Sailing: the fine art of getting wet and becoming ill while slowly going nowhere at great expense.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Thasos (Θάσος)

Despite predictions of reasonable light winds, there were absolutely no winds and a dead calm sea for our 60 nm passage north to Thasos.  However the boredom of motoring was relieved about 3 hours into our trip when a pod of dolphins came to visit.  About 12 dolphins surrounded our boat, leaping out of the water, riding our bow wave and having a great time.  Then after about 5 minutes all but 4 left.  These four stayed with us for about 20 minutes.  They played on our bow wave as I laughed and talked to them over pulpit.  They were so close I could almost touch them. It was such a thrill!  
The sea was so calm that even going at 6 knots there was barely a ripple to be had
We arrived in Thasos port late afternoon to be greeted by our friends Robin and Suzie from the Cruising Association.  It was good to see them again.  They had organised the fantastic Lycian Cruise in Company in the autumn of 2015 and this year we and some other CA folk are doing a loose, informal cruise to the Northern Aegean and Sporades.

The first few days in port were spent catching up on laundry, boat chores and maintenance.  We thought our dinghy had been damaged in the big blow in Limnos as it was holding water, but it turned out to be only a loose bung to the hollow fibreglass hull.  

Chores sorted, we explored the town.  It is quite lovely with ancient ruins scattered throughout and an excellent archaeological museum.  The town is set up for tourist but unlike many of the other islands we have been to, the tourist here are mostly not from other countries but from mainland Greece which is only a short ferry trip away.

The main attraction at the archaeological museum was the 3 ½ m kouros statue from 600 BC.  This statue is quite unique as the naked boy is holding a goat (most kouros have the boy with his hands at his side and look quite stiff).  Unfortunately due to a crack in the marble during the sculpting the artist threw the unfinished statue away.  Its broken bits were found in 1914, reconstructed and housed in the museum.
Kouros statue
The sculptor must have been so annoyed to have had to throw such intricate work away
The agora was lovely but as with so many sites in Greece, no maintenance has been done and the ancient ruins lie in overgrown fields with no signage.  The amphitheatre was even more run down.  We were told the area was closed because of restoration work but we decided to walk up to the area for the views.  There a fence with more holes then fence surrounded a worksite that obviously had not been touched in years.  Tourist easily walked through the holes in the fence and explored the site.  Crazy.
View from the amphitheatre hill
The port of Thasos
The amphitheatre under 'renovation'
We hired a car with Robin and Suzie and toured the other parts of the island.  First stop was Prinos.  It was market day and we picked up some great fruit and vegetables.  We then explored some of the villages, Maries and Theologos, nestled in the hills.  These villages were picture postcard quaint with cobbled streets, stone and slate houses, grape arbours over trickling mountain streams.  Sadly the southern part of the island had suffered a bad bush fire last year and the pine tree covered hills are now quite devastated and bleak.
Slate roof with moss.  Note the burnt hills at the top of the picture.
Stone house Maries
100 year old olive trees
Snapdragons growing out of a whitewashed wall in Panagia where we had lunch
The coastline offered superb views of steep cliff faces and idyllic sandy beaches.  There were excellent views of Mt Athos, 50nm away and considered one of the most sacred places for Greek Orthodox.  The entire peninsula on which Mt Athos lies is an autonomous area for monks and approved male devotees.  The cliffs are dotted with monasteries and no women are allowed within one mile of the coast.  At one point even no female animals of any kind were allowed on the peninsula.
Mt Athos
Stunning coastline
We stopped at the Monastery of Archaggelou on the south of the island.  The monastery was the nicest I have seen to date but unfortunately no photos were allowed.  They also insisted that women wear skirts over their long pants.  They provided elastic flowered skirts for us to put on – very attractive – not.  Nevertheless, the complex was immaculate with exquisite gardens and lovely stone buildings and church.

The next day we stopped at Costa’s Pottery.  Robin is a potter so Costa found a kindred spirit and told us all about the history of his family pottery business.  Costa had learned from his grandfather but now he is the only one of the family still practicing the art.  He is a master.  He threw some cups while we watched and it was poetry in motion.  He also showed us the large stone kiln that they used years ago, firing the pots using wood.  He explained the whole method of wood firing.  How a small hole would be left in the bricks so they could watch the fire and then specific cuts of wood would be added to control the heat.  First large flat discs of wood would bring the temperature up slowly so the clay could dry.  Then smaller pieces of wood would be added.  Each cut of wood had a specific purpose.  It was fascinating.
Costas at work
Our five days in Thasos were lovely.  We had reached the most northerly Greek island and now it was time to head back south and west.
Sunset over Thasos and the mainland

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Lush, Lovely Limnos (Λημνος)

Field of Poppies on Limnos
After Chios we made a quick run to Lesvos.  We really liked the island of Lesvos when we visited a few years ago and would have liked to spend more time here but we wanted to take advantage of the predicted southerly winds to get north.  So we made overnight stop at Plomari on the southern coast.  Plomari is where our favourite Ouzo, BARBAYANNIS, is made so we made sure we had some with dinner that night.  Once again we were the only sailboat in the harbour.
Our favourite ouzo

