Arriving a few days behind schedule in Roccella, in the worst weather we have encountered so far we had 10 days to get ourselves and the boat ready for our return to the UK.
With the boat it is a case of making sure the moorings are up to the task, taking down the jib sail, removing loose equipment, closing sea cocks and making sure water can drain out of the tender. Just as well as we have rain forecast for most of the time we’re here!
I went to make some software updates to the Chart Plotter and found that we no longer have a Pilot Computer, this links all the instrument data to the Chart Plotter. Why it decided to stop working the day after we arrived in Roccella I have no idea, but am glad it didn’t pack up before we arrived. I have sent an email enquiry to BandG, but we will be leaving before they get back to us and so that is going to be my first challenge in the New Year.
We have been here for 2 weekends and have slotted right back into the Sunday BBQ routine. There are plenty of people from last year and one or two new boats joining the Roccella Live-aboards. We have made friends with a couple of them over dinner and drinks and one lady, Gilly from Riverdancer made us a fabulous little gift. She paints stones as a hobby and made this one specially for us.
Sadly, our friends from last year will be arriving just after we leave so we’ll not see Chris and Sue or Charlie and Suzy until next year when we’re back.
So with the boat secure on our new mooring, well protected by a substantial wall, and our bags packed we are ready to leave. The taxi is booked for 6 am on Tuesday.
With our repairs completed and our new ‘bumpers’ installed we were back in the water by 2 pm on Wednesday, the 3rd, and planning to leave for Roccella. The forecast gave us south-easterly 15 to 20 knot winds for the whole passage and even a slight reduction for our planned arrival at Roccella on Friday morning.
But first, after 24 hours of dockyard work the boat was a tip, the compartments above the engine spaces are full of everything from the passarella and tool kits to the fishing gaff and hose fittings. All of this had to be removed to give the fitters access and now had to be replaced. Then there were fenders and mooring ropes to stow away, loose kit to be secured and everything generally prepared for 2 days at sea. So as soon as we were afloat and away from the dockyard slip we anchored off Lefkas Town Quay and set about preparing the boat for sea with an eye on the clock. The Lefkas bridge opens on the hour and happily by 2.50 we were good to go, weighed anchor and joined the queue of yachts waiting to transit the bridge. This takes a bit of boat handling to maintain position in the canal, in a cross wind, not too close to the others ahead or astern of you so as to time your arrival when the bridge opens.
Once through the bridge we passed the newly re-floated sunken yacht. Apparently the yachtsman involved had started a FB page to raise funds to help pay for the salvage ….. Whilst I have every sympathy I am pretty sure I would not have been on that wall in those winds, and definitely would not have used a kedge anchor – oh, and I don’t use FB!
But we were off, and we had the predicted ‘fair winds and following seas’. Generally south-easterly and 15 ish knots although close to the island they were a bit variable so I didn’t put the sails up. We needed to make 5 knots for two days and so faffing around with sails in variable winds was just going to be frustrating. Over night, with the winds settling to 15 knots from behind us, Valeria recorded us as surfing at up to 8 knots on occasions. Once I woke on Thursday morning we did get the sails up and were making 5 or 6 knots running before a 15 to 20 knot wind, all of which left us well ahead of schedule and by Thursday evening we had dropped the Main Sail and were under the Jib alone and still making 5 knots.
So with nightfall we furled away the jib and ‘sailed’ under ‘bare poles’. This is when you are running with the wind behind you, being pushed along by the wind acting on the hull alone. As we are so tall and wide we have a lot of ‘windage’ and even without sails or engines we were making 3 to 4 knots which was the exact speed we needed to make to get to Roccella at 8 am when the Marina opened for business.
But then fair winds and following seas became too much too little and the wrong direction.
As we approached the Italian coast on Thursday evening into Friday morning we could see lightening all along the Calabrian coast. Lots of it. As we got closer to the coast we began to get VHF reception and Italian weather forecasts which were predicting south easterly gales and thunder storms in the Ionian Sea area. As the evening wore on the wind began increasing slowly and all the thunder storms seemed to move along the coast to sit right in front of us, over Roccella.
