The calm…… and the storm

Well, I have been promising to tell you about the storm we weathered in Porto Cheli and will, indeed, come to that in this post. But at the time Andrea and Fiona left us in mid-September we had no idea of the bad weather to come so, with our friends Steve and Gill on “Coriander”, we intended to slowly make our way south down the eastern Peloponnese coast.

However, before leaving Nafplio we decided to spend a couple of days stocking up with food etc and take the opportunity for a bus trip to the nearby town of Argos. Today, the town is best known for its recently opened Byzantine museum – our main destination for the day – but its history actually goes back over 6,000 years, with the usual suspects variously occupying the area.

The museum itself is housed in the restored former “Ioannis Kapodistrias” barracks, named after the first President of Greece. Its six themed rooms take the visitor through “life in the Argolis” from 4000BC onwards all of which was very interesting but two exhibits particularly took my fancy. Firstly, this “Stibadium”….

More sophisticated than a chunk of bread for a plate!

… a semi-circular piece of furniture sometimes used as a desk but more often as a table in the “triclinium” – the large, usually arched, reception room of a Byzantine villa. During formal meals guests were “seated” on pillows in a reclined position around the stibadium and foods and drink were placed in the middle. They normally ate with their fingers, placing their chosen morsels in the nearest dish cut out.

Secondly, I rather liked this child’s toy…….

No doubt a toy for a young charioteer

….made of clay, it would once have had wooden wheels.

Back in Nafplio the provisioning didn’t us long – the boat isn’t big enough! We therefore had time for an evening walk around parts of the town….

The Lion symbol of Nafplio

…..and its lesser known and visited ruins which sit atop the rocky jutting edge of the town – the “Akronafplia fortress”. There isn’t much left of Nafplio’s oldest castle, who’s walls date back to the Bronze Age, but we got great views over the ruins and across the gulf of the clouds gathering above and around the 1771m [approx. 5,800ft] high Mount Artemesio.

Almost biblical

We also found a brilliant bar called “Lichnari”…..

IPA and another specialist Ouzo followed!

Why is it always the last day of a visit somewhere when you come across such gems!

We left Nafplio the following day [14 September] for an easy two hour crossing to Paralia Astros where we spent 3 nights – no need to rush away, it’s such a pretty place.

Astros, viewed from the harbour

Old gun emplacement on the headland

Inside the lighthouse chapel

View from the top

All ready for a wedding

The harbour mermaid watches over us

Its castle, built in 1256 was later fortified by the “Zafeiropoulos Brothers, during the Greek War of Independence, when they built their homes there.

Ruins of one of the brother’s houses

Mike and I decided we would walk up to the inland town. Should anyone reading this think of doing the same I would suggest you think again – unless you want the exercise! It was a long straight dusty main road leading to a town that was, not unexpectedly, almost deserted when we got there as it is, after all….”only dogs and Englishmen”! The only slight signs of life were in a couple of ouzeries around the main square.

Perhaps hoping a friend might come along

Tiros harbour was our next port of call which we reached following a 2 hour motor-sail from Astros.

A dramatic setting for Tiros

We were quite surprised by the wave height given the relatively low winds and were glad that we had left fairly early in the morning as later in the day it was really quite boisterous at sea. Again we spent three nights – and saw just how much difference a charter fleet can make.

Evening 1 – all alone

Evening 2 – the fleet is in

Next day – Relative peace reigns once more

We bought some fantastic locally produced olives and oil from a small shop near the harbour and also strolled across to the other side of town to try to see the windmills….

….which, from the sea, are an excellent landmark for the port.

Heading south again on 20th September it was once more an approximate 2 hour sail to Plaka Leonidion. You can perhaps understand why this area is so popular – small distances with lovely places to visit.

It was here, the following morning, when we got first warning of potential bad weather to come. As do most sailors we know, we look at various weather apps/forecasts at least once a day and very strong winds from the NE were showing up. We had said a temporary goodbye to Steve and Gill the day before because Gill had pulled her back and couldn’t face med mooring in harbours and as all the anchorages along that coast were untenable with the NE wind direction, they had planned to stay in Tiros for a couple of days and then think about following us. Given the new forecast they had decided Porto Cheli or Koiladha were likely to be the best bolt holes if all went pear shaped weather wise. We felt the same and decided that we too would cross back to Porto Cheli, as even staying in the eastern Peloponnese coastal harbours didn’t seem like a good idea as their entrances and position allow in considerable swell with moderate NE winds, never mind strong ones. We could then see how the forecast shaped up over the next few days and, in addition, it was going to be Steve’s birthday 2 days later and we are the last ones to miss out on a good excuse for a party!

