SAILING ROUND SPARTA

After rounding Cape Malia we anchored before sunset in the wide south bay of Elafinisos. Clear shallow water in a huge arc framed long

with parrot in charge

soft grey beaches which were busy with Greeks enjoying themselves under their sun parasols. Superyachts equalled small yachts in numbers, a few dozen of us swinging slowly on the anchors as the night airs changed directions a little under a crystal sharp clear sky. There were no shore lights at all to stop us spotting more stars. We found the faint smudge of the Pleiades – the seven sisters. When I was a sea scout I could see six of them, but not now. (Follow Orion’s belt upwards past Aldebran. )

Next day it was only four hours motoring westwards in a gentle head wind to Porto Kayio. On a long straight course like this we use Bungalow Bill, the autopilot. So called because I got the original Raymarine sytem upgraded to work when I phoned the number in the ring binder of product details that came with the yacht. It was 30 years old then. A friendly gent called Bill answered, explaining that he had retired long ago. “But you only need the compass part of it,” he said. “That will save the cost of a new system.” As he put the phone down after I disturbed him I imagined him back on a bench in his bungalow veranda. He would be holding a gin and tonic, sat between Lord Lucan and Elvis Presley. At the rail would his horse Shergar be tied up ….

The straight line of the course took us to a big bay hidden behind a headland. Although there was plenty of room it was hard to decide where would be safe to anchor because of the expected strong wind later from the north. We anchored in 4 metres near the few shacks and beach bars where families of Greeks were on holiday .

In the evening the noise of loud hooting came from a convoy of cars which dropped off a bride in a wide white dress onto a small quayside. She was taken with her black bearded groom aboard a large three masted square rigged yacht. They soon sailed away, hopefully on their dream honeymoon. What could possibly go wrong…. ?

This is what happened over 100 years ago when a sailing honeymoon in another age came to a tragic end. When we rounded Malia we saw the site of a hermit’s final home. He was a captain who lost his ship and his bride at the cape. He never left the ledge where he built a shack with an open window. In it he sat staring out to see, not departing.

Parrot has learned some phrases from coaching sessions.

“ Moving on then….”  Or “drawing a line under it”. These will come in handy if we too have a mishap? Our children have been told not to bother to bring us home if we perish abroad. A small cross in a far off place will do nicely.

On the grey beach of Porto Kaio was a semi derelict row of fishing hovels.  A summer trade of visiting yachts brought enough income for a few of them to be converted into tavernas, and we tried one out. The squid was a bit tough, and the salad was undressed, Not at all made with love. We had an argument about wanting tap water but after words had been exchanged we think they simply tipped bottled water into a jug.

We did catch the vegetable man in his van, tooting as he parked. We watched catamarans and cheeky French boats coming in too close to the shore ignoring the safety issue that it’s a swimming beach. The large catamarans had arrived late, making us hemmed in and we could not lay out our preferred full 60metres of chain. Then, for the first time this trip, our anchor dragged as some afternoon squalls came down from the gap in the mountains. The cliffs were hundreds of metres high, and looked formidable in shades of spectacular anthracite grey.  We were surrounded mostly by dark peaks that in places were partly green.

The wind increased from the north to 30 knots.  We could not anchor further out because the depth dropped steeply. So we re-anchored more safely upwind nearer the cliffs with all the chain out. Then after dark the near gale became stronger as the katabatic wind accelerated down the mountain. We swerved from side to side, the gusts changing violently because of another feature of being below a pair of mountain peaks – the venturi effect. This causes the wind to focus into an even greater strength as it curves around a peak from both sides. In Porto Kaio our anchor held, but I stayed up most of the night, just in case we were swept onto the many downwind yachts. As the wind turned more east it lined us up so that a 70 ft white schooner became downwind of us. The more I looked at it the more I convinced myself that the wind had now laid our anchor chain over theirs. Suppose they left in the dark?

