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Peloponnese and Ionian Wanderings

July 28, 2014

In the last installment I mentioned that summer had arrived – with a bang! We are now baking in Gouvia marina, Corfu (Kekyra in Greek) for a few nights and taking the opportunity while we have shore power for the “blog computer” to send an update before our next big hop.

Lots of colourful butterflies

Lots of colourful butterflies

Upside down butterfly - its head is at the wide end!

Upside down butterfly – its head is at the wide end!

 

The anticipated week’s stay in Kalamata extended to two weeks giving us plenty of time to carry out most of the chores on our list as well as explore the countryside. The part for the broken water pump amazingly arrived on the Saturday after I ordered it from Italy. We were in the car hire office, looking at the Greek phone for some reason. I noticed that we had received a call from the Kalamata area that morning (receiving phone calls is such a rarity that I hardly ever check!). As the woman in the hire shop was filling out the forms, I called back and found that it was Fedex, asking where “Alixora” was in Kalamata! After a short discussion, and some input from the car hire lady with a map and route outlined, I said we would go and collect our parcel straight away as otherwise it would be Monday before we got it. When we picked the parcel up, sure enough it was just addressed to S.Y. Alixora, Kalamata, Greece. Honestly, I did put the marina name on the order form! The pump was fixed that afternoon and Brian put away his cunning emergency drainage system.

The few days before that I had washed all our winter clothes (self service washing machines, which is cheaper but takes up a lot of time) including fleeces and sweaters, unpacked our summer clothes from boxes and vacuum bags and refilled them with the washed stuff – which of course takes up more space, so a bit of storage rearrangement had to be undertaken as well. I repaired the dinghy cover, we cleaned the dinghy itself and put new rope on its handles which will make it a lot easier to take the cover off in future. That reminds me that it needs a clean again now – but that is difficult in a crowded marina where we are flanked by two other yachts and the dinghy is tied on at the bow (i.e. too far down to be able to get to it)! In Kalamata we had space to get the dinghy to the pontoon. It rained quite a lot those first few days too, so hanging out the washing had to coincide with dry spells! In between we watched a cargo ship in the commercial harbour being kitted out with what seemed to be new hatch covers – lots of crane movements and big clangs as each huge cover was manoeuvered into place.

We kept the car for 6 days altogether, fitting in shopping trips to a huge Carrefour and a Praktika (B&Q equivalent) where we acquired a new flat screen TV for our cockpit chart display and a Dremel for Brian – he had been impressed when he had borrowed John Douch’s.

A cave in one of the gorges complete with fridge!

A cave in one of the gorges complete with fridge!

After all that work we deserved a break and went up the deservedly famous road to Mystra, stopping to gawk at the amazing gorges and thought we had seen yellow billed choughs – only they turned out to be cliff dwelling ravens. Ah well.

We stayed in a nice hotel in Mystra after visiting the ruins – which we weren’t particularly impressed with.

The castle on the top was impressive though, and a nice breeze up there on a hot day.

The palace was being renovated so was out of bounds, and yes, there are lots of Byzantine churches with fairly well preserved wall paintings.

 

But once you have seen one golden haloed saint, how many more do you need to see?

We detoured along more scenic gorges on our return the next day, spying raptors in the distance but without identifying any apart from the kestrels, along with swallows, swifts, crows and jays. I did take pictures of the gorges, but they don’t really show their grandeur.

A beach near Kalamata

A beach near Kalamata

Another day we headed down the eastern coast of the gulf of Kalamata, stopping at a small resort for frappé and sandwiches to take away for our lunch. We climbed up into the mountains (by car) where it was much cooler and loads of flowers still and stunning scenery.

Leafy gorges - there is still water in the streams

Leafy gorges – there is still water in the streams

Finally it was time to leave. We had experimented with putting our Wind mobile broadband sim card into Brian’s Android tablet which worked well. However the micro bit had had to be broken out of the normal sized card, and it got horribly jammed when we tried to put it back in the standard dongle. So I had to race up to the Wind shop (miles away) on the evening before departure to get a new dongle kit and a separate sim card for the Android. It is a shame for materials conservation that buying new is cheaper than getting a topup. Weird.

