Ten days in Tinos

6th - 16th August

Arriving at Tinos in 36 knots of wind after a 60 mile long voyage we were relieved to find plenty of space on the quay. The wind was blowing straight off so we dropped the anchor, Paul backed on to the quay like an absolute pro, and we were finally safely attached to a large piece of concrete. Later the following was spotted in the pilot book....:
'NOTE: Care must be taken of violent gusts off the high land on the lee side of the islands when the meltemi blows. These gusts may be considerably higher than the wind strength on the sea when the meltemi is blowing...' Furthermore:
Well that explains it!

Tinos was one of those harbours where it's all a bit random. It is not clear whether or how or to whom you are supposed to pay any harbour fees. The helpful man from the port authority who took our ropes asked the boat next to us to go to the port police with their papers, but he didn't ask us. They couldn't find the place and he didn't ask either them or us again. They told us that the port authority are reponsible for collecting the fees but the port police get the money. Therefore little incentive. And every port has a different set up. Here, the port man showed us how to hook up to free electricity. That's a first. Water was available, the port guy went off on his scooter to get the water man who came down with his receipt book and charged us 1.50 Euros for 150 liters. All very satisfactory from our point of view but less of a good deal for the Greek state it would seem.

It was lively at night on the harbour that night but we slept soundly anyway.

It's always interesting seeing who is on the quay, particularly as we had seen hardly any sailing yachts on the east side of the Aegean. Charter boats with young Australian/Americans one side and the next day a New Zealand crew arrived on the other side. The Kiwis were needing to get their boat back west to Athens by the weekend, but winds were not looking favourable. In the end they stayed two nights and after much umming and aahing left on Thursday at midday. Slightly concerning to see them go. The young captain looked distinctly anxious. We watched them being tossed from side to side as soon as they left the harbour, even under motor with only a tiny patch of genoa out. Soon afterwards we measured gusts of 46 knots on the quay. Paul messaged them to suggest they might want to consider returning, we were glad when they replied saying that once they were further out and away from Tinos the wind dropped to 20-25 knots. A big relief to know they were ok. Not least as the previous evening a new neighbour had arrived with spectacularly shredded sails.

Landlocked, we explored Tinos. A striking feature of the town is the carpet running up the side of the main road in town.
Exotic we thought, realising it led up to a large church and was therefore presumably intended for crawling pilgrims. Tinos, we discovered, is the major Christian pilgrimage in Greece, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and we had arrived in the middle of her two week festival. That explained the festivities on the quay the night we arrived - lively even by Greek standards of late night dining. The pilgrimage is centred on an icon with miraculous healing powers found here. A nun and an old man were visited by apparitions leading to the discovery of an old church where the icon was eventually unearthed. The discovery was seen to be doubly significant as it happened in the year that Greece won the war of independence from the Turks. A large renaissance church was then built on the spot. On 15th August the icon is brought out and paraded around town for all to see, and in the two weeks running up to it pilgrims come from all over Greece to pay homage to the right honourable VM. Her church has an impressive array of red runners to take mercy on the knees of devotees.
We followed the crowd and ventured into a crypt. Inside there was holy water on tap inside arched rooms with fonts and icons covered in silver and gold.
Prayers could be written and posted in a box along with small images in pressed metal plaques depicting the object of your prayer - an arm, a leg, a woman, a man, a ship etc. The metal things are for sale in little shops all around, along with candles and icons and little plastic bottles to fill with holy water.
I bought a plaque for the boat and prevailed upon the good Mary to support St. Christopher (the patron saint of travellers) in keeping us safe at sea, adapting the process to keep both her blessing and the plaque. 'Trust in God but tether your camel' as they say, so we also have displayed the procedure for radioing for assistance should our hour of need arrive.
Meanwhile our planned departure kept being postponed by fearful forecasts, underlined by the continuous blasting and buffeting of the boat on the quay. We settled down to a routine of mid-morning coffee at one of the many pleasant cafes in the narrow whitewashed lanes.
As well as selling good cappucino these establishments offer facilities to reduce demands on our holding tank. They also provide welcome respite from the whistling and clanking in the rigging and the constant motion of the boat. In the popular game of 'how windy is it now?' Paul spotted 49.7 knots on the instruments. That's 57 miles per hour to you landlubbers. 92 kilometers an hour. 25 meters per second. Even at night the wind rarely seemed to quieten down, gusts of 25-40+ knots eternally streaming down at us from the steep heights of Tinos.

Meanwhile, this superyacht reversed in next to us, 46 meters of pure black shininess. Available to charter with 8 staff for a mere 150,000 Euro per week.
Basically a big black mirror.

