Lots of visitors and a storm!

At the end of the last blog post I told you that we were due to receive four sets of visitors during September and October but, before any of them arrived, we took the opportunity of hiring a car for a tour of Lefkada and to facilitate some serious provisioning – i.e. cases of beer, boxes of wine and bottles of gin!

Having stocked up, the first place we visited was the “Fortress of Agia Mavra” which lies at the north entrance to the Lefkada canal. We were rather disappointed that having paid the full price we were told, on entering the main courtyard, that much of the fort was out of bounds due to renovations and that, for whatever reason, we were not allowed to take photographs inside the fortress. Ever determined to find some photographic memento we found this view out of one of the fortress small gates.

Remains of an old bridge to the fortress

The staff who “greeted us” with this news were the most unfriendly we have met at any of the many archaeological and cultural sites we have visited. Maybe they were just having a bad day. Much better experiences were had at “Moni Faneromenis” where we were surprised to find a mini zoo…..

….. and at the popular small west coast resort of “Agios Nikitas”.

Our full day excursion the following day started at the “Dimmosari waterfall of Nidri”. As we had anticipated, there wasn’t very much water – though the main fall at the end of the 15 minute shady and pleasant trail from the car park was still worth seeing….

Just enough to make a splash

…. and the huge boulders and gorge showed just how much the torrent must have flowed at some time.

Bet that came down with a rumble

Coffee was taken in the small mountain village of “Karya”…..

The wonderful shaded central square – perfect for coffee [Too early for Ouzo!]
…and then a stroll back through the village to the car

…..followed by lunch in the southern port of “Syvota”…….

Supposedly a calm anchorage in all weathers – one of the most popular places in the Ionian

…..which, unlike hundreds of others, we haven’t actually visited by boat.

Our first visitors….

Beer o’clock with Mr Byrne
and crew – Matt, Sara and Hannah

……brought their own boat….

“Fly Free”

…. well, chartered it actually – but it was theirs for a week and they had a thoroughly enjoyable time.

A lovely swim stop at the north end of Kalamos

One of the nights with them was spent on Kalamos….

Return to Kalamos and George’s restaurant

….. an island we visited several times during the summer and, when  “Fly Free” took off for a couple of days to sail to Atako and Kefalonia, we revisited Kalamos windmill beach…..

“Windmill Bay” – very picturesque but not great holding so we didn’t go with O+P

… and the lovely beach bar…..

Such a friendly bar

…..and also spent a night in Port Atheni on Meganisi – another beautiful anchorage….

A great spot. O+P in the middle of the picture

….with the quiet village of Kato Meri above….

The main street
A quiet moment outside the church
The bus stop – though we didn’t see any buses on the island!

……..and another beach bar at Limenaria Bay a hot, dusty and hilly walk away..

…always time for beer!

Fortunately, John and crew’s visit coincided with that of James and Polina, giving them, as well as us, a chance to catch up.

Lunch in Lefkas Town

Although they opted for apartments in Ligia and in Preveza, rather than sleeping on “Owl and Pussycat” we were able to meet in the evenings between their quiet beach or pool days and our sailing.

But, unfortunately we had to cut short our time with James and Polina because a storm was brewing. We had been watching the weather forecasts closely as another “Medicane” threatened. Initially it was to cross the very south Ionian with the possibility of storm winds reaching Zakinthos and maybe southern Kefalonia. But whilst still a couple of days away, the storm tracked further north and the prediction changed to one of its eye crossing Lefkada or, as one model suggested, possibly even further north across Preveza and the Gulf of Amvrakia where we were.

We decided that discretion was the better part of valour and high tailed north. Having said a tearful goodbye to James and Polina mid-morning on 16th September we completed a 29 mile passage to Parga.

Parga castle

We reasoned that we could possibly stay there for the duration of the storms passing but, as often the case, there was a swell in the anchorage and we thought it was likely to get worse if there were strong winds to the south creating bigger waves. We were also aware that if the storm took its most northerly track, Parga was a bit too close to the eye for comfort. So, on 17th we moved a further 35 miles north to Gouvia on Corfu which, according to all forecasts was likely to get rain but little wind. And so it proved. There was absolutely no wind and only a bit of drizzle so we spent a comfortable day and had an early night as we knew we had a long day ahead on 19th as we needed to get all the way back to Preveza to meet Dave and Mags who were flying in that evening….. or so we thought!

We left Gouvia at 05.20….

Sunrise as we leave Gouvia

… and anchored back in Preveza at 17.40 having completed the 64nm journey. The second half of the trip was into wind and pretty big waves which slowed us down and made for a bit of an uncomfortable few hours, but we were on schedule to meet as arranged.  We therefore couldn’t believe it when we received a message from Mags to say they were still in London as she had completed the PLF [Passenger Locator Form] incorrectly.

Fortunately they had been able to rebook to arrive the following afternoon so our mad dash back was not wasted.

We had a lovely nine days together……

On board O+P in Preveza

…. and managed to take them to Meganisi where, from Porto Spilia we repeated a walk Mike and I had done previously to Little Vathy.

On the road to Little Vathy

Whilst the weather had improved initially, on 23rd September it became rather unsettled and once again relatively strong winds were forecast – which meant a return to Vliho where we met up again with “Coriander” to celebrate Steve’s birthday.

We had a fun evening out “entertained” by a thunderstorm which sent us scuttling to an inside table in the restaurant.

It doesn’t rain – it pours!

