Saturday, September 8, 2012

Greek sailing, day 5 - cliffs and caves on the wild side of Zakintosh

We set off to explore the cliffs and caves of north-west Zakintosh. Unlike yesterday the sea was calm and although there was some wind it was gentler, which promised smooth sailing.

Our first destination was the Blue Caves of Zakintosh. This is an area on the tip of the island on its protected eastern side. The lime stone cliffs tower over the sea that keeps eating into it, forming caves and arches. One cluster of such caves is just north of Agios Nikolaos where we where we spent the night. In fact, we saw a pair on a kayak leaving the port toward the caves (and later saw them there).

We were not sure where exactly is the famous "blue cave", but once we saw a big tourist boat anchored across from a walkway, we decided we are sufficiently near.

access point by land

From up close we could see the effect of the sea on the cliffs. Just next to us was a pile of boulders from the latest collapse of the cliff above it. Given the vegetation growing on the cliff this was not too recent. Yet, it did seem like the top soil was cut by a knife, with trees growing up to the edge of the cliff.

Roni was still asleep and Tomer just woke up. We decided that the three adults will take the dingy for exploration and that when we return the kids will have their turn. Udi navigated us toward a series of arcs. We saw many caves, but none of them seemed sufficiently big to have the tourist glass boats we saw yesterday go into them.

pictures from the dingy (hence the water droplets) 

natural arches (with Kefallonia in the background)
We continued for quite a while, but did not find what seemed to be "the cave". We reached another small dock with two boats, and asked the a local working one one of the boats. He directed us to turn back south. We then noticed that there was a sign above the cave that we missed on the first pass.

Blue cave, with sign above it

We moved in with the dingy. I tried to record the moment with video, with partial success (the first segment of this movie).


Once inside we jumped in to snorkel. The cave was nice, but not spectacular as we expected. The "classical" blue cave is one where there is no direct light from outside and the light source is by reflection from the underwater passage. This creates an impressive florescent-like blue color. Here the opening was quite large which meant that the sun light made it through the opening. It might be that at noon when the sun is higher this is less of an issue.

Although the cave was a bit disappointing, Ayelet and I wanted to explore the caves and niches that we saw on our way from the boat. The plan was that Udi will return by dingy (he was not a snorkeling fan) and we will snorkel back. We spent the next hour or so going through many caves and the arches (see the later segments of the above movie). Most of them were similar in terms of the depth of the sea floor (about 3-5 meters). I guess this is determined by the strength of the waves and how deep they can "dig" into these caves. Each cave was somewhat different.

below an arch

We snorkeled very close to the cliffs. Yet, we had to keep out for tourist motor boats that came quite close. This was a bit annoying as their engine could be heard very well underwater (you hear it in the movie soundtrack) and we had to keep watching for ones that might get too close. Later we decided that next time we should take a float with us to clearly mark that we are in the water. I imagine that during the high season this area is even more crowded.

cave entrance

sea star that seemed common here

cliff walls, underwater

dark cave

a weird sea-star

We returned to the boat. It was almost noon and we felt we earned our breakfast. Ayelet declared that instead of eating the usual tiropita, she will make a different breakfast. She went down to the kitchen and made a version of bruschetta. It was accompanied by the ceviche I made yesterday, some feta cheese and olives, and cold white wine from Kefallonia.

Tomer checking the options for breakfast
Roni woke up and joined the breakfast. Afterwards Udi took the kids for a snorkeling in the caves nearer to the boat (that we found as the more interesting among the ones we explored).  Once everyone was back on board, we lifted anchor and started sailing north.

We passed two glass-bottom boats exploring the blue cave. You can see in the image one of them entering (barely fitting) the cave. We decided that the "blue cave" was determined more by accessibility for tourists rather than for being the most impressive one.

tourist boats entering the caves
We passed the north tip of the island and turned to follow the western coast in a SW direction.

This coast is facing the open Ionan sea, and is buffeted by strong winds and waves. The whole coast is high cliffs falling into the sea.

The shore is accessible only in few points here, and through very steep descent. Thus, most of the side of the island is unpopulated. Our destination was Navagio beach, also known as "Smugglers' Cove". This is a white beach surrounded by high cliffs that can only be accessible from the sea. In the middle of the beach there is a large shipwreck. Pictures of this remote beach are often used in posters for Greece tourism.

