Flying Cat to Hydra (6-28 May 2019)


Here we are sitting in the beautiful wee harbour of Leonidhion (lat 37 Deg 08′ N, long 22 Deg 53′ E) on the Peloponnese peninsula, after another few hours of classic Greek sailing weather. We had the harbour to ourselves a few days ago, so we berthed alongside on the dog leg of the wall. Last night lots of charter and flotilla yachts arrived and moored stern too on the main quay. They had a slow start this morning due to no wind and some engine trouble on one of the yachts but most of them left about 1130 in a flat calm. It was still flat calm at 1200 but by 1203 it was blowing 30 knots in the harbour and boats were dragging their anchors, hitting the quayside, trying to get out and nearly colliding and it was general mayhem and chaos. If the flotilla had still been in, there would have been serious damage to boats. Now it’s 1500 and back to a more normal afternoon wind. Such is sailing in Greece.
We’ve still had a mixed bag of weather in the past few weeks, sailing down the Evia channel and stopping at Voufolo and the Petali islands before heading out to Batsi on Andros, another of our favourite places. We stayed in Batsi a couple of nights and Andy started doing battle with trying to pay the new Greek cruising tax. It’s a whole new system that’s on line but there is no on line facility to pay the tax. Andy tried to pay using an international transfer from our bank and thought he’d been successful but unfortunately the payment was returned about a week later!
We had a brief stop on Kea island anchored in the bay but it was where steam ships took on coal in the old days and the industrial feel was still evident. There were also a lot of power boats from Athens and loud music on shore, so we were glad to just stop for 1 night.
Our next stop was Olympic marina, SE of Athens, which allowed us to get shopping in, washing done and general cleaning before our friend Sandra arrived on the 14th May for a week’s cruising.
Sandra arrived early morning as planned but the weather forecast was not great, so we decided to have an extra night in the marina and get a taxi into Lavrion to explore the town a bit. Lavrion is a big town on the Aegean side and has a commercial harbour as well as accommodating several charter fleets . We wandered round the streets and had a lovely fish lunch at a taverna virtually inside the fish market. Can’t get fresher fish than that. It rained during the night so we were glad we were tucked in the marina.
We left the next morning at 0800 and rounded Cape Sounion in a calm sea. The temple of Poseidon on the clifftop looked spectacular especially with several microlights flying over it in the early morning light. Unfortunately the weather forecast was not good enough to allow us to anchor in the bay overnight.
We headed for Poros island (lat 37Deg 29’N, long 23Deg 27′ E) in the Saronic Gulf and were met by the usual chaos and lack of space. We did manage to squeeze in at the east end where the charter company have boats and close to where friends of our were berthed already. George and Christine stopped in on Vaila for a drink and we explored Poros town a bit before eating on board and enjoying a spectacular sunset.


Poros town



Poros sunset

The next day we sailed up to Epidavros and anchored in old Epidavros off the beach. It was a beautiful spot and I had my first swim of the season (water 18 deg C). The weather obliged and we ate in the cockpit and played cards outside while the moon rose and cicadas sang. One of those magical nights.
The weather didn’t last unfortunately and next day dawned wet but luckily not windy. We had a slow start and we motored the whole 4 miles up to new Epidavros harbour. This harbour has some lazy lines and as we were so early, we got a place no bother. A kind man from the Latvian boat next door helped us with our stern lines and picking up the lazy line. The waiting taxi driver on the quay gave us his card and we arranged to go to the ancient Greek amphitheatre that afternoon.



The Amphitheatre was amazing and is still used today, seating 14000 people. The acoustics are so superb that a coin dropped in the centre at the bottom can be heard on the top seats, as was demonstrated while we were there. Nearby was also a great place of healing in ancient Greek times with a hospital complex that even included an isolation wing and places for relatives to stay. There were still many wild flowers blooming on the site as there has been a lot of rain here this spring.
We left Epidavros the next day and motored back to Poros, stopping for a swim in a small bay at the N side of Poros just round from Ak Petra (very appropriate). Poros was even busier than before and the anchorage in Navy Bay was tight and exposed, but we managed to get alongside on the concrete quay by the north pier. Safer than being stern too as the N quay has a bad reputation. A lot of boats were damaged here in the storm last year.
Sandra and I took a day trip to Hydra (lat 37 Deg 21′ N long 23 Deg 28′ E) on the flying Cat from Poros the next day. Hydra is a beautiful, car free island just south of the Saronic gulf. Leonard Cohen and Melina Mercourie to name but two famous people had houses on the island. The flying cat journey took 40 minutes and we arrived in the heart of Hydra town on an overcast afternoon. The harbour is tiny and ferries and super yachts jostle for room amongst the fishing boats, so it’s much better to come by ferry. The town is delightful with colourful houses, steep streets and steps, peaceful tavernas as well as tourist shops, boutique hotels and donkeys carrying luggage and anything else that needs transported. It’s blissful without the noise and fumes of car and motorbike engines.



Hydra harbour

We found a lovely taverna for lunch where Sandra sampled the zucchini fritters and I had stuffed tomatoes. The sun came out and we had a great walk along the northern coast to another couple of fishing villages. A gin and tonic in the shade just ended the trip perfectly!



Hydra houses

While we were off enjoying ourselves, Andy had been doing battle with the Cruising tax problem. The Cruising Association we belong to had been a fantastic resource but we heard locally that the best place to pay the tax was the post office, so Andy went there bright and early the next morning. Sandra left on the flying Dolphin to Piraeus , to catch her flight later in the day and we got laundry and shopping done, ready for off again.

We spent the next few days going to Ermioni, Porto Heli, sailing round round Spetsai and revisiting Astros, before arriving here in Leonidhion.

This is such a lovely place and even better when the harbour is not full of charters and flotillas, although the local shops and tavernas probably don’t think so! We’ve stayed here for several nights waiting to see what the weather will do further south, as our friend Paul is arriving to Kalamata on 4th June. The wind is forecast strong W for the next week and Cape Malea just south of here is not advisable in strong W winds, so we have decided to pick Paul up in Navplion instead. Navplion is north of here and Andy is going to hire a car to pick Paul up and then we will sail back to Kalamata with him .

