Friday, September 30, 2011

Vulcano - As in Volcano!

[Kyle]The trip to Vulcano (our first Aeolian Island) from Milazzo was pretty uneventful. The Meltemi here is called the Tramontana and nor’easters are known as the Greca. We experienced neither and were left instead with the still winds of the Motorterranean. With the drone of the engine as constant background noise, we passed the time by reading (Maryanne) and dutifully plotting all shipping on the radar (me).

It wasn’t until we were within a couple of miles of the island that we started having some real fun. I thought I started seeing a lot of foam on the water. I had assumed it was part of the general pollution problem, then I realized what it was: rocks! Pumice was floating in ribbons along the currents flowing past the island. Soon we had the fishing net out and were busily trying to catch the bigger pieces.

Some of the collected pumice stone, and the grander rock spires

We passed north of the island in the gap between Lipari and Volcano and immediately decided to detour to see a couple of tall rock spires jutting out of the water on the Lipari side of the channel with a backdrop of craggy inlets and natural arches ashore. From there we made a bee-line to the anchorage on Volcano at Porto Ponente. The anchorage was a lot more crowded than we anticipated. We quickly identified the party boat and anchored as far away as possible in the shallows by the black sand beach. The anchorage was beautiful; the volcanic rock had eroded away at the base leaving tall spires and steep mounds jutting into the sky. It looked more like the south Pacific or Indonesian than the Mediterranean (at least to one side of the harbour). The south side of the harbor was filled by the smoldering volcano. We enjoyed a dinner with a stunning and ever changing sunset before retiring for an early night. There was just enough residual cloud from the earlier storms to streak the sky with pink, oranges and reds as the sun dipped below the horizon.

A stunning anchorage sunset and a WAY TOO Early start to the next day

Much to Maryanne’s consternation we were up EARLY the next morning. In this case I mean morning purely in the academic sense as practically speaking it was still pitch-black night. I had a plan! We were going to climb the volcano at the first possible minute in the hopes of:
1) Beating the crowds
2) Being done with at least the climbing part before it became too hot.

We succeeded in both cases. We must have been the first people awake on the island when we landed the dinghy at the pier and the look on Maryanne’s face indicated that she still wasn’t fully on board with my plan. Good sport that she is she humored me and came along anyway {Maryanne: Only complaining every 30 seconds or so}. We stepped off the road and onto the steep trail just ahead of a solo climber coming from the other way on the same road. We almost ended up being the first people up – that one guy quickly passed us on the walk up as we stopped to admire the views and snap pictures. Another guy appeared out of nowhere once we reached the rim. The climb started out as a difficult one on lose gravel and ash (much like walking uphill in dry sand), but from about 1/3 of the way up the trail changed to bare clay and leveled compressed ash which made for much faster going. We arrived at the crater rim just as the rays from the rising sun were shining through the plumes of hydrogen-sulfide gas venting from many yellow-rimmed fumaroles. The views from their were spectacular (that word again), we could see the nearest four Aeolian islands as well as Footprint in our anchorage, the crater floor and the entire rim dotted with crusts of yellow sulfur.

First views from the crater

We had intended to take the rim route. The path to clockwise ran right through the heaviest of the smoke and was fronted by an official looking sign in Italian that we took to mean ‘go no further or die’. There was one section of the rim we would not be able to traverse. Now rather than circle the rim we took the path counter clockwise and there met the second guy on his way down from the highest point – he must have been on the mountain very early!

The further we climbed around to the high side of the rim the more beautiful the views became and my vocabulary seemed limited to “Wow” on a regular basis. On the far side at the highest point we could see the crater floor, the vents, Footprint in her anchorage and many of the other Aeolian islands, it was an amazing place to be. Not realizing it would be such a short hike we’d packed lunch and decided to break out our sandwiches and enjoy the view (who cares if it was still breakfast time). I spent some time idly exploring the landscape with the binoculars we’d carried and the site of the crust of sulphur made me decide that I had to continue and descend to get as close as I could to the vents, even though we had planned to just turn around and retrace our steps from the peak.