As we prepared to leave on Saturday 21st June, our next door neighbours (a youngish couple on a catamaran called Toi et Moi, which sported a decal of blue monkeys paddling canoes along each side) finally decided to chat to us and were upset that we were leaving! The next time we saw them they were anchored in Vlicho bay, Lefkas and too far away to greet.

Koroni castle

Koroni castle

Our first stage was only 13 Nautical miles, so no great rush to set off. After 11 o’clock coffee, we set off and had a wonderful two and half hours sailing – remarkable.   We anchored off Koroni in a brisk breeze (blowing the other way from the direction we had had all day) but our anchor stuck well and we settled down for the night.

At anchor in Finikounda

At anchor in Finikounda

Next day we headed round the corner on another short hop to Finikounda, and then on at dawn to Navrinou bay where we planned to sit out some strong winds. Every day we saw turtles either out at sea or in the bays.

Methoni castle

Methoni castle

 

We anchored off the small resort of Gialova, going ashore to refresh our memories (mine was completely faulty – I think I was thinking of Limnos and Moudros bay!) and have a beer. I had tested the water earlier but it was still rather cool – not worth getting wet for especially in the wind. A glance at the water temperature chart showed a cool blue band all the way up the west coast of the Peloponnese – perhaps from cold springs coming down from the mountains.

Islets at the entrance to Navarinou bay - swarming with swifts

Islets at the entrance to Navarinou bay – swarming with swifts

 

The following day as the promised strong winds started, we took the outboard off the dinghy and moved up to the north of the bay to get out of the choppy water – and sat there for two days as the wind howled! It was quite nice though, just relaxing and reading, but it did get a bit boring. We watched other ships and yachts come and go. One large boat was a converted icebreaker (we looked it up on one of the ship identification web sites) which looked very smart but a bit over the top for the Med!

Another early start saw us heading up to Katacolon, where we stopped for three nights. Our first attempt at tying up stern to the quay with the anchor out went very well – until we ran out of anchor chain (reached the bitter end – literally). At 80 metres this was a bit much and we still needed another half metre to reach the quay. So after a bit of discussion with the harbour master (Leon – yes he is still there) and the man on the next boat who had taken our lines, we went back out and did it again – only 50 metres this time! All very well, except I (being the anchor person) have to physically delve into the anchor locker to rearrange the chain as it comes in – 80 metres is a lot of bending and heaving!

Kalamata (I think)

Pilos, at the south end of Navarinou bay – probably

However Leon made us the gift of a water melon the next day which was very nice although it took us four days to get through it even eating huge portions each time and it took up a lot of space in the fridge.

Brian spent a lot of time cleaning and polishing all the stainless (gantry, pushpit, stanchions, pulpit and other bits). We watched huge cruise ships come in, disgorge their passengers for the trip to Olympia and be persuaded to buy tourist tat in the small town. Half the shops only open when the cruise ships arrive.

Our neighbours hired a car and went to Olympia too – leaving us assuring them that we would keep an eye on their boat. In the afternoon, a huge catamaran arrived, tried to squeeze into the space next to their boat and managed to snag their anchor rope (not a chain) on their propeller –cutting it neatly in half with a twang! I was watching and as their boat started leaning on ours, a couple of guys on shore held it off the quay. I jumped on board and managed to get what remained of their anchor rope over to Brian to tie it off to our bow – thus holding it off the quay temporarily. We put another of our ropes from their centre cleat to our bow to make it more secure. After some discussion (and after the catamaran managed to tie up) three of the catamaran people went swimming to try to find the anchor. I went and had a look in the anchor locker and saw a note on the lid that there should be 30 metres of chain there too. Eventually they found the end of the chain and rope, and using another of our ropes (why ours?) tied the cut end to our rope and we winched the boat back into place. Phew. Soon after, the owning family returned and I related the tale. Initially the chap was very upset of course, but the catamaran captain (who had remained aloof until then) went out with him in their dinghy and spliced the anchor rope back onto the chain very efficiently. The injured party said he had only lost about 5 metres in the end, so he was happy and we got our ropes back.

Cheeky swallows

Cheeky swallows

It was time to move on again, having waited for the wind to be favourable for the last long hop to Kephalonia. The alarm went off at 6am and we set off at 7 arriving in Sami at 7pm – a long day and as I recall not much wind to help us along. However there is a north setting current up the coast so we got the benefit of that.

