s a fascinating place and so anachronistic in the 21st century! I had wanted to see it for a while. The motor past, in calm seas, was amazing. Most of the monasteries have been there for over 1000 years. Until recently, even female animals were banned. There are hardly any roads and supplies come in by boat and the Monks grow quite a lot of food themselves. Some of the monasteries were very extensive with some modern additions. The southernmost ones, clinging on to the steep slopes of Mount Athos were like something from Tibet, with buildings high on the sheer rocks and cantilevered wooden balconies. We managed to get to within half a mile off shore without a patrol boat chasing us off!!

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One of the biggest monastery complexes, Russian Orthodox.

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The bulk of Mount Athos in the distance

We then had a good sail with a few dolphins for company until the wind dropped just as we were rounding the S cape of Sithonia. We were getting tired and went in to the sheltered anchorage at Porto Koufo, with its amazing entrance through the cliffs.

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Approaching Porto Koufo…is there really an entrance there?

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There’s the entrance!

Unfortunately we were quite late (5pm) and all good anchor spots were taken, so, reluctantly we pressed on for Papadhia island, another hour away. We knew it was good holding if we could see the sand patches and we managed to anchor ok in a big swell. Luckily the swell subsided and we did have a calm night but we were pretty weary.
The next morning was calm and I even managed a swim. We set off after breakfast and the wind was just right for a lovely sail, but that soon changed! We were just rounding the southern point of the Kassandra peninsula when we heard a loud ” knocking” on the forward hull. We had obviously caught something!! Luckily the wind was good and we could continue to sail to get away from the cliffs of the point. We couldn’t use the engine in case we got the prop fouled. Once we had more sea room, Andy had the good idea of coming into the wind and sailing backwards to try to dislodge whatever it was that was caught. I watched at the bows and was relieved to see a large sheet of submerged bubble wrap float off about 6 feet under water. Unfortunately, the knocking continued so we did the same manoeuvre again, and this time a plastic water bottle popped up. But we still didn’t know what else was down there. The forecast was for the wind to increase and the waves were already quite big. So the best option was for us to drop the sails and for Andy to go into the water (it was only 200m deep!) to inspect the prop and hull. Until we knew there was no rope or other debris, we would be unable to use our engine! So that’s what he did (what a hero!), well tied on with me holding the rope and watching. Vaila was side on to the waves so rolling quite a lot. Luckily there was no further debris, so we could get going, knowing we could safely use the engine.

After that little incident, we were very glad to get into the very swanky marina at Sani Resort (lat 40deg, 06’n, long 023deg 18’E). We received a fantastic service here, with a marinero coming out to meet us in a rib in the very shallow and narrow entrance channel and helping us into our berth. Finger pontoons too so no anchor or lazy line needed. The marina is part of a spa resort with hotels and apartments and fantastic facilities. The lovely showers were much appreciated and we had a drink ashore to celebrate. The only downside was that there was loud music till late…but you can’t have everything! Ear plugs come in handy.

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In the swanky Sani marina

Two days later we arrived in Thessaloniki marina. We were glad to have arrived at our destination, as we were both quite weary. This last 6weeks has seen us sailing 600 miles and exploring this beautiful part of Northern Greece. We’ve met lovely people and seen wonderful and interesting places. We’ve also experienced quite a lot of thunderstorms, broken nights and our floating rubbish incident, which could have been so much worse. After we heard of our friends bad luck with lobster pots in the Scottish Islands Peaks Race, we had only just been saying that we had never been caught up with floating rubbish, even when sailing down the coast of Portugal at night! We should have known better!!
We’ve explored a bit of Thessaloniki and surroundings in the last couple of days. It’s a busy and vibrant city with lots of students from the university of Aristotle (he was born nearby). Despite its bloody and tragic history, Thessaloniki feels like a happy place. The surrounding hills are covered in oak and beech woods and have many walking trails.

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The white tower, no longer white

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Thessaloniki waterfront from the white tower

 

 

 


We are now tidying and cleaning the boat, as Vaila will stay here safely tucked up in the marina when we go home on the 19th June. We are looking forward to seeing family and friends again, particularly our wee grand daughter, Emma. We are also very excited to go to Ross and Zofia’s wedding which is just 4 days after we get home.

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