Six people, three weeks, one boat and a Miss in charge of where we were going and for how long. Therefore you can be as sure as the pope being catholic that I had planned an itinerary before our friends arrived. Below is a review of the route we took and some of the best bits from each Island and major surprises. I was going to rate each Island but this didn’t work because every island was different and in the end it seemed impossible and too hard to do. I will say though that sailing the Islands with our friends has been the best sailing and exploring we have done.
The Greek Itinerary
Mykonos – Hot Pants and White Boxes – 2 nights
As we sailed toward Mykonos we were struck by the barren, stark hills devoid of trees, the only green was where small bushes seemed to cling desperately for survival on the steep slopes. This is a contrast to the lush green and tall trees of the Ionian Sea Island. We were told the low rainfall and strong wind was the reason why the Aegean looks so different from the North of Greece. Making dramatic contrast to the natural landscape were the white houses on the hills. Here every house adheres to a strict building code, so similar shaped white boxes dominate the island. What you see on a Mykonos postcard is what you actually get when you come to the island. It was the perfect introduction t0 the Greek Islands for our four Tasmanian Friends who have travelled so far to join us.
Mykonos is the island that attracts huge visitor numbers, including many who come just for the vibrant club scene. There are several large beach clubs where dancing and cocktails crank up at any hour of the day or night . I couldn’t help but think that Mykonos’ main industry was moving people as each day we watched massive cruise ships come and go dropping and collecting their cargo of tourists to the Island.
The Island is not all nightclubs, and tourist shopping, as you travel around the island you will find churches everywhere, ranging in size from significant to tiny backyard jobs. In the guide book it says there are 365 churches on the island, not sure if this is a true figure but there certainly are a great number to be seen. As well there are small villages, beautiful beaches and plenty of normal tourist fare for visitors.
Must Do: Hire a motorbike and look around the island. The beaches are wonderful so make lunch and stop at one that suits, and enjoy the warm water and fine pebble beaches. Massage on offer for 15 euro, starting price was 30. We didn’t but it looked nice.
Surprise: In the harbour next door to us, was a super yacht filming for two days an episode of an MTV reality show providing us with free entertainment as we watched rock stars frolic in the Med Sun. Plus just out of the main centre is a great supermarket that has it’s own DJ in the corner to give you the hot beats to move you to provision up before you leave.
Paros – Wind, Motorbikes and Parking – 2 nights
The Island of Paros is quite large so plenty to see and again hiring motor bikes was the best option. Over one day we circumnavigated most of the island and had a packed lunch at one of the best beaches of the entire trip. My favourite place was the old town in the centre of the Island. White buildings contrasted by muted greys and blues were built almost on top of one another, leading into small lane ways and tiny shops, as always impossible to get lost, as in the middle of it all a large church was to be found.
In regards to the Marina, this surprisingly, was our most expensive place to stay and by no means the best marina I have been to. They lose major marks for not having port internet. We did have interesting neighbours each night and this ranged from friendly small yachts to massive super yachts where up to 10 staff seemed to jump to the whim of only a few.
Miss Catana moored easily as there were three assisting, so parking had become a dream. The fun started when we watched a charter lagoon 45 come in with two English couples. The harbour chap was telling the Captain what to do to bring his boat in safely, the Captain was turning bright red as he shouted repeatedly back that he was the Captain and it was to be done his way. It was an extraordinaire display of parking stress, poor seamanship and pure rage on the Englishman’s behalf. It was only after his crew had fled to shore including one very unhappy wife, did he admit to us that although a regular sailor he had never sailed a catamaran and mooring them is quite different to his monohull. Ah the drama.
Must Do: Hire bikes, go shopping if you like that sort of thing, visit the lighthouse for a specky view and go to the old town after swimming at the lovely beaches.
Surprise: From the port I ordered a small basil plant for our table and this was to be delivered to our boat, what I got was a “basil tree”, significantly larger than what I was expecting. The Captain not happy so Basil’s life aboard may be short lived until I can find him a new home.
Milos – Moonscapes, Jumping and Caves – 1 night
If you are going to look around Milos you need a bike. Unfortunately for us, as a cost saving measure we turned down the 125 cc brand new never been ridden, for the cheaper option of crappy had their day 80 cc. Our old bikes barely made it up the hills, you live you learn. On the Island the scenery was beautiful as was the harbour we stayed overnight. What really blew me away though was one beach we went to where it was as though we were walking onto another planet. The rocks were chalky white and the water was deep, to the edge of the rocks.
