The last time I was in Crete was when I was in my late twenties and I was looking forward to getting back.
I chose Spinalonga as our first stop – Rod described it as “fascinating to sail into the enclosed lagoon watching the sea bottom slip past a few metres under the keel.”.
Equally fascinating was the large Venetian fortress that guarded the entrance. Below the castle was Greece’s last leper colony. What a picturesque spot.
You can anchor just about anywhere in the lagoon and we choose to anchor off the main town of Elounda, but found the town a little boring. In hindsight we should have anchored nearer the fortress of the cute town of Plaka (where the water was clearer for swimming) – but never mind, we had a great dingy tour of the bay and ended up at a great lunch spot in Plaka (after the obligatory girls shopping expedition!), overlooking the Venetian fortress. This was after we’d dingied over to the fortress and had a fascinating wander around the whole island. The leper colony was interesting as were the Ottoman houses that immediately predated the colony. And the fortress walls went right around the island, and up to its top, making for some great photos.
Next day it was off to Iraklion, Crete’s capital. Again, the wind was on our nose (but light) – the prevailing winds are from West to East and we were travelling West against them – them’s the breaks. We got to Iraklion at lunchtime and passed a cruise ship on the way out of the harbour. We continued to the end near the Venetian fort, where the rather full marina was and tried to raise someone, anyone to point us in the right direction. In the end we gave up and found a spot outside the marina in front of the Port Police. Very convenient, except for the ferry wash, which one high-speed ferry in particular caused havoc with our fenders and hull as we got black everywhere from the large tires that we parked up against. We put on a couple of our spring lines and that seemed to help a little.
Iraklion has a bit of a reputation as being unattractive but we actually quite liked its old city with its lively bar and restaurant scene. We even got to see a live band there that weren’t bad.
But before we hit the bars and restaurants we caught a taxi out to Knossos, the ancient Minoan Palace. I remember being blown away by it in my twenties, but this time I was quite annoyed by the reconstruction effort that Sir Arthur Evans took using copious amounts of concrete and a few other liberties. Basically it lacked authenticity and you never could work out what was real and what was reconstructed. Still it gives you a good idea of what a magnificent palace it must have been and is still worth a look.
Back in a taxi, we headed to the museum, which was very impressive. Lots of good stuff from Knossos and other Minoan archeological digs. Lots of pots and urns. It was good to see some of those iconic pieces of art and sculpture from ancient Minoan times, as well as becoming re-acquainted with the myths from those times.
The museum is right outside the old city, so we made our way slowly back to the boat, via a lot of detours into the various shops that lined the marble cobblestones.
Next day, Joe and Barbara hopped onto a high speed ferry to Santorini, 50nm away. Too close to miss. They had a great time, visiting the Island’s hotspots.
The following day, it was our last sail (motor) with Joe and Barbara up to Rethymno, with its attractive old town and cute Venetian harbour. We headed for the “marina”, a glorified harbour with a few pontoons. It was reasonably expensive by Greek standards, but most of the cost was in electricity and water, so once we declined these it wasn’t too bad.
Once safely moored, we headed into town, about a 15 minute walk around the harbour and headed for the venetian fortress. We paid our entry fee and had a nice wander around. The extensive walls were the highlight, overlooking the clear waters of the Med. There were a few interesting building inside including a wonderful domed mosque.
Then it was back into the old city in time for 5.30pm opening. Joe and I lasted for a while before retiring to one of the great sea-side bars to sample some Greek beer. The girls eventually found us and we all wandered back to the boat before going out on the town for a great last meal with Joe and Barbara before they left.
For their last day, we had decided to rent a car and head off on a tour de Crete, before their evening flight to Athens. Crete is a wonderful island to drive around. We first headed for ruins of Phaistos, Crete’s second most important Minoan palace city after Knossos. Its built on a hilltop, providing brilliant views over the plains below. It was worth a wander around, seeing Minoan ruins from the first European civilization left largely as they found them.
Then it was time to head to the beach for lunch. Matala is a cool beach side town with lots of caves on a cliff face that were frequented by hippies in the good old days. The beach looked pretty good but unfortunately the weather had turned bad so no swimming today.
Lunch over, Dee decided that we should see Agios Nikolaos. Something we should have done via a short taxi ride when we were in Spinalonga. So off we went on a wonderful drive across the middle of Crete to the North East coast. Crete is very lush and green and lots of things grow there. Quite different to the other islands.
We parked by the marina and had a sticky beak at what looks like a great place to winter at. Then we walked into town and checked out the lake that is joined to the fishing harbour by a narrow channel. Very cutesy. There were some good little walking streets that attracted the girls like honey, but not quite enough time for us boys to do what we do best when shopping is mentioned – retreat to one of the great bars around the harbour and lake. Oh well.
