the journey


on Holiday

August 1, 2010

Location: The Greek Islands

You sure wouldn't know the Greek economy was in dire straits if you find yourself on a Greek island in July. The tavernas are teeming, the car rental companies are slammed and you have to fight the sunburned british tourist for a chair and umbrella at the packed beach. To make life even more interesting, summer is the time of the meltemi winds that come firing out of the north and blast the islands with intense ferocity. Sometimes the meltemis only last a day or 2, but other times they will last weeks, with winds even reaching above 40 knots. With all that in mind, we found ourselves in the thick of it...embracing life in the Greek Islands during peak season and the hottest time of the year.

Right before leaving Turkey, our Aussie mate, Hardy, aka 'The Hardman', emailed to say he was coming to Europe...a little work and a little holiday time. Hardy and I have been friends for 15 years now since meeting at our mutual friend, Jeremy's, house in Aspen...Hardy on a roadtrip with a van-full of crazy Aussies and, me, sleeping in my tent in Jeremy's backyard to his many roommates dismay, in the middle of a cold Colorado winter. After time on the slopes, a backpacking adventure in the Utah desert and a polyester-clad 3 day clown-show in Vegas, Hardy and my friendship was sealed.

Nicole and I worked out the logistics and told him to get his butt to the island of Kos and we'd meet him there. And so in only 1 week of planning....that's what he did. Perfect. After 3 1/2 years on DK and countless times Hardy wanted to drop in on us, but was too busy to do it....he finally made it happen.

We picked the Hardman up at the little Kos airport in the early evening on 7/20, after his whirlwind flights from Singapore and headed directly to the beach. Out at the wild western point of Agios Theologos Beach there is only unprotected rocky shores and a quaint little taverna. As the yellow globe sank into the horizon we swam in the rough waves as Hardy baptized himself in the refreshing Aegean liquid. Cold mythos beers, the best fried calamari we had in all of Greece, and a plethora of other Greek mezedhes like our staples, tzatziki, greek salad, dolmades, and stuffed peppers with feta rounded out the perfect sunset spot for the start of our mate's holiday.

Kos isn't exactly the quintessential Greek island you see pictures of in magazines. But, what it lacks in sexiness, it makes up for in water sports. Anchored in Oromos Kamari Bay (36°44.53N, 26°58.42’E), we find ourselves with our wind gen spinning constantly and throughout the afternoon jet-skis, hobie cats and windsurfers blasting by. Hardy was in training for two upcoming races back in Australia, so he was dutifully hitting the pavement running and putting his strokes in through the water. Nic and I weren’t ready to commit to a running program, but the swimming was just what we needed. Hardy even gave windsurfing a shot again after a 15 year hiatus, but paid the price with some aches, pains, and an injury to his rotator cuff the next day. Ahh...water starts.

But, best of all for me, right over the hill from our anchorage is a windward beach called Kohiliari, one of the best kitesurfing beaches in the Dodecanese Islands of Greece. For 2 days I shook the rust off and had my first sessions ever kiting in breaking 3-5 foot on-shore waves. Intimidating at first, but once I got in the groove, it was very very sweet.

Kos was a good beginning to the holiday, but we were all ready to move on. The meltemi was starting to mellow and we decided to go for it. An early morning start found us motor-sailing around the SW point of Kos until the wind finally found us. With Hardy at the helm, we reefed DK down and let ‘er rip. On a beam reach the winds stayed pretty consistent in the mid-20’s and the waves only 1-2 meters giving us a wet and fast ride across the 35 mile stretch of water to the island of Astypalea, a mostly undiscovered gem of an island in the southern Cyclades. As we rounded the first point, which we read in our pilot guide could be gusty, we got slammed. 35+ knots of wind smacked us hard as our sea-sick mate helped me furl up the jib, lash down the bimini, and hold on for the ride. We quickly changed our minds about going into the main town anchorage of Skala, and instead headed for the nearby more protected local anchorage of Maltezana (36°34.44’N, 26°23.13’E). Good call. We dropped the hook in sand and mud amidst a few other sailboats and immediately went for a swim to wash the passage off. Hardy had an early evening run, we all had some chill time, and we visited a quaint seaside taverna for another greek dinner to round out the day.

