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….
…. and at how even the popular tourist resorts stayed fairly quiet.
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…..
…. which we highly recommend though, if the few spaces available in the harbour are taken, be prepared to get blown around!
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….
…….and Abelike Bay on Meganisi….
….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.
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!
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!
But, it is an excellent excuse for donning swimwear and washing the decks!
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”.
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….
…. 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.
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.
The canal bridge normally looks like this….
…. 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 “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.
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.
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…..
…. and two which were new to us.
Not only did we love the anchorages themselves we also enjoyed, as always, exploring ashore.
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.
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 …….
……..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….
….and, for a longer three night stay, on the east.
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……
…… but the third was new to us and became a favourite.
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……..
…. and what’s not to like with small alleyways to explore….
…. and lovely traditional watering holes like this….
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….
…. as well as those in towns and villages….
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.
Our favourite walks were on the island of Meganisi and on one of these, from Abelike to Vathi, as well as the views…..
….. we also compared the old with the new….
….and wondered just how much it would cost to buy one of these….
…. and the size of “boat garage” it would require!
Other walks concentrated more on “the old”….
…. 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.
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.
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.
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.
Just in case you were wondering, we do get to enjoy sailing from time to time…..
…. though sailing too close to Skorpios Island can have unexpected results as “Coriander” found out!
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.
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.
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!