Tag Archives: Greece

Vathi, Ithaca

We left the anchorage in Port Atheni on Meganisi early on Monday morning in order to reach Vathi on the island of Ithaca just after lunch, so avoiding some afternoon adverse winds.

Our 20 mile trip across started in flat calm conditions but by mid morning we had sailable winds from behind us and so I dragged out the Cruising Chute and gave it an airing.  But that was all it got, the wind took one look at it and dropped away to nothing!   Once the Chute was down the wind picked up from the port bow and we actually sailed under plain sails for the last hour or so until we reached Vathi.

Vathi

Vathi is the main port on Ithaca and is at the head of a large sheltered bay on the east side of the island.   It has a Town Quay but you can also anchor in the bay, which is what we did.   Our intention was to spend a day or so here waiting for an opportunity to move south when the wind changed.   Unfortunately, when it did change it would have got us down to the bottom of the Peloponnese just in time to meet a blow coming from the east.   This would have kept us hiding down there for who knows how long waiting for more favourable winds.   So on Wednesday we decided that heading south was not an option and that we would instead use the Corinth Canal again.  This is not a cheap option but we wouldn’t be spending money on diesel motoring round the Peloponnese, apparently it is 135 miles shorter!  We also wouldn’t have the aggravation of waiting for possible ‘weather windows’.   Instead we’ll spend a couple of days exploring the Gulfs of Patras and Corinth.

So we had 3 night anchored off Vathi.  As with most towns in the area it suffered badly in the earthquake in 1953 and so is fairly ‘new’.   It is quite a big town and is spread around the bay and the brightly painted make it very picturesque.  It is pretty busy with yachts and is a regular haunt of charter fleets heading for the apparently free Town Quay.    The town is quite lively and there are numerous tavernas along the quaysides and more in the side streets.   In amongst these are a lot of boutique type tourist shops, in addition to the odd bakery, fruit and veg shop and even a small chandler.   It is a busy place and seems to come alive in the evening. We had dinner ashore on Monday and had a wander around town on Tuesday before a leisurely dinner and drinks.   On Wednesday we stocked up on fresh food and I visited the Archaeological Museum.   Ithaca was the home of Odysseus and ruins above Port Polis on the west coast are the remains of his palace.  The museum though is a small affair displaying pottery and some coins found at various sites around the island but it was free and an interesting way to spend 20 minutes.

Our stay in Vathi was pleasant despite the uncertainty with the weather and our sudden change of plans.  However; it does mean that when we arrive in the Cyclades our first island will now be Kithnos.   This will put us almost a week ahead of ‘schedule’ but will mean missing Milos, Sifnos and Serifos.  On the plus side, we may get to catch up with ‘Scarlett’.

Vhliko and Port Atheni

On Saturday we slipped from the town quay heading for Ormos Vhliko and Port Atheni.  Vhliko is 9 miles south of Lefkas and from there north coast of the island of Meganisi, where there are a host of small bays to anchor in, is only 4 or 5 miles away.    Then we planned to head south to Vathi on the island of Ithica, a mere 20 miles away.   This is the sort of cruising we hope to do when we get into the Agean again, short hops between islands only making long passages when absolutely necessary.

Leaving Lefkas Town at 11.30 we headed south through the canal which separates the island from the main land.   In fact it is only this canal across salt flats which makes Lefkas an island.   It was first dug in the 7th century BC by the Corinthians and has been in use in various forms ever since.   On leaving the canal we had a slow motor along the coast towards Ormos Vhliko.   Slow because we needed to make water as 5 days in Lefkas, where there isn’t any, had depleted our supplies.

Taverna Elena

Ormos Vhliko is a land locked bay well protected from almost all winds, not that wind was going to be an issue, there wasn’t any ……   We selected our anchor position off the village of Geni on the east side of the bay very carefully, on the basis of its proximity to a couple of tavernas.   These tavernas have their own jetties and just before the sun went down we took the tender to the nearest one and tied it up next to our table and spent a very pleasant couple of hours over a light dinner and some wine, returning to the boat to continue using their internet!

