Wind, Wasps and Wonderful Moments

16 Aug

Sivota definitely has its good points but as we wanted to anchor, the bays along Kefalonia in the channel opposite Ithika seemed like an interesting prospect. The channel generally is known to be breezy and with not much in the way of wind forecast the numerous bays were a definite possibility.

One by one we explored them. Unsurprisingly those close to Fiscardo were very busy but we thought we were going to be out of luck as each one either didn’t have room to swing the proverbial cat, was too deep to anchor or was blocked entirely by huge super yachts going nowhere and presumably avoiding marina fees. Feeling the pinch, poor things.

Rapidly approaching Ay Euphemia we dropped on and dropped the anchor. There were a few other boats but each left after their lunchtime stop. Soon, we were alone in a deserted bay. That is, except for the goats. And the wasps. Hundreds of the beggers. As the temperature rose, the humidity became almost unbearable and the wasps a torment. However, we may not have aircon but, thankfully, there is the sea and that was beautifully clear and filled with fish. And as the sun set, the light breeze was refreshing, the wasps went to bed and the mosquitoes never appeared. Bliss.

Sunrise over Odysseus’ island of Ithika

I awoke the next day just as the sun was rising. I watched with not another soul in site as the colour streaked across the sky over Ithika and, as if on cue, the cicadas began their day-long tune and the air filled with the herbal fragrance of sage. These are the moments you remember when you become a dirt dweller and somehow all the rest is forgotten.

The plan, however, was to head to Ay Eufemia, somewhere we hadn’t been to for seven or eight years. The plan was also to go on the harbour wall but the harbour master had other ideas. We could have waited to see if any spaces became available but he was obviously saving at least half of the wall for the flotillas. We dropped the anchor and free-swung while congratulating ourselves on the fresher breeze, the better view and no harbour fees.

I wouldn’t rave about the town. We hadn’t been too impressed when we were last here and, although it has definitely smartened itself up since then, the problem will always be the road that runs around the harbour, blocking any view from the bars and restaurants with parked cars. The harbour wall was looking less attractive all the time. Perhaps it’s different if you’re shore based or out of season but, so far at least, I just don’t get why it’s so popular.

Mind you, we did decide to stay a second night. We wanted to explore more than just the supermarkets in the cooler early morning and to eat out at one of the tavernas. The walk never happened. Slight rain had been forecast but what hit us was totally unexpected. The first thing was the boat swinging on its anchor followed by a few spits and spots. Then a distant rumble of thunder. The next thing we knew Desi, and every other boat in the crowded anchorage, was rotating at speed in both directions as the wind swirled around and the storm threw everything it had got at us.

Forty five minutes later the storm hit

Inevitably, boats dragged, anchor chains were caught, and collisions occurred. We consider ourselves very lucky that none of these things happened to us. The worst we had to deal with was the dingy taking off and flipping over, submerging the electric outboard motor whose fate remains in the balance. We got soaked to the skin but I also consider myself fortunate that I actually had clothes on!

As to whether we go ashore tonight, that too, remains to be seen. Doesn’t everything always depend on the weather?


And We’re Back

16 Aug

The decision to change marina bases from Corfu in the northern Ionian to Lefkas further south changed the plans for summer. I’m not a fan of the Greek summer temperatures​ or the crowds of peak season and would always choose to get away. However, as our marina contract ended inconveniently on the last day of July somebody had to be there to move the boat out. That someone was, of course, Neil.

Single handed he sailed Desi non-stop from Corfu to Bungalow Bay and then on to Sivota, Lefkas. As I’ve mentioned previously, there have been some changes to Sivota recently that have not been in the best interest of the liveaboard community. The space on the town quay has been further reduced by the addition of yet another pontoon this summer but Neil was lucky enough to find somewhere to settle until I made the journey back.

So it was to Sivota that I returned around midnight on Sunday, a Sivota that even the taxi driver had never seen before. A day to recover with a meal at the Family taverna – still as welcoming despite their obvious fatigue – and we were ready to leave. With not only the temperature rising but also the humidity, an anchorage seemed the best solution. Well, yes and no…

As Always, The Best Laid Plans..

2 Jul

All things considered, we did the right thing heading north when we did. A peaceful night at anchor en route watching the lightning flash across the southern sky was a good indication. A few nights on the quay in Sivota/Mourtos was followed by a straightforward and, thankfully, dry crossing to Corfu and had us safely back in the marina before the heralded storms hit. But, as June becomes July, we didn’t expect still to be here.

