Travels with S/Y Thetis

Thetis only

2000: Skopelos to Samos

This web page contains the logs of the fifth and final leg from a thirty seven day solo sailing trip that I took with S/Y Thetis around the Greek Aegean. The leg lasted for seven days and it was from the island of Skopelos in the North Sporades to the island of Samos in the East Aegean. Islands visited on the way are: Sarakino, and Chios.

The logs are illustrated with maps and photographs, and also include some historical and geographical descriptions of the places visited as well as several links to other related web sites.

Route to to Chios
Route to to Chios

Thursday September 21, 2000, Day 31

After I got up, I prepared for departure. First I untied the shore line but instead of raising the zodiac, I decided to tow it since there was hardly any wind and the sea was very calm.

Departing from Panormos, Skopelos

We left Panormos at 0730. The wind was a light 7-10 knots from anywhere between NW and SE. I raised the full main sail and motor-sailed. The destination was Sarakino and then tomorrow Psara.

I had an e-mail from Cynthia. The ticket to Denmark is OK and I can pick it up at any Olympic Airways counter. I called my wife Alice. She will mail to Cynthia a package with warm clothes to take with her for me because I only have summer clothes here and most likely I will need the warmer clothes in Denmark and Finland. I also asked Alice to call West Marine and see if she can order a replacement autopilot actuator in time for Cynthia to bring it with her. I would prefer the more powerful Autohelm ST4000 GP than the old ST4000. If she cannot get it in time I will try my luck again with the Greek Autohelm dealer. In the mean-time, the repaired unit is working.

The passage was completely uneventful. Calm seas, low wind. I read a lot. When we were about 10 M from our destination the wind changed. Now it came from the E at 6 knots. I was forced to lower the sail but now I could put up the tent, and have lunch in the shade.

Thetis arrived in Sarakino [38° 45.1' N 024° 36.9' E] at 1620 having covered 50.3 M from Skopelos. I anchored in 5 m without any problem. Unfortunately there was a considerable swell into the cove but still no wind.

Thetis in Sarakino

Later, I removed the tent, rowed the zodiac ashore, and took a long walk. The view from the N side of Sarakino looking into the Tris Bookes of Skyros was excellent.

When I returned to Thetis I had an ouzo and then cleaned the boat. Later still I started cooking: pasta with a sauce of fresh tomatoes, mushrooms, left over water chestnuts, and wine. Very good. After dinner, and in anticipation of an early departure, I raised the zodiac and lashed it on the deck. I set the alarm for 5 AM.

View of Tris Bookes, Skyros from Sarakino

Friday September 22, 2000, Day 32

During the night although there was hardly any wind the swell increased to an uncomfortable level. So, when I got up to check the anchor, it was already 0430, just half an hour from the time I had set the alarm. It was not worth going back to bed. Since the dinghy was already up all I had to do was to service the skipper by providing him with a large cup of Greek (that is what it is called here in Greece, elsewhere it is better known as Turkish) coffee, remove the anchoring light, and raise the anchor.

By 0525 we were on our way to Psara some 45 M east. There was no wind and it looked as if we would be motoring all the way. Once out in the open sea, the swell was not very bad. At the rate, we were moving I anticipated our time of arrival at 1020. The Navtex forecast called for light southerlies but Bob had received a German forecast from his SSB that predicted gale winds for the weekend. So I was anxious to make good time.

Since the autopilot was working flawlessly and there were no sails to look after, I had nothing to do. I enthroned myself over the cabin with plenty of cushions and watched the glorious sunrise exactly at 0710, as predicted from the GPS. After the sun rose a light S breeze of 5-12 knots manifested itself. I raised the full main and motor-sailed for about an hour after which the breeze stiffened to 8-15 knots and I was able to open all of the headsail and turn off the motor. While sailing I saw at a distance a single dolphin but it did not approach Thetis.


The wind, however, did not last. Instead we alternated motor-sailing and sailing, at almost equal intervals, until we were about 10 M from Psara (Ψαρά). At that time the wind increased to 15-18 knots, still from the S, and Thetis was able to sail rather nicely and fast. I even had to reduce the headsail to not load unnecessarily the autopilot with a weather helm.

