We left Trizonia knowing we would motor all the way, wind was non existent and the sea glassy calm. Our chart plotter was indicating that Kejstral was travelling across the land, therefore the area is clearly not mapped correctly, fortunately we also have navionics, (a programme for our tablets) which confirmed that we were in fact afloat luckily!
Today we will travel under the world's longest, fully suspended, multi span, cable stayed bridge. The Rion bridge, otherwise known as the Rio-Antirrio Bridge, it crosses the Gulf of Corinth from north to south (and south to north) At 2880 metres in length it carries it's travellers from mainland Greece to the Peloponnese peninsula.
In 2004, the Athens Olympic games torch bearers, were the first to cross this iconic structure one week prior to the official Olympic games opening ceremony.
At a cost of €630 million, the bridge has had its fair share of difficulties with the construction and architecture. Seismic activity in this particular area due to underground faults, mean that the loose sediment surface of the seabed is disturbed frequently. During an earthquake or significant tremor, the four pylons or towers are able to move laterally, sending the impact into the gritty gravel seabed, minimising movement within the actual bridge. High land banks on either side of the Corinth gulf add to the wind tunnel effect through this passage, winds have been known to escalate to around 70 miles per hour.
Today however, there is barely a breeze and our engine is purring nicely.
Prior to our arrival, 5 miles from the bridge, we radio the control tower with our request to travel through. They take details of boat name, length and height from water line to tip of mast, obviously they wouldn't want any accidental damage to either their bridge, our boat and/ or to the very frequent ferries zooming from one side across to the other.
The control tower then indicate exactly where you will pass according to the size and shape of the vessel. As we near this enormous structure, at one mile from its massive pylons, we must radio once again to clarify our intention and for them to gauge our speed from the 5 mile mark. We are asked to take the third pylon from the right, first pylon from the left, staying close to the second pylon to the left. This may sound understandable, until you are listening to a somewhat crackly voice with a very Greek accent yet pretty good English! Fortunately we had drawn a little diagram before the event for us to 'picture' these instructions.
In addition to this information, we must hold our position at 1 mile out, until there was sufficient gap between ferries, no pressure at all to get this right! Before long we had our radio message to allow our transit, moving forward towards this awesome sight was amazing, with this feat of engineering towering above our heads this bridge is beautiful. Initial work began here in 1998 with the dredging of the gulf, 4 pylons took shape around 2000 and finally completed by 2003. Traffic decks were then added and by 2004 the final walkways and guard rails had been added.
In 2005 one of the cable links on M1 pylon (south side) snapped, it closed the bridge to traffic and the cause, a lightening strike creating a fire at the uppermost point of the pylon. Since then traffic has flowed both under and over this structure without any further issues. Once through the bridge, we travel onwards towards the town of Missolonghi 21 n.m west of the bridge. Again the breeze was almost non existent, 38 n.m and all 8 hours to Missolonghi, on the engine.
At the approach to this town our maps show large areas of sandbank, miles of them. In order to reach the quay, we must navigate the narrow passage through, which is of course clearly marked on our chart plotter.
The water is turquoise and clear, turtles swim close to us, dipping and diving out of sight as Kejstral skims their habitat. Marker buoys depicting the entrance into this channel can be clearly seen from all directions, obviously important enough to scare us into following their course. Beds of reeds and shrubbery line our port side, marking the route, on the other, random patches of sandbank stand proud of the sea surface. The sandbanks became slightly larger and more obvious as we follow our course, colourful wooden beach dwellings stand just above the waterline on stilts, little fishing boats tied loosely onto their protruding pontoon decks. Fishermen and women pass on our starboard side chugging confidently past us in their wooden motor boats, these shallow sandy waters posing no problems to their flat bottomed vessels. A mile or so into the channel the water opens out once again into a small busy bay, the sandy seabed is still an issue, keeping enough depth below our 1.7 metre keel was a pretty frightening challenge.
On the west side of the bay is a small marina, to the east is a town quay, not the prettiest area we have been to. We debated as to our best option for mooring on the quay as yachts were tied alongside and stern to, eventually it was decided that going alongside would be the best plan. This can be a stressful last minute decision, based on wind direction, space and depth. Kevin manipulates Kejstral into position, while I run around tying fenders and addressing the ropes ready for our mooring. Should the plan change from alongside to a stern to position, I must change everything around, the tender, fenders, ropes and anchor set up. Not easy to do speedily, always better if a plan can be made prior to the parking! On occasions the plan changes at the last minute, therefore having space to readjust boat position and having plenty of time for the ropes, tender, fenders and anchor jobs is essential. By the time we moor, we are usually exhausted mentally and physically, beer time!
We are happy with the parking, Kejstral is locked and we are feeling relieved, we head to the bar a few hundred yards away. We have been warned that the area is known for theft on yachts, therefore, all is secured properly. This is an unusual issue, most quayside and harbours are known to be reasonably safe, we take no chances. The quayside seems a little unkempt and uninspiring, however the bar is nice with friendly staff. We watch another yacht pull in and maneuver into position just in front of Kejstral, their flag was Belgian. We watched their slick well oiled and clearly experienced skills until they finally tied up, just at that point we noticed the Port authority man wander to their vessel. After a few moments of chatting, they then strolled towards Kejstral with a notepad, jotting down our boat name and flag, within seconds they were gone.
The guys from Belgium also came into the bar, Kevin thought he ought to ask what was discussed and did we need to go to the port office. After a chat, we discovered that each boat must pay a small fee for mooring which is quite a natural occurrence. So, following our drink Kevin and I took a walk around to find the harbour man, unfortunately we couldn't find any office other than the Port Police. They will know where the harbour man hangs out, we should just ask them.......... bad idea!
As we stepped inside this rather busy office building, we were immediately pounced upon, in an official but intimidating way. When asking for the harbour office, we were asked for our boat papers, this again is a normal occurrence. Unfortunately on showing our documents, one of the officers noticed that our Greek transit log was the old version. This year a new dekpa or transit log has been rolled out, however, on our arrival back in the beginning of April we were informed by Kos Island Police that our old document was useable until September this year. Apparently not! We must have the new version at a cost of €50, immediately before we leave this port. Great, more money, worse to come....We cannot do the paperwork now as the tax office is closed until 09.00 hours tomorrow morning (and no doubt the tax office is 10 miles away). We had planned to leave at 05.30 hours tomorrow for another 40 n.m trip to Ithaki to meet our friends! Not at all what we needed as this could hold us up for hours. Despite our explanation of the Kos police story, our need to set off early and our frustration, they wouldn't budge in their demands, "be here at 09.00 am tomorrow". Thanks guys, really helpful.
Hmmm do we make a run for freedom at 05.00 hours before daylight and risk being caught, or do we comply with the authorities? We daren't leave without permission, what if we were caught, sneaking away would save €50, and we would arrive at our next destination on time, but would worry us terribly. Of course, had we not gone in search of the Harbour man, we could have been stress free and €50 better off!
Back on board Kejstral that evening we grumbled and complained, however nothing would change the situation. So in the morning we would get up early and be waiting before 09.00 hours at the Port Police office.
Next morning at 08.30 hours, still feeling annoyed, we stomped across to the office with our paperwork in hand. Much to our surprise the staff were extremely friendly and helpful, thorough and speedy. Then to the tax office, it was in the building next door, yay! By 09.30 hours were were back on board Kejstral and engine started, ready for the last leg of our journey to meet our friends Jenny and Carl.
