The Archeological Heritage in the Seas of Kefalonia

It is well known that Greek seas are full or ancient relics as for millennia daring sailors connected the civilizations around Mediterranean. Greeks established  sea commerce among their colonies from the coast of modern day Turkey and eastern Mediterranean and also Italy, Sicily and all the way to the far western end of Mediterranean to the  Greek mainland and islands  in a more complex and spread way than civilizations before them, making Greece the center of this commerce. And then there was the vast Roman empire spread all around Mediterranean that intensified marine commerce and traffic but once again Greece was in the center of these marine routes. Literally every island and all channels and straits in Greek seas are littered with ancient pottery that can be dated as from prehistoric times of 2700 BC to the late Roman times of 600 AD.

Such is the case at the sea around Kefalonia and Ithaca. Historical data and modern simulation models alike (like ORBIS by Stanford University) point out that the straits around the islands were a central transport hub for the marine commerce during Greek and Roman times. Back then sailing was made as close to the shore as possible, so an obvious way was to sail from island to island and around continental coastline. That marks the pivotal location of Kefalonia. Kefalonia stands at the exit of Gulf of Corinth so was in the way of all marine traffic from this city-state (a sea commerce giant in classical era) and from Athens as well towards the Greek colonies in Italy, Sicily and further, like modern day Marseille and more. That is also the case for ships coming from the rich cities of Aegean islands, Crete, Asia Minor, Syria, Palestine, Cyprus and Egypt. Even from these territories, sailing was made with small leaps from island to island and then around the coastline of Peloponnese and then depending on the destination, there was two, major, possible routes:

For vessels heading to Dalmatian and Adriatic coastline or to Eastern ports of Italy, the main route was the channel between Kefalonia (and the one between Ithaca and green mainland to a lesser extend as slightly longer). For vessels heading to all of western Mediterranean ports and most importantly Sicily and Rome, the route was following the south coast of Kefalonia before the last perilous leap from the southwestern tip of the island towards Italy.

A clear evidence of this marine traffic lies in the bottom of the sea around the coastline of the islands. There are two main patterns. Bays and inlets that could offer protection from rough seas usually have evidence of wrecks at the headlands marking them as not all captains have managed to sail their ships into safety in bad weather. In these cases, the main patterns are small or massive piles of amphorae (depending on the size of the vessel) starting from the shallows at the coastal rocks and gliding down to the underwater slopes. Usually in this case metal parts, mostly copper and lead, of the sunk boats can be found like anchors, parts of the rigging, nails etc. Inside protected bays that ships were spending some time at anchor, one can find amphorae belonging to many different eras, as sailors were littering the bottom with the clay pots after consuming the content or getting rid of what was damaged. In these bays used for millennia, lost anchors or other items can also be found.

Following the traces in land and below the sea we can form an idea of what was happening then and especially in Roman times, when the marine traffic was intense within the vast empire and also trading posts and harbors were set in the land.In Kefalonia along these routes there is the ruins at Fiskardo which apparently was an important Roman harbor and of course the port of Sami, that after besieged by the Romans became their administration center on the island. And then there is evidence of a very important roman presence in Skala, where there are ruins of a residence complex with many rooms and amazing mosaics. Skala could be a significant outpost as Cape Mounda is the point that sailing to the western Mediterranean starts, following the south coast of Kefalonia.

Ancient wrecks of Kefalonia

A more detailed idea can be given when looking at the u/w evidence. There are lots of wrecks and temporary ports evidence along those marine routes, many within scuba diving or snorkeling limits and many more yet to be discovered.

Starting from Mazi cove at the southwestern tip of Ithaca, where a tiny bay protected from prevailing northern winds is, scattered amphorae can be found around, marking a final resting place and possibly freshwater fountain for the sailors before turning around the cove and sail through the channel. At Ithaca’s west coast also roman roof tiles and amphorae can be found in proximity to the modern ports of Pisaetos and Polis, cargos of long-gone boats.

Right across Mazi, on the east coast of Kefalonia and at the land head separating Antisamos bay from Sami there is what’s left from a roman boat that crashed to the rocks and sunk. Crumbles of amphorae stuck together in blocks lie at the coastal rock just few meters below the surface, whilst bigger parts of 2ndc BC amphorae litter the u/w slope.

