By Thomas Panagiotopoulos

I was always fascinated by long-distance journeys and now, after several years of sea wanderings, I felt ready to dare it. So, Chalkidiki-Kasteloriso embracing the Aegean was the next journey. I wanted to travel from the one end to the other, to meet distant and forgotten places, to be assimilated with the endless blue color of the sea.


This journey, however, was also hiding a challenge. A challenge not particularly for the hundreds of miles I had to cross, but for the fact that I would cross all our infamous seas. Since I was a young boy, I heard with owe stories about Cavo D’oro and the awesome Ikario, for the legendary Karpathio and the «dog» Cape Malea. For shipwrecks that have now become sights in the wake of seafarers.
I did not underestimate the dangers presented in this journey but my passion was such that outweighed any obstacles. Even these insecurities nested inside me, seemed so weak that they could not diminish my thirst for its realization. But they made me be prepared as well as possible, increasing, in that way, my confidence while minimizing the chances of being exposed to various risks. Maybe I wanted to test my strength, to be aware of my limits. Perhaps, I wanted to live for a few days the pulse of the great navigators.
The few free hours I had on a daily basis were spent on planning this journey. So, I spent a lot of weeks until this long-waited day arrived. Two inflatable boats, a 6.50 meters open one and a 7.50 meters cabin one were anchored in a sheltered bay of Chalkidiki. We had decided to spend the whole day in this quiet bay arranging and organizing our stuff in the ribs.
MonemvasiaIt was obvious that our bond with the rib all those years spent traveling with it, has become much deeper. I have always liked living in the boat. In the limited space of a vessel nothing else but joy and happiness fit there. It is our second home. A home, though, without solid foundations and without the absolute certainty that many times «traps» our senses.
Before dawn, standing silent behind the console, we were wiping out the moisture that had covered the instruments of the boat while sipping some hot coffee. By sunrise, the engines started and the ribs slowly began taking off the sea. We entered our course and our bow was pointing at the pass of Skopelos-Alonissos. The compass showed steadily 153 degrees since the sea was literally stuck. Within 2.30 hours we covered our first nautical miles (NM) and we were under the lantern of the southwest cape of Alonissos.
The sea continued to be peaceful. While approaching Cavo D’oro though, it began to wrinkle and our so far carelessness evaporated at once. Trying to observe the signs of the weather, we slowly entered the Strait of Kafirea, one of the most difficult and unpredictable parts of the Aegean. Here, another God dominates. The sea is different and has nothing to do with the surrounding seas. It follows its own rules and disregards barometers and forecasts. You never know the surprises it has in store for you, as the wind and waves «are squeezed» to pass through the strait, a fact which leads to a sharp increase of their power. So, the absolute serenity was replaced by a sudden wrinkling that evolved into a full 5 degrees in the Beaufort scale with waves in turmoil that troubled us enough.
ΚάστροIt was night when we arrived in Sounio. The silver sea, however, under the full moon was trying to seduce us. It was a sweet challenge. Despite our physical tiredness, we did not have the strength to resist our feelings that began to awaken. Really, who can say no in front of such a spectacle? Staring at each other’s eyes for a moment, we smiled slyly and without saying a word, we stood upright. We threw some cold water on our faces and we turned on the engines. Soon, the ribs were sliding the silver trail of the sea that was leading us to Hydra. Speechless, almost enchanted by the fairytale scene, we were watching our bow creating a smooth, moonlit «avenue». Isolated, perhaps even from ourselves, we were carried away by the tranquility of a mystical landscape. Wrapped in our thick sailing clothes, we were immersed in a silent state of anticipation. The mountainous part of Hydra slowly began to stand out, while something mysterious emerged on the surface of the sea. We were just tired, but we were dreaming. Nothing could touch us ...We slowly entered the busy port of Hydra, where we stayed the night.
