Wednesday 14th September.
Well we are now on our way to the first of the Greek Islands – Limnos – in the Eastern Sporades. Limnos is quite beautiful. We stop off in the port of Myrina and climb the hill to the Genoan castle with its marvellous view of the town. The weather is perfect. Here we see the local deer roaming among the old ruins of the castle and even coming into the outskirts of the town. Then a couple of days later with the wind on our stern we set sail again, having good runs, stopping in the Northern Sporades at Kira Panyia, Alonnisos, and Skiathos. It was at Skiathos that we pick up our Dubai friends Rob and Suzy, and after spending a day with a hire car exploring the Island, it was time to up anchor and continue south. It is now getting cooler and we had heavy rain, thunder and lightning the day before we left. The morning we decided to up anchor and go – NO - we are stuck fast to the bottom. Alec had to go over the side and see what our problem was. He found our anchor chain around a huge old anchor that had been abandon, so, with a little manoeuvring and a couple more dives we were free, only to get caught up again. Down he goes again, and this time the chain is caught around two more unused anchors. It takes just under two hours for us to get clear of all the rubbish on the bottom before we are on our way. BUT, we now have another problem. We have a broken anchor chain guide. This is the second time it has broken on us. The first was on the Australian Coast. This will mean we will have to pull the anchor up by hand till we can get a new one. Thank goodness we have a strong man Rob on board.
We head for the channel between mainland Greece and the Island of Evia. Evia is Greece’s second largest Island lying parallel to the mainland east coast. Like many of the Islands, it is rugged with high peaks that are snow covered in winter. But Evia is more densely wooded than the other Greek Islands which makes it very pretty, and its coastal plains are cultivated with olive trees and big vegetable gardens. We stopped each day and anchored off numerous bays, villages and towns as we passed down the inside route of the Island. We are still swimming but are finding it much more ‘refreshing’ now!! We go ashore for our morning coffee and an bit of an explore before moving on each day.
At the town of Khalkis – the capital of Evia - we tie up to the Quay and wait till morning before we visit the Harbour Masters office. There is a bridge here which we have to wait till it opens before we can proceed. We are informed it will open sometime between 10.00pm and 4.00am, and, to stand by with our radio on channel 16 and wait for a call. There also has to be a minimum of two yachts before it will open. Thank goodness there were four of us going south and a small coastal ship going north. We got the call at 3.00am!!! Just after I had come off the first watch. So we passed through and anchored in the bay on the other side. Being a late night we all slept in , rising at nine to have breakfast and continue on our way. Having pulled up the anchor – by hand, we proceeded on our way to pass under a huge bridge a mile further on. A small vessel comes speeding over just as we are arriving at the bridge telling us NO, go back, bridge closed as divers in water. Come back at 4.00pm. You must be Joking!!!!! We motor back and drop the anchor again in the bay, then go ashore to visit the Harbour Master yet again. We are handed at bit of paper with the times the water way will open. Why were we not given this yesterday? Never mind there are good coffee shops in Khalkis.
That day we only did 12nm before stopping off for the night in a place called Eretria, a really pretty town which we explored the following morning. Rob and Suzy were with us for nine days. They left us in Porto Rafti on the Greek mainland, which is nearly opposite the bottom end of Evia. It was here that Brigitte and Dan joined us. Also, thank goodness, it was from here that Alec did a trip into Athens, about 40ks away, to pick up a new anchor chain guide which he and Dan very successfully fitted.
So with our new crew members aboard we continue down the coast of Mainland Greece to the southern point at Sounion where the remains of the temple of Poseidon is. It really did look impressive all lit up at night. It was a pretty bay and yes we are still swimming. Brigitte and Dan took the Kayak out for a run around the bay. Brigitte had visited this place twice before and wanted us to see it. Well worth the stop.
We are now into the beginning of October. We next head off down through the Cyclades – these are said to be the most picturesque island complex in Greece. The Cyclades has so many islets and rocky outcrops in the archipelago, but only 33 are inhabited. It will be interesting to see how many we get to visit!! Our first stop is at the Island of Kithnos. Like most of the Islands in this group it is mountainous and generally bare of vegetation, but has beautiful coves and bays to anchor up in with clean clear waters. The contrast of the bare brown hills, the aqua blue of the sea, the blue of the sky, then the white houses with their predominately cornflower blue, but other bright colours are now used, on the shutters and doors, then the reds of the potted geraniums, makes for some stunning scenes.
