Week 66 - Erik visits and swell galore

Who rocked the boat? Erik visits Adventures in Greece cruising the Mediterranean on our boat Matilda.

Week 66 - Erik visits and swell galore

Who rocked the boat? Adventures in Greece cruising the Mediterranean on our boat Matilda.

Although we’ve definitely had a few days where we’ve holed up to avoid the wind (see our constant earlier runs to Porto Cheli), it’s also fair to say that the wind to date hasn’t really impeded us too much. That’s not the case out here. The sea between the islands in the Cyclades is a lot more open, the swell a lot bigger and the wind a lot stronger. Our “weather windows” in which to move are fewer than we would like and it’s fair to say that this week we’ve been forced into a few sub-optimal choices.

There are still a few peaceful days to be had at anchor. Too cold for swimming for us though!

After the confusion of posting the blog on Saturday afternoon last week — our apologies to people’s routines who we upset, especially Viv who wasn’t able to enjoy a morning read with his Sunday breakfast — we set off on Sunday morning, leaving Sifnos and heading across towards Paros. It was a really stunning crossing, one of those great days where the sun is out, the wind was light and the water was smooth, a real delight.

We didn’t have a firm plan on exactly where we wanted to stay, we decided to check as we got closer and assess the conditions and at the last minute, we hooked down towards the south to Antiparos and anchored between it and the uninhabited island of Despotiko. A solid decision! It’s a wonderful, well sheltered bay, with a sandy bottom (good for holding the anchor) and a small temple ruin to explore. We took Rosie ashore and let her run, then after a quiet night at anchor, left her aboard in the morning to go explore the ruins.

It’s an interesting temple complex, still in the process of being excavated and explored. Karina rated it very highly, in part because you really get a better sense of how these attractions develop for tourists and what they look like both before and after the archaeologists are done. Like all temples, it occupies a dramatic landscape, one that has an aesthetic beauty beyond just the temple.

From there, we decided to head up to Naxos — the wind was starting to build and we felt that we should go direct and hole up in the port rather than take two days and potentially miss our window to cross. It turned out to be a good decision — it was yet another one of those times where the predictions and the conditions “on the sea” don’t quite match. The channel between Paros and Naxos is not that wide and the wind funnels through, we spent a large portion of our time head on into the wind and the waves which were growing as we crossed. I made the call to head across at the south where the waves seemed a bit lighter and we worked our way north on the Naxos side of the channel, using the island for some shelter which worked well, but at the end we had to come around the northern side of the island and cross into the port — a roughly 30 minute traversal of some of the strongest winds and waves we’ve experienced yet.

The waves got a lot bigger, at which point I was no longer taking photos and just holding on. Coming across the north side of Naxos, we had water running over the bow — not just spray.

We were navigating from inside the boat for a change and the only way I could actually do it was to hold on with one hand on the wheel and the other on the grab bar on the ceiling. It wasn’t pretty, it certainly wasn’t comfortable BUT we made it fine and Matilda honestly handles these conditions very well.

Trying to adjust the wipers. As I explained to Erik, I can pay for someone to fix it, or I can try fix it, and then pay for someone to fix it… occasionally I fix it without the second step.

Unfortunately the wipers didn’t survive, getting knocked sideways. When I tried to repair them I managed to take them from “not working straight” to “not working at all” so that’s a change in condition — add it to the list for repair over winter I suppose. Oh, I also broke (actually just detached a cable, but I can’t reach it to plug it back in and I don’t want to detach other things trying to refit it) the reading light above the nav station at the same time. Still, later in the week we upgraded the television and I was able to replace that without any problems at all (other than the typical 3 visits to the stores for things you need but don’t have).

It was a relief to finally get inside the breakwater (dodging the fast ferry also coming in) and we took a few minutes to gather our thoughts and get ready in shelter for docking. The port itself is quite small for such a popular tourist island, but of course fairly empty at this time of the year — we were the only visiting boat. We docked by ourselves and honestly felt quite accomplished about it — a successful dock is any one where you end up tied safely with a minimum of yelling at each other and we’re getting better at it for sure!

A murmuration of swallows.

We enjoyed Naxos, it’s a “classic” Greek port with a beautiful old city, winding cobblestoned streets and a temple on the point — the “portal of Naxos”. There were some lovely sunsets, big swarms of swallows in the evening and all in all, a relaxing experience.

