This web page contains the log of the third leg of a trip that I took with S/Y Thetis in the Northeastern Aegean in Greece. The log covers a period of 4 days of sailing from the island of Samothrake to Alexadroupolis via Porto Lago and Maronia in Thrace. The log is illustrated with maps and photographs, and also includes some historical and geographical descriptions of the places visited as well as several links to other related web sites.
On this leg I am accompanied by my old school mate and frequent sailing companion Manos Castrinakis and Nadia Demetropoulou.
Wednesday June 19, 2002 Day 22
At dawn we were woken up by a vicious mosquito attack. After recovering we walked and waited for the car rental office to open. We took possession of the car and drove to Paleopolis, the site of the sanctuary of the “Great Gods”. It was very pleasant in the early morning. We wandered around the site, taking pictures, and climbed high up is the place where the Winged Victory of Samothrake statue, now in the Louvre, was found. It commands a great view of the sea. The Museum is also very interesting.
After visiting the Paleopolis site we drove east along the north shore of the island, past Loutra and Thermes where there is a new harbor which opened this year. We went past Fonias to Kipos at the end of the road. Here there is a lovely pebble beach but very much exposed to the wind, so much so that we were too cold to go swimming. From here there is very good view of the island of Imvros.
On our way back, we stopped at Fonias and walked along the river. The banks are shaded by large plane-trees. It was about ¾ of an hour walk to the falls. We took pictures and swam in the cold clear waters. It was too bad that we did not bring a pic-nic lunch with us. This is a magic place!
After our hike, we drove west to Thermes, the spa of the island, which is about 1 km inland from the shore. It is an attractive place, well shaded by large trees, with several stores and restaurants. Unfortunately, as it was early in the tourist season, most of the restaurants were shut. We were famished. We ended eating a box of crispins and drinking ouzo accompanied by a small plate of mezedes under a large plane-tree in the only open establishment. Having somewhat eased our hunger, we looked at the new harbor in Loutra. It was almost empty and very adequate and well sheltered. We could have easily come here instead of to Kamariotissa.
By the time we returned to Thetis it was past 4 PM. We all fell asleep under the tent. By 7 we were refreshed and ready for another exploration. We drove along the south shore, again reaching the end of the road at Pachia Ammos - Thick Sand. The sandy beach here is lovely, spoiled only by several unsightly containers and two ugly buildings. On the way back we took the inland road, via Alonia, to Chora, the largest town of the island. In Chora, after several inquiries, we located the Exochikon Kentron Sotiros (Country Restaurant of Sotiros) highly recommended restaurant, by the Alpha Guide as the “best in the island.” It supposedly serves the “island specialty”: katsikaki tis souvlas - young goat on the spit. The restaurant is located a few km NE of Chora at the Sotiros location. It is in a charming mountain setting with a great view and large plane-trees. Alas, it had not yet opened for the season.
Back on Thetis we washed and changed into warmer clothes and then drove again to the south side for 16 km to the mountain village of Profitis Elias, the location of the Paradisos restaurant, the second best recommendation. It too serves goat and pork on the spit. It did not, however, live up to the billing. It was adequate but not worth the drive. The wind up there was ferocious.
Thursday June 20, 2002 Day 23
Manos and Nadia went to return the car while I prepared Thetis for our departure for Porto Lago on the mainland coast of Thrace. When the boat was ready and while waiting for their return, I called Mr. Psarambas in Kalymnos. He said that he had not yet received the inspection certificate from the Piraeus main office as of yesterday afternoon but since he was at home this morning maybe it had arrived in his office. I indicated to him my extreme displeasure in this delay and that as he no doubt is aware the one month temporary certificate he had issued will be expiring in a few days. Ten minutes later, he was back on the phone. The certificate had just arrived and was at his office. He promised me that after affixing the appropriate stamps he will forward it to me in Alexadroupolis by the ACS courier service. He will do so before the end of the day. By this time Manos and Nadia were back on board. We removed the tent, raised the zodiac, and lashed it on deck.
