Toying With The Turkish Border, Ep. 126

Like a seasoned pit crew at the Indy 500, Karen and I worked as fast as lightning in Astipalea, bidding farewell to Dan, Shelly and Don at 7am and welcoming Connor and Andree on board just 2 hours later. In fact, Connor and Andree  were getting off the same flight at Astipalea that Dan, Shelly and Don were boarding! Buckets of soap and sponges were flying around the cabin, linens were being picked up by the local laundry service, and provisions were hastily purchased and stowed. With only two flights a week, and no ferry service directly available, we had no choice but to ask our guests to deboard and board the same day.

Welcome, Connor and Andree, to Sea Rose in the Dodecanese!

Fortunately, the town of Scala provides a stoutly built public dock right in the shadows of the hilltop town, close to restaurants, shops and mini-markets. Connor and Andree had visited us onboard Sea Rose last year at the end of the season, and this time they would be the bookend to another great cruise in the Med. With two days under our belt here at Scala, we felt nearly qualified to be tour guides, starting with a leisurely afternoon at the beach across from the public dock followed by a tasty dinner overlooking the harbor, on the restaurant’s last night open for the season. What they lacked on the menu from a nearly empty fridge was made up for by the tastiness of their pork souvlaki. If you travel in Greece, at some point you will be eating souvlaki, a type of grilled meat on a skewer. I was accustomed to ‘normal’ skewered barbecue meat, where you have to fight around the tomatoes, green peppers and onions to get to the few cubes of succulent meat, and face the reality that either the meat will be undercooked or the veggies will be overcooked. With souvlaki, you are served up a full skewer of your chosen meat, cooked to perfection with special spices that are unique to Greece. If you are lucky, there will also be a vat of tzatziki nearby that you can dunk the meat into, for more Greek goodness. Don’t miss it on your next trip to Greece!

Souvlaki goodness.

With our tummies full, we headed off the next morning for our longest leg of the week with Connor and Andree, crossing the Dodecanese islands 30 miles to Nisiros. This would put us right up next to the border with Turkey. Once we were clear of the protection of Astipalea, the winds built to 30 knots, along with the seas. We were immediately healing over on a beam reach and rocketing towards the hazy horizon where our destination was hiding. Connor and Andree have their own sailboat and regularly race in their home waters of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, so pushing a boat to the edge was not that unusual for them, thankfully. 

Partway across, we decided to change course to the island of Kos for better protection from the northerly winds. I had been really keen about visiting Nisiros to explore it’s volcano, but that visit would have to wait.

Rounding the western tip of Kos, on the way into Kefalos.

After rounding the tip of Kos, we motored the final mile into the harbor at Kefalos, dropping our anchor off the beach near the cargo and ferry dock. Admittedly, this was not going to be our most scenic stop, but, hey, these islands have to get supplies and people to and from the mainland, so we took the new scenery in stride, knowing we were in a much safer spot than over at Nisiros. 

Our week’s itinerary with Connor and Andree through the Dodecanese.

By the next morning, the wind had died down, enough for us to make a morning snorkel stop at the nearby Gaili island. Depending the angle you view this island, you will see a large surface mining operation, including the harvesting of sand. Indeed, we had spotted a micro-sized cargo ship back at the Kefalos dock unloading sand. But if you approached the island from the north as we did, you are rewarded with a return to the charming Greek island scene. We anchored in a little cove and immediately dove overboard into the crystal clear water for a snorkel. The highlight was a tiny orange tube anemone that, when startled by the slightest water pressure, will retract into the rock. 

Snorkeling the ultra clear waters of Giali
Clear as an aquarium below the surface, Giali.
Here one moment…
… gone the next!

We pushed on to Kos town, on the island of the same name, taking us right along the international boundary with Turkey. Greece and Turkey are not exactly bosom buddies, requiring us to be very careful to not appear like we were crossing the line. A visit to Turkey would have to be planned out in a much more intentional way in the future.

Kos town has a large modern marina, which was our chosen overnight spot. The town itself was much more put together than Kefalos, with clean streets and actual bike lanes separated from the pedestrian walkways, both of which were well appreciated by us. 

Spacious pedestrian and bike paths, Kos.

Brushing up on your knowledge of Hippocrates is necessary if you visit Kos. Inland from the town were the ruins of Asklepion, where it is purported that he taught medicine. On this site were three expansive plateaus of ruins, much in heavy disrepair. But with some creative thinking, you could picture large structures built here, commanding sweeping views of the waters and Turkey in the distance. We also explored in the center of town, where the city’s modern day buildings have to co-exist with extensive ruins, both right downtown and also in the western end, a site simply called the ‘Western Excavations’. This later site was accidentally discovered after an earthquake. Here, several impressive collections of mosaics had been exposed, but to my dismay, they were left out in the open, both to the hazards of weather and to the trampling of many a visitor’s footwear. They were largely compromised of individual tiles about a half inch square. In the soft soil, these mosaic tiles were working their way loose, to be lost in the general debris, or picked up by souvenir hunters in this unguarded site. The city needs to either charge admission so they can develop the funds to do a proper restoration, or close the site to visitors. I sure hope they do the former.

