From Idhra Paddy I planned to head a bit further south round Spetsai Island and then north up into the Argolic Gulf. We had two weeks before we needed to get Encore back to Lavrion on the mainland so we set our sights on Navplion which sits right at the top of the gulf. A week to get there and a week to get back. This would leave room for any days we would want to explore ashore with the tandem as well as some wiggle room if any bad weather rolled in at any point.
Sunday and Monday were spent getting round to Koiladhia – a small picturesque town which sits on the north coast of the gulf. We stopped over on Spetsai and found a convenient mooring in a secluded bay called Anaryiroi on the island’s south-west coast which offers loads of great places to anchor away from the main hustle and bustle of the port. The bay was a great place to stop and we rowed ashore for a walk along the coast to find Bekeris’ Cave which, so the locals relate, was used by smugglers to hide from the authorities. It took a little while to find the small opening but once inside it’s pretty cool – a quintessential smuggler’s cave – a deep cavern 10m deep and 20m across, complete with a narrow water channel entrance, large beach for storing your cargo and even a natural well of fresh water running in from the rocks above! The next day we enjoyed a peaceful breakfast in the sun on deck, a fresh morning breeze heavy with pine trees blowing down from the valley opposite.
We’re coping well double-handed and the second day of sailing in particular was pretty nice although Kate and George had taken the best of the sun away with them. Now that we were back just the two of us it was time for me to get to grips with a few safety procedures – mainly the MOB or Man Over Board procedure in the unlikely event that Paddy fell over. We fashioned a ‘body’ with a bucket tied to a large fender and practiced a couple of times before pulling down the sails and motoring into Koiladhia. We arrive in plenty of time and park stern-to amongst some big fishing boats.
The next morning we got tandem out and went in search of the Lidl which we knew was only 6km away. We took the opportunity to stock up on a lot of food and drink here because it’s so much cheaper than any other shop. Then, supplies complete, I rowed us across the bay to Koiladhia’s main attraction.
Francithi Cave has provided Europe with the best and most complete prehistoric remains dating back to before 40,000BC and thus giving archaeologists important insights into European Neolithic life. We had great fun exploring the 150m tall cavern as we were the only ones there. Paddy got the raw deal rowing back right into the wind.
The next day of sailing was quite exciting, after a quiet morning the wind picked up to 20kn in the afternoon and we zoomed along north towards Khaidhari. We spent some time practicing the MOB procedure again which is a lot more stressful in stronger winds but Paddy said I managed OK. After messing up my beam-reach the first time I did get the man back in the end! A really big lone dolphin joined us for a long time playing in the pressure wave of the bow. It’s unusual to see them alone like this but we were glad he joined us for so long.
Kaidhari is a deep fjord-like inlet with high cliffs rising sharply from the water. At the mouth of the inlet are the remains of a Venetian fort which was presumably built to guard the entrance. It was destroyed by the Turks when Pasha Khodra took the inlet as part of his Argolic Gulf campaign. Because of it’s length the inlet is normally incredibly sheltered but we caught it at a bad time. Nevertheless we managed to pick up a mooring amongst the many other boats and once secured we could relax with gin and tonics and a game of scrabble.
The next day we headed up around to Nafplion. We pull up the main sail hopefully but the wind hadn’t picked up yet so we ended up motoring. The prevailing wind here is called the Bouka Doura, a thermal sea breeze, so it doesn’t get going until early afternoon. The coast line is beautiful around here and the remaining snow on the mountains to the south were a reminder that the warm temperatures we’re experiencing here haven’t quite reached the higher ground in-land. We’ve done well to wait a while before setting off north to Albania on the bike I think.
We stop at a picturesque inlet and anchor for lunch. It’s a gorgeous spot and the sun is shining strong so we take advantage of the hot water created by the running motor and get some clothes washing done. We then enjoy a sunbathe while dismantling and servicing the winches on deck.
This is a messy and time consuming task but one of the many small jobs that needs doing before Dermot puts Encore through her paces in the Fastnet Race later this year and we’re more than happy to help out. We manage to service four of the six winches before the wind starts to pick up and we agreed it’s time to finish the last stretch to Navplion.
Navplion’s a nice place and we were the only yacht there again! A spectacular fortress built by the Venetians overlooks the town from the Palamidhi mountain behind. It was taken by the Turks in 1717 until they surrendered it to Boubalina, the infamous female sea commander from Spetsai who won many battles for the Greek independence movement. Navplion was Greece’s capital from 1828 to 1834 until Otto of Bavaria moved it to Athens and the old town is full of neoclassical architecture, picturesque squares and upmarket shops.
Despite it’s own interesting history Navplion’s main draw for us is it’s proximity to two ancient sites, Mycenae and Epidhavros, which are both a manageable days cycle away. So the next morning we pulled tandem out, made up a packed lunch and headed inland towards Mycenae.
