Crossing the Aegean: not meant to happen, best thing that did

John, Sophie and I were about halfway through our second season of sailing in the Mediterranean, which had by design, been fairly quiet and uneventful. Until, that is, things got shaken up when we were anchored in Kale Bay at Bodrum and an earthquake occurred.

We were woken about 1am by the boat shaking and shuddering all over; right through the hull and all the way up the mast and rigging.  It was as though we had just fallen off the back of a large wave into a deep trough, but without the sensation of falling or the initial slam of the hull hitting the water.

I do not know how long the motion went for but of course we both said, “WTF was that”.  We had been in the bay since we arrived two days before.  It is noisy, with night time revellers on shore and busy with tourist boats and high speed tenders motoring back and forth between the shore and yachts anchored further out.

We decided it was probably a party boat that had caused the ruckus, but when we went on deck to look there was nothing to be seen.  No boat, no lights, no wake.  Puzzled, we crawled back into bed.

John and Sophie fell asleep, but I lay awake some more.

I could still hear people in the cafes and restaurants that lined the bay, but curiously the music had stopped. I could also hear emergency sirens sounding continuously. Shortly after, there were a few minutes when the motion of the boat in the water felt ‘wrong’.

I went back on deck to take another look and saw that all the lights on shore for about 500 metres back from the beach were out.

Not so certain anymore I made an enquiry of ‘Mister Google’ and, sure enough, there had been a 6.7 magnitude earthquake 22 kilometres to the south east of Bodrum.

Schengen constraints

It was the type of chance encounter with a chance event that cruising on a yacht can lead. Originally we had planned to sail to Croatia this year. In fact it had taken us a good six weeks to make our minds up to sail to Turkey instead and even then we almost changed our minds halfway across.

After relaunching Adele, at Aegina Island about 15 nautical mile south west of Athens in late May, we spent the next month or so floating and phaffing around between the islands of Aegina, Poros, Hydra and Moni. They are all lovely places with interesting things to look at: good facilities, moderate weather and, with the exception of Hydra, secure anchorages.

This season we simply wanted to relax, take things easy and not stress out. We were enjoying not doing anything in particular.

There were delightful streets to roam, warm waters to swim in, flash yachts to look at, people to watch, new friends to hang out with and we even managed to catch a movie at the outdoor cinema on Poros.

However, we did need to leave the Schengen zone for a period and, as time crept by, Croatia seemed further and further away and the proximity of Turkey increasingly appealing. Pretty easy, we thought, a beam wind sail, island-hopping across the Aegean to Samos, clear out of Greece there and into Turkey at Kusadasi.

Decision made, we left the people of Poros to continue sweltering in temperatures of 40 degrees Celsius plus, setting sail for Kythnos Island about 40nm east. The light northerly wind that first greeted us dropped out during the day and, as we approached Kythnos, a land breeze kicked in and it felt as though we were sailing into a blast furnace.

The bay was crowded but we found a spot, set the anchor for the night and threw ourselves into the water to cool off. When Sophie saw John in the water she swam out to him without any coaxing, so she got to cool down too.

The next day another short sail had us arriving at the small harbour of Finikas on the south western end of Syros Island. Here we stayed for the next five days. A Meltemi had arrived, a system of strong to gale force northerly winds that whip across Greece and, particularly, the Aegean during summer. These winds can last anywhere from two days to 14.

When we finally left we had a forecast of moderating winds and seas, so a double reef in the main and a reefed headsail. We were looking forward to a brisk but reasonably comfortable sail across to Mykonos.

Hah, I say, phooey! Phooey to Hellenic meteorology, phooey to all the weather apps on the interweb and phooey to Huey. The winds were around 35 knots with rough seas and stronger gusts off the islands. Again, phooey.

For only the second time in all our years of sailing, we suffered some gear failure. Double phooey: the radar reflector said goodbye and fell off its mount on the side stay; five slugs on the mainsail broke apart; the cowl vent on our dorade vanished somewhere along the way and the mount for the lead block on our headsail furling line broke.

As we cleared Delos Island, we were met by these winds blowing from the north straight out of the anchorage at Ornou Bay on Mykonos. Not wanting to cause further damage to the mainsail, we pulled it down and motored in. We love the 55 horses in our Yanmar motor.

The bay was crowded and windy but we tucked away at the outer end off a beach on the western shore. A trip by taxi to a chandler in the Old Port area of Mikonos town was expensive and unproductive.

We got out the charts and looked at Croatia. We could see the corridor of islands the Meltemi was howling through and it lay between us and Turkey. Croatia was a long way north with a lot of ground to cover.

The wind had a tendency to ease in the evenings, perhaps we could head off after dark? Three hours respite was all there was that night. Maybe a night sail was not such a good idea.