As the UK is basking in a heatwave, Greece has been hit with the most unseasonable weather. No doubt the two are connected. The storms and rain just went on and on. But Sunday dawned with a chance to take friends out for the day after repeated postponements. They chose Garitsa Bay and we had a leisurely cruise around Corfu town, getting in much closer than we usually do when just passing, to allow them – and me – to get a few photos.

A leisurely lunch, a swim and a bit of sunbathing was the perfect antidote although the tricky return to the marina is always a bit stressful. Sorry if it all got a bit abrupt, guys. Undaunted, re-provisioned and refueled we headed out again the next day, destination Kalami. With light winds and a heat mist blurring the the distant hills in a beautiful haze of sunshine, relaxed and looking forward to time in a pretty bay … an alarm went off, piercing and demanding immediate attention.

The engine battery wasn’t charging. There was no way we could carry on and risk the engine not starting again. Ah well, at least we hadn’t got far and the entry back into our berth was unnoteworthy. We now await an electrician.

Lefkas Marina

21 Jun

The fun and games continued after we checked in to Lefkas Marina for a few days. We’re allowed up to a week at no extra cost as part of a sort of exchange scheme with our home base on Corfu so we thought we’d take advantage and booked a period that covered my birthday – shore power as a special treat. However, unlike Corfu, electric hook up isn’t included in the price. You’d better believe we had it, though!

On previous occasions in Lefkas Town we’ve moored on the harbour wall and it’s always been pretty stifling. This time, placed as we were on the end pontoon (about as far away from the facilities as you can get) we seemed to catch much more of a pleasantly fresh breeze. It would not be the place to be if the wind really did get up, mind. As it was, it lured us into going for an afternoon walk in the town much too early for comfort, the purpose being to pick up a few staples and check out a little restaurant we’d heard of for the following evening.

It never rains on my birthday. And I’m talking about well over 50 years of experience here. So when Neil dared to suggest it might and the neighbouring boat confirmed it I knew better. There had been some rain overnight but sure enough, the day dawned a bit cloudy, maybe, but nothing to change the plan to walk to the nearby big supermarket before it got too hot. I should point out that this is not the chore you might be thinking. The variety of a big supermarket is a real pleasure after being dependent on small individual shops, often with inflated prices. Perhaps not for everyone but I think i can say with the confidence that there are plenty of (probably female) crew members who will agree.

After unpacking all the shopping it was time for a little sit down in the cockpit and a ringside seat to watch the comings and goings on the quay opposite, feeling slightly smug that we were out of the firing line. However, it became apparent that it was also the day one of the charter companies that use the marina as a base let their new crews out for the first time. One of these, obviously eager and feeling macho at the helm of the biggest pointy thing he’d ever got his hands on, came charging out at a ridiculous rate of knots, misjudged the turn and ploughed into the bow sprit of our neighbour, slamming their boat into ours with a hell of a jolt.

The marinaro came tearing up on his dinghy and immediately ordered the offending charter back to his berth. We heard there was a lot of damage to the boat and our neighbour’s bow spit was bent but we’d thought Desi had got off unscathed. It was only when the heavens opened and torrential rain, the like of which seems a Greek thunderstorm speciality, cascaded down the sides of the boat that we became aware of a drip. This was quickly traced to the window frame and further inspection during one of the rare dry spells that day revealed the sealant around the frame had split. Nothing could be done about it then, just tape some kitchen roll around the inside which controlled things.

The lunch I had envisaged sitting in the shade of a nearby taverna was out, though, as was the restaurant we’d booked for that evening which has no tables undercover of any sort. They close if the weather looks wet. However, there was a break in the bad weather, long enough for us to make it to a bar in the town square with sun umbrellas now serving as rain cover. It was the ideal spot for a bit of people watching. You have to feel for those on holiday, still pale and ill equipped for the unexpected weather. Fizz was consumed.

The rain was still frequent enough for us to head to the Italian restaurant near the marina with great views from upstairs window seats. Ok, so pizza wasn’t what I’d had in mind but enjoyable nonetheless. A final tipple watching the second half of the Spain v Portugal game – one of the most exciting and skilled matches I think I’ve seen in a long time. The final goal was pure brilliance even if scored by the most irritating player of all time. So very happy birthday girl.

The window was soon sorted the following day even if rather messily. I chose to keep well out of the way with a bit of window shopping around the small town. Good move.

We’d been debating whether to stay longer in the marina but thought we’d be better off taking advantage of the light wind to start heading north again. More torrential rain was a slight deterrent, it has to be said, but the prospect of going through the swing bridge with the new batch of charterers (something that needs a bit of engine discipline, shall we say) decided it. We were the only boat going through the 8am opening and we didn’t see another boat for about three hours!

