The wonderful thing about writing a BLOG is that it allows us to share our sailing adventures with family and friends and encourages us to actively record the details of our journey for ourselves. Looking back over the last three months I struggle to remember exactly where we have been, which is partly to do with aging short-term memory challenges but also a scary reflection on how far we have travelled and how fast the time is passing by once again. When I think about the ‘big plan’ we had in mind way back before we left the UK, I can’t believe that we had intended to cover so much ground in such a short space of time – what on earth were we thinking? The Greek Island cruising ground is vast with so many islands to explore and we have quickly come to realise just how much we would have been missing out on, if we had gone straight across to Turkey as planned.
The decision to remain in Greece for the summer encouraged us to rethink the next stage of our journey, so after leaving the Evia Channel we decided to head north via the islands of the Northern Sporades. We slipped our lines Ahilio with the newly fixed watermaker and set our course for the Island of Skiathos. With steady winds we had a very comfortable sail to the south of the island, where we anchored in the beautiful deep bay of Koukounaries.
The bay was lined with generous, golden strips of sandy beach and after Damian had dived down to check that the anchor was well dug in, we swam ashore and sat at the water’s edge to take in the view. There was music playing on the beaches and the bay was busy with water sport activities, but there was a pleasantly relaxed feel to the anchorage and we stayed there for a while just letting the world pass by.
Our experience from last year of the temperamental Aegean summer weather prepared us for things to change daily and overnight the wind picked up considerably, with a heavy swell rolling into the bay. We awoke to overcast skies and the weather forecast suggested that we were due a feisty sail with elevated sea state to our next island destination Skopelos. Since the making of the movie ‘Mamma Mia’ the island has become increasingly popular with tourists, with many scenes from the movie having been filmed at different locations around the island. We saw an array of heavily laden tourist boats advertising the ‘Mamma Mia Tour’ along the coast and sailed past the movie’s famous Kastani beach as we made our way up the west coast. With the wind gusting beyond 20knots and showing no signs of abating, we decided to head into the shelter of Loutraki Harbour to anchor.
Over the next few days we continued north through the National Marine Park islands of Alonnisos and Kira Panayia, anchoring in some beautiful turquoise bays along the way. On the west coast of Kira Panayia we anchored for the evening in a rugged bay in the company of just one other boat.
The sun was beating down and once again we swam to the beach to take in the view out to sea and early evening the crew of ‘Sea Thyme’ dinghied over with their dog Salty to invite us over for drinks. At home when we were both working, spontaneous socialising was rarely an option and most evenings out with friends were generally planned well in advance, we were all SO busy! As liveaboards we have become much more sociable and it feels perfectly normal to accept an impromptu invite from complete strangers, no diaries to refer to and plenty of common ground to chat about. Most sailing couples are together in very close quarters 24/7 during the summer and making the effort to socialise and meet new people helps to balance things out a little. Social media is fine for keeping in touch but good old face-to-face interaction is so much more enjoyable and I love the opportunity for a girly chat!
After a peaceful night at anchor we had a short motor sail to the north of Kira Panayia to Planitis, carefully navigating our way through the narrow 80m entrance into the sheltered bay. This bay was reported to have been a shelter for pirates in the middle ages and it was certainly well hidden from the coastline.
The water inside the bay was the most beautiful turquoise colour and with the sea temperature now at 25 degrees, it was perfect for a much-needed swim. After cooling down I spent the afternoon writing my BLOG, Damian caught up on some boat jobs and we were entertained by a huge herd of noisy goats roaming the rocky hills around the bay.
The sun was just starting to make an appearance as we lifted our anchor at 5am the next morning, with an 8-hour journey to the ‘three fingers’ ahead of us. Our plan was to go north to explore some new territory and then await a weather window to drop back down into the Eastern Aegean, using the seasonal Meltemi winds to run (wind behind us) south again. We were headed to the ‘middle finger’ of Sinthonia and the town of Porto Koufo, where we were hoping to go alongside for some much needed provisioning of fresh food supplies. It had been some time since we had done our last food shop and the fridge was pretty bare. We have tended to eat onboard a lot more this year and sometimes the availability of fresh fruit and vegetables is limited, so I to try to source easy-to-prepare meals that don’t deplete our gas bottle supplies too quickly. It is amazing how inventive you can become with a two-ring stove and a one-shelf oven and good that neither of us tires of onions, garlic and tomatoes!
