Porto Cheli holds fantastic memories for Gill and I.
While sailing the world has been a lifelong dream for me, the same can’t be said for Gill. I took her introduction to sailing quite gently. We took a couple of 4 day holidays on a motor cruiser on the Caledonian Canal – no sails, no waves and beautiful scenery. I chartered a yacht on Lake Windemere – no waves and light winds before finally booking a 2 week villa flotilla holiday to based at Porto Cheli. The first week Gill took (yacht) sailing lessons while I had a great time windsurfing. On the second week of the holiday we had a Moody S31 named ‘Coriander’ and sailed with the flotilla around the Argolic Gulf. After a week of great (and very gentle) sailing in fantastic weather visiting beautiful villages and anchorages Gill saw what I was talking about and agreed to us buying our first yacht. This was in July 2003 and by October the same year we’d purchased a Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 32.2 which we named ‘Coriander’ after the yacht that made it possible. We’re now sailing on our 3rd Coriander.
Anyway, back to 2018.
Ormos Zogeria – Spetses
This beautiful bay on the NW tip of Spetses was our favourite anchorage 15 years ago and it is still gorgeous, if a little busier.
In 2003 we had the anchorage to ourselves. On both occasions that we visited the anchorage this year there were plenty of yachts anchored and flotilla and tripper boats anchoring for swim stops through the day. There is still plenty of room though. The water is crystal clear and the bottom sand.
On our first visit, after a refreshing swim, we took the dinghies round to the taverna in the smaller bay just west of our anchorage where we enjoyed a beer and ouzo while looking across Spetses Channel to Porto Heli 3 miles away.
Porto Heli or Cheli depending upon what you read is a very special place for Gill and I. It was the home base of the Neilson flotilla in 2003.
The flotilla has long gone but the hotel and pontoon are still there and this time we anchored about 500m away.
On the first occasion we visited in company with Mike and Claire on Owl and Pussycat and their guests Andrea and Fiona. We had a meal ashore and Gill and I were astounded by how busy the town now was with the front lined with restaurants and the quay filled with boats med moored.
The next day Fiona and I tried windsurfing on the Red Windsup paddleboard / windsurfer that I’d bought the year before. Fiona did incredibly well considering it was her first attempt and the sail was much larger than a beginner sail would be. It wasn’t quite as easy as I’d found it years ago though I did manage to sail and turn.
Porto Chelli is a large natural harbour with depths of 5-6m pretty much throughout with the bottom being thick mud, perfect anchoring ground.
It’s sheltered from pretty much all wind directions and the entrance to the SW is sheltered by Spetses so large waves don’t enter.
We used this to our advantage on our second visit when a medicane had been forecast. A Medicane is a Mediterranean Hurricane and this had been forecast at least a week in advance, along with strong winds a few days earlier.
We discussed the options with Mike and Claire (both of us now on the Peloponnese side of the gulf) and we decided we’d return to Porto Cheli for its’ all round shelter.
We got to Porto Cheli on the 21st September 2018 and left on the 2nd of October. This was probably the longest time we’d spent anywhere when it wasn’t for the winter.
It gave us time to celebrate my birthday at a place we loved and we took the opportunity to rent a car on one of the calm days and explore inland – more on that trip later.
In preparation for the strong winds and the fact that the wind would turn 180 degrees as the eye passed over us we laid out 60m of chain in 6m of water. As more and more boats came in we found we had to go around the neighbouring boats and tell them how much chain we had out and that we’d swing as the winds changed. Astoundingly some people didn’t know about the impending storm and thanked us for the advice and put out a similar amount of chain. We also had some boats thinking we were silly for putting out that much stating that 30m was plenty – They dragged at the peak of the storm putting themselves and other anchored boats in danger. Luckily they were able to re-anchor and this time put out plenty of chain.
We’d taken the bimini down and lashed ropes around the sail bag to stop it flapping and also reduce windage. The dinghy was also secured with extra lines to ensure it didn’t move.
On the 29th September the sky darkened as the storm approached at around 8:30am.
And by 9:00am it hit with a bang – the wind increased to 40kts and torrential rain reduced visibility to metres.
The weather was wild all day and everyone were either confined to their boats or in some cases they’d left their boats and had booked hotel rooms. We stayed on anchor watch all day and well into the night with the wind changing direction at around 8pm. Our anchor held fine and apart from a boat close to us having to let more chain out so that we’d avoid them we didn’t have any trouble. Several other coats dragged but luckily they missed the other anchored boats and were able to re-anchor safely.
The boats that had been stern to the quay didn’t fare quite so well. The strong winds and chop that built up crashed them against the concrete quay and 7 or so were quite badly damaged. Those that could left the quay and came out to anchor where it was much safer.