Predict Wind, (our weather app) says 35 knot gusts, 25 general wind speed, shall we make the break to the next anchorage? As we spent most of our previous night awake with the live band playing directly opposite our boat, we were in fact awake by 05.30 hours.
The bay of Galaxidi was very calm, a slight breeze wrinkled the blue and white striped flags of our boats. We untied our ropes and pulled up the anchor, perhaps the wind will be less forceful than it predicted.
We needed to move on, meeting Carl and Jenny in two days has encouraged us to travel as much as possible, we can stop and sight see on our return trip.
Wind of 18 knots took hold soon after we left, quickly our sails were reefed, giving us less sail means that Kejstral would sail happily without being tipped over, the gusts are usually the issue. The wind then escalated to 25 knots and was gusting badly. Trying to use the wind despite the fact that it was coming onto our bow, we tried to put in a tack, but Kejstral was tipping way more than we wanted, therefore we took in the genoa and managed on the mainsail for a while. Sea swell in fact became the bigger issue, huge waves from the bow, slamming us into a solid wall of sea, made for a really uncomfortable journey. The force of the sea against the speed of the boat meant that we were making very little headway, eventually the engine had to be used, the battering from both wind and sea, actually held us back!
Weather apps are fantastic, we sailing peeps kind of rely on their detailed information to guide our passages and plans. the only problem is, there are loads of different weather apps, just to make matters worse, they all state different wind speeds for the same day and time! This is quite disconcerting when one app suggests a reasonably calm 15 knot wind, when another prediction suggests a 35 knot wind for that similar occasion. We therefore have to review a few variables, then make a decision based on them all and your knowledge of the area. This is occasionally superseded by a knowledgeable local and their personal opinion of that area,
not confusing at all! We should have followed our prefered weather app, as our experience now tells us, that particular programme seems to reflect the conditions that we have encountered, we must put some faith in its information, a valuable lesson learned.
23 n.ms later, we arrived at the tiny Island of Trizonia, feeling drained from our lack of sleep and battered form both the sea and wind, we felt elated, but exhausted. Just as we see the shape of the marina entrance, a small catamaran slithers in front of us, taking up valuable space in this busy little area. Just hope we can find somewhere! They chose the spot alongside a concrete pontoon directly in front of the entrance, unfortunately Kevin had already decided on that one too!
We ventured into the marina looking to find another gap for Kejstral, past a sunken ketch and a very old, weathered catamaran. Very few boats appear to be in good condition, most have been moored here for a very long time, how eerie. Eventually the catamaran was alongside, and tied securely, it was our turn to park, we follow the initiative of the other vessels and bring Kejstral alongside the concrete pontoon. With help from some live aboard people, we were tied snugly.
What a strange little place, this marina was constructed in 1990's by the Greek government, but as ever, the money ran out. Services of water and electricity have not been connected, however there is a tap with free water for visiting boats. Due to the unfinished state, there is no cost for mooring either, however, this also means that boats have been abandoned and left to rot and degrade, with no one in charge of clearing the unused vessels.
We take a walk around the marina, still wrapped up in our padded jackets against the Icy wind. A few boats are occupied by the live aboard community, they make their vessel their permanent home. Over winter, rather than sailing, these families find somewhere secure, quiet and with facilities nearby for provisions and comfort. A perfect little hideaway, but so far, not a lot else here. We walk out of the marina, through a gap between two buildings and are stunned to find this beautiful little seafront area! A fabulous view of mainland Greece ahead and a very well finished promenade in front, two or three restaurants and a lovely church, we are shocked. This is not at all what we expected, we assumed that a few fishermen and their families might live here, but certainly not this little community.
A ferry service runs regularly from here across to the mainland, they bring supplies back to fill the restaurants and a small lightly stocked market, amazing!
The church is fantastic with an enormous beautifully laid out cemetery, where did all the people come from? On further reading we find that 82 inhabitants live here, most go to the mainland over winter and live with family members. In summer, this village is thriving from passing boatees.
We enjoy a beer in one of the restaurants, that cold wind is blocked out by protective plastic roller blinds, which presumably are tucked away neatly in the heat of summer.
We head to Kejstral for tea and an early night, it has been a very long day.
Kiato, well I have to say, we were not thrilled. The weather made this unimpressive town, quite awful for us, with graffiti everywhere and disheveled buildings, perhaps we caught it at its worst and while we were at a low point, maybe we should return for a closer look one day and rectify our bad impression.
Today however, we leave, out into yet another windy day. The sky is almost blue, the clouds are moving on but snow is sprinkled on the highest peaks of the distant mountains, hence our padded jackets and gloves.
Our ropes have been loosened and we ease out once again into the sloshing sea, the wave height is manageable and the wind has dropped to a more reasonable 17 knots. Relieved to be going and moving west, our passage today takes us to the mainland Greek town of Galaxidi.
The sails are gloriously filled, Kejstral is heeling over just enough to give us that exciting feeling of travelling free, no engine, just the power of wind and sail. 29 n.ms to go and a perfect sail to take us there....
Well it could have been! Except the wind dropped and we succumbed to the costly engine after an hour, how frustrating. For the remainder of the journey our sails were useless, any wind that slowly built, was coming straight towards us, with so little power, we couldn't even tack around it.
By the time we reached Galaxidi the wind was completely non existent, we did see a beautiful pod of dolphins, they played around our bow for around 20 minutes, ducking and diving, spinning and crossing our path, fabulous creatures with so much grace and serenity.
Kejstral slid through the calm sea around into the tiny, very well protected bay of Galaxidi, on first sighting, it looked really pretty, however, once on land that rose tinted image can very quickly look somewhat tired and rundown on closer inspection.
We moored stern to, heeding the advice of the pilot books, to drop anchor further out than normal due to shallow water and many chains on the seabed of this tight bay. Our ropes were taken by another British sailor, who pointed out some useful places and shops.
Galaxidi, lovely what a pretty harbour, fishing boats tied up on our left, other yachts on our right. A catamaran having its seasonal clean, polish and TLC sat at the end of our long row of boats. The port police lazily wandered over, suggested that at some point during our short stay, could we take our papers to their office, no haste no stress, just a leisurely request. There was no fee for one night, electricity and water are here for our use, again free of charge. As the sailing season has not really begun, we have spent no money on harbours or electric, a huge bonus as they can chip into a tight budget!
The town is very quaint, despite the cold and early time of the year, the town was beginning to show signs of vibrancy and friendliness.
Terracotta roofs, old stone buildings and beautiful charming shops litter the narrow streets and sit along the quayside. A few restaurants and bars welcome the cold locals and visitors into their warm snug interior, coffee is the most common beverage seen, however it is served cold! Not what our freezing fingers require today, hot chocolate is on the menu!
We walk along beach front feeling relieved to be in this lovely town, still trying to decide whether to sail onwards the following day. The British guy who assisted us earlier, met us back at Kejstral, he told us of his plan to sail onwards in the morning, we mentioned that the weather looked pretty windy and should he wait for the calmer day before leaving. He seemed confident that his weather report was accurate and that he was perfectly satisfied with his plan. Our weather app was not so comforting, 30 knot winds expected and a lively sea, hmm does hang on or go. The guy Was a pretty seasoned sailor, he must be sure of his information!
