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.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.sigasiga.co.uk/2020/01/06/the-gulf-of-volos-and-evia/

The Northern Sporades – A few islands that begin with “S” and a couple that don’t!!

Skopolos in the background – taken from Old Alonnisos Town

Most of the month of August was spent in the Northern Sporades where we had fun in the sun with family, friends and family of friends!

We left the Eastern Sporades on 5th August and made the 57 nautical mile crossing to the small island of Kyra Panagia – the island nearest to our departure point with an anchorage. Kyra Panagia lies to the north and east of the most well-known and popular tourist islands of Skíathos, Skópolos and Alonnisos and is within the National Marine Park of the Northern Sporades. It is, in fact, in Zone A of the park where overnight anchoring is prohibited everywhere except two bays on Kyra Panagía and, seemingly, on Skanzoura.

On the north side of the island is a magnificent, almost landlocked, bay – Ormos Planitís. Access is through a very narrow [82m] and shallow [6m] channel. “Owl and Pussycat” is just less than 5m wide so you would think that 82m should be a doddle but it certainly didn’t look that way even though we had fairly light winds and no sea running. Heikell’s Pilot Book warns that in strong north winds it is quite frightening going in and almost impossible to get out.

There are two forks to the bay. During our stay the more north easterly fork seemed the more popular but we were meeting up with Steve and Gill [“Coriander”] who were already anchored in the other fork. It was so calm once through the channel that I don’t think it matters which fork you choose and we were more than happy to be in the quieter one.

“Coriander” and “Owl and Pussycat” in splendid isolation

The following day Mike and I decided to walk across the island and back….

Its that way!

……to view the other anchorage, Ormos Kira Panagia/Agios Petros which was really lovely to look at….

Ormos Agios Petros looking South West

….and, as you can see, very popular even though the holding is reported, by Heikell, to be poor to mediocre. It is also an anchorage where long lines are used to restrict swinging so that more boats can moor. Long-lining isn’t our favourite thing so we were happier in Ormos Planitís – though, as you read on, you will see that we got a bit more experienced at that type of mooring whilst in the Northern Sporades.

Other than visiting yachties, we read that the island is deserted except for a herd of cows and a big black bull of which there was no sign, some horses [ditto], several herds of goats which we did hear and see and a guardian, who we didn’t. We think someone is around though, at least from time to time, because there seemed to be some form of penned area into which goats could be enticed by water troughs and via sloping ramps from the outside but then couldn’t get out as no ramps were available to them on the inside. This might be for milking them or killing them – just conjecture on our part – with more of the same after we came across these.

Very strange

Why four tortoise had died in one spot we have no idea and we didn’t see any others, dead or alive, during our walk. There was nothing left of their insides but their legs were still there…..

Macabre!

On returning to the boat we immediately set of for our chosen anchorage for the evening – Ormos Xero on the small island of Peristeri. Reaching the anchorage before us, Steve and Gill reported that it was untenable due to swell. They looked at the other available anchorage on that island but it was full so we decided to head for Skantzoura.

I mentioned above that this is in Zone A of the park but it is not mentioned in the “exclusions” section as having available overnight anchorages. However, Heikell writes about three anchorages and, it was only when writing this blog that I spotted the anomaly between his section on exclusions and his description of available anchorages. We anchored at the south end of Ormos Prasso, along with two fishing boats and a number of other cruising yachts – so I don’t think we were off limits. We spent two nights there and on the second night were treated to a BBQ courtesy of “Coriander” and an amazing sunset courtesy of Mother Nature.

Going…..

….Gone

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Steve often says that he is going to dedicate a whole blog post to sunsets because there are so many wonderful ones. I know that many of my posts contain at least one – so I hope you don’t get fed up of seeing them. We certainly don’t.

“Owl and Pussycat” and “Coriander” then parted company again. Gill was keen to go west to “Mama Mia land” and Mike and I were equally keen to go east to take in the island of Skíros – the largest island of the Northern Sporades. We were even more pleased with our decision when we managed to get a great 5 hour sail before dropping the hook in the lovely anchorage – Agios Fokas.