Must Do: Hire bikes, good provisioning here and visit the lighthouse for the views and the walk.
Surprise: I actually jumped off the small cliff into the water. Before you think I was fabulous it took me about 20 false starts and a couple of strangers encouraging me to jump. My friend Karen in contrast also a jumping virgin, first go, closed her eyes and jumped. It was impressive. When I did hit the water all I could think about was how warm the water was. This feature of the Greek islands still impresses.
Folegandros – Anchor Down Up, Down Up and Away – 1 night
Impossible to rate this Island as it was the only Island we did not get off the boat to explore. This was an island of overnight stopping as we made our way to its more glitzy neighbour Santorini. We couldn’t help be impressed as we sailed past the massive cliffs and horizontal rock walls that must have allowed cultivation at some time but in my head I kept thinking who would live in this wild rugged place. Once we rounded the corner to the main town it appears quite a few people actually do. The bay was full of yachts and people wharfside waiting to be picked up and delivered elsewhere. So many peole seems to indicate that this little Island was worthy of more attention.
Surprise: As we entered the bay we were told the marina was full (no surprise there) but when we laid anchor we were informed that we must move from the bay as a large ferry was yet to come in and we could come back after sunset. This is what we did though watching from afar I thought there was plenty of room for us to have remained in our original place.
Santorini – Donkeys, Mountains and Rats – 2 nights
It surprised me that one of the most well known Greek Islands is actually called Thira. Also surprising is that this tourist gem is a long way from its other neigbours so you must sail significant miles to arrive and then mooring your boat in this place requires a certain amount of commitment and ingenuity. Mind you since coming to the Greek Islands I am becoming nautical mile lazy.
When we arrived we were lucky that our Australian friends Ty and Gina on Lady Roslyn had already moored their boat directly opposite the front door of the island via stern ropes and anchor in a tiny volcanic bay. It was easy to raft up beside them and not worry about the lack of parking crisis. Plus we got to share some time with these guys who we plan to cross the Atlantic with later this year, so a very cool meeting.
Once we took our dingy laden with 6 across the bay (we only did 6 people once) we had to get to the top to see what the fuss was all about. When I say top, everything happens at the top and on the ridge of this steep island that is built around a volcanic crater. You have three choices, line up with the tourists and take the 5 euro cable car to the top, walk the long steep road up or hitch a 5 euro ride with a donkey. I was keen for a donkey race to the top. If a race sounds as if we had some control on the final outcome however this was not true. The poor donkeys are trained to go automatically up and down the large marble steps as they bear their visiting tourist load. Grief is handed out to the back slow donkeys via a long stick or whipped by the donkey owner. Hence the donkeys are eager to get to the front of the line and pushing and rushing past one another with the odd bite at one another were the order of the event. What made it fun was that we were at the mercy of the donkey, and once on there is no getting off until you are at the top so all you can do is hold on and enjoy the ride. Our Captain ended up with two blisters on his bum cheeks as his feet couldn’t reach the stirrups, not that his donkey cared of his pain. Too funny!
Once at the top you are greeted by tiny streets inter connecting and running along the islands edge. Shops of all description allow you to purchase a “memory” if you so desire. After a quick look we hired bikes and went around the island for a look. Everywhere was a long distance view down and out to the horizon.
The reason I mention rats, is on the second night whilst having a drink with Ty and Gina next door we commented on the dog going a bit mental at the compressor. It turns out there was a rat on board. Moo Moo the wonder dog chased the rat into the water. Ty was having none of that. The punishment for intruding rats is death and he leaped into the water, grabbed the rat and flung it at the boat a few times to ensure due punishment was dealt. What a hero. The moral of this story is if you are a rat, stay off Lady Roslyn and Miss Catana, and if you are on a boat make sure you put rat protection on your long lines.
Amargos – Monks, Mountains and a Decent Sausage – 1 Night
As we pulled into the deep natural Bay of Amargos it was a pleasant change from the touristy feel of Santorini or Mykonos. This felt like the “real” Greek Islands. Historically this island had a reputation for pirates and boat wreckers (nice) and they did have a famous poet called Simonedes but for the most part it seems to have missed out on having any significant historical event. This lack of, is the gemstone of this island as it has stopped the endless lines of tourists who are time poor, looking to take photos that try to inhale an experience in three hours before they are shuffled on to the next wonder and storytelling adventure.
