Sea Kayak MILOS

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Expedition review:
Western and Southern Crete
8-19 November, 2008

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West Crete Adventure of a lifetime
Trip report by Tim Davis, November 2008

Introduction

I first met Rod Feldtmann in December of 2007 on the island of Milos where Rod and his family live and base his sea kayak business from.  I had originally contacted him from Crete-my home and place of work- a few months prior to see if he could provide a BCU (British Canoe Union) assessment and certification. He had said that he could and so a few months later I was off to the island of Milos. I ended up spending 6 very cold and wet, yet memorable days there, paddling in more challenging conditions (Rods specialty) than I had thought were humanly possible, practicing new skills, working on old rusty ones, and also taking the BCU skills assessment and certification. This trip turned out to be a great one, with Milos being a very charming little island, definitely a paddlers paradise, and Rod a great teacher.

Some months after my trip to Milos, Rod phoned up and invited Russell Crane- a sea kayak guide in Crete- and me to join in on his November expedition trip around West Crete.


Tim in Milos, December 07

Rod’s West Crete expedition is an 8 day trip starting in Chania, traveling counter clockwise across the Norwest side of Crete, down the west coast, and around to the south west side, finishing in Hora Sfakion  160 km later. Well of course I said yes…after all, I can count on one hand the amount of sea kayakers that I know who live in Crete.

 Friday 07 November 2008- Changing Weather                     

After many months of anxiously awaiting and planning, November finally did roll around. Rod showed up in Chania the day before our trip in his Peugeot with 6 Rainbow kayaks on top. We sat in the old harbor of Chania drinking coffee, discussing trip details, the weather and how our trip should have started a week before. The whole week prior the weather had been windless and the sea completely flat, or as they say here in Crete, ladi (translated it means oil, but in this context it really means the water is so flat there is not even a ripple). The following day’s weather report however, was calling for force 4 NE possibly rising to 6. In order for the group to enjoy as many continuous days paddling, Rod changed our starting point from Chania to Kissamos, a town about a 40 minute drive to the west of Chania. We would all meet there as it would be quite impossible to squeeze 7 people and their gear into Rod’s Peugeot. So it was off to finish any last minute packing and to get a good nights rest before the start.  

Saturday 08 November- Kissamos to Gramvousa  (18.7 km)

It was a beautiful Saturday morning in Kissamos… hot even. Looking North out onto the Bay of Kissamos and the two imposing horns (the Rodopos and Gramvousa peninsulas, the crux of the trip) the wind was no more than force 1. We all introduced ourselves quickly, and continued to pack our kayaks. There was Geoff Welch, an Englishman living in Holland for most of his life, Patricia Keeling from the U.K., Tim Barr also from the U.K., Martin Geyer from Germany, Karen his wife from Venice, Rod, and myself. Once everyone had finished jamming dry bags, water supplies, and food items into every nook and cranny of our kayaks, Rod held a quick meeting giving the details of our destination, the distance, how long it should take and then we were off… headed towards Gramvousa.  

The first part of the trip, we took off at a pretty fair clip, almost as if we were racing each other, anxious to be under way …or nervous. Gramvousa peninsula stretches approximately 13.5 km out before us and has few places-mainly jagged rock-blockades 2 to 3 meters high off the water and shear rock faces- if any to pull out. Paddling to your destination all in one shot can be quite a long distance if you are not used to it, however after the first hour everyone is still cruising along comfortably, conversing lightly and enjoying the day. During our second hour, the wind picks up to force 3 NE and larger wavelets begin to pass under our boats, giving a slight rise of adrenaline and excitement. At our half way mark (9km) and only 4 km from Cape Vouxa the end of the Gramvousa peninsula, Rod finds a place decent enough to pull out to give the group a rest. We all down a few snacks, stretch our legs, have a look around the ancient site of Agneion (nothing worth mentioning here other than a place to pull out), before getting back on the water to round the cape.