Having seen the entrance to Roccella in south-easterly gales last year, with breaking seas over the sand bar, I did not fancy trying to negotiate the entrance with heavy beam seas, in a thunder storm and so at about 2.30 am I made the decision to head for a port of safety. On this coast there are two, Messina and Reggio, or Crotone. The Messina Straights are not particularly inviting in a south-easterly gale so it meant heading for Crotone, 40 odd miles, or 8 hours, north east along the coast. So with Roccella just 20 miles away we steered away.
By now the thunder storms were beginning to move off the coast and as we headed north east they were moving with us and the forecasts were predicting ‘instabilities moving rapidly north east’. We had lightening on three sides of us and by day break I could actually see the roll of cloud marking the edge of the squall line out to sea on our starboard side.
As the storms, easily visible on radar, did seem to be moving north east I decided to head out to sea for the roll of cloud, away from the lightening strikes. Blow me if the wind didn’t drop, swing around through 90 degrees and start up again from the NW. In military parlance the storms, which had been marching steadily north east in Column of Route, had just done a Right Turn on the March and were now Advancing in Review Order straight at us!
Thunder storms and squalls make their own wind and so trying to avoid them is a generally futile endeavour, but weighed that futility against the danger of a bolt of lightning using our nice aluminium mast as a grounding rod, which would fry our navigation aids, I gave it a go anyway. Valeria stowed all our electronics in the oven and microwave as both act as Faraday Cages which should protect them from lightening, and off we went.
At 8 am getting no closer to either Roccella or Crotone and still being chased by the storms I called Roccella, hopefully. We were told ‘you can come’ and so we altered course back south. In daylight the thunderstorms were easy to identify, looking completely different to mere rain showers. There was the low, dark cloud base and then beneath it the dull, almost dead grey of the torrential rain which provides a contrasting backdrop to the lightning bolts hitting the sea surface.
For two and a half hours I successfully managed to skirt these storms. Watching them on the radar was like hill walking, there was always one more crest to scale, always one more storm behind the ‘last one’. The winds were from everywhere and as we clipped the edges of some of the storms we had winds gusting to 30, even 40 knots. With the wind constantly changing direction the seas were ‘confused’ and had been whipped up to 5 metres high with breaking crests; at the Helm Station I am 4 metres above sea level and I was looking up at these waves!
With these sort of sea conditions moving around the boat is a real challenge. You move one foot or one hand at time. Move a hand and a foot and you are flat on your face. I won’t even go into toilet breaks whist wearing full foul weather gear and a safety harness in a boat pitching, rolling and yawing in 5 metres jumps.
Finally at 10.30 the southern-most squall passed us and there were just a few mere rain showers to the west so I altered course for Roccellla. But there was a sting in the tail of the storms. Two thunderstorms appeared ahead of us, one crossed in front of us but the second one there was no avoiding. Unlike the others we’d skirted the wind was almost non existent, the seas were still 4 or 5 metres high and confused but were no longer breaking, being beaten down by the torrential rain, visibility was down to a boat’s length and the lightening was striking the sea ahead of us. The strikes and the thunder were simultaneous, and deafeningly loud, literally someone toppling a wardrobe, a big one, right upstairs. Far too close for comfort.
Hoping that lightening really does not strike the same place twice, and that the plastic deck would provide sufficient insulation despite my exposed position and dripping wet foul weather gear we motored on, and on, and on. My big fear was a lightening strike to the mast – a very real danger. Without the electronic navigation aids we’d be relying on a mobile phone GPS, a paper chart and a magnetic compass, although how that would fare in a lightning strike I have no idea! Longest hour and a half of my life to be honest.
The first inkling of an end to it was a lessening of the rain drumming on the hull, then some slight definition to the horizon and finally lighter grey skies. Although the seas were still huge the reduced wind and hammering by the rain had calmed them down a bit and I pushed the throttles forward again and we were making 5 or 6, sometimes 7 knots towards Roccella. Now was not the time for single engine, fuel efficiency!
Finally, after about 12 hours of driving around in a circle, we could make out the coast, then the castle and watch tower over Roccella. The seas were still 3 metres high across the sand bar as we approached and turning into the harbour entrance put them on our beam so we were rolling around a bit as we headed for the entrance, but by comparison this was nothing. Our reserved winter berth required a bit of tight, stern first manoeuvring to get into but then we were in. The Marina Manager, Francesco, helped tie us up and was telling us that the local fishermen had been reporting 5 metre seas! Tell us about it!