We rose at six, for an early start and thankfully the schooner moved later. Sailing with one reef is normal for us when we are just together, but that day we put in two reefs and in about 20 knots of headwinds beat north round the final capes and Capo Grosso. We had chosen to stop that night at Ormos Limeni. Not expecting a big swell we anchored at a pretty rocky beach with older preserved or re-constructed cottages and hotels in the same colours of stone as the scenery. They all blended in. “shurely shome conservation policy ? “ said Parrot. A shouty Greek wanted the same spot, ignoring that we had our anchor down and were simply reversing…. Note to self, must learn some Greek swear words.

But soon the swell built up and it was decision time. To beat northwards into the white topped waves or go inland to the shallow head of this long bay? The swell would be increasing but at distance of over a mile from the open sea we hoped there would not be breaking waves

We chose the shallow head and anchored with the maximum chain length out of 60m, which was becoming quite common this voyage. In the swell the motion was bearable because we pointed straight into it and did not drag. We did stay up late watching everything, and on the shore the cliff was lit up with a row of huge floodlights from below. A line of four yachts on a short quay to our north rocked so violently I thought their masts would clash. We hate quaysides in a big swell. Note to ourselves and repeating it again: avoid harbours in strong winds. At the beginning of this voyage we had escaped two strong winds into harbours. On one quay at Orei a yacht our size was previously reduced to match sticks as it broke up while being bashed onto a leewards harbour pier. At Syracuse in 2015 on our arrival we saw they had repaired the pontoons which were broken up in a strong wind….

By dawn it was not windy and we had our last breakfast on passage, as usual, which we make every day at sea. Pancakes with walnuts, stewed peaches, fresh plums, honey, lemons and yoghurt. And strong fresh coffee in the espresso pot.

By this stage halfway round the Peloponnese, we had encircled Laconia, the country of the Spartans. Their history is part of our culture, even though they did not build much. The head of Leonidas appears on this year’s Greek postage stamps.

In the late summer of 480 B.C., Leonidas led an army of 6,000 to 7,000 Greeks from many city-states, including 300 Spartans, trying to prevent the Persians from passing through Thermopylae, the narrow passage called the hot gates. ( thermo, hot, pylae, gates….greek for us again.) There where the 300 made their last stand is a quotation of his reply to Xerxes when invited to give up his weapons …  “ΜΟΛΩΝ ΛΑΒΕmolṑn labé (“Come and take them”), This is known as a Laconic reply – short and simple. It’s still handy after 2,500 years perhaps in in a Liverpool bar where I was a student….”is your mate looking at my mates….”

It is laconic because in Laconia the Spartan boys, taken from home to live with the fighting men, had to pass many exams. Their life of tests included being able to answer in concise clear way, no fluff. Hence our word “laconic”.

Arriving a week before lift out in Kalamata our summer voyage  of 400 miles was complete in September  2021. Over a month of great sailing, lovely bays, and, er, a lot of checking about the wind forecasts on our phones. We have been very cautious and still like to leave early, arrive early.

The yacht is now in the yard at Kalamata for the winter. It’s a working city of 60,000 with all the repair trades that yachts need on hand. The locals seem to be related as one extended family, and anything is possible to be fixed. We left work with the sailmaker who arrived five minutes after being phoned. Top marks for both boat yards at the beginning and the end of the summer. Black marks for DHL who delayed delivering our replacement solar panels at customs, and charged £40 extra to fill in the forms.. A big thanks to Andy from yacht Vaila who put them in Shearwaters locker because they arrived after we left.

Our destination continues next year for our return to Ithaca, which Homer’s hero did not make for some years. Feeling happy with our boat we have left her out of the water in Kalamata where we spent some of the days visiting more Greek and byzantine ruins.  After 5 weeks sailing we had arrived some  days early. There was time to do some car trips, hired and in taxis.

kalamata slipway

Next summer we sail north to Messolonghi over the site of  the battle of Lepanto- In the 16th century. It was the last of the great oar powered sea battles. Parrot says I can tell you all about that one next year.

In the Autumn we returned to Bristol by Easyjet from Athens after taking buses from Kalamata. We had to be tested negative for covid before departure and two days after arrival, at £50 each time.

On the Bristol harbour forum I have been asking for water bottle re-filling points. I have written about the need to ban single use water bottles – especially on boats, so on that theme I will continue soon.

 

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