Crete and Island Hopping Through the Cyclades to Athens
Chania has a unique ambience, the Venetian influence overlays Moorish, Greek, Roman and numerous other civilisations that have settled on this island and added to the gene pool. All this of course long after the Minoan period circa 4500BC to 1450BC which was brought to a cataclysmic end by the eruption of Thira (Santorini) seventy miles to the north.
After completing all the usual boat docking jobs we showered and thus refreshed we sallied forth to explore the town, walking around the lovely Venetian harbour and past the waterfront mosque, now a showroom for artisan jewellers and artists, and a small portion being used as the harbour masters office, in search of a shady bar to enjoy a pre-prandial drink. On the north western side we found just such a spot, with comfortable seating and very cold beer, ouzo for the ladies, looking across the harbour to where Pamarzi was berthed.
Chania sure is a busy town but despite the many tourists manages to retain its particular charm. Back from the harbour front we found a taverna in a cool square shaded by trees and huge bougainvillea shrubs heavily laden with blazing, bright purple flowers. There we dined on avocado and prawns and tender calves liver.
Breakfast was taken ashore next morning at a bar immediately behind our berth and we enjoyed a Cretan version of the ‘full English’. Lynn and Liliane were soon off to explore the many shops crowding the narrow Venetian streets, Rob investigate local architecture and Roger to wash the boat! We met up for a lunch time drink and snacks before returning to our labours. I met with Spiros the friendly and helpful harbour master and we agreed an incredibly reasonable eleven Euros a night, plus power and water for our berth.
We had planned to leave Chania on the Monday but a heavy two metre swell at the harbour entrance, heaving across the mostly sunken outer breakwater persuaded us to stay another night. A lazy day ensued, the girls doing more exploring in town whilst after attending to a couple of small boat jobs I relaxed in the sun reading my latest find in authors of 18th century naval life and I can highly recommend Dewey Lambdin. Liliane had researched online and found a couple of interesting options for supper. The first restaurant looked great but had no seating shaded from the still hot sunshine. The next one in a restored warehouse in the little fishing harbour looked great but Rob decided it was not for him and walked out without discussion with the rest of us. Lynn did not want to walk far as her breathing was not good that evening so we left Rob and Liliane to march off around the harbour whilst we explored the streets and squares back from the fishing harbour and quickly found Kiriatis. It turned out to be a superb Cretan/Italian restaurant and a real fine dining experience. Salmon tartare, a crepe filled with prawns, pancetta and cheese, tender loin of pork in a creamy sauce and prawns in a pastana with Botargo cheese shavings. The meal completed with a bottle of assyrtiko. Lynn rang Liliane as we were finishing our repast and suggested that they might like to join us there for a night cap and shortly afterwards they arrived Rob presenting me with a new fishing lure he had purchased to replace our rather battered (but successful) one known to us as Freddy flying fish.
Lynn and I both woke with a start at 03.45 when we heard someone on deck. I stood up on the cabin sofa and peered out of the hatch to see a young chap standing on the side deck. I berated him loudly and he ran, charging up and leaping off the raised passerelle shouting “Sorry, sorry I was taking photographs of my girlfriend.” There was indeed a young woman on the quayside. Probably harmless but he won’t be stepping aboard private yachts in a hurry after the tongue lashing I gave him. With adrenalin running it took us both ages to go back to sleep again.
The fridge engineer that Spiros the harbour master had organised for me arrived around 08.00 to fix our non-functioning cockpit fridge. He and his assistant worked at it for a couple of hours most diligently but could not find the fault. He was very disappointed (as was I) but when I asked him how much I owed he would not accept any payment and apologised profusely for his failure. I’m not blowing my own trumpet but a couple of days later I traced the fault to a faulty thermostat and fixed it.
