Log #27j Back into the Cyclades

November 9, 2002 in Log Series 20 - 29, Logs by Series, Series 27 Summer in Greece, The Logs

Kemer, Turkey
Nov. 9, 2002

Hi Folks,

We’re still here in Kemer, enjoying the liveaboard community life. The winter rains are starting again this weekend, otherwise the day are a warm 25  C and nights a cool 12  C.

In this log I have given a summary of the different groupings of the islands around Greece, particularly the Aegean islands. We hope to visit the Sporades next year on our way to and from the Black Sea. Init we also leave the Saronic Gulf to go to Kea in the Cyclades.

Please don’t hesitate to give me feedback on my logs observations or comments so I know at least my logs are being read.

All the best,


Log #27j Back into the Cyclades

Nov. 5, 2002
Kemer, Turkey

The islands around Greece are divided into seven major groupings (Ionian, Crete, Dodecanese, Cyclades, Saronic Gulf, Northern Sporades and Eastern Sporades) all with ancient histories and cultures; many were dominant city states at one time or another. The islands of Aigina and Poros, which we just left, are part of the Saronic Gulf islands, located in that historic gulf leading up to Athens, Salamis, and Corinth.

Outside, east of the Saronic Gulf in the southern Aegean, are the Cyclades, so called because they form rings (kukloi) around their centre Delos; islands with histories going back to 7000 BC as recorded from the obsidian exploited on Milos. These islands developed Cycladic cultures and civilizations from 3000 BC to about 450 BC when they became absorbed into the Athenian empire. They were also influenced in the Middle Cycladic Period (2000 to 1500 BC) by the Minoan culture from Crete, especially on Thira. Here the culture was wiped out not only on Thira but on Crete as well by the fantastic cataclysms of earthquakes and volcanoes of the 15th century BC. The Mycenaean culture from Mycenae on the Peloponnisos then influenced the Late Cycladic Period (1500 to 1100 BC), followed by the Dorians until Athens’ hegemony. Other islands in the Cyclades that we have visited or will visit, in addition to Milos and Thira, are Ios, Andros, Kithnos, Paros, Serifos, Sifnos, Mikinos, Kea, and Delos.

North of the Cyclades are the Northern Sporades extending up the east and north coasts of Greece. These include Greece’s second largest island, Evia, (also known as Locris, Boeotia, and Attica), parallel and so close to the mainland that it is often considered part of the mainland, and a convenient destination for Athenians for weekends or holidays. It was a strategic island in ancient times and is linked to the Battle of Thermopylae and the Battle of Marathon on the adjacent mainland. The lush mountainous terrain contrasts with the dry scrub brush of most of the Cyclades. Of the 11 other islands, only four are inhabited, Skiathos, Skopelos, Alonnisos, and Skyros. We have not been up that way yet, but hope to see them next season on our return from the Black Sea.

The lush mountainous Eastern Sporades are more widely separated from each other and are closer to the Turkish coast than to the Greek. They were under Athens until the Roman era, then the Byzantines, the Venetians, Genoese, and finally, from 1453, under the Ottomans of Turkey until reunited with Greece after the Balkan Wars in 1912. Some of the better known islands include Limnos, Lesvos (also Lesbos and Mytilini), Chios, Samos and Ikaria. Limnos, the northernmost of the group, is strategically located off the straits of the Dardanelles, was a stopping off place for the assault on Troy, and still today is fortified with a large garrison and air base fiercely guarding the Greek border which skirts the Turkish coastline. Lesvos, the third largest Greek island, also known as Lesbos (from which we get the word Lesbian), was the home of the poet Sappho (632 to 568 BC). Her mythological poems and love songs contained sensuous images and erotic lyrics, many of which spoke out in favour of lesbian relationships. The legend of Icarus, who flew too close to the sun, melting the wax of his wings, has him plummeting into the sea off  the island .of Ikaria. We have yet to visit any of the Eastern Sporades.

