Eastern Sporades – Samos to Lesvos – and a visit from James and John

Mytilini castle – Lesvos

This post covers the period between 16th June and 10th July this year [2019 for anyone who might read it in the future!] and chronicles, firstly, Mike’s and my return to three of the Eastern Sporades islands we visited on our final charter holiday in Greece in 2009. Secondly, it covers  a couple of the same group of islands further to the north, one of which neither of us had previously visited and one I had been really looking forward to returning to because two non-sailing holidays there held great memories for me.

So, firstly, Sámos, Foúrnoi and Ikaría – three very different islands each with their own character.

Sámos is the largest of these three islands and many of you will have heard of it as it is a very popular tourist destination. Unfortunately, in recent years, its reputation has been marred by reports of a huge influx of refugees and asylum seekers arriving both legally and illegally from the Turkish mainland. Whilst the reported numbers may well be correct, from what we saw, any impact on tourists is negligible and it is a real shame that holiday makers are choosing other destinations because businesses in several resorts are suffering.

There are so many positive reasons to visit. The island was quite lovely and green….

Green and pleasant land

….and had fully recovered from the devastating fires of some years ago, though sadly there was another in August of this year about six weeks after we left.

There are mountain villages….

Old house in Manolates

Surrounded by mountains

The sacred well of Manolates

…. hidden churches….

Sacred rock

The church now next to the rock

…. wetlands….

Looking west from above Pythagorio

…. saltflats…..

Near Cape Katsuni on the east coast

….and plenty of colourful nature and wildlife.

 

Stunning colours in Marathakambou village

The capital, Vathy, is the home of the co-operative of local vintners from where the world renowned sweet Samos wine is produced.

Following a visit to its small museum….

…. we chatted to one of the staff – whilst tasting, of course! – and learned, with some surprise, that their best quality sweet wine is actually shipped to Athens where it is incorporated into 7 Star Metaxa. Whilst we are also rather partial to a good Metaxa [Brandy, to the uninitiated] we felt it rather a shame that much of the glorious wine was “lost”.

The great mathematician Pythagoras was born here….

…… the town/anchorage we stayed in being named after him.

Sunset over Pythagoria

We were possibly one of the last boats to be able to use that anchorage. Medium sized ferries come two or three times a week and need turning space. Unfortunately not all boats follow the advice in the Cruising Guide to anchor north of the outer end of the inner mole and ferry captains have apparently complained to such a degree that it has resulted in the Port Authority now designating it as No Anchoring. This is a great pity as, treated properly, there was space for at least a dozen boats who will now either not bother to visit or will have to fight for space in the inner harbour which, when we were in the anchorage for six nights, was almost always full.

Pythagorio also boasts a castle…..

Stages of development!

Amazing colours of marble

…and in the hills behind the town is the fascinating Evpalinos Tunnel.

Entrance to Evpaulinos tunnel

In 524BC what is now Pythagorio, was called Samos and was the island’s capital. There were upwards of 80,000 people living in the metropolis and sourcing drinking water became a crucial issue. Up stepped the ingenious engineer Eupaulinus under whose direction labourers dug into the mountainside and built a 1034m tunnel – one of the most technologically significant achievements of antiquity.

The tunnel was 1.80m x 1.80 m and consisted of a corridor 1.60m wide with a deeper ditch dug below it. The ditch ranged from 4m deep in the north to over 8m deep at its southern end to ensure the waters natural flow through the clay pipes running along the bottom of the ditch.

Plan of the tunnel and a map showing its route

The most amazing thing about the tunnel is that the hewing through limestone started simultaneously from both ends and the two crews of stonemasons who worked for approximately 8-10 years with just hammers and chisels met with almost no deviation as they followed the exacting plans and instructions Eupaulinus gave them. Following the completion of the tunnel, walls were added inside to prevent collapse and the aqueduct was then used for approximately 1,100 years, abandoned when the clay pipes finally became too clogged with calcium deposits from the water even though holes had been cut some time following construction to facilitate cleaning.

We found the scientific and technical detail and achievement mind boggling. It is a shame that the same attention to detail is not apparent in the way that visitors are now taken into the tunnel. We paid €8 each to be marched to the middle of the tunnel and back again with no explanation by the guide.

It wasn’t that the commentary was in Greek – which we would have accepted – he just didn’t speak to anyone in any language. It was also by accident that we found the excellent visual display at the back of a shelter, which most visitors didn’t see, and which provided us with a full description of the construction which I have précised above.

To enable us to see as much as we did of this fabulous island we hired a car for two days and as well as enjoying the interior we also visited a few of the other available harbours/anchorages. We found Karlóvasi on the NW corner to be rather bleak – though in a southerly or an emergency it would probably be fine. The harbour at Vathy was really quite exposed and there was certainly a lot of swell when we visited – though that is rather unsurprising as it is north facing.

The anchorages on the east/south east coasts looked very nice but as we were going north and west they would have taken us out of our way and resulted in a longer distance to cover into wind.

Samos marina lies just on the eastern edge of Pythagorio, is purpose built, very clean and has a good fuel dock which we used before leaving the island. A new marina lies near the south west corner at Marathakambos…..

The new marina at Marathokambos

…. where there is also room to anchor in the bay. The marina is not officially operating and the water/electricity is not turned on. However, as you can see, it is already popular.

We considered going here or to either the anchorage at Ireon or that at Limionas – the latter of which our friends on “Coriander” used some days later and enjoyed. However, we opted instead to sail further west and take in two more islands passing one anchorage I would really like to have gone to on the small island lying just off the middle of Samos’s south coast – Samiopoula…..

Samiopoula – anchorages in either bay

……but with the given wind and swell it just didn’t happen.

