Friday, September 30, 2005

Log 39 - July, August & September 2005 - Greece: Ionian Islands, Corinth Canal, and the North Cyclades Islands

"Traveling in the company of those we love is HOME in motion." - Leigh Hunt

This log covers some of our time in Greece over July, August and September 2005.  We reunite with friends, enjoy good food, transit the Corinth Canal and fully experience the Meltemi do they pack a punch.  

Our route moving slowly through Greece.

Well, it's ciao Italy and yiasas (hello) Greece! A very fast 200 mile passage from Rochelle Ionica, Italy  has us arriving on July 20th, a full 9 hours ahead of our planned morning landing on the west coast of our first Greek Island, Levkas.  Arriving in the dark is something we always try to avoid, but no holding back TIOGA in the brisk winds blowing down the Ionian Sea.  In the dark, we cautiously inch into the huge bay of Vassiliki, and safely drop anchor for the night.  We're excited to be in Greece and hope you join us for a saunter through some of the Greek islands and the Corinth Canal. 

Thursday, July 21st - Meganisi Island - Rafted to s/v Aventura in Port Atheni

Tioga and Aventura rafted up.

We initially met the family of s/v Aventura back in the Azores, one year prior, having both recently crossed the Atlantic ocean.  Back then, having similar-aged children, we immediately connected for Portuguese fun and adventure, including the perilous decent from the volcano Pico (Log25A-Pico Ascent). Anyway, after the Azores we went our separate ways but kept in touch hoping to cross paths again somewhere.  Well, about six weeks ago we started narrowing in on a crossing and here it is!  

Belle, Gerrit, Joel and Nate catching up!

It's great to reconnect and swap stories, while enjoying some great anchorages together and dipping in the water regularly to escape the heat of the day!

Saturday, July 30th - Menidhion  - Finally roast lamb!! 

Roasting lamb!

Cruising about in the Ionian islands on the west side of Greece is very enjoyable.  We decide to head into the land-locked Gulf of Amvrakia and end up staying about a week.  The water is almost hot...29-30 degrees Celsius and the dolphins aplenty.  We actually swim out from our boat one day to a passing train of dolphins, and get so close that Gerrit is a bit unnerved.  Floating on the flat calm waters listening to the air blow from their blowholes is quite amazing.   Later, we head into this small town and find roasting lambs on the spit just waiting for us!  The mother shown in the photo really likes our family and gives us extra special treatment including some free drinks and deserts!  Very nice hospitality. 

Monday, August 1st - Bus trip into the town of Arta

Nico gives us a quick tour!

From Menidhion, we catch the early bus to visit the small town of Arta that, in ancient times, was the most wealthy and powerful ancient city in the region.  Upon arriving, we quickly discover this little Greek town has no tourist office and very little English, so when Sheila spies a veterinarian with a sign in English, we stop in to ask some directions. The English-speaking vet ends up loading us all in his car and giving us a quick tour of all the sights. How kind is that!

The quick tour includes this bridge thought to be built on the foundations of a bridge from Alexander the Great's time.  Legend has it that the overseer's wife is walled up inside it, a common theme in ancient Greece that required a human sacrifice to ensure the solidity of the bridge! 

Sunday, August 7th - Island of Ithaca - Home of Odysseus

Odysseus's Bay

We couldn't pass by the place we've read about so many times as being Odysseus, the King of Ithaca's home.  He's the guy who was unwillingly forced to join the expedition against Troy, and then ended up playing a vital role... the one some say thought of building the wooden horse!  It's his journey home that is fraught with such perils that the word 'odyssey' is derived from.   Excavations to date have still not found his palace, which was believed to be on the hill overlooking the bay.   No matter, we enjoy this picturesque bay for a few days and discover our own treasure -- a trail laden with fruit trees and bushes!   Blackberries, plums, pears, grapes and figs are reason enough for us to repeat this hike more than once. 

Monday, August 8th - Still anchored in Port Polis -  Island of Ithaca

Tioga anchored in Port Polis

Birth place for boats.

Did you ever wonder where all the Greek fishing boats come from?   Double-click the image for a closer look at the sign and you'll see that we have finally found this very special place.  We've had a good chuckle or two over the years with various interpretations our often confusing English language. 

Greek fishing boats calmly awaiting their next run.

Colorful Greek taverna...simply beautiful.  