And hurray the Cruising tax has been paid and officially acknowledged !! Just as well, as the Port Police wanted to see the tax along with all the other paper work when we arrived in Leonidhion.



Breakfast with the Red Arrows (30th April-6th May 2019)

It’s been quite an exciting week since I arrived on Vaila on the 30th of April. Andy had been out for 2 weeks already, doing the major jobs, which luckily left me mostly cleaning and tidying and remembering where things go.
Launch went smoothly on Saturday morning at 7am in a flat calm and we motored over to the anchorage off Eritria on Evia in a rising wind and cloud. Despite a strong easterly wind we were reasonably sheltered there but the forecast for the next day was awful, with wind expected to swing to the south and get very strong. This is the worst direction for that anchorage.
Saturday night was reasonable but we decided to head to the breakwater just after breakfast on Sunday, as the wind was rising fast. One other boat was there already and they helped us come alongside. The wind was still blowing easterly so we were pinned against the concrete pier grinding our fenders against the wall. We managed to get the fenderboard (our plank) between fenders and wall which helped and later we commandeered an old tyre from the fishing quay . We helped the other boat and put multiple lines out ourselves. A tense day waiting for the wind to swing southerly, which it did eventually at 2pm and then to drop, which it did about 6pm. We registered 25 knots over the deck but the ferries stopped briefly so it must have been force 8 (34-40 knots ) at that point!!

The joys of Mediterranean sailing early in the season. It’s not all sunshine, swimming and tavernas! I’ve not even been for a swim yet as the water is only 14 degrees and it’s jellyfish time.

Today is a much nicer day. We had multiple fly pasts by the Red Arrows while we were having breakfast. It was so spectacular watching them twist and turn in formation. They came right over several times at only 100m or so above the quay. Such skill. They are here every year at this time to practice and take part in an airshow in Athens and we had a grandstand view of them here.

After breakfast we walked into town and had a coffee in the welcome sunshine and visited the local museum . The museum was lovely and just a nice small size, with artifacts from local excavations. It told you that Evia island was central to the spread of the Greek civilisation and the mixing of eastern and western cultures. They had sophisticated pottery, jewellery, houses and temples and luckily documented everything.

We are heading south tomorrow as the forecast looks more settled and my friend Sandra arrives on the 14th so we need to be at the pick up point by then.

The Storms (Sunday23rd September – Thursday 4th October)

Well, this has certainly been an eventful 10 days. We did not manage to get through the bridge at Khalkis as planned on the 23rd September and we had two storms to contend with. We got through the storms unscathed but decidedly weary!
Having left Orei on the 22nd September, we anchored overnight in a bay on the west side of Evia island and then headed down towards the tiny harbour of Limni (Lat 38 deg, 07’N, Long 023 deg,19′ E). We were lucky to witness a few feeding frenzies on the way, with big Tuna leaping out of the water chasing smaller fish. Gulls, terns and shearwaters were tucking in. Unfortunately no dolphins to be seen but the show went on for about 15 mins, which is rare.
We were exceedingly lucky, as there were a couple of spaces in Limni harbour and we slotted in behind the sea wall, glad to be in the shelter for the forecast Meltemi (a strong NE/NW wind that can blow for several days at a time). Little did we know that we would be in Limni for 4 nights!


Looking down at Limni harbour

Limni is a lovely wee place, with the usual higgledy-piggledy streets and brightly painted shutters and Bougainvillea and jasmine flowering again after the recent rain. We enjoyed exploring the wee town and walking up the tiny chapel on the hill to get a lovely view. The people on the two Dutch boats behind us in the harbour were really friendly and we spent a few evenings having drinks and laughter and good chats on each others boats. We were all sitting out the Meltemi until conditions improved.





Vaila in Limni, the calm before the storm!

The wind howled, the waves smashed against the breakwater, but we were fine inside and were all eagerly watching the weather forecasts. Everyone had their own favourite forecasts but all the forecasts were already predicting a “Medicane” (not a proper meteorological term) that was building over the west of Greece and causing havoc in the Ionian islands. Very strong winds were associated with this storm which was caused by the cold air flooding south (because the jet stream had kinked south) hitting the warm waters of the Med (25-29deg C).
On Wednesday 26th Andy and I cycled down the small coastal road south from Limni. The meltemi winds were producing horrendous conditions south of Limni, with winds flying down from the high ground and spray being whipped up into vortexes. Not a day to be out.



The meltemi with Katabatic winds coming down from the high land

It was an interesting bike ride though as there was mining here previously with mine workings and aerial runways still visible.


Old mine workings now a swanky resort.

There was a lot of wooden terracing, trying to encourage the trees to regenerate after a fire two years ago. The rock on the coast road was mudstone and very friable, with previous rock falls visible. We got back to Vaila to find that our wind anemometer from the top of the mast had been blown off and smashed!
By Friday 28th, the Medicane prediction was that it would stay south between Crete and mainland Greece and head east to Turkey, so we decided that we could leave to try to get through the bridge at Khalkis (Lat 38 deg, 28′ N, Long 023 deg, 35′ E). The wind was still very strong first thing, so we waited a couple of hours till it eased a bit before leaving.


The skipper at the beginning of the passage to Khalkis….still calm!


We motored with a tiny scrap of genoa up and could see that sea conditions up ahead were not great. We had 20 miles to go so pushed towards Khalkis. The seas got increasingly rough and confused as we got to the higher headlands. Whitecaps were being blown off by the screaming wind. Vortex of water were being formed. It was probably lucky our wind gauge was broken, as conditions looked the same as we had seen from our bike ride a couple of days previously but this time we were in it!! These were the worst conditions we have ever been out in.

Four other boats were in view all slogging though the same conditions. Vaila was great though and Andy did a magnificent job on the helm. I only managed 10 minutes of relief duty as it was very hard to control the boat in those seas. We got covered in warm sea water from the waves but the air was cold. We had our wellies and waterproofs on! Not quite what you think of as Mediterranean sailing!!
As we approached the lower lying ground near Khalkis, the wind thankfully eased and by the time we got to the quayside in the town it was very benign.