Foúrnoi, which lies between Samos and Ikaria, is a small, much indented, island surrounded by a few even smaller ones making up an archipelago which was once a pirate’s lair. Its capital is Korseon and the French privateers who commandeered it gained a significant reputation – such that their name became applied to many pirates of the Eastern Aegean – “Corsairs”.

Korseon is the home to the islands fishing fleet and it is reputedly hard to find an available berth there, especially June – Sept so we were looking for an alternative anchorage. The most popular bays for visiting yachts are on the west coast, just south of the capital, as they offer most shelter from the Meltemi winds. Our overnight stay coincided with a fairly strong NW wind and having read various reports by other yachties we realised that even if those western bays had some protection from the wind, swell would most likely enter making for an uncomfortable night. So, we opted to look at a bay on the east – Ormos Vitsiliou which got a couple of good write-ups on the Cruising Association’s very helpful App – “CAptain’s Mate”. However, we didn’t feel comfortable there because when slowly approaching the head of the bay the depth dropped from 50m to 6m in just over a boat length which meant that we would be anchoring on a shelf. We always test the anchor really well to make sure it is dug in and 99% of times we don’t move – but it has happened once or twice in the last eight years and I am afraid I like my sleep – which I don’t get if I am fretting about things like the anchor dragging off a shelf.

So, we decided to look at Ormos Vlikhada – a bay on the southern point of the main island just west of Ak. Agridhio – and found it to be well sheltered and gently shelving. Result!

Having spent one night there we had the choice of staying for one more or moving to Ikaría for just one night as a weather window was opening for us to get a good passage north towards Lésvos. We decided we would move on.

Other than in August when, seemingly, the island is packed with Athenians and foreign visitors visiting to join in the “panigyria” celebrations [wild parties with food, wine and traditional dance thrown in many of the islands villages], Ikaría is serene and laid back. Visiting, even for just one night, was the right choice as it gave us the opportunity to see another new, but un-commissioned, marina at Agios Kirikos.

It got busier later!

Studying the layout of the marina and positioning of the electricity/water outlets we think that the original plan was that boats would berth stern to. If this was to work lazy lines would definitely need to be installed and even then manoeuvring would be pretty tight. So other than on the back wall, yachts are berthing alongside giving room for around 20 yachts in total [and a few more if rafted]. We thought it was a delightful spot, made even more so by the lovely small town….

Unsurprisingly, given that the name of the island results from it being where this Greek hero fell to earth when his wings melted……

…..this mosaic marked the short pedestrian walkway between the town and the marina, but exactly why this relic was next to the old harbour was unclear.

Maybe also dedicated to a hero?

It was now time for us to move on to the second part of this Eastern Sporades journey and we left Ikaría at 05.40 on the 24th June. We had a pleasant 57 nm motorsail north in light winds and, at times, an almost flat calm sea – a far cry from the 25+ northerlies and 2m waves and swell of the previous three days which we had chosen not to battle against.

Blue shows the route we took during the fairly strong northerlies and Red shows where we went when it calmed down [a bit at least!]

We considered stopping on Khios but when reading the pilot I really liked the sound of Oinoussa, a small island just off the NE corner. It was once a prosperous seafaring community but went into decline after the shipping magnates left. The guide also went on to say that the waterfront had recently been spruced up again and that space can be limited at times due to it now being a popular spot – particularly with super yachts at the weekends.

We were visiting on a Wednesday and had a back-up plan of one of the nearby anchorages should there be no room in Mandráki but, at 17.00, we dropped the hook as shown on the pilot book chart. It all looked lovely.

The islands which give great protection to Mandraki

About half an hour later a canoe came by….

….. they were a couple of off-duty Port Police who told us that anchoring is no longer allowed in Mandráki and we had to move to the purpose built pontoon. As we were approaching Mike veered away because the depth was too shallow for us. We misunderstood what was being said – i.e. that we needed to move further along the pontoon, closer to the harbour wall where it was deeper and moved instead to the one remaining space on the wall itself after a very kind Danish couple moved their boat forward to allow us in.

We wandered up into the town, had a drink on the harbour and had a lovely evening meal as the sun set….

Sun setting over Khios

….. before a fairly early night in preparation for another long day ahead.

We left Mandráki at around 07.30 passing this lady on the way….

…. and raised the sails once we were in open water. Given that the previous day had been so calm we were really amazed at how lumpy the channel was between Khios and Lésvos. As well as dodging the commercial traffic we also had to contend with pretty big waves and mid-morning were hit by a rather big one which resulted in the loss of our flagpole and ensign from the stern. Looking at it later it was clear that the aluminium rivets had corroded before shearing – but even so!

We decided our best course was to head a little out of our way – i.e. approach the southern coast of Lésvos further west than originally intended. It added a few miles but was better for the wave direction, gave us calmer water once in the shelter of the island and didn’t actually add much, if anything at all, to the time it took us. At 3.30 in the afternoon we entered Kólpos Yéras and took the sails down to motor up the gulf to the fantastic anchorage at Skála Loutra.

Looking down from Loutra to the anchorage

We spent the next three days exploring the small village of Loutra about 40 minutes’ walk up the hill through the olive groves….

Looks small but had nearly everything including a butcher shop

A bit of a “project” in Loutra

Made me smile!

……. relaxing after our two long passages and preparing the boat for our visitors, James and John.

They were with us for a week during which time we spent the three middle days sailing to Sigri and back to Skala – both times via Apothekes Cove.

Sigri is a fishing village on the more remote west coast of Lésvos. It is visited by a few tourists but since the main visitor area, the nearby famous Petrified Forest, closed due to underfunding I fear that it now gets even fewer visitors as there is little else to travel west for from the southern and eastern resorts. Fortunately I visited the forest some years ago when access was still possible.

It is a really pretty little village with narrow streets and an Ottoman Castle – which was also closed.

The views over the bay were fantastic….