For us the slower pace was fantastic, we hired bikes and took to the winding roads, past spectacular coastline and dramatic cliffs. You must visit the monastery that is built on the side of a mountain cliff face and takes back breaking building to the extreme. The hot steep climb up to visit the monks that live there and the eagle eye look around is worth every laboured step. On completion of the tour you will be rewarded by a monk serving you with a small glass of local liqueur before you make your descent back.
Surprise: The butcher shop. We happened to enter as the grandfather was making the sausages, three other family members served and cut the meat order requested. The sausage was sensational on tasting and a pity we didn’t buy more. Also this was the only island we arrived at where a local wine maker came by and gave the boat a welcome pack including map, info and a sample of their local produce. It was a nice touch that added to the islands welcome.
Must: Hire bikes, try the local wine, walk around the village and visit the monks. When you visit the monastery make sure you pack some trousers for the guys and a longish dress with arms covered for the girls. Otherwise you can play dress up with some dodgy old clothes for visitors. Made for a funny photo opportunity.
Levitha – Goats, Boats and Mooring – 1 Night
Having a boat gives us significant advantage and privilege to go to places that others can’t easily get to. Levitha is one of those exclusive boat places. Population on the island is 4 in the winter and 7 in the summer.They are all family related. The single family operate a small restaurant on the island and provided 10 moorings for a small fee. Hearing it was worth the stopover we travelled the distance so we could have a rare night out. As we had lingered in Amrgos we arrived late afternoon luckly there was still two moorings left for the night so pulling up was easier than anchoring.
As we arrived the owner was on his way home from fishing and he helped us pull up on a mooring and asked us what time for dinner. 8 pm was booked in for us and we filled in the hours with swimming, drinks and nibbles on the back of the boat. The walk to the home is about 1 km from your dingy and I made the mistake of wearing thongs. Doh. The journey began as a wonderful concrete path that soon trickled off into nowhere but rocks, prickles and passing goats.
On arrival the seating area is an outdoor courtyard with 10 tables which were filled with boat people who had travelled before us on the water highway. The owner we had previously met did not offer us a menu as there was none. The choices were meat or fish, but as we had come late there was only meat, which was goat in some kind of stew. This lack of choice only added to the feel that we were guests at a Greek home rather than a nameless tourist in another restaurant.
Surprise: Goat was delicious, although slightly overcooked, it tasted just like lamb. Plus met 4 Australian’s on a boat they had charted for 2 weeks.
Must: Go out to dinner and don’t forget to take a torch or have a phone with a light to guide you home.
Patmos – Men in Black, Caves And End Of The World – 2 Nights
We had two nights at Patmos yet this could have easily been a week as we passed one beautiful bay and beach after another that offered shelter from the NW winds. A large island with significant infrastructure and shopping to accommodate the many cruise ships and ferries that arrive daily. Expensive shopping and designer jewelry, priests robed all in black with long hair and bearded faces all reflect the islands main sources of income.
The biggest of these tourist attractions is the large fort, prominent on the hill. The structure was built centuries ago to house and protect the religious icons and valuables of the church. A place for people to come and see, touch and experience faith. This apparently was big business then as it is now.
Tourists must do on the island is walk down the 47 steps to the cave of St John. According to the locals this is the exact location where St John wrote and transcribed the book of revelations foretelling the apocalyptic end of the world as told to him by an angel. The cave was smaller than I anticipated and I was a little deflated by the experience. The building housing the cave, the presence of a tour group and a significant holy place feeling like a money making enterprise made the experience less rather than more. Would I pay my 6 Euros to visit the fort and the cave again, probably, but if you are not into the history of a place you may wish to hire a beach chair for 4 euro a day and enjoy some of the stunning beaches available on Patmos.
Surprise: The girlfriend’s and I did hire beach chairs at a negotiated 3 euro and had a wonderful afternoon enjoying sun, swimming in clear waters, people watching and afternoon naps. Prior to this I had always wondered why bother, but Greek beaches are 99% rock so chairs are worthy.
Must Do: Walk around the town, hire motorbikes to see the island and go to the beach for a swim in some of the protected bays.
Lipso – Empty Chairs and Sponges – 1 Night
This small island was notable for being absent of tourists. The restaurants seemed empty, the beaches quiet and only a few shops open in the small bay. Once again a hard island to give comment to as we enjoyed the boat, the sun and swimming in the sea. Most memorable was a beautiful beach we swam at and the chap trying to sell us sea sponges at 300 euro per kilo. We wanted to tell him he was dreaming as you can buy the same for a fraction of cost on every other island.
