Here is a thrilling sea kayak adventure that Aggelos and his team wanted to share with everyone. Suspense, fighting against elements of nature and a suitable happy ending, through the eyes of each team member.
The Lifesaving Adventure
By Aggelos Christophides, Co-Founder and Sea-Kayaker of South Evian Gulf team
It is five o’clock in the morning, it is still dark outside, and yet Sotiris is outside my door, just in time as a good soldier. “Galatea” is also present, dressed in black, the low barometer that during the entire week was slowly and patiently spreading its tentacles over the west and the central Greece, entering impetuously by now the area of Attica. While the rain was unceasingly pouring, we loaded the boats on the cars and left, having as first stop the tolls in Eleusis, where we agreed meeting the rest of the team. From that point on with no rush, having our windscreen car cleaners working at their full speed and sudden gusts shaking the cars, we were heading toward Diakopton in Peloponnese, from where we would sail away. Our sailing destination was Trizonia; the only populated Island of the Corinthian Gulf, where we intended to spend Saturday night and from where we would return on Sunday. “Whoever starts so early in the morning with such a weather to go sailing is almost sure will encounter his share of adventure” this was a good friend and experienced kayaker’s “Good morning” to us.
In our daily urban realities, the adventure is synonymous with trouble. “I ventured myself into trouble”, we use to say each time we find ourselves trapped into the toils of consuming mechanisms, unresolved crises and Kafka’s dead ends. Whenever these adventures happen, their role is no other than to intensify in a sarcastic way the feeling of drowning into the toxic, swampy waters of our existential prison, where the self is being crushed under the press of vanity and the monotonous repetition, while rowing on a Sisyphus’s galley without an end. The adventure in the nature, on the other side, connected with the first stages of human evolution represents the freedom of man to plot his own course beyond any artificial constraints, and his struggle for survival but also the need to reach a destination, by means of his mind, strengths and team collaboration. It might be that this instinctive need which makes man open to the seas with a paddle in his hands or chase untrodden ridges is due to an atavistic surviving of some primitive gene, yet what matters the most is that by choosing this road you will feel more alive than ever and, in the end you will have a story to tell. A story that will be forever safeguarded in your vault with memories.
Despite the weather conditions, the morale of the team was thriving. Kostas was in a combat mood although he had been sick the previous week, “I took my pills in the morning and I am ok!” he said, while Fotis and Giannis were peaceful and determined. Still, Sotiris would be the hero of the day. Since, de facto, it requires courage to decide to come to such a trip, on these weather conditions, with a borrowed boat to paddle for the first time, and considering that his previous experience with sea-kayaks consisted of overall three trials with a total duration of twenty minutes in a calm sea. But what weighted the most in the balance was the fact that he had a basic experience on paddling, he owned a sit-on-top kayak, and by all means he was “a man of nature”, strong and resistant. It goes without saying that we intended to be next to him all the time for support, and moreover the first part of the trip, from Diakopton to Digeliotika, was coastal, thus any incident could be managed at ease and we could reevaluate the situation for the rest of the trip at any moment.
Upon our arrival to Diakopton grey, heavy clouds were spreading all over but it was raining less. We decided to have a coffee on the go and shortly after we started the preparations. We prepared the boats, wore our equipment and placed the baggage, the water, the food, the cloths, the pharmacy, the spare paddles and a black dress we found among Fotis’ things “it is my wife’s guys, I have no idea how it got here!”. Before entering the boats and attaching our spray decks, I mentioned the basic rules for the safety of the navigation. “We all go together, we leave no one behind, we all keep visual contact of each other, if one of us stops we all stop, if someone is not feeling well, he has to say it immediately”.
