Old Capitals, New Discoveries

Earlier in the summer, a 6:30AM departure would mean plenty of sunshine to light our way. But this morning, as we dropped lines at Porto Gouves, the night watchman was still at his post, with a dog as his sole companion. We were underway early to avoid headwinds this afternoon during our 40 mile run westward to Rethymno. With a mostly featureless shore, the only excitement came during my watch when I spotted a free floating dinghy. With only one oar inside, and a thin line dangling in the water, I had to assume it was a castaway from some upwind marina. Approaching it cautiously, I made sure no one was inside needing help, and we left it to be discovered by new owners.

A lone dinghy in need of a new owner
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Searching for the Soul of Crete, Ep. 133

We were interviewed recently by Jeanneau America for an expose on what owners do and see with their boats. As we sat on the shores of Newport, Rhode Island, explaining our exploits in the U.S. onboard Thalia, and now onboard Sea Rose in the Mediterranean, our host Paul remarked on how we must be big planners to accomplish these sailing goals. And in general Karen and I are pretty serious task masters, fortified by our many years in corporate America working to get project teams focused in a common direction. But as we awoke at dawn inside the caldera of Santorini, and pointed the bow of Sea Rose south, we were living like carefree teenagers. Crete, about 65 miles distant, was big, downwind, and a place we knew nothing about. So we decided to sail there. Simple as that!

The nearly direct south route to Crete

Many destinations had been out of scope for our westbound march out of Greece, in the pre-Covid19 planning talks we had over the winter. But this was a new game. We weren’t going to make it to the English Channel by the end of this summer as originally intended, and Greece was taking good care of us, so we dialed back our hit list, with a determination to see more of the Greece we loved. 

Crete is a part of Greece, but like other large islands owned by mainland parents such as Corsica and Sardinia, the Cretans have a loyalty to their island first, and to the greater Greece nation second. It’s not like they harbor any animosity towards Athens. Their island has been fought over and occupied by far too many foreign powers, even by European standards. There were the Byzantines, the Romans, the Venetians, the Arabs, the Ottoman Turks, the Germans during WWII, to name just a few. Yet, the Cretans were some of the first to send personnel to fight for the Greek War of Independence starting in 1821. Ironically, major civilization on the island started with the Minoans, who were renowned for their peace-loving nature. We were to tour the remains of the Minoan palace of Knossos in a few days and revel in the fact that very little in the way of defensive equipment – forts, castles, spears, cannons – were found during the archaeological digs. I couldn’t wait to discover this island and understand further it’s contrasts and contradictions. 

We unfurled the jib and tried motorsailing, as the dramatic silhouette of Santorini faded to our rear. Before long the forecasted northwesterlies kicked in and allowed us to replace the engine with full main, jib and a splendid 6 knots of beam-reaching speed. Indeed, we put the boat on autopilot and had to do very little in the way of sail trimming, as the steady 10-15 knots of NW wind blew blissfully all day, until we were within 5 miles of the Cretan coastline. Not since we had entered the Aegean had we been given a gift of such pure and easy sailing. 

Blissful, consistent sailing south to Crete

As we motored the final approach into Porto Gouves, a small privately run marina affiliated with an adjacent hotel complex, we were warned by the lone marina attendant to stay close as we rounded the breakwater-protected entrance. This was sage advice, especially for a pair of attention-fatigued captains who had been on the water all day. Large breakers crashing onto the town beach were just a boat length to our port side, ready to swallow us up if we didn’t execute our turn properly. This was all exacerbated by the fact that, with me on bow watch yelling back to Karen to ‘stay 10 meters off the breakwater’, Karen thought I meant to ‘stay at least 10 meters off the breakwater’, a prudent approach near most breakwaters where the boulders and rip-rap can extend out further underwater, like the hidden underwater dangers of an iceberg. But in fact I meant to say no further away than 10 meters, as the marina attendant warned me it got very shallow near the beach breakers. We got on the same page quick enough, but it reminded me of cockpit voice recordings between pilot and co-pilot right before a crash. We vowed to be more specific in our wording, and in these critical situations, to ask the other to repeat the directions back as a form of confirmation. 