Further north at the east coast of Kefalonia there is a wreck site of paramount importance.  The wreck there is dated back to Protohelladic Period(PH II-PH III, 2750-2000 B.C.) and obviously claims to be the oldest in the Mediterranean! The area is under archeological research and closed to recreational diving.

Gagiana Cove ancient greek wreck

A roman era wreck with few dozens of amphorae also can be found at the steep u/w slopes of the tiny islet Asteris, not too far from Fiskardo. Asteris is mentioned in Odyssey as the place where an ambush for Tilemachos was set. And then there is the huge roman wreck just of the bay of Fiskardo, a well-known wreck for some years now by the Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities, that recently hit the news worldwide as Greek scientists from the Laboratory Marine Geology & Physical Oceanography of Patras’ University published a paper about their survey on the site few years ago.  The wreck is in deep water and what makes it unique is that its obvious size and massive cargo challenges what was believed for the size of boats of that era. The cargo, literally a hill of around 5000 amphorae maintains the shape of a ship as the wood eventually disintegrated. The area is under archeological research and closed to diving, regardless if the depth is beyond the limits of recreational diving. Obviously there are many more wrecks to be discovered around the channel and towards Lefkas, but deep water still hold well the secrets of the past.

Fortunately, to the south of the island the coastal waters are much shallower and not only are a cradle of history but also reveal the relics. In Limenia beach between Poros and Skala even snorkelers can observe small fragments of pots, obviously broken and curved by the waves for centuries, and one can imagine small boats anchored and fishermen at rest, after having some wine, throwing the amphora in the sea, just like many modern day holiday makers!

The last bay north of Skala and before boats being exposed to south winds and swell, on both sides holds evidence of small late roman era wrecks, in the form of mostly broken amphora stuck together and elements of lead anchors, but also there are random period and shape amphorae and anchors here and there, obviously from boats seeking a temporary shelter.  Closer to Skala and below the land archeological site of the archaic temple, different era pieces of amphorae are scattered around the little bay, most probably from boats anchoring there for the sailors to visit the temple, or perhaps the bay was serving as a harbor for Skala.

And then there is the infamous Kakava Shoals, an extended shallow area a couple of miles off Cape Mounda. The shoals are dangerous to ships even in modern times so one could guess what a deadly surprise were the sharp rocks of the reefs whilst swept by swell for ancient sailors.  There the abundance of amphorae in some places is such that once was believed to be a legendary submerged village! In fact there are at least four different era ancient wrecks ranging from 5thBC to 5thAD centuries already identified at the shallower parts of the shoals and obviously many more to be discovered. Among the most peculiar findings is a site where 12 anchors, probably late roman type, are scattered, perhaps in an attempt to lighten and save a ship.

Roman merchant boat

Further down the south coast of Kefalonia there are two more landmarks that hold evidence of ancient marine routes, Dias and Agios Nicolas islets. Around Dias different era pieces of amphorae are scattered around, most probably from boats anchoring for the sailors to visit the temple of Zeus once there. At Agios Nikolaos sharp rocks, apparently a ship have crashed and crumbles of amphorae stuck together in blocks along with some bigger fragments lie just few meters below the surface. The final contact point with the land of Kefalonia before sailing at the open Ionian Sea towards Sicily and the west, is a little protected bay just before Cape Gerogombos at the southwestern tip of the island. There sailors could find fresh water and the last chance for some rest.  Amphorae and anchors of many shapes and periods from early Greek to late Roman times can be found there.

Underwater relics mark a marine flow that from southeast Kefalonia was diverted either north along the east coast towards the open sea beyond the strait between Kefalonia and Lefkas or westwards along the south coast and towards the open Adriatic Sea. Lots of archeological evidence prove Kefalonia as a key point of the ancient marine routes from the dawn of civilizations in the Mediterranean. And ancient Greeks were well aware of the geographical advantage of Kefalonia and Ithaca.

In the most well-known and influential epic poem of western culture, Homer’s Odyssey, the most legendary sailor of all times and probably the greatest explorer of Greek Mythology, Odysseus (Ulysses) is the king of Ithaca and Kefalonia and the ruler of “Magnanimous Cephalonians”!

