North Aegean Islands

On the 2nd of July we reluctantly left the Dodecanese to head north to Lesvos, the first of the North Aegean Islands we were to visit.

The route from Patmos to Lesvos

When we set off we hadn’t decided whether we were going to stop at Chios, approximately half way there overnight or whether we’d carry on and do an overnight passage. We motored for the first 20 miles up to the passage between Samos and Ikaria when the wind filled in and gave us a glorious and fast sail to Chios. We calculated that we’d be clear of  the passage at the north of Chios and Oinoussa before it got dark. Again it was a superb sail up to the passage where the wind briefly died. We met a large ferry coming through, we’d seen it on AIS but were still pleased that we passed it in daylight. The wind freshened when we got clear of Chios and we reduced sail to 2 reefs in the main and 3 in the jib. Because of the wind strength and direction we were still doing over 8 kts and would arrive at Lesvos at 2am. We like to arrive at a new place in daylight and had been warned that our chosen anchorage was through a narrow winding channel and not best attempted at night.

We decided to drop the main and sail under jib alone for the 30 or so miles to Apothikes. Even with a triple reefed jib, we had to sail up and down outside the entrance for an hour until it started to become light. We anchored at 06:30 and after putting the sails away and turning the instruments off we went for a sleep, just as others were getting up, I hope we didn’t wake them!

The small fishing village of Apothikes

Our friends on Owl and Pussycat had been in Lesvos for a few days and had visitors James and John. We arranged that we’d remain where we were and they would come to meet us. On their arrival we went ashore for a walk and a meal at the small family run taverna. The food was basic but very nice, the wine however was atrocious. We have had a large variety of red wine but this was the first we were unable to drink – the (red) plants got a drink and we moved on to white which was much better.

The next morning we motor sailed for 32 miles to Skala Loutra, possibly the most sheltered anchorage on Lesvos. It hadn’t been our intended destination but the anchorage we’d planned had too much of a swell rolling in to be comfortable.

Skala Loutra is the port for the small town of Loutra which is a mile or so inland. The anchorage is large enough for at least 50 boats to anchor and given that there were less then 20 boats, we had plenty of room.

Of course we had to visit a local tavern for a meal and James, John and I decided to try a selection of Ouzos, something I regretted the next day but it seemed a good idea at the time.

A pleasant meal, before the Ouzos

We decided that some culture was required so we caught the bus to the capital of Lesvos – Mytilene.

Mytilene was initially confined to a small island just offshore that later was joined to Lesbos, creating a north and south harbour. The early harbours of Mytilene were linked during ancient times by a channel 700 meters long and 30 meters wide. The Roman writer Longus speaks of white stone bridges linking the two sides. The Greek word εὔριπος eúripos is a commonly-used term when referring to a strait. The strait allowed ancient warships called triremes, with three tiers of rowers or more. The boats that passed were approx. six meters wide plus oars and had depth of two meters.

The areas of the city that were densely populated connected the two bodies of land with marble bridges. They usually followed a curved line. The strait begins at the old market called Apano Skala. It was also close to Metropolis Street and ended at the Southern Harbour. One could argue that the channel transversed what is now called Ermou Street. Over time the strait began to collect silt and earth. There was also human intervention for the protection of the Castle of Mytilene. The strait eventually filled with earth.

We walked up to the castle and had a look round and at the views over the capital, before going to the harbour for a gyros.

After re-stocking in the town of Loutra, it was time to head north. We had a brief stop at a small beach on the east side of Lesvos which had a number of ancient coffins in a farmers field. We saw a few before a herd of bulls took more interest in us than we liked.

Old tombs

After a very peaceful night we sailed and motored round to Petra on the north of the island. Claire had been very keen to go there because it was one of the first places she’d visited on holiday in Greece.

We anchored off the beach and took the dinghies ashore.

Coriander and O&P anchored at Petra

The small town was quite quiet given that it was pretty much the height of the tourist season. This was something we’d notice from here on and talking to taverna owners they said that it was one of the quietest seasons they’d known.

