Exciting Sailing among the rare species in the largest Marine Reserve in Europe.

This entry for an eco sailing log competition is a summary the wonderful sailing for some years returning in our summer voyages to the Marine Park of Alonissos. We loved the rare wild life, and the deserted Island of Kia Panagia. (sometimes spelt differently, Kyra Panaya). We love sailing our yacht, learning Greek history, meeting the guardian monk, and other Greek locals. We are passionate about banning single use plastic as the bad results are well known, and this essay ends with suggestions for action by all of us. The blogs are on

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On 29th March 1987 we watched Sir David Attenborough broadcast the last of his series “Strangers in the Garden”. As he stood pointing a finger at the sky on the uninhabited Kia Panagia island at the eastern end of the Sporades he said, “There are still a few places where the Mediterranean has been left unspoilt.” Later that summer on our honeymoon, sailing a chartered yacht, Sarah and I stood on the same island.  Since then we have returned many times when voyaging in our own yacht Shearwater, a  Moody 346. Sometimes with our gown up children we have spent summers in the Marine Park since we sailed from Dartmouth in 2015.

It is the largest Marine reserve in the Mediterranean. Sir David mentioned the Audouin’s gull, the European black vulture and most exciting for us: the Eleonoras’s falcons. Now it is also home to a population of the Mediterranean seal Monachus monachus, which has been defined as the number one endangered marine mammal. Loveable or scary? I will tell you of our encounter…

I swam round the yacht when I saw the young one approaching, he shot underneath and stuck his snout between my legs. I only just got out before he persevered. Later, Sarah was not so lucky – he grabbed her with his flippers as she scrambled away up our ladder, screaming at him. She knew that he wanted to drag her down underwater.

“Nudger” as we came to call him, seemed to be looking for a mate…. Contrary to the advice on warning posters we had seen on Alonissos beach, other families were playing with him. He liked to bask on their paddleboards. Lying flat, he would rest his head on their lap, as children stroked him. This is a “no-no” – for he is a young wild animal!

He was very lovable, soft and smooth and good looking, about Sarah’s height, but with immensely strong flippers when he hugged her.

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In this marine zone, the only one in the Aegean, there are over fifty species of fish and of birds. Venturing out in a strong north easterly wind early one morning we tried sailing to re-visit the monastery on the east coast of Kia Panagia. The rollers with white tops were running into the narrow gap of Monastery Bay. For any harbour this means don’t try to go in.

Then, as a compensation for not getting in there , we watched an exciting aerial dogfight. Two Eleanora’s Falcons attacked some seagulls right over the yacht! The pair were swooping down at very high speed so all the gulls dispersed.

We’d listen to the sounds of Cicadas and the wild goats bleating while anchored many times in the south bay of Kia Panagia. We have dubbed these beaches “pirate cove”. This is because I found the ruins of a byzantine lookout tower high above, and then drew my ideas about the building. (Being an architect helped.)

On one beach, a step away from the sea, was a byzantine handle, another step – there was another one. Another step: the ribbed curve of the top of a pot. (We left them all behind there of course.)

We dived in the pirate cove for more byzantine pottery, which we always threw back, sometimes drawing to re-create the full pots from which they came. Walking up the dusty track through the ancient olive groves we picked sage for our pasta dish. There, motionless on a post, was a bird that Sarah identified – the Lesser Shrike. (She uses a song identification app on her phone)

At South Bay on Kia Panagia we often remained anchored tied stern pointing to the north shore. The wind sometimes made our doubled up ropes bar tight. It’s another Greek word that describes the accelerating gusts coming down the slopes – the katabatic effect. In the calm days that followed the still water would become as clear as glass, the surface like fabulous silk. Under us were many kinds of small fish, grey in the deeps, black in the shallows. Sometimes glittering shoals of them would fly up in the evening.

Recently we again made the passage along the exposed north-west coast of Kia Panagia in a medium swell with full sail, then motored into the north bay through the 87m wide narrow throat. We left the stronger waves to arrive in the calm flat lagoon after being exposed to the gates of the wind – anemo pylae in Greek. We watched jellyfish the size of footballs slowly passing by in the milky blue-green sea. They don’t sting too much. It’s the thin stringy ones, almost invisible, that have hurt Sarah enough to leave a scar.

In the calm of a sunrise we motored round the top of this island to half way down the east coast. This time before the wind and swell get up. We entered the small tranquil bay and Shearwater was anchored alone. We climbed the cliffs to the beautifully restored monastery of Kia Panagia. From the rocky path we watched the astonishing aerobatics of the Eleanora’s Falcons. Sometimes faking a spin, sometimes pulling out of a dive at the last minute. They would level off skimming the cobwebs of the maquis so suddenly that a human pilot would have blacked out. We think they were protecting a nest.