South of these islands are the Dodecanese, lying just off the southwest peninsulas of Turkey, the furthest from the Greek mainland, and some (Kos*, Kastellorizo, and Symi*) actually intruding between headlands of the Turkish peninsulas. Other islands of this group include (* indicates islands we have already visited) Leros, Patmos, Karpathos, Tilos, Niseros*, Astipalaia*, Kalimnos*, and the best known of them, Rhodes*. Being so far from Athens they had a greater degree of autonomy. After Alexander the Great, they were ruled by the Ptolemys of Egypt until the Roman era. The inhabitants of these islands were the first Greeks to embrace Christianity. St. Paul landed on the shores of Rhodes on his way to Rome, and St. John was banished to Patmos where he had his revelation (i.e. The Book of Revelations in the New Testament). In the 14th century the Crusaders ruled the islands, building major fortifications on Kos and Rhodes as well as several other islands and the Turkish mainland (e.g. Bodrum and Fethiye). They in turn were driven out by the Ottoman Turks, who were ousted by the Italians in 1912, they by the British in 1943 until the islands were formally returned to Greece in 1947. Some islands such as Kastellorizo exchanged their Turkish inhabitants for Greeks from the newly developing Turkey under Ataturk in the early 1920’s, giving rise to the deserted Greek town in Turkey near Fethiye known as Kayakoy, and other towns in both Turkey and Greece. This population exchange between Turkey and Greece at least avoided “ethnic cleansing”. Apparently life was harder under the Italians than under the Ottomans.

There are two other island groupings, Crete and the Ionian Islands. I will cover these before ending this section on our summer (and fall) in the Greek Aegean.

Sept. 27 we slipped our Poros mooring in the Saronic Gulf at 0700, fifteen minutes before sunrise, watching it glow below the horizon, then raising its orb over an offlying, ancient walled island (earth), the sliver of silver/gold crescent rising above the waters, shimmering itself into a golden ball. It is easy to understand why the ancients were sun worshippers, with that majestic sphere shrugging off the darkness, to radiantly emerge and, with quiet slow dignity, dominate the daylight sky. This is one of the ecstasies of sailing, to see the sunrises and sunsets on the water, both elements of sun (fire) and water in their eternal glory. The clouds which occasionally mask, highlight or amplify these diurnal dramas with their streaks and washes of colour, contribute the fourth element, air, to make up the primitive elements of fire, earth, water, and air.

We had a bit of a WNW breeze that allowed us to fly the genoa for an hour or so, motor-sailing in the quiet morning airs, until we furled it to motor astern of a freighter plying northwards towards Athens. We then hoisted main and genoa to motor-sail for another couple of hours when we optimistically furled the genoa to set our spinnaker. However, a spinnaker run was not to be, as the winds were too light. With the spinnaker snuffed (We have a sleeve which we pull down to “snuff” the spinnaker, then lower the sleeve into the spinnaker bag. We do not use a spinnaker pole, as we have a plastic strop, which fits over the furled genoa, to which the spinnaker attaches, and flies loose footed.), we motored around the southern tip of Nisos Kea, and northward up its east coast to Ormos Polais, an exposed bay where we dropped anchor. There was a slop coming in, and it was exposed to any winds or waves from NE to S. However, there were ancient ruins that Alvin and I wanted to explore. Judy stayed on board partly because of uncertainty of the waves and weather, and also to avoid clambering the hillsides as her ankles and knees act up with such activities. So Alvin and I took Sprite ashore.

I wish we could have managed or afforded to have a RIB boat, with a solid fibreglass bottom, as running an inflatable onto a sandy or shale beach wears the fabric badly. There was quite a surge here in Ormos Polais, and the waves washing onto the pebbled beach caused me concern, so we went to the rocky sides, threw out a stern anchor to keep Sprite’s stern out, and jumped from the bow onto the boulders, tying a bow line to an outcropping so that she bobbed a few feet off the rocks while we were ashore.

It was a fantastic desolate uninhabited cove, with a deserted concrete cottage on one side, a white Greek Orthodox chapel in the middle, and a couple of primitive dwellings of ancient barrel vaulted stone design that could have been 20 years old, built by archeologists or researchers for storage, or local herdsmen for their donkeys and goats, or 2500 years old built as family dwellings by the ancient inhabitants of the Northern Cyclades. (The architecture conformed to ancient stone designs we have noted in various manuals and references for the area.) The valleys (there were two which branched off from the bay) were terraced with stone fences and obviously cultivated for olive groves and pasturage for donkeys and goats at one time. However Alvin and I were attracted to another chapel we saw high on the mountainside separating the two valleys. So off we clambered above the stone dwellings, following donkey or goat trails, picking our way through the gorse and dry prickly scrub brush.

