Friday, Oct. 9, 2015 – Ios
With Santorini being too far for us to sail in a day, we adopted the RCC Pilot Book recommendation of Port Ios as a safe and nearby harbor to visit Santorini from by ferry. Ios is a moderate-sized 40 sq. mile hilly island, mostly steeped down to the sea, situated ~midway between Naxos & Santorini. While not applicable in October, it is apparently popular with young nudists of all nationalities in the summer, although I didn’t note any beaches along the coast coming in from the northwest.
The Port of Ios is at the head of the Ormos harbor. From there you can take the bus or rent an ATV to ride up to Chora. Chora is a white and picturesque village, full of stairs and narrow paths. Reportedly, the main path through Chora village is taken over by tourism. Apart from the port and Chora, Ios has only a few small settlements in the background of its three major beaches: Theodoti, Kalamos & Manganari.
Our on-anchor Med-moored docking went without incident as the Magida crew is now a well-oiled team understands what is expected of them, and of course each berthing situation is always a little different. The berthing price in Ios, but without power & water access was a bargain 8-euro per night, compared to a high of 288-euro in Puntaldia. Dinner & wine for six at a restaurant off our boat’s stern was only 75-euro (~$85). The crushed stone carrying ship offloading on our dock caused quite a turbulence as it departed, but thankfully we were notified and no damage was inflicted. To a Californian, it would have felt like an earthquake.
The following morning, we departed for Santorini under clear skies, and moderate weather not expected for 18+ hours. By now, Margaret was bonding into the family, and everyone was becoming more comfortable with sailing the boat.
Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015 – Koufonisia
Inhabited since pre-historic times, and situated southeast of Naxos and west of Amorgos, the 10-sq mile Koufonisia Islands belong to the complex of the Lesser East Cyclades. A couple of years ago, Jason & Andrew spent over a week backpacking in Koufonisia, and wanted to revisit the area. Koufonisia comprises the main island of Epano Koufonisia with less than 400-residents, plus the almost uninhabited island of Kato Koufonisia – we visited both.
The first stop was a secluded bay in the NE corner of the main Epano Koufonisia, where clothing on the beach was apparently optional. The four young adults went ashore and Sara’s sons availed themselves of the opportunity. We did not inquire of the girls, but I think that they remained decent. Sara snorkeled in emerald green waters off the swim platform.
Garmin doesn’t bother to delineate depths in remote bays, so we place a lookout on the bow to ‘feel’ our way in, and trace our path out. Remember that you can easily see 30’ down, it is still difficult to say that you have 30’ vs. 10’ depth, however rocks are clearly visible. Another Garmin chartplotting secret is to switch from the NAVIGATION chart option to the FISHING chart option. This provides contour lines at the expense of losing AIS overlay, but when you are feeling your way into secluded bays, it is unlikely that a cargo ship or tanker will sneak up on you. BTW, akin to Shipwreck Beach in Zakynthos, our inbound route took us over a touch of chartplotter ‘land,’ so guess who is really careful about skirting obstacles!
After having a nourishing Sara-prepared lunch (she does it so WELL) we tracked our path back out until we reached 65’ depths, and then headed for the village ~3-miles around the corner. The harbor is small, make that tiny, but there were a couple of other pleasure boats in and we found a nice spot amongst the fishing boats.
Once secure, Sara allowed us to open the magnum of RED (‘red’ stains the boat)Chateauneuf du Pape that ex-crewmember Wally Lohr bought for us, and we drank out of the Mont-Redon wine glasses that my daughter Karen bought for us when we were all in Provence. Upon departure, the girls said that they will miss pulling into port at dusk and watching the sunset with a glass of Santa Margarita Pinot Grigio (white wine).
Once settled, Andrew & Jason wanted to be sure that we ate at their favorite Koufonisia restaurant, which in spite of closing for the season in 3-weeks was still busy.
Next morning, we motor-sailed down to almost deserted Kato Koufonisia. I saw Billy Goats on the slopes, but no people, as we anchored for a swim. The young adults went ashore and climbed the cliffs surrounding the bay. Again, we ‘felt’ our way in & out. We anchored in 7’ below the 7’ 7” keel, and drifted back to 4’ at times below the keel. The only disturbing news was that Sara informing me that there was a small rock outgrowth below the keel which we were easily clearing. Nevertheless, it gets one’s attention.
While everyone wanted to stay longer, at 2pm we departed for the southern Cyclades island of Ios 24nm away to be sure of a daytime arrival, and we were running out of ‘cushion’ for the kids’ Santorini departure in 2-days.
Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2015 – Starvos, Dhenoussa
Without much being there, we had never heard of the island of Dhenoussa, and it is even too lonely for The Lonely Planet to list, however the island is popular with the Greeks themselves. Jason & Andrew were keen to visit it, so we selected the main port of Starvos as being the most accommodating. Arriving just before dusk, we scooted around the entrance mole and as being the only sailboat in the harbor, docked just prior to the fishing boats that attracted a herd of cats. In fact, Capt. Giorgis’, the town’s only restaurant, has its own brood of cats, and the staff fed them table scraps 2x while we were there for dinner. The Greeks in the restaurant looked like something out of Hollywood central casting, and true to form, there is no sign with the restaurant name.
In the morning, I imagine that Sara must have bought every offering type that their bakery offered – excellent! Then we were off again…
Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015 – Delos
Legend has it that Apollo was born on this small island ~3miles from Mykonos. Likened to Pompeii in completeness, Delos has extensive 700BC ruins on its western side, and the fame of the oracle of Delos was only exceeded by Delphi. Protected by other islands around it, its trade route location allowed it to also develop as a political and religious center. Delos was ‘purified’ in 543BC by the Peristratos, and thereafter it was not to be ‘defiled’ by human birth or death. Even today, no one is allowed permanent residence on the island.
The dangerous part is that when a meltemi is blowing, the funneling effect can result in Force-7+ winds. Fortunately, that was not the case for our visit and we anchored in 20’ of green-blue water with only one other sailboat, and a bunch of day-tripper boats, in what was reportedly the busiest harbor in antiquity.
Owing to the short hop, and like “Michael” in the song, Andrew ‘rowed the boat (dinghy) ashore’ with the rest of the crew to visit the ruins for an hour. Everyone then returned to the boat and swam in the 15’ deep water. Sara inspected the anchor, and Margaret swam to and climbed nearby & deserted Mikro Remmatia Island while I watched for speedy excursion boats not expecting to encounter a swimmer. Following another healthy lunch by Sara, we weighed anchor for Dhenoussa, allowing us opportunity to deploy our blue & white asymmetric spinnaker, for a nice gentle fast sail.
Monday, Oct. 5, 2015 – Mykonos
Spanning 43-years, this is my third trip to Mykonos; 1972 by ferry, 2000 by plane, and now in 2015 by yacht. Mykonos changed the most between my 1st and 2nd visit when it became extremely popular and the infrastructure and accommodations were upgraded. I’ll avoid detailing the more graphic examples of my rustic 1st visit.
For a mere 15-Euro per night, we docked at the only 60% full Mykonos Marina located ~1-mile north of town. As cruise ships & major ferries dock on the outside mole, there is a convenient 2-Euro Sea Bus ferry service that runs in and out of town every 30-minutes. The marina is not completely finished but has necessary domestic conveniences (no fuel or marine shops) nearby.
Without hiring a car, we did not sample Paradise Beach nor the nearby nightclubs that are open until dawn, but we did walk to and about and about the windy pedestrian streets of town, which is much the same as my last visit – filled with shops, restaurants & souvenirs.
One disappointment is that an outdoor seaside restaurant that had an albatross perched on a stump had changed hands, expanded, and alas – no albatross, nor even a wait staff that recalled it. There was the Greek equivalent of a bagpiper sitting on a wall blowing a note or two into his white pipes.
Mykonos did upgrade its famous windmills, and we walked around them although there is no evidence that they are functional. Modern 3-bladed wind generators are prevalent around the northern Med.
A nice find was the food. We had lunch in town with a spectacular setting on the water – Price: 125-Euro for 6 of us with only 2-beers, no dessert. Abutting the Marina, we ate at Matthew’s Tavern under a fig tree – Price: only 70-Euro for 5 of us with 3-beers, 2-carafes of wine, plus after dinner drinks! We went back a 2nd night! In Greece, all places must have a printed menu with prices on it. Of course, they might not have what is on the menu, so it is not uncommon for them to invite you into their kitchen to see what is good, or freshly made.
Mykonos still draws cruise ships with many Americans on them, and while less Orientals seem to be traveling, more and more Russians are about. Of course, the English love to travel, and outside of August there is still a smattering of Italian, French & Dutch.
Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015 – Merichas, Kythnos
Kythnos is a northern Cycladic island ~40nm due East of Poros, between Kea and Serifos. It has been called “Thermia” since the 12th century due to hot springs at Loutra Bay. Kythnos itself is ~100-square kilometers, with 100-km of coastline, and 92-bays, coves & beaches. For a mere $16, we had dockage, electricity and water at the main port of Merichas which claims 250 inhabitants with probably under 2,000 on the whole island.
Filled with that bit of trivia, we picked Kythnos because it was full 1-day sail that was 50% on the way to Mykonos. In Mykonos, we could pick up Margaret on Sunday as there is no ferry to Kythnos on Sundays.
The sail itself was broad to close-reach with 15-24-knots of northerly wind, and swells of 3-5’ as a remembrance of the 3-days of 30+ knot winds in the strait. Jason & Emily got a lot of roller furling practice, as the Oyster & crew could easily handle 15-knot winds under full sail, however the Admiral constrained the heeling at higher winds requiring reefing – “Tom, Tom, Tom.”
Kythnos has a popular well-protected islet on the north, and connected to the main island by a sand bar. This provides two bays to anchor in. We checked them out, but due to the chill in the air, the sole taverna appearing to be closed for the season, and the need for another early start to Mykonos, we did not drop anchor, and instead opted for Merichas, a couple of miles away.
With the assistance of a waiter from a restaurant, a common Greek practice, we Med-moored off our anchor near the fishing pier, and ate in the popular fish restaurant “Oasis” to the stern of Unconditional. Our dawn departure to Mykonos was uneventful.
Friday, Oct. 2, 2015 – Poros
With our Zakynthos and Athens dates predetermined by flight arrangements, our Ionian Sea itinerary was largely selected by crewmembers Jane & Marc upon arrival. Sara & I were now striking out on our own as only her kids were our last guests, and we had 6-weeks of fairly open sailing ahead.
Since we had 30+knot winds forecasted in the Aegean Sea straits for the next 3-days, we elected to enjoy the Athens-Poros area in lieu of immediately venturing east into the strait. With Jason & Emily arriving into Athens, we looked at weather, inter-island distances, and ferry schedules to determine where to board Andrew, and yet be able to accommodate their desired visits to the north, middle & south Cyclades island chains. With an eye on infamous Meltemis, we were suddenly time-crunched under the best scenario by their flight return date. Then, new to our life, we found that we needed to board a ‘Margaret’ for Andrew at yet another subsequent TBD port.
Avoiding the serious winds, the next day we had strong 20-25-knot following winds as we headed south from Piraeus to the island of Poros, just 200-meters north of the town of Galatas on Peloponnesian north coast. With the boom properly ‘prevented,’ Jason sailed wing-on-wing, a hard point of sail, towards Poros Bay. With a mere 4,000 inhabitants, Poros in the Saronic Gulf is scenic from the sea, and due to its proximity to Athens/Piraeus, more yacht-focused than most Ionian islands.Med mooring to the town dock next to a 300’ motor yacht, George, a waiter from the harborside Gia Mama restaurant immediately behind us, helped us with lines which was challenging in the winds & swell. As we were set, a woman came by and told us that ‘around the corner’ (counterclockwise) was far less windy and attenuated swells. Although not for the timid, I thought that we were secure enough, so we stayed without incident as the winds abated in the evening as forecasted. Charter boats arriving after us quickly gave up on trying to Med-moor and they docked lengthwise, then later boats rafted-up.
The next morning, a policewoman said that a cruise ship was arriving later in the day and we’d have to go around the corner. Recalling the earlier woman’s advice, we did so after sleepy-heads, Emily & Jason, awoke. It was indeed calmer around the corner and we payed out 150’ of chain rode to Med-moor in much calmer waters. As we secured, a Jeanneu 57 decided to berth immediately next to us. Skipping forward to our following day 8am departure, the Jeanneau’s anchor chain crossed over ours, so the Jeanneau payed out some slack and we were prepared to sling his line, when it instead snagged our anchor’s rollbar and Andrew boathooked it off. Crossed anchors are a way of life in traditional non-tailed Med-moorings.
Owing to those 30+knot winds and an augmented crew, we stayed 36-hours in Poros allowing Andrew to have a 90-minute hi-speed cat ferry ride to Poros, plus some rest. Sara was excited to see Andrew, and have both of her boys together! BTW, I like it also 🙂
Meanwhile, I bicycled around the island [it is not that big] and I saw a trans-ocean rowing craft tied to our dock.
The now five of us enjoyed Poros. Andrew & Jason joked at dinner, whereas Emily made use of the restaurant Wi-Fi to catch up on her iPhone. I was even fortunate to pick up a wheel for our Amalfi-broken passarelle, from a small 1-aisle hardware store.