Maryanne stayed behind at the peak while I trekked down the scree slope as close as I dared to the exhausting gasses. I stayed for a while snapping as many pictures as I could and then started the climb back to the peak towards Maryanne. As I was making my way back up the switchbacks of this steep section of rim I looked back to notice that others had now arrived at the rim and the vents. They stopped at the warning sign as we did, and seemed to debate whether to go on or not (as we did) but then they just marched right through the field of fumes. I was expecting at any moment to hear screams of horror and see collapsed bodies, or at least coughing and gasping as they struggled back into clear air, but apart form a few slight detours to avoid the worst, they just marched on through. Not only that but they didn’t seem to be experienced hikers but a group of colorfully clothed German grannies, with not a back pack nor a bottle of water between them. I made it back up to Maryanne. I was actually still leaning towards backtracking our steps along the rim and missing the steaming section, but it was Maryanne who was showing clear signs of not wanting to miss out. She ended up convicting me {Maryanne: hardly hard!} to continue on through the venting fumes.

Close up to the sulfur vents

We descended back down towards the fumaroles (this time together) but this time armed with the courage (or foolishness) of having seen someone else do it first, we got much closer to the vents, staying up wind to avoid inhaling too many nasty fumes. They were beautiful up close. The white gas came spewing out of the earth at close to boiling kettle steam temperatures and we could watch as delicate yellow crystals formed around the rim of each vent, making each one look like a giant geode. The moment of truth had come, and we lingered for a while admiring the shapes, but eventually it came time to stop stalling we had to push on through our first plume of hydrogen-sulfide gas. I made a plan for where to put each footstep, waited for a thin stop in the cloud and charged on through. It was a lot more frightening than I expected. Firstly, when the smoke engulfs you, you can’t see your feet and so can’t tell where you are about to step, that’s quite disconcerting on the rim of a volcano. Secondly, even though the white smoke looks like steam, it is not, it is (very) slightly acidic and is uncomfortable to breath in, AND it is quite warm; It is not possible to stand there and breath it in while you figure out what to do, you HAVE to keep moving and hope you make it to the other side (which luckily for us was all of a 2 or 3 steps away).

So... this is perfectly safe right???

Maryanne came through behind me and being slightly, oh shall we say, lower to the ground (?) ended up taking a much larger blast in the face than I did. We both unanimously decided at that point that we would not be able to manage the basic route along the crater rim, but would detour just below the fumaroles on a ragged trail descending into the rim (the same trail the German grannies had taken). The landscape was extraordinary with smoke hissing out of the ground from large and small vents and occasionally enveloping us in a stinky haze of sulfur. We found whole boulders of pale yellow sulfur deposits as we made our way back to the rim starting point and the mystery Italian sign. At one point I noticed a strange sound. I reached down to the ground and rapped my knuckles on the rock – it returned a hollow ring – this part of the crater wall was just a think crust and we were scrambling along it. After that I found myself, mostly out of curiosity, tapping on the very ground we walked on like a climber looking for good ice.

Once we had finally completed our navigation of the ring there were perhaps a dozen other hikers who had reached the rim and were making their way along the trails. We were relieved to see that many were Italians and also chose to take the sulfur rim route even after reading the mystery sign – so we were not too crazy!

Yet another scraggly trail led to the crater floor, this time there were no signs but nobody was using so far that day. The crater appeared less obviously active than the sulfur section of the rim, so I decided to be the first for the day to descend to the floor of the crater. The start of the trail was steep and made of loose gravel and ash and in order to keep from sliding it was necessary to very carefully select each step, taking it slowly. Every time I slid and caught myself on my hands I kept thinking back to all of the warning signs we had seen at the trail entrance and one in particular that admonished us NOT to SIT on the ground due to ground layers of poisonous gasses. That kept me moving. The descent trail took me down via two intermediate shelves. Each time I stepped over the edge of a shelf, the trail was steep, loose and scary, gradually reducing to a slight descent on hard crust. Finally at the crater floor I was able to look up and see the entire north wall covered with yellow sulfur deposits and rising columns of gas. It was pretty cool.

With such an early start we found ourselves descending the mountain just as the bulk of the crowds began their ascent in the beginning of the day’s heat. Rather than head directly back to Footprint, we walked into the ferry terminal using the steady stream of walkers to find the source, and soon found ourselves at a comfortable table in Porto di Levante for the obligatory gelato and a beer as reward for our efforts (as if the view wasn’t enough!). We relaxed and watched several ferries disgorge their passengers of what appeared to be mostly day trippers who we then joined as they marched on the flat road across the narrow pinch of the island to the mud bath pool and beyond to the black sand beach of Porto Ponente where we rejoined Footprint for a refreshing swim and a lazy afternoon.