That helped us decide to go, leave early and if the wind escalates we should be at our destination before it becomes troublesome.
Once we had eaten, we relaxed in the cockpit with a blanket around us in the chilly evening wind, the bar opposite was our entertainment. People watching is fabulous, the quiet personality the rowdy, and the moderately behaved, all jostling for their part in a conversation. Music gently increases in volume as the party begins, then the live music takes over!
Their 5am finish at least negated the need for an alarm clock!
Woke early, a bit excited. Had breakfast and readied Kejstral for this next challenge. We radio on VHF channel 11, a crackly voice informs us that they are happy for us to dock! Prepared to come alongside, fenders and ropes tied in appropriate places, Kejstral is maneuvered perfectly onto the quay side. Our ropes were taken by a waiting official and we are off to the tower control room. A really pleasant, helpful guy in the very tidy office, took €147 then told us, 'in two boats time, 20 mins, you will be on your way'. Back outside into the now strengthening wind, we climb on board to wait our radio message of permission to pass. Before long we noticed that the flowing road traffic crossing the canal, had come to a standstill, within a few seconds our attention was drawn to the roadbridge itself. As if by magic, this vast slab of metal gradually dropped mechanically into the water, what an amazing feature.
Minutes later, we watched two yachts appear from within the canal, making their way towards the dock beside us. Simultaneously, our VHF radio crackled, informing us of our time slot to pass through this awesome entrance.
We let loose our trusty ropes and set off, a little nervous but quite excited. The canal was initiated by the Romans as a means to transit through the isthmus from the Kirklades towards the Peloponnese sections of Greece. Various working parties took part in its construction and chiselling. A 6000 team of Jewish Pow were put to work at one point by the Emperor Nero! The Greek authorities after much financial and technical delay, eventually completed this feat of engineering
Limestone walls build in size around us as we begin our passage, the height of these soft stone towering sides, give a good understanding of just how deep these workers had to dig and chisel. Mechanical equipment was of course introduced to the project to gouge through this rock. For many years since it's completion in 1893, the flow of traffic and propulsion of these vessels through the water, has caused immense damage to the sides and floor on a daily basis. Each Tuesday the canal is therefore closed for repairs and maintenance.
Three bridges criss cross the blue sky above our heads, positioned near the highest ridges, a railway, a motorway and an additional road, take traffic from Piraeus to Patras, via Athens. Rather disconcerting to see huge vehicles noisily trundle over us, at 148 feet above sea level
Behind us the submersible road returns to its former position, allowing the busy traffic flow to resume. Fish can be seen flapping around its metal edges.
Our passage lasts around an hour, concentration is required to negotiate this relatively narrow waterway, yet our eyes drift upwards in awe of this beautiful creation, holes where the rock quality had been inspected many decades ago, can still be seen within these walls.
A carving of Hercules sits nestled into the stone on our port side, a reminder of the vast historical triumph in the canals construction. The canal was excavated at sea level, hence the lack of locks. Apparently, our speed should be around 5 n.ms throughout the journey, any slower and a tug boat may e deployed to move us onward, any faster, and damage could occur to the soft limestone walls and seabed. So, eyes ahead, speed steady and try not to drift sideways... Easier said than done!
The wind could be felt as it channelled it's way towards us, indicating that on our exit, we had a challenge on our hands.
Nearing the final stages, we could I see the sea swell wash over the submersible roadway at the west side, as it lowered into the lively sea, huge rolling waves took our attention.... this could be interesting!
As we exited, the waves washed over our bow, just a taste of what was to come.
Leaving the protective breakwater beyond the canal, the winds gradually built in energy and the swell grew harshly. Within 15 minutes of exiting the canal, we were in 30 knot winds and being thrown around by the swell hitting our bow. We rose steeply over huge waves before lurching down into a deep gulf of nothing. When the next wave hit, not so gracefully sending us slamming into the oncoming frothy washing machine. For three hours we took a pounding, rolling with the momentum of this heavy sea. At times the swell seemed to calm, only for us to be thrown again moments later. Sails would have been pointless as the wind was coming directly at us With our engine trying desperately to power it's way through this lashing, our speed dropped considerably at each slamming wave. Three hours is a long time to hang on, our life jackets provided some security, however, we are acutely aware of those rouge waves, would we tip over? One Yacht drifted past us in the opposite direction, for him the wind was pushing and the swell assisted, we were not so fortunate.
Drawing closer to the small port of Kiato, we could just make out the rocky outer harbour. All we need to do is get to the entrance and it should be calmer, the breakwater should minimise the swell and hopefully ease the wind force. A huge tanker sat along our starboard side as we rounded the harbour. To our horror, the wind escalated further within this small space. Lazy lines buoys and yachts seemed to fill every possible space, we motored into the long narrow harbour until it was clear we were going to struggle. The wind was touching 40 knots, and we needed to turn Kejstral sideways onto it for our maneouver back out. Just as we turned, the powerful gusts pushed us sideways and despite our engine, we were going nowhere, in fact, we were beginning to slide towards the small fishing boats and shallow water at the far end of the harbour. Slowly inching us round, Kevin managed to maintain enough power to ease us out by reversing. Now what, we couldn't find space in the designated area, the only possible option was to tie onto the wall with that bloody huge tanker. After a bit of discussion, we decided that it was our only option, go alongside the wall, only issue there....We would be side on to the now 45 knot winds. Worth a go, we crept with the wind forcing up backwards towards the wall, there was no one around to assist with ropes and we would struggle to steer close enough without hitting the actual quay. We circled a number of times trying desperately to get a good position, but each time we neared the wall, the wind dragged us away. At one point I managed to lure a poor pedestrian over to assist. I threw him our bow line, which I had already made an easy loop on the guys end, he just needed to get it around something strong. Unfortunately he chose to hold onto the rope with his bare hands!! We yelled, screamed and gesticulated to loop the rope around something, but he hung on..gradually being dragged towards the frothy angry sea. At that point he must of realised his fate, should he continue to hold our 10 ton boat!
Huge cleats were mounted on the shore, way too big for our ropes to encompass. He managed to get it onto the smallest cleat just as the wind took hold of Kejstral, how that rope did not snap, the weight of our boat swinging on that one rope was phenomenal. How lucky for him that he was no longer clinging on!
Quickly Kevin managed to throw a second rope out, amazingly this poor pedestrian managed to get it tied on tight enough, before the gusts took hold again. We were attached at both ends, however we were about 25 feet from the wall, hanging on by this guy's knot! We all tried in vain to pull Kejstral towards the harbour but the wind was just too overpowering. Our helper couldn't do anything else for us, then he took off towards the massive tanker, within a few moments, eight orange suited men, dragged from their comfy warm ship, were running to our aid. Four on each rope, and with their muscles and hard work they eased us onto the wall. Ropes were retied, fenders placed and replaced and a lot of gratitude was showered over this bunch of men.
You have no idea just how scared we were becoming. I really have no idea what we could have done differently, we cannot think of any possible judgements we could or should have made which would have lessened the stress and danger.
We again thanked our lone pedestrian and the orange Panamanian crew for their efforts and assistance, before climbing back inside Kejstral for a stiff drink.
