The Gulf of Volos and Evia

Orei, Evia

So, as I said at the end of my last post, Chris and John left us at Skiathos Town and Caroline and John joined us for the start of our next adventure to more pastures new – Evia and the Gulf of Volos.

We left the town quay at 10.30am on 4th September intending to sail 25 miles to Agia Kiriakí at the southern end of the Pelion Peninsula [also known as the Tríkeri Peninsula]. The wind, and resultant waves, thought differently and not wanting to give John and Caroline a rough ride on their first day out we decided to stop after 7 miles – at Koukounaries Beach at the west end of Skiathos. We were pleasantly surprised that there weren’t more boats there and even more surprised that what can be a very noisy, packed beach in the summer months was relatively quiet. After a swim before drinks and a meal on board we decided to have an early night, in readiness for a timely start, because the weather forecast was suggesting that stronger winds would again sweep across the Skiathos Strait from about mid-morning the following day.

Good decision. Leaving at 8am avoided the more vigorous gusts and we had a fair weather sail for much of the way, the wind only dropping as we approached our destination.

Looking across to the quay from the breakwater – Agia Kiriaki

Agia Kiriakí is a deep, open bay more or less at the entrance to the Gulf of Volos and, although the pilot said it was possible to anchor off the boatyard or in the SE corner we couldn’t find anywhere with a suitable depth. Luckily there was a space alongside the NE quay which used to be a small ferry dock and Mike managed to manoeuvre us into what looked like space for one behind an already berthed boat. We were assisted by the restaurant owners who then shunted us around to make what they considered room in case another boat arrived – which fortunately it didn’t otherwise we would have been the sardine in the middle of the tin!

Couldn’t get much closer to the taverna

The small fishing village is a gem.

Fishing fleet!

Apparently the small community is 200 strong for much of the year and relies on its fishermen rather than tourists – though, apart from the crews of the two boats – 9 people in total – there seemed to be a few more who arrived down what is described in the Lonely Planet as “a steep 4km drive off the main road”.

Fantastic shop. The old lady watches everyone whilst drinking coffee

From Agia Kiriakí it was just a short 5 mile hop to our next stop – Nisis Paleio Tríkeri [Old Trikeri island]

……another jewel of a place.

As we approached, around 10am, we saw that a flotilla was in the small harbour taking up most of the space – except for one slot on the taverna quay. Having read the pilot we felt we couldn’t go for that one because the chart showed that the depth off the tavernas was too shallow for us.  Fortunately a catamaran was just raising anchor, creating a nice space for us to berth stern to on the main quay. Even had the catamaran not left we would soon have been OK as the flotilla moved on leaving us as the only boat there except for the dustbin [garbage] boat.

It is interesting to see how different places deal with their refuse and I am delighted to say that Nisis Tríkeri was litter free. The young man responsible for taking away the rubbish was brilliant. He cleared the bins, washed them, disinfected them, turned them upside down to properly dry, washed and scrubbed the quayside and left everything spick and span.

There goes the dustbin man

The year round population on this island is just 15 people but it has a regular small taxi/ferry which residents or visitors seem to be able to call at will and, for about €2pp take the 5 minute boat ride to Alogoporos on the mainland. The taxi also headed east from the harbour but I don’t know whether it was going all the way to Milina – also on the mainland – or whether it was going to pick people up from the other yacht anchorage on the island, Ormos Pithos. We walked there along a nice cobbled path from the village. It seemed a very popular spot for both yachts and small motor boats, the latter presumably belonging to locals living nearby.

Caroline and John found a nice beach for a swim and Mike and I continued our walk, this time inland to try to get views of Volos from the top of the hill. Unfortunately the views weren’t great as trees seemed to get in the way at every turn but we did find the small monastery.

Evangelistia monastery

When thinking about where we might take Caroline and John we had both thought that Ormos Vathoudhi sounded really good as there was a choice of five or six anchorages depending on wind strength and direction. On the day we visited [7th September] the main anchorage was the most tenable for shelter – which is a bit of a shame because, in our humble opinion, it wasn’t that great. Being the most sheltered means that there are a lot of permanent moorings which meant that finding a space in reasonable depth was a bit tricky and, once anchored, we didn’t feel that the views were anything to write about. We did, however, enjoy the lovely views of the Gulf from Milini Town where we dropped anchor to go ashore.

