We sail along the west coast of Greece and to the island of Crete. We look for sustainable olive oil, enjoy nature’s beauty, and immerse in history.
Dubrovnik (HRV) – Chania (GRC)
From Dubrovnik we set course for Greece and gently follow our genaker downwind. Stowaway great tits join us, and they prove to be great company as they explore our boat. Yet comfort levels on board plummet when we approach the Otranto Straight. It forms a bottleneck between the Adriatic and Ionian Seas and lives up to its notorious reputation. The wind blows forcefully and the sea builds up. “What shall we do?” Ivar asks. “We don’t have to sail through another night, we could also anchor in the bay of Afiona”. “Yeah, I like that idea” says Floris. Both of us look forward to a night in a quiet anchorage over a rough one out at sea.
With eight knots we race towards Afiona bay on Corfu’s west coast. We anchored here before (see logbook story Crotone- Dürres), so we feel comfortable arriving late in the evening. The bay is immense and well-sheltered from the winds funnelled through the Otranto Straight. The anchor holds at the first try and we enjoy a good night of sleep. The next morning we take a refreshing dive into the crystal clear water, just like we did in August. And it feels even warmer than two months earlier.
To sail further south, we use the little bit of wind there is during the night. It gets us to neighbouring Paxos in the morning. We drop anchor in a gorgeous bay, which soon fills up with other boats, including a flotilla of some 15 boats. The cruising season is deservedly long here, considering the summer-like temperatures.
Reunion in Preveza
“Staying at the town quay in Preveza costs only €8 a night”, Karin informs us. She and Jeroen are moored there with their sail yacht White Pearl and we are anxious to see them again. Once again the wind is very light, so we only reach Preveza in the late evening. After Karin and Jeroen take our lines we catch up on each other’s adventures over drinks.
We not only enjoy being reunited with friends, but also the luxury of easily getting on land. After going for a run we enjoy a proper shower. And we can get our full grocery bags on the deck without kayaking to the boat. Dutch tourists with an interest in Lucipara2 and our journey spontaneously strike up conversations, gezellig!
More gezelligheid ensues when Wim and Elly moor next to us. They are about to store their boat onshore for the winter and await their slot. Over drinks they share stories about their cruising in the area, including the Turkish coast. We are tempted to go there, but calculate that it would cost too much time. Instead we decide to skip the Corinthian Canal, Aegean Sea and Turkish coast and focus on sustainable aspects of olive oil production in two Greek regions that are most famous for it: Kalamata and the island of Crete.
The days pass quickly in Preveza with morning runs, grocery shopping, coffees, drinks and dinners with our Dutch neighbours. We leave together with the White Pearl and its extended crew Wijnand and Anne. After passing a floating bridge we sail through the Lefkas channel. We are shocked to see an open landfill directly bordering the channel. Single-use plastic bags are blown into the water and neighbouring nature reserve. It is disheartening that this still exists in Europe in 2017.
Together we drop anchor in Tranquil Bay, a well-protected bay surrounded by mountain ranges. Its name seems appropriately chosen, although we read a frightening story of a heavy storm that caused a lot of damage here in 2011. Perhaps that also explains the shipwrecks that we see. Luckily the weather stays tranquil when we are invited for drinks and dinner on-board the White Pearl.
Despite the proximity to Lefkas, it takes almost a day to reach Kalamos. Just as we approach its harbour, a thunderstorm catches up on us. We patiently wait outside to let the heavy rain and wind gusts pass before we enter. Our pilot book provides very little information on the harbour, and it’s getting dark already. Slowly we enter the basin when we see a guy with a flashlight who helps us to find a berth. “Hello my friends, I’m George” he introduces himself once we’re moored. “Come have dinner at my restaurant!” Excellent idea. We quickly put the sail covers on, tidy up the cabin and walk over to George’s Tavern for beers and mousaka. “The harbourmaster has been gone for a long time now, so I try to help the visiting boats,” George explains. “I don’t charge any harbour fees, only for the food,” he smiles.
