Off at Last

September 7th 2020

The Goddess Eileithyia watches over our birth from the womb of Zea, expelled into the Aegean Sea.  How slow this has been in coming but it hasn’t all been bad.  We are a very lucky generation as long as our children and grandchildren don’t bring us Covid-19!  Our lockdown was a pleasure; seeing our garden bloom, caring for it during the wonderful spring and summer months, indulging in a pleasant feeling of NOT having to do anything.  Anyway I digress.  Andy has been out here in Piraeus since mid August, doing ‘jobs’.  It has been stinking hot, all the more so for being in this enclosed space the Pasalimani, Zea Marina.  We do have a few problems however.  PROBLEM number 1 – We have discovered that both batteries for the electric outboard are nearly useless and we order another but that will not come before we sail.  PROBLEM number 2Our mainsail needs replacing says Andy.  It had some repairs over the winter but still has an open tear.  Plato came and fixed it with something like Fablon, a sticky patch, I think of Dacron.  The sail is very old and there comes a point when patching it further will not work, so now research into the options.  I fear it will be expensive.  Other problems arise over the next couple of weeks.

But where are we bound?  We like a goal and we have the sacred island of Delos as our destination. 

We had a great first sail, after the birth, a christening, a wetting of the decks as we sailed south towards Poros.  We anchored in a bay to the west – Ελιεσ – and spent a happy four days there getting used to being on board again.  I find I need this transition time from earthbound me to selkie me. The wind was strong at times, but I enjoyed swimming and we took the kayak out for an explore.    Fresh food running low and laundry needing done we tied up alongside in Poros town and had two good days, eating out, stocking up and becoming clean again.  Check out this pork chop – only in Greece!

 It was windy here too and there was excitement in the port as, fire bells ringing and sirens wailing, fire engines raced toward the channel to tackle a fire on board a motor yacht.  The usual Greek enthusiasm followed with a plethora of vehicles, spectators, commentators, pontificators; black smoke filled the air and oil seeped out, which by morning, had been contained by a floating barrier and the boat seemed to be occupied by officials. 

Taking advantage of a weather ‘window’ we slipped our lines early on a Sunday to go to Kythnos. PROBLEM number 3 – my trusty BOW THRUSTER, whom I rely upon completely when reversing does not work anymore, panic stirs in my breast.  However it does not affect today. 

The journey, all 9 hours of it, is a churn and I feel nauseous; I’m glad I had prepared sandwiches the night before as going below would have been impossible.  Andy loved it, I endured it.  Sea water came crashing over the decks and found its inevitable way into the boat.  When we get to Turkey again in a couple of years we will get all the ports replaced or at least re seated.  After this hard sail we encountered PROBLEM number 4 – we had had the working jib attached and pulled out the genoa to increase power only to discover that the two were not compatible.  So we took down the working jib and managed to get a riding turn on the furling winch which meant that we could not furl the Genoa as we neared our destination!!  The wind was so strong that it was difficult to let off the pressure.  So the winch was dismantled and the jam freed.  I think we took at least an hour over this at the entrance to the beautiful bay for which we were bound.  Hey Ho! We got there in the end and then spent four lovely days but still in very strong winds.  We had a invigorating walk up to the chapel and on to a trig point, disturbing goats and partridges en route and watching boats out at sea and glad we didn’t have to go anywhere.  Prickly dry and barren only a few shoots of green, goodness knows how they survive.  The stone work of the walls creates marvellous sculptural pieces.

While we were here Andy made an ingenious  and creative fix, a SOLUTION to PROBLEM number 3 (bow thruster) and used a drill bit of the correct width and cut down to the exact size to replace the break pin that had been the problem. Confidence is restored.

We have tried to visit Delos a few times before but up ’till now have been foiled by the weather.  At this point we were getting indications of the medicane and some, locally, very strong northerly winds.  With no deadlines, we had time to divert and so we decide to make our way to Paros and to an anchorage in the north opposite the town of Naoussa.  Having been there before we know it to be a good anchorage for these conditions; we christened it ‘toad bay’ because of a certain rock that has an unmistakably amphibious look about it.

So here we are ‘locked down’ on the boat as we rock and swing wildly in a Force 7.  Luckily yesterday we made a dash into the town and stocked up on fresh food.  Actually we stayed a whole week; we had to get a taxi to the town for more fresh food and a change of scene.  Usually there is a little boat that brings sun lovers to this beach from Naoussa but it had obviously deemed it too rough to make the journey across the bay.   The day before we left we enjoyed a walk to the lighthouse and yet another trig point with a view of the still high seas and felt glad that we had stayed that extra day.

We had a very leisurely sail up to Rhenia, the island west of Delos, loving John Le Carre’s reading of his book ‘A Delicate Truth’.   I find something magical about his voice and have really got to know the characters. Rhenia is a butterfly island similar in shape to Astypalaia.  Two pieces of land joined tenuously by a narrow sinew and frayed all around with little bays, most of them sandy.  This island proved to be an unknown treasure.

During the night I think I was serenaded by frogs, I don’t know for sure, but what a racket!  Maybe it was the sighing and jostling of ghosts, the dead warriors of Delos. The east coast of Rhenia which faces Delos is one huge necropolis.

