Sailing Charter in Greece – Part 7 – Ios

View of Ios Town

This is part 7 of my sailing in Greece series. You can find part 6 here.

En route to Ios

On June 27 we set sail for Ios, an island I last visited in 1990 during the World Cup. The wind did not last so we slowly motored into a harbor at some prime beach location where Julie, Jacob, and Andrew swam into the beach. Matthew, Adrienne, and I paddled the dinghy in.

Windsurfing at Ios (note our catamaran anchored in the bay).

Lots of beautiful people on this popular tourist destination, including six or so topless women. The young men immediately rented some windsurfing gear, with Jacob and Matthew getting lessons from the more experienced Andrew. I just swam around and enjoyed the relaxing beach. In the photo above you can see our boat in the harbor behind the boys.

Playing cards on board in Gialos Port on Ios

This would not be our anchorage so we sailed over to Gialos Port. The boys broke out my handy universal Sticheln game package to play Lost Cities.

Now it was time for a difficult conversation. A nearly universal destination for Cyclades visitors is Santorini. I mentioned before that visiting the island with our boat would not be an option. Julie and a few others were keen on doing an overnight excursion there via ferry, but the schedules were disagreeable. Julie made a compelling case: it was the island several of us were hoping to visit. It didn’t help that I had pumped it up so much prior to our trip. We would have to take a 5pm ferry, spend the night, then return on a noon ferry to Ios. The plan would be to explore Thira town at night, including the amazing sunset, then Akrotiri) in the morning.

I took the dissenting position, arguing that sailing requires flexibility and adaptation. I love Santorini (I also visited there in 1990) but did not relish the idea of staying in a hotel and leaving our boat. We cast secret ballots with 4 voting for staying on Ios and 3 for going to Santorini. I felt bad about the outcome knowing how much Julie wanted to go — maybe I resisted too hard and should have bent to those with stronger desires. In any case we better have a good time on Ios.

Refreshing swim and drinks at the Liostasi Hotel in Ios Town

The ferry booking agent that we discussed the Santorini trip with was pushing a restaurant up the hill called Grandmas. I’m always suspicious (likely kickbacks are involved!) but the view shown in the photos looked amazing. They also offered up their pool.

A plan began to emerge: take their offered car ride up the hill to the hotel, take a swim and have a few drinks, hike up to the chora peak, then walk back for a late dinner. Everything surpassed our expectations: the view was spectacular, we shared a bottle of rose over dinner, and the meal was the best we’ve had so far.

Adrienne takes the wheel! On Ios.

The next day we rented three quads plus a Panda mini SUV To explore the island, reaching the northern-most point to see Homer’s grave. We then visited the tiny beach town of Psathis Beach — windswept with some sand but mostly rocks. The quads were a blast and we all took turns driving. The terrain was dramatic with tall peaks and majestic views.

Cheers from Psathi, Ios

The lunch in Psathis was memorable for its variety; I ordered rabbit in red sauce which was just ok and a bit too bony. Julie’s stuffed zucchini flowers were the definite highlight.

Monastery Ag. Ioannis Kalamou

We finished our visit to Ios with a drive to a mountain-top monastery which was unfortunately closed. We then returned to Milopotas beach for another hour of windsurfing.

Leaving Ios

We set sail for our next stop Antiparos at about 4:30pm.

Sailing Charter in Greece – Part 6 – Folegandros

En route to Folegandros

This is part 6 of my sailing in Greece series. You can find part 5 here.

Are you following along on a map? Might be worth your while as the place names can run together. We are now hanging out in the lower part of the Cyclades islands, with Santorini positioned at the bottom of the circle of islands. We are sailing yacht pros by now, still underway without wind, but enjoying ourselves nonetheless. Next stop is Folegandros.

Waiting for the bus to Folegandros Chora

While there was a harbor in Folegandros we found no available slip so we had to anchor in the bay. I think we pissed off a French skipper who thought we anchored too close to him. Though this made my day, there’s a legitimate risk of fouling our anchor lines.

