I was a teenager when I first visited Crete. It was my first and only holiday trip “south”. Besides the beautiful beaches and too salty but wonderfully warm water, I’ve never forgotten my visit to an island of lepers. Decades later, we had arrived in the same place on our own keel, sailed past the famous island, Spinalonga, and anchored in the sheltered bay behind it. It was time to hop in the dinghy and visit the island fortress again.
Aina sailed peacefully, following her favourite compass heading, 180°. We saw Mykonos behind us, and soon also Naxos and Paros, as we continued further south. It was the last day of October, and the sun would set early. There would be no moon to guide us on this night passage. The cloudy sky soon turned pitch black. But the wind wasn’t bad, the sea not too bumpy, so we both slept well in turns. As I climbed into the cockpit for my shift around midnight, I saw the beautiful glittering lights of Santorini on our starboard side. Perhaps we would sail there one day, but not tonight – our destination was Crete.
We had been dodging strong northerly winds for a week in Naxos during the second half of October. During a short calm break, we paid a brief visit to the island of Delos before having to hunker down for the next windy spell. There appeared to be some sheltered bays on the south side of Mykonos, so we headed there. Mykonos is one of the most touristy islands in the Cyclades, but perhaps this late in the season it might not be quite so crowded.
Sometimes I think about what it would be like to be Greek. To have been born on a random island or a section of the coastline, where ancient bronze statues wash up on the shore on a regular day. Every hill around your home village would be an alleged birthplace of some son or daughter of Zeus’ seventh wife. The olive tree in your backyard would have been there when Aristotle was a little boy. Your grandfather would have grazed his sheep on a field where the Greeks once fought the Persians.
When our sailing journey began in the summer of 2018, we never thought we would be staying very long in any country. But we’re still in Greece after more than two years! This winter will be the third that our Aina rests in a Greek harbour – this time in Crete. We hope our readers can wait for future sailing plans patiently, as they are never revealed even to us until the very last moment.
The island of Naxos has a lot to see – you could easily spend several fully packed weeks here. This time we only had a day to tour the island on a rental car, but we managed to get a very nice glimpse of the island. We headed east, over the hills, from Naxos town. The further we got from the rugged coastline, the greener and lusher the landscape became.
Our Cycladic adventure had begun from Paros, and now we arrived in Naxos after only a couple of hours’ sail. Naxos is the largest of the Cyclades islands. The main city goes by the same name but is often called Chora (chora means simply “town” or “main town” and there are many Choras all over the Greek islands). The town is situated in a large bay on the northwestern corner of the island, nestled behind a small island with the ruins of Apollo’s temple on it. Between the temple island and the town is a small anchorage, and that’s where we decided to drop the hook.
Archaia Epidauros or Palaia Epidavros, whichever is the official name of the place, was a significant harbour throughout ancient times. According to Homer, it supplied 25 warships for the Trojan war. Today it’s a small fishing village, with a sheltered marina and some tourism. The more popular Epidavros, particularly known for its huge theatre and sanctuary dedicated to the god of healing and medicine, Asclepius, is located about 10 km inland.
The Mezapos Bay distress and the subsequent boatyard visit to Kalamata were happily in the past. It was time to look ahead, and high time to continue our journey! We had come here to round the Peloponnese, and round the Peloponnese, we would.
Two Finnish boats waved goodbye to the island of Zakynthos. It was late July, and they were on their way to the Peloponnese, and eventually, the Aegean Sea. For us, it was a rare and wonderful chance to buddy-boat together with someone, and even though it was just for a while, it felt very special.
Last time we got to know the island of Ithaca, home of Odysseus. In mid-July, we continued further south. We anchored in a little cove on the southeastern side of Kefalonia. Two goats, a mother and a kid, provided our evening entertainment. They effortlessly jumped from rock to rock along the seaside. In the morning we continued towards Zakynthos.
The most famous sailor to ever roam the Mediterranean sea was, no doubt, Odysseus. All of us later colleagues have heard of him, and in many ways travelled in his wake. Odyssey, the epic poem of Homer, is a story about a war hero trying to find his way back home from the Trojan war (around 1192-1184 BC). He was the king of Ithaca, and it took him ten years of adventuring to make it back. There are many candidates to every place depicted in the story, including Odysseus’ home island. Some have placed his Ithaca on Kefalonia or Lefkas.
After a very long winter and lockdown, we finally began our sailing season in mid-May. But the waiting wasn’t over yet. We sailed to Messolonghi for our first covid vaccination dose and had to wait there for a week and a half. The time was spent catching up with friends we had gotten to know during our stay here in winter 2019-2020. After the first jabs, we weighed anchor and sailed to Lefkas, another place that felt a bit too familiar from the previous year (hot summer months working on a boatyard aren’t easy to forget). We tried to change our second vaccination to the hospital in Lefkada, but without success. So we waited some more in Nidri, and in mid-June, we rented a car and drove back to Messolonghi for the jabs. Now the only thing we still had to wait for was the vaccination certificates, and then we would be ready to roam the islands at our leisure.
Sailboat Aina’s crew is still floating in Greece. No worries – we haven’t accidentally sailed over the world’s edge, or been swallowed by a whirlpool, or even poisoned by the fumes of the Mount Parnassos that used to inspire the oracle at Delphi. But the strict lockdown that has lasted for more than six months has had its effect on my writing inspiration.
At the beginning of the year 2020 we delved into boat projects aboard our sailboat Aina. At that point nobody knew that the world was about to turn upside down. Greece went into total lockdown in March, but we just kept on working. Read more about our time during the spring lockdown in Messolonghi!