We departed from Kamariotissa at 0930. The wind was 10-15 knots NNE and the sea was fairly calm. We raised the mainsail, still in its 1st reef, and opened the genoa. We had a lovely sail but it only lasted for about half an hour, at which time the wind went down to 4-8 knots and we had to roll-in the flapping genoa. We continued to motor-sail with main. At 1215 the wind increased to 8-10 knots and we were able to sail again with full mainsail and headsail. At 1320 it went down and we went back to motor-sailing. In 1440 we got back the wind and turned off the motor. We sailed until we reached the entrance to the very shallow Vistonikos Gulf (Βιστονικός Κόλπος). A large school of dolphins greeted us there.
After lowering the sails we motored into the narrow dredged channel which leads to Porto Lago. This shallow area is unlike any other in Greece. Behind Porto Lago is the large Vistonis Lake which is very marshy. This is the estuary of the River Nestos, home to many birds including flamingos and herons. It is more reminiscent of many places in the east coast of the U.S. than Greece. As we slowly motored we could see storks, cranes, many herons, and other birds. Also it seems to be a favorite home for flies. Thetis was swarmed by them. Inside the cabin there were clusters of 5-10 flies everywhere you looked. I do not believe that I have ever seen so many of them.
We entered the large harbor of Porto Lago [41° 00.3' N 25° 07.2' E] and we anchored off in 6 m of muddy water. We had come 38.9 nM from Samothrake. There was some swell. A small “marina” with two floating docks is situated on the SW side of the harbor. To the N there is a large concrete quay where, by all appearances large ships dock loading wheat. Porto Lago is the port serving the cities of Xanthi and Komotini. The port is well sheltered but its water is very murky. On the south shore of the port there is a thick strip of pine trees separating the port from shallow sandy gulf.
We landed the dinghy and all three of us went ashore to inquire how we can visit the lake and also to look around and decide if we wanted to have dinner ashore or onboard. As soon as we landed we were met by a Limenarchio (Coast Guard) official who had driven all of the 10 m from his office. He informed us, very politely, that we had to dock and not stay anchored off. He also asked us to bring the boat’s paper to the office for inspection. Officialdom in Greece is always amazing. We walked to the lake but did not see anything of great interest. When we returned from our walk and got back into the zodiac we could not raise its small anchor. I had used the anchor to keep the zodiac from scraping on the rough concrete quay. Now it was hopelessly stuck. We had to leave it with the end of the line tied to the quay and try to deal with this problem later.
When we got back onboard Thetis> we re-anchored her and took two long lines to the floating dock of the “marina.” I then went back to the Limenarchio with the boat’s papers as well as with the Portolanos, a Greek pilot book written by a retired Limenarchio admiral. After the officer scrutinized the papers and calculated the harbor fee, he sent, with an underline, all my papers elsewhere to be photocopied for his records. While waiting for them to come back, I pointed out that the Portolanos advised anchoring off. These were instructions written by one of “them” that I had followed. The officer mumbled something about the pilot book not being up to date. We let it go at that. By this time the papers were back. It took almost ¾ of an hour before I was released from his clutches. At least he was polite. On the way back, I tried again in vain to recover the dinghy’s anchor. I gave up and cut off as much of its line as I could reclaim.
After warm showers we all went ashore again and sat in one of the restaurants. We ordered shrimps (a local specialty), grilled eggplant, and grilled mourmoures (a silvery sand fish). The waiter brought our food and drinks to the table. Along with the salt, pepper, oil, and vinegar, he also brought mosquito repellent. It was needed. All the food was fresh and tasty.
Back on the boat it was fairly hot: 31° C (88° F), 30% relative humidity, and 1015 mB pressure. The Navtex is forecasting very strong winds for the rest of the Aegean but here it balmy. Lots and lots of mosquitoes. My GSM phone seems to be unable to send any SMS messages anymore, not sure what happened.
Friday June 21, 2002 Day 24
We did not want to spend another day or painful night in this mosquitos’ paradise. We raised our anchor and departed Porto Lago at 0745. We motored our way outside the harbor and the shallow gulf. There was hardly any wind, just a very light 4-8 knot breeze from the NNE. We continued motoring towards Maronia, our destination. According to the Greek Waters Pilot and the Portolanos Maronia has a small harbor, called Ayios Charalambos, but it is only 2 m deep. According to information I got from the Limenarchio (Coast Guard) in Porto Lago, however, the harbor is very attractive and along its jetty it is 4 m deep. We shall soon see. By 0945 the breeze had stiffened to 10-18 knots and we opened the genoa and sailed. We were too lazy to raise the mainsail. It was good that we did not, because the breeze did not last and by 1045 we were forced to motor again.
