Western Cyclades sea kayak expedition
Milos to Sifnos and Serifos
1-8 November 2004

Expedition Members: Ute Weiss, Birgit Wagner , Tom Smith, John Flynn, Peter Roscoe, Rod Feldtmann.

Click on centre area to enlarge map

Expedition Report (by Tom)

The original plan was to “island-hop” from Milos to Athens. Milos is the most southwesterly of the Cyclades and the base for Rod Feldtmann’s business, Sea Kayak Milos. The trip would involve a total of five crossings of between 12 and 15 kilometres, to reach the mainland at Cape Sounion, then along the coast of the Attic peninsula to finish at Piraeus, a total of 200km. However for various logistic reasons this was modified before we started. As we left Milos the plan was to paddle to Kea, the last island before the mainland, then return to Kithnos and take the ferry back to Milos.

Birgit and I had both been here six months earlier, and had explored most of Milos in day trips with Rod. Pete Roscoe was on his third visit and had spent the previous week with another group paddling round Milos, Kimolos and Poliegos. Ute Weiss had also been part of that group. John was new to Sea Kayak Milos. The six of us left Pollonia on the east coast at about 2 p.m. on Monday 1st November, to make the short crossing to Kimolos. The weather was perfect, pleasantly warm and sunny with no wind to speak of. We landed on the beach at Psathi, the port of Kimolos, and all except Rod walked up to the island capital Chorio that is dominated by a Venetian Kastro or castle. All was quiet and peaceful in the autumn sunshine. Returning to the beach we headed off to the northeast corner of the island and set up camp on a small beach and prepared for an early start. The forecast suggested the wind would be light at first but might pick up from the north later.

Next day we were up and on the water before 7 a.m. The light breeze as we set off soon disappeared as the sun rose, and most of the 12 km crossing to Sifnos was done in flat calm but hazy conditions, which meant we could not see our destination until we were almost halfway across. We set a routine of 5 minutes rest after every hour of paddling, and in a little over two hours we were passing the southernmost tip of Sifnos, heading for the beautiful sandy beach of Vathi. A short stop here allowed me to call home and catch my wife at breakfast – with a two hour time difference it was just after 8 a.m. in Britain. 

Sunrise north of Kimolos

First landing on Sifnos

The aim for this first full day was to continue up the west coast of Sifnos and camp at Heronisos at the northern tip of the island, ready for another early crossing the next day. Accordingly we were soon on our way along a barren rocky coastline. After about 10 km we came into a deep bay and landed on the beach at the main ferry port of Kamares. Here we had lunch and a beer at a quiet seafront taverna and watched the cars and trucks gathering for the afternoon ferry. As we left we held close to the north side of the bay and watched the ferry steam in well out in the middle. Another 7 km of barren but quite striking coastline followed until we came into the bay at Heronisos with an hour to spare before dark. As we came in it was soon clear that the beach we were aiming for was not going to be suitable as a campsite. It was small, steep and bouldery with no flat ground behind. The map indicated another beach in the town itself, another kilometer into the bay, but it seemed unlikely to be much better, and was certain to be surrounded by houses. The only sensible option was to backtrack 3 km to a beach we had passed earlier, and which we were sure was suitable.

This beach, when we reached it in the gathering dusk, was pebbles, but behind some unoccupied huts were a couple of small fields which were ideal for camping. We rapidly christened our new temporary home “The Goatfields” and set about pitching tents and cooking our evening meal. It had been a long day – about 35 km - and Rod was proposing an even earlier start the next morning so we were all in bed by 9 p.m. The forecast now was for light northerlies in the morning, picking up to force 5 or 6 by afternoon. The crossing to Serifos was 14 km northwesterly plus 3 km to the take off point and at least another 3 km before we could reach a suitable landing. Rod wanted to be on the water by 6 a.m so we were all up at 5 eating breakfast and packing by torchlight.

As we cleared the north end of Sifnos about 7 a.m. the sun was just coming up. We passed a couple of local fishing boats heading out to the west. It was already clear that the calm weather of the previous day had gone. We set a compass course for the east side of Serifos and set off into the haze. It was to be nearly two hours later with Sifnos already invisible before we would see our destination. First to take shape was a small rocky islet to the southeast of the main island, then gradually we became aware of some white smears above the horizon dead ahead. Rod explained that this was Hora, the main town of Serifos, which is built on a hill overlooking the harbour at Livadi. The harbour was our target, but it was still some time before we could make it out clearly. All this time the northerly breeze was picking up steadily. With very little discussion we agreed to forget the five-minute breaks. We would have been going backwards.

