Travels with S/Y Thetis


Thetis only

1998: Chios to Lesvos

This document contains the logs of the second leg of the return trip with S/Y Thetis from the Greek Aegean island of Samos, to her base Glyfada, near Athens. The leg is from Limnia, Chios to Sigri, Lesvos. The places seen on the way are: Agia Markela monastery, in Chios, and the region near Sigri. 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 from Chios
Route from Chios

Monday September 7, 1998 Day 5

I slept like a log. I got up around 7:00 and started getting ready for the sail to Sigri, Lesvos. I raised the zodiac and lashed it, removed most of the fenders and stowed them etc. At 0815 I untied the docking lines and raised the anchor. We were on our way. The sea was calm and there was no wind, so we motored toward Cape Agios Nicholas, the westernmost cape of Northern Chios. We went past the Monastery of Agia Markela (Αγία Μαρκέλα–Saint Marchela) the patron saint of Chios.

Monastery of Agia Markela
Monastery of Agia Markela

I was told the story of Agia Markela when I visited the monastery in 1992, by an ancient nun as she was explaining a particularly vividly illustrated icon depicting the Saint’s life. It is a particularly gruesome story. It happened some time in the “distant past.” She grew up in a wealthy family somewhere near here. When she was a maiden, “very devout,” her father attacked her sexually. She took flight and hid in some bushes, her father in pursuit. In order to flush her out, he set the bushes on fire and she ran away toward the safety of the sea. He ran after her. She came upon the rocks and kept on running along the rocky shore, until finally her father caught up with her. As he was getting ready to ravish her she prayed for deliverance. The miracle happened: the rock where she was standing was opened and she sank to her waist and the rock solidified around her, thus covering the part of her anatomy her father was after. Frustrated and furious he took off his sword and cut off her breasts, blood gashing out in great streams, and she died a virgin. In the place of her martyrdom, there is today a spring of fresh water, springing from the rocks. This water is considered holy, and every year at her festival there is a great pilgrimage of the devout from the monastery to the spring to collect the holy water in all sorts of bottles which they take home for protection until the next festival. The name “Markela” is one of the most popular names in Chios.

As we approached the cape, we started getting some confused swell and a N breeze. After passing the cape, the breeze freshened to 5-10 knots and I raised the main, shaking the reef, and I unrolled the genoa. The wind was too weak for real sailing but we motor-sailed by tacking 15° W. Later the wind increased to 10-16 knots NNW and we tacked to the E, still motor-sailing. After a while we tacked again to the W as the wind decreased. This went and on and on for several hours: sail a little with tacks, roll in the genoa and motor-sail, unroll the genoa and tack etc. When we were about 16 nM from Sigri the wind freshened to 22 knots NNW and the waves increased with white caps. We motor-sailed with a considerable amount of spray. The right main cabin window is leaking again. Not a lot, but an annoying amount. About 1 mile out of Sigri, I lowered the main which was now flapping.

Map of Lesvos We arrived at Sigri (Σίγρι), Lesvos (Λέσβος) [39° 12.7' N 25° 50.8' E] at 1725 (9.2 hours) having covered 47.3 nM. I headed to the area behind the castle which, as I remembered from 1993, was very well protected. Indeed the sea there was perfectly flat although there was plenty of wind. I anchored at 6 m depth, letting out all the 50 m of chain. Despite the warnings of both pilot books, the anchor caught well with the first attempt. I verified this by snorkeling.

Lesvos or Mitilini, with an area of 1,698 km² and 140,000 inhabitants, is the largest of the East Aegean islands. Its tallest mountain is Lepetymnos, 968 m high. The capital of the island and its main harbor is the bustling town of Mitilini or Mytilene dominated by a large Genoese castle.

Mitilini harbor
The Mitilini harbor

The history of the island is long. In antiquity, Lesvos was not only famous as the island of the poetess Sappho but also of the lyric poet Alkeos, the wise man Pittakos, the musician Arion, and the philosopher Theophrastos. Today there are many archaeological sites on the island. During the Byzantine times, the island was invaded many times by the Arabs, the Venetians, and later by the Turks. In the late days of the Byzantine empire, Lesvos was given to the Genoese family of the Gateluzi who built many castles. In the late 15th century Lesvos fell to the Ottomans. There were several unsuccessful attempts to recapture the island, such as the one by Orsato Giustiniano in 1464, another by Pesaro in 1499, and another yet by the knights of Rhodes (later of Malta) in 1501. Lesvos stayed under the Ottoman rule until 1912 when it became part of Greece. In modern times, there have been a large number of famous Greeks in Lesvos, such as the Nobel laureate “poet of the Aegean” Odysseas Elytes (whose family came from Lesbos), the novelist Stratis Myrivilis, and the primitive painter, Theophilos many of whose paintings one can enjoy at the Theophilos Museum near Mitilini.

Painting: Rd in Mytelene
Road in Mytelene by Theophilos

I had been here in Sigri before in 1993 when I was sailing with my daughters from Glyfada to Mitilini, where we linked up with Alice and our friends the MacMillans with whom we sailed to Turkey. We had reached Sigri in the late afternoon, after a long sail, and had a nice dinner ashore. The next day we visited the castle and then took a taxi and went to visit the Petrified Forest. Later in the day, we left for Plomari, the ouzo capital of Greece. Although that visit was short, it had left a very good impression of Sigri, so here I am back again. Well, this first impression was right. Sigri is a jewel! The seascape is magnificent, and the little village is charming in a non-prepossessing way, and very, very, laid back. The surrounding countryside, though, is something else again. Lots of deserted beaches, desolate, almost moonscapes, wildlife…

Later, after launching the zodiac, I went ashore and called Alice who was in Chicago, but no one was there so I left a message. I then took a long walk in this very attractive village, and had a wonderful dinner at the Matravino restaurant: steamed mussels, grilled μπαρμούνια (barbounia -red mullets), salad, and μουσταλευριά (moustalevria -a pudding made of thickened fermented grape juice). I have not had this for many, many years.

