28 September to 4 October 2017
Adamas, Milos to Chania, Crete, N35° 31.35’ E24° 01.09’
85nm, 16 hours 30
Winter was indeed what seemed to greet us on arrival in Crete!
But first the 85nm sail from Milos meant a night passage, checking we had enough diesel in the tanks and getting out life jackets, jackstays and lifelines. We had chosen to leave before some big weather from the north so in the end we motored all the way on a flat calm sea. We could see a big electrical storm raging in the west. During my first night watch I watched it constantly lighting up the sky hoping it was not going to get any closer. By the time Stefan took over at midnight it had died down.
We had to slow down on the way in order to arrive in Chania in daylight and caught the sun rising over the old Venetian harbour. The harbour master was late for work at 8am but arrived in time to take our lines as we got to the town quay.
Arriving in Chania meant a reunion for Stefan with his friend Akis, who he hadn’t seen for 25 years. Almost as soon as we tied up Akis appeared at the back of the boat and, despite our sleepy eyes, insisted he take us for breakfast just along the quay. We were treated to a Cretan feast of a breakfast – yogurt and fresh figs, dakos (a Cretan take on bruschetta with cheese on top), different types of Cretan cheese, a kind of quiche, cake and pastries. It was a fantastic welcome to Crete.
And then the weather we had sought to avoid on our night passage caught up with us, the sky darkened, our shorts were exchanged for long trousers for the first time in ages and it started raining. It didn’t stop for two days. Pintail was very grateful for the fresh water wash down but we didn’t like it at all! We hadn’t seen our umbrellas and raincoats since Gibraltar! With the rain and wind came a swell into the harbour that crashed on the sea walls. We watched these tiny dinghies brave the conditions and sail out into it. Braver sailors than us. We stayed put, bumping around in the surge created by the swell hoping our anchor would hold us off the quay and sleeping off our night at sea.
The rain, however, did mean perfect conditions for looking around Chania’s museums.
We dipped into Crete’s ancient past at the archeological museum. Finds from Chania’s Minoan settlements were displayed a bit haphazardly and without translation it was difficult for us to follow. However, I particularly loved the beady eyes of the designs on the pottery and with months ahead of us on the island we are sure to learn more about these early Cretan people.
We found more interest in more recent history in the Naval Museum where we learnt about the Battle of Crete and the island’s occupation by the Germans in 1941. Again it was the more human stories that brought this to life for us, a wedding dress made from parachute silk, Greek and British soldiers sharing a cup of tea and the heroes of the resistance.
Continuing our education into Crete’s part in World War II, another day we took the bus round to Souda Bay to find the war cemetery for British, Australian and New Zealand soldiers who died in the Battle of Crete. There is nothing that brings home the realities of war than seeing row after row of graves of men, some as young as 16, many unidentified. Seeing the naval vessels anchored in the bay behind the cemetery left us wondering what lessons have been learned.
When the sun finally put in an appearance Akis found us the perfect spot to watch it set from the end of the Venetian harbour
and we were able to explore the buildings of the Byzantines, the Venetians and the Turkish – all of whom made Chania their home over the centuries.
We wandered in and out of the cross shaped the public market and hung out with the backgammon playing old boys in 1821 Square in the shadow of the former mosque turned church dedicated to Agios Nikolaos, Saint Nicholas, patron saint of sailors.
But all streets somehow led us back to the Venetian harbour.
Whilst wandering around the streets of the old Jewish Quarter behind the harbour, some houses still waiting to be loved,
I found this wonderfully peaceful synagogue, Etz Hayyim, with its resident cat. Lovingly restored after decades of decay, its rebuilding stands as a statement of one man’s defiance against Hitler and yet another reminder of the horrors of war. Crete’s Jewish population of 300 was rounded up by the German occupiers in 1944 and put on a ship bound for Auschwitz. On the way the ship was torpedoed by the British and all lives lost.
Crete still has no permanent Jewish population.
It seems that reminders of the horrors of the war are everywhere in Crete.
In Chania we had our first introduction to Crete’s indigenous Kri-kri goats. Now an endangered species, we found these in captivity in the municipal park.
Before we left Akis also introduced us to more Cretan food and drink during an afternoon of raki and snails. Stefan assures me the snails were delicious and the raki fuelled a lively conversation about Greek economics and politics!
Thank you so much, Akis, for sharing your infectious love of Chania, your hospitality and the bottles of raki stored safely on board. We hope to see you again during our stay in Crete.