We arrived in Kioni mid-afternoon with a prevailing westerly blowing at 20 plus knots giving us a very exciting close hauled sail between the islands. All the town quay berths were taken so we decided to anchor in the north part of the bay and take a long line ashore tied onto the rocks, this was not a successful mooring at all, trying to perform the manoeuvre with the wind coming square on our port side caused Mark and I to get more stressed than we had been for a long time. This was made worse by the fact that the seabed was weedy and the holding quite poor, so we tried to get the anchor to dig in quite a few times. Eventually we succeeded and we settled down to watch as either side of us filled up with many other boats, all long lining to shore and all performing the task with much greater ease than us – in fairness they all had more than 2 crew, and that makes a massive difference, getting one of the crew into the dinghy while dropping the anchor, so he can wiz to shore, tie onto a rock before the wind pushes them off their course. So we are still a little unsure what technique to use with the 2 of us and a wind on the beam.
Kioni was similar in style to Vathi, very picturesque, not too touristy, a couple of tavernas and bars and an artist studio selling home grown ceramics, a lot of which were fridge magnets. I am beginning to run out of superlatives, but Kioni again exceeded all our expectations, just a beautiful village and setting with Mark getting his regular swim of the back of the boat. We chose the less busy restaurant for dinner and thought we had made a mistake until the roast pork fresh off the spit arrived, which was just delicious with the roasted skin tasting just amazing, served with potatoes roasted in the juices ……and washing it down with the usual ½ litre of home grown wine. We had so much roast pork I brought home a doggy bag for Hudson.
We leave tomorrow for Mesolongion, our final destination before coming home for the wedding. It appears that Greeks don’t like dogs on their buses, so our original plans to stay in Preveza have changed and we are going to go 3 hours closer by road and only 2.5 hours from Athens airport, and try to work out how we get Hudson to the airport from their, the joys (and huuuuuuge expense) of having a dog with you on a boat.
As we left Nidri, we passed the island of Nisis Skorpios which used to belong to the Onassis family, you can see the beach house where Jackie O used to go to avoid the flashing cameras. The island is now the property of a Russian billionairess with her 4 storey super yacht moored just outside in her private bay, and doing a good job of blocking off any inlet where a yacht could anchor or possibly make a landfall – the joys of wealth. Meganisi is a short sail from Nidri and is yet another of those picture perfect bays with low built houses lining the town quay, and thankfully we have left the high rise concrete of Spain far behind. The inner harbour is filled with small one man fishing boats at the western end and Sunsail occupying a good proportion of the other moorings…..fortunately not being the typical noisy “Sunsail” and quietly blending in with the other yachts.
We had to stay in the outer marina because of our depth and were shocked to be charged 50 euros for the night, we have got used to free or 10/15 euros for a night since being in Greece. Late in the evening a large Maltese registered 100 ft reproduction of a Mediterranean wooden sailing boat plonked itself next to us, except it was fibreglass with obviously no expense spared, I think the 8 ft tender cost more than Hapatoni did. The town quay had none of the “kiss me quick” of Nidri and was exactly how Mark and I had visualised our ideal mooring in Greece.
We found a typical Greek taverna right on the waterfront to relax over a long lunch, enjoying the local food with a Greek salad, olives of course, freshly baked crusty bread, followed by large grilled prawns, simply done but tasty and a delicious seabass with the potatoes cooked in the juices from the fish, all washed down with a ½ litre (ok it was a litre) of house wine from the barrel and grown in a local Greek vineyard. Lunch was followed by a lazy siesta and a swim.
The Ionian Islands are incredibly beautiful and very mountainous, forming a backdrop to the anchorages and town quays which are all within easy sailing of each other….if you get any wind. It is definitely busier on the water, with so many more yachts especially the charters, but there is always room if you don’t arrive too late and lots of unspoilt places to visit with great scenery.
