Greece to Spain

 

October 26, 2006

 

            Aloha Capt Koo from Barcelona where I arrived three weeks ago and will keep Jubilant for the winter. It is a fantastic, exciting city. But, now to try bringing you up to date since arriving Greece at Kos four months ago. This first stop brought the convenience of being in the “west”.

            I found great food, people who speak my language, good medical care for a shoulder that was giving me some trouble, and motor bike rental (great for touring). Between Kos and the Italian side of the Ionian Sea, I stopped at 30 and more islands and anchorages, so I will just hit the high points to keep this report from getting too voluminous. The Cyclades Islands of Greece are well known because of lots of tourism . I will skip the big ones.

 

            My first two stops were at Lefitha and Amorgos, both barely populated. The stone walls on each rugged spot and ancient ruins on the ridges made for great settings. Both once had larger populations, but people have moved away from most Greek Islands to find work. These two had few remaining and little evidence of recently deserted villages. The water clarity for swimming was near perfect. Because June is preseason, I saw only two other boats. Nice.

            Two 20 mile days brought me to stops at Skinousa and the big island, Naxos, while winding through some rocky minor islands. Skinousa is a beauty with a small harbor and a lovely village located a tiring hike away on the top of the island. There were cafes set up for the tourist market, but none arrived yet. Villagers were very welcoming, particularly little kids. The scenery from the top is a grand seascape with old windmills in the foreground.

            Naxos is a very large island that has always had a substantial population since before the Greeks. It has been ruled be Greeks, Phoenicians, Romans, Goths, Venetians, Turks and a lot of others over the centuries. The harbor has great anchorage overlooked by a large castle where some of the homes have been in the same families since the 1400s. I took a motor biked the island and explored a number of churches and monasteries. The small Byzantine chapel I visited in the middle of a field (shown in the pictures) was a real hit. There were no homes near by. There was only room inside for 2-4 people. Some of the frescoes were crisp after all those centuries. The feeling was of a connection with timelessness. Much of the island is cultivated. Lots of olive trees and grains.

 

            I sailed north to Rina and Tinos. Rina, close to the mega-tourist island of Mikanose has a few dozen people, hundreds of goats and two nice anchorages. The second, with views across a strait to Miconos, had ruins on the point for a great picture. I spent a few days, all on the boat, and crossed to Micanos for a look. The marina was a mess, filthy and jammed with boats, so having visited there 12 years ago, I decided to give it a pass and cross to Tinos.

            Tinos turned out to be my favorite of the Cyclades Islands. As I arrived the town, the harbormaster waved me in to moor at the town quay, helped me moor, and became a pal. No charges. The island is known for it’s artisans and merchant sea men. I stayed 5 days and rode over all the roads. The smallest villages were all in lovely settings and placed before photography, but as though image was the design objective. The island belonged to Venice for a few hundred years, so the main town has a strong Venetian architecture influence.

            I had a thrill on departure to Siros, 18 miles away, when a strong “Meltimi” downdraft wind from the mountain on Tinos hit. I was towing the dingy, expecting a light wind sail to Siros. A man fishing on the sea wall started waiving at me with vigor. I looked behind and the dingy was spinning in the air in gusts over 40 knots. I returned to harbor with spinning dingy in tow and reanchored after a couple of tries. I got the dingy aboard and deflated.

            Sure glad I got my shoulder fixed in Kos. Single handed sailing can be exciting! Most of the crossing to Siros was a fast 8 knots with the genoa only and the awning flapping. Siros got 5 of my days in two lovely anchorages, but I could tell the season was picking up. The second anchorage had 24 boats, maybe in part because Athens was only 70 miles away.

 

            I decided to transit the Corinthian Canal rather than cruise around the Peloponnesian Peninsula. The canal is only 2.5 miles long. It was begun in ancient Greece, worked on in Roman times and finally completed in the early 1800s. It connects the Aegean Sea to the Gulf of Corinth and the Ionian Sea. It would give me two of the canals between the major seas in one year. Worth doing.

            From Kithnos Island I did a long day, 60 miles, to the top of the Pelopenese at Epidhavrom, a town named for the ancient Greek entertainment complex nearby.  It is a very pretty tourist town where I visited the 2700 year old amphitheater seating 14000 patrons and still in use for concerts, the acoustics being extraordinary.

            After a short overnight stop at Korfos Bay I arrived at the east end of the Corinthian Canal, paid 260 euro in fees, and began my transit ½ mile behind a cruise ship at 1030 on June 27.  The canal is cut through limestone, leaving cliffs on both sides at least 400 feet high. The channel has no extra width. If a cruise ship had not preceded me, I might have worried about hitting the sides. Even so, I was concentrating on staying in the center and steering a strait line. This is the most expensive canal in the world on a mileage basis. It was about  $325 for the 3 miles and worth it, but only because of the history.