Looking north up the gulf

We wanted to shop for a BBQ aboard that night….

John buying our sausages

… and have a spot of lunch….

Lovely smile… even though the wine hasn’t arrived yet

…… on the way to overnighting in Vathoudhi. With hindsight we probably should have just stayed anchored there.

Anchored outside Milini harbour. Vathoudhi Bay in the background

Our next two stops, Amaliopolis and Ahilio, were also on the mainland. Because the wind was blowing from the SE, instead of the prevailing Northerlies of the previous week, we were fortunate in being able to anchor off the town of Amaliopolis…..

…….which is open to the north but sheltered from the south by both the mainland and the low lying Agios Nikolaos island to the east. It saved us sailing round the peninsular to “Fearless Cove” [which might have been worth a visit just because of the name] and also gave us easier access to the town.

Whilst sailing another 14 miles south the following day the wind changed again, back to the NE. Once again we struck lucky in being able to take a slot on the breakwater rather than the main quay which is open to the prevailing wind and, although not untenable in the wind strength we had, it was certainly subject to slop, as we saw when, later, we wandered round the village.

Wasn’t expecting to see one of these whilst strolling round the village

The breakwater berths seem to be used mainly for permanent/semi-permanent boats and we were asked how long we were staying as the “owner” of the berth we took was due back a few days later but we were given the OK to stay as we were there for just one night.

Our final port of call with Caroline and John was Orei. On the north of the island it was also our first harbour on Evia.

Lots of tavernas line the waterfront

Looking north into the Orei channel from the north quay [our berth]

Orei was, in ancient times, an important maritime city with an acropolis guarding the harbour. Apparently the remains of the acropolis can still be seen but we didn’t find it. It was difficult enough finding the town’s famous statue which was dredged from the sea by fishermen in 1965 and, according to the guide, placed in the town square. We circumnavigated the square twice before giving up…. and then took a different route back to the harbour and, by chance, saw a glass and wood construction near the beach which housed the marble bull.

We spent six nights in Orei, the first two with John and Caroline before saying farewell to them on 12th Sept. Always sad to see people leave.

Until next year friends….

On the other hand, my liver was probably glad of the three night respite before Mike and I ventured out on our last evening there for a fish meal washed down with retsina.

After six nights on a harbour wall we were pleased to spend two nights at anchor, particularly as Steve and Gill had caught up with us again having said goodbye to their visitors in Skiathos a couple of days previously. We were the only boats in the east bay off Ak Litharda….

The “big boats” were there too!!

…. which we were able to approach via the very interesting channel between Evia and Monolia island through which a current of up to 2kn often runs. I certainly wouldn’t like to venture through it in rough weather though I suspect these guys – of which there were several dozen …..

Corylohiza Tuberculata….aka Fried Egg Jelly

…. are happy to “sleigh ride” through with the current under any circumstances.

Although we were the only boats at anchor the following night in Ormos Ag Ioánnis Theólogos, a bay within the larger gulf, Kólpos Atlántis, just off the eastern mainland, we were not entirely alone!

Superyacht “Galaxy” – available for charter for 12 people!!!

Our favourite place on Evia was Limni, where we were lucky to find a berth for “Owl and Pussycat” the following day [18 Sept]. “Coriander” was not so lucky but, having radioed Steve and Gill with updates about boats coming and going the following morning they too were able to savour the delights of this picturesque village.

Tight fit…. and just about deep enough… we almost touched bottom going through the entrance

Had we relied solely on the Cruising Pilot to make decisions about where we would go on Evia it is very unlikely that we would have chosen Limni as Heikell scarcely gives it a mention other than to say that anchoring off the village is difficult due to it being very deep [true] and that there is a tight turn to port to get into the narrow harbour where there is little room [also true].