Our next Island is Serifos. Here our anchorage was a little more remote, on the south side of the Island, but again in another beautiful bay. We spent the afternoon swimming, taking the Kayak around the bay, and I went for a mountain climb to see what was on the other side. Just more rocky mountains and pretty bays. Next day it was up anchor and on to Milos. This like many of the islands here, it was formed by a volcano. It has the most amazing coloured rock formations, caves and coves around its coastline. Milos also has great mineral wealth, and its mines are among the oldest in the Mediterranean. They are still working but I am not sure what it is they are mining! Here we hired a car and were able to visit most of the villages which are so quaint. This was many thanks to a friend in NZ – Helen Smith - who emailed and told us about family who owned one of the car rental companies there. Not only did they give us an great deal on a car, but Alec and I were later taken out to a wonderful Cretan place for a warm drink - like a mulled wine, and a fabulous meze. Brigitte and Dan had left at this stage. As we are now out of the ‘high’ season we have not got the crowds of tourists which is so nice. We swam the first day, but then there was a dramatic change in the weather, which has almost put us into winter clothing. We have had rain, thunder, lightning, and winds gusting into the bay up to 40kts. As you can imagine it played havoc with Brigitte’s and Dan’s departure. She was late getting back to work in Dubai due to flights being cancelled. They ended up taking a ferry back to Athens, a seven hour voyage. Alex and I hung on at anchor, wind gusting to over 40 knots, starting the engines one morning at the height of the storm, to make sure we held in position. But all was well and we did not move at all. The yachts tied to the concrete pier left to find anchorages as much out of the wind as they could, as waves were breaking over the pier. After waiting a couple of extra days in Milos for the weather to change we were eventually able to leave and set sail for the Island of Ios.
After a 50nm sail we dropped anchor in yet another very pretty bay. The waters were so clean and clear we could see the bottom at 15mts. This Island is very popular with the young sun-lovers. The beach here we were told are usually crowed with sun umbrellas and beach chairs, but not one was to be seen as the season is over and all had been packed away for the winter months. We spent the following day here as we changed the zincs on the props. This meant going for a swim. Alec went in in the morning and found it really cold even though he had a wet suit on. By mid-afternoon we were both in the water as it had warmed up, so I gave the hull a clean as well. Think that will be our last swim of the season!!
From Ios we did a 30nm run down to the Island of Santorini – also called Thira. It also is was created by a volcano. Around 1450 BC the island blew up and the crater submerged forming a huge deep harbour with a new moon shaped sheer rim of lava-layered cliffs encircling it. When this happened it is said that the tidal wave that was caused by the eruption has been calculated to be about 100m high!!! Hope all the rumbling is over as that would be one huge wave to have to ride!!!! Later in the middle of the harbour a new island appeared. But today this Island is one of the biggest tourist visited islands in Greece. This is the place used on post cards, calendars, book covers etc. It is where you have white houses and churches perched on the rim of the crater overlooking the beautiful blue waters of the Aegean. As you sail into the crater and look up at the towns perched on the cliff tops, they look like icing sugar on a chocolate cake. Cruise liners call in here every day and drop anchor at the foot of the cliffs and the passengers either take the cable car to the top, or walk or take a donkey. We sailed on around to the south side of the Island and went into the small harbour and tied up alongside a concrete quay. Oh how we hate concrete quays!! The first couple of nights were fine and we hired a car again to explore the Island. Then the weather changed for the worse. We surged along that ------ quay as a swell came into the harbour. There were three of us tied up here and we all put on extra lines and all our fenders. One of our mooring lines snapped and one of our fenders went flat. Oh well at least they did their job and protected the boat. It also became very cold and we had our small heated running. We did manage to see a Rugby World Cup game here where NZ played Aust. GREAT. We found an Irish Pub which had the game on. The All Black supporters outnumbered the Aussies 4 to 1. The place was packed.
