With summer now well underway, time continues to cruise by. We are close to five months onboard and already a full month in Greece. So quick to fall behind with updates given this is my first Greece blog post – but here we are! Our first week was occupied with milling around between anchorages off Gouvia and old Corfu Town on Corfu Island; setting up again with Greek phone numbers and internet, customs and immigration formalities, rectifying a few issues with the AIS and Raymarine and tackling other small maintenance jobs.
Having just departed the peace and beauty of Croatia and Montenegro, initially we were not partial to this area of Corfu given the noise, grubbiness and sprawl. Though since moving onwards and further south, each day brings another treasure of natural beauty or warm hospitality. Perhaps it’s that Greeks have a stronger grasp of English or they understand tourists are their lifeblood in an otherwise crippled economy. Almost everyone we’ve encountered is approachable, genuinely welcoming and gracious, taking the time out to talk, to ask or answer questions and entertain with their often quirky sense of humour. The stunning scenery certainly helps – but so far we’ve found that the true beauty of the Greek people is what makes this country so loveable.
Oh and the sailing! We knew Greece had a windy reputation, and even more so when we reach the central Cyclades and Dodecanese Islands where Beaufort force 7-8 winds are common. I think we can safely say that we’ve enjoyed more sailing in our first three weeks in Greece than we did in three months through all of Croatia. Fortunately we’ll have regular opportunity to harness the prevailing northerly summer winds as we make our way in a general E – SE direction across the country and eventually towards the SW coast of Turkey. This will be unlike Croatia where our zigzag up and down the country often did not fit the wind’s agenda or there was simply not a breath at all. That said, we are very happy to be sailing regularly, getting to know our sails and how the boat performs, and turning off the engines for the pure joy of propulsion by one the almightiest elements of Mother Nature.
Arriving in Corfu we were reunited with our friends Frank, Viv and their son Nick on Dominos from Glastone, Australia. They also have a Lagoon 440 that they acquired in Croatia last year and have been our travelling boat buddies for majority of this past month. Photos below are from our first week in and around old Corfu Town.
One fine sunny morning during our first week in Greece, both Dominos and we backtracked north up Corfu Island for lunch at the tiny village of Kassiopi. We anchored well off a neighbouring beach, an exposed area to the prevailing winds, though nothing nasty was forecast for that day. Upon returning to the boat a few hours later, ominous and angry grey clouds were quickly approaching and before long we were being directly hit by the squall. We’d swung around on our anchor chains in the wind with our sterns now pointed uncomfortably close to the leeshore. Engines were started to help maintain position and for us to correct laying side on into the wind, which could easily spoil our anchor hold. Now bouncing in the waves that were building as they reached the beach and hit by a succession of wind gusts and pelting rain, dad quickly decided it was safest to up anchor and drive out to sea so as to move the boat away from the shore.
I could handle the hailstones and sheeting rain. And the wind whilst strong it wasn’t necessarily that fierce. Plus the fast moving storm didn’t have time to whip up a swell to add to the wave chop. What I was completely unprepared for was heading directly and unavoidably into thick bolt lightning sending three to four strikes at a time straight down to the ocean surface. I swear some must’ve been only a few hundred metres away. Perhaps I did not understand the way vertical bolt lighting works – nor that a boat is earthed to handle such situations (though dad was reassuring me). As far as I was concerned, we had a 62-foot aluminum mast, reaching skywards like a lamb to sacrifice on a massive deserted ocean surface. I huddled behind dad at the wheel and under the bimini cover to avoid pelting hailstones, in that moment I held my breath, said a quick prayer and wondered what death by lightning strike must be like. Was it instant?
Over reaction? Maybe! Yet for me it was a foreign and white-knuckle scenario to experience on a vulnerable little boat, but no doubt there will be similar days like that ahead of us.
Once the worst had passed both Dominos and we popped our gennakers in the downwind and sailed south, back to the protected anchorage alongside old Corfu Town. Later that evening we all recounted our unexpected afternoon adventure with gusto, and despite the unreal feeling of being so closely surrounded by lightning touching down, it was an exhilarating and character building experience.