We were really pleased to find that we could tie up alongside in Sami – especially as we were followed in by a huge crowd of Ukranians in a flotilla who messed about with anchors and tying up stern to for a while and very noisily.

We spent a pleasant two nights in Sami – good shops and free mooring. A small pebble beach lies the other side of the harbour wall and at last the water was warm so we got long awaited swimming in too! A shower on the beach as well rounded out the pleasure.

During the previous few days we had been keeping in contact with John and Gill on Petronella, and Duncan and Julia on Rampage. Petronella was well on its way to the Ionian and we arranged to meet them in “Big” Vathi, Ithaka on 1st July. We duly arrived early having enjoyed seeing dolphins play off Agia Ephemia, anchor out and tied to shore on the west harbour wall and treated ourselves to a frappé as we waited for them to arrive which they did around lunchtime.

Hurray!  Catching up with Gill

Hurray! Catching up with Gill

It was great to see them again and we joined them for drinks a thorough update and a meal out at a very nice restaurant (Siline) which we found by chance as John was hunting for a Vodaphone shop to sort out some communications issues.

On the way into the harbour, we saw a huge motor cruiser anchored with a full size yacht on deck! We forgot to look it up (I don’t think it had its AIS on so we didn’t see its name on the chart) but it must have been some magnate’s boat.

We followed Petronella to Vlicho bay, Lefkas (Velcro bay for yachties) which has very good holding to wait out some strong winds the following evening.

Vlicho bay - the water is really a bit green and murky!

Vlicho bay – the water is really a bit green and murky!

It isn’t very salubrious – I probably shouldn’t have had a swim in the murky water where tens of yachts anchor, some permanently. The predicted wind picked up but we managed to get ashore for a couple of beers, then returned for dinner on board. As dusk approached and the wind blew even harder, several boats started to drift – both Petronella and Alixora were narrowly missed by yachts drifting downwind – with people on board but strangely not putting on their engines and driving up into the wind. Eventually it all settled down, but not until night had fallen and we were hoping not to have to fend people off in the dark! The next day we shared our amazement at the way some people seem to deal with anchoring. Having electronic handling on the windlass that lets the chain out as well as pulls it up seems to cause the most problems – the technique of reversing rapidly while slowly letting out chain doesn’t work very well especially in a crowded place and doesn’t let the anchor get a good grip.

Ferry avoidance

Ferry avoidance

John and Gill stayed another day to continue to sort out some things in Nidri while we went in search of Duncan and Julia in Abelike bay, just 5 miles away at the top of Meganissi. Having commented adversely on people’s anchoring techniques, I had to bite my tongue as I got it totally wrong. Duncan was there to take a long line to shore, but I let out too much chain and then didn’t have the means to pull it up again as I had forgotten to get out the switch! Oops. However we sorted it all out and it was great to see Duncan and Julia again. After our tumultuous arrival it was lovely to swim in the clear water and then collect D&J for a visit to the small taverna at the head of the bay for wonderful cold beers and a long update.

Abelike bay taverna

Abelike bay taverna

The following day Petronella arrived and we took their long lines – a much more controlled affair – and we all went for beers as before and to introduce them to each other then to Petronella for Gill’s famous and excellent chicken curry which I had inveigled her to prepare for the six of us. Julia and I combined to bring fruit salad and cream – not much of a swap really.

The following evening, after a walk into “Little” Vathi, we all brought cold dishes to a picnic on the beach – another very pleasant and social time.

Unfortunately the idyllic setting didn’t work for Petronella – their sleep was disturbed for two nights running with first one, then two rats climbing along their long lines onto deck. Being a steel boat, they can hear their claws scratching on the metal over their heads. Yuck. They managed to frighten them off before they got inside.

By this time our holding tank needed emptying so Rampage and we set off the next day back to Big Vathi, Ithaka. After the first hour or so down the side of Meganissi the wind picked up behind us and we had a great sail the rest of the way. Petronella followed, after another night of rat alarms. We tied up stern to as before, had gyros for dinner and had an early night to recover from the socialising!

