My Family & Other Animals - Sporades Sailing Holiday Log - By Ian Cumming

My Family & Other Animals - Sporades Sailing Holiday Log - By Ian Cumming

My family and other animals...

Here we go with the log from our 2 week Sporades flotilla! This first post is a combined day 1 and 2.

DAY 1 & 2 - DELICIOUS KLEFTIKO & LITTLE BANANAS

Day 1 dawned hot and bright in Orei on Evia Island having slept well on our first night on 'Aristi', a Beneteau 331, and our home for the next two weeks. We arrived at about 10:00pm the previous night after a long but 'on-time' flight from Heathrow to Athens and our coach/ferry transfer from Athens to Orei.
This whole area is steeped in history. Evia is the second largest island in Greece and in mythology, Poseidon (the sea god not the ship!), wanted a peaceful life for himself and his new wife so he hit the mainland with his trident to create a new island - Evia on which he lived with his wife, but with easy access to his underwater palace believed to be between Evia and Skiathos Islands.

STARTING IN OREI

Orei itself is a small harbour town probably most famous for its bull. A huge marble bull dating from the 4th century BC is proudly displayed (and also seems to be proudly disintegrating......) in a glass case in the town centre. The bull was found whilst dredging the harbour in 1965 and it is believed to be imagery of the goddess Heira's sacred bulls that reputedly grazed this area.

After our initial briefing from Al, Jake and Faye we provisioned the boat. We stocked up with all the essentials (beer, wine, gin, tonic, lemons and a few other bits and pieces!) and tried to leave for a fairly short shake-down trip to Akhilion on the mainland. I say tried to leave because we couldn't due to a load of swimmers in the harbour. It seems that this was the day of the annual cross-bay open water swim - finishing in Orei. We managed to sneak out however in between races under the careful watch of the port police and avoiding a few straggler swimmers en route, and headed off into the Trikeri channel. The wind was a steady F5 pretty much on the nose so some exhilarating close-hauled sailing to start the holiday.

A left turn into the entrance to the Gulf of Volos and then a left again into Akhilion Bay (nautical terms!) saw the wind drop to F3/4, and now come from directly behind us. An hour or so of Goose-Winging had us ready to drop our sails to enter the harbour of Akhilion.

THE GULF OF VOLOS

Akhilion is situated just opposite the town of Pighadi which is reputed to be the spot where Achilles set sail with 300 ships bound for Troy. The prominent landmark of the Achilles tower on the top of the hill just outside Pighadi commemorates this.

A great first night proper group dinner was enjoyed in Akhilion before a fairly early departure for Skiathos Island. The early departure was for two reasons: firstly its quite a long way, and secondly the wake from passing ferries funnels into Akhilion and it gets very bouncy on the quay!

After our 10:00 departure (that's early for us!), we were joined at the entrance to the Gulf of Volos by a pod of 9 dolphins. The dolphin didn't hang around for long (they sometimes like to play) but Izzie (age 12) did get some good photos - including one of a dolphin and a sea turtle who obviously also came along to see what was going on!

After leaving the dolphins we motored head to wind for a bit to get some miles under our belt before sticking the sails up and tacking along the Pelion peninsula towards the Skiathos channel. The wind was a steady F3/4 and we had a really great day's sailing. Despite looking very hard we didn't see any half-human half-horse centaurs on the peninsula who, according to mythology, lived in this area and held many riotous parties.

KOUKOUNARIES – The best sandy beach in Greece?

A shift in wind direction late afternoon mean that one final tack took us straight into Koukounaries Bay for about 4:30pm. This is one of the best sandy beaches in Greece and our overnight stopping place. Free-swinging at anchor in the bay is fantastic - although if I'm honest I never sleep very well when anchored just in case the anchor decides to move and we head out to sea - or into another boat (and tonight there is a very expensive looking floating gin palace thingy anchored just behind us!)......

Water sports on the beach proved popular with the younger element on the flotilla and I mistakenly allowed myself to be dragged round the bay on a small inflatable thing - at least it cleared my sinuses out.

DELICIOUS KLEFTIKO & LITTLE BANANAS

Dinner was at the fantastic Big Bad Wolf restaurant (their Kelftiko is amazing and highly recommended!). This restaurant is the opposite side of the fresh-water Strofilia Lagoon (nature reserve) to he beach. Local folklore has it that a whirlpool called The Eye forms in the lagoon on occasions - dragging people and objects in to it - so we stuck to paddling in the sea.

