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Sea CaveSea Kayaking In The Cyclades of Greece

by Tom Holtey

Photos by Tom Holtey - Many images courtesy Rod Feldtman

If you are a kayaker and plan to visit the Greek islands be sure to go to the island of Milos and sign up for tour with Rod Feldtmann at Sea Kayak Milos. I had one of the best times kayaking I have ever had, and I have been kayaking in a lot of amazing circumstances over the decades.

Athena had been planning a family history trip back to her grandfather's home island for years. Her brother and two nieces would accompany her. I was wondering how I would fit into that plan. I am a Viking, not a Greek but have held a great love for the fables of Homer's Odyssey since my youth. This never before translated into any real motivation to go to Greece. Her family came from the Island of Milos to the USA about 100 years ago and this would be their first visit to Europe. Fortunately, in Athena's research for the trip she found www.seakayakgreece.com, coincidentally on the very same island, and that more than got my interest.

Outfitting On Milos

MilosFlying over the Aegean Sea I could clearly see the many islands and their coastlines. I knew from this bird’s eye view that the Cyclades must be a world-class sea kayak destination.

Rod has a fine fleet of sea kayaks. They are, however, all sit-in-side kayaks. While I am a staunch supporter of sit-on-tops, I am also an ACA certified Open Water Kayak Instructor, and the ACA rarely certifies Open Water Instructors who paddle sit-on-tops; so I enjoy being skilled in both types.

Sit-on-top kayaks are however fairly common in Greek waters, and if you really need one, you will find one. If you are willing to paddle a sit-in-side by all means join one of Rod’s tours. Maybe we can persuade Rod to obtain a few sea worthy touring sit-on-tops.

RodI was able to go on two tours with Rod during our stay on Milos. The first trip was a crossing from Pollonia on Milos to the island of Kimolos. We were a group of 4, Rod, our guide, an Australian living in Greece, Eddy and Hillary, from UK, and myself. The preparation and launch was a snap, Rod is very well organized and the gear was simple, minimal and in good shape.

We were all outfitted with Rainbow Lasers, Italian sea kayaks, and pretty good ones too. The lasers had comfortable seats, Kajak Sport hatch covers and some were outfitted with heavy duty rudders to handle the rigours of sea cave exploration. The glide and handling of the Lasers was good, much like any other quality sea kayak design. Skirt and PFD were also comfortable and functional.

Things to bring: Your kayaking garments, suitable for the seasonal weather of the day, head to toe. Water, sunscreen, waterproof flashlight, pocket compass and camera. (However Rod takes lots of photos and puts them on line for you.) Bring your own mask fins & snorkel if you got them, but I believe that you can get them easily on Milos for the trip. Rod brings lunch.

Kimolos Crossing

KimolosAs we crossed the channel I was quite pleased to find myself paddling with several very competent paddlers. The wind was blowing SW, almost 15 MPH. We set a range and ferry angle and proceeded across the channel in a nice tight formation, close enough to talk with each other, plenty of room to swing a paddle. We were paddling the Rainbow Lasers and gliding along at a good pace. We crossed the channel in good time and approached a wild volcanic shoreline.

The coast of Kimolos had many interesting geologic features, largely fanciful constructions of volcanic ash. There was a plethora of rock gardens, sea stacks, islets and sea caves.

A gentle swell allowed us to get up close and personal with the rocky shoreline, only to tease me with the promise of spouting caves and sea spray, a companion of rough waters. When I see, hear and smell the crashing of seawater against rock it is like a siren song to me. I cannot resist the urge to paddle up close to the violence, like the seafarers of ancient Greece who were lured to their doom on the rocks by Pisinoe, Aglaope and Thelxiepi, daughters of the river god, Achelous, from Homer's Odyssey.

fleetOn one of our shore breaks one could see terraces built into the steep and rocky hillsides. These were obviously constructed for the purpose of agriculture, as goats and sheep would not mind the steep pastureland. Small stone huts, fortifying the natural sheltered spots of the landscape, dotted the hillsides, as a testament to the austere people who eked out a living on these dry exposed slopes. I asked Rod what would have been grown on the terraces, and it seems possibly barley or even cotton. Not an olive tree in sight.

The weather, tropical turquoise water, rugged volcanic geology and the abundance of sea caves reminded me very much of paddling in Hawaii. We probed every sea cave on our stretch of cost. The leeward coast protected us against the Aegean “trade wind” blowing as we traced the western shore of Kimolos.

Tom rollAt lunchtime Rod encouraged Eddy to practice his roll. (Remember we are paddling sit-in-side sea kayaks.) We watched as Eddy slowly got his roll back from his white water days. Our guide, now turned instructor, assisted in this process. Rod is a BCU coach. I felt it was time for me to do the same and risk embarrassing myself. I had not rolled in over 9 months, New Hampshire's long winter mostly to blame, and had not been too keen on practicing much the summer before that. I was quite sure I would wet exit.

To my surprise I rolled, snorting seawater from my nostrils like Charybdis, or a surfacing Kraken from the deep. I did so with so much vigour that I almost went over the other side, but a quick brace saved me from a complete 360 roll. I pulled off a few more rolls thoroughly filling my nasal passages with brine. (Note to self: bring… Nose Plugs!)