It had originally been our intention to take Dave and Mags to Ithaca and then drop them off on Kefalonia from where their return flight was leaving. As I said above, the weather was not really conducive for this and, probably more significantly, those two islands had been severely damaged by the Medicane. We were reading some dreadful reports of the destruction of roads and villages, harbours and boats. At Agia Efimia, where we had intended to drop them, five boats had sunk and three were aground. In addition electricity supply was intermittent and the roads nearby were just running with mud. I am not sure how many boats across the islands of Ithaca, Kefalonia and Zakinthos were affected in total but I heard of 44 sunk, 6 aground and 1 badly damaged. It was a worse storm than the one two years previously and might, unfortunately, be a sign of things to come in future years.

So, whilst Vliho may provide a secure anchorage it isn’t really the best place to entertain guests. We also had to work out how to get Dave and Mags to Kefalonia and so we took a dinghy ride up to Nidri to have a couple of drinks and some lunch and see if the “Nidri Star” [the ferry between Nidri and Fiskardo] was operating. It seemed as though it would be sailing on the weekend – 26/27 Sept – so we decided to hire a car to show them around the area for the next couple of days. Mike went to enquire about cost…. and basically came back with a car. “But you haven’t got your licence with you” I said. Seems as though the guy was so keen to get a sale that he didn’t care. He had probably had a bad summer with few rentals and was glad of the money…. and the car wasn’t exactly the most salubrious – but it did what we wanted so it was win/win.

We decided to do a day trip round the Gulf of Amvrakia and took them first to Vonitsa for coffee. Our next stop was Amfilokia which lies in the SE corner of the gulf and a place we hadn’t been in the boat. We have avoided it because the anchorage doesn’t read well in the guide. Now sometimes an anchorage is much better than Heikell describes [as with Mytikas which I wrote bout in the last blog] but this time he was absolutely right. The guide describes considerable chop with strong afternoon winds. Heaven knows what kind of chop that would be as there was more than sufficient with no wind!

Anyway we wandered around what is a rather ramshackle small town looking for lunch. The first place we stopped only did burgers which wasn’t what we were looking for. The second looked the same but then the proprietress brought out a meze to go with the drinks and it was wonderful. Nothing like the menu and exactly the kind of thing we had wanted. Result.

Our next stop was the much prettier small town of Arta with its famous bridge.

The Bridge of Arta

A landmark of the town, it was built in its present form at the beginning of C17. Following the liberation of Arta from the Ottoman Empire in 1881 and until the Balkan Wars [1912/13] the border between the then Kingdom of Greece and the Ottoman Empire was located on the highest arch of the bridge. Mike was surprised to read 1881 because we knew the War of Independence had started in 1821 and, although we were aware that it lasted some years, 1881 seemed like a very long time. So Mike researched it and found that Arta was in what was “Thessaly” and therefore just west of the border created provisionally after the Battle of Navarino – which ended the War of Independence in 1828 – and formalised by the “Treaty of Constantinople” in 1832.

Now on the north side of the gulf, I found a side road which skirted the shore. It started off as fairly wide and smooth but, as often the case, it deteriorated to a narrow bumpy track. Still, fortunately it came out in a small village and from there it was “normal” again and if we hadn’t taken it we wouldn’t have come across this.

Yikes! A type of Viper [we think]

It had, we think, just been run over by a guy on a motor scooter ahead of us. It wasn’t moving but we weren’t going to prod it to find out! The Greeks used to use snakes, particularly Vipers, as weapons. They tossed them onto enemy ships. You can imagine the chaos that could cause among the crew.

We also stopped to wander along the lagoon…..

Serenity at the lagoon

…. and try to spot some flamingos. Success – though they were some distance away.

Poor quality – but they were some way away!

On the Saturday morning, as planned, Mike took Dave and Mag and their suitcases up to Nidri to catch the ferry. About an hour after he returned they called us to say that the ferry wasn’t running and that they were going to get a room. That seemed rather unnecessary so Mike went and brought them back for another night on “O+P”. It was fingers crossed the following day because we knew it was their last chance to get to Kefalonia without a long and probably uncomfortable passage with us to a harbour that might not be tenable due to the aforementioned destruction. Fortunately the ferry ran and all was well.

It was now nearly time for our fourth guests – Chris and John – who were due six days later, 135nm away. The weather wasn’t good for leaving immediately and we knew that, if necessary, we could do the journey in one sail with an overnighter. However, our preference was for day sails and, luckily, the weather settled sufficiently to allow three separate sails of 30nm, 53nm and 52nmstopping at two anchorages we had been to before.

We arrived at Pylos at 2pm on 1st October….

An odd photo but its the only view I have of Pylos Town as seen from the entrance

…… ready to receive our guests on 3rd.

A typical Pylos sunset

Chris and John flew in to Kalamata so it was another car hire to collect them and then, once back in Pylos, we all settled into the town square to celebrate their arrival.

The first of many!

Once again the weather was more suited to land based activities so we took them to see Voidkolia Beach….

The horseshoe bay – Voidkilia

…. and then to Marathopoli for lunch.

Traditional tavernas line the promenade

On our passages north and south we had sailed through the channel formed by Marathopoli on the east and the small island of Próti to the west. Fortunately the channel was flat calm both times – though there was a current running. We would not have liked to undertake such a passage on a day like this as the waves were really quite rough….

Bit choppy out there – don’t fancy that anchorage today

…… as John found out when he stood at the restaurant window for a breath of air and got drenched. Where was the camera – though I was laughing so much I couldn’t have taken a photo anyway.

We had another two days lazing around Pylos. Chris and John went to the castle one day and we all went to “Chora” for lunch on the other. On our travels we also stopped to look at the Aquaduct just outside of Pylos Town.

