Northern Sporades Islands: July 18 2009
Barefeet is clean, shiny and ready for guests. Lino and Phyllis arrived July 3 into Thessaloniki...sans luggage. Hhhhmmm...we seem to have that effect on them because the same thing happened when they visited us in Fiji. Oh well, they were good sports and seemed totally unruffled by the situation. A taverna dinner eased them into the Greek lifestyle. Fourth of July was a busy morning with luggage retrieval, shopping for an Independence Day barbeque and filtering the fuel from the starboard tank. The fuel has been a problem ever since Sudan where we got a load of diesel that had a few things growing in it. Our engine has stalled 4 times since then...requiring new fuel filters and bleeding the engine while under way. Not fun. Chris and Lino set out to fix this by filtering all the fuel in the starboard tank. Chris built a filtering device into a 5-gallon plastic bucket containing a pump which circulates the fuel out of the tank, into the pump, through the baja filter and back into the tank...even installing a DC switch for easy on/off of the pump. Naturally, the hose came out of the filter and diesel went all over the boat before Chris could hit the "off" switch. By the way, does anyone know if diesel can be run through a water filter? Fuel filters are expensive, hard to find, and have too slow a throughput rate for our 12 liter a minute pump. The water filter looks like it will work fine - just not sure about the long term chemical reactions with the filter material!
Erin headed out to do some provisioning and stumbled on a Saturday market countless blocks long...bonanza! Everything was found including a watermelon suited for four...smaller than the giants we usually see. Work was completed and we settled into a Fourth of July barbeque. Lino and Phyllis were festively be-decked in red, white and blue. It was great fun to celebrate in Greece with friends from home. There were even fireworks after dark but we were not sure if it was just to celebrate a summer evening or related to our USA festivities...either way, we enjoyed them.
July 5 we walked along the waterfront of Thessaloniki. Thessaloniki is celebrated in song as "the mother of Macedonia" and "the most blessed of cities." This is not hard to believe with countless Byzantine churches all lovingly cared for in their ornate glory; lit oil lamps, golden icons, ornate wood carvings and so many beeswax memorial candles that you can actually smell honey. Additionally, the sea is never far away and almost always within eyesight. Thessaloniki has been a powerhouse since the Roman period when it was strategically located on the main land route from Europe to Asia (many monuments date from the 4th century). Later, during the Byzantine Empire Thessaloniki boasted that it was second only to Constantinople in importance as a city. Today, there is tremendous pride and beauty around every corner and in every square. The White Tower is the town's most famous landmark...originally built in the 16th century as part of the city defenses and later becoming an Ottoman prison and place of execution (nick named the Bloody Tower). A restoration in 1985 removed the whitewashed paint on the exterior but really made it sparkle for the 2,300th anniversary of the founding of Thessaloniki...wow, that is A LOT of candles!
July 6 we left Thessaloniki and followed the coast South to Platamonas Bay below Mount Olympus. Really just a wide spot in the road we anchored in sand off of a jumping shoreline crammed with tavernas and beach umbrellas. However, a passing rainstorm kept us aboard for pizza a la Chris...caramelized balsamic onion pizza...yum! Definitely okay eating aboard. July 7 we made a long hop to Loutraki Harbor on the northern end of Skopelos Island (approx 50 miles). Arriving at Skopelos marked our entrance into the island group of the Northern Sporades. This is often a less visited group of islands but that will likely change after the runaway movie hit Mamma Mia! (it was filmed on Skopelos and Skiathos islands). Loutraki was a little harbor lined with tavernas topped by the picturesque hillside town of Glossa. Visiting Glossa was our goal July 8. We followed a part goat path part paved stairway from the harbor to Glossa. We were so enchanted by the view from Agnanti restaurant that we made reservations for dinner at the edge of the patio dinning room (www.agnanti-rest.gr). We were not disappointed; fried herb fritters, mushroom cheese pockets, slow roasted veal pasta...all was delicious. We had taken a taxi up the hill but brought flashlights for the walk home. Twinkling lights along the harbor and smells of pine and jasmine beside the path were a great way to end the evening.