Thus, after a nice afternoon sail in 10-12kn winds we dropped anchor in our lovely sticky mud “home from home” Porto Cheli anchorage.

Boy, are we glad we made that decision!

The first forecast “blow” was due on 25th so we had three days grace and made the most of it by getting laundry etc done on the first day  with a very pleasant walk around the west side of the lagoon…..

Taking on water!

Abandoned … would make a great bar

….and along the ridge back to town…..

Looking out over the Saronic Gulf to the Peloponnese mainland

…. before drinks and a birthday meal for Steve on the second.

On 24th Steve hired a car and we all went off to visit Epidavros. Our route took us via the Didyma Caves – sinkholes created when caves collapsed a few thousand years ago. The larger of the two can be seen easily from the surrounding area…..

Conspicuous from a distance

……but does not look as dramatic close to. The smaller is below ground….

Down we go…

….and surrounded by trees and is only really seen once you have actually entered it.

An almost perfect circle….

Doesn’t really show the scale

….within which are two small chapels which have been there since Byzantine times.

The one nearest to the entrance – “Agios Giorgios”….

Saint George at the door

….has wall murals dating back to C13.

Amazing

At the other side, the “Metamorphosis of Sotiros” is literally built into the surrounding rock.

Carved into the hillside

Inside the “Metamorphosis”

It is said that the villagers of the nearby small town of Didyma hid in this smaller cave during raids by invading Ottoman armies and much later from occupying Italian and German troops during WW2.

Mike and I had visited Ancient Epidavros once before, during a great charter holiday with friends Dave and Mag. However, the size and grandeur of the place stunned us once again. Whilst these inland ruins are known as Epidavros – you might recall that with our summer visitors we visited both Nea [New] and Paleo [Old] Epidavros on the coast.

The famous site of “Epidavros” was actually the Sanctuary and renowned healing centre of “Asklepieion” dedicated to the God of Medicine “Asklepios”

The museum is relatively small but contains some excellent artefacts.

Re-used later as part of a door frame in the “Asklepieion”….

“Accounting stone”

….this stone is actually an “account book” which records the expenses for the construction of the “Tholos”.

A close up of a small part of the stone

Medical instruments….

Ouch…. but some things haven’t changed that much

….and statues….

Unfortunately plaster copies, the originals being in the Athens Archaeological Museum

….are displayed, as is part of the surviving architecture of the principle building in the Asklepieion – the “Temple of Asklepios”.

Temple roof piece

Stunning plasterwork and stone-masonry include part of a frieze from the “Temple of Artemis”….

Beautiful

……. and this magnificent Corinthian Capital which topped one of the pillars of the “Thymele”.

Almost perfect and gob smacking!

Its preservation is a result of it having been buried, for some reason, by some of the original inhabitants of the site which meant that it wasn’t destroyed by earthquake or plundered. It was found during excavations carried out in 2006.

The ruins cover a large area and are well signposted with clear paths meandering through them.

Part of the “Katagogeion”

The “Stadium”

Part of the Temple

Obviously my “Off the wall” or “out of the box” humour

At the outer edge we finally reached the “Propylaia” – the ancient entrance to the Sanctuary, the Gateway through which the sacred processions passed and where the roads from the city of Epidavros and the western Argolid terminated.

The road in and out

The well…..

….. just inside the entrance was used as a cleansing place for pilgrims entering the sanctuary and remnants of pots and ewers also lie here.

In our view, the highlight of any visit to the site is the C4BC Theatre – reputedly one of the best preserved Classical Greek structures in existence today.

Steps and seats

Acoustically it is astonishing. Any sound made in the centre spot resonates throughout the theatre which seats 14,000 people and stages Greek Dramas during the annual Hellenic festival.

Just takes your breath away

Our final stop that day was the port of Methana.

Some kind of pumping station with the harbour behind

Over the summer we passed by several times whilst sailing between Aegina and Poros but never attempted to enter because we believed the entrance to be narrow and too shallow for our draught. Having now seen it we think it is probably best that we didn’t go. There is little space to manoeuvre in the lagoon and the outside harbour area where the ferries dock looked both exposed and stony. Boats arriving that evening had a hard job getting their anchors to set – and we are fairly sure some were “held” by weight alone. It was a calm night so it was probably OK but I hope they moved before the next night!

And, yes, this brings us to the first bad weather episode, the one which had led to our leaving the eastern coast and crossing to Porto Cheli. On the morning of 25th Sept we went ashore to shop for 3 days of food and then prepped the boat for wind and let out another 20m chain. All the boats around us were doing the same – except the idiot who came and anchored in front of us who didn’t believe us when Mike went across in the dinghy to tell him bad weather was coming and suggest that he was too close for the chain we had out. Fortunately he was finally convinced by another boat crew, who also stopped to speak to him, and he upped anchor and moved to a bigger space on the other side of the anchorage.

