We had a great sail after leaving Kythnos on Sunday the 8th of September. It took us just over five hours and as we had between 12 and 18 knots of wind, we got out both sails on a starboard tack and maintained speeds between 5.2 and 6.4 knots. By 1.30pm we were anchored in Sounion on the Greek mainland, in 4m with 36m of chain out. The bottom there is mainly sand with some weed patches.
Step off point - Sounion
Sounion is a place where many yachts – a majority are charter boats – hang out waiting for good weather to leave the mainland and head for the Greek islands. It’s also a stopping off anchorage on their way back to Athens after their holiday.
We did notice quite a few yachties weren’t sure how to anchor securely and witnessed a couple of crews pretty much dropping anchor, getting in their dinghies and heading to shore, without driving back on the anchor to ensure it was nicely dug into the sand. Because of this, we chose to anchor on the outside of the flock and close enough to the shore that we wouldn’t get anyone anchoring in front of us and dragging into us if the wind picked up at night.
Once the sun went down, Poseidon’s Temple, built around 440BC during the Golden Age of Athens, which sits 60m high on the promontory cliff overlooking Sounion bay, suddenly glowed golden against the darkening night sky, as spotlights turned on, illuminating its remaining 15 x 6.10m tall columns. We wanted to pay homage to Poseidon, being protector of seafarers, and decided on our return to Sounion, we would do just that. But the following morning, we were setting sail for an anchorage further north.
Sounion to Varkiza
We woke to a favourable wind which meant we could sail to Varkiza bay, which is closer to Athens and would allow us to catch public transport to the chandlers there, which stocked a Mantus chain hook. You may remember that a few months ago I made a bonus video showing how I made a snubber. We had several concerned comments under that YouTube video recommending we change out the snap hook for a proper chain hook which was more likely to hold in high winds. We listened and made the Mantus chain hook a priority.
Our passage from Sounion to Varkiza (Vari) bay only took 3 hours and while we had the headsail out for a short time in 15 knots of wind, we motored most of the way when the wind changed direction to right on the nose. We anchored in a sandy bottom at Varkiza in 4m. Because a west wind had picked up to 20 knots when we arrived, we put out 32m of chain, which was a nice 8:1 ratio, and A B Sea held firm all the time we were in the bay.
Visiting Athens city and the Parthenon
I was very excited to go to Athens. It is home of one of the world’s most recognised ancient wonders, the Parthenon that sits atop the Acropolis, which is a large flat-topped hill in Athens’ centre.
It’s too high!
We docked our dinghy on the most obvious wall in Varkiza but it turned out that the height of the wall was a good metre above the dinghy and getting off proved challenging! We did manage to reenter the dinghy later that evening without accident, but the next day we discovered a much better place to leave the dinghy – tucked inside Varkiza’s small fishing harbour.
Athens public transport
Athens public transport is extensive with buses, trains and trams. There are many ticket booths at major transport stops and you can buy single use tickets or multi use cards, depending on your need. You’ll find all the ticket information you need here.
We caught a 122 bus just outside a tourist shop on the main front at Varkiza and changed to another bus at Glyfada which got us to the chandlers (after a short walk) around lunchtime. We spent a little while “oohing and aahing” as we looked at all of their wares stored over three floors, and eventually left, carrying our new 10mm chain hook (and a new Australian flag) with us.
Next stop: the awe-inspiring Acropolis and Parthenon
Stashing our yachtie goodies in our backpacks, we marched for about 15 minutes to the tram stop and caught a tram which took us in 30 minutes to Neos Kosmos, which was one stop short of our hoped for destination of Kassomouli. This meant we had another 20 minute walk to get to the Acropolis itself, but it was interesting walking through the city streets. And good exercise, as the final push was up an ever steepening hill!
When we arrived at the Acropolis, despite drinking lots of water, we were thirsty and were tempted into buying large strawberry/lemon slushies. They were a heart-stopping 9 Euros/AU$14.67 each but were as delicious as they were thirst-quenching. My only regret was that I couldn’t savour mine slowly because we weren’t allowed to take drinks into the Acropolis. But if you’re in that area and don’t mind a hefty price tag for a very bright ice drink, do try one. Unlike ones I’ve tried in Australia where you suck all the colour and flavour out leaving only ice at the bottom, this slushie stayed colourful and tasty all the way to the last – quickly sipped – drop.
There are a couple of ticket choices depending on your itinerary. We only had time to see the Parthenon so paid for 20 Euro (AU$32.50) tickets which allowed us access to all of the Acropolis and the Parthenon. There is another ticket that will give you five days to visit a few other sites around the city as well.
We spent at least three hours walking around the Acropolis and the buildings alongside the Parthenon are no less splendid. Each one has a large information plaque and you can also hire a tour guide if you want more detailed information.
My only caution is to choose ‘sensible’ shoes that will be the least likely to slip on the highly polished marble on the paths and stone in and around the Acropolis. Centuries of thousands of pedestrians have polished this stone to a high gloss and you do have to tread carefully in some places.
The Acropolis itself stands 150m (490 ft) above sea level, has a surface area of about 3 hectares (7.4 acres) and has been inhabited since the early Neolithic period in the 6th millennium BC. Wow. The Parthenon and many of its other buildings were built/re-built by Pericles after the Athenians defeated the Persians at the Battle of Eurymedon in 468 BC. If you’re interested you’ll find a link to the plan of the buildings on the Acropolis on this page.
Sanctuary of Asclepius
I was personally interested in the Sanctuary of Asclepius - who is known as the Grecian God of Medicine in Greek mythology. His statues feature him holding a staff with a snake entwined around it, so you can see where modern medicine gets its symbol.
To visit an Asclepeoin sanctuary, there were two steps for a patient to be treated: The first was cleansing with bathing, diet and/or clearing emotions through art. During the second stage after offering a prayer or money to the temple, the patient would sleep in the temple (perhaps induced by hypnosis or hallucinogens) and on waking would describe their dream journey to a temple priest, who would prescribe treatment based on their dream interpretation. Talk about mind/body healing. Treatment at these temples mainly included promoting a healthy lifestyle, with an emphasis on a person’s spiritual needs. This dude was switched on. If you’d like to read more about Asclepius, start here.
The Parthenon and Elgin's Marbles
The Parthenon itself didn’t disappoint and is a fine example of Doric style architecture from the height of the Hellenic period. Unfortunately much of the exquisitely carved portions of frieze running along the top of the columns are either damaged or missing; many - named Elgin's Marbles - sitting in the British Museum, thanks to Lord Elgin who acquired them in 1805 and then sold them to the British Museum in 1816. There is some contention as to whether these will be returned to Greece, their rightful home.
Elgin also snatched a couple of the Caryatids, carved female forms that hold up a porch on one of the buildings. He was a busy fellow. All of these have been replaced with replicas and the remaining originals are in safekeeping in the Acropolis Museum.
There are also many interesting spots around the outside walls of the Acropolis and I could go on forever, but I suggest if you’re interested, you start with Auntie Google while you save up your pennies and visit the Acropolis yourself!
Time to go home
A good three hours later and very foot weary, Baz and I made our way back to the tram stop, declaring the money we’d paid to visit the Acropolis was exceedingly well spent and it was good to know we were also paying for the ongoing restoration work.
We arrived at the boat in darkness, loaded up with provisions that we picked up in one of a couple of well stocked supermarkets in Varkiza. I managed not to crack my head on the concrete dock as I leapt un-gazelle-like into the dinghy.
We made plans to install our new Mantus chain hook, replace the tattered Aussie flag and counted down the days until we met our friends on the island of Evia. But I’ll tell you all about that next week.