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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

WE GO TO THE OLYMPICS - ANCIENT OLYMPIA AND THE MOUNTAIN VILLAGES OF PELOPONNISOS, THEN BACK INTO THE ISLANDS

As our blog is usually a couple of weeks behind real time I'm going to start from now mentioning our current location at time of posting. Now we are in Levkas marina, Levkas Island, Greece.
We never leave Envoy unattended at anchor overnight, but frequently leave her a whole day while we do a bit of shore-side touring. This would only be in calm conditions, in winds under 20 knots, with good holding for the anchor, plenty of room to swing, and without too many other yachts nearby. The biggest danger we have to consider is another boat anchoring nearby, snagging our anchor, and not re-laying it correctly causing Envoy to drag. When going ashore we lock the boat (although security never seems to be an issue), leave nothing running, turn off the fresh water supply (in case a fresh water hose should burst or develop a leak, and pump all the fresh water into the bilge), leave the bilge pumps on, leave the windlass power on (so that in case of a problem, crew from another cruiser can still operate our windlass). Strictly speaking we should close all below waterline seacocks, but with a total of 12, there are too many to make this practical.
Ancient Olympia was a must to visit, particularly this year with the London Olympics. It’s a large site covering probably about 100 acres, covered in ruins. Actually there is not much that is recognizable, and this site in our view mainly comes into the category of rubble more than ruins, but it has a special significance, and there are some reasonably well preserved sections including Roman Emperor Nero’s Villa.
This area was first populated from 3,000 BC, and fully developed by the end of the 4th century BC, devoted to the God Zeus. The first Olympic Games were held in 776 BC, and continued every four years until AD 426, when pagan religions (ie worshipping Zeus) were suppressed. Women were not allowed to compete in, or even to watch the Games.

Brian, Carol and Laurie in front of the reconstructed ruins of Olympia

The first Olympic Stadium with stone starting blocks and seating for 45,000 people on the grassy slopes

The most recognizable ruin is Emperor Nero’s Villa

We more enjoyed visiting the medieval mountain villages of Langadia, Dimitsana and Stemnitsa. This included a great lunch of goat soup. In retrospect we would have loved to stay overnight in one of the villages.

The medieval village of Langadia flows down the steep hillside

Picturesque lane in village of Dimitsana

Dimitsana’s main square and clock tower

Laurie exploring a Steminitsa lane

Last port of call for Brian and Carol was Killini, a very ordinary port where ferries come and go to the nearby Greek islands of Cephalonia and Zakinthos.
Initially we thought about mooring Envoy in the harbour, but as we slowly cruised in we couldn’t understand their buoyage system marking the channel, and when I saw the depth sounder reading 1.8 metres (Envoy draws 1.5m) we reversed out and anchored nearby. Local knowledge was definitely needed to enter this harbour, and it turned out there was a deep 4 metre channel, in a not-so-obvious position, marked by a brown buoy and a yellow fender (now anybody should know what they mean!)
We then headed away from mainland Greece to anchor off the seaside village of Pessades on the southern side of Kefalonia Island, altering course en route to avoid a loggerhead turtle swimming on the surface directly ahead of us.
Initially this anchorage was fine, with a gentle offshore wind and a very slight onshore swell, but as sunset approached the onshore swell inexplicably built up to about a metre causing us to roll very uncomfortably, while the nearest alternate anchorage was about two hours cruising away. As there was very little wind we laid out an anchor from Envoy’s stern to hold us stern-to the swell, and deployed our flopper-stoppers – these are stainless steel hinged plates which are suspended from our paravanes at a depth of five metres below the surface, which reduce and dampen Envoy’s rolling motion. The result was we were able to enjoy a comfortable night’s sleep.
Stern anchors are an essential equipment item for cruising, and best laid using the RIB after the main anchor is set.
TECHNICAL - Our stainless steel boarding ladder developed a crack and we got this welded up while in Agia Efemia for what we thought a high cost of Euro 80 (about NZ$121). This is important aboard Envoy as it’s almost impossible to get out of the water without it. But this is not a permanent fix and we’re going to need to get it strengthened.





