The Gulfs of Patras and Corinth and the Corinth Canal

Sailing through the Corinth Canal is something that Mike and I have talked about over the years and which we sometimes considered for one of our bareboat charter holidays. However, we always ended up finding other itineraries – partly because we would have wanted to incorporate it into a “round the Peloponnese” trip which, we always decided, was too far for a two week charter. In terms of miles it is no doubt achievable but I could never decide which places I wouldn’t want to stop along the route so there were always too many places and never enough days!

We were probably right not to attempt a Peloponnese circumnavigation in two weeks as, in July this year, we took 14 days just to get from Astakos – near the western end of the Gulf of Patras to the Saronic Gulf at the eastern end of the canal. As you will hopefully go on to read, we stayed more than one night in some places but even so, having now done it, we do not think that taking less time would really do it justice.

We left Astakos at 8am on 1st July for the 34 nautical mile leg to Mesalongion. Approaching the north coast of the Gulf of Patras as we did, from the west, we passed the low lying salt marsh coast – and its ribbon of islands. In calm weather it is probably possible to nudge towards the shoal waters and drop a hook almost anywhere but we had our destination in mind and, at about 2pm, approached the entrance to the dredged canal.

The canal is approximately 3 miles long and along both banks are interesting houses on stilts called “pelades”.

From the rather ramshackle and abandoned…..

…. to the fisherman’s abode….

… to the holiday home.

It is possible to go alongside the quay or, according to the Cruising Guide, to get a berth at the marina. The latter had some boats moored in it but the office didn’t look as though it was open [ever!] and, anyway, we had planned to anchor in the basin.

Heikell’s guide describes the town as being a dusty kilometre walk away, past lots of reinforced concrete, but charming once you are there.

It was, indeed, quite charming and very quiet with just a few people watching the World Cup in a couple of the bars around the square.

Where is everyone!

As it was “beer o’clock” we decided to watch the match too and, unknowingly, chose seats at the “Byron Hotel” so named because the poet died here – in Mesalongion that is, not at the hotel!  Apparently there is a statue of him in the town but we didn’t come across it. Having paid €6.50 for a small wine and small beer, probably one of our more expensive drinks in Greece, we moved to the taverna by the quayside for the second half. Large wine and large beer €6 with a small meze thrown in. Good result – once again I mean the price of the drinks, not the match score. [Incidentally, for anyone vaguely interested, it was Croatia 1-1 Denmark]

Overall our conclusion was that Mesalongion was not somewhere we would say was a “must do”, especially if time was a factor. However, for us, it broke the journey at a sensible time, it was a very secure anchorage in terms of both shelter and excellent holding and it was an opportunity to see the pelades. Also, had we not gone we would not have witnessed this magnificent sunset.

Peace and beauty

Our next leg took us into the Gulf of Corinth. Passing from one gulf to the other means going through the Straits of Ríon and Andírrion, a one mile wide stretch of water once known as the “little Dardanelles”. Venetian forts stand on both banks but the most spectacular sight is that of the suspension bridge.

Central tower

Completed in August 2004 it is, with a span of 2,252m, the world’s longest cable stayed bridge.

An amazing feat of engineering

There are 3 navigable channels and as expected when, at 5 miles out, we called Ríon Traffic control on Channel 14 we were asked to make for the southernmost navigable passage as this is normally used for east bound ships. We now think we could have asked to use the northernmost passage – which would have saved us crossing to the southern side and then back to the north – because there was only a small motorboat coming the other way who, when he requested it, was given permission to go through the central passage, normally reserved for larger commercial traffic, just so that he didn’t have to alter course.

Once through the bridge we needed to keep a sharp eye out for the car ferries which, to our initial surprise, continue to cross regularly.

Ferry leaving Andirrion

On investigation I found that the cost of €6.50 for a car to use the ferry or €13.50, the bridge, to be the likely cause.

From the bridge it was just 45 minutes to Navpaktos where we anchored outside the harbour in 10m to keep us out of the breaking waves. Fortunately both wind and waves were gentle because not to have been able to stop here would have been a real shame. It was fabulous.

Outside looking in…

Under the shadow of the castle lies the small Venetian harbour.

 

…inside looking out!

Being typical Brits we generally tend to do as we are told and so when we read in the Cruising Guide that large yachts over 14m should not go into the harbour, as they would block it, we behaved and, as I wrote above, anchored outside. Having taken the dinghy ashore we found out that others didn’t do as they are told, as a couple of boats moored there were longer than us, and that the statement that it would block the harbour was untrue.

