2013 Season

Here's the slideshow produced at the end of the spring 2013 cruise

Now this cruise is finished I've inverted the order of entries so read from the top downwards.
2013 Spring Cruise (apologies for the image quality)

May 5th - May 28th

Are we in the wrong season?

If we thought last year’s weather was strange – all unsettled and rainy – this year has beaten it hands down. Our first fortnight was spent in the boatyard working on the list of 30-something jobs we accumulated at the end of last season and during those long winter months (“wouldn’t it be a good idea if we had…”). Prime among them was fitting the brand new heat exchanger to the engine to replace the Volvo Penta one which seemed to be the cause of strange black cooling water and various other sundry problems. There was a degree of risk to this, as always I refused to pay the ridiculous VP price for a new manufacturer’s unit (as much as a quarter of the cost of a replacement Beta engine!) so I was trying a commercial heat exchanger from a UK company and it may not be big enough.

First on the list though was Ann’s window blinds. Made from Phifertex they would keep out 75% of the energy falling on the expanse of glass we have in our saloon. She also had a deadline to meet for PBO to get her article in the summer issue. No argument from me, anything to keep the baking sun out. As things turned out the weather slowly went downhill from the day we arrived. The wind kept the mosquitoes away but that was the only plus side, we dug out winter clothes to go to the tavern each night.
The mast is fifteen metres above the deck
The time in the yard is always a social time, meeting up with friends for a drink or a meal, discussing plans and problems, swapping moans about weather forecasts and weather websites in the hope of finding one that had a forecast we would like. Inspecting each other’s new toys and swapping advice, whether it was required or not, about each other’s problems.

Launch day arrived and began with a joke, I mentioned the unsettled weather to the yard foreman, Ianni, as he dropped Aderyn Glas into the water. “What do you expect in spring?” he said. “So when,” I asked, “does summer begin?” “That,” he said, “finished last week.” How did he guess?

Day one on the water was 21st May. We revved up the engine and slipped out of the dock happy to be waterborne. Half an hour later we were sailing – heading straight back to the dock with an overheating motor. All the nightmares about the heat exchanger running through my head. We investigated, sniffed, banged, poked, prodded, thought aloud and under our breath, took bits off and studied them, worked out how the water was supposed to fill the thing and concluded it wasn’t full at all. Finally I realised that the stupid Volvo breather on the thermostat housing was blocked so the heat exchanger couldn’t fill with water and that was the problem. Two minutes with a drill and it was fixed.

So day two found us sailing from Lefkas south to Nidri and TranquilBay. And then the weather went screwy again and there we stayed for three nights doing nothing much except moaning about the weather and promising each other it was bound to get better. And the two week forecasts we get from meteo.gr just kept smashing our hopes.
 Tranquil Bay, walking to the church
So, as I sit here writing this, we haven’t done anything much yet. From TranquilBay we went on a little daysail around to Spartahori which was actually rather good but the wind dropped and dropped and we ended up at the tavern at about three in the afternoon where we stayed for two nights.

And now we’re in Kapali, spitting distance from Spartahori waiting for yet another slice of unsettled weather to blow through. It’s never been this bad at the start of the season. We keep planning, but I’m beginning to doubt the plans will ever be achieved

May 29th - June 4th

Kapali, Kastos, Astakos - the weather Gods are still absent

One great thing about Kapali is the walk over the hill to the town they call ‘Little Vathi’ (‘Big Vathi’ is on Ithaca). Getting to Vathi requires taking our rubber dinghy to the beach and climbing through a thicket of trees and bushes then a walk in the sunshine up over the hill to the town; but it’s worth it. Strangely we never take Aderyn Glas to Vathi except for a five minute shopping trip if we need something, it seems the wrong place to stay overnight but by day, sitting in ‘Fresh, Café and Patisserie’, looking across the harbour and out of the inlet it is, for me, one of the reasons for coming here. And, today, the sun shone and everything was wonderful. It was warm enough for an iced lemon tea.