First few photos below were taken mid storm action by Nick on Dominos with a waterproof camera – thanks Nick! Finally my darling is pictured with the white gennaker sail, Dominos with the racy red and white gennie.
One notable difference with Greece and Croatia was the cost to the yachtie community in terms of mooring quayside in seaside villages. Developed marina facilities in Greece appeared to be scarce which was fine by us as we prefer to avoid them anyway due to high cost and they are often smelly, noisy or hot due to lack of airflow. Plus with a water maker, solar panels, clothes washing machine and hot showers, we are totally self-sufficient anyway. A protected, comfortable anchorage was always our first preference – as the simplicity of being left completely to our own devices in nature must be one of the greatest gifts of sailing.
Though with the endless string of quaint seaside villages throughout Greece’s Ionian Islands, mooring stern-to the quay was also an inviting option for the convenience of stepping directly off the boat, and to be right amongst the atmosphere, making friends with the local taverna owners and other passers-by. Sometimes there was an expectation to eat dinner at the adjacent restaurant that maintains that portion of the quay, or a small fee from the local Harbourmaster (approx. 10 to 20 euro per night – even for our wide berth catamaran) though we’ve often found them to be completely free.
In Croatia the quayside fees for our Cat ranged from 60 to 100+ euro per night – so unfortunately we’d simply avoid them and anchor out, unless at extra special locales like Hvar Town. That said, Croatian quaysides generally offered more facilities such as laid underwater bow mooring lines, power and water; and they are sufficiently busy enough with the week-long charter crowd who will happily pay for the quayside privilege.
Our first few free nights quayside were alongside Sivota, on the Greece mainland and opposite Corfu Island. Tied beside our current travelling buddy boat Dominos – with skipper/owner Frank who was an openly welcoming, gregarious character and easily draws people around him – before we know it there was a drinking session on the quay with handfuls of land-bound tourists and tours of both our boats for those interested. Not to mention complimentary beer brought across from the neighbouring taverna owner as he thanked us for generating a buzz outside his restaurant, which in turn had helped to fill his tables. Ha! This boating life sure is social.
One day jumping ship onto Dominos afforded the chance to snap a few pictures of finally my darling under sail. The following sequence shows dad and Mike hoisting the Parasailor during a downwind sail. Stored inside a lightweight sock-like sail bag, attached with a carbon fibre funnel head that once rigged, was hoisted quickly upwards to release the giant ballooning Parasailor (as shown below). Then alternatively pulled down to effortlessly ‘snuff’ the sail back into its bag for easy stowing.
The Parasailor was one of two additional sails available in our sail wardrobe. It’s specifically designed for downwind sailing when the wind was directly behind or an arch of 60 degrees through the stern. Greece’s seasonal prevailing winds are N – NW and then N – NE over in the Cyclades Island group. So whenever headed S or SE to SW this beauty should get us where we are going. We’ve read stories as well as heard firsthand accounts of yachts keeping that one particular sail hoisted for a full week or more at a time when passage making in a trade wind belt. Incredible! We hope one day we can tell our own story of an epic journey via Parasailor.
The glorious little café bar below was in Sivota Bay, Lefkas Island – yes, a different village called Sivota. The balcony was awash with bougainvillea beauties and an entertaining vantage point to watch a dozen or more charter yachts of the ‘entry level flotilla variety’ Mediterranean moor to the quayside (under close radio direction of the charter company crew) whilst fighting against gusts of afternoon northwesterly winds that rifled down into the bay.
Another thing in abundance in Greece were cats. Some well fed, healthy and happy, others not so much. This sleepy guy below did not even twitch when stepped over. Too cute!
Before we say farewell – an update on our current location finds us at the very southern end of Zakinthos and the last of the Ionian Islands on our itinerary before we starting making our way east towards Athens via the Corinth Canal. Given passing both the gulfs of Patras and Corinth should take us three or four days, we should be in Athens by the end of next week.
Much love from us all. x