Hmm… a 15m boat

Anyway, it didn’t really matter. It wouldn’t have been the easiest of berthing experiences and we were fine where we were.

So, we set out to explore the town. Although quite small it had everything in the way of supermarkets, bakeries, butchers etc and we had fun provisioning.

Around the harbour are numerous quaint café’s….

 

…… and along the harbour wall are several plaques commemorating various people and countries who assisted in the battle of “Lepanto” – which was the name of the town in medieval times – and in the Greek War of Independence. A small statue on the waterfront honours probably the best known fighter….

….. Cervantes, who lost an arm in the battle.

 

Unfortunately it was Mon/Tues when we were in Navpaktos so we could not visit what is apparently a stunning Ottoman mosque – called the “Fethiye Mosque” as it is only open to visitors for around 2 hours each Fri/Sat/Sun evening. We did, however, walk up to the “kastro”.

It is a well preserved fortress which has five different layers built successively by Doric, Roman, Byzantine, Venetian and Turkish conquerors. The Tsaous Bastion was the final fortification, one of the constructions added by the Turks….

…. as were these baths situated in the second lowest level.

The citadel at the top is 200m from sea level.

The small church in the citadel

Remains of the decorative mosaic path leading to the church

It affords excellent views down to the harbour….

… and along the gulf.

East down the Gulf of Corinth

West to the Rion bridge and into the Gulf of Patras

We spoke with one of the custodians and he told us we should also visit Tzavellas Mansion which houses a small museum with exhibits relating to the Battle of Lepanto. We found the mansion but it was closed.

At least the small courtyard was accessible

We walked up to a tower we had seen from the bottom, which was a bit of a disappointment…

…and saw various wells, of which this is one.

Navpaktos is surprisingly well watered in an area of Greece where water is scarce throughout the summer months.

We timed our visit to the castle perfectly. As we were heading back out to the boat the breeze started to increase and, once aboard, we raised the anchor for a lovely gentle 2.5 hour sail to “Nisís Trizónia”.

This is one of the most popular stopover places in the Gulf and some people leave their boats here over winter. The marina is not actually operating commercially but the pontoons are in place.

Looking across the marina to the anchorage

Once again we preferred to anchor in the sheltered bay and spent two lovely evenings there.

The island is approximately 1.5miles long and 0.75miles wide and its single small village consists of a church…..

…. an hotel, a few guest houses and about half a dozen restaurants.

A beautiful setting

It is a very popular place to visit by ferry from Glifida just half a mile away on the mainland. Some friends happened to anchor at Trizónia on a National Holiday and found it packed, with every restaurant full to bursting. We saw it operating at a much less frantic pace and, as a result, enjoyed it much more than they did.

During the early afternoon on 5th July we moved eastwards again and were able to sail in 4-10kn wind 6 miles down the gulf to Skala Kallithea. The holding there is described as being good in sand. We found weed, poor holding, little room in a depth we wanted and winds being funnelled over the mountain directly into the bay so, at 7pm we decided to move to Panormos 7 miles further on – a very pleasant anchorage with better depth and more shelter.

Our next port of call was the fairly large town of Itéa where we went alongside the breakwater of the harbour [no charge].

It is a fairly scruffy working town but the local people were really friendly and we loved the waterfront which bustled in the evening with people undertaking the traditional “promenade” before congregating in the numerous small ouzeries, coffee shops and gyros bars. Most people who go there are on their way too or from Delphi, which is a few miles inland, though probably more people visiting the site stay at Galaxhidi just 4 miles south of Itéa.

Galaxhidi is also a much more popular place than Itéa with yachties though the comments “not always good holding” and “can send a swell in” resulted in our decision to favour Itéa. We did however visit Galaxhidi, by bus, and can certainly see why it is so popular.

The harbour….complete with “duck house”

It has a history as a shipping town both in terms of boat building and as a thriving port and we had hoped to spend time at the Nautical Historical museum which, we have heard, is well worth a visit. According to the Lonely Planet it is open Tues-Sun throughout the summer. It was closed on the Sunday we were there! We contented ourselves with wandering round the town…..

 

 

Decorative church entrance

….and had a great lunch.

The proprietor [the guy waving!] came to chat with us and, whilst at our table, a friend of his turned up with some small “fresh from the garden” cucumbers which our convivial host proceeded to peel, slice, add salt and oil to and then left us in peace to enjoy as a pre meal appetiser.

