From the day we went back into the water on the northern end of Leros on July 4th we headed north and travelled as far north as we could go this season. Next stop after the island of Thasos is the Greek Mainland. We had planned to visit Kavala, a town on the mainland but couldn’t get a berth in the harbour so had to drop it as the weather wasn’t great for the anchorages available. So, in just over 4 weeks we have visited 7 islands and travelled around 480 nautical miles. Within this there have been some long days of sailing. There’s no need for any overnight passages in this part of Greece but some of our day sails have begun at 4am. As Autumn approaches the days are definitely getting shorter and the sun is not rising until 7am so we factor this into our plans as well as I am not that keen on leaving some anchorages in the dark.
We had woken up on day one of our northbound adventure on Archangelos Island and were just starting to play the ‘where do you want to go today?’ game when we got a message from friends, Nick and Vanessa on Samos saying there was a festival this evening and all the boats had been evicted from the harbour in Pythagorean so a re-enactment of a famous battle against the Turks in 1824 could be re-enacted. There would be flares, fires and fireworks culminating with the blowing up of a symbolic boat. How could we say no to that?
Winds were favourable so we set off on what was the worst sail of this season thus far. Not because of the wind but because of the currents around Samos meeting the swell making for choppy short waves from different directions. A sure way to make sailors green around the gills. Ughhhhh
But we arrived well in time for the event. Stormy the dinghy was leaking yet again and needed repair yet again, so Nick picked us up for dinner on their boat then took us ashore for the entertainment. It was a bit hilarious as timber fishing boats with naked flame torches and the more sensible ones with flares that aren’t so flammable went around and around the harbour. A soundtrack of booming cannons accompanied them and finally the little boat was set alight to cheers all round!
Recovery saw us moving to the wonderful tiny bay of Poseidoneon. It looks directly over to Turkey and is one of the closest places between the 2 countries. It’s very beautiful and peaceful despite the numbers of boats coming and going we spent a few nights there awaiting a good wind to blow us north to Chios which is quite a long sail.
We slipped out at false dawn while all the other boaties were still dreaming and after a morning of motoring caught a lively north easter as we came out of the protection of the Turkish mainland, and made good speed to the tiny anchorage of Emborios on Chios. It’s a perfect little horseshoe of a bay with room for only a few yachts. The boats already in there meant there wasn’t much room for us to swing on our anchor, so we tied stern to the shore as we had done so many times in Turkey. An exploration onshore gave us our first stolen figs of the season. We wandered the tiny town around to a beautiful beach made only of black pebbles where there were big signs saying it was prohibited to take them! Cute beach huts and free showers and impressively clean water make it popular spot.
Eager to explore we headed around the far south coast of the island away from WIFI and people as the rugged coastline unfolded. Most of it was inhospitable to passing yachties but reports of a few pristine bays drew us further west. And the reports were right. While there were still a few beach bars, the odd taverna and a few holiday homes the south western coast remains wild and largely forgotten. We found a bay of white sand and turquoise water and dropped the anchor for a few nights. The highlight of this time was being beckoned into a small cove by an older Greek fisherman. He invited us into his crib which consisted of a falling down boatshed and a small annex, equally dilapidated, to the rear. As we sat on the rickety deck on broken chairs, he produced Greek coffee and water which led onto his own home-made fig liqueur and his own grapes and cherry tomatoes for snacks. His English was great, and he told us about his life of military service and adventures as far afield as our own hometown of Hobart where he visited on the USS Enterprise as a special Greek agent aboard the aircraft carrier. He was jovial yet his life story was both sad and serious. His humble boatshed was just where he preferred to be as up a few steps was a complete house, but he chose not to live there despite its amazing views. Turns out he had another up in a mountain village where he had his vegetable patch and orchards. These days when he isn’t fishing, he is a mastic farmer. This is Chios’s main export, the sap taking months to gather and each tree producing just a few grams yearly. It’s expensive stuff and we also got to try some crystals of it from his trees.
Soon a weather window had us heading back to the North to catch some good wind that would arrive in a few days. This meant leaving the rest of the island to explore another time. We tacked up alongside Chios wondering about all the sights we hadn’t had time to see. A quick overnight on the tiny island on Oinoussa in a secluded bay then we caught the breeze for yet another great sail of 8 knots under jib alone across to Lesvos (Lesbos or even Mytilini).
Lesvos is an island of artistry, philosophy and poetry. The most famous poet being Sappho who famously wrote an ambiguous piece of poetry about loving another woman and thus began the story of Lesvos being the island where lesbians originated. Not quite sure about how all this came from that but suffice to say it’s now a place of pilgrimage and celebration for gay women from around the world. It’s rich history and its eastern influences make it hard to pigeonhole as a Greek Island. It has a feel of a place that has been long loved by peoples from far and wide. It’s main international claim to fame these days has been the simmering tensions between the refugee migrant community and the locals. The camp of Moria which was isolated and nearby to a small town was the epicentre of this tension as 17,000 refugees were squeezed into a camp built to house a quarter of that. This camp is closed now, and the majority of the refugees resettled further into mainland Greece or Europe. The new refugee camp is on the coast just out of the main town of Mytilini and seemed smaller and more harmonious however it takes more than driving by a place to get a feel for any tensions. There was a lot of surveillance from the EU Frontex boats and Greek Coastguards making sure there was no boats heading over from Turkey. They were out patrolling both in the daytime and night from multiple points around the island.
Mytilini was a lovely town presided over by another sprawling crusader castle. It had an old town full of quirky shops and cobblestone streets. Alleyways filled with al fresco restaurants, potted plants, funky lighting and a creative vibe filled with people in the evenings. The harbour was large and fishing boats came and went at all hours as did multiple ferries from turkey, Athens and the other islands. We chose to stay in a marina as it was easy, comfortable and cheap and had a free washing machine! This was a miracle and one I made a lot of use of.
