Tag Archives: Ionian

Fair winds and a following sea ……

With our repairs completed and our new ‘bumpers’ installed we were back in the water by 2 pm on Wednesday, the 3rd, and planning to leave for Roccella.   The forecast gave us south-easterly 15 to 20 knot winds for the whole passage and even a slight reduction for our planned arrival at Roccella on Friday morning.

But first, after 24 hours of dockyard work the boat was a tip, the compartments above the engine spaces are full of everything from the passarella and tool kits to the fishing gaff and hose fittings.   All of this had to be removed to give the fitters access and now had to be replaced.   Then there were fenders and mooring ropes to stow away, loose kit to be secured and everything generally prepared for 2 days at sea.   So as soon as we were afloat and away from the dockyard slip we anchored off Lefkas Town Quay and set about preparing the boat for sea with an eye on the clock.   The Lefkas  bridge opens on the hour and happily by 2.50 we were good to go, weighed anchor and joined the queue of yachts waiting to transit the bridge.   This takes a bit of boat handling to maintain position in the canal, in a cross wind, not too close to the others ahead or astern of you so as to time your arrival when the bridge opens.

The sunken yacht refloated, almost.

Once through the bridge we passed the newly re-floated sunken yacht.   Apparently the yachtsman involved had started a FB page to raise funds to help pay for the salvage ….. Whilst I have every sympathy I am pretty sure I would not have been on that wall in those winds, and definitely would not have used a kedge anchor – oh, and I don’t use FB!

Wednesday sunset

But we were off, and we had the predicted ‘fair winds and following seas’.   Generally south-easterly and 15 ish knots although close to the island they were a bit variable so I didn’t put the sails up.   We needed to make 5 knots for two days and so faffing around with sails in variable winds was just going to be frustrating.    Over night, with the winds settling to 15 knots from behind us, Valeria recorded us as surfing at up to 8 knots on occasions.  Once I woke on Thursday morning we did get the sails up and were making 5 or 6 knots running before a 15 to 20 knot wind, all of which left us well ahead of schedule and by Thursday evening we had dropped the Main Sail and were under the Jib alone and still making 5 knots.

So with nightfall we furled away the jib and ‘sailed’ under ‘bare poles’.   This is when you are running with the wind behind you, being pushed along by the wind acting on the hull alone.   As we are so tall and wide we have a lot of ‘windage’ and even without sails or engines we were making 3 to 4 knots which was the exact speed we needed to make to get to Roccella at 8 am when the Marina opened for business.

But then fair winds and following seas became too much too little and the wrong direction.

As we approached the Italian coast on Thursday evening into Friday morning we could see lightening all along the Calabrian coast.  Lots of it.  As we got closer to the coast we began to get VHF reception and Italian weather forecasts which were predicting south easterly gales and thunder storms in the Ionian Sea area.  As the evening wore on the wind began increasing slowly and all the thunder storms seemed to move along the coast to sit right in front of us, over Roccella.

Having seen the entrance to Roccella in south-easterly gales last year, with breaking seas over the sand bar, I did not fancy trying to negotiate the entrance with heavy beam seas, in a thunder storm and so at about 2.30 am I made the decision to head for a port of safety.   On this coast there are two, Messina and Reggio, or Crotone.   The Messina Straights are not particularly inviting in a south-easterly gale so it meant heading for Crotone, 40 odd miles, or 8 hours, north east along the coast.  So with Roccella just 20 miles away we steered away.

By now the thunder storms were beginning to move off the coast and as we headed north east they were moving with us and the forecasts were predicting ‘instabilities moving rapidly north east’.   We had lightening on three sides of us and by day break I could actually see the roll of cloud marking the edge of the squall line out to sea on our starboard side.

As the storms, easily visible on radar, did seem to be moving north east I decided to head out to sea for the roll of cloud, away from the lightening strikes.     Blow me if the wind didn’t drop, swing around through 90 degrees and start up again from the NW.   In military parlance the storms, which had been marching steadily north east in Column of Route, had just done a Right Turn on the March and were now Advancing in Review Order straight at us!

