As the boat glided into the harbour, anchor dropping and ropes at the ready to throw out, it seemed oddly quiet in Steni Vala, Alonissos. Another two sailboats bobbed on their anchors and a bright orange and blue crayfish caique was coming in behind us. We jumped onto the quay in search of real greek coffee and conversation. After surveying the tranquil scene, we settled on the blue and white café under the gum trees and happily sat down under their shade. Fellow sailors at the table next to us were the only other company and we exchanged the usual conversation one has with people passing through a harbour for a day. Where are you from? Where are you going? When are you casting off? Have you seen the weather report?
Iced cappuccinos in hand, all eyes on the sea, still littered with whitecaps and visible spray, we looked back on the adventurous day of sailing that had brought us here. Intending to set sail early from the beautiful Panormos Bay of Skopelos, ancient anchorage of pirates and invaders, one thing had led to another and we had left rather late. This meant we were caught by the 'meletemi' - that north summer wind that picks up in the early afternoon and can blow for days. Sailing in the Sporades, one is exposed to the wind, but there are also plenty of opportunities for protection.
Crossing the strait between Skopelos and Alonissos had been particularly challenging and rather uncomfortable, though thankfully not very long. We'd lost a few things to the sea, as so many before us. In the skilled hands of our Captain and crew, our boat had made it through, and here we were, windblown but exhilarated and glad to be safely docked in the narrow, peaceful harbour of Steni Vala, Alonissos, last stop before the wild, scattered outer islands of the Northern Sporades.
All Sorts and Sundry
Long a favourite with independent seaman, sailboats have been turning up in Steni Vala for over forty years. It used to be a safe harbour from strong winds and squalls for local fisherman. Waiting out the storm, resting, repairing their nets and getting a home-cooked meal and water. A couple of generations later, it is a thriving, summer resort complete with a hotel, watersport facilities and tavernas lining the quay, which overflow in the high summer season. One is just as likely to meet single-handed round-the-world sailors as you are a flotilla.
We have come in late August, after the high season, in mid afternoon – which explains the strange but welcome quietness of the place. The proverbial quiet after the storm. We too shall wait out the too-strong wind in this protected piece of paradise, re-supply from the well-stocked supermarkets, enjoy a meal al fresco with the scent of jasmine in the air and dream of the even quieter outer islets of the Northern Sporades.
The next day, Force 7 still blowing, more boats had appeared in the harbour seeking respite, we look over the map of the areas and plot our route among the islands, noting the two big natural harbours on Kyria Panagia island to the Northeast of us, that would provide shelter if the wind picked up again. If the weather allows we shall cast off from there, stopping at Gioura to spot a wild goat or two, sailing on to the northern most tip of this island complex Psathoura, a yellow splodge on the map in the midst of blue.
We look up from the map at the horizon and see Two Brothers island's, blue-gray and hazy in the distance, back on the map beyond them to the Southeast is the flat and sandy Skantzoura.
"Tomorrow, finish the big wind! " a cheerful voice distracts us from the map. " You go tomorrow! Early! Good wind for you!" exclaims a cheerful face from under a black fisherman's hat, gnarled hands holding a tin of Amstel. With a wave he's gone, as suddenly as he appeared.
We fold up the map, eyes back on the crimson horizon, the masts of the boats waving across the view, willing the wind to drop. Tomorrow, then.