20th June - 4th July
We reached Porto Rafti a couple of days in advance of our rendezvous with Jean. After a night in the bay we found space on the quay and spent a hot day getting the boat shipshape.
Not the most glorious harbour for the reception but only 15 mins by taxi from Athens airport. Jean settled in to the rear cabin for the night after mushroom risotto on board. In the morning we found these hapless little fish had made a suicidal leap into our rear scoop. These little ones look lovely when like silver rain they leap from the sea. We had a small school in the dinghy too, quite a leap to get into that. In the morning heat they didn't smell so fresh though.
Fish buried at sea and breakfast had we set off north for the Evia Channel. Whilst underway Paul spent some hot hours making and attempting to use various tools to open the inspection hatch to the holding tank as our former blockage returned. Unfortunate timing with a VIP guest now onboard. On arrival in Karavos he finally succeeded in prizing off the lid to the inspection hatch. At this point there was nothing for it but to reach a long arm into the tank to excavate large amounts of encrusted compost by hand. Jean declined to volunteer in spite of subtle prompts (I felt perhaps her slender limb would have fitted better than mine....). I will spare you further details but long story short those of you who are yet to visit will be pleased to know it is now all sorted for you. My pleasure. No, really.
The Evia Channel proved a more industrial landscape than hitherto. Here is Jean enjoying views of the ancient cement factory, dressed in cashmere for the occasion.
The only bit of pre-travel advice we gave her was not to bring any warm clothes. Luckily we had some spare. Continuing the industrial theme, Karavos itself is a small place remarkable for its view of the power station, as well as the beauty of the hills around. A grey day - though not as grey as the one depicted. I pinched this photo from another yacht's blog, not having been moved to capture this particular view. Quite spectacular though in fact.
We found a spot on the quay next to a Romanian family and went for a swim off the beach just along the quay, it now being boiling hot again after the cold of the journey. An 'organised beach' as it is termed - straw sunshades, tables and chairs and drinks for sale. The designation 'organised' which is used not only for beaches, points perhaps to the default Greek mode of unorganised, as opposed to disorganised. On some quays on some days you pay, on other days there is no way to pay, on other quays you don't pay on any day anyway. No clear pattern is discernable. But it all seems to hang together for the most part. We enjoyed a swim and a drink and a meal out before the heavens opened once again. It's warmer in England apparently.
Destination Chalkis, a narrow isthmus between the mainland and the island of Evia connected by two bridges. One is a high level bridge with 50 meters clearance, the other a low bridge in the town which opens briefly for passage once every 24 hours and only at night, at variable times depending on the tide. You go to the Port Authority to pay the 35 Euro fee and then take proof of payment to the Port Police and receive your instructions. The bridge opened at 1:30am, but we were instructed to wait by our radios from 9pm so we stayed up. People have been known to miss their slot as there is not much of a window. This large motor yacht in front of us prompted plenty of pondering on who owns these things. The owners just sit about watching the staff do al the work. Where's the fun in that? Quite beautiful the turquoise light on the seas below though...
People seem to be up fishing at all hours of the night in Greece. Not much to catch but a very popular hobby nonetheless with the young and old.
When the call finally came we were first to scoot through, finding a berth on the other side of the bridge along the quay. A few hours sleep later we woke to a sunny day. Following breakfast in the cafe off the gangplank, Paul took the opportunity to get the anchor chain out to repaint the markers so that the Anchor Dame might more accurately gauge how much chain she has actually dropped. This having at times been a cause of some agitation back in the cockpit.
We were parked near this haunting sculpture. I took a picture of the inscription and asked a waitress later to translate. The monument was dedicated to the people who died in the struggle for Greece in the 2nd world war. We met a woman of Greek heritage whose two great aunts starved to death on one of the islands. These sculptures evoked it.
Feels important to remember the not so distant history in the midst of all this beauty.
After some provisioning in the busy town of Chalkis we motored up the channel for an hour and anchored in a bay. A rather cold and grey day dawned after a quiet night. With decent wind and the seas against us we had a choppy day's travelling.
