ISLAND OF IONIAN GREECE
We stopped once here to break a passage from Corfu to Brindisi,
back in 2006; Lorenzo and Baby had also landed with the dinghy, only to find
very little in the way of shops!
This time, it worked the other way round, after two rather sleepless nights at sea, we stop here to recover before continuing with our cruise which is now entering the interesting part: Greece!
Last night, a somewhat disconcerting
encounter: we were motoring towards Corfu when we passed the lights of what
looked like just another fishing boat; suddenly, they accelerate and point
towards us while at the same time lighting two powerful and blinding spotlights!
After a while, they come to our side and we can see they
belong to the italian Guardia di Finanza, presumably patrolling for drug- or
people smugglers. A commendable job, but why chasing a slow sailboat
which is sailing TOWARDS Albania, instead of a fast motorboat going the other
way?Finally they answer our shouts, just a voice in the darkness, and roar away
leaving us more than a bit perplexed.
In the meantime, Baby is trying to tune our portable TV on
Greek channels, but with no luck: all channels are tagged as HD (high
definition), which is highly unlikely to be the case but is enough for our TV to
refuse working, so there is no way to follow the Italy vs. Germany football
match of tonight!
ONBOARD JOURNAL NO.5 - CORFU and the DEKPA
Corfu then, and Gouvia in particular, where there is a large marina, just north of the main town Iraklion (or whatever is the right spelling!).
Gouvia is one of the very few greek marinas, and despite its 1600 places its always busy, so we decided to anchor for the night few miles away and then enter the marina in the morning, hoping to limit our stay to one day only (the place is rather expensive!).
That's because Gouvia has an important feature: there is an office of the Greek Port Police where we can perform the entry formalities and in particular we can get the infamous DEKPA, a paper whose name derives from the initials of the words meaning "Transit Document for Leisure Craft" in Greek.
After two hours spent juggling between the various offices, here we are, now Shaula4 has its own brand new DEKPA, complete with entry and exit stamps valid for this season, and the Greek government is richer by 60 Euros!
Our DEKPA with the
entry and exit stamps valid for the whole season
The Venetian fort of Iraklion seen from the town
After a quick trip by bus to the city centre, despite the heat
we finish the day victualling in the two nearby supermarkets; next morning we
refill the water tanks (drinking water is metered, of course!) and later the
fuel ones, now we are poorer by 300 Euros but ready to roam around Greece for
some days with no further needs.
ONBOARD JOURNAL NO.6 : FRIED BATTERIES...
The signs were there since some days, every time we could switch off the engine and set sail, the batteries were discharging very fast.
Then yesterday, once anchored for the night just outside the Gouvia Marina, we noticed that the batteries were discharging in just 3/4 hours simply feeding an iPAD.
The prospect of continuing our cruise like that, having to run the engine every few hours to squeeze a minimum of charge in dying batteries, was not very appealing, and so the tragic decision (tragic for our wallets!): let's go back to the marina and buy new batteries!
Next morning at the marina they are quite happy to see us, and after two hours we have two beautiful new batteries, even slightly more powerful of the old ones.
Rest of the day devoted to rest, shower, laundry, food purchases, and tomorrow we will try again! Possible destination Mongonissi, on Paxos island.
This time at least we will be able to recharge the iPAD's!!
ONBOARD JOURNAL NO.7: MOURTOS
Next morning, happy with our new batteries, we leave - for the
second time - the Gouvia Marina heading south.
Corfu's venetian fort seen from the sea
The second option wins and we head towards a village called Mourtos, in front of which 3 small islands create a number of sheltered anchorages which turn out to be very crowded!
We find a small spot where we can anchor; Baby tries to drop a proposal "later we inflate the dinghy and go ashore", but her proposal is met with very little enthusiasm!
The crowded anchorage in front of Mourtos village
This story about the dinghy needs a clarification: Greek ports are generally small and crowded, so it's rather common to anchor in one of the many coves; problem is that also the anchorages are crowded, so to squeeze some more boats in, it's frequent to anchor leading one or two stern lines to the shore, tied to a tree or a rock. This way, even if the wind turns, the boats stay put and can moor close to one another.
PROBLEM: how to bring the lines ashore?