Approaching Khalkis

The crews from the other boats (all bigger than us) came to see that we were OK and were telling us that the wind they measured was 40+knots with gusts of 50-60 knots! Phew!!! Andy went off the see the port authority and pay the €35 for the bridge transit and I tidied up a bit down below. Luckily the storm had not damaged anything and the tiny bit of genoa we had had out had survived.
The bridge was due to open at 1130 that night, so we had time to cook tea and eat. This is a small bridge which connects the mainland of Greece with Evia and the bridge deck slides to open up to let ships and yachts through, but only once in 24 hours and at night. There is a strong current/tide so bridge opening times change daily. The port authority called all the yachts on the radio about 10 minuted before opening at 11.30pm telling us to prepare the boat. Then we had to wait for a freighter to go through first before we all fell into line behind. As soon as we were through, we anchored in the large bay just south of the bridge along with about 5 other boats and we were glad to get to bed.
We had hoped to head off down to Eritrea on Evia the next day ( 29th September), but the forecast had changed and the “Medicane” had decided to curl north to come over the southern part of Evia, so we stayed put for that day and the next.


Winds were crazy and rain was torrential. The howling wind made us feel tense but the anchor alarm at least meant we could get some sleep. It was not comfortable though as the strong gusts made the whole boat shake. We did not go outside except for Andy who had to go out for 10 minutes to retie the dinghy cover to stop it flying away!

Thankfully, the wind began to ease after 2200 on the 30th Sept and we had a better night’s sleep. We awoke to calm seas and little wind so set off to the boatyard. Our plotter decided to stop working but we had detailed charts on the tablet. The first couple of miles were buoyed channel for the big boats as it’s quire shallow, then it was pretty straightforward. The water was chocolate brown and full of bits of branches and other debris washed down by the storm.
We were glad to arrive off the boatyard and tie on to the buoy. We got the message that we would be hauled out later that afternoon and the trailer came down about an hour later to haul us out. We were glad to be on dry land at last.


Photos above of typical haul out on a sledge pulled by land-rover . Not Vaila as we were already on the hard. 
Now we are winterising the boat and packing up, ready for flying home on Sat 6th Oct. We heard that there had been a landslide into Limni harbour the day after we left! It’s certainly been a memorable season and added to our experience, but hopefully we will not have to face another “Medicane” too soon. Oh, and Andy fixed the plotter by doing a ‘factory reset’ courtesy of the Internet!

Rocking, rolling and racing!

We sailed south from Volos (lat 39 deg, 21′ N, long 022 deg, 57′ E) on the 6th of September and explored the SE corner of the gulf, anchoring in a large bay just south of the village of Milina. There used to be a sunsail base there but they pulled out 4 years ago and now there are just lots of moorings. We did manage to find a space to anchor and had a quiet night. It was so nice to be away from the bustle of Volos town.


Milina harbour, gulf of Volos

We headed over to the tiny harbour of Milina ( lat 39 deg, 09′ N, long 023 deg, 13′ E) the next day and found a space on the quayside. It’s a very small place with room for only about 10 yachts. The village seems to be a quiet holiday destination for German and British tourists.

We met a Scottish woman and her husband who run a charter business in Milina. They used to run the Sunsail base and have lived in Greece for 20 years. Christine and Andy now run A and C yachting Milina and they were both very busy turning their two 45 foot charter yachts round for the next clients. It appears that they don’t have a lot of time for sailing themselves these days, however they invited us to their yearly regatta the next day. It was for the prestigious trophy called the “String Cup” very reminiscent of a ladies thong made of metal!!


The “String Cup” which we failed to win!

Regatta day dawned with little wind. The race start was 2pm and we were hoping the wind would pick up, but it was not to be! About 20 boats of all shapes and sizes were taking part and jockeying for position on the start line in hardly any wind. We limped across in the middle of the fleet but quickly overtook a lot of the boats with great helming skills from the skipper in the fierce 5 knot wind!!

We were actually the third boat round the island and on to the down wind leg and even managed to fly the Cruising chute for about half an hour, but the wind died completely and by 6pm we decided to start the engine. It was all a good laugh and we headed off to eat at one of the Tavernas listening to a jazz band playing on the harbour side.

We had 2 more nights anchoring on the west side of the gulf of Volos which were fairly windy nights. We were entertained by flocks of storks flying over, heading for the wetland area inland. Then we headed over to Orei at the north end of Evia island ( lat 38 deg, 56’n, long 23 deg, 05′ E) to stock up with food and water. There was no room on the north quay but we managed to come alongside on the south pier. Unfortunately we could only stay there 1 night as Sailing Holidays flotillas use this pier 2 days a week. So a very quick turn around doing shopping, defrosting the fridge and filling up the tanks with water. Andy also had to go up the mast to fix a broken block for the lazy jacks (which stop the sail from spilling out when the sail comes down) and replace broken sail slides.


View from 3/4 up the mast!

We were ready to leave the next day as planned and headed over to Skiathos in a 15-20 knot wind giving us some great sailing on a close reach. We anchored in the large bay of Koukounaries on the south side. It was a busy place during the day, with tripper boats, jet skis, water-skiing, and several large hotels ashore. Luckily, it all quietened down at night and we had a great sleep after a few disturbed nights.
We sailed into Skiathos town on the 14 Sept but decided not to stay, as the town quay was pretty full and the main road and tavernas are directly behind the quayside. The harbour also has the added delight of being on the flight path for Skiathos airport, which means you can almost see the pilots faces from the boats on the quayside!



Skiathos town

We prefer Skopelos, so headed over to the wee harbour of Neo Klima, where we had been earlier this year ( lat 39 deg, 022′ N, long 23 deg, 38’e). It was much busier now than it had been in May, with a lot of apartments full and the beach with sun loungers out, but we still found it a delightful place and were pleased to stay for a few nights.


