Travels with S/Y Thetis

Thetis only

2002: Nikouria to Gramvousa

This web page contains the logs of the sixth leg of a 53 day sailing trip that I took with S/Y Thetis in the Greek Aegean from the small island of Nikouria to the small island of Gramvousa, both next to Amorgos. The log covers a period of 7 days of single-handed sailing. Places visited are: the Cycladic islands of Schinousa, Naxos, and Iraklia.

The logs are illustrated with maps and also include some historical and geographical descriptions of the places visited as well as several links to other related web sites. The usual photographs are missing because my digital camera broke down.

Route from Nikouria
Route from Nikouria

Wednesday October 2, 2002 Day 42

I woke up at 0545 with strong feeling that something was wrong. Sure enough the wind had changed direction to NE and increased, gusting to 22 knots, and had blown Thetis dangerously near the rocky shore. I started the engine and engaged it in slow forward while I took up the slack on the anchor chain. It did not work. The anchor was dragging. I re-anchored but because it was dark I was not sure if the anchor was over sand or weed. But at any rate, it seemed to hold. After this “close encounter” I had some coffee and started departure preparations. First, I siphoned 2 jerry cans of fuel, about 45 L, into the Diesel tank. Then I raised the dinghy and lashed it on the deck.

It was 0900 when I pulled up the anchor. Our destination was Schinousa because I wanted to be closer to Naxos, in case the weather were to deteriorate, where I was to meet with Manos and Nadia but I did not want to be there yet. The wind was 15-25 knots from the N. I opened about 25% of the headsail and sailed. There were large seas. It was a nice fast sail. Later the wind diminished to 18-20 knots, still from the N, and I opened more of the headsail maintaining our speed of 6.5 knots. The barometer has increased since yesterday from 1012 to 1016 mB while the Navtex had issued a gale warning for the Black Sea but the forecast for the SE Aegean was for force 5-6 NW which was less than what we were experiencing.

We arrived in Schinousa at 1225, after 19.2 M. I anchored in 6.5 m over sand at the exact cove [36° 51.4' N 25° 31.9' E] that I had anchored over 2 years ago. It was windy but very calm in the cove. I kept the engine running for a while to charge the batteries and make some fresh water. I washed the cockpit which was getting dirty and put up the tent, although it was not very hot. This place is great! Calm and not too gusty and while the anemometer at the top of the mast measured 15 knots down at the cockpit you hardly felt the wind. Not a soul in sight.

In the evening I was treated to another nice sunset while sipping my ouzo. It got dark, the only visible lights came from distant Ios. But it also got cold: 21°C (70°F) with 54% relative humidity and the barometer still rising at 1018 mB. It was too cold to eat outside. I put up the spray-hood for protection and closed the hatches. For supper I a made spaghetti with a fresh tomato sauce. I kept reading the Smyrna witches story. It was very absorbing.

Thursday October 3, 2002 Day 43

I slept very soundly. It was so quiet. But in the morning the wind came with a vengeance: 18-25 knots N in the protected anchorage. No Navtex forecast. I listened to the radio: force 6 northerlies for today, diminishing tomorrow. I decided not to go on to Naxos today but wait and see. I sent an SMS to Manos asking him what time he will be arriving tomorrow. The barometer was up to 1019 mB. It was a cold (19°C), cloudy, and windy morning. Too cold to sit in the cockpit even without a tent. I stayed inside the cabin reading and writing.

Manos finally called me. Something had come up and they could not make it to Naxos after all. It was good that I did not venture fighting the N wind and stayed put. Tomorrow we shall see.

Later in the afternoon I launched the zodiac and went ashore. I walked for 45 minutes to the small village and posted some cards. By the time I returned to the boat the wind was less strong and it was warmer. I had an ouzo in the cockpit and watched the sunset. The night was moonless and very dark. The sky was glorious with lots and lots of stars. It was not as cold as yesterday. I finished the witches book. It was fun but its end was kind of flat. I started a new one: Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden.

