Friday, 12 June 2009

Santorini - The Jewel in the Crown ..... June 2009

08 - 11 June 2009
Just how to choose 4 photos to capture this amazing place is totally impossible, these are just a snapshot
***Skipper on the bow gazing in awe at the surroundings***Balvenie resting way down there***At the fort in the small western village of Ia, famous for its sunset views***Every shot of Santorini includes a 'med blue' church dome and the very blue med sea below, this is our contribution!***

With just enough breeze to fill the mainsail and poled out headsail we had good downwind sail the 40 odd miles south to Santorini (Thira). The island group has a somewhat explosive past. Once upon a time, Santorini and the surrounding islands were all one, well populated and with a bustling port. Then in around 1650BC, recent enough to be well documented, the very big bang occurred, the crater blew, part of the sides collapsed, islands were formed where the rim once was and water filled the crater, producing most of what we see today.

This makes anchoring there somewhat problematic as there are depths of around 50m right up to the crater walls. The cruising guide offers a couple of possibilities which we didn't feel comfortable with, and there is a small marina but it is around the bottom of the island and outside the crater and it is only 2 metres deep, so not an option for us. So while our eyes were feasting on the incredible vista surrounding us we tried to find somewhere to settle for the night.

We had heard a waterfront taverna had put in a few moorings but we didn't know where but saw some yachts so had a little tiki-tour along the shoreline and found them, unfortunately all occupied. There was however a couple more buoys a little further along with no lines on them but looking big and solid so we backed up to one, hitched a line through and tied on. We went ashore to the small taverna nearby to check if it was ok, he made a phone call to a friend and said no problem, yippee. We have found the Greeks to be so friendly and helpful everywhere we have been, nothing seems too much trouble, they are great. So after a celebratory dinner ashore we headed back to Balvenie and watched the full moon rise above the crater, just priceless.

Next morning, armed with plenty of water, we dinghied ashore and climbed the 276 steps up to the village of Ia. Now 276 steps is bad enough, but between some of the steps you had to walk 3 paces uphill to get to the next one, this was serious exercise. Arriving at the top looking and feeling very much worse for wear, we had a very leisurely look around Ia, enjoying its winding little alleys, stunning views, tasteful boutique shops and cafes with balconies suspended out over the steep crater walls.

We caught the local bus to Fira, the main town and got a circle trip sightseeing tour enroute. Santorini's non crater side slopes gently to the sea, offering a totally different terrain to the one she is famous for. There are volcanic sand beaches, some vineyards and a few crops growing, but tourism certainly is the mainstay. There were 4 cruise ships in port, and everywhere was bustling, cameras snapping, I cant think of anywhere as stunning as Santorini. Fira is just a larger version of Ia, we had a good look around, stopped for a rest and lunch then headed back on the bus, this time it took the crater rim road with stunning views, magical.

It was back down the steps to Balvenie for a swim and siesta before round two up to the top to catch the sunset. Unfortunately not spectacular but we sure got plenty of exercise.

Next morning the weather forecast was not good, our window of calm winds was closing rapidly and we had had some gusts during the night, so we decided to leave with a forecast of 10-15knots from the Northeast and head Northwest as far as we could. An hour out we were having second thoughts, very confused and lumpy seas, a double reefed main and reefed headsail and winds from nothing to 30knots - up and down, all day long. It made for a very uncomfortable, difficult and extremely wet sail, we do not remember when we last had so much salt water over the boat. We finally got in the lee of Sifnos, flatter water but mega wind gusts, the tops being whipped off the waves. We got the sails down and motored the last couple of miles into Vathy Bay, quite a wind tunnel unfortunately, and busy with charter boats dragging anchor. After a very long and tiring day we did anchor watch till around 3am when things settled enough for us to feel comfortable enough to go below.

Ole wind god Huey had thought it was time to remind us the infamous 'meltimi' was coming, and this cruising life is not all bikinis and martinis. Time to leave the Aegean. So with two more days before the 30+knot northerlies were due to arrive and settle in for at least a week we sailed northwest, first to a quiet remote bay on the southern side of Serifos where we had 12 hours sleep to recharge our batteries and then we had an excellent beam reach in comfortable seas across to Poros. It's a small island only half a mile off the northern coast of the Peloponnese peninsular, just 35 miles south of Athens, and most importantly out of the Aegean. Mission accompolished - extra rum rations for skipper and crew!!!!

Cruising Info for Santorini, Sifnos and Serifos - Greek Cyclades:
Anchorages -
Ia, Santorini ... 36 27.56N 25 23.08 on large red buoy in 50m. Taverna buoys are slightly west, there is also a dock you can tie to temporarily so enquire, not sure on depth. No charge for buoy but we dined one night in their taverna. Nothing flash but ok and not expensive
Vathy Bay, Sifnos ... 36 55.72N 24 41.42E 18m. Well held ok but others were dragging in strong bullets
Koutala Bay, Serifos ... 37 08.14N 24 27.62E 7m in sandy patch. Slight roll overnight, didn't seem to be affected over in western part of bay by it
Internet -No wifi onboard at any. Didn't look for internet ashore in Santorini
Money - ATM's at Ia and Fira on Santorini
Provisions - Small supermarket and bakery by bus stop in Ia
Formalities - did not do any
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