Our crossing back to Milos was windy, almost in our face, a good struggle. On the morning crossing, and on the return, I had wished for my sail rig. (To-bring list?) I can only guess that kayak sailing could be tremendous fun here. As before I was pleased to be paddling with a solid group, no wanderers, slow pokes, or towing to be done. Our guide, Rod, knew what direction to head and we set a course. (Note to self: Remember to look back at where you came from, so you will remember what it looks like when it comes time to head home.)

Our landing on the protected waters of Pollonia bay was much the same as our launch, and the gear handling easy as the set up. We were treated to a scene of an old man walking into the shallows with a trident in hand and bucket in the other. Maybe fishing for a calamari (octopus) dinner? Or.. Maybe it was Poseidon himself! Now appropriately aged for a multi thousand year old immortal.

Tom EricaMandrakia To Pachena - Ghlaronisia

Our 2nd voyage started the next day. Athena’s niece Erica, one of our trip mates, decided to come along for her very 1st time kayaking. Rod picks you up in Adamas, a likely place to stay while visiting the island. Rod also has a guesthouse available in Triovasalos.

Our route for the day was Mandrakia to Pachena, out to Ghlaronisia and back to Mandrakia. Hillary and Eddy had already done that coastline with Rod on an earlier trip so they went off on their own. Rod can rent out his kayaks to those with sea kayak experience. Rod chose this coast for Erica and I based on Erica’s experience and that the coast is one on the Milos “do not miss” list.

I suggested a double kayak for Erica and I. I actually like tandem kayaks and it would be a good way of ensuring that Erica had a good 1st experience. The Rainbow tandem is a darn good sea touring double. It was outfitted much the same as the Laser, cockpit close enough to slap paddles, but not a problem if you work as a team. The glide and handling was good, what one would expect of a quality sea-touring tandem. (see: Tandem Sit-on-top Kayaking: How To Avoid A Mutiny for some valuable team work suggestions)

Sea CavesWe launched in a protected bay and after a turn around the headland we instantly encountered striking formations of islets, rocky towers and sea caves, all of volcanic ash. One fiord like rock garden had recently opened up, not while we were there, but shortly before, when a kayak blocking chock stone had fallen out of the gap, now allowing passage into a narrow cove and small sea cave. Rod said that we were one of a small few that ever kayaked in that cove.

This coast has fantastic sea caves, double entrance caves, better and larger than those on Kimolos. I do not know why but I love sea caves as much as I enjoy turbulent rock gardens and tumbling surf. The water was calm, just a tiny hint of swell. Again I wished for bobbing and jostling of confused seas and clapotis waves, as well as spiting sea caves. But every day has its plus; smooth water lets you get very deep into the caves.

Erica Sea CaveWe explored one cave, so deep that the far end was in pitch black. I could not see a thing, as if I were the Cyclops, Polyphemus, son of Poseidon, that Odysseus blinded while held captive in his cave. In the photos you see the reflective stripping on the PFDs. They glow from very little reflected light. Rod led us in, he in his solo, us in the double kayak. - yes a double! - deep into the cave, past a very tight spot, into a larger chamber were we could turn around.

There can be some considerable bumping and grinding while manoeuvring in a sea cave. This may be a good reason the use some of the shorter sit-on-top kayaks...and a helmet. Rod forgot to bring a light - the Australian seaman calls it a torch - fortunately, Erica, a fun representative of the best of to today's youth, had her I-Phone in a waterproof Aquapac case. It has a flash light function that came in handy. It was very dark in there and I was surprised we could turn the tandem around and find our way out. The refracted light on the sea floor eventually started to shine our pathway out.

Ship WreckMany sea caves later, we leave this fascinating shoreline and kayak right over a shipwreck, partly submerged, a rusted hulk almost beached on the land. We are told the crew swam to shore and survived.

We explored a harbor with shelters carved into the living rock, and had lunch near a smaller cove with similar habitation. Apparently “builders” on Milos are more like “miners” and carve many homes and shelters right out of the volcanic ash rock, some rather deep. This style of shelter can be seen in many places on the island, near and far from shore. The tidal variation in the Mediterranean Sea is minimal, only a few inches of change. In fact, the family house on Milos was also constructed of sand, still in use as a comfortable home after 200 years.

From our lunch break we paddle out onto the open water to cross over to an off shore Ghlaronisia island, actually several islets with one large one. The wind is up again, agitating the waters and making it interesting and fun for an old salt like me. Nothing too challenging, just enough for some spray. We are now wearing our paddling spray jackets.

milosThe island is an impressive sight of basalt columns and shallow sea caves. While the island is large, it is more than an islet, and easy to circumnavigate. The basalt columns make the island appear to be man made, or possibly made by the Titans of old, as bulwarks in their defence in the war against the gods.

Another windy crossing back to the put-in. We choose a pointed mountain as our landmark to guide us back. I watch our progress against Rod in his solo kayak vs us in the tandem. He is taking short breaks while we plod on, maybe Erica is running out of gas, or me?! I miss my sail rig again. This time Rod and I drift apart, not the tight formation of yesterday, but quite a bit of space between kayaks, more like the formation of sit-on-top paddlers, wide and each at their own pace. I welcome the space. It is a different feeling when it is just you and the sea in a small kayak.

I hope to return for more. When you look at Rod’s map of the Island of Milos you can see the many possibilities. One can paddle for many days to see all the sites, such as Eddy and Hillary did. I hope to return to Milos soon, for a circumnavigation Odyssey.

- Special thanks to Rod Feldtman of Sea Kayak Greece

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