Greece is the Word

Look mom, I found some rocks!

Galaxidhi, Mainland, Greece

15 July 2012

38 22 N 22 23 E


Yipppeeee!!!!    We’re done with the Aegean!

As we wrote in our last entry, sailing against the Aegean’s Meltemi was difficult.  It’s nice to have it out of the way.  The sailing did get substantially easier after Amorgos, however, and we’ve had no clenched-teeth passages for a while.  That’s good, because we’d whittled them down quite a bit recently.

We are now in Galaxidhi, in the Bay of Corinth, on mainland Greece.  With the Aegean finished, we have a moment to reflect on these last several weeks.  Here are some highlights.

KALYMNOS:  We stayed in a deep bay called Vathy. 

Leander in Vathy on Kalymmnos

Kalymnos was a pleasant and picturesque place, and we could not go for walks about the valley without the locals showering us with fruit from their trees, homemade cheese, or small gifts for Alexander.  We reciprocated as best we could.

Why fly just your club burgee when you can fly this! We met these folks on the dock Vathi on Kalymnos. They are a sort of ocean-going traveling circus, and put on shows as they move from port to port. Here, she went up the mast one night to show off for Alexander and so that Paul could take some promotional pictures for them to use.
The Greeks put up tributes to their favorite saints just about anywhere there is room.
Our circus friends sailing out of Vathy, on Kalymnos, heading towards Turkey, in the background.

We mentioned our trip home to the U.S. in our last blog, having left the boat on Kalymnos, but skipped over the part about us almost not getting on the airplane to begin with.

One of the challenges of seeing the world by boat is finding secure places to leave it.  If you’re staying overnight, you want to make sure that you’ve chosen a place where the anchor will hold.  If we’re going on a day hike, you need to make doubly sure the boat is safe, as you will be off of it for a while.  And if you are to leave the boat for some number of days, as we did when we came home to the U.S., you need to find some place that is very secure.  You do as much homework as you can in books and on the Internet, speak to locals, make your own observations, and, in the end, listen to your gut.

We chose Vathy because it had been billed as a “very protected and safe” harbor.”  We Med-moored Leander, which means that we dropped the anchor, backed the rear of the boat against a cement quay, and used two lines to secure it to the wall.   We then spent five days walking about the surrounding lush valley and collecting gifts, but also trying to gauge the safety of our mooring.  We saw the winds shift from south to west to north, and sometimes they howled outside, but there was nary a ripple in the bay.  We spoke with two local fishermen, who confirmed that the bay was protected, with the exception of a strong wind straight out of the east, which would cause a swell to roll into the harbor’s narrow east-facing mouth.  But we were told that the wind comes from the east only in the winter, and that on the very rare occasion that it comes from the east as late as May, it would not be very strong.  “No worry.” We also befriended a Dutch fellow, Frank, who kept his boat in the bay all summer, confirmed that the harbor was safe, and agreed to watch the boat for us when we were home.  The locals in the café in front of which the boat was moored also agreed to keep an eye on Leander, and confirmed the mooring’s security.  We took a further protective step of moving the boat deeper into the harbor, among the fishing boats and next to Frank’s. Though we always feel uneasy about leaving the boat for any extended period of time, we felt we’d done all that we could, and that the boat would be safe.

We were wrong.

On the day that we were to leave, with a taxi coming in a couple of hours, we awoke to a roll coming into the harbor that we hadn’t felt before.  The wind was coming from due east.

By 8 a.m., it was blowing 30 knots.

By 10 a.m., it was boisterous enough that almost all of the other sailboats left the wall on the outer parts of the harbor, where we’d been tied previously.  Now the only sailboats were Frank’s and ours, among a dozen or so fishing boats.

By 11 a.m., there were sizeable waves rolling in along the wall, and Leander was herself rolling more severely than she ever had, and being jerked viciously against her lines.  It was strong enough that one of the heavy-duty stainless steel springs that we use to cushion tugs on the line was snapped in half.

Frank’s boat was also taking a beating, and we telephoned him.  He came to his boat to find that his anchor line had snapped, and he spent an hour motoring his boat off the wall, against the dock lines, until we were able to locate a second anchor for him.

The locals shrugged.  “We don’t usually get an east wind this late in the year.”