Rocky outcrops all over the island, and the popular mud-bath

Sicily and the town of Milazzo

[Kyle]As a sort of consolation for not getting to Taormina, we decided to spend a day in the town of Milazzo on the Sicilian mainland. {Maryanne: I was pretty insistent that we HAD to step ashore and spend some time in Sicily}

We left our anchorage in Messina and head to a nearby fuel dock to top up. We had originally intended to top our fuel and water tanks there, but as soon as we tied up, we decided to just fill our jerry cans and go as quickly as we could. The swell at the pier was so bad that we ended up having to throw off the lines given to us in order to keep our cleats from ripping out of the deck. Maryanne and I held Footprint off the best we could while the attendant filled our cans. By the time we pulled away only a couple of minutes later, our rubrail was drooping into the water. About half of it had been stripped off on the side facing the pier as we smashed against it.

As we made our way out of the straits of Messina and into the Tyrrhenian Sea, I was hanging over the side with a hammer banging our rubrail back into place while Maryanne got the sails up and pulling and steered us out of the strait.

Our trip to Milazzo was in a flat sea until about twenty minutes before we arrived, then another thunderstorm arrived and the sea was churned into a froth. At our first marina of arrival, all of the protected inside berths had been taken, leaving only exposed outside spaces. The few boats on the outer berths were busy with occupants engaged in a desperate struggle to adjust their lines in order to keep from being smashed into the dock. Disregarding the encouragement of the attendant, we abandoned that marina and headed for an inside berth at the next one over, where we found slightly more protection. The staff was exceedingly friendly, but when I asked how much it would be, was told they’d figure it out tomorrow. Hmmm…

Since it was our first time setting foot in the country for a while, our first order of business that night was to get our wifi working so we would have "internets". We managed to arrive just as the store was closing, but they let us in anyway and we were assured we'd be back up and running first thing in the morning. On the way back to Footprint, we found a bakery/pizzeria that had a line out of the door. We decided that was a good sign. We got a selection of vegetarian pizza slices that filled us up for just above €5. Takeout pizza seems to be the only way to eat in Italy that’s affordable. Every bakery makes it and there are three or four per block. Picking the place that was full worked for us. Yummy.

The next morning we checked in again with the marina. We were told the rate was €60 per night plus 50% because we were a catamaran. They were going to do us a favor by only charging us €80 since we were little, which they would further decrease to €150 for two days. This just kills us. We know the boat next to us is paying around €500 per month, yet we get charged €150 for two days, and for what, two bollards and €3 worth of electricity? I admit that I don’t understand much about a marina’s business expenses, but I can’t imagine this is less than 90% profit, which seems brutally unfair to me. He assumption seems to be that I have a boat, so I’ve got more money than I’ll ever need. They might as well have some. There’s no room at the inn for the little guy anymore. We toyed with cancelling our second night and leaving, but we'd have to be out by noon (in just 30 minutes) and could not find a plan to stay elsewhere so just paid up.

This cast a terrible pall over us as we went to explore the town. We want to see it, but we seem not to be good enough to be allowed to stay. It’s a good thing pizza is cheap.

Milazzo actually ended up being a pretty interesting town. I loved it and I hated it. We started with the stuff that I ended up hating. We went for a walk to the Spanish Castle, which looks prominently over the city and can be seen from nearly everywhere. It ended up being closed for renovation, but the thing I remember was the walk up. It was terribly depressing. Every available space in this otherwise likeable village had been covered with graffiti. Worse still, behind every cliff, abandoned building and low wall, there were piles and piles of garbage. Why go to the dump if you can just go across the street and throw your trash bags over the wall? Parks looked like dumps. It was so disheartening to see such a beautiful place treated with such callous indifference.

