As the island of Zakynthos came into view, we officially entered the Ionian island group of western Greece. Last year, we had toyed with the idea of visiting Zakynthos, as we made our way south from Croatia, but time was not on our side as we pushed to make a date with friends in the Aegean. This season, with neither Karen nor I willing to take the Covid risk of leaving Greece and tempting clearance into another country, we were staying local. We had six more weeks in Greek waters, which gave us carte blanche to see every nook and cranny in the Ionian.
There are a handful of iconic images that Greeks use to tempt tourists to their land. There is, of course, the Parthenon, and the windmills on Mykonos, as well as the cliffs at Santorini, and finally there’s Shipwreck Beach, which coincidentally resides on Zakynthos. If you’re an Instagram nut, Shipwreck Beach is likely on your short list, to pose with heart-shaped hands, a pouty face, or a simple thumbs up.
A couple of years ago, when Samuel Adams started hawking their ‘West Coast Style’ Rebel IPA, I was intrigued. Here I was a California-born living in Samuel Adams country on the East Coast. What could be a better beer to drink? If only one could solve the riddle of what ‘west coast style’ really meant. Beer aficionados touted its hoppier hops, but to a mere commoner like me, it was just a simple IPA. As we pointed Sea Rose up along the west coast of the Peloponnese peninsula, I wasn’t going to let a catchy marketing cliche get in the way of appreciating this region’s unique west coast style. If it meant a little beer tasting along the way, all the better!
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.
As is typical for much of Greece, morning winds are lighter than afternoon. If you need to go up-wind, it is best to leave early. At 7 am on the morning we would make our way to the northwest tip of Crete, we were tossing off our stern lines, raising our anchor and heading out of the charming harbor of Chania. The winds had been erratic and strong for the previous couple days, so we expected it to be a rough trip.
This blog post covers our departure from Donousa, a stop along Naxos’s south coast and ends with stunning Milos and the nearby islands of Palaigos and Kimolos.
Some stops are nothing more than functional … 100% utilitarian, with little to no entertainment value and that’s just how it is! This should be fine, right? However, it is easy for all of us to get caught up in wanting an amazing experience at every turn. We really struggle when we have friends or family on board because they only have a week and we want each day to be full to the point of overflowing with sights and activities; we hope that each evening’s anchorage will be beautiful and memorable – yet one without drama where we can all get a restful night’s sleep. If you have spent any time living on a sailboat or going on an extended driving trip, you know how hard it is to balance moving along on your planned, longer-term route while also having enriching or exciting experiences.
I was looking at the current portion of our summer’s journey as something to tolerate between special stops. We had recently left the amazing islands of Samos, Patmos and Arki and we were headed toward renown Milos but we had at least two stops along the way. However, the first of these stops was in Roussa Harbor on Donousa – the final island Tom covered in the previous blog – and it was a very pleasant surprise and a place I would hate to categorize as functional. We had a beautiful anchorage with calm seas in the large, protected bay as the wind was wild just outside and the busy, welcoming taverna fed our souls as well as our bodies.
There are not many marine preserves in Greece – in fact, not many in the entire the Med – but we set our course for the island of Arki, a soon-to-be ratified part of the North Dodecanese Wildlife Refuge, and a short distance from Leros where we had started from just a week ago. I wasn’t sure what to expect from a protected area in Greece, but our arrival in the calm harbor of Port Augusta answered any doubts I had. Here was an only slightly larger version of the charming little village of Agathonisi that we had visited last week. Approaching the small town quay, we could see plenty of space around the few boats already med moored to the quay. After the warmup at Agathonisi, Karen was in natural form as she turned Sea Rose around and began backing into the quay as I lowered the anchor. Med mooring with two people is a bit tricky, as you can really use a third person to manage tying the stern lines to the quay. Thankfully, a gentleman from a nearby boat wandered over and helped with that task. And the reduced breeze reduced the stress level as well.
It was July 15th when we were finally underway for this pandemic-impacted sailing season. There were far more unknowns to contend with this year but since we already acted on the tough decision to come to Europe amid all the potential for new and changing travel restrictions we had to dive in and start exploring. This summer would be an exercise in flexibility … and not of the musculature type!
For our first night away from Sea Rose’s winter home, we set our course for Agathonisi, a short trip to a small island to the NE of Leros. Being early season, we have a list of projects that would steal our time over the coming days, so picking a place close by seemed perfect. Being afternoon when we finally departed the boatyard, we immediately experienced high winds and quickly found ourselves flying past small islets at 9 kts of boat speed. I hope we’re ready for this wild ride!
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.
All I could remember about Ios, from our honeymoon 27 years ago, was its reputation as a party island. We had already held an awesome party in the form of an outdoor wedding reception in the wine country of California’s Sonoma Valley. When we had finally shed ourselves from all the strings of post-weddingness and boarded the flight to Greece, late-night parties were not high on my list. I wanted to be a regular tourist, with regular tourist ambitions in Greece, like touring the Parthenon and relaxing on the sands of a sun-bleached island. Mykonos, like Ios, hadn’t made the honeymoon cut, but after Karen and I spent three days there earlier this summer and appreciated the island’s charms, I felt bad that we had stereotyped it into a corner. For sure, it was no fun being anchored off the cacophony that is Paradise Cove, but we found the old town of Mykonos immensely stroll-able and oozing with striking bougainvillea at every turn. Now, as we sailed Sea Rose into the main harbor at Ios, I tried to keep more of an open mind. If nothing else, we greatly appreciated the protection of the harbor, nearly enclosed except from the Southwest, making the high winds from the North less threatening. We had heard that the public dock was a good option here, in fact, the only option. With the high frequency of big passenger ferries arriving constantly, they needed all of the navigable water in the harbor to turn and maneuver on to the ferry landing. If anchoring in the harbor was forbidden because of this ferry traffic, I was completely accepting; neither of us wanted to get rolled by the ferry’s wake, or worse.
As we departed Poros in the pre-dawn light, we would be leaving the Saronic Gulf and entering the greater Aegean Sea region. This part of the Aegean is best known for the Cyclades islands, with popular destinations like Santorini, Mykonos and Naxos. And popular with our friends, of which we had four groups joining us over the next five weeks. Karen and I had one more week by ourselves; seven days to cross the 100 miles to Mykonos, where we would pickup our good friends Bob and Lisa. The excitement of having guests after several weeks of being by ourselves was tempered by the reality check of the mid-Summer wind conditions in this area. We had been casually watching the weather forecasts in the Aegean since we had arrived in Greece a month ago. Boy, was this going to be interesting! July and August here are renowned for the Meltemi, a very forceful wind that blows down from the Black Sea and fans out over the Cyclades islands. It can ebb and flow, but when it really blows, it can carry on for five or more days, pinning you down in the closest south-facing harbor, trying to avoid the fetch of waves that start several hundred miles to the north.