Sunset at Sigri

Tuesday September 8, 1998 Day 6

View of Sigri from the sea
View of Sigri from the sea

Church at Sigri Today I lost my shirt! But let us start from the beginning. The day started very lazily. I slept late, and after a slow start, I went ashore for some shopping. After some asking around I found the bakery, they had excellent bread.

I then I visited the tiny Petrified Forest Museum operated by the local citizens club. It is a rather pathetic museum and the fact that there was a power outage and the “exhibits” were not illuminated, did not help. The only thing I learned from the exhibit was that the petrified remains in the area are about 20 million years old and that many of the petrified trunks were from the sequoia tree, of California fame. The museum keeper did make a valiant effort to give me a tour, but his mind was detracted by a big event that had shaken the sleepy little town.

A crime had been committed! One of the two grocery stores had been burgled, some time during the night. Phone-cards and cash were stolen. Several local fishermen swear that at 3:00 AM, when they were going to their boats, the glass window of the store was intact. But, at 4:30 AM, the baker, on his way to light his oven, did see the broken glass and raised the alarm. Despite the valiant efforts of the single policeman, no criminal had been found. Everyone agrees that such a horrible crime could not have been committed by any local person, and it had to be done by Albanians! There has not been a burglary here within living memory.

Genoese Castle at Sigri
Genoese Castle at Sigri

I took a long walk around the town and then walked around the Castle with its marvelous wooden gates. I entered the one and only “souvenir” store and found a rather informative booklet on Sigri. Following its advice, since I now learned that I had seen all of the town, I set out, on foot, to explore the beachheads N of the town. What a sight! I then went back on Thetis for lunch and to contemplate my next move.

I vacillated between going to the S beaches, on foot, as recommended by the booklet, with some promise of seeing petrified remains, or going, with the zodiac, to Meganisi where according to Heikell and verified by Axel there are several petrified trunks. Axel also had visited the lighthouse on the SW of Meganisi which is one of the few remaining manned lighthouses in Greece. It is still using the old Fresnel lens, handmade in France in the middle 1980’s, and it is rotated by a mechanical clockwork powered by weights. I had seen a similar lighthouse a few years ago in Sapienza but there neither the Fresnel lens nor the mechanism are used anymore, having been replaced by an electric arc and motor. As it was still early afternoon, I thought that the light keeper would be taking his siesta and I would not be able to see the lighthouse until later in the evening. So, I decided to go to the S beaches first.

I put in the backpack a bottle of cold water, out of the refrigerator, the booklet, the camera, a bathing suit, and a towel. I put on a cotton shirt, shorts, a hat, and my hiking boots and went ashore. Following the booklet’s instructions, I started walking along the dirt road that leads to Eressos. At the first recommended detour, I left the road walked to the sea, and after some amount of searching, I did find the petrified tree trunk submerged under the water. As it was getting very hot, I took off my shirt and placed it inside the backpack. It was then that I realized that I had forgotten to pack the water bottle.

Petrified Tree
Petrified Tree

I walked on to the Plaka (Πλάκα) beach. It has very nice thin sand and a marsh in which a very large flock of sheep was grazing. At the water pools, in the marsh, there were thousands of small terrapins. As soon as they show me they started coming towards me, in the hope, I suppose, of being fed.

Marsh at Plaka Beach
Marsh at Plaka Beach
Plaka Beach
Plaka Beach
Terrapins
Terrapins
Sand dunes at Limenas
Sand dunes at Limenas

I walked inland across the marsh to the Limenas (Λιμένας) beach which has lots of sand dunes. I continued walking toward Latros (Λάτρος) looking for more petrified trees but I had no luck. After a couple of hours I decided to head back, so that I could also go to Meganisi. I found the dirt road and walked back to the zodiac.

View to Limenas
View to Limenas

Onboard Thetis, I topped the outboard with fuel and packed into the knapsack a snorkel and a pair of flippers as well as the missing bottle. By the time I left Thetis with the zodiac, it was a little past 6:00 PM. After a 30 minute rather wet ride I tied the zodiac at the little harbor in Meganisi (Μεγανήσι), the ancient Nisioti (Νησιώτη), referred to by Heikell as Sigri Island. There I met a very attractive German family consisting of a young couple and two kids. They had been touring Lesvos with a large inflatable, camping out in isolated places. They gave me directions on how to reach the petrified trees and the lighthouse. As it was getting late and cold, and I was still wet from the ride, I opened the knapsack to get the towel and the shirt. Towel yes, shirt no. Total mystery! Well, cold as I was, I walked to the petrified trees, that were nearer than the lighthouse. They were interesting, but not too impressive. I took a few pictures. The site we had visited by taxi in 1993 is definitely the place to go for seeing the Petrified Forest.

Lighthouse at Meganisi
The lighthouse at Meganisi

I was very cold and the day was at its end. The lighthouse was further away and I decided, with some regret, to skip it. Another wet ride and I was back on Thetis and in warm dry clothes. The Navtex forecasted force 4-5 NW winds for tonight but a significant increase later tomorrow morning. Based on this information, I decided to leave for Limnos in the very early morning.

Petrified tree

Petrified tree

Petrifified sections

Petrifified tree sections

I went ashore for a quick shopping expedition. I bought some of the famous Plomari ouzo and some pasta. Back on Thetis, I prepared the last of the turkey cutlets and went to bed, setting the alarm for 3:00 AM.