With very little wind we motored into Porto Koufo early afternoon, spying a space on the harbour wall behind a big tripper boat. We dropped our anchor and decided to wait for the tripper boat to push off, to give us more space to get alongside safely. When we saw the boat reloading it’s passengers we took the anchor up and prepared to go alongside. Just as we started to move into position a charter boat came up beside us and told us that the quay space was for fishing boats, but then circled our boat and nipped into where we were going to go! It was one of those open-mouthed, ‘I can’t believe what just happened’ experiences… Back to anchor we went and launched the dinghy to go ashore to stretch our legs and seek out the mini-market reported to be situated close to the quay. Returning ashore later that evening we splashed out on a fish supper in one of the local tavernas with views out over the harbour, calm was restored (for a while at least!).
During the night the wind blew up again and we were woken by our high wind alarm and the sound of the engines of two other boats, whose dragging anchors were forcing them to leave in the dark. We’ve seen boats dragging dangerously in bad weather and it is scary to witness how quickly they move when the wind has taken charge. We set high wind and anchor depth alarms and use an anchor position alert App, so if we drag overnight we are soon woken up. Being alert to other boats dragging is something Damian seems to have developed a sixth sense for – he always seems to wake up when there is a potential threat (not me, I sleep like the dead!).
After the disturbed night the weather was still unsettled and the journey to our next destination around the southern tip of the second finger to Dhiaporos was an exciting one. Beating into the wind with rolling seas and 2-3m swells, the journey was a bit of a challenge to breakfast, but as we drew closer the wind dropped, the sun was shining and we were ready to stop for a while. Our home for the next four days was a large open bay, with lots of space to anchor and just a handful of other boats for company.
It had been quite some time since we had stayed in one place for more than a couple of days and it was a good opportunity to do a few jobs.
We spent our time giving the boat a good clean – inside, outside and Damian went underneath to tackle some of the growth that had appeared on Tahnee Mara’s bottom since the last big clean in Abelike. I got all the washing done, finished and uploaded my BLOG, Damian did some boat jobs, we took the dinghy ashore for provisions, read, swam, got the paddleboard out and did a little socialising with the crew of SV Dream, who came over to say hello when we arrived. It was also a good opportunity to sit down with the Pilot books, maps and Cruising Apps to make some plans for the next few weeks.
Dhiaporos was wonderfully sheltered but with temperatures now pushing 40 degrees, the inside of the boat had become increasingly ‘oven like’. The wind had died completely and the new sunshades I had made for the cockpit during the winter were put to good use.
It had been good to stay put for a few days but we were both ready to move on again and our plan was to do an overnight sail north to the island of Thassos. I prepared some food for the overnight passage and the boat was made ready – dinghy back on deck, tools put away, loose items around the boat stowed, safety gear out ready for use and a bar of Cadbury’s in the fridge (now a night sail tradition!).
At 17.30 we took up the anchor, sailing out of the bay with 18knt, warm southerly winds off the bow and began our journey south between Sithonia and Akti – the third finger of the Halkidiki Peninsula.
Most of Akti is comprised of 20 different monastic communities around Mount Athos and women are not allowed within a mile of the ‘Holy Mountain’. The predicted northerly Meltemi winds hadn’t materialised, so we had a frustrating 3-4 hours of tacking between the fingers, trying to sail as close to our course as possible without getting too close to the restricted area of the Athos coastline.
The wind dropped off completely during the night and under a beautiful star filled, moonlight sky we motor-sailed the rest of the journey north to the island of Thassos.
It had felt like a very long time since we had done an overnight sail, but thankfully there was very little boat traffic around and rather than doing our usual watch shifts, we took it in turns to ‘cat nap’ in the cockpit. We were both wide awake to watch the sun rise and admired the lush green sight of Thassos as the island of marble came into view.
We arrived into the busy harbour of Port Thassos after a 13-hour journey and once securely tied up alongside, we had showers and crashed out completely – we were both shattered.
Downloading the weather forecast the next day we realised that we were going to be alongside for a while, there was some seriously bad weather coming our way! That night we were hit with 46knt winds and the most incredible electrical storms, which was to be the pattern for the next few days. With a good safe spot alongside the harbour wall we considered ourselves extremely lucky to have not been any further north, as news reports of severe weather and the subsequent death of six people came our way.
During the worst of the weather we downloaded the new series of ‘Stranger Things’ on the laptop and binge watched the whole eight episodes over two days, decadently indulging in the first television we had watched in a couple of months. It was a great way to weather the storms!
Port Thassos is home to a range of archaeological sites and we explored the winding streets behind the town, hiking up into the hills to see the Ancient Thassos theatre.
I stumbled upon some other smaller sites whilst wandering around the town, strangely unrestricted and randomly located amongst the houses, shops and other modern buildings.
As we were going to be alongside for a while we decided to rent a car and take ourselves off around the island. We picked up the car early in the morning and circumnavigated the whole island via the coast road, spending a couple of hours exploring the archeological site of Aliki and ancient marble quarries, with spectacular views out over the Aegean sea.
