Travels with S/Y Thetis

Thetis only

1998: Alonnisos to Skyros

This document contains the logs of the fifth singlehanded leg of the return trip with S/Y Thetis from the Greek Aegean island of Samos, to her base in Glyfada, near Athens. The leg is from Votsi, Alonnisos to Linaria, Skyros. The places seen on the way are: the small uninhabited island of Skatzoura, Agios Demetrios Monastery, Tris Bookes, and Chora in Skyros. 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 Skyros
Route to Skyros

Thursday September 17, 1998 Day 15

After a good night’s sleep, I got up and started getting ready to leave Votsi. I had decided that, since there was no wind and it was extremely calm, not to go directly to Skyros, but to stop first in Skantzoura, for a few hours to swim and have lunch. The idea was that by delaying I might get some wind in the afternoon and be able to sail.

While preparing for departure, I ended up having a very early morning swim in Votsi. I raised the second anchor from the zodiac and got it inside the zodiac. I then untied the line from the chain, so that I could coil it for storage. I then brought the zodiac next to Thetis and put most of the chain on Thetis’ deck while the anchor was still in the zodiac. Then I lifted the heavy anchor to put it onboard Thetis. Now I am not so sure exactly how, but I lost my grip on the anchor and it dropped into the water pulling all the 15 m of chain with it. So, I had to quickly put on the mask and flippers and after grabbing the end of a long rope, dive to retrieve the chain and the anchor. The water was cold! It was very careless of me to untie the line from the chain before securing the anchor.

We left Votsi, without another mishap, at 0910. We motored the 12 M to Skantzoura over the flat sea. We anchored [39° 04' N 24° 06.7' E] there at 1015. The barometer had risen to 1012 mB, and the Navtex forecast called for NW 4-5.

At Skantzoura
In Skantzoura

Skantzoura (Σκάντζουρα) is an uninhabited island. The only structure on it, that I know of, is an old hermitage, now abandoned, which I had visited in 1991.

I had a nice swim and a peaceful lunch under the tent. As I was getting ready to leave, the MOm patrol boat entered the cove, I waved and they waved back but they did not approach. I guess it was not my new friend Stamatis.

We left Skantzoura at 1240. Initially there was no wind and we were motoring, but later the wind came at 7-10 knots from the ESE, still not too useful. Later it changed direction to ENE and picked up some speed reaching 10-14 knots which allowed us to at least motor-sail. We arrived at the harbor of Linaria (Λινάρια), Skyros [38° 50.6' N 24° 32.1' E] at 1720. The distance from Skantzoura was 26.7 M.

Map of Skyros

There was no room in the small harbor which already had at least two yachts tied to the ferryboat quay. Not having much choice, I went to the nearby cove of Linaria [38° 50.9' N 24° 32' E] and anchored off-shore. This cove is a little bit tricky because there are some submarine power cables on its S side that must be avoided. I had a little trouble at first with the anchor catching weeds instead of digging into the sand, but on my second attempt it held. We were anchored at 4.8 m depth with over 40 m chain rode. I tested the holding by revving the engine in reverse and later inspected it by snorkeling.

Skyros (Σκύρος) has about 4,000 inhabitants and an area of 210 km². The tallest peak is Mt. Kokhilas (792 m). Skyros has a rather long history. In Greek Mythology its king, Lycomedes, offered hospitality to Theseus when he was an old man, but he became very jealous of his fame and murdered him. The same Lycomedes hid Achilles as a favor to Thetis, Achilles’ mother, so that he could avoid going to the Trojan War. In more historical times, the island was conquered by the Athenians in 470 BC. In 404 BC it was taken over by the Spartans, and in 322 BC by the Macedonians who were followed by the Romans. Skyros then became part of the Byzantine Empire until the 15th century when it was taken over by the Venetians. They held it until 1538 when the Ottoman Turks took it and held it until the end of the war of independence in 1821 when it became part of Greece. Today Skyros is renowned for its folk art and its Carnival. The largest town is Chora, or Skyros, which is built around the Venetian castle. It is about 10 km from the Linaria harbor. Native to Skyros is a species of small pony called Pikermic.

Embroidery from Skyros

I went ashore with the zodiac and made a few phone calls because the Autolink did not work here. The cove is very pleasant except for a distant hum from the nearby power plant. I had supper aboard. The Navtex predicted light SW winds of force 4-5.

After I went to bed, the wind changed direction to SW but it was not strong. Thetis reoriented herself and stabilized at 4.4 m. Despite the light wind, I was somewhat worried because of the considerable swell. I even contemplated setting a second anchor but finally decided against it since the boat was not drifting to shallower water anymore. Nevertheless the night was not a very peaceful one, and I got up several times to check the depth and the anchor.

