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How many Hellenic sea areas can we cover in a couple of months? They nearly have the same ring as ‘Dogger’, ‘Fisher’, ‘German Bite’ etc. We set off from ‘Thrakiko’, moved through ‘North East Aegean’ and ‘Central Aegean’, touched on ‘South East Aegean Ikario’ and are now in ‘Samos Sea’ which along with ‘Boot’ and ‘Crusade’ has a slightly more romantic ring than some.
Since leaving the mainland all clean, courtesy of Maria in the laundry at Kavala we have visited the islands of Thassos, Limnos, Lesvos (Lesbos), Psara, Chios, Inouses and are now in Samos.
Lawrence Durrell says that you cry twice when you are in Limnos, once when you arrive and once when you leave! Well it certainly looked forbidding as we approached from the west, like a moonscape; you could be forgiven for thinking that, in a moment of absence and time travel, you had arrived on one of the seas of the Moon, bleak and brown with no settlements visible but seeming to support the occasional little church. However, once into the big bay of its westerly port, Myrina, we found the town charming, the bay generous and pretty with a fine castle dominating the heights and a no nonsense cocktail bar from which to watch the sun setting over our boat at anchor in the bay. I have to tell of the man who came over to our table and asked, ‘are you British?’ and continued to say that when he first saw us he said to himself, ‘My God, it’s Peter O’Toole’ But then he thought to himself that actually Peter O’Toole would be a lot older. So now when I look into Andy’s blue, blue eyes against his rugged weather beaten face do I think of Peter? I’ll leave it to your imagination!
From Myrina we ventured out and along the south coast which is penetrated by two inland seas, the first bare and bleak and hard to find an anchorage but when we did, it found a special place in my heart. I could hear the tinkle of goat bells and watched as they made their evening progress faithfully following the goat herd on their familiar trail. Two horses grazed peacefully in a field nearby, birds wheeled and spun in the sky, there was the occasional splash of a fish and all pervaded by the smell of warm damp herbs. There was a quarter of a moon and the stars, gimlet sharp, glittering in a very black sky. Early in the morning, looking out of my cabin porthole, no breath of air, no movement on the surface of the oily sea I saw a line which broke and a sharp dark fin rose and curved down again making barely a ripple – a single porpoise on an early fishing trip. Above us on the hill, were four large rectangular solar panels who had folded themselves flat last night and now were rising, turning and twisting, to meet their queen, making their obeisance, following her every move, never showing their back. At the end of the day, their work done and the queen departed, they could rest and lie flat once more.
String and Ben arrived and we gave them warning that we were leaving early the next day as it was a long trip to Lesbos and we were expecting strong winds. So we were all psyched up, sandwiches made and rallied early in the morning. Did we have wind? Not a blooming breath, it was a motor the whole way! We were rewarded when we arrived at Sygri on the west coast of Lesbos as it was sheltered from the wind that then decided to show itself.
We wandered through the streets of the sleepiest little town and saw a couple of little amateur signs to the ‘petrified forest museum’ in my mind I envisaged a small room with faded and indecipherable Greek writing stuck on with curling, yellowing sellotape to describe the objects. How wrong can you be? We followed the signs up the hill to an extremely modern, sophisticated building which is part of a world geoparks network. We were swept into the auditorium for a presentation in English and then we marvelled at the 20 million year old fossils and tree trunks. It’s all quite staggering, this whole area had been covered by the explosion of a volcano, stripping the trees of their foliage and collapsing the residual stumps into a liquid which fossilised them whilst retaining their shape and form. Now we can see all these natural sculptures and shapes that honestly look almost new.
Similar to Limnos, Lesbos also has two large inland seas and we went to both of them. We ended up in the port of Mytiline, where we were whistled over by the port police as we entered the harbour and asked, where we had come from, how many on board etc. Then we were free to go either to the ‘marina’ or the town quay. We chose the latter as the ‘marina’ is out of town, not particularly developed and does not give the ever changing street scene that we so love to watch.
