Our Cunning Plan: to Traverse the Aegean North West Passage


Turkey to Skyros via Agathonisi and Samos

As the days passed by and the forecasts firmed out it looked like we really were going to get a couple of days of light, southerly winds. Operation Aegean North West Passage was on!

Step 1 : Check out of Turkey

It was all go on the morning of our checkout from Turkey with earthquakes, bee stings and stronger than forecast wind.
During the night a 6.6 earthquake had rocked Bodrum and Kos, 30 miles (as the crow flies) south of our location. The first we knew of it was a Facebook message but we were running our internet down and before we were able to get any details it ran out. We headed off to Didim giving it no further thought.

Leaving our cosy, sheltered bay the wind was light from the south. As we turned into Didim Bay it became a north F5. Just what we need for manoeuvring in an unfamiliar marina. Then to top it off, as we were coming into the entrance I felt something tickle my leg. I went to brush it off, thinking it was a fly and got a bee sting instead, the furry barb stuck out of the inside of my index finger just above the middle joint. Cue pain and swollen finger but at least I had parking Emerald alongside the fuel pontoon to distract me.

A superyacht came in soon after to fill up so rather than wait on the fuel quay whilst we checked out, we were directed to a hammerhead opposite and informed we had two hours free. The helpful marina staff called up a golf cart that pootled us to the harbour masters office just outside the marina’s security gate. There we were met with smiles as the HM filled in our details on his computer then printed them onto the checkout pages of our transit log. Next was a brief visit to passport control, then to customs next door and back to the HM for a final stamp.The only odd part was being asked to fill out a customs form. The page required us to place a tick against a list of items such as outboard, dinghy, sails, computer, bicycles, SUP, etc. to show if we had that item onboard and then write how many of them we had. Odd because we didn’t fill out any kind of inventory at check in so what would they compare this checkout form to? We glanced at each other, decided not to say anything and dutifully filled it in. All complete in 10 minutes and with no charge! A golf cart took us back to Emerald and we were off to Greece.

Step 2 : Agathonisi

With a topup of internet we could now find out what had happened with the earthquake. We felt very glad to have not been closer when we saw the news of injuries and death and the damage done to boats as a small tsunami rolled in and out. We only had 1m under the keel in our anchorage so any large water drop would have had us hitting the bottom. Colin thinks he heard a rumble about the time of the quake and I was woken by the talkative donkey on shore but I don’t remember what time it had been as the call to prayer also set it off. One to chalk down as a lucky escape.

Welcome to Agathonisi

Not so lucky was the wind strength, a steady F6 at 30 degrees with stronger gusts. Agathonisi is a small, Greek, speck of an island a few miles off the Turkish coast in a very windy area of sea. We could turn back and anchor back in Turkey although there was a risk we would be fined if anyone checked on us and it would put us behind on our plan. As it was only a 12nm journey we plugged on. Even turning into the bay at Agathonisi gave little respite and it wasn’t until we were close down the end of the bay that the gusts subsided.

It was cosy in the anchorage with 5 other boats already in but we found a sandy patch off to the east side and the anchor held well. We all swung around in the gusts but no one touched.

Boats came and went, some berthed alongside the ferry quay and those that were at the south end of the quay had to move when the ferry came in twice a day. Anchored yachts that blocked the ferry’s turning path also had to move.

The ferry arrives at Agathonisi

Looking down to the port of St. George at Agathonisi

We’re definitely back in Greece – Colin inspects a tiny church

Next morning was still windy but we’d held through the night so went for a walk ashore. Before tackling the up (and there was a lot of up) we walked around to Cave Beach where a large catamaran was anchored. Then up, up and more up. First to Micro Choria (small) before Megalo Choria where there were clusters of houses up on the hillside, safer from attack in the time of pirates. The views were fabulous and we could see it was blowing old boots out there so we were surprised to see boats leaving during the day.

The island had a wild feel to it and the shortage of trees was testament to the winds that scour their way through. But the locals seemed happy and other than a flurry of activity around the ferry’s arrival it was a sleepy, peaceful place.

The port area had a couple of tavernas and minimarkets and up in Megalo Chorio there was a post office and bakery. The water was super clear, a welcome contrast to the murky green of the last few weeks. But it was rather chilly compared to Turkey! The screams of kids jumping into the water didn’t alert us nor did we notice how few people were swimming off of the other boats until afterwards. A few minutes swim was more than refreshing.

The cave of Cave Beach

Step 3 : North from Agathonisi to Samos

“The plan” allowed for a day or two in Samos which we’d heard was a interesting place to visit. The forecast seemed to be giving us a break from the meltemi with two days of north F4 winds. It would still be on the nose but nothing too bad.

At 6am on the planned morning of departure it was ominously gusty in the anchorage. We told ourselves optimistically that it was just a sunrise effect and would settle down. Out we went and as we turned north up the side of Agathonisi we were met with 30kts of wind. We plugged on telling ourselves it was katabatics and would settle down away from the island. Ha ha! The wind increased with 40kt gusts. We kept the wind at 30 degrees so we weren’t plugging straight into it but still Emerald bucked, bounced and rolled through the peaks and troughs, water pouring down the side decks. It was like a wet and wild, big dipper roller coaster ride that you couldn’t get off when you’d had enough. Despite running at higher revs than usual, at times our speed would be knocked right back below 2kts; Emerald would slowly creep back to around 3kt in a lull. It was going to be a long morning.

Want to join us on our voyage to Samos? The video is below:

We debated turning back but it felt such a shame to give up the hour already made north. Plus the forecast for the two days had been the same; if today was so wrong what chance was there that tomorrow would be right? Despite what nature was throwing at us, we felt safe in our heavy boat so decided to plug on.

