Sophie has been anchored in front of my brother David and his wife Goga’s house in Kotor, Montenegro for the last week. Our current location is 42°27′.934N, 18°45′.704E, which places us at the same approximate latitude as the Rogue River in Oregon (for those of you keeping track at home.) Our arrival here is one of the happiest accomplishments of our sailing adventure, one of the reasons we decided a year ago to come to the Med via the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea. We are in a good place.
In order to get to Montenegro from Turkey, we spent 6 weeks sailing 500 miles across Greece. It was a spectacular experience which we were lucky to share with our friends Randy and Susan (joining us in the photo above.) If we weren’t on a schedule to meet up with family, we could have easily spent months or even years in Greece.
We could write 30 blog posts and post 1,000 photos and still not entirely capture the full extent of our experience in this country. This blog post is my initial attempt and focuses on the harbors and anchorages we visited during our passage. Jenna will be following up with her beautiful photos, as usual.
We cleared out of Turkey in Marmaris and made the 25 mile passage to Rhodes in half a day. We were able to secure one of the last available berths in the Mandraki Harbor in the port of Rhodes, but it took us 45 minutes to med-moor on the quay due to the 25 knot cross-breeze. It was not fun, but we later learned that 2 other bats had tried to moor in that same spot and gave up. That made us feel a little better. Our berth was at 36°27′.054N, 28°13′.600E. After securing the boat, our entire family made the pilgrimage to the Port Police, Customs, Immigration, and then back to the Port Police. We stopped for our anniversary dinner at our first outdoor Greek taverna in the middle of this process. and eventually everything sorted itself out. We were finally in the EU! The Port of Rhodes is centered around an old town and fort that was built by the Knights of Saint John during the Crusades. The museum is excellent, as is the ancient Greek stadium and amphitheater. Unfortunately, the Colossus of Rhodes is long-gone.
After Rhodes we went to Tilos for an overnight stopover. We anchored on the south side of the island at 36°25′.753N, 27°20′.894E in 30 feet of water. On the way to Tilos, we caught an actual tuna fish, proving once and for all the the Med is not completely fished out. The anchorage provides good shelter from the prevailing northerly meltemi wind, but we woke up to a southerly and exited the harbor at first light.
Our next stop was Astipálaia, an island off the beaten tourist track that had a reputation in the middle ages for being a haven for pirates and smugglers who hid their boats in Astipálaia’s many coves. We anchored in a little harbor by ourselves in the middle of the south coast at 36°34′.416N, 26°23′.234E in 25 feet of water. I brought my bike to shore and struggled over the little mountain range to visit the main town of Skala. Later we all had dinner in our anchorage at a cute taverna with brightly colored chairs and an interesting mural of a pirate wench sporting an ouzo-firing submachine gun.
Jenna just sat there, shaking her head. It was a very quiet and relaxing island to visit. We stayed two nights.
This is the famous Greek tourist island with the iconic blue-domed, white painted houses perched on the cliffs of a massive ancient volcano. Even though Santorini is 10 miles long and is visited by four cruise ships a day, it only has one small harbor, Vlikhada, located at its southern tip. Fortunately we were able to cajole our way into a berth there and used it as our base in Santorini for a week. 36°19′.997N, 25°26′.136E. The anchorage is very small and very shallow; upon our exit we wrapped a mooring chain around one of our propellers as we navigated the channel in 6 feet of water. Oh my goodness, Santorini was a special place! Our friends Randy and Susan flew in from Seattle and joined us here for the start of their 2 week Sophie Adventure Cruise. We toured the island in a rental car for a couple of days. We did the famous walk along the cliffs from Thira to Finikia. We visited the preserved ruins of one of the oldest archaeological sites of pre-Hellenic Greece. We toured a wine museum with underground animatronic displays of 19th century wine making. We ate great food, drank good wine, and even discovered a bakery with an outdoor, self-service kegerator. Birthplace of civilization, indeed!
My personal favorite was sitting in a taverna above the Vlikhados harbor at sunset and watching the ballet of 25 charter catamarans all coming in to a narrow, 200 meter-wide harbor after sunset. It was quite a show!
