SUMMER 2020 THE AUGUST CRUISE – sailing with the sea Gods in the Sporades again.

JOBS – We had looked forward to  relaxing months of both July and August  but we were delayed by covid and a couple of incidents on the boat last year meant she needed several days work! At last – a  holding tank gauge has now been added to help all to know its empty ! Bad luck last year – it was all blocked and the yard had to take it out …yuk. And the passerelle shore ladder flies free again. Er…again bad luck last year someone left it touching the quay, heard it banging but ….. it wrenched itself off! And then I was up the mast for a quick reeve of the spinnaker halyard which old Mr Nobody had let fly down last year.

SEA GODS AND CHURCHES – Lucky that we like doing jobs really, but this year only a month was left to enjoy the rewards. We like Orei a lot.  Vassilis the harbour master, retired, again fixed our Greek tax permit to cruise, which was 30 euros for the month. We said thank you in the usual way with a little present from Scotland. The quayside cafes were about one quarter full, and though the yachts were in harbour there was only one Brit. The rest were French and Greek. There were no flotilla boats from Sail Aegean. “I have 24 of their boats in my yard, “ said Dimitrios before he launched us. “ It’s a disaster – I don’t know what to do.” He went sailing instead of worrying…

We left the Bull of Orei wrapped up this year, for they were making him a new shelter. The old one looks like a bus shelter and with no setting of paving around him rather reduces the drama.  Dimi was sitting by the door, supervising the little museum there. He was young and looked like a student.  He was busy on local archives in between visitors. He said, “Perhaps he is an offering to the gods to protect the Athenians from another Persian invasion.”   The bull survived from classic Greek times, around 300bc, and was made of 6 tons of white marble from Thassos, some hundreds of kilometres to the north. His muscles ripple as he turns his head ready to scare off invaders.

We sailed east past the bay with Achilles Tower. Perhaps the Sea Nymph goddess Thetis, his mother, smiled on us, for we found the waves were not too strong.

Then she whispered to Poseidon as we bashed out over the Cape of Artimesia.

the Artemesian Bronze

His bronze is larger than life and was found here right under our keel. ( Well they think its either Poseidon or Zeus. We had made a double libation of Filara rose wine just In case). We crept up the coast to shelter in Andreamos bay, as we call it “No street but with lights bay.” Yes, street lights come on but there is no quay or path or street. I expect the EEC paid for it. “ Don’t start,” says Parrot. I managed to stop the heat alarm from giving a false signal – stabbing at the test button solved it. So all went quiet, except for the gusts rushing down on us from the cliffs.

We anchored in high wind three times before digging in for the night. It held this time, not like last year, when we dragged and stayed up with the engine on.

Then Poseidon smiled too, for the next day we sailed all the way to Panormos in favourable wind, close hauled at quite good speeds for us, in the sparkling sun and blues. There, we anchored within the sight of a flattened temple site by Michael Carroll’s house . He was the travel author who built it and recently retired to England. Just to test us, a north wind blew in furious gusts. But we were wiser now…after parrot’s nagging we doubled our ropes and did not drag this time. The temple shows on google satellite as white streaks of rock – I could only find one piece that looked worked on. The rest would have been salvaged to build the nearby fishing and farm houses many centuries ago. But we did visit a beautifully restored chapel on a walk up the valley. Rewarded afterwards by a plum and pork dish on the beach taverna. Served by masked staff, and reasonably spaced out tables. ( plums are a speciality crop on Skopelos, though it used to be a big wine centre before phyloxaria wiped out their vines.)

We hired a quad bike from there. Sarah said she was petrified on the back. The throttle is a small lever under the thumb, and difficult to control in small amounts. It wanted to go at a  full speed or jerk to a slow one. Then I gradually discovered that it would put itself in neutral which helped for the hairpin bends. It had a belt drive, there being no gears. Not like my Lambretta in the sixties when I cruised through Lowestoft as a Mod.  We skidded up mountain tracks and lurched up to the Mama Mia chapel on the north coast. It’s very tiny, and of course not big enough for a wedding ! They used somewhere else for the interior scenes.  The bays are beautiful there and I pretended to sing to Sarah just like Pierce Brosnan did in the film, but I am much worse. “So you didn’t …” added Parrot, “ The only note that Brosnan could hold was the one with the Queens head on it.”

Then using the bike to go up very rough tracks and sometimes more skidding, we found the Xenophontos monastery north of Skopelos. The outside walls were still defensive with the rooms facing inwards.  Entering the single door we came into a secret courtyard formed around a chapel. Every side was full of vibrant coloured and scented plants. There were cascades of giant red trumpets, hangings of Bougainvillea and giant leafed pot ferns. Sitting on a bench was   Monk Dionysius, bent with age, all in black with a tall hat and long beard. He noticed me smelling the scent of his Nicotiana, for the velvety acid green flowers were starting to open as evening approached. “ Have some seeds,” he said, pulling some for me and wrapping them in tissue. “And come here, this is Jasmine.” As if I did not already smell the sweet high voltage hit from the other side of the courtyard. Wearing Covid masks we were let into the locked chapel to see a wall full of gold and silver icons glinting in the gloom behind a large golden chandelier.  We left a donation and bought the book he has written. Dionysius returned to his courtyard bench among the flowers chanting prayers softly. As we slid sideways down the switchback bends, I remembered that in classical times DIONYSOS (Dionysus) was the Olympian god of wine, vegetation, pleasure, festivity, madness and wild frenzy. Parrot is quick on Google and points out, “ But nowadays it’s a common name for poets, in honour of an 18th century Greek author.”

We got back to Panormos at dusk and spent days there with no more violent winds. Just a clear glass sea on which we were suspended, hovering above the shoals of tiny black and silver fish.

Panormos Bay, Skopelos

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