Tag Archives: Dodecanese

Nisyros to Milos

We spent another 5 days in Pali waiting for a break in the wind to allow us to continue westwards and eventually we had to settle for a ‘least worst’ option.

But staying a few extra days allowed us to enjoy one of the parties associated with the festival of the Virgin Mary.    Although the main event takes place in Mandraki we were advised to head for the monastery close to Nikia for the evening.   Following the religious service there is a meal of bean soup followed by Greek dancing.   The meal was simple, but free, apparently sponsors wait years for a chance to provide the meal!   The dancing was very informal, everyone just having a good time.  What struck me was the number of youngsters taking part in these traditional dances.  And it was busy, maybe a couple of hundred people and every hire car on the island parked for a kilometre along the road leading down to the monastery.   The only transport we could get was a small quad bike.  Very under powered and not suitable for the mountain roads.  Suffice to say, never again!

Our constant examination of the forecasts gave our 24 hour window of opportunity as Friday and Saturday and we decided to make the trip to Milos, some 140 miles in one over night, 27 hour passage.  The forecast was for head winds the whole way, but less than they had been, or would be.

Sunrise over the Datcha Peninsula

So we were up early on Friday and set off  at 6 am, just after it was light enough to see the harbour entrance and its sand bank.    It was not a particularly pleasant passage.   The wind was building the sea into a short chop over an existing residual swell which resulting in a short,  confused sea.  As the day wore on the wind was gusting to 18 knots requiring both engines to stay on course and keep up any speed, 4 knots was the best we could do!

Sunset off Amorgos

We passed north of Astipalia at lunch time and at sunset we were passing the south western tip of  island of Amorgos.   As the sun went down the wind and sea dropped away a bit and our speed increased slightly.    We passed north of Ios at 2 am and as the sun rose we were approaching the island of Polyaigos , just east of Milos.

Sunrise off Milos

Despite the less than favourable weather we arrived at the port of Adamas, as planned, at 1130 and moored to the yacht pontoon.   A tiring passage and not the most comfortable but we are back on schedule with a day or so in hand, although had to skip Astipali, Santorini and Ios.

Adamas

We’ll be in Milos now until probably Monday or Tuesday before the wind dies down again a bit although this next leg should see the winds from the north as we head south of west.  That is a good point of sail for us, but we’ll see !!

Heading west

Sitting in Marathouda on Wednesday 8 August we examined the weather forecasts because we are back to dodging the Meltemi which was always going to be our biggest challenge in heading west across the Aegean.

Although not the Meltemi, currently the winds across Simi tend to be light overnight and into the morning before picking up to between 15 to 25 knots from the northwest in the afternoon and early evening but the Meltemi was due to begin blowing in earnest at the weekend and remain with us for most of next week. We needed somewhere to sit it out.

We had hoped to visit Monastery Bay on Symi’s west coast before heading off for the island of Tilos and then Astipalia planning to leave early in the mornings and arriving as the wind picked up.    The Pilot Book describes the port of Livhadia on Tilos as quite small and stated that the laid moorings off the town quay were ‘reported to be in disrepair’.     In settled weather we’d have gone and looked and if necessary anchored in the bay, but the PB further advised that the anchorage was not tenable in a strong Meltemi although did not attempt to quantify the description ‘strong’, so there was no Plan B.
However: Nysiros was only a few miles further to sail and we knew it was well sheltered.  If we couldn’t get in we could go across to Kamares on Kos and anchor there.

So we set off horribly early on Thursday morning, by which I mean 4.30 am horribly early, aiming to be in Pali by 11.30, thereby beating the afternoon blow and arriving between the rush hours.

The entrance to Ormos Marathouda

It can be quite daunting leaving a pitch black anchorage under just star light with the radar and echo sounder the only real clue as to how far away that shadow is!  That shadow being the rocky coast line or off laying island!

Sun rise over Symi

The moon rose at about 5 but was a sliver of a crescent and was of little help other than to hint at where we’d been. But by 5.30 the sky was lightening and by 6.30 the sun was rising over the island but by then we were clear of Symi and its outlaying islands and were set on our course towards Nisyros.   The passage went as planned and we arrived in Pali at 11.30 and even found ‘our’ spot on the harbour wall was vacant.

And so we settled back down to wait for a break in the Meltemi to allow us to continue our voyage west, but it isn’t looking likely that the winds will die down sufficiently for the rest of the week or much of next week either.   But we’re not alone., even those heading north or east are sitting it out too!

Pedi Bay and Marathouda

Our first morning back in Greece, just planning a wander along to pick up a Cheese Pie and the Port Police tell us, very politely, we had to move by 11 as we were on a ferry berth.