The Aquaduct of Kamares at Pylos

It was then time to start making our way back to Kalamata, stopping at all the anchorages we had been to in June. But first, on leaving Pylos Chris wanted a closer look at the “Azure Window”. Unfortunately it was cloudy when we left so we didn’t really get the “azure” bit but we did see the window.

The islet “Tsichli-Baba” – can’t see the window from here
Chris getting ready to take photos. Approaching the gap – Koutsoynes rock pinacles off to starboard
….and the window

If only we had left 2 hours later it might have been a different sight altogether as this was the weather when we arrived in Methoni.

Methoni Bourtzi

Being seasoned visitors, Chris and John happily – I think! – took the dinghy to shore…

Away they go!

…. to visit Methoni castle and another pleasant couple of days were spent at this quiet village.

We stopped for one night in Finakounda….

“Owl and Pussycat” anchored off the beach

…… and then a further two in Koroni where we went ashore on the first night to our favourite Gyros restaurant….

We love this spot….
…. and so did Chris and John

…. and then had a beach BBQ on the second.

Yes, Chris even went swimming – well, almost!

We arrived back in Kalamata on 12th October, spent a day settling in and another day showing them the highlights of Kalamata Town before hiring a car once more to tour some of our favourite places in the vicinity.

On our trip down the west Mani we visited three coastal villages/resorts.

Kardamila
Agios Nikolaos’s small harbour which we wouldn’t be able to get into – which is no bad thing given the waves/swell at the entrance!
Stoupa – a very popular resort

Our favourite was definitely Agios Nikolaos which we all thought would be a lovely place for a relaxing break.

Gorgeous Agios Nikolaos

We also took them to the Ancient site of Messinia.

Lovely mountain scenery

Even having been previously, Mike and I still found things we hadn’t seen ….

The old well in the village outside Ancient Messinia
The names of all the young boys who attended this “gymnasium” and learnt “lessons, athletics and weapons”
The latrine

….. or at least viewed them from a different angle.

The Doric Propylon – the entrance to the gymnasium
The mosaic of the Propylon

There had also been further excavations in the eighteen months since our first visit….

Part of the water system
The outer walls of the Theatre now more uncovered
Newly excavated Halls dating back to C3-4AD. Panels on the floors bear inscriptions referring to the founders of the Prayer House

….and new signs to show the site layout…..

A great addition near the entrance which helps to plan your route

….and having walked round it all there is definitely need for a comfy seat. Did I say comfy!

On the throne!

So, sadly, that brought us to the end of their holiday and the end of our sailing season for 2020 but we can look back on those last six weeks with happiness as we reflect on all the fun times we had with the lovely friends and family who came to visit.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.sigasiga.co.uk/2021/04/12/lots-of-visitors-and-a-storm/

Quiet summer

An amazingly beautiful sailing area

Seems silly that even with all the time on my hands as a result of lockdown I haven’t written a blog since August last year. So I will do my best to put things back on track [well almost] by continuing our Ionian adventures. My last post covered our June journey from Kalamata around the bottom of the Peloponnese and up to Fiskardo at the north end of Kefallonia. This post covers July and August which was spent sailing around the islands and mainland of the mid-Ionian.

You might recall that I reported a very quiet June as many boat owners were unable to travel to Greece and, similarly, charter holidays had not started. July and August brought a change to that but not to anything like a “normal” year. We were amazed at the number of boats which remained in boatyards and marinas throughout the summer months….

So many masts – Cleopatra and Aktion marinas still full

…. and at how even the popular tourist resorts stayed fairly quiet.

A full menu but no takers
Empty beach at the north end of Nidri
All these tourist boats but no punters

It was not a good year for local businesses at all.

However, it was a fabulous two months for us as we continued to enjoy the relative peace and did not have to fight for anchor space as we revisited old haunts and discovered new ones.

Our first new port of call was Vasiliki, a 10 nautical mile hop from the north of Kefallonia to the south of Lefkada. The Lonely Planet tells us that Vasiliki is very popular with windsurfers due to its breezy conditions and “Eric”, as the locals appear to call the afternoon wind, certainly blew up quite a chop whilst we were there, so much so that Mike and I abandoned all thought of staying at anchor and decamped to the harbour wall.

A beautiful and friendly small town…..

Lovely restaurants alongside the harbour

…. which we highly recommend though, if the few spaces available in the harbour are taken, be prepared to get blown around!

Not a lot of draft and only a few spaces in the small harbour – “O+P” mast is one of the two on the outside wall seen in the background

There is a brand new marina but it was not open when we visited and, as far as I know, still isn’t. Unfortunately all the lovely pontoons are unused as you aren’t allowed to berth on them. We know – we tried and were moved on.

Reading the cruising guide, the anchorage known as “One House Bay” on the small island of Atokos sounds idyllic and we looked forward to spending a night there and watching the famous swimming pigs. However, it was not to be. Both “Owl and Pussycat” and “Coriander” had a great sail across but “Coriander” arrived before us [nothing new there!] and took what we think was the best spot. We ended up anchored in a position that felt to be right under the cliffs with a strong wind blowing over the highest point on the island down into the anchorage – just right for blowing us onto those cliffs and underlying rocks should we drag. We didn’t feel at all safe and moved on leaving “Coriander” to enjoy the pigs. Later in the year we saw several boats making their way to that bay. How they all managed to anchor and feel secure I don’t know. Maybe we are just over cautious?

The previously visited island of Kastos….

Visited again – Kastos and the windmill bar

…….and Abelike Bay on Meganisi….

Longlining at Abelike

….sandwiched our next new anchorage, Vlicho Bay, which lies just below the resort town of Nidri on Lefkada. Vlicho became our “go to” place whenever heavy weather threatened. The holding is fantastic and there is plenty of space.