Cape Vouxa seems like a washing machine from the reflecting waves, and the group becomes spread out at times along her eastern flanks, but not to far before Rod has paddled from the back to the front, or vice versa, encouraging everyone to stay closer together. He takes a minute to point out the dangers of becoming spread out.  

The view upon rounding the cape is magnificent. To our north you can see the island of Agrio Gramvousa, 1 km beyond Cape Vouxa, and completely uninhabited. Looking back towards the cape you can see Rodopos peninsula and the bay of Kissamos on one side. On the west coast you can see Gramvousa Island, and the mouth of Balos Bay. It seems calm, almost ladi, and spirits are high as we turn our kayaks towards the pirate island of Gramvousa. Two km later we are paddling along the north and then west sides of the island, which provide us with spectacular views of shear cliffs that reach a height of 137 meters from the sea and then the Venetian fortress that crowns the islands highest point. Upon rounding the south west corner we spy Balos Bay to the south east and to our north we view our first home of the trip.



Agrio Gramvousa, 1 km beyond Cape Vouxa


View from the venetian fortress atop Gramvousa island

After landing, everyone quickly sets about setting up tents, changing clothes, etc. while Rod, Tim, and I head up the path to the top of the fortress. The fortress was built by the Venetians (Karen’s ancestors), in fear of Turkish occupation of Crete, however they would lose it from a bribe to the Turkish forces and eventually regain it in 1825  when it became a staging point for the rebellion and thus a center of piracy from all of the people who gathered there. We spend a half hour here reflecting on the day, the history of the island,  taking pictures and walking about before descending the trail back down to the beach to cook and then sleep, to be ready for the next days’ adventure.

Sunday 09 November- Gramvousa to Sfinari (23 km)

Today’s weather was supposed to be force 6 from the north but instead was more like force 4 from the northeast. We set off for Balos bay, about a distance of 2.5 km and slightly to our southeast. It is here that the water gives off many magnificent shades of turquoise, green, and blue, from the very shallow and sandy bottom.  We take a short break to eat a snack and enjoy the beautiful scenery surrounding us.

Our next stop is Falasarna beach some 12 km to our south with only shear cliffs and no place to pull out.  We ride south on nice big swells up to 2 meters with the wind gusting up to force 5.This section of the trip was most enjoyable . We arrive in Falasarna just to the north of the big beach in no time. Here we have lunch and a quick walk around the ancient site. Falasarna was once a port and a city state until it was destroyed by the Polireneans and the Romans. Now Falasarna is an area of many greenhouses which produce tomatoes and other vegetables year round. After an hour, we’re back on the water heading for our camp site just to the north of Sfinari in Lighias Bay. The wind has picked up to force 4-5 from the northeast and once again the swells carry us quite easily with minimal effort. The last of the Falasarna’s greenhouses fade out of view as we begin to pass Cape Akti and after another 2.5 km we have protection from the NE wind rounding Cape Papamouri. Here there is a magnificent view of Manna (Profit Ilias), one of the highest peaks on the northwest coast of Crete, which towers above our campsite 891 meters.  We only have about 500 meter to the beach, but suddenly the northeast wind finds its way through a gorge, and we find ourselves paddling into a headwind. Rod and Martin take off, like horses when they see the barn, in a race for the beach. The rest follow at a much more leisurely pace. 

Once on the beach we lay our gear out to dry, set up camp, take baths (the water is still quite warm for November), and begin to make dinner. This is a favorite beach of mine that I visit often to spearfish. I decide to go for a quick walk towards the other end of the beach and towards the village of Sfinari, as the rest of the gang builds a fire and lounges about. By the time I return the sun has set and everyone has settled around the fire debating which kayaks are better-plastic or composite. The wind gusts from time to time from all different directions and we each have to move more than once to escape its hungry lick. Eventually the fire dies to a glow and everyone slowly makes their way to their tents. I decide not to set up a tent that night as the stars are out and rain seems unlikely, yet sometime during the wee hours of the morning I feel the first drops on my forehead. I quickly get up and find shelter inside a half cave. I’m still half asleep so I didn’t even notice the goat pellets until the next morning. Yeeaahh, nothing like waking up and realizing that wasn’t a pillow!   