Friday October 4, 2002 Day 44

The night was a fairly calm and the wind was definitely down. When I woke up I had not yet made up my mind if I would go to Naxos or not. I listened to the forecast on the radio: force 5-6 NW for the Ikaria Sea. The sunrise was very dramatic. Eventually I made up my mind to leave but if the seas were rough I would turn back. I was glad I did so. Departed from Schinousa at 0907. The wind was 12-17 knots NNW, a head wind. I had to motor, there was no other option. It was a little rough but not enough to cause any uncomfortable spray or to slow down the boat. We beat the 23 M to the harbor of Naxos where we arrived at 1340. The new marina [37° 06.3' N 25° 22.5' E] is great. I brought Thetis side-to, and as there was no one to help I jumped out and tied the docking lines. There was no problem. Inside the marina it was calm and there was no swell.

Sketch of Naxos
The Portara in Naxos

Naxos (Νάξος) with an area of 448 km² is the largest of the Cyclades. It is a beautiful fertile island with 17,000 inhabitants, many of them Catholic. Its tallest peak, Mt. Zas, at 1004 m (3294 ft) is the highest in the Cyclades. The island has many nice villages and interior valleys with slopes terraced and planted with olive trees, citrus trees, and vineyards. Its western side has many long sandy beaches. Unfortunately for the sailor, the island does not have any good anchorages.

According to the mythology, Theseus after slaying the Minotaur and escaping the labyrinth with Ariadne’s help, fled Crete together with the princess. They stopped in Naxos but while Ariadne slept Theseus sailed away abandoning her. He continued to Athens but in his haste to leave he did not change the black sails as he had promised to his father Aegeus, the king of Athens. Aegeus was waiting for the return of his son’s ship at Cape Sounio. When he saw the black sails he surmised that the Minotaur had devoured his son and he cast his body over the cliff into the sea which was named after him: Aegean. In the mean time, the god of wine and theater, Dionysus, landed in Naxos and fell in love with Ariadne. They got married and the god taught the Naxians how to make wine. Today Naxian wine is still pretty good.

Naxos was one of the main centers of Neolithic Cycladic civilization. The remains of the 3000 BC settlement at Kastro and Grotta can still be seen. According to tradition the island was colonized by Ionians from Karia led by Apollo’s son Naxos who gave the island its name. Naxos was one of the first islands to work in marble. The lions of Delos were made in Naxos during the archaic period. In 523 BC the tyrant of Naxos, Lygdamis, built a massive temple to Apollo whose lintel survives to this day. The Naxians call it Πορτάρα (Portára-large door). Naxos was sacked by the Persians in 490 BC and later became part of the Delian League. The Venetian Marco Sanudo captured the island’s Byzantine (T’Apaliróu) castle in 1207 AD and declared himself Duke of Naxos. He and his successors ruled over Naxos and nearby islands until 1566 AD when most of the Cyclades fell to the Ottomans. The island became part of Greece in 1832.

I connected the AC electricity to the battery charger. I received a call from Dimitris Gekas who may join me for a few days and depart from Leros. I took a walk around the harbor. Not bad. I have not been here since 1986. But to me Naxos is a very special place because Alice and I spent a few magical days here the year we had met, 1963. Many wonderful memories. Later a fuel truck came and I got 38 L of Diesel fuel, refilling the tank. While the truck was next to Thetis a young gentleman came and introduced himself to me. He is Dr. Nicolis Imellos, a member of the city council. He wanted to know how I liked the new marina, operated by the city, and if I had any suggestions for its improvement. Amazing!

Dimitris Gekas called. He could not get a reservation to fly back to Athens from Leros, so he will not be coming to Thetis after all. I was disappointed, of course, that I will miss the chance to sail with my good friend. But since I only have a few days left to be on Thetis this year I was glad to be alone and be able to collect my thoughts.

I walked around the town. I found a fantastic old store full of baskets, olives, clay pots, spices, and cheeses. I bought some olives, basil, and a local cheese. I then walked to the Portára to watch the sunset. Back on Thetis I had an ouzo with the new olives. While sipping the ouzo, a van came along and gave me a map of Naxos and a card advertising the services of a local company that repairs marine engines. Am in Greece or in Malta?