We got chatting to our neighbours of the ripped sails, an unusual and beautiful old wooden vessel.
Norwegian Janita and Greek Andreas sailed 'Mayflower' from Norway down through the rivers and canals of Europe. It was interesting to hear his perspective on living in Norway, their life in Greece, and her voluntary work in the refugee camp in Samos where he is from and where they live. There is no provision for instance for much needed medication, which is provided for by international donations. She has 3 years training as a social worker/nursing assistant (vernepleier) but ended up taking all referrals for child healthcare. Interpreters are not available. It is hard to square all this with us just bobbing about on a boat.... but so it is.

Having had their two ripped sails sewn up into one serviceable one and wanting to travel with another yacht going the same way they decided to set off one morning. Paul got a line to their boat from ours to help them get away without mishap.
Click HERE for some footage

A few hours later however they were back. After two waves nearly knocked them flat they turned around and headed back to safety. That evening Andreas introduced us to a new culinary experience gathered by his own fair hand. The only edible parts are the orange bits - the reproductive organs of this spiny shiny black hermaphrodite. Hmmm yes.... Paul was unkeen.
Exquisitely, delicately flavoursome it turned out to be though. Which looks likely to be the cause of their demise. The law no longer permits commercial fishing but domestic use is permitted. They seem common enough hazards when climbing ashore to attach lines though. Pleased to say I have yet to step on one.

Landlocked as we were we took a tour of the island by motorbike. With little information available in English we went on a blind date with Tinos. First stop Monastiri, a convent it turned out when Paul was denied access on sartorial grounds and relegated to the naughty bench outside with all the other men in shorts. The nuns' accommodation was beautiful, and dotted about in the whitewashed mini-city were numerous small churches / sanctuaries / holy grottos.

It proved as windy up high as below, with dramatic views from the top edge. A very dry landscape.
Click HERE for a panorama

Some beautiful churches.
More churches than houses sometimes, lit up in white against the unremitting brown of the desiccated hills. All the buildings in this photo are churches.
It is hard to believe that the terraces carved into every slope of the island are ever green, they seemed so dried out. Tinos was described in centuries past as the most fertile of the islands in the Cyclades however. This may have been down to the fertilisation provided by the dovecots that litter the island.
The dovecots were introduced in Venetian times as pigeon meat was found to be good, and the droppings even better. Judging by the few we passed that seemed still to be in operation the smell must have been pretty potent back then. The ornate decorations were believed to attract doves via their symmetrical designs. These discerning doves did the island a true service, for the dovecots are as plentiful and as beautiful as the churches.

The island turns out to house colonies of artists as well as doves and nuns. In the pearl of a place that is Pyrgos there is an art school and two museums of sculpture - as well as the usual spectacular array of beautiful churches. We timed it so that the museums had both just closed, but a walk around Pyrgos was reward enough for the soul.
Safely back in Tinos town, pilgrims with bundles on their back were beginning to throng the roads. By dent of the wind we were still here and the date was 14th August, the evening before the main event. We wandered up to the church.
People were crawling up the road, some with bandages around the knees, some without. Some with sleeping mats on their back, others with friends or relatives carrying bags. Nobody seemed to take much notice.
People sleep out around the church over night and we passed many human shaped bundles and family groups. Children were running around, there were stalls selling all sorts. We only got as far as the electrical goods. A festival atmosphere prevailed, in the midst of which the shapes of crawling people could be seen. Spot the priest on his mobile phone?

Next morning at 11.30 the proceedings down at the quay began with people gathering on rooftops.
The navy was in place in triplicate, bunting flying.
All of a sudden church bells were ringing, ships were honking, canons were going off right left and centre, and a procession arrived from on high consisting of wonderfully dressed bearded priests mostly with pigtails, some with gold crowns and golden gowns, others in their black regulars. Accompanying them was the band, and the navy in all their finery.

Click HERE - it's worth it! and don't forget to turn the sound up for the full effect.
Eventually the icon itself emerged, carried atop the sailors' shoulders in its gold and silver encasement, to the salute of the coast guard and the letting loose of canons and church bells and ships' horns all over again.
Click HERE to see the icon arriving

And that was that. No thronging around to kiss or touch the icon. No mayhem. Just a short (well, rather long actually) prayer / incantation by the priest over the loudspeaker, some marching, saluting, band playing, bell ringing and singing. All very celebratory. And off the end of our gangplank as luck would have it.

And so finally, we left. Winds were favourable the next day and alarms set for 6am to get away before the wind started rushing down the hills in earnest. Neither of us slept much. As dawn broke we broke free of Tinos. It all looks so still on a photo but we left as we had arrived, in 36 knots of wind.