Approaching Neo Klima, Skopelos

Having the beach right there was a definite plus point. We met a lovely British couple, Lynn and Bill from Pied a Mer, who were telling us about the sailing rally they joined to the Dardanelles and the Black Sea. They said it was a fascinating experience but not one they would repeat!
After a couple of lovely days in Neo Klima, the wind got up and made life difficult with severe gusts coming down the mountains and blowing boats sideways.

Everyone had to add extra lines and we had to move alongside as our anchor did not seem secure (Andy dived down and found that the anchor shackle was sticking and so the anchor had not dug in fully). Luckily we managed to move with help from 2 other boats. It was a tense day with wind howling down the mountains.
The long range forecast for the next couple of weeks did not look good, so we abandoned plans to go south via Skiros and we decided to take the inside Evia channel which is more sheltered.
We returned to Orei on the 18 September to stock up with food and water again and to top up the batteries. The sail over was pretty wild, as it was gusting 25 knots as we left Neo Klima, but we were on a reach and had rigged the staysail, so we had staysail, reefed jib and reefed main up and were flying along at 7.2 knots at one point (with Petra helming)! The wind strength dropped to 15-20 knots and Vaila romped along between 5-6 knots.


Orei harbour- a sheltered corner.

We met up with Lynn and Bill again in Orei and spent a couple of lovely evenings with them.



Bull statue from 4th century BC found in Orei harbour


Sarcophagus, orei


Andy and I also got the bikes out and cycled along the coast. There are wetlands just behind the beach in Orei, so lots of reedbeds, butterflies, birds, but also mosquitos and horse flies! At one point we came across a terrapin crossing the dirt track. Luckily it got across ok and plopped into the pond on the other side. This bit of the coast looked like it was going to be developed but it never got finished, with a lot of half started properties around.

An angler set up multiple rods right next to Vaila every morning in Orei. He arrived about 5am in the dark and fished until 8am or so, with varied success! Two mornings we were woken by small fish flapping on the deck. It sounded so loud from inside our cabin!
Today (22nd September) we have started our trip down the Evia channel. It was a lovely day but not much wind until this evening. We saw flying fish and even hit a real tidal race. We are now anchored in a small bay and thankfully the wind has dropped. Unfortunately there are a few ‘fried egg ‘ jellyfish passing in the current, so swimming is a bit limited. We plan to go though the bridge at Khalkis on Monday night. It’s a swing bridge over the narrows and only opens at night. The Evia channel is very tidal so the opening times vary. On Monday night the bridge opens at 0330, so we hope to get a couple of good sleeps before the night passage.


Voyage to Volos (28th August -6th September)


We’ve had our first week back on Vaila and already covered 200 miles! We arrived in Thessaloniki late on the 28th August with our friend Trina. Vaila was fine in her berth after our 10 week trip home, so all we needed to do was stock up with food, fill up with water and then we set off the following afternoon for an overnight trip to Panagia in the Sporades.



The shipping lane from Thessaloniki was quiet and although there was some wind it was on the nose, so we motor sailed nearly the whole way. It was an uneventful passage with a full moon rising near midnight making the stars recede. Andy and I took 3 hour watches and Trina sat up till the small hours, enjoying the novelty of being on a small boat sailing at night.
The beautiful northern anchorage in Panagia was almost empty so we had our choice of anchor spot when we arrived 11am. We spent a lazy day swimming, reading and recovering from a long night.


Tea in Panagia

As the day wore on more yachts arrived but there was plenty of room for everyone. Unfortunately, some “fried egg” jelly fish (they really do look like fried eggs and are about 30 cm across), were drifting into the anchorage. These are stingers, so no late swim for us. We enjoyed a BBQ in the evening and some bubbly for “arrivals” followed by a long sleep during a calm night.
We woke feeling refreshed, and Trina had a swim with me on jelly fish patrol! Then we headed out of our anchorage. As we approached the entrance we realised how windy it was, with waves crashing against the rocks on either side of the narrow entrance. The engine had to work hard to get through the rough stuff but we got sails up and turned round the corner into the lee of the island and made good progress. It was a lovely sail down the channel between Alonissos and Peristera but we had to put the engine on again to get into Skopelos town where we came stern-to onto the quayside.


Approaching Skopelos Town

Two familiar faces greeted us and helped us with our stern lines (Sarah and David from Shearwater, who had been at the same boatyard as us last winter).

We spent the late afternoon wandering around Skopelos town and finding a trip to take Trina and I round the island and to the chapel of Agios Ionnanis (which featured in Mamma Mia) for the next day.Then we found a great spot for dinner in the back streets well away from the busy front.

Trina and I had an early start on the 1st September as our minibus tour started at 0815. There were only 10 of us and we had a lovely drive up the west coast with our guide, Despima, telling us about the history of the island. The Sporades were really out of the main trade routes but were often subject to pirate raids, so most of the towns are high up the hillsides. It’s only recently that the the coastal harbours been developed.


Chapel of Agios Ionnanis

The chapel on the rock is really iconic and spectacular (as anyone who has seen Mamma Mia will know). There are nearly 200 steps cut into the rock to take you up and thankfully, the upper steep sections now have handrails.

The view from the top was beautiful, looking over the cliffs with crystal clear water below. The inside of the chapel was tiny, with a wooden ceiling painted blue, lots of icons and and lit tapers in a central trough. The scenes from the film inside the “chapel” were not filmed here, but in a villa on Skopolos.

There were a few devout Greeks on our trip who were kissing the icons and lighting candles. The chapel is dedicated to St John the Baptist and was founded by fishermen in the 17th century according to legend.

We left the chapel at about 10am and we were glad we had arrived earlier, as it had been cooler and we were the first visitors of the day. We drove back down the road and stopped at Kastani beach where we spent the afternoon blissfully lazying on sunbeds and swimming. The beach was busy and there was some music playing from the beach bar but it wasn’t too loud and we had a great afternoon.