But we were safely in. I had been on watch at the Helm Station continuously for 16 hours straight, drenched and dodging thunderstorms for 12 of them. Valeria had been in the saloon passing me food and coffee and praying, continuously. It all started going south on 4 October, my mum’s birthday and the day she died. Perhaps she was watching over us.
In the words of the Beach Boys, ‘This is the worst trip I’ve ever been on.’
With the weather returning to more normal conditions we hosted an ‘Après Storm’ BBQ (we always find a reason for a BBQ) on Saturday evening, inviting our neighbours from Rusty and Magnificat.
Having arrived here our friends Grahame and Jane from Scarlett had told us to look out for their friends Lynn and Glenn in Magnificat; we didn’t need to look too far as we had moored beside them! The BBQ went off well and a good time was had by all and now both are heading for their winter berths, Magnificat to Ágios Nikolaos on Crete and Rusty to Preveza.
We had a few more days in Lefkas before we head on to Roccella as the engine service revealed a leaking seal on the starboard sail drive – the leg on which the propeller is mounted. This was allowing water into the gear box and the seals need to be replaced; a job requiring the boat to be taken out of the water, which is obscenely expensive. But not as expensive as replacing the salt water damaged sail drive.
We were lifted on Tuesday and being unable to stay on the boat while out of the water Valeria found us a B&B for Tuesday night. Once in the boatyard Valeria went off into town to find our hotel and I stayed to ‘supervise’ the work. In addition to having the sail drive seals replaced I also had the sail drives themselves cleaned of marine growth then anti fouled and our new ‘bumpers’ fitted. These are not the most aesthetically pleasing things but they will protect the stern from intentional and unintentional contacts with quaysides.
When the fitters and mechanics went home I joined Valeria for the evening and we went to our favourite restaurant in Lefkas, the Taverna Eytyxia, happily directly across the street from the B&B. This is the oldest Taverna in Lefkas and the food is fantastic!
On Wednesday I went back to the boatyard as the guys completed the work and by 2 pm we were being lifted back into the water.
This was an unavoidably expensive end to our season, but with newly serviced engines and sail-drives our passage across to Roccella should be trouble-free, especially as we have a two window of light and moderate south-easterly winds; they’ll be right behind us the whole way!
Arriving in Sami with Ana and Charlie our attention turned to the weather; there was a storm brewing to the south and the winds were due to start building on Tuesday afternoon.
To avoid them and the ‘rush hour’ in Lefkas we slipped from Sami at 5.30 am in the pre dawn light airs. The passage from Sami to Lefkas was 30 miles or 6 hours and, apart from one unlit yacht visible only on radar, we had a straightforward passage in slowly building winds, arriving in Lefkas by 1 pm. The quay was happily almost deserted and we slotted ourselves in close to the Contact Yacht Services building; they were to do our machinery service and some other bits I want doing.
Unfortunately there was no one around to take our lines and no bollards to ‘lasso’ so I had to put the back of the boat against the quayside so Valeria could step ashore and tie us up; we plan to have big bumpers fitted while we are here for this very purpose!
Our timing was perfect as the forecast wind arrived a few hours later. Then the winds that weren’t forecast joined them. The wind speeds built all through Tuesday night, steadying at about 30 knots from the north-east. This was directly on our beam and it was as the wind speed increased I found that our anchor was no longer holding properly; if I pulled it in to pull us off the quay the anchor simply dragged. Slightly worrying. So I put out a couple more lines, securing one to a lamp-post; the small mooring ring on the quay looked suddenly very small and insubstantial. Our neighbours on a small mono hull called ‘Rusty’ put on Face Book that they were ‘sheltered by a large cat (that was us) tied to a lamp-post’. This confused their non-sailing friends who were appalled any one would tie a cute little pussy cat to a lamp-post in such weather …..
And the wind built further. Still rather concerned about our anchor and the starboard hull in heavily fendered contact with the quay Valeria and I stayed up most of Tuesday night, just in case. Although strong, 30-35 knots, the wind was pretty steady and there were few waves crossing the canal so we were held against the quay without moving around too much.
But panic set in further up the quay side and a group of boats let go and left, heading south. This was apparently a good choice as the winds on the south side of the canal were much lighter. One boat tried to re-anchor but dragged and simply ended up laying alongside the quay; luckily there was space for him to do so!