Thunder storms and squalls make their own wind and so trying to avoid them is a generally futile endeavour, but weighed that futility against the danger of a bolt of lightning using our nice aluminium mast as a grounding rod, which would fry our navigation aids, I gave it a go anyway.   Valeria stowed all our electronics in the oven and microwave as both act as Faraday Cages which should protect them from lightening, and off we went.

Not so fair and coming from every dirdction

At 8 am getting no closer to either Roccella or Crotone and still being chased by the storms I called Roccella, hopefully.   We were told ‘you can come’ and so we altered course back south.      In daylight the thunderstorms were easy to identify, looking completely different to mere rain showers.   There was the low, dark cloud base and then beneath it the dull, almost dead grey of the torrential rain which provides a contrasting backdrop to the lightning bolts hitting the sea surface.

For two and a half hours I successfully managed to skirt these storms.   Watching them on the radar was like hill walking, there was always one more crest to scale, always one more storm behind the ‘last one’.    The winds were from everywhere and as we clipped the edges of some of the storms we had winds gusting to 30, even 40 knots.   With the wind constantly changing direction the seas were ‘confused’ and had been whipped up to 5 metres high with breaking crests; at the Helm Station I am 4 metres above sea level and I was looking up at these waves!

With these sort of sea conditions moving around the boat is a real challenge.   You move one foot or one hand at time.  Move a hand and a foot and you are flat on your face.  I won’t even go into toilet breaks whist wearing full foul weather gear and a safety harness in a boat pitching, rolling and yawing in 5 metres jumps.

The squall line as we headed west for Roccella.

Finally at 10.30 the southern-most squall passed us and there were just a few mere rain showers to the west so I altered course for Roccellla.   But there was a sting in the tail of the storms.  Two thunderstorms appeared ahead of us, one crossed in front of us but the second one there was no avoiding.   Unlike the others we’d skirted the wind was almost non existent, the seas were still 4 or 5 metres high and confused but were no longer breaking, being beaten down by the torrential rain, visibility was down to a boat’s length and the lightening was striking the sea ahead of us.   The strikes and the thunder were simultaneous, and deafeningly loud, literally someone toppling a wardrobe, a big one, right upstairs.   Far too close for comfort.

Hoping that lightening really does not strike the same place twice, and that the plastic deck would provide sufficient insulation despite my exposed position and dripping wet foul weather gear we motored on, and on, and on.    My big fear was a lightening strike to the mast – a very real danger.   Without the electronic navigation aids we’d be relying on a mobile phone GPS, a paper chart and a magnetic compass, although how that would fare in a lightning strike I have no idea!   Longest hour and a half of my life to be honest.

Hint of a rainbow, also beaten flat by the rain

The first inkling of an end to it was a lessening of the rain drumming on the hull, then some slight definition to the horizon and finally lighter grey skies.    Although the seas were still huge the reduced wind and hammering by the rain had calmed them down a bit and I pushed the throttles forward again and we were making 5 or 6, sometimes 7 knots towards Roccella.   Now was not the time for single engine, fuel efficiency!

Roccella!!!!

Finally, after about 12 hours of driving around in a circle, we could make out the coast, then the castle and watch tower over Roccella.  The seas were still 3 metres high across the sand bar as we approached and turning into the harbour entrance put them on our beam so we were rolling around a bit as we headed for the entrance, but by comparison this was nothing.   Our reserved winter berth required a bit of tight, stern first manoeuvring to get into but then we were in.   The Marina Manager, Francesco, helped tie us up and was telling us that the local fishermen had been reporting 5 metre seas!   Tell us about it!

But we were safely in.  I had been on watch at the Helm Station continuously for 16 hours straight, drenched and dodging thunderstorms for 12 of them.   Valeria had been in the saloon passing me food and coffee and praying, continuously.   It all started going south on 4 October, my mum’s birthday and the day she died.  Perhaps she was watching over us.

