Northern Greece to Samos - September to November 2015
After a rainy July and August in Hayling Island, we were pleased to fly back to the Greek sunshine on 1 September 2015. Graham and Sue from Sandgirl, which was also laid up in Nea Paramos, were on our flight from Gatwick to Thessaloniki so we were able to share a taxi to the boatyard. We found Caladh in good order, other than a thick layer of dust on the decks. Greece was still experiencing a summer heat wave, having had temperatures up to 40 degrees for the last two to three months, so we decided to launch the boat as soon as possible. We unpacked, did the few jobs we needed to, borrowed the yard’s little yellow car to go shopping and were ready to go back in the water the following afternoon. The staff at Manitsas Marine were courteous and efficient and we were soon bobbing at anchor off the beach at Nea Paramos, enjoying a much needed swim to cool down! The following day we headed for Thasos, arriving in the harbour at Thasos town around 3.30pm after a mix of motoring, sailing and motor-sailing the 16 mile passage on another hot day with light winds. We moored alongside the surprisingly quiet quay and spent 2 nights here before heading to pastures new, the island of Samothrace.
Our plan for the next two months was to visit the islands of the Eastern Sporades, which lie to the south east of Thasos, with the aim of overwintering in Samos. Samothrace is a fairly small island about 40 miles from Thasos and we slipped our mooring at 0745 and motored until lunch time in hot, hazy and windless conditions. Finally the wind filled in, inevitably on the nose and we sailed to windward for the remainder of the passage, enjoying a lively beat as the wind freshened to force 4-5. We were accompanied by dolphins as we approached Samothrace harbour, something we always feel is a good omen.
Caladh on the quay at Samothrace
Samothrace is another large harbour with a long quay and we were able to moor alongside with 4 other yachts, including 3 charter yachts with Bulgarian crews who had also sailed from Thasos. For the following 3 – 4 days the meltemi blew strongly from the north east, with winds up to force 7, so we decided to spend a few days exploring the island. The quay is rather scruffy and neglected but offers good shelter from the prevailing wind and although the water and electricity didn’t seem to be connected, we were able to fill some water carriers from a tap used by the fishermen further down the quay. The main harbour has regular ferries to Alexandroupolis, a large fishing fleet and a pleasant, busy village with the usual range of shops, tavernas and bars, although sadly, no laundry!
About 5 miles inland lay Chora, the ancient capital of the island, so we decided to stretch our legs and walk there one morning. It was a hot walk, uphill all the way but the town was an attractive maze of narrow, shady streets, topped by a castle. After exploring it for a while we had tasty home cooked moussaka for lunch in a taverna with wonderful views over the valley below and then, in the apparent absence of any buses or taxis, walked the 5 kilometres back to the harbour. By the time we reached our destination we were ready for a refreshing beer and a siesta!
Another day we hired a car and explored the remainder of the island, whose main sites include the large archaeological site known as the Sanctuary of the Great Gods, a very important Greek religious site dating from the 4th century BC, and its thermal baths, which attract new age travellers from across Europe.
Temple of the Great Gods, Samothrace
Our favourite however was a lovely walk along a beautiful wooded riverbank to a waterfall, with lush scenery more reminiscent of the Yorkshire Dales than Greece. Elsewhere the island scenery is very dry and barren, topped by Mount Fengari, which at 1600 metres is the highest mountain in the Aegean.
Waterfall at Samothrace
By the end of the week the seemingly relentless wind finally eased and on 11 September we set sail for our next island, Lemnos, 40 miles to the south. As we left the harbour there was a big swell leftover by the strong winds but with an easterly wind blowing at force 4-5 we were able to set the genoa and anticipated a fairly fast downwind passage. However, it was not to be and in less than an hour the wind dropped completely and we were left to motor through the uncomfortable swell until we reached the north west tip of Lemnos some 5 hours later. As we closed the land the wind came up again and we were able to sail the final 10 miles to Mirina, a lovely harbour on the south west corner of the island, where we anchored stern to the quay under the spectacular castle.
Mirina harbour, Lemnos
We enjoyed our stay in Mirina very much. It’s a nice buzzy little town with excellent shops, a laundry and plenty of tavernas and bars, as well as two lovely sandy beaches. The quay is well maintained and clean, with water and electricity and (unusually for Greece) toilets and showers, although these left a bit to be desired on the cleanliness front, being well used by the local fishermen. Harbour dues are collected at a small office on the quay and we paid a very reasonable total of 49 euros for 7 nights, including water and electricity. From the harbour it’s a fairly easy climb up to the extensive castle from where there are spectacular views of the harbour and adjacent coast. We enjoyed socialising with the crews of neighbouring English and French yachts and also hired a car to explore the rest of the island.
Our first stop was in the village of Kontias which had an impressive art gallery with paintings of the local area by contemporary artists from across the Balkans. After a coffee in a lovely shady square where the local elderly men were playing cards and drinking ouzo, we headed for the village of Portianou, which had an interesting folk museum and we were given a personal, in-depth tour by the enthusiastic guide. The village is also the location of two of the First World War cemeteries on the island, the third being just outside Moudros, which commemorate the dead from the ill- fated Gallipoli Campaign. The Gallipoli peninsula lies on the Turkish coast just north east of Lemnos and the large sheltered natural harbour at Moudros was used as an Allied base for the campaign. In its aftermath many injured soldiers were brought to field hospitals on the island, but its hostile climate and the lack of fresh water were underestimated and over 1200 soldiers, sailors and medical staff, who died either as a result of their injuries or from disease, are buried in the tranquil cemeteries, beautifully maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
War Cemetery at Moudros, Lemnos
After lunch in Moudros, we drove up to the north of the island in search of huge sand dunes, recommended to us by the guide at the folk museum. The asphalt disappeared and became a dirt road and eventually too steep and sandy to climb without a four wheel drive so we left the car by the side of the road and walked the last two kilometres. When we eventually reached them we were not sure it was worth all the effort! However, the drive home across the mountains into the setting sun was lovely with spectacular views towards Samothrace.