We left Preveza travelling the 17 miles to the Island of Levkas and the harbour of Nidri. Levkas is only just an island because of the canal running through the salt marsh between it and the mainland, with a floating bridge to connect it. You have to time and negotiate the narrow canal entrance and bridge opening to reach the “Inland Sea” – which is called this because it is hemmed in by islands making it appear like a separated sea, but its not. As you exit the canal the inland sea opens up to you, with its mountainous perimeter, pretty bays and numerous islands to explore, we can see why so many people sail here, its stunning. We decided to anchor on the other side of the inlet from the town of Nidri, about ¼ mile away in Tranquil bay, which got its name for obvious reasons. We ventured for the first time on anchor taking a long line ashore. we are total converts and where possible would always anchor this way, it’s brilliant, it sorted out the issue of moving in the crowded Greek anchorages and kept our bum to the shore reducing the slap of waves on our transom…no earplugs needed. The spot we picked backed onto green hills covered with olive trees, it was so peaceful, and it felt like you had your own private swimming pool behind the boat. The sea has now lost its chill, though that hasn’t stopped Mark diving in ever since we left Spain in April. It is warm, but the perfect temperature for me to slip of my inflatable armchair, tied to the back of the boat and cool off during the heat of the day.
The town of Nidri was a hive of activity, crammed full of tourists taking excursions on the variety of tripper boats out visiting the local islands and beaches during the day, and spending their hard earned euros in the shops selling tatty holiday gifts and in the numerous restaurants and bars on the town quay. It was nice to pop over with the tender and watch the goings-on, but then even nicer to go back to our tranquil bay. Our only issue here has been the outboard which started to play up again, so Mark had a lot of rowing to do, especially on day 2 when we wanted to take Hudson for a walk. Most of the shore line near Tranquil bay is private land so poor Mark had to keep rowing until we finally found our landing spot.
We are both conscious we only have a few days left for now, before we head home for the Wedding, so it is count down time, we are excited about the wedding and also happy as we know we have all this to come back to in August.
1st Stop – Ormos Fanari Bay 9th July
After leaving the beautiful Island of Paxos we headed 15 miles across to mainland Greece to the bay of Ormos Fanari. The bay was a long curving white sandy beach with the Akheron river on the south side which Mark went exploring in the dingy, the village on the northern banks looked like the OK Coral in an old western film, the only thing missing was the grass balls rolling through town on the breeze….maybe because there was no breeze it was very hot. The bay was not heavily populated with tourists on the beach or anchored boats and that should have told us something, but it was a pretty bay so we dropped the anchor for the night. We took Hudson for his evening walk along the beach finishing off at the local bar which closes promptly at 7.30pm, it is just surprising we were not asked to wash our glasses and turn the lights out when we left. We only planned to stop the one night thankfully, as during the night we turned beam on to the small waves coming into the bay, each one adding to the oscillation of the other, till eventually it felt like an Alton Towers extreme ride. It became so unbearable, that we decided to get up at 4.30am, lifted anchor and set sail to Preveza. Lesson one, read the pilot book thoroughly, and if in doubt (and not too busy) use the kedge.
2nd Stop – Preveza 10th July
We journeyed the 24 miles to Preveza arriving early at 9.45am, we moored on the Town Quay right in front of the taverna’s and bars, which looked so peaceful at this time of the morning with only the occasional tourist drinking their freshly squeezed orange juice. We had planned to leave the boat here when we return for Adam and Laura’s wedding, so we thought we should check out the arrangements. We visited the Marina next to the town quay and provisionally booked it for 15 Euros a night, a bargain. Then we sorted out the vets for Hudson, leaving only our transport to Athens outstanding. Fingers crossed the bus takes dogs or it is a long walk. The bars are nicely decorated, quite classy, prices are reasonable and they offer great free tapas. We were given a massive cheese puff for breakfast when we ordered fresh orange juice. The town is clean and well looked after, with a main street for the tourists but most voices seemed to be Greek. Preveza was a surprise to me, it offers all the facilities you need. Our only recommendation to others would be, to be careful with your mooring on the town quay as we picked the busiest spot so you needed your ear plugs to sleep, although in the evening it is full of life and it was wonderful sitting on the back of the boat watching the world go by.