SOLUTION: a crew-member swims ashore, carrying the line between his teeth while the helmsman tries hard to keep the boat steady despite the strong lateral gusts of wind which just appeared out of nowhere in the middle of the manoeuvre!
CONSEQUENCE: if no swimmer is volunteering, you need the dinghy, already inflated and ready to be used!
This leads to a series of events that we will discuss soon.
ONBOARD JOURNAL NO. 8 - MONGONISSI
Mongonissi is a small bay at the southern end of Paxos island, where we stopped back in 2006 with Shaula3 during a transfer trip.
Nice anchorage where 7/8 boats may stay with lines led ashore, plus 5-6 anchored in the middle of the bay.
For the moment we anchor in the middle, but this time we really need to inflate the dinghy in order to be able to carry our lines ashore if the need will arise.
We take the thing out of the cockpit locker, despite to
achieve that we have to take out a million other things, then we lay the thing
on the foredeck and start inflating it.
ACCIDENT NO. 1: Baby nearly drowns! Seems impossible, but due to an ongoing cold in combination with the shock of the cold water, she has trouble breathing and panics; luckily it lasts few seconds then she regains control, breathes somehow and soon recovers.
We finish to inflate the dinghy but in the meantime we realise that it is without the essential towing and mooring lines fore and aft, and so another couple of hours is spent preparing these lines before we can launch the dinghy and prepare to lower the outboard motor with the crane we have on the stern.
ACCIDENT NO. 2: the outboard does not start! Or more exactly, it starts for few seconds, then dies and there is no way to revive it!...
We haul the motor back on board with the help of the crane, and we have an insane idea: let's take the lines to the shore!
Do I need to say that in the middle of the process the wind started blowing from the side, while Baby was slowly trying to find something to attach the lines and simultaneously keeping hold of the dinghy?
ACCIDENT NO. 3: the dinghy fills with water! I hoped it was just water entered during the frantic manoeuvres, but it is increasingly obvious that water is entering from somewhere!
Gian perplexed looking at the dinghy which is letting water in!
The day ends with a semi-submerged dinghy and our plans to row
ashore for dinner scuppered. A question remains: where is water
ONBOARD JOURNAL NO.9 - TURNING BRIDGES AND DINGHIES
Next morning we leave early because the passage is long and we are headed towards Levkas, where a canal cuts through the isthmus that connects the island with the mainland and leads to the town and the adjacent marina and then continues to the other side of the island, a major shortcut compared to doing the whole turn around the island itself.
Little problem, the northern access to the canal is blocked by a turning bridge that since the time of the Byzanthine empire opens every hour at the hour sharp.
We adjust our speed in order to get to the bridge just a handful of minutes before the 4 p.m. opening, and in the meantime we lift the dinghy on the foredeck: nasty surprise, we immediately notice that THE DINGHY BOTTOM IS DETACHING ITSELF FROM THE TUBES!! Bad news for our wallets as a dinghy is essential in these waters, and a repair in short time is out of the question. This problem of the glue letting go after some years is well known since many years, but we checked our dinghy before leaving and everything seemed OK!
In the meantime we reach the canal entry, and you can imagine our surprise when, still half mile off, we see the bridge opening ahead of schedule. We hurry up, but the bridge closes just on our noses when we get there together with other two boats!!
Do we have to wait until 5 p.m.? Or even later?
A kind Greek sailor advises that the next opening will be at 6 p.m., so we moor on the side of the canal and prepare ourselves for the long wait.
The turning bridge is out of order, and the temporary replacement is very slow, so the opening shedule has been changed!
While we are there doing nothing, we check the dinghy and find out that the bottom is quickly coming off (no big surprise there); at this point, the dinghy is useless, we need a replacement!
Our original plan was to run through the whole canal and then continue for about 10 miles to an area with several good anchorages, but at this point we decide to stop in Levkas, where there is a well-furnished marina and we can go in search of a new dinghy.
Moorings in Levkas
Despite the late hour the Marina has place for us, so we can
stop there and next morning we go hunting for a new dinghy!
In the end we opt for the too big and too expensive, knowing all too well that storing it on board will be difficult, but at least it's solid and well built!
While we are there we do a bit of victualling, so we will be more free in the next days.