The hike up to the castle was a little grim, but worth it

In spite of this shameful mess, Milazzo still had a certain charm. Mostly this was due to the atmosphere created by the local culture. Milazzo seems like the most Italian place we’ve been. A lot of other places seem to be influenced by neighboring countries or the insidious culture of global television, but Milazzo seemed to exist in it’s own purist Italian bubble. The Sicilians here seem utterly incapable of saying two words without gesturing wildly, like silent film actors playing to the back of the theater, and they could not be more friendly. It is terribly endearing.

‘You have paid for something! Here it is - your change! It’s correct, no?’ ‘I wish you goodbye! Arrivaderci! I will now wave as if you are on the top deck of a departing ship.’

The Sicilians have solved the problem of personal space. You have to stand out of arms reach or you will get inadvertently smacked. The strange exception seems to be when riding scooters. The town seems full of Piaggios driven by remote control with mannequins wired on top.

Kyle practices his Italian and enjoys a lemon gelato

One of our favorite Italian gestures is one where a pointed forefinger is twisted into the cheek, as if to make a little dimple. It means, “This tastes good”. We had heard about it, but had not seen it in action until stopping at a place across the street from the marina called The Cordial Bar. When I ordered a lemon gelato, the round little man behind the counter used it to indicate I had made a good choice. Indeed I had. That was by far the best lemon gelato I’ve tasted. After that, I decided I was going in for one every time I passed by. It didn’t quite work out that way. Sometimes I was in a hurry. Sometimes I was carrying a load. I managed to get in about half of the time though. I’m sure they thought of me as ‘Lemon Gelato Guy” by the time we left. Oh, that stuff is good!

After pouring through the guides, we decided the only thing we had really missed of Milazzo by our second night was a trip to the grand library, so off we went. It didn’t turn out to be much of a library. There were only a few books on one part of one floor. Mostly, it seemed to be a museum dedicated to Garibaldi, who lived there and was responsible for uniting Sicily to Italy in 1848.

Quirky artifacts and elaborate 17th Century decoration at the (now) Town Hall

As we were perusing the second floor, which still had most of the 17th century frescoes ad floor tiles, a nice man came up and asked us in Italian if we would like to know the history of the building. We apologized; saying we would love to, but our Italian probably wasn’t up to it. Stefano insisted, and with obvious difficulty and enormous patience he walked us through the entire place, showing us its treasures and answering our many questions in broken English and Italian. He didn’t have to do that, but we were so glad he did. It was such a privilege to be given a personal tour of such a beautiful place.

As we were leaving, we passed through an exhibition on the main floor of artwork using leather as a medium. Maryanne recognized the artist from one of the newspaper clippings on display and introduced us. We were then ‘adopted’ and given yet another one-on-one tour of the entire collection. At some point, the artist, who we decided was probably French, lapsed from Italian into French. Our French is actually pretty good so it made following his ramblings about his work and his artistic process a bit easier. We left with big smiles on our faces, amazed at our good fortune.

It was getting late by then, so we stopped by a nearby pizzeria, where we ordered a delicious vegetarian pizza and a beer big enough to share, all using the language of giant hand gestures. It’s such a comical way of communicating that you can’t help but smile. Our total was €8.50

Lively fishermans quater with busy fishermen and it's splendid outdoor church

The next morning, we went out to restock some of our fresh food supplies. All along the waterfront, the local fishermen were selling and gutting the day’s catch, right in front of the boat that caught it. They divided their time between animated haggling over the price of this fish or that and carefully mending their long nets. I collected our laundry, while Maryanne stopped at ten different tiny stores and a couple of big ones for the things on our list. We topped it with one last stop to The Cordial Bar for an early lunch before heading out in a windless sea for our next stop, the island of Vulcano.

Passage back to Italy

A passage with unexpected weather - Is winter here already?

[Kyle]As soon as it was light out, we unthreaded our lines from the big steel mooring rings at Pylos and headed southwest across Navarino bay. We had the sails up as soon as we were finished with our turn away from the quay. The wind was forecast to be less than five knots, so we had full main and screacher flying and were expecting a slow day.

As soon as we were out in the open Ionian Sea, we were struggling to get the screacher rolled up in building winds. By the time we were five miles from shore, we had reefed and reefed until we had one in the mainsail and two in the jib. We also had to go forward on an increasingly heaving deck to pull the screacher down and stuffed into the sail locker when we couldn’t get it to furl properly.