Lovely surroundings at Ormos Fokas

We stayed twice at this anchorage, returning to it again on the evening before we left Skíros to facilitate an early start back to the main island group. You can see on the chart below that we anchored more or less in the same place both times.

We were lucky to have been able to do this. The area to the left inside the bolder green line is nearly all weed and we watched a boat drag in this area. The area within the less bold green line was also weedy and rocky. Thus there was very little available sand to anchor in but the patches that were there provided very good holding.

Other than Agios Fokas, the only other place we visited on the island was its main port – Linaria.

Skiros Project moorings and “marina”

The Skíros Project/Linaria Port Authority is really quite progressive in its approach to visiting yachts. Staff are there to assist with berthing or mooring [they operate some excellent mooring balls as well as running the “marina”], have a small on site laundrette, provide information about the island and its positive environmental policies, and have a shower/toilet block with, if you care to join in, a one hour “disco music and bubbles” session at 7pm. The “bubbles” were the wrong sort for us – but visiting kids seemed to find it fun!

Although it was by far the most expensive berthing fee of the season, at €30 per night, we were happy to pay the price because we were there during a particularly windy spell. We had known this was coming and planned accordingly though, with hindsight, we would now be content to take the cheaper mooring balls which, in a northerly blow, were actually more protected than the wall. We completed their feedback form, which we felt was aimed more at charter boats than liveaboards, and made the observation that for our boat their fees were unnecessarily high as we do not require water or electricity. We took it because it was included in the price but at other harbours these services most often come as optional extras, with appropriate additional charges, making the actual berthing fee more reasonable. The price for “Owl and Pussycat” [14.8m] for one night at every other harbour which made a charge was €8 [excl water and electricity]

Buses on Skíros only seem to run between the port, the Chora [Skíros Town] and a couple of small resorts on the north east coast. The timetable also coincides with the ferry arrivals/departures so visiting the Chora from the port using public transport is generally only possible during the day. However, on a Saturday there is a late evening return bus and we took advantage of it, having caught the late afternoon bus up.

As with most Chora, the town is dominated by a fortress….

Looking north from the main square

…… but we were not particularly interested in visiting this or the archaeological museum as we seem to have done plenty of those already. [I hear sighs of relief from regular readers who have, no doubt, seen quite enough photos of pots, statues and ruins!]

However, we were interested in the Manos Faltaïts Folk museum as it was described in “Lonely Planet” as a “not to be missed gem detailing the mythology and folklore of Skíros”. I don’t know what the person who wrote that saw because as far as we were concerned much of it was a hotchpotch of tat, books in higgledy piles or two or three deep on shelves and a retrospective exhibition of paintings by the museums’ founder which were in a style similar to Picasso. The “exhibits” were randomly placed between chairs, on bookshelves, lying down on tables and hidden behind vases.

To be fair, there was a proper library as well which contained documents relating to the Greek war of Independence and unique private documents relating to the history of the island and, dating from the 16th Century, a remarkable collection of rare old books that cover a period of five centuries. However, as the documents were, unsurprisingly, in Greek with no explanations in any other language, much of their significance passed us by.

The museum lies on the ancient walls at the top of the town and commands an excellent view.

Looking NE over the small resorts

It is adjacent to the square dedicated to “Rupert Brooke”, the WW1 poet who died on Skíros on 23rd April 1915 [aged 27] and is marked by a bronze in his honour.

We enjoyed wending our way down the alleyways and smooth cobblestone streets back to the main square and thoroughfare where an excellent taverna meal rounded off our evening out.

The only other place we visited on Skíros was the anchorage adjacent to Linaria town which we walked to quite easily from the harbour.

Ormos Linaria

It was ten days after first arriving in the Northern Sporades that we reached its most popular cruising area and there that we spent the rest of our time sailing backwards and forwards around the islands. In total we spent five nights on Alonnisos, eight on Skópolos and seven on Skíathos, most of it in the company of Chris and John….

Cheers!

….but also with Steve and Gill and Steve’s brother and sister-in-law, Chris and Liba.

