SKIATHOS – MILINA
After spending 10 days in Porto Koufo we had to move on. 60 nm to the south, Skiathos was our next stop. The name “Skiathos” is composed out of two words. “Skia” (shade) & “Athos” meaning: the shade of Mount Athos. At first we were planning to land on one of the other islands of the Nothern Sporades, but a weather warning convinced us to hide in Skiathos. The forecast was announcing strong North Westerlies with menacing squalls for the next days. North Westerly wind is called “Maistros” in Greece but in the Thermaic Gulf, locals called it “Vardaris”. It can blow seriously over the Nothern Sporades and one of the best shelter in the area is the port of Skiathos.
We left Porto Koufo a couple of hours before dawn. To exit the bay we had again to pass through the narrow rocky entrance but this time in total darkness. Outside, a gentle breeze was blowing from the North East. It pushed us nicely on a broad reach. After a few miles at sea, we encountered an annoying swell coming from the eastern Aegean. An unpleasant roll unfortunately caused 5 hours of seasickness to the crew. The only solution was to take the helm. It is well known among sailors and we can confirm the efficiency of the remedy.
Luckily, it didn’t last long and the dolphins came to the rescue !
Generally speaking, navigation in Greece present few challenges as you can always set your course by spotting the next mountain on the horizon. However, when approaching the Nothern Sporades from the north, you don’t immediately see the islands from Halkidiki. This is due to the relatively low landscape of the archipelago. Skiathos only started to appear lately on the horizon, lined up with the Mount Athos which was vanishing far behind.
After a crossing of 10 hours, we passed in between Skopelos and Skiathos on a course of 180°. The strait is pretty wide but further south, some reefs and rocky islets are lying towards Skiathos. It was safer to take a large turn before heading into the harbour.
We left to starboard the lighthouse on the islet of Repio, before changing course to 270°. After 1.5 nm on this heading, the town of Skiathos slowly appeared in the background of the bay. We then proceeded north to enter the harbour.
While approaching, we spotted a few charter boats heading out and noticed a bit of traffic. A ferry was entering behind us and some other sailing boats were manoeuvring in the bay.
Finding a berth was another story ! We had already been told by other skippers to avoid this harbour. Nevertheless, for obvious shelter reasons, we had to pull in here. The port was full of professional charters expecting tourists for daily tours. Berths were therefore limited for visiting private yachts. We were told by the harbour authorities to go alongside in the corner of the harbour next to the sewers. Not very pleasant. It was already mid-July and because of the covid 19 circumstances, the harbour was packed. Yacht companies were desperately waiting for tourists ! To be honest, the harbour atmosphere was bad and tense. Indeed, it was crowded, but with charter boats waiting to go out at sea. The professionals were heavily complaining about the lack of business.
Anyhow, Skiathos itself is beautiful with a luxuriant pine forest. And this year, big Hotels were all closed which meant in fact less people throughout the island. We rented a car and enjoyed some unspoiled beaches unbelievably empty in this unusual Greek summer.
The stretch of water we crossed lies between the Thermaic Gulf, Halkidiki Peninsula and the Nothern Sporades. The weathers patterns encountered in the area in summer can sometimes be quite confusing. It is generally accepted that the Meltemi is weaker in this part of the Aegean. However, we observed some weather conditions which are worth mentioning. First of all: the regular North Easterlies tend to maintain big swells and confused seas under the Mount Athos. Secondly: when North West wind blows, it is often above Force 6 for a couple of days. Thirdly: this area is surrounded by high mountains (Olympus, Athos, Pelion) which tend to attract squalls and thunderstorms. Throughout the summer months, those storms are common phenomena and are almost unpredictable because of their random routes.
During the two days we spent in Skiathos, the wind kept whistling in the shrouds. Samourai was well protected from the weather but the boat was stuck in a corner. Lines were stretching and fenders were squeezed between the neighbouring charter boat and the rough concrete quay. Beside that, the incessant coming and going of tourists, cars, boats and planes landing next to the harbour was more than what we could stand.
We left after two turbulent nights. It was around midday and the wind was slowly decreasing, but still gusting around 25 knots. We unrolled half the genoa and were literally blown out of Skiathos harbour. The wind was from behind and Samourai was sliding at 5 knots.
Soon after leaving, we entered the strait lying between South Pelion and the North of Evia. A passage which can be treacherous with strong currents pushing onshore towards Evia and the islet Pontikonisi. In the northern part of the strait, lies also a very shallow reef called “Leftheris” which we left a mile to starboard.
Still sailing downwind under genoa alone, we kept heading towards the Trikery strait. 15 nm were left to get to the entrance of the Pagasetic Gulf.
The village of Trikeri lies on a hill, at the entrance of the gulf with a tiny little port just at it’s foot. This is exactly where the wind left us. For a little while, it was turning around, then eventually it blew against us. We had to motor the last 15 nm towards Milina, passing between Trikery Island and the mainland. In this small stretch of water, we had both 20 knots of wind and 1.5 knots of current against us. Our speed over the ground desperately dropped to 3 knots and the last leg became a bit nerve racking. We finally reached Milina just before sunset.
After our experience in Skiathos, it was a big relief to find a peaceful berth. We were enchanted with the place. The port was tiny and very shallow, but pleasant and especially quite.
The café/restaurant across the road served nice breakfasts under the shade of trees. We did spent a few nice moments around those tables …
… with one of the most famous harbour cats called “Jack Sparrow”.
The walk along the coastal villages of South Pelion revealed traditional stone houses surrounded by olives trees and rich vegetation. The peninsula is mountainous and has two coastal sides: one in the Aegean Sea and one in the Pagasetic Gulf. Locals say that in winter you can ski in Pelion in the morning and sail the Pagasetic in the afternoon.
Someone could probably compare this area to a big lake enclosed by mountains. That does not mean the Pagasetic Gulf can not be rough. But in summer, apart from a few thunderstorms, the weather is mainly dry and there is nearly always an afternoon breeze from the East North East.
Looking north in the afternoon, we often noticed cumulus clouds gathering above Mount Pelion.
During our stay in Milina, a rig check had to be done. A rare opportunity to admire the view from up there !
Milina harbour, watching West from the spreaders.
We discovered that one Clevis pin was insidiously trying to come out. The solution was as follows: go back down, undo the bottle screws of the lower shrouds, then climb up to the spreaders and reposition the Clevis pin properly. Finally back on deck, the rigging was tightened again.
Sunsets were marvellous.
A nice meal with a cold beer, listening to the sound of bouzouki.
An afternoon in Milina: three old ladies gathering alongside each other. From left to right: Nicholson 32, Rasmus 35, Rival 34. What a rare opportunity to spot those half century designs all together !
The splendid view from the hills above Milina , looking west towards Trikeri Island.
Sailing from Skiathos to Milina took us around 8 hours to cover 35 nm. We left with the wind pushing us into the strait and once in the Pagasetic, we had the wind against us. We stayed nearly two months in the area and had the time to get an idea of the meteorological conditions. Except for a few times, the prevailing North-Easterly breeze was usually blowing in the afternoon. Often when the Aegean had a gale warning, we would only experience 20 to 25 knots in the Pagasetic Gulf. The Pelion Peninsula protects somehow the Gulf from the strong Meltemi. The only serious adverse conditions we experienced, were impressive thunderstorms followed by strong westerlies which usually occurred at night.