All this underwater Archeological Heritage waits for scuba divers to discover!

Carinthia V : A less known shipwreck with impressive history in the waters of Kefalonia

On January 5, 2016, a fire destroyed two luxury yachts at the Marmaris Marina in Turkey. The news were with no significance to all but those familiar with the world and history of the Superyachts. These knew it was a real disaster: One of the two yachts destroyed was “The One”, that is considered probably the most beautiful Superyacht of all time, and beyond argument the one with the greatest influence on the design of these vessels. But in reality it was a reproduction of the original, and history could have been different, had it not been for a severe storm many years ago in southwestern Kefalonia! But let’s start from the beginning ..

This story begins in 1961 when Austrian billionaire Helmut Horten, passionate about sea and the yachts (when other tycoons of this era such as Aristolelis Onassis prioritized luxury), after owning Carinthia I and II earlier, had delivered from the French shipyard Chantiers Navals de l’Esterel the 25m Carinthia III, a classic yacht (as if starring in a James Bond movie!) that still sails in Greek seas under another name and owner. The 42 meter Carinthia IV from the same shipyard would follow, a beautiful and fast boat that would perished due to a fire in 1981 in Greece! These two yachts enhanced Horten’s desire for a unique boat, well ahead of its time. He trusted for the overall design the person that would influence the modern superyacht design more than any man, the legendary Jon Bannenberg!

Thousands of texts have been written and not only from nautical magazines, about this charismatic designer, called by Vanity Fair in 2018  “The Godfather of Modern Yacht Design”. For decades he was considered the most important designer of superyachts, being responsible for over 200 designs (including the Carinthias and his masterpiece Limitless which also belongs to the 10 most beautiful superyachts of all time ..). Bannenberg changed the world of mega yachts forever with his designs and influence. Until its time, yacht design was essentially a refinement and improvement of older models and an attempt to fit into the designs of the yachts the luxuries demanded by the owners as well as their ideas and expectations for the appearance of the boats. Ever since Horten commissioned Bannemberg to design Carinthia V, things would never be the same again!

Until the moment Bannenberg lifted the pencil to draw the lines of Carinthia V,yacht design did not really exist as a distinct occupation. Naval architects designed what they hoped were efficient and good-looking hulls and left the shipyard to complete the interior. Bannenberg made art his starting point, and sought to design every feature of a yacht from the exterior down to the doorknobs to achieve a completely consistent result. “Jon was building palaces,” said Dick van Lent of the Feadship Yard in the Netherlands. “Others were building boats.” Bannenberg himself put it less regally: “If you cannot make love in comfort on a boat that cost millions, what the hell is the point?” he told Vogue in 1970.

Horten wanted a much bigger fast yacht this time and went to Lürssen of Bremen shipyards, which at the time built mainly warships such as the 42 meter Jaguar Class patrol boats, capable of 40 knots. These were not planing hulls but slim, semi-displacement ones with high-powered diesel engines. It was no surprise, therefore, that the yacht Lürssen proposed was long and slim and looked rather like a fast warship. With a narrow beam, a lot of length was needed to provide enough accommodation space, and the overall length came to an impressive 68 meters. Bannenberg’s contribution was to integrate the whole design so that the drama of the long, slim hull was emphasized to the maximum. The sheer line runs the full length of the hull without interruption, and bow and stern slope forward to give an impression of urgency. The front of the superstructure is drawn as a sweeping curve. All the design elements of Carinthia V are simple and strong, and distracting details are avoided. Satellite domes, for instance, are placed well aft on an arch rather than on top of the wheelhouse or on the mast. As soon as you look at Carinthia, it is obvious that one hand has been responsible for the whole vessel from overall concept down to the smallest detail. Bannenberg was not given full responsibility for the interior because the owner’s wife, Heidi, favored using blond timbers and strongly colored rugs to create the Norwegian wood’ look that was popular at the time.