After a week in Mirina we reluctantly decided we must tear ourselves away from Lemnos and with a forecast for moderating winds, decided to sail in company with our French friends Didier and Marie on Hijo del Sol towards our next island, Lesbos. It’s nearly 60 miles from Mirina to Lesbos so we decided to shorten the trip slightly by going to an anchorage on the south coast of Lemnos, about 8 miles further east. By mid afternoon there was no sign of the wind moderating but the next day was forecast to have good conditions for the passage to Lesbos so we decided to go anyway. We began with a force 5-6 wind behind us but as we rounded the south west corner of the island the wind came back on the nose and we had a lively beat to our anchorage. However, as the sun set the wind finally eased and we had a peaceful night in the remote, picturesque bay of Ormos Ay Pavlou before getting up at 6am the following morning to head south to Lesbos.
By 9am there was enough wind to sail and with the wind on the beam at about force 4, we had a great sail for the next few hours, although we had to keep a careful eye out for the many large ships sailing in and out of the Dardanelles. Although the Greek Waters Pilot does not warn of it, this area has two major shipping lanes (inbound and outbound) and caution is needed. Eventually the wind disappeared and we had to motor for the last 20 miles, anchoring in Sigri bay in the south west corner of Lesbos around 4pm after a 52 mile passage. Hijo del Sol and 3 other yachts were anchored with us in the quiet bay below a ruined fort and the small village of Sigri. It was a lovely sunny, calm evening and we enjoyed a refreshing swim in the beautiful clear water before supper and a well deserved early night!
The following day, the wind was forecast to come into the south and after a squally, thundery shower blew through in the afternoon it became quite uncomfortable due to the swell, although our anchor held well. Hijo del Sol weighed anchor in the height of the storm and went in search of better shelter but we decided to stick it out for another night and pumped up our dinghy and went ashore to explore the village. The fort is closed to the public due to its poor condition but there was a small Byzantine church to visit, a couple of mini-markets, a bakery and a fruit shop for some basic provisions. Although it was only 21 September, the village had a very sleepy, end of season feel with most of the bars and restaurants already closed for the winter.
After a rolly night at anchor and an ongoing forecast of southerly winds, we set off in search of a more sheltered anchorage. We motor sailed east along the coast in light winds for about 15 miles to reach Kolpos Kallonis, a large gulf approached by careful pilotage through a buoyed channel which avoids the surrounding reefs.
Anchored in Kolpos Kallonis, Lesbos
We anchored in the bay off the tiny hamlet of Apothekes, which the Greek Waters Pilot advises offers the best shelter in the gulf. Hijo del Sol were here too along with one other yacht. Apothekes is a sleepy little fishing community seemingly in the back of beyond with the peace only punctuated by the noise of dogs, goats and a donkey! It seemed like our sort of place and although the other yachts moved on the next morning, we decided to stay a while and chill out. It took us two attempts at going ashore in our increasingly leaky dinghy to find the one small taverna open but eventually we had a lovely lunch of local sardines, a speciality of the gulf. Water was available from a tap near the small quay but there were no shops to buy food so after a couple of days we decided we needed to move on in search of provisions.
Our plan was to sail to Kolpos Yeras, another large gulf about 35 miles further east. However when we reached open waters, the wind was blowing force 4-5 from the south. We tacked out to sea for about half an hour but soon realised that we would have no making tack and that a 35 mile beat to windward could take a very long time. We therefore decided to turn around and look for another anchorage in Kolpos Kallonis where we might be able to buy some food. We anchored off the beach at Skala Polikhnitos, a small fishing port and holiday resort where we found a well stocked, if expensive mini-market and simple taverna for a tasty lunch. The following day we headed off again and this time had lighter but more favourable winds to enable us to sail and motor sail the 35 miles to Kolpos Yeras. It would have been possible to moor at the town of Ploumari, which lies just over 20 miles east, but a number of people had warned us about the swell in the harbour and we decided to give it a miss, something we later learnt was a wise decision as other yacht crews we met had very uncomfortable nights there, even when there was no wind.
In Kolpos Yeras we anchored in Skala Loutra, a good, safe anchorage which was picturesque if you looked south to the green hills above the village topped by a tiny chapel but less so if you look north towards the derelict oil storage facility! The views from the chapel were worth the climb up to the top.
The castle at Mitilini
After two nights here we decided to head to Mitilini the island’s capital, and take shelter in the marina due to a forecast of strong northerly winds for the next few days. We hoped it would also be a good base from which we could hire a car and explore more of the island. The marina is owned by a Turkish company with a number of marinas on the adjacent Turkish coast and was secure and modern with good facilities and very helpful staff, who assisted with mooring, as well as arranging laundry and car hire for us. In late September, this was all for a very reasonable 15 euros a night for our 10.4 metre yacht. Mitilini is the largest and busiest town we had visited for some considerable time and we were glad we had opted to stay in the marina, about 15 minutes walk from the town centre, rather than on the town quay which was very noisy due to its proximity to the main road, lots of busy bars and tavernas, as well as being quite dirty and a bit smelly! Despite this, the town was worth a visit, having a lively atmosphere and all the facilities we would need.
The Refugee Crisis
We had been a little wary of visiting Mitilini as it had been receiving a lot of media coverage all summer as one of the main centres where large numbers of Syrian refugees were congregating after negotiating the crossing from Turkey. Earlier in the summer we had heard reports of a tented city in Mitilini but by late September this had gone and the Greek authorities, with support from the UNHCR, UNICEF and the EU, seemed to be organising the situation well, despite the large numbers arriving every day.