Eager for another beautiful Greek sunset we boarded a bus for the town on the hill.

In Folegandros Chora near sunset

All the boys but moi hung out in the town while I escorted the ladies to a church on the hill above the town on the hill.

Watching the Folegandros sunset from the roof of a church

We were rewarded with another spectacular sunset, made even more dramatic by our perch on the church roof. The chora center was even nicer than Milos. A maze of hotels and tavernas with sidewalk seating and pretty lights in the trees. It feels more upscale than the other islands. We gander at six cute Greek girls aged 10-12 riding their bicycles through the packed tiny sidewalks.

Vassilis treats us to a delicious dinner on the boat - in Folegandros

We returned via bus to the port then paddle back to our boat for a wonderful Greek dinner prepared by our master chef and skipper. These are the moments we cherish – a prepared meal with local wine and engaging conversation.

Leaving Folegandros

Our next stop will be the island where I partied with SoCal folks and Aussies while watching the World Cup back in 1990.

Sailing Charter in Greece – Part 5 – Serifos to Milos

Vassilis with another skipper

This is part 5 of my sailing in Greece series. You can find part 4 here.

Our day started early in Serifos with Julie and I strolling into town for coffee and to catch some early morning sites and photos. The harbor was already vibrant, with fisherman just returning with their morning catches. Cats hung around waiting for scraps and we saw one rewarded with a whole fish.

Fishermen on Serifos working on the morning catch

I mentioned before how clear and nutrient-free the water seems to be, and I get the sense that life as a commercial fisherman on these islands must be rough. We would see them spending an hour or more pulling what looks to be bait fish from their gill nets.

Mooring at Adamas port on Milos

We had a longer than usual sailing day ahead of us so we made a point of departing early for Milos. Mooring at Adamas port we find a big supermarket and multiple tavernas and gift shops.

Taking a dip near Milos harbour

Our first stop was a short dinghy ride or walk across the harbor for some nice swimming and beer drinking. We mostly mingle with locals when hitting these swimming holes.

Bow down before him...

The main town on the hill (chora) is a long walk so we opt for 2 taxis to haul us up the hill for a sunset view and dinner (8 € each way). Unlike the harbor which is setup for vehicle traffic and the usual flow of boats in and out, Plaka has narrow sheltered streets hugging the cliffs perched above the western side of the island.

Church in Milos Plaka near sunset

We climbed another hill above the town to see the ancient castle (castro) then settled back into the main Plaka and roamed the streets looking for a spot to watch the sunset. We landed at a taverna and ordered a bottle of red wine and enjoyed a red sunset over the Med.

Boats in Milos Harbor

Julie and I awoke at 7am the next morning to a perfectly lit golden harbor. Our plan: catch a taxi to go visit the catacombs on the slope between Plaka and our harbor. They were supposed to be free and open at 8am; alas they would be 3€ and open at 8:30. One must be ready to adapt and go with the flow.

What to do but hike up to another church? Along the way we find a breathtaking panorama looking west, an ancient theater, and the original location where they found the Venus de Milos.

Learning about the Catacombs on Milos

The tour is more than worth the cost and it looks like they are investing the revenue into a strong guide program. The catacombs consist of arches within arches and there appears to be much speculation about how they were used and decorated.

Snorkeling on Milos

We set sail by 10am and cruised to a swimming spot on the south side of the island. The panga motor is still not functioning so we swim out about 400 yards to a rock formation and caves. Jacob and Matthew enjoy climbing the cliffs and jumping feet first. While snorkeling I spot a few flounder (or maybe sole?) and we also find a mountain goat colony with over 20 goats. The swim back to the boat was torturous for me — I don’t do well with long swims in choppy water and I’m seasick by the time I make it to the boat. Nothing that a long nap boat side in the shade wouldn’t fix.

Next we go to Folegandros!

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.