Examining the ruins of Asklepion, Kos.
The ‘western excavations’, a work in progress, Kos.
One of many beautiful mosaics at the Western Excavations, left out to weather and be trampled on, Kos.

In town, we also found the infamous ‘Hippocrates Tree’, another purported site where the man taught medicine. At least here the government was taking efforts to preserve history, propping up the tree with large cross beams worthy of the set for Hollywood Squares

Heavily fortified Hippocrates Tree, Kos.

With our appetite for excavation of ancient civilizations tapped out, we dropped our dock lines and headed out for an upwind tacking exercise to the island of Pserimos, a short hop across the water from Kos. Pserimos was another island that bordered Turkey and curiously, despite it’s nearly non-existent population, had a large Greek flag constructed of colored stones on a hill facing Turkey. If this was posturing in the face of your enemy, it was well placed.

Greek flag facing Turkey, Pserimos.

In a notch on the southern shore, we joined two fishing boats at anchor, but were soon alone, with flat water and a sliver of a moon above us, and the lights of Kos town in the distance, a perfect end of the day.

A peaceful end of the day, Pserimos.

In the morning, we all dinghied ashore to hike the hill overlooking the harbor. This proven more challenging than it looked from onboard Sea Rose, with no clear path through the dry scrub brush and challenging footing with the randomly placed boulders. Still, it checked off the exercise box for the day, a need that can be hard to meet some days onboard. 

An off-piste hike above our anchorage in southern Pserimos.

After a cooling swim, we took off for little Plati, a low-lying island with many small coves all the way around it for exploring. Indeed many goulets were motoring out of Kos town to take their passengers to these coves on their whirlwind day trip to and from Kalimnos. We made it our mission to circumnavigate Plati, stopping where ever the desire struck us to swim and snorkel. We found more discarded artillery shells on our first stop, and a rock arch on our last, before making our own crossing to Kalimnos.

Typical goulet tour boat plying these waters, Plati.
Tube coral in the shallows off Plati.
Natural rock arch on Plati.

Connor and Andree had been wonderfully flexible about where to disembark, giving us the option to explore the diverse island of Kalimnos before heading to Sea Rose’s winter home further north at Leros. They had found a flight out of Kalimnos the day after next, which allowed us to keep Sea Rose in the skinny, protected fjord of Vathis on the east coast. We ended up staying here two nights, renewing our goal at the beginning of the season to try not to be moving every day. Vathis was so narrow that we had to take a spot on the dock instead of anchoring. In fact, when we went stern-to the dock, we had to drop our anchor right up against the shore on the other side of the fjord. It was another stressful med moor, with what looked like very shallow water at the stern as we approached the dock, ready to ground our rudders and cause expensive repairs. In the end, the water was deep enough and the hippy-culture of the little village grew on you quickly. There were less than a handful of restaurants, and a few street vendors that opened for a few hours in the morning, all clearly dependent on the limited sailboat crowd for business. We learned that the goulets rarely stopped here any more, making it a more pleasant experience for us, but economically even more challenging for the local proprietors. Sponge diving was historically popular here, with a few stores still selling sponges, but they faced new competition from out of the country. What the village had lost in market share, they had retained in harbor beauty. The multi-colored fishing boats in the tiny harbor, against a backdrop of steep cliff faces, made for some of the best harbor photography of the entire summer. The day ended with Karen whipping up a splendid pasta dish topped with sausage and shrimp. 

The fjord-like entrance to Vathis harbor, Kalimnos.
Sponge shopping, Vathis, Kalimnos.
Vathis harbor, Kalimnos.

The wind continued to howl outside the fjord, leading us to decide to rent a car and explore other sites on Kalimnos. To our surprise, the west coast was even more mountainous than the the east, so much so that it proved very popular with the rock climbing crowd. It seemed that all the climbers followed the same protocol. Rent a scooter, stay in a hostel in town, and park at random turn-outs on the road to prove your metal on countless climbing routes. Many of these cliff faces seemed as high as you would find in Yosemite, with the benefit of views of the Aegean sea. 

Mountain peaks-aplenty on the west coast of Kalimonos.

With the rocky terrain came the scary switchback roads like we had faced at Amorgos. I was thankful to get back to Vathis. As we sail more, in all different types of weather conditions, I find I am less stressed on the water than when I am hurtling along on a road in a thin metal box at ten times the speed of a boat.

For our last supper, we share a two kilogram serving of gray snapper, with Karen diving in to debone the beast for all of us to enjoy. 

Don’t even think of taking a bite ahead of this man!

In the morning we say our goodbyes to Connor and Andree, after a week of Dodecanese exploring, full of history lessons and refreshing swims and hikes, in the wonderful absence of the high tourism season. Thanks to both of you for putting a cherry on the top of a wonderful summer of sailing. We were only left with the task of getting our boat up to Leros for the haul out next week. Boo-hoo!

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