Gaios is the capital of Paxos a very short hop from Lakka and a bustling town with a long channel leading to the town quay. The first night we stayed just out of town wanting to experiment with our first anchor and stern mooring out of the sight of too many critical eyes, all went well, so we decided to go for the town quay on the second day, which again surprisingly went very well. We were moored within 10 feet of a whole gaggle of tavernas, and at night the tourists as well as the local Greek population came out to play, and play, thank goodness for earplugs. During the day we watched the hire yachts mooring, crossed anchor chains were an hourly occurrence, very entertaining. We both felt that our holiday had now really started as Paxos, and had delivered our Greek vision. We took the opportunity to do exactly nothing for three days – apart from the morning runs at 7:30 in the morning up a very steep hill in 25 deg C, Mark is not impressed. So reluctantly again we leave Gaios for the mainland, we really have enjoyed our first week in Greece.
We decided on Lakka for our first footsteps in Greece and I have to say that was a great decision. We arrived at 9:30 in the morning after an uneventful 12 hour sail through the night from Italy, although Mark did have another screaming fishing reel at dusk as the line rapidly left the reel, but the fish got off the hook…..again. Everything about Lakka and the bay is breathtakingly beautiful, there is a small village at the head of a horseshoe bay protected by steep hills with a few strategically placed villas perched on them (inhabited by eccentric English families apparently) overlooking the most transparent turquoise water I have ever seen. It took about 30 seconds after the anchor went down for Mark to get in for a swim.
The village was just a delight, with taverna’s on the quay and quaint small shops selling knickknacks and local produce, all kept in pristine order, the Greek crisis has not hit Paxos. The main export of Paxos is olive oil, with over 200,000 trees covering most of the island but the main money maker is now tourism.
We stayed for 3 days, (and could of easily stayed longer) meeting Roger and Sisca from Holland who we first met on the ARC Portugal in 2014, much wine was consumed and we tested out several of the local restaurants. Surprisingly, fish is not a main part of the local diet, and the cost of my prawns seems to be ever spiralling upwards, I think we may have to convert to meat. We also met Peter and his wife Marlies on their boat Highliner, a couple who live-aboard, having abandoned all land based possessions, rented out there house in Hertfordshire and were living their dream on a 40 foot boat in the Ionian. Our kind neighbours insisted we had a go on their paddle board, I was a bit wobbly at first but after a while go the hang of it, I have to say Mark was more of a natural after his initial cocky start, which resulted in a grand splash.
One of the key joys of having such beautiful surroundings, was that everyone wanted to be there, the boats were on occasion so closely anchored that you could almost hop from one to another to get to the shore, although at no time did the village feel crowded. With great reluctance we left on day 4, but I am pretty sure we will be back before the end of the summer.
Another full day’s sail (13 hours), the sea was calm and the wind was more of a breath than a breeze, although at mid afternoon it did pick up for a couple of hours to a pleasant sailing F4. With very little wind you felt the full force of the sun as it stepped up a level again to a consistent 30*C plus. With these conditions you can be very productive; I was able to do the washing, cleaning and prepared/seasoned the prawns. Plus with such gorgeous weather and no other boats anywhere to be seen, I did a bit of topless sunbathing at the bow (until Hudson did his SAS manoeuvre and stole my spot on the cushion). Mark got to practise his French and Guitar so the time passed quickly, with us arriving very hot around 5pm. After securing the boat the first port of call was a swim on the beach right next to the marina, it was quite shallow so I expected more warmth, but the water is still a tad cool.
Crotone is a local Italian holiday resort; life seems to mainly focus around the beach and promenade, which is filled with restaurants and cafe/bars. This is very much a family town, full of life and noise. In the evenings the whole family seems to get together for dinner or just to sit by the marina or the promenade to watch the world go by and chat.
We ventured out for dinner night 1, trying the local house wine and pasta, surprise surprise Mark had a spicy pizza. Today (1st July) we started the day on a healthy note with a run, we had to be up and out by 8am as the temperature was already 25*C. The picture below is Hudson crashed out after his run.
Then off to the local markets, first task was to find the fruit & vegetable. I had rough directions, and we circumnavigated the large fort with walls that must have been 150ft high, absolutely massive. With perseverance we found the market and filled our trolley with fresh produce, then took the scenic route home (I blame Mark’s sat nav 🙂 ) via the fish market. The fish options were disappointing and expensive (fish seems to be very expensive everywhere in the Med except Spain), but we are now stocked up ready for our sail, leaving us the afternoon to relax, have a swim, and a final beer before one of Marks favourite home cooked dinners, garlic and chilli prawns – and these are big suckers.