As we were sheltering ‘Rusty’, we in turn were being sheltered by a large 50 foot motor boat, until his anchor started to drag and one of his lines parted. This boat has apparently been on the quay for ages and looked rather tatty, but people did appear to re-secure it. Had it moved much more there would have been a domino effect on all the boats down wind of it, ourselves included!
By Thursday the winds were at a constant 35 to 40 knots and showed no signs of abating and during the evening built still further; overnight into Friday morning we actually recorded wind speeds of 50 knots, although Valeria saw a peak speed of 54! Those are Storm Force winds. Another sleepless night. And throughout this the forecasts were constantly predicting 20 knot winds around Lefkas. We are used to having to add 5 knots to a prediction, but 30! The actual cyclone causing all this, christened Zorba by the Daily Mail, showed storm force winds hundreds of miles to the south, so hopefully they weren’t underestimated by 30 knots!
By Friday morning we had news, via Facebook, that a boat further north along the Lefkas canal, by the bridge, had sunk at its moorings.
Very rough at the entrance to the channel right now!
On the quay around us the wind was getting into loosely furled fore sails and ripping them to shreds and generally testing every ones nerves.
And then of course Friday is hand over day for charter boats, and the entire town quay is infested with them. It would only take one to drop their anchor in the wrong place and then dredge up one of ours and we’d all be in trouble. Happily not too many braved the conditions although the ones that did, and kept away from us, did provide some entertainment. One Charter Company boss was frantically running up and down the quay screaming instructions into his mobile phone to the charterers trying to control and anchor his boats in the harbour in front of us.
Then the wind began to die away; 30 knots seemed quite reasonable after what we’d had, but as the winds died the charterers began to return in force requiring some ‘words of advice’ to be offered by ourselves and our neighbours.
Then calm. Like it had never happened. As they say, what a difference a day makes
On Monday, the 17th, I collected Valeria, Ana and Charlie from the airport in the hire car and we all went out for a celebratory ‘saganaki’. I took Marisa to the airport on Tuesday and it was a bit sad to leave her in the herd of Thomas Cook passengers filling the airport building before I had to return the car. I went back to the boat, collected Valeria, Charlie and Ana, dropped the car off in Lassi and we spent the rest of the day on the beach by a small beach bar lazing under beach umbrellas.
On Thursday we invited Keith and Tracey to join us for a day out and we went round to what I have christened Ivan’s Bay for a BBQ. The chart now shows Ivan’s Bay to be called Ormos Kounopetra. We stayed at anchor for the afternoon and then sailed back under the Cruising Chute in the afternoon breeze.
On Friday we left Argostoli headed for Sami. This would put us 8 hours closer to Lefkas but took Charlie and Ana 30 km further from the airport. Keith stepped in and offered them a ride from Sami to catch their plane so a plan developed.
Rather than heading directly for Sami we decided to stop and anchor for the night off Sparthia again; the weather was calm and settled setting off for Sami on Saturday morning. There was no wind but Charlie was quite happy raising the anchor, under supervision of course, and then ‘driving’ us off towards Sami. By mid morning Charlie announced “Charlie is happy” from the helm station, which for Valeria and I was the best compliment!
We arrived in Sami by 1 pm before the afternoon rush. After a couple of rather fraught attempts to anchor and tie back to the wall we made it and Charlie and Ana went off to explore as we got settled. We then had 2 and a half days in Sami to round off their week with us, dining out, exploring, wandering along the beaches, swimming, enjoying some snacks and beer to keep us going.
But then, suddenly, it was 5 pm on Monday and Keith arrived. Charlie and Ana treated us all to a farewell dinner before it was time for them to leave for the airport. And so another great week came to an end.
It was a fantastic week, the third in a row. It was good to finally host Keith and Tracey to a day out, and it was great to have Charlie and Ana spend a whole week with us.
It has taken a while for them to find time as apparently running a couple of companies and rebuilding a house is very time-consuming! But they made it and we are so happy they did. The time just flew by and we will miss them as we set off towards Lefkas.
Unfortunately, with my ‘hurtie finger’ and a hospital check up I decided it wasn’t really prudent to take a complete novice sailing when not being fully fit; so Marisa and I stayed in Argostoli. But Marisa was quite happy with a lazy holiday, she starts her new job when she gets back so was looking forward to a rest!