The water carriers:  Gill, Deniz, Brian, me, John, Dilek, Duncan and Julia

The water carriers: Gill, Deniz, Brian, me, John, Dilek, Duncan and Julia

 

The next day, Dilek and Deniz arrived – Dilek is the Turkish lady hoping to be the first to sail solo across the Atlantic who met Gill who then introduced her to us in Teos marina last year. Her son Deniz is a university student, studying Chinese. This seemed odd, until we found out that Dilek had worked in China for a year – she works for a Turkish textile company. The company is supporting her in various ways for this adventure, and she has managed to get sponsorship from various other bodies too. John is now famous for having helped her with a faulty anchor windlass. One of the Turkish newspapers has picked up her story and one of the articles praises the support of Sir John Windlass!

We all went out to Siline restaurant again (it was so good before) and had a great evening and yet another late night. On our way back, we all helped to carry water containers that the restaurant had kindly filled for Dilek to replenish her water supply! As I had just paid 12€ for 240 litres from the water tanker that operates in this harbour, she had got a good deal!

Finally it was time for all of us to move on in different directions. It was Brian’s birthday and Julia had even brought him a card. Thank goodness I had remembered to wish him happy birthday that morning. We returned to Abelike bay as it had been so nice. The wind was fresh and in the right direction, helping us make 7 knots at times – amazing. The bay was a bit busy but we finally found a place on the east side in a small cove and again didn’t do our long line to shore very well – a bit of shouting ensued but all went OK in the end. It was too windy to risk leaving the boat but we had some very nice pork chops for Brian’s birthday dinner. The next day was calm and we walked up the track to the taverna we had been to before, had frappé, had swims, caught up with my diary writing and watched as other yachts came in. It rained briefly too.

Abelike bay again - east side

Abelike bay again – east side

Having been at anchor (even when tied to shore, you always worry a bit when the only thing tying down the front of the boat is an anchor) for some time we decided we needed a bit of luxury not to mention cheaper water and shore power and headed up to Lefkas marina. We were going to stay for 3 days, but it ended up as 6! But we did a lot in that time. It took 2 days to thoroughly wash the decks and stainless (yet again) as well as getting more laundry done. I even found a shop that washed duvets, so that got done too – the last of our winter things to get sorted.

We hired a car for a day and drove to Karya, a small town in the centre of the island with a very pleasant square shaded by huge plane trees. It was crowded too, being Sunday.

Karya square, Lefkas island

Karya square, Lefkas island

We continued down to the tip of the island for stunning views across to Kephalonia and Ithaka, sheer cliffs facing the Adriatic. We watched some swifts (we have seen a lot) and noted they were a bit different to the standard black – and found that they are Alpine swifts. A first for us.

Cliffs at Lefkas lighthouse

Cliffs at Lefkas lighthouse

Ithaka and Kephalonia in the distance

Ithaka and Kephalonia in the distance

I made a cover for our new TV – but now find that it doesn’t work as I had hoped. I had sourced some thick flexible PVC as a window, but it is too shiny so you can’t see the screen with it in place! Back to the drawing board. Brian’s watchstrap had broken a few weeks previously and we hadn’t seen a watch shop since, so that got fixed, along with a bit more choice for shopping and provisioning. We found a good gyro shop (that also provided our evening beers) on the harbour front from where we could spy on the comings and goings, and the amusing antics of yachts trying to tie up on the municipal quay. There is so much boat traffic, and so many upsets (tangled chains, boats caught on mooring lines etc) that a diver seemed to have continuous work!

Lefkas main harbour

Lefkas main harbour

I invested in a new edition of the Italian pilot book, leaving our old one in the yachtie library, and started to look at our route towards Italy.

Eventually it was time to leave again to head north. Lefkas is joined to the mainland by a bridge that rotates to let traffic through on the hour – only for about 5 minutes! We aimed at the bridge for 11am on Thursday 17th July and were the first through, carefully negotiating the sandbars that cluster around the exit into the Adriatic.

The bridge is closed......

The bridge is closed……

....and then open

….and then open

Defensive works on Lefkas canal

Defensive works on Lefkas canal

 

We headed for the inland sea of Amvrakikos which we had never investigated before. We passed Preveza and then let the genoa out for a very pleasant sail to Vronitsa – a town on the south coast – where we anchored off the small harbour on the east side. We went ashore for liquid refreshment, returning for a very nice lamb stew Brian had made and which we have only just finished. At 2am we were briefly woken by the local nightclub which went on until 6am, but we both slept through that without much trouble.

