Wednesday 18th September 2019
This is going to be a fascinating day, long in the planning by my friend. He told me that it all started with his memory of one my blog pieces headed "Summer 2016 July ferrying". This was published on 24th February 2017 and can be found by going to the list of years/dates on the right hand page of my blog page, or by looking further down that same front page and in the alphabetical list of items you can find 'Antikythera' and click on that.
Part 3 tells that on Sunday 17th July 2016 I was on the VITSENTZOS KORNAROS and we called at the very small Greek island of Antikythera, en route to Piraeus. The tiny port is sheltered in a very tiny bay but that can be a problem if the weather is not good. On 17th July 2016 it was not good!
These are my notes from that time, and the pictures can be seen on my blog (https://haynesworld-u-cdolly.blogspot.com)
" We arranged for a taxi to pick us up later (in Kissamos) and take us to the port of Kissamos and we arrived there in time to collect the booked tickets and go on board VITSENTZOS KORNAROS of Lane Sea Lines. She was built in 1976 at just 6,387 gross tons, as PRIDE OF WINCHESTER. We sailed at 5.20 p.m. with the ropes removed as the ramp came up; the inevitable dog was on the quayside checking up on the activities. He stood quite near the ropes man and, when the order came to let go, the dog was not paying attention and as the rope came off the bollard we saw him suddenly leap up with the shock of it happening very near him! Luckily, the inevitable 'man with a camera' was paying attention, and there is a photographic record of the surprised dog with all four legs off the ground.
We soon realised just how rough the seas were outside the area sheltered by the bay, although it was sunny and pleasant on deck for a while. Two and a half hours later we arrived at the narrow entrance of the port of Antikythira, and it was a great relief to get away from the rough seas outside. We haven't been here before and found the whole exercise of getting the passengers and their vehicles off and others on the ship quite, well, extraordinary in these extreme wind and sea conditions. No sooner were we within the narrow entrance to the tiny bay than we had to turn to port ready to get our stern lined up with the quay, with our turning circle extremely limited by a white buoy on the port side and mountainside rocks on our starboard side.
Most of us passengers headed forward at first to watch the turn, then to the stern to overlook several deck officers instructing the brave ropes men down on the ramp. It was obviously not easy to tie up on the quay, so the ramp was partly down, ready to be lowered at great speed as we finally approached. The wind and sea was having a powerful effect on the ship even within the relative safety of the little bay, and everyone admired the amazing seamanship that enabled us to get one rope ashore. Many of us applauded the crew for doing their jobs in what seemed to be extremely difficult conditions.
Passengers raced ashore when instructed, others rushed to embark when told to do so, and then one big car reversed up the ramp and onto the ship at great speed, again when told to go, go, go. I think the whole exercise took about 20 minutes from when we entered the bay to when we left it, but goodness me, I think it took great skill to make the call at Antikythera. Presumably only small ships like ours, at 6,387 gross tons, are the only ones able to do it. I was told that in the winter there are only 55 inhabitants on this island, but it is popular in the summer when the ferries can get there.
I think I will draw the proverbial veil over the next few hours, as the sea conditions became very unpleasant and we three ferry folk felt unwell. I took no more photos that day, as I was seasick (ugh), and then we simply took to our beds very early hoping to endure the overnight hours until we reached Piraeus early tomorrow. I soon slept soundly and in no time it seemed to be morning, thank goodness."
My friend remembered all this and when he had the opportunity to visit Antikythera in 2017 he attempted to do so. Almost unbelievably he too experienced bad weather himself and was unable to make the visit. We have high hopes today of being able to land and visit the island for some hours, until IONIS picks us up again this evening.
We left the lovely Gramvoussa Bay Hotel very early again and admired the gardens and bay as we walked to the port. There had been a power cut in the night and I think many guests must have heard the 'bang' as it cut out and emergency lights came on.
We collected the tickets for today's trip and tomorrow as well, and I noticed that in the window of the ticket office was a sign showing the ports of call today.
Beside it I could see the reflection of IONIS, which is our ship for the day, and we were soon able to board this small 3,000 gross tons of ship. She is now with Triton Lines. A port dog watched from the quayside. The central bar staff were welcoming and the coffee made, and we soon sat down to enjoy breakfast and watch as the rest of today's 87 passengers came on board.
