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Greece  1

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Frank van Mierlo, his wife Ruth and their two sons Martin and Vincent spent a marvellous 9 weeks in the Greek waters, below their sailing adventures.

Part 1  Athens - Ithaca

This is part one of the logbook that describes their yacht charter holiday. Please, click on the thumbnails to see a larger 800x600 photo in a new window.

Part one: Athens - Ithaca
Part two: Ithaca - Corinth
Part three: Corinth - Santorini
Part four: Santorini - Hydra
Part five: Hydra - Athens

Arrival

We arrived at three o'clock on Wednesday morning and found our organized transportation to the hotel. The driver was waiting for us right after customs and took us to a brand new Mercedes bus, large enough to transport fifty people. The roads were clean and modern and we swiftly drove to the center of Athens. At hundred EURO it was a bargain and I do advice those who come after me to take a taxi!

Athens

Athens was more beautiful than we expected, the Acropolis and the neighboring Plaka district are a unique sight and a good way to spend a couple of days. The National Gardens and the Royal palace provide for a very nice walk. The nearby Metro station in front of the Greek parliament is a unique as it combines a subway station with a well preserved archaeological dig.

Delphi

The bus station is a few blocks from the end of the subway line. After a three hour bus ride we arrived in Delphi. It was worth the effort, although it took some imagination to picture the temple of Apollo with its gold statue, from the six pillars that remained standing. The theater and the stadium were in still mostly complete after 2500 years. A modern museum housed many old artifacts to tell the story.

This afternoon we are getting our boat and we will set sail as soon as the wind allows.

Kalamaki

We arrived at the marina at 1:00 pm on Sunday July 2, 2006. The owner of the charter company, was in the bow changing the fuse of the bow thruster. A brand new 50.3 Cyclades model from Beneteau was being cleaned and it looked luxurious. I installed jack lines at both port and starboard while Ruth organized provisions for the boat. At three o'clock a thunderstorm and a squall came through which completely spooked the owner. As the high winds (30-40 knots) ran through the Aegean, one boat after the other called in with damage. In the span of a few hours a quarter of his twenty boat fleet was damaged and/or in trouble. At this point he became so nervous that he no longer wanted to rent his new boat to us. After much discussion we agreed that we would take a skipper along on the first day so our skills could be assessed.

At six o'clock our friends arrived straight from the airport. We were now complete, two couples and five kids ranging from five to thirteen.

That night we stayed in Kalamaki, the music of the local restaurant blared until 4:30 am. Around 4:00 am I promised myself to never spend a night there again.

Aegina

On Monday we sailed to Aegina with force 5/6. Three hours after leaving Kalimaki, we executed a perfect Mediterranean style mooring at Aegina and we found ourselves in an idyllic harbour tied off right next to the small yacht club at the entrance. Allan, the skipper that the owner had insisted on, pronounced us competent and left the next day to return to Athens. That evening there was a performance of Greek kids in traditional costumes dancing right next to our boat. The music was pleasant and there was a large firework display at 10:00 pm. Then everything became quiet and we had a good night rest.

The next two days we stayed at the island to repair the bow thruster which had blown again during our mooring. We also bought an anchor trip for the boat after we witnessed three anchors tangled up in the harbour. The Meltemi was blowing so it was as good thing to be in port and Aegina offered a large selection of historical places and temples, lots of small shops, a great chandler and lots of fun restaurants. The Chandler is close to the port in first the street parallel to the main quay.

Russian Bay in Poros

In less than three hours we sailed down to Poros in a force 5/6 with following seas and a jib. Anchoring in the Russian bay was easy and the kids immediately jumped overboard to swim. Despite some strong gusts the anchor held well and we had a good night sleep in this sheltered bay. After dropping the anchor in 5.5 meters of water, we had paid out 50 meters of chain, all easy with an electric windlass. The chain was marked with colored plastic inserts thanks to the extra days that we had in Aegina. I just love spending time in a good chandler.

Poros to Korfos

We sailed from Poros to Korfos in five hours. The wind came from the north and allowed us to sail on a beam between the islands. As we turned towards the wind and trimmed for a close haul it became clear that the Beneteau Cyclades line is more build for comfort than performance.

Korfos is a lovely bay surrounded at all sides by land. We moored of at the local Tavern and learned a few lessons. For one, we could not rely on the local mooring lines. The boat moved twenty minutes after we tied off, with help from some other skippers we reset the mooring line and added a second mooring line. After half an hour a wind gust pushed the boat over again moving both “fixed” moorings. This prompted us to cast off and set out our own anchor with some 80 meters of chain, which guaranteed us a peaceful night sleep. Dinner at the tavern was delicious; it was also expensive. In Greece you should ask what things cost before ordering and fresh fish is only for those with a large budget.

Korfos to Corinth

We woke up at 6:45 am, hauled up the chain and before 7:30 am we were on the motor. We had decided to pass through the Corinthian canal in search of calmer weather. The Aegean was deemed too rough to start our trip as we were still getting used to the boat. On the way we saw several schools of dolphins. Five large dolphins rode our bow wave for a short time, much to the delight of all on board.