So it was around 10.30 (11th June) that we left Chania in light airs and motor sailed eastwards down the coast to Rethimno arriving at a deserted and rather run down looking concrete harbour with an even more down at heel looking marina. There were no marineros and no one ashore so we attempted to med moor on the one pontoon where there was sufficient depth for Pamarzi but we found that the laid lines to hold our bow, which did have pick up buoys, were too short for Pamarzi’s sixty foot length. So as the pontoon only had two other smaller yachts moored to it I decided to park side on. We had not long got settled in with fore, aft and spring lines set when a mountain of a man came waddling down the pontoon to tell us that we could not stay there as the boat was too big and the pontoon not strong enough. Given his size I wondered whether he was aware of the risk he was taking! Half an hour later a slightly less obese harbour guy came along and indicated that we should moor alongside the concrete quay at the marina entrance. For some unexplained reason he wanted us to moor starboard side on but as this would mean moving all our fenders and lines I insisted that we re-moored portside on. After some Cretan grumblings he acceded to my demand and as we neatly came alongside the quay he did at least take our lines with something like good grace.
Sitting in the cockpit in the late afternoon sunshine with a pleasant sea breeze wafting across our sun warmed bodies sipping well cooled aperitifs we watched as the extensive acreage of the adjacent concrete concourse began to fill with coaches, taxis, motorbikes, cars and people. Twenty minutes later a very large, very modern, twin hulled, jet ferry eased its way into the outer harbour lowering twin transom ramps to disgorge a hurrying mass of humanity which the waiting transports swallowed and within half an hour the transports, the people and the ferry had gone returning the concrete wilderness to its former pristine, silent desolateness. Silent that is except for the gentle cackling’s of the two ancient, nut brown fishermen who rod in hand still sat fishless on their stools at the far end of the quay.
We walked around to the tiny Venetian inner harbour that evening, every building around its diminutive circumference a restaurant their owners imploring us with the excellence of their particular establishment. We chose Caro d’Ora and had a n excellent meal and a fun filled evening, with the effervescent staff amusing us and views across to Pamarzi on her quay.
A weather check next morning showed the likely hood of a Meltemi sweeping down from the north and the strongest winds battering the eastern end of Crete for the next five or six days. So much to Lynn’s chagrin we decided against attempting to visit Agios Nikolaos and Spinalonga at that end of the island. Instead we opted to head for Nisos Ios one of the southern Cyclades a hundred or so nautical miles north of us. We left Rethimno just after 14.00 and after initially motor sailing we were after an hour able to switch off the engine and sailed for the rest of the afternoon and throughout the night on a close reach making seven or eight knots. In fact in the last hours of darkness I tacked back and forth just off Santorini, which we had decided to visit on route, whilst my crew slept.
As dawn broke we sailed into the vast flooded caldera of Thira (AKA Santorini) truly amazed at the scale of it all. We cruised around inside the huge nearly six mile in diameter crater. The almost sheer black volcanic sides soaring 1200 feet from the sea broken in three places by later eruptions, the last in July 1956 creating ingress and egress wide enough for cruise ships. The three white and blue cliff top villages standing out in stark contrast to the inky dark cliffs and appearing to tumble down the precipitous rock face. It is difficult to imagine just how huge the cataclysmic explosion of 1450BC was. Estimated to be at least five times more powerful than the Krakatoa event it would have generated a tsunami sixty to one hundred metres high travelling at over ninety miles per hour which would have swept away life on many surrounding islands and was the death knell for the Minoan culture as the subsequent ash fall polluted the land that remained for years. Little opportunity to safely anchor in the caldera as it is so deep so we contented ourselves to viewing it from the sea in the dawn sunlight.
We sailed on to Nisos Ios and found a good anchorage in eight metres in Ormos Manganari on the south side of the island. After a couple of hours to catch up on some sleep Rob and I took the tender ashore to a deserted beach and whilst Rob held the tender off shore I walked up to the two sun bleached tavernas. Both were ‘moma and popa’ type establishments but I chose one and let them know we would be eating with them in a couple of hours, not so much to book table space more to allow them time to prepare food. Lone diners except for a French couple also moored in the bay having a drink ashore we ate fried calamari, courgette paties a superb skoldolia and a hearty goat stew.
A slow start next morning, that had nothing to do with the litre of local red we consumed last night, the Meltemi still blowing strong but nonetheless we weighed anchor and set off on the thirty mile passage to Nisos Paros and the bay of Aliki at the south west corner. We got a good angle on the northerly wind and with reefed main and staysail we close reached all the way and got the hook well dug in which was just as well for the Meltemi blew hard for the next two days as we swung and heaved at anchor.