Friday September 18, 1998 Day 16

I woke up early, still uneasy about the change of wind direction. This uneasiness was further aided by Nikos who yesterday on the phone had told me that he had heard a long range forecast which predicted very bad weather for the weekend. So, after coffee I rode to the harbor in the zodiac to see if there was any room. I already had seen a large catamaran and another sail boat leaving the harbor. Still, there was no room. I asked a chartered sail boat, with German crew, which was docked sideways at the best spot, if they were planning to leave the harbor. Yes, they were, and within an hour. I then asked them if they could be kind enough to hail me on channel 72 on the VHF just before leaving. They kindly promised to do so. Back to Thetis I went and started preparing her for docking: fenders on the side, docking lines etc.

Thetis at Linaria, Skyros
Linaria, Skyros

In less than an hour, the Germans hailed me and informed me that they were about to leave. I was ready. I raised the anchor and motored to the harbor, just as they were leaving. No chance for another boat to take the coveted spot. A nice young crewman from the Coast Guard patrol boat helped me with the lines. By 0920 Thetis was totally secure with extra spring lines.

The distance from Votsi to Linaria was 29.2 M, covered in 7 hours.

My first objective in Skyros was to visit the well known Faltaitz Museum of Folkloric art. In my previous visits to the island, I was somehow unable to see this museum, so now it was my chance. I asked about renting a scooter but all the scooter rentals were in Chora. The next bus was not due for several hours and no one was exactly certain to its schedule. There were no taxis either. After some inquiries I got the telephone number of the taxi stand in Chora and called for a taxi. My plan was to visit the museum first, then climb to the Venetian castle, and then look for a place that rents scooters.

The Faltaitz Museum is small but very eclectic. It was founded by Manos Faltaitz who is still overseeing its function. He is Greek, and a native of Skyros. The original family name was Faltsis, but it was corrupted to Faltaitz in Odessa where his father did business. The museum is housed in the family mansion (αρχοντικό) and a number of rooms have been re-created as there were last century. The exhibit consists of Skyrian furniture, chests, embroidery, traditional costumes, carnival costumes with their large bells and masks, books, etc.

Vicky and Thomás
Vicky and Thomás

After seeing the exhibits I was loitering in the nice museum store which sells some antiques and handcrafted items made by contemporary craftsmen. I was particularly admiring a restored chest. The young lady in attendance did not know its price but promised to find out and let me know by tomorrow. While talking to the young lady, I heard a familiar sounding voice. It was none other then my cousin Vicki Papantoniou and her nephew Thomás. I had not seen Vicki since 1988 when she was visiting in Washington D.C. Vicki, who has a degree in Archaeology, is an hagiographer (painter of Byzantine icons) of some note, but to supplement her income she also works as a freelance tourist guide. She was in Skyros for a couple of days scouting in advance of her leading a large tour next week. She and Thomás arrived in Skyros last night and are leaving with the morning ferry tomorrow.

The three of us, Vicki, Thomás, and I, walked in the narrow streets of Chora with the many interesting houses up to the Venetian Castle. The view was magnificent. Since we were hungry and they had a car, we drove to the Magazia beach, N of the town, where we had lunch while watching the few people sunbathing and swimming in the surf. In the meantime, the wind had arrived and it was fitfully blowing from the SE. They drove me back to Thetis and they retired to their hotel, just across the quay, for the afternoon rest.

Chora, Skyros
Street in Chora, Skyros

A street

View from the Castle

View from the Castle

Chora from the Castle
From the Castle

Later in the evening Vicki and Thomás came aboard and we had an ouzo in the cockpit. Thomás is very interested in sailing and would like to join me sometime. Vicki scrutinized the boat and voiced her concern about me sailing all by myself, but unlike the majority of Greeks she seemed to understand the deep satisfactions of solitude. Following the ouzo and conversation, we drove back to Chora.

First we located a store that rented motor scooters. It was run by a young German lady who spoke excellent Greek. After securing a motorbike, we walked along the streets and in and out of the stores, which unlike the ones on many other islands, were interesting and inviting. Handicrafts, particularly wood carving, embroidery, and ceramics have a long tradition here. I was captivated by a terra-cotta mermaid, and by a rather pricey lapis lazuli necklace. Later we sat for dinner at the "Ο Παπούς και εγώ… (My Grandfather and I ..)" restaurant. They had an endless variety of Skyrian mezedes (tasty treats): fava, domatokeftedes (ντοματοκεφτέδες - tomato balls), grilled local goat cheese, grilled meat balls in an ouzo based sauce etc.

It was a very cold ride down to the harbor on the motorbike. On board, I found the Navtex had received a new forecast: thunderstorms to be followed tomorrow night by strong N winds. We shall see.