We close the evening with a short walk in the town, which we never visited before although we did pass through the canal a few times; not much to see, just the public quay, full of boats and fronted by one restaurant after the other.
Tomorrow we resume our descent to the south and the heat!
ONBOARD JOURNAL NO.10 - SCORCHING HEAT
At last, we leave Levkas and resume running along the canal that in few miles takes us to the south-easterly side of the island.
A full 8 miles, less than two hours despite the new dinghy in tow and we reach the village of Nidri, which is at the mouth of a closed bay that looks like a lake.
Before reaching the lake-like bay (ormos Vlikho, for the record) we pass in front of a cove optimistically called "Tranquil Bay"; it's rather crowded, but a handful of boats can still squeeze in, so we decide to join in.
Tranquil Bay gives us
the opportunity to try the new dinghy
We are not alone in our choice, and during the afternoon the bay fills up to the limit.
We have to endure the heat, the sea-water is 30 degrees
(measured!) and swimming is pleasant even for one like me who had his last swim
in DJibouti, Africa!
ONBOARD JOURNAL NO.11 - CONTRASTS AND WASPS...
What a contrast compared with the crowded anchorage of yesterday in front of Nidri village, while today we woke in a cove we shared with just another boat.
We are in Ormos Kapali, one of the many inlets at the north-eastern end of Meganisi island that we reached after an exhausting 4-mile trip (first turn to the right, then round Skorpios island - yes, the one that used to belong to Aristotle Onassis - then the first bay to the right).
During the day several boats came for a quick swim and then left: odd because the bay is well sheltered, the water is warm and clean and the room is plentyful. We feel a bit lonely!
Meganisi apparently has a bad reputation for its wasps, reportedly numerous and particularly annoying; now, I'm not a fan of insects, be they walking, crawling or flying, but I did not find Meganisian wasps particularly nasty, those in Jesolo are much worse!
The forecasts give bad weather on the Tyrrenian, so by next sunday or monday it should deteriorate also here and we have to decide how to handle the situation at best, because around Sunday we should begin our return towards home.
We are considering doing a quick run back-and-forwards to Ithaca and then again in Meganisi to while the bad weather away.
Well, here nobody rests on his hands, so we quickly left Meganisi heading south, towards Ithaca (or IZAKI, as the locals pronounce it)!
We explored it in the past, so it's only a nostalgic trip,
anyway we found one of the last available moorings on the public quay, tonight
we will allow ourselves a dinner out (first and probably last of the whole
cruise...) and tomorrow we will begin our long trek towards cold Jesolo...
Shaula4 moored at the public quay in Vahti (Ithaca)
The busy harbour of Vahti
ONBOARD JOURNAL NO.12 - BARBEQUES & LINES ASHORE...
Time is passing...
Last report was the day before yesterday, when we were leaving Ithaca, pressed by the incoming bad weather (and we know from past experience that when the mistral blows in Ithaca, it means business!...).
Actually we sail the 20 miles from Ithaca to Meganisi under a pleasant westerly breeze, but the powerful swell is not particularly problematic but is an indication that somewhere there is a nasty storm blowing. And here storms travel from west to east, so it will arrive also here, sooner or later! ....as the forecasts keep saying, in fact.
Well, we arrive near Meganisi, boat running with the wind, or better boats as everybody seems intent at looking for a sheltered anchorage, we choose one and anchor right at the end, amid many other boats.
...5 anchoring attempts later, we feel moderately satisfied of our position, and we can go to sleep: we are very tired because yesterday night in Ithaca the heat did not allow us to sleep well; in the end, we fall asleep without having dinner.
Quiet night, but the next morning several boats leave the mooring, including those that were in a corner of the bay, anchors ahead and lines ashore at the back, tied to some stone or tree-trunk: a common solution in these narrow anchorages to avoid the boat's turning with the wind. And here the parking demons byte us, tempting us into trying once again a mooring with lines ashore which failed to convince us few days ago in Mongonissi.
Said, done: Baby takes two lines ashore, balancing
precariously on the dinghy to pass the lines around some big stone, and after a
while we are in position.
In the meantime, lunch hour arrived.
Among the many "traditions" this cruise was meant to revive, the was a box still unchecked: on-board Barbeque!
