Wednesday, March 2, 2016

The Akti Peninsula

What a joy to cast off and head out into the Aegean Sea.  

The weather was hot but there was a good breeze and we enjoyed sailing for six hours across a deserted sea until we reached a little bay on the Akti Peninsula.

The quiet bay in which we anchored

The Atki Peninsula is an incredible place that has at its southernmost tip Mount Athos, considered since antiquity the Holy Mountain and the house of God. This “closeness” to God has attracted monks and hermits and for over 1,000 years. 

Passing boats must keep more than 500m offshore and, if there are women on board you are supposed to stay 1 mile from land. We agreed that if the coastguard approached (which they are reputed to do) Judy and I would stay below and leave Peter to deal with them.   

It took me a while to find out where the no women rule originated.  According to the athonite tradition, the Blessed Virgin Mary was sailing accompanied by St John the Evangelist from Joppa to Cyprus to visit Lazarus; When the ship was blown off course to then pagan Athos it was forced to anchor near the port of Klement, close to the present monastery of Iviron; The Virgin walked ashore and, overwhelmed by the wonderful and wild natural beauty of the mountain, she blessed it and asked her Son for it to be her garden; A voice was heard saying "Ἔστω ὁ τόπος οὖτος κλῆρος σός καί περιβόλαιον σόν καί παράδεισος, ἔτι δέ καί λιμήν σωτήριος τῶν θελόντων σωθῆναι" (Translation: "Let this place be your inheritance and your garden, a paradise and a haven of salvation for those seeking to be saved"); From that moment the mountain was consecrated as the garden of the Mother of God and was out of bounds to all other women.

A more colourful version of the no women rule is following some apparently scandalous behaviour between the monks and shepherdesses in the 11th Century it was decreed that no females, human or animal would be allowed on the peninsular except for cats (to keep the rat population down). 

There was no sign of civilisation anywhere near our little bay and as the sun set that evening we intended to be there for only one night.  

It was a good plan but not one shared by the weather gods.  A wind sprang up overnight although we were protected from it in the little bay.  An hour after setting out the next morning we were back there again, beaten by the sea conditions around the first point.  

We spent a long, hot day on the boat.  No complaints from me.  It gave me an opportunity to read Outback Midwife, a book written by my niece Charlotte (daughter of Peter and Judy).  Before lunch time we heard a tractor working somewhere in the distance but no-one came to check us out.  It was a little frustrating being so close to that lovely little beach and not being able to go ashore for a little exercise.  

At 2.45 am that night a battery alarm on the boat sounded and Peter got up to run the engine.  It was very calm in the bay so we decided that, as we were all awake, to have a go at rounding the headland.  Still too rough. Back to the bay, back to sleep.

We cast off again at 9 am, determined this time to make some progress. Constantly shifting winds, confused seas with short and some huge waves from all directions proved no distraction from the delight of the peninsula. 

Monasteries perch, most times precariously, at various heights on the craggy mountains along its shores. Some are large and have been compared to the monasteries of Tibet, but there are many small communities and hermitages dotted in between and there are also sole hermits that live totally isolated in caves.  Altogether there are 1,700 monks on the peninsula living in 20 monasteries, mainly Greek orthodox but also one Russian, one Bulgarian and one Serbian, all under Greek rule. 

The monasteries are beautiful to see from the water although the weather was a little hazy and I would have liked to be a lot closer. 

It is difficult to see these incredible stone and wood structures built into the steep sides of  the peninsula. How they got there and constructed these things is difficult to grasp.  A great deal of patience I suspect.

The volcanic rock formations, are something to see even from half a mile off.   No telephone service, no electricity, no cars, no roads . It is truly a step back in time. Mules and trucks are used as transportation.  We saw the dirt tracks but no movement at all along the full length of the peninsula. 

 Mount Athos as wrapped in cloud.

After 10 hours sailing we put into tiny Porto Koufo.  Koufo in Greek means "deaf" and in sea-terms, once inside the harbour there are no sounds of waves.  It  is the safest and largest natural harbours in Greece (in depth), stretching about 1.5 kilometres in length.  It's a tiny settlement, a couple of hotels and restaurants, a few houses, under  100 residentsOnce inside the harbour it feels more like a lake it is so calm and the small (300 metre) opening to the sea  is almost unvisible. 

The harbour has been used for a variety of purposes over the years, such as hiding Turkish pirate ships.  Even more recently during the second world war, the Germans used the harbour as a U-boat (submarine) base for the Northern Aegean. Some of their fortifications can still be seen. Now it's a fishing village with a reputation for seafood.  Not a good reputation in my book.  All three of us were off colour the next day after being enticed to try the fish soup.

 My brother, Peter, in his happy place.

Porto Koufo


  1. I'm not the world's greatest sailor, so I'd be glad to have an experienced person, as you had, at the wheel. I enjoyed enlarging the photos of the buildings on the sides of the cliffs, and the monastery - how beautiful. I don't know about the 'no women' rule and am more likely to believe the second version of the truth, though the first version is very poetic.
    Happy sailing!

  2. This looks, and sounds, like heaven to me!

  3. This would be a great way to see

  4. What a wonderful place, Pauline! You have captured some great memories. I love the sunset too.

  5. Pauline, I didn't know you were a sailor. But you are. The "no women"thing is pretty crazy. I was hoping that you got busted and then what would have happened? :) I wonder how seriously that is enforced these days.

  6. Hello Pauline,

    Just catching up on your blog posts, you wouldn't want to forget anything if you went shopping and had to walk back to those homes on the side of the cliffs. Interesting reading about the no women policy, can't believe that the policy is still in place today.

    Happy days.

  7. It would be fun to try to sneak close and see the place for myself. Usually i'm a stickler for the rules but not such silly ones.


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