Ironically, the reason we were in Kapali was to hide from the incoming bad weather and that night it rained and blew from the west, which was a nuisance because the forecast said east and so we had tucked as close to an easterly shore as we could for shelter. Too late to move, and blocked in by another boat, the night was spent in part sitting up and monitoring the distance of the boat from the shore while the wind howled around. I think it was the old pilot’s bugbear of ‘curlover’ – wind curling over the hill or the trees meant it changed direction like a surfer’s wave breaking on a beach.

Next day the forecast predicted a strong westerly. We took no chances and positioned the boat slap in the middle of the inlet and went to bed early with earplugs.

We had a companion that night, a family on a cruise, kids, parents, grandparents. Chatty and friendly it reminded me of the other great thing about cruising, the social nature of it all.

From there we part motored part sailed to one of my favourite places anywhere: Kastos. Kastos is a small island tucked into an armpit of the mainland with its larger sister, Kalamos. But Kastos retains an ethnic charm whereas Kalamos is trying to be all 21st century bustle. Kastos shrinks to forty inhabitants during the winter and relies on summer trade for its income. Gerry runs a supermarket (think: corner shop) and goes to the mainland most mornings for the most wonderful bread anywhere. His brother runs the best of the five or so restaurants and is a charming guy and provides wonderful food. The Windmill has the best view in the Ionian down across to the Dragoneras and is the place to sit with a cold drink in the afternoon.

The problem here, as many cruisers find, is the poor holding for the anchor exacerbated by an afternoon katabatic wind that howls through the port just as you are trying to line everything up and avoid thumping the jetty and a raft of other boats moored to it. We arrived to find a charter boat had screwed it up and ended up alongside the quay taking the space of four or five yachts, which is a big proportion of the available space. More to the point he’d managed to do this in our favourite spot – the one in the corner with the big orange buoy that yachts like ours with a shallow draught can tie to and thus avoid the anchoring issue. Just to make the whole thing worse a small German boat decided to throw his towel onto the sunbed just as we were sorting everything out and wanted to squeeze us away from our intended berth. I don’t do that – a brief war followed but sense prevailed and we all got sorted without anyone being more than lightly abused.

We stayed three nights and the weather switched from sun to rain and back and then back again. It was almost random. Somewhere, some poor butterfly was wearing its wings out causing all this chaos.
The north side of Kastos 
We walked the length of the island during one of the sunny periods (which shows how small it is) to a small harbour on the north coast, pausing to investigate an abandoned flour mill and briefly entertaining thoughts of what it would take to make a dwelling of it (just about everything, starting with water). And eyed up the harbour with a view to a few settled nights alone in an unusual setting where no-one goes. Later we heard the local mayor has taken it over as his own personal port (he’d been cast out of Kastos proper for taking up too much quayside with his yacht and thus hitting the pockets of the tourist hungry proprietors of the island) and, worse, there were rumours of flotillas mooring there overnight. Such is cruising here – if you find somewhere peaceful you can bet someone has found it before you.

So we went to Astakos, one of my least favourite places but we needed water which is impossible in Kastos. By this time we realised we were not going to get far with Ann’s plan to investigate the Pelepponese; we had been beaten by the weather. So our plan B was to go to Patras and catch the rack and pinion train up the gorge. Watch this space (or rather the space below where I’ll tell you all about it if it works out)

But first Astakos for a night. We sailed all the way from Kastos which is itself unusual for us, normally when the speed drops below two knots Ann gets scratchy and wants to turn the engine on but this time we sailed and arrived off the town at the head of the estuary in a force four or so. This made for a difficult crosswind approach and landing but we must be learning something after our six years of trying since we pulled it off without hurting anyone. The only other cruising boat on the quayside turned out to be a couple we’d met in the same place last year (this was a time of coincidences, the same thing had happened with a different couple in Kastos). So later we had a great time catching up and swapping a drink or two.

For the first time ever in four years of bimbling about the Ionian we had to go to the police station. This is not the regular police thankfully, but the maritime police (like the Harbour Authority in the UK). Apart from Ann’s handbag breaking and dumping the entire contents into the sea as she was stepping off the boat – and thanks again to the bloke who jumped in the water to save it – all the formalities were completed in reasonable time (for Greece). It cost us eight euros. What’s significant is that we were the only boat on the jetty to be invited to the port office that evening. I guess it was just our turn. After dodging it for four years I suppose we can’t complain.