We arrived at the entrance of the canal at 9:30. Check in procedures at the canal was efficient and after paying the 166 EURO we were cleared to pass in less than an hour. The canal was awesome, the fact that the ancient Greeks and Romans attempted to complete this marvel of civil engineering does once more underline the might of their civilization.

At the end of the canal we turned to port and after a little more than one nautical mile we tied off on port side just inside the Corinth Yacht harbour at 11:30 am. The plan was to visit the old city of Corinth that was one the richest and most hedonistic cities in the old Greek civilization.

The next morning we took the bus up to ancient Corinth, like Athens it was spectacular but this time we had the place almost to ourselves, as there were but a handful of tourist.

Corinth to the bay of Isidorou

After a four and a half hour journey, during which we saw another school of dolphins, we anchored in the Bay of Isidorou close to Andikiron. It is a beautiful large bay and there was only one other boat. Swimming was great and the hike on the olive tree studded hills was pleasant as well. Tom found some wild garlic on the small island in the bay and brought a dozen bulbs back to the boat. I swam the anchor line which was lying straight across the sea floor, Martin must have executed a textbook manoeuvre. During the night the anchor alarm tripped as the wind died down completely. I increased the radius on the GPS alarm to 30 meters and moved the depth alarm from four to five meters. We slept soundly the rest of the night.

Isidorou to Andikiron

We started the day with a leisurely breakfast and some swimming. Just before noon we hauled anchor and motored around the corner to Andikiron. Andikiron is a modern little village with a pleasant water front. There are plenty of shops and for three EURO we had water and electricity. We took the bus for as seven mile ride up the mountains to Distomou, there we continued by taxi another eight miles into the mountains to the 1000 year old monastery of St Luke. The monastery was a beautiful example of Byzantine architecture with spectacular views across the valley. We were happy that we had taken the effort to travel to this remote place.

Andikiron to Mesolongion

At a quarter to eight we steamed out of the harbour with plenty of provisions and all three tanks full of water. There was a strong NNE wind blowing, with gusts of 30 knots, we made ten knots on a broad reach with a just a reefed mainsail. The boat handled well and we enjoyed the freshly baked pastries that we had bought in the morning. Bakeries open at six o'clock in Greece, so fresh bread is possible even for early sailors. At eleven o'clock the wind died down and we continued West on the motor. The wind continued to be variable; a few hours later it was coming from the SSE and was blowing 25 knots again. At which point we continued with both sails. At the recently completed Rion-Antirion bridge, we were requested to pass on the motor. It is an impressive modern structure spanning more than a mile in five spans. Our 13.5 meter mast passed through the middle of the bridge with plenty of clearance.

Mesolongion is land inwards and is reached through a canal. The actual harbour is deep and well protected. There is a commercial shipping quay to the north side and a partially finished marina to the West. We moored off on our port side at the east side of the bay. There was water in the quay. The actual town was a fifteen minute walk away and turned out to be very charming. When we came back to the boat there were lots of teenagers hanging out enjoying the evening. In search of a quiet night we decided to anchor in the bay under a full moon and a starry sky.

At 7:45 am I woke up to the sound of large deep horn blasting away. A blue freighter was bearing down on us. We rapidly retrieved our anchor and backed away to give him more room. While backing our steering broke. Using the emergency tiller we moored off at the marina. Tom and I fixed the steering later that day. The joy of sailing a brand new boat is finding all the design bugs. In this case the usual new cable stretch had caused the chain to reach the end and the sprocket of the steering wheel broke the last link as the chain termination ran into it. Luckily the local hardware store had a new chain link for us. We tightened the cables a bit and increased the size of the stops to make sure this would not happen again. At 2:15 pm we left on the motor for East Bay.

Mesolongion to Sarakiniko (Ithaca)

We arrived at East bay at 5:00 pm, it was a rugged isolated place, beautiful just like the pilot predicted. It did however contain a fish farm that left little place to anchor. We decided to continue to Ithaca and at half past seven we arrived in the bay of Sarakiniko. This was a beautiful idyllic bay, we anchored and we all went swimming. The kids enjoyed the swimming and the beach, the water was clear and full of fish and the town of Vathi was an hours walk away. A lovely hike through olive covered hills that smelled of the wild jasmine, sage and thyme. Ithaca was the home of Odysseus. This place was so nice that we decided to stay for two days.

Shortly after sunset the Italian boat that was anchored in front of us broke loose from its anchor. That was somewhat ironic since its captain had been somewhat vocal during our anchoring manoeuvre. The wind pushed them out of the bay, they started their engine and sailed away.

After the first night, we attached two lines to shore and secured the boat in a giant Mediterranean style mooring spanning around 150 meters from shore to anchor. While we reset the anchor, the windlass broke. That same day it was repaired by a local electrician. He said that the relay was undersized and this was a well known problem with all French boats. (For the record the windlass was Italian)

With seventy feet of anchor chain and two shorelines, the boat was well secured and it allowed us to go hiking up the hills. We made several trips to Vathi (Vathy) on the other side of Ithaca. One night we came back late and walked under the most beautiful starry sky that I have ever seen.

 Story and photos by Frank van Mierlo

Part one: Athens - Ithaca
Part two: Ithaca - Corinth
Part three: Corinth - Santorini
Part four: Santorini - Hydra
Part five: Hydra - Athens


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5 Jan 2009
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