In the words of the Beach Boys, ‘This is the worst trip I’ve ever been on.’

Let’s not do it again, ever.

…. as if it never happened!

Lift out in Lefkas

With the weather returning to more normal conditions we hosted an ‘Après Storm’ BBQ (we always find a reason for a BBQ) on Saturday evening, inviting our neighbours from Rusty and Magnificat.

Colin, Glenn, Lynn, Jean and us

Having arrived here our friends Grahame and Jane from Scarlett had told us to look out for their friends Lynn and Glenn in  Magnificat; we didn’t need to look too far as we had moored beside them!   The BBQ went off well and a good time was had by all and now both are heading for their winter berths, Magnificat to Ágios Nikolaos on Crete and Rusty to Preveza.

We had a few more days in Lefkas before we head on to Roccella as the engine service revealed a leaking seal on the starboard sail drive – the leg on which the propeller is mounted.  This was allowing water into the gear box and the seals need to be replaced; a job  requiring the boat to be taken out of the water, which is obscenely expensive.  But not as expensive as replacing the salt water damaged sail drive.

We were lifted on Tuesday and being unable to stay on the boat while out of the water Valeria found us a B&B for Tuesday night.  Once in the boatyard Valeria went off into town to find our hotel and I stayed to ‘supervise’ the work.   In addition to having the sail drive seals replaced I also had the sail drives themselves cleaned of marine growth then anti fouled and our new ‘bumpers’ fitted.     These are not the most aesthetically pleasing things but they will protect the stern from intentional and unintentional contacts with quaysides.

New grey bumpers and clean props

When the fitters and mechanics went home I joined Valeria for the evening and we went to our favourite restaurant in Lefkas, the Taverna Eytyxia, happily directly across the street from the B&B.  This is the oldest Taverna in Lefkas and the food is fantastic!

On Wednesday I went back to the boatyard as the guys completed the work and by 2 pm we were being lifted back into the water.

This was an unavoidably expensive end to our season, but with newly serviced engines and sail-drives our passage across to Roccella should be trouble-free, especially as we have a two window of light and moderate south-easterly winds; they’ll be right behind us the whole way!

On to Cephalonia

The last couple of days in Katacolon started to drag and so  we took the first opportunity of not un-favourable winds to push on to Cephalonia.

The cruise ships arrive very early each morning

Thursday was the day.  Light winds all morning with relatively light north-westerly winds off Cephalonia as we were to arrive in the afternoon. The earlier we set off the better and so we slipped from the town quay in Katacolon after lunch on Wednesday and went to anchor outside the harbour planning an early night and a pre dawn departure on Thursday.  It also meant we wouldn’t have to avoid cruise liners arriving as we set off!   The passage north was almost 60 miles, or just under 12 hours, and was calm almost the whole way there; we were moored on the Argostoli town quay by 4pm.

Anniversary 2018

We have a week in hand now and plan to stay on the town quay throughout. We have spent time in Argostoli before, and our friend Keith did such a good job of showing us around Cephalonia we felt there wasn’t a lot of need to explore further.  So we will just soak up life in Argostoli, celebrate our wedding anniversary and prepare for all our visitors.

Mauro and Adri are to join us,on the 7th then Valeria goes home with them on the 10th.  Marisa comes out for a week on the 11th and then Valeria returns as Marisa leaves and brings Charlie and Ana with her!

Our new neighbours

Looking forward to busy month and as we’ll not be going far, perhaps some sailing!!

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.

 

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.

Sivota to Paxos

We said our farewells to Graeme and Jane, and Martino on Saturday evening and at 8 am on Sunday morning, Graeme and Jayne helped throw off our lines and waved goodbye from the pontoon, Isabella had gone back to bed.  ( You know who your friends are …..)

The passage to Paxos could be made to the east or west of the island. Going east was theoretically an hour shorter than the western route but required the negotiation of the narrow channel passed Lefkada port and the bridge north of Lefkada; with perfect timing and no other yachts we might have made Paxos quicker going east.    We went west, out of Sivota, hang a right, then right again at the next light house ……. navigating is a bit more difficult than that but with GPS and Sat Nav not that much!!!!

