Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Sporades, Part 2.

Look Close
We arrived in Skyros with a bang. Or maybe it was a "crunch". Whatever descriptive term used it was loud, sounded horrible, and was the first damage we've suffered at a result of the "Med tie" method of docking used commonly in the Mediterranean, and thankfully, nowhere else. Dropping anchor and backing in to stern tie to a concrete quay is the most common permutation. That was the case in Linaria, the port town on the island of Skyros, the largest and most southeastern of the Northern Sporades group. 
Linaria Harbor, Skyros, from Kavos Bar
 Of course the wind was blowing strong on the starboard bow as we backed in and although they have laid mooring lines (rather than anchoring) there was no one to help carry the line forward. I was standing off a few feet from the quay trying to keep from getting blown sideways into the concrete, reversing back and forth, when I got too much power in going back, the ZF transmission won't shift unless its at idle RPM , and by the time the shift occurred the Hydrovane mount made firm, very firm, contact with the quay. Expletives deleted. Anyway there was no hull damage but the very strong Hydrovane  mount was bent and a large stainless bolt broken and the Hydrovane shaft bent. All this can be fixed and luckily we're not using the Hydrovane on these short Med passages. As is sometimes said in aviation, the only really serious damage was to the ego. My personal status as a Med tie guy has slipped considerably just when I thought I had it pretty well down.
Taking the waters, Kira Panayia
The abrupt arrival in Skyros came after a nice sail down from the island of Kira Panayia where we spent a very nice night anchored in the southern bay. This was   the only place we've seen in the Aegean with no sign of human habituation, other than boats, and it was lovely. Prior to that we'd spent a few days in Patitiri, the port of the island of Alonnisos. We were a little disappointed with Patitiri, it seemed a rather soulless place to process tourism. Even the magnificent site of the village above the port seemed somehow less than satisfying and after a couple days we left the island.
View from above Alonnisos
So after Alonnisos and Kira Panayia we "arrived" at Linaria in Skyros. And Linaria was quite nice. There's really not much of a village there, just a few tavernas, shops and a couple markets but the atmosphere is friendly and welcoming. The actual town of Skyros is on the other side of the island on a mountainside above the sea and is spectacularly beautiful. 
Lobster spaghetti in Skyros
We rented a moped and did the island tour. We walked the steep pathways of the town and in general enjoyed the atmosphere of the place. In Linaria on a cliff above the anchorage is our  favorite bar in the Aegean. This is "Kavos" and  is a series of platforms on a rocky cliff leading down to the water. The drinks are good, including the first and only decent chocolate milk shake I've found in the Med. The music is nice, varying between the Grateful Dead and  Strauss, and it is a great place for a swim off the lowest platform, a warm shower on the rocks above and an icy Ouzo to watch a great sunset over the Med. 
Kavos Bar, Linaria
Most evenings a ferry arrives and whenever a ferry arrives Kavos cranks up the music to about 150db and plays the first movement from Strauss's "Thus Spoke Tharastrula" better known as the theme from "2001: A Space Odyssey". Given the circumstances this is very cool and a great piece of music while the ferry maneuvers for landing is enjoyed by everyone. The other nice thing about Kavos, they turn the volume down at night so you don't listen to boom, boom till the wee hours. 

Street scenes, Skyros
We stayed in Linaria a week enjoying the island and then waiting for the Meltimi to calm down a little before doing the "passage" over to Psara. This Meltimi has been blowing for weeks and shows no sign of quitting until September so we waited until yesterday, the 20th, when it seemed there might be a little less wind, and headed over on the fifty-five mile sail. All in all it was fine. We had twenty to twenty five knots a little ahead of the beam and four to six foot seas, closely spaced,  on the beam or a little ahead. We put two reefs in the main, set the stay'sl and a little genoa and did about seven knots all the way. We could have gone faster but this was a comfort compromise and it was fast enough. It was  rolly and wet but we're getting pretty soft after all this Aegean sailing. Going hard to weather would have been much tougher.
So now we're in Psara, a small island about ten miles west of Chios (or Khios) and  this is technically the "Eastern Sporades". Psara is mountainous, barren, bleak and beautiful. There is one village and about four hundred and fifty people on the whole island. The only foreigners other than ourselves we've seen are a very nice Italian couple on another cruising boat. There are a few tavernas, a very small market and a couple very interesting looking churches, neither of which has been open yet while we were around.
Psara harbor
Psara has a typical Aegean history. Occupied since Mycenaean times its been the scene of periodic slaughter, massacre, annihilation, etc, etc. The last big one was fairly recent. Psara has always been a center for sea faring (sometimes considered piracy) and was one of the first islands to revolt during the Greek War of Independence around 1821. They gave the Turks (the Ottoman empire) a bad time until finally the Turks managed to land and kill every man, woman and child they could find. A very few survivors made it back to mainland Greece. As a follow up Constantine Kanaris, a young Greek naval officer from Psara, took a fireship along side the Turkish flagship as they were celebrating this victory and a much larger slaughter on Chios. Kanaris managed to blow up the Turkish powder magazine and kill the Turkish admiral responsible for the killings and two thousand other sailors. Kanaris and his crew escaped to survive the war and Kanaris was eventually elected Greek Prime Minister six times.