Saturday September 19, 1998 Day 17

During the night the rain came with a vengeance. The leak of the Plexiglass window was very much with us. Nothing serious, but it was very annoying to have to string a number of sponges along the couch to catch the water before it seeped in the storage areas. In the very early morning hours I was woken by the thunderstorm, which was going at full force. Prodigious amounts of water with thunders everywhere. The whole sky was ablaze. The zodiac, which was afloat besides Thetis, was totally filled with water. There must have fallen at least 30 cm overnight (the mean yearly rain fall for Athens is 40 cm)!

Around 7:00 Vicki appeared, all covered in heavy rain gear, to say goodbye. By 8:00, when her ferryboat left, the rainfall had abated somewhat. The harbor water which yesterday was crystal clear, had been transformed to a deep chocolate color. It had not rained in Skyros since April. All the accumulated dust was washed into the harbor within a few hours.

I walked to the store across the harbor to buy some fresh bread. In the store I met Andrew McCullah the owner of the British S/Y Ismira. He was trying to ascertain when the next bus for Chora was due. I help him by translating, but the best we could gather was that the bus would not come for at least 3 hours. The rain started coming hard again. Although I was wearing storm gear, it was hard to walk the 50 m back to Thetis in this deluge. Andrew invited me aboard Ismira for a cup of tea and to meet his friends and mates from Germany, Monica and Matias. They had strung a plastic tarpaulin over the cockpit and, despite the downpour, we could sit and talk outside. When the rain became less violent I walked back to my boat.

View from the Museum
View from the Museum

Later in the morning the rain finally stopped and I drove the motorbike up to Chora. I went to the Faltaitz Museum to find out the price of the old chest that I was admiring yesterday. Well, it turns out it belongs to Mr. Faltaitz himself and it is not for sale. I then visited the near-by Archaeological Museum. It is small but it has an interesting collection of Prehistoric, Mycenean and Geometric finds from the Magazia excavation, but they are not exhibited as nicely as the exhibits in the Limnos museum. I walked some more around the town with its lovely old houses, all kept up, freshly white washed, and clean.

Street in Chora
Another street in Chora

I then, following the advice of the German lady at the bike rental, rode the bike to a back road, and then walked through the pine woods to the tiny monastery of Agios Demetrios. The woods, freshly washed, were sparkling and the smell of the soil and pines was intoxicating. Alas, the church was locked because, as I later learned, it had been burgled recently. I then attempted to drive to Agios Fotios, on the NW of the island, but I lost my way and eventually gave up.

Woods near Ag. Demetrios
Woods near Agios Demetrios
Ag. Demetrios
Agios Demetrios
View of Chora
View of Chora

After pulling off the road and having a light lunch, which I had packed in my backpack, I rode to the SE toward the Tris Bookes (Τρείς Μπούκες) or Trebuki, all the way to the grave of the British Poet Rupert Brooke. The name means three mouths and is descriptive of this large bay protected by two islands that give it three openings. The ride through the mountains which were topped by heavy dark clouds and the dark sea underneath was very dramatic.

View of Tris Bookes
View of Tris Boukes View of Tris Boukes
The grave of Rupert Brooke
The grave of Rupert Brooke

Pony of Skyros Near the grave I was lucky to see 3 of the rare Pikermic ponies, native to Skyros.

Rupert Brooke’s grave is considered British soil and is maintained by a society in England. He was already a well known young poet when he died in 1915, at sea, on his way to the Gallipoli battle. He was 28 years old. They buried him here, some distance from the sea, while the boat lay at anchor in the bay. It is still very moving. I could not get near the water because it is a restricted area used by the Greek navy.

On my way back, a few km from the harbor I met Andrew, Monica, and Matias walking. They did go to Chora, but as the bus back was not due until late at night they decided to walk. They were exhausted, Monica in particular could hardly drag her feet. I gave her a ride on the back of the bike. At the harbor, I persuaded the man at the gas station to drive his small truck for a few meters and refueled Thetis with 32 L of fuel, without carting jerry cans. I then, anticipating a morning departure, drained the zodiac, raised it, and lashed it on the deck.

After a shower, I drove the motorbike up to Chora and returned it. I then took a taxi back to Linaria since I had been invited to dinner aboard Ismira. They had prepared a nice meal with potatoes baked with onions, yogurt, and cheese. We ate it under the tarpaulin as it started raining again. Matias is an engineer and had met Andrew a few years ago at a boat show in England. Now he and Monica charter Ismira, with Andrew as a skipper, every year for a few weeks. They have all sailed all over the Mediterranean. With the wine and the conversation time slipped away fast. By the time I got back on Thetis it was almost midnight. The Navtex prediction for Central Aegean and the Kafireas channel was 5-6 NW with rain. I decided to leave early tomorrow morning.