Tag Archives: Greece

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.

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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!

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.

Back to the Boat

9 May

The glorious Early May Bank Holiday saw us heading for stormy Greece. Come on weather, what’s going on? A sweltering Sunday playing sardines and lugging luggage on and off trains and planes is not my idea of fun. But to be delayed due to the wet conditions at Corfu airport where they’re just not used to it, seems decidedly unfair!

Returning to a boat after the winter is always hard work. You have to unpack the boat before you can unpack any luggage for a start. Sails, dinghy and so on are all down below where there isn’t room for anything else so they get priority. Then bedding, soft furnishings and anything else that might go mouldy in the damp have to be taken out of their winter wrapping and beds made up.

By the way, making up a boat bed is a big enough job in itself – remember it’s only accessible from one side, the head end, so you have to crawl around on top of the bed to put the sheet on. Thats the sheet that has to go on top of the mattress you’re crawling around on. That’s right, underneath you where you’re on your hands and knees because there isn’t the headroom to sit up. Joy.

Having done that to a comfortable standard, the chances are you’ll find somebody needs access to the storage underneath and it all gets messed up again. You see, it’s at this point the realisation dawns that the space available to keep all those items that it seemed such a good idea in the UK to bring back to the boat is much less than you remembered.

For most crews the first job on arrival is fixing all the canvas that provides shade in the cockpit and the sun did indeed show its face the morning after our arrival. Shade for us was not to be however. We’d left the bimini and spray hood with a local couple to repair the stitching (it disintegrates in the sun). Was it ready? Of course not, but she’d deliver it at 5pm. Was it delivered at 5pm or even that night? Not a chance.

She finally arrived the following day (and had done a good job, to be fair) which is more than could be said for the character who was supposed to be repairing minor damage to the gel coat (not our fault, but that’s another story) while Desi was out of the water. Some work looked to have been done but plastic covering was still taped to her hull when we arrived. Neil has been ringing repeatedly and finally got a promise to be here at 9am today. This guy turns up at 11, borrows the dinghy, stays for about an hour and says he’ll be back on Saturday. Do we believe him?

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?

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.