Tomorrow morning early we plan on heading over to the northeast of Chios to an island called Nisos Oinoussa. We'll get the early start to cross the ten miles over to the Chios channel before the Meltimi has a chance to fill in. We plan to anchor at the small town of Mandraki,  which all say is quite lovely,  and spend a few days before heading down further onto Chios itself.
Lunch on board
So  we will have completed a loop around the northern Aegean. It almost feels like going home to be back in the Eastern Sporades and the Dodecanese. We're looking forward to being out of the Meltimi, this wind gets very old, and to seeing some very nice places on the way south.
Latest candidate, cats of Greece
Love to all,
Bill & Janet
SV Airstream

Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Sporades, Part 1

Janet's off on a little photo safari to the town of Skopelos. Bernie and Di just took off on their bikes for the village of Glossa and I'm 'home alone' trying to stay out of trouble. That's not too hard here in the tiny harbor at Nea Klima on the island of Skopelos. About the worst I could do is make some bull move doing boat jobs but my little tasks so far this morning have been a success and its time to write.
Loutraki Harbor, Glossa above
We had a nice sail down from Nea Skioni in the Halkidiki about a week ago. We left motoring and not expecting any decent wind. So when it began to pipe up a little from aft the port beam I rolled out the genoa and thought we'd just motor-sail for awhile. Low and behold, the wind kept building and we had a lovely sail under genoa alone at 6-8 knots  to  Loutraki Harbor on the island of Skopelos in the Northern Sporades. Lovely place with the village of Glossa on the mountainside above the bay. First LIght III (Bernie and Di) were there with their son Simon and his girl friend Noelia. We went up to the village exploring, hiked the hills and took the bus to the main town on the island, also called Skopelos. All very mellow.
Street scene, Skopelos
The Sporades, technically the "Northern Sporades",  are an island group off north central Greece that are not what might be what comes to mind when thinking of "Greek Islands". They are rugged and mountainous with ancient mountain villages and more modern coastal towns and ports. But these islands are heavily wooded with lovely pine forest. Where the forest has been cut back there are olive groves and occasional viniculture. The Sporades are a little west of the mainstream of Meltimi winds. Summers are a little less hot than further south and we've had warm days and cool nights  with nice breezes that are prefect for sleeping on board. From the fall of the Roman empire until almost modern times the islands were a notorious pirate hangout. So the villages were away from the shore on high defensible positions. They are very picturesque places with narrow lanes between white washed homes with tile or slate roofs, cool and shady, with views to die for. 
Street scene, Glossa
  The coastal port towns are equally lovely once you get away from the tourist scene in larger places like Skiathos and Skopelos towns. Its  amazing that you can be in the midst of tourist bedlam on the waterfront in Skiathos and walk a couple hundred yards back into the village and never know the other world existed. Rather nice.
Janet in Glossa
We did take the boat over to Koukounaries Bay on the island of Skiathos. Interesting change of scene to say the least. Skiathos is sometimes flogged as the "Greek Riviera" island. We visited twenty years ago and could recognize nothing. Bus loads of eastern European tourists are now ferried over from the mainland and then bussed to the beaches. They spend an afternoon, thousands of them packed onto a lovely beach,  watching each other turn red, swimming a little and participating in every form of motorized water sport while listening to absolutely deafening Bulgarian (?) rap from huge boom boxes at the beach kiosks. It was so bad it was fun to watch. Luckily as the sun sets the beaches immediately empty, the hoards disappear into their busses, and quiet descends onto the bay. Actually not bad at all.
Koukounaries beach
We did have a bit of a cluster getting off the hook the next morning. When we set the anchor on arrival we  hooked up very solid. I snorkeled the anchor. The water was crystal clear and I could see we were wedged under the edge of a large sheet of rock which looked like ancient dead coral growth. We definitely weren't going to drag but I thought we might have a little problem on departure. Yes indeed,  it wouldn't come up and we tried  about every angle and trick we knew. Finally I free dove the anchor, it was only about twenty five feet, and could move it a little towards the one direction which had made no sense but might work. Next try we got it freed and up and we were outta there for the town of Skiathos a few miles to the east. So far I've never had to get out the scuba gear to free an anchor, may that good luck continue!

Skiathos, away from the madding crowd
We dropped the hook off the yacht quay at Skiathos and went ashore for a few hours. As described above, tourist chaos on the waterfront and a lovely place once you escape into the town itself. But not a place we wanted to stay so we pulled anchor and moved back over to Skopelos to anchor off the village of Nea Klima. And that's where we are now, a very lovely spot. There is a tiny harbor here and a breakwater which seemed a little suspect shelter wise. We anchored out for a couple nights in a nice spot. We took the bus into Skopelos town and explored some more. 

Church above the quay in Skopelos
We swam in great water. We enjoyed the very laid back local atmosphere. Yesterday we decided to come to the quay and I actually hooked up shore power for the first time in months. The port facilities  are free of charge, very unusual, there is usually a small charge. And there is water and electricity and showers on the beach a few feet away. The small quay is pretty tight and the daily show is watching boats arrive and get stern tied without catastrophe. Interesting variety of boat handling styles to say the least. So far, no actual deaths witnessed.
Yacht pontoon at Loutraki
So the plan is to move on tomorrow. Bernie and Di will head east and south towards the gulf of Volos and then down the inside passage between Evia and the mainland. Their daughter is coming in later in the month and they want to do some of the Cyclades with her. We'll head northwest to the next island of Alonnisos and explore there a few days before heading down to Skiros, the southern most island of the Northern Sporades. In a few weeks we'll cross back over to the eastern Aegean stopping at Psara and Kios before going  down to Samos. We have family coming into Samos on the 10th of August and we're very much looking forward to having them onboard.
Loutraki sunset
Its been great cruising with Bernie and Di the past few months. We'll miss them but in early October we'll be back together  in Marmaris, Turkey. Hopefully we'll see Sabbatical III and other friends there before we all head for home.
Janet's "Cats of Greece" album candidate
Please stay tuned for "Sporades Part 2" . Love to all!

Bill & Janet