Boy’s trip through Crete

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Hello! Col here again. The ladies are now back on board with us, and while we await suitable winds for our departure from Greece and passage to Italy, it’s perfect timing to update the new-look blog with our recent travels through Crete and neighbouring islands.

I arrived back to Turkey on March 21st to complete our annual maintenance and oversee sanding back of the hull and application of anti-fouling – a job I couldn’t do myself due to a long-suffering cervical spine issue. Soon after FMD went back in the water on March 28th, I headed for Gallipoli to attend the  99th anniversary ANZAC Day remembrance services and to enjoy a week of sightseeing along the way. After the services, I was back in Marmaris and all fired up for another cruising season. Son-in-law Mike re-joined me in Marmaris on May 8th. The very next day we cleared out of Turkey at Marmaris and motored the short distance of 11 nautical miles west to the Greek Port of Rhodes – or “Rodos” as the Greeks know it – where we obtained a brand new three-month Greek cruising permit. If it wasn’t so annoying and frustrating, dealing with Greek bureaucracy to get our cruising permit would have been quite funny, but that’s a story other yachties can tell, as I’m sure we have all experienced the disconnect that exists between related agencies in Greece.

Last year while FMD was in Athens we met a fluent English speaking Greek journalist – Joseph Papadopoulos. The relationship started when on arrival in an Athens marina, we asked if anyone in Athens could assist me with flying my float-mounted weight-shift Trike aircraft in Greece. The next day Joseph rang me and our relationship started. He visited the boat that very afternoon and within minutes had explained his long-term love affair with Australia. This included his frustration with missing his opportunity to emigrate to Australia back in the mid 80’s due to his family’s fear of leaving all behind to start a new life in Australia; and we kindly received his offer to help us in any way possible while we were in Greece. As luck would have it, Joseph was President of the Greek Microlight flying club. He’d flown Trikes since 1982 and had flown his own weight-shift microlight on an inflatable boat hull in almost every coastal location on Greece. Joseph and I stayed in contact over the next six months, thus on May 9th 2014 our Greek cruising story started on a very happy note with Joseph joining us in Rhodes for a two-and-a-half week stint.

Below: Joseph and I on the day he joined us in Rhodes – his love for Australia was obvious! Second photo (credit to Joseph) shows the new bling added to FMD (blue underwater lights) when on the hard stand in Marmaris.

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From the start of our journey from Rhodes to Karpathos and Kasos then onto Crete, we were faced with either glassy calm conditions requiring us to motor, or with prevailing seasonal winds directly from ahead – or in nautical jargon: “on the nose”. Despite the less-than-ideal sailing conditions, the few weeks with Joseph onboard was a fantastic time that I’ll now try my best to share with you.

Joseph’s wife is Anna. Anna’s mother was born on Nisos (island off) Kasos. Since their marriage over 38 years ago, Joseph and Anna have visited Kasos at least twice a year and maintain a family home there. Whilst in Kasos, Mike and I took the opportunity to tour the island with Joseph and his close friend George Manousos. George built and operated the beautiful vessel Kasos Princess on a daily fast, modern ferry service between Kasos and Pigadia – also known as the Port of Karpathos – on Nisos Karpathos.

Kasos had an amazing history going back about 3,000 years BC, with a variety of custodians of not only Kasos, but also the entire Southern Ionian Island region of Greece. Dominating the region for hundreds of years were the Venetians. They built remarkable fortified castles and forts, ports and harbours, and monitored the entire coastline via a network of watchtowers and signal stations, whose remains were still clearly visible to any sailboat hugging the coast.

A little off the normal yachtie cruising track, we stayed overnight at Diafani within 40 metres of the small port’s tavern. The following morning we boarded the local school bus to the town of Olymbos, set on a ridgeline overlooking the west coast of Karpathos. At Olymbos we were introduced to the local priest John and his wife Irene. Their home at Olymbos was something of a museum, decorated with soon-to-be-lost needlework and pottery skills. As the village was now void of youngsters, the sounds of no small children was to me, the saddest sound of all. We had already discovered that Joseph filmed and interviewed wherever possible, and Olymbos was no exception. Last year, Joseph complied a comprehensive video for his website on Olymbos and its inhabitants, and on arrival we were all greeted like lost friends. Joseph has his own very popular website covering all things nautical and camping in motorhomes, among many other topics. Be sure to check out the website for more video and photos from Joseph’s time on board with us.

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Below: FMD moored in close at Diafani on Karpathos Island. From here we travelled up to the hillside village of Olymbos. Always the journalist – Joseph can be seen interviewing Olymbos locals Marina as she prepared us a meal from the family taverna; John the boot-maker cum-local radio station host; and Irene (wife of the village Priest) in her intriguing museum-like home. Irene kindly presented us with the large spoons as a gift, spoons that her husband had crafted from wood of an olive tree.

