We had a great few weeks in the North Sporades, visiting the islands of Skyros, Skopalos, Alonnisos, Peristera and Skiathos. We filled our time with swimming in the beautifully clear water, exploring ashore, catch ups with friends and some much needed relaxation with no need to be rushing on anywhere. Although they are a popular charter destination, we didn’t encounter much trouble with crowded anchorages. The weather was on the whole kind to us too – we had a few windy days but the mistral was relatively benign.
Skyros is the largest of the N. Sporades island group and it was also our favourite. It’s stuck a way out from the rest of the group in a very windy section of the Aegean and we felt like we’d arrived somewhere a bit off the beaten track.
The period of calm and light southerly winds that had brought us here had extended to a few more days of no howling gales. To make the most of our time we decided to stay on the town quay at Linaria, on the south west of the island. We had an alongside berth, bows in and we were even provided with steps to make getting on and off a doddle. If we hadn’t been in that berth, there were laid lines so no need for any anchor tangling.
We paid €24 per night, more than most quays in Greece but we got a lot for our money. Power, water and wifi were included along with helpful staff. We felt it was a reasonable cost to allow us to explore the island without worry – there was even a webcam so we could check on Emerald whilst we were away. The showers had plentiful hot water and between 8pm and 9pm you could have a disco shower. Who can put a price on being able to belt along with ‘It’s Raining Men’ knowing no one can hear you over the sound of the shower water and the loud music. A glitter ball light completed the disco makeover, creating groovy effects on the walls.
We also liked another quirk of the port. Whenever the ferry came in, ‘The Blue Danube’ by Strauss was played through loudspeakers. It was slightly surreal to hear the theme tune from 2001: A Space Odyssey blasting out as the large ferry docked. There would then be a flurry of activity as traffic and people disembarked or loaded up – honking horns, a traffic police whistle and the rumble of big trucks passing by. Where they all went we never knew because we didn’t see them anywhere else on the island.
Outside the ferry’s arrival, Linaria was a sleepy village with tavernas and craft shops lining the port and a few visitors wandering around. It came alive on Friday evening as weekenders came to visit. We were surprised at how many yachts passed through with a steady turnover using the port’s services.
A bus runs several times a day between Linaria and the main town of Skyros where the chora clusters around a rocky pinnacle that looks a bit like mashed potato mountain from Close Encounters. Small, white, cube houses tumble down from the castle and monastery perched at the top with zigzagging narrow alleys and knee trembling steps to help you climb up. At the top the views were breathtaking and worth a few minutes of catching your breath.
The weather forecast had given a 50/50 chance of thunderstorms and from our high vantage point we could see a black mass rumbling by to the north. Time to get a bit lower down. The narrow streets were bustling but not crowded and we easily found a place for lunch where we would be sheltered if a storm came our way. It turned out to be a good move as one skimmed by and we had a brief shower of rain.
The food was super cheap and the portions huge, our scooter hirer told us large portions are a feature of the island.
The folklore museum was worth the couple of euros entry with an eclectic display of artwork, historical items collected by the owners of the house and a section set out displaying traditional costumes and textiles. The house was lovely and like a maze with many levels and rooms branching off up narrow staircases.
As an English person it felt right to pay our respects at the statue of Rupert Brooke, a WWI war poet who penned “The Soldier” which contains the lines ‘If I should die, think only this of me: That there’s some corner of a foreign field That is forever England”. He died from sepsis caused by an infected mosquito bite whilst stationed on a ship anchored off Skyros enroute to Gallipoli. We also visited his tomb at the south of the island, a peaceful spot set amongst olive groves. “The Soldier” is engraved upon his resting place and standing there we said a thank you and shed a tear for all those who have fought and fallen in the wars to give us the freedoms we have today.
For our second day we hired a scooter from the shop right across from where we were berthed. Woo hoo our first scooter together! Armed with a map with interesting places and good tavernas marked out on it, we set off to the wild and barren south of the island. We hoped to see some of the native Skyros horses out in the wild but despite seeing the evidence of their presence they weren’t making themselves visible so we had to be content with visiting the ranch where they are cared for during the hot summer months. In the cooler winter they are turned out onto the hills. Chatting with one of the staff we learnt there are only around 20 living wild during the summer so it was a bit of a needle in a haystack mission to see one.
The very south is a military zone where photos and video is forbidden. Mostly we saw goats and the roads were quiet other than a few pickup trucks bringing food and water out for the goats and horses.
We had lemon lamb for lunch at Lambros, the statement about large portions was once again proved correct. After all that food I’m sure the scooter was slower, although maybe that was the steep hills we were riding up and down as we visited the north part of the island; it’s very different from the south, with pine forests covering the hillsides. The piney-shiny smell was fresh in our nostrils as we scootered by.
