Panama hats, Meltimi tales and DeDannan in the Sporades
Tony Olin on board the DeDannan tells it as it is: 'We had spent a week in the vibrant and modern city of Volos with its fine town quay and abundance of good taverna's, the town quay is pedestrianised from midday to midnight and is a popular spot for the locals and many tourists to stroll along the harbour in the evenings. Volos is the main port for ferries to visit the Sporades group of Islands taking the many visitors and indeed all the food and whatever else the islands need to sustain themselves. What was unusual for a big town quay is that the music from the many taverna's stopped at midnight and everything became quite for sleeping, this is unusual in Greece in the summer.
We said our goodbyes to Carlos, the Irish (un-official) harbour master, and set sail through the gulf of Volos some twenty five miles distant to the nice little port of Achillo, named after the legendary warrior Achillies, whom died in battle having been shot in the heel with a poison arrow, hence the term Achillies heel. There is a similar Austrian character to Carlos in (un-official) charge of the port here, another man with a great fondness for the booze who looks after things here for tips, doing repairs, cleaning and guardianship to yachts for small money, his name is Andreas and is the go-to man in this sleepy little village that is not that well known or frequented by the charter boats.
Achillo is a pleasant traditional Greek fishing village were the living is easy, a village that goes asleep from midday until tea time, even the pack of stray dogs and cats that dwell here in the village are too lazy in the afternoons to be bothered to have a go at Alfie, it's a different story in the mornings and evenings when they become alive again. One is woken in the early mornings by the crowing of cocks and the usual bell ringing from the village church followed by the barking of the village dogs that is the tradition of Greek villages, it's a great time to get up and off rambling before the gruelling heat of the sun.
We set off in a flat calm after breakfast out of the gulf of Volos and back into the north Evia channel where the mountains sweep down to the Azul sea on both sides, the forecast, for a change, was showing windless conditions for our forty mile voyage north to the island of Skiathos, this we welcomed as we had been having some very exhilarating sailing through July with the 'meltimi' blowing hard, we were now leaving the shelter of the Evia channel and back out into the Aegean Sea.
We were six miles off Koukanaries beach approaching Skiathos when the wind started to fill in, out with the sails and off with the motor for what we thought would be a pleasant end to our voyage, within minutes the wind went to twenty then thirty knots, the meltimi had woken up and was again blowing fierce off the land as we made our approach. We had to quickly run downwind to reef our sails, as we made for a little cove for to drop anchor, we could not get the anchor to hold fast and after three attempts we struggled back out to sea for the port of Skiathos.
It was Saturday and the many charter boats that are based in the port of Skiathos head out in the afternoon for the various anchorages and ports of the Sporades, we came across one of these who had not long left the charter base, they were pinned over on their side with full sails set, we could see the skipper and crew were in a terrible state of distress, they were trying in vane to reef their sails hard on the wind, the yacht had rounded up and the Genoa was backed, the wind was blowing at over thirty knots off the land and they were heading for shore with the motor running full throttle in a state of panic with no safe place to go. I called them up on the radio advising we would stand bye to assist them, that they should let go the Genoa and main sheet and let the wind spill out of their sails and get the boat upright again, they were too panicked to respond but that's eventually what they did, I then advised them to motor back to port and drop anchor until the wind went down.
We sailed on to the port of Skiathos and dropped anchor ourselves off the little island at the entrance to the old port, there was no point trying to berth on the town quay in this wind, it was a grand spot in about ten meters and our rocna anchor dug in first time, I then jumped into the water to swim a long line ashore which kept us pointing into the meltimi for the night and out of harms way to the many tripper boats that come and go out of the old port. I use a small foldable grapnel anchor on three meters of light chain to wedge between the rocks ashore, then tie off our floatable orange long line that other boats can see, tie it off the stern and bobs your uncle for a comfortable night on anchor.