Monday 10 November - Sfinari to Elafonisi (22 km)

We decide on a 0900 start so that we can stop for coffee and a resupply in the village of Sfinari some 20 minutes paddle away. We find a steep pebbly cobble beach to land on and go for a walk up to the village wearing our funky colored kayak kit. On our way through the village a few kids ask me where we came from and where we are headed and are amazed that we are on the sea in kayaks in that sort of the weather. We find a small multi purpose cafeneion/mini market. Here, you can catch up on the latest gossip in the village, buy assorted household items and food, drink a coffee or a beer, get a job, and watch Greek soap operas on the TV. After we’ve had a coffee and we resupply its back through the village to the beach and our kayaks for the second leg of our journey. As we launch into the water we can already see whitecaps further out and in no time we are in the middle of a force 5 northeast wind. The swells are a consistent 2 meters and are a little bigger than yesterdays. Once again the following sea takes us on an elevator ride down the west coast to the south and our next break stop some 7.5km later at Keramoti and the Bay of Koutoulos. Here we eat lunch and doze on the beach as the sun dips in and out from behind the clouds. 

Before we leave Keramoti, Rod decides that it would be best to take advantage of the swell and ride all the way to our destination at Elafonisi (Deer Island), which is another 12 km away. We paddle out of the protected Bay of Koutoulos and let the swell and force 5 winds take us. We paddle past Cape Xekofto and Cape Mouros staying at least a km out to sea. When on the crest of the 2 meter swells we can see in the distance our steering point, Cape Xeoskalo. However, as we draw closer we can see that it has a jagged rock reef which lies just under the water, exposed in some places, and stretching way out into the sea. As we near the cape, we can see the waves breaking between the islets and over the underwater reef, and the swells we are riding begin to steepen. Tim Bar and Martin paddle towards a gap between the islets in hopes that they will find a safe passage through, but with no luck, as the swells have gained in height here and are steeper still. We begin to skirt to the right of the last exposed islet when suddenly a breaking wave catches me and surfs me unexpectedly forward and throws me off balance. I whisper a thank God for a solid low brace. I didn’t want to be the first one in the trip to flip and especially with the reef so close.

Between Cape Xeoskalo and Cape Ledos we catch a short break from the wind, but not for long as 2 km later we are blasted once again by the northeast wind which catches our beam. We are so close to Elafonisi but can’t seem to reach it, as the wind is gusting up to force 6 and our pace slows to a crawl. When we finally do make it to the other side of the bay, Martin spots a good beach with a good break from the wind and lands to check it out.  It is here… somewhere… that Russ Crane and his wife are waiting our arrival, and where Russ will join us for the rest of the trip.  The group waits on the water for Martins report and then paddle towards the sand bar that connects Elafonisi Island with Elafonisi mainland Crete. Elafonisi is a treat for the eyes with her pink colored sand and very shallow water with beautiful shades of blue (like Balos Bay). Here we land and take a quick look around for Russ, but with no luck. The wind is also whipping about here and Rod decides that Martins site will make a much better campsite. Upon landing Rod goes and finds Russ and Tiff. What a surprise as Tiff has brought a pot of beans, fresh bread, and several bottles of red and white wine. We all sit together in the sand, eating, drinking wine, and watching the sunset. This was another perfect day.