Friday, August 19th - TIOGA sailing in the Gulf of Corinth

Tioga under reefed sails

After hanging out in the Ionian Islands for a few weeks, we decide to head into the Gulf of Patras, which is at the west end of the narrow passage between mainland Greece and the Peloponnesus.  Eventually, we progress through the Gulf of Corinth to the city of Corinth and the Corinth Canal.  The wind is known to funnel through here and this day its even blowing in the right direction for us to have a fabulous downwind sail in the company of our friends on s/v Arcturus. 

s/v Arcturus

We originally met Marc and Murphy from s/v Arcturus back on the docks of Seville. We reciprocate a sailing photo as it is not always easy to get pictures of our boats under sail.  Also great to cross paths of friends from the past.  

Sunday, August 21st - Ancient Corinth

Interesting shot of the ruins.

We catch a cab to visit the ruins of the infamous ancient Corinth.  The ancient city commanded the passage of trade north/south between mainland Greece and the Peloponnesus, as well as east/west across the isthmus between the Ionian and the Aegean seas.  Consequently it was (in both Greek and Roman times) an important and rich city.  It was interesting as a few things clicked into place for us.  Perhaps you know, from the New Testament, Paul's letters to the Corinthians?  Well, in about 51AD, St. Paul planted the faith in Corinth where he had preached about a year and a half and converted a great many to Christianity.  He then went to Ephesus (now in Turkey, see our next log 40) and three years later he wrote the first of two Epistles to the Corinthians.   

Ointment jar depicting the Goddess Aphrodite

The ruins upon ruins of this ancient city have also provided a rich treasure-trove of  artifacts, such as this ointment jar dating from 400 BC depicting the goddess Aphrodite.

Monday, August 22nd - Transiting the Corinth Canal - Leaving the Ionian Sea

Approaching the Corinth Canal

As mentioned above there is an isthmus, barely a 5km wide chunk of land, that joins mainland Greece to the Peloponnesus, or southern part of Greece.  If it weren’t for this isthmus the southern part of Greece would be an island.  The city of Corinth stood on that narrow neck of land and all of the land traffic from Athens and northern Greece to southern Greece had to be routed through Corinth. Also, the east-west traffic of the Mediterranean passed across this strip of land, if it wanted to avoid the navigational challenges and distance of going south around the Peloponnesus.  If the ships were small enough they were dragged out of the water, set on rollers, and hauled across the isthmus, and re- launched on the other side.  If the ship was too large to be dragged across the isthmus, the cargo was unloaded and carried by porters to the other side and re-embarked on another ship at the opposite side.

Inside the canal

As early as 500 BC various Greek and Roman rulers talked of digging a canal, but it wasn't until Emperor Nero (60AD) that action was taken.  Using 6000 slaves, he began digging, but didn't even get to the rock before his energies were diverted by a crisis in Gaul (modern France).  The present canal was cut by a French company, and opened in 1893...many years after first thoughts!  It was enlarged after damage suffered in World War II.  The constant erosive forces have the canal closed every Tuesday to repair the crumbling limestone sides and for dredging.

Joel and Gerrit enjoy the ride

With this canal, there are no scheduled passages as we had in Panama.  As there is no two-way traffic, you just radio ahead to give your boat name and intention to transit, in return for an approximate transit time.  We floated about for around 45 minutes before receiving the go ahead call.  Our first photo shows us moving into the canal in single file order along with about 8 other boats.   We have about 2.5 knots of current against us today, so we are full throttle and only making about 4 knots over the ground.  As the photos show, it became very narrow and steep in places, and we could plainly see the erosion.

Heading out into the Sea of Crete - a successful transit.

It is another small, but exciting milestone for us that goes well and since its only about 5kms long, we are through in about 50 minutes.  Then comes the painful part, you pull up to the dock and pay the money, which at $191.50 CDN, is quite expensive per kilometer.  Oh well, one of those costs of cruising you simply can't change.  Plus, we are now nearing the Sea of Crete.

Wednesday, August 24th -Cape Sounion

Temple of Poseidon

Slowly heading east, we anchor for one night just below this cape.  We hike up to catch this great sunset on the ruins of the Temple of Poseidon, dating from 444BC.   

Thursday, August 25th - Island of Kea-anchored in Vourkari Bay

Mini Chapel

The number of churches and shrines on the islands of Greece are staggering.  They come in all shapes, sizes and colors.  This lady is probably lighting a candle and praying to whatever icon happens to be inside this one. 

Having now moved into the island group known as the Northern Cyclades, the Aegean Sea is to our north and is known from ancient times to have strong northerly winds in the summer, commonly called the meltemi winds.  They are a consequence of various pressure gradients that reach full strength in July and August.  Chris's weather information forecasts one to begin blowing in a couple days so we need to high-tail it to a secure hiding spot to sit things out. 