Surprise: Our sponge salesman assured us that Australian Customs wouldn’t mind imported sponge, plus they are so soft you can squish them up and hide them. Really!
Must Do: Although we didn’t as we had prepared, I suggest a meal at a local restaurant would be worthy.
Leros – New Arrivals and Doing Nothing – 1 Night
When we arrived at Leros mid-morning we went straight to the old harbour to pull up on stern to on the public wharf area whilst there was still plenty of spaces which we knew by days end would be nonexistent. We were struck by the depth of the harbour and 100% water clarity. It was another hot day and for this Miss I was looking forward to just having a down day of catching up on correspondence and enjoying the sun on the decks with a small look around the local town. No motorbikes for the Captain and I, however others in our group ventured out to have a look around.
As we settled a dull grey navy boat moved in beside us bearing a boat load of refugees, our first sign of what is currently a massive issue across Greece and Italy. Approximately 20 men were seated at the front and similar number of women, young children and babies at the back of the boat. The soldiers, were wearing masks and bright blue plastic gloves as a layer protection to this road/sea weary cargo, assisting the women off and lifting children down to their waiting mothers.
As I walked past I made eye contact with several of the young women and I wished I knew words of welcome for them. I wished I could have asked their stories and listened and understood from them first hand why they had made such a perilous journey. These were the lucky ones. Over the past year already 20,000 plus people have died in the ocean as they attempt to escape poverty, war and homelands without hope. I have read accounts from fishermen who describe the ocean like a carpet of dead bodies as so many fail to survive the ocean journey to a new life. Last year alone Greece accepted over 60,000 refugees. Mind boggling.
I asked one of the local officials what would become of these people now that they had arrived on Leros and he told me that once processing is done they are moved on to Athens. Here they are set free to try and find their way in the world. He told me that it is then up to local charities and the locals to support this massive wave of humanity to find a new place and new life either here in Greece or another European country.
It gave me great cause to think of the lives of these 40 odd people, what had they fled from, what future was really had, as well as my own preconceived ideas of “boat people”. It’s easy to live in a glass house and throw stones, anytime we get to get down into the nitty gritty of humanity it is always a complicated process with common themes for all of us. I wonder how they would view my life of sailing.
Yet again I counted my blessings for the bed I was born in.
Surprise: After three weeks of not using my ATM card I surprised myself that I can’t recall a number I have used for at least two years. Still hoping it will come to me!
Must Do: As Leros was a down day for me I am hard pressed to tell you the things you must do and see. The sun was hot and I spent my day going from boat to water, doing something to doing nothing. Maybe this is a must do recommendation. Unexpectedly this island caused me the greatest reflection of life’s meaning, not in the countless churches but in the eyes of a young woman with no worldly goods besides the clothes on her back and small baby on her hip.
Kailamnos – Mooring Away From The Crowds – 1 Night
Kailamnos is a largish island but we took up a mooring in a bay a few nautical miles before you reach the main town. This was a day of staying on the boat, eating drinking, countless swims and resting. As the mooring was provided by a local restaurant we went to shore and had a beautiful meal on our second last night as a group of six. As is Greek food, it was simple fare, grilled meat, simple salads followed by a complimentary dessert. This was favourite island for two of our crew and it was a top day doing very little.
Surprise: The dessert we had was sweet yogurt with sweetened sun dried tomatoes that were yummy.
Must Do: Highly recommend the mooring and restaurant of Paradisio.
Kos – Buses, Budget Tourism and Beach Chairs
What hits you about Kos is the beach chairs. Hundreds of them, multicolored and lining the rocky beaches in neat little rows each group different coloured so hotel guests can find their way back if lost. We travelled to Kos so we could say goodbye to two of our crew, so the visit had a somber feel about it as none of us wanted the holiday to end.
The large town was busy with tourists and all the infrastructure that goes with large tourists town . The English seemed to dominate the demographics but maybe it was the sunburn or the white skin that made them standout.
Surprise: The book exchange at the marina was the best ever. A multilingual library that gave my book loving heart joy. I now have 10 new books to look forward to.
Must do: Complete your business and leave or book into a fabulous five star resort and enjoy Kos in style.