Later, much later, we ventured onto the quay side. The wind was ferocious, the sea spray over the outer wall was tremendous and it was grey and downright miserable. We needed to get out for a walk and stretch our legs, this rather dismal looking day was complemented by the just as dismal streets. Graffiti greeted our every step, weeds crept from pavements and dirty shop windows obscured any chance of a brighter picture. We continued out trek and arrived at a Lidl supermarket it was the only thing worth stopping for. How far we walked, we had no idea, just the mechanical footsteps and windswept momentum kept us going, we didn't even buy anything! Without a word we both turned back into the more shop filled streets, a coffee shop was needed. We managed to find an appropriate lounge which played a rather downbeat hum in the background. However, it served a decent drink with a smile, just what we needed for the miserable day and frightening experience.
Much later, after food and our return to Kejstral, the wind began to change direction, unfortunately meaning that instead of pushing us away from the quay, the wind was now pushing us against it. This is not good, as the sea sloshes us around, Kejstral is rubbing against the wall., fenders are being pushed out and ropes are stretched almost beyond their capabilities! We need to reposition, however, it is now 10 pm and really dark. Two guys appear along the quay, both of whom stop to ask if we are ok, with a little persuasion and lots of pleading looks, they kindly offer their assistance. Fortunately both are fishermen, great, at least they know the ropes........
Kevin and I untie ropes and steer Kejstral away from harm, not easy in the gusty winds especially as they force us brutally back against our concrete pontoon. Gradually we pull out into the waves and swell, and ease Kejstral over to the more sheltered section of wall where our saintly assistants await our ropes. Within a few minutes we are alongside in a much calmer, quieter sea, with the wind at our stern. Again we thank our kind friends and relief takes over the stress. What a roller coaster of a day, I believe we need a beer!
We left Epidavros at 10.45 am, our four hour journey seems doomed by the lack of wind, however as we left the cosy bay behind us, a lovely 10 knots of breeze allowed us to open out those canvases and sail gently until it disappeared once again. We did manage another hour or so as the afternoon wind picked up to 15 knots and we managed 7.3 knots of speed. By this time our anchorage was in sight and our eyes were weary, after all we did have a dreadful night's sleep. Sea swell can be so frustrating, despite a windless night, the sea state continued to throw us around. When secured to a quayside, it can tug on our anchor and stern lines creating a very uncomfortable push/ pull scenario.
We decided to anchor in the bay on the east side of the canal, have a settled night, then check into the canal office first thing in the morning.
Our anchor settled nicely in 7 meters of sand /mud. Clear skies above and a cool but gentle breeze allowed for our evening relax. The massive great cargo vessels within a few yards of our stern, gave us no concerns at all until darkness came! Would they see our measly little anchor light when they pull away from the refuelling dock and perform their three point turn to exit the bay? Yes, seven rather large vessels sat on anchor nearby, while another great beast, held restrained by gigantic ropes, looked over our shoulder on the quayside. Will we sleep tonight.......
Many years ago the gulf of Corinth and the Ionian were separated by a narrow stretch of land or isthmus.
The Corinth Canal idea, was initially conceived in 1881 and this unique creation would become a crucial transportation route for shipping to the Aegean. Prior to its creation, ships journeyed for 185 nautical miles around the Peloponnese into the east and Europe. Therefore this almighty channel would save precious fuel and time in the shipping industry and create a wealth of manual labour for locals.
The initial idea of digging out a channel was thwarted by fear of flooding, a huge volume of water was presumed to flood from the Adriatic into the Aegean, taking valuable land with it. Therefore a crude road named the Diolkos was constructed, where men, pulleys and wheels would maneouver ships across the isthmus between these two great seas.
Each ship would dock on a quay within the Corinth gulf, their cargo would be unloaded, before the ship is sailed towards the isthmus. Once moored, the vessel would be stripped of mast, oars and all belongings to reduce weight. Once at its lightest weight, the vessel would be hauled onto a wooden sledge construction and literally pulled towards a tram like, 8 wheeled vehicle. The crew and workers would then wheel the ship over a flag stone path until it reached the rising slope in the centre of the isthmus. Once here, a pulley system would drag the ship up the slope, before the descent on the other side.
For the descent, workers would place sand on the flagstone, creating resistance which limited the speed at which their vessel would travel towards the opposite shoreline. Once onto flat ground, the process is reversed, so that the wooden sledge device would eventually be used to place the ship back into the sea. Once again the mast, equipment and oars were replaced and the captain and crew were ready to sail on the sea. This process continued for around 1500 years.
Emperor Nero began the challenge of the actual canal and with a pick axe he personally, broke ground. Of course the labour of 6000 Jewish prisoners of war put in the vast amount of hard painstaking toil. However, Nero's death halted work and the Greek government took on the task. Financial limitations caused yet another delay until a private company from Austria stepped into the limelight. Again their money was insufficient, so eventually Greece took over the task and finally, it was officially opened 28th October 1893!
While two teams of workers dug trenches to sea level, a third team ground out shafts the rock horizontally providing access to the rock and its quality, these holes are still visible today.
At 6.4 kilometers in length, 25 metres wide, the canal in its day was a superb transportation system, however technical, financial and operational difficulties led to this amazing creation being underused.
Today however, with ships of enormous weight and width, this little passage is almost impossible for these great vessels. It has become a route for small local cargo vessels and pleasure boats travelling through from the Ionian towards the Aegean and vice versa.
An active seismic zone together with soft limestone walls cause sediment displacement and build up in the bottom of the canal, this of course is also compounded by each large vessel passing through and washing/ propelling silt into this confined space. Clearly this requires dredging frequently which leads to regular closures and cost.
For this reason the Corinth is one of the most expensive channels per mile in the world. Submersible bridges mark either end of this 6.4 km channel which are rather fascinating to watch.
We said bye to our American friends, as they headed off on their journey east.
We wandered along the main road out of Epidhavros in search of a fuel station, our journey over the past 13 days has been mainly on the engine, much to our frustration. Fuel is reasonably priced at €1.50 per litre, yet it will take a large chunk from our precious budget. The walk takes us past a few useful places, a pretty well stocked hardware store with everything we could possibly want, I guess we will call in once fuel has been sourced. Various fruit and fresh vegetables can be seen in the next tucked away little treasure trove. Then the fuel station takes shape on the winding road, unfortunately it is closed, and has been for a very long time! Hopefully this is not the only supplier locally!
We continue on this road and hidden behind a huge pink bougainvillea flowering bush is a small bakery with the most delicious aroma wafting from its shuttered windows. We need bread, as I enter this haven of pastries and breads, a young woman appears from behind this display of loaves. We choose our crusty lunchtime bread and enquiry about the dilapidated fuel station nearby, the lady smiles as if aware of our confusion while explaining that a new garage has been opened just around the corner. Relieved, we thank her for our purchase and information before leaving this wonderfully smelling little shop.
The garage is open, the owner is filling a delivery van as we saunter in. "How can I help you" he calls, we explain our need for fuel and that we are on the town quay onboard Kejstral. He nods while busily completing his current task, "how much do you need", well, possibly €150 worth of diesel we say in unison.
With that, he nods saying "see you in a few hours" and walks away......So, have we actually ordered it.....When should we expect a delivery! Ok, so perhaps we should stay nearby the boat for the next few hours.