Simi is a pretty place and we were in two minds as to whether to move to another gap when someone left, or to simply leave all together.   The berths in Simi are exposed to the wash from the numerous ferries, and the previous evening had been so unexpectedly good that we didn’t want to spoil the memory with a mediocre second one. With just enough time for a the Cheese Pie, we left and headed for Pedi, a large bay a few miles south of Simi.

We’d heard nice things about Pedi, which is pretty and thought we’d stay overnight before moving on.   But, it is notorious for poor holding, with yachts invariably dragging their anchors; even the author of our Pilot Book dragged his anchor there so what hope did we have?!   So, we anchored and made sure it was well dug in then settled down for a BBQ and a nice cool swim, planning to go ashore for a walk in the evening, grab a wine and a welcome-back saganaki.

As the afternoon wore on the wind began to build and got to about 20 knots when we started to drag. It is quite alarming really, suddenly finding all the other boats around you drifting slowly by ……. . We heaved up our anchor and had two other attempts to get it to hold, both unsuccessful, before I decided to head out for another anchorage before everyone else got the same idea.

There are 4 other bays on the east coast of Simi where you can anchor. The first is described as being deep, the Pilot Book advising ‘anchor where depths are convenient’, code for ‘good luck with that’, the second is ‘a good lunch stop’ or ‘you wouldn’t want to be here for too long in a blow’. I set off for the third bay called Ormos Marathouda;  ‘anchor in 4-8 metres at the head of the bay’.

Many of these islands are subject to Katabatic Winds on their lee sides. The wind climbs one side of the island and then falls off the other, rolling down into the bays at higher than expected speeds. As we passed each of the bays the wind was gusting to over 20 knots, dropping away again before the next inlet, and Marathouda was no different, it was however, almost empty.    Either a really good sign or a really bad one.

Marathouda

The only other yacht there was tied to a 20 litre plastic can on a piece of string. These are ‘laid moorings’ which are generally concrete blocks with a chain and rope attached. There was a second one not too far away from it but I am always loathe to pick up such moorings as you do not know what is actually on the other end; with my luck it would a lobster pot, the 20 litre drums have multiple uses!!

We anchored in the dead centre of the bay and let out plenty of chain.   It felt well and truly set in a depth of 7 metres and as the water was crystal clear I snorkelled out to check the anchor was well dug in before settling down for the evening.

There is a small hamlet at the head of the bay with a very local taverna on the beach; we took the tender ashore in the evening for a light snack and whiled away the time watching the local goats, watching us, watching them. The picket fence made sense now; cats in a taverna are bad enough, but a herd of goats !!!??    We also tried to connect to their WiFi, but it was hopeless. This is my ‘blogging challenge’, getting strong enough WiFi signal or enough data to publish photos and blogs! We almost completely failed to connect!

It was so nice, and the winds forecast to be so strong on the west side of the island we stayed at anchor for the whole of Wednesday waiting for our opportunity to push on towards Tilos.

Marathouda sunrise

Marathouda was one of those last minute, spur of the moment destinations which turned out to be lovely. It was fairly quiet, relatively sheltered with good holding and beautiful clear waters. Clear other than first thing in the morning when a slick of unmentionables tends to wash in on the morning sea breeze. If the wind is in the other direction it goes to Turkey, but on Wednesday it was Greece’s turn! We found this out chatting with a local fisherman, ex Merchant Navy engineer who had worked in the Brooklyn Shipyards in the 1970s and whose family owned 11 of the houses around the bay. We only counted a dozen buildings, not including the taverna and the church so figured he must also be the Mayor! The slick dissipated, as the Mayor had predicted and the waters returned to being crystal clear so we spent our time swimming and snorkelling and then planning our next legs west, dodging the Meltemi.   We have a cunning plan to dodge the adverse winds which will be put into operation tomorrow morning at 4 am!

Symi

Our Port of Entry back into Greece was to be Symi.   We’d had mixed reports about the place and as soon as we arrived we were turned away by the Port Police and told to come back at 4 pm.   A good start!

Our first sight of Symi

Our passage across had been straight forward and as expected the wind was from right ahead of us although only 5 to 10 knots.   It built as we approached Symi and was gusting to 20 knots as we tried to find somewhere close by Symi port to anchor for an hour or so.   We couldn’t.   The nearest bay, Empourio, is just north of Symi and is too deep for us to anchor in apart from one small, shallow spot off the village, easily identified by the yacht anchored on it.   There was nothing for it but to drift for an hour then join the rush hour back in Symi harbour.