Looking across Nidri and Tranquil Bay into the Vlicho anchorage

As well as the small Yacht Club there are two other bars/restaurants on the Vlicho side and a number of more up-market establishments across the bay. We particularly liked “Café Office” – well who wouldn’t when end of the meal complimentary ouzo come from this jar!

All for us? No, what a shame!

We had fun with the owner who told us that it never rains on Lefkada in July and August. 2020 proved him wrong on several occasions!

When it rains… it pours

But, it is an excellent excuse for donning swimwear and washing the decks!

Swab the decks my hearties!

There are very good chandlers at Vlicho, in Nidri and in Lefkada town and great provisioning opportunities in the last two. The latter can be reached by bus and Nidri is a pleasant dinghy ride away from Vlicho or a walk if you don’t mind the heat and dusty road. Walking does mean that you get to see the “Tumuli of Steno”.

Some of the tumuli remains

The cemetery containing thirty three burial tumuli can be seen on both sides of the road. They date back to the Early Bronze Age and were excavated by the German archaeologist “Dörpfeldt” who devoted the last years of his life trying to prove that Lefkada was actually Homer’s Ithaca.

Moving again, on 10th July, having spent a night at “Two Tree Bay” [more about that anchorage later], we decided to head for Preveza. Aiming for the 11.00 Lefkas Canal bridge opening we entered the canal at 09.56 [nothing like keeping a precise log!]. We had just passed another boat and I could smell fuel, but it seemed to dissipate. However, 15 minutes later when we were well into the canal and enjoying  the scenery….

It was all so calm

…. the smell of fuel returned and the bilge pump started. Time to investigate, we thought, so Mike went down below to check the engine room and found a fuel leak from the water drain valve on the fuel filter. We immediately turned the engine off and with the wind coming down the canal from the north it was ideal conditions for blowing us back down the canal to a previously tried at tested anchorage at Lygia, at the southern canal entrance. We radioed “Coriander” to let them know what was happening and, fortunately for us, they said they would turn around too to make sure we were OK. I say fortunate because unlike practically every other day when the wind continues to blow from the north until the early afternoon, it shifted at around 10.35 blowing straight at us from the south. “Coriander” moved to pass us and Gill and I managed to throw and catch a line between us which was attached to the front of “Owl and Pussycats” mast and by which “Coriander” was able to tow us safely into the anchorage.

Thanks for the tow mates

When removing the fuel filter Mike noticed another problem. One of our engine mount feet had broken and required welding. We decided to go into Lefkada town to try to get replacement parts for the filter and find a welder. Not much hope we thought – but we had to give it a try.

 Not knowing the bus times, we decided to walk there. That was a good decision because we later found out that we would have had to wait about three hours for a bus. It was even more fortuitous in that the first garage we came to was owned by a very friendly man who when asked if he could direct us to a welder gave us a phone number and, after a couple of unanswered calls, Mike was able to speak to him and arrange to meet at 5pm.

The third chandler we went to had a filter service kit in stock containing the two bits we needed for that repair and, after I had returned to the anchorage by bus, Mike met the welder, was taken to his workshop – his first ever trip as a pillion passenger- and the engine mount was fixed there and then. What a result.

The repairs were completed the following day and on 12th we headed once more for Preveza, this time completing the trip without any mishaps.

A tranquil morning in the canal

The canal bridge normally looks like this….

The regular bridge – open for yachts

…. but is taken annually for servicing in Pireaus, at which time it is replaced by a RORO [Roll On, Roll Off] ferry. The ferry doesn’t actually ferry in this case as it fits perfectly across the canal.

The RORO ferry “bridge”

The “bridge opening” takes a bit longer as the ferry has to manoeuvre itself to lie alongside the harbour wall – which is quite fascinating to watch.

We can pass – RORO against the wall

Sailing up the approach channel to Preveza, you pass a castle on the left which looks quite interesting and so we decided to take a walk out to the headland to visit it.

Fort Pantokrator on the headland with Lefkada in the background

It was closed… and probably not just for the day or the season but for always! But at least it was a walk – even if a hot and sticky one – and a great excuse for stopping off at a bar on return to town.

Apart from always enjoying Preveza itself one of our reasons for returning there was to sail, once again, in the Gulf of Amvrakia. We spent nine nights visiting four different anchorages, two which we had been to previously…..

Menidi at the head of the gulf
BBQ at Vonitsa with the Koukounitsa anchorage in the bckground
Watching the world go by outside Vonitsa harbour

…. and two which were new to us.

The wide blue yonder – anchored off Koronitsa
Spectacular Paleomylos – but not an old mill in sight

Not only did we love the anchorages themselves we also enjoyed, as always, exploring ashore.

Koronitsa “main square”
Looking towrds Salaora from Koronitsa harbour
Drymos – a 45 minute walk from Paleomylos anchorage

All four of those Amvrakia Gulf anchorages are on the Greek mainland and, as such, have a very different feel to them than do the island anchorages. They are less touristy or, if there are tourists, they are most often Greek and, unsurprisingly, we really like this atmosphere.

The main street of Drymos – a small inland agricultural town

 Therefore, after going back south through the Lefkada canal on 27 July and spending two evenings on the harbour wall in Lefkada town – just because it would be rude not to …….

Evening entertainment in the town

……..over the course of the next four weeks we made sure to visit six more mainland anchorages.

Unfortunately I don’t have a photograph of Petalas, a very isolated anchorage surrounded by marshland with only a few agricultural buildings on the mainland side. Technically the land on the western side is an island as the marshy waters separate it from the mainland itself – but it actually feels like mainland.

