First Post – Crete Cyclo
The sun is setting from Matala Beach in Europe’s southernmost locale, Crete.
Paximadia are the islands you see here and we will be heading West in their general direction tomorrow morning. Our goal is to make the long journey around the island over the next month. 4 of us; Eric, William, Chris and I (Ryan) have been planning and gearing up for the past few months with excitment for this moment.
Crete is the largest of the Greek islands and should offer 420 miles of beautiful coastline. Having a reputation as a playground for the Gods it is now a lovely tourist attraction for travellers. Due to its large size and tempermental seas we will paddle with caution and respect.
Our starting point and hopeful finish is in Matala which is located in the center of the Southern shore. Matala has a long history as a port town for the Minoans and Romans, more recently as a hippy hangout for inspired musicians. We have chosen to paddle clockwise around Kriti. This will likely give us a stiff headwind to begin our paddle with the hopes of gaining a tailwind after we make it to the North shore. There are some lovely cities in the North including Heraklion, Chania, Rethmenyo, and Agios Nikolaos. Our preference will be to camp on some remote beaches, so we hope to paddle fast up North and fly by the hustle and bustle. This should be a fantastic trip full of sun, wind, sand and friendly people. Feel free to stay tuned for post updates as we adventure around and share our highlights of the trip. Thanks to all of the family and friends who have been supportive of us on this endeavor. We also would like to thank our sponsors who have graciously donated high quality equipment to help us around. Tasc Performace Wear, Point 65 kayaks, Astral, Seal Optics, Werner paddles, Sea to Summit, Watershed drybags. Epharisto Poli!!
Day 1 – Matala to Agios Georgios
The trip began with a lightening storm that chased us off the ridge we were camped out upon. Then it cleared for a few hours while we made final preparations. We were all packed up to launch and the lightening began just as we began to float.
Raki and music at the taverna and a late night. So much fun for a first day!
Day 2 – Georgois to Palm Beach
This paddle was a lovely morning as the West wind (Zephyrios) had laid down. Lingering swells of 3 feet made for a nice soothing way to come off a party evening. Paddling towards the West is nice because the sun (Helios) is at our back for the beginning part of the day.
Day 3 – Preveli to Frangokastello
We got up and paddled again in some nice morning conditions and made it to our favorite lunch destination of Ana & Nikos taverna. A family run place with a relaxing vibe, their personal history hung on the walls inside. I powered up with a plate of fava bean dip and some zucchini balls. Feeling good we paddled West again and the breeze was picking up steadily, so we paddled into the treadmill and made it to Frango to camp out for the night. 22 KM’s
Day 4 – Frango to Agia Roumeli
A noticeable shift in the weather has occured and the West wind has clocked around to NE. This made our morning particularly challenging because Frango area has many small gorges that allow the North wind to blow through. This means offshore gusts and also means we needed to stay very close to shore in a wide bay that adds more km’s to our trip. So we pasted ourselves to the shoreline and dealt with it.
The paddle to Roumeli was nice as the NE (Gregale) wind assisted us a bit. The White Mountains in this Sfakia region are very large and they block almost all Northern winds. We paddled to Roumeli in some mellow waves and called it a great day! 28 KM’s
Day 5 – Roumeli to Paleochora
The scenery from here heading West is absolutely breathtaking. We paddled slowly as to enjoy it. The wind was light. Only challenge was getting some power back after a night of throwing up due to some food poisoning. So little by little I ate some food and just kept the paddle churning, not the stomach.
Day 6 – Paleochora to Koutoulos
We headed West for the last time and enjoyed a cool breeze behind us towards Cape Krios, a beautiful cliffside. We bode farewell to our familiar territory and headlands, then paddled NW to new places.
Heading North now we got to Cape (Akrotiri) Xeoskalo. This was protecting us from the continuing NE wind. For some fun we decided to punch through the reef into the maw! Large waves, 7 feet or so, greeted us and we were on the treadmill again.
Paddling further took us past Livhadia and to the remote beach of Koutoulos. Now we are able to see lovely sunsets and the Western sky. Happy Anniversary Michele!! 30 KM’s
Day 7 – Koutoulos to Falasarna
An early start to the day to try to be ahead of the wind, but it was already gusting out of the NE again. So we paddled under cloudy skies, heading North. This section is very lovely with Kambos gorge, then Platanakia gorge and beautiful rock formations at Cape Papamouri.
