Sunday, September 11, 2011

Astypalaia, and on to Anafi

[Kyle]After lengthy formalities, we finally managed to get out of Kalymnos by late morning. I toyed with the idea of making Maryanne put the anchor down a few times to make her feel at home, but then decided to spoil her and only make her do it once. After all, she did put the anchor down, and then up again each time the night before, so she really didn’t get away with anything.

After having all of our trouble with anchoring, we did a quick search on the internet tubes and found LOTS of people complaining about the holding there. Apparently, the harbor is hard rock covered in axle grease and topped with a thin layer of ball bearings. The hope is that someday, this will decay into an especially sticky mud but, so far, no dice.

We had a fast run down the coast, turned the corner and then spent the next hour bobbing around in the wind shadow. The very minute I was getting ready to throw in the towel and motor over to the wind I could see just a few hundred meters away, an eddy broke off and pushed us over to the real wind.

In short order, we were going a couple of knots faster than the engine would push us, which we really needed as the gap between Kalymnos and our next stop, The island of Astypalaia, was over thirty miles, making it an all day sail. After missing out on any real chance of sightseeing on Kalymnos, I was really hoping for at least half the afternoon on Astypalaia.

The wind picked up. We reefed. It picked up some more and we reefed again. By the time we rounded the point at Astypalaia, we had been sailing in the full-blown Meltemi for a couple of hours – the same kind we had a couple of weeks before with Kate and Mark. It was a really wet slog and the only thing on either of our minds was to get it over with.

Around the point, the 2-3 meter seas suddenly went flat, but the wind kept blowing at around 30 knots with the direction swinging all over the place in the lee of the hills. We motored up to the head of the longest inlet and set the anchor down a few boat lengths from the beach. When I put the boat in reverse, we started drifting towards the rocks on the lee shore. I hadn’t even added power. Three more attempts in different places yielded the same result. It was as if the anchor wasn’t even touching the bottom.

Fed up with wasting time and sick of dropping and pulling up the anchor, we left that accursed cove altogether, looking for somewhere better. The next cove over to the west, ringed by high hills, had a strong wind coming down to the water but otherwise seemed OK. We dropped anchor so close to the beach that if the wind reversed we would have ended up on it, backed down and with FULL power, during a 30kt gust didn’t budge an inch; now that is the anchor we know and love. Even though it howled all night we slept soundly knowing we weren’t going anywhere.

Astypalaia, a pretty island, unfortunately we didn't make it to the beautiful town

It still seemed alarmingly windy by morning so I wasn’t relishing going back out into the mess we’d seen the day before. We left our cove and sailed along in light conditions on a flat sea in the lee of the island. Once out of the cove we were dismayed to see that the island was beautiful and we had missed a wonderful opportunity to stay at the main village blended seamlessly with a cora (hilltop town) spilling down into the harbor. The whole view backed by high rugged hills, rocky cliffs and perfect blue skies. If we’d only known we’d have just gone to town the night before rather than searching for passable anchorages, unfortunately the guidebook did not paint the town in such glowing colours. What’s done is done.

We passed out of the lee of the island and into the open sea and were immediately faced with more flat sea. The forecast was for slightly worse weather than the prior day, improving slightly over the day, and this is what we’d planned for with sailed reefed ready for the strong winds. Instead we shook our all our sails and ended up barely drifting along under full sail. After doing this for a while I realized we had no chance of making our destination by dark so we’d reluctantly start the engine for some motor sailing to bring up our average speed.

In the course of the day the wind would pick up, blow as forecast for 20 minutes and then remain almost still for another hour. Thus we alternated between starting the engine in resignation that we were not going to manage to sail the distance, and shutting it down again excited that the forecast winds were finally here.

About 15 miles before our next waypoint (at the south-eastern tip of the island of Anafi) I was peering into the distance and hoping to catch a glimpse of the island through the haze when I noticed an enormous cliff vaulting out of the sea. I’d only given Anafi a cursory glance when planning, and thought of it only as a suitable stop to break up the long distance between Astypalaia and Santorini. We were approaching the highest rock formation in the Mediterranean at 461m, higher still that mighty Gibraltar.

Arriving at Anafi

As we approached Anafi, the cliff loomed higher and higher above us until we finally sailed beneath it, mouths agape, amazed at its rugged inaccessibility. It wasn’t completely inaccessible as it was home to the ubiquitous church, in this case a monastery. The Greeks do this a lot it seems, they find a remote and isolated precipice and haul up materials for a complete church. This one is certainly one of the most impressive for isolation.

The 'main' town, and the remote Church

As we approached the town we could see that while it looked very inviting it’s harbor was small and seemed somewhat derelict, so we decided instead to anchor at one of the many beaches in the shelter of the great rock. The decision aided with the knowledge we had no time to go ashore anyway. It was not until we were in our final preparations for maneuvering to anchor that we noticed that the handful of people on the 3 small adjacent beaches were completely nude (and not at all shy). One woman seemed to be running for cover as we approached, but we soon realized she was just concerned for her swimmer friend and wanting to see they were not in danger from our boat. We dropped the anchor and were hugely relieved and celebratory to find it held first time. Just to be sure I dove in and swam over to check (in the manner according to local custom) and was gratified to find our anchor chain disappearing completely into the sand a dozen feet of so later our anchor trip line emerged from a short trench – now that is what I like to see! As night descended the nudists packed up and left the beaches, the rocks of the cliff burnt orange with the sunset, and the stars slowly turned on one by one in the clear night.

Sunset and Sunrise at Anafi

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