Week 154: Alone at sea and new cruising grounds

A quiet week, anchoring out and cruising across the north Aegean to Lesvos where we settle in to Mytilini ready to travel this week.

Week 154: Alone at sea and new cruising grounds
The cemetery on Efstratios Island above the village

The highlight of this week was that nothing happened. We left Skopelos, headed north up past Alonissos and then further into the marine park. Which had its challenges to be sure.

"I'm just saying, are we sure we want to do this? We could go another way. I want to go, but we don't HAVE to."

"No, it's OK, as long as we've prepared properly and taken precautions, we'll be alright. It's a good challenge," replied Karina.

We made sure everything was in place. Ebooks up to date? Check. TV shows downloaded? Check. A few people who know we'll be out of contact? Check. We were off to an internet dead zone.

The two days deep inside Alonissos Marine Park in the bay of Planitis, a fully sheltered bay on the island of Panagia was just the ticket to force us to slow down. And of course, no internet! Strangely (perhaps if the weather was right), on one or two occasions our phones did connect a flurry of messages would arrive, but other than that, nothing, and we couldn't answer them anyway.

Panagia is mostly uninhabited, there's a lot of goats, and a monastery with two monks. We relaxed, paddle boarded, relaxed and waited for the perfect weather window on Wednesday to cross to Efstratios.

Early Wednesday morning we left Planitis and the horde of charter boats that had descended on Tuesday night, to head for the island of Efstratios. I'd read about this one earlier this year when our friend Catherine shared an article on lesser known Greek Islands and decided that, if we had the opportunity, we had to go!

Efstratios is supposedly the most remote island in Greece. Not necessarily the smallest (although it only has around 220 full time inhabitants) or the most isolated, but it is the furtherest from land all around.

While it has a long history going back to pre-historic times, not a lot remains physically. It's most famous since the 1930's as a place of exile for political prisoners during the 30's and again during the Military Junta period from 1967-74 where over 6,000 political dissidents were forced to make their homes here living in tents.

We enjoyed visiting and could have spent another day there. While there's not a lot to see, what is there is interesting and it has very limited tourist traffic. The taverna was exceptionally good value, with prices that were a lot more like we remember from three years ago in Greece, not what we'd been experiencing recently in the tourist hotspots like Skopelos.

But, the weather was cooperating and we had another long passage to make, so we headed off from Efstratios to Lesbos on Wednesday morning. This crossing couldn't have been more different than the one the day before. Crossing to Efstratios we didn't see a single ship, just one sail a very long way away and a couple of military jets buzzing past high up.

On this crossing, we were cutting across the shipping lane that heads through Greece and up to the Dardenelles Strait, which heads toward Istanbul and the Black Sea. Soon there were ships all around on AIS and we definitely had to keep our wits about us.

We could see Lesbos and Turkey ahead in the distance, exciting as here was our new home and our soon to be cruising grounds next to each other. It's also a bit of change, as we're now cruising along the frontier of the refugee crisis and also between two countries that can be a bit belligerent with each other.

This has manifested itself in several ways already. At one stage on channel 16 we heard the Greek Coastguard informing a Turkish Coastguard vessel that they had crossed into their waters, that they "did not have the right of innocent passage" and they were to cease the violation immediately.

As we were coming out of the shipping channels and towards the land, we'd been on a direct course from Efstratios to Lesbos, but there were fishing vessels trawling in front of us, so we diverted.

Within 60 seconds of turning off our course and heading northward (which was more towards Turkey), a call came over the radio.

"Matilda, Matilda."

"This is Matilda over."

"Where are you going?"

"This is Matilda, crossing from Efstratios to Lesvos, over."

"Fishing vessels, fishing vessels, border, border."

I really don't know who was talking to us, I THINK it was the Greek Fishing vessels nearby that were warning us we were near some border. There was none on the charts I could see – I believe we were clearly in International Waters, but when I looked again at the fishing vessels around us, it was also clear that to our south everyone was Greek and to our north, they were all Turkish. We were coming down the middle of some kind of agreed no mans land.  We turned back towards the South again and the radio went quiet.

Finally as we approached Lesbos, a couple of miles out, a Greek Coast Guard vessel approached and circled us within a hundred meters. They never hailed us on the radio and we just continued holding course. I imagine they looked at us and then checked our name against their database and the AIS to make sure we were who we said we were, and then away they went.

Dramatic Sunsets

We spent an uneventful night off the NW corner of Lesbos near the town of Mithymna and then we headed through the straits, between Lesbos and Turkey, around and down to Mytilini.

Castle at Mithymna from our anchorage.

It was exciting arriving in Mytlilini, quite a strange feeling because it's now our home for the next 12 months! Aside from Montenegro, where we weren't cruising from anyway, we've never had a "base" where we could say "yes, this is our home marina."

Of course our reasons for signing the twelve month contract are highly pragmatic, mostly because of the need to have a winter berth and the discounts we get at marina's in Turkey with this deal in place. Still, it's nice to have a "home" for the moment.

It's been brutally hot again these last few days, something you don't notice as much when you're at anchor and cruising 15 miles off the coast, but hits hard when you're back in a marina. One great feature of a marina during winter is they are usually sheltered from the winds. A bad feature in summer is that they are sheltered from even the small breezes you might otherwise have blowing around.

We're using this as a good mid-season break - catching up on some maintenance tasks, restocking some spares and of course, leaving Matilda tied securely while we head to the UK for a road trip and respite from the Greek summer heat (which does amuse the staff here, most people are coming to Greece in August not running away).

Until next time,

Tim & Karina

Where are we now?