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Chasing Sunsets in Santorini

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Having just worked for 95 days straight — and I’m not complaining; well, maybe a little bit — we were appreciative that the marina manager at Santorini’s Vlahada Marina let us bring our 265-square-meter catamaran into the fisherman’s harbor so we could finally get off the boat and feel like humans again.

The marina at Santorini – Image Courtesy of Capt. Warren East – www.digitalillussions.com

I and the crew of Wonderful had forgotten what it felt like to wear jeans and a nice pair of shoes. These had been pushed to the back of our closets in the hope they might see the light of day again before winter arrived. Our plan was to bike around Santorini for three or four days with our cameras in tow, in search of the perfect photograph that we’d heard was one of Santorini’s offerings — but also with the full intention of enjoying ourselves with all the usual seaside activities one would crave for after spending three months in a box.
After a visit to Mikes Bikes, where we rented two 200cc quad bikes, we headed to the eastern shore, which is home to what I can only describe as “St. Martin’s Orient Bay on one of the biggest volcanoes in the world.” There was certainly no shortage of things to do there; so many clubs, bars and restaurants that it would keep half of Athens happy — wait a minute, maybe that’s why it’s there! We decided it wasn’t the location for The Amazing Santorini Sunset, as the sun set on the other side of the Caldera, which is the giant hole in the middle where the cruise ships reside. So, we moved on.
Image Courtesy of Capt. Warren East – www.digitalillussions.com

We were advised to go to the top of Fira, and that was as far as we got that day. Fira is a pretty cool place and has a very nice vibe. I can imagine the summer nightlife to be insane, but we were doing photography, so we tried to find that postcard shot. Fira is at 1,000 feet up on the eastern edge of the rim of a volcano. It’s hard to imagine who came up with the idea, but it works. The houses and shops and walls are all painted white, and the stone floors are painted to make it all feel like you’re in a fairytale. It all contrasts well with the sky, and at sunset, everyone stops to watch. The entire town grinds to a halt, and there are a few minutes of silence — except for the clicking of cameras. Even the cats come out to pose to give.
Sunset at Oia – Image Courtesy of Capt. Warren East – www.digitalillussions.com

Whilst wandering around Fira, we met a barman who told us we should visit Oia. So, the next day, after a few hours of lazing around on board, we decided to ride up to Oia at the northern end of the volcano rim and about 40 minutes away. Wrapped up nice and warm — it’s chilly at 1,000 feet, even in the Greek Islands — we set off. The ride was fantastic, and we stopped to sample several Greek salads in a number of taverns. The road on the northeast quarter of the island is carved out of massive red lava flows. When you reach the top, you can see into the Caldera to the west and several other Greek islands to the east that are up to 40 miles away. There’s a small café perched there to cater to the hikers that take on the goat tracks. We stopped to admire the view, and it was well worth it; a great place to wait so we would be in Oia for the sunset.
One cannot describe the sensation of standing at the top of one of the biggest volcanoes in the world — Thira is three times larger than Krakatoa — whose last eruption was heard on the other side of the planet, produced a tidal wave over 17 meters high and whose shockwave travelled 3.5 times around the planet. Experts say that earlier eruptions, which are thought to have lasted for up to two years, would’ve created tidal waves between 60 and 100 meters high that moved at 150 mph and would’ve dropped up to 75 centimeters of ash on islands within a 100 meter radius. They wiped out life in Crete and ended the highly advanced civilization known as the Minoans. There’s also talk the fabled city of Atlantis was situated there and destroyed at the same time.
Who knows? One thing I can say is that on this day in 2011, Santorini was a peaceful and charming island. It should be at the top of your list if you’re ever thinking of visiting the Greek Islands.
We searched and searched for the perfect photo, and out of the four sunsets we saw, all were stunning. I smiled when I eventually saw the shot of the tire on the beach less than 1/4-mile from the boat. The beach just outside Vlahada Marina is eroding the coastline and has already taken several houses whose remains are perched precariously on the cliff. A collapsed road created a great backdrop for the shot of S/V Wonderful’s chef, Elizabeth Lee, who dressed in a cloak to try and bring a mysterious feel to the picture. The idea came from something I’d read about vampires who come out after the sun sets all over the island.
The shots from Thira and Oia were lovely, and it was a privilege to be there to see such a wonderful sight and have my camera and tripod in hand. You can make your own decision about what the ideal shot is, but the hustle and bustle of a Greek village didn’t seem to cut it for me, as the island seemed to be such a natural place. We did, however, really enjoy our time in Santorini. It became a place we look forward to visiting again, if only for another chance to improve on that perfect shot. I’d like to extend my gratitude to everyone we met who played a part in us having a great time there.
I’d also like to take this opportunity to wish you all a great season, wherever you may be. Stay safe and have a happy New Year. And keep taking photographs! Anyone who’d like to learn how I do my HDR photography can email me at warren@digitalillussions.com or visit my website at www.digitalillussions.com.
Captain Warren J. East has completed more than 300 charters around the world. He holds a MCA 3000 Ton license and stands at the helm of S/V Wonderful, which he was commissioned to design and project manage in 2001. Visit his website at www.wonderfulcharters.com.
The island is developed and includes grocery stores with delivery services for yachts, as well as technical and fuel services. The marina is a fishing harbor and run by the Hellenic Coast Guard. They allow a small number of yachts to use the outer wall inside the breakwater, but there’s no way to make a reservation. It’s advisable to visit the harbormaster and make friends with him. Small yachts and bare boats are always prevalent in the harbor, and several day-charter companies operate great trips into the Caldera three times a day.
There are several good anchorages along the south shore that offer excellent protection from the Meltimi (strong northerlies). On arrival, you have to visit the Coast Guard office in Fira — which seems an odd place for the CG, as it’s at 1,000 feet — to get your transit log updated and passports checked.
You can rent cars, vans and quad bikes very easily, and there’s a reliable taxi service that charges reasonable prices. There are some fantastic hotels perched right on the crater-edge of the Caldera; obviously, they get more expensive the closer you get to Fira and Oia. There’s also a plethora of Greek and foreign restaurants to keep you busy for a year.

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