KALAMATA TO THE CANNONS OF PYLOS Summer 2022 July-August


 

THIS ARTICLE WON A CRUISING ASSOCIATION CUP

PRESENTED TO DAVID BY ADMIRAL JARVIS

 


David and Sarah sailed their Moody 346 out of Dartmouth in 2015 up the Seine to Paris and through the French canals to the Rhone. Cruising the Mediterranean in the summers since then they have explored the cote d’Azur, Corsica, the Maddalenas, Sardinia, the Bay of Naples, the Aeolians, Sicily, and circumnavigating Greece from the Ionians to the Sporades. Rounding Cape Malia was followed by completing the circle up from the Aegean into the Ionian Sea. The  summer voyage of 2022 from Kalamata in the Peloponnese took them westwards. In their usual style they “sail slow” – which means that although Shearwater is happy cruising along at 6 knots they stay and explore the stories, sometimes quirky in places where they drop anchor.

Kalamata Departure

Shearwater had wintered in the yard next to the marina. In late July 2022, the launch went smoothly. The crane man and the marina electrician were brothers. Although one caught Covid the other stood in for him and a bit of electrical work was finished by me when a replacement water heater arrived. The marina had a good bar with salad bruschetta, and there were two Italian restaurants. We mostly ate in the evenings up a side street at a taverna called Kagiati. The chicken souvlaki with lots of tzatziki was just right after a typical day preparing the boat, and we took our own containers to keep leftovers for lunch the next day. Xenia was a smiling young waitress who told us her wages were 3 euros an hour. She said, “I live in a flat out of town for cheapness yet spend 3 euros a day on a taxi…. I get about 3 hours sleep a night.” The Greek administration has recently passed a directive that a minimum wage shall apply at just over double that of Xenia. Not for the Peloponnese it seems. We had fun testing some English crews who said, “We never drink Greek water, only bottled water.”  After a shared meal I got Xenia to tell them, “Your jugged water came from those mountains behind me, out of our kitchen tap….!” Another Greek directive of which I strongly approve, is to ban single use plastic bottled drinks.

In those mountains of Laconia lay the land of the Spartans.  As their city remains are not much more than lines of rubble,

polideiros

we visited instead by taxi the beautiful classical ruins of ancient Messine. Arriving at sunrise we walked among the long shadows of the many standing columns, dating from the 3rd century BC. Occupied for a short while by the Spartans, it had a city wall with huge gates which were big enough through which to drive a modern lorry. We explored the market, the baths, the theatre, and the central temple area. There were once over a hundred statues around it and in the museum, I saw one of a man with long curly hair down to his shoulders. Other Greek statues have shorter haircuts.  He was Podaleiros, a Greek warrior who was hiding in the Trojan horse described in the epic Homer story of The Odyssey. Last year we anchored at Ithaca, the home of the crafty Odysseus, who had created the plan of making  the hollow horse. Both heroes managed to return home alive later.

Kalamata is a Greek working town of about 60,000 with very little non-Greek tourist trade, and for us it made a good base for several other sites nearby. It has cycle paths and every kind of shop for parts that a yacht needs. We had a brush with the port police. “Do not leave until your SSR certificate is renewed,” she said. We were caught out, and yet as we had all the other paperwork, and it only took a few days to fix, she let us off the fine.

Beginning our cruise up the Ionians with some goats

Scyros island was our first anchorage after motor-sailing out of the gulf in light head winds. The low rocky surroundings form a sheltered uninhabited bay which allowed us to spend a few nights star watching. Over the hill there was only the beam of a solar powered lighthouse. A couple of yachts anchored at the other end, perhaps because it is shallow. Our spot was in 12m depth with over 50m of chain out. It did not matter being on a rocky deep bottom, as the wind was not strong enough to test the chain.   On shore a herd of the rare Kri-Kri goats trotted along twice daily. It is a conservation project on this island. This rare goat has been seen in the gorge on Crete, and if spotted brings good luck.

goats of Sapienza

Methoni Castle

Beating into the NW wind we had a fine sail for half a day to the bay of Methoni where we anchored next to the huge castle. There is no quay for water though some sixty yachts were also anchored downwind of us. It was quite good holding, though a little crowded. When we notice a busy place where late-coming yachts are likely to barge in too close to us, we lay our yellow marker ball on the anchor. This time we came unstuck, for when we left a couple of days later it frayed, and the floating yellow line caught round our propellor. The prop cutter did its job, but hearing a thumping noise told us that the marker ball was still under us with some of the rope. Sarah used our large diver’s knife to cut it off. A free diving success.  Adding the cutter had cost some £500 back in Dartmouth. It has sliced ropes twice in anger and we are very pleased it was done.