Tuesday 11 November- Elafonisi to Palioxora (18 km)

The next morning there is barely a cloud in the sky, its warm like summer time, and the wind has died to almost nothing. We are on the water by 0900 and we choose to paddle the shallow water across the sandbar instead of paddling around the island, which would have added another 3.5 km to the trip. Most everyone bottoms out on the sand bar, however only a few of us heavier people (Rod, Martin, and me) manage to get stuck and have to exit and pull the kayaks across to the other side. Rod decides to take a whiz not realizing that some of the group was photographing the moment. It only takes a minute to pull the kayaks across and then we are back in, paddling towards Kendrodasos in Vrourlias Bay. This is a very pristine area with beautiful old forest (some of the oldest trees in Crete) and beautiful beaches; however we don’t stop and instead paddle across the bay to find a beach on the other side to pull out on.  Here we enjoy the sun and the lack of wind for the first time of the trip. After an hours break we are back on the water, and begin to round Cape Krios. The easy paddling conditions didn’t last for long as on the other side of Cape Krios we are hit by a force 5 crosswind straight out of the north and our pace slows a little. Some of the group, Karen, Tim, and  myself, some how begin racing towards our next breakspot at Cape Grameno some 4 km to the east.  Karen is a very strong paddler and gets to the beach first. Her husband Martin and she tell me afterwards that they have racing kayaks in Germany. It’s no wonder we couldn’t catch her. We find a spot that blocks the wind behind some trees and have a lazy lunch with some of the group taking naps. There’s no hurry at this point because it’s still early in the day, and our destination Palioxora, is just on the other side of the Cape, barely another 4 km. When we do finally get back on the water the wind has somewhat died down with only a gust here and there. Once we are close to Palioxora, Rod decides that we’ll camp on a beach which is outside the town about 1-2 km. He says it will be much more comfortable with less people to see us and we can set our tents up in the daylight. People do camp on the beaches in Palioxora, but you never know if someone will complain and you usually have to wait until nightfall to set up your tent.

We all land, empty our kayaks and then Rod decides to hold a roll and brace session with several of the group joining him on the water. Geoff, Tim Barr, and Rod exhibit excellent rolling techniques and later, sculling braces with only their faces showing above the water. While on the water, a woman, who had seen us paddling in, pulls up in a rather large kayak and tells Rod that she is glad to see other people on the water. She lives in Palioxora and says she rarely finds someone else to paddle with.

Afterwards, Rod and I head into town to visit the internet café, charge camera batteries, and also to stock up on supplies for the next few days. I leave Rod at the internet café, as he has way too many customers to respond to, and head out to find a book somewhere in the town. Surprisingly enough, Palioxora is not a summertime only village and has quite a bit of people bustling about for the month of November. As I exit the book store I run into Russ and Tim Barr who are ready to return to the campsite. We all walk back together on the side of the road, each one of us thankful we brought our headlamps along, as Palioxora’s town cruisers and racers fly by us exceeding speeds of 100 kph. We all tell stories and get to know each other better and end up stopping often to rest and to set our heavy food and water supplies down. Tim Barr tells us of some of the most beautiful places that he has paddled, to include the island of Rhodes. It end up taking us close to 45 minutes to make it back to the campsite and when we do, most everyone else is already asleep.

Wednesday November 12- Palioxora to Domata beach (26 km)

The next morning, Rod takes a quick run into town to refill the water bladders and buy a few fuel canisters before we depart. Today we’ll be paddling to Sougia and if we still have enough time, we’ll paddle another 12 km to Domata beach. This is one of he most beautiful stretches of coastline in all of Crete. We take off at 0900, paddling around the town of Palioxora, and then on to the ancient site of Lissos, which lies just to the west of Sougia. Along the way we pass a big cave that we paddle into. It’s not a deep cave but the ceiling is easily 30 meters overhead.  We paddle into the bay of Agios Kirikos where we take a long break to eat and then tour about the site of Lissos’s many ruins. Lissos was an ancient Greek city state at one time and is the place where many of the artifacts in the archaeological museum of Xania were excavated from. Here there is a temple which dates back to Hellenic times and which was later rebuilt into a roman temple. You can still see the ancient Greek writing carved into some of the buildings stones and the mosaic floor is still intact in some places. Lying here and there are various columns and stones that made up the rest of the temple at one time. We spend a few minutes here and then take a quick walk over to the roman crypts before heading back to the beach.