Now that we had solved that problem, we can start on our other issues, one of which is a gas bottle replacement. That shouldn't be too difficult, we have seen them on our travels, just need to find one now. The local supermarkets usually hold a stock and have access to more sizes and styles. Our issue is that we are unable to replace ours as it originally came from Turkey, those in Greece have different regulators and connections. We take the same road back towards town, passing a laundry on the way, I called in to ask about cost and was surprised at the €20 total for two large carrier bags, excellent, what a great price. We rushed back to Kejstral as they required the washing now, if we expected it washed and dried by that evening. On Kejstral, I stripped the bed, grabbed all towels and raided the cupboards for anything grubby. Two full bags later, we barged back inside the warm, clean smelling laundry, the lovely man accepted our smellies and confirmed that we could collect this evening, a very slick service!
Now that we have achieved yet another goal, a gas bottle search began. The fabulously stocked supermarket across from the quay had just what we needed, however the connector required was not available. In discussion with the staff, we could purchase our connector in a hardware store, so back along towards the garage, past the laundry we go.
The difficulty was, our connector was attached to the boat, therefore guesswork was needed as to size and thread, we took photos to aid the process but it wasn't easy. In the end we had to abandon the task, we couldn't risk buying lots of bits if we had no idea of their use, these brass connectors are really costly and additionally the bottle itself would be €30.
Our return to Kejstral coincided with the fuel delivery, perfect. €155 later we had accomplished yet another feat. All we need now is shopping and lots of it. Up until this point we had been using mainly the supplies brought with us from Turkey, the only extras we have bought were fresh fruit, veg and bread, this shopping trip was going to cost us! €100 later we had a very full fridge and well stocked cupboards. So today we have been rather successful, water from the shore taps, available free of charge is next on our list. As previously mentioned, our tanks hold 280 litres, that sounds a lot. However, when you calculate just how much we need in one week with showers, hand washing, teeth cleaning, dish washing, we go through it considerably quickly. That is without washing clothing, or the boat!
Fuel, water, food and a launderette visit all in one day is great, expensive but great. So far today €270, and we still just need to solve the gas problem. Maybe on the next mooring we may have more luck, we have one full 3kg gas bottle which should last about a week.....Maybe!
It has been a busy but satisfying day, we need a walk and a beer to complete the day as our journey tomorrow is a long one yet again.
We took the footpath from the quay around the coast, what a fabulous view. The sea looked so clear, with a lush green grassy coastal path, it really felt like a spring day. The sun had shone for most of our busy day, but this evening clouds began to gather.
With jumpers wrapped around us, we settled into one of the quiet seafront bars. The diminishing sunlight left a chill in the dusky evening, a few people wandered along the darkening waterfront, wrapped in wintery coats and footwear.
Epidhavros is a lovely little town, filled with great amenities and very helpful people, it is a pity our time is limited, however, I am confident we will be back at some point.
A 6 hour journey with no wind, just what we didn't want. We hadn't expected to use the engine this much in such a short time, this means a fuel top up pretty soon, therefore a chunk of our money gone, not good! Our passage takes us from Mandraki bay, around Poros Island and will finish in Epidhavros. This small town sits on the Greek mainland not too far from Athens, yet another place we would love to visit. Perhaps on our return from meeting our friends, for now we are on a time schedule.
The sea is glassy calm and very few yachts seem to be travelling in our direction, plenty of tourist boats zip around and past us on their way to various destinations. An occasional ferry tears through the water leaving his frothy trail behind for us to bob around in. The sky is a beautiful deep blue, summery colour, just the nip in the air reminding us that we are only just entering May. A few white fluffy clouds seem to be gathering, hopefully not a threat to our day. As we motor onwards rounding through the narrow passage between a few small rocky, unnamed islands and the mainland, a few other yachts begin to emerge from the little coves and inlets. Dodging them can be a challenge as at times their intentions are not clear, one second they appear to be aiming at us, the next their bow appears to be aiming down our starboard side. As none of us are actually sailing, the guidelines state, travel on the right therefore pass port side to port side. Clearly not everyone reads the aforementioned guidelines!
We dance with our opponents for a few moments until we are in an appropriate position as we then have to pass through a narrow stretch of sea, who goes first? Well ideally the vessel closer to the obstruction should take the lead and have the right of way. Again there can be a little hesitancy in these instances, it's all great fun, if not a touch stressful!
Following our nimble and creative show of agility, the water opens out with Poros Island on our left, it looks barren with no signs of farm land or buildings, however, the main port on the southern coast is very popular, we will perhaps visit in a few weeks when time is on our side.
The clouds have been congregating, billowing further across what was, a fabulous blue skyline. Each time we look upwards a little less blue and a lot more grey seems evident, how frustrating, the last thing we wanted was rain. The breeze however has also picked up, giving us the opportunity to actually sail, quickly we release the mainsail and unfurl the genoa, the wind whips them both into a fabulous shape and carries us forward. Great, we can switch off our engine and enjoy the pleasant 10 knots of wind which seems to be building quite quickly. Our sails are reefed, only allowing part of the sails to unwrap, minimises the risk if the wind should suddenly flare up too briskly. As we have a little control we relax into a good breezy sail, cautiously aware of the gathering cloud and it's darkening colour. Over towards the Athens coastline on our right, an enormous cargo vessel takes shape as we draw closer, it's size is overwhelming, I cannot imagine the weight and it's engine power enabling this beast to travel through the water. He appears to be on anchor in extremely deep waters, how long must his chain be and what type of anchor would hold this monster?
Our attention is abruptly drawn to the huge patch of black sky ahead, a grey/ blue shadow looms across our path, we speedily realise that this is more than just a rain shower. Leaping to our feet, grasping at ropes, we haul in, first the genoa which is easier to manipulate, then the main. Unfortunately this sail really requires Kejstral to be facing into the wind for a successful wind in, at this moment big wet splashes splatter onto our heads. Just as we thought, this is more than normal rainfall, the sky grew black within a few seconds, our efforts to turn into the wind were suddenly hampered by a huge wind gust, try as we might, Kejstral was blown around past the direction we aimed for. The main sail struggled to squeeze into its encasing space, as each time we pulled it's furling rope, the wind grabbed at the canvas again like a vice. The rain pounded our bodies, soaking our cold skin, splashing onto our faces to make our task all the more difficult. The wind whipped at our wet clothes, our slippery hands grasped onto Kejstrals chrome rails which hampered our movements as our boat rolled from side to side.
With the sail almost home, we pulled on our wet weather gear, hauling on coats and trousers over wet clothes is almost impossible, everything sticking to everything else. Eventually the sail was stowed, well almost ... Our clothing was more appropriate but the storm was only just beginning, all of our possessions had been neatly tucked into the cupboards, yet when thrown around in gusty high winds, those safe cupboards fly open!! Bangs and crashes, doors slamming and items dislodging all of which is happening below decks, with little or no chance to run down and rectify. The rain came slashing down, blanketing our view and disguising our surroundings, knowing that not far behind us, were two other yachts, yet they were obscured completely. Scary to think they were so close, yet we had no visibility to catch sight of their battle against this abrupt storm or squall.
