We spent two nights anchored at Rinia Island after our passage across the Aegean from the Dodecanese Islands to the Cyclades Islands. We hoped to visit Mykonos but the southerly did not quit so we went to Finikas (Foinikas) on Syros (Siros) Island. A good anchorage but not a charming town. We took the bus across the island to the main city of Ermoupolis in order to get SIMs for our internet devices and phone from Vodafone. Ermoupolis is a beautiful town and we enjoyed walking around and climbing to the highest hill to visit one of the cathedrals.
We sailed to Kythnos Island on May 19th, anchoring in Ayios Stefanos on the east coast. We spent one week here two years ago and loved the place. Then and now, we ate one meal a day at the one taverna in this small hamlet. Two years ago we established a warm relationship with Flora, one of the family proprietors of the taverna. This year, Flora was with away so that her daughter could go to school. Her brother Antony and his wife Magdelena were there, and, of course, the parents. Antony’s mother cooked and Magdelena served, and most days we were the only customers. The spring rains brought wildflowers to the hills that rise up steeply from this bay, and we had some wonderful walks.
We joined Antony and Magdelena in their pickup truck as they went to feed and water the “lambs”, goats, and chickens at three different locations on the island. They dropped us off at the chora, the charming highland town that is the urban center of the island. There we found some working internet at a cafe, lunch, plus some small stores.
We are now anchored at Nousssa, Paros Island. More on that later.
We are way behind on our blog, so I will go through the highlights quickly and try to catch up. We left Keçi Bükü (Turkey) on April 28 heading for Agathonisi Island (Greece) in strong southerlies. That night, we stopped in Mersincik bay, at the far end of the long peninsula on which Datca is located. Just as we were entering the bay the wind increased to 35 knots with higher gusts and we could see whitecaps even inside the bay. But it was late and there seemed to be no alternatives nearby so we entered and anchored with some difficulty. In the middle of the night the wind switched to east and I sat anchor watch for a couple of hours. The wind moderated by morning and we headed for Agathonisi, just a few hours away. We have already written about the Syrian refugees arriving in Agathonisi. As the temperatures were cool, we did a lot of walking in the hills, and enjoyed a few excellent meals at George’s Taverna.
We left Agathonisi on May 3 intending to sail to the marina at Kuşadası to officially clear out of Turkey, but observing an island 10 miles to the west, we changed our minds. The island is Arki (Arkoi) and we spent a delightful two days there. We picked up a mooring in narrow Port Stretto where we had less than a foot of water under our keel. Next to us on the only other usable mooring was the British boat “Wight Egret” with David and Beverly aboard, who quickly became our friends. The mooring belonged to the Apolafsi Restaurant, where we dined twice. We walked into town (Port Augusta) every day to drink coffee and use the internet.
On May 5, we sailed from Arki Island to the Setur Marina in Kuşadası, Turkey. In the windy strait between Samos Island and Turkey (Mycale Strait), the glass cover on the vanity smashed and bits of glass fell into the toilet and stuck in the toilet pump. That, along with an erratic engine thermostat, gave me some more things to do in the marina. Two days in Kuşadası were enough to provision the boat, fix the toilet and thermostat, and get officially cleared out of Turkey. On May 7, we sailed to Pythagorion (named after their most famous son, Pythagoras) on the south coast of Samos Island in order to officially clear into Greece. Even though the Samos Marina knew we were coming, there was much confusion when we arrived. Inside the tight confines of the marina, with 25 knots of wind, the lone “marinaro” (“boat boy”) changed his mind twice on where we should tie up. Laura was running over the deck moving fenders and lines while I struggled to control the boat until we tied side-to on a concrete dock. The next day we rented a car and drove to Vathi in order to get SIMs for our mobile phone, USB modem, and iPad, and then drove around the island.
We sailed from Pythagorion, Samos to Lipso (Lipsi) Island on May 11, anchoring off of the beach at Katsidia at the sparsely populated southern end of the island. We had been told that Delilah’s Taverna on the beach was excellent. Unfortunately, it was closed for renovation. The day after we arrived, we walked 35 minutes to Lipsi town up and down a steep road and had lunch at the Kalypso Restaurant. We dawdled over ice coffee waiting to see if it would rain but finally decided it would not and walked on the town quay to see the sail boats tied up there. Just as it started to pour, we came about “Wight Egret” whom we met in Arki the week before. David and Beverly invited us aboard to get shelter from the rain which soon turned into successive waves of thunderstorms accompanied by strong winds. After two hours on “Wight Egret” there was no end to the rain in sight and it was getting dark. We found the island’s only taxi driver and he took us to Katsadia with our iPads protected by an umbrella borrowed from “Wight Egret”.
On May 14 we sailed from Lipsi Island to Blefouti (Plakouti) in northern Leros Island in order to get protection from the approaching southerlies. On the way, we anchored off of uninhabited Arkhangelos Island for a swim. On the sail over, we caught up with “Wight Egret” and we anchored together in a small cove at the western end of the island. Everyone swam but me — the water is still too cold for my taste, although the day was delightfully warm. Laura could not speak for the first minute after she got in, but then got used to the temperature. “Wight Egret” had lunch on Sabbatical III and then headed for Lakki, while we went on to Blefouti. We had a nice walk around the bay. Unfortunately, the one taverna at Blefouti had not opened for the season yet and we were left to have scrambled eggs for supper. The next morning (yesterday, May 15), we left Blefouti at 6 am to sail across to the western side of the Aegean, ending up in Rinia Island (just west of Mykonos) after a 13 hour sail in a decent southerly with a tiring steep chop. Today we are just resting.