The next morning we headed for the town anchorage and dropped the hook right smack in the middle of the little bay in 10 feet of water (36°32.892’N, 26°21.228’E). No med-mooring for us kids. Nicole wasn't so sure of our spot next to a few little fishing boats (let’s just say she was a little nervous) but once we dropped our little anchor-buddy down the chain and she saw that we were barely swinging around, even with the windy gusts, she settled down and slipped into the holiday spirit again.

We had found our perfect little Greek island village. White-washed homes with blue shutters, small tavernas on the seaside, narrow alleyways filled with small shops and bakeries, and an old fort on top of the hill where the locals used to hide from the Maltese pirates, we were loving it.

After some swimming time, tasty gelato in our wet togs, and a good afternoon exploration of the fort and hillside chora, we settled into a cozy little seaside taverna with, once again, some cold mythos, tasty mezes, and our first of many backgammon games.

DK hung on her hook in the center of the little bay while sailboat after sailboat arrived in the early evening and squeezed into their tight med-mooring spots against the quay. We were stoked we weren't sandwiched in there too, and instead happy to have space, a nice breeze, and no anchors crossing ours. Astypalea treated us well.

The next day, 7/25, we had planned to head west to the island of Anafi, but weather dictates all in the Mediterranean. A low pressure system was forming bringing strong SW winds and we would be sitting ducks at the exposed southern anchorage at Anafi. We scoured the pilot guide and found a bay on the SE corner of Ios, that looked to be protected from the coming winds and seas. Another early morning departure but this time with almost no wind. A long 50+ mile motor-sail took us NW to the island of Ios under a melting sun and no breeze.

We dropped the hook (36°40.24’N, 26°23.01’E) in front of a little beach with a couple of nudie-backpackers turning black in the summertime heat. Within minutes of turning off the Yanmar, we were overboard. After a long passage, swimming in the cool clear water of the Aegean is pretty much perfect. Nic managed to find a number of colorful sea urchin shells to add to the enormous collection of shell treasures we have stashed throughout practically every coffer of DK. It is going to be pretty hilarious when we actually see what we have been storing on this boat when we get back to San Francisco next year.

After our swims Nic and I were below doing some projects. Hardman called down through the hatch, "hey guys, there's a guy named Mark here", he said, "he just swam over".....
Nic and I looked at each other, OK, we smiled together, enjoy your new friend Hardy.... You see, we often get curious visitors that swim out to our boat just to say hello, or just look at us, or sometimes ask for a beer or something. We are usually friendly, but sometimes just not in the mood. So, here, we are thinking, another one has swam out to DK, most likely one of the nude backpackers....we'll just let Hardy deal with him.

Meanwhile, minutes pass and then Hardy pokes his head in the hatch again and says, "hey guys....didn't you hear me, this guy is still here, his name is Mark, and he says he knows you"
knows us???
it finally clicks.
oh shit, way....we run outside and there is our friend, Mark, from Sausalito, treading water beside our boat. Classic! We invite him up as we all get a chuckle over the miscommunication.

Mark and his sweetie, Michelle, were our neighbors at Pelican Yacht Club in Sausalito, CA, before we took off on this journey. We never got to know each other well, unfortunately, we were all super busy then, but we have stayed in touch and have now had 2 serendipitous rendezvous with them, one in Baja and now here at this random anchorage on Ios. Mark and Michelle work for a company called, Lindblad Expeditions, Mark as a captain and Michelle as a tour guide and naturalist. Mark wrote us a few weeks past and we knew they would be in the Greek Islands working, but we both thought it was very very unlikely our paths would cross. But, of course, they did. Gotta love serendipity!

Mark invited us over to their big tour boat for dinner and we all caught up over food and wine. They were busy working, but still made some time for us and it was really fun to see them again and reconnect. They have their own sailboat, called Cheers, in Baja, and are gearing up for their own extended cruise in a couple of years. Hopefully when we get back in the Baja waters next spring we will get to see them again and have more quality time together.