The next day we meet Ted. He is the reason we sailed here. Through an NGO he founded, Terra Sylvestris, Ted works towards “rewilding” Kalamos and its neighbour Kalos. At the Terra Sylvestris community centre Ted explains that the dwindling population on the island creates an opportunity to give space back to nature. The islands are home to precious flora and fauna, both on land and in the water, such as Poseidonia sea grass and monk seals. They are under threat from plans to expand fish farms and build wind turbines. The process of rewilding is aimed at protecting the existing species and attracting species that once thrived in this area. This in turn can lead to small-scale eco-tourism, so the islanders can earn a living as well.
With the help of volunteers Ana and Thomas, Ted gathers proof of the existence of rare species. Their passion to protect nature impresses us, so we are happy to assist with some field research, too. We cannot wait to the see the results of Terra Sylvestris’s efforts and hopefully one day witness the designation of the islands as national park. See our “sustainable solution” article about rewilding here.
We leave with favourable winds to sail further south. They take us as far as Pylos on the western shore of the Peloponnese. We anchor in a large, well-protected bay close to an abandoned marina. The next morning we explore it by kayak. As we climb ashore, a Dutch voice addresses us. “There you are! I’ve been following you guys”. Hans from sailing yacht Zephyr explains that the marina lacks a harbourmaster and facilities, so we can moor in any free spot. “A free-range marina!” jokes Ivar. We paddle back to the anchorage, go back for Luci and moor between small fishing boats opposite Hans. The bollards are rusty, so we use some extra lines. But we can’t complain; it’s free.
Pylos proves to be a charming little town. Our visit coincides with a national holiday, Ochi day, on which Greece’s involvement in WWII is commemorated. School children parade in blue and white uniform, speeches are held and there is some music. It’s all over by lunchtime, so we make our way to the Venetian castle which overlooks the bay. It’s an immense structure, now mostly in ruins, except for the mosque-turned-church and a museum exhibiting artefacts from the many civilizations that ruled here in the past.
We use Pylos as a base to explore Greece’s olive oil culture. The country not only has a very long tradition of olive oil production, the Greek people are world-champion olive oil consumption with close to 18 kilo per person a year. Reason enough for us to explore the sustainability aspects of this important element of Greek culture and economy.
As we drive around, everywhere we look we see olive trees. In many groves, people are busy harvesting olives. They use special tools for picking. Nets on the ground catch the falling fruit, which is collected in large bags and brought to the mill for pressing. Curious to learn more, we knock on the door at Kanakis, a family owned oil mill. The staff is very friendly and eager to show us around. In one of the groves from the many farmers they work with, we witness that despite the use of tools, harvesting is a labour-intense process.
Virtually all olive trees are grown in monoculture, which makes them vulnerable to pests. Pesticides, herbicides, synthetic fertilizers, and water irrigation is widely used to achieve higher crop yields with less work or at a lower cost. Kanakis also makes a certified organic product, which is pressed from olives that are not treated with fossil fuel based additives.
The next day we visit Mani Bläuel. Founder Fritz Bläuel pioneered organic olive oil production in Greece in the 1980s after he convinced local farmers to adopt certified organic growing methods. He shows us around his modern facilities and explains why Greek olive oil is of such high quality. “It’s a combination of very old olive species and traditional, natural growing methods. We try to nurture these traditions by stimulating organic olive farming.” Using the Mani brand, after the region where they are based, the company almost exclusively exports high-quality organic olive oil across the world. “As a consumer, it’s very important to check the label. Extra virgin olive oil with a certified organic label is a guarantee for both quality and natural production methods.” Fritz’s son Felix recently took over the day-to-day management from his father and adds: “We even go a step further with our Naturland certified label, which also includes better social standards.” We’re impressed that the Bläuels not only pioneered environmental standards in the 1980s, but also continue to raise the bar by providing better social standards.
Back in the marina we meet Ton and Anneke, friends of Hans. We are cordially invited for drinks and dinner at theirs and enjoy the company of our new neighbours. Who would’ve thought we would meet so many Dutch people here?
Olives and friends on Crete
With favourable winds we leave for Crete. The island is home to a staggering 30 million olive trees. The olive oil consumption reaches a whopping 31 kilos per person a year, high even for Greek standards.
