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Dreaming of Dropping the Herald Bird’s Anchor at Ancient Ruins of Delos

I have come home from our cruise, my wife and I, with a strong dream to return to the Greek islands someday. The dream embraces, among other things, puttering about the the crystal clear waters of the island of Corfu in a pulling boat, one of those heavily planked Greek skiffs. The remarkable clarity of the sea here puts Catalina’s Emerald Cove in the shade.

I’ve noted closely Greek fishermen rowing these boat in the various harbors, such as at Mykonos, Heraklion and Pylos, and I think I could get the hang of rowing with thole pins stuck in the gunwales. These historically venerable wooden thole pins, largely whittled sticks as opposed to metal rowlocks, against which works the oars, seemed to be used almost exclusively in the Aegean, Mediterranean and Ionion seas by the native seamen.

Of course, there were quite a few fiberglass yachts island hopping around, and with these the inflatable dinghy was popular. We met with the crew of several of these modern vessels, moored sternfirst at the ubiquitous stone moles. At the sacred island of Delos, where our cruise ship stood at anchor and we were lightered ashore by local boatmen, I chatted with some yachtsmen who were members of the St. Francis Yacht Club of San Francisco. It seems that a number of them had chartered Greek yachts and were enjoying their cruise in the remarkably clear and clean waters.

This mooring sternfirst against stone moles, with an anchor kedged off the bow, struck me as pretty tricky business with a single screw sailboat, as these were. My little sloop, Herald Bird, is reluctant about going astern on a straight course, and I shuddered over what I might do to her hull if I attempted to moor her in among the other yachts at the moles. Yet there’s practically no tide in these seas. I was assured that tidal variations were a couple of inches at most, so that would make delicate maneuverings astern a little easier.

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My dream includes dropping a hook just off the mole at Delos, in an almost landlocked roadstead, in my Herald Bird. I would spend most of my days exploring the ancient ruins of Delos, said to be the birthplace of Apollo and hence considered sacred, and then resting later aboard in the cockpit, with proper libations to the old gods at hand. Here, I shall watch the sea turn wine-dark, as described by the ancient poet, Homer, as the sun descends below the yardarm and dips into the Aegean. Alas, my dream will never come true in my beloved little sloop, but it is a bright dream worth holding onto anyway.

It’s probably just as well that I never drink to old gods at Delos. There are so many of them--Minoan, Greek, Roman, Egyptian and Persian, with suitable temples and shrines built in their honor--that reverence would soon deteriorate into abysmal befuddlement.

The geographical location of Delos makes it virtually the center of the Cyclades. It became the trading and religious center from about 1580 B.C. during the Mycenaean Period until the sixth century A.D. Archeologists have uncovered the magnificent remains of this settlement. Some frescoes and mosaic floors are still intact, as well as stone and marble walls, columns and statuary, including a court of great stone lions seeming to brood over the demise of the ancient gods and the shining city it used be.

There are no hotels or restaurants on Delos. It is purely an archeological city. This is why, if you wish to spend time there, it is better to visit it on a well-stocked, comfortable boat.

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Our cruise, sponsored by Pomona College, was aboard the Stella Maris II, a Greek ship of 4,000 gross tons, 297 foot length and 45 foot breadth. I held our captain, a handsome bearded Greek, in awe. His seamanship was magnificent. Can you imagine bringing a ship that size alongside a stone mole without aid of tugs, and then putting her there without bump or graze? Well, he managed it several times. At other times, when the ship’s draft did not permit, he would anchor. I’ve seen more fuss on a 40-foot power cruiser at dropping a hook at White’s Cove, Catalina Island, than was ever evidenced on the Stella Maris II, owned by Sun Line.

Our captain had an eloquent hand signal when he wished the men on the cable to stop paying it out and he had judged it was time to set the hook. Leaning nonchalantly on the rail of the bridge, he would extend his arm, palm upwards. Then he would slowly raise it. When his hand was shoulder high, he would clench it into a fist.

That was all. No screaming at anybody, like your poor wife. No scurrying about frantically. A simple gesture expressed it all.

It’s something I’m planning to use this summer when I want my wife to snub off the Bird’s anchor rode. She says she likes the idea because it’s civilized, although, I suspect, she wouldn’t mind being yelled at a few times by that Greek captain.

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