Two fairly sleepless nights followed. Some boats tried to leave on Day 2 but turned round once into the main Hydra channel and re anchored in Porto Cheli Bay. It must be very difficult if you have chartered a boat which is due back to. e.g Athens on a Friday and a hoolie starts on the Wed and blows for 3 days. Fortunately in all our years of chartering we didn’t encounter that, although we always planned our “furthest away” anchorage for about the fifth or sixth day of a fourteen day charter so that any delays could be, hopefully, compensated for.

During the three days of that first storm front we generally saw around 30kn with gusts of around 35-40kn. However, the wind remained constant from the NE with no sudden direction shifts and we were largely sheltered from any fetch. It was therefore mainly a case of staying on board and being alert.

By the afternoon of 27th the wind had dropped sufficiently to take the dinghies ashore and we met Steve and Gill for a couple of drinks and to discuss the new weather front which we had been following on the internet during the past few days as it developed, this time out to the west. On various forums and some weather sites its name had been coined as the “Medicane” – as it was forming in the Mediterranean and, at its centre, it was reportedly showing sustained 95kn winds with gusts of 150kn+ i.e. a category 3 hurricane. Variously it was reported that it would pass either north of Crete but south of the Peloponnese, or south of Crete along the Libyan coast or further north along the south Peloponnese and into the Aegean.

It was tempting to think of going north up to Nafplio but we knew there was no shelter there in west winds. Astros and Tiros are protected from the west but any wind change would mean exposure. We also considered making a run back around into the Argolic Gulf maybe to Poros which has generally good protection, or up as far as Paleo Epidavros or Korfos. In the end we felt that the mud of Porto Cheli had stood us in good stead so far, our anchors were now well dug in and, other than in wind directly from the west, we were protected by land.

Another good decision.

28 Sept was very calm – almost eerily so.

Late afternoon on 28th September – everyone with most/all their chain out

Bits of drizzle on and off and then thunder and lightning around 7-8pm, but no rain. By this time the forecast had settled on the track of the storm being north of Crete with warnings that the southern Peloponnese was going to feel its effects.

Heavy rain started at around 7am on 29th and the winds followed. We now know that the eye passed to the south and east of us and then swung north. At the time all we could do was sit, fully suited and booted, in the cockpit and try to watch what was happening to us and other boats as the wind blew from south, to south-west to west,  finally north/north west. During the 19 hours we saw three particularly violent wind shifts and, each time, some of the boats in the anchorage dragged and had to try to re-set in horrendous conditions, trying desperately to work out distances between other boats and find a safe place to drop their anchors with enough space for all. A couple of boats were forced to move when wind shifts resulted in them being too close to their neighbours – or vice versa. Everyone managed to re-anchor and, as far as we could see no boat actually hit any other. We watched boats which had chosen to moor against the harbour wall get blown onto the quay and we could only imagine what damage might be being done to their sterns.

Happily, I can report that both “Owl and Pussycat” and “Coriander” remained firmly in place throughout the storm with both crews tired but delighted to see a calm morning follow.

Our anchor watch app – we didn’t move out of that circle

Ashore the fire brigade was out in force trying to unblock drains and remove debris. I think four or five boats on the wall had stern damage, but fortunately none had holed sufficiently to sink. What we were most surprised to learn was that Astros had been very badly affected, the wooden boardwalk and pontoon at Poros practically washed away and a couple of boats at Paleo Epidavros sunk. You might recall from a few paragraphs above that those were all places we had considered as possibilities. Much of that damage was due to fetch and, although we regularly saw 45-50 knots sustained with more severe gusts, the land protected us. The period when the wind went west was obviously the worst but, fortunately, that period was relatively short lived.

Had the eye passed directly over us it could have been a very different story. Happily, despite several towns and villages suffering some damage the eye actually stayed out at sea so catastrophe was averted.

So, that’s it. Two storms weathered in Porto Cheli – an anchorage I would certainly recommend to anyone reading this who might find themselves in the Argolic/Saronic sailing grounds facing similar conditions in the future.

Throughout this summer’s sailing season, and in previous blog posts, I have remarked on the changed weather patterns. I am not going to have another rant about global warming but differences are certainly beginning to arise more regularly and nature is showing us that it is not happy.

However, to finish on a happier note, nature also has a way of making us smile and, as in many of my posts, I am always delighted to post photographs of some of its small wonders.

