Ank and I have holidayed on the French Canals over the last few years. This year the American side of the family wanted to join us and do some thing different. The women discussed it electronically and decided it was the Greek Islands this year.
We went onto the internet and looked at all the usual sites like Moorings and Sunsail, but we also contacted a broker who did some enquiries and got us a very good deal for us with Apollonia Yacht Charters, We made contact with the efficient charter manager Evie and soon had a Charter Agreement and had paid the 50% down-payment of E3250 for a two weeks cruise in September.
We chose the Dodecanese Islands because they were close to each other, there was little risk of the famous Meltemi wind, the weather was still good and the tourist and cruising boat numbers would be less at this time.
I did a quick and effective course in simple everyday Greek with Gloria in Cape Town, while the girls organised the shopping list and the men got the paper and electronic charts and Heikel?s Greek Island Pilot, with which we pre-plotted our route .
We flew to Zurich via SAA on a pleasant flight. From Zurich we flew via SAA partner Swiss to Athens to meet up with sister Jane from Johannesburg via Dubai. We took a taxi to the port of Piraeus to catch a Blue Star ferry to Kos, which we had booked on the net through Paleogogos Shipping. Blue Star 2 was a huge 9 deck ferry, full of Athenians on their ways to their weekend homes in the islands for the weekend. We had booked three air-seats which were comfortable for the 9 hour cruise. The food was good, there was entertainment and the ship did 25 knots in a clear moonlit sea, smoothly like a floating block of flats.
The crew before departure
We arrived at Kos at 3 in the morning and camped out at an all night caf? until first light when we walked the short distance to the town. Kos is very pleasant touristy town on the eastern end of the Island of Kos, looking out at Bodrum in Turkey only five miles away. It has an old knights castle and the tree where Hippocrates, he of ?the oath?, is reputed to have taught. The town has good shopping, many small hotels along the harbour front, a commercial harbour and a modern marina. Here we met up with our American group, Marcus and Patti, and Kathy and Carlos, who had flown in via Athens. We were in no hurry, the advantage of a two week charter, so the first two days we stocked the vessel, met with friend Maria from Athens, watched the hustle and bustle around us and the frequent hydrofoil high speed ferries which go to Turkey and surrounding islands, and day sailed in the bay, getting used to our catamaran Lagoon 380.
We had studied the Lagoon 380 catamaran from the brochures and decided it would be a bit cramped for seven of us, but it would do and was in our price range. In fact it turned out to be much more spacious than we expected. In particular the saloon is airy with good windows, and opens onto the aft cockpit with the galley between, which is very functional. The deck area is spacious and safe, the trampolines large and comfortable. The cabins are a bit cramped but we made do, as long as we kept things tidy.
We sailed on the Monday, into a force 5 on the nose. The sea was short and choppy but we were dry and the two Yanmar 3 cylinder engines drove us easily at around 5 knots, on auto-pilot. The first leg was 20 miles into Kalimnos. We berthed stern on to the quay side in the inner busy inner harbour. Our first berthing was not a model of good seamanship as we didn?t get the anchor to bite and the wind swept us off our line. Still it gave amusement to the watching locals and nearby yachties, surprisingly unhelpful (maybe they had a thing against cats)!
Kalimnos Harbour from the Monastry
Kalimnos is a vibrant town with everything you need from good supermarkets, plenty of tavernas and some beautiful houses. It has a history of many Greeks leaving the islands during the 2nd world war to avoid starvation as they were not allowed to fish and collect sponges by the Italian occupiers. They are now returning having made their fortunes around the world. Old homes which have deteriorated are now being rebuilt to their former glory. The town has lovely old homes next door to broken down houses. We connected to shore supply and water, unlimited for a mere 3 euros. We discovered one of the yachts defects at that stage as the electric calorifier would not work, so engines had to be run for hot water, not a pleasant thing to do in a confined harbour. We were also disappointed that the boat did not have a black water tank so there was a constant stream of the crew to a nearby caf? for coffee and the bathroom!
We hired two cars from one of the many rental offices (you can hire bikes, scooters, or cars for very little money). The owner, Stavros, told us where to go and we set of to explore. We saw an impressive new small airport, hacked out of a mountain top, we swam and lunched on a lovely beach with a taverna where we ate local delicacies including Octopus Balls, washed down with the local Mythos beer. We had a sunset wine at a taverna where the owner told us he had found these historic wrecks of Byzantine ships, and, for a ?small investment?, we could get a cut of the spoils!
