Sailing Charter in Greece - Part 4 - Kythnos to Serifos

Sunset near Kythnos

This is part 4 of my sailing in Greece series. You can find part 3 here.

Our first day of sailing brought us to Apokriosis Bay on the island of Kythnos, and everything that could break seemed to break. Our first island adventure started with an anchorage (as opposed to a mooring on a pier in a harbor) in a quiet bay with just a few homes and two restaurants near the beach. This meant taking the dinghy ashore for dinner.

The first thing that broke was Dave and Lisa's toilet. It wasn't obvious at first as they just assume that the toilets on the boat were... crappy. They asked the inevitable obvious question and realized that yes, the toilets are supposed to flush in pretty much a normal fashion. We would battle this for several days.

The next to break was the dinghy motor. On our first trip away from the boat! We were going to have to take to trips to shore in any case, and this just drew things out longer than planned. Then the oar in the dinghy broke, but Jacob took charge, improvised, and was able to keep us on track and get everyone ashore.

I wish I could say that Andrew's first Greek island meal was a delight of taste and texture, but unfortunately it will go down in legend for all the wrong reasons. He ordered some kind of fish fry and was clearly expecting the usual English battered and fried cod experience. What he got instead was a pile of tiny bait fish, heads and tails included, fried up without batter. We were all happy to share leftovers from our dishes.

Morning swim in Apokriosis Bay on Kythnos

The next morning Julie rises first and when I awake I have no idea what time it might be, though I do feel very rested and slept through the night soundly. We both dress in our swim clothes and Julie heats up water for coffee (which was Starbucks Via, just like on our Philmont backpacking trip). Vassilis is up too with his toolbox out working on the dinghy oar repair. Things are quiet as we sip our coffee in the bay and others begin to trickle out of their cabins to join us. Dave is the first to take the plunge into the cold but invigorating water. I join in the morning swim as do Julie, Lisa, and Matthew.

The water is clear to the bottom over 30 feet, which in some ways is beautiful but also reflects the nutrient poor nature of the Med. We hardly see any fish.

Julie and Matthew studying a map

At this point in our journey we feel a bit out of control of our itinerary. We have certain islands we really want to visit (Delos, Santorini) but Vassilis is resisting in many cases, and for what we are sure are good reasons (remember: safety, comfort, desires). Santorini is likely a non-starter because of a lack of harbor space for boats like ours as well as little in the way of shielded anchorages. We don't quite understand the issues yet with Delos, but we will address that later. How do we balance our desires with his wisdom and guidance? We agree to be patient but still persistent with our wishes and keep the dialog going.

Andrew throwing a line for our first Med mooring - Livadi Harbour on Serifos

Late morning on June 24 we set sail almost due south for our next stop, the island of Serifos at Livadi harbor. This was our first experience with Med mooring:

Mooring Mediterranean-style--deploying an anchor off the boat's bow and tying stern lines to a town quay--is de rigueur when sailing in Mediterranean and other European cruising grounds. In high season, with strong crosswinds and with boats packed into small harbors like sardines in olive oil, it can be a daunting prospect. With no finger piers to separate the boats, it's imperative to set the anchor correctly to secure the boat in position.

The pier moorage was a nice contrast to the relatively isolated feeling of the anchorage the prior day, and we immediately engaged in idle conversation with the other boats surrounding us. We find ample shopping here and stock up on Fix beer and water. But what must you do when in a new Greek island village? Though shalt hike to the highest point. And so we did, in this case to the old village (chora) on a steep peak northwest of the port. Dave and Lisa tap out about 500' below the peak at an old church, but the rest of us charge on and are awarded with a spectacular view.

View of Livadi Harbour from Serifos Chora

You can see our pier just inside the jetty protecting the harbor. We can also see up the eastern coastline to other secluded beaches to the north.

Dave in his well-fortified beer kastro

We rewarded ourselves after the trek with a cool swim in the harbor, some ice cream, and a few... beers.

Vassilis making tzatziki

We ate in for the first time that night (or maybe we just had appetizers on the boat? I can't remember.) I do remember Vassilis making some fantastic tzatziki for us.

Tomorrow after coffee and breakfast we will set sail for Milos.

Sailing Charter in Greece - Part 3: Athens to Kythnos

The new Acropolis Museum

This is part 3 of my sailing in Greece series. You can find part 2 here.

Sunday was our day with Demetra, our private tour guide for the Acropolis and surrounding area, and our final day in Athens before setting sail in the early evening.