After the hustle and bustle of Santorini, it was nice to sail over to Folégandros, a quiet island with a chora (Greek town) on a cliff overlooking a broad expanse of sea. We anchored in the main harbor and hiked up the road to have dinner and watch Eurocup football in the town. At one point I even rented a quad 4×4 to make it easier for a hungry, post-school Hazel to make it up the hill to dinner. This was a great spot. We anchored at 36°36′.791N, 24°57′.050E in 12 feet of water.
Our next stop was Milos, which has some of the best beaches in all of the Med. It’s also the home the famous statue “Venus de Milo”, which was found by a farmer in a field here and “sold” to the local French consul in the late 1800’s. (The more I tour local historical sites of ancient civilizations in this part of the world, the more angry I become that so many of the local treasures are now housed in museums in London, Paris, and Berlin.) We anchored in the southeast corner of the big harbor of Ornos Milou at 36°41′.475N, 24°26′.735E, which gave us the best available shelter from the meltemi. The were some boats on the other side of the bay that were getting smashed against the town quay in the 30 knot winds and 3 foot waves. We were safe. Jenna took our guests and the kiddies in the rental car for a day of beach excursions while I stayed on Sophie and did some Jamie work. Randy always wanted an upside-down backwards Speedo shot, and on Milos he made it happen. It was a great day for all of us.
We really liked Sifnos and anchored in the double harbor of Faros on the south coast at 36°56′.341N, 24°44′.766E in 12 feet of turquoise water. Our anchorage only fit 5 other boats, including a big charter boat with a bunch of older French men and their “granddaughters.” We spent 2 days at Sifnos. The grownups enjoyed swimming, the kiddies enjoyed motoring around in our little “Baby” dinghy, and we all enjoyed eating at the local beachfront taverna 2 nights in a row. At this point we were really getting into the Eurocup football tournament and watched games both nights.
After Sifnos we sailed our way over to Paros and anchored in the Ormos Plastira bay at 37°07′.475N, 25°13′.070E in 15 feet of water. We spent a few nights here enjoying a local beach with weird rock formations, a good local taverna for football, and excellent swimming. We also met the Lockharts, an English family that was taking a year off to explore the world. They have two boys, and it was great to see the kiddies have some playmates their own age.
We spent 8 days in Mikonos, partly to enjoy the nightlife and partly because we were pinned in by a strong northerly meltemi. Randy really wanted to experience the nightlife on Mikonos, and the island didn’t didn’t let him down (although we did miss Lindsay Lohan’s 30th birthday party here by ten days.) Mikonos has multiple anchorages along its south coast, all providing some shelter from the meltemi, but the wind coming off the mountains can really pick up. We spent our fist nights in the bay opposite the beach club Super Paradiso (above) at 37°24′.761N, 25°22′.226E anchored off the beach in 40 feet of water. The beach club had over a thousand people along with a club dj playing boom boom house music. We rented a couple of beach umbrellas and soaked in the scene.
Later that night the four grownups hitchhiked, walked, and cabbed around a headland to the nightclub Cabo Paradiso and stayed out until 4:00 AM! We definitely weren’t in Indonesia any more. Later that morning we moved east 3 bays to Kalafatis and anchored at 37°26′.436N, 25°25′.392E in 30 feet of sand off the beach. The beach clubs here were more family-oriented, we got to watch some some world-class windsurfing, and we celebrated some school milestones at an excellent Italian restaurant nearby. Later in the week we motored over to the main harbor of Ornos and encountered meltemi gusts of 40-50 knots along the way. We were worried we had made a big mistake as we entered the harbor, but found an anchoring spot in the lee of a cliff at 37°24′.922N, 25°19′.183E.
We could see big whitecaps 50 meters away from us in the main harbor, but we were sheltered in our little anchorage spot. We said our goodbyes to Randy and Susan, who pretty much had the best-ever Sophie Adventure Cruise of any of our guests over the last 3½ years. We then stayed tucked up against our nice cliff for another four days as we waited for the wind to die down. (Diva, the Bintang t-shirt is for you. Enjoy Indo!)