European [Praying] Mantis

Long headed Toothpick Grasshopper

Mating European Fire Bugs

Permanent link to this article: http://www.sigasiga.co.uk/2019/02/21/the-calm-and-the-storm/

Family and Friends in the Saronic and Argolic Gulfs…..part 2

At the end of the last blog I left you stranded in Póros – which isn’t a bad place to find yourself in that state! Its popularity with yachties and holidaymakers means that during the summer months it is a busy, vibrant town.

The narrow Póros Strait separates it from the mainland…

Looking towards the mainland from the upper town

… and boats passing through have to negotiate other boats at anchor or on mooring balls and keep a look-out for the frequent water taxis ….

Just leaving for Galatas

… which regularly ferry people across to Galatas on the other side – a nice trip for a bit of shopping or a drink on the waterfront with fabulous views of pretty Póros.

A view of Poros from a Galatas waterfront bar

In my last blog I mentioned anchor wars and Póros is another of those places where crossed chains are a regular occurrence. We liked, if possible, to use the pontoon rather than the boardwalk….

Before the storm- the pontoon and boardwalk

….but I am not sure how much of it remains after the destructive October storm. There will be more about that in my next post – this is still about family and friends visiting and, fortunately, none of them were with us when the “Medicane” struck. Friends who went through Póros late in the season said boats were still berthing on the pontoon but they weren’t sure how structurally sound it was and the “bridge” to the shore had gone.

There are several good anchorages near to Póros. Between visitors Mike and I spent a couple of nice, quiet days in Ormos Vidhi and, with Andrea and Fiona, we managed to find space to anchor in popular “Russian Bay”.

At Maria’s – a great place to chill

A short sail “round the corner” into Kolpos Idhras [Gulf of Hydra] brought us to Nisís Soupia which is often named “Frog Island” because it is said to look a bit like a crouching frog when approaching from the east. We thought it looked more like a lizard, but – regardless of which reptile – it was a pleasant, but slightly rolling, place to anchor for the night.

The swimming was good and, thanks to Steve, Fiona showed excellent balance on his SUP.

First time she has done this – took to it like a duck to water!

The islands of Idhra and Spétsai and both very beautiful but finding a berth in either of their main town harbours is difficult. We didn’t actually try because we saw the number of boats approaching every time we passed. We did, however, when the wind was in the right direction find lovely anchorages on both.

Ormos Molos, Idhra

Ormos Zoyioryia, Spetsai

A Loulouthia flower

We also visited Spétsai by bus and ferry from Porto Kheli.

Berthing is available on the side of a ferry dock [top right] – but it always looked choppy and full

Like Idhra, Spétsai grew wealthy as a result of ship building.

Signs of past boat building activity

Their ship’s captains are famous for bursting the British blockade during the Napoleonic Wars and also for being part of the Greek fleet during the War of Independence.

Most famous of all was Laskarina Bouboulina, who’s house/museum we visited.

That does say “Bouboulina”

The daughter of an Idhra captain, she was born in a Constantinople prison when he was imprisoned, with his wife, for rebelling against the Ottomans. She moved to Spétsai when she was four or five years old after her mother’s second marriage to a local man.

She was a formidable ship commander and a fearless fighter, fully supported the independence movement and spent her own money buying weapons and ammunition for her ships, most notably the “Agamemnon”….

Bouboulina’s flag ship – “Agamemnon”

…… on which she sailed, on 13 March 1821, along with her fleet of seven other ships to join the successful Greek naval blockade of Nafplio.

As I said above we visited Spétsai from Porto Kheli, where we spent a total of 21 nights at anchor during 3 separate visits.

The first time we were there alone, the second time we had Andrea and Fiona on board. On that occasion we were also in the company of “Coriander” as we were again for our third, and longest, stay there during the aforementioned storm.

Originally just a small fishing village….

Mail boxes at the old village quay

…..it was developed in the 1960’s when work was started to build a NATO base there. The plans were shelved, but the long newly laid quay remained and the large and well sheltered bay makes an excellent anchorage.

Porto Kheli church by night

Its outdoor votive altar

A Porto Kheli sunset

Whilst here Fiona, again thanks to Steve – who has such a collection of “toys” – tried her hand at wind surfing.

A little instruction from Steve….

Not quite as successful as the SUP but she did manage to stand up and go for a short time.

….Wow – off she goes

Unfortunately an injury to her foot from an underwater rock prevented any other attempts at improving during the rest of the holiday.

Between “Frog Island” and Porto Kheli we spent two nights in delightful Ermioni.

Drougas bakery on the right. Great bread, great coffee

We anchored in the bay to the north of the town and walked around the headland to have a look at the southern side.

Interesting artwork on the waterfront path on the north side of town both modern…..

…. and more traditional

On the headland

Had we had the time and opportunity it would have been a great place to revisit and, wind direction allowing, I would have liked to anchor here or berth along this picturesque quay.