Day 8 & 9 – Layover Days
With a rowdy NE wind continuing to blow we decided to hang tight at Falasarna and wait it out. It’s a nice sandy beach with some low key tourism and therefore a nice Greek salad to be had! We spent one day going by bus to Kissamos town and then another day checking out ancient Falasarna and hiking the rugged coastal trail. Not too bad to be stuck there.
Day 10 – Falasarna to Gramvousa Island
It really felt good to get back on the water but the wind was still strong out of the NE. We paddled into stiff headwinds but were in the lee from the biggest winds. Our plan was to cue up close to the crossing so that we have the shortest distance (29km it turned out to be) in the kayaks. The paddle today took us to Balos lagoon which is a beautiful aqua green color. We checked that out and then went to Gramvousa Island. This is an island steeped in rich history with an incredible fortress at the top. Lots of resistance to the Turks occured right here! 14 km’s
Day 11 – Gramvousa to Rapiania
Wow. what a day of paddling! Into the last bit of NE winds which had blown for 8 days straight. Across to Cape Spatha, the Northernmost point on our trip. After curling around the cape we experienced some serious refracting waves called klapotis. Sloppy slappy waves from all direction, but the wind settled down as predicted by the meteorologists. We made it to the Diktyina sanctuary at Menies beach and enjoyed a well deserved break after about 5 1/2 hours going. Pruned hands dried out and we enjoyed some stretch time.
We were energized and decided to continue paddling due South now along the Rodolou Peninsula a wonderfully wild stretch with a slight wind behind us now. First time in a while not having to beat into the wind felt so good. Flying fish accompanied us and we found a comfortable beach on the North coast to sleep. A little meal at the nearby low key taverna Michalis and time for zzzz. This will be our zone for next little while, paddling into a morning sun heading East. Hopefully we will attract some of the typical West wind to push us along. But for now it looks calm after a looonnnngg NE blow! 43 km’s
Day 12 – Rapiania to Stavros – Oct 1st
Today we got a breather from all of the wind. So with the slightest puff from the NE we paddled along to the city of Chania. It was a busy Saturday with swimmers and tourism but we took a little urban break for a couple of hours. Got some fresh flaky spanikopita, tasty produce and then paddled away to the town of Stavros. This was a strategic spot for us so that we could meet up with The Northwest Passage mastermind Papu Rick. He had two kayaks for us to upgrade our fleet. He had been using them to paddle around Santorini and other Cycladic islands. Check out nwpassage.com if you are curious. So a mellow day in the sea and a nice party with Rick made for a fine day. 30 km’s
Day 13 – Stavros to Rockas Beach
This morning’s paddle was one filled with mellow waters and amazing caves. The coast after Stavros faces North and takes a pounding from the sea, so there are numerous very megalo (large) caves! Check out the picture here for some scale.
This fuel assisted in the Souda Bay crossing which was an hour and fifteen minutes of a push to get around the next Cape. Souda Bay is a military base, so getting past quickly was nice. There were huge military freighters deep in the bay. We met up in Octopus Bay with Rick for a nice break and a frappe. Then it was heading South along the big ridge to the busy beaches. We pulled into Rocas beach just in time for sunset and a draft beer. Great place to stop here with a friend who runs a chill little taverna on a more quiet part of the beach. 40 km’s
Day 14 – Rockas to remote beach camp near Bali
After a brief stop here we paddled a long stretch of beach with countless swimmers enjoying the calm sea. We were then surprised by a beautiful section of North facing caves. Not the largest, but really fun and feature filled. Eric found a swim through, so that he was able to dive down a few meters and go under to the other side of the cave! Then there was an arch that William couldn’t resist jumping off. Check out this amazing jump! I was a tad late to catch him in the air.
