In Odysseus' Footsteps

Written by Pieter Jan on Oct 8, 2019 — 4 min read

From: Agios Nikolaos, Zakynthos island, Greece
To: Polis bay, Ithaki island, Greece

On a boat, every day you wake up with different sounds. Sometimes it’s the gentle lapping of waves on the hull. Sometimes it’s the faraway surf crashing on the beach. Or crickets in the nearby woods. This morning, 8 AM, it was a guy hitting the hull with a paddle and yelling.

“HEY! HEY YOU! THIS IS MY BUOY!! This is a private mooring! My boat is coming in 10 minutes!!” “What the hell are you doing on a kayak then”, I thought but I said: “Alright alright, we’re going.” “YOU GO NOW MY BOAT IS COMING!” “Yes, I said I was going.” I guess he was one of the rare inhospitable Greeks.

We started the engines, untangled the triple backup lines and left. The whole time the guy was paddling around watching our every move.

The swell was still huge and the wind not much to speak of. But that changed once we rounded Cape Mounta on the south of Kefalonia. In their typical dry way, the charts warn about the cape: “BEWARE. Boats run aground here every year”. We gave it a wide berth. The wind fell to nothing, then increased to 20 knots. This pattern is familiar by now. And it was a useable 20 knots! I opened the foresail and Vite & Rêves, glad to be sailing again, didn’t hesitate. We sailed, surrounded by squalls, into the channel between Kefalonia and Ithaki.

A squall creeping up one of the Kefalonia mountains
A squall creeping up one of the Kefalonia mountains

Once we were in the channel, pure joy! The wind decreased to the perfect 15 knots, the waves fell away, the clouds disappeared and the sun came out. It was like sailing into a different world. All of a sudden, dozens of sailboats were sailing around us too, as if to emphasize the fact that this was the perfect sailing spot.

I spotted a sailboat going the same direction as us. Every time this happens, as every sailor knows, it’s a race. “It’s Code D time!”, I shouted to Barbara, grinning from ear to ear. As soon as the Code D was deployed, Vite & Rêves accelerated to 10 knots, leaving the other guys in the dust. My arm felt sore from all the fist-pumping I did. Two fighter jets flew over, reminding me of those warning signs in California: “Speed limit enforced by aircraft”.

Odysseus, hero of Homer’s Odyssea, was king of Ithaki some 3500 years ago. Recently, archeologists claimed to have discovered his palace. We anchored in Polis bay, under a wooded mountain. It was probably the same bay that goddess Athena anchored in when she came to visit Odysseus’ son Telemachos, to give him a little courage and counseling. The history of this island is almost palpable.

Polis bay
Polis bay

The advantage of being woken up early is that you arrive before dark at your destination. We went up to the village Stavros, where the kids discovered a playground. After a lot of detective work — for some reason, there are no signposts explicitly indicating the palace — I found that the ruins were a mere 2 km from Stavros. Barbara stayed with the kids and the free village WiFi while I set off to explore Homer’s writings in real life.

Found a model of Odysseus' palace in Stavros
Found a model of Odysseus' palace in Stavros

The last 800 meters to the ruins were repaved in anticipation of the multitudes of Greek scholars making the pilgrimage to one of the most important places in ancient Greek literature. I fully expected hundreds of Greek professors reciting jambic hexameters on the way. I was completely alone.

The entrance looks like someone has cut a hole in a fence.

Palace entrance
Palace entrance

The place is full of dilapidated wooden structures supporting collapsing corrugated iron roofs. With the economic crisis of 2010, archeologic funding dried up and the site has been neglected ever since.

Lack of funding
Lack of funding

But I was proud to walk the same stairs that Odysseus once did.

The palace's stairs
The palace's stairs

And the view was worth it. Fit for a king.

Odysseus' view of his kingdom
Odysseus' view of his kingdom