We arrived in Maronia (Μαρώνια) [40° 52.6' N 25° 30.5' E] at 1150, having covered 20.5 nM from Porto Lago. As we were approaching the harbor I hailed the Limenarchio (Coast Guard) on channel 12 of the VHF asking for berthing instructions. They responded and, after asking for our length and draught, directed us to come side-to on the inside of the jetty. Also, the officer warned us of the shallow ancient mole which is submerged in the middle of the harbor. By the time we had prepared our docking lines and fenders, the officer had come to the jetty and caught our lines. He asked neither for the ship’s papers not for harbor dues. He also told us that after our visit to the antiquities, if we wanted to be isolated, we can go to a nearby cove which is very well sheltered and beautiful. He was very friendly and polite. His helpful behavior and attitude are a rare exception to Greek officialdom. Maybe there is hope.
The modern town of Maronia is about 4 km uphill from the harbor. The harbor is the location of ancient Maronia. We walked to the Roman and Byzantine excavation sites but they were all fenced off. The ancient theater of Maronia is some distance away and we did not go. After our walk, we sat at the Drosia restaurant and had a light lunch.
We left the lovely harbor of Maronia at 1440 and motored for 4.2 nM east arriving to a cove [40° 52' N 25° 35.2' E] that seemed to fit the description given to us by the Limenarchio official. It was somewhat exposed to the S but attractive. Since the wind was a light 10-15 knot SE breeze we anchored in 5 m. The bottom was rocky, but the anchor appeared to have caught.
We spent the rest of the afternoon napping and swimming. Manos prepared dinner: omelets with Cheddar cheese these were followed with homemade chilopetes - χηλοπίτες (flat noodles), which we had bought in Limnos, with fresh tomato sauce. These we accompanied with a nice red wine also from Limnos. It was a very nice evening with Thetis illuminated by the nearly full moon.
Saturday June 22, 2002 Day 25
During the night the wind veered north but the sea remained very calm. We were planning to depart very early but the best we could manage was 0615. Despite the rocky bottom we had no trouble with the anchor. Once we got moving, the wind was 10-15 knots N which allowed us to raise the main and open 50% of the headsail. We had a wonderful sail in the flat sea but it only lasted an hour. The wind calmed down to 4-8 knots and we had to take in the sails. We motored the rest of the 16.8 nM to Alexandroupolis [40° 50.7' N 25° 52.7' E] where we arrived at 0930.
As we were entering the large commercial harbor, we hailed the Limenarchio (Coast Guard) and asked where to go. We were directed to dock side-to near some tug boats. As we were approaching an officer did come and, miracle of miracles, helped us with our lines. This is extraordinary. In cruising in Greece for over 20 years the last time an officer helped was over 10 years ago. Now, two different officers, in two different ports, actually tied a dock line! Is this the dawning of a new era? Of course, as soon as we were secure, the officer did ask me to take the ship’s papers to the office for inspection and the inevitable lengthy calculation of the harbor fees.
I left Manos and Nadia to struggle with the sail-cover and the tent and went to face the bureaucratic beast. In addition to appeasing the beast I hoped to get some information out of it. In particular, I wanted to find out how to go to the ACS (to check if the inspection document has arrived) and where to rent a car so that we can visit the forest of Dadia and the Delta of the Evros river. I must say that I was completely successful in both endeavors. The officials were very friendly and polite. They explained to me, in detail, how to drive to the ACS office and then called a car rental company for me. The rental company promised to deliver a car to Thetis within the hour.
By the time I got back to Thetis I found her, to my dismay, completely covered with grime. This came from the grinding of a nearby metal boat being repaired. I asked a fellow yachtsman if there was a better place to be in this harbor. He told me that we were in the worst place. It was not only dirty and ugly but with a swell it could be down right dangerous. We should go, if possible, to the inner harbor which acts as a marina for local boats but it is usually filled. However, there was at the present time an empty berth which belongs to a small cruiser now on land undergoing repairs. He walked with me the spot. It was perfect. It already had a mooring line and two stern docking lines, complete with shock absorbers. He called the berth’s owner who readily agreed that we could use his berth for the next few days. Had I not been a Greek speaker all these arrangements would have been almost impossible.