Methoni castle is one of the largest in the Mediterranean. The high stone Venetian walls face the sea on all sides and enclose 23 acres. The small town inside those walls has been demolished. It was overrun by the Ottomans around 1500, when they killed all the inhabitants of the town within the walls. The demolition however was later in 1820 by the French. Everyone was evicted so that they would live in the larger new town on the mainland. A few years later the combined European forces helped to secure independence from Turkey for the new Greek nation. A violent history was to be a common theme of other ports we visited on this summer’s voyage. Sadly, a parallel was with the stories each day on the internet. For we learned about the harrowing accounts of the suffering in Ukraine under the Russian war of invasion.

Pylos and some Cannons

A morning’s motor sailing north in a gentle breeze allowed us to be at the quay in Pylos before it filled up. “Do you drink the water here,” I asked Spiros as he handed me a huge hose pipe. The answer was, “Of course”. The quay filled later with other yachts that also wanted water. I noticed that he had gone away and locked the cabinet. However, some of them reached in and took the hose anyway. Not wishing to stay on a quay with more yachts arriving and a side wind increasing, we moved to anchor outside the marina.  We had only been charged six euros for 400 litres. Like Spiros, we were pleased to fill our drinking water tank and used this water for over a week.

The wind increased from the north, but we were not worried as we had anchored in sand with 50m of chain out in 4m of depth. On the digital chart were some dashed lines near the quay, which I took to be the site of the sea battle of Navarino. Not until I zoomed in did the small print appear, “Seaplane Landing Zone.”  It was a few days later that we first saw them flying, a tiny red and blue one, zooming round the huge bay like toy models. Actually, they did not land. Perhaps the locals put these lines down to stop divers exploring the site of the battle.

Pylos had an inner basin for fishing boats and a marina full of yachts which were double and triple moored. There is no power though somewhere there is a water tap. There are no fees, and nobody is in charge…..

The wind increased from the north and white tops skittered towards us. We were comfortable anchored with the yacht pointing into the swell. The dinghy Tubby McTubface took us ashore and in the large town square we met our friend from Paris, arriving by coach for a cruise with us. Pylos is a modern town of about 3,000 nestling in a curve round the basin with all the shops we could need. Most Important to us among these was the well-stocked boat shop of “Fotis the Fisherman.” He even had many kinds of glue including just the ones I wanted.

“Have some drink,” he said, offering chilled orange juice. Every time I bought something he gave me a bottle of olive oil. “I have over a thousand trees,” he explained.

Fotis was a stout, smiling, square-faced local, with his family all nearby running similar shops. He told us what lay under the sea in the very spot where we were anchored with a group of about ten yachts.  “Sometimes people have found cannons from the great battle of Navarino,” he lowered his voice. “There’s a bell in Slovenia made from one of them. It’s inscribed, “My bronze was found at the bottom of the sea…..” When I asked him if I could meet someone to see any salvaged cannons he suggested meeting Nico for coffee, who could be found under the large trees in the town square facing the harbour. We had seen a few cannons lying in the grass at the Niokastro fort on the headland. I had assumed they were land-based guns, as this octagon shaped building was bristling with corner towers and turrets. It was built by the Ottomans after 1573 because of their defeat at the battle of Lepanto.

