Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Greek Island of Kythnos

Our remote Kythonos cove, where Kate finds a hammock to relax in

[Kyle]We had an unstructured morning of snorkeling and hiking around the local hills. This included a visit to the most conspicuous landmark in the bay – a small and well kept church. Despite being small, it still seemed large for the number of people it could serve (two elderly farmers?). We poked our heads inside and found it tidy and well kept and with candles lit for the day (presumably by the goat herder) so it was clearly still in regular use.

Mark was a good sport and joined me in my trek up to the highest point I could find. The farm by the beach had many more signs of life in the morning, as we landed with our fins and were changing to shoes a herd of goats past us pushed along by an elderly goat herder who greeted us in incomprehensible (to us) Greek; we responded with our basic Greek greetings (Kalimera, and Yassas) and smiles all around, before parting ways! Beyond the beach wall another man was unloading packs from a donkey having just walked down to the farm from the road high above. It was clear from the roads and trails around that donkeys were the only viable means of transport on this part of the island; we had stumbled back in time. So we find ourselves in a bay on a remote part of a remote Mediterranean island, with no obvious signs of modern day civilization in sight (no roads, no power cables, no televisions) and yet we still could access internet using our Greek wifi card – amazing. By now we had learned not only of an earthquake hitting Virginia (where our visitors Kate and Mark lived) but also that a hurricane was on its way to directly hit their town – Yikes. Kate and Mark’s house being sturdily built in the days before particleboard had seen many hurricanes so their main threat was potential flooding and certain electricity loss. There was nothing we could do but enjoy where we were.

On our walk to the top of the hill Mark and I did find what appeared to be a vehicle road, although we both agreed it would be terrifying to drive and probably more terrifying to be driven along it. It was very steep and narrow, covered with loose gravel, and had regular hairpin turns over high drop offs. It terminated in a padlocked gate and quite some distance remaining for the donkeys to haul any load.

Views from the hills and of the hills

We met back at Footprint for lunch and as we were preparing for departure another boat arrived which through the binoculars we could see had a shredded mainsail. They anchored beside us in the small cove and after giving them some time to get settled we chatted over the radio – they were two Belgian men in a charter boat and had sailed from the North of the island (the town of Loutra) just 10nm of downwind sailing away. They reported big seas and strong gusts but could not give us any specifics, as they were not equipped with any wind indicator. Our forecast led us to expect strong winds all morning 9am-3pm and reduced winds after that (when we planned to leave). Their reports seemed to coincide with the morning forecast and we continued with our plans to depart after 3pm (still rough, but not unreasonably so). They had contacted their charter company and were advised the winds were expected to be lighter in the afternoon and would send them a new mainsail the next day. They wished us luck as we pulled up anchor and headed out into the mess they had just escaped from.

We cleared the cove and turned for Siros. The wind was strong (mid-20s and just forward of the beam) but the seas were no worse than we’d seen so far. We’d need to sail up wind and it was not going to be a pleasant day sail, it looked like another day of wishing we were already there. The leg from Kythnos to Siros was the longest stretch of open water we had planned during Kate and Mark’s visit. Unlike previous days the entire journey was to be just a stretch of open water. As we got further and further from Kythnos, both the wind and seas continued to build. Kythnos has the unfortunate position of being downwind of Kafirevs Sound, a large gap between Evvoia and Andros that lets the Meltemi blow in unimpeded from the northern Aegean. The seas also come through this gap, where they part around the protected island of Yaros before meeting again on the southern side in a mess of pyramid shaped cross-seas. The winds didn’t relax but grew from the forecast low 20’s into the upper 30’s bringing with it waves of 3m (even the occasional 5m wave). It was miserable and slow progress and a strong current also worked against us, forcing us to point even further into the strong winds. The boat pounded and objected. After an hour or so, we were beating into the heaviest seas and winds that we’ve ever experienced on an upwind sail, and no obvious signs of improvement (quite the opposite). The conditions meant that what we’d intended to be a 5 hour passage would take more like 13hours. It seemed none of us, including the boat, would want to tolerate for that long. A rough sail had deteriorated into near survival conditions and we made the decision to aboard the passage and return to our Kythnos anchorage.

Because of the current and winds, the return journey was also a miserable upwind sail (just slightly less so), and as we returned to Kythnos the wind and seas died down to normal levels. Realizing we would be here for an extra day, we tried a couple of different coves for variety, each of which had some issue that made it unsuitable for anchoring. We finally pulled up to our old spot near the Belgians, dropped the anchor, and to add to our misery it would not set. Another attempt, the same thing. We tried a slightly different spot, same problem. After a few more tries I finally donned a snorkel and mask and jumped in to find a decent sandy spot in which to dig the anchor. Maryanne drove the boat and Mark dropped the anchor. The whole process took us over an hour. Afterwards we were all feeling exhausted and shell-shocked.

Not much was said about the days attempted sail, we were all too tired. We just shook heads and shared the misery, we didn’t want to talk about it. The forecast for the next day was for a slight improvement but by then we had become very mistrustful of the forecasts. We discussed alternatives for Kate and Mark’s passage home? Was it better for them to have a nice few days on an island while we pressed on without them? Or should we trust the forecast and stick with the plan? We all went to bed to lick our wounds while the wind howled into the anchorage from the valley, buffeting the boat for another poor night of sleep.

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