The south side quay

Up the east side of the Argolic Gulf we found three really nice places to drop the hook.

In a large, shallow bay surrounded by mountains and with a privately owned islet at its entrance, lies Koiládhia.

Looking to the town quay from the anchorage. We also berthed there.

Koiladhia anchorage

A safe anchorage in most winds, like Idhra and Spétsai, it was once a shipbuilding village.

Speaks for itself

Faded photos of bygone years and boats

However, it is most renowned for the Franchthi caves, an important prehistoric site.

The top cave – viewed from the anchorage

Inside the lower cave

It was first occupied around 40,000BC – the Upper Paleolithic era. At that time the cave was approximately 5km from the shore. By the end of the Ice Age [10,000-9,000BC] rising sea levels brought it to within 3km of the sea. During the Mesolithic period [9,000-7,000BC] it was only 2km from the coast and during the Neolithic period, even closer. Archaeological research suggests it was abandoned around 3,000BC as, by that time, the sea level had resulted in loss of land for crop and animals and also a loss of community as other cave dwellings were covered by water.

It was later inhabited once again – by a C18 goat-herder – and his goats.

A reconstructed goat shed!

14 miles north another, smaller, enclosed bay shelters Khädhari.

Peaceful Khaidari – also known as Livadi

We enjoyed a pleasant walk along the lagoon….

Looking back to the village

……. to Drepano and back before an excellent meal at “To Limani”.

Outdoor seating on the beach

Our third gulf anchorage was at the seaside resort of Toló.

Looking towards Tolo from the church

Very popular with Greek holiday makers we had fun pretending we were staring in Mamma Mia!

Not quite Meryl Streep and Pierce Brosnan!

No, it wasn’t filmed here, but the small church perched up steps on the little island was reminiscent of the wedding scene.

…. and not enough steps!

I seem to remember my sister telling me the scene was filmed on Alonnisos but the internet tells me that the “real” venue for the ceremony was Agios Ioannis chapel which sits on the summit of a 100-metre rock close to the town of Glossa, in the north of Skópolos, and has all the 202 steps shown in the film. Maybe I will find out next summer as we hope to sail to both of these islands – and others.

Speaking of steps, our final port with family members was Nafplio. Here, Palamidi Fortress dominates the skyline….

The well preserved Palamidi overlooks the town

….and there are 999 steps to be climbed to reach it. There is a road and both the sightseeing open top bus and tourist train ply the route. But who needs to take the bus? 999 steps – merely an early morning leg stretcher!

Yes….. we did it

As expected the views from the top were excellent…..

Looking inland….

….over the new town…

… and down to the old town and harbour

….. and the site itself both extensive and interesting.

Main fortress in the citadel

One of the guardians waiting on the steps…

…and another over the main entrance

Indeed, it is touted as the most impressive Venetian fortification in Greece.

Back at sea level, narrow streets wend through the old town…

Quiet during the midday heat

…whilst excellent supermarkets and shops in the new town make it a great place for stocking up.

Whilst in Nafplio we also visited the Peloponnese Folklore Museum….

… which contained, amongst other exhibits, some interesting clothing displays.

Women’s garments – with an Ottoman influence

Loved the photograph behind as well.

It was from here – Nafplio I mean, not the museum! – that Andrea and Fiona left on a bus to Athens, and it is here that I will leave you again. As I hope you have been able to tell from this and the previous post, it was a great summer spent with family and friends….

With Chris and John….

…. James, Steve and Gill

…and Andrea and Fiona

With luck [no I won’t go into a rant about the possible ramifications for liveaboards of Brexit] we will be able to do something similar next year. Greece is just such a wonderful place to be.

A fantastic country…

…waiting for family and friends to return

Permanent link to this article: http://www.sigasiga.co.uk/2019/01/15/family-and-friends-in-the-saronic-and-argolic-gulfs-part-2/

Family and Friends in the Saronic and Argolic Gulfs…..part1

Having come through the Corinth Canal in mid-July we anticipated spending about three weeks in the Saronic Islands and along the adjacent coast before sailing across to the Cyclades. However, the Meltemi had different ideas! The constant strong winds in the Cyclades throughout this summer meant that we ended up spending three months in the Saronics, the Argolic Gulf and the Eastern Peloponnese.

Mike will get round to doing our blog map….one day!

Whilst we might have been relatively happy to weather out the various blows in a secure Cycladian anchorage we had three sets of visitors during the period and it did not seem like a good idea to subject them to either heavy wind and/or seas or to a probable restricted trip visiting maybe just two or three places.

But, no complaints from us. There are certainly worse places to spend the summer and even though we visited some of the harbours and anchorages several times, we didn’t tire of them and we made the most of what the Saronic/Argolic cruising ground has to offer.