Other boats arrived throughout the afternoon and the whole quayside was chaos for a while as they struggled in the crosswind with various degrees of competence. When everyone was settled the quay was a chaotic web of warps. Somehow, next day, everything got untangled again and one by one the boats left on a calm morning without a single crossed anchor chain.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Dinnertime and Ianni, in the restaurant, greeted us like his long lost children (neither of us look like him so I guess we’re safe) and complained about how poor the winter had been with continuous rain dumping sand from Africa and stopping the tourists coming. We ate dressed in trousers and sweatshirt and Ann got me to fetch a fleece from the boat for her, it was that cold.

Next, Pandelimion another favourite place.

June 5th - June 10th

Pandelimion, Petalus, Messalonghi - Life looks brighter

Pandelimion is place to listen to. Sitting here in the cockpit this morning on a rare day of sunshine with no other boats around I close my eyes and listen. First there is a distant dog having a barking argument with his echo, then there is a goat bell and a cow bell (different notes in different places), the wavelets cackle on the rocks and on the hull. Across the bay a wild pig snuffles in the littoral as a bee buzzes past. Occasionally a shoal of fish jump, either chasing breakfast or avoiding becoming one, a crow argues; and everywhere is the background of small tittering birds in the olive trees. None of the sounds are made by man – except a lone fisherman tiptoe-ing around the cove and a diver splashing occasionally as he looks for octopi.

Pandlemion olive tree
So it’s a place to relax, read, unwind and we did for three days. I tried a swim but it was still too cold to really enjoy it. As there was no-one else around of course I didn’t bother with a swimsuit and then I always worry about what fish might be looking for a small dangling worm; especially in water that’s no as transparent as we might like.

On the third day we left and headed south. The weather was sunnier now but the only wind was over the stern and it kicked the sea up a bit. We sailed with just the Genoa headsail, reefed since the wind was mainly behind us, but it was fairly uncomfortable and slow down through the Dragoneras into Petalas bay for a night at anchor.

Petalas is on the corner of the Gulf and although it’s almost landlocked the shelter is not so good since the land around it is pretty flat. Only Petalus island has any height to it and strangely this seems to amplify the wind rather than reduce it. We have such a shallow draught we can go a long way towards the island which helps, but the wind still whistled that evening. The sun set about 9 0’clock and we knew the wind would stop then. And it did. The night was calm.

Fishfarm keeper's huts at Petalas
We were up early for us, and left Petalus at about 9 a.m. on a still morning. This time there was no wind at all and we motored the four hours to Messalonghi in the Gulf of Patras. We went there for the first time last year and liked the place, a purely Greek town fortified in the summer by mainly Greek tourists. It hadn’t changed. Unfortunately we hadn’t expected the disco noise from across the bay which started at about 1:30 in the morning and stopped well after dawn at about 6:30. We literally couldn’t sleep for the all-pervading thumping bass noise.

Next day we went shopping and bimbled around. There’s a really good computer shop and I bought a cooling fan deck to stand our laptop on, the one we use for navigating, which tended to overheat. It always surprises me that a small Greek town like this or Preveza have such places, I’m probably too used to buying everything I want on line. The prices are also much lower than I would have to pay in the UK, 17 euroes instead of maybe £35!
Pretty little shower companion
There was a threat of more thumping bass notes on the second night as the Saturday crowd revved up, but it didn’t happen. There was music but no-one turned the volume up so we could sleep. On Sunday the Greek dancers took over and danced to music that sounded so much like Irish jigs.

