Week 1: Sailing the Northern Cyclades with Andy and Clare

We only had a day to sort the boat before Andy and Clare arrived, and the first thing to do was to store tandem in the rear port-side berth. We’re not sure how he feels about being displaced by the boat but hopefully he will get out and about on some of the islands… Andy and Clare arrived late afternoon. The last time we had seen eachother had been outside a restaurant in Bishkek so it felt slightly surreal seeing them pushing their loaded bikes along the marina. They kept us in good spirits the whole week, helped us shift back into the travelling mindset and made great crew members onboard….

Andy and Clare pedallingwest.wordpress.com

Monday & Tuesday

Monday ended up being quite a late one, spent sitting around the dining table drinking beer and red wine. The good weather wasn’t due to roll in until Wednesday so Tuesday was spent storing gear in the hold, rigging the sails, shopping for supplies, blowing up the tender (dinghy) and getting the additional two bikes stored on top of tandem in the spare berth.

The Aegean is characterised by a infamous prevailing wind called the meltemi which blows Northerly throughout the summer months. In the winter the winds can shift from different directions and having looked at the weeks forecast we were expecting a shift from northerly to southerly and back to northerly. Rain wasn’t due to roll in for a good five days.

Taking this all into account Paddy decided to stick to a loop which would keep us in the Northern Cyclades. This would give us plenty of scope to island hop but would mean we wouldn’t have to sail upwind too much to get back to Lavrion.


Wednesday 

The next morning the skies were blue, the sea was calm and the wind had dropped (perhaps too much!). We got going with just the jib (smaller, front sail) and headed southerly down past Makronisi island. We were headed to Kea island which would be our first stop. We took a small detour around to the temple of Poseidon at Sounion which sits on a craggy outcrop overlooking the sea. We’d all cycled past the temple ruins from the road on the other side so it was good to see it from this angle.

As we got further out, the wind almost completely died so we ended up motoring a lot of the way. I spotted three dolphins pop up together crossing the boat’s path but despite keeping an eye out they didn’t appear again. After the excitement we laid out our sleeping bags on deck and I enjoyed a nap in the sun.

Tandem helming
Cat nap…
We headed round Kea island aiming for the secluded bay at Ormos Polais which sits on the S-E edge of the island. After dropping his overnight net a small fishing boat heads out leaving the bay completely secluded. We drop anchor and Andy, and a reluctant Paddy, dive into the water. It’s a beautiful evening and we manage to enjoy gin and tonics on deck before it gets too cold and Andy cooks us up a delicious risotto.
Evening swim


Thursday

After a breakfast of scrabbled eggs, we all climb into the dinghy and row ashore. This port was home to a small city state called Karathia with a population of around 1500 people and we enjoy exploring the old city ruins, amphitheatre and three temples dedicated to Athena and Apollo. The site offered a great view down to Encore. After practising our stone skimming skills the sun came out and was warm enough for Andy (at least) to swim back.

Old amphitheater
Andy and Clare were uneasy at first but we assured them that the tender can hold up to six people!
Skimming stones
Great view

Again, not much wind so we motored out towards Kithnos island heading to its ‘main port’ of Merikha. Both islands have been quite barren and rocky with a small number of houses dotted here and there. 

Parking the boat is often the most stressful time but we got there in the end with the help of a friendly port attendant and Paddy’s manoeuvring skills. Merikha is a tiny, picturesque port with a smattering of quayside cafes and restaurants. Being February everything is mostly closed up and the town is very sleepy. We manage to log onto wifi for a few hours and enjoy a beer in the warm afternoon sun. Andy and Clare have been great company – we love their appreciation of ‘well deserved beers’.

Preferring to be in a secluded spot we motor back north around to Fikiada bay and drop anchor. Clare cooks delicious bean chilli which we follow up with a competitive game of happy families (a game all adults should play with wine and without children). 

Anchor duty

Friday

We wake up to a greyish morning after quite a windy night. Paddy had to get up early to try and stop all the rigging banging against the mast. The blue sky soon appeared though and although the wind kept up it was a gorgeous morning with lots of white horses on the deep blue water out at sea so a promise of a good sail ahead. 

We row ashore to the sand bank which sits in the middle of the bay and enjoy a lovely coastal walk around the headland to the next beach. For a while we search for a hot spring which we had seen marked on a map.

We made an excitable friend along the way who – despite my obvious dismissive attitude – insisted on sticking to me throughout the walk. We never found the hot spring but did enjoy the stroll and after an early lunch of the standard cheese, salad and crisp sandwiches got ready to sail around the headland. 

Puppy dog!
Warm sunshine as we head back to the boat
Quick sandwich round
Once out the bay we enjoyed a good 15 knots of wind and decided it was best to just sail with the jib rather than bothering with the main. As promised the wind had turned and was now blowing from the south so we headed north back around Kithnos island and decided to anchor in a secluded sleepy bay just around the corner from the main port of Ormos Loutron. This 2 hour sail gave me the chance to practise my helming skills while Andy and Clare helped out with the jibing when needed. 