Although we were unhappy that this happened, we were ecstatic that it happened on our watch, before we left.  We spent the morning with the boat.  We put out a second anchor, and took three more lines to shore. That made Leander more secure, but if the wind continued or the surf grew, the situation would be untenable, and we would leave the harbor.

We cancelled our Noon taxi.  We researched the weather, which called for the winds to diminish and shift to the north by 1 p.m.

By 2 p.m., the winds had shifted and softened, and the waters began to calm substantially.  “See,” said the locals, “Everything will be OK.”

We missed our flight to Athens.  We rebooked another taxi for 3:30 p.m.  We could take a ferry to the next island and catch another flight later in the day.

At 3 p.m., however, even though the winds had continued to shift to and stayed blowing from the north, a swell suddenly returned, and Leander was again getting pushed around.

But the forecast called for continued calm.  Numerous locals assured us it was about to become calm again, and that they would be “watching” the boat.  Frank had gotten his boat under control, and would stay with the boats for the rest of that afternoon until things quieted.

With our hearts pounding, we got into the taxi.  Our guts told us it was OK to go.  We called Frank several times that day and the next, as we moved from taxi to ferry boat and then from airport to airport.  The harbor had continued to calm, and was flat as a pond by the late afternoon, he said.  All was fine.  At home in the U.S, we checked the weather forecast for Kalymnos every day, and the east wind never returned.   Our guts had been correct, but it was quite a bumpy ride getting there.

What lessons to draw?  We’re not sure.  We’ve seen boats get beat up in the “safest” of marinas (Yat Marine in Marmaris) and, in a freak storm, blown off their supports after being hauled up on the land (Lefkada, Greece).  We add it to our growing list of experiences and move on, thankful that Leander is safe.

HOME:  With each passing day, and continued reassurances from Frank back on Kalymnos, we were increasingly able to relax and enjoy our time at home with family and friends.

We had come home for our college reunions, Paul’s 25th from Princeton and Sima’s 10th from Harvard.  (Really?! Where did those years go?)

Harvard reunions were good fun and Sima really loved seeing all her friends.  But, as Sima says, Princeton reunions are something out of this world. It is less of a typical reunion and more of a four-day fun camp.  The vast majority of the class comes back, and classmates unabashedly adorn themselves in orange and black costumes.  The time spent together with classmates is sufficiently long that you really do get to re-live many of the relationships you had all those years ago on campus.  For three straight days you get to say, “see you tomorrow!”  And when you are not sitting around talking, there are parades and fireworks and breakfasts and lunches and dinners and road races and soccer games and yoga classes; not to mention the musical entertainment (for Paul’s class – only – it was Jon Bon Jovi on Friday night and Joan Jett on Saturday.)  It was, really, a wonderful four days.

Paul and Alexander pose for the class picture.
Creating a sea of orange and black, Paul’s Princeton Class of 1987 poses for a photo on campus during Reunions weekend. Don’t look for Paul — he’s just off to the right in this picture.

Coming back to Kalymnos, we found the boat in good order, spent a day saying hello to our friends, giving gifts that we brought back from the U.S., and then moved on to Patmos.

PATMOS:  On Patmos, we got to know the folks at the hospital clinic really well!

Upon our return from the U.S., all three of us got knocked-down sick with a good case of what was probably the flu.  (Paul is SURE it was the fellow who sat next to him on the flight from Boston the Amsterdam, who, with his face buried in his tablet’s shoot’em up game, sniffled and honked his way across the Atlantic.)  Paul went down first, then Alexander, and finally Sima.  Each of us seemed to take it a bit harder than the next.  Paul seemed to come through in few days, but had a deep cough for weeks.  Alexander took it pretty badly, being out of sorts for a week and having three very difficult days in particular.  And when Sima’s turn came, she too had three very difficult days, recovering slightly during daylight hours but passing the nights shivering and in pain.  It was made all the more challenging by having to nurse Alexander, who himself had not yet fully recovered.  (At one point, sweaty and crying, Sima said that “giving birth had been less painful than this.”)

But we all healed up, got back on our feet, and were able to enjoy the remainder of our visit to the island.