A Few Close Calls

19 Jun

After our sojourn in the islands of Kastos and Kalamos, and with a bit of wind forecast, we made our way to Sivota in Lefkas/Lefkada. This has long been a favourite of ours but the recent blocking of large sections of the quay by a flotilla company, restaurant pontoons and small motor boats has left deep water berths for boats like ours with much fewer spaces to tie up. With this in mind we made a point of getting in ahead of the winds and were fortunate to nab a good spot.

Others had the same idea and we were relieved to hear that everyone near us had put out in excess of 50 meters of anchor chain. For a couple of days we all sat nice and snug. The first problem was with the boat of a rather inexperienced couple who hadn’t dropped anywhere near enough chain. With the anchor obviously dragging they were too worried to go out and relay it in the fierce cross winds. Despite offers of help they decided to sit it out, anxiously moving fenders and fretting about about the stern hitting the quay.

Eventually, the adjacent boat offered to let him tie the two bows together, effectively allowing them to use his anchor. This is a risky strategy as the individual anchor is only designed to hold the weight of its own boat. Thankfully, all was well overnight but the offer was only made with the proviso they relaid the following morning. After a bit of dilly-dallying they finally got themselves sorted with assistance of the adjacent boat fending them off, Neil on board dropping the anchor and everyone else on the quayside taking lines and generally giving instructions. Success.

A gap remained, however. And this being Sunday the charter crews were on their first day out. Now I’ve nothing against chartering a boat per se, it’s great that so many people are now able to enjoy a taste of the boating life. But there are a few problems.

Firstly there are loads of companies of different sizes in the Ionian all competing with each other, from one-boat operations to the big flotilla companies. One way they attract customers seems to be the use of bigger and bigger boats to get more people on board so the cost to the individual is kept down. It’s apparent that it is the first time the majority of some crews have set foot on a boat and more than likely the one or two more experienced members have never handled anything of the size they’ve hired before.

They all want to spend their time actually sailing, of course, and in the Ionian the best of the wind is in the afternoon. This has the result that they arrive in port later on, when space is limited, with these massive boats and expect to get in. To be fair, this is where the restaurant pontoons come in as they welcome these large crews with open arms as the condition of using the pontoon is that they eat in the restaurant. But not all ports have these pontoons (thankfully for the likes of us) and it can all get a bit traumatic.

Then there are the less than scrupulous companies who will let pretty much anyone hire the boats. They’re insured. I feel really sorry for these crews as you just don’t know what you don’t know. Ignorance makes them fearless. It was one of these crews that had a rude awakening when they tried to get into the free space near us.

With obviously no idea how to even set up the anchor or how to drop it let alone how to lay it in deep water with a nasty crosswind, we all stood on our bows anxiously watching proceedings. Time and again they tried, doing their best to follow the shouted advice, until their heads must have been spinning. Eventually they decided to try further down the quay in shallower water. Unfortunately they thought their anchor would be fine where it was. Chaos ensued with everyone shouting and screaming as chains were caught as they dragged the anchor across the bay.

We got off lightly, just having to let out some extra chain to get them free but others weren’t so lucky. The poor crew next to us had their own anchor lifted and had to go out to relay it. Their long experience showed.

It was during our next couple of days, now in Vasiliki, that gave an apt demonstration of why this sort of situation arises. Vasiliki always has a very predictable katabatic wind that comes in during the afternoon as the land heats up. It one of the reasons we like to go there as it keeps the temperatures of a Greek summer bearable. Because of this we were surprised to see a flotilla lead boat come in. Chatting with the skipper he told us he had no fewer than 15 boats to get in. He immediately had our sympathy!

As the boats started to arrive we watched the technique the lead crew used to get them moored up stern-to. They had the engineer in a dinghy acting as both a fender and a bow thruster to get the boat into a berth, the skipper giving precise instructions via the radio throughout. Once they were tied up, the skipper came aboard and passed the anchor to the engineer who then laid it using the dinghy. We had absolutely no fears about them coming in alongside us.

Throughout the entire procedure the crews did not have to make a single decision. From how much throttle, when to slow down or go into reverse to which direction to turn the wheel, it was all done for them. And, of course, they didn’t have to lay the anchor. Brilliant. Everybody was happy which I’m sure was the whole purpose. They were on holiday to have a good time. They didn’t have to deal with any of the hassle and, no doubt, would have had a great day sailing and an enjoyable evening. Each crew would go home and think we must do this again, except next time we’ll get our own boat so we can go wherever we want to.

