The Eyes of Venice, Ep. 138

It might help if you scrounge around ahead of time for the ouzo in the back of your liquor cabinet, but when I look at the layout of the Peloponnese coastline and bays, it reminds me of the profile of an American Bison, grazing on the plains of Yellowstone National Park. And with that spirit of the Wild West, we set off westbound from Limeni to cross the last 20 miles of open water to the port of Koroni.

Mother Nature graced us with another morning of calm weather – glassy calm in fact – and we dropped our lines from Limeni early to take advantage of the conditions. A boater friend of ours back home in New England would often tell me that the mornings were made for power boaters, and the afternoons were made for sailors. This morning we would be channeling our inner power boater, as the local recommendation here was to make any westing in the morning, before the afternoon contrary winds kicked into high gear. This morning was classic August-in-Maine conditions, apart from a couple of tankers having an intimate moment.

We didn’t know quite what to expect in Koroni. There was scant details in the pilot book, and the chart hinted at protection from a prominent jetty, but not much else. After four hours of motoring, our needs were not complicated – just a basic overnight stop was good enough. But this was coastal Greece, not an Interstate 70 exit in Kansas, so deep down, we knew we’d find something to tickle our fancy ashore.

Arriving at the anchorage behind the jetty, we were the only boat around, apart from a tiny rowboat at the sea wall. The water was clear and plenty of light green sandy patches made setting the anchor a cake walk. Still, I found myself double-checking our position and depth readings. Here was a roomy anchorage, at ideal shallow depths and holding, and no one else was here. The shore was no more than 100 feet away, with plenty of rings to tie the dinghy to. Where were all the other savvy boaters, or were we missing something? Trying not to let self-doubt take center stage, we dinghied ashore and went in search of the Koroni castle, which supposedly included a monastery and chapel. The monastery was closed for siesta, which was a good thing as I would require a trip back to the boat for a more modest pair of long pants before entering. But, the grounds of the castle were available and waiting for curious eyes.

One of the reasons we actively seek out castles and fortresses when we arrive at a new town is the virtual guarantee they will bring us to sweeping views and magical vistas. This assurance was on full display in Koroni, with castle walls wrapping around the entire headland. It also made me wonder how many people died carrying bulky stones up rickety wooden ladders to fortify these structures.

In at least two sections, large sections of the wall had fallen into the sea, and signage at the site hinted at an effort to gain EU funding for restoration. While they are a feast for the eyes to gaze upon in these modern times, I wondered what expense (and risk to worker safety) would be too great to satisfy my selfish tourist temptations. Maybe some of these defenses against enemies of the past should be left to return to the soil and the sea. Would not my experience as a tourist still be remarkable, as we wandered the prosperous olive orchards within the castle walls, orchards that required no pleading with northern neighbors for financial contributions?

The heat and dust of the day’s wanderings made the coastal waters tempting for an afternoon swim. While exploring the area by drone, I found a secluded cove protected by steep sandy cliffs. We zipped over in the dinghy, passing eight other anchored sailboats, proving that once one boat sets their anchor, more will surely follow. At the private cove, we exchanged dips in the shallow-as-a-swimming-pool depths with lounging under the sun’s warm rays on the dinghy tubes. The expression ‘pure bliss’ doesn’t do justice. Our raucous day-long beat to windward from Gramvousa was thankfully a distant memory.

In the morning, we filled up with fresh produce from the local farmer’s market, and raised anchor for our exit and one last view of the Koroni castle. This fortification, along with a similar castle coming later in the day in Methoni, were known as the ‘eyes’ of Venice, providing the Venetian rulers strategic control of the east- and west-bound maritime routes.

Onboard Sea Rose, we rigged up the new replacement Code 0 sail, but fickle breezes gave us little time to test it out before strong headwinds developed mid-morning. Before long, though, the harbor of Methoni came into view, and for better or worse, we were not the first to claim the anchorage! Right away, the contrast to Koroni was evident, with a landmark castle and moat featured at the tip of the peninsula. An octagonal Ottoman-style tower stood watch over the narrow sea passage. This ‘eye’ of Venice was clearly the favored military assignment. It also attracted the swords and rifles of cultural clashes, having been witness since the 1500s to battles by the Byzantines, Venetians, Turks, the Venetians again, and the French. I wonder what future historians will think of those long stretches of unrest, followed by this modern stretch of tourism. Have we found the secret formula of tolerance amongst societies, or are we destined for a cyclical loop of war and peace?

Once again we had arrived at a new town in the early afternoon, when most of the merchants were taking their siesta. We didn’t have the luxury of waiting another day, so we pushed on for a self-guided tour of the town and castle. The Ottomans, including their work on the octagonal tower, had built a set of baths inside the castle walls. It was good to see that the Romans weren’t the only civilization concerned with hygiene.

The downside of an anti-siesta sightseeing strategy is the late afternoon heat fatigue. The local supermarkets wouldn’t open for a few more hours. Following the sound of quiet voices, we came across an internet cafe with a postage stamp-sized outdoor patio claimed by a friendly cluster of young adults seeing no need to be at home napping. After downing two house specialty smoothies in quick succession, I was beginning to agree with them.

Our cool down strategy continued with a swim in the shallows around the octagonal tower, where we reveled in the quantity of rectangular limestone blocks just below the surface. If modern armies needed to build a Methoni Castle 2.0, they wouldn’t need to travel far for supplies.

Like clockwork, literally, the town center came alive in the evening, with families finding a solution to everyone’s needs – parents lounging at a cafe over a cigarette and a frappe, and the kids with their push scooters carving perfect circles, like budding figure skating Olympians. Before calling it a night, I wrote in my journal how refreshingly simple and primal this moment in time had become, serenely absent of conflict and unrest. If this message of tranquility could be captured in a bottle, I would set it free on these east- and west-bound seas, and ask one of the energetic scooter kids to be the modern ‘eyes’ over this new world order. Yes, indeed, that is what I would do if I ran the zoo.

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