Looking south over the anchorage from Sigri village

…..and the Ouzo available in our chosen restaurant was quite impressive…

Wow!!

…though on this occasion the guys preferred the craft ale…

Nissiopi blonde ale for the boys and wine for me!

Apothekes is the first available anchorage in the large landlocked gulf – Kólpos Kalloni. It is also the most sheltered from the prevailing north winds.

Entrance to the gulf is quite exciting – if you enjoy negotiating a narrow channel through reefs in a 25 knot headwind. I understand that the buoyage is not always there but it certainly was in July of this year. Entrance without it would be near impossible in the conditions we had the first time, though in calmer waters the reefs can be seen more easily.

Apothekes Bay from the hamlet fishing harbour

The hamlet consists of a few houses and a taverna which has a limited menu but what was available was good and very reasonably priced. We ate there on both occasions, the second time having been joined by Steve and Gill who had done a two day passage to meet up with us again. Our accompanying beverage that night was wine. The white was fine but after one sip each of the red, John and Gill fed the rest of their half carafe to the geraniums!

Once back in Skala Loutra we all took the bus into the capital of Lésvos – Mytilíni. We enjoyed wandering the back streets and found our way to the fortress. For the princely sum of €2pp we visited the Byzantine castle which was enlarged by the Genoese and again by the Turks is now mainly a ruin…

….. though some interesting structures remain.

Roman monolithic sarcophagus

Stonebuilt Crypts – covered an area of 720 sq meters

C16 Mausoleum of “Musa Baba” – saint of the Ottoman “Bektashi” sect

The underground tank of one of two Ottoman public fountains inside the castle – water still flows through

It all made for a pleasant couple of hours stroll with the additional bonus of a good view over what was the lower level of the fortress and the now sunken old harbour.

All too soon it was time to say goodbye to James and John – but not before a final meal where they, with a little help from the rest of us, tested a number of Ouzo. Well you have to – after all, Lésvos is the island most renowned for its production.

No sign of ouzo – but it was definitely there – in quantity!

By the end of their visit “Owl and Pussycat” almost resembled the restaurant in Sigri!

Some more interesting archaeology awaited us…..

Tombs of Old Kayu

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

…….. about 50metres inland from the shore  of our next Lésvos anchorage……

Secluded perfection

……Palio Kayu in Makris Yialos bay on the NE corner of the island, which we again found on CAptain’s Mate rather than in the Cruising Guide. There are numerous reefs and above and below water rocks in the bay and surrounding the group of small islands [Nísidhes Tomaria] which protect it so caution was needed – but it was well worth it to anchor in the beautiful crystal clear waters in lovely surroundings visited by very few yachts.

I stated at the start of this blog that I was really looking forward to returning to Lésvos and, as you can see, it was again an enjoyable experience. But it didn’t finish there. I was even more delighted that the prevailing northerlies dropped for a few days allowing us to anchor off the beach of the small village resort of Petra, where I had previously stayed, and also off the town of Mithimna [aka Mólyvos]. Still pretty as a picture from the anchorage……

….. I, personally, found Mithimna to have been over gentrified since my last visit. The streets winding up to the castle at the top are still lined with small shops – but instead of a laid back local feel to the place, there appear to be more boutique hotels and up market restaurants now lining the harbour and shorefront attracting the chic.

Mithymna anchorage from the town

However Petra, named after the giant overhanging rock on which sits the C18 Panagia Glykofilousa……

No wonder its called “Petra”

…..was just as I remember it.

Bit spruced up but the same owners as my previous visits – great to be back

114 steps lead up to the church….

Panagia Glykofilousa -Church of the Sweet-Kissing Virgin

Who’s looking at you!

……from where we could see “Owl and Pussycat” and “Coriander” anchored just outside the old harbour.

Calm at anchor in Petra Bay

Anchoring now appears to be the only option. The east facing mole and the fairly shallow inner harbour are taken up by small fishing and other local boats and the bigger south facing mole, which was described in the pilot as being available to visiting yachts, is now fenced off due to the security required as a daily ferry arrives from and leaves for Turkey – requiring proper immigration facilities. We were, however, given permission to go alongside after the ferry had left to top up with fuel.

So glad I got the chance to return. A great place, a great evening and another fantastic sunset too.

Homeward bound

Permanent link to this article: http://www.sigasiga.co.uk/2019/11/14/eastern-sporades-samos-to-lesvos-and-a-visit-from-james-and-john/

Astipalaia – and a few other Dodecanese islands

You might be wondering about the title of this post and why I have singled out Astipálaia. Well, it is really quite simple – we haven’t been there before. The butterfly shaped island lies approximately 25 miles south-east of Amorgos and a similar distance west of its nearest Dodecanese neighbour – Kos. On our charter holidays in either the Cyclades or the Dodecanese, Astipálaia was always just that bit too far out of the way so we were determined to make it one of our destination islands this year.

Having now visited, I am glad we didn’t make the trip as part of a two week holiday because we just wouldn’t have done it justice.

Our first anchorage….

Vathi, Astipalaia

…… was on the northern tip of the islands east “wing” which we arrived at on the afternoon of 15th May having sailed 10 miles along the north coast of Amorgos before turning south east for the remaining 31 miles. In the ships log I have written “Bloody forecasts” which gives you a bit of a clue about the wind or, rather, the lack of it, so having planned to sail all the way after turning the corner, the best we managed was motor sailing!

Almost no-one lives on the eastern half of the island and Mesa Vathi is the only settlement in this remote corner. Approximately half a dozen families live here visited by only a few non-yachting tourists. For yacht crews, however, it is considered somewhat of a haven, because of the large, almost landlocked, bottleneck bay.

From the anchorage we weren’t quite sure which building might house the taverna mentioned in the pilot and even when ashore it was not totally clear despite the painted sign.

We finally realised that the “house” up the stairs was it….