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From Olymbos and Diafani, we motored south on glassy seas to Pigadia (Port of Karpathos) for another overnight, and then onto Kasos. Our four-day stay in Kasos was, to say the least, busy! There were both local mayoral elections and elections for the representative of Greece’s EU commission taking place that weekend. Kasos was also the place Joseph promised would provide all the best conditions to finally get my Trike aircraft into the sky. Kasos Harbour was large and well protected from most winds and provided lots of “runway” options in the harbour. Firstly however, to the elections.

I must stress before continuing, I don’t want to dwell on Greek politics or put anyone off visiting this wonderful country. In Kasos however, Mike and I were to witness first-hand evidence of the political difficulties Joseph had explained currently existed in Greece. As mentioned earlier the fast, modern ferry Kasos Princess operated from Kasos. Kasos Princess was engaged to travel the short distance to another small port on neighbouring Karpathos Island called Finiki where she would collect a group of voters arriving from Athens. Mike and I were invited to join the owner George across to Finiki and return. The intention of these voters, all originally from Kasos, was to vote against the out-of-town Greek ruling party candidate standing for mayor. Locals all agreed the vote was likely to be very close.

Late in the day and just as the Kasos Princess was about to depart Finiki, using (her) political ruling party connections, the out-of-town candidate had the ferry hit with an impromptu safety inspection by officers from the Hellenic Coast Guard. The move was clearly aimed at delaying the voters onboard, past the 6:00 pm voting cut-off time. Kasos Princess did however make it back to Kasos with about 90 minutes to spare and the voters were able to cast their votes. Angered by the blatant political intervention, the owner and skipper of the ferry immediately complained to the Greek Minister for Transport. The following day he received a formal apology, but was asked not to talk about the “unfortunate” incident. Having met owner George (pictured with Mike below) and knowing Joseph would ensure an article about the election would soon be on his website, I doubt very much that the matter was allowed to rest!

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Now, about getting my XT-582 Trike in the air: Kasos did indeed prove an ideal location for her first flight on floats. Despite lacking ideal power from the two-stroke 65hp Rotax engine (I’m now convinced the 912- 85Hp Rotax is a far better engine when flying with floats), Joseph and I flew the Trike in Kasos, so one of my dreams had become a reality. Unfortunately we could only enjoy a relatively short session as conditions aloft became less than ideal. So with safety coming first, we stopped after just a few circuits and touch-and-go landings and a quick fly along Kasos’ terrific coastline. For those wondering, we are making plans to return the Trike to Australia via freight from Malta. After a year of carrying the Trike on board, I’ve decided it was simply not practical for the conditions and effort. Although the ambition for flight is not lost – new plans are in motion – so watch this space!

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From Kasos we headed for Crete – or Kriti as the Greeks call it – with planned overnight stops at Sitia and Spinalonga before heading further west along Crete’s northern coastline to the major centre of Iraklion – the capital of Crete. Crete was of course, the largest of all the Greek islands. It was also probably the most fertile and was almost 100% self-sufficient from mainland supplies. Before reaching Spinalonga however, we stopped at Ay Nikolaos to take on board Mike’s old Nova Scotia school friend Jake. With only a short visit possible before he headed back to his studies to complete his PhD in Neurology at Monash University in Melbourne, Jake could only stay with us until Iraklion. Though he made best use of his limited time challenging Mike to games of cribbage and a SCUBA lesson in the crystal clear waters of the southern Aegean Sea.

The small but busy port of Ay Nikolaos had a stunning “trapped” lake. The lake was in fact an ancient volcano and about 65 metres deep in the middle – today wonderful taverns and tourist attractions surround it. Spinalonga’s history too was intriguing and its very shallow northern lagoon entrance was guarded by yet another fantastic Venetian fortress, which received tens of thousands of tourists every year. A major part of the fortress was in use as late as 1955 when its leper colony was shut down.

Despite beautiful clear skies, we were destined to stay an additional two nights near Spinalonga while 25 – 30 knot westerly winds buffeted the northern coast of Crete, raising the swell height to about three metres. When the winds eased but still almost “on the nose”, we motored west to the major port of Iraklion for a two-night stop over and some sightseeing, including a visit to the 4,000+ year-old ruins of the Minoan capital of Knossos. Major works had been undertaken at Knossos to try and re-build parts of the capital city and as such the spectacle awaiting visitors almost defied description.