The Greek coastguard, as well as coastguards from other European countries including Portugal, Norway and Sweden, were patrolling the coast and picking up refugees from the remote beaches where they seem to be dumped ashore by the Turkish traffickers.
Refugee reception area at the port of Vathy, Samos
The UNHCR has set up reception camps on the larger islands, including Lesbos and Chios and after being processed, the refugees are taken by bus to the main ports from where they are quickly transported by ferry to larger mainland cities, including Athens and Kavala. However, what fate awaits them after that is hard to know.
Refugees awaiting transport, northern Lesbos
The refugees we came across, including many families with young children, were quiet, calm and dignified, waiting peacefully to leave the islands. They never caused us any problems and are certainly not a reason to be fearful of visiting the region. However we felt deeply sorry for their plight and wished we could do more to help them. As we approached Mitilini by sea we began to see lots of lifejackets and occasional inflatable boats abandoned along the shore and this was to be a common sight for the rest of our cruise. Although Lesbos was the focus of media attention, all the Greek islands south of here are seeing large numbers of refugees arrive every day, due to their proximity to the Turkish coast. Local sources told us they were paying about 2,000 euros per person for the treacherous crossing, with up to 40 refugees or more crammed into the flimsy, unstable inflatable boats intended to carry no more than 15 people. Allegedly a discount may be offered to refugees willing to cross in bad weather. In the 2 weeks we were in Lesbos at least 4 people drowned making the short but perilous crossing, including a mother and her child and over 3,500 people are reported to have lost their lives this year in the whole region. There were regular reports on the Navtex service of sinking refugee boats and people in the water, although thankfully we never came across them while sailing in the area. Hopefully, the photos we have included with this report give an impression of the things we saw.
Mitilini has a spectacular castle, one of the largest in the Eastern Mediterranean. High on a cliff above the town, the current structure dates from the Byzantine era, when it housed a major settlement of the Ottoman Empire. Some of the buildings have been renovated, including an extensive crypt, water storage system and Turkish baths. The town’s wealthy past is also seen in a number of large mansions dating from the 19th century but many of them now sadly neglected and abandoned.
Lesbos is the largest island in the region and there was plenty to see during our two day car hire. Just outside Mitilini there are two adjacent art galleries, the Theophilus Museum containing paintings of island scenes by this well known local artist and the next door Teriade Museum. This contains an extensive collection of works by renowned artists including Picasso and Chagall but sadly it was closed for renovation during our visit! We therefore headed up into the mountains to the picturesque village of Agiasos, which boasted winding streets of 3 and 4 storey houses, a large church with elaborate icons and some persistent craft salesmen! From here we drove south across the mountains towards Ploumari and were somewhat surprised when the asphalt road turned into a dirt track. We were probably not supposed to use our hire car off road but the road was in reasonable condition so we carried on, expecting to return to the asphalt soon. About 20 kilometres later we eventually did, luckily without mishap and made it safely into the port of Ploumari for a nice lunch in a waterside taverna.
Ploumari is famous for the production of ouzo and after lunch we visited the Barbayanni Ouzo Museum and Distillery where we learnt all about its production, both in past eras and today, how to drink it and of course got to taste some lovely samples (although not too many as we were driving!). They are one of the few companies who still distil ouzo in the traditional way and are very proud of their heritage, so it was a fascinating visit. From here we drove through some lovely olive groves and along the shore of Kolpos Years, stopping at an olive press museum on the way, which was also an interesting insight into an important local industry. We then tried and failed to find a Roman aqueduct marked on the map and then headed back to Mitilini. Navigating the one way system in the rush hour we were hit by an overtaking scooter, which was a heart stopping moment. Luckily the young motor cyclist was not hurt and neither vehicle was damaged but we were glad we had collision damage waiver insurance! The following day we explored the north east of the island visiting the monastery of Moni Agios Taxiarchis, which is famous for its icon of the Archangel Michael (reputedly made with the blood of monks slaughtered by Saracen pirates) and also its honey doughnuts.
As we travelled north we could see the narrow strait separating Greece and Turkey and begin to encounter groups of recently arrived migrants. In the port of Molyvos local people were collecting up the abandoned inflatable boats from the surrounding coast and their flimsy, unstable condition was very evident.
Abandoned refugee boats at Molyvos
The historic strategic importance of the island was emphasised by yet another large castle above the town.
Molyvos also has an attractive old town and harbour and we enjoyed a couple of hours exploring there before heading along the coast to the seaside resort of Petra. On our way back to Mitilini we finally found the Roman aqueduct – the impressive, large structure was surprisingly well preserved and we were glad we had made the effort to find it. Then it was a stop at Lidl for a few essentials before heading back to the boat laden down with goodies!
Roman Aqueduct, Lesbos
Oinoussa and Chios
The following day we decided to sail back to Kolpos Yeras in preparation for crossing to the island of Chios. Early on 4 October we weighed anchor and headed south in search of another new island. We were forced to motor for the morning in a horrible swell and little wind but eventually as we approached Chios the wind filled in and we were able to sail downwind for the last few hours in a rising breeze. As we approached the north of the island we encountered a large school of dolphins following a fishing trawler, as always, a welcome sight. We had decided to stop at Mandraki harbour on the small island of Oinoussa, at the north east tip of Chios and motored into the harbour in a stiff breeze. There was plenty of space on the quay and we were able to moor alongside.