Well, we just need:
The food turns out to be quite good, but the minimum quantities imposed by the packaging "forces" us to a colossal feast that will be tough to digest!
...and so we lazily wait for the sunset, with the only effort devoted to a quick row ashore to dispose of our trash bags in the dedicated bins (a rarity, unfortunately in many anchorages trash is dispersed and left for the rats to enjoy).
In the evening the situation is quiet, and we go to sleep with a clean conscience, but during the night the wind increases, blowing in gusts, and an annoying swell enters from the harbour mouth.
In the dark, the rocks few meters at our back seem even closer: we let go few meters on the two stern lines and pull the anchor chain, but sleeping in these unnerving condition is difficult! As soon as there is enough light to see what we are doing we let go the two stern lines, pull some anchor chain in and leave the boat free to trun in the wind!
The wind keeps turning, the anchorage is hardly relaxing, but a gale is blowing outside and we have to get along with it!
Today for lunch: fake Carbonara (no eggs because they have rotten, no bacon so we used speck instead, a bit of cream that is not in the original recipe) which turns out to be edible, if not conforming to the recipe.
Aaaah, life is hard!
ONBOARD JOURNAL NO. 12BIS - COVES AND OUTBOARDS
Three days blocked in a small cove in Meganisi, such a torture...
Meganisi (which means "large island") in reality is not very large, it's actually much smaller than nearby Levkas. An island with the characteristic shape of...well, a lump of land at the top, with many bays one after the other, and a "tail" at the southern end which is punctuated by several caves, one large enough to have accomodated a submarine in the past, according to legend.
We visited already in the past, exploring some of the bays, and also few days ago, before going to Ithaca, we spent a night here. Now, we are looking forwards to having to spend few days here, due to the bad weather over the Jonian sea, anchored in a bay that we visited years ago with Shaula3.
This bay has seen us beat our record concerning how many times we repeated anchoring, we did it 9 times over 3 days! This was due to the fact that the bay was too crowded, and little changes in the wind direction were enough to wreak havoc between the anchored boats!
At the end of the bay there are two tavernas, and we get some take-away dishes from the more run-down of the two: good food, and plentiful as well!
While we are there with nothing to do, we decide to try the outboard again, and...it starts at the first pull!!
Soon we devise "Baby's corollary to Murphy's Law of reluctant
outboards", which says:"never, never, absolutely never allow Baby to start any
kind of outboard motor! It will never start, anyway!"
This morning at last, no wind: we
could stay a little more, but we rather decide to return to Tranquil Bay, few
miles away in front of Nidri, where we could go ashore and do some victualling.
ONBOARD JOURNAL NO.14 - NOTHING...
Nothing, we spent the day in Tranquil Bay, waiting for the Force-7 gale blowing outside to fade away!
It seems that tomorrow will be the day, although now a heat wave is forecasted: well, one cannot have everything!!
We plan to get out of bed very early tomorrow morning, in order to reach the bridge near Levkas in time for the opening at 7:30 a.m., after which we will sail north-northwest either to Paxos or to someplace on the mainland; the decision will depend on the wind strength and direction.
After that, probably two or three legs sailing north along
Corfu and then towards Erikoussa before the big jump towards Italy, weather
ONBOARD JOURNAL NO.15 - CANALS AND LAZINESS
This cruise is coming to an end, now it's time to head north and switch from the "cruise" mode to the "passage" mode, and along this passage we have to negotiate two "canals".
The first one, the Levkas Canal, is a veritable artificial canal, thirty meters wide and about 4 Km long, which cuts the isthmus connecting Levkas with the mainland. At its northern end, the canal is closed by a rotating bridge that used to open every hour but now is opening about every 2 1/2 hours or thereabouts.
This bridge is also a sort of mental barrier, because once you cross it going north you are in the open sea, 30 miles from the nearest decent anchorage, and you cannot go back because in the meantime the bridge has closed again!
The other morning, the bout of cowardice, err I mean LAZINESS, got us while we were reaching the bridge for the 7:30 opening. The forecast from Kerkira Radio called for adverse winds, so we decided to stop at Levkas Marina which is just half mile before reaching the bridge.
