End of Season 

6 Oct

 We’ve bought Desi into the marina for the end of season jobs. Not that I’ll be doing many of them, I’ll head home and leave the messy bits to Neil. We’d stayed out as long as we could this time but I confess to the usual pleasure of returning to our berth. No sooner was the lazy line on and I was heading for the shower. And a hair wash. Ah, yes, oodles of shampoo, oodles of conditioner and oodles and oodles of hot water and all without having to clean the entire room.

My revelling in ample hot water, shore power and flushing toilets does, however, mask what a wonderful time we’ve had over the last few weeks. The weather has been pretty much perfect, give or take an occasional shower, which has meant lots of walks in beautiful places, discovering paths we didn’t know existed. It has also gradually become quieter and quieter. The chartered boats are now few, tripper boats almost empty (or filled with singing Greek pensioners!) and we haven’t seen a single flotilla for at least a fortnight.

To be frank, our faith in spending time in the Ionian has been renewed. Blissful days at anchor in uncrowded picturesque bays were alternated with favourite resorts, Desi effortlessly tied to the quay. And there you have it: peaceful and relaxing with minimal stress. But it’s time to leave before half-term brings the final onslaught and everywhere shuts down. On to the next adventure.

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Outboards

17 Sep

Are outboards ​the bain of every liveaboard’s lifestyle? Certainly, I’ve read several blog posts bemoaning them and they all too frequently become the subject of cockpit discussions​. The dinghy is such an essential part of our boating existence, the car of the dirt dweller but with a far less reliable engine. Not only that, the engine has to be heaved on and off the boat, a task that is either back breaking or involves some sort of, often precarious, pulley system.

We thought we’d cracked it though. When we bought Desi a lovely little dinghy was included along with its outboard which happened to be electric. We’d never actually seen an electric outboard before and had certainly not considered buying one. A little wary at first, we were rapidly converted. Light to handle and with more than enough power, it also had the advantage of being rechargeable via either the mains electricity in the marinar or using the solar panels – free power! No more reliance on smelly petrol or carrying/storing noxious containers. Win, win. Until now.

Our little beauty has developed an aversion to water. You might well say that, of course, electricity and water don’t mix. But this is an outboard motor, engineered by those clever Germans, and designed to be in water as the basic function of its being. Now ours doesn’t like a bit of dew. Connections have duly been cleaned and sprayed with the German equivalent of WD-40. But a few days at anchor and we’ve had to resort to rowing ashore. And back.

Damingly, it always seems to start on testing, even happily taking us for a night out. Sorted, we thought. But no. Ironically, just as we were returning to the dinghy we got chatting to another owner, only the second we’d met, singing the praises of the motor. As we both inserted the magnetic key his started immediately. Ours – nothing. The other guy, who happened to be German himself, volunteered​ to give us a tow, saying that he felt a responsibility for his country’s engineering. We were very happy to take him up on the offer, our rowing not being the most efficient at the best of times let alone after a big meal and several drinks.

At the time of writing, cleaned and sprayed yet again, it seems to be working. Until we come to use it again?

A Day Out  

9 Sep

My bout of D&V kept us in the marina for a couple of days, venturing out only on land. Then just as we were making the boat ready to head out Neil developed symptoms and naturally wanted to remain in reach of a flushing toilet! I didn’t need any persuading; I’m always anxious when we set off regardless of conditions or destination.

With some very unstable conditions forecast for the weekend we eventually grabbed the chance to have at least the day at anchor​. We didn’t want to waste time doing anything as boring as sailing, of course, so just motored to the nearest bay. We nearly motored right out again when a little speed boat towing a paraglider shot out without bothering to look right in front of us and we were seriously worried the poor paying customer was going to end up wrapped around our mast!

Having moored as far away as we could get it was surprisingly peaceful considering the busy tourist resort close by and much cooler than in the marina. Unfortunately we’d picked the spot one of the many tripper boats used to disgorge its load of the American version of Club 18-30 into the sea. With shrieks of delight and amplified music the scantily clad beautiful bodies variously climbed, bombed or performed athletic dives into the water. Were we ever that young?

As is usual with these trips they didn’t stay long, though, and I was surprisingly sorry to see them go. They’d been hugely entertaining to watch and even the music had been good.