Caladh at Oinoussa
It’s a very picturesque port and village, with nice sandy beaches and was to become one of our favourite places, causing us to linger several more days than we had intended. Both Oinoussa and its larger neighbour Chios are well known as the home of many of the wealthy Greek shipping families and it has a fascinating maritime museum, the highlight of which was intricately carved ivory and bone models of ships made by French prisoners captured by the British during the Napoleonic war. The small island offers good walking and while exploring the countryside north of the port we made friends with a young goat who was so tame she allowed Simon to tickle her chin. Big mistake!
Our friendly goat on Oinoussa
She now thought we were her new best friends and followed us for 2-3 kilometres back to the port, ignoring our attempts to shoo her back to where she came from. Eventually we had to hide on the boat until she disappeared, hopefully finding her way back home!
While in Oinoussa we also made friends with Elena who had recently opened a small bar and taverna near the harbour. One evening she asked for our help with an e-mail written in English she had received from a cruise ship, the Europa 2, which wanted to organize an end of season party for 250 of their crew at the bar in 2 days time! They had quite specific requirements for food and entertainment and we helped her to price it up and compose an e-mail to them with her proposals. Thankfully she was successful in her bid and the party was a great success, earning her a very generous tip. She was delighted as this unexpected income would help see her through a quiet time of year and we were glad to have been able to be of some help to her.
After a few days we reluctantly tore ourselves away from Oinoussa and headed south to the marina north of Chios town, just 8 miles away. However, no sooner than we had left the harbour than the engine temperature alarm went off. We switched off the engine and began sailing while Simon investigated the problem. There was definitely water coming out from the engine but Simon had recently fitted a new temperature sender. It soon became evident that we had been sold the salt water rather than the fresh water model we needed, and that was why it was the alarm was going off – at a much lower temperature. Simon managed to bypass the sender successfully to enable us to get into Chios (the C is silent!) and later was able to make a temporary fix on the old broken unit with an application of epoxy and super glue, to see us through to the end of the season.
At Chios Marina
The “marina” at Chios is, in typical Greek fashion an unfinished harbour. The long quays are completed and in good condition but no water, electricity or street lighting have been connected and no-one seems to be managing it, so it’s free as long as you don’t mind walking to a nearby park with water cans to top up your tanks. There is plenty of space to go alongside and the harbour offers good shelter from the prevailing winds compared to Chios town. It’s far from being the abandoned building site the Greek Waters Pilot describes and has good facilities within easy walking distance, including a large supermarket. Chios seemed more modern and prosperous than the other islands we had visited and the excellent facilities of Chios town are about 20 minutes walk from the marina. The town is lively and busy with a young population and lots to see and do.
While staying in Chios we yet again hired a car to see some of the island, particularly the “mastichora” or mastic villages of which there are about 20 in the west of the island. Dating from medieval times and maintaining much of their traditional architecture, the villages were centres for the production of mastic, a tree resin which was an important industrial product in the days before petro-chemicals were available but is now used on a much smaller scale, mainly in cosmetics, sweets and alcoholic drinks. Chios is the only island where the mastic is cultivated and the tree resin is still harvested by the older residents of the mastichora, who can be seen sorting the mastic as they sit outside their houses, which is then sold to a local factory.
Sorting the mastic harvest, Chios
One of the villages, Pirgi is also noted for the painted walls of its houses using traditional materials to create some spectacular designs.
Decorated houses at Pirgi, Chios
Chios was the scene of a bloody struggle against the Ottoman Empire during the Greek War of Independence in 1822, when three quarters of the 120,000 population were either massacred or enslaved by the Turkish army or died of disease. This was depicted in Delacroix’s dramatic painting of 1824, “The Massacre at Chios” which at the time did much to arouse sympathy for the Greek cause across Europe the original painting is now in the Louvre. However a copy hangs in a museum in Chios town and as we studied the powerful painting we were approached by a Turkish visitor who was keen to tell us that in his view it was not true, merely Greek propaganda. However, while touring the island we also saw other evidence of the massacres. We visited the hill top village of Anavatos, an eerie deserted place where in 1822 the residents threw themselves into the deep ravine below the village rather than be captured by the Turks. The nearby monastery of Nea Moni was initially a place of refuge for the people of Chios as they fled from the Turkish soldiers but many of those hiding there were subsequently massacred and a small chapel contains a gruesome cabinet displaying skulls of some of the victims.
Skulls at Nea Moni, Chios
On a more positive note the monastery, which dates from the 11th century, is a UNESCO World heritage site because of its beautiful gold mosaics which survive partially intact.
Mosaics at Nea Moni, Chios
We spent a few more days in Chios waiting for some south-westerly gales to blow through, which caused sizeable waves to build off the entrance to the marina and some swell to creep in - more uncomfortable than dangerous. The strong southerlies were soon replaced by fairly brisk northerly winds but on 15 October we felt conditions were conducive to a 65 mile passage south to our ultimate destination, Samos.
We left Chios marina in the dark around 6.45am. When we got up it was windier than we had hoped blowing up to force 5 from the north with a significant swell but it was behind us so we were soon making over 6 knots sailing south under the genoa. However by 9am, as we began to leave Chios island behind us and come into the lee of the Turkish coast, the wind eased considerably and came round into the south east. We raised the mainsail and shook out the reef but with only fitful force 2-3 winds soon had to motor sail to maintain our ground speed. The wind remained light throughout the morning but in the afternoon it freshened again and as we began to approach the coast of Samos we had a great sail in a westerly force 4. We rounded the north east corner of the island at Ak Prason and finally anchored off the village of Poseidonia at around 1830 in the evening.
After a peaceful night at anchor, the following afternoon we headed a few miles up the coast to Pythagoria to catch up with old friends, Derrick and Diane on Kouros and new Danish friends, Jens and Vitter on Bare Lykke, who we met in Chios. We last saw Derrick and Dianne about 3 years ago in the Northern Sporades so it was lovely to see them again and hear all their news before they headed up to a boatyard in Vathy to lay up for the winter.