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From Iraklion we again headed west to the beautiful little port of Rethimno where we were joined for the last leg of our journey with Joseph by his wife of 40 years – Anna. Within minutes of coming onboard, Anna was into our fridge, pantry and kitchen cupboards to see what was available, disappearing shortly after to return with a great supply of local ingredients. Anna loved to cook and for the next three days we enjoyed some delicious meals, washed down of course by local Cretan wines. I must add here that Anna was also an accomplished artist and paints beautiful religious icons. We saw some of Anna’s early works in a small church above Kasos, though more recently Anna had been commissioned to paint for churches and organisations. Unfortunately too soon we were secured alongside in Chania – pronounced “Han-Yah” – where we sadly said farewell to Joseph and Anna so they could catch that afternoon’s fast ferry to Athens.

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Below is a sample of Anna’s magnificent hand painted murals.

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Eagerly awaiting the pending return to finally my darling of wife Pam and daughter Brooke at Kythira on June 5th, Mike and I headed towards the very NW tip of Crete. Yet before leaving the island entirely, we overnighted in the small sheltered bay at Gramvousa. The bay was dominated by yet another ancient and magnificent Venetian fortress, built in 1579 to help ward off the takeover attempts by the Turks. From about 1692 Gramvousa was also called “Pirate Island”. In that year, the three major Venetian fortresses at Crete’s formerly impenetrable locations of Spinalonga, Souda Bay and Gramvousa were handed over to the Turks without a shot being fired, when the governor was bribed by the Turks who had by then invaded and taken over Crete. Devastated by this deceit, the Venetians at Gramvousa refused to leave and turned to piracy. Located on the strategic NW tip of Crete and controlling the southern and western approaches to the island, the pirates controlled the area until 1828 when an Anglo-French expedition drove them out.

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Having been delayed by weather at both Spinalonga and Gramvousa, an easing in the winds on May  30th saw us start the 45 nautical mile trip NNW to the small bay at Kapsali on the very bottom of Kythira Island. What a trip that turned out to be! We started with good winds on the port beam but by midday, and contrary to the forecast, the winds shifted from westerlies to north westerlies. We finished the nine-hour journey after a long tack, two reefs in the mainsail and a run back to Kapsali in rising seas. Finally securing alongside in Kapsali and with a few days in hand before our ladies returned from Australia, Mike and I set about completing a number of small on board jobs. By the way, Kapsali was dominated by yet another Venetian fortress, beside which was the old town – or “Hora” – now both home to many locals and a hot spot for the brief two-month local tourist season.

The weather however, was to provide yet another bit of excitement. A storm front travelling east across the bottom of Greece from the Ionian Sea to the Aegean Sea was forecast to reach us about 6:00 pm, May 31st. By about midday however the local conditions suggested the front was going to arrive earlier than expected, so we prepared to leave our berth and go to anchor in the well protected bay. Just as we were singling up our lines, a violent squall with gusts to 45 knots hit us from astern. As the boat surged forward on the berth our stern lines snapped taught. With an almighty WHACK, the port aft cleat – to which the lines were tied – was torn completely out of the deck! We quickly finished our move to anchor where we were to stay for two full days until the broad storm had passed.

Finally the big day arrived and at about 4:00 pm on June  5th Pam and Brooke arrived from Athens to tiny Kythira Airport via a Dash-8 plane – and once again we were reunited.

FMD’s crew has been back together now for two weeks, as we patiently wait for suitable winds to cross from the bottom of Greece’s Peloponnese Peninsular to the boot of Italy or Sicily. An update from Brooke on our travels through the sparsely populated Peloponnese – including a week in Kalamata to undergo fiberglass repairs to the damaged cleat – will follow soon.

Though in closing this particular post, I want to say again what a beautiful place Greece is to visit. The scenery is almost always stunning, the variety and quality of Greek food is superb, and the friendliness of the Greek people never ceases to amaze. Whatever my personal impression of current Greek politics might be, those politics don’t affect visitors to Greece and just like Turkey – Greece should be high on the list of your “must visit” countries.

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Our previously secure and comfortable berth at Kapsali quickly became untenable as 50-knot wind from a storm struck several hours earlier than anticipated. It was just prior to leaving the berth that our portside aft cleat was torn clean from the deck. Once we were at anchor this solo yachtie struggled to leave the quay and only succeeded to push away with assistance from the locals. Another 15 minutes surging against the quay and he probably would have lost his yacht.

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  1. says

    I have made new friends! Thank you for your hospitality! Enjoy your life’s journey!

    That’ all I can say at the moment, as I am really moved by reading your post.

    I wish I were with you…

    Please stay in contact…



  2. JOHN BRANCH says

    Great writing Col, we are staying in Aus this year but will probably be back in Europe after the Perth reunion next year. Love to all. John and Tess

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