Delos and Rinia
When the meltemi finally subsided, we made a 5 mile trip on Sophie over to an anchorage on the east side of the island of Rinia (37°24′.521N, 25°14′.175E) from where we could take the dinghy to the amazing archaeological site at Delos. Delos is the mythical birthplace of Artemis and Apollo and served as the economic and cultural capital of the eastern Mediterreanan for 500 years. During our tour of the extensive and beautiful ruins, Hazel slipped and scraped her foot pretty badly, so I took her back to Sophie in the dinghy. The chop and wind had picked up significantly as we crossed the bay back to Rinia, so Hazel and I took Sophie right over to the day anchorage at Delos (37°23′.646N, 25°15′.788E), and collected Jenna and Leo after their tour.
After we were all back onboard Sophie on Delos, Jenna and I decided to make to the 40 mile late afternoon run over to Kythnos instead of spending the night on the south side of Rinia. For our first night on Kythnos, we anchored in the port of Loutro on the east side of the island in a quiet harbor with two other boats. We anchored at 37°23′.716N, 24°27′.494E in 50 of water with a lot of chain out. The next morning we motored around to the west side of Kythnos and dropped a hook in Ormos Fikiadha at 37°24′.823N, 24°22′.827E in 12 feet of sand. It was a wonderful, protected anchorage with a sand bar beach. At times there were 30 boats there, but that was OK because the swimming was excellent. There was a family taverna on a small cliff overlooking the beach, and a mile away was another bay with a taverna that showed football. We joined the Germans one night (above) and the French the next. Jenna and I even went on a date by ourselves at night with the dinghy to the town 3 miles away! We could have spent a month here on Kythnos and cannot wait to return.
We eventually and reluctantly had to leave Kythnos to continue our journey north to visit with family in Montenegro, and we randomly picked Sounion as a halfway stop between Kythnos and Athens. What a halfway spot! Sounion is located at the southern tip of the Attic peninsula and features the Temple of Poseidon, one of the great preserved temples of ancient Greece. We anchored under the temple and wandered up the hill for a visit. Afterwards, a squall with 40+ knots of wind came through just as we were getting back on Sophie. We found ourselves anchored a little too close for comfort right under base of the cliffs and the temple. So we moved the boat to the middle of the harbor, with plenty of swinging room, and let out all of our chain in 35 feet of water. We survived the night and have a newfound respect for the god of the sea. Our final anchorage was at 37°39′.183N, 24°01′.327E.
After Sounion we motored the 25 miles up to Athens and took a berth at the Zéa Marina in the Pereaeus district on the waterfront. There were over 40 superyachts in this 1,000 boat marina, but the marina staff tucked us onto a quay in front of the police station next to a collection of other cruising boats. We didn’t do much in our three days in Athens except visit the Acropolis, the Parthenon, the Erechtheon, the Theater of Dionysus, the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, the Areopagus, the Temple of Hephaestus, the Ancient Agora, the Stoa of Attica, the National Archaeological Museum, the National Gardens, the Zappio Megaro, Hadrian’s Arch, the Temple of Athena Nike, the Monastiraki District, the Plaka District, and the Temple of Olympian Zeus. We also squeezed in a playdate with the Lockharts at the local playground and wound up staying out all night with the parents watching the Eurocup and then dancing until dawn. Afterwards we took the subway with the kiddies to a mall and watched the film BFG. My personal Athens highlight was wandering into a marine chandlery with Hazel and discovering that the store had the best inventory of Jabsco marine toilet spare parts I have ever encountered in my entire life! Better than Fisheries, better than West, better than any place in New Zealand. We’re talking electric Quiet Flush discharge ports right on the rack, right next to Pumpguard prefilter replacement screens! (No more finger cuts from cleaning worn out Pumpguard filters for me!) And the guy behind the counter knew his stuff. Indeed, Athens was a special place that we will never forget. At some point I assume Jenna will share a photo or two. 37°56′.062N, 23°38′.950E.
Galaxidi (Via the Corinth Canal)
After an early departure from Zéa, we motored the 25 miles to the entrance of the Corinth Canal, a 3 mile long cut through a cliff that would save us 100 miles of beating against the meltemi if we went on the outside of the peninsula. We tied up to the Canal authority pier, paid our €280 transit fee, and then proceeded in a mini convoy through a 100 foot wide trench with 200 foot cliffs on either side of us. It was pretty cool.