The wind was now up to near 30 knots. The seas were short and steep making the rolling motion of the boat very violent. We repeatedly had to go inside to recover one item or another that had crashed to the floor. I kept thinking of the forecast received that very morning – 3knot. Why can’t they get that right? The entire first day passed in this manner, with uncomfortable seas in which it was impossible to get any real rest in the off watch an we were left to wonder how long the rough conditions might last.

Late into Maryanne’s first night watch, a call came over the radio with a report of a person overboard at a position about forty miles ahead of us. It would have taken us until the next afternoon to get there, so we kept monitoring. Other boats (nearer and/or faster) did respond. Later on my night watch they had changed the nature of the emergency to vessel not under command, indicating either the boat was drifting or nobody aboard knew how to operate it. We were still headed towards the area. A couple of hours later I heard a conversation between a container ship MSC Healy (the primary responder) and a charter yacht Alter Ego that had come to help. The Healy had come as close as he had dared in the rough seas, but nobody aboard the disabled vessel seemed to make any effort to communicate with him, so he asked the yacht if they could get close enough to shout to them and find out exactly what the problem was. Eventually the yacht came back and said it was not possible for him to get close enough in the rough seas.

Olympia Radio (the Greek rescue service) told both vessels to stand by and that they were sending a helicopter (which ended up taking at least 12 hours to arrive). By late the next morning they were still putting out a general call for assistance and we were getting closer. We were now only 12 miles away and could see the container ship’s bridge with the binoculars. We called and offered our assistance, giving our location and an estimated arrival time. Olympia radio requested all our details, but later came back and said they had enough vessels; we were released from any rescue obligation. Of course we continued to hear the various goings on and even relayed a few radio messages that Olympia radio were not hearing. For some reason the area was at the limit of Olympia’s radio range and we ended up relaying messages for about an hour and were happy to do so. Still it wasn’t clear to us what the emergency was, nor the type of vessel involved. Either we were missing some of the communication or vital questions were not being asked.

A few hours later during my afternoon watch I heard a third vessel report to the container ship that they had the wounded man aboard. That seemed to explain the vessel not under command. Within a few minutes, the call came in that there were now two dead men on board. He hadn’t actually said wounded, but “one dead” in the first message, I had misunderstood the message due to the strong accents. The distressed vessel was to be towed by a fourth boat back to Greece. At this point we learned there were still 30 people aboard awaiting rescue. Now we understood why our little boat would not have been of much help.

When things quieted down, I called the container ship and on another channel asked for any details he could share about the incident. He told me that there were 30 people to transfer to another ship and then they were towing the disabled vessel to Greece, but he would not say much else other than he responded to a ‘vessel not under command’ and the deceased were Ukrainian, but he was vague about what happened or how the two men died. {Once we got to Italy we learned that the boat was a 32’ inflatable with 60 migrants – Afghans and Kurds, no mention of Ukrainians, hoping to get to new lives in Greece. It was damaged in the unforecast storm. There was a report of one person overboard and the two deaths.}. Even though we didn’t know them, it was hard not to think about the bad news their poor families would be getting. The day would never be sunny for them.

The next few days were mercifully tranquil for us. The wind died down and the seas flattened, While it was a struggle to keep the boat moving, the rig was at least not enduring any extreme stresses We slept well on our off watches and ate well now that it was so much easier to cook and clean up. I especially enjoyed the evenings, which were warm and clear and allowed me to spend my night watch gazing up at the constellations.

Things continued in this manner until the last full day when a layer of clouds gradually obscured the entire sky; an unstable system had moved in. At first we noticed (at a comfortable distance behind us) several waterspouts (tornadoes at sea) descending from the bottom of the cloud layer. As we neared the Sicilian coast the sky was lit up with continuous lightening flashes, which we seemed to just avoid as we passed by.

Since the passage across the Ionian Sea was originally planned to be against the prevailing winds I had allowed a lot of time for the crossing. In spite of our slow progress we still ended up with a couple of days to spare. We decided to change our original destination from Messina to the medieval town of Taormina on a hilltop a little further south on the Straights of Messina. The storms had created a big swell from the east so our only available anchorage was a little cove called Mazzaro Bay with a funicular up to the town. The bay was a gorgeous little village and Taormina was visible above on the mountaintops sprinkled there like confectioners sugar. The houses and buildings seemed to occupy the most inaccessible places on the steep terrain.