As we close in on our destination Chania in the northwest of Crete, clouds grow and become dark. When we see a waterspout developing from one of them, we hastily lower the genaker. Without sails, we heave-to and escape the waterspout’s spinning centre by a couple of hundred meters. “Wow, I’ve never seen one so close” says Ivar. While we managed to stay out of its track we do get some strong wind gusts and rain. The storm passes and soon a strong northerly wind kicks in. We set sail again and fly to Chania.
The old Venetian Harbour in Chania is on a lee shore. Large waves crash on the submerged breakwater on our starboard side and the entrance peer on port. We manage to stay clear of these nasty rocks and find a free spot on the town quay with the last daylight. Just as we head for the public showers, port police drives by and asks us if we have the necessary paperwork. Our answer that we have a DEKPA, satisfies them and they drive on. Throughout our stay in Greece nobody asked to actually see our DEKPA, the cruising permit that Floris went the extra mile for to obtain in Corfu last August.
Annemiek, one of our most loyal visitors, joins us in our Cretian explorations. Together we visit Terra Creta, a leading olive oil producer with an impressive track record in organic. They recently launched a sustainability initiative, which focuses on nurturing olive trees for long term cultivation, instead of stressing them to achieve maximum yields. Markos Polakis welcomes us and shares his abundant knowledge about the trees, sustainable ways of cultivation and oil production with us. He also shows us the organic way of combating the notorious olive fly, which can destroy entire crops. A bottle filled with syrup attracts the flies and traps them. It is more labour intense than spraying pesticides, but quite effective. Read more about our findings on sustainable olive oil production in our “sustainable solution” article here.
Annemiek also joins us on a hike to a hidden, abandoned monastery and to the top of Gigilos, one of Crete’s >2,000m peaks in the White Mountains. Sadly, the warming climate has melted the eternal snow which gave them their name. Nevertheless we are impressed by the beauty of the autumn coloured trees and the stunning mountain views. Our final expedition is to the blue-lagoon style bay at Balos. The breath-taking setting encourages us to swim in the crystal clear, but surprisingly warm water. Annemiek thanks us by taking us out for dinner on several occasions. As we hug goodbye at the airport we already look forward to her next visit.
We’re not alone for long, as a few days later also our friend Roos arrives. A lot has happened in the 18 months since we last saw her. Motherhood, a loss in her family, houseboat life, and exciting business developments. There is so much to catch up upon, we can’t stop talking. Together we visit the old town of Chania and its hinterland. This proves to be more of a challenge than we thought. The walking trails on our digital map are at times fenced off or overgrown with thorny bushes. We barely make it back before darkness falls. At least Roos’ and Ivar’s muscles receive some tender love and care when they keep up their sauna tradition with a Hammam treatment. “Ooh I’ve not felt so clean in a very long time” says Ivar after 1.5 hours of steaming, scrubbing, soaping and massaging. When we drop Roos at the airport early the next morning, we feel that three days was too short. One last hug, one last kiss and she disappears into the airport terminal. These are the moments where we most realize how much we miss our friends.
On our way back we visit Knossos, once the seat of Minoan Kings who ruled Crete. The immense size of the palace manifests the importance of the site and the power of the monarchs who governed from here some 3,000 years ago. British archaeologist Arthur Evans reconstructed much of the excavated buildings. This gives an impression of what the palace once looked like. Not surprisingly it is one of the top tourist attractions on the island, but when we show up on Sunday morning at 8 am, we have the place all to ourselves. Earlier this week we visited the archaeological museum where many objects unearthed here are on display, so walking through the remains of the palace nicely completes our immersion in Crete’s imposing history.
We’ll miss you, Greece
Back on the boat we prepare to sail west. Our plan is to sail back to Gibraltar, making only a few stops along the route. The first one being Malta, some 470 nautical miles away. It should take about five days, so the weather forecast for the entire trip is not very reliable. It’s a new situation for us, as we haven’t sailed more than three days in a row before. We frantically study the weather charts and grib files. We’re ready to go, but will the weather support our plans?
With our minds focused on our outbound journey, we realize that we are leaving Greece. We’ll never forget its friendly people, its laid-back authorities, the beautiful islands and mountains, the countless historic sites, the delicious local dishes, its impressive olive oil culture and – last but not least – the sunny weather. We’ll surely miss you Greece!