Skópolos, the middle of the three, has two main settlements. Some years ago I visited Skópolos Town from Skíathos, when there on a non-boating holiday, and although it might have been nice to revisit it wasn’t somewhere we wanted to take the boat. First of all, the prevailing northerlies were blowing most of the time which can make Skópolos Town harbour uncomfortable and, secondly, regardless of the excellent anchorages, many charter boats make for the town in the evenings and fight for the available space. We did, however, spend time in the other settlement, Glóssa….

….which can be reached by a long walk uphill, or better still – a bus up and then walk down – from the port of Loutráki on the north-west coast of the island.

“Owl+Pussycat” anchored on the right in the harbour and “Coriander” outside behind the breakwater

Inside the Church at Loutraki

Amazing ceiling

On “Coriander”….Can’t remember the joke but it was obviously a good one.

The west and south coasts have most of the anchorages and, firstly with Steve and Gill and then with Chris and John, we visited Ormos Stafilos and Ormos Limonari….

Limonari anchorage at dusk

We sailed into Ormos Agóndas for a look round on our first visit to that part of the coast but did not anchor or berth there on either occasion. Instead, we walked to it one evening from Limonari – amidst a bit of a moan from sis that the flat road I had promised wasn’t exactly flat! Still, a nice waterside meal made up for it…

Ormos Agondas

We also went to Ormos Panormou…..

Old boathouses in Panormou bay

Panormou

…… with Steve, Gill, Chris and Liba where we actually long-lined.

Juvenile cormorant keeping an eye on our long line in Panormou

You may remember, reading above, that we got some long-lining experiences in the Northern Sporades and this was one of them. The other was at what was our favourite harbour/anchorage on these three islands– Votsi on Alonnisos.

First visit to Votsi – knew we had to return

We were really pleased to have been able to spend three nights in Votsi. Mike and I had visited, by walking to it from Ormos Milia where we spent two nights at anchor after our crossing back from Skíros. It was somewhere I really wanted to take my sis – to enable her to re-visit places she had spent time at before the island became as popular as it now is.

Another juvenile cormorant at Votsi

Happy Tree in the woods at Votsi

Just wonderful – “Owl and Pussycat” on the left

Votsi has, to a large extent, remained quite low key, unlike the main harbour town on Alonnisos – Patitiri. Chris said that when she stayed there some years ago [we won’t go into how many!] there were, I think, just two tavernas and a handful of apartments.

More than one taverna now

It is now bustling with ferries and charter boats and is awash with places to eat and drink.

From Patitiri it is possible to catch a bus to Old Alonnisos town which was virtually abandoned after the devastating earthquake of 1965. It remained that way until the 1980’s when tourism started to take off and foreign visitors began to buy up and renovate houses there.

Some renovations complete…..

 

….and some not

It now has quite a cosmopolitan feel and is at its liveliest in the evenings when all the restaurants open, but by day is fairly quiet except for a few locals

Skíathos was where we met, and two weeks later said goodbye to, Chris and John.

Bigger cheers! – not because they were leaving!!!!

It is a great place to meet and greet with regular international flights from most European countries and internal flights available from Athens. It is also served by ferries from the mainland and that is the route our next visitors – Caroline and John – took having flown to Athens from the UK.

It was really good that the visits of Chris and John and Caroline and John just overlapped – and it gave Chris and John a good excuse to escape the confines of the front cabin of “Owl and Pussycat” and take up residence in their “spacious” apartments

We all had a great evening together…..

Happy Days….. and evenings

…… as Chris and John’s Greek adventures wound to a close for this year and Caroline and John’s began. But you will have to wait for the next instalment to hear about those.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.sigasiga.co.uk/2019/12/05/a-few-islands-that-begin-with-s-and-a-couple-that-dont/

North East Aegean – Limnos, Thasos and Samothraki

Myrina, Limnos

Lying in the North East Aegean are three of Greece’s less visited islands – Thásos, Samothráki and Limnos. Having said this, in recent years increasing numbers of Eastern European visitors are travelling overland and then taking the relatively short ferry crossings from either Kavála or Alexandroupoli to these islands and, therefore, they are becoming more popular. However, they are still not often visited by yacht so we were really pleased that we had sufficient time, and favourable weather, between 10th July and 4th August to sail to all three.