I received a message from Alice. She did reach West Marine but they will not have the autopilot for at least 2 more weeks. Not so good!

Since Thetis was at last sailing very nicely, I decided not stop in Psara as I was planning but instead to push on for Limniá (Volissos) in Chios. This decision was strongly influenced by a new Navtex forecast that I received which called for strong N winds. The sail from Psara to Limniá was wonderful and fast, making over 7 knots. Unfortunately though, while trimming the sails I wrenched my back and it was very painful.

We arrived in Limniá (Λιμνιά), Chios (Χίος) [38° 28.2' N 025° 55.1' E] at 1640, the distance from Sarakino was 67.7 M. There was plenty of space to moor side-to, like the German motor-sailer Petintho, but I was afraid of possible swell. So, I decided to moor stern-to instead. So, I exited the harbor and prepared everything: anchor, docking lines, and fenders. I then, re-entered the harbor, maneuvered in position, locked the autopilot, and engaged the engine to reverse slowly, I went to the bow, and dropped the anchor with plenty of loose chain (but not piled on top of the anchor). Then back to the cockpit, I reversed more vigorously while paying out more chain via the remote windlass control. Two Germans from Petintho came and tied the docking lines that I heaved to them.

Thetis in Limniá

I was tired and hot. I made some coffee and contemplated my next move. My back was hurting. I called Yankos Krinos who was in Chios. Maybe we could get together tomorrow since he and Sue will be leaving for Syros on Sunday. After the coffee and some rest, I rigged the passarella and went ashore to ask about a fuel delivery. I called the gas station but, like last time 2 years ago, they could not deliver. Further more, they were about to close for the day. Fortunately, a kind gentleman, Sotiris, a retired merchant marine, volunteered to drive me to the station. I called back the station to make sure that they will stay open and wait for me, and then hurried back to Thetis and siphoned the fuel from the 2 jerrycans into the tank. The owner of Petintho got interested in the operation and prepared also 2 cans. We got into Sotiris’ truck and he drove up the few kilometers to the station and back. I got 43.75 L of fuel.

After stowing the cans, I took a hot shower, had an ouzo, and then went ashore to eat. Sotiris was already at the restaurant and sat with me but did not eat (he is on a diet), he just had a drink. The food (grilled sword fish swimming in oil) was indifferent. Back on Thetis the Navtex had already printed the new forecast: E wind of 4 to 5 force, then NE 5 to 6, soon changing to 6-7 N. The extended forecast called for “very strong winds.” It looked that I will staying here for a while. Yet, I did not think that this is a very good place to leave Thetis unattended because it is exposed to the S winds. The food did not agree very well with my stomach and my back was very painful. I kept waking up all night.

Saturday September 23, 2000, Day 33

The Castle of Volissos

I slept later than usual despite my backache. Even so, I had a slow start. I was not sure whether to stay here in Limniá or move on. If I were to move there were two possibilities: I could go to Salagonas, my favorite cove in Chios, provided that the wind was not from the S or I could follow the suggestion of Petintho’s owner and go to Lithimi where, according to a new German cruising guide, there is a nice harbor with room for mooring side-to and there are several good restaurants. In the mean-time, the day was getting hot. I put on the sail cover and the tent. Yankos called. They cannot come here to Volissos this morning and I was reluctant to commit myself staying here for the late afternoon. For the time being there was no wind.

Despite the problem with my back, I walked the 2 km up the hill to the town of Volissos. I found a wonderful old wood-burning bakery and got two sourdough loaves of bread, still hot. I also got some of provisions from a small store, which I packed in my knapsack. Then I walked down to the harbor.

The Bakery in Volissos

By the time I was back, the wind had picked up and was from the W. I decided to go to Salangonas after all. This would have us in a good position to make a dash for Samos and if not I could go to the main harbor of Chios. If the wind was, as predicted, from the N, then I would be safe in Salagonas, and as soon as the gale subsided, I would have a favorable wind for Samos.

I prepared double docking lines (bidenia), removed the fenders, took inboard the passarella, untied one end of the lines, and gave a good burst forward on the motor to clear past the small caïque that was near Thetis. I went to the bow and raised the anchor. It was 1150. After motoring outside of the harbor, I opened the headsail but kept up the tent. The wind was 15-20 knots from the WSW, enough to keep Thetis sailing at 6 knots.