End of August 

2 Sep

After the indignity that is Manchester Airport – herded through “shopping opportunities”, terrible food and drink at even worse prices, insufficient, uncomfortable seating in too small areas with neither heating or ventilation and constant trudging up and down stairs (OK, moan over and you knew all that anyway, of course) – arriving in Corfu felt like coming home. Not that I’m praising the airport but it is on a more human scale.

Two months away, for me, made the return to the boat both welcome and yet strangely disorientating. I knew the routine, knew how everything worked but found it difficult to remember where specific things were kept. Acclimatising to the heat was an initial struggle, too. Normally I’d take temperatures in the low 30’s in my stride but I was actually grateful for the clouds and odd light shower the next day. A couple of days stocking up and a few maintenance jobs and we were ready to head out to our first anchorage.

We’re not planning on going far this autumn so the short sail, well motor, to the bays in the north of Corfu beckoned. Nosing into Agni proved an unattractive mooring prospect with the shallow areas swallowed up by bouys and small boats so Kalami it was. What a surprise! There were only two other boats in the bay and one of them was already heading out. We’ve previously remarked on how quiet the last week in August usually is but with the general increase in numbers we had though this year would be different. Late into the evening we were still expecting far more to arrive.

Kalami stays quite deep until very close to the shore so you either have to choose to anchor close to the beach or be prepared to put out a lot of chain and accept a large swinging circle which can be a bit anti-social. As we are unapologetic people-watchers we chose to be close to the sun loungers and not get upset when we, in turn, became an​ object of fascination. Feeding time at the zoo springs to mind. We weren’t even too troubled by the swell from the big cruise liners, ferries and cargo ships that all have to make their way up and down the narrow stretch of water between the island and Albania.

Our happy existence of lounging around in the shade and reading, enjoying the sea breeze and cool, salty swims came to an abrupt end after only two nights when I woke up with a stomach bug. I’ll not go into detail but suffice it to say it seemed like a good idea to head back to the marina ASAP. Some weather sites have been predicting thunderstorms​ for tonight so being tucked up against a pontoon had other attractions anyway. I’m glad to be back – for the time being​.

Castles and Canals 

15 Aug

With temperatures routinely topping 40°C and the madness that is the Ionian during August, it seemed like a good idea at the time to spend it in the UK. It probably was the right decision but somehow we’d forgotten just how wet the British summer usually is. I know, I know – it was beautiful before we arrived. So here are some castles in the clouds. And canals. 

Conwy looking all mean and moody 

These rare moths don’t seem to mind, though 

Ludlow during a brief break in what was a day of almost relentless rain. Ten minutes later we were literally soaked to the skin. 

There was the odd sheltered spot in the castle itself. 

Chester has its own castle but a) it’s not in ruins and b) it’s a military museum and not my idea of fun so a cloudy walk along the Shropshire Union Canal followed by a Sunday roast dinner seemed a better idea. 

You don’t have to go far to be seemingly in open countryside. 

The rain just about held off for a walk along the Llangollen canal 

We walked up to the junction with the River Dee at Horseshoe Falls where a couple of kayaks were heading downstream. Annoyingly I just missed the picture of them going down that step in the falls. 

Geordie here was just about to turn back to Llangollen with his cargo of tourists when we met him. He didn’t want to hang about waiting for his burden to be reconnected. 

And finally, a cheese board – just because it made me smile. 

Up North 

2 Jul

With the Ionian getting into full swing for the peak holiday season it seemed time to head north through the Lefkas Canal again. The wind gods were kind enough not to throw anything unpleasant at us on our return journey and we chose to break up the trip, anchoring in a quiet bay for a night to brace ourselves for manic Parga the next day.
Despite the noise and constant bashing from the wake of speedboats dragging assorted inflatables and anything else they can think of around any boat willing to anchor and thus provide the required obstacle course, Parga has its attractions. It must have been absolutely stunning before mass tourism took off but enough remains of the original harbour with its narrow streets leading up to the castle to preserve a bit of character. One night is enough, though.

Lakka, on the other hand, called for a bit of lingering and redeemed itself after the “unpleasantness” in May. However, after some eight weeks of beetling about, the lure of a few days in our marina berth on Corfu complete with shore power and the civilising influence of showers with unlimited hot water, was inevitable.