Pythagoria is famously the birthplace of mathematician Pythagoras and a statue in his honour sits on the quayside.
Pythagoras statue, Samos
The picturesque harbour and town were fairly quiet by mid October and a very pleasant place to spend a few days but with strong southerly gales forecast, we decided to head to the shelter of the marina just east of the town, where we are laying up for the winter. The marina staff were helpful and friendly and found us a sheltered berth to spend a couple of weeks before we were lifted out of the water for the winter. We divided our time between doing lots of end of season cleaning and routine maintenance on the boat and exploring Samos.
Pythagoria was a convenient 10 minute walk along a coast path (but very muddy after heavy rain) and had a good range of shops, bars and tavernas, although many were closing for the winter by the end of October. We also hired a car and explored some of Samos, notably the Temple of Hera, the archaeological museum in the main port of Vathy, the breezy north coast and some of the mountain villages.
We are pleased with our choice of Samos Marina for the winter. It was very clean and spacious, with good facilities and friendly, helpful staff. However we did find it very quiet with hardly any other people living on their boats and missed the lively end of season social life we had enjoyed in Messolonghi and our many friends there. We were lifted out of the water by travel-lift on 1 November and headed home for the winter on 4 November. 2015 had been an excellent season. We were pleased to have had the opportunity to explore a new cruising area, enjoyed the many places we visited, especially Khalkidhiki and the islands of the north east Aegean and are looking forward to cruising south to the Dodecanese Islands next season.
Dear Simon and Jo,
Another great read of your adventures.
Jon and Lynda.
The Dodecanese Islands - Summer 2016
Simon returned to Samos on 15 April to undertake some annual maintenance on Caladh and I joined him on 24 April. In particular he wanted to replace several seacocks, which went well and arrange for the bearings on our wind generator to be changed for new ones, which didn’t go quite so well! The excellent engineer at Samos Marina replaced the bearings promptly but as Simon balanced on the pushpit trying to re-fit it back onto its pole on the stern of the boat, it slipped and crashed to the ground. Although our helpful engineer subsequently managed to get it welded and repaired, it cost rather more than it should have done! However by the beginning of May we had completed the usual anti-fouling and polishing and were back in the water. We then spent another couple of weeks in the marina getting Caladh ready for the season ahead and waiting for the weather to settle before finally setting sail on 16 May.
Launching Caladh at Samos
We spent the 2016 season cruising the Dodecanese Islands in the extreme south east of Greece, near its sea border with Turkey. Although the name means twelve, there are actually 15 main islands in the group, plus many smaller islets, the largest islands being Rhodes and Kos. Below is a summary of our experiences of each of the islands we visited, sailing from north to south.
Our first port of call was Agathonisi, a small island about 20 miles south of Samos, where we planned to meet friends on the yachts Kouros and Atlantico. Winds were light and we managed a mixture of sailing and motoring to reach the small harbour of Agios Georgios by mid afternoon, where we anchored with a long line astern tied to a bollard set into rocks off the beach. So far so good, other than the fact that we managed to drop our anchor over that of Atlantico, embarrassing but fairly soon resolved. Once we were settled we enjoyed beers with our friends before going ashore for a maiden voyage in our new dinghy and a meal of excellent local goat at George’s harbourside taverna.
Agios Georgios, Agathonisi
Agathonisi was one of the islands in the headlines last summer due to the large numbers of Syrian refugees landing on the tiny island every day but the taverna owners reported that since March when Turkey and the EU made a new agreement on the treatment of refugees, the flow has stopped. Many refugees are being held in camps in some of the larger islands and media reports of increasing numbers of refugees drowning on the perilous journey from North Africa to Italy show that the issue has not been resolved. Nonetheless, for these small Greek islands the reduction in the number of refugees will enable them to rebuild their much needed tourist industry.
Agathonisi is a very picturesque, quiet and relaxing place to visit. The following morning we walked to the top of the hill above the harbour to get some exercise and admire the view, before weighing anchor and heading to our next port of call, the even tinier island of Arki.
Arki is a very small island surrounded by rocky islets so careful pilotage is needed in the approach. There is a small quay in Port Augusta which adjoins the only village on the island with room for 8-10 yachts. In season the advice is to arrive early if you want a berth, otherwise there is a selection of anchorages. We opted for the neighbouring Porto Stretto which consists of 2 adjoining bays and was to become one of our favourite places. We found the anchoring was difficult due to thick weed so opted to pick up one of the four mooring buoys laid by the owner of the small taverna at the head of the bay. The two outer moorings are suitable for most yachts but the inner two are in increasingly shallow water. With our 1.5 metre draft we managed to creep onto the third buoy with about half a metre under us but the innermost buoy is only suitable for very small, shallow draft vessels as it sits in only about 1 metre of water.
Porto Stretto, Arki
It’s a peaceful, picturesque spot with a flock of goats on the shore and an easy walk into the village, which has a small mini-market. However in May it was only opening for very limited hours and it was difficult to buy even fresh bread, so it’s best to arrive with provisions on board. The friendly taverna owner at Porto Stretto runs the simple restaurant with his parents, where his mother produces good, home cooked meals, often from fish they have caught or vegetables they have grown in their well tended market garden. It’s a quiet, simple life and as is common on these smaller islands, his wife and children have to spend much of the year on the larger island of Patmos so the children can attend school.
Our next stop was in Lipsi, 8 miles to the south. It has a large natural harbour with a sizeable town quay and if you can secure an inner berth, good shelter from the prevailing north east winds. It’s a well organised quay with someone to tell you where to moor, take your lines and arrange water and electricity, all at a modest cost, although fees seems to increase noticeably as the season gets busier.