I saw a small sword-fish taking several leaps out of the water. It was a pleasant sail despite the considerable swell. Heavy clouds were moving in.

We sailed the 18.2 M from Limniá to Salagonas (Σαλάγωνας) [38° 13.25' N 025° 54.8' E] where we arrived at 1610. I anchored over the sand in 5 m depth. Inside the cove it was very calm. There were no other boats nor any people within sight. Blissful solitude! There were some lovely cloud formations, continuously shifting and an occasional violent gust creating “cat-paws” on the smooth water surface. After a very pleasant swim, my back seemed better. The anchor was very well set. There was a pleasant scent of mastich in the air. What more can one ask?

Clouds over Salagonas, Chios
Clouds over Salagonas, Chios

Later, after dinner, while enjoying this wonderful anchorage the answer came to me to the question posed by the Limenarchis (harbor master) in Folegandros. He had asked: “I do not understand why you rich people slave so hard in your boats full of worries, not a moment of peace? My idea of a vacation is to be in a luxury hotel by the swimming pool being served. Why do you do it?” My belated answer would be: “My dear fellow, it is like this. After a nice hard sail, you are securely anchored in a beautiful cove, like Salagonas. No human habitation is sight. You have cooked a nice rice pilaf with a tasty sauce and have eaten it along with several glasses of a good wine. There is a gale warning afoot and the wind is having violent gusts but you are snugly tucked in this safe cove where the sea is flat and you are well sheltered. There is no moon and the night is pitch black. The strong wind has dispersed all the clouds and the atmosphere has a great clarity. There are billions and billions of stars outlined by your mast. There is no light pollution save for a distant ferry illuminated like a Christmas tree. The only sound is the flute of James Galway playing softly a Bach sonata. And here you are sitting in your cockpit absorbing all this glory. That my friend, which no money in the world could ever buy, is worth all the labor and pain that you have expended to bring you here. I only wish that my children can continue to experience this, I have already exposed them to it, and I do hope that their children and their children’s children can still have a world with places such as this where one can commune with the universe. It is precisely the hard labor and pain and the precarious situation that makes you depend on your anchor and your skill that opens your mind and makes it receptive to the beauty of this anchorage, and make you aware of your insignificant place in the vast universe. That my friend will never be served by a swimming pool of any luxury hotel.

Sunday September 24, 2000, Day 34

The Navtex was printing more gale warnings. Near gale force 7 NW in the Sea of Ikaria which I would have to cross to get to Samos. I will stay here for today and see. I can wait if I have to until Tuesday and still make it to Samos and Athens for my flight to Denmark on Thursday. Also, I could, instead of going to Pythagorio, which is the preferable harbor, go to Karlovasi which is closer. We shall see. Patience.

I repaired for one more time the bathroom door that was getting off its sliding track. This time, instead of simply tightening the screws that hold the track on the bulkhead, I replaced them with two large through screws, washers, and nuts. That should do it, at least for a while. I also fixed the small main cabin hatch that was stuck. I hammered its handle and lubricated it. I have 130 engine hours since the last oil change, according to the manual I can still go another 20. I fired up the iBook computer and transferred the photographs from the camera memory into the computer’s hard disc and organized them into folders. Since, unfortunately, the sailing season will soon be over, I started a “To Do” list for the eventual haul-out in Leros.

Salagonas in the SW of Chios

I had a long swim and my back felt better although it was still hurting. I made a salad for lunch which I ate along with the wonderful bread from Volissos. After a nap, I went ashore for a long hike. In the anchorage, the GSM signal was too weak, but after I reached a high spot it improved and I was able to send a message to Alice informing her that everything was fine with me and Thetis. I also sent a message to my daughter Corinna in South Africa, reminding her of the time we two were here and had such a nice walk. I have missed my daughters and my wife but still it was also nice to be alone. I had a message with greetings from Turgut. They are all safely back in Smyrna.

In the late evening, I made for dinner an omelet with fresh tomatoes. This is an indulgence because of my heart diet. The temperature tonight was considerably lower than in the past, it was around 20°C (68°F) inside the cabin. The Navtex forecast still called for near gale force 7 winds in the Sea of Ikaria. Decided not to leave tomorrow but wait for an improvement. Tuesday, of course, is my last chance to make it to Samos and still meet Cynthia in Copenhagen on Thursday.

