19 to 24 October 2017
Rethymno to Nisis Dhia, N35° 26.35’ E25° 13.29’, 36nm, 7 hours
to Spinalonga Lagoon, N35° 17.85’ E25° 44.0’, 37nm, 6 hours 30
to Agios Nikolaos, N35° 11.10’ E25° 42.99’, 13nm, 2 hours 30
After a brilliant Two weeks in Rethymno the wind had calmed and the swell reduced enough for us to leave for the final few legs of our journey to our winter home. After three weeks in harbours we were looking forward to some time at anchor before tying up in Agios Nikolaos for winter.
In the bright early morning sunshine the mountainous coastline sparkled. We were heading for an anchorage on the uninhabited island of Dhia, just opposite Crete’s main town of Heraklion.
Approaching the island we disturbed a large group of gulls sleeping across the entrance to the bay and it was easy to see why no one lives on the island. It is mostly sheer slopes of limestone.
In one of the island’s bays we found the perfect isolated anchorage in beautiful clear water. During my swim our peace was briefly disturbed by a trip boat. We also watched nervously as a fishing boat laid its nets right across the bay, blocking our exit should we need to leave. We were confident the forecast was for calm weather but were still very happy when they took them up again before we went to bed.
There was an eerie looking shrine in a cave just above the tiny beach ashore. We took the tender over to have a closer look but could not work out what it was. We did find lots of sea urchins on the rocks in the crystal water.
At sundown we could see the lights of Crete but all fell completely still and silent on Dhia. In the morning the sun shone again across the island and we got a great view of it as we continued our journey east.
We spent our last few days of the sailing season in Spinalonga Lagoon, a very protected anchorage which is definitely amongst our top 5 of the year. It had everything we need from an anchorage: proximity to a lovely little town full of tavernas and coffee shops (and the best chandlery on Crete); no swell or chop on account of its shallow waters; incredible views of the mountains of Eastern Crete; and surrounded by history and interesting places.
The main town on the shore, Elounda, is now given over to tourism but it is still an active fishing harbour. We watched these three generations of fisherman mending their nets. Elounda is also the site of the ancient Roman city of Olous which sat on the ithmus between the mainland and the island which forms the lagoon. The city was lost under seawater long ago but a causeway across to the island remains, bordered by salt pans and windmills.
With glorious weather we made the most of our last few days at anchor, enjoying perhaps the last swim from the boat before the water turns too cold and exploring every corner of the lagoon in the tender.
Both Stefan and I had visited the former leper colony on the island of Spinalonga before in our teens and twenties respectively. It was a place that had a powerful affect on both of us then and somewhere we wanted to revisit. So early one morning we took the tender across from the anchorage. We were there as the gates opened and, apart from the staff, had the haunting streets and ramparts of the island entirely to ourselves. Entering via Dante’s Gate, the tunnel that took the lepers to their new home, was particularly poignant.
The derelict houses were not in much better condition when the lepers occupied them from 1903. In the early days of the leper colony the living conditions were inhumane and it took many years for them to start being treated with dignity and respect.
There were reminders of the everyday objects of life on the island and how the patients used local materials to make games and entertainment. This painting on a wall shows the seaplanes that landed in the lagoon to deliver supplies.
The ancient buildings of the former Venetian fort were put to new use. The 16th century garrison building was converted into the disinfection area and the Turkish mosque into the hospital. Much campaigning brought better conditions for the patients and Spinalonga even got electricity before Elounda.
The last patients left the island on 19 June 1957. One of them marked the occasion by writing the date on a door. The island’s priest remained there until 1962 to complete the funeral rituals for the last patients who died there but since then the island has been an empty, haunting reminder of the cruelty and ignorance that cast sick people out of society.
But finally the day came for us to head to Agios Nikolaos and Pintail’s winter home. A short passage out of the lagoon and into the town surrounded by mountains. We had heard that getting into berths at the marina could be very tricky so we chose a windless early morning to arrive and hoped for the best. As it turned out our allocated berth was right at the end of one of the first pontoons so getting in was very straightforward.
Greeted to the pontoon by the friendly marinero, Thanasis, and in the office with a bottle of wine and olive oil by Despina it was a very welcoming start to our few months in Agios Nikolaos…..