Aegean Adventure Part 2
Sailing the Dodecanese!
Ultimately, Mariner’s 2019 Aegean Rally brought together 48 people from around Australia, to sail on seven well-prepared 45 – 53ft yachts and one lavishly-appointed, fully-staffed Gulet.
Testament to the popularity of curated sailing holidays, the majority of people had sailed at least one Mariner Boating rally, with many participating in four or more. Our CYCSA group of seven comprised; Keith Finch, Sandy Quin, Matthew Richards, Nick George, Kay Jeffree, Peter Donovan and myself. Our yacht of choice was bright and shiny new Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 490 Red Marlin. Chosen for her four-cabin, four-head layout, air-con, a dedicated wine fridge she proved to be the perfect Mediterranean cruiser. We were also impressed by the walk-around cockpit and folding backrests which instantly transform cockpit seats into daybeds!
Once the rally was underway, we quickly realised that Trevor, our rally leader, had difficulty remembering the name Red Marlin so we decided to confuse the issue even further. Sneakily employing electrical tape we changed it every day (Red October, Red Sonja, Redback, Red Faces; you get the idea) to the amusement of everyone except a customs officer in Patmos, but that’s another story
We didn’t win the rally this year. Perhaps if we had unloaded the food, wine, beer and irresistible souvenirs we might have stood a better chance. As it was, we enjoyed 13 days of fantastic sailing, swimming and learning bad Greek from the locals. On race days we saw consistently flat seas and the ever-dependable Meltemi breeze. Champagne sailing by anyone’s standards. If you’ve ever thought about taking a jaunt through the Greek Islands, particularly the Dodecanese, here’s a rundown of the Islands we visited.
Our first drop anchor/stern-to experience, cheered on from the dock (or abused? we were never quite sure) by a weathered Greek fisherman. Directed to drop the anchor in a certain spot, we were later told that we had (apparently) snagged “an old boat anchor” but, not to worry, the privilege of releasing it could be secured by relieving us of the sum of 50 euro. That’s Greece! Dodgy divers aside, Samos is best remembered for a memorable meal at Appollonia, one of many tavernas steps away from our transom, and a lovely harbour promenade.
A tiny island where tiny model boats offer an enchanting foreground to the fishing quay. Officially, Arki is one of the least-visited Greek Islands. With a population of less than 50 and room for fewer than 15 keelboats, our next overnight stop it was certainly well off the tourist trail. Wandering away from the little harbour you might discover a single lonely taverna overlooking the neighbouring bay. Closer to the boats though, it was at Tripas Taverna, that Manolis entertained us that night with music, good food and an introductory Zorba lesson.
Ahh Patmos, the island where St John holed up in a cave to receive visions and write his Book of Revelation. A 10th century Monastery, an imposing sight above the main town of Skala, makes this island also a spritual home for the Greek Orthodox Church. We took a short taxi ride up the hill, visited the monastery, saw St John’s “Cave of The Apocalypse” and got lost in a maze of roads on our way the curious 16th century windmills nearby. Patmos was also memorable for some great characters and wonderful hospitality at Restaurant Nesti.
We were told that “everyone on Kalymnos was either born in Australia or has a relation living in Australia”, and it’s true!. We put it to the test and everyone, including a random taxi driver born in Darwin, didn’t let us down. Trevor and Maggie’s local knowledge had us avoiding the main port, instead, we were to tie up in Vathy/Vathi. It’s not every day that you’re welcomed by a man wearing a massive sea sponge as a hat but, in a nod to the sponge diving tradition of this island, that was our welcome. Along with stunning clear blue water, a natural swimming pool, the honey donut lady at the dock and a feast at Sylvia’s tavern, “SpongeBob” ensured that Vathy will never be forgotten.
Our next race was to the island of Nisyros, relatively untouched by the tourist hordes, this island offered some great adventures. We hired motor and quad bikes to take a back road (goat track) to an active volcano. One of the most accessible volcanoes in the world, it’s been “dozing” these past 130 years, so we were able to (literally) hot foot it down into the sulphurous crater. Exploring further, we also discovered Avlakia, an abandoned pirate anchorage, and, high on a mountain top, the exquisite little village of Nikia.
Call it what you want because even Google can’t decide. Popular with half-day tourists, Chalki was nevertheless a peaceful and quiet destination. Like Vathy, the small harbour was crystal-clear so we spent most our time swimming from the floating dock and wandering the waterfront. On our lay-day, we, and a few others, decided to take Trevor’s advice to spend the night in secluded bay on an uninhabited island just a few nautical miles away. Rumoured to have been a U-Boat pen in WW2, it was here that we found ruins of a German naval base, complete with graffiti-Deutsch, and tiny chapels waiting for congregations that would never arrive. Sadly, we also wandered a beach completely covered with plastic debris and unlikely to ever be clean again.
Simi, beautiful Simi. So beautiful, and yet so different from any other island we’d visited so far. The traditional white and blue Greek townscapes we had become accustomed to were no more, replaced instead by colourful Italianate facades of every colour imaginable with bold contrast trim. The large U-shaped harbour, with tavernas six strides from the stern, was also picturesque. Simi is a delight to wander around but, just steps away from the boat, a moped hire shop was all the encouragement we needed to explore further. Armed with basic map, we took off along backroads less-travelled. First, a lovely lunch spot on the nearby beach of Pedi, just a short walk over the hill from the quay. Then it was up the switchback mountain to see what’s on the other side. When our map wasn’t forthcoming with options, an impulsive detour led us down to a pebble beach, resplendent with umbrellas, bright banana lounges, and goats. Very clever goats. In fact, so devious that no banana-lounging tourist was safe from their attentions. From a tavern terrace, with beers in hand, we found it highly entertaining to watch the goats of Marathounta run riot.
Goodbye Greece, Hello Turkey. Our final race takes us to Bozukkale where a rustic pier, only just big enough to fit our yachts, leads to the even-more-rustic Ali Baba Restaurant. Trevor and Maggie had clearly saved this gem for last. There were with no visible signs of human habitation from where we were moored in the huge bay, only the one open-air taverna. Bozukkale’s indescribably vivid blue water was so abundant with fish that we were literally swimming among schools of whitebait. Another underwater attraction for snorkellers was the motorboat which had sunk at the pier the night before our arrival. Just three metres down, there was much conjecture about the idea of raising it before sanity kicked in over some Sundowners. With the ancient Lorymar Citadel ruins above, there’s plenty to keep visiting yachties occupied at Bozukkale.
Marmaris is the most popular port for yacht chartering in Turkey and it was easy to see why. The marinas are secure and professionally-staffed, but, with just one fuel dock in the main town, don’t be in a hurry to fill up your boat. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see much of the town itself, but sailing into Marmaris, we saw enough of the bay to agree that we would all love to sail in Turkey once more. Browsing the airline magazine on the short flight from Dalaman to Istanbul, I found a feature article, “Sailing The Lycian coast of Turkey from Marmaris to Anytalya.” Chance or coincidence? Instead of dreading the long-haul home I devoured every word, and, seduced by stories of scuba diving in Kas, kayaking Sakhent Canyon, secret coves near Gocek and the sunken city of Simena in Kekova, I’m now planning my return.
See part one of this story