Late day in Porto Gouves, with a full moon rising

The Porto Gouves marina looked like a scene from ‘The Day After Tomorrow’, with only three other boats in the water, weeds growing up in the cracks on the pier, and a vacant and dark hotel building across the frontage road, having never opened for the session. After weeks of crashing into big seas under reduced sail in the Aegean, Sea Rose was coated everywhere with salt, and we took advantage of the unlimited water supply to thoroughly wash down the entire exterior, giving the salt no respite from our high pressure hose. Finally, Sea Rose was back to being a proper lady again. Whenever we do these big cleanups and re-provisioning at a marina, my thoughts shift to an expedition party coming back into civilization from the wilds of the backcountry. We are largely self-sufficient onboard Sea Rose which allows us to explore remote anchorages and make long passages to experience the beauty of Mother Nature up close, both above and below the water. But every once in a while, we need to come in from the wild to clean and stock up. We did it more often last year, with a lot of friends coming on a weekly turn to meet us at a marina, and when we do this, I long for the day when we can get back out ‘there’. 

Our initial exploits in Crete

We rented a car from Caroline’s Travel Store, a women who effortlessly switched between five languages to help her customers, and we headed inland to find the archaeological site at Knossos, the main tourist attraction in this part of Crete. We hit the road early to avoid reports of large bus groups, and to avoid the heat of the mid-day. At the entrance, we heeded more advice and hired a guide, and soon I was as much intrigued by the history as I was about this charming little old lady Eva. Knossos is the most well known of the Minoan settlements on Crete, a palace originally constructed in 2000 B.C. and then expanded in 1700 B.C. These dates alone caused me to pause and reflect. I’m 57 years old. The stones upon which I walked, and the remaining walls and courtyards that Eva lovingly interpreted for us, were older than 65 of my lifetimes! And, from all accounts, the Minoans were a peaceful society, where they carved out a life on Crete with a population back then greater than that currently on the island! Life seemed pretty primitive to me, dare I say primeval, just 100 years ago. There were no cell phones, no internet, no refrigeration. The light bulb had just been introduced, flights at Kitty Hawk had just been launched, and the Model T was early in it’s production run, with the horse and buggy still prominent. Yet, the Minoans, 3700 years ago, had found a way to develop and sustain a safe, economically viable society. Less than 100 years ago, we had had two world wars and came close to annihilating our entire species with mutually-assured nuclear destruction. Too often, we toss aside the knowledge and expertise of prior civilizations, despite the clear evidence of a highly advanced culture, able to survive socially and economically in the absence of all the comforts and conveniences we have available today. 

Our introduction to Knossos, with our guide Eva
Restored staircase to the ‘Queens Room’, Knossos
The throne room, and restored wall paintings, Knossos

In front of me were the remains of a four-story palace, and again, I was left bewildered. A single story building would seem like a challenge back then, in the absence of modern mechanization and hand tools. We need to re-evaluate our own self image as a superior society and dig for the lessons to be gleaned from these ancient yet advanced civilizations. 

Bidding adieu to Eva, we went in search of the latest advances in wine making techniques on Crete. The island has an extremely tall mountain range that runs down the middle of the island, with fertile valleys throughout the northern interior. In recent times Crete has become well known for it’s respectable wines. Regrettably, Google maps has not kept up with the trend, and we took our rental car on a safari of sorts, with Google taking us off the main paved roads on a back wrenching pot-holed, stones-as-big-as-bowling-balls, ride over dirt roads. At one point, we had to abandon the car on the edge of a hillside vineyard and climb the rest of the goat path by foot, discovering a perfectly respectable road leading into the spacious winery parking lot! On our second stop, at Titakis winery, we were hosted by a cheerful young woman, Eleni, who had recently finished her wine studies in Athens and returned to her home in Crete to share enology responsibilities with the founder. The wine locker on Sea Rose hadn’t seen such a boost in inventory since our travels around the interior of France!