Despite using two blankets, I was woken during the night by the cold and had to put on warmer clothes. Other than that, I slept very well.

Monday September 25, 2000, Day 35

The sea this morning appeared fairly calm and the wind was down, maybe I should had left. Instead I made a land expedition. Despite some lingering backache I walked for 2 hours from Salagonas to the medieval village of Mesta. On the way, I befriended a dog who followed me for over 1½ hr, all the way to the village. Mesta is completely enclosed by walls. Inside the enclosure it is a labyrinth of narrow alleys, most of them a dead end. It is very picturesque and reasonably well kept without being “touristic.” I had a cup of coffee and an orange juice at the platia (main square). I then found, by asking, the bakery and bought a loaf of fresh bread. I ate most of it while wandering in the village. I then walked back.

The Medieval village of Mesta in Chios
Photo Mesta

A narrow alley


The Platia (Square)

Angelia, the anchorage just W of Salagonoas

Now both yesterday and today I was too lazy to lower the outboard to the dinghy, I just rowed ashore without any problem in the light wind. Since the wind was coming from the N, I figured that I would have an even easier time rowing back to Thetis. I did not count, however, that the stupid oar would break in half, its lower half drifting away while I stood there astounded with the other half in my hand and the zodiac drifting out to sea. The wind was too strong to manage with just one oar. I quickly took off my clothes, jumped in the water, and towed the zodiac to Thetis after first recovering the errant half oar.

The sun was strong, so I put up the tent. A sailboat with a German flag and six people aboard entered the cove and anchored very near Thetis spoiling the monopoly I had for nearly two days now. But while I was having lunch under the tent, they raised their anchor and left. The barometer had risen in the past three days form 1007 to 1015 mB. The wind by the afternoon was gusting to over 20 knots. I suppose that I was glad not to have left in the morning.

I finished reading Before the wind by Charles Tyng, an early 19th century American captain. The book is a collection of fascinating stories from an insider to American maritime activities in the days of the great sailing ships.

Later in the evening I cooked some linguine with tuna, capers, and garlic. I raised the dinghy and lashed it on the deck so that I could leave at a moment’s notice. After listening to some music I went to bed early. My plan was to get up and check the newest forecast and if favorable depart from Samos. Otherwise, wait some more and then leave for Chios harbor. I set the alarm for 3:30 AM.

Route to to Samos
Route to to Samos

Tuesday September 26, 2000, Day 36

Now that I write this, Thetis is all tied up and snug in the Pythagorio Marina in Samos. What a trip that brought us here! A trip out of hell. But let me begin at the beginning. I woke up this morning just a few minutes before the alarm which was set for 0330. The forecast from the Navtex was definitely much more encouraging than yesterday’s. Unlike the force 7 winds, it called for only 6 NNE and in the Sea of Ikaria temporarily 7. In Salagonas there was no wind. With this encouraging report, I made things ready for departure for Pythagorio, Samos.

We left Salagonas at 0355 motored in the darkness out of the cove, using the radar to “see” the various rocks. About an hour later, while approaching the SE point of Chios, the wind increased to 15-20 knots N and sailing was feasible. I raised the main sail but set it in the 1st reef and opened about 50% of the headsail. I could had set full sails but because it was still dark I was being conservative. After turning off the motor we had a very nice sail.

This state of bliss lasted until 0630 when the wind which kept increasing had reached 30 knots NNE. I set the main on the 2nd reef and continued sailing until 0715, just after a glorious sunrise, when the wind was gusting up to 58 knots. I reduced the main to the 3rd reef and because I was afraid that the headsail may tear (later I found that it had), I rolled it in with great difficulty using the winch. I really should had deployed at that time the staysail but it was so windy and the bow was pitching so much that I did not want to work all by myself exposed in the bow. Had I anticipated this wind, I would had of course installed the staysail before leaving Salagonas. As it was we continued sailing with just the reduced main.