Tomorrow we are off to Nea Klima on Skopelos - but as the weather looks settled it's time for some exploring en-route - we are going to head up the East coast of Skiathos. There is apparently a small schism here that you can just get a yacht in to…Whatever you do don't tell Sailing Holidays Ltd....... I understand that we will also be sailing past the appropriately named 'little banana' beach which is apparently the main nudist beach on the island!

I'll tell all tomorrow.....

DAY 3 - ROCK FORMATIONS & SEA CAVES

Our anchor kept us in place overnight in Koukounaries Bay despite it getting very bumpy between about 01:00 and 04:00 this morning. I don't know where it came from but a swell managed to work its way into the bay and right on to the spot we chose to anchor. It is quite nice being rocked to sleep though, just a bit noisy.

We surfaced at about 09:00 this morning and headed in to the beach in our dinghy to buy some bread and to have a swim in the poolat the Muses Hotel - which you can use for free if you buy a drink. Much as we all like swimming in the sea, it is nice to get in a fresh water pool.

We returned to Aristi and left our anchorage at about 12:00 - destination Nea Klima on Skopelos. Given that the wind was light and good sailing was looking unlikely for today, we decided to go the long way round and motor up the west coast of Skiathos to try and find the Dorancara schism and to have a look at the Kastro from the sea. In normal Sporades weather this side of Skiathos can be quite unpleasant due to it receiving the full effect of the prevailing wind so the light winds gave us a great opportunity.

The Dorancara schism is/was a large V shaped ravine in the cliff just N of Ak Sozon that you could just get a yacht in. Unfortunately it has collapsed in a huge land slide and there is now nothing more than huge pile of rubble where it used to be.

So, on to The Kastro. The Kastro is the most northerly cape of Skiathos and from the sea there are great views of the medieval fortified cliff-top village that was all but impregnable to marauding pirates. There are also some amazing rock formations here and one or two small sea caves. Continuing round the NE coast of Skiathos we passed Lalaria beach which is famed for being only accessible from the sea and having fine white sand and spectacular cliff features. As the beach was full of day tripper boats making the most of the calm weather, we moved swiftly on!

Before crossing the channel to Skopolos Island we sailed past Fonissas cave on Skiathos which is famous for hiding a Greek submarine from the Germans in WWII.

Once we had crossed the channel to Skopolos, we passed Loutraki/Glossa heading further S to our overnight stop at Nea Klima. As the name suggests this is a new harbour and town built to replace the old Klima which was destroyed in the 1965 earthquake.

Dinner was at the excellent Oasis Taverna - but just a few too many wasps around for my liking. I now know why the Greeks eat later! As soon as the sun goes down the wasps disappear!

According to my weather forecast we are in for a couple of days of light winds - so time for more exploring! Tomorrow we might go looking for the Dragon's schism on the S coast of Skopolos. Hopefully this one is still there!

Winds are expected to return to normal Sporades levels by the end of the week though.

More to come.....

Day 4 & 5 - THE CLEAREST WATER I HAVE EVER SEEN

Day 4 - Tuesday morning - saw us leave Nea Klima for the short hop round the south of Skopolos Island to Skopolos Town where we would stay for the next two nights. Several yachts in the flotilla arranged to meet en-route in Stafylos Bay for a swim/lunch stop but before that we had some exploring of our own to do on the S coast of the island.

I am pleased to report that the Dragon's Schism still exists (unlike the Dorancara schism on Skiathos) and I can also confirm that a Beneteau 331 can be safely manoeuvred in stern first. The water in the schism is crystal clear and the two large underwater rocks can be easily avoided. This schism was apparently formed when the cliff opened up to swallow a dragon. Apparently, If you listen carefully you can sometimes hear the trapped dragon snorting from its underwater tomb - we couldn't!

Stafylos Bay a little further along the coast was our next stop - for lunch and a swim. We anchored off the main beach in about 7m along with four other boats from our flotilla. The kids from the yachts (aged 8 to late teens) kept the adults entertained with all sorts of acrobatics/dives from a stand-up paddle board. One or two Dads even gave it a go too - Tom Daley you have nothing to worry about!

Stafylos Bay is quite important archaeologically as it is the most northern Minoan settlement ever found. In 1936 a Minoan tomb and various gold artefacts were discovered just behind the main beach and the adjacent Velanio Beach. The beach itself was named after the Cretan General Stafylos whose tomb it is believed to be.