We do sometimes have less positive experiences and “Andíkiron” was one of those. Having gone slightly out of our way to get there i.e. 10 nautical miles up ‘Ormos Andíkiron to the head of the bay, we went alongside the outer wall of the breakwater. We had hoped to get an inside berth but for our draught there are perhaps three possible spots and they were already occupied by two French boats and some local fishing boats. We had been there about 5 minutes when a guy came along to charge us. It was only €5 per night and we happily handed over €10 intending to stay for 2 nights. Interestingly it was the only place we did not get a receipt!

We went into the town described as “a small and friendly Greek resort” to find it run down, with very little signs of any tourists and some locals who barely responded to our “Hellos”. We stopped at a restaurant for a couple of frappé. There were only two tables with anyone at them. We were told they didn’t serve just coffee – you had to eat. We have never been told this anywhere else in Greece. We left.

To top it all we had a really bad night with waves slapping the sides of the boat and jarring us on our lines. We thought that if either of the French boats left we would move inside the following morning, only to find when we awoke that they had been up before us and moved down the quay because they too had had an awful night. It was therefore no good taking those berths and, given the general unfriendly reception the town had given us, it didn’t take us long to decide to leave – especially as the wind which had resulted in the waves and swell was actually forecast to increase.

Goodbye …..

So, on 10th July we moved to our final Gulf of Corinth destination – Kiato. We had intended going first to the inlet “Kólpos Domvrainis where I had picked a couple of fairly isolated anchorages with just a small village or taverna ashore. Unfortunately the weather conditions which had made Andíkiron uncomfortable would also have affected Vathi and Alikis so we headed straight across the gulf to Kiato.

We were really lucky and managed to get onto the end of the mole inside the small fishing harbour which lies in the SE corner of the commercial harbour.

View of the main church from our berth

The church at night

We spent four nights in Kiato and found it to be a very different experience from Andíkiron.

Friendly, busy, great provisioning – including Lidl! – and no harbour fees. We also found a lovely restaurant and a very nice, if rather pricey bar, outside which we shared a couple of glasses of wine at sundown.

Looking across the fishing harbour to our berth

We had thought that we were going to meet Chris and John there at the start of their holiday so they could experience the Corinth canal. However, although we really liked the town it would be a stretch to describe it as a typical Greek holiday destination so we gave sis the choice of still coming to Kiato and “doing” the canal or meeting us on the other side in Aegina. She chose the latter. Therefore it was just Mike and I who set off at daybreak [06.40] on 18th July to transit the canal.

Looks like its going to be a nice calm morning for going through

Leaving the fishing harbour

As with the Ríon bridge we followed the instructions in Heikell’s Guide and contacted the canal authority – “Ishmia Pilot” on Channel 11 when we were 5 miles out. We were asked the usual questions – boat length, draught, number of crew/passengers etc but were then surprised to be asked whether we could pay in cash. Being the most expensive stretch of water in the world it was going to cost us [with an overall length of 14.8m] €264 to transit the 3.2 mile canal. Fortunately we had sufficient money on board and were therefore able to say that cash was OK.

We were told to proceed and call again at 2 miles out after which we were instructed to wait near the entrance where one other boat was already holding position.

We were, we think, quite lucky as we were only there 20 minutes before the transit began. Others we know have had a much longer wait.

The idea of having a canal at Corinth goes back a long way with both Greek and Roman leaders making plans for one to save them having to haul boats across the Isthmus. Nero was the only one who actually started digging but work soon halted as he diverted his thoughts, and slaves, to combat Gallic insurrection. The present canal was started in C19 by a French company and completed by the Greeks in 1893.

At the entrance to the canal is a hydraulic bridge which is lowered into the water…

…and boats then enter.

Here we go…

In the west basin

Into the canal proper

Looking back near the end….OK, so its out of sequence!!

We were the lead boat followed by “Lyndy Lou” with the smallest boat bringing up the rear.

It took about 30 minutes end to end and we enjoyed every minute.

Apparently the canal was enlarged following damage during WW2 – goodness knows how narrow it must have been at that time because as it is now it felt as if we could lean out and touch the sides.

Getting narrower – at least it looks that way

Great rock formations

Reflections

Mike also had the sensation of sailing downhill ….

…..and, as with all bridges, even knowing our mast needs just over 20m clearance – to get the aerials safely through as well – and the clearance under the three bridges crossing the canal is 52m, it felt like a close shave.