Vronitsa and its castle

Vronitsa and its castle

The next day we walked through eucalyptus groves to a lagoon where we watched a kingfisher catching a fish, and saw egrets flying overhead. It was too hot really to do much more than walk for an hour, so we returned for swims and relaxation.

Shady canal by the lagoon

Shady canal by the lagoon

Do I spy a fish down there?

Do I spy a fish down there?

Caught it!

Caught it!

 

On Saturday we decided to go for a sail – the wind picks up about mid day, which it did very nicely. However we found ourselves at the east end of the bay and the wind was blowing hard from the west! We managed to hammer against it up to the north side and anchored rather a long way from shore outside huge lagoons and near a village called Koronisia. We got the dinghy out, once we were sure the anchor was holding and went ashore for a fish dinner at the restaurant that had been recommended by a couple in Lefkas marina. It was very nice too, but a long walk from where we had left the dinghy. We were pleased that it was still there when we returned!

The following day we headed west again, finding a pleasant bay and a taverna on shore. At both this one and the previous day we were given quite substantial snacks with our beer – lamb stew at the latter and mussels and rice at the first!

A strange taverna on the beach

A strange taverna on the beach

On Monday we motored round the corner to Preveza where we tied up to the quay (anchor out again) and replenished our water and fruit supply as well as finding a gyros stall for dinner. Very pleasant especially as the town quay is pedestrianised. In the morning I found a note from the port police requesting attendance – which I did and paid up the 9€ fee before we cast off. Finding the office wasn’t easy despite the helpful map on the back of the note. As usual, the entrance was up a small alleyway at the back of a building that didn’t really advertise its occupants.

We headed north again out of the bay and managed a good sail towards Parga. However that bay was full of a flotilla and a horrid swell from the west was curling round into it. We followed the advice of the pilot book and headed east to a more sheltered cove where the sole yacht already there very kindly decided to leave as we circled looking for a space. So it was anchor out again and long line to shore – much more efficiently done this time – and we found a great mobile kitchen at the head of the bay where again our drinks were served with quite filling sausage and stew type appetisers! We liked it so much we stayed for another night, swimming and relaxing, then left early on Thursday to arrive in Gouvia marina Thursday evening.

A quiet bay near Parga

A quiet bay near Parga

 

with a beach round the corner

with a beach round the corner

and a mobile taverna!

and a mobile taverna!

There was a lot of ferry traffic to avoid on the way round Corfu town itself, but the views of the castle and battlements were lovely. I took pictures while Brian did the evasion!

Corfu castle from the south

Corfu castle from the south

Corfu castle from the north

Corfu castle from the north

 

We had hoped to get some more charts for Italy but the local supplier seems to have run out of precisely the ones we wanted. However, delving under the mattress in “my” cabin I dug out our big chart folder and have discovered a few Admiralty charts of Italy that will do for now. We do like to have paper charts covering everywhere we go, just in case something dire happens to our electronic charting. Also the electronic ones sometimes have insufficient detail or seem to be not quite right (sometimes we do seem to anchor on land according to the electronic ones!) necessitating some detailed comparisons of significant features like lighthouses between the electronic and paper chart.

Gouvia marina is enormous and rather spread out, so we have rented bikes for a few days. One task was to search for electronics shops to get some more 12V car charger to USB widgets that have suddenly become available. Brian’s tablet computers and our Kindles can all be charged from USB so we have now acquired a couple more. Cycling into town was a bit hair raising as it is along the main road. Marmara street in Corfu town was full of the right shops – and we found a new pair of 2 way radios there. One of the old ones had unfortunately dived into a glass of water some time ago and finally gave up the ghost!

Gouvia marina in the distance

Gouvia marina in the distance

Yesterday (Sunday) we went on a tour of the small peninsula above the marina. It was rather hilly and took a while and we felt a bit saddle sore when we returned.

We seem to be stuck here for longer than anticipated again as the wind forecast for today (Monday) and tomorrow were not favourable for anchoring in a north facing bay , but hope to move on around the north end of Corfu on Wednesday, then on perhaps to Othoni island and from there to Italy.

I have no idea how our communications will work in Italy – but hopefully we will be able to get a phone sim card and a mobile broadband card as we have here.

The epitome of Greece - a remote church

The epitome of Greece – a remote church

 

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