You wouldn’t have thought it possible but even so there were a couple of incidents. One of the first boats to come into the harbour did so at speed, almost T-boning another that was heading out. A second didn’t listen to the instructions we heard the skipper give to come into port in reverse and thought he could turn round in the small space available. Result: an anchor through another flotilla boat’s bow. But no worries, it’ll soon be sorted, go and enjoy yourself. As I said, the lead crew had our sympathy.

Kastos and Kalamos

9 Jun

Perhaps, generally speaking, less well known to land based tourists to the Ionian as you only really visit these small islands if you’re on a boat. That being said, the main ports of each island are well and truly crowded with leisure boats and a couple of day trippers visit Kastos.

Kalamos is our favourite and we’ve spent the last week going between an anchorage and Port Kalamos itself. Somehow, George, a local taverna owner and (maybe unofficial) harbour master, seems to get everyone in. They’re sometimes rafted three or four abreast but they get in. It does mean, though, that if these crews want to go ashore they have to climb from one boat to the next (or have everybody else climbing over your boat) to reach the quay. But it’s probably worth it.

Fortunately, we were in the happy position of tying ‘stern to’ in the usual Mediterranean fashion. This is when you drop the anchor an appropriate distance from the quay and back up, tying the back of the boat, the stern, to the land with two ropes. Hopefully there is someone there to take these lines from you, wrap them once around a bollard or through a ring and pass them back to be secured on the boat.

Neil frequently gets involved with helping out, he enjoys the camaraderie. It was while assisting a rather nice 46 footer in next to Desi that he recognised its name and immediately identified the couple on board as Rod and Lucinda Heikell. Now those names might not mean much to those not involved with boats but, believe me, for any English speaker who has cruised the Greek or Italian waters (or Turkish and Indian Ocean come to that) they are definitely celebrities. When I was first learning to sail my instructor referred to “Rod the God” and the name has stuck with us. This is because he is the author of the yachtsman’s Bible – the Pilot Guides. Lots of them. You could say we were a bit starstruck but they turned out to be really easy to talk to.

Both islands have ruined windmills dotted around their coastlines. Some have been restored to a greater or lesser extent most notably the one near Kastos harbour which is now in use as a bar.

The anchorage we tend to use is the bay of the earthquake devastated Port Leone. A front line building has been restored with rumours it will be, or even already is, a taverna. If it is we have yet to see it open. The lights are on (literally) but there’s no one home. The church has also been lovingly restored. Otherwise, all the other buildings in the village remain picturesque ruins.

We spent a rather stuffy day in Kastos but didn’t linger. It’s certainly a pretty enough harbour that also gets very crowded and, like Kalamos, crossed anchor lines are to be expected. There’s no George equivalent to help you in, either. In fact they don’t seem to really want to encourage the small, private yachts. There’s nowhere to leave rubbish or shop to buy any supplies, not even bread. Maybe this explains the rather indifferent tavernas, even the beautifully located cliff top one. Just our opinion, of course.

Bouncing Along

31 May

Dawn brought the swell. Ligia had been beautifully calm the previous day and, to be fair, there wasn’t much wind that morning but it was out there. The dark clouds also promised rain so definitely not the sort of day I’d normally choose to anchor. And as the thunder rumbled around us on our crossing to Meganisi I seriously considered asking Neil to change our plans.

We had a rendezvous with friends we hadn’t seen for a while, however, and it did look brighter ahead. Low and behold, as we approach the small island it was like a different day. Even so, as we tied up to the quay in “Little” Vathy just to pick up supplies it did seem a shame to give up our spot.

But Abilike Bay was everything we could have hoped for. Tied to the rocks, nobly assisted assistant by Christine swimming out with our line, this was the very best side of Ionian sailing: great company, free flowing wine and the best night’s sleep I’d had in a long time. This is why we keep coming back. OK, so the next couple of evenings were a bit bumpy but even I wasn’tconcerned. Mind you, the plentiful barbecued food and more than enough free flowing wine might have helped.

We didn’t go far after that, just back around the corner to Vathy quay. Now that’s when the swell really came in! The waves had us bouncing quite violently and there was this occasional this. With the depth gage reading some 3 meters when we tied up it took us a few bangs to realise it wasn’t just the water hitting the bathing platform but the rudder hitting something very solid beneath it.

Lengthening the lines to shore and pulling back on the anchor away from the quay did the trick and calm finally returned in the early hours – lulling us into a second night of bouncing. At least we were ready to leave the following morning!