…. Maria’s front room, complete with TV which, while we were there, a few members of the other local families came in to watch. Obviously the hub of community life, it is a great place with a friendly and welcoming atmosphere which, thanks to Steve, I have been able to share with you in pictures having stupidly left my cameras on board.

The following day we headed to the south of the island, trying desperately to sail at least part of the 17 mile journey.

We tried just about every sail combination but were forced to give up when our speed dropped to about 1.5kn.

Even goose-winging didn’t work

We reached the lovely anchorage at Maltezána….

……at around 2pm which gave us plenty of time to go ashore and suss out the ouzeries which we visited in the early evening.

Needing fuel we decided to move once more and the following day motored just 3 miles across to the main harbour – Skala – where we were lucky to get a berth inside the mole.

Skala is one of those places where once a boat arrives its crew are reluctant to leave so the turnover of available berths is limited, especially as there is only space for about ten boats in the first place.

As well as fuelling we needed good internet to download our TEPAI form. TEPAI is the new Greek cruising tax which finally came into effect this May and which has caused several yachties hours of heartache trying to properly complete the form and pay. We did it all online and used a system called “TransferWise” to make the payment. It all worked really well and we were able to print out our e.TEPAI form proving payment for the months of May to October after which time we are able to register ourselves as “Out of Use” with the Port Police whilst in Kalamata marina for the winter.

As with most Greek islands, the main town on Astipálaia sits at the top of the hill overlooking the port and, like many others, is known as “X?ra [Hora]” which literally means “country” or “land”. The white houses spill down the hillside, dominated by the imposing “Kastro” at the top.

Unique in the Dodecanese and rare in other parts of Greece this castle varies from others in that it wasn’t strictly military in character but was part of an outer circle of private dwellings built three storeys high as a defensive screen. The Venetian “Quirini” family built it in early C15 and, for the next 300 years up to 4000 inhabitants lived within the sheltered inner circle. As piracy declined in C19, openings were created around the city walls, the settlement expanded and many wooden stairs and balconies added. When a major earthquake struck in 1956 most of the buildings collapsed and the restoration work that has been done since is largely confined to the outer walls to limit the threat to people and property below. The interior remains in ruins except for the two churches.

Church of the Virgin of the Castle

Church of Agios Georgios

On our way down from the castle we turned one of the many corners in the maze of streets to find these….

They are four of a group of nine small churches which form the “complex of Karah”. I am not sure whether Karah is the name of the street, the area of the village, or has a particular Ecclesiastical meaning but they lined both sides of the lane and were quite a lovely sight.

Marking the entrance to the Hora are a row of Cycladic style windmills.

It is these and the typically Cycladic square white houses which often confuse people as to which island group Astipálaia belongs to but, whilst it might look Cycladic architecturally,  geographically it is one of the 165 islands which form the Dodecanese – quite a misnomer as “Dodeca” is 12!

Over the years Mike and I have visited all but three of the 15 larger Dodecanese islands and a number of the other smaller inhabited ones. This year we re-visited 10 arriving in Kos on 24th May from where we made our way north via Psérimos, Levitha, Kalymnos, Léros, Lipso, Arki, Pátmos and Marithos to northernmost Agathonisi which we left on 16th June.

Amorgos to Agathonisi

Both Kos and Kalymnos were brief visits. Having made our way across from Astipália to Kamares on Kos we stayed just 2 nights – sheltering from a short lived “blow” which gave us enough time to walk up to the village above – Kefalos, from where we got a great view of this south western part of the island.

As you will know, Kos is a very popular and touristy island and, as a result, it is no longer one of our favourites [even though I have, in the past, had two very good and memorable holidays there with sis Chris]. Although we considered stopping briefly in Kos town, we didn’t want to go into the marina and couldn’t find anywhere to anchor which suited us so moved on.

On Kalymnos we visited just one anchorage – a well-protected narrow inlet on the east coast….

Ormos Palionisou, Kalymnos

…. where two tavernas flanking either shore provide excellent mooring balls at no cost though we always visit the appropriate one, in this case “Kaladonis taverna”, at least for a drink.

The two most deserted anchorages were those on Psérimos and Agathonisi.

Ormos Vathi, Pserimos

West Bay within East Bay, Agathonisi

Something which never ceases to amaze us is that when anchoring, the shores of the bays feel to be only metres away, despite what the measurements on the chart tell us. However, when going ashore, particularly if you are able to get above the anchorage, it is clear that there is plenty of room.

From both of these anchorages we walked up and across part of the islands to visit the main villages….

Pserimou village

Agios Georgiou, Agathonisi

….where we enjoyed a couple of super lunches.

The most historically significant island visited was Patmos where we spent one night at anchor in Ormos Livadhia before going stern to for two nights on the quayside in, yes, you got it, Skala. “Skala” means ladder or staircase and, just as from the other Skalas – there is the Hora above to climb up to. As well as the main road, the route between Skala and Hora on Patmos can be undertaken via a “cultural path”.

 

Known as “The Holy Island”, Patmos is where St John the Divine lived after being banished there by a pagan Roman Emperor in AD95. He lived as a hermit in a cave between what are now Skala and Hora and heard the voice of God coming from a cleft in the rock. His terrifying visions were transcribed into “The Book of Revelations” and the Monastery of the Cave of the Apocalypse now stands on the site.

The Monastery of the Cave of the  Apocalypse

Unfortunately we arrived just before closing so didn’t actually see the chapel. We might have got there earlier had we not spent as long as we did in the Monastery of St John the Theologian in the Hora – which was built and dedicated in 1088 after the Byzantine Emperor Alexis I Komninos gave permission for its construction. Architecturally it is the most fascinating monastery I have visited. It is immense and is full of arches and courtyards and bells and the eye finds it difficult to fully comprehend the shapes and true perspective – as does the camera lens!