One of our most visited places was Aegina – mainly because all three sets of guests met us there and one left from there. It is definitely a good place to meet and greet people as it is a short “dolphin” or ferry ride from Athens and the church at the entrance to the harbour makes for a real Greek welcome.

The church of Panagitsa

Those sailors who have visited will know that whilst the harbour looks to be a relatively good size, much of it is filled with local boats and/or is too shallow for sailboats with a draft of more than 2m. It is also very popular with Athenians who come across for the weekend or, in some cases, the whole summer – usually in a sizeable motor yacht. Anchor wars [more of that later] are common and our first visit to Aegina in 1992 on a charter boat resulted in us paying a diver to free our anchor. Yes, we were one of those “bloody charter boats”!

Anyway, all of this meant that we were very wary about mooring in Aegina harbour but managed it without mishap on all three occasions. I say without mishap – but actually mean “without mishap on our part”. During our second stay there the owner of a very large motor yacht decided that he was going to moor come what may. All the spaces were actually taken but he decided that he would go stern too against part of the dolphin quay and, regardless of the harbour police whistling at him to stop, he dropped his anchor and backed, crossing as he did so all the anchor chains of the boats berthed on the small section of harbour near the water-boat dock.

Too big….me!

You have already guessed where we were and, yes, which anchor he managed to dislodge!

What made matters worse was he didn’t actually know how to retrieve the situation but finally called for a rescue diver who sorted it all out but who he didn’t then pay!!

Aegina is also a popular place to meet people because it has good provisioning opportunities…

Fruit and Vegetable boats…open well into the evening

Small fresh fish and meat market

….. and lots of bars and restaurants for guests to sample their first Ouzo or beer.

Back street tavernas…behind the fish market

Quirky decoration inside a garden restaurant

It also has a couple of small beaches, one of which is the site of the ancient harbour at the base of the Hill of Kolona on which stands the C6BC Temple of Apollo.

Temple of Apollo atop Kolona Hill

Research suggests that there were originally 30 pillars but only one remains standing.

Weathered but surviving…no earthquakes please

The Temple was built at the top of a settlement, parts of which date to a century earlier, from where excellent views of both the Athenian coastline and the Saronic Gulf can be had.

Different settlement layers

Looking North West over the Gulf

The site also houses the Archaeological Museum of Aegina which displays exhibits both remodelled….

Replica of a casting pit….

…and pottery kiln – both used around C2-1BC

…and original….

Storage vessel depicting ships which were important for Aegina’s prosperity

Sphinx

The remains of a beautiful mosaic path….

led to a small ruined building which surprised me as being a Jewish synagogue. Perhaps not quite so surprising as the two Orthodox faiths have, I believe, one root.

Chris and John and, later Andrea and Fiona visited this temple but “between visitors” Mike and I took a bus ride across Aegina, passing the “Monastery of Agios Nektarios”…

Monastery of Agios Nektarios – one of the largest Orthodox Monasteries in Europe

…. to the fantastic Doric Temple of Aphaia, Aegina’s most visited site.

Constructed from local poros, when built it was then covered in stucco

6 columns form the shorter sides and twelve the longer

The Temple was erected between 500 and 490 BC on what was already a very ancient cult sanctuary dating back to C5BC.

Originally called the Temple of Jupiter Panhellenius, later the Temple of Aphaia

The nymph Aphaia, believed to be the daughter of Zeus, had been worshiped on Aegina since C2BC and this temple was finally named in her honour when Aegina was at its political and cultural peak.

Just outside the temple grounds an old footpath….

The old road down…or up!

….. leads down to Agia Marina, a small resort, from where the KTEL bus returns to the main town, passing lots of Pistachio plantations for which Aegina is also famous.

Pistachio anyone… the main crop of Aegina

Aegina town is also home to the “Tower of Markellos”…

….which, according to tradition was built around 1802 by Spyros Markellos. He, and other leaders of the 1821 revolution at the start of the Greek War of Independence [1821-1829], used the tower variously to house the Greek National Treasury, hold State meetings and provide offices for members of Cabinet.

Aegina is a great starting base for a circular route along the adjacent coastline of the north-eastern Peloponnese mainland. We did it twice, firstly clockwise going south to north along the coast with Chris and John on board and the second time, with James, anti-clockwise. Our good friends on “Coriander” had just transited the Corinth Canal at the start of our second circuit so joined us and we then sailed together for most of the rest of the summer.

Whilst we liked all the places we visited I think that our least favourite harbour on this circuit was Nea Epidavros.

