28th July - 6th August
Waving farewell to Reub and Jo we headed to Stenivala on Alonnisos where we stayed for two nights, waiting for meltemi to blow us south to Skyros. So what's the meltemi you may ask? The meltemi is a strong northerly summer wind that blows down the central Aegean, caused by high pressure over the Balkans with relatively low pressure over Turkey. The low and the high pressure systems spin in different directions, and where they meet the wind blows. The meltemi tends to be stronger in the day but blows continually at around force 4-7 (16-36 knots, or up to 38mph).
In the lee of and between islands there are often stronger gusts still. Why so? It's supposed to be sheltered on the south side! In fact it's the opposite. On the north side of islands it tends to be light, and on the southerly side it's often howling. It's all about temperature. As the strong warm winds blow onto the island they are lifted up toward the high ground well before they reach the shore. By the time they get to the top of the island they are cooler, so they then rush down the hills to the supposedly sheltered south side of the island. (This is Paul speaking by the way. I'm still getting the hang of it.) Where this is happening you often see 'orographic' clouds hang over the top of islands, giving the game away.
The meltemi wind is supposed to be strongest in July and August but so far it had been mainly remarkable by its absence. Skipper Murphy was keen to get some decent sailing in so we held out for wind for the 33 mile crossing to Skyros. After two days we set off with 10-15 knots on the tail, pleasant sailing. We stopped in Ormos Fokas for a rolly night at anchor before we went on to Skyros marina. Skyros has few sheltered anchorages so we hopped along the 4 miles to the marina, very organised and helpful
For 22 Euros a night plus water fees you wouldn't want to be landlocked there for weeks. Which with the meltemi is a distinct possibility in the Aegean.
We hired a tiny moped to explore the island. Much of it rather barren.
Skyros old town is built around a high rock with a Venetian castle on which is now a monastery. In Greece you have to do things in the morning or the evening so by the time we got there it was characteristically closed. Strictly mad dogs and Englishmen out in the midday sun. It's remarkable how many people fit into the houses here. When people emerge for their evening meal at 10pm or so the empty streets that we have been wondering around are suddenly crowded. The monastery / castle is on top of this rock above the church, all of which drops vertically down to a beach miles below.
A steep town with tiny front-room sized churches round every corner in the old narrow whitewashed alleyways.
From Skyros we set off early at 7am for the 55 nautical mile journey to Psara. Catabatic clouds like fluffy cotton wool over the tops gathering over Skyros already as we left.
I took a bit of video of us sailing along but am never brave enough to film outside when it really blows.
Click HERE for some sailing footage .. and HERE for some porthole footage
The meltemi had definitely arrived. I was glad to see the craggy rock of Psara island approaching, but also glad to have felt comfortable cruising the meltemi. It no longer seems quite so scary. This is a good thing.
There's not much on Psara, everything has to be shipped in, but the ferries come regularly. The ferry connections in Greece seem to connect every tiny outpost, even in Psara the ferries came regularly. Good shelter on a pleasant quay in the tiny village that still manages to have enormous churches. A Greek man and his daughter moored up next to us on a smaller yacht. Discussing the weather forecast ahead he commented 'It's not just going to be windy, it's going to be hell!' Somewhat disconcerting...
That evening we walked up in an eerily dark night to an old mill and a church on the high point.
From Psara we had a 30 mile sail to Kardamila on the island of Chios, a very pleasant harbour where we were the only sailing yacht on the quay. We spent some days recuperating and getting our house in order after several long crossings.
Few tourists, mainly Greek. An understated place of some faded grandeur, figs ripe for the plucking, a childrens swimming competition off the beach, public showers and attractively planted trees for shade.
Chios is home to several shipping magnates. Perhaps the motoryacht next to us belonged to one of these. The Filippino staff told us that the owners bring the yacht from Athens for the summer to Chios where they have a holiday home. Nannies trailed the children relentlesslly. Felt a bit sorry for both the nannies and the children who kept trying to escape them.
And in the evening, a commercial fishing boat for Paul to inspect. Much more interesting.
We have been struck by the absence of dinghy sailing in Greece, but here was an Optimist open meeting,
and some evocative public art.
Speaking of art, we also did some pear arranging in honour of our friend Peter.
Kardamila was moreish, but it was time to move on. We made the short 7 miles trip to Mandraki on the island of Oinousses, where a mermaid marks the entrance
A lovely setting for the harbour with a town bigger than expected, with a beautiful church, as ever. I never get quite immune to those buildings.
The extremely loud music from the nearby bar till about 5am made for a fitful night's sleep however, along with the rolling swell caused by the ferries that seemed to continue most of the night too. But we needed to get on with the next leg: 30 miles to Emborio bay on south tip of Chios. So close and yet so far - Turkey will have to wait! We are turning the corner, heading toward the end of GT18, our Grand Tour, starting to head westward and homewards.
The Turkish navy was patrolling the waters and we made sure not to stray over the border. Here is a picture of the chart plotter showing our boat - the red line is the border with Turkey.
From lunar Chios we planned to go to Ikaria, where Ikaros fell into the sea when he flew too close to the sun and the wax holding his wings together melted. Brueghel the Elder painted the scene in the 1500s. Ikaros is hard to spot. That being the moral of the story of course. It is spring, creation is busy unfolding itself and no one pays any attention to the plop of an inflated ego that is Ikarus drowning.
The waiter in the bar in Mandraki told us Ikaria has a different mentality to the rest of Greece. The bakery is left unlocked and people come in and help themselves and leave money in a box. A place based on trust it seems. Interesting. We learned later that after the civil war the Communists were sent to Ikaria as punishment, but the locals were rather taken with their views.
Sadly however we didn't get to visit Ikaria as the forecast the night before indicated very strong winds approaching, and we needed to get across the Aegean within the next two weeks to meet Finn and Millie in Athens. We decided therefore to head straight for Mykonos, a long 55 mile crossing. We set the alarm for 6.30 and half an hour later we were off. Us and the fishermen.
As we left Chios behind the wind increased and we had a steady 20-25 knot north easterly all the way. Once again the feeling of a proper voyage when land behind disappears and land ahead is not yet visible.
Mykonos Marina website advised that we needed to message Nikos the harbour master to get a berth. I had texted him in the evening but was asked to contact him again at 8am. In the course of the morning's sail with intermittent signal the following exchange ensued:
'Have winty no leaving small boat' sounded ominous. We decided to head for Tinos, another 5 miles or so but we were sailing fast in spite of the huge waves, and estimating we could get there by 4-5pm. For yes, the waves. The Aegean is a big stretch of water. The sea has time to build up, and the waves were a little larger than ideal it seemed to me. 2-3 meters high maybe? Not massive, but from more than one direction. We were both looking forward to the flatter waters closer to shore. When we reached the vicinity of Tinos the sea did indeed flatten out but as predicted the gusts started building. "How windy is it now?" I shouted to Paul, both reefs in our mainsail and the genoa furled to just a patch. He shouted back "31 - 33 - 36 - 37...!" Time to ditch what was left of the sails. Nothing for it but to climb onto that foredeck and pull the sail down into the bag, clinging onto the mast with one arm. I reckon I've earned my naval stripes now. Once the sails were down another yacht came past us also heading for Tinos. One of the crew took this video of us.
Click HERE to see our approach to Tinos
It looks nowhere near as windy as it felt! We were glad to be able to attach ourselves to concrete in Tinos harbour, dropping the anchor and backing into 36 knots of wind on the quay.