Abandoned rental car, in the olive and vineyard fields of interior Crete
Lyrarakis Winery, Crete
Titakis winery tour, with in-house enologist Eleni showing us the massive concrete storage vats

Our rental car wanderings took us to the nearby city of Heraklion, the nerve center of the island, and with a surprising number of flights landing and taking off despite the pandemic. We chose to duck the mid day heat by attending the archaeological museum with its many restored artifacts from Knossos. But I must confess, wearing a mask for extended periods, even inside buildings here, is a fatiguing, sweaty affair. I couldn’t wait to walk through the exit doors and into the heat but mask-free world. We had been told to not expect too much from this big city, and as we walked part of the waterfront, there was no mistaking this was a rough and ready town. The one notable piece of eye candy was the Venetian harbor. Along many of these northern cities, you will find a big modern harbor enclosing a small, shallow, often nearly round inner harbor, built by the Venetians. Often adorned with a tower or full-on castle at the entrance, their diminutive size and depth can make them unsuitable for most larger craft, giving one the advantage of appreciating their beautiful construction absent the super yachts and the associated over-commercialization. The Venetians also put their handicraft to work building showcases of long arched-roof stone boat houses, many of which still ringed the harbor, some converted for modern use, others left to age gracefully.

Heraklion’s inner Venetian harbor, guarded by a restored fortress
The arched-roof Venetian boathouses, Heraklion

With our first impressions of Crete firming implanted in our memory, it was time for us to make our way west along the northern coast. From this mid-point, the next major harbor of Rythimno beckoned. Our craft – clean and bright and re-provisioned – was ready and willing to take her curious caretakers onward. Crete – that big, odd island at the bottom of Greece – was starting to unfold its treasures before our eyes, and we were eager to take it all in.

Love Thy Siesta, Love Thy Sister, Ep. 130

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. 

Port Augusta, on the island of Arki
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A Visa and A Smirk, Ep. 128

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. 

A nearly empty international terminal in Boston, apart from all of our bags!
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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!
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Sailing In And Out Of Civilization, Ep. 125

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. 

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Crashing Through the Cyclades, Ep. 122

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.

A typical Meltemi wind forecast for the Cyclades islands, with red meaning 25 knots or greater
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Backwards Is the New Forwards, Ep. 120

“Rion Bridge, Rion Bridge, this is the sailing vessel Sea Rose, over!”

“Sea Rose, go ahead.”

“Yes, Rion Bridge, we are a 13 meter sailing vessel with a height of 19 meters, approaching the bridge heading East. We request permission to pass.”

“Sea Rose, you are clear to transit the bridge. You must use the north channel. Call again when you are one mile away.”

Our VHF radio conversation with the Rion Bridge Traffic Control office marks the early morning start to our passage into the Gulf of Corinth. This short cut to the Saronic Gulf and Aegean Sea – the ‘real’ Greece if you believe the travel brochures – was very intentional. There was no way we could round the big bulge south of us comprised of the Peloponnese peninsula without a serious hit to our time line. Karen and I were eager to see the eastern portion of Greece and re-discover the Cyclades Islands that we so fondly remembered from our honeymoon. And a sailing trip through Greece wouldn’t be complete without exploring these classic blue and white washed islands. 

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A Hol(e)y Experience, Ep. 118

After a long day of transatlantic travel, it felt great to be back onboard Sea Rose. During our trip back home to the States, she had managed just fine in her slip at the Gouvia Marina on Corfu. When your boat is your home and you put your blood, sweat, and tears into her care and feeding, it’s a little unnerving to leave her alone for ten days. In our favor, no sudden storms arose nor bumps from navigationally-challenged neighbors. She was just as we left her, plus a little growth on her waterline from the few days of idleness. It was time to get our pride and joy prepped and ready for more adventure. Our friends Steve and Julie would be arriving in two days and we had a full task list to complete before we started entertaining again. 

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Second Helpings, Ep. 117

The day and the hour had arrived. It was time to exit Croatia once and for all. Six weeks ago, we had cleared into a country that we knew only through travel books and friend’s stories. This morning, we would trek back to the harbourmaster’s office to clear out, with a plethora of diverse experiences tucked away in heads, enough to fill a few storytelling sessions around a winter’s fireplace.

Our kids and Andrew were on their way to the airport, and we wasted no time shoving off from the Q dock to make progress south along the isolated last few miles of the Croatian coast before entering Montenegrin waters. This time around, we weren’t groggy from an overnight passage from Italy. We had slept well, and knew exactly where to go and how to clear in to Montenegro.

The well fortified entrance to the Bay of Kotor, Montenegro
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