The final hours of our passage when we approached the port of Leonhidos were spent sailing well at a good speed, reaching with both sails up. We love the noises that Shearwater makes. We should by then have guessed what might happen next after the pleasant afternoon in the increasing wind. The harbour looked like a safe haven, we had thought. We were arriving in gentle following seas, but then the swell increased later as the wind curved it inwards through the entrance.
Leonhidos was a clean small mainland harbour with a short quay, surrounded on one side by white two storey modern buildings. It was fed by a cool spring, which made swimming rather interesting. Warm patches and icy patches were unpredictable as we swam along, and you might call it “refreshing”. Two yachts left just as we arrived in the early afternoon. We planned it that way because we knew it was rather small. By 4pm it had filled up, for there was only room for about ten of us tied stern-to on the short pier.
We had read some accounts by others about where to eat, and like them we also enjoyed good octopus at the Michael Margaret restaurant. Michael has passed away and Margaret keeps up her friendly welcoming style. “ How nice to see you again, “ was her greeting to everyone.
The reason for our visit was twofold…. Fuel came straight away after we phoned the local number posted on the harbour wall. Water took no time, being fed at good pressure and perfectly drinkable. In this way our both of our pressing needs were quickly sorted out.
A Portuguese 40footer arrived and pushed us hard to make us move sideways. We disliked their dirty gritty fender socks grinding up and down on our hull. But then again that’s a design fault in Moody hulls. They stuck red and blue lines on the hull just where fenders are going to rub them off. Years earlier we had the same trouble with boats on the trots in Dartmouth.We had to keep using bigger cleaner fenders of our own to stop the grinding of their mucky ones. The double lines on a new Moody might have looked good at the boatshow, but for us it has been an ongoing repair. How lucky that I like messing about on the boat. Again, I noted to myself, “ order new coveline tapes”….yes two colours.
An entertainment on the quayside developed when a stout local man guided a large French yacht in. Shouting about where to drop the anchor, “this way that way”…. Now, “Yes, ” now “ No, better do it again. “ This local quayside busy body did not know what he was talking about, and was nothing to do with any harbour staff. ( There weren’t any.) The French skipper finally jumped ashore and thumped him on the back a bit more heartily than necessary. Some strong words in French and in Greek were exchanged. Again, we noted to beware of a quayside helper. Sometimes in the past they asked for a tip, or to watch the boat for the evening, as at Corinth. ( he didn’t .)
On day two the wind increased to bring in a swell which caused a violent skewing of all the yachts. It became very hard to step off and on. We planned a trip ashore to be away from the rough harbour. Theodore in his big Mercedes taxi took us to see the monastery of Elona. For 50 euros was it a reasonable cost ….?
We were not sure about the site itself, but the views along the gorges were worth it. The building clung under an overhang like a housemartin’s nest. If she was rating with other monasteries that we had seen in the north then Parrot gave it bottom marks. “Not especially pretty, nor well kept, not anyone to talk to…. “
A yellow wind warning showed up that evening for the western Peloponnese. The next day we sailed to Kisparissa Bay, which looked like a safe anchorage 12 miles away. We would have room to swing, though it was also subject to swell. Thus it would not be a place to stay more than one night. Anyway we had filled up with fuel and water, so we felt ready for continuing. Bays are our favourite solution to avoid being bashed about in a harbour. There were lots of Greek families on the beach near our anchorage that evening, and bravo… no jellyfish.
To Monemvesia in moderately rough following seas took all the next day. With some relief we rounded the citadel to escape the rollers that were occasionally breaking into streaks of white spume. Out of the wind did not mean out of the swell, and even in the calm shelter we rolled so much that a cup of tea was almost impossible. The inner harbour did not look very inviting to us, and anyway it was full. This anchorage gave us access the next day for a climb up to Monemvasia, leaving McTubface at a small quay. A byzantine town of golden rocks and ochre roofs stacked up the cliff, it is now occupied again with holiday homes and eateries. The restored church at the top had some soft sensual carved stone details. This castle-like village is car free, linked to the shore by a narrow causeway. The maze of alleys are mostly not even wide enough for a mule. No tap water was allowed when we ate lunch, although we argued for it and had a medium grumpy level argument! Later we saw boat people filling some drinking water bottles near the harbour – and so there was nothing wrong with it.
We had to row back in the increasing wind. The carburettor jet fell out….a lesson in how tight to tighten it next time. Parrot helpfully pointed out, “There would be no chance of getting a new jet in Greece.” So I put the cover on her cage.
After another challenging forecast we decided to depart before the next predicted strong blow. We left at sunrise for the big thrill, the course southwards, for the famous cape Malia. About a dozen other yachts also scattered out from the bay just after us, mostly going north into the swell ….
The wind was from the north, the seas building behind us, getting bigger until sometimes breaking. The rollers wanted to grab us and turn the yacht round sideways. It would be a bad thing to be broached side onto to them, although Shearwater never has either broached nor dug her bows under water. Sarah was at the wheel all day, for this reduces her sea sickness. I cooked pancakes loaded with fruit, honey and yoghurt. We did not resort to the nips of brandy or rose wine that we have found can also work. The headsail Genoa alone was pulling us to the climax of our summer‘s ambition – cape Malia. We often cruise for days using just this this big sail, so that we can quickly reduce canvas when gusts come at us. Being over 30 years old Shearwater has all the lines at the mast. We do not reef in the moderate seas on such a passage. We do say, “If you are even thinking about a reef, then do it straight away.”
At the cape itself the wind was not severe, and gradually the seas were flatter when we turned west. Within less than an hour of rounding it, although the wind had not been strong at the point, we were hit by ferocious gusts. The yacht was almost flattened sideways and a great crashing of things came from down below. ( actually not as bad as it sounded, as all he lockers doors stayed shut. It’s the things inside that clatter. ) We could see why Homer wrote that Odysseus was blown off course at cape Malia. In spite of waves grabbing us from behind, and of wind trying to broach us, Sarah held our course. We rounded up to head westwards from the Aegean into the Ionian sea.
Before sunset we anchored in one of the wide pale grey south bays of Elafinisos. It was clear shallow water in a huge arc which framed soft beaches full of Greeks under their umbrellas. Superyachts equalled small yachts in numbers of a few dozen, all swinging as the night airs changed directions a little. One had a helicopter which flew to the small holiday eatery village the other side. Some had jetkis which made us nervous about swimming too far out. Some have called it a piece of Caribbean, which parrot says is not true. It is a grey featureless island with no trees – although it was lovely swimming and still, bravo…no jellyfish! We wondered if the water was a bit cooler than in the north, but with great enjoyment of swimming in the calm clear water. The shadow of the yacht was clear on the bottom just like a holiday brochure. Not falling in love with this bay enough to stay we decided to sail the next day, to head west over the Ionian sea for Porto Kayio . We would be sailing round Sparta and hoping to explore the inland classical ruins from that age. And not be sharing our love of Greece with Jetskis or helicopters.