Log #23g Pilos, Methoni and Naval Battles of the Peloponessos

December 27, 2001 in Log Series 20 - 29, Logs by Series, Series 23 Greece, The Logs

Toronto, Canada
Dec.27, 2001

Hi Folks,
Here is my next log which also describes three naval battles that took place in the waters we were transiting down the Ionian Sea and off the southern tips of the Peloponessos.

We had an enjoyable Christmas, and are looking forward to a New Year’s Eve party with friends here in Toronto. Now that we are settled in, we’re going through a stack of pictures and materials that we brought back with us to make a few presentations to sailing clubs and organizations about our travels. Besides, we don’t have room on Veleda for all the “stuff” we accumulate, and I don’t want to throw it out before I re-work my logs into a series of magazine articles or even a book or two (if ever I get around to doing so). I guess I’m the pack rat of the family, but we can store the material here with Judy’s parents in the meantime.

Enjoy the log.
Happy New Year,
Aubrey

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Log #23g Pilos, Methoni and Naval Battles of the Peloponessos

Kemer, Turkey
Nov. 29, 2001
Covers the period Oct. 20 to 24, 2001

We were able to motor sail most of the 51 nautical miles from Katacolom to Pilos in the Bay of Navarinon (36 55.1 N, 021 42.0 E). Predawn departures give an enjoyable opportunity to watch the sunrise over the water. Sunrises tend to be starker than sunsets as the atmosphere is clearer, causing less refraction. Some say that the green flash is more evident with sunrises as the upper limb of the sun flashes across the tangent of the earth’s surface through the tranquil dawn air.

The entrance to the Bay of Navarinon is dramatic, protected by a couple of narrow high cliff lined islands, one of which, Nisus Pilos, has a high natural arch through it. Coming south around this island, the large bay, roughly 2 miles in diameter, opens up, with the Venetian fort and its extensive walls on Ak Neokastron dominating the headland above the town of Pilos. As we motored past the headland we saw two warships at the town pier. At first I thought one was a British ship, as I saw what looked like the Union Jack, but it was a modified flag of St. Andrew on a Russian Tank Transporter (Hull #158) out of Sevastopol. The other ship was a Greek frigate, the Navarino (Hull # F 461). We went past them and over to the “marina”, another one of unfinished status, clogged with a large number of smaller local fishing and pleasure boats. After making a circuit inside the breakwater, we moored on the outer wall as all the inner pontoons were occupied. Later Kajsa, the Swedish boat we met in Katacolom, rafted off us, as there was no other mooring space for them.

We made the mistake of calling in as indicated on signs at the entrance, only to be asked to bring our papers in when alongside. No help was given as to where to tie up. I wanted to stay away from authorities in case we get charged for a cruising permit.

I had a good wander around  the massive fort and through town. The two ships were in town to commemorate the Battle of Navarino fought on Oct. 20, 1827, and had parades, band concerts and open house on both ships. We dressed up (I put on a tie and jacket for the first time since London a year and a half ago), and went to a reception held on the quarterdeck of the Greek frigate. Naval quarterdeck receptions and cocktail parties are the same all over the world, an awning stretched across the helicopter landing pad, several bars set up plus tables of hors d’ oeuvres, white uniforms, a ship’s band playing (in this case Greek and balalaika music) in the hanger, and transient conversations in several different languages. The Greek naval uniforms are very similar to the Royal Navy uniforms including the executive curls on the officers’ shoulder boards. There were also many officers from the Russian ship next door. Next day we had a tour of the Russian ship, and saw several armoured troop carriers and tanks in the hold. They flew the flag of St. Andrew at the bow and the Russian flag at the stern while alongside.

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The Battle of Navarino

On shore the streets of Pilos were decorated with triangular pennants of British, French and Russian flags to commemorate the Battle of Navarino. In July of 1827, the Treaty of London provided that Greece should be autonomous, “but under the control of the Turks”, as the Greeks had been waging their War of Independence from the Ottoman Empire which had dominated Greece for the past few centuries. The Greeks agreed to the treaty, but the Turks did not. The main Turkish/Egyptian fleet was at anchor in the Bay of Navarinon, 89 ships with 2450 guns, anchored in a three quarter semi circle, effectively controlling the entrance. The combined British/French/Russian fleet under the senior admiral, British Admiral Codrington, with only 26 ships and 1270 guns entered the bay “peacefully”, with bands playing and gun ports half open, but prepared for battle, and anchored in the middle of the Turkish/Egyptian fleet. It is claimed that an Egyptian ship opened fire first and the battle ensued. All ships were at anchor, but the European gun crews were more efficient in the heat of “the bloody and destructive battle”, destroying the larger enemy fleet. Even though Admiral Codrington was given wide powers of discretion in “policing” the treaty, England expressed regret over the incident, while the French fleet mopped up any remaining opposition in the Peloponessos, paving the way for Greek independence. In the bay there are three memorials, to each of the nations involved. At the entrance to the bay on Nisos Pilos is the French memorial, in the middle of the bay on Nisos Khelonisi is the British, and in town is the Russian memorial commemorating this battle.

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Log #23g (cont’d)

We left mid afternoon next day for a quiet motor sail 8 miles down the peninsula to anchor in Methoni, a most enjoyable sandy harbour bounded by a large Venetian fort, with the tip of the peninsula guarded by a picturesque Turkish fortified tower. I spent an interesting several hours exploring this open but deserted fort and tower. Apparently this fort, captured by the Turks, was the prison for Cervantes who included his experience as a Turkish prisoner here in his tale, “Don Quixote”. The long sandy beach was one of the nicest we have been to in the Med, and one of the few we have seen since Tunisia. I even enjoyed a fresh water shower (cool) at a beach shower point. The town is ancient, being mentioned by Homer as “being rich in vines”, but now is a pleasant fishing/agricultural community with a low key tourist base, providing good stores, restaurants, internet café, and a pleasant small town atmosphere.