On the town quay in Plomari

The next morning we made our way to Sigri, a delightful village with a great anchorage.  As we arrived early evening and were going to leave at dawn we didn’t go ashore but admired the town from the cockpit.
Sunrise over Sigri harbour in an early morning start
The predicted 8 knot southerlies that were going to take us to Limnos (also spelled Lemnos) never materialised but a light 4 knot breeze from the southeast did let us sail along at 3.5 knots for half the passage.  Initially we were side-on to the quay in the main harbour of Limnos, Myrina.  Side-on mooring is a very easy way of mooring for us.  Then when a charter fleet of 7 yachts came into the harbour we had to re-moor in the Mediterranean style stern-to – not our favourite way of mooring as Songster with its cut away keel is not the best boat for going backwards in a straight line.  The charter yachts left the next morning so once again Songster was by herself on the quay.
Approaching Myrina, Limnos
Songster alone on the town quay
On our first full day in Myrina we walked around the town admiring the beaches, beautiful stone houses and lovely cobbled streets.  Then we explored the Venetian/Ottoman castle overlooking the town.
Bob looking heroic before starting the climb to the castle
Castle walls
View of the harbour from the castle through fields of wild flowers
Town beaches looking north from the castle
That night a wind picked up about 11pm.  We checked all the lines and fenders, added some more lines and went into anchor watch mode.  Bob took the first watch.  The wind gust were pushing Songster sideways and we kept inching towards the concrete quay.  Finally at 3.30 am, Bob woke me up and said we had to let go the mooring lines and anchor out in the bay.  The anchor set well and I started my anchor watch, sitting bundled up in the cockpit with a book and cup of coco.  It was rather nice watching the sun rise a few hours later, despite the howling wind.  Normally when at anchor we set a GPS anchor alarm but as we had anchored in the middle of the night we thought it best to stay awake to be sure.

The happy consequence of our middle of the night anchoring was that we befriended the Kiwi couple who we anchored next to.  Tina and Jonny are a lovely couple who we really hit it off with.  We rented a car together and drove all around the island see the sights.  We visited the Commonwealth WWI Cemetery at Moudra. The Gallipoli campaign was staged from Moudra Bay in Limnos and the site of many hospitals for the sick and wounded who were evacuated from Turkey. Always a sobering sight. 

We then visited an archaeological site of one of the oldest European settlements dating to the 7th millennium BC.  Finally we went to the north of the island to the ancient ruins of the temple of Hephaestus.  Throughout the island we passed lush fields of wild flowers, farming villages with green pastures and fields newly planted with spring crops.  It is quite a beautiful island - very green and lush. 
Commonwealth WWI Cemetery
Archeologists digging at Pollocani
Sheep grazing

The temple of Hephaestus.  Sadly closed when we arrived but had a good look through the fence
One of the things about this sailing life is that you tend to easily meet people who you really hit it off with but then, although you keep in touch through Facebook and emails, may never see again.  That last bit is a little sad but I find it quite amazing how frequently we meet kindred spirits whose company we really enjoy.  So although our interactions may be as short as a day or two, I find meeting these kindred spirits really enrich my life.  Such things rarely happen in the suburbs, or at least didn't for introverted me.

Monday, 1 May 2017

Medieval Villages of the Mastichochoria in Chios

Chios has quite a chequered and sad history.  As with all the islands in the Aegean, Chios has been occupied by the various empires; Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Venetian, Genoese and Ottoman.  Throughout these occupations the villagers, as villagers always do, just got on with their lives as best they could, raising their crops and herding their goats.  

One of the special crops grown in the southern part of the island was Mastic.  Mastic is a gum resin from the Mastic tree, an evergreen shrub that thrives in the arid, stony soil of southern Chios.  This is the only place in the world where the climatic conditions are just right to produce the mastic resin.  The resin has been a major trade commodity since antiquity and used in medicine, cooking, religious ceremonies and cosmetics.  To protect this valuable commodity from the frequent pirate raids, the Genoese in the 13th Century build fortified villages in the hills called Mastichochoria.  These medieval villages were the main attraction for our visit to the island.
Mastic Village
Our first stop was the Mastic museum just outside the village of Pygri.  This is an excellent museum with very informative and first-rate exhibits explaining the whole production of the mastic resin, its history and commercialisation.  A mastic tree can live for 100 years.  It starts production of resin after about 6 years with production peaking at 15 years and declines dramatically after 70 years.  Peak production is only about 200 grams of resin per tree.  The harvesting is all done by hand.  Small incisions are made in the bark of the tree and the resin drops, ‘the tears of Chios’ are collected and cleaned in a long labour intensive and multi-stepped process.
The mastic tree
The leaves of a mastic tree
The tears of Chios
Then on to the villages.  We visited two of the seven villages, Olympi and Masta.  These walled downs are a labyrinth of narrow alleys and small dark houses opening up to the occasional delightful square with wonderful tavernas.  
Enjoying a Chios beer and a sample of Mastika, the liqueur made from mastic
The decorative walls of the village

Insert photos
The population of the villages now is much reduced.  Given the history of Chios, the villages’ survival is just short of a miracle.  Although the mastic villages enjoyed special privileges during the Ottoman rule, when the island joined the Greek War of Independence in 1822, over 50,000 of Chios residents were slaughtered, another 50,000 managed to flee the carnage leaving only about 20,000 Greeks left on the island.  
Delacroix's painting of the massacre at Chios
Then about 60 years later a strong earthquake destroyed many of the buildings and killed another 10,000 inhabitants.  Finally in recent years several large forest fires have destroyed many of the trees.  We drove through many bare hillsides with only the stumps of charred trees remaining.  I didn’t take any photos.  It was all too sad.  I hope the resilience of the people of the Mastichochoria will ensure the tradition of mastic cultivation continues.  They have survived slaughter and earthquakes but can they and the trees survive the effects of climate change??
Spring flowers were everywhere
The quiet village square