Let’s get one thing out of the way at the beginning. There is a particular island in the Ionian, Ithaki, that is not pronounced like you think it would be. It is ‘ehh-TALK-yy’. This came as troubling news to Karen, growing up as she did next door to Ithaca, NY, where natives would think you were from another planet if you didn’t say ‘ITH-a-kuh’. We had the good fortune of a Greek native with us, Theo, to break the news gently. There you go. Now we are ready to move on.
As we rounded the northern tip of Cephalonia on our eastward leg to the neighboring island of Ithaki, the winds started to build, just as they had been forecasted. We started off with both sails fully set, sending us gently along at a speed, because it is less than one could motor at, that can make one twitchy if there’s a long distance to go. Theo, just inshore of us, had a little less wind and more tonnage to move through the water, leading him to keep motoring. We soon had a bonafide breeze of 15 knots, cause enough to begin thinking about a plan to reef, as we skimmed across the water on a glorious downwind angle. The forecast called for higher winds into the evening and possibly over the next few days, so we sought protection on the eastern shore of Ithaki, with our first stop at the little cove of Ormos Nikolaos. Ormos means bay in Greek, but there was nothing expansive here on the scale of San Francisco Bay or the Bay of Biscay. I will be filing for a name change to Limanaki Nikolaos, as soon as I find out who in the Greek government will entertain my request.
The summer winds in the Ionian Sea are by-and-large quite mild. When it does blow, the wind comes onshore from the west. Therefore, most of the favorable, comfortable anchorages are on the eastern side of the islands. Cephalonia was no exception, with a range of options between quaint and bustling. As we motored into Poros under glassy calm seas, and we were the only boat in the anchorage, the town was feeling much more on the quaint end of the spectrum. A pronounced V-shaped gorge was cut into the ridge behind the town, hinting at a large valley inland and many decades of heavy spring runoff. A few multi-story buildings lined the shore, but otherwise, a long uninterrupted beach greeted us as we landed with the dinghy. Cephalonia was lining up to be a chill, low-key island, about as much of a polar opposite to Mykonos as one could get. A few teenage boys explored the rocky shallows, appearing to care less about what they might find and more about the simple companionship of a friend. Or perhaps Mom kicked them out and told them not to return until dinner time!
Sitting at anchor in Gramvousa, on the island of Crete, with the prevailing northerly winds howling down on us, and a long upwind climb in our near future to get up to the Peloponnese, it felt a little like being stuck in a sink hole. Cruising down to Crete had only exacerbated our upwind challenges. But it was worth it. We had hiked the gorges of Crete’s interior, ambled through narrow stone-lined alleys of historic villages, sipped the nectar of its burgeoning wine industry, and swam through the rusting hulks of not-so-long-ago shipwrecks. Now we had to pay our dues.
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.
Our daughter, with a bit of a smirk, said, “I’ll see you in a day or two” as she dropped us off at the airport. The problem was, we were packed to the gunwales with gear for a summer of sailing onboard Sea Rose, and we had no intention of coming back home in a few days. But this is the era of Covid-19 and most any effort to plan for the future seems futile.
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 looked back on our time with each of the collections of people we had aboard Sea Rose over the past summer, special details stand out for each group. Some had particularly amazing snorkeling experiences or a bunch of caves to explore. Others had lots of opportunity for star gazing from isolated coves. Our good friends Bob and Lisa joined us on the island of Mykonos, Greece and got off Sea Rose in Paros and their time with us was defined by high winds. As Tom mentioned in our last blog post, the hot, dry winds that come out of the North and slam down through the Aegean Sea during the Greek summers are called the Meltemi and we got very familiar with that term while Bob and Lisa were with us!