Thassos is reported to have some of the most beautiful beaches in the Aegean and from the coast road we could see most of the golden beaches crammed with people, such a contrast to other islands we had visited.
We made good use of the car whilst we had it, exploring the island, doing a huge food shop, filling up seven jerry cans of fuel and exchanging the empty cooking gas bottles. Last year we found the availability of fuel and cooking gas to be hugely varied around the Aegean islands, so we try to stock up when we can and factor in replenishment opportunities wherever possible.
Keeping a close eye on the forecast we were now waiting for a break in the weather to make the next long hop to the island of Limnos and were sat planning the journey when we had another electrical casualty, in the form of one of the inverters blowing up!
When we are disconnected from shore power the inverter takes charge from the 12v boat batteries and converts it to 240v to charge electrical devices like laptops and our very decadent (but much cossetted) ice machine! Damian investigated and the inverter was declared ‘kaput’, stalling our departure another day whilst he installed the spare he had in the project bag.
It had been rather unsettling seeing smoke billowing up through the floor vents and lucky that we caught it straight away….
Thassos ended up being an eight-day stay and we were ready to get going again. The weather had been stormy, grey and unsettled for days and we left bright and early at 5am on 15 July with our course set for the Island of Limnos. Our friends on SV Dream On were already anchored in the bay we were heading to – it was good to see familiar smiling faces after the windless eleven-hour trip and an invite onto their boat for supper that evening was gratefully received.
Over the next few days we explored a couple of anchorages around the south coast of Limnos, marvelling at the contrast between the green, lushness of Thassos and the wild, desolate look of the Limnos landscape. Sailing to the west of the island we went alongside in the beautiful little town of Myrina and stayed for three days, exploring the busy winding backstreets of the town and hiking up into the open grounds of Kastro Castle.
The highest point of the castle’s grounds afforded an incredible view out beyond the town into the hills and down into the bay where the colour of the sea was picture postcard perfect. This was one of the prettiest places we had visited so far….
The opportunity arose to leave Myrina with some good sailing winds, taking us out of the harbour late afternoon and with a comfortable 20knts off the beam, we set off on another overnight sail towards the island of Lesvos. The wind remained stable throughout the night enabling us to sail for most of the 110 nautical mile journey. The sound of the wind in the sails during a night passage is so much more peaceful than being under engine and with a star-filled sky and the sea lapping against the hull, the night hours passed comfortably and quickly. We took it in turns to keep watch and both managed to grab a few hours of sleep.
We finally sailed into the small fishing harbour of Skala Loutra on the south coast of Lesvos after a 21-hour journey and as we set our anchor the wind crept up once again, with 30knt gusts blowing energetically into the harbour. For almost 4 days the wind gusted 20-30knts relentlessly day and night, but thankfully the anchor was well dug in and we decided to stay put until the next break in the weather. A little stir crazy we donned our rucksacks and braved a dinghy trip ashore to stretch our legs and seek out provisions.
The journey into the village was a robust hike uphill through olive groves and along dirt tracks lined with fig trees and the smell of the figs was incredible in the heat. The whole landscape was awash with olive trees – Lesvos olives and olive oil reported to be amongst the best in Greece. The walk was well needed and we returned to the boat extremely hot and dusty but happier for the opportunity to get off the boat for some exercise.
Abandoning any plans to try and see any more of Lesvos we decided to continue pushing south to the island of Khios. We had heard reports of feisty, erratic weather across the Aegean from our MdR group and knew that we were not alone in our experiences over the last week. Fortunately the wind had finally calmed down and we had a steady sail with the wind behind us to the north of Khios to the pretty coastal village of Kardamyla.
There were only a couple of other boats alongside on the quay when we arrived and with very little sign of life along the front, there was a distinct feeling that this was not a regular tourist destination. We spent a couple of days alongside with walks along the coastal paths and up the steeply climbing, stepped paths into the village.
The churches in Greece are so pretty and usually situated high in the heart of the village, always a good point to aim for to get the heart and lungs working! Over the weekend the quay miraculously came alive, humming with children playing in the street and local families filling the handful of bars along the waterfront – such a contrast to the quietness of the village on our arrival.
This was a good time once again to sit down with the pilot books to take some time to consider our plans for the time that we had left before our daughter Beth was due to fly out to join us. The seasonal wind patterns in the Aegean are a big factor in route planning and we wanted to make sure that we could comfortably get to Mykonos, in time to meet Beth’s flight. At the point of writing this BLOG we are continuing our journey south through the Eastern Sporades towards the Northern Cyclades and we are very much looking forward to having some family time. I miss our girls terribly and sadly our other daughter Em is only able to join us via WhatsApp from Australia. I can’t believe that it was a year ago that she joined us for a whole month out here – time really does wait for no man…
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Thanks for joining us on our adventure, always good to have you along.