Words and photos by David Frank Dempsey; article originally published in the Benton County Daily Record , Arkansas, USA on September 21, 2008. Reproduced here with kind permission of the Author.
David visited Milos with Friend Pat Costner in early September 2008.
Milos, Greece — A group of six kayakers thread their brightly colored sea kayaks through a small fleet of traditional wood-built Greek fishing boats anchored in Milos Bay by the modern shore side village of Klima. Above the few dozen white stucco buildings with their blue painted trim are the remains of a small Roman amphitheater. Above that is site of the ancient city of Klima where in 1820 a farmer unearthed the Venus de Milo, arguably the most beautiful and revered of all statues.
It is small wonder that early inhabitants of the island of Milos would create such fine art. Their island home itself is something of a natural work of art especially the 2.5 million-year-old volcanic island’s 78 miles of coast. Colors ranging from the intense white of towering chalk bluffs to copper-stained slopes circle the island punctuated by sea caves, natural arches, inlets that hide beautiful small beaches and fantastic rock outcroppings sculpted by the waves of the Aegean Sea.
You can’t ignore this kind of scenery, but the kayakers seem to be concentrating mostly on making headway against a 30-mile-per-hour north wind that is blowing from the mainland of Greece toward the circular family of islands known as the Cyclades. The paddlers are in the island’s horseshoe-shaped bay that opens directly to the north.
They are paddling there on this high wind day instead of on the open coast because of guide Rod Feldtmann’s reasoning that if people begin capsizing faster than he can fish them out of the water they will only wash up on the south coast of the bay instead of the north coast of Africa. Also, just around the next point is a place that will challenge the skills of the mostly novice to intermediate level kayakers that make up the group.
Once around the point they run directly into the full force of waves created by the wind over open sea. The goal is a twenty-foot-tall rock stack called The Bears located a few hundred yards around the point. Everyone makes it to the wind shadow below The Bears jelly-side-up. There Rod shows them how to play a paddling game by maneuvering the bow of his boat between two rocks where the wave surge is producing a strong breaking wave and a 20-foot-high blast of spray.
The result is a kayak that rides up on the face of the wave before being propelled for a short but memorable ride backwards from between the rocks. Some of the kayakers have never paddled in conditions like this, but with a little coaching from Rod they play this game successfully and Rod has turned a questionable weather day into an outing they aren’t likely to forget.
Nicer weather the next day may find the group exploring enormous sea caves on the south coast of the island or the myriad of inlets and beaches to the north. Or maybe a trip to the nearby island of Kimolos. Or try a paddle out to the other worldly fluted basalt outcroppings of Glaronisia. With day tripping routes all around the island, Rod can usually find a sufficiently protected one somewhere along the coast except in the highest of winds.
Rod, an Australian geologist, came to Milos searching for gold but found a wife instead and stayed to start a family. After buying his first kayak to explore the island himself, he decided that showing the coast of Milos to others would be a good way to make a living. His wife Petrinela helps run the business that provides clients with a variety of paddling and bed and breakfast plans. The rooms are centered around Petrinela's family’s cafe where a tired paddler can relax in the evening with a shot of ouzo and a bite of the octopus that Petrinela’s father Mr. Perros grills every evening.
A long series of kayaking skills and safety lessons got Rod to Level Four (essentially an expert level) in the British Canoe Union. That was necessary because the ability to pull capsized paddlers out of the water and get them safely back in their kayaks is a job requirement for him. He also teaches rolls and an assortment of self and assisted rescue exercises to his clients during breaks in a day’s paddling. The result is that most paddlers leave Milos with more skills than they arrived with.
Most of Rod ’s clients are Europeans, but Americans and other New Worlders show up regularly as well. Many, if not most, are attracted by a superb website at http://www.seakayakgreece.com/. The site can also be accessed by Googling “sea kayak Milos.” A virtual tour of the kayaking routes is included with icons placed around the map that can be clicked on for a picture of what the paddler will see at each point.
In addition to ouzo with octopus at the Perros family cafe, Milos has a host of fine restaurants serving Greek and other Mediterranean specialties. Some are within walking distance. For those who really want to party a bus or taxi ride will get you to nightclubs and even more restaurants in the port town of Adamas on the bay. For most paddlers a nice walk to a restaurant for a fine meal is more than enough. Remember the morning will bring another day of paddling.
Bill and Gill Hughes, challenging the Bears.