A few kilometres out we became aware of a ship to the northeast. At first we thought it was passing to the east of us heading south, but then it changed course and started to approach on a collision course. A hasty discussion followed. The consensus was that if it was passing south of Serifos it would probably pass very close, but that seemed unlikely as there was nowhere obvious for it to be heading in that direction. It was much more likely to be heading for Livadi, as we were, in which case it would soon change course again and enter the harbour well ahead of us. Our best course of action was to hold for the western side of the Bay of Livadi and keep going as fast as we could manage in the strengthening head wind. Sure enough he soon altered course to the north and left us behind as we became more and more enthralled by the spectacular view of the town ahead and above us.  

Approaching Serifos

Karavi beach, Serifos

After about four and a half hours on the water we landed on a pleasant sandy beach at Karavi, separated from the main harbour by a prominent headland. After a break for a meal and a rest Rod and I set out to look for a campsite. It did not take us long to realize that the island’s official campsite was just on the other side of the headland. It was closed for the season and there was no-one about, but it looked fine and we felt sure it would be OK to camp there. By now the wind was up to force 5 in the open water and funneling round the headland giving us a sharp punch into the main bay. We set up camp in the trees on the campsite behind a pleasant beach, then set off to explore. Immediately we came across the campsite caretaker. She was initially quite taken aback at our presence, but after a telephone call to her boss, she gave us the nod and opened up one of the small accommodation units to give us the use of a toilet and shower.

The next day the wind was still in the north and up to force 7. Clearly progress towards Kithnos was out of the question. Birgit and Ute opted for a rest day. Rod, Pete, John and I went out to explore the Bay of Livadi. After an hour or so we returned to our campsite beach to take stock. We took advantage of the conditions to practice a few rolls and rescues in a strong wind without the usual penalty of freezing water as at home. The other three then set off to try themselves against the northerlies around Cape Vadi to the east, while I opted for a lazy afternoon.

That evening we made new plans. The next day, Friday, the wind was again forecast to be northerly 6 or 7 but there was likely to be an improvement after that. We needed to be back in Milos on Sunday. There was a ferry on Friday evening to Kimolos and Milos. We decided to catch that ferry as far as Kimolos.

Friday morning was again windy. We all paddled across the harbour to explore the headland at the southeast corner of the island and poke our noses round into the bigger swells running down the east side. After a couple of hours of this we returned to the campsite where Birgit and Ute went ashore and the rest of us set off to explore the coast down towards the lighthouse at Cape Katano, the southernmost point of the island. We flew downwind and around into the bay below the lighthouse, where we had a short break on a small boulder beach. The weather was much like a bad summer day at home, but the sea was still as warm as a swimming pool. The return trip was a hard plug into the generally force 6 wind, with a couple of tough pushes round headlands. Back at the campsite we had lunch before packing up and paddling across the bay to the ferry terminal. We were a couple of hours early but we wanted to be ready in daylight. Rod, Pete and I each paddled our own boat across and towed another, while the other three walked round to help lift them out on to the pier.

We already knew that Greek ferries don’t spend long in port so we wanted to be ready to board as soon as ours was in. Tickets were bought in advance and after some checking we were charged about half of a passenger fare for each kayak – not very much at all. By now the weather was quite cool and it was raining lightly. We had bought tickets for Kimolos, intending to spend a couple of days paddling around Kimolos and Polyegos, before returning to Milos. The rain tempted us to stay on the ferry and go straight back to Milos, but after a brief discussion the decision was to stick with the plan and get off at Kimolos.

Camping on the beach at Kimolos was probably the low point of the trip. The rain was steady by now. It was dark and the beach seemed terribly public. The carry from the ferry pier to the beach was a chore. Saturday morning and another early start saw us on our way by 7 a.m. The rain had stopped and the sun was rising. The wind was much lighter though still in the north. The crossing to Poliegos was about 5 km and mostly sheltered by Kimolos. We landed on one of the many unnamed beaches on the southwest looking out towards Milos. Poliegos is described in the guidebooks as the largest uninhabited island in the Aegean, so we were a little surprised to see a boat tied up at the other side of the beach. While we were ashore a couple of people appeared from the other direction and left in the boat. Rod explained that they were probably hunters.

The south of Poliegos is quite beautiful and dramatic, and with the wind still in the north it was sheltered and largely calm. We landed on another small beach at Fikiada where there was evidence of old mining works, and a small herd of wild goats ambled off as we approached. Rounding the dramatic sea stacks at Kalogeros we started to come up the east side and encountered the first real swell. As we rounded the next headland and turned to head due north the swell built to an irregular 1.5 to 2 metres. It felt very bouncy and uneven, but there was no current and once we settled to it we had few problems.