We emerged into the western basin……

….and, at 09.30, docked alongside to go to the tower to make payment.

It was all very professional, took very little time and we still don’t know why we were asked by the canal controller whether or not we could pay in cash because electronic card payment was what the guy in the payments office expected. It maybe that they want to make sure that if your credit card or their machine doesn’t work you have the cash as a backup?

And so, that was that we were through into the Saronic Gulf in the Aegean.

The Corinth canal cuts 150 miles of the journey from the Ionian to Athens but our observation was that it is little used other than by a few small commercial vessels, tourists boats which take trippers through and back and a handful of yachts daily. Throughout our passage from one end of the Gulf to the other we hardly saw any other boats – it certainly wasn’t the busy waterway we were expecting.

With regard to commercial traffic I expect that the size of vessels today precludes their passage. I think it is a shame that more yachts don’t use it – but the cost factor is probably an issue for some.

We would certainly recommend it even if boats don’t go through the canal. So, if anyone reading this is considering a charter holiday in the Ionian region or bases their boat there and visits annually we suggest that they think about sailing at least around the Gulfs of Patras and Corinth as they are well worth it.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.sigasiga.co.uk/2018/11/01/the-gulfs-of-patras-and-corinth-and-the-corinth-canal/

The Northern Ionian…..17 years on

It’s great to be back! Back writing the blog and back in Greece.

My first yachting experience was when Mike and I, with friends, chartered a boat in Corfu and sailed most of the Northern Ionian. That was 17 years ago and there has been a lot of water under various keels since then, but none of it in the Ionian so the three and a half weeks we spent there in June of this year was a brilliant experience, noting the similarities and the changes, reliving old memories and creating new ones.

On leaving Preveza on 8th June we sailed 35 miles north to Mongonisi at the southern end of Paxos….

….. and it was here that we quickly came to realise that one of the biggest changes is in the number of charter boats and, more evidently, the number of flotillas. Anchorages which 19 years ago may have had two or three boats in them are now crammed with boats, some rafted together, or berthed on jetties which didn’t used to be there. The anchorage on the north of Paxos, which remains one of the most beautiful, is a prime example.

Reading some of the threads on forums aimed at “liveaboards” it is clear that this influx of boats is considered, by many, to be a bad thing. Indeed, at times it felt that the only way to get a decent spot was to turn up before 2pm [or even earlier in some places] but, looking at it from the Greek point of view – surely it has to be a good thing. For a country which depends highly on tourism it has to help with their economy. It also encouraged us to go to places we hadn’t been before and find small towns on the mainland which, at least for now, are largely off the flotilla route. Additionally, we are happy to anchor so we don’t need a berth and since flotillas seem to go mainly to places with harbour walls, quays or jetties, then being willing to anchor off makes it less of an issue.

Whilst on Paxos we took the time to walk into Gaios…

….. a small town popular with tourists staying there or arriving by ferry on day trips from Corfu or Parga.

A channel runs between the town and the island of Agios Nikolaos, wide and deep enough for boats to pass through but only a few available berths.

An anchorage at the south end of the channel looked promising in north winds ….

…. but, after walking back to Mongonsi via a drinks stop…..

Couldn’t pass this one without stopping for a drink….!

View of the south Gaios anchorage from the taverna

….. we found, on moving to it, that it was very lumpy and rolling so we sailed across to mainland Parga instead.

It was on this trip across that we encountered something else which we hadn’t remembered from our previous trip – fairly strong winds and resultant waves.

Our memory was of little or no wind and lots of motoring and, indeed there were days just like that in June this year….

Beautiful blue calm….

Time to pull the sails in methinks….

…..but there were also big wind days which was great for getting the sails out except, of course, the wind – as all sailors know – always seems to be on the nose whichever way you are wanting to go!!!

More surprising weather wise were the number of thunderstorms occurring. Whilst they are to be expected in early spring and late autumn they aren’t reported as a feature to anticipate from May to end September. However, here we were in June watching clouds mass over the mainland and sometimes the islands and sheltering from the odd raindrop.

A little rain… a little wine.

Paxos rainbows

In fact we continued to dodge storms right through the summer – and there will be more about that in later blogs. For now, I will just echo what was said to us by a very pleasant woman we spoke to in one of the Lefkas chandleries… “Greece is now almost Tropical. Its hotter and we get heavy rain and thunder throughout the summer. We have been careless with the planet and it is probably too late to change it”. It would be nice to think that countries are now much more aware and that we could at least halt the change even if we can’t reverse it… but I fear she may well be right.

