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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Winter 2021-2022 was unusually cold and stormy in Crete. Our boat Aina seemed to think it was the most uncomfortable winter along our journey so far, with frequent rain showers, hail storms and constant swell. The writer of this story, Inka, spent the winter back in the snowy homeland while the boat and the rest of the crew stayed in the marina at Agios Nikolaos.
We had left Crete on the 8th of May and were sailing towards the Ionian Sea. 24 hours later Crete was still looming on our port side as if we’d gotten nowhere. It is a big island, but our progress was very slow indeed. We were sailing close-hauled, and a lot of the time the wind was so light we had to motor.