The other mainland anchorage, not linked to a town, isn’t quite so splendidly isolated – because there are a couple of beach bars – but it still feels fairly remote. Its formal name is Ormos Varko but it seems to be better known as “Two Tree Bay”. We visited this bay twice staying once on the west side for one night….

“West” two Tree

….and, for a longer three night stay, on the east.

“East” two tree
From east to west across two tree bay

The cruising guide states that the west side is the more popular, and it certainly is during the day, especially with charter boats on their first or last stop before/after Lefkada marina. In the evening, however, it is generally less busy.

From my limited observation, the east anchorage is most popular with liveaboards from Nidri/ Tranquil Bay who seem to sail from one to the other and have “their” anchor spot in both places.

Two of the remaining mainland anchorages Mike and I had been to before……

Fish farm delivery to Astakos
Looking back to Palairos village and harbour from the head of the bay
An ouzo sunset before an excellent Indian – yes, Indian -meal at “Panorama” restaurant in Palairos

…… but the third was new to us and became a favourite.

Mitika from the Kalamos/Mitika channel
Mitika main street

Heikell’s cruising guide isn’t very complementary about Mitikas saying that the prevailing wind pushes swell through the channel making the anchorage uncomfortable and that there have been reported thefts. With regard to the latter we are unsure whether he meant from the yachts which managed to berth in the small harbour, from dinghies which some people took to the beach instead of the harbour or from yachts at anchor I don’t know but we didn’t have any problems. In respect of the swell Heikell spoke of, we had absolutely none and were there with the wind coming from several directions. The channel itself can be very windy with considerable gusts caused by wind over and around the island of Kalamos, but we found being tucked in to the anchorage itself was very calm and comfortable……..

Sundown in the anchorage

…. and what’s not to like with small alleyways to explore….

Floral alley to the sea

…. and lovely traditional watering holes like this….

Such a gem of an Ouzerie

As you might imagine bars are always a welcome feature on our travels and what we really enjoyed  was finding off the beaten track beach bars….

“Kantina Beach” Kioni
Agios Ioannis beach bar – Meganisi
“Jammin in Paradise” – the beach bar at the entrance to Port Atheni and a dinghy ride from Abelike

…. as well as those in towns and villages….

Just one euro for a lovely frappe in Drymos
Table belonging to “Alatopiperi” in Preveza – unfortunately the old wine bar looks a bit dilapidated

Obviously, walks were involved in finding these bars – after all, it’s quite handy to use finding bars as an “excuse” for exercise – especially when the walks also provide views like these.

An anchorage that “got away” – Looking towards Meganisi from above Darsini Beach on Lefkada
A hot climb from Ag. Ioannis Beach on Meganisi – but worth it for the view of Thilia [small island] and Lefkada

Our favourite walks were on the island of Meganisi and on one of these, from Abelike to Vathi, as well as the views…..

Little Vathi, Meganisi – on the road from Abelike

….. we also compared the old with the new….

Harbour wall or expensive “marina”- fishing boat or mega yacht

….and wondered just how much it would cost to buy one of these….

Is it a buggy? Is it a jet ski? Its both!!

…. and the size of “boat garage” it would require!

Other walks concentrated more on “the old”….

The old windmills at Kioni
Venetian canons at “Big” Vathi

…. and if you have read the last two above captions carefully – and know your Greek Islands – you will realise that we returned for a short while to the lovely island of Ithaca. Although busier than in June, berthing was possible in August in both [Big] Vathi and Kioni.

We got into Kioni’s small harbour on the right

As you can tell, we generally love all the places we anchor or berth but a firm favourite this summer was Porto Spiglia. There are two “Marinas” here – Porto Spiglia and Taverna Spiglia.

A wonderful place. Taverna Spiglia seen from Spartakhori

It is such a beautiful spot and very popular. Even though visitors were fewer to the Ionian this year, every night all [or most] of the available berths and mooring balls were taken.

Busy Porto Spiglia – these late arrivals tried picking up a swim buoy! Made aware of their error, they left

The village of Spartakhori, with a couple of tavernas and a few small “supermarkets”, is a shortish, but fairly steep walk up – but once again, the views are well worth it. It was one of our popular evening strolls for a lovely sundowner.

Looking out from the “Summer Sun” bar in Spartachori over Porto Spiglia marina and across to the mainland – Two Tree Bay in the centre background

Just in case you were wondering, we do get to enjoy sailing from time to time…..

Yeah! We are sailing!

…. though sailing too close to Skorpios Island can have unexpected results as “Coriander” found out!

Guards with guns in a fast approaching RIB

This island used to belong to the Onassis family and “Jackie’s beach bungalow” is still easily seen – and a feature of most of the tourist boat trips from Nidri.

Some bungalow!

However the island was sold, many say illegally, to a Russian – Ekaterina Rybolovlev. It appears that the Greek Government, having initially challenged the sale, have now approved the building of a €165 million VIP resort, which is due for completion in 2024. Part of the “renovation” will be an expansion of the harbour to accommodate more vessels. Given the size of the Rybolovlev boat [ photo 2 above] – if their “guests” arrive with similar vessels the harbour is going to have to be pretty big!

Whilst we have no hope of ever setting foot on that island, all the others are there to enjoy which, as I hope I have shown, we do to the full.

….and it doesn’t always rain in Vlicho!

During August we were excited to be told that we were about to get visitors – not just one set – but four. All of these visits were to take place in September and October, but I will leave those for the next thrilling instalment!