The focal point of the town is a church on a hill which we of course had to visit.

Mike climbing up to the church

A polite notice asked that visitors dress appropriately if they wished to enter the church and given that we were all in shorts we contented ourselves with the views.

That evening we took a stroll alone the front before finding a taverna to watch the sun go down.

At this point O&P left to visit Mithynma before crossing to the island of Limnos ahead of a storm that had been forecast. We wanted to see more of Lesvos so decided to return to Skala Loutra to see out the storm.

I took the opportunity to contact the local garage and arrange for a delivery of diesel. I took the dinghy ashore with 5 containers which would enable me to get 120 litres. Of course as I arrived, the heavens opened. I sheltered in a taverna and luckily the tanker driver decided to wait for the rain to ease before he arrived at the dock.

Sheltering ashore while picking up diesel

Fueled up and the storm easing we sailed along the south of the island to Sigri.

Sigri anchorage

Sigri is a beautiful town sheltered behind 2 islands. I had to go ashore for 2 reasons, firstly to visit the windmill.

Sigri windmill, now a beautiful house

And secondly to try the local beer.

This was our final anchorage on Lesvos and the next day we sailed the 54 miles to Dhiapori on Limnos.

Lesvos to Limnos
Coriander anchored off the beach at Dhiapori

We met up with O&P here and had a couple of days in the tranquillity here before sailing round to the main port of Myrina. It is possible to anchor in the port but on arrival there were a couple of spaces left on the town quay so we decided to med moor there. It’s reported that there is a heavy chain on the seabed approximately 40m from the quay so we were careful not to drop our anchor where it would snag. It is correct as several yachts caught their anchors over the following days.

Myrina town quay and anchorage

We hadn’t realised it but we’d seen Myrina many times  – it’s the cover photograph on the Greek pilot book we’d been using. We tried to get a similar shot.

We found ourselves in the company of 2 other boats (apart from O&P) that we’d met during the course of the year, and  berthed next to a couple from Glasgow who used to keep their boat at Clyde Marina, Ardrossan – our UK marina for 15 years – it’s a small world. Of course we all met up on an evening for sundowners.

The ‘above’ photograph
And ‘below’ – No I didn’t take the photograph

We spent around a week here over 2 visits. We hired a car and toured some of the island’s sights:

Statue of Maroula at Kotsinas

In 1478 Kotsinas passed into history when was besieged by Suleiman Pasha. According to one legend, popularised in the West, mainly from a 1669 poem by the Jesuit Dondini, the castle was saved at the last minute thanks to the courage of Maroula which, when her father was killed, grabbed his sword and rushed at the defenders fighters which stopped the siege.

During the Middle Ages it was an important port. At first was the seaport of Hephaestia while later, in 1361, acquired an imposing Castle. On the hill of Cochinas, inside the castle, stands the temple of Zoodochos Pigi on top of a well, “holy water” in which one descends with 64 stairs  until almost reach the sea level. Obviously, when the artificial hill of the castle was created, there were plans for an underground passage, so as not to lose the necessary water during the sieges. The “holy water” took its current form in 1918. Not sure about the bucket though and we didn’t taste it.

One of the reasons for the road trip was to find flamingos which reportedly number in the thousands, unfortunately when we got to the lake it was just a huge salt flat

No flamingos here!

There are several archaeological sites spread over the island and the one we chose to go around was he ancient theatre at Ifestia

and then on to the amazing sand scoured cliffs at Atsiki.

We had also intended going to a famous beach but we were running low on petrol and the petrol station we’d planned on filling up from was closed so we headed back to Myrina for sundowners on the beach

Sundowners looking towards Myrina

Of course, I couldn’t leave Limnos without visiting the ‘famous’ Limnos windmills.

Limnos windmills – now a hotel

Our time in the North Aegean was coming to a close. We’d arranged to meet my brother and his wife in the Sporades – More of that next time.