We visited the local history museum, which was really interesting. The largest ‘feature’ in Argostoli is a low stone bridge about 800 m long across the shallow southern end of the inlet. It was built by the British between 1810 and 1813, after they kicked the French out of the islands, as a part of the efforts to open the islands up to transport. The centre piece was a stone pyramid inscribed “To the Glory of the British Nation. 1813” which was defaced by the Italians in 1941. The museum had a lot of exhibits about the islands history and extensive coverage of the devastating 1953 earthquake which flattened Argostoli.
Marisa and I walked across the bridge but there is little on the other side other than the abandoned marina.
We took a bus round to Lassi Beach for an afternoon and on Sunday hired a car to visit the caves at Melansani and the village of Asos. Marisa had turned up both these in her ‘holiday research’ and although I’d been to Melansani last time we were here, Asos was new to me.
Marisa was really impressed with the caves at Melansani, and our timing was perfect. There was no queue when we arrived but numerous coaches had arrived by the time we left and getting out through the entry tunnel was the problem!
Asos is a village on the north-west side of the island. It has a small harbour and a large Venetian fortress on the headland. Had I had all 8 fingers my idea had been to sail to Asos on the way to Sivota, and in settled weather it would be an ideal stop over. There is room to anchor a few yachts and there is even a small quay with room for a couple more. The water is crystal clear and the village very colourful and picturesque. The fort looked impressive but the walk up to it looked equally impressive and a light lunch proved more appealing!
On Monday we took a drive across to Skala on the south-eastern corner of the island. It has a large pebble beach, the main street is lined with restaurants and although nice enough it was a little too touristy for me.
We invited Keith and Tracey over for dinner one evening and spent the rest wandering around town sampling the tavernas accompanied by some souvenir shopping. We also played quite a bit of Backgammon and Marisa managed to beat me rather too consistently!
I also had my hospital check up. I spent an hour or waiting for the doctor to take one look at my finger, spray it with some ‘magic spray’ and declare “You can work”. After they revived me I was sent on my way, considerably shaken!!
Marisa and I don’t get to spend that much time together and so this was a really good week for us. Marisa really liked what she saw of the island and is already considering her next visit. She is also looking at coming away with Valeria and I next year, hopefully to actually sail somewhere. Fingers crossed!
Our first visitors in Argostoli were Mauro and Adri. This is Mauro’s third visit (search for ‘Mauro’) but Adri’s first and their first weekend away from the kids!
They arrived on Thursday, 6 September, suddenly appearing at the end of the gangway at about 11 pm; the town quay isn’t that big so we weren’t hard to find! After the Prosecco welcome it was off to bed in preparation for a sail the following day and a night at anchor.
On Friday morning Mauro insisted on washing the boat down before we went to get fuel. We had last filled up completely in Bozburun and then taken just 100 litres in Milos to get us here and managed it with about 40 litres left. Running the generator every day I then managed to drain one tank completely. Doh! Manoeuvering on one engine would be a challenging exercise and one I should practice, but it was easier to have a fuel guy deliver us 20 litres in a drum, which was ample to get us to the fuel berth.
So, filled up with diesel we set off at 1 pm on Friday and headed around the coast towards a small village called Sparthia on the south coast. Once out of Argostoli we had the sails up and managed to sail for a couple of hours in light winds, arriving off Sparthia at about 5. Sparthia has a tiny harbour and a number of increasingly inaccessible beaches. We anchored and immediately got the swimming ladder down, the BBQ out and put Mauro to work again.
On Saturday we had planned to head across to the bay where we met Ivan and Lu last year, have lunch there then head back to Argostoli. But we set off late and wanted to get back to Argostoli before the rather stronger afternoon winds picked up so scrubbed that idea. However; we did manage to get the sails up again and made most of the passage back under sail. Returning to Argostoli by 4pm we anchored in the harbour rather than go onto the quay and took the tender ashore for a wander around the town in the evening before getting a bite to eat.
On Sunday morning I dropped Valeria and Adri ashore to do some shopping while Mauro and I went off to explore the marina which is on the east side of the harbour. Mauro drove, which turned out to be a good decision. The marina was built a few years ago and then abandoned after a dispute between the builders and the town council. It is ‘useable’ but has no facilities, is free and as such it is gathering dying boats and appears to be where the Coast Guard store vessels they have seized. It is a dump.