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Post lock-down sailing in the Ionian – June 2020

The long awaited date, 1st June, dawned bright and clear and after visiting the Port Police, to retrieve the boat registration document which had been lodged with them over winter, we were off….. private cruising yachts were now allowed out of Greek harbours and marinas. Hooray!

Whilst yachts which were already in Greece were able to sail, yachts from other countries were still generally not allowed. Their date of entry varied according to the country they had been in [not their flag] but none were entitled to enter Greek waters until at least 15 June unless they had special permission from the maritime authorities.

So we, and six other boats left that morning, two heading straight to the Cyclades and the rest to the two anchorages at Koroni. Two crews opted for the town anchorage – where we have been twice previously – we, along with “Coriander” went round to the southern “Zaga beach” anchorage with lovely views up to the old castle.

Looking west along Zaga Beach

The castle grounds contain a number of churches and the Timios Prodromos Convent

Koroni was our first stop on our way round the tip of the Peninsular and into the Ionian. We had chosen this sailing ground for summer 2020 for two reasons. Firstly, given that it is likely to be a quieter season it was an ideal time to visit places and anchorages which are normally teeming with boats…. an opportunity to see the Ionian islands at their best. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, we had no idea when we left [and still don’t have] whether the Greek Government will need to impose another lock-down. When they took that decision in March of this year, they gave boats 48 hours to get to a harbour or marina before either fining crews for sailing in Greek waters or expecting them to have left the country. We know that, except in extreme weather conditions, we could get from anywhere in the Ionian back to Kalamata within that timescale. As we had also decided that Preveza and the Gulf of Amvrakia were as far north as we wanted to go, the likelihood of a relatively easy, swift return was increased…. and, with two longish day sails, would also allow an overnight stop half way.

Before leaving the mainland and heading out to the islands we stopped at Koliuri Bay near Finakounda….

Finakounda – We hope to anchor here on our return to Kalamata

….. at Methoni….

Anchored in the bay

….and in Ormos Navarinou where we anchored firstly at Pylos for two nights to weather out some strong wind and rain….

Storm brewing….

….then at the head of the bay and finally at Gialova where, incidentally, we celebrated our ninth Wedding Anniversary….

…… before heading north to our last mainland port of Katakolon.

Eager for both culture and to get out and about and stretch our legs more than the lockdown period had allowed we went exploring at all of these places.

Methoni and Pylos were both strategically placed historically, significant towns and therefore had the required castles/forts to protect them. Both are reasonably well preserved and we enjoyed visiting them though, unfortunately, because indoor museums were still closed we were unable to view the archaeological collections.

A “canon hole” at the base of one of the Methoni fort entrances

SE Coastal Tower – Methoni

The Methoni Bourzi in the background – the last place of refuge

A fortified gate and a drawbridge in the SE tower gave it even more protection

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Lion of St Marc – protector-saint of the Venetian Republic – on the outside castle wall, Methoni

A granite column stands in the Piazza D’Armi, Methoni

A view across Pylos castle grounds to sheltered Navarinou Bay. The church in the foreground is a converted mosque.

Now these are anchors! Pylos castle

Perhaps the most interesting walk was from the head of Navarinou Bay which is famous for the battle of [you guessed it!] Navarino when, on 20 Oct 1827 the combined British, French and Russian fleets fired at point blank range on Ibrahim Pasha’s Turkish, Egyptian and Tunisian fleet sinking 53 ships and killing 6,000 men… a decisive moment in the War of Independence.

However, on Koryphasion Hill which overlooks the site of this battle lies another ruined castle and Nestor’s Cave where, according to legend, Hermes hid Apollo’s cattle.

A walk from the anchorage, along the side of the lagoon and through the sand dunes….

Looking back over the dunes to the lagoon

leads to the horseshoe shaped “Voidokilia Bay”…..

Voidokilia – said to be one of the most beautiful beaches in Greece…. lovely, but we have seen better

….and from there a scramble up the dunes to the cave.

The “Paleokastro” above Nestor’s Cave. Look hard for the small black blob in the centre of the photo

A view of the horseshoe bay from the cave entrance

Amazing coloured rocks inside the cave

It is possible to climb from there to the old castle but it looked far too steep and treacherous to attempt. Maybe, if we visit there again, we can take the alternative path which leads up the seaward side of the hill and is a much easier route.

It is perhaps worth me pausing from our travels at this point to make an observation about the impact of lockdown on local people who depend on tourism for their livelihood. The photographs below aren’t all taken in the usual quiet middle of the afternoon, but at various times of day.

Finakounda

Methoni main street

Apelati village – high above Keri

All closed – and just 5 miles from Laganas

We first noticed the lack of people as soon as we left Kalamata and, speaking to a young man in Koroni, Mike was told that his restaurant had used only 1 x 10kg propane bottle in the 3 months of lockdown. For comparison, that is the same as Mike and I use in about 10 weeks on O+P.

The story was the same wherever we went. Shopkeepers and restauranteurs telling us that on the one hand they were desperate for tourists but on the other worried about what that might mean regarding the spread of Covid 19 which, to date, Greece has managed very well. Many shops had clothing and other goods on sale at the start of the season, something for which one would normally have to wait until at least September. Café owners and others have made a point of asking where we are from. That is a common question in Greece and once answered is usually followed by the name of a football team they think you will support based on your answer. This year the question had an underlying meaning so we have been at pains to say that although we are from the UK we have been in Greece for two years and spent lockdown in Kalamata. That has prompted smiles, a more relaxed stance and further conversation most often about health v money.

A slow start to tourism hasn’t just been a feature on the Peloponnese Peninsular. The situation was the same when we reached the islands, though this has been, in part, a result of the Greek Government delaying flights from certain countries where the epidemiological figures warranted it.