Carinthia V was a boat really coming out of a futuristic fairy tale: The most modern, fashionable and impressive of a line of yachts, owned by a yacht-passionate billionaire, designed perhaps by the greatest superyacht designer of all time, with a concept and lines unseen by yacht world until it launched, seen a beautiful boat with an interior that would embarrass Manhattan’s most chic penthouse! In a manner, one could say that Carinthia V was the Titanic of superyachts. In fact, its fate was similar and strange, though fortunately less tragic: on her maiden cruise in the Mediterranean encountered a severe thunderstorm near the southwestern coast of Kefalonia. Modern navigation aids were not available at that time, and bad weather wasn’t making things easier to navigate the boat with the  available maps safely around the infamous Kakava Shoals. Like countless other boats over the centuries, Carinthia V hit an uncharted reef and sank just off the coast of Skala Kefalonia, on November 1, 1971, fortunately without casualties.

Perhaps the most beautiful superyacht of all time, and arguably the most influential in naval design, is resting since on the Kefalonian seabed. Carithia V had come so close to perfection that when Horten called Bannenberg next morning he asked him to build exactly an identical replacement that would become Carinthia VI. The only change Bannemberg made was to increase the overall length by two meters and put in extra watertight bulkheads to prevent a recurrence of the sinking. Even to this detail the siblings Carinthia V and VI have almost a similar story to RMS Titanic and HMHS Britannic, that was slightly larger and with more watertight bulkheadsthan the tragically famous Titanic.So Carinthia VI was mend to steal the glory of V, but as it had a long career, immortalized the fame of its creators. The flames ended Carinthia’s VI career under the new name The One and one would say met the fate of Carinthia IV and V in the same corner of the Mediterranean. Since then, Carinthia V wreck, the last specimen of this naval era rests in the sea of Kefalonia.

Following down the shot line, eyes try to distinguish Carinthia’s silhouette in the endless blue. Astonishingly, the 70 m vessel blends very efficiency with the seabed! However,  soon the elegant, slim lines of the vessel make their appearance and the sense of awe and admiration cannot be easily described. Unfortunately the vessel is turned upside down. The elegant superstructure has been crushed under the weight of the hull but much of it can be seen on the right side, with the typical “grille” of the frond lounge visible. Same thing for the speedboat that was nested on the upper aft deck. The rudders of the boat as well as the propeller, although partially covered with nets, bare the signs of impact to the reefs of the area. The devastating impact to the reef along the hull that the blow that caused the sinking can be seen. Moving on to the bow it is amazing how “sharp” the bottom of the hull looks but also the excellent condition of the wreck considering it spent nearly 50 years at the bottom of the sea. A huge spiny starfish (Marthasterias glacialis) is next to one of the bow thrusters close to the stem that descents at a sharp angle to the bottom ten meters deeper.

Limited bottom time at this depth brings dive to an end. Reaching the shot line we take another look at this historic shipwreck before we start ascent and switching gasses. We did carry only a small action camera as the main objective was to investigate the wreck so photos are not that good. However the entire Blue Manta Diving Team is looking forward to the next visit to explore of this magnificent shipwreck with the impressive story that rests in the blue waters of Kefalonia.

Parrotfish: The pirates of the reef!

Mediterranean Parrotfish ((Sparisoma cretense) loves the shallow reefs and rocky shores with warm waters. Therefore is quite rare or absent in the northwestern Mediterranean and in the Adriatic Sea, but probably due to global warming there is an ongoing northward range expansion. In the Aegean Sea was even pictured in wall paintings since ancient years. And nowadays is joyful and abundant inhabitant oft the Ionian Sea. Their primary habitat is rocky reefs,  but they may visit adjacent Posidonia oceania  seagrass patches. Parrotfish feeding on epilithic and coralline algae and also on epiphytic algae, growing on seagrass. Constantly they chew the algae off  the rocks with their sharp teeth that look like a parrot’s beak and in a manner they shape the Mediterranean rocky reefs, like their tropical cousins do with the coral reefs. So  not just a nice face but also among the  most important species on the Mediterranean reef, as they are the “doctors” eating expanding and dead epilithic algae and dead and keeping the reef healthy, constantly creating new inhabitant for all species to play their role and complete their life circle in the bottom of our seas.