Nea Epidavros, from our vantage point on the harbour wall

In some ways I don’t know why I am saying that because it was there that we had one of the best tasting and best value meals of Chris and John’s trip – at “Ippocampus” restaurant. Maybe it was because I got a bit jittery about berthing in the harbour itself. The pilot book shows 2.5 dropping to 2m by the far wall but our electronic chart shows approx. 1m at the northern end. The friendly harbour master told us that even with our 2.1m draft we would be fine in the corner [the only space left inside] but I just didn’t want to risk it and so we Med moored to the outside of the wall and were thus a little exposed which, given the conditions, didn’t actually matter but we didn’t return on our second circuit.

Actually…looking back it was quite a pretty place

Our favourite harbour on this route has to be Vathi, on the Methana peninsular. On one of our sails along the north coast of this peninsular we came across some folk fishing….

Great umbrellas

… before turning into southern Kólpos Epidavros to the picture postcard perfect Vathi with its four tavernas and several fishermen’s cottages lining the harbour.

Wonderful Vathi

The main problem is getting a berth but we timed our arrival well both times and on each occasion stayed two nights to enable us to get full enjoyment from this delightful place.

The pilot book states that “on the black basalt slopes a short distance north there is an old caldera” and suggests it is worth a look. A sign on the road just outside the hamlet points to the volcano so, Mike, Steve and I decided to go and take a look. We had a very enjoyable walk with some fabulous views as we went up and up and ever more up a hot and dusty road. The locals….

Male Vlahiki Goat

…looked very surprised to see us, probably thinking what mad creatures we were to be out in that heat!

At one corner we worked out what we thought was the way to the top but decided anyway that enough was enough and turned back. It’s a good job we did. When we finally worked it out on a map we realised that despite our efforts we had probably only been about a quarter of the way there!

A much more successful walk took us a little inland south of Vathi harbour to Megalachori which, despite its name isn’t very big at all. We think there may have been a shop hidden in someone’s front room and there was a small café serving frappe.

WOT – no Mythos! Had to include this photo – the only cafe/bar one without alcohol in it

In the village we met a farmer who had just returned from his fields and gave us some delicious fresh figs

From there we walked back down the hill where lots of butterflies were flitting amongst the flowers….

“Scarce Swallowtail” – so named in English due to it being rarely seen in the UK – now on the “vulnerable” list in Europe

…. and found an Ancient Acropolis….

Not much of it remains

….some old wells…….

…. and a lovely small church.

Who put that flower there?

Ah, thats better

From where that road joins the coast road back to Vathi there are three or four tavernas dotted along the shoreline – and we have eaten well at two of them. Some yachts were anchored along this stretch but it would only be tenable in settled weather.

Palaia Epidavros is built on the ruins of the ancient city state from which its name derives. Unlike its aforementioned northern “new” town it is quite a bustling place with lots of anchoring options. On our first visit we moored on the harbour wall and witnessed anchor mayhem when boats started to leave in the mornings.

First off….

…but going nowhere fast

Who’s chain is this???? Not ours this time, thank goodness

Mike and John to the rescue. They ended up stuck in the hot sun for an hour when a diver from one of the boats decided to use the dinghy painter as a trip line!

Given that knowledge, we anchored in the bay during our second visit.

As many of you will know Epidavros is a famous archaeological site, but the large Asklepieion theatre, museum and extensive ruins are several miles inland from the coast. What we didn’t know beforehand is that there is also the “Little Epidavros Theatre” just to the south of the anchorage, accessible by a dirt path.

The “Little” Theatre

Able to seat 2,000 people it is given equal importance in the archaeological world but, unfortunately, we were unable to access it as they were setting up for the annual production of Greek plays. We studied the posters carefully as Mike and I considered whether to try to see one of the plays. But, given that we wouldn’t have a clue what was happening in them never having studied Greek Comedy or Tragedy, not being able to follow the language and with relatively expensive seat prices we decided not to bother.

With Chris and John we followed the path a short way up the hill from the theatre and came to “The Holy Church of the Life-giving Spring” [Zoodochos Pigi]…

What a great name for a church

On our first trip we only made it to the first watering hole where posing for holiday shots almost resulted in an unexpected dip.

Don’t push

The bay was lovely and we could see why several boats came round for daytime relaxing and swimming. Or we thought we could, little knowing then that the real reason they came was to snorkel the sunken city.

Says it all…

Fortunately, by the time we visited with James, Steve and Gill we had discovered this fact and took full advantage of it.

Thanks for this shot Steve – that’s us!

Huge storage containers

A few walls…

…and a pavement

Quite fascinating.

The northernmost anchorage on the circuit is Korfos, a fantastic almost landlocked bay.

Looking south into the anchorage

John had enjoyed himself taking the helm on the way there…

Ahoy Cap’n

….. but, surprisingly, suggested Mike or I should take over for the docking procedure!!