Our first island was Zakynthos which, as many of you will know, is a well-known holiday island. What is more, anchored at Ormos Keri, in the only part of the Marine Park where anchoring is allowed during turtle nesting season, we were only about 4 miles from the most popular resort on the island…. Laganas. Having been to Laganas twice [yes, I know….sorry!] I am fully aware of how trip boats ply the bays, scooters and jeeps zoom round the island villages and there are holiday makers everywhere. Not this June. On arrival on 10th June there was just one coffee shop open in Keri and the small supermarkets were just starting to stock their shelves.

Keri village and small boat harbour

Two walks into the interior gave us great views….

Ormos Keri anchorage with Lagana at the other side of the bay

…. took us past fabulous olive groves….

The tales this ancient tree could probably tell.

Well, this has the makings of a hobbit house!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

… brought us to a small hilltop village of Apelati [pictured above]

… and allowed us a close quarters look at [and smell of] the tar bed lagoon just behind the shore at Keri. The tar used to be used, amongst other things, to line the hulls of ships.

Tar oozing up in the lagoon

Hopeful of an influx of visitors when island airports were opened to direct international flights on 15 June, a restaurant and gyros bar opened in Keri three nights later – the night before we left. I fear they may not have had the numbers they expected because we saw very few visitors anywhere during the rest of the month.

So, where did we go? Well, from Keri we moved 10 miles east and round the corner to Porto Roma ….

Looks rather like a bad film set

……. a strange place which I’m not sure I would normally choose to visit, but pleasant enough for one night without the reported jet skis, loud beach bar music and partying young folk.

Social distancing OK on this day.

A lack of tourism suits us old fogies!

Those were our only anchorages on Zakynthos from where, on 15th June, we sailed 25 miles north to the small harbour village of Kato Katelios at the SE end of Kefalonia.

Kato Katelios small harbour and beach

Now, rather than take you on a day to day tour following our route and anchorages for the rest of the month I will tell you that between the middle and end of June, in no particular order, we visited Agia Eufimia and Fiskardo [which are also on Kefalonia], Ormos Filatrou, Vathi, Kioni, Frikes and the small bay behind Agios Nikolaos islet [all on Ithaki] and Vasiliki [SW Lefkada].

As we had hoped, in none of these places did we have a problem with space to anchor or berth.

We were the only boat on the west wall at Frikes – there was one catamaran on the north wall at the same time.

Serene Frikes. Yachts are often rafted here three deep

The Mermaid of Frikes

We were one of four boats anchored in Ag. Eufimia with similar numbers in the two bays on Ithaki’s east coast.

The harbour wall at Ag. Eufimia is usually full of stern-to berthed yachts

We have long lined three times but where boats would normally be in very close proximity to each other there was lots of space…..

Five on the wall and just us longlining in Kioni – a lovely place

Practically unheard of in June – just five boats long-lined in Fiskardo

….and we were one of the few boats anchored in Vathi – a significant difference from the upwards of 200 boats either berthed or anchored as reported by Steve and Gill when they visited two seasons ago.

Vathi is another place we went to “hide” from a blow.

Clouds brewing following our move. Our view of Vathi from the north-west part of the anchorage

Initially anchored off the town quay we woke, on the morning of 21st June to 35-40kn winds blowing directly into the anchorage. Whilst the excellent mud bottom gives good holding, “Owl and Pussycat” was being tossed around and we felt it was too uncomfortable for us to sit it out. So, whilst “Coriander” moved back to Ormos Filatrou which, being on the east coast, was sheltered from the westerlies we moved to the north west end of the main Vathi harbour and were similarly sheltered.

“Owl and Pussycat” safely anchored in the more sheltered NW corner at Vathi

A lovely dinghy dock at the north-west end

Working fishing boats… the top of the small one’s mast was at hip height when its owner stepped aboard

Ithaki Vathi [or “Big Vathi” as it is popularly known] is the largest town on Ithaki, provides good provisioning opportunities and has plenty of bars/restaurants to visit if you choose. We were delighted when on our first night we were passing a bar and saw two Swedish friends with whom we had spent winter 2018/19 in Kalamata. It’s always good to catch up… just a shame I had left both camera and phone on board.

Although I have reported above that we were generally sheltered from the 24 hour blow, one big gust put such force onto the furled mainsail that it pulled the lazy jack pulleys from the mast. There was no other damage but Mike spent a sleepless night knowing that somehow these pulleys had to be put back up. We tried to buy stronger rivets but none were available. Mike hit on the idea of one rivet plus one screw. Great…. But going up the mast is now proving a challenge for Mike as his head for heights is getting worse. I am OK with heights but not strong enough to do the job.

So….Captain Courageous Steve to the rescue.

Thanks Steve – a real mate

Up he went and in no time all was well once again…. In fact all was better as the new arrangement is at least twice as good. We bought the drinks that night and then all celebrated with a meal at “O Nikos”….

Mike and Steve wondering where everyone is?

…..unfortunately for the proprietor, another example of the dearth of customers. He told us that in a normal season he often has 200-250 covers per night with tables booked in advance or queues down the street. As a “flotilla favoured restaurant” we normally wouldn’t go, but there was nothing to signify this. We were four of only ten customers that night and he was a friendly guy, his food was good and there was absolutely no problem with “social distancing”!

It’s probably now time for another “aside”. In June, there were no regulations about mask wearing in supermarkets, shops or restaurants but there was an expectation that tables were adequately spaced in restaurants and that only a certain number of people could be in a shop at any given time – the number dependant on the square footage. As you might have already ascertained, given the number of people around this wasn’t generally a problem.

