2022 – Singitic (Athos) Gulf

From previous visits, as a tourist, I remembered the long trip by boat from the port of Ormos to the Athos peninsula, respectively the Athos autonomous region and then to the port city of Ouranoupoli, as if guarded even today by the Byzantine Tower of Prosphorion. I swam the Toroneos bay, inspired by my friend’s swim, Sergiu Halauca , in 2018. At that moment, I was impressed by the color of the water of the Aegean Sea and the possibilities offered by the coastline. Also in 2021, in the area of the settlement of Vourvourou, located on the Sithonia arm, we rented a boat and piloted around the Diaporos island, at a certain point going out in the Singitic bay, also known as the Mount Athos bay. I was impressed that the boat rented at that time, with a small capacity engine, could barely move forward at maximum speed in the swell formed by the water of this bay. The companies that rent recreation boats around the island of Diaporos, in their vast majority, prohibit crossing the bay due to the difficult crossing conditions (currents, swell, waves etc.), presenting a real danger of drowning or sinking the boat. In the case of my "small head", as Mihai Badea says, of course I wondered if the bay could be crossed, respectively why the crossing of the Toroneos bay was at it’s 50th edition, while I had not read or heard anything about the crossing of this bay. Was there a problem with this bay? Was there anything special?
Making the team. As assistant, my friend Catalin Ungureanu was going to contribute, with whom we also enjoyed the vacation. Catalin was no stranger to what these swims entail, coming as a supporter in my Danube swim, when I swam 115.8 kilometers, in almost 29 hours. Knowing that I am a tourist in a neighboring foreign country, with the hope of doing an unprecedented marathon swim, I considered it was appropriate that in the organization of this swim I should also involve people with experience, authority and Greek nationality. The first contact attempt was with the head of the Toroneos swimming organization body, to whom I wrote, and asked for help in finding a boat. In identifying an experienced and objective observer, I turned to a Greek swimmer whom I met during the Toroneos 2021 event in Thessaloniki, who promised to be with me. We set the start date of the swim on July 19, being the most suitable date for him. Without an answer, how are we going to find a boat?
In 2021 on the beach at the start of Toroneos 2021 I met a wonderful Romanian family, Monica and Fabian VOINEA, who were with me, encouraged me and chose to drive across the bay and to the finish line, to welcome me and congratulate. I turned to Fabian, in asking for local contacts and so I found the pilot Nikos PAVLAKIS, a 3rd generation Greek boat captain.

According to the discussions with Nikos, it turned out that we have to inform and ask for the consent of the Ierissos town coast guard. On July 12th, I requested and received the approval of the coast guard to carry out this swim. The coast guard’s requests was that the boat be in my proximity and that we notify the port authority of Ormos Panagia of the start time of this swim, which Nikos took care of.

We have been there since July 13. Contrary to expectations, I had most of the surprises just before the start: The Windy application, used to read the weather forecast and navigation conditions, showed that July 19 would be the toughest. The wind was going to blow with more than 20kmh, with a gust of more than 35kmh from a partially favorable direction (N and N-E), and the swell was going to be up to 0.5 meters, from a variable direction from one hour to the next, mostly from the side (south = entrance to the bay). Given that until July 19, the wind power was less than half On July 18 at 6 p.m., the evening before the swim start, I receive a message from the observer that he will not be able to travel and supervise my swimming; because an unforeseen medical situation occurred (he had COVID symptoms, not confirmed by the test, but with a close relative confirmed) Obviously, I felt sorry for this man, but equally I felt sorry for all my plans, having to "run" to find a suitable observer or choose to abandon my plans and those of others. I chose to swim, respectively to solve this situation as quickly as possible, I explained to Nikos what my observing needs are, what qualities the observer must have, what he must do and that's how I met Petros PAPANIKOLAOU, paramedic by profession, passionate hobbyist of boats (I think it is also in the DNA of Greek men), familiar with the rules of marathon swimming seeing the traditional Toroneos event.
At the start, on July 19 around 7 o'clock, we are visited by a serious uniformed man who holds the attention of Nikos and Petros, in a discussion of about 5-10 minutes that seemed serious. I later found out that it was a local representative of the coast guard, who took note of the agreement of the coast guard he represented and who on the spot brought up an additional verbal pre-swim requirement.. to have a person with experience in providing first aid. Well, don't we have Petros, a paramedic? And look like that, the last new problem has been solved.
I chose to start in the upper part of Athos bay for the following reasons:
  • the width of the bay was approximately equal in any of the possible start-finish places
  • it was the only route that involved the proximity of the islands to the east Amouliani for Ouranoupoli, to the west Diaporous for Vourvourou; a fact that raised the problem of the currents in their vicinity and increased the difficulty of the swim
  • Mt. Athos bay is also known as the Singitic bay, from the name of the city of Singus (ancient Macedonia) from whose population King Xerses (Persia.. remember the movie “300” ?) recruited his soldiers for the war against the Greeks. A settlement from the 5th century b.C., on the mountain of the Sithonia peninsula, at the base of which is the present Vourvourou locality - the arrival point
  • I chose not to disturb the monastic life in the autonomous region of the Holy Mountain, so I did not appreciate the potential organization with a starting/ finishing place on their territory. From here came an additional challenge, the sea currents are much stronger the further you enter the bay, because the water that enters has to leave, between the shores of the bay
We started from the Byzantine tower, in the port city of Ouranoupoli, in the presence of my family and Catalin crew, under the observation of Petros and the piloting of Nikos. We headed towards the island of Amouliani, because we proposed to enter among its small formations. It was a rather uninspired choice; it would have been probably much easier to go around the island instead of going through the "middle" of it. Between Ouranoupoli and Amouliani the water was calm, the wind hardly blew at all, but the currents were extremely strong. I swam from east to west (the route), and the currents took me out of the bay from north to south (towards my left), having at least an hour of effort in which I almost swam perpendicular to the direction of travel (to my right). After passing the island of Amouliani (about 2 hours, I perceived) I enjoyed the expected favorable wind from behind (from East). Even though I felt that I was effectively falling between the crests of the waves/ swell, I felt that I still had a good rhythm. And all this good sensation lasted exclusively until the middle of the bay, when the swell had a direction perpendicular on the swim direction. The waves hit me from the left, so I was forced to breathe more on the right. And the people in the boat encouraged me to swim again "sideways" towards a landmark on the right, because the currents were "taking me out of the bay", to the left. Due to several factors, such as the salty water, the strong sun, the high temperature of the water, the movement of the body in the waves, I had a strong feeling of nausea for several hours, which in the end was only resolved in one way.. vomiting. But I was not alone! The team from the boat was with me and the choir was supported by two of the three crew members. The shores of the island of Diaporos merged with the shore of the Sithonia arm. The waves and the hula did not help us easily take our landmarks on the shore and we found ourselves near the middle of the Diaporos island, forcing us to correct the direction to the left side, respectively Vorvourou.  
After we passed the Southern corner of Diaporos island, at the entrance to Vourvourou, the recreational maritime traffic intensified, but the hula and the waves disappeared, announcing an easy end. The exit from the water was made, after the island of Diaporos, at the town of Vourvourou, respectively the beach of the Paris restaurant.

I understood from the team members that, as a result of their own research and consulting the coast guard, there was no known previous similar swim in this gulf.