 

            The Gulf of Corinth is a long body of water, mostly less than 5 miles wide. My first stop was a quiet little cove, surrounded by olive trees with a tiny chapel at the end and no people. I had a nice rest then ran to Galaxidhi for a dose of history. This was a shipbuilding and fortress city from ancient times through the early 20th century. Now it lives off tourism and is worth a visit for the lovely waterfront and charm of the town.       From the gulf I sailed to Ithaka Island, which was the home of Odysseus whose adventures were chronicled by Homer in “The Odyssey”. Generally I felt the Ionian Islands to be a disappointment because of crowds of yachts. Ithaca is an exception. It is beautiful and I covered it all by scooter. Many of the men have traveled widely as ship crew and officers, speak English well and were great company. Many of the officers for the Onassis ships were from here.

            Fifty miles or so to the north, I anchored off Scorpio, the Onassis family island. It is a beaut, but no one invited me in for dinner. Aristotle really new how to live in style. Paxos and Corfu were the next stops. Paxos was crowded. I had minor damage there from having a tour boat drag anchor and drift on to me. Corfu has a pair of Venetian forts in good repair and great beauty. It would be a good vacation spot, but had far too many visitors to make the yacht anchorages a pleasure. The high point was two days spent at the Mandraki Sailing Club as it is located directly below the walls of the oldest Venetian fortress.

 

            I departed Greece from little Orthonoi Island, where strong wind gusts and a grouchy ferry skipper caused reanchoring twice, and sailed for the bottom of the “boot” of Italy, arriving at Santa Maria di Leica after a fast and lumpy 50 mile day. This is one of those spots, famous in the Med, that have little to offer other than a high opinion of the value of the marina. This one was run down and would cost $150 for the night, so I anchored out and skipped the unattractive looking town and sailed across the boot instep in strong wind for 80 miles to a big shallow anchorage at Capo Rizzuto.

            It was a relief to get the anchor down and take up a book for the evening. The next day and 46 miles took me to the small industrial town of Rocella Ionica for 4 days of maintenance, resting and castle crawling. Another long day and choppy seas around the end of the boot, across the Straits of Mesina and I arrived at Taormina on the island of Sicily. This is an elegant resort area. The coast is steep to here. There are resort hotels hanging on the rocky cliffs. In the anchorage Jubilant felt pretty small, as most yachts were in the multi million-dollar class. The place seems like it should be loaded with the rich and famous, but I didn’t meet or recognize any.

 

            Headed south on Sicily I stopped at Catania to check out the city core reconstructed in the 1500s after nearby mount Etna blew off and destroyed the city.  It is again erupting now, the lava flows glowing in the sky at night. The City itself feels industrial, but the center is wonderful architecture.

            I next spent a week in Syracusa. This is a walled city with a large ancient fort protecting an excellent harbor at the entrance. During Greek and Roman times it was felt that an army that took Syracusa could take Sicily. In WWII General Patton felt rightly that to take Sicily would destine the fall of Italy. The old city is on a narrow necked peninsula and beautifully maintained. There were about 20 cruising yachts there, but the harbor is large and it felt uncrowded. I met a nice couple from Malta who were in need of a new engine for their 32-foot sloop. The forecast was for light winds for a few days, so I offered a tow the 80 miles to Malta.

 

            We did the trip in two legs on a very long towline. The first 30 miles had us arrive at the SE end of Sicily, Capo Passero at night. The next day we did a pretty uneventful day of 55 miles to Midi Marina, Valletta Harbor, Malta. Anyone arriving past the fortified city walls of Valletta feels a thrill as this place oozes history, but after a 55-mile tow of a Maltese yacht it was even better. The owner of the tow, Ray Funk, was a great host who gave a few tours of Malta and neighboring Gizmo and became a good pal.

            The history of Malta is long and dramatic. At various times it was controlled by all the major powers of the ancient world. The crusader Knights of St. John ruled it longest after the folks that became the Turks forced them from their base in Rhodes. They built fantastic fortifications at Valletta, named for a Grand Master, and a beautiful fortified city Medina at the top of the island.

            When Ray Funk was a boy, his grandmother lived in Medina in a very nice home in the castle walls. In the 1500s 1200 knights and local troops held off an invading army of over 10,000 trained Turkish troops for 4 months until the Turks left with something 2/3 casualties.