By Sunday 16th June the forecast indicated some easing of the wind so we upped anchor and set out on the sixty nautical mile passage to Loutra on Nisos Kithnos a village Lynn and I sailed to on a charter boat fifteen years ago. We had a couple of hours great sailing in double figures as we made our way round the southern end of Paros but then it was a thirty five mile slog to windward in in thirty knot winds and two metre seas. The wind and seas eased as we closed on Loutra on the north east of the island, we were hoping to moor side on on the outer side of the inner mole but the place has become more popular during the last fifteen years and the only option on that quay was to med more. A bit tight for us with shallow water all around but we got the hook down and thirty metres of chain out before tying our stern to the mole. Boat jobs done Rob and I repaired ashore for a cold beer whilst the girls stayed aboard to shower and dress for dinner.
We had a pleasant supper in the same beachside taverna that we had eaten at all those years ago. I did a deal on two good sized fresh caught dorado, getting them at half the usual price. Returning to Pamarzi we found that we had new neighbours on our port side, a fifty-foot boat with twelve Polish people aboard, nine women and three men! We found that this Polish crew enjoyed singing as they spent the next couple of hours carousing away loudly enough to be heard on the mainland, well not quite but I’m sure you get the picture. Thankfully the copious amounts of alcohol they consumed quietened them to slumbering intoxicated mounds strewn around the cockpit well before midnight.
I rose early next morning and went in search of a bakery discovering the little place a mile or so out of town along a dusty road bounded by a channel through which a hot spring flows down to the beach. Croissants and heavily sesame seeded bread all still warm from the oven was our breakfast. Rob, Liliane and Lynn went ashore to explore after we had broken our fast and I set to washing down our salt encrusted boat. After a light lunch the three of them opted to spend the afternoon on the beach. Not really my scene so I set about some jobs aboard not at first noticing the rising volume from our port side neighbours as the singing started again. I had done a little guitar practice after lunch and the instrument resting in the cockpit was noticed by next door and I was enticed and cajoled to join their choir. Plied with drink I strummed away accompanying their on board musician providing a backing to the twelve voices singing Polish sea shanties. So raucous were our renderings that Rob, Lynn and Liliane lounging in the hot springs on the beach three hundred metres away could hear every word even if they could not understand them.
Another early morning trip to my baker next day and whilst I waited for the bread and croissants to exit the oven he and I fell into conversation and I learnt that he had been a sub mariner in the Greek navy for many years before marrying and opening the bakery. Around 10.30 we cast off and set a course for Limini Ayios Nikolaou a well sheltered bay on the north west side of Nisos Kea. A modest thirty mile passage we arrived around lunch time and looked forward to over nighting there. Over the next two hours we made many attempts in different parts of the bay to find suitable holding but none were good enough for me to feel comfortable. The sea bed was loose clay and thick weed just not good enough to hold Pamarzi’s thirty five tons. Sadly we had no option but to abort plans to stay overnight on Kea and I decided that we should head for the Attica mainland and the port of Lavrion. We arrived at the rather industrial/commercial port around 18.00 and found that there were some facilities for yachts and spotting a suitable berth we safely med moored albeit after a tussle with a thicky of a marinero who seemed not to understand which bow lines on shore went where, shouting and gesturing we finally got him to understand what he should have known in the first place and we were settled by 19.30.
Flisvos Marina regretted that they had no berths available for our twelve day lay over in Athens so the email said next morning. This was a bit of a blow as we had not expected there to be a problem. So before we left Lavrion I emailed three other marinas in the hope of finding a safe berth.
No wind so we motored the thirty miles or so across the Saronic Gulf to Poros. So familiar to us now after five or six visits over the years, we entered from the southern end of the island along the narrow channel between the island and the Peloponnesian mainland with its treacherous expanses of shallows and around to find a berth on the quay side immediately opposite one of our favourite restaurants (Poseidon Taverna). Med moored with sixty metres of chain down to hold us nice and snug against any ferry wash it was good to be back. George the fuel guy had seen us come in and came over to welcome me like an old friend, although I he think he remembered the boat rather than me. We did a deal for cash and he topped up our midships tank with five hundred litres of diesel. The food at the Poseidon as good as ever that night, calamari, skoldolia followed by lamb kleftiko.
