From Vathi to Vathy and Canal Boating

Sat 16 Jul 2016 05:46

It was a subdued boat that hauled its anchor from the thick clay and mud that makes Argostoli harbour such a good anchorage and at 07.30 on Wednesday 6th July we slipped quietly away from this turtle infested harbour. Both of us thinking what fun it had been to have Charles, Gemma and the children on board but at the same time enjoying the peace of having the boat to ourselves again. Ah the joy of grandparent hood, they are lovely but being able to hand them back to Mum and Dad is a perk of senior status that brings its own pleasure.

Hardly a ripple on the surface as we passed (for the fourth time!) the multi columned Doric-styled lighthouse on Ak Ay Theodoroi that marks the entrance to the approaches to Argostoli, as we motored southwards to round the southern tip of Cephalonia. Once round and still motoring we headed north towards island of Ithaca, the home Homer tells us of the hero Odysseus and his ever patient wife Penelope.

Still motoring we encountered not a single Cyclops or Siren but had to admit that the huge natural harbour of Vathi, surrounded by the maquis, olive and cypress covered mountains of Ithaca is very beautiful. We glided through the azure blue waters past the islet of Lazeretto and med moored on the town quay. There followed a couple of lazy days exploring and enjoying the laid back atmosphere of Vathi, celebrating my 69th birthday with a supper of grilled octopus, baked lamb and a new (to us) walnut flavoured skordalia.

It was on that same day that another Oyster yacht glided into the harbour and as unfortunately the last berth on the quay, which was next to us, had just been taken Niki Too II anchored on the far side of the harbour. But it was not long before a smart rib crossed the bay and Hugh and Marianne joined us aboard Pamarzi. A pleasant hour or so was spent swopping stories and telling of other owners met.

We had seen Hugh and Marianne’s boat at Ipswich early in 2012 before he took delivery. We remember it well as this beautiful 54 had just been completed complete with its unique 110 litre rum tank and tap!! They have a 625 in build that will come complete not only with a rum tank but also with a bar area.

I had booked a couple of nights berthing at Odyseas Marina in Vathi on Nisos Meganisi a strangely shaped island the north end of which looks like a a Rorschach blob. We motored again all the way there but were greeted with great friendliness and charm by Charlie and Mikey who took our lines and berthed us on the scrupulously clean and tidy, flower decked quay where the big boats are docked and I mean big! Our neighbours included  SY Oriel at 118 feet and MY at 182 feet. Yiannis the manager runs this very friendly little marina with the help of Charlie and Mikey both from the UK. We enjoyed the scene in this pretty little place so much that we stayed an extra night. Extricating ourselves from our berth on Tuesday morning was interesting but I’m pleased to report that we made a great job of it under the eyes of several professional crews on board the super yachts.

Our next port of call Levkas on Nisos Levkas, aka Levkadha, aka Leucas all very confusing.  Even more so given there is a long running argument as to whether it is an island at all as it is separated from the mainland only by salt marshes and a 3.5 mile long canal. Access to the island was until recently by chain ferry at the northern end of the canal, these have now been replaced by a floating bridge that swings and lifts –FB Ag Maura. The choice of this contraption rather than a bridge proper is down to the fact that the Greek government gives special concessions to islands and a bridge may have tipped Levkas’s already disputed status as an island. The marina lays two thirds of the way up the canal and it was a bit surreal motoring up this cut. If you can imagine Pamarzi sailing up the Macclesfield canal you’ll get a feeling of how strange it was.

On the way here we passed the very beautiful and formerly Onassis owned islands of Skorpios and Skopidhi. Apparently on his death the islands went to his daughter and on her death it was to have reverted to the state according to the terms of the wills. But somehow it is now owned by the twenty six year old daughter of a Russian oligarch.

Lefkas marina is okay but after the friendliness of Meganisi it seemed rather soulless. The town of Lefkas is  an odd place. Although quite large and bustling it has an almost Caribbean island feel to it largely I think because of the amount of corrugated iron. The place has been hit by numerous earthquakes and the locals do not seem to trust brick or concrete any higher than the ground floor so subsequently many of the buildings, some three stories high are clad and roofed with the stuff. We stayed there for a couple of days and on our last night decided to walk into town to dine. On passing a U.K. flagged boat called ‘Custard Pie’ (don’t ask we never got round to that) the occupants called good evening and invited on board for a drink. They had seen Pamarzi and were very complimentary about her and of course we swopped information about the Ionian islands and did the usual “where are you from?”  etc. Turns out that Rachel has recently been appointed sales manager of Authentic Foods a company I have known for thirty years and whose owners live only five miles from us in Wilmslow. Yet again small world.

From 08.00 Ag Maura opens every hour on the hour so we prepped Pamarzi and cast off  around 09.30 to join the queue of boats large and small waiting for the 10.00 opening. The canal is pretty narrow and tapers down to not much more than a couple of boat widths at the point where AG Maura spans it. It is also very shallow in places (some spots less than half a metre under our keel) and there is a current of about 1 knot .  In front of us was a large (two decker) crewed motor yacht with one of its crew piloting its equally large tender behind it. Now we had learnt that it is important not to leave too big a gap between yourself and the boat in front as the bridge operator will start to swing it back if he deems the delay between boats is too long. As the appointed hour approached we all, that is except this particular craft started to move up. He however left a three hundred metre gap between him and the boat in front. Air horns started blowing followed by much shouting, my Greek vocabulary has expanded considerably with words I cannot use in polite circles. The bridge now open, the gap in front of the idiot no smaller his pace no faster and with boats coming the other way, the water becoming choppy with the wake, the overtaking starts! As we passed Lynn gestured to the crew member in the tender “what the hell is he doing?” he responded by gesturing circles with his finger at the side of his head and pointing at his captain up on the fly bridge. So much for professionals!!