Parga Town hadn’t changed much, though Valtou Bay/beach was a complete shock. When we first visited there was one taverna at “The Yacht Club”. Now the whole of the bay is full of hotel complexes and restaurants.

Voltou beach anchorage

As my sister said “Better that they spoil that beach than the town itself” and, to be fair, other than a few more restaurants and shops lining the climb to the castle on the town side it remains a pretty, if very popular, place to spend some time.

Parga town from the castle… more clouds gathering

We also revisited a couple of places at the NE end of Corfu….

The Durrells “White House”, Kalami

 

Agni… our first anchorage 17 years ago

…. but this time also anchored at Corfu Town.

Dramatic…. beneath the castle

Wandering round we managed to find some out of the way back streets…

 

 

 

…which gave us much more of a feel of the real town which lies behind the castles and elegant pavements and buildings which most people see. Of course we saw those too….

Classic arcade

Palace of St Michael and St George… houses the museum of Islamic Art

… and found a small garden at the seaward end of the Palace in which were two very different but eye-catching sculptures.

“Towers of Time”,,, by Katherine Wise

Corfiot War Memorial

Between Parga and Corfu town we had zig zagged across the stretch of the Ionian which separates the Greek mainland south of Albania and Corfu Island and this enabled us to visit two new, to us, mainland anchorages…..

Platarias

Sayiadha

Local boats … Sayiadha

….. and one towards the SE end of Corfu.

Petriti

We loved them all, particularly Petriti which we visited again later.

“Owl and Pussycat” in the anchorage

Most astonishing was our entry to Sayiádha. The photograph below shows us somewhere between one and two miles out….

This was the depth.

It stayed like that almost to the anchorage itself where we anchored in 2.8m. It was fairly similar off Petriti where shoal water extends about a mile to the north and half a mile to the east of the Cape.

When planning the places to visit I really wanted us to go to the islands to the north of Corfu. 17 years ago it was difficult to get to them in a charter boat due to the, then, uncertain relationship between Greece and Albania. To the good, all of that has changed and small and large boats now ply the waters regularly. There are three larger islands in the group, Orthoní, Erikoússa and Mathraki, though the very small harbour on the latter isn’t really suitable for “Owl and Pussycat” and the surrounding reefs and numerous above and below water rocks all around the island put us off attempting that. Erikoússa and Orthoní read as being eminently possible and on 16th June we sailed north and west from Kalami to Erikoússa. I say sailed!! In reality, having waited until the wind started to get up around 11am we hoisted both main and genoa only to find that as soon as we rounded the NE tip it dropped. We tried going more north to get some breeze and managed another 30 minutes of sailing but that just resulted in 30 minutes being added to the overall journey time as we had to make it up when we finally gave up and made direct for the island. Ah well.

Erikoússa was a gem.

Upon arrival we went ashore to explore and saw a map which detailed a 12km walk….

…. which of course we had to do the following morning.

The islands that got away…..

Looking back to the anchorage

We walked to the top for this!!!

 

Didnt expect this….

Lovely, even though it did involve several ups and downs… certainly more than expected on an island described as being difficult to spot from the sea due to its low lying nature!

However, less lovely had been the rolling we had done during the night and, from our vantage point in the restaurant drinking a well-earned beer at the end of the walk we could see that nothing had changed. So, it was decision time. Stay another night and hope it calmed down, move to Orthoní which is even more liable to ground swell or retreat to Corfu. Much as I would have liked to visit another out of the way place the thought of a second disturbed night wasn’t high on my list of priorities so it was back to Kalami because our first choice of Corfiot anchorage, Agios Stefanos, was full by the time we got there [19.15].

Heading south again, Lefkas was our next stop. Although we had been to the island in 2001 we hadn’t spent much time in Lefkas Town. We certainly remember the canal…..

North of the bridge…possible to berth there… but boats sank during the recent “Medicane Zorba”

… and vaguely remember stopping for some provisions but not for the night. This time we stayed three nights on the town quay. Although we believe it is possible to anchor between the harbour and the marina we only saw a couple of boats do it and, then, only for one night. The other choices – if you want to overnight – are the marina at approx. €80 per night for a 49’ boat or the town quay at approx. €12 per night. No contest as far as we were concerned.

