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The Aegean Experience

The waters of Greece can transport you back in time—well beyond the current century.
The Meltemi wind wasn’t getting the better of us as we sliced along the relatively short waves of the central Aegean on a nice broad reach. We'd had an exhilarating sail from Athens, leaving the noise and bustle of a modern city for the captivating ancient history of the temple of Poseidon. Perched high on a cliff alone on the last vestige of mainland we passed, this delicate marble structure signified the enduring world we were entering. As we moved farther east, our timeline wandered back again to the mid twentieth century prisons, now abandoned, on the almost deserted, needle-like island of Macronisos. At last, the large, dark lump of Kea Island emerged from the haze, larger than expected. The uniform colors of the Cyclades Islands became visible—the earth-brown of the rugged rocks, dirt and stone, the pine-green of the low bushes, shrubs, and occasional trees, and the striking white of the village houses and tiny churches.

We furled our sails as we passed the two lights marking the entrance of one of the most protected bays in the Aegean Sea. Entering the bay, we saw the tiny village of Korrisia on our right, beckoning with the promise of lovely whitewashed architecture, tiny "tavernas" on the water’s edge, and intriguing little shops displaying attractive Aegean handicrafts. Sadly, we bypassed it. The Greek Waters Pilot doesn’t note that there is a swell there, but previous experience had taught us. We glanced off to port at the huge walled vestiges of an old coal station well situated for fueling ships of the past. Above, exposed on the hill, is reputed to be the impressive house of the coal station’s owner, now standing alone, battered by winds and home to the tiny animals that inhabit the rough Kean hills.

The tiny village of Vourkari on the island of Kea—an inviting destination for sailors.
Our timeline once again dove into the past as we sailed a little farther, past the ruins of the ancient Bronze Age trading post of Ayia Irine, dating to 2000 BC, poised on a small peninsula. Little is left for the imagination, but as an archaeology buff, I knew I could enjoy the foundations of this rare tiny site, a cross-section of three ancient cultures. Finally we approached the village of Vourkari, stark white against the muted colors of the hills and arguably one of the prettiest port villages in the Aegean. Greeks love superlatives so we adopted the same! Vourkari’s tiny box-like houses cling together at the water’s edge, a perfect backdrop to the brilliant flowers cascading from shaded balconies.

While cruising through this serene bay with the Meltemi wind just a memory, we have been making some of the most important moves of our docking; the preparation needed to complete the "Mediterranean mooring." In most harbors in the Aegean, this is customary. Sailing yachts, colorful fishing boats, ferries, and any other assortment of boats will be seen tied side by side, stern-to the pier with one or two anchors streaming out from the bows. The more crowded the harbor, the more the more macrame-like the appearance of the anchor lines. But it all works. Hundreds of years of anchoring this way have proven that the system is plausible, provided the right steps are followed.

Our preparation consisted of making sure all the sails were well furled and not at risk of tripping our crew or obstructing vision. We pulled out three fenders for each side of the boat and a spare, which one crew person would be ready to use if our boat cozied up to another unexpectedly. We turned our attention to the stern mooring lines, which we coiled on the aft deck, looping the bitter end up and over the stern rails and tying it to the stern cleat. Thus the lines were ready to grab and throw quickly. Lastly, we loosened the anchor a little letting it swing down from the bow ever so slightly but making sure it could not damage the hull. We were ready. 

Like most sailors who venture to the Aegean Islands, your memories will be forever cached in the vivid colors of the land and seascape here.

As we slowly approached Vourkari, our skipper scouted the pier for a suitable spot. Often boats are tied up leaving little space between. Experience shows that one can push a little here, push a little there and voilą!—a new space, the size of our boat, can be made. Having our destination in our sights, we motored a short distance directly away from the pier and positioned the boat such that our stern was about 40 degrees to the left of our intended course. Coming to a full stop and then kicking the boat into reverse, we used the 40-degree angle of the boat to overcome the reverse propeller effect. As it gathered way astern, it started to respond to the rudder, straightened out, and began its true course toward the pier. About four to five boatlengths out from the pier, the skipper ordered the anchor dropped and the crew released the chain rapidly at first, but then slowly as the anchor reached the bottom. This harbor is particularly deep so the crew had to approximate the depth and begin to reduce the speed of the chain paying out. When the anchor touched down, the anchor chain was paid out only as fast as the boat was moving astern to lay down a straight effective anchor chain, not a heap of useless chain.

As our boat approached the pier, a local restaurateur dropped his horiatiki salata and tzatziki at the table of some hungry sailors who, with bread poised, were eager to absorb the freshest vegetables of their lives (remember the superlatives). He rushed out with hands waving, crying Ela! Ela!, ready to catch the lines as we were about 12 feet off the pier. We had expertly nosed in between two boats which were gently nudged aside by our fenders. We had trained our crew well in the art of throwing lines, which consists of grabbing half the coil in one hand and half in the other, throwing the coil with the end from one’s strongest arm and simultaneously lightly tossing with the other arm. Our intrepid line catcher whipped the lines through two rings, spaced widely apart, and tossed the ends back before we could say mousaka, a dish we were all anticipating. We tied the ends on the stern cleats, taking in most of the slack, tightened the anchor chain leaving a little slack and took a deep breath of Kea’s special scented air. The restaurateur focused our attention on his restaurant but little did he know, he already had us in his grasp.

Everywhere we put our hook down the islands served up a distinctly different flavor.

Over the next day or two, we would be looking forward to soaking up Vourkari’s delightsadmiring the perfect whitewashed houses with brilliant blue shutters, playing chess with the local boutique owner, using bus, taxi, moped, donkey, or Nikes to tour the countryside, visiting the tiny mountain village of Kea with a view of miles of terraced countryside and vast expanses of sea cruised by ancients and moderns alike, touring thousands of years of history, enjoying a sunny wine-filled afternoon’s lunch in a solitary beachside taverna, swimming alone off rocks and beach into water clear as glass, diving for octopus which we would ask our restauranteur to prepare, eating waterside into the night with locals, and drifting away to sleep on the aftermath of sweet Greek desserts, music, retsina, moonlight, and song.

This is the Aegean experience—a treat to be repeated on any cruise, but always altered in subtle ways by the varying character of the islands. On our 10-day trip, we would visit about seven islands, plying the Aegean Sea in a variety of wind conditions. In between port visits, we would be dropping anchor in deserted coves or on the lee side of tiny islets to swim in complete solitude. We enjoyed our picnic lunches purchased from the previous port and embraced the Greek world by sleeping the afternoon away cradled in our gently rocking boat. Would "sublime" even begin to describe this?

Suggested Reading:

Stowing the Provisions by Beth Leonard

Mediterranean Mooring by John Kretschmer

The Art and Science of Fendering by Sue and Larry

Buying Guide: Mediterranean Cruising Guide


Cynthia Orr is offline  
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