The next morning with the wind down, "the meltimi doesn't usually start before ten or eleven" we motored into the big port and berthed on the charter quay, this turned out to be a mistake as we were to find out, the local disco starts at midnight and blasts out Thump, Thump music until "Six" in the morning, then there is the noise of all the young revellers screaming at the top of their voices until after seven as they head back to the hotels, it is also under the flight path to Skiathos airport, the aircraft start landing at eight until midnight, it's the noisiest port we have ever been to visit and needless to say we didn't dwell here too long.
Skopelos Island is only a couple of hours sail from Skiathos, we took ourselves off to the port of Nea Klima on the south coast, it's a medium sized tourist village with modern apartment buildings, a few fairly good taverna's by Greek standards, with a nice beach and new town quay and breakwater to give some protection to the port, we stayed a few days here but it didn't have the feel of your average Greek village at all, a lot of concrete and tourists inhabiting the many holiday let apartments, the kind of place that is dead after the tourists leave.
We took off a few miles down the coast to the small anchorage and village of Acnondas, named after an ancient Olympic runner who came from this village, this was much more to our liking, as you come in from the sea into the little bay you have the small circular beach with two good taverna's in front of you, on both sides you have the steep hills sweeping down to the water covered in lush green pine trees, a small town quay on one side with good depth for to moor a dozen yachts stern on to the quay, the village has a little mini market and the place has that traditional Greek feel about it, good anchoring in eight meters, this is the perfect setting for DeDanann and her crew.
We dropped anchor under the pine trees and took our long line to the shore, I always like an anchorage with a little beach at the end, it soaks up any swell that comes in from the sea outside and is good for landing in the dinghy. The privacy is so much better on anchor, I can play my banjo without disturbing the neighbours, running the generator for a few hours to run the aircon before hitting the sack doesn't upset anyone, swimming and fishing off the deck is easier too.
We were lazing about on deck during the sweltering heat of the afternoon one day, it was that time of day when everything is quite for a few hours, when all of a sudden a huge kick ass Italian motor boat, about one hundred feet long, comes gunning into the bay, takes off the power and spins the boat about to avoid hitting the beach at the last second, well, the tsunami of a wave that reverberated through the anchorage was something else. I jumped up and took skin off the top of my head as I collided with the canvas Bimini, such was my hurry to see what the hell was going on, the yachts on the quay were nearly jumping out of the water as their skippers and crew jumped up from their slumber in a state of panic.
The Italian boat had a full compliment of crew all dressed in uniform running about the decks in a state of shock as the elderly owner was at the controls, well, he was roaring and shouting at everyone to get the anchor and lines ready for to dock on the quay, he guns the boat back from the shallow water off the beach and then comes in our direction at speed, he orders the anchor to be dropped almost on top of us to the protestations of the vessels captain, they are having some row in Italian, the body language was enough to tell you what was going on, Madre Di Dio, it was like when the bull is let loose into the bull ring, at one stage the captain is fighting to take back control, I didn't understand what they were shouting, but it wasn't what the rich call prayers. The captain forces his way back onto the helm as the owner takes a fit! the women in the family are all trying to calm papa down as he f'd everybody to high heaven, the deck hands are now wiping their brow with a sigh of relieve that the captain is back in control. With the captain back on the helm he carefully brings the boat to a stop, he waves a nod of apology to all the various skippers who are shouting at him in every language known to man, he orders the anchor to be taken up pulling us up with him, he apologises and takes his vessel back out to sea, thanks be to jaysus we never saw them again.
We left Acnondas and had a lively sail to the main port of Skopelos on the north coast, the sea state changed fast as we came round from the south and the shelter the island gives from the meltimi, the last five miles was in a big sloppy sea all the way to the breakwater of this big port. There was plenty of room on the town quay and good shelter from wind and waves. Skopelos is the main ferry port for this island, big ferries come and go all day long, you see delivery trucks coming off and back on the next one from island to island delivering their goods before heading back to Volos.
This is the island made famous for the filming of the movie Mama Mia, it's amazing the amount of tourists that come here just to see the little church that featured in that movie with Meryl Streep, we hired a car to go visit the site ourselves, Linda liked the movie and wanted to see the site, it was a big disappointment, having drove across the island through a winding boreen that is a death trap, I wouldn't do it in the dark, parts of the narrow road is subsiding, there are no guard rails to stop a car going over the side hundreds of meters into the sea below. We had to scrape by the many coaches that bring the tourists in great numbers here, often squeezed to the very edge looking down to the sea below.