Wanting to avoid another night of rolling around and to avoid Encore drifting too much in this shallow bay Andy and I took a couple of stern lines ashore in the dinghy. In all the excitement Paddy lost his glasses overboard. These have travelled with us since Vietnam and were a sorry loss so Andy volunteered to stick his head under while Paddy rowed around the boat in the dinghy. Despite their best efforts we never found them. We had a quiet evening of reading and film watching that night.

Saturday

We all felt in need of a shower by Saturday morning and so we motored around to Kithnos’ main port and executed a perfect alongside mooring. The beach at this port boasts a natural hot spring which seeps into a shallow pool before running into the sea. We all enjoyed the warm free bath and spent a long time lying in the pool enjoying the sensation of being right next to the sea. 

After a tricky manoeuvre off the jetty because of the wind direction we got both sails up and steamed out of the harbour and into 19kn of wind. Today we were headed to Syros island which acts as the main administrative centre for the Cyclades. Andy did most of the helming and it took us a good 3 hours to reach our intended destination. This meant Andy and Clare had to get to grips with the important skills of tea making and sandwich eating while the boat was keeled over. 

After an exciting mooring session where the wind kept blowing us off and we nearly left Paddy on the quayside after one of the bow lines came untied, we managed to successfully tie up stern-to and made friends with the local gang of cats who padded down to see what all the commotion was. With the southerly wind keeping the air temperature a touch warmer we enjoyed another peaceful night of beers on deck as the sun set.

Sunday and Monday 

Monday was to be the last good day of weather before rain and colder temperatures were due to roll in on Tuesday. We planned to see out this bad patch sheltering in Syros’ capital Hermoupolis. We were also low on provisions and needed somewhere with a good power and water supply. It was a good 3-4 hour sail to reach Hermoupolis and we had some pretty crazy gusts along the way. Paddy took the helm, steering us into a sheltered bay so we could take down the main and just sail into the harbour with the jib. 

The town is built like an Amphitheatre around the port and was a very picturesque place to be. Encore was the only boat in the port so we enjoyed excellent service from the port official Thanassis and were well looked after while we were there. In the summer this area of Greece is buzzing with yachts and charter companies so it was kinda cool to be the only ones braving the ‘cold’ weather. 

Hermoupolis town
Amazing sun sets
Alone down in the port

Andy and I were in desperate need of some blogging time and we were able to go on some nice walks around the town. Tuesday was a complete wash out but that was OK as we had enjoyed some late night revelry the night before, having turned Encore into our own little ‘nightclub’. We all enjoyed a long lie in and cooked a warming stew with the leftover red wine.

With the weather looking pretty decent for Wednesday we planned to head back NW to the mainland. We decided it was best to cover the distance over two days, sheltering in a port overnight on Kea before completing the loop back to Lavrion on Thursday. 

Wednesday

Getting away by 10am we had a lovely sail and with the wind blowing from behind, Paddy was keen to get the spinnaker up. It was so warm that we all had shorts on and enjoyed the easy morning sailing. 

As the afternoon approaches the wind really picks up and we zoom along at 5-6kns. We reach Limin Ay Nikolaou at 4:30pm, drop anchor and enjoy the incredible sunset.

Preparing to hoist the main sail
The colourful spinnaker
From Limin Ay Nikolaou looking out to sea
Thursday 

The wind really picked up over night and although we only had a short way to get home it was going to be a bumpy ride, sailing up wind. Paddy took the helm and we all clothed up with our waterproof gear. It was all pretty exciting with the wind picking up to 25kn, Encore’s bow crashing into what were the biggest waves I’ve ever been out in, as we approached the northern tip of Makronisi on a tight starboard tack. The wind headed us and we struggled round the headland.

Wind swept and heart racing we managed to get the sails down and motored into the Lavrion Marina. Ready to enjoy a hot shower and relaxing cup of tea, Paddy and I crawl into our cabin to change and discover that everything is soaking wet. As we pull everything out onto the deck and prise up the storing compartments we discover lots of water washing around underneath. We’re able to salvage most things and then move out into the saloon where we prise up the floor to discover more waterlogged compartments. Andy and Clare were heroes and helped us get rid of most of the water and start drying the waterlogged gear. 

Waterlogged!

After assessing the damage the source of the problem is located and it’s not as bad as it sounds. Not the most ideal end to what was a really lovely week of island hopping but that’s sailing for you! 

We finally said goodbye to Andy Clare on Friday as they decided to get back on their bikes and start their cycle west despite the gale force winds. The next time we we see them we will probably all be back in the UK having completed our journeys! Paddy and I now have a week to get Encore sea worthy again before my sister Kate and boyfriend George come out to visit us. 

Wrapped up from the wind and ready to go
Getting shipshape for the next visitors

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