We achieved our final ‘would love to see’ whilst in the north section. As we negotiated some hairpin bends I looked up to see 10 or so hawk like birds swooping and swirling over our heads. We pulled over to enjoy the spectacle and take some photos, we were pretty sure they were the rare Eleanora’s falcon that makes these islands home for the summer.
As well as pine forests, the north has the majority of beaches with a taverna nearby to keep the beach goers fed and watered.
By the time we returned to Emerald we’d probably overdone the scooter mileage given how creaky and achy our legs were. A couple more days would have been ideal for a more relaxed visit, but winds were turning in our favour to head on. The winds… on our first morning we were woken by shouting and looking out the hatch we saw a boat lying across our stern. Outside we found they were being held off us by someone on the quay so we went to assist. The wind that morning was blowing from the west, straight onto the quay, up to 20kts. Rather than just driving straight out, the boat had faffed on it’s departure and had somehow allowed it’s bow to be blown around so they were lying across us and our neighbour. Lines were thrown from the distressed yacht to a sturdy trip boat behind and the yacht was winched off enough until they could motor off again. Not our favourite way to be woken up!
Heading to Skopelos was a sails up, sails down kind of day. No wind then good wind, then wind on the nose, then good wind then none. Our destination was Limnonari for a catch-up with our friends Jacob and Vickie. The water was clear and inviting but it would have to wait as wine, nibbles and chatting was waiting with the beach bar playing mostly decent tunes to accompany us, although not at deafening levels. We thought it would stop late evening but there was a Greek wedding party with live Greek tunes entertaining us into the early hours.
Next day was north east to Peristera to hide from some stronger winds and for more catch up parties. Our friends chose to tie back in a small cove on the north west side of the long inlet at the south of the island, we free anchored behind the 4 boats already swinging at anchor. When they all left we moved forward into shallower water but couldn’t get the kind of hold we like as the seabed was soft mud and weed. OK for light winds and a daytime stay but we prefer to set our anchor at 2000 revs. We went back to where we started which was a good thing on other levels.
A beach BBQ kicked off the festivities and a few pleasant days chilling in a lovely spot. The water was beautifully clear and not too chilly, it took an hour of swimming before my fingers went numb! The rocky shore provided nooks and crannies to explore and there were many beautiful fish to look at including tiny electric blue ones. If I floated still for long enough, the shoals would encircle me and I could watch them darting as one this way and that.
Over the days we were there the whims of the visiting yachts would change. One day most people swung at anchor, on others everyone wanted to tie back, which was why we were glad we had dropped back further as it left more than enough space for boats to do whatever they felt. Given how many boats visited, we felt relieved that only two minor skirmishes with charter boats had been the worst we suffered.
We got a few boat jobs done whilst we were there, including the creation of BoBII our new and improved anchor marker. Tied to a 1m piece of string, it floats above the anchor making spotting it on the seabed much easier.
After 6 days of fun and with the strong winds abated we headed off to Alonnisos Island and a beach just north of Steni Vala. We wanted to avoid the crowds so opted not to go on the quay at Steni Vala and the beach would only be a few minutes walk around instead. We anchored in a big patch of sand and I went for a swim. The fish life was even better with a small rocky island providing a reef for them. However the wind was blowing right down the channel between Alonnisos and Peristera and the anchorage became uncomfortable driving us to find a more sheltered spot further down the island. We chose Ormos Tzortzi which was huge and not busy.
The next morning we had another short trip around to Ormos Rousoumi, a bay right next door to the main town of Patitiri.
After lunch we headed ashore for an explore. We hadn’t intended to walk up to the old town (Chora) in the heat of the midday sun but that’s what happened! We used the donkey track, a cobbled path away from the road. There wasn’t as much shade as we would have liked but the path wasn’t too steep.
And it was worth it for the views along the islands and to wander the pretty streets. I loved the higglydy pigglydy houses, most now restored after a major earthquake in 1965 caused the village to be abandoned. For those who don’t fall into either the “mad dogs” or “English(wo)man” category, there is a bus to make the journey up somewhat easier.
Whilst in Alonnisos we had to try the local cheese pie, it being the birthplace of the pastry wrapped cheesy delight which apparently the next door island of Skopelos then stole and pretended to have invented themselves. The pie was different from those we’ve had before, the cheese a little more piquant but it was the pastry that was the main change. The pie was circular with a hole in the middle and the filo pastry was fried rather than baked. It was delicious as the pastry was uniformly crispy. Yum!