My friend is so excited about this visit, and we were both happy when we left Kissamos at 08.30. We enjoyed going on deck to watch the sea and scenery, and then talk with a small family sitting nearby. The parents of a 2 year old told us they came from the island and visited when they could. The mother mentioned that once she had been visiting the island in spring and then the weather became bad and she had to stay there for several weeks until a ship could get in. Another passenger was a quantity surveyor, about to visit the water works on the island.
I was amused when I went to look down at the aft deck and could see a windlass on the port side with a red-painted top to it, and of course there on the starboard side was one with a green painted top.
Soon the island came in sight, with an arrival time of 10.30.
We all gathered up our possessions and watched from the decks of IONIS as we entered the harbour and turned to come up to the quayside and put our ramp down. This time it all worked well, and a couple of minutes later we were walking down the ramp and onto the almost mystical and certainly remote island of Antikythera.
Families and friends were greeted and several spoke to us as we watched the ship depart.
The ship engine noises soon faded away and we appreciated the absolute silence of this place. We had arranged to hire a couple of rooms in a building up the steep side of the mountain nearest to the port of Potamos, and soon met a friendly local man who drove us up to the white-painted two-storey building and took payment on behalf of the owner, who was currently in Athens.
It was on a promontory with wonderful views around, looking out over a precipitous drop beyond the weather-damaged, or absent, fencing.
We were shown the en suite room and balcony, and the clean linen for the beds. There was cold water from the taps and the fridge seemed to work when turned on, so our kind new friend wished us an enjoyable time on the island as he left. We put the chairs and table on the balcony and sat down to marvel at our surroundings. I think it was the absolute silence and the glorious colours of the water in the bay and beyond that held our attention for a long time.
My friend felt it was rather like arriving at the remote South Atlantic island of St. Helena. He had travelled on the ST. HELENA ship to the British Dependency fairly recently and of course I had been there a couple of times, firstly during my time as a Purserette with Union-Castle Line when I worked on the CAPETOWN CASTLE, and then in December 1999 during the Union-Castle Line Centenary Voyage.
It was at this point that my friend became a kind of magician, as he went to the fridge and produced a bottle of wine and two glasses. The label said it was white wine commemorating the final departure of the Royal Mail Ship ST. HELENA. I was amazed at this as he said it felt like the right occasion to produce it and drink it now. What a huge compliment! I felt quite emotional when he added that he and his Father were standing on Cape Town's Victoria Dock side when the Union-Castle Line Centenary Voyage ship VICTORIA came in on 29th December 1999; they were standing at the time next to the former VICTORIA, then known as ANASTASIS, the Mercy Ship.
We had to sit and enjoy a drink of this oh-so-special wine, on the balcony looking out at the blue sea and sky, also enjoying the sandwiches bought on the IONIS.
Sometime later my friend said he was ready to go climbing one of the mountainsides as he wanted to see the remains of the ancient Greek city of Aegila built in the 4th century BC and possibly enjoy a swim in the remote bay next to ours.
He was wearing a red t-shirt so I was able to see and film his progress up one side of the mountain before he disappeared from sight. I was very relieved to see him return down the track a few hours later, when he told me what he had seen and done, and showed me the photos.
I spent the time reading and taking photos of some of my paper souvenirs that I had not had time to do before this, plus watching a yacht sail into the bay and anchor at one side. Someone from the yacht enjoyed swimming around part of the bay.
In the early evening we tidied and locked our rental premises and then headed down the hill to the village of Potamos. It is small and steep but we enjoyed the walk and meeting local people on the way down. We found the recommended coffee shop, which seemed to be a cafe, grocery store, and post office, as well as the place to be in an evening on this island. More and more people came in, all of us sitting under the vine, and when the owner asked if we would like dinner, we were glad we were almost the first to order. He happily provided huge plates of pork chops, fried potatoes, an omelette and salad for each of us and we sat at one of the communal tables. What I couldn't finish my friend shared with the many cats at his feet, so nothing was wasted. It was all very relaxing and friendly and we were also joined by the little family with the 2 year old lad we had met this morning.
About 9.15 many of us strolled down to the quayside in the darkness. Someone then let us know the ship was a little late arriving for the scheduled 9.40 departure back to Kissamos but everyone was talking to everyone as we waited.