Lipsi is a lovely island with nice sandy beaches and some tourism. It has a good range of bars and tavernas, including a quaint traditional ouzerie at the head of the quay. It is good for provisioning with a lovely bakery, a butcher and a surprisingly well stock supermarket.
With very strong winds forecast for the next few days, initially from the south and then coming into the north, we decided to head to Ormos Partheni in the north of Leros, an almost landlocked circular bay offering all round shelter in the anchorage, albeit in somewhat bleak surroundings. The bay is home to the island’s small airport, a fish processing factory and an army barracks as well as two boatyards. We had decided to book an annual berth at the Agmar Marine boatyard as it offered a good deal for berthing in both July and August and over the winter, so it was also an opportunity to go and look at the yard and pay our deposit.
The anchorage at Partheni
We then spent 4 nights at anchor as two different storm systems blew through with winds up to 35 knots and found that the holding and shelter were good, although we were harassed by an English yacht who anchored rather too close for comfort and then went ashore, making it impossible for us to let out any more chain when the wind gusted up in the night. Thankfully our anchor held well but his inconsiderate behaviour made it more stressful than it need have been, something we made clear to him when he eventually returned after the storm had passed!
Between the storms we managed to dinghy ashore for a walk and lovely lunch in the beautiful neighbouring bay of Blefoutis, which also offers an alternative anchorage depending on the wind direction.
Once the weather calmed we sailed south to Lakki, the largest town of Leros, which sits at the head of a large natural harbour and is known for its crumbling art deco buildings dating from the Italian occupation of the 1930’s and 40’s when Mussolini tried to create a model Italianate town here. Agmar Marine own a small marina in Lakki and berthing for up to 30 nights a year is included as part of our annual contract so we decided to see what it had to offer. It is well organised with helpful staff, lazy lines to all the berths, water and electricity, new toilets and showers, a laundry and a chandlery. Shelter from the prevailing northerly winds is good although it would probably prove very uncomfortable in any winds from the south. The town has an excellent range of shops, including a very well stocked chandlery and lots of bars and restaurants along the harbourside and we enjoyed our time here. There is also some interesting history from World War II when after the Italian capitulation, the British attempted unsuccessfully to capture the island from the Germans, recorded in a memorial on the quay and in the nearby war museum.
Later in the season we also visited Xerocambos, a bay in the south of Leros where the tavernas have laid a large number of mooring buoys for their customers. Also well sheltered from northerly winds but uncomfortable in a southerly, it’s a pleasant spot to relax, swim and visit the local tavernas. Buses run from here to Lakki for provisions.
From Leros we headed back north east to Patmos, also one of our favourite islands, which we visited several times over the season. The main harbour is very spacious with plenty of room on the long quay, water and electricity and good shelter from the prevailing winds. The main town is divided into the bustling port and the Chora or old town on the hill above with its rambling maize of steep streets, dominated by the large monastery of St John on the hilltop. It’s popular with visitors who come for the spectacular scenery, good beaches and historical sites. A cave in the hillside below the monastery is where St John is believed to have had his divine revelation and it has made Patmos a very important place of pilgrimage ever since.
We took the bus up to the monastery and St John’s cave, both of which were well worth a visit and the views from the top are stunning. However the most interesting stop was a visit to a sea captain’s mansion. Dating from 1625, the large house is now a museum as well as still being a family home, lived in by a fascinating lady of 92 years old, the eighth generation of her family to live in the house. She now lives on the ground floor and the upper floor is a museum, which she shows you around proudly, as well as selling her home made lace and crochet.
Patmos is a good place to spend a few days. The town has good shops, two laundries, bars and tavernas. There is a good bus service around the island and it is possible to walk to the nearby beaches for a refreshing swim. As well as the main harbour, there are also a number of anchorages around the island.
South of Leros is the barren, rocky island of Kalymnos, its high peaks popular with mountain climbers in spring and autumn when it is not too hot. We spent a very pleasant time in Emborios. The harbour is very deep, too deep to anchor in most places so a number of taverna owners have laid lots of moorings in the bay and it’s a popular spot, although very blustery in strong winds. Our favourite taverna was To Kyam, small, friendly and welcoming with good food and we also enjoyed the late night music from George in the nearby Artistico taverna. The small village is pleasant to walk around and the sea is beautifully clear, although its depth makes it surprisingly cold for swimming.
Taverna gardens at Emborios
The high mountains produce strong katabatic winds and we had a very lively sail both from Kalymnos to Kos and later in the season, back again in the other direction with gusty, fluky winds calling for constant sail adjustments.
Pserimos is a tiny island between Kalymnos and Kos and our friends Colin and Shirley from Silent Wings introduced us to the anchorage at Ormos Vathy on its east coast, which is lovely for an overnight stop, offering reasonable shelter from the prevailing winds. It is a barren, isolated place with no amenities but has beautiful clear turquoise water for swimming, only slightly spoilt by the amount of rubbish blown on to the beach.
Kos Marina offers an excellent safe berth with all round shelter and excellent amenities at a reasonable 24 euros a night for our 10 metre yacht. It has lazy lines, very efficient, helpful marineros to assist you in and out of the tightly packed berths, excellent showers, a laundry and chandleries. Although it’s a bit of a walk to the town there are good shops in the immediate vicinity.
The office staff are helpful too, although a little heavy on paperwork especially on a first visit! They are keen to give good customer service and while we were there the marina organised a fascinating, free coach trip to a local bee keeper to see how the honey was made and buy some of their produce.