Delos, in its heyday, must have been an amazing place.  It is only 5 km long and 1,300m wide, a barren rocky island devoid of vegetation.  Surely it must have been different when some 30,000 inhabitants lived here, with more living on neighbouring islands, a centre sacred and commercial by turns.  Artemis and Apollo, twins fathered by Zeus were born here under a sacred palm by a sacred lake, still here but the lake has dried up and the single palm growing in the middle is symbolic, unlikely to be original!  Their mother Leto had wandered far and wide to find a place that would take her in to give birth; but Hera, Zeus’ official wife, incensed by her husband’s behaviour – you would have thought she would have got used to the lascivious old god by now  – used her influence to block her.  Eventually Delos took her in and that was the start of its fortune which lasted for about 500 years.

The stars of Delos are undoubtedly, the lions. These are the ‘very good copies’. They line the way to the sacred lake, they face east to greet the rising sun with a roar. It is difficult in times of Covid and hard to understand why, in this large open air site, we had to keep our masks on but there were officious guards who whistled and made sure we did.  Unbelievably there was more whistling and negative finger shaking when I began to pose as a roaring lion in front of and well outside the cordoned area! Venetians ‘acquired’ one of the original lions, then put the wrong head on it.  When we saw that lion, outside the Arsenale in Venice, we loved it.   We visited the museum but it was disappointing and felt unloved.  It  lacked attention and there were few, if any, interpretations we could understand.  The room of the lions was not open.   The people who came here were travellers, merchants and explorers from a world that seems to have been more tolerant than ours.  That’s probably naive, there would have been slaves and exploitation and poor living conditions for the lowly – what’s new?   Pilgrims and traders came from Beirut and Libya, France and Italy, all the countries that skirt the coastline of the Mediterranean.  Delos is reminiscent of Pompeii and Ephesus, having been to those places, it was easier to understand, the mosaic floors, the cool inner courtyards, the colourful plasterwork. 

We walked to the top of Mount Kynthos and had our picnic looking down at the boat, anchored just off the visitor centre.  It had been quite busy in the morning when trip boats from nearby Mykonos had disembarked but by lunch time it was very quiet.  Oh yes, and in the evening we watched Shirley Valentine again!

We are expecting a package at Syros from Athens with the SOLUTION to PROBLEM no 1 (battery for outboard), so we sail to Syros.  The harbour master Thanasis – which means eternal life and he is living it – stylishly, bright orange shorts and a white shirt with orange trim today, tomorrow a Hawaiian outfit shirt and shorts matching and the bluest of blue eyes against a leathered skin – welcomes us and immediately warns us of strong southerlies and the vulnerability of his harbour.  Our package has yet to arrive.

We take on fuel and water and return to …………………..Rhenia!!!  A very good sail, three reefs in the main and the working jib in action again.  This time no snafus and we are beautifully anchored in a lonely bay with one other yacht.  There was a drama as a dinghy, with outboard attached was taking itself unmanned, out to sea rather quickly!  A man dived from the yacht to apprehend it, now there was a man and a dinghy being swept out to sea as he struggled to start the outboard.  It all turned out fine but we were ready to up anchor and rescue him if need be.  A problem I haven’t mentioned before is with the anchor windlass.  It was being very awkward and causing stress. However a phone call to John in Paisley, Scotland (Andy’s Sea Wolf Guru!)  and there is a SOLUTION, Andy physically removed the electronic brake and all is well.  So smoothly is it working that I think we re- anchored at least four times while here!  From one bay to another because it is so EASY! 

They shoot things on Rhenia.  We were here a few years ago and searched in vain for information. What were they shooting? Was it a commercial enterprise?  I read it is forbidden to build a permanent residence here and that there is no water, electricity or telephone however with the coming of mobile phones one is connected everywhere.  Today two old guys arrived in a fast little boat, limped up to a concrete cottage, the blue shutters have been open and shots are heard; a  Sunday excursion and a plump partridge for lunch perhaps?! 

Today, on the advice of Nigel McGilchrist (Greek Islands #4 Mykonos & Delos) we left the boat in search of the remains of a Sanctuary of Hercules on the ‘north side of the bay of Aghia Triada “which contains ‘a semicircular tank with water-spout in the form of a shell, and a delightful floor mosaic depicting swimming dolphins”.   As with so many of Nigel’s carrots that we race after, the search ended in a blank, but as ever these excursions reward us with encounters of other kinds. At the little chapel of Aghia Triada we met some scary dogs, and then thankfully a man who called them off.  Once he’d tied his dogs up he insisted on giving us water and we had a halting conversation.  He seemed to be living here and looking after the chapel.  As ever it was beautifully clean and candles were burning.  There are permanent houses although I think seasonal and we saw evidence of water in wells and scrapes.  This part of the island dips widely and gracefully towards the sea and has fields surrounded by good stone walls.  There have been crops and there are sheep. There are many stone circles, beautifully chosen stones, fitting together harmoniously, where threshing would have taken place. 

This sign tells when last the beach was cleaned and entreats visitors to leave only footprints

Things grow here, in winter it is green; purple thistles emerge from seemingly impossible dusty, stony land but this is where a Hellenistic farm settlement thrived long ago.   The toads were singing to each other again last night.

Today we’re off again to Syros to pick up the battery!


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