by B. N. Sullivan
Recently I've been telling stories here about a dive club I belonged to many years ago. When I first introduced the Marathon Diving Club, I mentioned that most of the club's members were expats of assorted nationalities living and working in or near Athens, Greece from the late 1960s through the 1970s. I explained that the club got its name from Greece's Marathon Coast, where the club was based. We all did a lot of dives along that coast, and that is where the club's instructors trained beginning divers as well, but our diving was not confined to that area, nor was diving all we did together.
Yes, it was called the Marathon Diving Club (MDC), but perhaps it should have been called the Marathon Adventuring Club. We all were divers, but at times it seemed that the diving was just an excuse to pursue many other kinds of adventures.
Sport diving was new then, and we all developed a burning need to dive in as many places as we could, just to see what was under the water's surface. A sort of meta-sport developed within the group: The club's members always were on a mission to discover new dive sites.
Some MDC members traveled frequently on business, and would come home from their journeys brimming with ideas for future dive trips. Not to be outdone, those who stayed closer to the home base would fan out to the shorelines and islands of Greece at every opportunity to scout potential venues for dive club get-togethers.
Those get-togethers often were more like expeditions. The most spectacular of our adventures entailed international travel (more on that later), but most often we all would travel together to explore a promising dive spot somewhere in Greece.
Off we would go in a convoy of a half dozen or more vehicles full of camping gear and dive equipment, including the club's portable compressor to fill our tanks. We would drive -- sometimes hundreds of miles -- to some coastal location that one of the members had spotted. At other times all those heavily laden vehicles would be put onto car ferries that took us to one Greek island or another. Several MDC members owned boats, or had access to vessels owned by their employers, so there were many boat trips here and there, as well.
Since nearly all of these expeditions lasted for at least two days, part of the responsibility of finding a new dive site for the club was to find a place where everyone could stay. Sometimes there would be a cheap hotel nearby, but more often than not, we camped. Certain club members became very good at negotiating with the owners of seaside farms and olive groves for permission to camp on their land. I can't recall ever paying money for the privilege of camping, but barter deals were not uncommon. For example, since several of the club's members were avid spear-fishermen then, giving some fresh fish to the land owner was frequently a part of the deal.
All of us were young -- in our 20s and 30s -- and most of us had small children. We were all far away from our homelands and families, so our kids went everywhere we went. Usually there were a few non-diving spouses in the group, and -- bless them -- they would keep an eye on the children while the rest of us were diving. It was a really congenial group that way.
Some of the places we visited were readily accessible, but we also explored more remote locations. There even were times when we'd have to hike the last half mile to the beach. When that was the case, we'd all have to make numerous trips on foot, in order to get all of our supplies and equipment to the shoreline from wherever the cars were parked.
One place, which became a favorite, was a picturesque cove situated at the base of a cliff. The underwater terrain there was spectacular, but getting ourselves, and the kids, and all of our stuff down to the little beach was a real challenge. The only access was a narrow, steep goat trail that ran down a heavily wooded hill next to the cliff. The trail was so treacherous, even the goats used it infrequently!
I remember our first trip there -- all of us lined up, staring over the edge of that cliff to the water below. The scene was very beautiful, and the clear water beckoned, yet we all stood there contemplating that goat trail, wondering how we could ever manage to get all our equipment down to the bottom without tumbling -- never mind how we would get it back up to the top later on!
After some discussion, someone proposed that we string together collectively whatever rope we had with us (and anything else that could be used as "rope" -- jumper cables come to mind!). Once cobbled together, this would be used to lower the heavy and bulky things to the base of the cliff. I remember watching the men dangle everything from scuba tanks to a hibachi and a bag of charcoal over the side of the cliff, one item at a time. It took awhile, but it did the trick. Meanwhile the women and children carefully picked their way down the goat trail in pairs.
Our efforts were rewarded. We enjoyed a couple of very scenic dives, while the children played on the little beach. We capped the day's outing with a hearty picnic meal before climbing the steep path -- and hauling our gear back up the side of the cliff, piece by piece.
The photos on this page are from that trip. There is a ruin of an ancient temple at this site, located on the Gulf of Corinth, but in 1970 when we first visited the spot, the ruin had not yet been "developed." In fact, to this day, the Greek countryside is dotted with many ancient ruins that are just there: No tourists, no fences, no admission fees, no postcard vendors -- just some remnants of centuries-old stone structures, overgrown with grass and wildflowers.
In the top photo you can see an old stone pier. At the base of the pier, on the land side, were some large rectangular blocks of cut stone. Other than that, there was very little evidence of what turned out to be a temple to the goddess Hera, from the Classical era.
Years later the ruin was completely excavated and now has been developed for tourism, as well. The last time we visited, we hardly recognized the place. Not only was there a large paved parking lot near the top of the cliff, replete with marked parking spaces for tour buses, the ruin itself turned out to be quite extensive. There are wide paths leading down to the cove now -- no more need to use the little goat path! -- but I doubt if diving would be allowed there these days.
Here is a link to the Wikipedia page about the Heraion of Perachora, as the temple is called. The first photo on that page shows how it looks today. The second photo on that page looks more like it was in 1970. They certainly had to remove a lot of trees and bushes, and move a lot of earth during that excavation.
Coming up on The Right Blue: More MDC stories from the 1970s, including a spectacular cave diving expedition, a trip to the island of Paros, and our first dive trip to the Red Sea -- illustrated with old photos that MDC members have sent to us to use here.