Photo from
credit to Knut Werner Lindeberg Alsén
According to the guide books, the ship was smuggling goods (not clear what exactly) and was trying to escape local patrols by hiding in these bays. However, a storm wrecked it on the beach. Apparently the smugglers were aiming to the natural port south of here (where we planned to spend the night) and erred in their navigation. The rusting wreck on the background of white shore and cliffs made this an iconic location. Since it is so famous, there are many boats that take tourists here. Some are small speed boats and others are larger yachts.

We arrived in rather late afternoon, and there were few boats anchored in the bay.

The color of the water here was impressive shade of blue. Udi found it reminiscent of artificial colors. To me it reminded glacier lakes in the Canadian rockies. I suspect that the color is due to lime-stone particles from the cliffs. The water was definitely markier than the clear water we saw earlier in our snorkeling.

Roni, in the blue blue water

Bolstered by our earlier exploration, Ayelet convinced me we should explore the caves we saw as we came into the bay. We asked Udi to take us by the dingy with the plan to snorkel back toward the beach along the cliffs. From the dingy the next bay over seemed interesting, although with some waves.

We jumped from the dingy. Since the dingy was small, I jumped first without my fins and asked Udi to pass them to me. While I was donning the first one, the second one slipped from my hands and started sinking. I quickly dove after it. The water was milky blue around me and the visibility not great. I didn't see the bottom but could see the fin going down. I dive directly down eventually managed to catch the fin. I am not sure how deep I got, but it felt like the deepest dive I did so far in this trip. I made it back to the surface, donned the second fin. Only then I asked Udi for the camera :-). Conclusion, always make sure everything is secured, since the sea is hungry for your equipment...

We waved Udi goodbye and started toward the caves. We quickly discovered that the waves were not that gentle, and that the water here was very very milky. Making exploration of the cave impossible.

Swimming against the waves wasn't fun. We passed several angry caves.

Once we passed the small outcrop that separated this bay from the main one, we suddenly were in clear water and could see the bottom far beneath us. The cliff continued vertically down toward the bottom. The cliff side was populated by many sea urchins digging into the cliff. Several schools of small fish passed us (don't have good pictures of these).

After a visit to rather largish cave, we continued toward a small beach that formed an interruption in the sharp cliff.

The water close to the beach were in strong turquoise color and very milky. Snorkeling in them was  somewhat scary as you could not see any reference point and it was not clear if we were progressing. Once we reached the breaking waves they dragged us (rather forcefully) onto the beach.

The beach was surrounded by what seemed like freshly broken limestone cliffs.

The beach itself was made of small, pea-sized, white pebbles. Ayelet declared that these made perfect fit, and could make a wonderful bed. We toyed with the idea of starting a line of pea or lentil mattresses. Ayelet practiced some yoga positions, and declared that watching the waves upside down was very impressive. I declined, but took photos to make sure I have something to embarrass her in the future :-)

Once we were rested, we braved the waves and continued our trip. By now the bay was empty of boats, and we could barely see the tip of Ester's mast. We started swimming in that direction, but then realized that it was moving. Udi and the kids decided to start looking for us. They picked us in the middle of the bay. We learned that they had their own adventures. They tried to get to the beach with the dingy, and the waves managed overturn them.

It was late afternoon by now, and so we had to skip a visit to the main beach. I guess this means I have to return here at some point.

We sailed for about half an hour south to our destination port - porto Vromi. According to the nautical guide book, this is the only protected bay on this side of the island.
Zakintosh cliffs, late afternoon

Island at the enterance to Vmorli 

Indeed, we found a fjord-like bay that went relatively deep in-land between two hills that protected it from the sea. 

Getting into the bay we found few boats moored along the cliffside.

We tried to drop anchor, but it seemed that the bottom was deep and the anchor did not catch. After one attempt, a fellow in small motor boat came by and told us that anchoring is problematic since the bottom is littered with old chains that can entrap our anchor. He directed us to a float that has mooring lines. This was an interesting experience. We pulled the float and found that it was tied to several anchors in opposite directions. By lifting two of these ropes and securing them to the two sides of the boat we were securely moored in place.

By now it was late evening. Tomer took the dingy to explore the shore. The bay had two prongs, each ending with a small beach with few desolated buildings. We saw cars in both areas and roads that go up  toward the hills above us. Later on, when checking the map I found that although these two roads end about 100meters from each other, to get by car from one of these ends to the other requires driving 16km of very steep roads.

We had a light dinner, and then after chatting on the deck retired. I was very tired and fell asleep easily.

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