Not so good, though, is that our visit coincided with the first of the stupidly hot weather. Life on board trying to cope with 40 degrees in the shade is no picnic when even what breeze there is almost makes it worse. You know it’s hot when you’re just as sweaty after a shower as before. I tried cooking a quick pasta dish yesterday. Mistake! It put up the temperature of the interior to literally unbearable levels and it was 3am before venturing to sleep below deck became feasible.

So here I sit in the nearest bar making a soft drink last as long as possible. Thankfully the direction of the wind is slowly changing. The downside is that it’s also increasing, enough to keep us in the marina for a few more days. Even I can get a bit bored of it. I know – there’s just no pleasing some people.

A Tale of Three Harbours 

21 Jun

Vasiliki quay has space – at the moment

It is undoubtedly true that the Ionian is becoming more crowded. I understand that a lot of foreign boats have left Turkish waters due to the uncertainty of the political situation there, some some 1,000 I’ve been told heading for Greece many to the Ionian. There are far more charter and flotilla companies than a few years ago, all with bigger boats – many catamarans – and each individual flotilla seems bigger than I remember it.

Add to this the increase in independent land-based tourism, particularly to some areas that had previously not caught the eye of the big companies and it is not surprising the whole experience is changing. These once small fishing harbours that only developed to cater for their boating visitors have had a rethink.

Fiskardo on Kefalonia now seems to give boats a very low priority. A pontoon that was damaged in a storm has not been repaired or replaced and the quay is crowded and full very quickly. Even taking long lines to the rocky shore, once a favourite of ours, will find you as close to neighbouring boats as on the quay as Fiskardo’s reputation means every charter and​ flotilla crew wants to go there. That’s not to say that you won’t receive a welcome from the shop keepers and taverna owners who will still happily take your lines when your stern is nosing its way amongst their tables. Business is obviously booming.

Until very recently it was rare to see a land based tourist in Sivota on Lefkas but apartments and villas are rapidly being built in the hills around the harbour. Additionally, a flotilla company has made it their base and the quay has changed accordingly. There are several pontoons attached to restaurants who let you moor free of charge if you eat in their taverna. Some of these have been there for a while but the difference now is that there are more than enough boats wanting to take up the offer so the owners only want those with large crews staying one night.

With the lazy lines of the pontoons preventing access to a significant amount of the quay ever more deep water berths are being swallowed up by small motor boats. These either belong to regular land based visitors or are the little self drive boats hired out for a few hours at a time. The owners of these lay bouys and lazy lines blocking off the spaces for when the boats are out.
The remaining spaces seem to be taken by liveaboards who, having got a place, are reluctant to move. On our last recent visit we managed to nab a space between the latest pontoon and the rapidly spreading rental boats. For the first time ever in Sivota there was no one to take our lines. Neil had to call over a passing tourist who was willing enough to help but had obviously no idea what to do.

Neighbouring Vasiliki has taken a different course. Renowned for its strong winds, the resort has long been popular with younger visitors wanting all the water sports the guaranteed breezy conditions​ allow. The hotels, apartments, bars and cafes are well established. Now, though, a new breakwater is being built with a privately owned marina due to open in three months time and the old inner harbour, that was alarmingly shallow, has been dredged to a more comfortable 2.5ish meters.

The new breakwater in Vasaliki

This is all no doubt welcome to the struggling Greek economy and the port authorities are, rather belatedly catching on. Sivota, with no Port Police presence (we did see police cars patrolling for the first time, though) continues to remain free to tie up to the quay. Fiskardo will take a hefty mooring fee from private boats, certainly enough to make you think twice, while offering a reduced fee to charters.

Vasiliki seems to have taken a middle way. Earlier in the season we heard reports that the quay was taken up by non-moving boats but, with settled winds forecast, we still decided to check it out. We arrived to find an almost empty quay that gradually filled up around us. That evening the port authorities visited each boat, checking paperwork and charging a modest nightly fee, not enough to put most short term visitors off whilst dissuading those that have taken root.

I do wonder how long it will last, though. Today a flotilla​ from one of the smaller companies came in – for the first time according to the lead crew. The skipper had to bring each boat in himself as the afternoon wind is strong enough to be a worry. But when the new breakwater is complete maybe that won’t be such an issue. It remains to be seen.