A calm, though very hot day in late August brought to mind the opening lines of the poem “Sea Fever” – the John Masefield original, not the Spike Milligan version :
“ I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky.”
No “tall ships” for us, but Joanna and I dusted down the 4.5m long sea-kayaks, drove over to the north coast, and in mid afternoon set our metaphorical sails for the Venetian harbour in Chania.
Our launching point was at Kato Galatas, where had ended my last voyage in these parts, a circumnavigation of Ag Theodorou island (see ‘Explore’ February 2013).
A forecast of light NW winds, Beaufort 2-3, increasing later, would be ideal for a paddle of around 6 km, passing by or landing at several beaches, with a break at the small island of Lazaretta. Kato Galatas has a delightful little harbour, just off the “Old Road” along the coast, where we parked close to the water’s edge and unloaded the kayaks. It seemed auspicious and opportune to visit the tiny quayside church of Agios Nikolaus, patron saint of seafarers and fishermen, before setting off.
Kalamaki beach is close to the main road, which then bends inland towards Chania. So the two Agii Apostoloi beaches were new to me, and thus seen, for the first time, from the sea. August sunbeds lined the shoreline, so we continued, preferring the empty coastline, where low cliffs interspersed with sea-washed caves. Chrissi Akti, or Golden Beach, came next, although less commercialised, and with Chania now in view. Rather bizarrely, so were the White Mountains, with Pachnes, the highest, just 25 km away directly, and 2,463m above us.
Also in view was the rocky islet of Lazaretta, some 750m away, and changing direction to NE, we headed there.
Lazaretta, now uninhabited and measuring just 200m x 70m, has a fascinating history. As its name implies (from the story of Lazarus, ref. Luke 16-19 New Testament), it was formerly a “leprosarium island” in the 17th century, where those suspected of leprosy were disembarked before ships reached Chania, and kept in quarantine. When the island was captured by the Turks in 1645, the buildings were demolished, and a huge cannon erected to assist the siege of Chania. Foundations (25m x 7m) are still visible.
Lazaretta is a stop-off, for swimming and snorkelling, on the itinerary of tour boats from Chania, two of which were moored off the little sandy beach. Luckily they soon left, and we had some time to explore alone before more arrived. There’s little to see, except a small shrine, again to Ag. Nikolaus, with a story to it. In 1954 a young boy from Chania rowed (some say swam) to the island, and fell asleep, later waking in the midday heat suffering from severe sunstroke and dehydration. Somehow he managed to return ashore, was rescued and rushed to hospital, and survived. Later he emigrated to Australia, but on returning to Chania, built the shrine, which he re-visits every couple of years.
Having paddled around the island before landing, we set our sights on the lighthouse at the entrance to Chania harbour, 1.5km away. In the 1950s, long-distance swimming races were held over this same route; now they are held every summer from Neo Chorio beach to Lazaretta and back, a course of 2.5km. As forecast, the rising wind was causing a slight swell as we passed below the lighthouse, before reaching calmer waters. Originally built by the Venetians between 1595-1601, the present structure dates from c.1830, during the Ottoman era, hence its minaret-like appearance. At 21m high, though no longer operational, it’s quite magnificent, and a long-time ambition of mine to kayak below it.
And on either side of the harbour were friends John and Avril, waving us into port, and taking photographs as we paddled serenely past the Venetian shipyards (“arsenali”) in the inner harbour to finally land at the slipway below the Chania yacht club.
There’s a very nice cafe here too, where after water replenishment and fresh orange juices, Avril, John and Joanna stayed with the kayaks while I took a taxi to Kato Galatas to bring the car. By late evening we were back in Paleochora, unloading the kayaks, where – to misquote Robert Louis Stephenson – “home are the sailors, home from the sea …”