Friday, 16 August 2013

Aegean crossing

The bells of St John's monastery
There's an inscribed stone tablet kept by the monks of St John on Patmos which tells of how Vera, daughter of so-and-so, who was born on Patmos but raised somewhere else, crossed the "treacherous Aegean" to return to Patmos as high priestess of the temple of Artemis. Vera and her temple maidens are long gone, but the sea hasn't changed. You've got to respect the moods of the Aegean.

We left Zea marina on a morning when the wind was not so wild, and the seas had flattened out to 1.5 m in between Kea and Siros and we made a fast 65 mile hop to the very safe anchorage of Finikas on the south-west coast of Siros. The next day the meltemi came in hard again, and we rested 24 hours before pressing on. It's another long day across from Siros to Patmos, 90 nautical miles, but the wind was in our favour, blowing strongly and constantly from the north-west almost all the way across. The sun sets earlier than it did a month ago, but there was still light enough to see the sand on the bottom when we anchored at 7.30 pm in Ormos Kambos, a low-key summer playground north of the port. We were happy with that run across the Aegean - an 8 knot average.

An early start from Siros towards the eastern Aegean
The entrance to Patmos harbour with outlying anchorages
To have crossed the Aegean and arrived in the Dodecanese means of course that we have left behind the mean streets of Athens and our routine evenings of people-watching on the grand promenade which stretches in a long undulating loop around the base of the Acropolis. Here are a few last photos of those evenings.

Temple of Olympian Zeus - an also-ran in this city of superlative ruins
The grey stone walls of the monastery bear down on the chora
The monastery of St John dominates Patmos as the temple of Artemis must have done in Vera's time. The monks built their church on top of and around the temple's lovely marble flagstones and columns, which is why presumably the monks can display Vera's ancient CV in their museum, the "grandest in the Aegean", they proclaim. An ambit claim, I'd say, but monks do know how to get their hands on a lot of loot. Parchment gospels and magnificent jewel-encrusted ornamentation, crosses mostly but also stuff you'd never think of them wanting to own - like 15th century Florentine manuscripts of works by"pagan" Greek dramatists and philosophers, copied just in the nick of time before the Greek-speaking Byzantine emperors in Constantinople were pushed out by the Turks... I looked for Homer, but he wasn't in the collection (I've just begun my first-ever reading of The Odyssey, so Homer is my man for a while).

The monastery's 11th century church recycles the temple of Artemis

Frescoes tell the stories

A courtyard where time does not march anywhere

Below the grand turrets of St John's is a smaller monastery built over and around a cave where St John is said to have lived when he was exiled from Ephesus for 18 months or so in 95 AD (he was brought to Patmos chained to the mast of a boat, and the monks display the very same chain in a case next to the skull of St Thomas- do not doubt it)). John is believed to have the apocalyptic vision which resulted in the book of Revelations while he lived in the cave. It's a good-sized cave, if that's indeed where he lived.

Entrance to the monastery built around St John's apocalyptic cave

Someone's got to keep the cave in working order

Procession of chanting monks on
August 14
When you drop down the steep stone track to Skala, the port of Patmos, you can't quite believe that the monks are still going about their business up on the hilltop as if the world had not changed in a thousand years. I pulled back just in time from a contretemps with a pig-tailed and bearded fellow, dressed head to toe in black, who asked us 'what is Australia like?" Young and old, I told him. The cities are like cities anywhere, but in the desert there are people who have been living in Australia for 30,000 years. Oh no, he said to me, you mustn't say that. God created man 7000 years ago....and so he went on, and Alex gave me a look, and we let him talk about the things he believed, like the imminent end of the world (this is, after all, the apocalyptic island) and then left him, this monk who had come to Patmos from Mt Athos, and we went back to the sinners in the scooter-filled streets by the harbour.

Girls just wanna have fun

At the bus-stop in Skala 

If only all water sports at Ormos Kambos were this sedate

He's made of stern stuff

From Patmos we have come north to Samos - call it a circumnavigation of the North Aegean! The winds have been very kind to us, and Enki is a dream boat when she's given 25 knots to play around with. More wind is fine too. She does love a run.

Enki's starboard rail gets a saline sluice

The harbour anchorage at Pithagoria 

Pithagorio harbour on the south-east corner of Samos is so pretty. It's more crowded than we expected, but crowded with people like us, people in their own boats, perhaps thinking like us to get away from the islands popular with the charter flotillas. Last night it also drew in people not so like us, people whose yachts are accompanied by tenders (plural) as big as the usual family day-sailer. They need to get their anchors dug in just like anybody else though.

The mountain belongs to Turkey 

Some of us are bigger than others - and carry our sailing toys on deck

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