There were Syrian refugees in the tiny Greek town of St. George’s on AgathonisiIsland where we spent the last few days. They show up every night here, arriving on large inflatable rafts, from somewhere on the Turkish coast. Let me describe the town and the setting. The bay in Agathonisi is very small. There is room for 2 or maybe three boats to anchor and some additional room at the town quay for another 3 boats to Med moor to shore. There is a very large concrete dock that pretty much takes over the entire eastern side of the bay. We think it was built to accommodate the ferries that come in a few times a week to deliver goods or people to the island. Most of the time the islander’s fishing boats tie up next to it until the ferry arrives, and then they move off to accommodate the larger boat’s needs. There are only seven or eight commercial establishments in town, all facing the little bay: two tavernas, a snack/coffee shop, two tiny grocery stores and a couple of homes offering rooms to rent. There might be a couple hundred year round residents on the island. There is also a small rocky beach in the bay that the local kids and occasional tourist go for a swim.
We pulled into the bay on Wednesday, the 29th of April, at about six pm, and were pleased to find ourselves one of only two visiting boats in the anchorage. From the anchorage you are only 50 feet from the stores and tavernas and we could see the locals going about their business as usual… painting new signs for the little general store, the local policeman washing his car, a few moms with baby carriages pushing their kids down the sidewalk. We also noticed a large group of men sitting in the opening of a building that seemed to be a community center, just 50 feet up the hill from the main street. We assumed it was some type of party.
The next morning when we looked out, we saw that there were even a larger group of people gathered on the patio of the community center, and also about 30 men sleeping, or sitting in small groups, on the large concrete dock near us. Most were dressed in blue jeans, and jackets. Most had back-packs. Still totally not cognizant of what was going on, we decided they must be day-laborers brought to the island to do some work. But, it didn’t take too much longer for us to realize that they were refugees. There is a small army presence on the island and before long some official looking Greek men started organizing the men on the dock into small groups, and had them line up. A small chartered ferry soon arrived and part of the group of the men climbed on-board and were ferried away.The remaining men that were on the dock were loaded onto the deck of a Greek Coast Guard cutter An hour later we saw a larger group of people start to come down from the community center. It was mostly men, but also a few women and children. The women were dressed conservatively, with headscarves and long skirts. All of these people were lined up in groups and quietly waited for the next bigger ferry to arrive and take them away.
In the meantime, there was no sign of unease among the Greeks onshore. Kids continued to ride their bikes around, some young women were sun-bathing on the beach, and the townspeople continued their local business, most of them scooting in and out of town on motor-cycles. The small fishing boats came and went on the docks as well.
We went onshore and spoke to the woman who runs the small grocery store to ask about what was going on. She told us that the refugees arrive almost nightly. She guessed there might have been 500 or more this year. They come in large (but not large enough) inflatable boats (see photo). A Greek coast guard cutter is positioned a few miles off-shore (see photo) and she said it has become almost a daily occurrence that one or more groups of these immigrants show up in the middle of the night onAgathonisi. There they await transfer (usually within a day) to the larger island of Samos, and then on to Athens and ultimately elsewhere in Europe. This is undoubtedly happening on all of the Greek islands that are close to Turkey.
She said that these people tended to have some resources… many had cash andpurchased food in the store, and as far as she could tell us, they had paid fairly significant amounts of money to get on the boats that took them from Turkey to Greece (which meant they now would have access to other EU countries).
For the day or so that they are on Agathonisi they must stay in the little community center. There they are provided with food and drink. We walked by the center a few times and although we didn’t want to “spy”, we couldn’t help trying to see what was going on. The women and children looked healthy and even smiled and waved at us. The men were very quiet. Since these were the ones who have “made it”, I am guessing that despite their travails and uncertain future, they might have been feeling quite a bit of relief of having made it safely to the EU.
On our third night in Agathonisi we were awakened at 3:00 am by cries coming from close by. We looked out and saw a Coast Guard boat positioned near the concrete dock. Behind it was an inflatable dinghy sitting low in the water with what looked like about 20 people onboard. Another 20 people had already jumped or fallen out of the dinghy, into the very cold water, and were frantically trying to swim to the tall concrete dock while calling out loudly in Arabic. Women were screaming. It looked like the people in the water did not really know how to swim, and besides it was dark, and the water was cold, and they were trying to maintain their backpacks. It was also clear, however, that the Coast Guard was not about to let anyone die, and those in the water made it up onto the dock within a few minutes. The only words we could make out were “English?” and “baby!”, which was pretty heart-stopping. The others, who had remained in the inflatable had an easier time as they were pulled right alongside the Coast guard boat and were helped onboard and then they were able to walk onto the dock without getting wet. All had life jackets. There was a full moon so it was quite easy to see what was happening, plus we were anchored quite close by. We still can’t understand how they get from Turkey (11 miles away) to this little island on those inflatables. We don’t think there was even an engine on them and 11 miles is a huge distance at sea in an overloaded inflatable raft. Perhaps they set out from Turkey on a larger boat and then they get dropped off once they are in sight of Greek land and/or a Coast Guard ship. It is hard to understand and extremely disturbing to witness.
The group was led off to the community center and the next morning we saw them all sitting in the warm sun, hopefully somewhat rested and rehydrated. We took a walk to the local dumpster to drop off some trash and found all of the large trash containers filled to overflowing with the discarded life-jackets of the refugees. They must be throwing out hundreds and hundreds of these. The inflatable dinghies get punctured (probably by the Coast Guard), their plywood bottoms removed, and then these also get trashed. It’s a lot for a small island to absorb.
We left Agathonision Sunday, and headed to the nearby island of Arki which is not getting any of the refugees. It is another 10 miles further from the Turkish coast which probably explains the difference.
All is well on board Sabbatical III. We are safe and well and have to say that we are having an interesting year.