 

 

Whilst the museum contained several interesting artefacts, icons and paintings, Mike and I found these to be of at least equal interest.

The Oven!

A kneading trough

I was particularly taken by the refectory …..

….which is still used daily.

Descending via the cultural path we arrived in the northern part of the town which we hadn’t seen before. We found a great homemade ice-cream shop which we returned to after dinner that evening, passed the head of the bay where fishing boats berth to rickety old pontoons….

…..and ended up back in the main harbour/town where there is another reminder of the link between Patmos and St John.

The Baptistry

I noted above that Mike and I both found the museum in the monastery to contain some interesting religious art. It is unlikely that either of us would have felt this way had we not, 10 days earlier, visited Pandeli castle on Leros. The Lonely Planet describes the castle as more or less ruinous with few structures surviving. It does not mention the museum there or the excellent curator who, at no additional charge above the €2pp entrance fee, spent almost an hour talking to us about the different art forms by both passage of time and origin of artist. I recommend a visit to Pandeli for both this experience and also for the 360 degree views over Leros island.

Looking towards the Alinda anchorage

An anchorage we didn’t visit – Pandeli with Ormos Lakki in the background

The castle is reached by a zig zag stony path from Agia Marina or by road from Platanos. We went up the former and down the latter having walked first to Agia Marina from our anchorage at Alinda.

This was our second port of call on Leros, the first being Xirokambos at the southern end of the island where we spent 2 nights on one of the excellently maintained yellow “Aloni Taverna” mooring balls. From Xirokambos we caught the bus to see what Lakki [Leros’s main town] had to offer. It was 31st May so still in the shoulder season but we were surprised by the lack of other visitors. Despite, or may be because of, several grand art deco style buildings….

…. the town had quite an old fashioned and dilapidated air and it is fairly clear that most visitors to the island arrive at it by ferry and immediately leave for the beach resort villages. These buildings date from the Italian occupation when it was an Italian naval base and some of them have since been used as mental hospitals.

“Shoulder season” also meant that, having done some provisioning and eaten lunch while waiting for the 3pm return bus, we found that the timetable we had been looking at didn’t start until 1st June – and there was no return bus! However, the taxi cost back to Xirokombos was only marginally more than four bus tickets would have cost us and we had enjoyed a decent lunch at a deli which, much to Mike’s and Steve’s delight, sold craft beer.

Obviously the weather determines, to a large extent, which islands and anchorages can be visited and in what order. The small island of Lévitha lies about 20 miles west of the other Dodecanese island and we were delighted when a weather window opened allowing us to sail there from Psérimos.

Lévitha was, and will probably remain, one of our much talked about yacht destinations. We first visited it around 15 years ago when the almost landlocked bay provided an excellent sheltered anchorage for the two or three boats there. Our second visit was about 5 years later when some laid moorings had been put in by the taverna owner and a modest charge was made – unless you ate in his farmhouse taverna on the hill, in which case they were free. On both those occasions we had eaten in very basic surroundings enjoying either goat or fish – depending on what was available – and a salad washed down by local retsina. We loved the experience and couldn’t wait to re-visit this year taking Steve and Gill with us.

The anchorage was exactly as we remembered it – except there are now even more mooring balls…..

….all of which were taken by late afternoon.

Unfortunately, that is where the similarities end. The modest taverna with a couple of tables has now expanded. Whilst still rustic….

…. there is now a covered area and far more tables and an outdoor BBQ has been built to provide burgers! The enterprise has become quite commercial. I guess one can’t really blame the owners – why not profit from what has become a yachting “institution”. But we will not be returning. Maybe it was a mistake on their part – or rather a mistake on ours not to challenge the cost of the wine – but the price of the meal for four came to €86 [which is at least €20 more than we had been paying elsewhere for similar fare], and each boat was charged an additional €7 for the mooring balls.

Fortunately our faith in family run tavernas on almost deserted small islands was renewed when we later picked up a mooring ball on the sheltered east bay on Marathos island. We selected the last available orange ball belonging to “Taverna Stauragkos”. It took us a number of attempts to secure ourselves to the ball because there was no pick-up line – which might explain why it wasn’t occupied – but at least we provided entertainment for those crews already secured!

Peace reigned, dusk fell and an excellent Goat Kleftiko was demolished.

Interesting lighting at Marathos

An island we really enjoyed spending time on was Lipsi. The small harbour is backed by a church crowned village….

…. with the traditional blue and white colours predominating.

Lipsi in minature!

Village square

We chose not to anchor in the harbour as there was little room inside and the outside berths are subject to wash – particularly when the wind is from the SW as it was whilst we were there. Initially we anchored just inside “South Bay” but were asked to move by the Port Police because of the turning circle needed by the large visiting ferries. We are fairly sure we were tucked in sufficiently not to hinder them but it wasn’t worth arguing about and we actually really enjoyed the North Bay anchorage which provided us with more shelter than we expected in lovely surroundings and clear water.

Lipsi village is the island’s only settlement and the harbour is the hub of the action – such as it is. Such a laid back place where locals mingle with tourists. Our favourite spot in the early evening was this Ouzerie….

…… where, to my delight at least, the free meze included on one night a cheese and bacon stuffed pepper. Mike might have preferred the more traditional offering….

…… but didn’t complain too much when we didn’t get it!

And finally, our favourite Dodecanese island – Arki.

Having had the Lévitha experience it was with some trepidation that we returned to Port Augusta, on the small island of Arki, hoping that it remained as it had been on our last two visits. It lived up to all our expectations and provided us with excellent shelter for four nights in the narrow dog leg inlet.

Mike spent some time scraping the waterline but mostly we relaxed and enjoyed a couple of walks from the harbour across the island past small holdings with goat herds….

…. communing with nature in general….