After dinner, I found out the hard way that my BoA ATM card expired as a result of the US-mandate for Smart Chip implementation. Their replacement card is in Texas. Now we would need Sara’s ATM card to withdraw Euros,and with the Greek financial situation, small businesses needed cash vs. credit card slips. My credit cards already had the embedded Smart Chip technology.
Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2015 – Athens/Piraeus
After a somewhat calm day dodging tankers at anchor, the wind picked up and we close-hauled the last 25% into Piraeus, the seaport of Athens. I have to say that sailing into a large metropolitan city with such culture was a thrilling experience for me. Although passing through ATH airport a couple of times a decade or two ago, I had last visited the city of Athens when Kathy was 5-months pregnant with our now 42-year old twins, and sailing into the port of Athens elicited unexpectedly strong fond & moving memories.
Based on our pilotbook description, we selected the Mega Yacht Athens Marina to stay. Updated for the 2004 Olympics and located next to the Olympic Stadium & Arena, it seemed like a good selection since Zea Marina was described as being in an industrial / commercial area. Nevertheless, the larger Zea Marina in Piraeus would be my preference next time as being east of the main Piraeus area, the Athens Marina was not logistically as conveniently located, and the ‘commercial’ part was desirable restaurants, chandleries, etc. To compensate, we rented a VW Golf from Hertz in Piraeus’ Port to pick-up Jason & Emily from the airport and drive into and about Athens.
While making Boston Back Bay streets look positively wide, and NYC streets smooth, Athens was not extraordinarily difficult to drive in. The famous Athens smog was fortuitously non-existent, and with one noted Darwin Award female candidate exception, people were overtly friendly.
Marc & Jane Potkins treated the new crew to a wonderful dinner at The Old Tavern in Athens’ lively Plaka section. After being lost in Piraeus, having a verbal run-in with a woman on a dead-end street there, and being directed out of a restricted driving area near the newly-opened Acropolis, Museum, it is unclear how we located parking less than a block away from the restaurant.
In as much as we have been drinking table wine for most of our trip, Marc kindly treated us to a couple of bottles of wine for dinner. I think that we chose this bottle as much for the whimsical label as the Greek wine itself, which was delicious…
After two weeks on the boat, it was very sad to bid the Potkins adieu. In addition to their friendship, it was comforting to have competent sailors aboard as transitioned some challenging waters and berthing. Jane was pleased that I let her skipper Unconditional through the canal.
The following day Sara properly signed our new crew in with the Port Police located at Zea Marina (where else). We also grocery shopped behind the local hospital, posted for $60 a $120 Delphi souvenir to NY (ed: it arrived broken), checked the weather, tried to determine best airport-to-island connections to board Andrew when he arrived, planned the itinerary for next few islands, re-checked the weather, and ran a couple of chores.
Lastly, we toured the Acropolis, which although the Greeks are working on it, seems almost unchanged since my visit with Kathy, 4-decades ago.
That last Athens evening, we had a bottle of Greek wine with a Mizo at the fashionable but sparsely-populated Acropolis Restaurant as we sat outside watching the sun set and the monument lights turn on – a priceless hour or so.
For dinner, we drove back to the Plaka section, and we ate at a touristy restaurant watching traditional Greek dancing and singing, capped off with the breaking of plates. Athens was surprisingly memorable in a nice way!
Monday, Sept. 28, 2015 – Korynthos & Corinth Canal
Departing Itea just after noon, we had lunch underway while a developing weather front push us quickly the 40-miles into Korynthos Harbor. Unconditional was sailing well and we dusted off another slightly smaller boat headed to the harbor. Being that we drew too much to enter the smaller yacht harbor, we entered the almost deserted commercial harbor. Tying up was a challenge again, as we had to duck open rebar that would puncture fenders, street drain outlets that capture fenders, and a bow thruster that temporarily stuck ON in the starboard position (I reset it). All of this in a 20-knt onshore wind, which abated after dark.
Korynthos itself lends its inhabitants’ name to yachting’s Corinthians. While classically Corinthians are required to be sharing & helpful yachtsmen, Korynthians/ Korinthians were notorously party-hard (and much worse) creatures, but were excellent mariners. What we saw in town was merely typical street cafes. Clubs must open after we are abed.
At 10am the following morning, all three sailboats (a Brit, a German & us) that arrived in Korynthos were circling ½-mi off the western Corinth Canal entrance awaiting clearance into the traffic-reversing 3-mile, 75’-wide canal. The Brit tried to bluff his way in and was rebuffed, and later the German had to be told 3x to proceed into the canal.