Click below to see some video clips to get an impression.
'Blitzortung', the website we have come to rely on for real time updates on lightning strikes, showed numerous strikes and hence probable thunderstorms not far away. We managed to dodge the lightning striking in the hills around but didn't escape the rain. Glad to find space right at the end of the quay in the little harbour in Limni, where we were welcomed by a number of very friendly Dutch yachts.
We had probably our best meal yet of calamari, aubergines and local food under the awning of an unassuming restaurant along the quay, sheltered from the rain. However much food you order here the bill always comes to about 35 Euros. A strange phenomenon.
Onwards and northwards in the quest for sun and summer, next stop Loutra, a ferry port not far up the channel. Once again we were motoring into strong winds on the nose. Not much to report from Loutra, having not actually got off the boat at all... whoops. Paul and Jean did however and little gain was reportedly had. I had a great time watching a man and his little grandson excitedly catching very small fish, which they took home on their scooter for dinner.
Orei next - an inviting little town. As well as being a pleasant place with super-friendly 'supermarkets' (corner shops) which delivered to the boat, it has a marina with dry berths. Our neighbours on the quay were a couple from Bristol who sail a month in spring and a month in autumn, and who were leaving their boat there. Turned out later I vaguely know them. Small world, once again. The quay was right next to a sandy (unorganised) beach with showers. And in a little bus shelter type thing about 50 yards away we found 'the Bull of Orei', a phenomenal piece of sculpture from 500BC which washed up in a storm here in the 1960s.
What those artisans of old conjured from marble blocks with a chisel is truly extraordinary. How did they do it? All the dimensions are right and the flanks of the bull are literally rippling with power. And here it is, in the very place where it washed up, imprisoned in a quietly rotting bus shelter. Something very metaphoric about it.
Whilst Paul was watching England play Belgium and I was speaking to Finn on the phone the heavens suddenly opened. Luckily Jean was at base to close the hatches in the downpour. A stormy night ensued and once again I was glad to be safely on a quay.
Having had our fill of quays we headed for a bay next day where we anchored after some vacillation (a lot of wind being forecast) in 'Ormos Loutro' on the mainland, under 'Achilles Tower'. The wind did not arrive and we had a still night under a full moon after a BBQ onboard.
En route to this spot we came across some dolphins, some came up to us and swam along with us for a while. Bottlenose dolphins - so beautiful! I got some footage of them under the water, here is a still from the video, click on the link below to see the video in full.
Click HERE to see the video
With their 40 year lifespan, these mammals gestate for 12 months and keep their young with them for 4 years. They have a language of 66,000 spoken ‘words’ and recognise themselves in a mirror. The part of their brain responsible for memory is larger than ours. They remember the whistles of other dolphins they haven’t met for years, and groups of dolphins communicate with each other.
Aren’t they beautiful? So glad that they came whilst Jean was with us.
From our tranquil bay the next day we motored over to Loutraki on the island of Skopelos. Loutraki has a safe harbour and the old town of Glossa is 'just up the hill'. Following advice in the pilot book we booked a table at the restaurant and took a taxi up. The views were spectacular, the white wine beautiful and it was a real treat to spend an evening there, though the price was as steep as the descent to the harbour afterwards. The old stone road in the dusk was interesting. Very glad to get to the bottom of that one with all bodies intact and no bones broken.
Next day we found the humble remains of the Roman baths, easy to miss, right by the sea. Under piles of dry seaweed was a mosaic floor made of pebbles. So simple and beautiful. One to try at home?
Next day we mainly motored but hoisted sails for a while in light winds east to Alonissos whilst Jean was finally able to do some sunbathing.
We found a peaceful bay where we ended up staying two nights. Here is Paul on the phone to Reuben, newly employed in his technical sales job in Cambridge.
During the last leg of our trip with Jean over to Skiathos Paul finally completed the installation of the new GPS system with a bit of help from his friends.
Arriving in Skiathos we found a place on a pontoon and after some retail therapy we had a great meal at a small pizza place. Not to forget the excitement of a penalty shootout between England and Colombia. The rest is soon to be history.