Each time the boat leaves the land and slips into the water, there is the same feeling of lightness, as if all the burden of the world is leaving the body, as if you are flying. The weather is a tailwind gentle breeze coming over the rear corner and it seems it will sail us away very quickly. As we all start paddling into the sea, Sotiris with the borrowed Dagger is sprinting ahead with a tremendous speed increase. The rest of the team stays behind. My first thought is that he is going that fast because he is enjoying it, he was feeling at ease with his boat so he is paddling forward with enthusiasm. Nevertheless, I start calling him to lower his speed, so that we are all synchronized but it seemed he was not hearing me. I then increased my speed to catch him. «Sotiris, everything’s ok? Do slow down, the others are behind let’s go slower”. “Aggelos, I cannot slow down, the boat is quite unstable, if I stop I will capsize”.
I realize then my first thought was incorrect. It happens sometimes, if the paddler feels instability, he is instinctively starting to paddle as fast as he can, so that every stroke forward may ensure instantly a brace against the capsize tendency of the boat. Beside the issue of the instability of the boat, in our case quite soon it seemed there was also a problem with the rudder, thus making even more difficult the effort to maintain the boat correctly on the course and against the weather. The kayak started looking like an angry bull in the rodeo, and Sotiris was heroically fighting to stay on it. As he managed to keep it for quite some time on the right course, suddenly the boat slipped away on the right and exactly on the moment he was bringing it to the course it suddenly turned away on the left side. All this time time Sotiris was trying not to capsize every time a wave was hitting the boat. Every now and then I would paddle alongside with him and I would hold him to wait for the others, but from some point on, in the area named Rodia, right before the Kerinitis estuary, it was obvious this could not continue for long. After having a quick deliberation on board, we decided to switch boats, Sotiris would take Fotis’s boat, the Atlantic, a much more predictable and friendly boat, while Fotis as more experienced would undertake the task to master the Dagger.
The idea of switching the boats seemed to be working. Sotiris was feeling at ease quite immediately, and Fotis could master the wild boat, although he was disproportionately consuming a big amount of his energy. Giannis and Kostas were untroubled. The team managed to find its rhythm and it seemed that we might even make it to Trizonia without any problem. If only… if that wave would not have come, just before Digeliotika, to hit Sotiris on starboard, making the boat lean, losing the braces and, eventually, making the capsize impossible to be avoided and our friend to fall in the cold waters of the Corinthian Gulf. Since I was all the time beside him, I grabbed the boat fast, lifted a little to let the water out and turned it upside down for him so that he may go back inside. In half a minute, he was again in the cockpit, safe, but it was by now imperative to go ashore to take some decisions. After half a mile, we went out on land.
Sotiris had already decided to stop. He called his wife to come from Athens to pick him up but for a few hours he had to wait out in the cold weather. And since it was the beginning of March to find an open restaurant to stay inside it was almost impossible. While Sotiris was gathering his things, I and Fotis saw a house with an open door, few meters away from the spot we were. We knocked gently and went inside. We then saw a table, few chairs and a fireplace with one family around it, “welcome, and come inside” they said. “The house” was a tavern in the stage of refurbishing, “the kitchen went on fire last year guys, it burnt to the ground and I am rebuilding it from the scratch, to have it ready for the summer season”, the father of the family told us. “…of course, guys, bring your friend inside to stay as much as he wants, to get warm, we will fetch him something to eat, until his wife gets here”. Then I thought “miracles do happen sometimes”.
Despite being tired after his struggle and the swimming, Sotiris was smiling, no disappointment at all. As soon as he would enter into the possession of his new boat he had ordered, he was determined to get into the sport of sea kayaking even stronger. We said good bye and got ready to enter our boats for the rest of our trip. “I have to say guys I would not have passed the passage with such weather, the currents are strong, be careful guys” the old man from the tavern warned us. But we were already inside the cockpit, with our compass to show our destination, Trizonia.