The Lefkas canal is a very busy stretch of water and boats queue early to make their way slowly towards the bridge which opens hourly. As you can imagine the early morning opening times are the most popular for boats heading north and we enjoyed watching the 9.00 and 10.00 “musters” as boats juggled for position in the queue.

It certainly doesn’t pay to be late. The bridge operator starts to close the bridge whilst the last couple of boats are still going through. Anyone entering the channel at the actual appointed bridge opening time would be very unlikely to make it as it takes a good 15 minutes up the channel at the pace allowed and only about 10 minutes for the boats to pass through once the gate has opened – and that’s on a busy day. The afternoon we passed from north to south it only took about five minutes for the five of us going one way and an approximate equal number the other.

Something else it would not be wise to do is try to get a berth anywhere in Lefkas Town on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday. The marina is a huge charter base with most of its 630 berths used for that purpose and therefore very busy during hand over days. The west wall of the north canal at the town end, which boats are able to tie to, is also used at weekend for more flotilla turnarounds. We had arrived on the Thursday so were not fighting for the few spaces available when any boats left the town quay over the weekend.

We had already decided that we weren’t going to take the boat to the south coast anchorages of Vasiliki and Sivota which we had enjoyed on our previous Ionian trip – mainly because we wanted to start heading east to the mainland and the Gulfs of Patras and Corinth. But, we did decide it might be nice to see them again and to explore the interior of the island which we have learned, over the years, that we enjoy doing. So, we hired a car for the day and off we went.

Whilst the two southern harbours were as lovely as we remembered them, the highlight of the day was the highest village on the island – Englouvi.

Kafeneon time….

….for a refreshing frappe

Time seems to have stood still here – though the displayed photographs on a billboard poster near the square demonstrated that whilst some activities seemingly never change, the people doing them do.

Churches were also a major feature….

Englouvi

Chortata

Lefkas Town

A “typical” interior

…and the views quite stunning.

Looking towards Meganisi

Something else that doesn’t seem to have changed in Greece anywhere near like to the extent it has in other parts of Europe is Health and Safety. We have seen people swinging from unstable ladders, electricity connections which no HSE inspector would pass as fit in the UK, playgrounds with no “soft matting” and have visited ruins where in other countries metal waist level bars or ropes would have been placed to stop people from falling or even, in some cases, entering. Perhaps the most interesting thing we saw was this guy balancing on a thin wooden beam to fix some fairy lights in a bar.

Earthquakes in 1948 and 1953 resulted in Lefkas Town losing much of its Venetian architecture. Though some older buildings do remain standing…

…. most streets are now lined with “quake proof” constructions vaguely resembling those often found in the Caribbean.

The remainder of our time in the Ionian was spent at places not previously visited. Although we had been to the small island of Meganisi we had not anchored in Ormos Abeleke or walked inland which we did this time.

Spartochori

Spartochori anchorage

The two islands of Kalamos and Kastos were extremely quaint and picturesque and exactly what you imagine if someone says “small Greek island”.

Walking up to the bakery…Kalamos

Looking back to the inner harbour, Kastos

Inner harbour, Kastos

Old official building…. housed the [closed] port authority

View from the windmill bar, Kastos

Following our arrival at Kalamos we spent two or three hours watching charter boat after charter boat and flotilla after flotilla arrive to shelter from a forecasted two night blow.

Fighting for priority in the harbour

More queuing outside

It’s amazing how many boats “George” managed to organise into some semblance of order that day….

Thats it… harbour full

……though he certainly reaps the benefit of his labours as at least 75% of crews eat at his restaurant.

We were in the anchorage just outside the harbour and, as only two other boats were there to share it, we had lots of space to put 60m chain out and therefore spent two very pleasant nights waiting for the weather to calm. A lovely anchorage, as was Kastros…

 Our mainland stops were made at Palairos and Astrakos. We particularly enjoyed the former because of the upper town with a couple of traditional Ouzeries……

…. and an old fashioned barbers shop.

Next to the harbour was a small town square where there was a brilliant Gyros restaurant… so redolent of a classic local Greek restaurant at its best ….

….and where even the complimentary Meze included meat, French fries and tzatziki.

Unfortunately we had broken one of our cardinal rules and succumbed to the “sales patter” of a restaurateur we had met whilst strolling along the beach earlier and booked a table there.