We got back to Vaila in the late afternoon, stopping for an ice cream on the way. The skipper had filled up Vaila with diesel and water and had also managed to have coffee with Sarah and David and friends while we were away, so we didn’t feel too guilty! The trip would not have been his choice anyway!
After a much needed cup of tea, we headed up the steps to our favourite sunset bar at the top of the hill. We had to gate crash a baptism going on at the tiny chapel half way up, as the steps went past there and the extended family were sitting there waiting for the ceremony to finish. Trina loved the view but unfortunately not the house wine, after the delicious freshly squeezed orange, which was a Retsina style. Neither of us drank much of it! You win some, you lose some. There were some amazing hawkmoths feeding on the flowers. Some Humming bird hawkmoths and other species. They really were the size of humming birds and expertly sucked the nectar with their long proboscis while hovering.


Sunset drinks, Skopelos

We had dinner back at Olivo, where we had eaten the previous night and it was just as good. We managed to get a table in the garden area this time.

We left Skopelos town on the 2nd September and sailed west towards the mainland in a good breeze, which allowed us to sail most of the way. We were now heading into new waters for us. We passed Skiathos which did not look that inviting, as the planes approach and take off directly over the harbour. We anchored for the night in a little bay called Andriami with only a few houses ashore. “Sailing Holidays” were already there directing about 12 flotilla boats in, but we managed to anchor in the middle and there was plenty of room in the end.
A gorgeous bay with clear water and friendly people on the flotilla boats. One kind guy lent Trina his paddle board to try out and she managed really well.


Trina on the paddleboard

Another BBQ in the evening and another bottle of fizz, but unfortunately this one had been shaken up on the crossing and caused a fountain!! We went to bed reasonably content though, despite our anchor not being that well dug in to the hard mud (on inspection by skipper), but there was no wind.


Before the fizz fountain!

Trina and I managed a swim before breakfast and we set off after to sail the 30 miles to Volos. There was no wind so we had to motor into the gulf and up to Nisos Pithou, where we stopped for lunch and more swimming. The islands were gorgeous, with red sandstone cliffs and the water was the warmest yet at 27.8 deg C and quite clear. Absolute bliss.


The wind got up from the south after lunch and we then managed to sail all the way to Volos town. We caught a tantalising glimpse of some dolphins chasing tuna on the way, but the dolphins were not up for playing!

We berthed on the long breakwater close to a 200 foot superyacht “Forever” from Malta. We got settled and wandered into town to find the bus station, as Trina was going back to Thessaloniki the next day to catch her flight home. Volos seems like a lovely city. It’s a transport hub with big commercial key, ferries to the islands and bus and train connections. The Argo started from here, according to legend (Jason and the Argonauts and the golden fleece). There is a replica of the Argo on the town quay.

It was a long, hot walk along the waterfront, but we found the bus station and enjoyed taking in the ambience of this part of the city. The promenade was closed to traffic and full of bars, cafes, restaurants and ice cream shops. We had a lovely dinner later on the front and enjoyed the buzz of the city. An organ grinder was walking up and down the prom, a violinist was busking and Chinese ladies were selling balloons with flashing light tails. Lots of families were out enjoying the cool of the evening.


Trina left on the bus yesterday (5th September) and Andy and I are back to just us two. We were expecting our friend Paul to come out but he has had to cancel. So, we got laundry done, did a big shop and got ready to go yesterday, but unfortunately the wind is so strong this morning that we are pinned to quayside until it drops later this afternoon. We are in no hurry though so that’s not a problem.

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.


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.

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)!



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.


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!!


One of the biggest monastery complexes, Russian Orthodox.






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.


Approaching Porto Koufo…is there really an entrance there?


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.


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.


The white tower, no longer white


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.






Andros to the Sporades (13th-27th May 2018)


On our last day on Andros we hired a car from a lovely Greek lady who had Scottish friends. She very proudly showed off her pronunciation of “Gourock” in a strong Glaswegian accent! It’s amazing who you meet. This same lady told us to be sure to see the waterfalls at Pithara, which surprised us, as the whole island is so dry.
We drove round Andros and it was certainly more barren than Evia.


Terraces on Andros

There were terraces and ruined Bothies everywhere though, so in the old days they must have been irrigated and cultivated. Now there are just some scrawny fat tailed sheep and goats. Lots of new houses are springing up, presumably based on tourism. It’s not far to Athens. The houses here are box like and flat roofed, typical of the Cyclades islands.

We found the path leading to the “waterfalls” so headed along under lovely oak and alder trees. There were lizards basking everywhere and birds singing in the trees and shrubs. Andy got a surprise when 2 snakes slithered over his sandals. It did give us both a fright and we made sure to stamp our feet and make more noise after that. We looked them up later and think they were large whip snakes which live on lizards and are common in Greece ( and luckily non venomous).


Old wash house on the way to the waterfalls

The “waterfalls” were more of a trickle with pools but enough water for frogs and tadpoles and lovely and shady. In an island where there is little water no wonder these are a tourist attraction.

We stopped for lunch in Andros town which is positioned in an inlet on the north east coast and is a spectacular place. A large reef runs out from the beach with a Venetian fort and lighthouse on it.


Looking down to Andros town



The town is the main town of the island and there are many big buildings dating back to Venetian merchant days. We were the only people in the taverna at 1230 but they were happy to serve us with any of 4 dishes that they had. As usual they brought a menu but then told you what they actually have, which is a small fraction of what’s on the menu at this time of year. It’s always delicious though and freshly cooked. The menu expands as the tourist season progresses. We had a table by the window, looking over the beach with the surf pounding in and an amazing view.


View from our lunch stop

Our last evening in Batsi was spent with Ginny and Karl from “Leoni”, a beautiful wooden boat they had sailed from Devon. A lovely couple and another coincidence, as Karl had lived for some time near Linlithgow and his children had gone to school there.
We set off early at 7am the next morning as we had over 40 miles to go north. We hoped for a good southerly wind but there wasn’t really enough to sail, so we ended up motoring all the way and dropped anchor off the beach in Petries ( lat38 deg, 25′ N, long 024 deg, 12′ E), on the east coast of Evia, at 4pm after 48 miles. We had a swim and a BBQ but the wind got up and we had to do anchor watch till midnight when it calmed down thankfully.
The next day we left Petries and headed over to the island of Skyros. We had a fantastic sail across and even had a great dolphin encounter with a pod of about 10 individuals, who played in the bow wave and were jumping out. They stayed with us for about 5 minutes as we were doing about 5.5 knots. We only saw one other sail and a small freighter in the whole trip of 33miles. We berthed in Linaria (lat 38 deg, 50′ N, 24deg,32’E) on Skyros. We had read that Linaria is a great harbour and it didn’t disappoint. Sakis the harbour master came out to meet us and there were lazy lines to the quay so we did not need to use the anchor. Electricity and water were included in the price and everything was lovely and clean. Toilets, showers and washing machines, hurray.