We came across a wide variety of waste and ruins on our way up. Chunks of primitive stone blocks, shards of amphorae, broken capitals and bases of ancient columns, plastic water bottles, electrical wire, rocks with archeologists’ numbering on them, donkey and goat dung, PVC tubing, plastic cement bags, occasional stones that seemed to be placed into a worn step or stair formation, other stones with circular or rectangular holes cut in them – all contributed to a puzzle of antiquity, explored recently by archeological surveys, and used since the distant past by herdsmen, farmers and inhabitants throughout the ages, as well as Hellenistic priests and worshippers and present day Greek Orthodox monks.

This was a holy site, and still is, judging from the ruins of an ancient Temple of Apollo, and, at the summit, not a chapel but a monastery with accommodations for about a dozen monks.

The first plateau we reached was a flat space with stone slabs for a large floor, possibly an agora. There were remnants of stone blocks with niches carved in them for construction purposes. On the edges of this clearing were shards of pottery, some Alvin dug up beneath clumps of rock ridged and rounded and some contoured with broken red clay handles from amphorae. As there were no modern remains here or any sign of recent human habitation or animal shelters, I assume these discarded shards were from homes or markets from the original Hellenistic era going back as far as 500 BC.

We still had to go higher, and found a trail leading to the summit on which was perched a white chapel with blue dome, and a small plaza with two or three white concrete buildings linked by white painted concrete steps. The roofs of these buildings, including the chapel, were encircled by concrete ridges to channel rain water into a couple of cisterns constructed between the buildings. The chapel was not open, nor were any of the buildings. However we were able to peek through the windows to see the simple, austere nature of the monks’ cells. They were bright enough, with windows, plain whitewashed walls with a couple of icons, a wash stand, a wooden table or desk, and a couple of cots with folded blankets. We saw a couple of dedication plaques dating to the 1970’s when some reconstruction and additions were made. The view from this summit was a 360 degree panorama of the mountains and terraced valleys behind, the rugged mountainous coastline each side joining earth and sky, and the cove below with Veleda bobbing in the not so gentle incoming surge, and stretching out over the slight haze of the azure blue Aegean waters we could see the outline of Kythnos, Gyaros and Andros in the distance, vague shadows on the horizon beneath the expansive dome of the clear sky, the late afternoon sun behind us, casting shadows into the valleys. It reminded me that we did not want to stay in that surging, exposed bay for the night, and that we had a two hour sail to get across to the next safe anchorage on Kythnos, and I did not want to do an entry in the dark. So we had to leave this elevated sanctuary in the sky, back to our water world on Veleda.

However, I took a different path down, and found myself on a more open walkway, with flat stones beneath the surface, leading around the summit to a bower of olive trees coming out onto another plateau, to behold the ruins of the Temple of Apollo (as I later found out), a large rectangular raised stone floor with the bases of a couple of columns still in place, steps leading up to the entrance, and shadows and indentations where once stood the eight columns on each side supporting the overhanging roof. What a find! It had been surveyed by archeologists, as there were still strings measuring out the sides, and painted numbers to identify the specific stones and their placement when initially uncovered or discovered. There were a couple of small stone trenches or water conduits around the structure. I marveled at a couple of fractured marble columns lying askew and a large round stone wheel with a rectangular hole cut in the middle. The wheel was larger than any of the columns, and could have been a millstone for grinding wheat. There seemed to be the remains of a stone perimeter around the temple and the plateau.

On the seaward side of the clearing I was able to look down to see Alvin, who had taken a different route and who was down at the barrel vaulted dwellings. He indicated there was another path down to the left of the plateau which I could take rather than climbing straight down. I went back and found a set of ancient steps leading to this path, with several worn, cracked stone benches along the walkway to the temple. I could imagine the processions of laurel-wreathed, white-robed maidens of antiquity reverently ascending this wide path around the hillside to the temple for their ceremonies to Apollo. It led me back down to the shingle beach from which we started. I wished we had more time to explore the area and go up into the valleys, but the afternoon was getting later, and we had to reach the next anchorage on Kithnos before dark. We retrieved Sprite, gently bobbing off the rock wall held off by its stern anchor, and returned to Veleda. Judy was happy to get going, not so much as to get to our next anchorage before dark as to be relieved of the sickening motion of being anchored in the sloppy surge there in Ormos Polais.

Two hours later, just after sunset we anchored in one of our favourite anchorages so far, in Ormos Fikiadha on Kithnos, with its luxurious sandy beach, as I described in Log #27e when we were there two weeks earlier.