Sailing in Greece: The Naleian Odyssey
This is an account of experiences made during our last sailing in Greece. Our `Ancient Track` route navigates through blue waters of Saronic Gulf. We started from Athens and came back there making a wonderful loop around Greek Islands. Writing by the Skipper Nico. Enjoy reading!
Sunday: Athens – Aegina
Sailing away from the overcrowded Marina of Alimos, we leave behind the bustling Athens, and while the Acropolis fades away on the backdrop of the city, we hoist the sails and set course on a broad reach under a gentle breeze for the island of Aegina. We are off for adventures, and during the coming week, our 43 foot sailing boat “Sea Party” (what a charming name – we will need to stand for her reputation) will be home to the six of us. One crew member is still missing though, Margo is due to catch up with us on the afternoon ferry.
Not soon have we set the sails that the wind drops completely, and we come to a halt. Just as we get impatient and ready to drop the sails and start the engine, the wind comes back…. from the exact opposite direction, steady. Aeolus works in mysterious ways…
Taking advantage of this unexpected about-turn in wind, we soon arrive in sight of the conspicuous red dome of Aegina’s church, marking the entrance of the harbour. We take a look at the rows of aligned masts, and hope there is some space left for us, and a nice café on the promenade to celebrate our arrival.
We drop the sails ahead of the breakwater and get briefed for mooring. Everyone on board is given a specific role, be it to throw the stern lines to the quay, or drop the anchor, or fend along the sides of the yacht. Since the procedure is new to most, we organise a rope-throwing workshop on deck, trying our best to lasso winches … or other crew members. Once everyone feels (more or less) ready, we head to the harbour entrance. The girls are on their marks, looking so tense I think they are getting ready to assault an enemy ship.
Luck is not on our side, and the harbour is absolutely full. After a bit of exploration, we set our interest on a small remaining space wedged along a pontoon. Oye, a Dutch yacht is set for the same target, but making use of a ruse, we outsmart them and reverse in first. As the girls are getting ready to lasso the bollard, some friendly Greek neighbouring yachties come out to lend a hand. Sailing in Greece is really social! We end up precariously moored, since the space is not meant for a yacht our size, and there is nothing to hold our bow. After a bit of fiddling, involving the brave skipper diving to the bottom to attach a line, we finally get our boat steadily in place, and (in an act of outstanding fair-play) we invite the Dutch to moor along in the tiny remaining space. Meanwhile as our new friends wiggle their stern to fit in, Margo has just arrived, the crew is complete!
George does not loose a minute and invites Margo for a tango, while the girls put on their stripy sailors’ shirts, and we all head to town for a well-deserved and delicious dinner.
Monday: Aegina – Poros
With our full crew on board, we leave Aegina behind and carry our Odyssey south. We go through the sail hoisting sequence again, and soon get to try our first tacks. The first series is just for fun and practice, but soon the wind turns from ahead, and we are forced to beat a rapid series of tacks under wild shouts of “Ready about” (the whole disciplined crew responding “Aye” in chorus) and other “Lee-oh”s. The channel gets narrower, and the tacks so frequent that the crew has no time to rest, and by the time we reach Poros, our deckmates on duty, Barbara and Anna, are not even left with enough arm strength to hold their winch handle (the legend has it that the winches were smoking…).
We are there early, and luckily, there are many mooring spaces still available. The crew is now expert at lassoing the bollards, and we moor like pros without any help from the quay.
Soon enough the yacht is connected to the electricity on quay, and we step ashore for a delicious iced coffee and a stroll along the busy promenade.
Tuesday: Poros – Hydra
The weather is somewhat unstable today, and after breakfast we drop the moorings without delay, with the hope to reach Hydra or Ermioni before the afternoon rain as announced by the forecast.
The channel between Poros and the mainland is very shallow, and yachts have to stick to the Poros side to not risk running aground in sticky mud! The engine running in slow revs, we slide gently along the alley of yachts, the hill of Poros and its mosaic of white-washed walls and tiled roofs in the background. We retrace the lovely stroll from yesterday evening along the promenade, on the water this time.
As we beat our way through “the shortcut”, it becomes obvious that the weather is deteriorating faster than announced by the forecasts, and we decide to head straight to Hydra rather than attempt to reach the more distant Ermioni. We are still confident that the thunderstorm will pass north of us, but the horizon towards our destination is getting darker and darker, and it seems like we are heading straight into Mordor. As we just start reefing preventively, we are suddenly taken aback by the strength of the first gust. Ensues a good struggle to reef both our head and main sail, before we leave ourselves sail downwind, away from Hydra but on a much more comfortable broad reach.
After a good half an hour of battering, the squall finally overtakes us, and we leave her carry her way towards Athens without regrets. Not deceiving the popular saying, the sky immediately clears up to bright blue, and we soon are sailing in Greece in the lovely early afternoon sun. The crew still a bit shaken by the bashing, we head straight for Hydra, hoping to find some space left in the harbour.
The arrival in Hydra from the sea may perhaps be one of the most majestic in the whole Mediterranean. The village is nested in a natural amphitheatre, the harbour enclosed within the surrounding hills. The houses scale up the slope in a labyrinth of narrow alleys and stairs, with the occasional dead-end to confuse the tourist.
To our surprise, the first yacht we set our eyes on are… the Dutch, and we arrange to moor at their side. Mooring in Hydra is a funny business, since by lack of space, yachts line up in rows and columns, like a giant array. The recipe is simple: Just find two yachts willing to take your stern lines, drop your anchor somewhere in the whole mess, reverse where you can, make sure you don’t back up your stern onto your neighbours’ anchor chain, add a few breast and spring lines, and any other optional goodies, and everyone is holding together in a big intricate web. And if someone at the back needs to get out, well, everyone is up for a good hour of shuffling around – remove the goodies, springs, breasts lines and drop the stern lines, pick up the anchor, and once the lucky one has managed to get out, do the whole thing all over again. Sailing in Greece, in this respect, is much different to sailing in Croatia, where mooring procedure is assisted by the marina personnel. We actually like the Greek way more! It gives it a greater feeling of belonging to the big sailing family of yachties.
