As the Ancient Greeks Must Have Seen it: Go Sailing!
by Jacovos Lubsen, July 2008
It is still early morning and the meltemi is already blowing quite strongly. Sails still tied down, TO KYMA – our dapper little 19-ft (5.7 m) sailing boat – is pushed into the wind and the steep short seas off the southwest coast of Naxos into the bay of Agiasos by the little diesel engine that purrs away down below. With golden fingers, the early morning sun has clawed up the eastern shores of Naxos and is now sticking its fiery red head through the early morning clouds that cover the island’s high mountains. Brilliant red rays are let through by a few patches of clear sky. The scenery is incredibly beautiful and impressive. We feel small and I am elated by the thought that Odysseus must have seen this exactly the same way had he passed the same spot at the same time of his day. The sea and the scenery of the Cycladic Islands around us hasn’t changed since ancient times. One has to get out to sea in a small boat to appreciate this. A trip on the deck of a big ferry from Piraeus to the islands doesn’t suffice.
We had left Schinoussa at first daylight. It was going to be a blustery day so we used the early morning hours when the wind is less strong to motor to the southern tip of Naxos and then up to Cape Kouroupias on the southwest side. There is a little church there called Aghios Ioannis, an unfinished hotel complex, and a small pier where the fishermen from the islands between Naxos and Amorgos deliver their catch to waiting trucks. That’s how their catch gets delivered to the fish markets of the world. South of Cape Kouroupias is actually an excellent anchorage with a sandy bottom and excellent shelter from the meltemi. We anchor there around 10 a.m. and go down to brew some coffee and get warm again. It can be quite cold at sea even during the summer, especially when the spray is constantly blowing into one’s face!
After coffee, we put two reefs in the mainsail to reduce its surface. We check again that down below everything is shipshape and securely stored, that we have correctly put on our automatic lifejackets and security harnesses, and are attached to the boat by lifelines. We then hoist what the reefs had left of the mainsail, raise the anchor and bear away to the west as the wind fills the sail. After unfurling part of the jib, TO KYMA gathers speed and gets into the white-crested waves between Paros and Naxos. It is blowing a thick Beaufort 6 but little TO KYMA is doing just fine under reduced sail with the wind abeam. We set a westerly course across to Paros, aiming for the bay of Drios and Golden Beach. You don’t really need a compass to get there as Paros is clearly visible. It is about 10 nautical miles (NM) from Cape Kouroupias to Golden Beach. We are doing about 5 knots so it won’t be a long crossing in open sea. Sometimes a white foamy crest succeeds in climbing on board, but most fail to do so. So we aren’t getting much water on deck.
We thoroughly enjoy the gloriously deep-blue sea, with its crystal-white wave crests that jump up higher than the boat! What a difference from standing on the deck of a big ship!
After about half an hour a Blue Star ferry appears from behind Ios, steering for the port of Naxos. I take out the hand bearing compass I always have directly at hand in a pocket of my oilskins, and take a bearing of the ferry. If that bearing stays constant we would eventually hit each other. But the bearing changes rapidly and she is going to pass ahead of us. Theoretically a small boat under sail has the right of way, but I prefer not to put this to the test. After another hour or so we approach the two little islands Drionisi and Makronisi that shelter the bay of Drios and make this such an ideal spot for windsurfing.
Here Aeolos reigns supreme and sends the winds down from the mountains with enormous force. We are no longer in the big waves between Paros and Naxos, but the wind is now more than our little gaffer can handle without being overpowered, and comes in from a more unfavourable direction. So we take down the sails, start the engine and motor around the southern tip of Paros to Aliki and then to Voutakos. This is a very different but also extremely impressive part of our journey today. Here the going is easy in flat seas so one has plenty of time to enjoy the sights and the scenery of Paros. Of course we take care not to hit the treacherous underwater rocks that are present here. By about 2 p.m. we reach Voutakos and anchor as close to the shore as we dare. To avoid the big seas off Paroikia on a day like this, we will stay here until late afternoon when the wind has died down a bit, and then continue to our final destination. Inside our snug cabin it is now total peace but for the noise of the wind in the rigging, and the little wavelets that tickle the hull. We cook avgolemmono from a sachet and make some sandwiches. Then a can of Mythos sends us into the arms of Morpheus, son of Hypnos, for a total bliss siesta. I for one never sleep better than on my boat!