The sun began to rise on the horizon, the sea remained motionless so we quickly covered the 18NM that separated us from Spetses. Passing off from Dapia, the little port of Spetses, we could not resist its sweet call, although it was not within the plans of our holiday. But, who can deny an intra-day stop no matter how many times they visited it? We went out for coffee, with the little port stretching just below our feet. After we sat for some time, with a lot of difficulty and without really wanting it, we got up and made a little walk in the picturesque cobbled streets. And while we were away from our planned route in order to make a little stop in Spetses, the evening was approaching without noticing it.

From Kyparissi to Cape Malea
We went quickly to the ribs and we put prow to Kyparissi, from which we were separated by 24NM. From here, our acquaintance with the eastern side of the Peloponnese to the Cape Malea would start. All this part of the route, which, in total is no more than 37NM, perhaps is overshadowed by the compelling rock of Monemvasia. Apart from this one, though, there are very beautiful places that make up one of the most magical places of our country. In addition, there are several leeward bays to spend the night with very small distances among them. It was 6 o’clock in the afternoon, when we entered the Kyparissi bay. The colors at this time still make the overall landscape even more fascinating. The beauty, the allure of the sea and the smells from the mountains of Zaraka made us feel ecstatic. As we were approaching the picturesque harbor our enthusiasm was growing. We stood literally enchanted by the simplicity and charm of this undistorted piece of Greek land. The combination of mountain and sea, the white two-storey houses with the blue windows and the wonderful pebbled beaches with crystal clear waters, constitute a beautiful destination. A few taverns with very good food, traditional cafes, small shops that only sell the necessities and the scenic bar «Kyfanta» opposite the pier.
ΜονεμβασιάThe next morning, we left Kyparissi with the promise that we will soon visit it again. We continued our journey towards the compelling rock of Monemvasia. On the east side, at the root of the rock there is the small Byzantine castle. Approaching from the sea, the view is spectacular. The photographs follow one another.
The protective walls and the old tiled roofs of the houses below the cliff compose a breathtaking picture. We entered the port, which was under construction then, located on the south of the rock and we tied up in one of the floating platforms. Without wasting time, we went out on a short tour in this special place.
We passed the bridge connecting the mainland with the compelling rock, where previously there was a strip of sand which was also the only access. «Moni emvasis» (meaning in Greek: the unique entrance to the monastery), as its name suggests. After ten minutes of walking, we reached the main gate of the western wall of the castle and wandered around its narrow alleys. On the right and left of the main alley there are numerous shops with souvenirs, groceries and two bars that play congruous music.  In the background, a lot of taverns set their tables outside creating romantic corners next to mansions. The main alley leads to the small square where the belfry of the church Christ the Elkomenos stands between the rooftops. All walks start from this point. From here, you will climb the rock where you will find the ruins of the old upper town. The ascent is tiring, the stairs a lot, but the view compensates you.

Kythira - Antikythira
We set sail for Avlemonas, on the southeast edge of Kythira, 15NM away from Cape Malea. We moved carefully between the islands of Small and Big Dragonara and slowly approached the open bay of St. Nikolaos. Somewhere here, the ship of Lord Elgin wrecked, while carrying the «stolen» marbles. On the eastern side of the bay lies Avlemonas. It is a small and charming fishing village, which disarms you from the very first glance. Totally protected inside a small sheltered bay which ends in two oblong bays makes it ideal for anchorage. The Venetian castle on the left entrance of the bay, white cycladic houses that are built on its outskirts and the small boats of local fishermen tied on the rocks, form a very beautiful Greek corner.