Taverna Elena with jetty, or vice versa …

On Sunday we set off at 11.30 again for the trip across to the north coast of Meganisi.  The island’s north coast is heavily indented with coves in which you can anchor but need to tie back to the shore because the water is quite deep and there is no room to swing; this is not something we’ve done before.

Captain on Deck!

In Lefkas I had purchased two 50 metre lengths of floating mooring line and had already bought two heavy lifting strops so I decided to use the windless conditions to practice with my new toys.   We headed to a bay in Porto Atheni which I knew would suit as a test site; we’d anchored here for lunch last year with our friends Graeme and Jayne in Scarlett, so it was familiar ground.    Anyway, long story short, we anchored and while Valeria BBQ’d lunch I ran my two new lines ashore in the dingy and we successfully tied back to a couple of large rocks on the shore. You wouldn’t want do this in strong winds but now I’ve had a practice I reckon we should be able to do it for real when the time comes.

Long lines ashore

So our second night of generator supported freedom was spent in silent relaxation in a delightfully tranquil bay with just three other boats for company, and none of them charter boats !!!!!!

Languishing in Lefkas

We hung around in Lakka for an extra weekend so as to arrive in Lefkas on Monday, 7 May, hoping for an engineer’s visit on Tuesday morning to assess our generator problems, until this was fixed we would be pretty much stuck in Lefkas, the last service area for a few hundred miles …… hence Languishing in Lefkas!

We had an uneventful passage from Lakka and arrived off Lefkas at about 2.45pm, as planned giving us 15 minutes to hang around waiting for the swing bridge between Lefkas and the mainland to open at 3pm.

Lefkas sunset, one of the few we saw!!

Once through the bridge our next challenge was finding somewhere to tie up.   There is a long Town Quay but it is ‘infested’ with charter boats and this early in the season there are still a lot without charterers.  Our first attempt was to anchor but the holding was dubious and there was no room to swing. We ended up tying back to what was effectively an overflow town quay on a causeway leading out of town to the swing bridge, in amongst a load of unchartered charter boats.   It transpired that although technically public by Wednesday the ‘Charter Company’ made it quite clear we were not welcome.  Rather than push the point, on Thursday, we moved to a now vacant spot on the Town Quay for the rest of our stay at €10 per night …. mercifully we didn’t need to even think about using Lefkas Marina at €82 per night!!!

The generator problem was a not simple one and we were very grateful for the attentions of the engineer from Contract Yacht Services.   Unlike Engineers from certain service companys in the UK, Panos arrived exactly when he said he would and, although it took three days of elimination, testing and phone calls to Fischer Panda in Athens, he finally identified a temperature sensor as the villain of the piece.   Prior to that he found, and replaced, a leaking exhaust hose (jubilee clip probably never tightened correctly in the first place)  and a burned out electrical connector (badly fitted originally).   Neither of which were easy to find and neither affected the original problem.   He also took the outboard and serviced that.  Not our cheapest week as we also had to fill up with diesel but we now have a generator, our tender and 400 litres of fuel so are set for a summer of anchoring in isolated, hopefully, charter boat free bays.

We did have a few evenings to kill in Lefkas and found a number of very pleasant tavernas to indulge our newly rekindled hunger for Saganaki, grilled cheese, generally accompanied by a half litre of white wine and sometimes a meal.  On two of these evenings we got caught in torrential rain showers, and so had to shelter in tavernas ….

…. see why we had to hide with a half litre of wine ….. It was terrifying ….
Lefkas main shopping street

Lefkas is far from picturesque or even quaint. One of the victims of the ’51 earthquake it is now a mixture of old buildings which survived, rebuilt ones finished in wriggly tin and new concrete ones.  There is definitely a tourist feel to the place but there is life not involving tourists.   Lefkas is a working town, heavily centred on the charter market as evidenced by the very high ‘Chandlers per Square Mile’ figure!   It is lively without being overly busy and, under less traumatic circumstances, would have made a pleasant stop over.