Regardless of this mistake we had an enjoyable evening and there was nothing wrong with the view…

… and we found time to stop in the square again and watch as the local children played safely and freely as they seem to do everywhere in Greece whilst their parent “promenade” or drink coffees and eat ice-creams with their friends.

The latter, Astrakos, was a real surprise.

It was the second place since Preveza that we had gone onto a quay – the other 21 nights having been at anchor. Not only was it free to berth there, the water and electricity were also free – though in the event we availed ourselves of neither. We just made an appropriate friend!

We really enjoyed the small working town and found a restaurant serving something we hadn’t previously seen in Greece. Maybe some people won’t want to see the next photograph, but I have to say it tasted very good.

As you know we love eating and drinking and finding interesting shops or markets is always a pleasure. Markets per se seem few and far between – particularly in the islands, which is perhaps not surprising as many of them, especially the smaller ones, basically close down during the winter months. But somehow we always seem to be able to sniff out some good produce.

Beautiful veg from a lovely shop

Famous Lefkas sausage

Wine from the barrel

I am always keen to photograph wildlife and, once again the northern Ionian did not disappoint.                

   

A cicada… in case you didn’t know 

          And, finally, because I mentioned Lakka in the context of crowded but beautiful anchorages, I didn’t get the chance to include this photograph of a framed letter we saw attached to a wall there. Nothing else I have read about Paxos mentions a visit by him but who am I to say this is not genuine… and maybe some of you have information which confirms it so.

 

Permanent link to this article: http://www.sigasiga.co.uk/2018/10/29/the-northern-ionian-17-years-on/

The Straits of Messini and the Gulf of Amvrakia

Following our sail past Stromboli [how could you ever forget that scintillating photograph at the end of the last post!] we headed south and slightly east towards Scilla at the northern end of the Straits of Messina. Timing is everything with the Straits. If you get wind, tide or current – or, heavens above, all three – wrong then it can be a bit of an uncomfortable trip, at best!

We had downloaded the App for our Android phone – look for “Correnti Stretto di Messina” on Google play or, I assume, something similar for i.phone/i.pad – which enabled us to select the best time in respect of tides and currents and used this in conjunction with “Windyty” – our favoured wind App – to work out our passage. It transpired that, on Thursday 31st May, between 6am and 8am was the best time to enter and we timed our approach pretty perfectly.

Dawn broke as we approached Scilla….

…..and at 6.30am we cleared our transit with the Vehicle Traffic Scheme. We had elected the mainland side of the Straits as we were heading east and didn’t want to have to deal with the “roundabout” half way down the straits which the ferries use to cross between mainland and Sicily.

Having read some threads on various sailing forums we were very wary of coming into close proximity of either the above mentioned ferries or the swordfish fishing boats which ply these waters between mid-March and late June. Maybe some people do have bad encounters but all I can say is that the pilots of both these types of vessel were well aware of us and although they came close – sometimes very close in the case of the fishing boats…

Swordfish fishing boat in the Straits with Sicily in the background

…. we never felt as though they were intimidating us or expecting us to give them special right of way in the designated small shipping lane.

Of course, it does help having an AIS transponder to have prior warning of who and what might be coming your way.

My sister’s new favourite piece of boat equipment!

The swordfish boats are a sight to behold – fascinating. These are the modern motor boats with huge lattice steel masts and massive bowsprits up to 50ft long…..

…a far cry from the original wooden boats with a 10ft mast for the lookout, four rowers and a chap on the bow with a hand held harpoon.

In the channel we encountered one fairly strong counter current but it didn’t last long and having passed through the narrowest part of the Straits Mike turned the engine off and we had a pleasant sail for a while round Capo dell’Armi and along the southern coastline….

Not much to see…. a few hamlets with fishing boats pulled up the beach

……until it bent north at Capo Spartivento….

Capo Spartivento lighthouse

…… whilst we retained our more north-easterly heading towards Preveza.

At around 2am we were about 40 miles south of Capo Rizzuto when we were beset by waves coming from two or three directions – or so it felt. Very much a “being in a washing machine” effect which rolls the boat in a most uncomfortable manner. We decided to go with the strongest wave on our stern quarter which meant turning about 30 degrees to the south. We were now heading more towards Cephalonia or Zákinthos – but at least it was still Greece!

Fortunately after riding this for around three hours we cleared the worst of it and turned once more for Preveza. Having entered Greek waters at 6pm on 1st June, our final [third] night proved calm and uneventful and at 11.55am on 2nd June we entered the Preveza channel.