Symi harbour

We found a spot and once secure, and paid, I went in search of officialdom. The first office to visit was the Port Police for Immigration, they are on the north side of the harbour entrance.  Then on to Customs, right in the middle of the end of the harbour before going round to the other Port Police for the DEPKA, they are on the south side of the harbour entrance directly opposite the Immigration Port Police.   Immigration were impressed I had the correct Crew List, the Customs man wasn’t interested in VAT, he only wanted the Insurance, Registration and our impressive Crew List and the other Port Police wanted the same documents and our DEPKA, and to collect a €15 tourist tax.   It is a mystery why you need 3 offices at, quite literally, the three extremities of the harbour, but rules are rules, and at least I didn’t need to pay someone to do it for me!   Another bonus of touring the harbour was locating a Bakery close to the Customs House.

Looking along the harbour from the Customs House

That evening Valeria found us a great restaurant, Taverna To Spitiko, just a few metres from the boat.  Wow.  We had a seafood meze and it was fabulous. We were munching our way through it trying, unsuccessfully, to recall better this year; it was a great welcome back to Greece!

Following that we went for a wander around the streets and found ourselves at an open air concert, three singers and an organist doing classical type music. Hardly Greece has Talent but it was fantastic to simply pull up a chair in the church yard and relax; Valeria was Live Face-bragging for most of the recital. Really cool.

And then it was back to the boat for another night of Air Conditioned comfort!

Symi is a pretty town, built along the steep sides of the hills which surround the port.  None of the stark blue and white buildings we’ve been used to, here the colour scheme is far more subdued going for pastel tones in cream and white!    Symi is the nearest Greek port to Turkey and so is very busy with boats doing what we were doing.  The ferries ploughing back and forth set up quite a surge in the narrow confines of the harbour which makes it rather uncomfortable, alarmingly so sometimes.    Our idea is to stay another day to look around the town in day light before moving on to explore some of the bays around the coast.   Then we will embark on our journey westwards through the Southern Cyclades to the Peloponnese and on to Cephalonia for September.

Turkey !

Our reasons for a return visit to Kos were two-fold.  The first was to meet Zeynep who was to travel with us to Bodrum, and the second was to officially leave Greece before entering Turkey.

With our plans to visit Turkey fairly well established before we left Roccella we have been chatting with Zeynep about perhaps meeting up in Bodrum; her parents have a house there.   As time went on the likely window of opportunity narrowed to mid July and finally settled on Wednesday 17 July, in Kos.  It was cheaper for Zeynep to fly to Kos, get an Air B&B and a ferry to Bodrum than to fly direct.   It was even better that we could be in Kos when she arrived so she didn’t need the room overnight or the ferry!  She arrived at just after midnight and after a welcoming glass of Prosecco it was off to bed.

That was the easy part.  The real faff was leaving Greece.

We’d been to see the Port Police when we arrived.  They directed us to Customs who would endorse our Crew List which would enable the Port Police to permit the boat to leave Greek waters.   The Customs Office was closed so we went back first thing on Wednesday morning.  The Customs office was in fact only interested in whether I had paid VAT on the boat; the Greeks are such sticklers when it comes to paying tax!!!   Having convinced the Taxman that I had paid VAT we were then directed to Immigration to endorse the Crew List, which did make more sense, but there is no ‘Yacht Crew’ lane at the ferry terminal.

Between Zeynep and Valeria we managed to get around the herds of tourists headed to Bodrum and got the necessary stamps on the Crew List.  It was made plain we had to then leave Greece almost immediately, tricky as we still had to visit the Port Police, who happily endorsed the Crew List and sent us on our way.

Approaching Bodrum

The trip across to Bodrum was 2 hours, motoring in light winds.  Once into Bodrum and tied up to the Immigration jetty we then had to wait for 2 hours while our Yacht Agent conducted all our immigration proceedures.  Straightforward, but bloody expensive at €180, but there is no option, you can’t leave the boat until the paper work is all done.  Luckily we’ll be leaving Turkey from Bozburun, where it is supposed to be a lot cheaper!

Bodrum castle dominates the harbour
Bodrum castle dominates the harbour

But we have got here.  About a week late according to our original plans but that isn’t at all bad and it meant that we could meet up with Zeynep who has already got an itinerary worked out for us for our stay!

The Rodos Cup ……

We have just discovered that each year there is an inter island race called the Rodos Cup.  It starts in Kos, goes to Kalimnos, Nisyros, Simi and then Rhodos.  I know this because on Saturday, 14th,  the Port Police turned up with a  notice saying that between 17 and 19 July the port of Pali was closed due to the Rodos Cup race!!!