Three hours in and it felt like the seas were easing a touch as we closed on Samos, our speed creeping up nearer 4 kts. Another hour brought better conditions and nearly 5 hours after leaving we entered the flat waters of the anchorage at Pythagorio. 18nm in 5 hours does not make a good average speed.

But the fun didn’t stop there. Vicious katabatics were falling off the hillside and we could see a lot of weed on the bottom. But we found a sand patch, dropped the anchor and set first time. Emerald was coated in so much salt we considered scraping it up and selling it as natural sea salt. The dust mixed in might make it a bit crunchy though!

Emerald in the large anchorage at Pythagorion

Step 4 : Samos Fun

Samos is a pretty special place when it comes to ancient Greeks and their achievements. It is the birthplace of Pythagoras who gave us the mathematical rule and the philosopher Epicurus. Close by to the town of Pythagoreion is an amazing feat of engineering, the Eupalinos Tunnel, a 1km tunnel cut through a mountain to create an aqueduct to deliver water from a spring to the town. Nothing so spectacular about that you might think, but this tunnel was cut by hand in the 6th century BC and was started from both sides of the hill and amazingly managed to join up!

The entrance to the aqueduct, fortified to prevent invaders getting in

The tunnels close at 2:30pm and all day Monday so I had to dash to make it in time. There are three tours to choose from – one that goes all the way through the tunnel but I’d missed the last tour for the day, the second goes 400m in to where the two tunnels meet and a shorter tour gives just a brief look inside. The tunnel has recently had restoration work completed on it and is well lit and easy walking. Wearing hardhats, first we passed though a narrow entrance with a pointed roof, built to help prevent invaders getting in as locals would hide in the tunnel when the island was under attack. The tunnel then widened out to nearly 1.8m wide and 1.8m tall. Being 164cm + hardhat tall meant I didn’t have to duck down too much; I knew being a shorty would come in useful sometime. A metal grid had been installed over the section where the water pipe ran so we could see down and it made for easy walking.

Our guide gave us a brief introduction to the tunnels before we went in then again at the joining point.

At the joining point of the two tunnels

The pipe that carried the water can be seen beneath the grill under my feet

Close by are the remains of an ancient theatre but there really isn’t much to see as a modern wooden theatre has been built over the top. Further up a zigzag road is the Monastery of Spilia where there is a tiny church inside a cave.

The cave church

We liked Pythagorion. The pretty quayside was lined with yachts and tavernas and although we didn’t get time to go to Lidl we restocked with all we needed in the local butchers, fishmonger, fruit and veg shop and a couple of mini-markets.

On the edge of the town is a castle and Byzantine church and the water seemed a touch warmer than Agathonisi for swimming, at least I managed to stay in longer before my fingers went numb. We’d have liked to stay for a longer visit but the winds were turning in our favour.

Views of Pythagorion

The owners of this house love their island

The castle ruins

Beautiful red and pink marble columns

The monument to Pythagorus

Along the road are some wetlands and ruins

Step 5 : The Long Leg North West

The next step had several options,depending on how the winds went. We plotted out routes for stopping at Chios, Psara or an overnight to Skyros. We planned to leave mid afternoon but by midday we were itching to be underway so after cooking up a quick chili to eat later, off we went.

The light winds were curling under the bottom of Samos so the first few hours we couldn’t sail but once we rounded the end and pointed northwest we were able to turn off the engine, raise all sails and enjoy the water swishing gently by; we even had a brief visit from some dolphins. It felt so good to be sailing again. Using the last of the internet signal from Samos to get updated forecasts, we settled on a plan to keep going straight to Skyros.

Sadly by dusk the winds had dropped off so that we were making barely any progress. The sea had slopped up and the sails were slatting back and forth. The engine went back on. It was a dark night with the tiny sliver of moon setting by midnight and with Emerald being so covered in salt, everything was sticky and damp. But on the positive side it was uneventful, we slept well on our off watch and with the main catching the light winds to back up the engine, we were eating up the miles at 6kts.

The advantage of being on the 4am – 7am watch – I get to see a beautiful sunrise over the island of Psara

Land ahoy!

We’d heard that the anchorage at Linaria on Skyros didn’t have the best holding so we were unsure where to go. Then we came across a comment on Navionics about the great port there. Looking up the website it said it had laid lines – two wonderful words to us after a night passage. We called them up and a rib came out to meet us and direct us into an alongside berth. More helpful staff arrived to help with lines and we felt like we’d hit the jackpot!

The view west from our snug berth. The fishing boat was only parked there at night

It was our 14th anniversary of meeting so despite our jet lag feeling from the overnight trip we enjoyed a lovely dinner in the cockpit and planned out how to make the most of our few days on Skyros.

Sailing Info

21st July: Turkey to Agathonisi – 24nm
Steady F5 winds from the NW, gusting to F7
Heavy seas.
Anchored in 6m in sand in position 37 27.443’N 26 57.995’E
The port of Agathonisi has two minimarkets for fresh veg and supplies.

23rd July: Agathonisi to Pythagorion, Samon – 18nm
Steady F7 winds from the north with accompanying big seas. A bumpy ride.
Anchored in a sand patch in 5m in position 37 41.395’N 26 56.879’E
Samos is a tourist island with airport and ferry connections. The town of Pythagorion is well served with bars, restaurants and cafes as well a couple of minimarkets, a butchers, fishmonger, fruit shop and bakery.
Lots to do and see around the area.

25th July: Samos to Skyros – 141 nm (21nm sailed)
Light winds for the majority of the crossing mostly from the SW but for a few hours from the W overnight.
Tied up alongside at the port in Linaria, Skyros.

 

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