Because of the their mouth and teeth parrotfish is funny looking but also is a graceful, constantly moving swimmer  at the same time, one very challenging to capture on a photo, unless the perfect focus is not an issue.. And while the bright and colorful females are  red with a yellow-edged grey saddle shape on the back and a yellow spot at the base of the tail, males are overall grey with paler underparts and no distinctive markings. It is quite easy for the divers to distinguish them, especially as they form small or large groups, where one large male dominates the females. The same male was a female earlier in its life that, as in many fish species and as growing bigger changed into a male.

A huge school of male Parrotfish (Sparisoma cretense)

Probably not all females grow into males but there should be many. Otherwise how one can explain the u/w marvel experienced for few weeks roughly the same time every year, in the heart of the summer-usually in August- at the shallow reefs around Skala Kefalonia? Divers may experience schools of male parrotfish more than 300 strong, foraging the reef and making mad the local males that are trying to defend their territory in their pale-grey war colors! These schools are totally focused on plundering the reef and ignore the divers allowing them to come close to observe or take u/w photos.

Diver among parrotfish

This is a unique behavior that hasn’t been officially recorded and studied yet. But still there for lucky divers to experience the u/w wonder of the “buccaneer” parrotfish!

The misundestood Fangtooth Moray

 

 

One could claim that Fangtooth Moray (scientific name: “Enchelycore anatina”) is among the most terrifying looking marine animals in the Mediterranean . That is probably due to its elongated jaws and especially the teeth, which have a crystal, glasslike appearance and are visible through the curved jaws even when the mouth is closed. The black and yellow stripes and dots on its body add to the impression and is also known as Tiger Moray – although its basic color pattern mostly resembles a leopard!

Morays are infamous for having strong jaws and powerful bite. However, this fella attacks only when feeling threatened, so unless divers put hands in cavities in or between the rocks while exploring the bottom, they are safe. Generally, it does not behave aggressive at all (and definitely not to u/w photographers!).

Fangtooth Moray is a migrant species into the Mediterranean from the Atlantic Ocean , and here found a supplementary role to the more common Moray Eel in the ecosystem. Most people cannot even distinguish it is a different species. It is a solitary creature and usually spends the day between the rocks of the bottom while hunting mostly at night. It feeds on small fish, crustaceans, cephalopods (especially favors octopus!), and dead animals.

As not a significant commercial species, Fangtooth Moray is not targeted or threatened by overfishing. However, it is a usual by-catch to long fishing lines, nets and trawlers. It also suffers to the loss of habitant, the decrease in populations of species that is preying on and also to general deterioration of u/w environment. Fangtooth Moray is not abundant and is not studied enough but as predator is playing a key role in the fragile marine ecosystem. Not many, not even most divers are aware of its presence in the Mediterranean. Raising awareness for this colorful creature may grant it an opportunity to stay safe in Mediterranean Sea for the future.

 

Triton’s Trumpet, the iconic sea snail

Triton’s Trumpet, also know as Giant Triton or “Bourou” in Greek, (scientific name: “Charonia tritonis”), is a mollusk gastropod, a sea shell, practically a snail of impressive size. It is the biggest and most known sea snail of the Mediterranean. Different species of this genus are found in temperate and tropical climatic zones all over the world, while the size of larger ones can reach or even exceed half a meter in length. It is usually in the shade of the rocks or in holes where it passes the day waiting for the arrival of darkness, when it is time for most fish to go for rest and for night predators to prey.
The seemingly harmless Triton is a carnivorous animal, a predator of the bottom, who feeds on other mollusks and starfish. Something that one wouldn’t expect from such a creature is that when Triton detects the smell of the prey, starts chasing it. Although the pursuit is far from a cinematic version of dizzying speed, it is just enough to be quicker than your prey, and Triton does!
Triton apparently has a particular preference on starfish and after catching them, opens a hole in their hard skin with a radula tooth (imagine a can opener), and then injects its nerve paralysing saliva. Despite eating poisonous thorns or other unwanted parts of the prey, Triton manages to spit these out. Triton is a very important predator for marine ecosystems as regulates the population of starfish and echinoderms that otherwise would devastate corals and u/w flora.