By 2am on the 30th the winds had eased enough for Gill and I to feel happy to leave the cockpit, have a nightcap and go to bed. The next morning dawned completely calm and we were able to go ashore to see the damage and see how everyone else had fared.
The maximum gust we’d recorded was 74.6kts.
Our anchor logging app track was pretty impressive too. It shows that we moved around a lot but the anchor held firm.
We’d definitely made the right decision to shelter here as reports came in of damaged and sunken boats in many of the places we’d been and could have gone to.
The 3rd time we visited was with Chris and Liba on the 21st October. By this time the town was much quieter and many of the restaurants had closed.
We visited for a 4th time on the 26th October while making our way round to Kalamata.
Ferry boat trip to Spetses
On our first visit to Porto Cheli we joined Mike, Claire, Andrea and Fiona on a trip to Spetses town. We took a bus to Kosta and then the ferry over to Spetses town.
The ferry docks in front of the impressive Poseidon Grand hotel next to the old harbour which is now reserved for taxi and tripper boats.
As usual Claire had done her research and suggested a visit to a museum dedicated to a hero of the Greek war of independence – Laskarina “Bouboulina” Pinotsis. The museum is housed in Bouboulina’s house and the museum guides are descendants of Bouboulina.
On entering and paying our €2 we were seated and told that we’d get a 30 minute talk on the great lady before being split into groups organised by language for the museum tour. The talk was only given in Greek but luckily we were given notes in English.
Please feel free to click on the photographs to read the story in full but a precis is that: Bouboulina was born in a prison in Constantinople, the daughter of Stavrianos Pinotsis, a captain from Hydra island, and his wife Skevo. Pinotsis was in prison and during one of her mother’s visits she was born. When her father died she moved to Hydra with her mother and then to the island of Spetses four years later.
Bouboulina married twice, first Dimitrios Yiannouzas and later the wealthy shipowner and captain Dimitrios Bouboulis. Bouboulis was killed in battle against Algerian pirates in 1811. Then 40 years old, Bouboulina took over his fortune and his trading business and had four more ships built at her own expense, most famously the large warship Agamemnon (Interesting aside – Agamemnon was the king of Mycenae. His brother was Menelaus, who was married to Helen of Troy, the main characters that participated in the events leading to the Trojan War).
Bouboulina joined the Filiki Etaireia, an underground organisation that was preparing Greece for revolution against Ottoman rule. She bought arms and ammunition at her own expense and brought them secretly to Spetses in her ships, to fight “for the sake of my nation.” Construction of the ship Agamemnon was finished in 1820.
She bribed Turkish officials to ignore the ship’s size and it was later one of the largest warships in the hands of Greek rebels. She organised her own armed troops, composed of men from Spetses. She used her fortune to provide food and ammunition for the sailors and soldiers under her command.
On 13 March 1821 Bouboulina raised on the mast of Agamemnon her own Greek flag. The people of Spetses revolted on 3 April and joined forces with ships from other Greek islands. Bouboulina sailed with eight ships to Nafplion and began a naval blockade. Later she took part in the naval blockade and capture of Monemvasia and Pylos.
When the opposing factions erupted into civil war in 1824, the Greek government arrested Bouboulina for her family connections. Eventually she was exiled back to Spetses. She had exhausted her fortune for the war of independence.
Bouboulina was killed in 1825 as the result of a family feud in Spetses. The daughter of a Koutsis family and Bouboulina’s son Georgios Yiannouzas had eloped. Seeking her, the girl’s father Christodoulos Koutsis went to Bouboulina’s house with armed members of his family. Infuriated, Bouboulina confronted them from the balcony. After her argument with Christodoulos Koutsis, someone shot at her. She was hit in the forehead and killed instantly; the killer was not identified.
Bouboulina was commemerated on the reverse side of the Greek Drachma and we were given one to keep.
The tour of the museum was very interesting, the rooms grand and the exhibits very personal. The guides imbued a real sense of pride in Bouboulina. She was the first lady to hold the rank of admiral.
Culture done we then went for a walk through the town to the main harbour.
The harbour is where visiting yachts can go but space was very tight. We’d sailed here in 2003 when we were pretty much the only yacht there. This time it was packed with both visiting and local boats as well as the water tankers which are the only source of drinking water.
We then made our way back in to town through the very chic (expensive) shops to a taverna for lunch before catching the ferry and bus back to Porto Cheli.
Road trip to Didyma and Ancient Epidavros
In between a storm on the 26th September and the medicane on the 29th the weather returned to what we had come to expect as normal. We decided to hire a car for the day and take a trip inland to Ancient Epidavros (as opposed to Palaia ‘old’ Epidavros and Nea ‘new’ Epidavros).
