As we left Santorini behind us, the sun was already beginning its descent toward the mountain of Mesa Vouno. The wind picked up. Ninety minutes later, the sea-spray was reaching the passenger deck of the Aqua Jewel as she cleared the harbour mole of Anafi and made her first attempt at docking. It seemed, I thought, that she was reversing more slowly than is usual, coming in at a strange angle for docking. The few passengers onboard made their way to the car deck. It seemed an age before the ramp went down and we could see the expectant crowd waiting on the dockside.
A blonde girl with tattooed arms blew tattooed kisses to her waiting boyfriend. Others waved to friends in the dockside gathering. The ramp was within millimetres of kissing the familiar concrete. But, up it went, then down again, then up again, countless times as the captain determined the wind shear was too strong to safely plant the ramp on the dock. A priest crossed himself. The time seemed right. Hawsers, descending from above the open ramp door, were thrown ashore and hooked around stout capstans.
But no! The vessel ‘crabbed’ again and urgent shouts instructed the dock crew to loose the hawsers as the ship’s powerful engines went into overdrive to avoid collision with the dock. The hawsers, dripping sea water, were winched back onboard as the deck crew pushed everyone back, away from the danger of the open door and the swinging hawsers. The ramp door closed tight, shutting out the last of the evening sunlight. The ship was secured for sea and its engines continued under power.
Strangers became friends, united by a shared unease. After ten minutes or so, I climbed the stairs back onto the upper deck to find the ship some good distance from the port. “Safer on deck”, I thought, “than down below on the car deck”. I spoke to the purser – “This ship not good in the wind” he said, with a shaking of his outstretched hand. Maria, a Greek girl from Athens, on holiday from her job as a lecturer at the University of Bedfordshire in the UK, came back to tell us that the Captain had hoped to attempt docking on the other side of the harbour mole but had aborted that too – we were going back round to try again at the original dock.
The second attempt was barely more successful. The ramp performed its now familiar choreography. When it was at one point half a metre from the concrete of the dock, love could wait no longer – the tattooed girl, with an Olympian sprint, ran up the incline of the ramp leaping onto Terra Firma and into the arms of her waiting boyfriend. Sensing freedom, a man followed her. A third, encumbered by the weight of his backpack, was too slow and ended up being bear-hugged by a crew member. For fear of ensuing rebellion, the crew pushed us remaining passengers back away from the ramp door. Finally, after an interminable wait, we disembarked amid signs of relief after an hour and a half being tossed around at the mercy of the Aegean winds.
Anafi is one of the least accessible of the Cyclades with epithets such as: the island the Gods forgot and the island of the Rising Sun. In the 1920s and 1930s it was a place of exile for political dissenters. I can understand why now, it’s not easy of access – nor of egress.