The remaining challenge is how to get to shore, and this might involve stepping over half a dozen other yachts, asking politely every time for authorisation and removing your shoes if you happen to have to cross the odd shiny superyacht.
The neighbours we are tied onto warn us that they will leave at 7am, so we have no choice but planning an early start tomorrow.
The Dutch are worried – during the squall they broke their gooseneck (the articulation holding the boom on the mast), so the boom hangs loose on the deck, they ripped their sailbag, and worst, apparently also wholly ripped their main sail from top to bottom. They are faced with huge expenses and the prospect of “sailing” the rest of the week on the engine…
Leaving the Dutch to their sorrows, we head for a wonderful walk through Hydra and up on the hill. There are neither cars nor roads on this island, so donkeys and mules are the main mean of transportation. Strolling through the narrow streets, we come across shop and restaurant owners unloading their mule for re-supply… Hydra is spoiling us, Zeus sends us a magic rainbow, while we leave the evening in the hands of Dionysus.
Wednesday: Hydra – Ermioni
It’s not even 7am, the engine is warming up, and we’re already on deck in our pyjamas, getting ready to drop the mooring lines and face another day of sailing in Greece. We leave sleepy Hydra, ourselves barely awake, in the golden early morning light, the sea all to ourselves. After not even a couple of miles of quiet sailing, the wind dies just on time for laying the breakfast table. What better breakfast scenery could we imagine, floating in the middle of the sea, beautiful hilly islands for horizon?
The wind picks up right as we clear up the table,and after a refreshing lunch break on the anchor, we arrive early in the afternoon in Ermioni, and choose the northern quay, where the only sheltered berth left is snatched right in front of us by a bunch of moustached Swedes (but had we been clever, we would have spotted it earlier).
Ermioni claims to have the oldest restaurant in the whole Saronic gulf, which is right by the quay, and although there must be another dozen restaurants in the region boasting a similar claim, the food is worth a detour. Once filled with olives, tzatziki, aubergine dips, and other mezzes and moussakas, the tiredness of this long day kicks in, and after an epic toothbrush fight, we take an early sleep.
Thursday: Ermioni – Methana
A long day ahead! We leave harbour with George in command as skipper for the day. After an hour of motoring, the wind picks up, and we make way under a perfect gentle breeze on a beam reach. We trace our way back along Hydra and Poros. We moored here just two nights ago, but it seems like an eternity away already. It seems to us that sailing in Greece slows the time down! Despite dolphins trying to lead us off course, and the skipper launching fake dolphin alerts, sending everyone rushing up on deck (what a good yoke), we finally come in sight of our destination for tonight, the sulphurous and volcanic Methana.
As we are about to enter the small Methana harbour (saying has it that the water there is so corrosive that even the anchor chains get eaten through), a man comes hurrying on his scooter and waves frantically at us from the shore, as if we were about to commit a great crime. We get authoritatively redirected to the northern quay, where a dozen boats (mainly Russians and Ukrainians) are already aligned. A trumpet tune rises from the neighbouring yacht as we triumphantly reverse unto our berth, what a groovy welcome.
Methana is renowned for its egg-smelling thermal springs, and the skipper has firmly decided that this would be beneficial for his skin, even if it entails the definitive loss of a pair of underpants. Four of us take the direction of the spa, which is (naturally) closed. Probably better, since the mud baths definitely look radioactive enough to digest a horse. Following the advice of the harbour master, we end up by the sea, where warm sulphur springs emerge right from the sea bed. A charming three star changing room has even been built for the purpose (we are left to speculate on what the hanging ropes in the ceiling are used for…).
Our skin restored to its baby state, we drag our lovely sulphur perfume to the local supermarket in search of local wine and ouzo. The town is empty and obviously off the main tourist radar, and we appreciate the genuine feeling of strolling among the locals.
Tonight the giant dance floor we have been dreaming is right at our doorstep (an industrial grade concrete quay), as well as an unexpected DJ (the Russian-Ukrainian costume party is at its climax), although not of the right music. Making use of this unique opportunity, we are given the privilege of a private tango lesson under the skilled guidance of George. Crews of other boats soon join in, and we are trying our best to remember the choreography and not step on each other’s feet. We can bet that nobody who was sailing in Greece before us did the same! The evening drags on while the skipper is trying to put the quay on fire juggling frantically with petrol bombs.
Friday: Methana – Athens
We leave Methana and its perfume behind, and set sail for Aegina. Aeolus is trying to make his mind on whether he wants to help us today or not, and we have to resign ourselves to using our engine for a bit. The NE coast of Aegina offers a great anchorage, although not sheltered from eastern and southern winds, and we drop the anchor for a short lunch break. There is just enough time left for a short visit to the renowned Aphaea temple, we launch the dinghy and send the crew ashore with the mission to visit the temple in less than one hour. The walk up the hill is steeper than expected, the visit is made in a rush, what a stressful finish, but hurray, the crew comes back victoriously with a picture of the ruins.
Time to head back to Athens. Our sailing in Greece comes to an end. After all the remoteness of the week, getting back to the crowded marina, the huge restaurants, the city traffic, comes a bit as a shock, but the sailor now lives in us, and is only waiting to raise the anchor for other adventures.
Nico, Skipper at Naleia Yachting