Our cruising guide book (which we are growing increasingly disenchanted with) indicated that it would be possible to anchor in the southern side of the bay – as soon as we arrived this was clearly not so; the entire bay was full of moorings used by small local boats and was so deep that we would have had to string our anchor chain through the entire mooring field AND run a line to a rock ashore to make it work. A few or the moorings were unoccupied and since it was late in the season it probably would have been acceptable to pick one up. However, as we were winding our way through the mooring field, Maryanne expressed concern since all the moorings were in close quarters and none were used for any boats anywhere near the length of Footprint, we could not be sure they were sturdy enough for us (or even available). We had really been looking forward to being done with the passage and having some time together, and once we saw the beautiful bay and town we were even keener to stay. When we realized we would not be able to stay in Mazzaro Bay we decided to continue on to Messina with a heavy heart – another 6 hours before the end of our passage.

Mezzaro had a funicular up to beautiful Taormina, we were so sad we couldn't find place to set the anchor

On the trip North along the Sicilian coast our luck with the storms finally ended and we were dumped on. It rained so hard for most of the journey that even though we were generally around 300m from shore, no land was visible. It rained so hard that there was a haze above the deck where reflected mini-droplets bounced back into the air after striking. After a long period of trying to tuck in the cockpit and keep dry, I decided to give up, embrace it, and went on deck for a good rinse.

We anchored in Messina at almost exactly the same spot as we’d used heading south in July except this time the water front bars were closed and the beach was empty. We had no intention of going ashore. We were ready to crash.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


A short passage in choppy seas has us arriving at Pylos around 8am

[Kyle]It was barely light enough to see when we left Methoni harbor in the early morning. The storms of the previous evening had left and the sky was clear with calm winds. As we rounded the corner at the Turkish Tower we found ourselves facing 1.5m seas sent in from a distant storm near the Italian coast. As we followed the coast North we ended up in an uncomfortable slop of reflected waves from the rocky shore intersecting with the swell. There was no pattern nor direction to the chop, it was just miserable. All the while the wind remained light at about 5kt which in most other circumstances would leave us with flat seas and very slow progress under sail (if any at all) so we were doomed to motoring. The trip was to be only 7nm though and after just an hour or so we pulled into Navarone Bay behind the protection of an Sphagila Island to our West.

At the tip of the Sphagila Island lies the dramatic Pylos island with a giant natural archway that looks big enough to sail through (although a quick look at the chart would soon deter you), and topped by a monument and light house.
At the tip of the peninsula lies the dramatic Pylos island with a giant natural archway that looks big enough to sail through (although a quick look at the chart would soon deter you), and topped by a monument and light house.

Once inside the bay the seas became flat. We checked for space in the built but as yet unmanaged marina, we found none, and tied up instead to the town quay with only one other boat. We preferred this anyway as it was closer to the authorities to complete our clearance process out of Greece.

Our water tanks were nearly dry and we had been on serious rations since Methoni. We doubted we had enough water to clean the breakfast dishes by the time we reached Pyros. After clearing in the Port Police advised us to go to the City Hall to organize water at the dock; here a guy came to unlock the water cupboard and allow us to fill our tanks. The port police also gave us phone numbers for a tanker truck to deliver fuel to the boat; Maryanne made the call and the tanker arrived just as we’d finished filling the water tanks. We were both shocked that all the formalities and drudgery for the boat was completed so quickly, this left us the rest of the day to explore Pylos guilt free!

We stepped ashore and turned right (South) heading for the giant fort we’d passed on the way into the harbor, it was an obvious starting point. It was roughly the same size and vintage as the fort in Methoni, but was in much better condition and care (tidier grounds, more information boards and even a leaflet to guide you around the site). This went along with excellent views of both the beautiful bay and distant hills and mountains. This part of Greece is a lot lusher than the lands to the East and the air was filled with the fresh smell of pine forests lining the hills.

The "New" Pylos Castle with its spectacular views

We took the long route through the fort, meandering as we do. We made a point of walking as much of the perimeter wall as we could to enjoy the views (all but one small demolished section). By the end of our fort exploration we were starting to flag. With little sleep, a light breakfast and the heat of the day I was spent so we headed into town to find refreshments and what was to be our last restaurant meal in Greece and blew Maryanne's birthday money she had been saving.