Lefkas Extremes. Earthquake survivor beside wriggly tin reconstruction, bathed in sunlight under a rainbow

But now, fully functional again, we are resuming our passage south. Valeria will go to the market tomorrow as I get the boat ready for sea and we plan to be away before the afternoon wind sets in!

 

My birthday in Lakka

After our swift passage to Paxos we decided to hang around for a few days and spend my birthday in Lakka.

Coincidentally we arrived exactly at ‘Pimms o’clock’

Having settled in we had a series of suprises, one nice, the others not so much.  First we discovered that some friends from Roccella were here, Jim and Karen in Mai Tai had arrived a few days earlier.  We spent an evening with them before they set off again.  That was the nice suprise.

The not so nice ones were mechanical.  The generator still won’t run properly. The leaking salt water impeller which I had fixed in Roccella was likely only the symptom and not the actual problem as it appears the exhaust cooling water is not getting through to the exhaust, causing it to over heat.  We have arranged for repairs in Lefkas but now have to annoy the anchorage every day running an engine to top up the batteries.

And being anchored, we need our Tender to get ashore. The out board engine has decided to pack up and I think it is the carburettor float valve is stuck.  Not so difficult to fix if you have the spare gaskets …… which I don’t. But we’re off to Lefkas so in the mean time I can row, having glued the rowlock back on which decided to fall off just as I needed it.

Lakka

So, my birthday started with loads of texts from friends and relatives.  I then rowed us ashore as we were in search of Paxos Olive Oil, once exclusively sold by Harrods.   We found the Olive Oilery but it was deserted and so sat and drank wine and used the WiFi at a bar over looking the anchorage for lunch.  They were only serving omlettes and toast so I decided to save my self for my birthday BBQ, and a quick turi pitta (phonetic Greek for cheese pasty) from the baker on the way to the Olive Oilery on our second attempt at a purchase.  Whilst in the bakery we asked if the lady knew when the Oilery might be open.  She pointed to a guy chatting in the street, “That’s Antonis” (the Oiler).  Don’t you just love tiny villages!  So we have 5 litres of Paxos Olive Oil!

It was then back to the boat for the Birthday BBQ; nice big home made burgers and a couple of steaks ……… and some salad, because I am so healthy ……..

At this point, under more favourable mechanical conditions we would probably have set off south again as the wind turned around to the north. However; we now needed to be in Lefkas on Monday, arriving after all the Charter boats had left. So we planned an early start on Monday. As it turned this was a good plan as the weather over the weekend worsened progressively ending up with 30 knot winds and lots of rain on Sunday night.

Lakka was a pleasant stop over for our first visit of the year.   The town is small, quaint and we could have enjoyably visited on a daily basis, outboard and weather permitting.  Maybe another visit in September as we return to Roccella?

 

Off to Lakka

We got away as planned, leaving Roccella at just after 9 on Monday 30 April, bound for Lakka, on Paxos. This was a 180 nautical miles over night passage and the winds were forecast to be generally light and mostly southerly or westerly.  Depending on our speed the passage would take between 30 hours (6 knots) and 36 hours (5 knots).

We managed to keep up a speed of well over 5.5 knots, hitting 7.5 at some points overnight with the wind behind us, and the passage took us just under 30 hours. Unfortunately to do this we needed to run both engines which will be quite expensive when we next need to take on diesel; however, the alternative was a slower passage, with 2 nights at sea or a night approach to the anchorage in Lakka. For our first voyage of the season we went for the swift, single over night passage and an afternoon arrival.

Big fish ...
Big fish ….

Highlights of the trip were lots of dolphins and our first tuna of the season. We now have an ‘I Spy Book of Dolphins’ as I figured it might be fun identifying the ones we see. No such luck, these ones, although distinctive, bore no resemblance to the pictures! More practice needed. The tuna was not only the first of the season, but our biggest ever. It weighed 2.75 kilos and gave us 1.5 kilos of tuna steaks in the freezer and a Fish Supper at sea on Monday night!