So now we’re in Patras and it’s the 10th June. As we left Messalonghi we fought a two hour running battle with mosquitoes that seemed to arrive from the low-lying surrounding areas. We killed literally dozens and took a few hits ourselves. We’re here because we want to try out the famous mountain railway so, hopefully, more on that next time. But first impressions of the third biggest city in Greece are good – it’s a bit like Cardiff bay but with traffic. The sun shines and it’s 29C outside but the marina is cheap and has all the facilities including wifi. So life is getting better. The weather forecasts still seem the threaten all sorts of nasties but it doesn’t seem to happen. We’re getting brown and weathered ourselves and the boat is behaving in the main. We could do with some swimming time but that will come. And now it’s four o’clock and time to wake up for the evening stroll and food.

June 11th - June 20th

Patras, Poros, Katakolo - French cuisine and Greek history

Okay, so two days later I’m less enthusiastic about Patras. We walked down to the station that first evening to sort tickets for the mountain railway only to be told the timetable the marina people had given us was for weekends only. There was only one train we could catch to connect with the mountain train and that left Patras at 06:50 and we would have a two hour wait at the other end for the connection. The return would be as bad and we wouldn’t get back until eight-something in the evening. This was a non-starter so we scrubbed it. And the wi-fi wouldn’t reach the boat!

The other problem that Hiekell hinted at and appeared in spades was the swell the rolled into the marina. If you don’t like a night rolling around then this is a show-stopper. It’s the kind of swell that has you checking your mast won’t collide with the next door boat; that bad. The day we arrived it wasn’t evident but afterward it appeared to some degree every day
Patras sunset
But Patras itself is a wonderful place for a stopover. It’s lively, bustling, full of street bars and cafes mainly frequented by students. It’s clean, has some history to go and visit, good shops and large supermarkets. Strangely, restaurants for dinner are not so prevalent as bars, but we didn’t starve. Entertainment came from a variety of events at the outdoor arena fifty metres from the boat – kids Greek dancing competitions and a band that played Clapton and similar music. In contrast to Messalonghi everything stopped a sensible hour.

We went back to Petalus for a couple of nights, a straightforward motor down the gulf with no wind and nothing interesting. In Petalus the wind blew a hoolie the second night which made it difficult to sleep.
Fauvist rock formations, Petalus
Now we had a new plan. We were going to try again for Katakolo and Olympia, just so we could put a big tick in the ‘achieved’ box. The forecasts seemed right for it and we planned to cross to Poros on Keffalonia then Zakinthos and finally Katakolo. These were days when the wind wouldn’t co-operate and so we had to motor. And on the way we almost ran over a turtle who was paddling slowly along.
We nearly ran over this one
Poros is a lovely little town with an amazing French Restaurant – Tsibas (which sounds like Seabass in English but which is actually the owner’s name). If you go there don’t be put off by the concrete port but take a walk up over the small hill to the town that spans the bay. Take your swimming kit too, there are some crystal clear little coves and a long beach to choose from.

After talking to a seasoned couple on the boat next door we decided to skip Zakinthos which didn’t seem at all welcoming to yachts, and head straight to Katakolo – the leg would take from 08:00 to about three thirty in the afternoon if we motored all the way. Late in the day a following wind sprang up but it wasn’t until we turned the corner into the bay that we realised how strong it was. Not enough to give us the six knots we needed to arrive at a reasonable time, but enough to make the landing a difficult crosswind fiddle.

Katakolo is amazing. When we arrived it was like a deserted strip of boutiques, restaurants and bars; in fact it has only two streets. But cruise ships go there, and when they do it’s like the desert blooming with flowers. Suddenly the shops are full of tourists, the cafes overflowing, beggars and street hawkers appear as if from the ground and the place is berserk for the few hours that the ships are tied up. They go there because of Olympia. Three ships might provide three thousand people who all mill around the tiny town for a few hours, then the ships leave and the town reverts to its disused look. The beggars and street vendors go wherever they go, the shops look hollow, the museums close (yes, there are two: Greek musical instruments and ancient Greek engineering – which is fascinating – and they are both air-conditioned).