The fish farm work boat left and returned every day…. made rafting pretty impossible

However, we had a recommendation for Limni from two Swedish cruiser friends, Hårken and Eva in “Sally”, who we first met in Kalamata, again in Milos and then spent a week with on Limnos. They seemed to like the same kind of places as us and so we decided to give it a try and are really glad we did.

We were also able to welcome James to Limni as he had to come to Greece for work [it’s a hard life!] and was able to take a few days and a detour, by plane and car, from Thessaloniki to join us for 3 nights.

At Orei, we had picked up a Greek basil plant which the crew of a catamaran had left on the harbour wall before they hauled out. It wasn’t in the best condition, but James changed all that.

First the small vacuum cleaner

Then sprayed with a mild water and washing up liquid mix

We also took advantage of him having hired a car and piled in for a trip down the island to visit a potential anchorage/harbour, Néa Artaki……..

Looked tranquil but would have needed to anchor some way out – quay depths too shallow for us

…..also recommended by “Sally”, but which we didn’t end up going to by boat. We then drove on to Xalkís [Khalkís] which we wanted to suss out as we knew we would definitely have to stay there, which we did for 3 nights from 23rd Sept.

However, before, and during, that period we had to celebrate Steve’s birthday which started on James’s last night [22nd] ….

Happy Birthday Eve…. Gin and Tonic cake on “Owl and Pussycat”

…. continued during his actual birthday on 23rd when we had a Gyros meal out in Limni – at “Platanos”, the only restaurant open, and finished on 24th with a “posh” meal out in cosmopolitan Xalkis having, that morning, undertaken the 22mile journey down the bottom half of the North Gulf of Evia.

Main quay – “Coriander” berthed behind the catamaran – taken from our smaller quay berth

Looking north back up into the North Evia Gulf

Xalkís was once a very powerful place and got a mention in the Iliad. The Lonely Planet says that its names derives from the Greek word for bronze because in ancient times it was manufactured there. Well, as we know, bronze is an alloy with copper as a main component and, according to my dictionary, Xalkós is actually the Greek word for copper and various similar spellings are for forge or coppersmith. However, even though the Greek word for bronze is actually “µ??o?v??o? “, pronounced bronzos, “Xalkoú” is used when referring to the Bronze Age. So, Lonely Planet is probably right especially as in Modern Greek words have changed considerably from Ancient Greek…..and here endeth the Greek lesson for today!

Evia is linked to the mainland by two bridges which cross the Evia channel. Dangerous currents, up to 3-4kn under normal circumstances and as much as 6-7kn at spring tides, pass through this channel up to seven times a day, a phenomenon which has confused, and often worried, mariners since ancient times. Legend has it that Aristotle flung himself into the water here because he was unable to explain the tides and currents.

The earliest bridge dates back to 411BC. At that time it was a wooden fixed bridge, replaced by a movable one in C6AD. It remained that way until 1896 when an iron swing bridge was constructed and, in turn, this was replaced in 1962 by the existing sliding bridge.

Xalkis waterfront with the sliding bridge in the background

To get from the north Evia Gulf to the south Gulf it is necessary to pass through this bridge. As you will have worked out from Aristotle’s dilemma, timing is crucial and passage is controlled by the Xalkís Port Authority. Just to make matters more complicated, to minimise road traffic disruption, they only open the bridge at night – usually after midnight. In respect of our passage, during low season, the opening of the bridge was also reduced to 3 nights per week so we had to make sure we were at Xalkís on the right day particularly as berthing in the north harbour isn’t the best given the tidal range and the currents which run through. Such is the surge that boats can get damaged though I am delighted to report that “Owl and Pussycat” and “Coriander” were unscathed.