An immense sea swell was gathering momentum, we could head straight into both the swell and the ever increasing wind, which would lead us into Epidavros. A more sensible option would be to gently veer off and aim away from the weather in order to reach a safe place. We can easily come back to Epidavros as soon as the weather settles, therefore, this was the option we chose. Thunder crackled above our heads with an occasional dazzling flash of lightning signalling it's distance away from us, it was very close, as each flash of bright light was immediately followed by a huge rumbling noise. Still fighting to stand upright on a slippery wet, windy deck with wind and rain whipping through every available space, we make some headway towards the next bay along from Epidavros. Water gushes across the decks, taking with it any last crumbs and dust that we have managed to collect over the past week. Kevin's reading glasses crash to the floor, while below our soggy feet and deck, items fall from shelves and out of wardrobes.
Everything is sodden, us, our clothing, cushions and covers, at least everything will be clean when we arrive! The black sky empties its contents, the waves thrash us from side to side while the high winds, reaching 45 knots on occasions, well they just beat us into submission. Wrenching the ropes, clawing at our canvas bimeny and spray hood, this squall continued for almost an hour and we are becoming exhausted. Still no sign of the yachts who were travelling behind us, this scares us to think they could actually be in trouble and we may not know. Our VHF radio crackles nearby with nothing audible on the channel, to indicate a problem,, we can only assume their radio's are actually switched on!
The rain eased in volume just as the gusts lost their force, the sea however, maintained it's lumpy, bumpy swell. Gradually our surroundings began to come into focus as the last few drops of rain touched our dripping faces. The storm was passing over, we could begin to relax a little, our first thought, how were our watery companions who we had lost sight of as the squall took hold. We still could not pick out their outlines, could they have turned back or perhaps taken an alternative course?
Our distance from Epidavros was only half a mile, easily achieved as long as the weather behaved. Our course was reset and with a reducing wind we could perhaps have sailed this last section, but we were tired and just needed to be moored safely.
The harbour entrance coming into visibility looked very welcoming, but it looked rather busy. We tried to pick out a space, yet we could barely make out any left on the town quay, that would be a bit of a nightmare, having come all this way, and going through a heavy storm we just needed to get there. Fortunately, as we drew closer, gaps seemed to open up between the numerous vessels moored, clearly a very busy place to come. A few guys lingered on the quayside, they acknowledged our approach and indicated an appropriate space for mooring, fantastic, stress over! Dropping the anchor and reversing into our new parking spot felt such a relief, however, we were still very aware of those yachts following us into the harbour. Just hope they are all ok!
Within the hour each of the "lost" yachts appeared on the horizon, gradually making their way into this lovely protective bay. The entire harbour and its occupants appeared to appreciate the need for the new comers to have a safe haven, soon vessels were squeezed along a few inches, ropes were adjusted and gradually a few spaces opened up like comforting arms. The new arrivals moored with the assistance of the entire crowd, smiles and words of thanks conveying their appreciation before they finally sat back with a well earned beer.
What a sense of comradery and teamwork, fabulous!
Our neighbours on one side turned out to be a pair of American guys, father and son on a bonding trip, these lovely guys Liam and Alex spent the evening with us, chatting over drinks and enjoying a pizza in one of the local restaurants. Always great to meet people on the journey, they are heading off in the morning whereas we will spend the next day or so here in Epidhavros. Now that the seas are calm, the wind has eased and the skies have settled, we can relax and enjoy a day topping up with fuel, gas and provisions.
Today we will attempt to gather fuel, gas and provisions. Unfortunately it is Easter Sunday, so not too hopeful.
09.20 we take off for the walk to Hydra port. The birds chirping happily from the tree lined gardens beyond large solid stone walls. Cats curl themselves under the bushes in the climbing temperatures, each lazily stretch as we wander past, an occasional little pile of cat snacks lay under the bushes possibly provided by a local. We catch sight of a large ferry heading towards the main harbour. This will be a tight squeeze! Sounding his horn, the captain soon evacuated the area in anticipation of his entrance. Yachts scattered out of the oncoming ship, while fishing boats snuck into tiny gaps, clearing as much space as possible. The sea taxies however, have their own agenda....they continued to zip between the spaces created for this ship, causing their own little trail of chaos.
Soon the ship was closing in on his mooring, his horn clearly inticating his need for space. With ropes at the ready, each crew member scurried to their stations. On shore the receiving staff loitered awaiting these mighty ropes. Speedily the ship was alongside, ropes secured and passengers disembarking, all such a slick procedure, obviously having repeated this on a numerous occasions. As the ship drew into harbour, we had a great view from our raised pathway into town, at the bow, alongside the rope ready crew was a chef. A huge piece of meat was turning on a spit cooking beautifully in the heat. As it was Easter Sunday, we guessed that this was lunch for the sightseeing passengers. An announcement from the ships tannoy confirmed our suspicion with"the ship will depart at 1pm for your lunchtime banquet on board" before traveling onto the next Island. Fabulous, three Islands in one day, and lunch served on board.
We walked around the town watching restaurants prepare for the afternoon meal, lamb and more lamb is all we caught sight of. Chairs painted blue and decorated with little flower posies for Easter, were being placed alongside huge trellis tables. Flower wreaths were hung onto door handles and gates, ribbons festoon fences and lampposts, all to celebrate this Easter day. Of course every other business was closed, being a Sunday, and Easter, we had no chance of purchasing our provisions. We did want to top up with fuel, but as there are no vehicles in this little town, there would be no fuel station either! Our walk led us around the residential areas away from the bustling town, beautiful cottages and flower filled gardens squeezed into tiny streets. Some more opulent looking buildings stood proudly behind huge, perfectly constructed stone walls. Massive canvas sunshades stretch from the sandstone walls to provide elegant garden coverage, sculptured trees and pristinely pruned plants complete these fabulous showcases, we sneak as closely as we possibly can to catch a glimpse of the occupants and their lifestyle, we see a fabulous carved wooden garden table, adorned with wine goblets and glittering cutlery.
Replica wooden high backed armchairs surround this grand display, subtle tinkling notes play from an invisible music player all adding to this theatrical scene. We step away, curious and inquisitive as we chatter. How much must this fabulous scenario cost, who occupies this dream of a lifestyle.
Our path leads us back towards the harbour, the bars and restaurants are buzzing with holiday makers and presumably locals, but to our amazement, very few people are drinking alcohol. Generally, despite the hour, in a holiday destination, near the seafront you will see alcohol being consumed. In Greece, we have noticed that most customers drink coffee and cold beverages. The coffee is usually iced and served in a milkshake type, plastic tumbler with a lid and straw. Next time you have the opportunity, and are of course in Greece, keep looking!
We settle into two very plumped sofas with pretty squashy cushions, coffee and hot chocolate appear within moments of our order. I could relax here all day, people watching is I think, one of the most enjoyable past times. From the giggling young girls grooming themselves using their mobile phones as mirrors, to the upmarket highly polished chino wearing guy, having his deep 'financial' sounding conversation into an invisible headset. We take in these characters, surmising about their life and guessing their business, making probably the most remarkable life for them with our guesswork. New customers arrive, deliberating over their seating choice before changing position despite their now comfortable partners. Sea taxis zip in and out of this already busy port, as there are no cars for transport, these tiny vessels work swiftly and deliberately. Ushering the passengers from the vessels with speed, in order to load the next batch of sightseers, ready for a hasty retreat out into one of the surrounding towns or villages.