So much fun but we still needed to get to a camp and the nights are lasting less and less. So we jammed it up and around Panormos and the sea just was beginning to liven up out of the NW. This is our dream direction and while the forecast had been calling for this, we weren’t counting on it. So there we were rock gardening in to the late light of the evening to get to a remote camp spot for the evening. We lit a small campfire and sipped some Raki to finish off an amazing day on the North coast of Crete! 40 KM’s
We woke up at a dream beach and paddled outside to be greeted by a nice wind from the West. We have been patiently awating a favorable wind for this entire trip and this is the first time we really got it. Blowing about 13 knots out of the NW we stayed outside and rode the wave train. In Crete the NW is called “Maistos”. Lots of memories of wild and crazy Maistos on the South coast guiding clients over the years. Today this felt so good to us and we felt that we deserved it at this point. Lunch was in a little town to get us ready for an urban paddle past Heraklion. This was a stressful part of the trip as there are a lot of boats and many of them are freighter size.
So we paddled into the beach more or less and skirted the shoreline for a long time until we got the the port. This was extra challenging because the waves were coming from our side the entire time and were quite big. We had a ton of klapotis (refracting waves) off the massive sea wall that protects the port. So after experiencing hours of this up and down elevator drop we peeked around the corner and saw that the coast was clear, we paddled hard across. Fortunately it wasn’t a busy moment, but a few minutes later this big one came cruising out of port. The two to the left in the picture below were parked. So we got lucky with our timing.
Then we passed the airport and a few km’s later landed at the first possible beach at Amnissos. This was after 4:30 in the cockpit. Great to have finished this section but we are a tired bunch. Rashes building on the chest from good torso rotation and on the ass from the hips moving side to side. We have completed half of the trip at this point, so lots to be proud of as we fall asleep to the sounds of landing airplanes. Amnissos is a cool little historical place because it’s where the Prince of Lillies fresco was found in a villa. Also it was a port to Knossos, the largest Minoan palace, and was where the Cretan support to the Trojan War launched from. Biggest day yet at 47 km’s
Day 16 – Amnissos to Milatos
An early start to the day and the sea was already full of lingering swell and the signs of a wind to come. After paddling for an hour it was windy from the West pushing us along our way. We got to Herrisonissou and took a break for some frappes. This was a way to keep an eye on the water and see if was going to continue to bulid. After a nice long break we saw the it was just beginning to mellow out so we go back in the kayaks and did a long crossing by Malia Bay. This took us past Maila, Sisi and into the small town of Milatos. That’s where we settled in for the night looking back on a pretty easy 30 km’s
Day 17 – Milatos to Plaka
We are feeling great about our progress at this point. Not only are we on a solid pace, but we are in a good position on the island in regard to the typical wind direction. So this morning was a lesiurely one. We got the kayaks all dried out well, looked after a few repair tasks and then put on at noon. We paddled along the North shore and saw some cool comglomerate rocks.
A few nice looking gorges and then took a break. The really dramatic views occured after we paddled around Cape Aforesmenos. This brought us around and into Mirabellou Bay. We could see deep into the bay and the city of Agios Nikolaos, also across to the island of Psira. This was nice but as beautiful were the rock cliffs and tall slender caves on our right side. We paddled along towards the small town of Plaka. Just before getting to the beach we saw the island of Spinalonga. The winds were pretty light all day, but maybe a puff from the NW was in the air.
Day 18 – Plaka to Mochlos
Another leisurely start to the day and we continued to head East. This took us by Spinalonga again but now during the busy daytime rush with many tour boats dropping poeple off for a walk on the island. After slipping between the island and the peninsula we began a big crossing to get to the island of Psira. This took us a few hours plus and wound up being about 13 km’s across the large bay. We chose to do this instead of going all the way into Agios Nikolaos. This crossing wound up saving us a lot of km’s but we had to sacrifice some nice looking sections of coast in the deepest part of the bay. We made it to Psira which was a Minoan site of importance. It’s set nicely out on the water looking at the main island, Crete, from a lovely perspective.
Looking towards Mochlos over some ruins at Psira
We enjoyed a while here and skipped some stones, before making the short crossing to Mochlos. A small headwind made this slightly more challenging, but the wind for the day was generally a help, not a hindrance. Mochlos is another small town with a small beach which we called home for the night. This seems to be our latest trend, camping on the beaches in a small town. It gives us a nice opportunity to go get some fresh food at a market or taverna and hopefully meet some locals, access to fresh water showers and potable water. An outlet to plug in and a cool brew or Raki to embibe. 24 km’s
Day 19 – Mochlos to Sitia
While sleeping last night it was HOT, Hot, hot. So when we awoke to some gusty wind and a lot of dust in the air it made sense. It was a strong South wind that brought some dust from Africa. This made for an eerie sunrise that looked more like a moonrise. We had a thin layer of dust on anything that we left out. Here’s a picture of the small beach we crashed out on.