We also liked Alonnisos for it’s green credentials. Part of the island sits within a national marine park, one of only two in Greece and home to the shy monk seal. The island has lots of recycling bins, mostly for glass, but also has encouraged the provision of paper bags in grocery stores rather than the ubiquitous plastic bag seen everywhere else. Lets hope they can spread their message far and wide.
Back to Skopelos and the anchorage at Limonaria. Our first day was calm and I got to get my swim. However, strong, gusty winds and a swell plagued our next day, stirring up the crystal clear water and giving us a sleep disturbed night.
We moved on to Loutraki with an unforecast F7 barrelling off the steep hills. We decided to anchor outside the harbour but it took two attempts before we snagged a decent patch of sand rather than rocks. But the second attempt was solid. Maybe the first attempt had snagged some ancient masonry from the Roman bathhouse that once stood on the shore and that gave the village it’s name.
Inside the harbour is a pontoon for boats to tie back to and after the last ferry for the day had visited, boats also tied back to the ferry quay. A couple of tavernas sat along the tree lined promenade with a bakery and mini-mart around the corner. Keen to maintain our reputation, we headed off early afternoon to climb up to Glossa. The donkey path was much steeper than the Alonnisos one and we were soon both dripping buckets. Sensible people take a bus or taxi. The town is lovely and mostly untouristy. Beautiful views, an Eleonara’s falcon soaring just above our heads and cute houses helped take our minds off our aching legs.
We also had an unexpected visitor – a mantis came to check out Crazy Horse, maybe it got confused by the green chaps! It wasn’t too keen on being evicted, refusing to fly away and find a better home, so I had to catch it in a plastic box and rehome it back ashore.
We weren’t sure what to expect from Skiathos but other peoples’ experiences of poor holding, crowds and noise turned out to not be a problem for us. We sailed most of the way now that we are on our downwind journey. We anchored off Siferi beach with a handful of other boats and wondered where everyone was. Around the corner is where they were. After landing on a lovely sandy beach we had a 15 minute walk into the main part of town where the quay was full and many boats were also anchored off, squeezed into the space outside the no anchoring airport zone. We had a promenade then found a cheap and cheerful place for dinner.
We headed back for a longer wander the next morning, strolling the tourist streets and completing our errands before heading off early afternoon to Koukounaries beach. We anchored off the beach with the Mystique beach bar, enjoying their tunes which weren’t the typical soulless boom boom. Anchoring here kept us further away from the ski and banana boats, which despite the empty acres of sea, seem to get a pleasure from plaguing anchored boats.
The beach was rammed with sun worshippers, many brought in by the trip boats which moored up along the wall of the small harbour at the north end of the beach. Just behind the beach is a pretty lake, complete with swans where hardly anyone else goes. By sunset everyone had gone, the bars went quiet and we had a peaceful last night in the Sporades.
29th July: Skyros to Limnonaria, Skopalos, 43nm (14nm sailed)
Anchored in 10m in position 39 05.306’N 23 41.797’E
30th July: Skopalos to Peristera, 15nm
Anchored in 12m in position 39 10.253’N 23 58.120’E We tried anchoring closer into the head of the bay but didn’t like the holding.
4th August: Peristera to north of Steni Vala then onto Ormos Tzortzi, Alonnisos, 6nm
In the first bay it took two attempts for the anchor to set in the NW corner. Eventually held in position 39 11.788’N 23 55.662’E When the wind blows from the west it seems to funnel down the gap between Alonnisos and Peristera making the anchorage uncomfortable.
In Ormos Tzortzi we anchored in 8.5m in position 39 10.059’N 23 54.113’E
5th August: Ormos Tzortzi to Rousemi, 3nm
Anchored in sand in 10.5m in position 39 08.776’N 23 52.198’E
7th August: Rousemi, Alonnisos to Limnonaria, Skopalos, 11nm (3nm sailed)
Anchored in 10m in sand in position 39 05.290’N 23 41.833’E Seabed shelves quite steeply from a 10m plateau
9th August: Limnonaria to Loutraki, 7nm
Anchored outside the harbour wall at Loutraki in 5.5m in a small sand patch. Holding wasn’t great with lots of rock and thin sand. Position 39 09.786’N 23 37.082’E
10th August: Loutraki to Skiathos Town, Skiathos, 7nm (5nm sailed)
Anchored in 9m in weed/mud in position 39 09.665’N 23 28.909’E
11th August: Skiathos Town to Koukounaries, 6nm
Anchored in sand in 9m in position 39 08.709’N 23 23.971’E
Wind was light and mostly from the east. very little swell especially once the speed boats had packed up for the day