We hired a motor bike and went exploring however as it’s such a big island we needed to plan where we would go so headed to a town we missed while sailing along the southern coast called Plomari. It had a great Ouzo factory that we did a tour of which marked the moment where Rick decided he quite liked it. We also had a swim with the other holiday makers off a pebble beach then found an absolute treasure of a restaurant perched on a cliff out of town overlooking Plomari’s beaches. One of those places where the atmosphere, food and service all come together to create something really special.
Dragging ourselves away from Mytilini we had a very quiet and peaceful overnight in between two tiny sandstone islands off the northeast of Lesvos. We had a sail up there that was so unusual I am sure I’ll never forget it. It was flat calm and blowing a very mild 8-10 knots and we were ghosting along under full sail at 6 knots. I said to Rick the only thing that could improve this sail is a pod of dolphins….and what do you know, not 2 minutes later there they were. It was so benevolent.
The following day we had another amazing sail around to the west of the island to the town of Methinma with its tiny port known as Molyvos. We arrived in time to get one of the few places free on the tiny quay and had the perfect view of the heritage listed town and the castle atop the hill. It’s very charming and quite touristy. The houses and public buildings are not painted, just their window frames and doors. We stayed a couple of nights but the beach bar on the weekend went until well after 3 am and the sound was perfectly amplified on the calm water making sleep pretty impossible, so we headed off bound for the town of Sigri where Rick had discovered there was kite surfing and had to have a look. It was also located on the most westerly point of Lesvos and made it the perfect jump-off point to sail to Limnos. And what a super cute little place it was. Greek locals were pretty much the only holiday makers, and a few boats came and went again. While waiting for a weather window we visited the local petrified forest museum. Who would have imagined you could make a museum about fossilised trees, but it’s located within a region that is filled with them and had amazing displays from all around the world. It was a seriously good museum.
But new horizons and better weather awaited us so in the dawn we headed out of Sigri and said goodbye to Lesvos and set sail for Limnos (Lemnos) an island that looks like a fish out on its own in the Northern Aegean. We arrived into a tiny and protected bay on the south side and were the only boat here for the night. A few people came to swim, the goats were welcoming and the water warm.
The next day we motored around a small corner to a bay behind an island that had us thinking we could have been in Iceland. Stark and steep with deep green vegetation and a large colony of Eleanora’s Falcons (who prey on seagulls) who wheeled through the sky each time a boat went past. The water was crystal clear and great for SUP and swims. The Milky Way even made an appearance that night.
Check in with port police and food supplies were needed so we headed to the main town of Myrina the next day. Trying stern to the quay we spent an excellent few days meeting wonderful people and taking in the island. We went to see the kite surfing beach on the northern coast and couldn’t believe our eyes as the sleepy roads led us to at least 300 kiters, multiple campervans and caravans, beach bars and people. It was great conditions and beginners, and experienced kiters were making the most of the wind. Behind that beach was a salt lake and nearby a mini desert. Incredible sandstone rock sculptures, five-star food in a taverna on a lonely uninhabited beach made this a spectacular day. The variety of experiences and landscapes on Limos are amazing. We even met a guy washing his cheeses in the salt water, hand scrubbing each one to remove mould. He spoke some English and opened up one cheese and cut some off for us to try. It was delicious.
We also went on a more sobering visit to the Allied war cemetery from the first world war. The Gallipoli campaign was launched from a large shallow bay called the Moudros Gulf and wounded soldiers were transported from ANZAC cove back to hospitals on Limnos. Sadly, many lost their lives on this tiny island far from home. Having a father who served in WW2 means that visiting places like this is always a bit sad for me yet important to do as well. Our day ended with a drive up to a walking trail that took us up a mountain to a tiny church in a cave. It needed no roof as was protected from the elements. This church tucked away and well protected from raiders and conquering forces was definitely a place of pilgrimage for the believers but a wonderful walk through incredible landscape as well.
Myrina was a great place to be on the boat with the exception of one night where motorbikes used at least a tank of fuel hooning up and down the main road right behind the boats on the quay until 4am. Otherwise we were able to provision, do laundry, wander the cobblestone streets, swim at a beautiful clear beach in the harbour (very unusual) and walk around the large castle on the hilltop gazing at the deer roaming the grounds.
After over a week on Limnos the time had come to grab the breeze and head towards the island of Thasos which would be our northern most point for this year. It is very close to mainland Greece and once again had a personality that was totally different to any other island we had been to. We arrived at a town on the south west called Limenaria and moored on the town quay. Over the days that we were there many Bulgarian charter boats came and went. It’s only a few hours’ drive from Bulgaria to this part of Greece and an ideal playground for a country that has no Mediterranean coastline of its own. We hired a car to see the island and found a decommissioned marble mine that provided the whitest marble in the world (gracing parts of the Empire State Building in New York) leading to white marble cliffs falling into the sea. There were even some ruins sitting sweetly between two tiny bays filled with crystal clear water and mica white marble sand. The sunsets were beautiful, and the moon was full. A cat tried to adopt us too. We arrived home from a walk to a little miaow from down below. He had arrived and was checking out the boat. This little boss cat was well fed by the fisherman and chased by the local boys but on balance seemed to have a pretty good life, so we ushered him off the boat and made sure there was no stowaway when we left!
From here we began to head south, to pristine islands as well as heavily touristed ones plus a visit from our daughter, Ambar and ultimately towards our home of Leros at the end of the season. But that’s another story……