It was so wonderful to be on the move after two and a half months lockdown in Alimos Marina, Athens, but we didn’t have time to linger and really get to know each of the islands we anchored at as our 90 days Schengen visa period was well and truly over and we had to leave Greece or find an official who could agree to an extension.
On the upside though, our quick trip through the islands has been free of tourists and we have had the luxury of every anchorage virtually to ourselves.
After Serifos, with its stunning chora stretching way up the hill above the anchorage, we headed for another low key but lovely island, Sifnos.
Very little wind was predicted but after an hour of motoring we put the sails up and enjoyed an unexpected and beautiful sail, skimming along at 6.3 knots in around 12 knots winds.
It was glorious, the seas were calm and there was not one other vessel in sight for as far as the eye could see. Just us and the islands!
We had chosen the anchorage at Kamares which had an interesting entrance that reminded us of the “Hole in the Wall” in Langkawi, Malaysia.
On approach all we could see were cliffs and no way through them but once we drew nearer, we could just define a small “fold” in the rocky terrain and locate the narrow entrance.
Once we had anchored up we realised there was a slight but uncomfortable swell and added to that, inexplicably, we just didn’t like “the vibe”. So we motored round to another spot – Ormos Vathi which we were really delighted about as it was definitely our sort of place. .
There were only two other boats in the bay – both Greek flagged – and one was moored stern-to right outside a picturesque sparkling white chapel with the signature domed roof.
Once on land we had a look round the exterior of the chapel (unfortunately it was locked) and walked through an archway to the cutest little beach imaginable with a lovely shady taverna that looked very appealing.
Rather than sit down and order a long cold drink we decided we should go for a walk first, so we followed the coast round to the other side of the bay. On the way there were a handful of other tavernas, a useful looking shop and a number of small holiday homes.
In places the beach completely disappeared and we had to wade through the water as we passed the houses until we reached the broad stretch of sand in front of a very nice looking hotel. Sadly it was all shut down – there were no guests due to Covid-19.
After the hotel there was a series of tiny coves, each with just one or two people in. At one point we climbed up some steps and followed a low cliff path around to yet another small cove.
On the way back we stopped to buy some vegetables and fresh bread before heading to the taverna we spied first for an icy cold beer.
We would have loved to have stayed longer but apart from the visa-free time limit issue, a curious knocking noise had developed which became ultra annoying in the slight swell we were experiencing.
It took us a while to track down the strange knocking sound that reverberated through the starboard hull. Eventually after checking the bilges, lockers and my bathroom cupboard Jonathan realised that the noise was coming from the fuel tank which was right under our bed!
It appeared that the gauge float that measured the amount of fuel left in the tank had come away and was moving with the boat and banging on first on one wall of the tank and then the other.
So we decided to call into Paros, one of the main tourist islands of the Cyclades group where, we hoped, we would find someone who would be able to sort out our problem.
The following day we motor sailed to Paros (the wind was light and intermittent) which took us about four and a half hours. When we arrived we made our first attempt at Mediterranean stern-to mooring. For those who don’t know, there are a few variations of this and the one we were trying to accomplish entails dropping the anchor and then reversing into your “parking space “ and securing lines ashore from the stern (back of the boat).
This process should have been reasonably easy as there weren’t too many boats in the harbour but there was a brisk wind and we ended up being snuggled right up to a speed boat called Tequila. Fortunately the skipper was on board and was prepared to fend off if need be.
The anchoring part (my responsibility) went pretty well and despite the poor holding our trusty new Rochna anchor dug in quickly and well.
We discovered that you really need four people for this manoeuvre – one to steer, one to handle the anchor and two to throw the lines. Hmm we were slightly undermanned. However, Yiannis the Port Policeman (the very nicest, kindest official we have met in Greece) came to the rescue.
He had come to check us out as seeing we were NZ flagged thought we might be trying to enter Greece from another country which wasn’t allowed at that time.
He took the lines, called out instructions and helped us get settled before taking away our documentation to check. In the meantime Konstantinos, our skipper friend on Tequila, helped us put another line out which helped keep us well away from his charge.
When the Yiannis returned with our checked documents he was so helpful and laid back – first he found us someone to look at our tank which was brilliant and then after telling him we had to leave because of our visa situation he said “don’t worry, stay and enjoy Paros – with Covid-19 these are exceptional circumstances.
As Paros was the first Greek island I ever visited and where I first fell in love with Greece – forty years ago when I was in my twenties – I definitely didn’t need a second invitation to stay!
Parikia, the port town, was still recognisable – perhaps a little more built up than my previous visit but as it was so quiet due to Covid-19, the place had reverted to the rather sleepy, laid back, vibe of yesteryear.
The iconic and photogenic windmills still welcome in the ferry passengers and the old town was just as I remembered it – the narrow, cobbled laneways, bougainvillea tumbling from the whitewashed walls of the ancient houses, the chapels and the tavernas. There were rather more clothes and tourist shops but it didn’t seem that different.
One major change was the number of supermarkets and the presence of a deli! There was certainly nothing like that forty years ago. We were very happy to find Branston Pickle and Marmite (the English version of Vegemite) in one of the shops – unheard of even in the largest supermarkets we visited in Athens.
The contrast between tiny, low-key Ormos Vathi, Sifnos and the normally bustling vibe of Parikia in Paros was quite obvious but we felt both were fabulous in their own way and both epitomised all the reasons why we love the Greek Islands!