As we were sailing away from the shore the sea was a bit rougher, a moderate breeze, as we expected. Going with a stable speed of 3,5 to 4 knots we were sailing up and down the swells with our bow at 345 degrees. The wind was blowing at times tailwind, then over the rear corner and sometimes on the starboard. I have always enjoyed watching the kayaks sailing on the sea. Their bow piercing the waves, the wake they leave behind, the slipping of their hull, the angles they take on the surface of the sea. Meanwhile I was enjoying watching Kostas who was paddling as if he was sailing a big ship, Giannis who was masterfully equilibrating his boat and laughing every time he managed to balance on a knife edge and Fotis who was such a smooth sailor. The bright colors of the boats were sparkling on the grey background of the weather and as we were getting closer to the Island, a small crack in the blue sky opened leaving aside all shades of grey and black. We could see the green and beautiful Island, in front of us.
We reached land at a small shore next to the Church of Agios Georgios and the first person who welcomed us was the Priest of the Island, Father Christos. We gathered our things, cleaned our boats and walked to the Hotel, at two minutes distance from the beach. In this accommodation, called Iasmos, I stayed in 2014 during my expedition “Greece 1000 Miles”, and it was then that I discovered and visited this Island for the first time. I was impressed by the good taste, the details and the beauty but also by the kindness of its people. Now it was exactly as I remembered it. After having spread out the wet clothes to dry off and let our bodies relax under hot water, we went well drowned and neat to the restaurant of the Island which was open. Before getting dark an impressive view of colors overflowed the sky. In the tavern we were not alone, the atmosphere was alive. The Island was populated throughout the year by 30 to 40 people, mostly pensioners.
The next morning, the weather outside was like we woke up in another world. The sky was all blue and the sun was strongly diffusing warmth and light. We had breakfast and went to Agios Georgios, where Father Christos was performing the morning mass. Afterwards, we said goodbye to Ioulia, our kind host and back again to our boats for our return. The sea was calm. We had a small stop at Agios Ioannis, the nearby islet with the sea lake and the yellow flowers, another stop to the next islet Prasoudi and from there straight ahead to the other side. By the time we arrived in Peloponnese, we had the time and calmness to start observing the land near us. The trees that came almost out of the sea. The sad ruins, the remainings of the «touristic development» of 70s and 80s. The tops of Chelmos Mountains still covered with snow.
Next to Diakopton harbor, on the dock, a few children were playing with a ball, a clumsy kick and the ball slips and goes into the sea falling on Fotis’ boat. He takes the ball and threw it back to them. The trip is over. The calmness that covers our souls seals the truth one more time. The truth that is very well known to all those who have tried to mark their free paths in life. The adventure is saving lives.
“Never regret. If it’s good, it’s wonderful. If it’s bad, it’s experience” (Victoria Holt)
by Sotiris Derlos
I had decided from the start to participate to the expedition organized by Aggelos to Trizonia. The common sense told me to take my sit-on-top kayak and join them from Fokida. Aggelos’s proposal to follow him with a borrowed sea-kayak from the South and to cross the Corinthian Gulf, without having any actual previous experience in sea-kayaking, seemed exciting though. Against all logic, I decide to go to this “blind date “.
The weather was all week unstable and that Saturday morning was cloudy and wet with “Galatea” present. We started the first leg of the trip from Diakopton at Aigion. I took Alexis’ kayak, an extremely maneuverable boat, which turns right and left abruptly and for the first time I have to balance, to paddle with rudder, to keep the course, and not to capsize. In order to manage all these I am nervously paddling without stopping, I increase my speed and leave the team behind me. Soon my body starts aching from all the tension, I feel my legs numb, my arms are tired, and suddenly I feel sea sick and dizzy, as when I was a little child.
At some point in the middle of the trip I switched boats with Fotis, who kindly gave me his. His boat was much more stable but I had already taken the decision not to continue to the second leg of the trip, I would not pass on the other side. After a few miles while paddling into the rough sea the unavoidable happens, my first wet exit. As I fall into the sea my reaction is fast, I detach the spray deck and swim outside. With Aggelos’ help I am back in the kayak. I am feeling relief, my fall into the sea proves than I can manage to get out of a sea-kayak under water.
