“Oh, it was a fine and a pleasant day,
Out of Kolimbari we were faring ….”
With apologies to Ewan MacColl, Laura and I were kayaking north to Menies Bay, and not out of Yarmouth harbour, following the shoals of herring. Rodopos is the easterly peninsula of the two “rabbit’s ears” in NW Crete, and Kolimbari is tucked away in its SE corner, some 20 km from Chania and about an hours drive from Paleochora.. Menies Bay is 13km north of here, in a direct line, but further if keeping to the coastline, and it was a long-time ambition of mine to kayak there.
We studied the sea forecast carefully, and liaised with friends in Chania who took advice from local fishermen. Two days of calm seas, they told us to expect, then winds arriving, bringing slight swells. Midday in mid-October saw us packed and away, paddling out of Kolimbari’s colourful harbour, across to and below the monastery at Moni Gonias and passing the tiny beach below Afrata an hour later.
In placid seas, our kayaks were dwarfed by immense cliffs, one headland reminiscent of a turtle’s head, another a smaller version of Paleochora’s ‘crocodile’.
Our only difficulty was finding a place to land and stretch our legs, the shoreline rocky and inaccessible, until, after three hours, we managed a brief landfall at a pebbly cove south of Cape Chironisi. And then across a wide bay to round the cape ……
I’ll admit to being more frightened of the sea than mountains, where, if conditions deteriorate, I can add extra clothing, retreat, shelter, and if necessary camp or bivouac for the night. At sea, especially in a kayak, sudden weather changes can be serious. And off Cape Chironisi they changed, with a rising headwind and consequent waves slowing progress. And after nearly four hours paddling, we were both tiring, and running low on energy. We came together, re-fuelled on nuts, dried fruit and chocolate, and determined to push hard to regain the lee of the coastal cliffs to our west. Which we did, won through, and perversely derived enjoyment and satisfaction from the experience, a demanding half hour though it was. Long-distance kayaker Chris Duff (in “On Celtic Tides”, an account of his circum-navigation of Ireland) explains these feelings rather well – “It isn’t the danger of the sea that I worry about, it’s the fear of growing old and someday saying ‘I wish I’d done this or that’.”
Relieved and energised, we kayaked easily into Menies Bay, 4.5 hrs after leaving Kolimbari. Whilst Laura changed into dry clothes and looked for the best overnight site, I collected driftwood and set about lighting a fire.
Then a welcome and nourishing meal – hot tea, soup, and vegetable & bean stew followed by “chestnuts roasting on an open fire …” Darkness fell, stars appeared, and the lights of Chania twinkled across the bay, 30km to our south-west, with an occasional fishing boat passing by, just idyllic …
Early next morning the sun rose over a mirrored sea, and we were afloat and away by 9am. Sadly we had insufficient time to fully explore the bay, the Dyktina Sanctuary, where in Hellenistic and Roman times, visitors came in thousands to worship the goddess Vritomartis (Artemis).
This time we turned Cape Chironisi easily, and although we had made this journey only a day previously, the whole coastline looked different in reverse, with both the cliffs, and our kayaks, reflected in the glass-like sea.
This time we stopped at Afrata beach for a second breakfast, before returning to Kolimbari harbour and enjoying a late lunch, aptly, at the ‘Dyktina’ taverna, then back to Paleochora.
Next day our friends in Chania reported strong winds and a choppy sea ; we had timed our voyage to perfection.
Menies Bay can be reached by a long and rough road north from Rodopou village, four-wheel drive vehicle recommended, and occasionally in season on day-trip boats from Chania and Platanias.