We were also feeling hamstrung by the inability to sail effectively if we could not repair the mainsail.

We decided to try a chandler that was further out of town to see if they stocked the parts we needed. A bus, a walk, a close encounter with a car’s side mirror for John and a long walk up a very steep hill revealed that the answer was “no”. Nothing for yachts. What??

More chart gazing, more discussing and a list of pros and cons brought us full circle; we would sail to Turkey. But we decided on a more downwind route that would take us to Kos Island as our exit port from Greece.

Fortunately the winds did ease somewhat the next day and we had a fast, but lumpy, downwind trip under headsail with the motor ticking over to reduce leeway, to the tiny speck of land called Levitha.

The north eastern arm of the bay was full of yachts which were on permanent moorings provided by the farming family that lived on the island. We decided to stop in the south western arm where there were only two other yachts anchored. It was a tranquil, secluded spot; a narrow bay with a steep, rocky shoreline that only goats could successfully negotiate, plus little black dogs in need of a toilet break. Sophie had a fantastic time jumping from ledge to ledge, running along the narrow rock shelves, sniffing all the wonderful new smells.

Our journey the next day took us past Kalimnos and Pserimos, around Point Amoglossa to the town of Kos on Kos Island. We were not sure about anchoring off the beach there because it was open to the north, the direction from which prevailing winds elsewhere in the Aegean blow. As it turns out, it seems the prevailing winds in that area are from the north west to west, which meant we had plenty of protection.

The first night there we were the only yacht anchored, but over the next few days others joined us.

The town of Kos itself is a delightful place. It seemed clean, well kept and well managed. There were good walkways for pedestrians and the main part of town was built around the ancient Agora, ruins from the town were present around 400BC. These ruins had been excavated by the Italians following an earthquake, but were now overgrown with trees and bushes and creepers. In my mind it added to the beauty of the site.

There is also a castle overlooking the old harbour which was built by the Knights of St John who were also prominent in the history of Rhodes. Large sections of the castle’s outer walls remain within the current town and we had a lovely meal at a restaurant nestled just inside the ancient tithe gate.

Our main priority in Kos was to clear ourselves and Adele out of Greece, so we could then enter Turkey. This involved a visit to Immigration at the ferry terminal who stamped our passports. Then it was off to the Port Authority who noted which people and vessel was leaving. Finally, we went to the Customs office to hand in our transit log, which is the permit for a foreign flagged vessel to cruise in Greece. A visit to the chandlery and the supermarket and we were right to go: ready for the ‘gruelling’ 12nm journey across to Bodrum.


Turkey bound

It is astonishing to actually see how close many of the Greek islands are to Turkey. It is even more astonishing to experience the very notable differences between the two cultures (ancient and modern) that continue to exist despite their longstanding proximity to each other.

We arrived in Bodrum and anchored off the eastern end of the town in Kale Bay. Greek flag down, Turkish flag up and quarantine flag in place, we headed around to the customs and immigration offices.

It had been suggested by an ex-pat Aussie yachtie, now living in Bodrum, that we should be able to complete this paperwork ourselves. But Turkish officialdom was having none of that nonsense, so we resorted to plan B and engaged the services of a shipping agent who told us we had to move Adele to the Customs wharf because Customs needed to see the boat.

So: walk back to the bay; dinghy out to Adele; lift the anchor; motor around to the main harbour; execute a stern-to mooring. Then the agent took all our documents, vanished for about an hour and returned with the documents and our new Turkish transit log. Although we were at the Customs wharf as required no official came on board. There was no quarantine or customs inspection and no questions about, or inspections of, the little black dog or her documents.

We did not care, we had learnt a lot during our time in Greece. What the regulations say and what the regulators actually do can be and quite often are two different things. We had the paperwork they wanted us to carry and the stamp we needed in our passports. We were free to start exploring Turkey!

It is the cruising philosophy: ‘plans can always change’ that had us anchored in Kale Bay when the earthquake occurred. It was not scary or distressing, it simply happened. We were not hurt and our vessel not damaged; there was no obvious damage in the old town of Bodrum.

We later learnt that jetties and boats had gone ashore at a bay further west and gulets and yachts in a nearby boatyard were toppled over. Tragically, lives were lost and people were injured there. Even so, here in Bodrum and probably in Kos the bars and restaurants are still full and shoppers continue to crowd the streets.

For the people here life goes on. For us, somewhere across the water, there are
secluded bays with sandy beaches waiting
to be discovered.

Pantaenius Sailing
M.O.S.S Australia
Jeanneau ?Yachts
Multihull Group
Pantaenius Sailing
Jeanneau ?Yachts
Multihull Group