Vasco da Gama
Ian Strathcarron
Thu 21 Jun 2012 14:11
Sailing in the Aegean for the last few days has confirmed why the Greeks, like the British, are such good sailors and sea captains. Conditions are usually awful, the wind is always blowing, and the sea is almost always choppy, or as yachtsmen say, 'lumpy'. We sailed through a lumpy sea from Leros to Levitha, a low lying island, measuring ten miles long by two miles wide. The trip took five hours and at Levitha we were happy to find a sheltered lagoon, on an island which is home to one goatherd, hundreds of goats, two fishermen and a lighthouse keeper. The trip was uncomfortable enough for Ian to give up the idea of sailing West for 200 miles, against the wind, but to sail South to Crete which is about 75 miles away. So we left early the next morning to sail to Astipalaia. However, the wind, which should have been northerly and helping us on our way, switched to coming from the West, and at times blew at 30 knots, so it was the roughest sea we have experienced since the Atlantic.

On the Atlantic crossing we had Tim Bassett as our skipper and I was able to shut myself in our cabin, but on the trip here I felt I should stay on deck to 'help' Ian, and we were both regularly drenched, the cockpit flooded with water as waves broke across us, and I stupidly tried to go into the saloon to get a hat and some water and was flung against the table, smashing my knee, which paralysed my leg for the next 48 hours. Rather than helping I stationed myself on deck at the top of the galley stairs, clinging to the sprayhood with one hand and with the other wedged into a loop of roped hanging from the main mast. Happy days! Ian had to steer manually as the sea was too rough for the autopilot. Actually it was all funny when it was over (6 hours later) and our reward was to find a very unspoiled island, visited only by mad yachtsmen crossing the Aegean to and from Turkey, Egyptian fishermen and a rusty old ferry depositing and collecting backpackers.

The island is created by two hills connected by an isthmus, where we are tied up, and the first hill has a town on the top made of white cubed houses and two churches at the summit, with blue domed roofs inside the ruins of a castle. As we approached, careering through an angry sea, it reminded me of 'O little town on Bethlehem'. There is a row of tavernas ashore, an antique dealer and a couple of supermarkets and here we are resting and waiting for a break in the wind before heading for Anafi, another quiet island en route for Crete.