Next day Kajsa anchored astern of us, with only Rune on board, as his partner Joan had to return to the US regarding a family illness. He indicated that after we left Pilos, next day the port authorities came down and demanded he come to the office with his papers, especially his cruising permit, which fortunately he had. I’m glad we had left earlier. It looks as if Pilos is not a port to go to if one does not have all the paperwork, including the EU-illegal cruising permit. He also expressed an interest in cruising in company with us for a while, as he was single handing again until Joan got back. No problem, as we were going in roughly the same direction across the Aegean towards Turkey.

The southern portion of the Peloponessos consists of three long peninsulas separated by two 40 miles-wide bays. To transit ESE towards the Aegean, each of these bays is a long day’s trip. Where we were at Methoni was about 10 miles up from the first cape, Ak Akritas (Akra, Ak, or Ay = Cape), and we had to cross the first bay, Messinsakos Kolpos (Kolpos = Gulf) and go around Ak Tainaron, the second southernmost point (about 36˚ N Latitude) of mainland Europe (Gibraltar is further south by a few miles). This cape is also known as Cape Matapan, the area of a WW II naval engagement between British and Italian ships as described below.

In order to get around Cape Matapan to a safe anchorage in daylight, we left Methoni at 0700, before sunrise which was not until 0748. We motor sailed into a light force 2 NE breeze which later in the day shifted to SSE, still allowing us to motor sail. At the far side of Messiniakos Kolpos we coasted down the barren mountains of Capo Grosso. As Rod Heikell in the Greek Pilot says,”if any cape should be called ‘gross’, it is this one.” It is a huge precipitous mass of barren rock bulging out the west side of this middle peninsula ( 36˚ 26.9 N, 022˚ 22.7 E ). Near the southern part of this cape there are some large caves, visible from the sea, which in classical lore were the entrance to “Hades” located at Tainaron, on this central peninsula. Given the bleak, hostile, isolated terrain of this area, such a legend is understandable. No human habitation was noted along this massive foreboding stretch of rock until around the southern part of Capo Grosso at Yerolimena. However, we wanted to round Ak Tainaron, and so continued down, around Cape Matapan (Tainaron) and a few miles up to anchor off the hamlet in Port Kayio (36˚ 25.7′ N, 022˚ 29.2′ E). We were subsequently stuck there by storms for a few days, and did some interesting exploration of the area as described in my next log.

Below are brief descriptions of The Battle of Cape Matapan and the Battle of Actium which took place off the Peloponessos.

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The Battle of Cape Matapan

In March of 1941, Admiral Cunningham in HMS Warspite was attempting to draw the Italian battleship Vittorio Veneto, flagship of the Italian fleet, into battle between the NW coast of Crete and Cape Matapan. Not having radar, he lost track of it, but not until after it was damaged by aircraft he had dispatched from the carrier, HMS Formidable.  However, in the process of trying to engage it, Warspite destroyed the Italian heavy cruiser Zara, and the British battleship HMS Valiant sunk the Italian heavy cruiser Fiume and two destroyers. The Italian cruiser Pola was crippled by torpedoes from aircraft flying off HMS Formidable, and after Pola’s crew were removed by the destroyer HMS Jervis, the Jervis sank Pola with her torpedoes. This victory, sinking three heavy cruisers and two destroyers with a loss of only one aircraft and its two-man crew was a much needed success for the beleaguered Royal Navy, tasked with supplying forces in Greece, and preventing supplies getting over to Rommel in North Africa.

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The Battle of Actium

In late September while en route down the Ionian Sea from Paxos to Levkas we passed by Preveza, just north of Levkas, where the naval Battle of Actium took place in 31 BC.

Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC and a great power struggle ensued. Octavius had been declared the heir to Julius Caesar, and by 42 BC teamed up with Marc Antony, who later married Octavius’ sister, to defeat the forces of Brutus and Cassius at the Battle of Philippi in Macedonia. However building up a powerful position from Egypt and the eastern provinces, Antony was in conflict with Octavius off and on from 40 BC until finally routed at Actium in 31, and finally defeated in Egypt in 30 BC. *”Hearing a rumour that Cleopatra was dead, Antony stabbed himself but survived long enough to die in her arms.”  Cleopatra subsequently killed herself with the bite of an asp, believed by the Egyptians to deify the victim. However, she did not do it out of remorse for Antony, but because when as a prisoner *”she found out she could not retain her kingdom for her children…”

*(I have used one of the other few resource books we have on board, “From The Gracchi To Nero, A History Of Rome From 133 BC to 68 AD” by H.H. Scullard, a Praeger Paperback, New York, 1961. If any of you know tidbits to amplify or correct my fractured histories, please let me know.)

In this historic Battle of Actium, the forces of Marc Antony, backed up by the fleet of Cleopatra came out to oppose the fleet of Octavius led by Agrippa.  Antony’s fleet was arranged in three squadrons in line abreast, facing west with Cleopatra’s squadron astern inshore. Octavian’s fleet waited for the afternoon NW winds to have the windward advantage before attacking. The centre and left flank squadrons of Antony’s fleet caved in, and Cleopatra and her squadron fled with the war chest of valuables, followed by Antony, leaving the rest of his fleet to be captured or destroyed.

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