Marinas ahead – we didn’t investigate them – popular over winter storage

We chose to anchor immediately north of the town in Ormos Vathy – a splendid anchorage…

….with an easy dinghy ride to the small fishing harbour to access the shore.

We had chosen Preveza as our Greek Port of Entry partly because it seemed like an obvious route from the Messina Straits and also because other sailors had reported on Noonsite/Captain’s Mate etc that the process was fairly simple in Preveza with easy access to all authorities. That proved absolutely correct. Having arrived on a Saturday we couldn’t actually do anything until Monday because the bank was closed but as EU citizens – just! [DAMN Brexit and what chaos it might create – but that’s a rant for whatever and whenever it happens!] – we had no immigration or transit log issues and all we needed was the DEKPA [basically, a permission to be in Greek waters which must be renewed annually and produced whenever asked for by the relevant authorities].

First thing Monday morning we got the DEKPA application form from the tourist office, paid our €50 at the bank and went to the Port Authority. An extremely professional and competent Port Officer helped us to fill in the necessary paperwork and very quickly we were properly processed. The one and a half hour wait at the bank for our ticket number to come up was a bit of a pain – but that’s just how banks are in Greece.

Over the weekend we had had time to explore Preveza Town – and what a surprise. I think I expected a “typical” port town – a bit dingy and a bit dusty and no real Greek feel. Completely the opposite. The harbour front had a nice promenade and once into the backstreets it was full of old buildings…..

……quaint…

….very clean….

…with wonderful café’s and restaurants….

On the Sunday morning with, seemingly, the town to ourselves…

…we could explore further and came across one or two quirky things…

Our folding bikes are probably more sensible on the boat!

“Bootleg”!?

… and had all the fun of the empty fair.

Bad positioning Claire!!!!

We had decided that as the Gulf of Amvrakia lies directly behind Preveza we should explore. The pilot shows more than a dozen anchorages scattered round the Gulf but we chose to visit just two, the first being at the far end and so, with a 20 mile trip ahead we set out at 10am on 5th, in absolute flat calm.

“Path” leading away from Preveza in the background

As with much of the coastal Greek waters there are several fish farms to avoid …

… though we didn’t expect to pass a boat “graveyard”….

… or see a Pelican. [Yes, I know it’s almost as bad as Stromboli, but by the time I had worked out what it was it was some distance away!]

More birds awaited us ashore in Mendinhion…

Eurasian Magpie

“Hungry birds”!

The locals thought I was quite mad sitting on the pavement in the heat of the day trying to get a decent shot of the swallow fledglings.

Mendinhion itself was also a delight.

O+P at anchor

…and the small harbour – we could possible have gone stern to at the end

Very quiet with mainly local people and a few Greek tourists, passing through rather than staying. Let’s hope they at least stopped for an Ouzo – each of which, for just €3, came with fantastic Meze…

Meze 1- 3 types of seafood

Mmmm… Tzatziki and Chips.

When Mike started to raise the anchor to leave the following morning he called me to the bow and told me to bring my camera. All along the part of the chain which had been just below the waterline, and now fallen on deck, were tiny starfish.

We used the washdown pump to safely return as many to the sea as possible.

Two thirds of the way back up the Gulf was our second stop – Vónitza – where, once again, we chose not to go into the small town harbour but to anchor in what proved to be a very sheltered spot in lovely surroundings behind Nisis Koukounitsa.

By day…

…and all lit up at night.

The town was about a 20 minute walk away and had, atop the hill, a Venetian fort to visit.

Outer walls

Main gate

The church. Mike is supposed to be adding perspective to show the relatively low height of the door

Great views of the inland lagoon….

….and over the town quay to our anchorage

Whilst eating dinner on board that evening we were entertained by fishermen laying their nets in the bay….

 

….before being treated to our second glorious sunset in the Gulf.

Mendinhion sunset…..

….and sunset in Vonitza. Both lovely

The following morning we made an early start back to Preveza as we wanted a spot on the harbour to make provisioning a bit easier. Also, whilst I went to be pampered in the hairdressers, Mike sorted our Gas Bottle situation – we now have a Greek system [bottle and regulator] as well as a Spanish one and Camping Gas. Equipped for the world – until we get to the next place!!

All in all our re-introduction to Greece was brilliant and it was now time to explore the northern Ionian – but that’s for next time.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.sigasiga.co.uk/2018/08/10/the-straits-of-messini-and-the-gulf-of-amvrakia/