After we exited the canal, we motored another 40 miles through the Gulf of Corinth and settled upon the little town of Galaxidi at 38°22′.863N, 22°23′.401E on the north side of the gulf. What a lovely little town! We anchored in 20 feet of sand off of an impromptu beach club at the tip of the village where a dj was spinning house music and families were enjoying their Saturday afternoon. There were three other boats in the anchorage, fifteen boats on the quay, and all of the tourists in the little town were Greek. We wound up spending three nights here and could have stayed a month. Jenna and I spent a night in the only taverna in town that showed football, and we were the only non-Greeks in the crowd. We made a day trip up into the mountains to visit Delphi, the holy site of Hellenic Greece, and soaked in the majesty of ancient civilizations. We swam in tranquil waters surrounded by mountains. It was yet again another special place.
After we left Galaxidi, we exited the Gulf of Corinth, rounded the corner into the Ionian Sea, and made our way north to the island of Levkas for an overnight stop. We anchored in the big bay past town, surrounded by 50 other boats in 25 feet of water at 38°41′.344N, 20°42′.397E. We didn’t go to shore, but enjoyed a post-passage swim in the warm water. As we entered and exited Levkas, we passed by the private island of Skorpios, which used to be owned by Aristotle Onassis. He married Jackie Kennedy there in the 60’s. The island is now owned by the daughter of a Russian oligarch who made his money by consolidating control of Russia’s potash industry during the rise of Putin. He must be a clever man. Potash.
After our night in Levkas, we continued our northing to Paxos, where we anchored in another tourquoise lagoon at Lakka on the northern tip of the island. On our way, we transited Levkas Canal, a mile-long cut through a salt marsh. The canal is blocked at its northern tip by a ferry that serves as a bridge between the mainland and the island, and every hour the ferry sounds a horn, turns sideways, and lets the waiting boats pass by. It was pretty funny. When we arrived in Paxos, we wall-tied to a cliff in 15 feet of water in a small harbor with 50 other boats at 39°14′.259N, 20°07′.910E. At this point, Jenna and I were beginning to feel pretty good about our med-mooring and wall tying skills. There is a big charter industry in the northern Ionian, which explains the number of boats in the harbor, but the charter boats cleared out in a couple of days in order to return to their bases for the weekend transition to new clients. Apparently Thursday night in Lakka is Greek dancing night at one of the waterfront tavernas, but most people skipped that to watch Germany lose to France in the Eurocup. (Grrrrr). We spent 5 days in Lakka and loved every second. At this point, we had become comfortable sending the kiddies into town in the Baby in the mornings by themselves to buy bread and produce. It’s a significant point of pride and responsibility for them. We also became friends with a Spanish family with 10 year old twins (boy and girl), and the kiddies spent two days swimming back and forth between our boat and theirs. It was the sort of experience Jenna and I assumed we would encounter all of the time during our circumnavigation, and in Paxos it actually happened. We spent 5 days here and could easily spend an entire summer in the Ionian. Perhaps next year.
Our last stop in Greece was Gouvia Marina in Corfu, where we spent 2 nights hanging out and checking out of the country. This was another 1,000 boat marina, and they unfortunately lost our reservation as we approached, so they parked us at at 39°39′.002N, 19°50’887E on the far fringes of their docks, about a kilometer from the marina office. We weren’t able to see much of Corfu, but Jenna and I were able to see the Eurocup final at one of the marina bars. Hazel enjoyed the marina pool. We spent two nights eating at Harry’s Taverna, an excellent spot 4 blocks from the marina.
So that wraps up my initial summary of our trip across Greece. We are now stuck in Montenegro, surrounded by mountains, warm water, family, and a rich cultural history. Last night we participated in the annual ceremony where locals take their boats out to a man-made island in the bay and throw rocks into the water to continue to build up support around the church where my brother David and his wife Goga were married. It was part religious ceremony …
… part water fight.
We threw our rocks into the water and avoided any unnecessary splashing.
Have I mentioned lately how lucky we are?