Once we had picked up Valeria and Adri we set off planning to sail up to the north end of the Kolpos Argostoliu to Ormos Livadhi. There we would anchor, swim, and sail back under the Cruising Chute, and as a plan it worked perfectly. We had northerly winds getting up to 15 knots allowing us to tack almost the whole way there, anchoring at 3pm. We had a swim for about an hour then set off south again. The wind was behind us now, still at about 15 knots, so Mauro and I got the Cruising Chute up and sailed the entire way down to Argostoli putting in a couple of gybes along the way. When I say ‘we sailed’, I mean ‘Mauro sailed’ and I just offered help hints. It was a really good afternoon.
I even had a brand new collision avoidance experience. There have been some wildfires here over the weekend and a helicopter was using the approaches to Argostoli to load water, flying at mast height north into the wind as we were heading south. There is no Collision Regulation covering that but staying well clear seemed like a good idea; mercifully Sundays tend to be charter – boat free here otherwise the Pilot would have had fun!
So, after a really good afternoon, which went exactly to plan and gave Mauro plenty of sailing practice and Adri plenty of opportunities to admire our Brasinglish ensign I went and trapped a finger in the hinge of a deck hatch while getting the BBQ out, crushed my finger and almost ripped the nail out. Ouch.
Happily, Mauro knew how to put the tender in the water and had experience driving it so we could go ashore to the hospital.
And that was an experience. We found our way in via what I now know is the sub basement. It was something like the film set for a Zombie movie, all stained concrete, stained floors and bits hanging off the wall, just needed the zombies. Having found our way to the ER, which was one floor above the Zombie set, I was seen, had the nail removed, was bandaged up and sent on my way. We got back to the boat at about 9 to find that Valeria and Adri had got the BBQ underway so we had a late dinner.
In the morning we moved from the anchorage back onto the Town Quay; happily going astern I use my left hand on the engine controls and my right for the frantic waving, so that worked out well. But once tied up, because I had a ‘hurtie finger’, Mauro stowed the tender away, tidied the ropes and bagged up the sails, and Adri washed the boat.
The rest of the day was spent packing, chilling and doing a little shopping before having a late lunch in a taverna. I went off to the hospital for a bandage change and a prescription and got back just before 7pm when Valeria, Adri and Mauro had to leave for the airport.
It was fantastic to see Adri and Mauro and we all had a really good time, with the one minor exception, and are so grateful for their help with that!
The last couple of days in Katacolon started to drag and so we took the first opportunity of not un-favourable winds to push on to Cephalonia.
Thursday was the day. Light winds all morning with relatively light north-westerly winds off Cephalonia as we were to arrive in the afternoon. The earlier we set off the better and so we slipped from the town quay in Katacolon after lunch on Wednesday and went to anchor outside the harbour planning an early night and a pre dawn departure on Thursday. It also meant we wouldn’t have to avoid cruise liners arriving as we set off! The passage north was almost 60 miles, or just under 12 hours, and was calm almost the whole way there; we were moored on the Argostoli town quay by 4pm.
We have a week in hand now and plan to stay on the town quay throughout. We have spent time in Argostoli before, and our friend Keith did such a good job of showing us around Cephalonia we felt there wasn’t a lot of need to explore further. So we will just soak up life in Argostoli, celebrate our wedding anniversary and prepare for all our visitors.
Mauro and Adri are to join us,on the 7th then Valeria goes home with them on the 10th. Marisa comes out for a week on the 11th and then Valeria returns as Marisa leaves and brings Charlie and Ana with her!
Looking forward to busy month and as we’ll not be going far, perhaps some sailing!!
On Monday morning, 27 August, we were up quite early intending to beat the rush of cruise ship tourists to Olympia. There were three ships in the terminal in the morning and the suitably olympic sized car park behind the boat was full of coaches and taxis.
The train to Olympia is a small narrow gauge affair but I assume most of the visitors from the ships were booked on coach tours but even when we got to Olympia it wasn’t that crowded.
The site of Olympia is on the floor of a river valley below the hill named after the god Khronos. The area has been occupied since the Neolithic times, 3000BC, developing into a centre of worship and during the 2nd millennium BC the Myceneans founded the cult of Zeus there.