While we were home for two weeks in the U.S., birds were busy in Leander’s sails, building nests; we found two. They were carefully done, and we hated to remove them– but you’ve got to put up sails if you’re a sailboat! The interior was layered with down, to have something warm and soft next to the wee ones.
Leander moored on Patmos. We took this picture hiking back from the hospital clinic!
Old windmalls on Patmos.
Perhaps Alexander will be a Running Robertson.

Alexander, by the way, has otherwise been doing really well, and has not been sick at sea since the trip to Amorgos several weeks ago.  Granted, the seas have not been nearly as rough as they were during those nasty beats, but they have been rolly, and he has had no problem.  Maybe he’s getting his sea legs.

ATHENS:  Our last stop in the Aegean was at Piraeus, the port for Athens, where we arrived on July 7 along with a nasty heat wave. We spent five days there, ogling at the sights and relaxing.  (Oh, and repairing the transmission that had been improperly repaired in Turkey.  But this time properly.  Probably. Hopefully.  But there’s already too much unhappy talk in this note, and so we’ll spare the details!)

We didn’t know what to expect from Athens – would it be a grimy, smog-choked city, with tourists overrunning a few small oases of archeological sites?  Staying for only five days, we only could touch upon the city superficially.  Certainly, it was gritty in places, and we felt unsafe at night in some of the neighborhoods in Piraeus away from the marina.  But the archaeological sites were something to see.  It wasn’t so much that any one thing was by itself artistically stunning in the way that, say, King Tut’s loot is, but it was the scale of the structures that is so impressive.  Maybe a bit like the Statue of Liberty in that you might not pay too much attention if it were the 1/8th of its size and sitting in a park somewhere.  But it gets your attention as a colossus watching over New York Harbor.  The Parthenon is like that. But older.

And we truly loved the new Acropolis Museum, where they have built a Parthenon to mirror the original in order to showcase the friezes.  From Alexander’s perspective, this was by far the best stop since he got to go hunting for animals in the reliefs and sculptures throughout the museum.  He found horses, tigers, dogs, and lions galore.  (“Neeeiiighhhh”  “Tie Gah” “Havv hav hav”  “Roaaarrrr!”) We were lucky that his roars didn’t get us thrown out!

Sima adjusts Alexander while exploring the Acropolis.
Alexander goes out for a run, while Sima keeps a close eye.

CORINTH CANAL:  From Athens, we passed through the Corinth Canal, which separates the Peloponnese from mainland Greece. The Corinth Canal is short, at just under four miles (and quite expensive), but it was nonetheless dramatic to move through, most notably because its walls have been cut deeply through the rock. And we transited at sunset, giving everything a soft orange glow and adding texture to the walls.

Leander moves through the Corinth Canal
Sima enjoying sunset near the western exit to the Corinth Canal
Sunset at the western exit to the Corinth Canal

GALAXIDHI AND DELPHI:  After passing through the canal, we stayed one night at Corinth, and then several days at Galaxidhi.  There we fell in with another American family, Jordy Puig and Gillian Hall, and their children Bishop and Mackenzie, who were sailing on a fit Benetau called “Lola.”  We spent a day touring Delphi in their company, and couldn’t have enjoyed ourselves more.

Bishop and Mackenzie along the road near Delphi. Careful, not too closeto that edge
The temple at Delphi, underneath which the Oracle sat.
Jordi, Sima, Alexander, Gillian, Mackenzie, and Bishop take shelter from the mid-day heat under a tree at Delphi.
The Oracles at Delphi, when they took a breath of fresh air underneath the temple where they performed thir magic, must have noticed that they had a spectacular view.

And now night has now fallen here at Galaxidhi, and all is pleasant. There is a troop of girl scouts marching back to their tents on the other side of the bay, having eaten dinner at a local restaurant.  (Perhaps scouting no longer teaches cooking over an open fire?)  Dressed in blue shorts, white pants and white and blue kerchiefs, flashlights bobbing in the distance now, they are a sharp sight.  Some fifty strong, at least.  They are singing as they hike, really belting out the songs, and the sound wafts across the bay.   But we hear it only briefly, for as loud as they chant, it is now being overcome by the music from the waterfront café next to which our boat is moored. Not that the music is really that loud, or bad, it’s just in the wrong place at the wrong time.   Listening to the girl scouts would have been a better way to end the day.

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