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.
Zakynthos left its own farewell for us in the form of an ugly brown stripe on our water lines. Many people mistake this tarry, oily stuff as something discharged from a town sewer or a passing ship, but it’s actually natural petroleum seeping from pitch wells on the sea bottom. The ancient Greeks were already familiar with the phenomenon, but the present-day spills are believed to be the result of a recent earthquake.
While our friends decided to stop at Katakolo, we chose a straight heading towards southern Messenia, the westernmost tip of the Peloponnese. The afternoon breeze gave us a great ride which lasted until sunset. At night it was calm, and we had to motor – always a little boring, but the full moon made the nocturnal sea very beautiful. It was a long time since we had travelled at night.
Pylos and Navarino Bay
The rising sun brought out the shapes of the natural rocky columns and arches at the Pylos entrance. They separate Navarino Bay from the Ionian. This large bay is particularly known for the Navarino naval battle of 1827, fought during the Greek War of Independence between the Ottoman Turks and the Allied forces of Britain, France and Russia. The Allied crushed the Ottomans, sinking and destroying 60 ships – the sea bottom must be covered in shipwrecks. Memorial monuments surround the bay.
We anchored at the northern end of Navarino Bay, off a fine, long sandy beach. Here we saw sticks in many places, marking turtle nests. On a hill nearby there’s a Frankish castle dating back to the 13th century. It’s called Palaiokastro, “Old Castle”, setting it apart from the “New Castle”, Neokastro, situated next to the Pylos town at the southern end of the bay. Neokastro was built by the Ottomans in the 16th century. Older history abounds, too. A Mycenean palace has been excavated nearby. This complex, called Nestor’s palace, dates back to the 14th century BC. Nestor was, according to Homer’s Odyssey, a very wise old king of Pylos.
Our friends joined us on the evening of the same day, and the next morning, we headed up the hill to conquer the Palaiokastro hill and castle together. The first thing we stumbled upon was a sign telling us that the castle was in a state of ruin, and we would be going there at our own risk.
The views, as usual, were breathtaking. The shape of the castle could still be clearly seen in the landscape, but it was very important to watch where you were going. I felt very queasy walking high on top of the battlement and certainly didn’t feel like leaning against the walls. A strong breeze blew in through the wall openings, and you really had to keep steady as not to be blown off the narrow footpath. But the view that opened to the north, towards the half-moon-shaped Voidokilia Bay, was absolutely worth the struggle.
We continued south from Pylos and rounded the Messenia peninsula. The tip of the cape is dominated by a Venetian castle. Last summer we seemed to have a bit of a Venetian theme in our travels on the Ionian – we visited Corfu, Parga and Vonitsa, all noted for their Venetian fortifications. Methoni was already well known for its sheltered harbour during Roman and Byzantine times. The Venetians conquered it at the beginning of the 13th century and started building the fortress, with its characteristic octagonal tower at the southern extreme.
Our buddy boat rounding the Methoni castle during a brisk afternoon breeze. The anchorage is nestled behind the castle, sheltered from the prevailing westerly winds.
High walls and a great moat separate the castle from the present-day small town of Methoni. During medieval times the town was situated within the castle walls. A long stone bridge crosses the moat. We wanted to see the insides of the fort, but it was Tuesday, and the castle is closed on Tuesdays. Has anyone heard of a museum being closed on a Tuesday? Museums are supposed to be closed on Mondays!
Fortunately, the shoreline was very shallow, and we could walk along the edge of the castle walls almost as far as the octagonal tower – a very handsome sight!
Some eye candy in the anchorage – a classic Sparkman & Stephens yawl, and a space-age superyacht.
After a couple of nights in Methoni, it was time to continue towards Kalamata. We needed to collect a parcel from the post office, and it was a practical stop for groceries and, of course, boat parts – there seems to be no end to things that need replacing. We parked for one day in the large harbour but spent the nights anchored off a sandy beach close by. Kalamata didn’t strike as a particularly inviting city, but there were a couple of things we immediately liked: wonderful cycling routes that take you absolutely everywhere and a beautiful park in the town’s centre.
It’s a park and an open-air museum all in one. Built on a former railway yard, the park is full of old trains, handsomely restored locomotives, trolleys and all sorts of old railroad history. An old water tower from the steam train era has cleverly been turned into a fountain that gushes into a large pond. Shaded by old trees, it was a wonderfully cool place to sit, while the surrounding streets were scorching in the almost 40°C heat.
After a couple of days, we were ready to leave. On the last day of July, we weighed anchor and headed out to the calm sea, side by side with our Finnish friends, and decided to choose a place to anchor somewhere along the way. But what happened next? Oh my! You’ll have to wait till next time to hear a full account of the dreadful chain of events!
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- Ambracian Gulf and Vonitsa – Towns, Castles and Nature’s Wonders September 9, 2020