The “crisis” is certainly evident here in Mytiline although the tourist office must still have an ouzo budget. The wiry, slightly manic looking employee, smoking heavily and moving with the energy of a skittish pony was very helpful and pressed us to join him in a glass of Ouzo. He regaled us with chat and told us how here, in the summer, if you have ouzo, cigarettes and a good woman – or man, he added as an afterthought - you didn’t need anything else because Lesbos has it all. Certainly once away from the west coast, similarly bleak like Limnos, the valleys are covered in the gentle gray green of the olive grove. I wondered how many tourists he saw in a day and what state he was in by close of business. The museums that we passed were mostly firmly shut with signs saying that this was due to ‘lack of personnel’ However the main street that runs across the narrow isthmus is always heaving with people, mostly locals shopping and chatting happily however the shops do not open in the evenings on Mondays, Wednesdays or Saturdays and I feel sure this is not common in big towns elsewhere as Myteline is the capital and houses the University of the Aegean. Some cruise ships call but the passengers probably do not go into the parallel streets which are full of abandoned businesses, boarded up shops and dilapidated buildings but I loved it. There are many Ottoman buildings to see here, elegant architecture, some still in use as the hardware/garden store that is housed in the mosque by the sea. The hammam attached to another mosque complex has been restored enough to give you an idea how it all was and I would love to have been transported back in time and spent a day absorbing the healing waters and being washed by the fabulous colours of the walls. (powder blue, ochre, rose pink – they all worked so well together) We laugh thinking of the remains of Greek buildings that we will enjoy when in Turkey next year.
Our next island, Psara, played a big part in the uprising against the Ottoman Empire and paid a heavy price when their entire community was massacred by the Turks. Here we had the messiest meal, quite delicious lobster spaghetti, sitting looking over at Andros and realising just how central we were. We could see Evia too, now everything connects and how close it all is.
We went on to Chios and experienced a thunder and lightning storm like we’ve never seen before. Gusts of over 40 knots pulled the boat this way and that but we held firm and got wet as we watched the fireworks in the sky. At times the whole bay was illuminated as if it was daylight, the next minute in pitch blackness a spider spat out its electric web, then the spidery tentacles of an octopus shot out as someone scribbled unintelligible words across the sky. It was very majestic and came out of nowhere. One minute flat calm and then wumph! And the smell that it left behind was amazing, the smell of mint and pine, so strong in the aftermath.
We passed on to Inoussis which is famous for producing dynasties of shipping magnates. As we arrived one of their number, a lady from London so I was told, had just been buried, the mourners had come on the ferry. The coffin met by the priests, and then accompanied by singing, processed up to the ceremony at the cemetery on the hill. We saw the very elegant black clad family making their way back to the ferry. This place is gorgeous, tiny. The town is Aignoussa and the island is one of about ten, framed by reefs, the houses, once grand neo classical buildings and many abandoned; now sadly needing a lot of attention.
We went to the museum, the caretaker busy spitting on the cases and polishing with his hanky. The museum was full of models of the ships that had been built for the dynastic magnates and there were exquisite models worked in wood, bone and ivory by French Prisoners of War in England, during the Napoleonic wars.
We went to see the Port Police who photocopied our documents but, as in many places, couldn’t be bothered to charge us as the paper work and bureaucracy involved for €6 is simply not worth their time.
We returned to the island of Chios and went into the main town. I needed ear defenders. This town is so noisy with scooter and motor bikes revving along the front and cars, music blaring, joining in the constant stream of traffic. One night on this island, famed for its mastic production, was enough and we left watered and laundered once again to a quite little anchorage in the south ready to set off for Samos early the next morning.
We are close to Turkey on many of these islands and when we left Chios before dawn we were intercepted by a coast guard boat who shone bright lights first at our port side and then on our stern, Andy says he was profiling us for terrorist/immigrant/drug smugglers.
So often we find we are ‘travellers’ and not sailors but the last few passages have been epic. Beating into wind, the three of us, Andy, myself and George (the autopilot) are getting ever slicker with our tacks. Then another day we have a fast downwind run to Samos and yesterday a downwind surf with hefty gusts, then, once around the cape, a close hauled beat into a force five – me on the helm and Andy spilling wind from the main as if we were in the Fireball of our youth! If you’re not familiar with some of these technical terms I’m sure you can find all the answers on Google or Wikepedia.
I will pick up the story in sea area ‘Rodos Sea’.
23 Sep ‘13
Sunset Cocktails at Myrina
String and Ben join us
Selkie Dancer under the fort at Myrina
Has Ben had enough?
Former Mosque in Myteline
Jinti ready to repel the Ottomans at Psara
Aignoussa Gate Guardian
Hammam - Myteline
Snackets for 4 please