Butterfly magic

Gomphocarpus Psysocarpa – aka Baloon Plant or Hairy Balls!

….. and arriving at deserted bays.

At 1.30pm on our final day there were just five boats moored.

Three hours later there were almost twenty….

……crammed in wherever there was an inch of space. Eight of them were a special antipodean flotilla which, apparently, happens for two weeks every year commencing and finishing on the western Turkish coast and taking in some of the Dodecanese. They were a lively bunch but did not detract from the fantastic atmosphere of the place.

We were really happy to be back- so pleased to find it still unspoilt, unchanged and a little bit “funky”…

….and a fantastic place to celebrate our wedding anniversary.

So, the Dodecanese did not disappoint. It would have been easy to spend the whole summer there visiting the islands farther south but we had previously been to some of these and new islands awaited us to the north starting with the Eastern Sporades which you will be able to read about in my next post.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.sigasiga.co.uk/2019/11/04/astipalaia-and-a-few-other-dodecanese-islands/

Easter time in the Cyclades

Boiled and dyed red for the life and blood of Christ…. Happy Easter

Well…. this is a “double thumbs up” blog. Firstly we managed to get out to the Cyclades – having spent the second half of last year’s sailing season failing to do so due to adverse wind conditions. Secondly, having always wanted to spend Easter in Greece we finally did it – and in a place where Greeks from the mainland travel to celebrate. So now I want to tell you how it all came together.

We left Kalamata Marina on 13th April intending to just sail down the west side of the Mani peninsular to Porto Káyio. However, we made better progress than anticipated and, at 2.30pm, with the wind in our favour at a steady 12-15kn from the West, we decided not to stop at the bottom but to carry on east and cross to the nearest Cycladic Island – Mílos.

All was going really well. We were averaging 6.7kn, “Coriander” had also decided to change course and follow us and we had approximately 100 of the 145 miles to go when, at 5.55pm, an awful grinding noise came from below – the autopilot arm had stopped working. Mike spent just over 2 hours trying to see if he could find out what was wrong with it but to no avail. We still aren’t sure whether it would have continued to work but it certainly didn’t sound as if it was doing the mechanism any good. Even though we quickly decided we would have to buy a new one, we wanted to preserve as much of this one as possible hoping that buying whatever part had ceased working would then give us a spare.

This meant we manually helmed for the next 16 hours!!! OK, OK, I know – some sailors do it all the time but when you get used to one of the luxuries of modern boating then not having it makes it all feel rather worse – especially as we had to negotiate our way through a busy shipping channel – trying to keep an even course – in the middle of the night with basically no sleep for either of us. I suppose we could have turned round but by this time it was almost as far back as forward and it would have been into wind. We could have diverted to somewhere like Porto Heli – but it was just as far and we reasoned that a new pilot arm could be shipped just as easily by regular ferry as by courier overland. So – Mílos it was.

We passed the imposing cliff entrance at around 11.00am the following morning……

Impressive granite entrance

…. entered the “Caldera bay” 30 minutes later….

Secure caldera bay

….and joined “Coriander” in the Agios Dimitrios anchorage on the southern shoreline….

The first anchorage of the season – lovely Agios Dimitrios. Great for south and west winds.

A couple of G+T’s preceded an afternoon snooze, a meal and an early night followed by a walk ashore the following morning to stretch our legs. Thus, by mid-afternoon on 15th April, with the wind due to increase and shift to the north overnight, and stay like that for the next few days, we were ready to move to the anchorage off the island’s main town – Adámas ….

Late afternoon light at Adhamas

… where we had internet access and could try to find a Raymarine dealer. This proved remarkably easy and we were soon in touch with “Elektroniki”, Athens who told us a replacement could be with us either by 20th or 22nd [4-6 days].

However, before we could settle down to alternately entertaining ourselves and doing the usual few bits of maintenance, we had to move the boat again because early the following morning Mike looked over the side and saw that we had fouled our chain on a very large old anchor which was lying on the seabed.

Now who left this great lump for us to snag

With a lucky “lasso” type rope trick and some help from Steve we managed to extricate ourselves in about an hour, after which R&R in the shape of frappes followed by a bus ride to the Chora was called for.

The twin settlements of Pláka and Tripití perch atop the edge of an escarpment 5km above Adámas.

Plaka church atop the right peak

We got off the bus at the “catacombs” stop and walked down the hill to visit the C1 Christian burial site which, according to “The Lonely Planet” was open until 7pm. They closed at 2pm, just 10 minutes before we got there! We therefore walked back up the hill, detouring to see a rather unspectacular theatre – in comparison to others we have seen – but we did find this sign…..

Aphrodite…. Venus. The Louvre got the statue – Milos got this plaque!

Yes – the “Aphrodite of Milos” was found here in April 1820 by a local farmer digging in his field. Apparently there was a dispute between France and Ottoman Turkey over entitlement and we all know who won. However, some stories suggest that it was during the dispute that she lost her arms which does rather conjure up an interesting mental picture of the ownership struggle!

The main church of the Chora is perched right at the top of the hill, from which there are spectacular views…

“This one, that one and the one over there”

The title given to the photograph above was going to be the title of this blog but, due to the fact that the autohelm arm was delayed by 36 hours from the latest time originally given – a courier rather than supplier problem – it meant that “Owl and Pussycat” didn’t actually make it to “that one, or “the one over there”, namely Kimolos and Poliagos. “Coriander” did…. How much incentive do you need, Mr Toms, to catch up with your blogging? Mind you I haven’t really got room to talk as it is two months since I last put fingers to keyboard.