Approaching Karlovasi, Samos

I revised my plan, and set a course for Karlovasi, the harbor in the NW of Samos. But when we were a few miles from Karlovasi, because the wind was blowing from 30 to over 50 knots and there were large seas it seemed that entering the harbor which would had necessitated turning Thetis broadside to the waves may be too dangerous, not to mention the prospect of maneuvering and docking single-handed in the ferocious gusts. So, once again I revised my plans. It was too late to head NE and the Mycale Channel as this would mean over 10 M of headwinds, so by elimination, the only choice was to approach from the S, and lee side of the island, although this meant crossing the Samos-Fourni Channel where I expected violent katabatic gusts down the slopes of Mt. Kerkis. I was right! The wind meter registered 74 knots, that is force 12! I have never, ever experienced such a wind while sailing, nor would I like to experience it again. It was very frightening. The waves, coming at our quarter, were also very large. One wave came straight at our stern and bent the autopilot bracket. I had to hand steer with one hand, while with the other, using a large wrench, was straightening the bracket so as to make it usable again.

In the lee of Mt. Kerkis, calm but still windy

On we went, Thetis making close to 8 knots with just her main in its 3rd reef. It was a wild ride, and had I not been too scared I might even had enjoyed it. After rounding Cape St. Dominicos, the wind settled down to 22-30 knots ENE too contrary for sailing without tacking, so I turned on the motor and motor-sailed. After about half an hour the wind shifted to NNE and I was once again able to sail all the way to Karavopetra rocks when the wind changed direction again and became a 30 knots NE, a headwind. I lowered the main and motored the last 4 M to Pythagorio with plenty of chop and spray.

In Pythagorio the wind was a relentless 30 knots with much higher gusts. It seemed to me that it would had been foolhardy to attempt all by myself to moor Thetis stern-to in such a cross-wind. So, I headed for the unfinished marina instead, which is about 1 M further E. On the way, I prepared the anchor. Inside the marina the wind was the same but at least the water was calm and there were only 2 other boats. I dropped the anchor right in middle of the empty marina [37° 41.2' N 26° 57.3' E]. The time was 1620. The distance from Salagonas 67.1 M.

Safe at last, in the Pythagorio Marina

Of course, I did not intend to leave Thetis unattended and anchored in the middle of the marina for 10 days. I had just anchored so that I could moor her side-to with the cross-wind at my leisure. I hung several fenders, lunched the zodiac and took a long line ashore and tied it to a bollard. I then, winched the line while raising the anchor with the windlass. This slowly brought her close to the quay. I tied the line to the bow and with the zodiac took a second line to another bollard. I brought up the anchor and slowly, ever so slowly, using the windlass and a winch astern eased Thetis side-to the quay. Then, I tied spring lines. A nice fisherman, George Michelios, from Kokari came as I was doing these maneuvers and offered his help with the various lines. By the time the whole maneuver was over and Thetis was totally secured it was past 1830. I invited George aboard for a cup of coffee. He had never been inside a sailboat before.

When George left, I was too tired for anything other than a superficial tidying up. I made a simple rice with tomato sauce, had an early supper and went to bed. The wind howled all night.

As I learned the next day, during this night one of the worse Greek naval disasters in recent times happened. The ferryboat Samina Express, fell, full steam ahead, on a small island about 1 mile from the harbor of Parikia, Paros. The island has a lighthouse, none of the crew was on the bridge. They were watching the match of the European Cup on television!

Wednesday September 27, 2000, Day 37

The trip is over, or at least interrupted. I woke up early and prepared Thetis to be left unattended for the next few days. I put biocide solution in the watermaker, covered the main sail and all the winches, raised and lashed the dinghy etc. At 8:30 Dimitris came with his taxi to take me to Kalami. From there, I rode my motor-scooter to the office of the Olympic Airways and got my tickets: Samos-Athens-Copenhagen-Helsinki-Copenhagen-Athens-Samos. I will be back in 10 days. Amazingly I was able to make the Samos-Athens reservations by cell phone but Olympic Airways does not accept credit cards over the phone so I had, by special pleads, until 11 this morning to go and pay for the tickets.

While riding the taxi from Kalami to the Pythagorio airport, I waived to dear Thetis and wished her to fair well in the lonely marina. I hope no one will disturb her.

The total distance for this leg was 203 M in 38.2 sailing hours all of which were solo.