We put the sails up; a triumph of hope over experience and motor sailed north by north west towards Paxos, fishing line trailing; another triumph of hope over experience.

And then …. exitement …. well, a mild over exaggeration.   I saw a small rubber boat 6 miles off the coast where no small rubber boat should be.   As we got close it became apparent that it was empty.  As we got closer we saw it marked up as belonging to SailingHolidays.com.   Now, charter boats drag their tenders, we’ve seen enough to know that, so in all likelyhood some one couldn’t tie their knots and lost it, but what if …

Salvage ….

So I called the Coast Guard and reported it, then took the tender in tow.  That is £800 worth of dingy!  Well it was until I saw it up close later as we dragged it on board.  My visions of claiming salvage dropped from a week in a marina to a case of beer, if I was lucky.

Arriving at Gaios I called the Port Police as instructed by Coast Guard.  They had found the owner of the dingy,  the manager for the chater company based in Gouvia.  On phoning him it transpired he’d spent most of the afternoon being quizzed by the Police about this tender.  Oh dear, what a shame, perhaps ensuring charterers can tie knots and keep an efficient look out might help?  How can you loose a tender and not notice?   Mind you, we have a few ‘Charterboat stories’ that could answer that question.

Unfortunately,  arriving at Paxos on Sunday afternoon we found the cute anchorage of Mongonisi packed, and the port of Gaios similarly full. Having said that I lack the Charter Boat skipper mentality which will see them drive at spaces which really don’t exist and cram in there regardless.  So we anchored off the port and spent a rather un-comfortable, and mostly sleepless night, ‘on the hook’, expecting 24 hours of rain which never materialised.

South entrance to Gaios

On Monday afternoon, as yachts left, we went into Gaios and found ourselves a spot on the Town Quay; then spent the afternoon watching various yacht drivers trying to reverse into gaps and fending off others mooring next to us.

All in all a far from uneventful passage but now we’re in Gaios we’ll stay a couple of days and look around the island before moving on to Corfu.

Sivota and the South Ionian Regatta

Returning to Sivota was a good choice as it turned out. Busy due to the Regatta but well sheltered from the winds which were good for the races but not for passage making north! We are grateful to Martino for squeezing us in. Turns out his sister’s boyfriend is …. you guessed it …. Brazilian!

Isabella On Watch ….

The bay was very, very busy with every available berth taken, and the anchorage full each evening. But with all these crews in town it wasn’t as rowdy as might have been expected and we quite enjoyed our stop over. There were plenty of restaurants and tavernas, shops for essential food and fishing tackle and of course Graeme, Jayne and Isabella.

As the week wore on the Regatta crowd slowly disappeared and normality returned although on Saturday we were entertained watching two departing yachts getting their anchors caught on submerged obstructions. One eventually freed himself through brute force but the second managed to dredge up 3 or 4 old anchor chains, all comprehensively tangled round his anchor. After a while Graeme and I went over and helped him free himself.

On Saturday afternoon the four of us decided we needed some exercise and so took a 4 km walk up to a reputedly good winery in the hills above Sivota on the road to Lefkada. We found a taverna for refreshments half way there with fantastic views into Sivota Bay. Happily the taverna was there for refreshments half way back as well!

Sivota Bay

But when we got to the winery it was closed …… well, mostly. We managed to tag onto the end of an over running coach tour and after a quick tasting bought a couple of bottles! Had to be done after all the hiking to get there!

We also had our last meal out with Graeme and Jayne that evening; the ’12 Gods’ restaurant was the best one we found in Sivota. And then we bid our farewells. It was lovely to see them again and spend time with them and we may not see them again until we return to Greece next year.  We’re pretty sure to meet up again as we’re both heading in the same general direction as each other.

Sunset in Sivota

We are both set to leave Sivota on Sunday although we’ll be off earlier with further to go. Paxos, here we come!