Kos is obviously one of the most commercialised islands in the Dodecanese, with a level of mass tourism not seen in the smaller islands but we enjoyed visiting the old town and its archaeological sites. On one of our visits we hired a car to explore the rest of the island and stock up in the out of town Lidl. We visited the Asklepion, the ancient hospital and temple on the outskirts of Kos town; the mountain village of Zia which offered great views but was a bit of a tourist trap; and then had a bit of an adventure scrambling up to see the castle at Old Pyli, a climb that was not for the faint hearted but worth it for the mountain scenery.
Nisiros is well worth a visit to see its spectacular volcano. We had a good sail to windward for 28 miles from Kos to Nisiros, mooring up in the harbour at Palon on the south of the island. It has pleasant quays on both sides of the quiet harbour and the pretty village is a good base from which to explore the small, almost circular island. Deep draft vessels need to exercise caution in the shallow entrance but once inside it offers good shelter in picturesque surroundings. A large, unfinished spa complex, apparently abandoned due to a planning dispute, dominates the coast just east of the village.
Mike at Eagle’s Nest car hire was very helpful and advised us how to get the best from the island and avoid the crowds of day trippers from Kos. We therefore drove to the main port, Mandrake in late afternoon, after the day trippers had gone home, when it was positively sleepy! Sites worth visiting include a castle above the town, the extensive walls of which had been well restored in 2010, a monastery above the harbour and classically Greek whitewashed houses in the narrow streets.
Mandrake, Nisiros looking towards Kos
The following morning we got up early to beat the crowds and were at the volcano before 9am. The drive into the huge crater down a mountain road is spectacular and when we got to the car park, we had the place to ourselves.
Approach to volcanic crater at Nisiros
You can climb down into the crater of the still active volcano, complete with steaming sulphur pools, as well as up to two other craters higher up the caldera. It brought back fond memories of our visit to the Aeolian Islands in Italy a few years ago.
Volcanic crater at Nisiros
After the volcano we visited the pretty mountain village of Nikea, perched on the other side of the crater and again offering spectacular views. From here we drove to Emborios, an almost deserted village destroyed in an earthquake in the 1920’s where you can scramble around the ruined streets. It also has a good taverna serving delicious local goat on its terrace, again overlooking the volcano. All in all, it was a great day.
From Nisiros we sailed east to Symi, which lies close to the Turkish coast north of Rhodes. It is best known for its beautiful, although reportedly very busy main harbour, but as we had visited it many years ago and preferred to avoid the crowds, we opted to anchor in Panormitis instead. This is a circular bay in the south of the island, dominated by a large monastery. It is a popular but not overcrowded anchorage and it’s possible to creep well into the western end of the bay and anchor in fairly shallow water for the best shelter. The main hazard is the tourist ferries which roar in and out the narrow entrance and it is best to keep a sharp look out for them when entering or leaving the anchorage. Otherwise, we’ve anchored here on two occasions and had an enjoyable peaceful night. However, due to various circumstances, we did not have the opportunity to row ashore and explore the monastery so we will have to return again another time.
With several days of strong meltemi forecast, we decided it was an opportunity to visit Rhodes, berthing in the new marina just east of Rhodes Town. This turned out to be our least favourite place of the whole season and one we probably wouldn’t visit again.
We had a good sail from Symi with force 4-5 winds but as we approached the marina the wind freshened noticeably and gusted over the low headland. However there was reasonable shelter inside and surprisingly we were offered a pontoon berth. Having not seen a finger pontoon since arriving in the Mediterranean we were slightly taken aback and had to run round changing the position of our mooring lines. Jo then narrowly avoided falling in the sea as she jumped onto the very bouncy French style pontoon but eventually we were settled. The marina is not quite finished so although it has nice new facilities it was offering discounted berthing fees of 26 euros a night plus water and electricity. It’s quite a long and not particularly pleasant walk to the old town from here through the docks area, although we found good local shops and an excellent fruit and vegetable market near the marina.
It was very windy from the north throughout the time we were there and despite the shelter of both the land and the large seawalls built around the marina, a surprising amount of swell crept in making the berths uncomfortable. Reputedly this is considerably worse in any wind from the south.
We last visited Rhodes 30 years ago and remember with nostalgia walking around Mandrake harbour and looking at the yachts, thinking how great it would be to have our own. We were therefore looking forward to returning. We enjoyed visiting the beautiful Palace of the Knights but found the old town a real culture shock after the smaller islands. It was mass tourism at its worst, with constant hassle from staff of the local bars, tavernas and shops encouraging you to go into their over-priced emporiums.
However, worse was to come when the marina was invaded by a large regatta of about 15 Russian crewed yachts whose young crews partied until the early hours for 2 nights! We were relieved when the meltemi finally eased and we were able to leave. We were enjoying a great sail back towards Symi when our genoa suddenly came sliding down onto the deck and it transpired the stitching at the head of the sail had given up, no doubt due to UV damage. We needed a sail-maker and not wanting to return to Rhodes, decided to head to Kos where it was quickly, efficiently and cheaply repaired. From there, we sailed north through the islands to Leros and laid the boat up for July and August at Partheni before returning home to home and family.
It was to be a sad summer for us as Simon’s father died in late July after a short illness. He was 103 years old and until the last few months had enjoyed remarkably good physical and mental health, living alone with some support. He was an inspiration to his large family of children, grandchildren and great grandchildren and is sadly missed.