We paddled out and the wind shifted to out of the West so that we had a nice tailwind to start the morning. This lasted for the first 30 minutes and then died out as we got close to some great rock formations including this arch.
This was a great location and we savored it for a while before continuing around the next corner. We paddled some more and got to Richtis canyon. This is a highly touted gorge to hike so we checked it out. It is about 3 km’s to hike up to a place where there is a year round waterfall and a nice pool at the bottom. The hike was nice as it was thickly forested with plane trees and many other forest plants. This made for a cool experience for us after being in the sun in the boats all morning.
We hiked back down to the boats and saddled back up for an afternoon of new coastline to the town of Sitia. This section had some nice wild places with few buildings. It’s a long way away from all of the bigger cities we have left behind. Finally after 17km we got to Sitia and landed on a nice sandy beach. We hope that tomorrow will get us around the NE corner of the island and heading South! 25 km’s
Day 20 – Sitia to Vai
Leaving a nice little non touristy city behind, Sitia. Last night was a Saturday night there and family was enjoying. There was a birthday party, many gatherings and some stray dogs playing around on the beach.
We paddled Eastbound again and could smell the East. There were some nice bays to see, and some energy to the sea. Enough to give us a slight push and let our morning start with a little pep. We got to a large Cape that is named “blue”, Mavros. It was all that and more with surging waters and tall cliffsides.
Here’s a spot that we were able to back into and smell the dank confines of a cave. It’s a mix of dove poo and salty algae, with a musty touch. We paddled on to an isthmus where we decided to portage instead of paddle around the NE tip of the island. The weather was good, but because it’s a NATO base of sorts we can’t take pictures and the portage was different and quicker for us. After carrying our gear and boats to the other side we put in and were officially paddling the East coast. We found it to be clean and nice with new distant islands out there to pique the interest. Lots to look at and we made our way to Vai. 27km’s
Day 21 – Vai to Zakros
Of all the days to enjoy this was high in the list. Vai was a comfortable sleep with no mosquitos and a cool breeze coming down off the palm forest. We felt good and paddled South into the sunshine. The Ormos Grandes section of coast was feature filled and had sandy beaches that could be a nice stay for camping, but onward we floated.
We made way to Xiona and had a taverna lunch of Fava bean dip and many olives. This powered us up for three hours of blissful paddling in light winds around to some deep recesses in the rocks around Cape Plaka. This cape sticks its arm way out on the East coast. We found a lovely cave in the armpit and savored it for a while. A km later we got to a remote gorge with only a couple of natural bathers. We hope out of the boats and did an hours worth of hiking to experience the Chicklotikades gorge. It was nice and quiet. Easy to enjoy without the Winter / Spring rage of whitewater. We walked up the dry wash of cobbles.
After this we got back into the sea and felt the predicted South wind building. So webeat into the first headwind in a long time. It was only for an hour and a half to finish the day at Zakros. So it really felt good to get some workout. 27 km’s
Hobbies and Habits while paddling a month long canoe tour at Sea…
In October Crete is winding down from a long tourist season and the days are getting shorter. So we easily and happily awaken for each sunrise. What a treat. On the water we log many hours in the cockpit and survey for turtles, flying fish and iridescent blue kingfishers. Sometimes we see floating plastic and pick it up, put it on deck and find a trash can at the next beach. Some of us contour the coast to see the details, others stay outside and get perspective, see more turtles. At most beaches we talk to a curious tourist or local about the trip and the boats. At this point we are an efficient group, but we have time on our side so it’s time to melt.