Olympia is a train ride away from the quayside station which is about fifty metres from our boat. A round trip ticket is ten euros and the only issue is finding out what trains are running on any particular day. There always seems to be an 08:40, which is what we caught, but the frequency of other trains depends on whether there are cruise ships (though even their presence doesn’t guarantee anything).
Cruise ships in Katakolo
Olympia is the home of the Olympic games (in case you didn’t know) and is a vast site full of Greek ruins (some of whom are still walking around the place). It’s very difficult to get a feel for what it’s all about so if you have a particular interest it’s best to swat up first. The point seems to be the ‘athletes code’ which brought together athletes from many countries (the stadium seated 45,000 spectators, which gives a sense of scale to the whole thing) in a spirit of fair play and friendship. It lasted a few hundred years from the first games in 776BC until just into the first century AD. I guess fair play and friendship eventually ran out because ultimately it was torn apart and the huge ancient wonder, the gold and ivory statue of Zeus was carted off to Istanbul where it was eventually destroyed in an earthquake (Zeus getting annoyed, perhaps?). Worth a visit? People compare it unfavourably with Delphi but I think they are both worth seeing.
So now I’m sitting in Katakolo waiting for a weather window which will let us go north again. Since we arrived three days ago every afternoon has had a blow of F4 or F5 from the north which makes it impossible for us to go to Poros and we don’t want to go further south since Kyparrissia has little to recommend it and it’s a whole day away so we would then need two good days to get back. But tomorrow should be okay…

21st June to 14th July

Poros, Sivota, Tranquil Bay. Struggling northwards and homewards

The voyage to Poros began with an early wake-up call. Normally we seem unable to get started before 10:00 a.m. but this time we were up and out well before nine. The trip itself was pretty uneventful and long, but after hanging about for days waiting for a weather window that was half reasonable it was good to be at sea. We had at most about 15 knots of wind blowing in our faces on the way north and noticed that the speed over the ground was about a knot less going north than it had been going south, a current perhaps?

So back to Poros and back to the restaurant for some French cooking. Back to the beach for a swim but otherwise it was chill time.

Then onwards and more strong weather in the forecast. We really wanted an anchorage to get away form the concrete and noise of the little towns but again the forecast didn’t look good for anything but the best holding. We dipped our nose into the bay south of Sami and spent a nice afternoon snorkelling around the boat in crystal water looking for the elusive octopi but we knew the anchorage could not be an overnight stop since the anchor was lying lethargically on its side on the sandy seabed.

So we went to Agias Euphemia which is across the bay from Sami but somewhere we’d not been since our flotilla days; and realised almost before we’d tied up that we’d made a mistake. It’s a nice little tourist town with the usual tavernas but better value than most we’d been to lately. The problem was it blew a hurricane through the port virtually continuously making it really difficult to land.
Kids dancing around the bonfire, Euphemia
It was some sort of celebration day and after a nice meal in one of the many restaurants we were attracted to the bonfire at the end of the harbour wall. Kids doing Greek dances and singing then jumping over the flames to determine who was the fittest – presumably Greeks don’t like weak kids and the fire jumping is a way of sorting out the strongest. Darwin would have loved it. But no-one fell headlong into the fire and we wound our way back aboard wondering what they were celebrating anyway.

If landing was difficult leaving is ten times worse. We needed space to leave. Because we go bows-to the quayside it’s relatively easy to throw a stern anchor over the back and drive the boat to the quay, even in a crosswind. The problem is when we come to leave we have little control over the boat because the driving force which moved the boat, i.e. one of us pulling on the anchor rope, is applied to the boat at the same point as the rudder so the front of the boat tends to wander wherever the wind takes it. In Euphemia the crosswind was going to take it onto the next downwind boat which was a big Italian posh plastic thing that I didn’t want to scratch. Luckily, the Italian didn’t believe in paying port dues so hurriedly left before the office opened leaving us with a big enough space to swing into. Even so it was a difficult departure and one which left us feeling we’ll never sail into Euphemia again.

Guess what, there was another blow due from the north. We debated for a while then Ann, who was captain that day, decided on Sivota as the best sheltered with amenities and restaurants and so on. The passage up the channel between Ithaca and Kefalonia was a choppy but uneventful drive then as we cleared the islands we could take advantage of the wind which now came over the side and we hauled up the sails for a five knot sail across to Lefkada and Poros. When we arrived, two hours later, it was blowing about force five. We berthed, of course, outside Yanna’s Family Restaurant which we always seem to do.