Later I went ashore and had a fairly good dinner at Popi’s restaurant: roast lamb and a salad with Naxian cheese. Everything here in Naxos was fine except for the inevitable high intensity sodium floodlights which illuminated the marina and prevented me from sleeping. I improvised by blocking some of the direct light with the companionway doors.

Saturday October 5, 2002 Day 45

I located a lady that washes clothes and I gave her my laundry. I then rented a motor-scooter. After shopping for some provisions I drove north along the western coast of the island to Apollonas. There I climbed to the unfinished giant kouros statue still in the quarry. I then drove inland to the village of Apiranthos where I had lunch at the Stou Lefteri restaurant which the Alpha Guide characterizes “as the best in the Cyclades.” I may not go as far but the beefsteak and salad I had were very good. After lunch I drove to the tower Himaros (Χείμαρος) and from there to the S cove of Kalantos and then back to Chora and the marina. This excursion took the best part of the day. It was a very nice ride and once again I regret not having a working camera.

I retrieved my laundry from Mrs. Eleftheria. While doing so I noticed that there was a concert tonight in the Venetian Museum at the Kastro (Castle). I went there and got a ticket. The concert was given by two young musicians: Elena Kisseliouma, violin, and Alexandros Mouzakis, classical guitar. The concert included many classical and contemporary pieces including a very moving rendition of two Hadzidakis’ songs. Elena is Russian but now lives in Greece. It is amazing how much the Greek world has changed since my childhood. Then many Greek immigrated to the US, Canada, Germany, and Australia seeking a better fortune. The original immigrants were unskilled laborers which later were followed by men of letters, artists, and scientists. In recent years this trend has reversed. As the standard of living in Greece has risen, immigrants have been coming to Greece. Now it seems incoming immigrants are not only unskilled laborers but also talented artists like Elena.

The concert was a great way to end a most satisfactory day, but it was not the end. After returning to Thetis I tried to shield again my cabin from the floodlights using the companionway wooden door. While placing it, however, I managed to dislodge it and it fell on my toe. The pain was excruciating and while there was no blood the toe started turning black and swelling. I had a very hard time going to sleep. All day there was no forecast received by the Navtex.

Sunday October 6, 2002 Day 46

I woke up at 0700 to hear the AM radio weather forecast. It called for a near gale SW wind up to force 7. Panic! I wanted to be closer to Leros since I plan to have Thetis hauled out on October 14. Also, here in the Naxos Marina while everything is fine with the prevailing N wind, with a SW wind things will not be as cozy. The trouble is with the ferry boats. They do not anchor but dock and stay docked, while unloading and loading, by running their engines slowly forward and keeping their stern lines under constant tension. This procedure creates a considerable prop-wash which translates into standing waves in the closed marina causing all boats to “dance.” With a N wind, however, the boats are blown away from the quay and only their docking lines have to bear the strain of the standing wave. But with a S wind the boats on the marina will be blown against the quay when the ferries come. The force on the fenders may be more than they can sustain. No, Naxos Marina is not the place to be with a strong southerly. So, we have to go before the SW wind comes.

My toe was hurting a great deal. I drove the scooter and returned it. Getting back was a problem. I hobbled to an ATM to get some cash. It refused my card. Painfully I made it to another machine. It too did not like my card either. The third machine accepted the card and dispensed the much needed cash. Returning back to Thetis was a slow and painful process. Removing my shoes was a relief of sorts. I cast off at 0915. The wind was 8-15 knots from the SE, not from the forecasted SW. We motored for 18.1 M to the Airplane Cove [36° 51.3' N 25° 27.1' E] in the island of Iraklia. This cove is not mentioned by Heikell but it is a good anchorage for S winds. I have named it “Airplane Cove” because, 10 years ago, there were still the remains of a WW II German airplane in the middle of the cove, complete with propeller and pilot seats. I am not sure if it is till there or it has been salvaged.

It was calm in the cove. I anchored at 1245 in 5 m depth letting out about 50 m of chain. During our passage we were hit by a very heavy rainstorm and for a while the visibility was almost zero. My toe by that time had swollen a lot and had assumed the color of an eggplant. After reading the first aid books on toe-nail injuries, I punctured it and a lot of fluid gushed out. This brought some relief. I sterilized it and bandaged it.