The good ship IONIS arrived about 10 p.m. and we all boarded, saying our goodbyes and thanks to those we had met today on this unforgettable island.
Ships seen: Gramvousa, Balos, Skylark, Ionis, the yacht in the bay, and fishing boats
To be continued...
Tuesday 17th September 2019
The sea had been calm overnight and all was well as we arrived at the Crete port of Chania. We had arranged to disembark at 07.30 so it was almost daylight by then as we waited on the quayside for our taxi-driver. He arrived by sunrise although the quayside dog was still resting. I noticed his eyes were alert for possible food though.
My friend had arranged for us to be collected from the ship by a local man who drove us further west to Kissamos Bay, to check in at the Gramvoussa Bay Hotel. I had a small apartment which seemed wonderful for a family, but my eye soon saw a hairdryer in the bathroom - oh what bliss for the next couple of days. We were booked on a day's cruise leaving the local port at 10.30, only a short walk away, but first we had time for a relaxed breakfast in the hotel restaurant, with a variety of tempting dishes.
We soon walked to the port admiring the wonderful location of this hotel with its own bay and safe water for swimming.
Ahead of us we could see the local Cretan Daily Cruises fleet and what became a crowd of hundreds of people queuing for their tickets. We soon had ours and boarded SPIRIT OF ATHOS. This became our comfortable home for the day as we found comfortable mid-ship bench seats under cover.
Departure time came and went, as more and more passengers arrived at the quayside ticket office, and more and more of them were directed to the various ships. We could see the large GRAMVOUSA filling up with hundreds of people, with more and more waiting to board. Our smaller ship was full but seemed comfortably so to us, although some had to sit on stairs between decks, by choice I think.
We finally sailed about an hour late but the sea was calm and blue under an azure sky, with a barely noticeable breeze. It was a wonderful sail along parallel with the rocky and arid coast on our port side, heading north. This was where a tectonic plate had slipped, we were told. To our north/north-east I could just see land faintly on the horizon, and realised that it was probably the island of Antikythera, many miles away, and our destination tomorrow.
We rounded the headland on the SPIRIT OF ATHOS and sailed into Balos Bay, our main destination for the day. The mountains were almost all around us, and the ship tied up at a walkway to the shore. It was a glorious sight, with clear sea around us, changing colour slightly as we watched the shallow depths beneath us. Far round the bay was an almost dried up lagoon, a vast sandy beach curving round part of the bay from where we anchored, and low rocks or sand giving access to the sparkling water for swimming or simply doing nothing.
There were no signs of habitation but our ship was available all the time we were in the bay, whether we wanted food or drinks from the bar or just to relax under the shaded deck. We had hired a huge canvas umbrella which proved its worth on the beach until hunger drove us back to the ship. I could see freshly cooked sausages and pies were available at the bar, and pizza was freshly cooked as we waited. We could have cold juices, beer or hot drinks as we wished. There were ice creams, fresh fruit and pastries and I think most appetites were satisfied.
We sat and talked with a couple from Alesund in Norway as we had our food.
Later the ship sailed from the bay and went round to another one, and put the anchor down this time towards one end of an ancient rusty shipwreck. Then it was everyone off the ship, some energetic people to climb the mountainside to castle remains at the top, whilst the rest of us enjoyed the water, beach and shade under the trees.
The ship's whistle reminded us all to get back on board after our two hour break here, and then we could all enjoy the oh so slow progress of the SPIRIT OF ATHOS along the length of the anchor chain, parallel with the shipwreck, as the heavy anchor finally came up. We could hear and feel the engine as this happened. We had seen the sheer of our ship from the beach and it was an unusual sight these days I thought. She was built in 1970 - different times and designs back then.
We had a gentle sail home again, back to Kissamos harbour, after an absolutely wonderful day out.
We had a final Cretan meal (fried cheese, Cretan salad which included rusks, meatballs and chips, plus bread and wine, since you ask) at the local tavern at the port, and then walked home ready to pack and prepare for our next adventure tomorrow.
Ships seen: MSC Lirica, Norwegian Jade, Blue Galaxy
Gramvousa, Spirit of Athos built in 1970 at 551 gross tons, Skylark, Gramvousa Express, Balos, and the shipwreck
To be continued...