            Gozo Island, across a narrow strait from the capitol at Malta has another city, Victoria. This city is located at the island’s crest for defense from North African pirates. At one time all of the population of Gozo was captured and sold as slaves. The city design discourages a recurrence. The artisans there are known for stone carving. Even humble homes can have very intricate stonework.

 

            Old Seattle friends Charlie and Ruth Cronheim had been cruising the Med seasonally a few years. We arranged to meet at Pantelleria Island, Italy which is about 2/3 the distance between Malta and Tunisia. The first half of the 118 mile overnight trip was calm, the second half I was powering into 20 to 35 knot headwinds and was grateful to get the anchor down in a small rolly cove in the  SE side if the island.

            In the morning I powered in head seas to the harbor on the NW end of the island and moored to the quay at no cost. Four days later Malaika II arrived for a great reunion. We spent four days checking out the island together, then sailed in company the 76 miles to Trapani on the west end of Sicily with a short stop at a nearby Favignana Island for some swimming.

            From our marina base in Trapani we went land touring, first Trapani itself, then the mountaintop city of Erice, Monreal and Palermo. Trapani is a nice city with a great harbor and worth a visit, but Erice is a fantacy place. The city is fairly large and looks unchanged since the 1600s but for power and plumbing. Amazing. I hope the pictures do it justice.

            The next day we took a 3-hour bus ride to Monreal Monastery and Cathedral. It is Catholic of course, started in the 1200s, but the large amount of tile work gives it a Moorish flavor. A couple of days later we took to the bus again and walked Palermo, not just the home of the Mafia. Again, we did castle crawling and the like. The city is the capitol of Sicily and much finer than I had expected. I would give the harbor a pass due to pollution but the city is full of statuary and other treasures.

 

            The crew of Malaika II did more land travel, but I got antsy as usual and sailed To Arbatax Marina on Sardinia, a 175-mile overnight passage. Sardinia is a very large island that lacks the coastal ruins and cities I had become used to. In ancient times the people lived inland. There is almost no seafood in the traditional Sard diet. Much of the coast is now developed, such that tourism is now the biggest industry, but there are still a lot of anchorages spoiled only by the large number of bare boat charters.

            I cruised up the east coast, stopping at Isola Tavolara, Sofi Island, Porto Cervo, Golfo Pervo and a few other anchorages. I day anchored in Porto Cervo (a yachting resort developed by the Aga Kahn in the 60s for the super rich) during the Rolex Mega Yacht race series. A tiny yacht was 70 feet and many went over 120 feet. I like my way better!

            I hopped across the narrow Bonofacio Strait to Corsica for a quiet anchorage at Punta di Rondinara and then a visit to the marina at Porto Vecchio where I stayed 5 days due to strong winds caused by gales up in the Gulf of Lyone. There is a great hilltop fortress city here, French people and French food.

            I got restless and left for the Sardinia side of the strait before the wind let up much and spent a few days at Capo Testa and Sta Maria de Gallarda watching the clouds scoot by overhead. I thought de Gallarda a nice marina and town for a yachtie who would like to winter in a quiet place with provisioning.

            Finally the wind pulled to the south and I sailed the 50 miles to the eastern end of Bonafacio Strait to anchor at Pta Negro at the shallow Fornelli Passage in crystal clear swimming water. The passage is protected by ancient towers designed and placed close enough to each other to resist invasion and relay signals to the next tower up the coast.

 

            In the morning I set off powering on a 205-mile overnight trip to Minorca in the Spanish Balearic Islands. It was a powering trip until the last 8 hours when the wind blew hard so we did 8 and 9 knots the rest of the way into Port Mahon. This is the best natural harbor in the western Med. The anchorage is bullet proof. During the “season” it is so loaded with yachts and tourists that I would hate it, but this was Sept 23 and most had gone home.

            I found the city charming, but being a mountain goat would be helpful. Everyone was welcoming. The cappuccino was great. I spent 6 days happily waiting for southerly weather to take me northwest to Barcelona. When I got a day of calm wind before a southerly I left and checked out a couple of lovely anchorages on the south shore for great swimming and a little bottom maintenance. Then it was an easy overnight to Port Vell Marina in Barcelona Harbor where I moored just down the dock from Charlie and Ruth on Malaika II.

 

            This seems a great place to keep the boat over the winter. There are a large number of cruisers here and the social scene is active. Barcelona is one of the world’s great cities, just loaded with art, history and culture. The place is pretty costly by SE Asian and South Pacific standards, but reasonable as compared with America for most shopping. It is easily to travel from here to most anywhere in Europe, so I will do so. I will base on the boat until I leave in March except for a trip to the states for much of December and January.

 

Whew…enough writing!  Love, Denny

 

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