The Brit would not have made progress anyway because there is a car bridge on each side of the canal. What makes this bridge unique is that it hydraulically SINKS into the canal floor to let ships pass above it! Crewmember and MSME-graduate, Marc, thought the guidebook had an editing error – nope, the bridge center span goes UNDER water!
The canal is 3.2-miles long, a narrow 75’ wide, and the walls are 250’ high – very dramatic. There are no locks required on the canal, and the current is less than 50% of the Cape Cod Canal, Woods Hole or NYC’s Hell Gate/East River. We transited the canal on a Monday, and as unbeknownst to me, the canal is CLOSED on Tuesdays for repair/maintenance – whew!
At ~$100 per mile for a 15m boat, the canal also has the reputation for being amongst the most expensive in the world. After settling with the Canal Authorities, in cash (a common requirement), Sara went to uncleat the springline and her glasses slipped off her shirt into the drink 25’ below. Solution: call a Greek diver, obtain 2-permits, and wait for big vessels to clear the canal. This is the 3rd year in a row that I have paid $100 to retrieve her glasses!
Sara then prepared one of her usual onboard great healthy & fresh lunches, and we were off to Athens/Pireasus none the worse for wear.
Sunday, Sept. 27, 2015 – Itea/Delphi
Arriving on the mainland of Greece for the 1st time, we parallel docked at the nearly deserted harbor of Itea [It’ e a], gateway to mountaintop Delphi and the Temple of Apollo. While docking is standard practice to us East Coasters, it is usually to a floating dock. Itea, being at the “V” tip of a geographic funnel had more tide than we have experienced in the Med. and we arrived at peak tide. The dock/mole was only a few inches above the water and the crew didn’t have the fenders ON the water, so for the first time since the Azores swell, we scratched our gelcoat – Captain’s fault. Oh well, it could have been worse if we arrived at low tide and were OFF the boat at high tide.
The town itself is not cute, but it has an incredible amount of civic pride & Churches. We saw marching bands, and on Saturday evening, a free big (swing) band concert. Trip Advisor is everywhere and Marc located a nice outdoor seafood restaurant. People drive their cars in town at less than 20-mph – strange, to a native Bostonian.
Under clear skies, the four of us took a taxi to Delphi and passed over an active viaduct carrying water 200-miles away to Athens. Delphi itself, which takes its name from Apollo Delphinios is on the side of Mt. Parnassos dates from 450BC, and was impressive in both artifacts & setting. The ancients regarded Delphi as the center of the world, and the Delphic Oracle was famous throughout Greece.
Being a Sunday, admission was free for even non-Greeks, and taking a taxi, we arrived well before the tour buses from Athens. In addition to the site with temples, treasuries, an amphitheater & stadium, the modern museum was outstanding.
Saturday, Sept. 26, 2015 – Patra
With further thunder showers predicted in Katelios, Marc & I had a discussion about the wisdom of heading back to the safety of Zante Town. Nevertheless, a check of the weather at Patra, on the Peloponnesian Peninsula 50nm away revealed that the rain wouldn’t commence until after 2pm at the earliest. As weather visibly looked to be rebuilding at Katelios and with sufficient fuel & supplies, we weighed anchor pre-dawn and departed into moderate swells & wind on the nose. We then rounded the southern tip of Kefallinia for a NNE 50nm run in moderately open seas to Patra on Peloponnesian Peninsula. Mesolongi was our divert port, however it wasn’t a very appealing option.
Our timing was great as we travelled with the weather just behind us as predicted all the way to Patra, Greece’s 3rd largest city with 215,000 population. Marc was particularly impressed how well the Oyster handled moderate seas – his Hunter would be slamming more into the waves.
Although the block just off our downtown dock was hopping with a young crowd, we didn’t find Patra itself anything to ‘write home’ about. As we departed the following day in shower-threatening weather, the Hellenic Olympic Sailing Team was on our dock prepping race marks.
One thing that Patra is noted for is the Rio-Antirrio Bridge built in 2004. With four stations, it is reportedly at 2,252-meters the 2nd longest cable-stayed deck bridge in the world. True to Greece overkill, it has a Traffic Separation Zone Management Authority that one must call into at 5 & 1-nm out – really?! And to beat that, this entrance to the Gulf of Corinth has an active car ferry service running right in the shadow of the bridge – they must undercut the bridge tolls be 1-Euro, or something.