Disinfectant/handwash is provided at store entrances and at tables in many bars/restaurants and we watched a young waiter disinfect ALL of his menus one lunchtime even though there were no other customers than us and we hadn’t asked for a menu as we only wanted beer/soft drinks.

The Greek people seem to have, at least outside of the two major cities, taken “protection” very seriously and we have too.

We don’t actually know whether other “liveaboard” boats [other than “Coriander”] are doing this or, indeed whether charter boats and day trip boats are following the requirements but, when the sanctions were lifted about boats sailing in Greek waters there was a mandatory regulation that each boat should have a crew list and also a log of each of the crew members/passengers temperatures every morning and where they disembarked/embarked and the timings of such. We have followed the regulations religiously.

Thanks for this photo Mike!

Extract of our temperature/movements log

We understood that this log should be available for inspection at any time by Port Police or Coastguard but we have never been asked for it…. or for any other papers. Twice we have seen coastguards approaching us, firstly whilst at anchor in Koliuri and secondly in Filatrou Bay. On both occasions they seemed to look at our boat name and/or flag and then either waved and moved off or ignored us completely. We don’t know whether they had been following us on AIS and therefore knew that we had come from Kalamata or what but it wasn’t a case of not being vigilant as we saw them approach and speak for some time with the captains of two Maltese flagged motor yachts who both then immediately left the anchorage we had all been in.

Getting back to our adventures, there are some more places and walks I want to tell you about.

One anchorage we were lucky to be able to visit, as it is normally chock full, was the one tucked in behind Agios Nikolaos. A beautiful setting with crystal clear water….

This photo doesn’t do it justice

…..and a fabulous “cantina” type of taverna…

….where sundowners are no doubt enjoyed by many, though we were the only customers that evening.

We took lots more walks too. From Vathi we headed out along the coastal path to the chapel we had seen on our sail in. Mike managed well….

……despite some tricky patches where his vertigo could have forced an immediate turn round  but we decided that taking the inland route back would be better….. or so we thought! First of all we found ourselves trespassing, but carried on as there were no signs of life at all in what were probably expensive holiday rental villas set in extensive grounds. Having found the track out we followed it up, and up and even further up. Whilst it afforded us a fantastic view of Vathi….

…. the downside was that we then came across locked gates and a fence. Fortunately we were able to scale a fence pole and escape but the short inland route we anticipated turned into a long, hot haul up and down.

We fared rather better from Frikes when we meandered along leafy lanes to the lovely inland village of Stavros….

“To Kentro” – the Centre – an apt name for this lovely village bar

…… where the town square incorporates a small exhibition dedicated to the mysteries of Ithaki….

…… and to Homer and the voyages of Odysseus.

“We’ve been there too! Odysseus encountered the Sirens of Skylla at the entrance to the Messina Straits

Some years ago I had a holiday on Kefalonia, based in Sami and I was eager to see the town again as I couldn’t really remember it. So, we decided to catch the early morning bus from Agia Eufimia, visit the town and walk back. Whilst the harbour looks lovely viewed from the ferry dock….

…. there was little to commend the town itself and I realised why I had probably forgotten it!

The monument of the “Unknown Sailor” in Sami

The walk back, however, took us through the village of Karavomylos and its small lake.

So clear you can see the ducks feet

What was particularly fascinating was that there was a constant flow of water running through the lake….

No longer a working wheel…..

….but the water still gushes out

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

……… and into the sea but no visible stream coming in. It may well be linked to the underwater system which feeds the more well- known and visited Melissani Lake Cave just a little further inland.

From Fiskardo we followed two well marked walking trails……

…. the first being a short walk from the anchorage out to the two lighthouses on the point….

The old Venetial lighthouse in the foreground with the current one behind

……..and the second being “The Cypress Trail”.

This took us through wooded hillside where we encountered an abandoned village….

An old well….

….and ruined buildings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

…. and Mike took a detour to see a cave. I had decided I didn’t want to do this part of the walk because having slogged uphill….

Hot, but at least there was decent shade most of the way up

….. the way to the cave was back down again which would obviously mean more up to regain the main trail. Mike declared my decision as the more sane one as the “cave” wasn’t exactly worth the detour!

Call that a cave!

The funniest thing we encountered was this…..

“Please close the gate” – OK but the whole road is open!!

… and perhaps the most interesting were these….

Roman graves

…. which are actually at the outer limits of Fiscardo village and which can be easily visited without doing the whole trail.

As always, wildlife takes my eye and a feature of many of our walks were spiders…

A kind of funnel spider web

Spider eggs cocooned in the web

…. so it’s a good job Gill wasn’t with us for the Vathi walk where I needed a “”spider stick” to push aside the webs, and often the large spiders on them, which hung across the path.

At the chapel with my trusty spider stick!!

I also captured some more colourful flora…

“Angel’s trumpets”

… and fauna….

Love the eyebrows and expectant look of these baby swallows

Green metallic “jewel beetle”

Dragonfly, damselfly, or something else?

Silver studded blue butterfly

Mmmmm Mythos! Nectar for this “two-tailed tiger swallowtail”

….. and just couldn’t resist taking this shot.

A Blue Jay’s feather – a symbol of light and joy.

As always, everywhere visited brings us “Joy” and it has been a considerable joy to be in the Ionian this June, seeing the places at their best. Apparently a Blue Jays feather can also symbolise “healing” so I take this as a positive whilst we continue to make our way through these strange times.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.sigasiga.co.uk/2020/08/07/post-lock-down-sailing-in-the-ionian-june-2020/