Saturday, August 27th - Panagia Evangelistria - Island of Tinos 

Chris calls the weather bang on and we decide the harbor at Tinos town will provide safe coverage from the meltemi blow.  We dash away from Kea on Friday, at dawn's first light, but can't avoid the steadily building winds for the last couple hours of the sail.   Everyone is feeling very happy once TIOGA is totally secured to the Tinos town quay to sit out our first meltemi. 

Panagia Evangelistria Church

Tinos town is famous for the Panagia Evangelistria church, which houses the island's miraculous icon.  In the Greek Orthodox church, religious art (icons) are an element of faith and a channel of religious experience inseperable from the liturgical tradition.  In 1822, Sister Pelagia, a nun at a nearby convent, had a vision of the Virgin Mary showing where an icon had been buried.  In 1823, acting on the nun's directions, excavations revealed the icon of the Annunciation of the Archangel Gabriel, unscathed after 850 years underground.  The icon was said to have healing powers and the church became a pilgrimage centre for Orthodox Christians world wide.  

Line ups to get inside this great church.

We saw many devout people standing in long line ups or crawling on hands and knees up the steep hill to reach this amazing church.  The icon itself was so smothered in gold and jewels hung on it over the years, that it was very hard for us to even see the image. 

Icon shop after icon shop.

There is a pedestrianized street running from the water up to the church, which is packed with stalls full of icons and votive offerings to buy.  One lights a candle and offers prayers in the church.  Your candle might range in size from 6 centimeters to 2 meters tall, depending on your height or perhaps the size or type of prayer one had!

Sunday, August 28th - Car rental day to tour the island

Suzuki boys
We were going to rent scooters to tour the island, but the rental agent advised us it was too dangerous with the meltemi winds blowing.  Scooters are too light and inexperienced drivers have been blown right off the road on certain very windy sections of the island.  The boys were slightly disappointed, but only until they saw the cool little Suzuki 4x4 unit we scored for the day.   First stop, Moni Kechrovouniou, the convent where Sister Pelagia had her vision of the Virgin Mary, and the Sister's embalmed head is said to be kept.  Darn, we inadvertently wore shorts and were denied access for improper dress code! 

Village of Pyrgos

So, instead, we head off to the pretty village of Pyrgos, overlooking the harbour of Panormos in the northwest of the island.  It is a gem of a little place with pristine white-washed streets filled with vines and flowers.  We enjoy a great lunch at a local taverna before touring on. 

The Peristeriones (Dovecotes) of Tinos

Dove houses

The villages and countryside of this island are studded with around 1300 beautiful white dovecotes, or dove houses, all elaborately decorated.  They have two stories, the lower floor is for storage, the upper houses the doves and is usually topped with stylized winged finials or mock doves.   Dove breeding was introduced by the Venetians, and we never really found out why, perhaps for courier work.

Gerrit enjoys the view
We continue to rack up the miles, exploring around this craggy, yet green island with no particular agenda.  When we all feel we've seen what the island has to offer, we head back to TIOGA for some down time before an evening concert in a nearby and extremely rare (for Greece) Catholic church.

Monday, August 29th - Greek Villa

Fresh grapes

Meeting new and friendly people is a highlight of our travels.  At last night's concert, what began as a polite offer of a better seat to a young boy beside Joel and Gerrit ended up as an invitation to a young French family to TIOGA for tea this morning.  Everyone gets along so well that we gladly accept an invitation back to see their summer home and go for a swim.  Unfortunately, they are scheduled to leave the island and return to France later in the day, so our time together is short.  Before leaving, Annick and Gerrit pick some of her grapes for us to enjoy later.

Wednesday, August 31st - Meltemi continues in full force!

Wind, wind and more wind

Well, the wind continues to howl with amazing strength.  We pass the days by heading to the beach in the afternoons and just hanging out.  On the way to the beach, we often detour to the top of a nearby hill and watch the crazed sea from the safety of land.  We play a game where we all try to balance on a narrow cement wall and see who can remain standing the longest in such strong winds.  The wind always wins and literally blows us off every time. 

Tuesday, September 6th - Finally a chance to make a break for it!

Colorful street

We've been here 10 days now and are starting to really want this wind to go away!  Everyone has been very nice, and the locals are even recognizing us now as the family on the boat.   Chris is predicting sailable winds tomorrow afternoon for an overnight passage to the island of Samos, but that's another chain of Greek islands for another log!

Oh, remember we mentioned the Greek islands are famous for their churches?  Well, on the right of this colorful photo is one of the over 800 chapels on the island of Tinos alone! 

Next up, in Log 40 we continue exploring our way east through the Greek Islands, head into Turkey and eventually do a haul-out on Tioga for minor repairs and bottom work.