Tuesday evening saw us heading into Skopolos Town harbour in flat calm conditions. No sailing at all today - but the wind will pick up soon! Dinner was at the excellent Alexander's restaurant that we discovered last year. It is a small restaurant in the old town set in a walled courtyard around the original town well. The food is simply amazing and much better value than the harbour side tavernas in Skopolos Town.

Day 5 (Wednesday) was a day that many boats on the flotilla chose to stay in harbour (no wind forecast, and some wanted to hire a car etc). We decided though to head out in Aristi to Skantzoura Island.

Skantzoura is an uninhabited island inside zone A of the national marine park (the most protected part). It lies about 18nm ESE of Skopolos but as it is not on the usual route round the islands it is not often visited. An early morning start under motor took us out of the Skopolos channel, past the Adelphi islands, and after some 'proper navigation' to ensure we were clear of the Polirrikhos and Gaidharos reefs (actually not that hard as in good conditions as you can see them!) we arrived in Prasso Bay on Skantzoura just after midday.

We anchored in about 6 metres in some of the clearest water I have ever seen. The clarity of the water and the sandy bottom reminded us of Emerald Bay in the N Ionian - but without the people. We spent an enjoyable hour swimming, snorkelling and diving for sea urchin shells before lunch. Lunch was a strange affair as we had forgotten to buy any bread before we left Skopolos so we had a variety of sandwich fillings without the sandwich.

We left Skantzoura just after 14:00 to head back to Skopolos. We kept a closer than usual eye on our position due to various shoals as we sailed up the SW coast of Skantzoura before heading due west back to the Adelphis, and then back to Skopolos. On the way back we picked up quite a nice breeze (F2/3) - not quite enough for sails alone given the distance we needed to cover but perfect for motor-sailing.

We arrived back in Skopolos Town just in time to shower, change and head out for dinner (Alexander's again!) followed by an open air cinema showing of Mamma Mia (the film was set in and around Skopolos island). The open air cinema was the one used for the world premier of the film back in 2008 and the atmosphere was great.

There is now only one island in the Sporades that we haven't visited in the last two years sailing round here - Skyros. This is the furthest outlying of the Sporades group lying some 26nm SE of Skantzoura. It would be nice to complete the set.........

Tomorrow - Alonnissos Island and Steni Vala.

Day 6 & 7 - just like London buses.....

We left Skopolos Town early and headed N to visit Tripiti Cave, a large sea cave on Skopolos that with due care a yacht can be manoeuvred inside - stern to and watching the mast on the overhanging rocks. The water was crystal clear but as it was a bit choppy we didn't stay long. We were rewarded on our way out with a really close up view of an endangered Eleonora's Falcon swooping around us.

We stuck the sails up and had a nice close-hauled sail in a F3/4 straight through the gap between the Ag Georgios and Mikro islands. Once clear of the S tip of Alonnisos we turned onto a NE heading parallel with the coast of the island.

Visiting the National Marine Park

We are now in the National Marine Park of Alonissos and the Northern Sporades (NMPANS), a marine conservation area established in 1992 by presidential decree to protect the amazing flora and fauna of the area - and especially the endangered Mediterranean Monk Seal. The NMPANS is split into different areas with variable levels of restrictions on activities surrounding different uninhabited islands.

Tonight's destination on Alonissos is Steni Vala (which means narrow valley). It is the most northerly proper harbour in the Sporades and more or less marks the northern limit of habitation in the Sporades. It is a truly gorgeous spot, made all the more special by having the opportunity to chat to Costa who is the local friendly author, historian, and cafe and supermarket proprietor.

Once tied up stern-to on the quay, swimming and snorkelling off the yacht was the order of the day followed by a flotilla group dinner. This time we got the logistics right - one table for the kids and one for the adults!

The following morning we had intended to head off on our own to visit Skyros Island, the only Sporades Island we haven't yet visited but the weather just wasn't playing! Skyros is approx 40nm from Alonissos and the weather for the next two days in the area was forecast to be almost flat calm. The idea of 8 hours motoring there, and 8 hours back (with no wind to sail by) didn't fill us with much enthusiasm. Our visit to the island on which the English WWI poet Rupert Brooke is buried ("If I should die, think only this of me: There is some corner of a foreign field that is forever England") will just have to wait until next year!