Happily were planned to go on Tuesday anyway !!!!

We’ve seen a lot of the Port Police in Pali. They check the port 2 or 3 times a week and are the busiest Port Police officers we have ever come across!    And a thoroughly nice bunch of guys they are as well, polite, efficient and enforcing the rules, which is good to see, if your papers are in order.  No DEPKA, go to Kos, now, and get one,  Flitting between Turkey and Greece without bothering with immigration?  Go back to Turkey, now.     They were even checking local fishing boats for life jackets!   I thought fishing boats were exempt from absolutely all rules and regulations!

Happily on Tuesday, 17th June, the weather was forecast to be relatively clement and we would be able to go across to Kos to meet Zeynep who was due to arrive on Tuesday evening, but more on that later.

Last night in Pali

And so on Monday evening we had our last night in Pali after almost 3 weeks here.  We arrived on 26th June, looking for shelter for a few days and just stayed; well I did, Valeria went home for 5 days.   But we have had the most fantastic time.  Nisyros is a lovely place, laid back, quiet and such a friendly island.   Our chosen car hire company, Manos K, would happily lend us a scooter to go to Mandraki to get cash, there is no ATM outside Mandraki.  They even rented us a car for 3 hours for a shopping run to Mandraki; fruit and veg selection is better there.   And our local taverna, Aphrodite, where we ate on many evenings presented us with a small bottle of Metaxa!     The only thing we could NOT understand is why so many people around the island use ‘worry beads’ ……

On Tuesday morning we were up at 6 am and were away by 7 in the morning calm.   Pali really is sheltered.  As soon as we were away from the harbour the wind was up to 28 knot, aparent wind speed.  But it was on the beam and we were soon galloping along at 6 knots under one reef in the Main Sail and we sailed virtually the whole way to the eastern end of Kos, before the wind figured we’d had it too good for too long.  As we approached Kos Town the wind stubbornly blew directly out of the marina no matter what our heading and we ended up describing a nice big circle around our destination, unable to tack and never really getting much closer!

We gave up at 11.30 and motored the last half hour getting in at 1220.   After a tidy up we went into Kos to find the Port Police to check out of Greece.   But that is another saga!

Nisyros in photos

Nisyros is only a small island; it has a diameter of 7 to 8 km and is about 41 Sq km in area.  It has 4 villages, about 6 roads and you can visit everywhere there is to see by car in 2 days.  There may not be much, but what there is, is worth the visit.

As our time here comes to an end here are the highlights in photos.

Pali
Mandraki
Church on the road to Mandraki
Monastery of Panagia Spelianie
Kastro
Porta, Nikia
Emborious
Caldera from the Balcony Restaurant, Emborios
The volcano
The old, abandoned, harbour of Avlaki on the south coast
Countryside above Avlaki
Pachia Beach. Black sand beach on the east coast of the isand at the end of the Mandraki-Pali road.
The island of Yiali

Although the generally blue and white colour scheme of the village’s with their narrow streets and splashes of colourful bougainvillea are typical of many villages in the island, what is so far unique are the decorated pavements.

Square outside Mandraki Town Hall
Mandraki sea front
A square in Mandraki
Mandraki War Memorial

Steps to the Monastery of Panagia Spiliani
Porta, Nikia
Nikia, outside the museum
Emborios
Emborios

Ancient Nisyros

The island has been inhabited since about 4000 BC but the most impressive archeological remains are those of the Kastro on the hill above Mandraki, the ruins of ancient Nisyros.

Kastro

In prehistory the small island of Yiali, just north of Nisyros, was the original draw to the area.  It is one of two Agean sources of Obsidian, the other source being Milos.  Apparently Milos Obsidian is harder, while Yiali Obsidian is more brittle and of less use in making tools and weapons,  instead being used for decoration.  Despite this the little island supported Neolithic settlements aimed at extracting Obsidian.    Nisyros by comparison has few if any traces of this early occupation.

During the Trojan War, believed to have been in the 13th century BC, Homer described Poseidon (creator of Nisyros) as supporting the Greeks and so that perhaps accounts for the presence of ships from Nisyros in the Greek fleet.  This suggests that Nisyros was a thriving population centre with enough wealth to have its own ships.

Approach to the gatehouse to the Kastro.

From about the 7th century BC the original town on Nisyros began to appear on the large flat topped hill above the current village of Mandraki.

By the 6th century the island was part of the Persian Empire.   Again ships from Nisyros were mentioned but this time as part of the Persian fleet which was soundly defeated by the Athenians at the Battle of Salamis in 480BC.  Salamis is one of the islands in the Saronic Gulf, South of Piraeus.