We found the Greek people delightful. They almost all spoke understandable English and smiled at our pigin Greek: They were always helpful, particularly when we tried to decide which wine to buy, a daily conundrum.
After two days in Kalimnos, we sailed on to Leros, about three hours away, motoring into a stiff but warm northerly force 5 again. Leros Island is much smaller than Kalimnos but we made for Pandeli on the east coast which has a small harbour surrounded by tavernas and the tiny one-man fishing caiques with their big lights and net haulers. The quay was blocked by some thoughtless flotilla who had parked alongside rather than stern-to which would have allowed more to berth. We therefore anchored in a nearby cove which was very pleasant for its position and distance from the inevitable Greek music from the tavernas, full of the local fishermen preparing for their night of fishing or celebrating their catch. That night we had a barbecue on the beach.
We found an Internet caf? with iced frappe coffee, where we could catch up with what was going on at home in SA or USA , and could do some more victualing. It was a particularly poignant day as it was the 5th anniversary of the 911 catastrophe in USA, and our American crew bought and hoisted a Stars and Stripes in reverent silence. There was an imposing knights castle overlooking the village which we taxied up to but it was disappointing in its emptiness. The European Community is funding much reconstruction in the Greek islands and we saw many examples of their good work, but it?s going to take some years to reverse the deterioration of years of partial poverty. Tourism is their big future and the Greeks are going out of their way to develop that.
After two days in this paradise (we hadn?t seen a cloud since we arrived), we moved on to the island of Lipso. By now the wind strength was up to force 6 still on the nose. Yachts were sheltering in protected coves. We made for the village harbour. A delightful place of white houses, we berthed stern to the town quay, alongside some full time cruisers, three boats from UK. One owner was an ex-management consultant who told us of the stress free life they now live, meandering the seas. Around the harbour we could count 12 small churches for a community of 700, an indication of the religious foundation of these island communities.
After a day of lazing and trying to catch fish (they ignored our bait). We sailed for Patmos next morning. The wind had abated and for the first time we sailed making 7.5 knots in a sea state three with 20 knots true wind. Skala on Patmos is dominated from above by the monastery of St John the Evangelist. It is an island which receives many religious tourists and is somehow different than other big islands we visited. There is a law forbidding ?nudism or promiscuity?! However the main street by the quay is a race track for boy-racers (of all ages) roaring noisily past on their scooters at all hours.
Our taxi driver Nicholas, took us to the Cave of the Apocalypse, where St John is said to have received the word of God through a hole in a rock. It was a most ethereal and moving experience, and gladly free from flashing digital cameras. We then moved on to the Monastery amongst a number of groups with guides in different languages. Snucking onto the back of an English speaking one, we learnt about monastery life and the source of the beautiful antiquities there. A great experience.
In the evening we left Skala harbour and anchored in a nearby cove. The clearness of the water and the silence of the night and the clarity of the stars delighted the crew, despite being woken by early morning roosters who seem to have their time clock wrong as they wake at about 3am, sound off and then go back to sleep until six. Unfortunately we couldn?t! Next morning we left Patmos Island with the wind now behind us, and had a spanking good sail. We made for the harbour of Lakki on the west coast of Leros. The town is known for being an infamous ?dumping ground? for the mentally sick in the sixties. It has strong Italian flavour to the architecture and there were many signs of re-building. We berthed in a simple marina but were unhappy to be charged French marina prices for sub-standard facilities. After a giro sandwich at a local caf?, we used the showers and internet and moved on, as we believe many yachts do, feeling they are being ripped off.
A celebration dinner on board
We sailed down to another cove on the west side of Kalimnos, anchoring off the beach amongst a few yachts and had a happy wedding anniversary supper at a nearby taverna. We left early next morning thanks to the local roosters who were clearly as time confused as their Patmos cousins.
We made a brief stop at Kalimonos for water and a chicken, and over-nighted at Mastikhari for a boisterous final cruise dinner of chicken coq au vin, cooked on board. This is a nice resort with a lovely beach only ruined by very large ladies, who sun-bathe topless and really shouldn?t! Next day we made our way back to Kos to clean and hand over the boat for the next charter.
It was two weeks of bliss. The family got together, it was not too expensive, the weather was great, what we saw was delightful. The Greeks were welcoming and helpful. We really did enjoy it all. It was one of a number of the things Ank and I wanted to do ?before we can?t?, As we left Kos by ferry on the route home, we decided it had all been very well worth it.