We picked thyme and sage to eat later with our pasta and then, entering the vine clad courtyard, we had a breakfast coffee with monk Hariton. He was the island guardian – the only inhabitant. There has been a monastery here for over a thousand years. The courtyard of honey coloured stone has new frames of chestnut from Mount Athos. The chapel has a restored floor in beautiful re-made dolphin tiles from Crete.  In his black robe and tall hat Hariton talked at length to us. We broke the ice when we compared hearing aids. He invited us to attend the bishop’s visit that summer. We later joined over a hundred local boats to hear the Greek orthodox service of chanting. On Skopelos island nearby we had found the shrine to another Bishop who was beheaded by the Romans. Still with a lit candle inside, it reminds us that there is a procession each February in his memory.  Bishop Rhiginos had slain an invading Dragon by holding out his cross and it backed into a gorge while he was chanting prayers. (Called Dragonistos bay on the chart). Of course, that is a metaphor to describe the times of living under the pre-Christian Romans early in the 4th century AD.

Monk Hariton served us Greek coffee with the firewater spirit tsipouri, (yes, gulp, at 9 am!) and loukoumi, the local sugar delight. We don’t call it Turkish delight in Greece. Chilled water came from his spring, raised by solar power. At the door, with some anxiety, we watched him chase a slipper snake away. It had big eyes, and was about 4 feet long. “Harmless,“ he said. “It only wants a mouse.“ As we left his gate Hariton was singing to some wild goats.

Sailing westwards at the end of our cruises we often passed Alonissos again, with the wind behind us. “Full and Bye” as they said in the age of sail. For us, this meant we could raise the “Sword of Shearwater.” One of us does the drop which is possible safely because of the way we have set it up.

At the narrow creek of Steni Valla Sarah took us in astern. “Perfect, as usual,” said the owner, Costas. He told us his water is better than that on the next island. “You sailed here on honeymoon over thirty years ago! What – still with the same wife…!”

Then we would glide between the islands, with Peristera on our port. More than 3,000 amphorae lie there on a 5th century wreck. It’s been dubbed the largest classical-era wreck. The waters are teeming with the Alonissos tuna.

What more could a pleasurable cruise offer? Rare wildlife, interesting locals and fascinating legends…..  We felt very lucky. We are passionate to be ecological in such a beautiful setting. When we find plastics on a beach, we collect them up. We never stow single use plastic water bottles on board. Our extra tanks double the water storage, plus a separate drinking water tank, giving us weeks of supply. Once we anchored for so long in a bay that a friendly old fisherman, Vangelis, came to say, “You have been here over a week, if you need water come to my cottage….”

Greece looked to end the use of single-use plastics by July 1, 2021, according to Minister Kostis Hatzidakis. He made the announcement in 2020. “Every day, we use a million plastic cups of coffee in Greece,” he said. “This cannot continue.”

The great packaging purge has begun.

Ten single-use plastic (SUP) products that for years have blighted Europe’s beaches were largely banned from July 3 as the EU’s Single-Use Plastics Directive of 2019 came into force.

We insist on table water at tavernas that comes in a jug. We make fun of English crews who “don’t drink local water . “ We trick them into believing the water is bottled. Then we reveal that its kitchen tap water, piped from the mountains.

Sir David Attenborough says that “The world is waking up to what we’ve done to the planet.”

Dame Ellen was shocked at how much waste she saw when sailing on her award-winning sailing circumnavigations. She created the Ellen MacArthur Foundation  to support developing a “circular economy” that promotes waste reduction. https://ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/ . I have published a critical column about marine equipment firms who don’t operate this yet.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall made some tv programmes about the war on plastic waste. https://www.rivercottage.net/news/join-the-war-on-plastic. He writes, “There are things that we can all do at home that will make a big difference.” The first thing on Hugh’s list is:  Buy a reusable water bottle and get the refill app on your phone, www.refill.org.uk

Glastonbury created free water points some years ago. Even the late Queen of England joined the war on plastics, by banning plastic straws and single use bottles from the Royal Estate in February 2019.

At last, the uk government has acted. Environment Secretary Thérèse Coffey announced in January 2023 that a range of polluting single-use plastics will be banned.

Individually we can do small things, such as to bring our own container when travelling…. Who among us has not bought a plastic bottle of water in the airport after going through security?. We’ve had rows at cafes and tavernas. Let’s all be difficult and have more rows…! Well done dear reader.

This issue starts with the individual. There are lifestyle changes we can make to solve it.

David and Sarah believe that we can all do better.

 

Just under 1800 words.

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