Monday, August 13, 2012

THE MANI REGION OF PELOPONNISOS

The central of the three peninsulas of the Peloponnisos is called the Mani, and the local Maniote people are very hardy, independent and isolated, claiming to be direct descendents of the Spartans. Historically many of them were pirates, operating from the region’s many hidden coves, riddled with caves. The Manis have different clans who used to live in fortified castle-like houses with large central towers. Many of these are still used as hotels or Greek holiday homes.
With Brian and Carol still aboard we anchored off the village of Porto Kayio in beautiful clear, clean water, and went ashore for dinner. As our RIB approached the shore a lady came out of a taverna and invited us to use a small jetty attached to her taverna. It’s often quite difficult to know quite where to leave your RIB, so this was an easy option for us, and we had a delicious meal for four consisting of bread, aubergene dip, grilled fresh local fish that tasted like tuna, a colourful Greek salad, water melon for dessert, and ample local white wine for 82 Euros (about NZ$124).

Envoy’s larger RIB alongside taverna’s makeshift jetty in Porto Kaiyo

Typical taverna menu showing prices in Euros

There sure are loads of castles in this area, and there was yet another at the small town of Koroni, where we anchored with a little shelter from a breakwater.

Envoy anchored off Koroni

Koroni’s jumble of waterfront buildings, taken from Envoy at anchor

Koroni castle as Envoy approaches harbour

Laurie, Carol and Brian amid greenery of Koroni’s main square

Colourful local cottages built into wall of Koroni castle

This quaint door at a hostel in Koroni caught our eye

Primitive building method of stone and earth wall, plastered over

We found a fish shop and decided to check if they had any fresh tuna. The shop was the typical primitive set-up with no refrigeration, and fish laid out in boxes of ice. The shopkeeper had no tuna, but offered us fresh dolphin, which we politely declined.
Monemvasia (mentioned in last post) and Methoni were strategically two of the most important Venetian towns and castles, as they protected the trade route from the Ionean to the Aegean, and for that reason these towns were called “the eye of the Republic”.
We spent four nights anchored at and around Methoni, and here met up with a New Zealand couple from Northland, Roland and Consie Lennox-King, on their yacht, Restless of Auckland. One of these nights there was a 30 knot northerly forecast, and there was some swell coming into Methoni, so rather than stay anchored with about 15 other boats at Methoni itself, we moved to a nearby more sheltered bay with no other boats anchored, and had a peaceful night in the strong wind.

Originally Methoni’s castle was protected by a sea water moat, but over time the sea level dropped, and it’s now all dry.

The Turks conquered Methoni and added this Turkish-style tower to the fortifications.

The next day we headed further north to Pilos, and there was quite a sizeable swell of about thee to four metres running, so our Naiad stabilisers were sure appreciated.
Pilos is in the large well protected bay of Ormos Navarinou, where in 1827 the Battle of Navarinon took place - a combined British, French and Russian fleet of 26 ships destroyed a combined Turkish, Egyptian, Tunisian and Algerian fleet of 78 ships (only 8 remaining afloat), killing around 3,000 in the process, while losing only 181 dead. This was the last major naval battle fought entirely by sailing ships.
As Envoy approached to moor alongside a jetty, a fuel tanker driver helped us with our lines, and we took the opportunity to buy 700 litres of diesel at Euro 1.59 (about NZ$2.41) per litre, or about US$7.33 per gal.
Normally we prefer to anchor Envoy, and not use town jetties, because you generally can’t swim in harbours, and you have to report to the Port Police to have your Transit Log stamped (not necessary when anchored). The Port Police are always courteous and helpful, and we paid a typical Euro 20 (about NZ$30) for our stay of two nights.
We rented a car for a day and made a visit to the Fortress of Mystras, a World Heritage site near the town of Sparta. Here the legendary, militaristic Spartans dominated the region from around 850BC, although little remains to be seen. We passed through the spectacular rugged Langada gorge, about 50km long, and climbing to 1,524m, where the Spartans are reputed to have left any children too weak or unfit for military service to die.
The Mystras fortress was built much later in 1249 by the Franks, although the Byzantines took it over soon afterwards. Then ownership passed back and forth between them and the Turks. Although Lonely Planet says a half-day is needed to see this site properly, we were all a bit “castled-out” by this time, and although the site is very impressive found that about two hours sufficed.