On our return in September, we decided to sail west to visit some of the islands we had yet to explore. Our first port of call was the tiny island of Levitha, about 20 miles west of Leros, which we highly recommend. It is occupied by an extended family that farm the surprisingly fertile land and run a small restaurant. In the sheltered bay they have installed about 12 visitors’ mooring buoys, which were fully occupied when we visited in mid September. A charge of 7 euros a night is made for the buoys but it is then entirely up to you whether you eat in the restaurant. We decided to and the food was delicious, including very tender local goat. It also gave us a bit of an insight into their remote way of life. With no mains power, they generate their own electricity by solar and wind generators. Like Arki, the mother and children live in Patmos during the school term, leaving the rest of the family to run the farm and restaurant. Wear sensible shoes and take a good torch for the walk back down the rough stony track to the harbour in the pitch dark! It was a great place to get away from it all and relax but with no mobile or wi-fi signal, make sure you have a weather forecast before you go and aim for a settled weather window.
From Levitha we sailed south west towards Astypalaia, about 28 miles away straight into a south westerly breeze so we motor sailed most of the way. We had decided to visit Vathy first, a landlocked bay in the north of the island. There was quite a swell in the approach but as we turned towards the narrow entrance the sea calmed and the entrance was easier to negotiate than it appeared at first with at least 5 metres under the keel. Once inside a huge, almost empty bay opens up with depths of 8-9 metres throughout. Its very quiet and remote but very sheltered. Our friends Colin and Shirley on Silent Wings joined us for the second night and we had a bit of an adventure when we rowed over to see them for a drink but struggled to row back upwind as a very strong breeze blew up unexpectedly. With hindsight we should have put the outboard on the dinghy but you live and learn! Thankfully Colin and Shirley rescued us.
The following day we motored around the coast to Ormos Maltezana on the south coast, admiring the huge cliffs on the way. We picked up a mooring in the sandy bay for the night and went ashore to explore the village and have a drink in a couple of local tavernas. It seemed a sleepy sort of a place so the next morning we headed for the main town, Skala. The harbour is fairly small and quite shallow but when we arrived there was plenty of room to moor stern to the quay. The meltemi blows strongly off the high surrounding hills with big gusts so it is important that your anchor is well dug in. Water and electricity was available but by late September they seemed to have stopped collecting harbour dues so we eventually stayed for 5 nights without being charged. It’s a picturesque town with white-washed houses and narrow streets climbing up a steep hillside towards the ruined castle on the top. Fresh fruit and vegetables were in limited supply but otherwise there was a good range of shops, bars and restaurants.
On the second evening we were there a large, older style motor boat came into the harbour and began manoeuvring with difficulty in the stong breeze, back onto the quay, eventually ending up on our port side with his anchor well to starboard laid completely over ours! After a slightly heated debate with the French crew it transpired that one of their engines had failed and with only one engine working, it was very difficult for them to steer. They assured us they would get it fixed and leave the next morning. However, this is Greece and it took several days for the replacement part they needed to come from Athens and then it was the wrong part……… Eventually it was fixed 5 days later and we were free to leave at last!
The meltemi was blowing hard so we decided to just sail the few miles back to Ormos Maltezana for a change of scene and managed to get a berth alongside the fisherman’s quay. On a second visit we grew to love this little village and found the harbour much more sheltered than Skala. There is a useful bus service into Skala to get provisions and we enjoyed walking and swimming in the area. We also met Dean and Jan on Triffin, who were originally from Scotland but had lived in Australia for many years. Dean and Simon discovered their shared love of playing the guitar and we spent a few very enjoyable evenings in their company.
The quay at Maltezana, Astypalaia
In total we spent two weeks in Astypalaia and enjoyed it very much. It’s a lovely, friendly island with a choice of harbours to visit and we would highly recommend it, provided you are prepared for some strong winds. From here we sailed about 40 miles due east to Nisiros. It was a great sail with a force 4 wind on the beam but rather a large swell. We spent a couple of nights in Nisiros and then headed for pastures new.
Our next port of call was Tilos, which lies between Kos and Rhodes. There was plenty of space when we arrived in the main port of Livadha, at the head of a deep bay and we were helped to pick up a lazy line by the friendly harbour master, Stephano. We had planned to stay for a few days but he had disappointing news – the Russians were coming! The Russian regatta we had met in Rhodes, which is evidently organised several times a season, was due in Tilos the next day and there would be no room in the harbour. The following morning therefore we headed south to the small island of Khalki and returned a few days later to finally explore Tilos.
This was another of our favourite places. The harbour is well organised with a harbour master, lazy lines and water and electricity for a moderate price. Livadha is a pleasant village with a reasonable range of amenities. There are nice beaches for swimming and some great walks around the coastline.
Simon on Tilos
The final island we visited was Khalki, which is just west of Rhodes. We had a very lively sail down there with winds gusting up to 30 knots for a while but things quietened down when we got into the lea of the island and we moored up safely on the small floating yacht pontoon in Khalki’s main harbour. The island is small but interesting with a lively town around the port and some lovely sandy beaches. We also enjoyed a strenuous but interesting walk up to the large castle that dominates the island and has been well restored in recent years.
We enjoyed the island but weren’t so keen on the mooring. The floating yacht pontoon which is put in for the summer season is subject to quite a lot movement from both swell creeping into the harbour and wash from the fast ferries roaring in and out. It was also very busy with charter yachts from Rhodes, even in October, and generally not very peaceful. We were glad we had visited the island but probably would not rush to go back.
From Khalki we went back to Tilos for a pleasant few days and then made our way north via Kos back to Leros to lay up for the winter.
We enjoyed our season in the Dodecanese very much and would recommend this as a cruising area. The scenery is lovely and there are lots of interesting and varied islands to visit, with a range of sheltered and picturesque harbours. Distances between harbours are not too long and there was plenty of wind for sailing. Although we were not there in July and August, we found it was not too crowded.
We are not sure of our plans for 2017 as Caladh is currently up for sale and we are looking to buy another yacht. However, we look forward to cruising in Greece again soon.
Caladh laid up for the winter in Leros