Moving South: August 5 2009
After working our way north against the meltemi we were now moving south...theoretically WITH the meltemi. However, we took an extended break from moving...resting and exploring the island of Skiathos. Rare southerly winds allowed us to circumnavigate Skiathos and see its more than 60 beaches. We left Skiathos town with s/v Salarn and headed north to the beach of Lalaria (July 18). The beach had white pebbles which enhanced the sapphire blue waters to become turquoise...and was framed by perfect archways formed by rock cliffs that had been worn through by wind and waves. Our anchors were precariously set in a rock-strewn bottom so an afternoon stop would probably be okay (we hoped). Our ultimate destination was a dinghy ride to the trail that would lead up to the Kastro. The town at the Kastro was built in the 16th century when inhabitants moved there for safety (from pirates such as Barbarossa and invading armies such as the Turks). They were worried enough about these marauders to eek out a town on the rocky spur...complete with a drawbridge as its sole entrance (thankfully, today there are cement stairs). Some structures remain although most homes and churches have since fallen into the sea after the town was abandoned in the mid-1800s. The remaining structures were clearly built with care. There were ceramic plates built into building exteriors, lush grape arbors and panoramic views...charming and spectacular. Then it was anchors up and we continued around the perimeter of the island to Katavathra harbor for the night. The bottom was all sand and good holding. Erin did a bit of snorkeling and again found very little to look at. This was a contrast to our previously coral laden anchorages...full of tropical fish, varied shells and abundant life...but understandable since Greece has no coral. That said, the water was amazingly clear and we often had to check and re-check the depth meter because we could clearly make out every sand dune or rock on the ocean floor...at 20, 30 and even 50 feet of depth.
Back at anchor in Siferi cove beside Skiathos town we settled into a few boat projects per day, afternoon swims and meals ashore (July 19). We have been filling our larder, polishing stainless, cleaning lifelines, washing the deck, scrubbing the dinghy, topping up diesel with jerry can runs and getting caught up with paperwork back home like renewing our boat insurance and finally making progress replacing Erin's ATM card (it has not worked since Aden). Dinners are often ashore and a nice reward after a busy day. We have fallen into a bit of an ordering rut at tavernas; however, we have no real desire to break away from our favorites; tzatziki, french fries (which have never seen the inside of a freezer) and horiatiki (Greek salad...also a hit aboard Barefeet). We then often add one more item and share the lot. Additions have included moussaka (Greek shepherd's pie with lamb and eggplant topped by béchamel sauce), pastitsio (moussaka with a layer of pasta) and stamnato (slow cooked beef in tomato and cinnamon sauce). We discovered stamnato at Plakes Taverna (www.skiathosplakes.gr). It is a taverna with three levels of balconies overlooking the bay and islands. No table is without a view and the feeling is relaxed as the sun sets over the Aegean.
Horiatiki (Greek Salad): 2 tomatoes, chopped; 1 cucumber, peeled and chopped; 1 onion, chopped; 1 bell pepper, chopped; feta cheese (a slice the size of a thick piece of toast); white vinegar; olive oil; dried oregano; salt and pepper. Roughly chop vegetables and place in bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and vinegar to taste. Sprinkle oregano, salt and pepper to taste. Toss to coat. Place feta in one piece on top and serve. Whole olives are an optional addition.
July 25 Chris took the ferry to Konstandinos to meet Hugh after his arrival in Athens (Hotel Amphitryon www.amfitrion-hotel.gr, ph 22350/31702-31285). The guys hung out for the night before catching the ferry back to Skiathos the next day and Erin kept watch over Barefeet...watching a movie and having some solo time. An afternoon treat in the anchorage was the arrival of Sea Cloud. She is a majestic tall ship originally commissioned in 1931 by Marjorie Merriweather Post who joined her in destinations such as the Galapagos, Hawaii and the Med. Sea Cloud's history continued to evolve as she was pressed into service in assistance of the war effort in 1942. She was transformed into an armed, floating weather station after her four masts and bowsprit were removed and her hull was re-painted grey. Today she is back to her original majesty...and what an evening display she was...resembling an impressive birthday cake with candles all ablaze (www.seacloud.com).
Hugh, Erin and Chris were all back aboard Barefeet...let's celebrate. Sundowners became especially festive with Sally, Arnie and their family guests...and Chris' delectable pizza (July 26). Unfortunately, dusk seems to bring out inquisitive and aggressive wasps in this area. No worries. Our solid defense was a generously given zapping tennis racket from Sally and Arnie. Honest, this Dollar Store item is invaluable and everyone took turns "standing guard." Dinner was a zippy dinghy ride into town. The Kastro was again our destination July 27...this time via a hike. The trail was spectacular; from oak trees to pine trees to olive groves. The trail was off the main roads; sometimes ancient stone road and sometimes hard packed dirt path. We passed small churches and countless spiders the size of an olive (or two)...watch out for the webs! It was a three hour walk and a quick 25 minute ride back (thanks Yiannis)...needless to say, we devoured our dinner of gyros.