So it was a bit of surprise when we couldn’t recall if we’d been there or not! In 1997 we did an extensive backpacking tour of Europe and in Greece we hopped around a few islands. I had recollections in my mind of it being Paros, Naxos and Santorini, but we weren’t sure and when we arrived this time, Karina was confident that we couldn’t have been as surely we’d remember the “portal” which is both impressive and dominating.

I have the diaries with us (and a separate project to digitise them, which like many of my projects has been started but is not yet complete), so we went back to read what we said. Sure enough, we’ve been to Naxos, Paros, Santorini AND Antiparos before, but couldn’t remember much about Naxos at all. What we do remember is the people we met as we travelled — we both have clear memories of a South African couple Arno & Tess who we spent a week and a bit with, including on Naxos. The dominating and impressive to us now “Portal” isn’t mentioned in my diary and is dismissed in Karina’s entry as “went for a walk to some old ruins, not much to see, just some old door frame”. Ahh to be 26 again!

Erik, who we met during lockdown in Athens and spent 6 months tramping the city streets with on an almost daily basis, is back from Lithuania in Greece again and arrived to join us on Matilda on Tuesday. Unfortunately because of the wind, his stay with us has been less about cruising the islands, and more about treating Matilda as an apartment to explore an island — and one that doesn’t sit still either. Still, it’s been a lot of fun to catch up with him again and explore.

Faced with two average choices — “go” on Thursday to Syros but experience a rough crossing or stay in Naxos, but essentially be trapped there for the next week, we opted to go. It did seem like the winds would drop as we headed west (which they did), but also that the start would be rough (which it was). We would generally not put guests in those conditions, but Erik is always up for an adventure and actually had a lot of fun. Rosie however was less impressed and was the only one of us that got sea-sick and vomited. Poor dog.

We knew that the winds were going to be increasing a lot on Friday and Saturday and on paper, Ermoupouli in Syros seemed like a great place to stay. As a tourist, it’s amazing! Syros is in many ways “undiscovered” by foreign tourists but really has a lot going for it (I suspect in part it’s because it’s very Venetian — stunning architecture and buildings, but not that “traditional Greek cyclades feel” people are looking for).

As a boat however, we learnt some lessons about port design that meant it was a challenging place to rest for a few days. The problem is that although it faces the “right” direction and is very well sheltered from the North winds along the town quay with buildings behind you stopping the big gusts, the size of the port means that the wind that gets in kicks up a swell. That would be OK — it’s blowing away from you after all, but it turns out the entire port is almost diamond shaped, with the “bottom” of the diamond being the entrance and all the edges are lined with high concrete docks that reflect any waves. When the ferries come in, you can literally see the waves bounce off the walls and reflect around. With the odd angles you end up with swell coming from all directions that doesn’t die down quickly because of the design. In mild conditions, it can be OK, but with every ferry and even a small amount of wind it really moves around.

The worst is that you’ll be rocking gently side to side, which is fine, but then randomly a couple of waves meet under the boat and push you up and then away from the dock — which suddenly jerks you to a stop violently as the dock lines grab and stop you moving forward. As Karina said to me yesterday, there’s just always more to learn, a lot of which you really wouldn’t expect at first glance. As the harbour master said to us on Thursday — “you’ll be safe, but you’re not going to like it”. Which has largely proven to be true.

Where’s Matilda? You can see here how the port is huge and surrounded by concrete on all sides.

So for the worst of the winds on Saturday we decided to hire a car and tour the island. It has some dramatic scenery, although surprisingly little in the way of ruins, but the town is amazing and we enjoyed exploring all the little beaches — a scouting mission for a return in Summer when we can take advantage of them!

Today we’re lazing around and catching up on some sleep now the weather is settling, Erik heads back to Athens and then we’re prepping for our German friend Hannah who arrives tomorrow. The weather this week is “ok”, not ideal, but not enough to stop us moving — I’m currently obsessing over and planning our moves because for the first time we have a real “deadline”, we need to be in Poros by Friday, which is a reasonable distance from here, so we’re mapping out the best route to stay in the calm conditions and where we should stop over.

Once in Poros, we’re meeting the electricians from Ermioni who upgraded our Raymarine gear for some last minute maintenance. The depth gauge has been playing up still and they are going to look at that and then we FINALLY have our MMSI (needed for the AIS — which broadcasts our position) so we’re getting that programmed into the AIS while we’re here and also trying to add an EPIRB (safety broadcast device) to the boat. Then it’s off to Aegina and a couple of days in harbour prepping Matilda for haul out on the 1st of December!

Until next time,

Tim & Karina

Want to see where we are now? Check us out on NoForeignLand https://www.noforeignland.com/boat/matilda