Another early morning (7/26) and we were off across the channel heading to the most famous Greek island of all, Santorini. The SW winds had come up and we started with some reefed-down close-hauled motor-sailing that eventually turned into a sweet close/beam reach for hours in the lee of Santorini in 20+ knots of wind. Hardy had his last helm-time until we reached the SE point where we had to rev the Yanmar and punch through the sloppy 1-2 meter seas and winds on our nose to reach the little marina of Vlikhadas. We managed to come surfing in through the shallow and tricky marina entrance unscathed in breaking seas, piloted the shallow channel and successfully med-moor DK without any drama. Phew!

The marina turned out to be great. The manager was super nice and helpful and the rates super cheap at only 15 Euro/night including water and electricity and free wireless internet! Unheard of prices in Europe during high season. There are some tavernas right next to the marina and a great swimming beach a 5 minute walk away. We put DK to bed and left her safely there for 5 days.

Nic and I have been to striking Santorini before, but Hardy was keen to see it for himself. We, of course, were happy to oblige because Santorini is truly a spectacular island and a perfect place for some off-boat time and an easy place for Hardy to fly out of Greece.

While we put DK to bed, Hardman dug into his laptop for hours until he managed to find a great little cave-hotel up on the caldera rim for us to stay in for a few. We hired a car, threw some clothes in and away we went. By sunset we were settled into our cozy rooms and eating dinner at a great restaurant, called La Maison in Imerovigli, perched high on the crater rim, while the wind howled and the clouds danced on us. The low pressure system had come in strong and it was pleasantly cold for a change. DK was tied up and safe and we were on holiday in Santorini with our Aussie mate. We were all loving it.

The next couple of days we explored the beaches and towns of Santorini. Reading our books on beach chairs with the sea lapping at our feet, long swims, poking around shops at Fira and Oia, and some great backgammon games in little cafes sipping tea and cappuccino's with million dollar views. Thanks to our Aussie friend, we now have a very sweet locally-made backgammon set on DK which we will put to good use! Thanks mate!!

Throughout our days on Santorini, Hardy was back at it with his phone and laptop on, but to his credit, he still managed not to get sucked into his busy I.T. business too much and remained solidly on holiday time. Hardy is one of those extremely hard working people that made a successful business for himself from scratch. His I.T. business, Seertech, is doing awesome right now, all because he has worked his ass off for many years making it happen. Though not always able to pull away from being "connected" online to his people, he still manages to make some great holiday and surfing trips happen throughout the year to keep fun and excitement in his life.

On 7/29 we dropped the Hardman off at the airport where he was next off to London....a little work, a little play. It's so great when one of our close friends makes the effort to come see us and be a part of our world. Sharing adventures together gives us new energy and a fresh perspective on our life. Hardy appeared at a great time when Nic and I are trying to fully live in summer holiday mode and having a full-on high energy Aussie around full time who is game for anything and everything was perfect for all of us. Thanks mate!

Back to our sailing reality...Nic and I, of course, had lots of prep projects to get done before we shoved off for Italy. We moved onto DK again and went to work getting the boat together, filling her with fresh food, planning the passage, and trying to catch up on emails and website stuff that we are way behind on.

The next day I drove up to the main town of Fira and found both the Port Authority and Customs offices. After a little run-around and a little confusion at the Port Authority office, I finally got the right paperwork sorted, handed in our transit log to customs, and we were legally checked-out of Greece. A last Greek dinner at a marina-side taverna capped off a great couple of weeks in the Greek Islands.

The next morning, 7/30, we backed out of our tightly packed med-mooring slip and headed back into the Aegean Sea. An overnight passage beating into light winds brought us to our current anchorage of Kayio Bay, 36°25.82’N, 22°29.14’E, a pretty and protected spot on the southern tip of the large island of Peloponnese. The strong NW winds that are humming through here now should ease tomorrow and we will soon be on our way across the Ionian Sea to Sicily.