Stacks at Kalogeros

Lighthouse beach, Poliegos

Our target for a lunch stop was the only beach on the east side – just below the lighthouse according to Rod, but he had also said we would not see either till we were right on them. Sure enough a lighthouse suddenly came into view on the headland above us but there was no sign of a beach. I was beginning to think I had misunderstood and the beach was after the lighthouse, not before it, when I saw Pete at the front of the group change course and head directly for the cliff. As I watched him a small bay opened up angled away from us, and sure enough there was a tiny beach hidden at the back of it – our lunch stop.

After lunch Rod and I had a quiet snooze in the sun while the other four trooped off up the zigzag path to the lighthouse. When they returned they reported that conditions looked much the same on the next stage when we would be heading northwesterly, and so it proved. The highlight of this section was a huge collapsed cave which gave us a welcome break from the swell. Finally about mid-afternoon we came around into the sound opposite Kimolos and landed on another excellent coarse sand beach inside a shallow bay. This was to be our last night camping and it was undoubtedly the best campsite of the week. We gathered brushwood for a fire and watched the sun set over the hills of Milos.  

Campsite on Poliegos

John, Rod, Birgit, Ute and Peter

Coming into the bay we had not been unduly surprised to see another small boat moored alongside a makeshift jetty. More hunters we thought. As we were getting our fire going a man in a blue boilersuit came down from the interior of the island leading a donkey. Soon he was deep in animated conversation with Rod. It seemed he was concerned that we should not burn any of his carefully gathered driftwood. Rod reassured him that his wood would only be used for seating and we would burn only brushwood, and he left quite happy. In the middle of the night we were all wakened by the sound of engines. I went back to sleep but in the morning we found the boat gone from the jetty and a moped parked beside our tents. Rod had risen at dawn to climb the high point of the island, and he returned at breakfast to report that he had met a large, wild-looking old lady who was clearly living in one of the houses in an otherwise abandoned village at the head of the valley. We assumed she must be the partner of our friend in the boilersuit. Poliegos is obviously not uninhabited. 

Sunday was a perfect day - dry, sunny and pleasantly warm. We crossed back to Kimolos and on to Pollonia where we had started six days before. Mid morning break was taken with warm pastries and cold drinks from the well-stocked little bakery. Back on the water we carried on round the north coast heading for Mandrakia, the closest landing to Rod’s base in Triovasalos. On the way we visited the dramatic columnar basalt features at Kalogeros and Glaronisia, both offshore islets. Returning from Glaronisia four of us were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of a large turtle swimming on the surface. Lunch was on the beautiful beach of Sarakiniko, busy in early summer but deserted now. Journey’s end was only a short distance further and Rod’s wife and daughters were waiting for us with the transport.

Columnar Basalt at Glaronisia

Journeys end, Mandrakia

The following day, Monday, Ute was due to leave but the rest of us had a free day, so Rod planned a daytrip to Cape Vani, the northwest tip of Milos, involving an open crossing of about 4km of the outer part of Milos Bay. We left from the beach at Plathiena and as we came around into the open bay, passing the rocky outcrops known as the Bears, we encountered a headwind of about force 4 or 5. The crossing was extended to about 6km as we aimed to keep the wind dead ahead, and go for a more westerly and more sheltered landfall. Approaching the other side the wind fell light then it started to rain. The rain was soon torrential turning the whole surface of the sea white, reducing visibility dramatically, and washing huge amounts of sediment off the surrounding cliffs. We plodded along unsure of our best course of action, then the rain eased and the cape loomed clear ahead of us across a shallow bay. Encouraged we set off again planning to round the cape then return to a small beach in the bay for lunch. Halfway across we were suddenly hit by a violent squall coming off the land and hitting us on the beam. There was soon no question of continuing, and we turned into the wind and headed for the beach. It was only a few hundred metres but it took some time in the strong gusting wind. By now it was again raining heavily and after hauling our kayaks up we huddled in the shelter of a small land cave. This area was the site of old iron mines, and the sea was now turning bright red with the sediment runoff.

Sheltering in the cave, Birgit, Tom, John and Pete

The sea turns red

After a while both the rain and the wind eased and we tentatively set off for the return trip. The first section in the shelter of the land was no problem. The rain had stopped and the sky was brightening. We turned our heads for the open crossing back to Plathiena with some trepidation, but in the event we had an exhilarating downwind run in a steady force 6 finishing with a lively passage past the Bears and a surf landing back on Plathiena. Quite a day to finish on!