It seems that a big ferry of some kind would be arriving into Loutraki and all the anchored boats needed to clear out so that it had room to maneuver (July 9). No problem, we were off to Ormos Stafilos to rendez-vous with s/v Salarn (Arnie and Sally). We both have PDQs and have been communicating via email for a couple of years...amazing that we are now in the same neighborhood! Stafilos was a stunning bay that made Loutraki look like a "hell hole," according to Lino...everything is relative. We spent two days swimming off the boat and enjoying the sunshine. Erin whipped up a breakfast of jalapeno hash for breakfast (a favorite from the Local Yolk in Manhattan Beach). We have modified the recipe since we do not have a griddle aboard but it is still wonderful. Sally and Arnie had guests aboard, too, and the Salarn gang invited the Barefeet gang over for a dinner of roast lamb with all the fixins. It seems both sets of guests were strategizing return visits. The night never wanted to end with after dinner drinks of pear vodka and apple juice (hey, it was a perfect compliment to the peach tart) and finished off with ice cold ouzo (yes, s/v Salarn still has their freezer on). Ooops, after a bit too much fun Erin dropped her sunglasses overboard. Chris to the rescue the next morning in SCUBA gear...sunglasses retrieved!
Jalapeno Hash: 1 package dehydrated potatoes; chopped jalapenos (from the jar); 8 oz cream cheese; butter, salt and pepper to taste. Make potatoes according to package directions. Add cream cheese, jalapenos (according to preferred level of heat...start with 1/4 of jar), butter, salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly. Taste and modify for seasoning preference. Serve with eggs on top.
Now that we are in the Northern Sporades all hops are short hops. July 11 we jumped from Skopelos island to Alonnisos island. We had unbelievably good luck when we pulled into Patitiri harbor for some diesel...there was room at the dock and a diesel mini-tanker truck was parked on the quay. Clearly Lino and Phyllis were confused by our tales of woe regarding diesel fill-ups...they thought it was a piece of cake. Filled with diesel we scooted around the corner to anchor in tranquil Rousoumi Cove. Jagged orange cliffs provided great protection and a walk over the hill dropped us into the town of Patitiri. The cliffs might look ominous but late in the afternoon packs of teenagers jumped from the cliff tops into the water below. Wow - looks pretty fun! The teen dynamics of flirting and looking cool were on clear display providing hours of entertainment for us. Younger kids were having fun, too, playing with inflatable rafts that...unfortunately, took flight. They swam like crazy to catch the flying raft but it took them awhile to catch it, looking pretty tired. Chris gave them a lift back to shore in the dinghy...good soul. Lino and Chris would not be outdone by the teens and swam over to the cliff walls early the next morning for jumps of their own. Good job guys! Sundowners were on the front deck watching the stars come out and feeling the mercury drop.
Our last hop with Lino and Phyllis was to Skiathos island where they caught a ferry followed by a bus to return to Athens. Unfortunately, wind on the nose was forecast. It got pretty sloppy but all was fine in the gusts of 30 knot winds and accompanying waves (July 13). Tranquility reined because we could still smell the pine trees and the sun was shining brightly without a cloud in the sky. We avoided the main harbor at Skiathos town due to stories of discos blaring until 4am and instead chose the beach anchorage of Siferi cove. There was more weed than sand on the bottom which kept us from getting the anchor set until our seventh try...much delaying dinner and cocktails. Weed is no good for holding and the anchor just skated through it. Finally found a sand patch just as the sun dipped behind the hills. We wound our way through narrow, stone streets to find our dinner spot...Taverna Mesoyia. This seemingly neighborhood place made us feel more like we were in a village than in a bustling resort town (Grigoriou street behind Trion Ierarchon ph.24270/21-440). The next day it was sad to see Lino and Phyllis leave but since this was visit no.2 on Barefeet we happily anticipate another visit down the road. Back to just the two of us and we focused on boat projects, cleaning, provisioning and sundowners. Arnie and Sally were back and we were again anchored side by side...so crazy to leave Barefeet and walk onto her younger twin...knowing where everything is and the easiest way to get on and off from the dinghy. Arnie and Sally came over for dinner and where did we end up (July 15)? Looking at the sail pack and rigging...doesn't everyone?! We have enjoyed exploring Skiathos town; part neighborhood part tourist mecca. July 17 we caught a movie at the open air cinema. It was fun to watch the movie and see birds catch the light of the projection and glow in the dark overhead. Stars were also visible as we sat in a hollowed out building without a roof. Definitely pretty neat. We will continue to hang around this general area until Hugh arrives July 25...then likely start heading south for Athens.