We slipped away from Poros next morning with the hope of finding a berth at Aegina town on the island of the same name but I did warn my crew that there were only a handful of berths in that port deep enough for Pamarzi. An email had come in from Astris marina in Athens offering us a berth at 240 Euros a night and thankfully another from Athens (Faliron) marina offering a berth at 83 Euros a night. The decision was a no brainer and I declined the Astris offer. Amusingly they came back to me by telephone later in the day saying they would be happy to negotiate!! Too late guys.
We arrived at the port of Aegina around 13.00 and nosed our way carefully around the harbour but I could see that the deep berths were already taken. Plan B was to anchor on the outside of the harbour mole and as conditions were forecast slight I was happy to get the hook down in five metres and hoped to get the ladies ashore to shop when the swell subsided. Sadly it did not die down in the afternoon but more and more yachts came in to the anchorage till there were over twenty five of us lying there. The last boat in was a forty five foot charter boat, they came in under sail anchoring far too close to Pamarzi on one side and another charter boat on the other, crazy when there was so much space still elsewhere. I tore a real strip off them and when they told me they had an engine problem I pointed out where they could have easily and safely anchored but now they had put their own boat and two others in danger!!! Knowing that the swell would eventually ease I told them that we would come over in our tender around 20.30 and tow them to a safe position, I’m glad to say they gratefully accepted this proposal. We lowered the tender and in calmer seas motored over to them and asked them to pass us a tow line and with Pamarzi’s tender going astern and their windlass taking up chain we got the boat moving and pulled her to a safe position where we helped them get the hook dug in by giving them a pull from the stern of their boat. Now we could all sleep and in fairness they were profuse with their thanks.
Today 21st June and Rob and Liliane’s last full day with us. We had hoped we might get the girls ashore to shop in Aegina but the swell had risen again and neither of them was keen enough to make the trip ashore in the bumpy conditions. The other boat that had been endangered last night came over to us as they left and very kindly gave us their thanks and praised our good seamanship, I felt quite humbled. At 13.00 up came our hook and in light airs we had a very pleasant twenty odd mile sail to our Athens berth just by the ‘new’ Olympic stadium built for the 2004 Olympics. Wending our way carefully between billions of Euros worth of mostly motor boats we moored stern to right outside the marina office helped by two efficient marineros.
We went out that evening unsure of how to get to the restaurants on the other side of the Olympic stadium and in the end at the security barriers we asked the guard to get us a taxi. By motor vehicle it is a somewhat circuitous journey to get back to the waterfront on the other side of the stadium but perhaps surprisingly taxis in Athens are very cheap and it was only five Euros for the four of us. The restaurants here go right onto the quay of the fishing harbour and the scene is very pleasing particularly when, as we were you are given a waterside table. Whilst making our choices from the surprisingly limited menu we amused ourselves by feeding bread to the shoals of fish just inches away. The food was okay as was the service, what was remarkable was the price of the wine, which I refused to order. Vin de Pays at thirty four euros ridiculous when it can be purchased here for seven Euros and as for the Dom Perignon (not a 2002 or 2008) at three hundred and eighty Euros!!! Anyway it was very nice of Rob and Liliane to insist that that dinner was their treat.
Saturday morning was a bit subdued as Rob and Liliane prepared to leave us for their flight back to Belgium. Lynn cooked great full English as a brunch and soon after we were waving them off. Fortunately taxis in this Mega Yacht Marina can come right to the stern of the boats and after I had given Pamarzi a quick swill down, the full treatment comes tomorrow, our taxi arrived and Lynn and I set of to the supermarket to re-provision for the next stage of our odyssey A quiet supper of salmon and champagne is planned for tonight followed by a cleaning Inside and out tomorrow, putting sail and pedestal covers on etcetera, etcetera in preparation for our flight home on Monday evening . A week back in the UK and then whether you like it or not dear reader this tome will continue.