Someone somewhere once tried to blow through a small hole that could have been created when the edge of the Triton’s shell broke, (and could that led to the invention or inspiration for the construction of a trumpet music instrument?). The Triton has been used since antiquity to create this distinct sound,  especially by sailors, giving the shell its Greek name. The god Poseidon, but especially its son Triton – the messenger of the sea in Greek mythology, are often depicted holding such a shell and ruled the waves with it. This obviously inspired the English common name “Triton’s trumpet”.

Nowadays, Tritons are at risk due to lost of habitat, depletion of then ecosystem and quite often becoming a by-catch or picked for their shell, although is endangered and protected.

“The shadow of the seas”

“The shadow of the seas”

This is  “Sikios” or “Pantelis” in Greek, the Brown Meagre (or Corb- scientific name: “Sciaena umbra”). This species spreads in the Mediterranean Sea, the Black Sea and the East Atlantic. It is usually found in rocky and sandy sea bottoms with seagrass  meadows (in fact, the iconic”Posidonia oceanica” seagrass which is not an algae but a plant) in depths from 5 to 200 meters and is preying on small fish and crustaceans (crabs, shrimp etc.). A good-looking phantom!

Sikios is an amazingly beautiful fish of the Mediterranean, with golden and silver flashes in its body and impressively bright dorsal and caudal fins – yellow with black edges and white details, while its movement is full of grace. It is mainly nocturnal fish that can be seen during the day although it prefers to remain in the holes of the rocks.

The second composer of its Latin name  “umbra” means “shadow,” and is inspired by his ability to remain invisible- partly due to the colors of his body, and partly to the perfect buoyancy he can achieve by staying motionless in shadows in the depth of the cavities where is hiding.  The fish of this species (croakers) have two bone “hammers” in their head (called “otolithi”) with which they create sounds to communicate, especially as they are very sociable and live in small groups.  If keep quite silent and can approach such a “shadow”, a diver can distinguish the special sounds, as long as he is not to late for the show!

Fan Mussel and its hidden Guardian

Fan Mussel and its hidden Guardian!

Commonly known as Fan Mussel or “Pinna” in Greek (scientific name: “Pinna nobilis”), this is a large shellfish that looks like a big mussel but it has a more impressive and fragile shell that can reach 1 meter in length. This species is endemic to the Mediterranean Sea, and is usually located on sandy seabed in seagrass meadows (in fact “Posidonia oceanica” is rather a plant rather than an alga), down to maximum depth of 60 meters below the surface. It feeds on plankton by filtering the water around it.

Unexpected Surprise

If one is careful enough and approaches the open shell without being perceived, can sometimes spot a small shrimp (3-7 cm) (“Pontonia pinnophylax”) living inside the Pinna. This is a mutually beneficial cohabitation: as long as Pinna offers shelter, the small tenant warns her of possible dangers by stinging and the shell closes hermetically! The role of the small shrimp is also evident in its scientific name “pinnophylax”, which is interpreted as the “Guardian of Pinna”. Sometimes the tenant is not welcome, but a parasitic organism, called the Pea Crab due to his size, and its scientific name is interpreted as “Pinna hunter” (“Pinnotheres pisum”)!

Silk from the Sea

Pinna was a valuable raw material for the textile industry. Traditionally, some coastal populations, mainly in Sicily and Southern Italy, produced a cloth off the muscle fibers that this shell uses to anchor to the bottom substrate. The fabric is known as “marine silk”.

Threats and Protection Status

This humble but special species of our seas is threatened by overfishing, bottom trawling and anchoring that disturb and deplete the benthic habitat, as well as from chemical and biological contamination. Pinna is protected by the “Habitats Directive 92/43/EEC”, which includes this species of EU interest among those that require strict protection. Removing or fishing Pinna is strictly forbidden!

The images come from dives in the waters of the Ionian Sea and more specifically around Kefalonia and Ithaca Islands. They depict species that inhabit and enrich our seas, the very same that host inhabitants and visitors of our islands alike, in the winter or summertime. The hidden wealth of the sea is its own amazing biodiversity. And it is hidden not because it has not been discovered but because it remains unknown to most, so that in general it is considered a vast area empty of any interest, as well as the place for rejecting our waste. The sea is a cradle for life, a nursery for man and a lung for the planet. And in order to protect it we have to know it first.

Tilemachos Beriatos

CMAS 3* diver

 

 

 

A crab’s night out