The first stop was at a famous sinkholes at Didyma. On seeing the signposts we turned off the main road onto a very rough dirt track heading to some hills. It’s times like this I appreciate that I’m in a hire car rather than one I own.
I parked the car under a tree for shade and we made our way to what we thought was the more impressive hole.
Returning to the car we saw a gate with steps down to a tunnel. We went through and entered a massive sink hole with 2 churches built in to the wall. We went round the perimeter of the hole and into the churches. It’s fantastic that the churches are unlocked and without any form of security.
Especially given the artefacts and icons inside.
From Didyma we took the (long and) winding road to the ruined city of Ancient Epidavros. The car and coach park were massive but thankfully nearly empty, that’s one of the good things about visiting these sites outwith the main tourist season.
Epidavros is a small town 5 miles away from this site. The site or the Asclepius at Epidavros was founded in the 6th century BC.
The asclepeion was the most celebrated healing centre of the Classical world, the place where ill people went in the hope of being cured. To find out the right cure for their ailments, they spent a night in the enkoimeteria, a big sleeping hall. In their dreams, the god himself would advise them what they had to do to regain their health. Within the sanctuary there was a guest house with 160 guestrooms. There are also mineral springs in the vicinity, which may have been used in healing.
We paid our entry fee of €12 if memory serves correctly and made our way firstly to the museum. In the first room the exhibit that impressed me the most was the cabinet of surgical instruments. It’s amazing to me that there would be fine scalpels and other instruments that were used thousands of years ago.
There were also stones with carved descriptions (in ancient Greek of course) describing the purpose of the site and who visited. The museum holds many of the friezes and statues that have been found during the excavations of the site that are still ongoing.
From the museum we headed for, probably, the highlight of the site – the theatre.
We followed the narrow stone path through pine trees and were stunned as the view opened up before us. The theatre was built at the end of the 4th century BC by the architect, Polykleitos the Younger, who also designed the Tholos in the sanctuary. More on that later. It is estimated that the theatre could seat 12,000 in the audience.
The auditorium is divided into 2 unequal parts divided by a horizontal walkway. The lower part is divided by 13 radiating staircases into 12 wedge shaped segments containing 34 rows of seats. Above the walkway 23 radiating passages divide it into 22 wedge shaped sections, each with 20 rows of seats. The seats on the lowest row have backrests and are known as the seats of honour. No prize for guessing where Gill sat.
Given that we were at the end of September now and between storms the weather was gorgeous with little wind and temperatures in the mid 30s centigrade.
We climbed the stairs to the top row to see if the acoustics were as good as everyone says e.g. you can hear a pin drop on the stage. As we sat to listen a group of visitors started to sing in the middle of the stage and I can confirm you could hear every word.
After being blown away by the theatre we headed for the main site of the sanctuary. It isn’t as well preserved as the theatre but you get a good impression of its’ size and previous splendour.
The first part was the Katagogian or hostel which was used to house pilgrims, patients and their companions when they visted the sanctuary. It consisted of 160 rooms set in 4 units, each of which had a central courtyard.
We then went through to the main part of the ancient sanctuary
This area hold several buildings, a gymnasium, public baths, a banquet hall and various temples.
Whilst there isn’t a lot left, what there is impresses with the quality of the building with carved stones for the walls and drainage waterways. It should also be remembered that the site was ransacked by pirates and the stones used as building materials elsewhere.
At the far end of the complex lies the stadium. Having been to the site of Olympia I have to say it’s pretty similar.
The stadium is constructed in a natural depression with a track some 180m long by 22m wide. The stone columns were the start / finish lines. Unlike Olympia where the seats were only for the judges, here the seating was for anyone.
The Tholos which was designed by the architect responsible for the theatre is an alter and was used for offerings to the gods.It consisted of 26 external Doric columns and 14 internal columns. The floor was paved with black and white limestone slabs with a central stone which could re removed to gain access to the room underneath which is believed to have been used for storing valuable objects.
Once we left Epidavros we decided to head for the coast and the town of Methana on the Methana peninsula. It is a spa resort known for its’ thermal springs and the smell of sulpher was certainly in the air when we arrived. There is a small marina there and all of the fastenings are rope as chain would apparently rot. I certainly wouldn’t take Coriander there. A number of yachts went stern to the ferry berth but the bottom was rocky and some took several attempts to get the anchor to bite.
We stopped at a quayside taverna for a drink to watch the action and were visited by a large locust type insect. Unfortunately the phone picture I took didn’t turn out too well.
Time was now against us as we had to get the car back by 7pm. It was a fairly long drive along narrow twisty roads with drop offs down to the sea from the cliffs. The low sun wasn’t fun either as we crested rises and turned corners heading west along the coast we’d sailed along in the previous few weeks.
We made it back in time and in one piece. Time for a meal and then head back to the boats to prepare for the medicane described earlier.