The origins of the games are lost in myths; the Gods held wrestling matches and running races in Olympia and so ‘games’ were likely a part of religious rites. They were possibly held as far back as the 11th century BC as fairly local affairs but were reorganised in the 8th century, the first Panhellenic Olympic Games being held in 776BC. The concept of the Sacred Truce, during which the warring city states stopped fighting, was instituted to allow peaceful competition.
Another myth of Mycenean origin has the king Oinomaos involved in a chariot race with a suitor for his daughter’s hand. Oinomaos had dreamt he’d be killed by his son-in-law and so, equipped with a pair of unbeatable winged horses from Zeus, challenged all potential candidates. The draw back was that the winner killed the looser! Pelos, arrived on scene and had been given winged horses by Poseidon; Pelos won, killed Oinomaos and had the Peloponnese named after him!
The athletes competed in the games for prestige alone, winning a wreath of wild olive leaves. However; anyone caught cheating had to pay a large fine which was used to dedicate a bronze statue to Zeus. These were known as Zanes and were displayed on the approach to the Stadium. These statues bore the name of the cheating athlete and the manner of his cheating as a warning to others!
The Games developed down the centuries much as they do now with new events being added at intervals, until 393AD when the Byzantine Emperor Theodosius I banned them. His successor, Theodosius II then ordered the monuments burnt in 426AD and two earthquakes in 522 and 551AD finished the job. Although a farming settlement remained even that was abandoned by the 7th century and the site slowly disappeared under the flood plain of the Alpheios River.
When you bear in mind this is the birth place of the Olympics and the place where the Olympic Torch is lit before each Games they could have made a bit of an effort with presentation; it is rather overgrown in places and, as elsewhere, there is a dearth of information about the ruins. We had a guide-book but it was difficult to relate the text to the ruins especially as I now find we went around the site ‘backwards’! Some direction arrows could have helped !! There were some signs around the place but it is an extensive, complex site and a lot more wouldn’t have hurt; Audio Guides would have been fantastic; the wold even be a job opportunity for official guides! Despite that it is an impressive site and the sheer scale of some of the ruins give a hint of the enormity of the original.
Olympia is a fantastic place and well worth the visit but it could be an amazing experience with attention to presentation.
Katacolon was a small fishing village until a local boy made good shipping magnate decided that it would make an ideal cruise ship terminal for tourists visiting Olympia.
The village is about 700 metres long, at one end is the beach and the cruise ship terminal and at the other is the station for the narrow gauge railway to Olympia.
The village comprises the harbour front and two streets behind that. The harbour front is dedicated to restaurants, end to end. The next street back is home to souvenir and jewellery shops for the cruise ship passengers and the third street, well, the third street is behind the second. There are more ATMs per square metre than some islands we know.
We arrived on Friday afternoon in a ghost town, literally no one on the streets, tumble weed deserted. The town quay is in front of the largest and emptiest car park imaginable and on the other side of that is the railway station and the local church. They have a very loud set of bells and a loudspeaker system that broadcast the entire Friday evening sung service to the village. Happily that was the only one although the bells did get a bashing on Sunday morning as well.
Saturday was Valeria’s birthday so we spent a quiet day doing little and wandering along to a nice restaurant for a late lunch. We decided to leave the visit to Olympia until Sunday, not appreciating that the train wouldn’t run.
We did little on Sunday, waiting to visit Olympia on Monday, although I did take a walk over to the Museum of Ancient Greek Technology, which was fascinating. Everything from sundials and water clocks to self-loading cross bows and holy water vending machines. They even had a steam-driven device linked to the fire for the temple offerings. When the fire was hot enough the temple doors opened in approval! When the fire died down the door closed and the only way to get the gods to show their approval again was to make another offering! And of course numerous types of crane and lifting machines.
Katacolon really has little to offer visitors unless you are on a cruise ship, it is easier to buy jewelery or a leather coat than to buy groceries. Once the cruise ships leave there is little here at all. It is a useful stop over on the west coast of the Peloponnese and one of the few places with shelter. We planned to be ‘not sailing’ on Valeria’s birthday and to visit Olympia, but with those two targets achieved sitting waiting for the wind to change got to be a little boring.