The site was the centre of the Mycenaean world between 16-12th centuries BC and is allegedly the home of Agamemnon and thus conjures up the heroics and pathos of the Trojan Wars captured in the Illiad and Odyssey.
You can understand why they chose the spot for the city – the site sits on an elevated cliff with an impressive red rocked mountain on one side and spectacular views across the flat, fertile planes running all the way out to the coast on the other. It’s position meant it controlled all communication and trade routes very successfully and it’s demise in the 11th century is still a bit of a mystery to scholars today.
The first bit we get to is what’s called the Teasury of Atreus (ancestor of Agamemnon who butchered and served up his own nephews and nieces to his brother after he had seduced Atreus’ wife). The structure, which is actually a large tomb, is built in a honeycomb pyramid shape and is well over 3000 years old. It’s completely intact although the mound of earth and grass which now covers the outside wouldn’t have been there originally. The entrance is 6m tall and incredibly impressive despite the lack of it’s decorative pillars which were hacked off by some British plunderer and are now kept in the British Museum in London… Real treasures were discovered in the tomb including a gold death mask which is popularly said to be agamemnon’s.
We then walk up to the main site passed the grave circles and granary and into the main entrance of the old palace: the Lion’s gate.
Naturally the majority of it is now very weathered with only foundations left (the exception being the underground cistern which you can still walk down into) but it’s a really lovely site to walk around especially at this time of year.
We drop off at the excellent little museum on the way back to have a look at all the artefacts uncovered during the excavations and then walk back to the bike to eat lunch before cycling home.
The next day we headed north towards the opposite coast to Epidavros where the ancient healing sanctuary of Asklepios once prospered circa 400BC.
The cycle was slightly longer than the day before and with much more uphill, something neither of us mind because climbing often goes hand in hand with more dramatic scenery. The surrounding countryside didn’t disappoint with plenty of mountains and valleys populated with neat olive trees, the hedgerows peppered with wild irises and poppies. A more unsavoury sight was the road kill we passed that day – the worst we’ve seen – a total of 5 dogs, 2 stoats and a badger.
We arrive in good time and lock tandem outside. Epidavros reached its peak in the 4th and 3rd centuries BC at which time pilgrims from all over journeyed there to be cured in its Asklepieion sanctuary; named after Asklepios the famed God of healing. The sanctuary’s reputation meant it was inundated with financial patronage which fuelled its ambitious building programme.
Pilgrims arrived through an impressive Propylon (entrance) and were housed in special accommodation on site. They were purified in the specially designed bath house and then led though a number of rituals in the many impressive temple buildings which were adorned with beautiful sculptures and freezes. Sacrifices were offered up to Asklepios and other gods such as Themis, Artemis and Aphrodite and patients were prescribed specific diets to eat in the shared dining hall. Bathing and water healing were integral to the methods used as was sleep healing during which patients were visited by deities in their dreams and woke up apparently cured. Exercise and study in the sanctuary’s library and stadium, and attending theatrical and musical contests in the odeon and 14,000 seater amphitheatre were also important features of this famed holistic medical approach.
The theatre is the best preserved example of a Greek amphitheatre anywhere. It’s spectacular and Paddy encouraged me to test out its famed acoustics by singing a song from centre stage. There wasn’t too many people around and I was keen to test it out myself so I did end up having a little go, and although I got told off by the security guard after, the other tourists didn’t seem to mind.
After three centuries of prosperity the Asklepieion was dealt a series of blows including Roman, pirate and later, Goth plunder. Earthquakes finished this off in AD 522 and 551 which buried and destroyed a lot of the buildings until excavations started in 1879.
It was a very speedy cycle back being downhill the majority of the way and we get back to Navplion in time to climb the 857 steps up to the Palamidhi fort to enjoy the sunset across the town.
From our elevated position we can see a stage being erected in one of the squares and a sound system being tested and so assume there must be something happening that night in celebration of the marathon event which we knew was taking place the next day. After enquiring with one of the security guards in the square we’re given an incredulous look and told that ‘Onorama’ would be appearing at 8:30pm. We didn’t know who or what Onerama was but from this meaningful exchange and by the crowds already forming in front of the stage we deduce that they must be a pretty big deal.
We retire back to the boat for dinner and a few drinks before heading back out to check it out. A crowd of mainly teenagers has gathered in front and at the fashionably late time of 8:55 Onerama appear and strike up a catchy pop tune. Everyone knows the words including all the parents and after striking up a conversation with the gaggle of teenagers next to us we get told they are very famous in Greece.
We have a fun time listening and dancing to the band but after their rendition of Stand by Me followed by MM’s eight mile song we decide it’s time to call it a night as the plan was to set off early the next morning and head back down the gulf.
We now have a week to get back to Lavrion. Some bad weather is due on Wednesday so the aim is to get to Poros for then.