We leave tomorrow Wednesday 2nd July for Greece to Ak LAkka on Paxoi, a reputedly beautiful Cala where we hope to anchor for a day or so, hopefully it wont be too busy. Its an overnighter 140 miles, so will catch up again on the 3rd July.
En route to Rocella (74 miles and about 13 hours), the day starts at 5:00 am with no wind and the engine on and Mark is down below revising his French. After two hours we swap shift and I try to get some sleep with Hudson (who unlike me has no problem sleeping). The wind gets up and Mark has an exhilarating shift at the wheel with 20 knots on the port bow. Just as his watch is ending the wind gusts to 25 knots on the beam and with a bit too much sail out, Hapatoni tries to dip her mast in the water as we turn to wind to reef, more exhilaration. The wind was coming down the strait of Messina funnelled by the mountains between Italy and Sicily, which disappeared 5 minutes into my watch after the Italian mainland blocked it, so engine back on and Mark is below once more with his French lessons and guitar.
The passage culminated in another thunder storm, with winds gusting up to 30 knots and heavy rain, I did not expect to be wearing wet weather gear in Italy at this time of year, but thankfully calming down for our mooring in Roccella. Roccella was pleasant enough, the marina staff very helpful and reasonably priced at 50 Euro, but not a lot else there, being 3 km from town. The main distinguishing feature is the sandbar that blocks the entrance to the marina, so to enter you almost have to climb on the inshore mole to get enough depth, joy. So we arrive at 6:00pm and leave at 6:00am for Crotone and our final stop before the big hop to Greece.
The journey to Etna was 43 miles about 7.5 hours, with the key excitement being the dolphins coming out to play and play they did; the jumps they were performing were stunning.
Marina dell Etna was a disappointment, we arrived expecting to leave Sicily on a high with a trip up Etna via the cable car and then in a land rover to one of the craters near the top, but the cost was around 400 Euro for all the fees to get there – great volcano but not really worth the expense. The marina was nice but also expensive (91 Euros a night) but maybe that’s just moving into high season in the Med. It hosted some really beautiful super yachts flying the British ensign (which does seem to be quite prevalent on the large boats), although we think that there has to be a tax dodge, there can’t be that many super rich people in the UK.
As we leave Sicily, we feel that it did not really live up to its billing, there were very few places to anchor, no calas or beaches like the Balearics or Sardinia and the marinas for the most part were uninspiring. I think we got really spoilt by the previous islands or maybe we didn’t give it the best chance, we feel like we have scooted past it very quickly, but on reflection we are not sure where we would have stayed longer.
We arrived in Siracusa following an overnight stop in a very modern and empty harbour in Ragusa (stayed 22nd June). Siracusa was a welcome break, we had been looking forward to staying here for a while and it did not disappoint. On day one we arrived at 6 pm in a force 6, Mark did not want to tackle the mooring in the tiny marina so we dropped the anchor in the bay and got a pleasant’ish nights sleep.
The next day we went into the marina in the morning which was conveniently located in the old town and then set off to explore. Siracusa was lovely with the usual narrow streets, porcelain shops everywhere, which seems to be the local speciality, and one of our favourite bits which was the morning market, a mad bustle of fresh fish and vegetable stalls crammed into a couple of crowded streets. We finally found some reasonable priced very large prawns (12 euro’s a kilo). Hudson loved it and probably added a few pounds with all the scraps he managed to find.
We stayed in the marina for 3 days and settled into a pleasant routine, jogging around the coast road which surrounded the old town first thing, a beer in the afternoon in one of the many local cafes and then dinner, either with fresh slabs of tuna from the market or into town. The first night we stumbled on a small family run restaurant packed with locals and were lucky enough to get a table, the food was delicious. Dad and his belly sat behind the high counter taking in the money while his 14 year old daughter ran around taking orders and delivering the dishes, with his wife and the rest of the family in the kitchen cooking up these wonderful plates of food at a reasonable price. The last day we again anchored in the bay and looked out at the lights of Siracusa feeling rested and ready for the next part of the journey. The mooring fee was 60 Euro per night plus electricity and drink costs varied pending where you stopped and how touristy, but you usually got a picnic of tapas included.