The service is incredibly prompt, extremely busy and chaotic to watch, therefore we have a fabulous array of people to assess during coffee. Men trundle past pulling huge wooden trolleys, then we remember that, as there are no cars in this town, luggage from the tourists must be transported somehow. Suitcases piled high on these homemade trolleys, pulled over some very uneven cobblestones, that must be an enormous strain on their bodies. We watch in awe at their enthusiasm and smiles as they deliver and take not only luggage, but huge cases of food and shop stock, bottles and even live chickens.
Lunchtime arrives as the ever hungry Kevin points out, we plan to go back to Kejstral, eat lunch on board then purely for the exercise, walk back into town again. Greek salad is one favourite meal, with the gorgeous yogurt and garlic sauce known as tzasiki and some fresh crusty bread, perfect. Once again we take ourselves back into Hydra, into the warm sunshine, the bustling harbour beckons us for a walk, only on this occasion we walk around the small bay and out beyond the harbour. Steep cobbled slippery stones lead us out from the harbour, the splashing waves send spray into this warm afternoon air. Boats can be seen in every direction we look, from the insect sized sea taxis to a few grand superyachts, fishing vessels and motorboats skim between yachts under sail. An amazing array of boats out in this bay, all enjoying this fabulous spring day of sunshine. We amble along the pathway, passing locals with their panting pups, sightseers with cameras busily snapping every boat and flower, and the stunning scenery beyond. A few small bars perch on this awkward incline, steps and decking carefully placed where tables and seating would otherwise be leaning precariously. As the path ascends, the breeze filters around the hillside, bringing the salty air and fresh sea smell over our bodies. Rather than this breeze, we preferred to sit somewhere sunny and warm, therefore, we descend into town to find a comfy watching spot.
Another early start, 06.40 we pulled up anchor and slid gently out into the calmest of seas, barely a ripple to be seen on this perfect surface. Having had such a damp night, we took the opportunity to give Kejstral a quick wipe down to rid her of her salty layers with the lovely wet dew. The hazy horizon distorts the junction between sea and sky, colours bleed from one to the other fluidly in an orangy yellow glow, it is beautiful.
Our 10 hour journey is set to be almost windless once again, but unfortunately again, we must press on.
Two dolphin join our passage west, their sleek grey and white streamline bodies ease through the water in graceful undulating motions. They twist and weave beneath our hull in a fantastic display of skill and ability, crossing in front of us before dipping down into the dark depths, and out of sight. They travel quietly alongside us for 20 minutes or so, sharing these otherwise, seemingly empty seas.
Alone once again the sky clears to a crisp blue summery vision, our warm winter coats, the only evidence of this sharp, finger tingling cold day. This tranquil and empty sea becomes almost eerie, no birds or boats to interrupt our journey, even the dolphin have disappeared and left us in these stark surroundings. An hour or so later a quiet humming noise alerts our senses, in this vast open water a tiny black speck can be identified on the horizon, within minutes its shape emerges, a cargo vessel. The engine noise seems to resonate through the still, windless air, another ship appears, and before long there are four. From the lonely, isolation we begin to feel part of a community, such a strange concept in this busy, traffic filled world. A small wind turbine filled island glides into view, surrounding it's coast sit four or five vessels on anchor, clearly a good depth for these enormous ships to drop anchor and rest. Cannot make out any port or commercial buildings that would attract their business on this tiny land mass known as Agios Georgios, I later found out it is uninhabited.
With the excitement of a new island, now seven cargo vessels, a second pod of dolphins show up, it all happens at once! They playfully skim across Kejstrals hull, scratching their sleek itchy bodies against any barnacles and growth. No wonder we see scars and scratches on their shiny rubbery skin, they breach the surface in synchrony, not at all perturbed by our engine and propeller.
Once again we are alone, seemingly empty sea surrounding us. The depth sounder alarms, we both leap to attention, according to the electronic charts, we should be travelling in 330 meters of water. Our depth sounder states otherwise, 2.4 meters, either there is something below us, or the machine is faulty. Immediately we scan the waters around us whilst resetting the machine, on our charts we notice red print stating 'submarine practice area'! With hearts racing we quickly recheck the waters and charts before gradually realising that the machine has settled into a default setting as the water is just too deep for it to register properly. This vast depth continues for a couple of hours until slowly we reach a more reasonable 160 meters, panic over, and not one periscope to be seen. It would have been quite a sight to have spotted a huge black submarine........... in the distance of course!
Having travelled for a whole 9 hours with not a puff of wind, the island of Ydra or Hydra comes slowly into view. With that, the katabatic wind begins to grow just enough for our lazy sails. Unfurling those huge canvas sheets feels amazing, to rely on the pure power of this wind is brilliant, our engine is terminated as soon as the sails are full and pushing us onward. A silence fills the air, the only sound is of the sea spraying against our boat, what a fabulous feeling.
The port of Hydra is on the west of this long island, therefore we take great advantage of the wind created by its shape and size managing to sail for the final hour of our passage.
As most sailors do, we read and investigated our next port, Google maps provide a great visual clue as to how many or few boats use this location. In Hydra's case, it looked like a nightmare for yachties on the map!
We had a plan, usually best to......... Motor into the port, have a look around, then if it seems too problematic, leave and head for the bay nearby which looks pretty sheltered.
Well, what a chaotic, busy, noisy crowded little port, but how beautiful!
As we entered the mouth of the port, four small red and white, sea taxis zipped in front of us at about 10 knots, way too fast for this tiny space, but what a buzz this town emanated. Cruisers moored tightly along the outer wall, vying for that extra inch of room alongside old wooden, beautifully painted Gulet style ships. Rounding the harbour wall, we see a web of anchor chains spewing from yachts and cruisers, fishing vessels and ferries. This is an anchoring nightmare, yet it was filled to overflowing with vessels. Yachts hurried past us to their, clearly earmarked space, while little fishing boats rumbled towards us. We carefully picked our way through the turmoil and disarray trying hard to avoid chains and hulls, then turned around in the tightest of spaces, before motoring our way out again quickly. What an alarming yet vibrant pretty place, we want to stop and see more, however, we couldn't risk it.
Feeling a little bereft, we travelled the few minutes to the neighbouring bay of Mandraki, at that very moment a rather large hydrofoil trundled around the harbour entrance towards us, quite relieved to have escaped the port unscathed, to where a calm serene lovely bay awaited us.
Dropping the anchor in 10 meters of sand, we ate, showered and readied Zoe for a shore visit. The bay is quiet, not too large and with only two other boats nearby a perfect place for a settled night's sleep, hopefully.On shore, Zoe is secured to a rusty, makeshift pontoon then abandoned for the next few hours. A quaint restaurant nestles into an edge of this beach, a set of steps take us past this pretty wooden decked building. Waiting staff dress tables for their evening guests, not that there are any at this moment, napkins are carefully placed alongside sparkling cutlery and dishes. Aromas drift past our noses as we reach the roadway above this bay. From the road a concrete path has been very tidily layed which carries around the headland, for about a mile and a half, (about half an hour walk) into the port of Hydra.
The sun is warm on our skin which is great apart from the fact that, with this exertion, we begin to sweat, well Kevin does, I of course glow. From the cold air experienced on our journey today, this is a very welcome feeling even at 6pm. The path climbs a little therefore the views of the sea are fantastic, with boats everywhere, a great place to just sit and take in the evening. We however, are on a mission, we want to reach Hydra. Some fabulous houses line the waters edge and hillside around us, amazing landscaping is also begining to take shape in some of these massive plots of land. Flowers surround the pathway, encouraging loads of bees to buzz past and around us, not that they showed any interest in our perspiring limbs!