Matthew's preferred sleeping locale

Lagoon 400 with 4 heads

Sunday also marked our first night sleeping on the Lagoon 400. There are four two-person cabins with four heads as well as two "coffin cabins" that sleep 1 each in the bow of each hull. The four large cabins each have a closet and a private head with a shower. Actually the head is the shower. These four cabins are slightly downstairs from the main common area and kitchen. This area has a dining table with a surround couch, a navigation computer and radio, two small refrigerators, sink, and a gas stovetop. The fridges are battery powered, and the batteries can be charged by the running engine or by hooking up to an electrical outlet when moored in a harbor.

As you can see from the photo above, Matthew would sometimes sleep in the bow webbing as opposed to in his coffin. A pillow and a large comforter wrapped around him was all he needed. This webbing was also where we would spend a lot of time lounging while underway. It is also where you'll find the anchor mechanism.

In the stern covered area (above the common area and kitchen) is another table and dining area as well as ample storage under the benches. This is where we would store liquid refreshments (bottled water and beer mostly). In one of the smaller storage bins we would even fill with ice to keep beer cold and take strain off the fridge. A nice bonus would have been to have an insulated storage area that would retain cold.

At Theater of Dionysus with our guide Demetra Potsika

We met our tour guide Demetra at the entrance to the Theater of Dionysus, opposite the Temple of Zeus. Immediately we knew she was the right fit for our group. Very strong English skills, a student of Greek civilization, the arts, philosophy, and architecture, and a true intellectual. She was also very nice and accommodating of all of our special requests.

We only had time for a half day condensed program. From the Theater we climbed to the top of the Acropolis.

On the Acropolis

I remember the Parthenon being under repair when I last visited in 1990, and today there is still major renovation going on. While it is a pleasure viewing and learning about the Parthenon, the real joy is the panoramic view of the city and neighboring hills. The air quality and visibility seemed much improved over my last visit.

The new Acropolis Museum

Our tour ended with a visit to the newish Acropolis Museum, a beautiful structure with mostly glass on the outside offering dramatic views of the Acropolis while studying artifacts and sculptures preserved from the site (such as the famous decorative marbles). This is where our time ended with Demetra, though we did get a reference for a possible tour guide on Mykonos / Delos which turned out to be a very good move. I highly recommend Demetra specifically, and hiring local tour guides generally, for visits like this when you want to maximize your time value and can't afford the luxury of accidental discovery and wandering.

Unloading groceries

We taxied back to the marina, with one group stopping at a grocery to do some additional shopping. We had second thoughts about our selections and we wanted to make sure we had enough water and other staples. With ample storage space and 2 weeks ahead of us there was no risk of oversupply.

Leaving Alimos Marina

Mid afternoon on Sunday we departed Alimos Marina, heading south and southeast towards the southern-most tip of the Greek mainland (the Balkan Peninsula) and Cape Sounion. The weather was not surprisingly perfect for sun-bathing but hardly ideal for sailing. This would be a trend for this trip as we would spend most of our time underway and under gas motor power instead of sailing.

I used this first time underway to start using a navigation iPhone app from Navionics called Marine: Europe. The app allowed me to pre-download all of the charts for the Cyclades that we expected to explore and hence work without using anything but the GPS. I could track our progress, figure out what features or islands we were passing, calculate our current speed and track, and even forecast arrival times. Yes, we also had a nav computer on board and I could always just ask Vasilis, but I'm a navigation geek and it was so much more fun doing it myself. I still don't really have a clue how to read much of the harbor symbology, tide information, and other key information that I'd need to understand if I ever took the helm myself someday.

Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion

By early evening we were passing Cape Sounion and the Temple of Poseidon. The cape, cliffs, and temple are spectacular:

In a maritime country like Greece, the god of the sea was bound to occupy a high position in the divine hierarchy. In power, Poseidon was considered second only to Zeus (Jupiter), the supreme god himself. His implacable wrath, manifested in the form of storms, was greatly feared by all mariners. In an age without mechanical power, storms very frequently resulted in shipwrecks and drownings.

As if the scenery isn't dramatic enough, how about some legend to add to the spice:

According to legend, Cape Sounion is the spot where Aegeus, king of Athens, leapt to his death off the cliff, thus giving his name to the Aegean Sea. The story goes that Aegeus, anxiously looking out from Sounion, despaired when he saw a black sail on his son Theseus's ship, returning from Crete. This led him to believe that his son had been killed in his contest with the dreaded Minotaur, a monster that was half man and half bull.