Showers and loos in Linaria. Fine as long as you are not colour blind.


Looking down to Linaria

We even had a “library” on the quayside with books in about 7 languages, swaps from passing sailors.

Linaria town is very small but the ferry comes in daily and everything revolves round the ferry times. It’s just like the Hebrides really or any other island community.


Close quarters with the ferry

We ended up staying 3 nights in Linaria as the weather forecast was not great and it was good to get washing done and explore a bit of the island.


We took the local bus into Skyros town at 1345 the next day, as the early bus went at 0745 to take kids to school. So our bus had the returning pupils who were being dropped off at their homes. An interesting round trip of the back roads and scenery. Skyros town sits perched on the side of a rocky outcrop with tiny winding streets mostly too narrow for cars.




It’s obviously a touristy place in the season but in mid May it was completely dead! Most hotels and shops were shut, so we walked around to see the views for a couple of hours, managed to find 1 bar open for a cool drink and returned to Linaria by taxi as the only return bus was 1915 in time to meet the incoming late ferry. The evening ferry is welcomed to the tune of “Also Search Zarathustra ” from the film “2001, a Space Odyssey” blaring out of the harbour loudspeakers, very dramatic!
The following day we walked the 2 miles to the wetland reserve (the only one in the Sporades). Surprisingly, it really was a wetland, with brackish water, reed beds, rushes and lots of shrubs, birds, butterflies, herons and Egrets. The main claim to fame is that there is a good population of Eleanoras falcons on Skyros and we managed to see a couple. They are a bit like kestrels but much darker and hunt young songbirds! While walking back along the road we saw 4 eleanoras hunting across the cliffs. There were also some Skyrian horses, a rare breed that are small like ponies.

We left Skyros on 18th May and sailed/motored to the small island of Skantzoura (lat 39 deg, 04′ N, 024 deg, 07E) which lies half way between Skyros and the northern Sporades. We anchored in a tiny bay along with a German boat and a small fishing boat. It was thankfully a quiet evening wind wise and we had a swim, ate and went to bed.

The next morning was Saturday, so we listened to “Out of Doors” on Radio Scotland which for us was 0830- 1000, very civilised. Then we set off to sail NW to Peristera island. We managed to sail for a couple of hours but then the wind dropped, we had an adverse current and the waves were really lumpy, stopping Vaila in the water, so nothing for it but to chug on the motor. It was very uncomfortable and we were glad to get into a sheltered anchorage at the S end of Peristera after 5 hours and 20 miles.It was really sheltered and completely deserted apart from a fishing caique. There were a couple of summer houses on the shore but no one was home. Bliss.
Our next island was Panagia where we anchored in a sheltered bay on the north end after a great sail across (lat 39 deg,20′ N, long 024 deg, 04′ E). The entrance is only 83m wide with cliffs and rocks either side, so quite dramatic. The water was more green and lagoon like but it was a sheltered place, so good to sit out forecast strong wings (again)! A couple of other yachts were also in and some local fishing boats. The gulls were round begging, probably because the fishermen or yachties feed them. It’s the first time we have seen this in Greece. Lots of goats were roaming the shore and Scops owls calling at night. A peaceful place, although we did wake at 3am to rain and rising wind, so had to get up to shut hatches and check our position. It was pitch black, so almost impossible to see anything but we did have the anchor alert on the GPS, which meant we could try to sleep.
The only downside to this anchorage was that there was no mobile reception. Andy rowed ashore and climbed up the hill the next day, to try to get an up to date weather forecast while I stayed on Vaila, as we were anchored and it was still pretty windy. The forecast was for winds to ease which luckily they did, so we had a more peaceful night.


Our anchorage in Panagia

We left Panagia on 22nd May. The surf was breaking at the entrance to the lagoon where it was shallow, so it was a relief to get out into open water. The islands north of Panagia are all part of the national marine park so off limits. They are very high, with sheer cliffs and that morning they were capped with cloud.


Leaving Panagia

It was a good NE wind to start with and we managed to sail for a couple of hours SW towards Alonissos, however the wind dropped and the seas were very confused, so we ended up motoring down the channel between Alonissos and Peristera. Lots of boats were coming north, heading towards the horrible seas but mostly unaware of them, as it was very calm in the channel.
We had a look at a couple of harbours on Alonissos but they were all very small and a lot of swell was coming in making the boats bounce around a lot, so we pushed on to Skopolos town (lat 39 deg, 07′ N, long 023deg, 44′ E). It was very impressive coming towards Skopolos as there are big cliffs and rugged islands. Skopolos is where some of Mama Mia was filmed and it’s a beautiful and wooded island.


On the quayside in Skopolos town

We stayed 3 nights in Skopolos town on the new quay. It was pretty busy but water and electricity were available by getting an electronic key from the kiosk on the pier. Our batteries did not need topping up so we only used the water. Andy fitted a new solar panel (with 2x the capacity of the old ones) and 2 new batteries before we launched and this has made all the difference. Skopolos town is quite large with houses spilling down the hillside and many tavernas. It’s a bustling place and has good shopping too. It was no great hardship to stay there and we met some lovely people too.
We are now in a small harbour on the SW side of Skopolos called Neo Klima. The wind is very strong, a real meltemi from the NE. It’s a real wee holiday place with lots of apartments, which are currently mostly empty but fill up during the season. There are nice beaches and a backdrop of wooded hills. Although it’s a holiday town, there is a real community here. There is a primary school, and fishing boats go out every day and nets are piled on the pier. There is also an traditional fishing boat being done up just beside the harbour.