All that's there is a van shop selling tea, coffee and frozen sandwiches made the previous day, one dirty toilet for hundreds of visitors that come every day all year long, it's truly amazing the amount of visitors that come from all over the world to see this, it's crap!!
The meltimi got going and kept us in port for a few days, we were comfortable tied stern to the main breakwater with the wind howling and spray showering us from behind, the sea was rough outside and the inter island ferries stopped running. Skopelos is a nice town to sit out a meltimi. We had a Greek live aboard singlehander moored next to us, couldn't speak a word of English, he would keep us entertained every afternoon playing some very nice Greek music on his bosouki, a fine musician and very good cook, we were treated to some really nice traditional Greek food that he knocked up on his paraffin stove, fair exchange being no robbery I was generous with our Irish Whiskey that he enjoyed.
Alonissos was our next destination, a lovely island only two hours away, we arrived at the main port of Petriti and tied up to the town quay, improvement works funded by the EU have just been completed, water and electricity working which is unusual, a new breakwater built to give more shelter. I don't know why it is that they never seem to design their new breakwaters to best advantage, they always have this huge opening looking straight out to sea and swell can roll into the port, they just never seem to get it right EU funding or not.
We hired a scooter for a few days and went riding the boreens of Alonissos visiting the old town of Chora high up the mountain, a really nice traditional Greek village, nice old buildings that the local people keep in good order, it's abundance of taverna's and decent tourist and antique shops make this a worthwhile visit, I bought myself a nice Panama hat in the same shop that Robert Dinero had bought one recently, they didn't bother to put my photo up on display of this fine purchase, I've been wearing a Panama in the summers since my teens, he probably never wears his. Ever since my childhood I have always wore a hat, my late grandad Olin would often give out to me and my father for wearing a hat all the time, my dad would say that fella would go out without his trousers before he'd go out without his hat.
Alonissos is an agricultural island, they grow almonds, grapes, figs and olives, the whole island is green with forests of spruce and pine trees, it also has the usual traditional Greek fishing fleet serving the local market, all of the ports are on the south coast as the meltimi is so fierce blowing from the north that it would not be tenable to have a working port on this coast.
We visited the really nice little port of Steni Vala (top photo of this article), a very nice village with mooring on the quay for only a few yachts as the water is so shallow, but it is a nice place to go to anchor in four meters and tie off the shore opposite the quay, the kind of port that a cruiser can relax for a couple of weeks with good shelter from the dreaded 'meltimi'.
Our time on Alonissos was up and we had a forecast of a bad 'meltimi' coming in for a few days, lots of yachts were heading back to the shelter of the Evia channel some forty miles away, we set off in company with some young Serbians who were on charter, they were not very experienced sailors and asked could they cross with us, we left port early in the morning crossing over to the south coast of Skopelos and then onto Evia, the meltimi was building with winds of twenty to thirty knots and the sea was getting up, the Serbs lost their bottle and headed into Acnondas on Skopelos, they called it right as DeDanann took some hammering in the short steep seas of the Aegean that built up to three meters with winds in excess of forty knots, we've never seen DeDanann take such a hammering as we were tight on the wind all the way from Skopelos to the Evia channel. The north and east coast of Evia is a steep rocky and hostile coast to find yourself on in these conditions with nowhere to take shelter, we had to keep close hauled to make it by the north coast with only a couple of cables to spare. When we eventually arrived at the port of Oreio DeDanann looked like vandals had had a party below, pots and pans and gear everywhere, a quick tidy up, a warm shower and the usual cup of cha and all was right with the world again.
Our voyage to the Sporades Islands was enjoyable, according to the more experienced cruisers that are based up here they advise that the meltimi has been particularly bad this summer, these islands usually are not so effected by the meltimi as they are north of the path of this fierce wind that can blow for days on end down through Aegean'.