I walked back to Thetis but we could not move her before the delivery of the rental car. We did not have to wait very long. Shortly a young lady, Marina, came with the car. She gave us a map and showed us how to go to Dadia. She also told us that near Dadia, in Katrantzides, there is a ladies cooperative that runs a restaurant specializing in pitas. To visit the Evros Delta, she explained, we will need to hire a boat and a guide because only designated local people are allowed into this no-man’s land between the borders of Greece and Turkey. We will have to make an appointment at the Municipal Office of the town of Feres. Also in Feres, she told us, we should visit the 14th century AD Byzantine church.
After we took possession of the car we moved Thetis to her new berth in the inner harbor. It was very hot! As soon as the boat was secured all three of us got into the car and braved the late Saturday morning city traffic looking for the ACS office. Fortunately the car had air conditioning. During the past few days my GSM Nokia Communicator had been acting up and refused to send SMS messages. As soon as we got into the car and started driving it revived from its mysterious ailment and started sending all of the accumulated messages. Also, I received voice mail from ACS in Alexadroupolis. A package was waiting for me in their office and it gave me their exact address. This was wonderful news because after all the delays and evasions I had very low confidence that the document would arrive today and since Monday is a holiday (the Holly Spirit) I was afraid of having to cool my heels until Tuesday. We found the ACS office and after paying € 7.5 (I suppose the € 830 fee does not cover delivery) got the miserable certificate.
We then drove to Feres, found the municipal office and made a 5:30 PM appointment to visit the Evros Delta (we could have done this by phone by calling 25550 24 310). We actually wanted to go later, but we were told that we would be very uncomfortable after dusk because of the mosquitoes. Now we had plenty of time in our hands so we drove towards Dadia where one can observe large birds of prey from a hide. Since we were very hungry we went on to Katrantzides, and located the women’s co-op. It is a rustic outdoor restaurant located in a deep wooded area. The food was all it was built up to be. The pitas (thick dough filled with cheese) were delicious. Unfortunately by the time we got back to Dadia and reported to the visitor’s center, from where mini-buses take you to the observation hide, it was too late. We could not go to the hide and back and also make it on time to Feres for our 5:30 tour. This was a disappointment for Manos and Nadia because they will be flying tomorrow morning back to Athens. We had to settle for a walk in the forest but it was too hot to be enjoyable.
We drove back to Feres. We had enough time to spare, before our appointment, to visit the 14th century Byzantine church. It is a very nice piece of architecture but most of its frescoes have been destroyed by the Ottomans. We walked to the municipal office where we met our guide Chrisostomos Aslanides (tel. 294410 32 853) who, after we paid the € 54 fee, got into our car and led us out of town.
We drove for about 45 minutes, past the border guards, into the no-man’s land of the marshes and lagoons. As he said “this land belongs to God and to the fishermen.” We finally ended in a landing and boarded his long shallow draft tub-like boat which has a 25 hp Yamaha outboard. He drove us along the narrow passages in a sea of reeds to a more open waterway leading into the Bay of Alexandroupolis. There were numerous birds: pelicans, many kinds of herons, flamingoes, ducks, wild geese, swans, even turtle doves. This is a whole new world, completely apart from the rest, of incredible beauty, mystery, and lots of mosquitoes. There are fishermen’s huts on stilts anywhere you look. Most look abandoned. It is a spooky and enchanted place. The whole tour took several hours.
By the time we returned to Thetis it was almost 10 PM. I wanted to connect the battery charger to an AC power outlet at the quay, but the outlets were locked. A local yachtsman very obligingly let me use his outlet. People here in this “ugly duckling” of a harbor are very friendly and hospitable as there are very few visiting yachts. Yet this out of the way corner of Greece offers a lot especially to nature and bird lovers. I definitely do not regret the long journey to come here.
We were too tired to either cook or go out to a restaurant. We ended up eating some bread, cold cuts, and cheese. After this frugal meal we revived somewhat and went for a stroll. We walked past the large lighthouse which dominates the esplanade. Being a Saturday night there were lots and lots of people, all dressed up, walking and eating at the numerous restaurants. Too bad that we were so tired and had to go to sleep. Plenty of mosquitoes.