Main gate to the fortification, protected by a tower.

For about 200 years in the 3rd and 4th century BC the island was independent, even minting it’s own coins and during this period the fortifications around the ancient agora were constructed; and they were massive.

The walls were built on a volcanic cracks in the bedrock

Being built on a volcanic island in an earthquake zone it is suprising anything survived at all, but some serious restoration and underpinning work has been undertaken on parts of the wall.

Looking down towards the gate, in the shadow beyond the steps.
The walls were built with massive stone blocks and filled with rubble. Yiali in the background.

Steps up to the top of the wall.

Although each block of stone appears to have been individually cut to shape to fit it’s neighbour, making the project into a giant 3D jigsaw puzzle, the description of employing ‘extensive research’ in order to accurately make the reconstruction is probably an understatement!

Pieces of the jigsaw

The result gives some idea of the scale of the original construction.  It is impressive today, two and a half thousand years ago it would have been breathtaking and impregnable.

The wall reached 10 metres in places

The wall defended three sides of the site,  the remaining side being a precipice above the current village of Mandraki; the views are pretty stunning.

Mandraki and the Monastery of Panagia Speliani
Panorama north towards Yiali
“Windswept and interesting”

This site was amazing.  The mere fact that after 2500 years of earthquakes and warfare there was enough left to restore is a testament to the original build.

Mandraki

Mandraki is the main commercial harbour on Nisyros, the biggest village and the site of the original capital.

High above the town is the site of the ancient Agora and dominating the village, perched on a headland at its western edge is medieval castle built by the Knights of St John and the 14th century Monastery of Panagia Spiliani.     The monastery overlooks the village’s black stone beach, picturesque but not overly comfortable, probably accounting for the lack of sunbathers!

Black stone beach

As the first point tourists get to on the island it is pretty tourist orientated but in a subdued sort of way.  The day trippers don’t seem to penetrate too far into the town before they are whisked off to the volcano.   It is busy in the season,  but apparently when the tourists leave the population of the entire island drops to about 800.

It is all delightfully narrow streets and tiny ‘squares’ with mopeds and those convertible tuks-tuks whizzing about delivering goods, fresh off the ferries, to the shops and tavernas.  It also has a great archeological museum.

Although the town is similar to almost every other that we have visited in the islands, what really stands out here are the wonderful mosaic pavements made from black and white pebbles, simple but amazing intricate.   And it isn’t just pavements, almost any horizontal surface can be decorated with them.

The Town Hall

Mandraki is a confusing jumble of alleys and narrow streets but after your second visit they seem to fall into place. Following directions, such as go right at the ice cream shop then left at the baker suddenly make sense.  A lovely relaxed village which is really pleasant to just wander around.

 

Emborios and Nikia

The official Nisyros website only actually lists four villages on the island; Pali, where we are staying, Mandraki, Emborios and Nikia.  The latter are two small villages on the rim of the caldera of Nisyros, both offering fantastic views into it.

Caldera from the Balcony Restaurant, Emborios
Caldera from Nikia
Emborios

Emborios apparently used to be home to  blacksmiths, tailors and skilled stone masons although in the 1960s most of the population moved to Pali.  The current population is very small and the big draw for tourists appears to be the Balcony restaurant which offers great views over the caldera.  As might be expected with such an isolated location the village has a rather dilapidated, run down feel to it.

Run down except for the floors that is.   Every where we go on the island we find these wonderful ‘mosaic’ pavements made from black and white pebbles, and Emborios was no exception.

Nikia by comparison appears to be more cared for and appears to be more populous.  It  boasts the picturesque ‘main square’, the Porta, which fronts the Church of the Presentation of Virgin Mary.

The Porta,

All pictures you see of the village will include this one, taken with a wide angle lens as a panorama.    In reality the plaza is about 25 metres across and is taken over by sun umbrellas and tables from the taverna on the left of the picture!

The Porta in reality

Nikia has a far more ‘loved’ feel to it and boasting both the Porta and the Vulcanalogical Museum probably receives more visitors.

The Vulcanalogical Museum was, in our opinion, not really worth the entry money.  The Stefanos crater itself cost €3 each, the museum cost €4 and you could obtain the same information from the internet.  It would be far better located at the crater, but then all that European grant money wouldn’t encourage tourism to the village!!

Both villages have loads of character and are worth the visit.   But, they are very isolated  and would appear to be entirely reliant on tourism for support, so we are glad we went.    There are tourist buses which run to them but a hire car is better, giving more flexibility.   We visited the villages on separate days and added the crater and Mandraki as well, a steal at €25!