Nisyros – Parking, Volcanoes and Terracing – 1 Night
As we sailed from Kos to Nisyros I wondered what was install for us on this island as I had done no prior research re Nisyros. The surprise was this was to be one of my most favourite islands. We travelled to the second marina that does not accept the large ferries or passenger day boats, for obvious reasons, and it was a quaint small Harbour with small restaurants lining the main street. Once again we hired motorbikes to explore but unlike many of the islands this was an island dominated by lush green trees and small bushes. The greatest joy came from finding out the island had a volcano we could visit. OK the sulphur made my eyes and throat burn but it was well worth the walk down and into the massive crater.
Surprise: Watching the Lagoon 45 take 90 minutes to park in the bay. Having my husband and his second in command Captain Eric go for a 30 minute exploring bike ride getting lost, finding castles and walls and returning 2 hours late.
Must Do: Go to the fortified wall built 400BC and visit the volcano.
Simi – The Final Leg – 1 Night
Simi was our last Greek Island with friends and final part of the Tour. This Island was a special place. For the last leg we gave this island the most time, four days to explore and circumnavigate this small island. From the N it was a 35 nautical mile journey and with perfect sailing conditions Miss Catana buzzed along at 8 to 10 knots making for joyous sailing. As we passed through the small channel to enter the main bay I was struck by the water clarity, aqua blues, turquoise greens and deeper emerald blues. When we arrived at the harbour the town was like looking at a child’s play set of small brightly coloured homes stacked one upon another, surrounded by a large bay. Added to the postcard perfect picture were neat rows of super yachts and other sailing vessels ranging from the small to the grand. Captains favourite boat was a brand new 53 foot Oyster sailing yacht. Very nice!
Our first night was spent in harbour to restock our provisions, to look around this gorgeous town and swim with the locals and enjoy the company of the well heeled. Sunset, we had perfect position to see the last of the rays and watch the drama unfold with one super yacht pulling up his anchor and bringing along two other anchors of neighbouring super yachts one from each side of the bay. Unlike on other occasions there was no fuss or raised voices, just well dressed professionals trying to untangle the mess and keep their boats dancing safely around the tiny harbour without hitting others. At one point we counted 16 massive super yachts that had come in at days end to enjoy the many restaurants and dance floors on offer in this town.
Our next three nights we moved from bay to bay enjoying different locations for lunch, champagne celebration and evening anchoring. Our most spectacular bay of the entire trip was St Georges, only accessible by boat meaning we got to share with a handful of others. Towering walls, cliffs falling into deep water, goats and trees both hanging on for dear life made this the most beautiful stop in all of our Greek Island travels. Unlike our other islands that we saw via motorbike hire, Simi is ideal for a sailing boat to travel from one secluded beautiful bay to another. This is the Dream Island that you visit in your mind before going to the Greek Islands. Two of our four nights we had bays completely to ourselves, we couldn’t ask for better than that.
Must Do: Go to Simi
Why You Should Travel To Greece
As I moved from Greece towards Turkey I contemplated what makes Greece the must visit location for any sailor in the EU. Was it the charm and welcome of the locals. Happy to help, and unlike the French who say “be careful” they say “off course”, nothing is too much and you feel as though you are a lost relative coming home to your second mother. Was it that Greece is an ancient land where you can sense the old in all the landscape, and ruins, even the sun feels relaxed and old here. Is it that this place has so many stories, legends and myths, it is the place islands were birthed. We sailed through these history books with ease. Was it the water, in places so deep that our depth sounder even gave up on trying to calculate how deep below our hulls. Was it how the towering cliffs and landmasses that seemed to rise from sea depths heading quickly straight up towards the sky and each island calling you to come visit as you sailed by.
Was it hot sunshine that came every day to warm the water and encourage all to relax and enjoy before we slipped into the water for yet another swim. Was it that each town, without fail, had a small taverna, bike or car hire and supermarket or market with quality fresh supplies to replenish low stocks. Or was it that on any day we could find a secluded place away from the wash and crowds. However as I sit here on my final day with friends after 4 weeks together and feel sad that the time is too short, I know that Greece was made so much richer for sharing. So my final highlight but certainly the best goes to friends who have made the long journey to visit and share,a special time and place.
PS Whilst on holiday First Mate Greg and First Mate Eric took control with the Captain. Cheers for that, it was spectacular not to have to do while sailing!! Annual Leave for the Miss, hence the delay in posting.