Alongside in Neo Klima, Skopolos



We had a 12km cycle over a hilly road today south from Neo Klima. A welcome coffee stop at a lovely beach before returning back to Vaila for lunch. Nice views across to another small anchorage at Panoramas too.


Coffee stop at Panormos

We arrived here in Neo Klima on Thursday 24th May and we will stay here till tomorrow (Monday 28th) when the wind is due to ease a bit. We need to go back to Skopolos town to get diesel, provisions and a new gas bottle and we are then heading for the three fingers of Halkidiki as we need to be in Thesoloniki before the 19th June, when we fly home.


Sunset over Skiathos from Neo Klima, Skopolos


Afloat again in the Aegean 1-12 May 2018

We are currently hunkered down in the harbour of Batsi on Andros( 37 deg 51′, 24deg 47′ E, lat and long specially for you Pete) waiting out this 2 day storm with gusts of over 30 knots! We are safely tied on to the quayside, so feel much happier than being stern to on the quay where we were swinging in the strong head wind despite the anchor being well dug in. Mind you, it was a bit like sleeping inside a washing machine last night with the noise and waves pummelling on to the quay and Vaila.


Along side in Batsi

Andy has been in Greece since 17th April, fitting new solar panels, inspecting keel bolts, cleaning and polishing the hull, antifouling and lots of other maintenance jobs. I conveniently arrived on 1st May just when everything was ready! We had a few days ashore so took a day trip to the island of Evia just across from the boatyard.

Evia is yet another mountainous island although a bit industrial on the west side nearest the mainland. We crossed over on the old bridge, located on the site of the Roman bridge, which links to the island in the town of Khalkis instead of the new suspension bridge.

We headed up into the mountains on small, tortuous roads winding up and down and through the terrain. Goats were grazing on the lush green stuff.


There were wild flowers and beehives everywhere. The beehives were all colour coded for identification, just like our sheep back home.

We stopped in a wee mountain village for coffee before driving over the crest of the ridge.


The clouds were coming in from the north east, covering the peaks which are over 6000 feet high and drifting down the high valleys. These high roads get lots of snow in the winter. Snow poles at the sides of the roads and even some ski signposts.


We dropped down to the dramatic east coast with beautiful cliffs and beaches and stopped for lunch in the town of Kimi.



Kimi is a tourist town but still very quiet at this time of year. We were the only foreigners in the taverna, in fact we were the only people in the taverna until a group of young Greek women turned up.

We drove back to the west coast and waited in the town of Eritrea for the ferry. The double ender ferries shuttle across regularly, so we didn’t wait for long. We were the only car going across, with just a handful of foot passengers.

Andy took the car back to Athens airport the next day and I did some final prep for launch while watching the red Arrows display team practicing overhead. Apparently they were in Greece for an airshow. It was lovely and warm and I thought about a swim until I saw lots of brown jellyfish on the beach!!
We had been put on the trailer at the boatyard a couple of days earlier as they had to move us to get another boat in. So it was good to finally get launched on the 5th May with no issues. Vaila is happier on the water than sitting on a trailer.


Vaila on the trailer ready for launch


Launch by land-rover with extension bars for the trailer

We headed straight across to Eritrea and anchored in the bay, so we could go ashore and stock up with perishable food. Vaila’s fridge is water cooled so does not work on dry land. Unfortunately it was too windy to get ashore and it was not the quiet night we had hoped for either! It was very windy all night and we set the anchor alarm to alert us of any drift. We were up and down all night checking, as the wind had us all turning in all directions. Our anchor was solid but a couple of boats were motoring around in the dark trying to re-anchor.


Eritrea, Evia

The wind had dropped by the morning and we got ashore for the shopping, feeling a bit jaded after a broken night. A lazy day was had and as there were still jellyfish in the water, no swimming again for me. Luckily it was a nice quiet night weather-wise but unfortunately we were up again at 1am as a French boat had anchored too close and was nearly touching us when we had all swung round. He had too little chain out, so once he let more out, we were fine. Oh the joys of anchoring.
We got away after breakfast the next day, heading for Voufolo further down the Evia west coast. We managed to sail some of the way and then motored to get to the anchorage. It’s a lovely spot, tucked up an inlet and very quiet. Just handful of houses and a couple of tavernas, but a newish looking holiday development springing up. Evia is not far from Athens so a popular spot for Athenian holiday makers.
An elderly French couple came across to ask us to help them get their jib on. We had seen them in the boatyard previously. Andy went over to help which involved him winching the French chap up in a bosons chair so he could secure the top of the jib as the automatic hook arrangement was broken. It turned out the man was 74 and used to just shin up the mast in his younger days!
We dinghied ashore and the French couple invited us for a thank you drink. It turned out that they had circumnavigated the globe in that same boat with two babies on board, over 5-6 years in the 1970s. Remarkable stories some people have to tell. We ended up having dinner at the taverna with them too. The taverna was run by Stella, who was Latvian and had come for a holiday 22 years ago and ended up staying! A lovely peaceful night and a return to Vaila in the balmy darkness.
We headed further south the next day to the Petali islands. We had been there last year and knew it was a lovely, sheltered anchorage. We arrived in the late afternoon with a smart wind. It was good holding and the wind died down in the evening giving us a quiet night.

I managed my first swim the next morning in flat calm and crystal clear water. It was bracing at 18 degrees C but lovely. We tried to leave fairly early as we had quite a long way to go. The wind was on the nose so we ended up motoring, especially as we had to cross the busy shipping lane between Evia and Andros. Quite a few tankers and container ships on route to and from Athens.
The harbour at Batsi is nice and sheltered. It’s big but not too busy and Yannis, the young harbour master, helped us with the lines. Our first stern to mooring of the season and it all went OK even in the rising wind.