Julie's advance research combined with a children's Greek mythology book we brought along allowed us to recap these stories along the way, adding so much needed context to our journey.

Vassilis and Julie as we approach Kythnos

From there we sailed into the open sea for our first island destination: Kythnos. More on that in my next post.

Two Days in New York

I take business trips to NYC periodically and have a routine conversation with Julie before each trip:

Me: Hey Julie, you should come to New York with me this trip!

Julie: Shoot, I really want to but I've got (insert really important commitment here) and I just can't swing it this time.

Note that I'm not being sarcastic when I say "important commitment" here.

This time I got lucky.

My arrangements were to fly out Monday morning and return Wednesday night. Julie matched my flights (and managed to earn Delta Sky Priority on this trip!) with the direct Delta flight to JFK arriving around 3pm on Monday. I had a busy work schedule but free evenings and we endeavored to maximize our experience.

Monday Night

We took the taxi from JFK to the Westin Times Square which took close to an hour. Normally I prefer to take the JFK sky train / subway combo as it is more reliable and usually gets me to Manhattan in less than an hour. I needed to make a few calls on the drive though so the subway was not an option. We quickly checked in to the hotel and cleaned up a bit for our fancy dinner and show.

We walked to the TKTS booth in Times Square to explore our limited Broadway show options. Monday is a dark day for most shows so we opted for Phantom of the Opera and purchased our tickets.

I chose 21 Club for dinner and booked a reservation online for 5:45pm. This was a new spot for me and is somewhat legendary, though I suspect it's quality has diminished a bit over the years. The place is dripping with character; checked red and white tablecloths, abundant staff, quirky adornments, and a clientele smartly dressed (no jeans or sneakers allowed, coat required for men, they dropped the tie requirement a short while ago). Our service was phenomenal and my Maker's Manhattan very tasty. The food was average unfortunately and not memorable. We skipped dessert to make sure we could make it to our show.

Julie at Rock Center

We did make it to Rock Center though and took in all the Christmas splendor thereabouts. The building light show at Saks was also fantastic.

Let's talk about Phantom of the Opera. Julie and I are convinced this is some sort of cruel joke played on tourists and large groups. I've been to a dozen or more Broadway shows going back to 1982 and this was by far my greatest disappointment. And this is the longest running show in the history of Broadway! The theater is huge and felt impersonal. Embarrassingly, Julie and I had to consult Wikipedia after the show to make sure we understood what was going on. Much of the plot development happened during operatic singing that was often impossible to hear and understand. I can't really comment on the acting as there didn't seem to be much going on in that department. The only saving grace was the lighting and stage production. The scenes in the underworld with the Phantom and his boat were breathtaking. Julie and I had plenty to discuss after the show over Guinness, Jameson, and dessert. Very disappointed and we were determined to right the ship on Tuesday.

Tuesday Night

I spent time in the hotel room late Monday night working on a better plan. If I screw this up Julie may never return to NYC with me! My first step was to book a table at Auereole near Times Square. This is a well reviewed, prix fixe "progressive American" restaurant. They are clearly used to the theater crowd coming through and were anxious to accommodate an accelerated schedule to make sure we could make our 8pm show.

Dinner was phenomenal. Julie had a salmon gravlax followed by beef "POT AU FEU". I had Matsutake wild mushroom broth and pork tenderloin. The beef filet in Julie's dish was some of the most tender I've ever had. Dessert and wine also did not disappoint.

I skipped TKTS and bought tickets (full price) the night before for Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, which is currently in previews (I think this means it won't be officially reviewed by critics yet). We were 5 rows from the orchestra on stage right and had perfect seats for this show. How was the show? Best I've ever seen, but I'm also a huge Carole King fan (I've been known to sing So Far Away in karaoke, so be careful). The easiest comparison is with Jersey Boys, as it tells the story of someone growing up in greater NYC in the late 50s and 60s, the songs they write (or perform), the lovers they find and lose, and ultimate redemption. What made this show special was the lead Jessie Mueller and the other primary cast. If you aren't a big Carole King fan you'll be blown away by the songs that the King/Goffin and Mann/Weil teams wrote throughout their careers. This for example. We lucked into seeing Once when we visited in spring of 2012 with the boys and that went on to win 8 Tony Awards. I suspect Beautiful will have a similar future.

I think I redeemed myself. Maybe I'll be able to bring her back again next year.