Lakka
Lakka

Arriving in, or more accurately ‘returning’ to, Lakka (we visited last year) we found it to be a bit crowded with perhaps 15 boats anchored and a charter fleet of 10 more on the town quay. There was still plenty of space for us and it is delightfully quiet and picturesque with lovely clear water. I took my customary swim to check the anchor and was pleasantly surprised to find only minimal hull fouling (not many things growing on the hull), although the propellers have attracted more growth than I’d like and I can see myself trying to clean them up while we’re here. At least the water is not too cold!

Pimms o’clock

All in all a nice relaxing start to our season! We’ll spend a few days here sampling the delights of Lakka before heading off towards Lefkas

Waving to Fabi’s cousins in Albania ….

A while back Valeria said on Facebook that we were off to Corfu. Fabiana asked us to wave at her cousins across the water in Albania. Now I am pretty sure they are Erion’s cousins rather than Fabiana’s, but we waved anyway.  Apparently the cousins didn’t get the memo.

We left Mandraki at 4pm on Sunday, 1st October for our 40 hour passage back across the Ionian to Roccella Ionica.   The first leg of this journey took us north through the North Corfu Channel, a mile wide stretch of water between Corfu and Albania, waving frantically as wé went.  We passed withing 3/4 of a mile of the Albanian coast and within a couple of miles of the port of Saranda. This is where the ferries from Corfu go and the AIS showed a British yacht in the harbour.  Something to consider when we return this way!!

North Corfu Channel with Saranda in the distance

By 6 pm we had turned west along the north coast of Corfu with the fishing line out and caught two large fat fish in rapid succession.  Perhaps it was just a coincidence but just as we were reeling them in and Valeria was preparing them we found ourselves being ‘chased’ by a small fishing boat, and they did seem intent on getting very close to us, so much so that I moved out of their way.  I wondered if they wanted their fish back, or perhaps it was Fabiana’s cousins ……..

An hour or so after sunset we negotiated the small island off the north west corner of Corfu and set our course of 236ºM for the next 35 hours.

The weather was entirely calm for the entire passage and what wind there was was astern of us all the way.   This was a 6th version of the forecast we must have missed and we made such good time that over night on Monday into Tuesday I had to slow down to keep our ETA to office hours, planning to arrive at 8 am.

We have heard consistently good things about Roccella, which is why we came, but it was still a pleasant suprise to be called by them on the VHF at about 7.30; it was almost as if they were expecting us!   An impression reinforced when, having secured to our berth we found a Brazilian flag on the lamp post behind us!  Every lamp post in the marina sports a national flag on it, all rather old and tatty, but what are the odds of us being put next to this one!

Although it is a little isolated Roccella does seem well organised and managed, and there is a growing ‘live aboard’ community here, comprising British, Australians, Canadians and Germans so far.  The marina is opening up the special ‘liveaboard’ shower block soon, there is to be a gym  and a language course in Italian run.  Almost a shame we’ll be leaving for the UK in November!

But before then we have to prepare the boat to be left for the winter and plan some exploration of the local area and get to know our new neighbours.

 

Port Mandraki and Corfu Town

With our watermaker miraculously working and my €50 salvage fee burning a hole in my pocket we were at a bit of a loose end for a few days, so we decided to go to Port Mandraki, the small yacht club marina directly below the ‘old fort’ in Corfu.

Port Mandraki

It was suprisingly un crowded and we were put on the outer harbour ‘wall’. I use inverted commas because as harbour walls go it is pretty insignificant. It is between 1 and 2 metres high and about 3 metres wide, made of rock with a haphazard concrete pathway along the top.  These rocks extend out underwater in the marina and so we had to go bows onto the wall.  Our draught at the bows is about 20 cm and so there is no chance of catching anything that way round.  But that also meant we couldn’t use our gangway without some major seamanship being undertaken, so we used the marina’s plank, a 4 metre wooden scaffold board about 30 cm wide.   A disincentive to enjoying the local wine with ones lunch!