AvlemonasWe continued for the large bay of Kapsali, in the heart of which the homonymous village is located, the port of the capital of Kythera. We had planned to spend the night there. So this was our first night in beautiful Kythira, the southernmost island of the Ionian Sea with the intense cycladic elements. This place has something special, a quality of its own. The next day we rented bikes and went up to the nearby town. We walked through the picturesque alleys, bought souvenirs, took pictures. After an invigorating cup of coffee in the cafe of the square we headed to the castle which is perched high on the hill. From here the view is enchanting. In the background, there is the deep blue where the water of the Aegean, Ionion and Cretan seas is mingled. In front of us, a small peninsula with the church of St. George at its top separates the bay of Kapsali into two seashores, the front and the back one. In the back shore, where it is more quiet and isolated, there are the fishing boats along with our ribs. In the front shore things are more secular. White houses are lined up in an arc shape, following the shape of the coastline. Many taverns and bars by the sea complete the whole scenery. All together in a harmonious coexistence, create a beautiful and very romantic setting. For two days we were wandering around the island. There were beauties and many attractions: the cave of St. Sophia, the Fonissa waterfall in Mylopotamos reminiscent of wild jungle scenery, Mitata village hanging off the edge of a gorge with breathtaking views. The bridge with the 13 arches in Katouni, built by an English engineer , the historic monastery of Panagia Mirtidiotissa with its Venetian bell tower , the monastery of St. John the Theologian on the cliff where the writing of The Apocalypse began. Two days filled with beautiful images.
On the third day, after refueling, we circumnavigated the west coast of the island. The landscape in this side is wilder, more impressive. After exploring every cove, we returned to the south bay Melidoni, located in the west side of Kapsali, four nautical miles away. Closed like a lake, completely protected from the passing of time, it is an ideal place to spend the night. In the afternoon, we decided to go on excursions to Avgo islet, otherwise called Chitra, a few miles further south, which rises up imposingly like a sleepless guardian of the island. We entered the huge cave located there and started diving in fantastic coloured waters. By sunset, the colours around us were enchanting. We were enjoying this wonderful sight, when someone in the group gave us the idea of Antikythera. Our departure was scheduled for the next day, but in front of a scarlet by the sunset sea, who can resist? So, we set sail towards the north cape of Antikythera called Kefali. We had to cover 18 ¨red¨ nautical miles. It had not been a long time when the mountainous part of the island came up on the horizon. Shortly, we approached the Northern Cape and headed to the east side of Antikythera, where its harbor is located.
KapsaliAs the last rays of the sun were disappearing, we were slowly entering through the narrow entrance and we tied up in the small waterfront. Two to three lights were scattered around witnessing the existence of life in this place. Having tidied up our stuff on the vessels we ascended the concrete alley that leads to the unique place for «entertainment» in the village, a large cafe and grocery store at the same time. Do not imagine luxuries of course. There is only what is absolutely necessary and in limited quantities. Even bread, as we were informed later, along with other necessities, arrive on the island once a week with the inflatable boat of the mail service.
There are only 45 remaining souls, most of them of Cretan origin, for the tough winters which due to strong winds boats are difficult to approach so, there is lack of tourism. «Only some ribs like yours occasionally come and they leave the next day», they complain.
It was 10 o'clock in the morning and after a cup of strong double coffee, we were standing on our feet. Around us there were five or six boats, tidy and freshly painted.
Absolute tranquility prevails in this place and nothing seems able to disturb it.
This place seems so remote! Yet, the Tsirigoto or whatever it is called is a «bridge» which connects the Peloponnese with Crete. Perhaps the rocky and arid landscape and the absence of beaches - there is only one, and this is in the bay located in the small port- are the main causes of this isolation. Antikythera became world-renowned when in 1900, near the Vlychadia cape, an ancient shipwreck with many important discoveries was recovered from the seabed, including the famous Antikythera Ephebe and The Antikythira Mechanism, which is considered to be the first computer in history and the oldest navigation mechanism. This is a set of 30 different gears that give information on the movements of the sun, moon and planets. The Antikythera Mechanism is a further proof that the ancient Greeks knew and used various navigation instruments and were not «tangled up».
The weather outside the bay became worse so, we began quickly untying and we greeted our friends who, despite their insistence, could not keep us for one more day on their island. We promised to them we would return and we were put to the already rough sea. We headed north, with the weather on our right mask. But as soon as we passed the northern headland, we were in the west side of the island where the weather was milder. We arrived shortly below the lighthouse of Apolytara, in the southern cape of Antikythera. After a few minutes regaining our strength we stabilized as well as possible our things on the inflatable.