“There are hundreds of great guns in the sea near this harbour, “said Nico. “Sure, we have raised a few and I can tell you how this is done.”  This group of cannons are the remains of over 2,000 which sunk with the Ottoman fleet here in 1827, at the battle of Navarino. It was the last battle in the age of sail. Admiral Codrington anchored his fleet of 26 frigates sideways, using springs, to bear his guns on to the 89 defending ships which were waiting in the formation of an arc. It sounds suicidal, for after a few shots the gunpowder smoke obscured the enemy. Firing blind, yet at much faster speeds, his allied fleet overcame the defenders. By the end of the day no Ottoman ships survived. Rather than be captured for re-use by the victors, the ships were burned and sunk along with many men who were chained in their posts. It was an important event leading soon after to the liberation of the Greek nation.

In the square we spotted Nico, for he was a wiry man, thin faced with long black hair in a pigtail. He looked more like a smuggler than a diver who could retrieve a cannon weighing over three tons. “No, we don’t dive,” he said. “We dredge for them with fishing gear. We know where they are because we have special help from the Nereids.”

These sea goddesses have not been around for a couple of thousand years, and there is a row of them in the British Museum on your right before you get to the Elgin Marbles.

“We have our own sea nymphs,” countered Nico. “On a calm night with a full moon we go out there with three virgins dressed as goddesses. Then they drift in the water on their backs. Believe it or not they can smell the cannons. It must be some fine bubbles which are still rising after all this time…”

Parrot interrupted. “If you believe that you are a Dutchman, David. Everyone knows that the nereids were not virgins. Why, Thetis even had a son, Achilles…I do warn readers that Nico and his story are fake news.”

The Palace of Nestor and the Perfumed Oils

We sailed some days later a few miles to the north end of the bay of Navarino. The increasing wind from that end had been building into white topped short waves at our anchorage. After a fast close-hauled passage with some spray coming over us, we anchored in a flat calm in the sheltered wide crescent. The nearby hills, where there is another ancient fort, formed a screen from the wind. It was perfect, and the arc of shallow sand was full of Greek families spending the day under their sunshades.

The clear water was free from jellyfish, but a steep shelf dropped to 9m. In this we laid as usual all our 60m of chain. The only habitation was up in the hills, and we could just see the site of King Nestor’s palace. We had explored it the previous day, arriving at opening time by taxi before the heat set in. Arranged by the reliable Fotis for 7.30 am, we made this rendezvous with Dimitri and his taxi twice. Luckily, he knew better than the internet site “Trip Advisor” which had wrongly told us which day the site was closed. He had explained this, then returned to fetch us, still smiling, a day later.

The Palace of Nestor dates from the late bronze age to 1200 BC. A little more than knee high it is protected under a metal museum roof. The computer graphics were stunning. Watching them we imagined walking into the coloured courtyard with red upside-down tree columns, where a visitor would be arriving for one of his feasts. With over 2,000 cups having been discovered there, he must have done a lot of feasts, a big-time host…. There in the real remains of the residential quarters was a bathroom and probably in that very stone tub had been the lucky Telemachus. He was oiled and bathed by the king’s daughters according to Homer’s account. In this part of the tale the son of Odysseus was looking for his father. “Homer slipped in a male fantasy there,” said Parrot. I agree with her.

The wealth of this palace was explained by the trading position out of the beach where we were anchored. The little decorated pots were part of the perfumed oil industry. Olive oil was boiled with astringent herbs such as Cypress and Coriander to break down the natural resistance to the absorption of odours. Then it was steeped in aromatic herbs such as sage and rose for some days. Wool was used for filtering, and pots were lined with honey. The smaller jars were used for fragrance, or medicinal ointment and for softening fabrics. And of course, as offerings to the Gods. “Do they know about all this added value at Chanel?” asked Parrot.

The little pots were so stylish that I drew some.

Near to us was anchored a yacht flying a large, clean white ensign. I want a larger red ensign that size, I mused. “No,” says Sarah,”we don’t need one.” A yacht from the Royal yacht Squadron? I wondered… It was indeed, and the helpful couple came over from her to share some notes about the harbours that lay ahead to the north. Our next passage would be to Katakolon from where we would explore the ruined site of Olympus. “Go up to the Orizones hotel,” they said. We’ll meet you there on the terrace with a fine sea view.” And so we did a few days later, after a sail close hauled for Katakolon in early August.

 

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