Our next break spot is to Sougia, only 2.5 km beyond Lissos and we stop again to go for coffee. Sougia is almost completely deserted this time of year except for one restaurant on the corner. In the summer time, it is a hopping little seaside village which sees a different type of laid back crowd, who come to get away from the touristy north side of Crete. Here many people go nude and also camp on the beaches, some for the entire summer.  

We decide that we all have enough time and energy to paddle the 12 km to Domata. Domata and the beach next to it, which we aptly named Sleep Late a few years ago because the sun doesn’t rise until 0900 or 1000 in the morning there, are some of the most beautiful beaches in all of Crete. In order to reach them you must travel by water or by foot many kilometers. Along our route, we pass the church of Agios Antonio’s, a beautiful little chapel which sits close to the water and has a very small protected natural harbor, and then we continue on towards Cape Tripiti which towers 405 meters above the sea and is crowned by the chapel of Profitis Ilias. It is close to Agios Antonios that a force 4 west wind picks up and begins generating some waves close to the cape. I had to sweep many times on my right side to keep from weather cocking. The following sea makes things challenging as we round the Cape yet helps push us the rest of the way to Sleeplate. We land on Sleeplate with plenty of time to walk around and explore before the sun sets. 

 

Thursday 13 November- Domata to Agios Pavlos (10 km)

We have a late start as Agia Roumeli is only 5 km away. We pass many deserted beaches which are surrounded by cliffs, one of which is called Kalogeros (Monks beach) because of the rock formation that juts out of the water and looks like humped over monk in his robes. When we get to Agia Roumeli, we set a time to meet back at the kayaks and then split up. It’s strange to see the village empty now, when I am use to seeing it full of tourist, hikers, and locals who come down from the north of Crete to get away from it all. Some of the group wants to climb to the Turkish fortress that sits high on a hill overlooking the village of Agia Roumeli, the sea, and also Samaria Gorge. A few of us find a café that is open and sit around drinking coffee and telling stories  before returning to the beach to go for a swim. Rod decides that we’ve made really good time on the trip thus far and so we’ll only paddle another 5 km to the beach of Agios Pavlos where we’ll camp for the night. It’s a very lazy paddle to the camp site with a few of us weaving in and out of any rocks that we can find for excitement. Agios Pavlo’s beach stretches out about 5 km long and we land towards the far end to make our campsite. There is plenty of driftwood here and we each bring armloads to build a fire that evening. Once again it was another perfect day and another perfect campsite. 

Friday 14 November- Agios Pavlos to Frangokastello and Amoutsa Beach (26 km) 

Friday’s conditions are windless and there’s barely a ripple on the water. We paddle the 5 km stretch know as Trapezia (means tables and is so named because of the table like rocks jutting out of the exposed reef which are narrow at the bottom and wide at the top). After we make a quick stop at Marmara beach (a beach with caves and smooth rocks that resemble marble) and then paddle another 3 km round Cape Moures to the seaside village of Loutro, where Russ bases his kayak business from in the summertime. Here we ascend the stairs towards one of the hotels, Oasis, where George, Russ’s business partner awaits with cold drinks and coffee. The Oasis is a charming hotel towards the top of the village which commands an impressive view of the entire village as well as the bay.  Here we spend an hour or so enjoying the view and charging cell phones.

It’s only 5 km to the famous town of Hora Sfakion where we’ll resupply at and also where we would have ended the expedition at would we have started from Xania. Along the way there are a few caves that we paddle into, as well as a few beautiful beaches, such as Glyka nera (Sweetwater beach), so named because of the fresh water that bubbles out from the seafloor and also into manmade wells dugout along the beach. A few km later we take a break in Hora Sfakion to resupply and eat a late lunch. Its getting late in the day and we’ve only paddled 15 km so far, but we still decide we have enough daylight left to make it a little further.  The sea is completely flat as we paddle away from Hora Sfakion and turn east towards Frangokastelo. Rod pulls out his GPS while we are underway to see how fast he can paddle his kayak over a sustained distance and manages to get up to 10 km. Pat Keeling also gives it a go and comes close. This is pretty amazing and I’m impressed, as this is only her third kayaking trip, she had told us earlier in the week. We stay about a ˝ km off shore and we all get pretty spread out afterwards, sometimes with almost a kilometer between some of us, but with such weather there is no worries. With about 4 km to go to Frangokastelo we all begin to close the gaps between us and at the same time we quicken the pace, each person reacting off of the next, until we are all sprinting to reach the fortress first. It’s a great way to end the day. Once we reach Cape Frangokastello, we paddle way around the reef system that extends out into the sea, and then continue on to Amoutsa bay where we will camp. Amoutsa is about a 1.5km long beach that has sand dunes flowing down onto it from the road that runs above it. As we arrive at the beach the sun is just setting, giving everyone just enough time to set up camp and take a sea bath. It seems hard to believe that we’ve already paddled for a week and that tomorrow will be the last day of paddling for the group.