It is a 56 nautical mile passage between Mithimna, Lesvos and the southern coast of Limnos and then a further 3.5 nm up into the fairly large dog leg bay – Ormos Kondía. We therefore had a very early start [05.15] on 10th July and dropped the anchor about 12 hours later off the hamlet of Diapori, at the head of the bay, where we stayed for four nights.

Owl and Pussycat just visible mid photo

When I said “favourable weather”, what I actually meant was that there were sufficient good wind, wave and swell days to enable us to choose when to venture out and when to stay put and part of the reason we did the long crossing on 10th and then didn’t move until 15th was a band of thunderstorms followed by unsettled weather which crossed the northern Aegean between 11th and 14th. The top wind strength we saw was 35kn but the thunderstorms accompanying it were really spectacular and I was glad we were well anchored given the severe wind shifts.

The rain and storms were early evening through to mid-morning so each afternoon we ventured ashore to look around. One day we decided to undertake a triangular walk taking in the quaint old villages of Tsimendria…..

…..and Kondia…..

Fisherman’s cottage near Kondia

We remarked on how “British looking” much of the countryside was and wondered whether they have two grain harvests – as this was early July – or just the one early one because it becomes too dry to grow crops later.

View from the road to Kondia with Tsimendria just visible in the background

On another day we crossed a short strip of land between our bay and an even larger one – Ormos Moúdhrou. With over half a dozen anchorages dotted round the shore it is popular with some yachts who make it as far as Limnos but, unfortunately, they were not really tenable during our time on the island. The large bay is actually considered to be one of the finest fleet anchorages in the Aegean and it was from here that the Gallipoli campaign was launched. Four hills at the entrance to the bay are named “Yam”, “Yrroc”, “Eb” and “Denmad”. They were thus named by a group of British surveyors who were less than enamoured by their captain “Corry” and wished that he “May Be Damned”. (A prize to the first person that sees it!)

Rather more successful than the Gallipoli campaign was the liberation of Limnos, just three years earlier, which began in the bay of Moúdhrou.

Vourlithia bay inside the larger Moudhrou Bay

This monument was surrounded by a wire fence and it wasn’t possible to see with the eye what was written on it. Glad I was able to zoom in……

From Ormos Kondía we moved to the islands capital and main harbour, Myrina. As you might have thought when you saw the photograph at the top of this post – what a beautiful place. We certainly thought so and thoroughly enjoyed our two stays – before leaving for, and after returning from, Thásos and Samothráki. In total we spent ten nights berthed on the harbour wall though there was plenty of anchoring room in the fairly well sheltered bay.

Looking south over the “Turkish Bay” and current anchorage and harbour with Platy Bay anchorage in the background

Backed by volcanic rock and a Genoese castle…

Similar to the cover of Heikells Cruising Guide!

…. the town is quite traditional with a “kafeneion” and/or “ouzeri” on most corners. Whilst it bustles early morning and during the evening, the afternoons are very quiet and on Sundays the main shopping street is deserted.

Lovely shaded streets

There is no charge for visiting the castle which, apart from goats [which we saw] and a small herd of deer [which we didn’t], is deserted but fairly well preserved – in particular parts of the garrison, a cistern and an armoury/ammunition store.

Munitions were also stored in the castle during the WWII German occupation – in the underground spaces accessed by vaulted tunnels. These are all now blocked, but one of the stairwells is still intact along with an Ottoman inscription preserved on one step.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The view south you saw above. North is where the Roman harbour was – though little remains. Now it is a very pleasant promenade lined by restaurants overlooking the bay.

It is supposedly possible to anchor in this bay though much of it is off limits due to underwater cables.