So after four nights there it was on down to Crete. We left mid-afternoon in very light winds arriving at the north eastern end of the Island at the town of Ay Nikolaos early the following morning. We had not done a night sail for some time and took our time only doing 3-4kts at times as it was only a 72nm run. We were not in a hurry as it is always nice to arrive at a new place in daylight. Ay Nikolaos was just a brief stop for a few supplies and then we motored along the coast about 8nm to Spinalongas Lagoon. This was a wonderful stop-over and here we ran into friends whom we had met in Salalah, Oman and again in the Red Sea. Next morning with very little wind, and what there was, was on the nose, we motored onto the capital, Iraklion. We are moving along the coast of Crete quite quickly, but have decided we will return here next cruising season and have a good look at the place. In Iraklion we dropped anchored and backed into a quay putting out long stern lines and staying well off!! It is a beautifully sheltered harbour and we had no problems here. We only spent one night, but were able to fill our gas bottles which was great. We were nearly out.
We leave Iraklion mid-afternoon and sail for Khania – Chania - arriving there at 4.00am, so drop anchor outside the port. The following morning we motor into one of the most picturesque harbours we have seen. Again it is only a night stop to refuel and pick up a few supplies, but as we had a full 24 hours there, we had a good wander around, enjoy a coffee at one of the many water front cafes, and have decided this is a ‘must see’ place to revisit next year. Alec has been keeping a close eye on the weather as he does not want to motor the 470nm to Sicily!! At 10.00am on Sunday 23rd October we untie from the quay in Khania and head on out towards our final destination for this sailing season – Marina di Ragusa, Sicily. Alec gets his wish and we are able to sail nearly the whole way. The winds only reach 30kts once during the trip, but the Med really makes for interesting seas. They are short, that is the swells being very close together, and for a short time are running at about 5mts. But we get a downwind run for most of the way so at least we are not banging into them. The trip takes us three days and three nights. We arrive just outside the marina just as a huge rain squall passes over, so wait outside till it has blown through.
We now have a total of just over 24,000nm behind us. (we are not quite half way yet) 7,000nm have been logged this last sailing season. SHAMAL has performed so well for us, and is a very safe and comfortable home. We have sailed from Dubai to the Mediterranean, stopped off at 13 countries with so many wonderful places visited and adventures had along the way. We thank God that we passed through ‘pirate alley’ unscathed. Our hearts and prayers are with those who were not so fortunate. It is hard to choose a highlight as on this leg each country and each stopover has been a highlight. From sailing into modern places like Dubai, but then into some of the oldest ports in the world which are found here in the Med. The wonder of swimming with the dolphins in the Red Sea and seeing some of the most stunning coral gardens there also. Our land travel has also been amazing. Places like Petra, Luxor, Cappadocia and many more. We don’t take anything for granted and do realise how fortunate we are in being able to do what we are doing. We have met so many wonderful people, made new friends, and also met up with old friends after many years, as well. It truly has been a wonderful year, but a long one, and we are both looking forward to a break.
We are now at the stage of putting SHAMAL ‘to bed’ for the winter, which is like closing down the house for a few months. Apart from all the inside household cleaning jobs one does, it also means ‘boat’ jobs like closing down the engines and closing sea cocks, removing and washing down the jib sail and some of our sheets - sail ropes – making sure all our mooring lines are very secure. Here in the Med they use rubber and big metal springs on the mooring lines to prevent the snapping of lines. That will give you some idea of the weather they can get. We have used both!! We have been given an excellent position in the marina being very well protected. There are also a number of other sailors wintering over on their boats who will keep an eye on things for us. We return back to Sicily at the beginning of April next year.
We will take the fast ferry to Malta in a few days and then fly out to Dubai to visit Brigitte. Then it will be home to New Zealand for our summer.
We are now in Dubai. Our trip through Malta was wonderful. We both loved the place, and have put it on our list of places to explore next season. We went a couple of days early as we finished all our jobs on SHAMAL, and stayed with an American friend Jack, on his boat. We visited some of the sites of the historic city of Valletta – just beautiful. Jack is the most amazing guy. He is in his early 80’s and has been sailing around the world for 25 years, so has a wealth of knowledge.
OK will finish off.
We wish you all a Safe and Wonderful Christmas, and a Very Happy New Year
Best Wishes to you all.
This is the Admiral and the Commander signing out for another sailing season