Around 6 p.m. we start the engine, raise the anchor, and get under way again in the direction of Pounta and then Paroikia. Here one must take care to stay quite far away from the beaches directly south of Pounta as the water is very shallow there. The wind has abated but is still quite strong. We could sail, but this would take more time than the evening will last. As long as we are in flat water: no problem. Taking care to stay out of the way of the Pounta-Antiparos ferry, we leave Revmatonisi (the island of the late Mrs Goulandris) to starboard (i.e. to the right) and steer into the relatively sheltered waters in the bay formed by the two little islands north of Antiparos opposite Aghia Irini. But then there is no way out other than steering straight into the steep seas west of Paroikia.
Without the motion dampening effect of her sails, little TO KYMA pitches and rolls violently. Sure, we make headway, but sometimes the propellor stalls when the boat is stopped by a big wave. The engine doesn’t seem to mind though. The advantage of taking this route rather than “kissing” the shores of Paros (as the ferries between Paroikia and Antiparos do) is that we have a bit of sea-room left that will allow us to set sail in the unlikely event that the engine stops. Provided that they are well maintained (and you bet mine is!), modern diesel engines are extremely reliable. Nevertheless, one always has to be prepared and have a “plan B” in mind in case the engine calls it a day too early.
As we approach Aghios Fokas, the waves abate and the wind comes in from a more favourable direction. We unfurl the jib completely, adding a knot to our speed and stabilizing the boat’s motion. Two ferries are loading in the port of Paroikia. We keep close to the north shore of the bay, passing the red buoy that marks the entrance into Paroikia to the north on the “wrong” side to make sure we are out of the way of departing ferries no matter what. It is a beautiful evening. The sea was first silver in the late afternoon sunlight, the silver horizon broken by the distant faint-blue silhouettes of Sifnos, Serifos and Syros. Now the sun is setting in glorious red. As said, nothing much has changed since ancient times! The lights of Paroikia have come on. Completely satisfied by today’s experience, we eventually anchor off the beach of Livadia, tidy up the boat, inflate the dinghy and row ashore for a well-deserved beer at Helen and Alexis Bisbas’ beach bar (“Tango Mar” today).
The boats I have kept on Paros have always been named TO KYMA (“the wave” in Greek). I made the trip just described many times, first some ten years ago in TO KYMA I, a little 19-ft Cornish Shrimper. TO KYMA II, her slightly bigger 22-ft sister, is now owned by photographer Stavros Niflis, who dearly loves her and keeps her in excellent condition in a corner of Naoussa’s new port. For the last three years I sail TO KYMA III, a much bigger 30-ft Pilot Cutter from the same stable. These are traditional gaff-rigged boats robustly built in Cornwall that are very suitable for the Cycladic seas. How TO KYMA III got here is another story that I may recount in due course.
Between Corfu and Samothraki there is not a single island or bay I haven’t been to during 35 years of sailing the Greek seas. For reasons I may tell you about later also, the Cyclades is the last unspoiled cruising ground of Europe, at least the way I see it. If you are interested to hear more about sailing the Cyclades (let the editor know!) I plan to contribute regularly to these columns to tell you about the “do’s and the don’ts” when you go sailing. And if you want to hear about my views on this beforehand, or tell me what interests you, offer me a coffee at Costas’ kafeneion on the port of Paroikia (tell me when to meet by calling 0041 79 200 93 23 or by sending an email to me c/o Paros Life at firstname.lastname@example.org