Reading about the island in the “Lonely Planet”, there seemed to be more than enough to see by car so, along with Steve and Gill, we hired one for a day. Having stopped briefly at a couple of bays on the south coast to suss out their potential as anchorages we went on the hunt for coffee – but found this instead!

Well, you have to – what is wrong with a bit of wine tasting at 10.30am.

Gill’s first visit to a wine co-operative – stick with us lass and there will no doubt be more!

Purchases made we enjoyed coffee near Blenheim Cove and lunch in Moúdhros. We visited the east coast beaches where I think Steve would have liked to spend more time – kite boarding, wind surfing etc. Gill was really looking forward to seeing flamingos on the salt water lakes but we were all disappointed that there were none to be seen.

Stark beauty

As you can see, there are no lakes – it is just a dried out salt flat.

We visited “Hephaistia”…..

Late C5BC  theatre

…… and “The Chapel of Zoodochos Pigi”….

Entry to the sacred holy water spring

The “Holy Pail”!

….where there is also a statue commemorating a local heroine who is said to have taken the sword of her dying father and continued the fight against the Ottomans in 1478.

Maroula and her fathers sword

Heading back west along the northern shores we had hoped to make it to the sand dunes of Gomati Bay. However, we were running short of fuel and, as the only petrol stations were back in Myrina we turned round before we got there. We did, however, stop to take in the fantastic rock formations – “Falarako”.

Formed by volcanic lava flow, the Falarako – translated as “bald heads” – are actually some large round formations which we missed. However, the name now seems to be applied to the whole area and we were very impressed by what we did manage to find.

Steve and Gill were happy to spend more time on Limnos but Mike and I were keen to see Thásos and, if possible, Samothráki and on Sunday 21st July sailed to the northern tip of Limnos and anchored for one night under Moutzephlos point before setting out early the following morning for the 42nm crossing to the south western end of Thassos and an anchorage in Astris Bay. Described in the Cruising Guide as a pleasant day time anchorage we thought we would take a look as we had, by that time, been sailing for eight hours. With the small island of Panagia at the southern end of the bay and the whole island protecting us from the north and east we found the bay to provide great shelter that day and had no qualms about remaining there overnight before moving five miles north to Limenaria on 23rd.

As Thásos’s second largest town and port it hardly gets a mention in “Lonely Planet” which is quite surprising as it is obviously a popular small resort and a really nice place.

The “new harbour” taken from the fishing harbour

Final work on the expanded pontoon/breakwater

What we found particularly good about it was the excellent public transport access to other parts of the island. We took two bus trips from Limenaria, firstly north along the coast to the fishing port – Skala Marion…..

……. where there was also a potential anchorage north of the village in a small bay just off the beach.

Anchorage off the small beach north of Skala Marion

Secondly we ventured inland to Theologos, the medieval and Ottoman capital of the island, famous for its whitewashed, slate roofed buildings.

Just couldn’t get a view of the whole village no matter which lane we walked up

Here we found a small folkloric museum….

The island specialised in weaving

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

….housed in the Chatzigeorgi Mansion. Metaxas Chatzigeorgis was president of the island from 1813 to 1821 when, as a member of the “Society of Friends”, he led the islanders in the revolution against the Ottomans even though Thásos was, at that time, under Egyptian rather than Turkish rule.

From Limenaria we headed a short way [9nm] up the west coast to Kallirakhis, a small fishing harbour where a group of children waved as we entered and giggled as they spoke a few words to us to try out their English. Unlike them, the one taverna we found open had a seemingly unfriendly owner so, having drunk one small ouzo, we went back to the boat and enjoyed the sunset.

It was then only 12nm to the north of the island and its current capital – Thásos Town.

We spent two nights there and in the intervening day took in the old harbour and town…..

…….a few archaeological ruins in the agora…..

…… and, following signs to the ancient theatre made our way uphill and then up steps to find that the site was closed for renovations. Why the “closed” sign wasn’t on the various signposts at the bottom and on the way up I don’t know – no doubt someone’s sense of humour. Having reached the closed gate I sat and waited as Mike, determined to find something to see up the hill, carried on. He said that trees had blocked the view all the way up and that, having given up, on his return downhill he spotted a vague track leading off and – lo and behold – the theatre…..