 

Saturday 15 November- Frangokastelo to Triopetra (3 rocks; 34 km)

We’re on the water by 0900 the next morning with an extremely flat sea and no wind. We paddle close to the coast and after a little more than an hour are close to pulling our at our first break stop, Kato Rodakino. Just before we land, Tim Barr sees a rock hopping problem that he would like to try. It’s an arch in the rock that a kayak could just squeeze through with an exit on the other side. The only problem is the slight swell causes the arch to be all but submerged. A person would have to have perfect timing to keep from being smashed by the top of the arch. Tim lines it up as the rest of the group continues towards the beach. I can just see the nose of his kayak coming through the other side when the swell rolls under his kayak. At the very last second Tim plays it safe and backs out. Of course Tim would end up doing much harder rock hopping problems later that day.  We leave Rodakino, paddling in perfect conditions, and round Cape Stavros. From here we can see Plakias, a beautiful seaside village that sees quite a few tourists in the summertime. It takes us another 40 minutes to land in Plakias as its set pretty deep inside the bay. On land again, I find a shower on the beach and rinse myself and my gear. A few of the others take showers too and then lay their gear out along the boardwalk to dry. Martin and Rod buy pork gyros and beer and then sit down on a boardwalk bench to enjoy their lunch. We really couldn’t have asked for better weather for the last day of paddling.

After an hour or so we get back on the water and paddle towards Preveli beach, another 10 km. We cut across Damnoni Bay, where the beautiful tourist resort village of Damnoni is, the little nudist beach Amoudaki, and the bigger Amoudi beach lies. Earlier in the year a friend and I opted to sit out a day here instead of paddling into a force 7 headwind. After Damnoni Bay, there is nothing but cliffs and rock gardens for another 6 km. Rod and Tim are in rock hopping heaven, each one leading the way through various problems, while the rest of the group tends to stay to the outside, much happier to watch. We eventually make it to Preveli beach for a well deserved break. Here Rod pulls his kayak up over the beach, into the river, and paddles upstream. Preveli beach, which lies just below the Monastery Preveli, has a river that’s been semi damned to control the flow of water into the sea. This way the river has water in it year round unlike other rivers in Crete. From the beach we can see our next and last campsite at Triopetra beach, where Tiffany will meet us with Rod’s car to take most of the group back to Xania. We paddle the last 8 km to the beach which is named for the 3 rocks islands that stick out of the water at its eastern end. Tiffany pulls up in Rod’s Peugeot shortly after we arrive and once again has brought a delicious meal and more wine.

The rest of the evening is spent eating, drinking wine, and reminiscing about the trip. Each person swears to keep in touch and then it’s off to bed.

We paddled a total of 178 km as a group over 8 days and I have to say, that even though I’ve lived in Crete for 11 years and have already covered this stretch of coastline, I will never forget this experience. It is always wonderful to meet other people from different walks of life and undertake such a journey as this one together. I’m really glad that Rod invited me along.

 

After:

Rod, Tim Bar, Geoff, and I would continue on for another 98 km together, before pulling out in a town called Tsoutsouras. From here, I would go it alone for another 173 km and 8 days all the way to Sitia, but these days are another story and are better left for another time.