As I wrote above, we arrived at Xalkís on 24th September and spent time finding the two different Port Authority buildings we needed to visit – one for papers and instructions and one for payment. That makes it sound relatively straight forward but there are differing accounts about the order in which the offices need to be visited. Indeed, we spoke to someone who had just transited and his account was different to our experience. I won’t therefore say that the way we ended up doing it is the correct one because it seems to be at the whim of which ever officials are staffing the offices on the day. In our experience everything can only be done on the day of transit – our attempt to make the necessary arrangements on 24th for passage on 25th were met with “come back tomorrow”. In the end we had to have the papers [DEKPA, Cruising Tax, Insurance, Registration and, for the first time, our ICC’s] checked at office 1, pay [€35.65 for a 14.8m yacht] at office 2, and then return to office 1 late in the afternoon to prove payment and receive instruction.

The instruction was basically “be on your boat with the radio on by 10pm and wait until I call you and tell you to go. Do not leave the dock until told, then proceed quickly and safely following any commercial traffic which will go through first”.

Thus, even though the sign on the road above the bridge gave the opening hours for that night/early morning as 1am we dutifully turned the radio on and waited on the boat from 10pm. We were called at 1.40am to check we were ready and at 2am told to move off the dock and proceed through the bridge – along with the 4 other boats going through. Suddenly, from up the channel, a fishing boat appeared which caused a bit of chaos as it was going faster than any of us and meant that we all had to slow down to let him past but yet keep moving so as not to hit each other. The Port Authority woman in charge started yelling at the fishing boat – as they hadn’t been expecting it either. She continued to yell, it went through, we followed and turned right after the bridge into the serene bay just to the south where we were anchored and in bed by 2.30am. All good…. another experience under our belts.

Notios Limin anchorage just south of the Xalkis bridge

The sliding bridge seen from the south

Later that day [26th] we motored in very calm weather, under the new road bridge…..

…… and on to Eretria 13nm south. The pilot warns that the approaches to this bay are surrounded by above and below water rocks and passage should be made from the south. Even though we did this and followed our chart plotters carefully we still had to make a deviation from some shallows. Interesting that neither Navionics nor CM93 charts are totally reliable here. Once into the bay there is plenty of space to anchor in good depths.

The anchorage taken from the causeway

Eretria was another ancient maritime port and also had an eminent school of philosophy. The city was almost totally destroyed by the Romans in 87AD but some ruins, particularly the theatre and a few houses remain.

The small museum was informative…..

Museum “gardens”

Potters oven from the old city

Pearl necklace – each pearl was originally coated in gold

…..and after walking round the lower ruins….

Amazing dry stone walling technique

Acropolis hill taken from the theatre site

……. Mike, Steve and Gill climbed the hill to the Acropolis.

From acropolis hill

This was what they climbed the hill for – the Temple of Apollo…. obviously!

My excuse was that I was wearing flip-flops which, according to the three of them on their return, was in fact a very good excuse as the slope was both steep and slippery.

Unfortunately, because they had the small map provided by the museum, I didn’t manage to find the Mosaic house. Luckily they did.

Instead I found some rather interesting tree fungus….

Struggled to find what this was… nearest seemed to be a gill less member of the oyster mushroom family

Each to their own!!

After two nights in Eretria we continued south, firstly to the small, sheltered, almost landlocked bay of Voufalo…..

Thought I’d try a Dynamic Monochrome shot!

…. and finally into Kolpós Petalíon to our last Evia anchorage.

Lovely bay…. but quite a bit of wash from passing fast ferries

Technically speaking I shouldn’t call Vasiliko an Evia anchorage as it is actually a fairly large bay on the south side of Mégalo Petali – the largest island in the small archipelago just off the SW corner of Evia. But who needs to be that technical!

So, now you know something about The Gulf of Volos and Evia. Having spent almost a month sailing these waters I wonder why we haven’t done it before or why we didn’t meet more boats doing it, given the proximity to all the Athenian marinas and charter/flotilla fleets. I guess that Evia isn’t renowned as a tourist place – maybe the Athenians keep it quiet for themselves! I suppose that having to transit the Xalkís Bridge may put some people off and, the east coast of Evia has few anchorages and often rather boisterous waters which could make timing a circumnavigation of the island with a two week holiday rather tricky. For us, it was great to sail, once again, to new places and not to have to fight for anchor room. We thoroughly recommend it.

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