It was very gusty. In the mean time, the barometer had been falling from 1012 mB in the morning to 1007 mB by late afternoon. I was worried of having any problems with the deteriorating weather at night and that it may be difficult to cope with my bad toe. As a precaution I set a second anchor. I cooked a pork roast, that I had bought in Naxos, in a fresh lemon and wine sauce. After I put the roast to slowly simmer I snorkeled and checked both anchors. The water was clear but cold. I did not see the airplane but it was too cold and I did not look very hard.

The barometer kept falling and by 2000 it was down to 1005 mB, not too good. No weather report on the Navtex. I made some rice to go along with the roast and had supper in the cockpit. The anchorage was calm despite strong gusts but after the wind veered to SSW there developed a rather uncomfortable swell, Thetis, however, was very secure with her two anchors. Her captain though had trouble going to sleep. It was too cold not to use a blanket and the blanket pressed down on the toe. Finally I made a cover for the toe out of a plastic cup. This did the trick and I slept very well while Thetis bobbed up and down in the swell. During the night there was more rain and some distant lightning.

Monday October 7, 2002 Day 47

Still no weather report on the Navtex but the AM radio forecast predicted 6-7 on the Beaufort Scale WSW diminishing by tomorrow. With this and since the swell was really uncomfortable I made up my mind to leave for Gramvousa, a little island on the NW end of Amorgos. By the time I raised the second anchor, collected the dinghy, and raised the first anchor it was 0930. The wind was 10-17 knots mostly from the WSW but also from other directions. I opened 60% of the headsail and sailed the 18.2 M to Gramvousa (Γραμβούσα) where we arrived at 1250. There were large and confused seas. I anchored on the S of the island near the little church [36° 48.1' N 25° 44.8' E]. I had some trouble with the anchor. While the sea here was flat there was wind with strong gusts from almost all directions. The bottom is mostly weed with some patches of sand. I had to anchor some distance from the land to avoid being blown to it but eventually I re-anchored closer with over 50 m of chain and took a line to a rock so that I could eliminate the wild swings caused by the gusts.

This cove is a lovely place. Too bad that I could not go ashore for a walk. My toe had grown to a frightening size and it was bleeding. I went snorkeling and checked the anchor. It was set on weed but with the long chain and the shore line it should be OK. I put up the tent and relaxed reading. I finished the Memoirs of a Geisha. It is an interesting book but it is hard to imagine such an artificial world. The barometer had risen and by 1900 it was at 1009 mB. I cooked dinner: spaghetti with some left-over pork roast. The boat was very quiet and stationary despite the gusts. In the distance I could see lightning. I finally did get a Navtex forecast. It called for force 5-6 winds from the N to SW, and thunderstorms. My toe was hurting so much that I had trouble sleeping. I took a painkiller and covered it with a plastic cup. Finally I fell asleep.

Tuesday October 8, 2002 Day 48

“In the middle of the night something was not right.” I woke up, it was 2 AM. Thetis had drifted (her anchor had dragged) way too close to the shore for comfort. I jumped and started the motor. I tied a fender to the shore line and cast it off. I re-anchored in 13 m depth, and I let out over 50 m of scope. Since now all was well and I was still sleepy from the pain-killer, I went back to sleep. When I got up at 6 AM to listen to the weather report it was obvious that the anchor had been slowly dragging. I started the engine, raised the anchor, and re-anchored at the W side of the cove in 12 m depth. On this side there was appreciably less wind but it came from all directions.

Later I went with the dinghy and recovered the shore line and the fender. When I got back on board, the GSM phone was ringing. It was my brother Byron with bad news. My 91 year old mother has been taken to the emergency room with a severe hernia. By the afternoon I got a new report from Byron. She had been operated on and was doing well. This was a great relief.

My toe was hurting so much that I lanced it again, relieving the pressure under the nail. It looked awful. But after I bandaged it, the pain was much less. The sea was calm in the cove and there were only occasional gusts. I ate dinner in the cockpit. I hope that tonight will be less eventful.