Moving the boat has been more motoring than sailing...that's okay but we enjoy the tranquility of moving under sails alone. Thankfully, July 28 we had a beautiful downwind sail from Skiathos to Orei. We went at 4-5 knots for 25 miles...magic. Space was available so we tied up at the town wall. Chris and Hugh cooled off in the sea before we headed to a waterfront taverna for dinner. We were again amazed at the evening life that was breathed into an afternoon ghost town. Promenading along the main drag (closed to traffic), kids riding bikes, TVs tuned to soccer and all tavernas overflowing with patrons...but not until after 9pm. The next morning dawned with mirror smooth waters and we moved along further South (July 29). Our route was between the mainland of Greece and the island of Evia...hoping for gentler seas than the open sea route. The scenery was picturesque with rolling green hills combined with small towns nestled in the folds of dramatic mountains. We were prepared to read books to pass the time but found it hard to look away from the passing beauty. Early afternoon we anchored in Theologos on the mainland...our first anchorage ON the mainland. It was a quiet bay despite the wind so we stayed aboard for a dinner of caesar pork tenderloin, Greek salad and mashed potatoes. Unfortunately, the winds shifted during the night which turned our calm spot into a rolly one. Ah well, we just got an earlier start toward Khalkis (July 30). Unfortunately, the wind only increased and topped out at 25 knots as we tried to find a parking spot in Khalkis. Drat, no room to tie up at the town wall so back we went to Nea Artaki (3 miles away).
We got the anchor well stuck at Artaki but the winds remained strong (July 30). Chris stayed on Barefeet while Erin and Hugh headed into Khalkis to check-in with the Port Police and get our name on the list for the bridge opening. The humble sliding bridge at Khalkis is not grand but causes a real hurdle for sailors...and makes all of the ICW bridges seem like the essence of efficiency. Port Police opened daily at 3pm where we presented papers, paid the bridge fee (approx $25) and took final instruction for timing of the one bridge opening every 24 hours. At 8pm, after dinner, we moved from Artaki closer to the bridge...anchoring just outside the channel...anticipating the stated 10pm bridge opening. Ha, ha, ha! Nothing heard on the VHF until 12.45am...okay, up anchor and ready. We then hovered with several other sailboats in the dark attempting to stay clear of each other and the many local fishermen until the final okay to pass was given at 1.30am. Oh, and make room for the boats traveling in the opposite direction that passed first...eeek. We were nervous and all our eyes were peeled for hazards but ashore it was a carnival atmosphere with hundreds of people lining both sides of the bridge watching the water show unfold. Yikes...watch the wind and current, too, then anchor blind in a black ink blot. Aristotle is said to have tried to explain the swift current here but could not get the message across...so he jumped into the river to "demonstrate." Phew, anchor solidly set...time for a "sundowner." Okay, maybe it's a "moondowner."
The Khalkis Castle (Castro) sits atop a nearby hill. It is beautifully lit at night and imposing during the day. We decided to make that our goal for the day (August 1). Off we went and clambered around the walls marveling at the views. This was definitely a good spot to station town defenses. Summer temperatures have really kicked up which makes afternoon naps a necessity...plus, how else can we keep up with the Greek dinner schedule?! After passing through the bridge we felt much more relaxed and nightly took note of the boats awaiting their turn for the late night bridge opening. Evening promenades were complete with balloon sellers, grilled corn and dozens of lights strung through the trees and around lamp posts. Movies aboard Barefeet and slow mornings rounded out our time with Hugh. August 2 he was whisked away to Athens. Poor soul...24 hours from his walk down the dock from Barefeet he was back behind a desk in Boston. We think he will be back...invitation is always open.
Translation from the Greek alphabet into our Roman alphabet is more of an art form than a science. Take the town with the bridge...Khalkis...Chalkida...Halkida...Chalkis...Chalcis...Halkis...they are all the same place. Oh well, we are constantly expanding our Greek. The oldest recorded mention of Khalkis was in the Iliad. Today the town is fully modern with multi-level condos, efficient roadways and shopping centers; however, bits of the past remain around the most random of corners. Sandwiched in a residential neighborhood within three blocks of the main ring road we found the Church of Saint Paraskevi. The current wooden roofed basilica (5th-8th century) was built on the ruins of the ancient temple of Artemi, Apollo and Leto (Erin was not allowed to take interior photos...but someone else was...http://www.gothicmed.com/gothicmed/GothicMed/virtual-museum/greece/Halkida/agia-paraskevi). Memorial candles taller than us were lit in addition to the numerous glittering chandeliers. Walking northeast from the church we stumbled upon buildings clearly from an earlier time...between a BP gas station and a Gyro Fresh fast food eatery. It is a crazy mishmash of old and new. Despite this neat town all around us Barefeet was not ignored. Being at a dock gave us a chance to work on several boat projects; open and repair slowness of the anchor windlass, laundry, engine idle speeds, mending of light air headsail, provisioning, stainless cleaning, port fuel filter change, port fuel cleaning, replaced shower hose...and a couple of other bits. Soon we will continue moving south as we start closing in on Athens.