Cruising with Scarlett

This was a new experience for us; rather than just meeting up with people in places we set out ‘in company’ with Scarlett.

Stenon Meganisiou
Stenon Meganisiou
Scarlett anchored near Port Atheni
Scarlett anchored near Port Atheni

We set off on Tuesday morning, the 19th, heased for the small harbour of Palairos.  It was only a couple of hours away so we stopped off in Port Atheni, a small bay known to Graeme and Jayne non the north coast of Nisos Meganisi, anchoring for lunch and a swim before resuming our passage.

Unfortunately when we arrived at Palairos the harbour was completely full.  We found out later there is no one to take port fees and so it is effectuvely free to moor, so it is full of thrifty locals!  We then tried the almost empty harbour of Vounaki just south of there, only to be shooed away because it is a ‘Private Harbour’.   We returned to anchor off Palairos.

Evening off Palairos

So, settling down to our anchor, we had drinks aboard Scarlett and, being unable to wait out the next winds in Palairodecided to return to Sivota, or try to; we’d be trying to get in during the Regatta.   As we left the following morning Valeria rang Martino, who runs the pontoon we’d been on and whose number we’d taken.   Martino is Italian and Valeria used the tried and tested ‘Ciao bello! ‘ tactic and managed to secure us two berth, despite the regatta.  The passage back was great as we actually sailed most of the way back to Sivota, getting back onto Martino’s pontoon before the afternoon rush.

It’s us …… under sail …… first ever photo!!

And we were so lucky that Martino found us places, as the afternoon and evening wore on you needed a shoehorn to squeeze boats in and could probably walk from one side of the bay to the other across the decks of anchored yachts.

Sivota again

We paid up until Sunday morning when we hope to be able to set off north again towards Corfu.

Reunion in Sivota

We set off from Sami early on Saturday morning for a short ‘drive’ up to Sivota on the south coast of the island of Lefkas, where we planned to meet up with our friends Graeme and Jayne, and their Ship’s Cat Isabella,  in Scarlett.

Scarlett

As it happened we both arrived at the same time and ended up on opposite sides of the same pontoon just after lunch.  Our plan loosely was to leave on Tuesday on our way up towards Lefkas town to wait out the next batch of poor weather, so with a couple of days to kill we set about some serious socialising, meals on board and ashore.  Isabella even seemed to remember us and Windependent from Olbia almost 5 months ago and settled right in when Graeme and Jayne came to visit!   It is great to meet up with them again.

Chart of Sivota

Sivota is a sheltered bay about half a mile long.  It has a small town quay and is home to an enormous charter fleet which takes up fully 3/4 of the available space.    Unbeknown to us, we had arrived at the start of a charter fleet sailing regatta and space in Sivota was at a premium.  Luckily,arriving early we got onto a privately run pontoon and as the afternoon wore on all the available berths were taken up and boats were anchoring in the harbour with very little room to swing.  How it will be when it gets busy is anyone’s guess.

The village has grown to service the charter fleet custom and trade from other visiting yachts and there is little  else in Sivota other than restaurants, shops and a couple of mini markets.  That said it is a pleasant enough place to pass a couple of days, quiet but crowded, picturesque and sheltered.

Sami and a visit from Keith and Tracy

Last time we were in Cephalonia was May, at the start of our trip around the Aegean, and had been made so welcome by Keith that we had to drop in again on our way passed to say hello.

Sami port

Sami is a quaint place on the east coast of the island at the south end of the Kolpos Samis, the big bay opposite the south end of Ithica. Keith had taken us here for coffee on our last visit and we arranged for him to come up on Friday for the afternoon.

Keith and Tracey arrived at lunch time on Friday and we settled down to an afternoon and evening of BBQing, sunbathing and socialising.   Great to see Keith again and to meet Tracey; all in all a very pleasant visit and we hope to to meet up again in the UK and next year when we stop off in Cephalonia on our way back to explore more of the Aegean.