Whilst in Adámas we also visited the Mílos Mining Museum, the volcanic island having a fascinating history of mineral extraction dating from the Neolithic period. At that time obsidian was exported to the Minoan civilisation based in Crete. Today Mílos is the largest bentonite and perlite centre in the EU. I am sure our friend Cathy will know all about these two minerals but, for the non-chemists out there – or those who haven’t visited Mílos’s museum, Bentonite clay is used medicinally in mud baths and also in excavation and foundation engineering due to its ability to swell and gel when dispersed in water. Perlite is a volcanic glass with a high water content which is used in various ways including horticulture, filtration systems and the explosives industry. So, now you now as much as I do.

We caught up with “Coriander” again on 24th April when we rendezvoused in the almost landlocked bay of Vathi on the SW corner of Sífnos.

Not the best view of Ormos Vathi… but the only one I’ve got!

We made the most of our two night stay by visiting the island’s capital – Apollonia.

Labyrinthine….

and church studded….

….it provided a great day out. For those of you who like walking, Sífnos would be a great island for you to visit as it has more than a dozen signposted trails and fairly good bus connections to enable you to get around. We would have liked to stay longer but Easter was fast approaching and we had one more destination before reaching our chosen Easter venue.

So, a great four and a half hour sail east in 9-15kn winds during the morning of 26th April brought us to the “Dhespotico” anchorage to the south of Anti-Páros. Mike and I had been twice before to this well sheltered brilliant spot but never actually gone ashore onto Dhespotico Island. Time to “bag” another one by putting feet on land.

Desolate Dhespotico ……. Anti-Paros in the background

Not exactly a lot to see or do but it was a fun half hour before sundowners at the taverna on the shores of Anti-Páros.

A peaceful evening

Easter Saturday morning saw us motoring up through Stenón AndiPárou [the Anti-Paros channel] where we saw least depths of 3.3m going through the narrow gap to the west of Remmatonisi.

We dropped anchor in 5.5m water just to the west of Náoussa marina – very convenient for the celebrations to follow. I have long known that Pátmos is the most renowned Greek Island to visit at Easter but it was “too far, too fast” for what we wanted to achieve sailing-wise in April/May of this year so I was delighted when I read that Naoussa is the Easter destination of choice for many Greeks. We were not disappointed.

Following parties in the narrow streets around the harbour during Saturday afternoon and evening…..

The old port

Original fishing village

…….. celebrants gathered inside and outside the church of Agios Nikolaos……

Privileged to be sharing this ceremony

…. for the late evening mass – the “Resurrection Service”. This finished when, at exactly midnight, the Priest proclaimed that Christ has risen and everyone lit their candles and greeted each other with “Christos Anesti” [Christ has risen] to which the reply was “Alithos Anesti” [He has truly risen].

A Beautiful moment

Next year, if we are lucky enough to still be in Greece, we will know to buy candles.

Easter Day itself was almost a repeat of the previous day with parties outside every café, bar and restaurant. We had booked a table at “Mosxhonas” – a traditional fisherman’s restaurant where they served “Magiritsa” – a lamb tripe soup – which, unsurprisingly, we didn’t have – and whole lamb on the spit….

Not to everyone’s taste…. but definitely to ours

…. which we did.

Everyone was incredibly friendly and more than happy to have a party of Brits celebrate alongside them. Mike ended up with a new best mate after he had bought us wine and we had reciprocated with a few beers….

….. and Gill and I joined in with some impromptu dancing. Another splendid day.

“Opa”….

Despite us finding a small family restaurant, Naoussa can no longer be described as a quiet fishing village. Whilst there remain vestiges of the C15 settlement….

C15 Venetian Kastro

Ancient harbour with our anchorage in the background

…. and the occasional un-renovated building, the narrow streets of the Old Town now house up market bars and chic designer shops – though we did find a rather more eclectic one.

An interesting collection… and Yes, it was an art shop

Overall, it was a pleasant place to spend Easter and our bus trip the following day to the main port town of Parikia finished off nicely our stay on Páros. Similar tourist trappings to Naoussa led us to seek out less popular spots, in particular the “Frankish Kastro” with, as you can see, its outer walls built with stones from ancient buildings which once stood on or near the same site.

Incredible!

Apparently remnants of archaic temples to Athena and an Ionic C5BC temple have been identified.

As usual, churches abound and though I was particularly taken by the external architecture of Panagia Agios Konstantinos….

Lovely portico

…. It was nothing compared to the splendour of Panagia Ekatonapyliani. I suppose with a name like that, translated as the Church of a Hundred Doors, it has to be something special – even if it doesn’t actually have anything like that number of doors or gates!

The oldest remaining Byzantine church in Greece, it dates from AD326 and is actually three churches in one – the most ornate and largest being Agios Nikolaos….

….and the earliest, the ancient Baptistery.

The courtyards contained elaborate marble structures….

…including what is possibly the middle door of what was once a stone iconostatis …

…. which would have displayed a minimum of two icons but, given its size and richness of carving….

Carving from the base of the pillar

…. probably many more.

From Páros we had intended to sail south to the Small Cyclades. The wind had other ideas and we therefore spent a rolling night at Viklagia, a deserted anchorage on the NE tip of the island, before sailing north to the lovely island of Rinia……

Again, our anchorage in the background

A little bit of Monet in Greece!

….from where, if you remember, we visited Delos – the subject of my previous blog.

With southerly winds still prevailing two days later we decided that since Mykonos was just six miles east we might as well go there. Mike and I had no particular desire to go as we had been once before on a visit which my sister will never forget – and neither, as you can probably tell, will I!  On that occasion we arrived in very lumpy seas with an engine which wouldn’t work due to contaminated fuel and had to tack every two minutes to keep off the rocks until we could be towed into port before the charter company local mechanic came to sort it out. We were then directed to a corner space in the harbour next to a distinctly unfriendly live-aboard who had tied additional mooring lines across the quay which he refused to move and which meant we couldn’t berth properly and therefore dragged in the middle of the night and ended up re-docking in a part of the harbour where we weren’t supposed to be.

Yes… this was taken in 2002!!!!