Brian enjoys a drink of pure water from a spring in the Langada Gorge

Di and Laurie at entrance to Mystras fortress

Laurie outside Mystras Fortress wall

Looking down on modern-day Sparta from Mystras Fortress

Laurie and Brian a bit "ruined-out"

Ninety per cent of the places we go to are absolutely great - but not all, and next we encountered two very ordinary places in a row.
After leaving Pilos we sheltered at anchor inside the harbour wall of Kiparissia. Although we saw a turtle swimming here, the water was too dirty to swim, and even at a nearby beach the water was also not very clean. We went out for dinner that night, at the only taverna we could find, and they only had “house wine”, which was totally undrinkable (and there’s not much that Brian and I can’t drink!)
The next day we moved north to anchor outside Katakolon harbour, and the whole area was infested with huge jelly fish making swimming impossible.
From here we got a rental car to visit ancient Olympia – see next blog.
TECHNICAL - Nothing to report.
LOG - Up to 20 July had spent 111 days aboard, and cruised 953 miles for 177 engine hours.


Thursday, August 02, 2012

THE UNSPOILED ISLAND OF NISOS KITHERA

The island of Kithera lies off the south-eastern coast of Peloponnisos, and is one of the most unspoiled of all Greek islands.We spent the first night at Dhiakofti, which is not particularly interesting ashore, but the anchorage is delightful – a large bay about 5 metres deep with crystal clear, calm water, and we were the only boat there.

Greek holidaymakers enjoy the sandy beach and crystal clear water of Dhiakofti

Envoy anchored in Dhiakofti, and a stern view of Envoy as the sun sets

Brian watches the sunset as our RIB returns to Envoy from cocktails ashore


Just outside Dhiakofti is the wreck of the cargo ship Nordland, and as author Rod Heikell says it looks like her skipper attempted to perch her atop the islet

Kithera’s main port, at the southern tip of the island, is Kapsali, and a beautiful bay to anchor in. It’s a bit rolly as exposed to the south, but our flopper-stoppers did their thing in reducing the effect of the swell. Again it was very quiet with only one other boat anchored here.

Envoy anchored in Kapasali with Venetian fortress in background

Great shot taken from the fortress showing Envoy in the main Kapsali harbour, with the fishing boat harbour in the background


Laurie and Brian investigate five rusting cannons in Kapsali’s Venetian fortress

Here we rented a car to explore the interior of Kithera – the usual hilltop Chora and castle and some very pretty mountain villages.

No this wasn’t our rental car, and not the latest in convertibles either, but an interesting local mode of
transport

This beautiful bougainvillea-clad grotto in Milopotamus is fed from a mountain stream, and we had lunch at an adjacent old converted winery

Tranquil waterfall reached by short walk from the village of Milopotamus

One of Kithera’s attractions is the now abandoned medieval Venetian village of Kato, with it’s mysterious crumbling ruins

The winged lion was the symbol of Venice, and this photo also shows the solid structure of their stone archways, still standing after hundreds of years

Brian drove our rental along the very narrow roads of Kithera. Twice the side of the car brushed firmly against shrubs on the side of the road, making quite a noise inside the car of scraping metal. Later Brian checked the car and there were a few scratches in the paint, but we managed to make them look better with a rag, some water, and a little toothpaste to use as cutting polish.
Next day Diane and I decided to have a little joke at Brian’s expense. I rang our regular Greek phone, using a spare phone and Diane answered it with the conversation going something like this:
Diane: Hello Paniotis (the rental car man) how are you …… oh really ……. OK well sorry about that, I’ll get Laurie for you
Laurie: Hello Paniotis …….. scratches, no we didn’t see any scratches ……. what …. you’re saying the passenger side doors are badly scratched and will need repainting…… no I’m sure we didn’t do that …. but look I’ll put you onto Brian as he was driving the car
Brian (look of horror on his face): hello Paniotis …… hello Paniotis
Then we let Brian in on the joke.
TECHNICAL - Nothing much to report. We’ve heard that our new house batteries have arrived in Corfu for us to install when we arrive there next week. Our smaller RIB has developed an air leak, needing to be inflated every couple of days, and will need to be repaired in Corfu too.
LOG - Up to 9 July had spent 101 days aboard, and cruised 773 miles for 143 engine hours.