On the way into the main town we spotted a boat equipment store with colorful supplies spilling onto the street, we immediately planned to go in but before we could even express an interest the owner standing in the doorway called us over to chat. “Where are you from”, etc.. He seemed most surprised that we had a boat and actually wanted to come into his store. He chatted happily about his days in the Merchant Marines mostly in South and Central America and the Caribbean for many years. He talked enthusiastically about our travels and listened intently to our tales. Maryanne pulled out her ever ready ‘just in case I find a boat store’ list, and we were dismayed when we could only find €3 worth of stuff in the store (A replacement dinghy plug). We purchased 2 (so we’d have a backup) and the bill came to €5 came with a smile from our new friend and a cold drink too.

We wandered in the direction of the square that forms the center of the town. Most of the restaurants and cafés in town seem to make up its perimeter. We were looking for something off of the beaten path, though. We passed the square and climbed the steps up the hill on the other side. After a couple of blocks, we spotted a place called Grigoris. A quick glance at the menu posted out front confirmed we wouldn’t be paying waterfront prices. It looked really nice inside and they were boasting a garden. The proprietress spotted us looking the place over so once we were caught, we just HAD to go in.

We were searching around for the best place to sit with an eye towards the garden when we were led into the kitchen for the “menu”. “Let me show you what I have” she said as she pulled lids from pots cooking atop a giant stove and pulled out dishes from the oven. We cooed approvingly at each at which she pulled out a notepad and asked us what we wanted. I’ll have this, that, that and some of that please! We then found a place in the beautiful garden in a lovely setting of hanging vines and shady trees; it seemed a much prettier and more peaceful setting than the waterfront. Since the food was already simmering on the stove our meal was ready at the table within a very short time and bread, salad, wine and water delivered too.

After selecting from the days offerings, Kyle tucks in to his last meal in Greece

[Maryanne]My favorite restaurant in Munich (where I worked for 2 years) is a Greek one where you were invited into the kitchen to pick from the days offerings (no menu). I’d talked about this often to Kyle and was SO excited to find the real deal here in Greece. Being mid-afternoon the restaurant was not busy and only had one other couple as customers when we arrived, a German couple from Munich. They were soon talking with us and were amazed that I knew about the restaurant in Munich and sadly advised me that it closed about 3 years ago! Oh well, things change, for now at least I could enjoy a genuine Greek kitchen restaurant.

[Kyle]We ate our fill leisurely and then a little more for good measure, eventually rolling back down to the harbor and Footprint. We needed to do some last minute passage preparations (for Italy) aboard Footprint while it was still daylight. No sooner had we finished the outdoor stuff, when the sky opened up and poured rain. It rained so hard that we probably could have skipped refilling the tanks this morning and caught enough to fill our tanks had we put our rain catcher up. Oh well, at least the salt is again washed off the decks. There was lots of thunder and lightening around and one bolt hit a lamppost in the parking lot beside our pier – that was loud. Several others hit the hills around the harbor.

After the storm ended the sea was still and the air calm and clear, we took one last walk through the town looking for a bakery to supply ourselves with breakfast for the following day and came home with a few extras too. Mostly we wanted an excuse to take one last leisurely stroll in a country we had become so fond of.

Farewell Greece.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


[Kyle]As I said earlier, we left Dyros in the middle of the night, taking poor Timmy’s roof {Maryanne: Timmy being the resident octopus we’d acquired}. The passage was totally boring. It was night. There was no wind. We motored the whole way. There was nothing to do but stare at the instruments in the dark and wait for it to be over.

We pulled into Methoni, which is pretty much at the southwestern corner of Greece, just after the fishermen left the harbors to start their day. We pulled way up to the beach as close as our draught would allow and set the anchor. Maryanne had slept for the passage, so it was my turn to crash in the bed for a few hours while she sorted out our growing photo collection.