We now melt on the east coast, a small but lovely and remote place known for sandy beaches, quiet gorges and wily winds. Saturating in a deep cave to listen and close eyes, listen to the baritone gargle that never will quit. The sounds of erosion at play. Bobbing up and down and feeling human propelled and self sufficient. Feathering the blades, playing with the the potential to utilize small aquatic energetic bits to propell us to out next corner. A large rock Kriti is, but we now see that it’s not too big for time. Time to explore, get into deep thoughts, share stories and learn the local ways. We saw our first sunrise from the horizon line at Vai. Maybe another two before we head West again.
Day 22 – Layover in Zakros
This is a South wind day. Notos wind coming up fast and HOT. We have time to say “maybe tomorrow” and go for a hike. We hiked up Zakros gorge to the town of Ano Zakros and passed through the Valley of the Dead. Zakros has a Minoan palace, one of four onthe island. It means that there was a huge presence here of peoples trading with the Levant and Egypt. They buried some of their dead in this gorge and we were luck to hike up it to the town on the hillside. A market here let us get supplies for our next push around the SE side of Crete.
Day 27 – Catabatic Cove to Tris Ekklissies
We didn’t sleep all that well and the wind was still at it in the morning. We decided to take a lesiurely time and hike the ridge to check out the other side. After a few hours the sea calmed down and we paddled a lovely part of the coast towards Cape Alikipounta. There were some folks fishing from shore as it was Sunday. Everyone enjoying the calm sea now. We got to check out many caves, remote beaches and gorges all the way to Tris Ekklisies (three churches). This is a reallly off the beaten path town with no mini market. But there was a taverna with a likeable captain serving us some tasty local salads and good food. 13 KM’s
Day 28 – Tris Ekklisies to Kali Limenes
After getting around the cape we paddled by the Monastery Koudhoma in an amazingly wild landscape. There is a large forest of pine trees there making a nice smelling and green landscape. Onward along the coves we got to one where we found an impressive shipwreck. It’s a two year old wreck we found out after asking the locals at Agois Ioannis.
We had a nice time with a lovely old couple who run the Mini mart in Ioannis. They were so fun and gave us a slice of cake to eat while we talked about our trip and their little town. The papu said that the wind would pick up the day after tomorrow which gave us a reality check. So we decided to paddle on to Lendas and get some more weather forecasts on the internet. The paddling towards Lendas is very nice. We passed Tripiti beach which has an annual deep free diving event due the the huge shelf underwater. Then passing Cape Drathoula which has a nice low gorge coming out. A great opportunity to hike up for 6 miles of remote wild lands. But again, we wanted to make some k’s. Crossing to Lendas we got a somewhat favorable offshore wind and we cruised into what was a busy little town. Nice to see that even in mid October southern Crete is getting some good tourism. Here is a shot of the headland that overshadows Lendas.
Taking a break there we got some food and read the forecast to be pretty windy tomorrow, but worth attempting to make a push to Matala. So we paddled the evening hours to Kali Limenes. This was a nice calm paddle and enjoyable to addle along the shore among rocks and beaches. Maybe not the prettiest, but it’s what you make of it. We found a nice place to sleep and so we did. 35 KM’s
Day 29 – Kali Limenes to Red Beach
We awoke to a chilly morning and the predicted North wind was marching along as we prepared ourselves with calories and morning laughter. We thought this would be our last day as Matala lies only 18 km’s away. So we got in the boats and paddled with a decent tail wind to Martesalo Beach which is the last place to stretch before trying to round Cape Lithino.
Back out on the water we experienced more ripping wind in our face and some intense gusts off shore (East) a challenging combination. The boats were being tested along with our minds trying to keep chilled out in these conditions. slowly we made it to Red Beach which is just around the corner from Matala, but with a rowdy Cape in between. We pumped out boats and warmed up on some rocks tried to get ready for a final push. But the reality was that we were pretty worked out at this point and the wind was not letting up. We could see it flying by with much spray and decided to camp for the night just over the hill from lovely Matala. 17 km’s
Day 30 – Red Beach to Matala -finished
With no fuel, little water and barely a bite to eat we woke up early and got into the kayaks. The sea was calmer after the wind finally let up at about 5am. A relatively easy paddle brought us around Cape Matala and into the bay that was just beginning to get some sun. What a nice time to finish the trip The four of us paddled in and congratulated each other on a job well done. What a trip! 30 days the sea. Lovely camping, great people and food. 2 km’s for a trip total of 700 KM’s or 436 miles