So, plan B. We left the flotilla in Steni Vala to head up to the North Bay of Kira Paniya (or Pelagos) Island. En-route we stopped off in Shipwreck Bay on Peristera Island to look at the wreck of a freighter that had been impounded on Alonissos for people smuggling. The ship however broke free of it's moorings in a strong southerly gale and ended up on Peristera. It now provides a great wreck to swim and snorkel round.

A good sail in F4/5 wind then took us out of the Alonnisos channel and across to the South Bay of Kira Paniya where we stopped for lunch and a swim. We left at about 16:00 for a 2 hour motor sail in a light winds round the W coast of Kira Paniya to the North Bay, our overnight anchorage.

The most remote, isolated, tranquil bay...

KIra Paniya North Bay is the most remote, isolated, tranquil bay I have ever moored in.On arrival we discovered however that we were reunited with the rest of the flotilla as everyone else had decided to head for the same place! An impromptu drinks party for 40 people was held on Roxanne - the largest yacht in the flotilla (thanks Simon and Tracey!). This was a great evening even though we might have spoilt the tranquility a bit for the one other yacht in the bay!

Tomorrow - Psathoura beckons!

PS - Why London buses? Because I have no wifi/mobile phone signal so you may get 2 or 3 logs at once

Day 8 and 9 log from the Sporades...

Our night under the stars in Kira Paniya North Bay was just amazing with many people choosing to sleep on deck under the stars watching the perfectly timed meteor shower.

We weighed anchor at 08:00 to head N to Psathoura Island, the most northerly island in the Sporades. Matt and Izzie managed to sleep though both the engine being started and the windlass pulling the anchor up.

We sailed due N along the coast of Yioura Island. As part of the NMPANS, no vessels are allowed closer than 500m to the coast of this spectacular island that was believed to be the home of the Cyclops - we saw no sign of him though.

From Yioura, the huge lighthouse on the tiny Psathoura was easily visible. The lighthouse was built by the French in 1895 who seemingly became fed up with losing vessels in the dangerous shoal water in this area. Once north of Yioura, navigation became a little more serious to ensure that we were clear of a submerged reef about 1nm south of Psathoura, as well as the the Miga rocks.

Psathoura is greek for mat, and approaching the island it is easy to see why it is so named. It looks just like a mat floating on the sea. Psathoura is a volcanic island and looks much more like a pacific atoll than a greek island.

Don't be distracted by the Sirens

The waters around Psathoura are shallow and care is needed with navigation - as well as ensuring that you aren't distracted by the Sirens. The Sirens are half naked gorgeous young women who attracted sailors to the island by singing beautiful, entrancing songs from the "flowery meadows" of Psathoura. Once the ships had been wrecked in the shoal waters around the island, they were plundered by the Sirens. The reason that Jason took Orpheus with him on his quest for the Golden Fleece was to drown out the enchanting music from the Sirens on Psathoura with his lyre playing. I looked (and looked and looked and looked) for the half naked beautiful women - but couldn't find them!

After a few dog legs to avoid shallow water and rocks we anchored just off the S beach of Psathoura in about 4m on sand (there are some rocks that need avoiding) and dinghied in to the beach of soft sand. This place really is magical! Landing is permitted on Psathoura as long as you stay within 50m of the coast line.

The Mountainous Coast of Yioura

After an hour or so on the simply stunning deserted beach we motored south from Psathoura down the stunning and mountainous E coast of Yioura to our anchorage for the night in Peristera Bay on Peristera island - where we rafted up as a flotilla and enjoyed a barbeque and a drink or three! One slightly sobering thought was that we were enjoying our BBQ on the beach that only two days earlier 42 women and children refugees from Syria had been picked up from.

After some yacht maintenance (a new windlass remote - thanks Jake, and a new mainsail halyard - thanks Al and Jake!) we left Peristera bound for Loutraki on the W coast of Skopolos.

En-route we diverted to look at the three blue caves on Alonissos (just south of Lalarias). Once again, a yacht can be taken just into the entrance of two caves with their stunning blue water. The third cave contains a sea monster and no-one who has entered has ever come out alive so obviously we didn't try going in to that one.

We arrived in Loutraki at about 16:00 and managed to get a berth on the quay. This was welcome after two days in anchorages as it gives us chance to fill our water tanks and replenish boat supplies. I'm also studiously avoiding the port police here - last year they took exception to us flying a Jolly Roger and made us take it down - It somehow seems to have found its way back up again this year.....

Tonight - dinner in Flisvos taverna in Loutraki.

 

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