Then it was time to head to the airport. But first, some street food at Souvlaki-opoli – what a great name. We’d been to a lot of great restaurants with Barbara and Joe but somehow we hadn’t indulged them in a souvlaki or a gyro.
Mission completed, it was time to drop them off for their flight out to Athens from Iraklion. We thoroughly abmolished them for not spending enough time on La Mischief – 2 weeks was clearly not enough. And then they were off – back to the USA.
We got back to Rethymno to find a storm had ripped through the place. Next day the security guy from the “marina” came to complain that La Mischief was too heavy for the finger jetty we were tied up to. We’d tied up there after being told it was the visitors jetty and nobody had said anything for two days. Anyway the wind started blowing in the other direction (just as hard) and everyone seemed happy.
It was clear we weren’t going anywhere for a day or so we spent the next day doing boat chores and looking for bits and pieces in town. Once we worked out we could go anywhere the next day as well, we set about organizing a trip to Samaria Gorge. George, our hire car guy talked us into hiring a car (of course) and taking the boat trip both ways, then walking in and out of the bottom part of the gorge. The alternative was to take a bus to the top of the gorge and walk down 16kms to the bottom and catch the same boat out. Anyway by the time we’d to’d and fro’d it was too late to book the organised tour so we were stuck with hire car option.
This turned out to be an interesting option. We needed to drive over to the south coast and catch the 10.30am ferry from Sfakia to Agios Roumeli (which is inaccessible by road). George had said that the ferry would take 30 minutes, we didn’t really get there until 12 noon. Then we walked 5 kms in 2 hours up from the bottom into the gorge, turned around and walked back. The plus side of this is that we spent all our time in the most beautiful part of the gorge (evidently), but the down side was that we had to rush and spent too much time on a boat and a car and not enough of our time walking the gorge. If we had our others, we would do it with a tour that drops us at the top of the gorge so we could have a leisurely 16km walk down. Anyway the gorge was absolutely spectacular and a must do for Crete. The boat trip back to the car was good also calling in at places such as the pretty little town of Loutro, which you can only get to by boat.
With Samaria Gorge down it was time to hit the water again and head around to Hania. The wind and swell had died by now and it was a pleasant little motor sail (against the wind of course) to Hania. Hania turned out to be the pick of the harbours in Crete, a beautiful Venetian city, with cobbled walking streets and Venetian houses and fortifications, along with Ottoman mosques and minarets.
We pulled in stern to and picked up a laid line, right in the restaurant strip. Brilliant spot. Then it was off to explore the old town before Aran arrived later that evening. Aran was a friend of ours we met last year in Kasterlorizo on his boat and we’d caught up with him again in Eliat, Israel where he lives, when we did our road trip through Israel. He was sailing with us to the Ionians.
Next morning it was up early and off to the Ionian Island of Kithera, 65nms away. Or so we thought! As we made our way out of the bay, the winds gradually increased until they started to touch 45kts. Time to bail.
So we simply went out one bay and into the next, heading for Kissamos at the bottom of this bay. The harbour was three-quarters empty, a few ferries and day boats that went around to Gramvousa (an original destination until the Westerlies made it a no no), along with one other yacht.
And there we stayed for 3 nights waiting for the weather to clear up. One morning we got 61knots of wind, when we turned the instruments on. Reckon it may have been more during the night. Luckily the wind was pushing onto the wall so all was good.
Given we couldn’t go anywhere, we hired another car and drove to Palaiokhora, one really nice town on the South coast with an old castle on the point overlooking a decent harbour. Interestingly, the town had beaches on either side, being built on a headland. So we had the choice of beaches for lunch.
It’s a bit of a drive from North to South, an interesting drive, but not for Adan and I as we’d consumed a pizza each and slept it off whilst Dee drove onto Hania, as we felt we hadn’t given it justice in the day we were there. It was good to sit and people watch over a beer.
Next day, we had planned to hire mountain bikes and ride to Gramvousa on the West end of the island, but it was still blowing its mammary glands off, so we opted to keep the rental car and drive there instead. Such a beautiful bay, would have been great if the weather gods had smiled nicely at us and we’d got to sail there. It was a bit of an interesting drive there over a rather rocky road, followed by a 20 minute walk down to the beach in the wind.
Our next challenge was to find a relatively non-windy place for lunch, which we managed to do by going across to the next bay from Kissamos, where it was guarded by a bluff. And they had stuffed calamari and swordfish! The rest of the afternoon, we spent checking out the nice little bays and villages between Kissamos and Hania.
Miraculously, the wind had calmed right down the next morning as we pulled away from the dock. I say miraculously because the weather forecast was actually right.
And then it was really off to the Ionians.