Church of St George, against castle heights

Once tied up and we’d negotiated the gangplank a few times hooking up the electricity and water we set off into town to explore.   The marina is right inside the old fort.  This is of Venetian vintage and as an added layer of defence they also cut a channel across the head land on which the fort is built to form a moat; the marina is on the fort side of that feature.  Walking through the Venetian Fort we rather incongruously found ourselves in a what could easily have been mistaken for a street in the Woolwich Arsenal!   Information signs then informed us that Corfu had been a British Protectorate from 1815 to 1864.  Corfu has a long and involved history and has been conquered, occupied or administered by virtually everybody at one time or another.

Making our way out of the fort we headed into Corfu Town.   On first impressions we could easily have been in Italy, and, as towns go, it  was very pleasant to wander around.  We had lunch and even went to visit the Museum of Oriental Art.

Museum of Oriental Art

Old Town Hall

That took up Friday afternoon and Saturday.  On Sunday morning, checking the weather, we suddenly found that 4 of our 5 forecasts said we’d have two days of settled weather from Sunday to Tuesday, none of those 4 actually agreed on how settled, what the wind direction might be or whether it would rain but we decided to go for it.  Our passage to Roccella was 200 miles, or 40 hours, if we left on Sunday afternoon, we’d arrive on Tuesday morning.  If we didn’t go on Sunday we’d likely be hanging around Corfu for the next week!

So we moved berths to get closer the the fuel pump, went shopping, took on diesel and were all set to go by 4 pm on Sunday afternoon!

 

Moving on to Corfu

Corfu is to be our final destination in Greece before we return to Italy.  It is also where we hoped to get our watermaker fixed finally and be rid of the tender we salvaged off Lefkas.

Sunrise over Gaios
Sunrise over Gaios

We set off from Gaios at 8 in the morning and had an uneventful 30 mile passage to Gouvia, or more accurately Ormos Kommino just outside Gouvia bay.   It rained on the way there then cleared up but just as I was out on the foredeck anchoring the skies opened, and the down pour lasted until just after we’d anchored!

Ormos Kommino

Once anchored  we set about making arrangements with the marina, the engineer and Sailing Holidays.  As the engineer could only do a Friday visit we planned to spend Thursday at anchor and go into the marina briefly for the engineer to assess the problem with the water maker on Friday morning; we had no wish to stay in the marina at €90 per night!

On Thursday I decided to flush and run the watermaker one last time to ensure it was still not working; Sod’s Law would dictate that it would work perfectly as soon as the engineer tried it.   And Sod’s Law held true! It worked. For no discernable reason it flushed, then happily started producing fresh water!  We heaved the anchor and went for a motor for an hour or so and the watermaker worked perfectly!  We anchored back in Kommino, cancelled the engineer and arranged for the collection of the tender from the anchorage.

On Friday morning two guys from Sailing Holidays arrived and took back their tender and even gave me a ‘salvage fee’ of €50!  That worked out as one night in Mandraki Marina so, as we’d already decided on the weekend there, we just extended the stay by a day.

So this has been quite a successful visit!   A miraculously working watermaker, restoring a ‘lost tender’ and a free night alongside in return for our salvage operation!  And Valeria was all for just leaving it floating there!    We have also now turned our thoughts to what to do with our last few days in Greece as we wait for a two day ‘weather window’ to get from here to Roccella.

Gaios to Lakka by bus

On Tuesday we took the bus from Gaios for the half hour ride to the north end of Paxos to visit Lakka, another small town with a picturesque anchorage.   The countryside on the route was all olive groves with some huge old olive trees, and a surprising number of deserted , derelict buildings.   Lakka was a completely different story.  It is a small, quaint town full of shops and restaurants and set on a picturesque bay just begging to be photographed.