...and so we spent a day doing nothing: shower, a minimum of
shopping, a walk downtown. On the previous stop we were unimpressed,
but this time we enlarged our exploration, and in fact the place is nicer than
our first impression, without being anything special. Some houses
have a wooden frame that reminds us of houses in Normandy and Brittany: a
souvenir of ancient Norman invasions?
Next morning, another early wake-up to get at the bridge by 7:30, then route north-northwest with a favourable wind that allows us to sail for a while, until the wind drops and we have to proceed under engine.
We arrive in Mongonissi harbour on Paxos island, where we have to moor with stern-lines ashore because the available space is very limited.
We are subject to another bout of cowardice, I mean, LAZINESS, and decide to stay one additional day and allow ourselves a lunch ashore!
We allow ourselves a
lunch ashore, before the restaurant gets crowded with a Greek marriage party!
Tomorrow (early?) morning we will start again, this time going towards Corfu's western coast; probably we will stop around Palayokastritza, unless the wind will not allow it, in which case we will continue towards Erikoussa island and from there we will continue towards the second "canal" of this story, the OTRANTO CHANNEL between Italy and Albania.
It's often stormy, although with us it's always been kind,
ONBOARD JOURNAL NO.16 - MONASTERIES, GUSTS AND SWELL...
Yesterday we left by early morning as planned, headed towards the western coast of Corfu to eventually reach the island of Erikoussa, but checking along the way for a possible anchorage overnight in...wait a sec...breathe...Palayokastritza! Here, I made it!
A bit of history: we discovered this place going by car to the Ayos Spiridonis monastery (saint Spyridion is Corfu's patron saint). From the road, high on the hill, we saw these three or four small bays, a nice scenery, and we told ourselves that it would have been nice to get there by boat.
Another bit of history: the name Palayokastritsa (something like "palatial castle") derives from a legend claiming that here was the palace of Alcinous, king of the Phaeacians and father of Nausicaa, who rescued Ulysses and brought him to Ithaca, where he took his bloody revenge. This angered the god Poseidon, who held an old grudge against Ulysses, and as a punishment transformed the returning Phaeacian ship into one of the rocks still existing at the mouth of the harbour.
Ok then, monasteries and ancient gods notwithstanding, when we are nearly arrived a strong contrary wind starts blowing: no chance to continue, we've got to stop in one of the bays: we can see two boats already at anchor, so we head towards them and when close to shore we drop anchor!
In the beginning it looked like we had found peace, but after a while trouble began: the waves offshore raise an annoying swell, and every now and then a nasty gust of wind makes us wonder about our anchor's holding capability!
...and at night, contrary to custom, the wind does not abate; in fact, it keeps blowing until next morning, when apparently somebody up there notices the "gusts" switch, forgotten in the "on" position, and switches it off, leaving us in an unreal quiet.
Let's go away quickly! Before the guy at the switch thinks again, we weigh anchor and devour the 15 miles to the island of Erikoussa, our intended starting point towards Italy!
Now we are anchored there, with a light wind and a bit of
swell, let's hope for the best...
ONBOARD JOURNAL NO.17 - MELTEMI?
OK, let's put things straight: during summer, let's say from July to September, a wind called Meltemi blows over the aegean sea; this is practically the westernmost edge of the Monsoon blowing a bit farther east, on the Persian Gulf.
This wind blows from the north, maybe north-west, and usually begins around midday, increases throughout the afternoon and dies away at sunset, although occasionally it may continue overnight.
Good if you are sailing south, a bit less good if you are going north and you have to fight a strong, contrary wind!
To complicate things further, once you get to a port or harbour, which are usually located on the downwind side of islands, you don't necessarily find shelter: many greek islands suffer of the so-called "catabatic winds": practically the northerly wind rises above the island, and then roars down the side that should be quiet! All this for the fun of those anchored there, hoping on a peaceful night!...
Two remedies to this situation:
AEGEAN Sea, we said: the Ionian should not be concerned, but then somebody must tell me whywe have the same situation, with strong northerly winds blowing in the afternoons and ceasing at night, with strong gusts coming down from the hills and all the rest!...
OK then, here we are, in an anchorage without high hills, the
Meltemi-which-is-not-a-Meltemi is abating, it's dinner time and all crews around
us are beginning to relax!
Last Update: 07/09/2017
Shaula4 website (text and images) by Gianfranco Balducci is licensed under a