Passing quite a few people walking from Hydra to Mandraki, we realised just how well used this pathway actually is. As we round the hillside some very old sandstone buildings come into view, snuggled into the contours of the land, these houses look spectacular. Winding pathways sneak around trees and shrubbery leading to these homes which stand grandly in their sculptured gardens. Gently the houses increase in number, yet decrease in size as the town unfolds, stretching into a perfect arc around the port. Terracotta roofs, yellow painted buildings and pink vivid flowers accentuate this bustling bright busy harbour, we cannot wait to delve into this energetic atmosphere.
The town is buzzing, as we make our way into the hub of this pretty, place, we notice the difference in feel of this enchanting town compared to our previous experiences elsewhere.
It takes us quite a while to recognise what is so different about this place. Healthy looking donkeys stand in line next to the sea taxi and ferry port, which shuttles guests to and from the Greek mainland and various bays around the area. Huge wooden trolleys are pushed by young strong locals, carrying suitcases and baggage. Trolleys also carry fruit, vegetables and goods for delivery towards restaurants and bars. The most surprising thing is that there are no motorised vehicles of any description on this island!
What an awesome concept, everything is transported onto the Island by sea, then delivered locally by either trolley, donkey or on foot.
When walking around this busy area, we pick up huge variety of accents from all around us. American, Indian and Asian people are all visiting from their home countries. Ferries bring hundreds of people each day from both north and south of this Island. Athens is only a couple of hours away, and with such a fabulous ferry service in Greece, we can appreciate why so many tourists can enjoy these Islands. We have a meal in what seems like a very chilled, reasonably priced restaurant. For €30 we have bread, water, spaghetti bolognaise and a litre of red wine. It is great, we assumed it would be more expensive, service charges can occasionally sting us if we are not careful.
The atmosphere is brilliant, music of all types drift from the designer bars, waiting staff greet us with Kalispera as we smile our good evening to them. Very high class shops line the harbour from one end to the other with some equally high class shoppers taking advantage of the shiny bright and pretty goods.
We stroll back to Kejstral as the night turns chilly wrapped in our jumpers we speed up our pace as the breeze changes direction. Zoe is waiting patiently for our arrival. Back on board we settle for a quiet evening read. Bedtime.
Another early start, well we are on a time schedule. Our friends Carl and Jenny are travelling from the UK to Lefkas to charter a yacht, we have planned to meet them somewhere nearby. This unfortunately means that our journey has been rather more rushed than it probably should be. Not that we mind, it just means that our time in each anchorage or mooring is a little restricted but, we can relax and enjoy out return journey at a leisurely pace. Today, we have a long journey, almost 10 hours with not a great deal of wind, typical! Again, when on a schedule, we have little opportunity to await the wind, we just have to get to our next stop on time, in this case, motoring most of the way. Kythnos, situated in the west Cyclades has a few beautiful anchorages, we have chosen the south west bay of Akrogiali where good protection from a northerly or easterly wind can be necessary. Not sure we require protection from 4 knot of wind as was forecast for today!
Having woken at 05.30, we knew we would have a challenge to lift our anchor. When we dropped it on our arrival into a harbour full of lazy lines and chains, the last spot left available for us, was without one of these great lines, therefore we had little choice but to throw out our hook. (Knowing full well that it would be caught on something large or solid when we came to remove it) We could of course have dropped anchor in the open bay, but the wind prediction was not good for our overnight stay and we preferred the security of a protective harbour.
We had a plan, drive forwards until our bow is directly above where the anchor should be, then gently wind in the chain until we think we are just sitting on the seabed with minimal chain. Then slowly take in the remaining chain, minimising the drag effect. This might stop it catching on anything, of course it might still be caught up, and it was. Fortunately we could see in a few meters of depth and clear waters, that our lovely anchor had caught on the main, lazy line chain, great! However, we had an additional plan, our tender, Zoe was attached to our stern ready for this very mission. Kevin climbed in, pulled himself around to the bow, while I continued to pull on our chain, bringing the huge unwanted chain to the surface. I then tied a rope onto our cleat and lowered the other end for him to wrap around the huge chain, I then took back the rope end, meaning that the chain from the harbour was now suspended from our boat by rope. Kevin then climbed back on board while I released our anchor from its obstruction. Now, the only thing keeping us from drifting was the rope holding this massive chain. Kevin fired up the engine ready, while I released the rope and successfully detached us from our fixture. This took only 10 minutes, amazing. It does prove that forward planning and preparation where possible of course, can ease the stress of such issues.
Excited by the 10 knots of wind billowing around our jumpers, we had the genoa out within minutes, before we even had the opportunity to unfurl the main, the damned wind disappeared. On a 10 hour journey this is not what we needed, sail pulled in having restarted the engine but at least we were on our way. The sea changes on the horizon, giving us a little hope that the wind will show it's blustery face, again those sails are brought out and we glide beautifully for another half an hour or so. This became the pattern for our whole journey, sails in and sails out, how frustrating.
I suppose it is the nature of these Islands, when there is a wind forecast it appears in gusty patches, this tends to escalate when nearing a land mass. This wind swirls around mountains which then flows down valleys and creates this buffeting turmoil in the coastal waters, known as the katabatic wind. Many sailors, new to the Mediterranean, comment on their battles when approaching these Islands, it can be a particularly scary experience. Wind direction and force can change considerably within seconds, pulling sail boats around in the blink of an eye. Today, however, that is not the case, not even a puff of breeze can be felt as we reach the southern tip of Kythnos Island. We arrive in this beautiful, tranquil bay by 4pm, tired but happy to reach our anchorage. With no other boats around we select our position for the night. In a very clean, sandy seabed, we deposit out anchor and watch it settle perfectly into its snug spot 5 meters below Kejstral. We eat and relax before taking Zoe, our tender ashore. A few people provide signs of life in this quiet village, houses seem shut tight from the wet and windy winter. Forlorn looking buildings which appear to have been seasonal bars and cafes, patiently await their paint and restoration. Quaint little homes stand in green weed filled gardens, the occupants not quite ready for the gardening challenge, at least not just yet. Everything seems tired and weathered in this tiny village, yet the potential is obvious for its summer makeover. Paint tins and sheets of wood have been gathered in anticipation, brushes and mops, buckets and cloths sit tidily next to each building. It would be lovely to see this place post titivation.
We stroll around the sandy waters edge up onto the road, as we begin to climb higher, the view gently unfolds. The sea is dead calm, glassy and just beginning to change its deep blue colour as the sun dips gently down. An almost eerie orange glow seeps over the virtually cloudless sky. Kejstrals shimmering reflection against the warm tones of this altering skyline, look fabulous. Slowly however, she loses detail and definition, as the sun nestles down beyond the horizon, and her inky silhouette is all that remains.
Our hands begin to cool and a dampness takes over the bay, as we row Zoe back, the change in temperature is becoming noticeable. On board Kejstral, the wooden decks are now wet and the air becomes quite chilly, such a shame, as this prevents us enjoying the evening sitting outside watching the stars glittering above us. In this dark bay with very little artificial light, the stars, are an absolutely stunning sight. We head to our warm cosy bed.