After a while on the beach, we find a tavern under refurbishment, with kind owners. Next to the fire I dry my clothes and I am able to analyze the events from a distance. It was not great, maybe if I had known the difficulties which I had to face I would not have decided to come, but there I am again looking forward for the next time, I am already thinking all the wonderful miles waiting for me. It was a special day I will remember and talk about it and this is very important because this is what we keep inside. No, I have no regrets and soon very soon I will paddle to Trizonia by crossing the Corinthian Gulf.
The “gentle” rain
by Giannis Papapanagiotou
It is 6 a.m., the road is dark. We are loading the kayaks. It is raining. With the first light of the day the team would sail away. It is still raining.
When we arrive at Diakopton we prepare the boats on a hurry and start paddling. It is raining. A moderate breeze is pushing us strongly. Sotiris is fighting with his borrowed boat. After a while he is capsizing. He is sending us away and returns to Athens. He doesn’t want to keep us back.
The weather is heavy but the rain has stopped. Skepticism. What to talk about in the tavern if we don’t continue? This question of Aggelos makes us return to our boats. We ride the moderate seas with power and we go into the passage. The Corinthian Gulf is bothered by our presence and starts loading on us the wind.
These were unknown conditions for me. My senses were on alert. I was counting the size of the waves. Respect and playfulness in perfect balance. Aggelos was next to us, our soul comrade with his exemplary calmness.
After two more hours Trizonia is welcoming us. We enter the North bay. Its stillness seemed like the last notes from Vivaldi’s “Storm”. We put out foot on the Island. A priest is welcoming us. He is the blessing the boats. Immortal Greece.
We go out of our rooms to eat at the tavern. The sun that all day long was hiding from us it was now sending his hello falling from the West, without wasting its chance to draw a full range of colors on the clouds and the slopes.
The reward for our boldness is a series of beautiful images that continues the next day with sun and calmness. With our soul full of new experiences, we are on our way back anxious to tell our stories to our people. To try to make them understand those things that only the mind of those who participated to such an expedition could feel.
And to think that we wanted to return because of a gentle rain.
Until next time
by Konstantinos Ntiliakos
Greece and the sea. Two words as one for most of us. With a coastline of almost 16K km the invitation to explore the coasts and the Islands seems to be unavoidable. The only thing necessary is a vessel, something that gives the possibility to map almost every coast bit by bit, something that would not sacrifice the details on the rush of speed, something that would have a direct feeling with the water. The only necessary thing is a kayak.
So, it smells like Greece, a two-day expedition with sea kayaks at Trizonia Fokidas. We were departing Saturday morning from Diakopton with rain and with medium weather forecast until Saturday at noon. After quite some paddling and a demanding crossing of the Corinthian Gulf, we arrived at the Island in the afternoon. On Sunday morning, a beautiful and sunny day was waiting for us. With a mood for exploration we paddled to the smaller Islands Agios Ioannis and Prasoudi and took the way back.
The recall of the nature, the salt and the good companionship will “keep” us until the next expedition.
The expedition of emotions
by Fotis Thomas
After two years of practicing sea kayaking I lived my first experience of a small expedition in the Corinthian Gulf. The miles we paddled were not so many but the feelings we had inside us were for sure much more. It was a trip where we shared great moments and that brought us even closer. A trip that charged our batteries and made us feel strong emotions of companionship and wholeness. A trip where the nature itself gave us kindly the reward we deserved.
I want to thank my friends and my co-paddlers Aggelos, Kostas, Giannis and Sotiris and to tell them than I can’t wait for our next sea trip.
You can read about the action of South Evian Gulf Team in their website and their page in Facebook. The team also acts as an Ambassador for AGreekAdventure.com and we would like to thank them for this. Do subscribe to our Newsletter to learn more about their adventures.