It was so windy the following day that full beer glasses were flying off tables and we could see that staff were handing out life jackets on the ferries. Wisely, Chris decided not to stay on the little charter boat we were renting and met us later in Poros. We learned several lessons about fuel, engines, how to be a nice neighbour and sailing in rough seas. We also decided that, in our view, Mykonos was overpriced, over visited and not at all Greek. That was back in 2002. Things haven’t changed, with cruise ships now arriving every day.

Great view from the back road – just one of the three cruise ships that day

That said… the island was just across the channel and Steve and Gill had not been so off we went.

A great attraction for Gill was a chance to visit the Shirley Valentine beach. Hmmm – Mykonos seems to have lived up to our memories because a walk over the headland brought us to Agios Ioannis and this….

Didnt look like this in the film!!!

Mykonos Town, Little Venice and the old fishing quarter were even more hectic than we remembered though, just above the main town, there are still some quiet alleyways to discover…..

Yes…. this is Mykonos town

…… which we found after re-visiting the marina/harbour and finding it a much changed – not necessarily for the better – as visitor berths for sailing yachts are now really exposed as the inner harbour has become the haven for trip boats and large motor yachts and the cruise dock.

Unusual…. on the way to the harbour

Nice story…..but, is it true…. or just to attract you to the restaurant?

A couple of bits of good news about the place are that there is an excellent butcher on the airport road out of the harbour and I managed to get a slightly better shot of the famous windmills than I did 17 years ago.

Just like the thousands of other people’s photos of this spot… but had to be done since we were there

Windmills seem to be becoming a regular feature….

The windmills of Trypiti, Milos

….. perhaps I should put together a calendar!

For the duration of our stay we anchored south of Mykonos town in Korfos Bay – which was actually quite nice…..

….. and which, for us at least, proved to be a safe anchorage in the southerly storm which blew through on 5th May. We held firm through 18 hours of high winds [25kn+] which, during the most critical four hours, reached 35+ with several gusts of 46-48kn.

We certainly weren’t sorry to leave especially as our 8 hour sail down from Mykonos and then through the Páros/Naxos channel proved to be a good one. That is except for the last hour when, having reached the southern tip of Naxos, we had to put the engine on to battle across to that’s nights anchorage at Livadi Beach on Skhinóusa, where a pleasant evening was spent and some well-earned ouzo shared.

Skhinóusa was the first of two of the small Cyclades islands we visited, the second being Iraklia. We chose the Iraklia anchorage just 2.6 miles away from the Skhinóusa one which was, again, called Livadi [Pasture land] and the 40 minute crossing gave us plenty of time to settle in before walking to the island port of Agios Georgios where Mike and I had berthed previously……

Idyllic Agios Georgios

…. a fantastic spot, not that the Livadi anchorage was exactly shabby!

Secluded Livadi

In Ancient Greek times this cluster of small islands were densely populated but in the Middle Ages the inhabitants dwindled to just wild goats and even wilder pirates! It wasn’t until after 1821 that recolonization began and, even now, only three of the seven “main” islands are inhabited. We chose not to visit the third which is, apparently, becoming a fashionable island for “in the know” visitors and is referred to by locals as “the Mykonos of the small Cyclades”. Wonder why we weren’t attracted by that one?

Our final Cycladian Island this year was Amorgos – an island with another story to tell from a previous visit in 2010 when Mike and sis’s then partner, Bill, decided they could find their way back to the port from the Chora down the opposite side of the valley to the one we had all walked up. A couple of hours after Chris and I had settled into the taverna, having returned to the port by bus, two weary, bedraggled and scratched men appeared, having had to fight their way through undergrowth and down terraces and Mike almost blind because he had both lost his sunglasses and had P20 sun screen mixed with sweat dripping from his forehead.

So, what do you think Mike and I did this year – yup, the same walk – well the up walk anyway which was, I am sure, steeper than the previous time! I was certainly happy to finally see the Chora emerge….

Phew…. cold drinks ahead

…. and even happier to rediscover its delightful timeless beauty.

OK….so maybe the chairs are new!

And a new coat of whitewash

Now, did I mention a bus back? Well, not in May! Buses up and down don’t run until June so, with hindsight we retraced our steps down the same path….

OK…55 minutes down but nearly twice that time up. Need more practice.

…..getting fabulous views as we descended.

Katapola here we come

Another day and a much shorter walk along the northern shore…..

Great shelter…. except from the west

…..took us to yet another church….

….and also past one of two mermaids which “guard” the bay – the other, not surprisingly, being on the south shore.

The mermaid and the cormorant…. a new legend in the making!

We had anchored at Katopola, a popular yacht destination even this early in the year. Most visiting boats have to squeeze onto the harbour wall because the anchoring space is limited to a very small area at the head of the bay with an imaginary line drawn between the small fishing harbour mole and the small ferry dock in the main harbour area. This is because large ferries also come in to dock in the middle of the night and need swinging room. Interestingly we have since seen similar sized ferries manoeuvre in much smaller spaces [because they have to] but the Port Police are strict with their patrolling of the ferry requirements and we weren’t going to argue – especially as we managed to be [just] inside the imaginary line – phew!

Whilst we walked to the main “town” to provision and to enjoy an excellent gyros meal one night, being anchored close to the fishing harbour encouraged us to partake of sundowners on the north side in the fishing hamlet of Xirokeratidi – lovely.

Bringing in the catch

We also feel that for sailors visiting Amorgos, at least one night in the Nisis Nikouria anchorage is a must.

This is definitely living the dream….

It is where we enjoyed our first BBQ of the year and an anchorage which provided us with a very fitting end to an action and fun packed month in the Cyclades – a start to this year’s sailing season made even better by sharing it with good friends.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.sigasiga.co.uk/2019/08/13/easter-time-in-the-cyclades/