Batsi harbour before the wind got up

So, here we are still in Batsi but moved on to the quayside alongside. It’s still blowing a hoolie on day 2. We managed a walk up into the hills above the town yesterday. Lovely views everywhere and old ruins of church and monastery high on the hill. All the vegetation was already dried up. It’s very different geology here, no limestone but slate and schists. Dry stone walls all over the place giving steep terraces. Nobody lives up there just now but new apartments and villas are going higher up the hillside.
We are hiring a car tomorrow to see a bit more of Andros. The weather forecast is for more gales in the Cyclades in the next week but it looks calmer further north so it looks like Andros will be our only Cyclades island this time.



The Aegean (June 2017)

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.


Vaila on the hard at Petros Marinos boat yard


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.




Porto Kaiyo

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.


Cape Malea


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.


Vaila in Ieraka

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).


Vaila in Kiparissi

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.




Flotilla on the quayside

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 Lion Gate, Mycenae







View from Mycenae

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.


Entrance to Methoni harbour

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.



Greeks, Romans, Byzantines and Venetians (21 – 28 May 2017)

My friend Sandra arrived on the 21st of May in Kalamata, just after Sally left. We had several loads of washing to do and luckily the rain stayed off and we managed to get all the washing dry. The following day was spent shopping, as the shops are not open here on Sundays, getting a replacement gas cylinder and more washing. We had coffee in town and dinner in one of the Tavernas by the marina. We could enjoy sitting outside without feeling cold, which was a first for this trip!
We left on the Tuesday morning to sail to Methoni, approximately 40 miles. A lot of motoring as the wind was light in the morning, but it freshened in the afternoon and we got Sandra on the helm.


Sandra at the helm

We dropped anchor off the Venetian fort amongst about 8 other boats (one of them was Sundance, with Marc and a Norwegian couple on board). We know Marc from Messalonghi and Preveza marinas.


Morning light overlooking the Venetian castle, Methoni

It was a lovely evening, watching the sun go down. As it was getting dark, I saw a shape appear behind the boat, but there was no fin visible so I wasn’t sure what it was. A couple of minutes later, it reappeared about 200m away and stuck it’s head out for about 10 seconds. It was clearly a Monk Seal and we were really lucky to see it, as they are extremely rare.
We went ashore early the next morning, as strong winds were forecast for the afternoon. We wanted to show Sandra the Venetian fort as we had been so impressed by it the week before. Luckily Sandra also enjoyed wandering around and our wildlife luck held as we saw a Kestrel and a tortoise (as well as a feral cat with a large rat!) and lots of flowers, though some had gone to seed.
As predicted, the wind got up all afternoon as we sailed, under genoa only, to Finakounda. Sundance was in ahead of us and we anchored in a big swell and strong wind. It’s good holding there so no worries, but it meant we could not go ashore! The windsurfers were enjoying the F4-5 winds, whizzing past the boats as we were coming in.
As we were confined to the boat, it was a good time to initiate Sandra to the card game Canasta. She had never played it before but she was a quick learner and quickly amassed the points. The wind had dropped by about 8pm so we had a peaceful night.
We headed back to Kalamata on the Thursday with a poor forecast for the next few days. Storm clouds loomed ominously and thunder rumbled but luckily the storm passed us by.


Gathering storm approaching Kalamata 

So we decided to hire a car for the next 2 days to explore some ancient sites inland.
Our first trip was to the ancient city of Messini (named after the district). It lies just about 30 km from Kalamata, on the rolling plain to the north west. We stopped for a coffee at a little Taverna in the town which overlooked the site and gave a great view.


Looking down on ancient Messini



Our first stop was further along the road where there was a massive circular gate which was once in the city walls of Messini on the main highway to ancient Arcadia.


Old city walls, Messini 

The main site itself was very extensive, with a small Greek theatre, a large stade which had been altered by the Romans to include a curved end, various temples and mausoleums and water features (now dry).


There were also some lovely mosaics, fairly heavily restored.


A lot of Roman additions had been made to the original Greek buildings, but overall you got a great flavour of a bustling city. The ancient city of Messini was established in 371 BC after the Messinians defeated the Spartans who had ruled them for nearly 350 years. Many Messinians fled west at this time, many settling in Sicily and giving their name to the straights of Messina between Sicily and Italy. Refugee migrations are not new either!
The next day we drove east over the imposing Taigetos mountains which rear up to over 8000 feet. The road was amazing, with deep gorges and several mountain passes, the highest of which was 8ooo feet. The road was in good condition, with plenty of crash barriers, so not as dodgy as some of the roads we’ve been on in other parts of Greece or in Sardinia!

We arrived at the site of Mystras and stopped for a coffee at a “Bistrot ” with a view of the castle, which we named ‘the Eagles Nest ‘ (we even saw an eagle cruising the thermals).

Mystras was a Byzantine settlement, dating back to 1262 AD. The hill it cascades down was filled with mansions and houses, palaces and many churches, all built in the Byzantine style with colourful clay tile designs and pan tiled roofs. It is a UNESCO world heritage site and is being restored extensively. The city was protected by the castle at the top of the hill and two sets of walls running right round the residential areas. Apparently even in those days there were planning disputes as people did not want to live so close each other. The governor, however, laid the law down and basically told them they would just have to put up with it, as space was so limited on the hillside. Things don’t change that much sometimes, do they? Of course, only the rich people could afford to live inside the walls, everyone else had to slum it outside!




Mystras, looking up at the castle

We walked up and down hundreds of steps and sampled the many churches with some beautiful frescoes inside.



The biggest buildings were in the “Palace of the Despots” but these were still under reconstruction so we weren’t able to go in.


It was an amazing place though and we were pretty tired by the time we had covered the upper and the the lower levels. There were also great views to Sparta, which is a substantial town these days.



Two headed eagle, the symbol of the Byzantine Empire



Now we are getting ready to leave Kalamata. Sandra left yesterday in a horrendous thunderstorm and we have done the round of washing and shopping today. Thank goodness for the tumble drier in the marina. The weather is much better today and at last the forecast is improving and the high winds are dropping. So, all being well, we will be off tomorrow to round the next two capes of the Peloponnese. it will be good to be sailing into new territory again.


Looking down on Kalamata