Once I was up, we took the dinghy ashore for an orientation. The town was lovely. Adobe houses with curvy shapes have been replaced by buildings with red tile roofs like in Italy or Provence. It was clearly after the big tourist season so, once again, we felt like we had the whole place to ourselves. There seemed to be just the right balance between bustle and quiet. All of the cafés were open, but each only had a smattering of customers, so there was no pressure to get moving. I was still on only about half of the sleep I really needed. There was no Meltemi wind here, so it was hot, humid and still. After only an hour or so of walking around I was spent so we headed to a café for coldies and a couple of appetizers to tide us over until dinner.

As we were heading back to Footprint on the dinghy, we made a slight detour to a British boat anchored nearby where we met Steve and Marion. We invited them over and spent most if the rest of the evening swapping sea and cruising stories and advice. As we were all in Footprint’s cockpit having a good time, The Dutch showed up and anchored as close to us as they had in Kimolos – those Dutch – the nudists. The thing about Anchorage TV for cruisers is that you don’t always get to pick your channel.

The next morning, we were a bit more motivated. We were up early (for cruisers). We immediately made our way to the big local attraction: a fort and tower built in stages by every occupying power in Methoni, mostly Venetians and Ottoman Turks. Admission was free, which I like. The large site of the old walled city was in a pretty advanced state of decay but there were pockets of workmen restoring a little corner here and there. The tower, which serves as the most conspicuous landmark for arriving mariners, was in the best state of preservation.

By then, the wind was picking up in the harbor. It was coming from the only direction from which the harbor offered no protection. Every time we got a view of Footprint, we were checking for signs of dragging. She held fast, but the chop in the harbor was getting up to two feet or so. Methoni is home to a Carrefour supermarket, so it immediately became one of our priorities to stock up on hard to find stuff. After the fort tour, my job became to return to Footprint in the dinghy to retrieve backpacks in which to carry home the groceries. While I did that, Maryanne went to the post office to buy stamps. Even though it was the middle of a weekday, the place was locked up. The place had been locked from inside – the keys were still dangling from the lock. She had to knock until someone heard her, then they let her in as if that was just the normal procedure – very odd. There was no way to launch the dinghy in the surf without getting totally drenched in spray. By the time I was back at the beach to rendezvous with Maryanne. I was a walking wet t-shirt contest. We bought so much stuff that the only way to make progress against the wind in the dinghy was to lighten the load. Without hesitation, Maryanne helped me into the water and then swam to the boat so I would have a chance against the wind.

The harbour before and during the rain

I readied the dinghy by putting it in lifeboat mode while Maryanne stowed the groceries. No sooner had I finished than the sky opened up. It rained hard. Lightning could be seen all over striking the hills and thunder was nearly constant. It was the first rain we had since Galaxidi 47 days ago, which was just a drizzle at night. It was the fist time we had even seen clouds since then. Once the rain passed, the wind shifted so that it was coming off of the beach. The seas flattened again. Within fifteen minutes of the rain stopping, we were floating on the surface of a harbor of mercury. The air is cooler and drier. It should be easier to sleep tonight, ready for an early departure tomorrow.

Methoni Castle

[Maryanne]Methoni was yet another face of Greece that we hadn’t seen before. Mentioned by Homer as one of the towns offered to Achilles by Agamemnon (what, not done your homework lately?), it is now a small harbor town dominated by the castle and with a great small beach and a town full of hotels and tavernas and a smattering of basic shops. As we ambled around we heard plenty of British English being spoken in the cafes and tourist spots; we were not sure if these were retired immigrants or holiday makers. A few of the houses in town had a Swiss feel to them with flowered filled balconies and ornate eves; we wondered if that was due to immigrants or some general practicality (hard to believe this area gets heavy snow!). The castle was a really large walled area that once enclosed a whole town, with ocean on 3 sides and a large moat on the one end for access from land. It’s really heavily protected from attack from all directions and we spent our time ambling around mostly ruins imagining the site in its prime.

In some places there are rooms, possibly dungeons or just as likely storage rooms. Within the walls are structures we are led to believe were once Turkish baths, and had clear signs of plumbing within, but also had openings in the domed ceilings that we could not guess the purpose of. There were few notice boards and with free entrance, nobody to offer any guide or tour of any kind so all we could use was our imagination. Basically we liked the town, and arriving outside the tourist season it seemed available to us alone; no pressure to enter a restaurant, or join a tour; we were free to wonder and speculate. Beautiful.