I used to hate Sivota. A dislike that goes back to flotilla sailing when there was virtually nothing there but concrete and the crew had to persuade a taverna to stay open for the late Sunday flight to sell us some sandwiches and water. How it’s changed. Now it’s a thriving resort at the end of the road on the south of the island. Since we were last there the hillsides around the inlet have sprouted holiday apartments and many are still being built, but that doesn’t stop it being picturesque. It has a few supermarkets and you can get your laundry done and have a hot shower.
There are also three pontoons now, one belongs to Stavros’ restaurant and you can stay a night free so long as you eat in his place, the second you pay for and the third is detached from the quayside and we couldn’t work out whether it was finished or not, but yachts still went alongside it. We ate always in Yanna’s – she’s cheerful and attentive and provides odd little extras like a free appetiser and even an extra half litre of wine free. She also has free wifi which we could access from the boat, parked, as we were, right outside. So close outside were we that we had to move an umbrella base to get our passeralle onto the quay.

That first night was entertaining. The place had seemed full of anchored boats when we arrived but strangely the quayside had a lot of room. We’d slid between two British yachts and sat watching while the place filled up. A yacht on it’s way in jammed in reverse and ran full tilt backwards into the rocks – one of those incidents that you can sort out if you have the time but in the few seconds the skipper had to react he didn’t get to kill the motor and the rudder got wiped out. A large mock sailing ship in the corner got caught by the wind and took out a lamppost with a lot of crunching and shouting. Flotilla yachts provided the rest of the entertainment trying to get stern-to in what was by then a nasty crosswind.

So we had an entertaining and sociable time in Sivota, a couple of meals ashore with people doing the same sort of thing as us. We swam and bimbled, shopped and walked around the bay to take photos and stayed in all four nights while the winds blew through.

I helped a guy next door who snagged a buoy on his way out. And apart from that we were just waiting for the weather again.
Yanna's tables are close to home
Now we’re in Tranquil Bay again, opposite Nidri, and again we’re sitting out winds that are too strong for us. What a summer this one is, the temperature dropped last night to UK values and I even resorted to wearing a sweatshirt – at the end of June – in Greece!

Tranquil bay for a couple of nights was followed by a daysail and into Vliho (or Vliko, depending on which book you read) and it was suddenly July. This time we did the time honoured trick of parking the dinghy at the edge of a restaurant. In my experience the only thing that beats arriving at your restaurant table by boat is arriving by helicopter, but it’s a few decades since I did that. We were definitely homeward bound now and still dodging around in the weather windows. Although it was hot, it was far from settled and not at all predictable – winds that should have been strong didn’t appear and calm days turned into blows, there was no hint of rain, of course, and it was hot though less so than last year.
 But in Vliho you have to take a dinghy
We crept north to Beryl’s bay (aka Varko) under drooping sails. It was named by us for a friend who first told us how lovely it was. Crystal clear water but a sandy bottom it was sheltered from the north west through to the north east and that was where the wind was forecast to come from. Wrong again, the wind blew into the bay and we started to worry about the anchor dragging across the sand and depositing us on a lee shore. So, at six p.m., just as we were thinking about krasi aspro, we decided to motor back to Vliho. So much for a quiet night in a crystal clear anchorage.

Next day we went to Spartahori for water and then we nosed around the bays at the north of Megonisi before heading for Kapali for our final two nights in the Inland Sea. On the 8th July we passed through the canal and sailed north to Preveza anchorage.

On the 9th we stayed at the marina in Preveza town where a night alongside, including water and electricity, was just 10 euroes. We were there because of a force 5 forecast which never actually appeared. We’d never been to Preveza in the evening before and found it is a lovely little place. We had a wander around the places we never reached in the two hour shopping trips the boatyard across the water lays on, and had a meal. I do, I think, like towns. In this voyage we’d visited quite a few and I’d like our time in the them all. Preveza has a reputation for disco noise but not that night.

And that was it: on 10th July we hauled her back out and spent four days putting her to bed before flying home on 14th.
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