A reward for tenacity was called for so we treated ourselves to an evening out at the brilliant “Ambrosia” taverna….

In all three of the Thásos harbours we had berthed alongside – with no charge, and it was exactly the same in Kamariótissa harbour, Samothráki which we reached on 29th July having sailed 40 nautical miles SE from Thásos.

The island is quite lush and forested and, although there was no evidence of the waterfalls which supposedly still gush in the summer, we did see plenty of greenery…..

View down to the south coast from Profitis Ilias

….both during our day trip up into the mountain villages ….

Brilliant taverna in Lakkona

Asked what we wanted to eat – then given what there was, which were several delicious local dishes

 

 

 

 

 

 

… and again at Loutra [aka Therma]….

No water here in Loutra

……which is a rather “modern hippy” type small resort with revellers enjoying full moon parties and live music on the beach most evenings. From what we saw of it from the bus, the entrance to the small harbour is now almost totally silted – preventing anything bigger than a small fishing boat from entering.

Before visiting Loutra we had got off the bus at Paleopoli so that we could see one of the most important archaeological sites in Greece – the ancient Thracian “Sanctuary of the Great Gods”.

Part of the Sacred Way

The temple and sanctuary operated from 1000BC until paganism was forbidden in C4AD and during this time was reputedly visited by the Egyptian Queen Arsinou, the father of Alexander the Great – Philip II of Macedon – and Herodotos the Greek historian. Whilst it looked like many of the other sites we have visited in the past 12 months….

The Rotunda – a gift from Queen Arisinou

Vaulted tunnel to redirect the flow of the river under the Propylon of Ptolomy II

The Hieron

…… the gods who were worshiped here were different, and the rituals and initiations which went on are scarcely known about. The reason for this is that death was the penalty for anyone who revealed the secrets of the sanctuary so, although everyone [man, woman, child, slave or citizen] was welcome it was a case of turn up, engage in what is believed to have been one or two [or both] initiations and then keep schtum.

The principal deities were the fertility goddess Alceros Cybele, her consort Kadmilos [god of the phallus] and the demonic Kabeiroi twins – the sons of Zeus and Leda. Knowing who the gods were and what they represented perhaps indicates an orgiastic element to the initiations – so, given the silence, maybe an early case of “What happens in Greece, stays in Greece!!!”

The Chora of Samothráki is set between two sheer cliffs and was difficult to see until our early evening bus was on its last approach and difficult to photograph because of there being so many small buildings packed into the space between the cliffs and up them.

Perched at the top is, of course, the Kastro, closed in the evening….

…. but we were happy to walk up to its walls and then have a drink in the overpriced Café-Ouzeri 1900.

At least the view was decent!

And so we came to the end of our whistle-stop 10 day tour of the two most northerly and easterly islands and completed the circle by returning south and west to Limnos on 1st August.

As always we enjoyed various aspects of nature as we toured the three islands….

Cement delivery on Samothraki

Cormorant at Skala Marion, Thasos

Yikes! – a hornets nest in the bus stop at Lakkoma, Samothraki

Juvenile Herring Gull feasting on a mussel

Unripe quince on Limnos

In relation to this fruit, it is interesting that on one internet site I read that Helen of Troy bribed Paris to award a Quince to Aphrodite as a prize in a beauty conquest and that is what started the Trojan War. Well, as far as I understand it, it was Helen’s abduction by – or maybe her elopement with – Paris that started the war. Whether a quince was involved or not is debatable but why did I find it of interest you might ask?

Well, Mount Fengari, which stands at 1611metres [nearly 5,300ft] is on Samothráki and it is from this, the Aegean’s highest peak that Poseidon, the god of the sea, is supposed to have watched the Trojan War unfold. A tenuous link… but a link all the same!

Poseidon’s viewpoint

We are glad that we have seen it and all the other places on these three spectacular, more remote islands.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.sigasiga.co.uk/2019/11/22/north-east-aegean-limnos-thasos-and-samothraki/