Having been sent away from “Papa George’s” restaurant berth because they were expecting a charter fleet we managed to secure a berth on the small pontoon to the south of the tavernas. We were very glad of this later in the afternoon when large spots of rain heralded quite a squall….

Bit wet out

…… followed by a short thunderstorm. Whilst John, Chris and I steamed in the resultant sauna below decks, Mike braved the weather to ensure that all was well at the dock – particularly as the small motorboat next to us was not actually anchored even though his anchor was down. With no-one aboard Mike had tried to tighten the chain for them which was when he discovered it wasn’t holding and that the anchor was probably directly below its bow. Anyway, with fenders on both boats all he did was push into us and no damage was done. The weather cleared….

Well its nearly stopped

…. and everything went back to normal enabling us to sample the delights of the small town.

A bit tumbledown but so much character

Dried off on the guard rails – a Barn Sparrow

We really liked the feel of the place and were happy to meet Gill and Steve there for their first taste of the Aegean. We concur with the cruising guide which describes the holding as “poor in places”. On our first visit we saw several boats struggling to set their anchors and a spot towards the eastern side which “Coriander” first tried wasn’t suitable but we both found excellent holding more towards the north-west and spent a happy evening ashore. Interestingly, there wasn’t a charter fleet on this night and Papa George’s berths and restaurant were totally empty. It appeared to us that the locals don’t frequent it – so neither did we. Instead we returned to the friendly and popular “Ostrako” of our first visit with its limited, but relatively inexpensive, menu of well cooked food.

The final stop for Chris and John was the small island of Angistri, three quarters of the way back to Aegina from Korfos. Again a very small harbour and stopping point for the Angistri/ Aegina/Athens “Dolphin”….

View from the village….

… and from the bar

…. and where, again, we considered ourselves lucky to bag a berth. On our first night there we witnessed a total lunar eclipse resulting in the famous “blood moon”. Lying prone on the quay behind the boat Mike was lucky not to get run over whilst trying to take photos of it. He needn’t have bothered as Chris captured it perfectly with her excellent compact “point and shoot”.

Before…

….and during

Thanks Chris.

We walked across the north side of the island taking about 45 minutes to reach the ferry harbour, Scala. This is a very popular resort with younger holiday makers – a kind of Greek Ibiza. It was obviously once a very traditional small Greek village with its lovely church.

Church of Agii Anargiri, Scala, Angistri

It is now full of trendy bars, café’s, gift shops and clubs and, unfortunately, Angistri village tries to compete with its club just above the harbour which kept us awake until 3am. One of these days – or rather nights – we will just have to bite the bullet and join in.

Having said that we are perfectly happy with early evening drinks on the terrace.

On the south of Angistri are the Nisís Dhorousa anchorages and it was here, with James on board and in the company of “Coriander” that we anchored and took long lines ashore. Mike and I remember doing it once before during a Greek charter holiday, though we can’t remember which island. What we do remember is that we had a strong swimmer on board [Bill] for whom it was no effort. James and I tried taking the lines by paddling in the dinghy. That worked well until we tried to paddle back but, as we don’t have floating lines we couldn’t get back to the boat. I ended up diving in and swimming the rope back. Steve had the outboard on his dinghy which gave it enough “Umph” but made it difficult at the shore end because of the prop. Still we both managed….

Coriander

You can just make out our long lines

…. went to the pleasant nearby tavern to celebrate…

The well earned beer

…and learnt some lessons as a result of the experience. It is a very popular anchoring technique for many people and, in some places such as this, the only way to facilitate all the boats wanting to be there to be there safely i.e. not swing but it is unlikely to become my preferred option.

James’s final overnight anchorage – before leaving from Aegina – was the small island of Nisís Mona – a very popular day anchorage for passing yachts and where tourist day trip boats come from nearby Aegina. By sundown the taverna closes and it becomes almost deserted.

In some pamphlets it is described as a nature reserve with deer and peacocks wandering around. I went ashore on my own for an early morning stroll. No deer, but several strutting peacocks.

Peacock blue

“Owl and Pussycat” and “Coriander” at anchor on Nisis Mona…check out the water clarity – gorgeous

Just a short half day sail south of Aegina Town is the island of Poros. Whilst there was no time for us to extend the trip to there with James we were able to include it in Chris and John’s circuit because they spent two weeks with us. Its position is such that it is an obvious stop for anyone going between the northern and southern Saronics and/or into the Gulf of Argolis. Thus it was another regular stop off point for us [and just about every other boat out there!]

But I think you will have probably done enough reading by now so, to hear all about it, you are going to have to wait for part two of the tales of family and friends in the Saronics and Argolic Gulf.

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