Up and Down the Ionian Islands and Back to Sicily
We had intended to stay in Gaios for a couple of days but ended up staying for three as high winds blew on the Monday. Ferries and day trip boats stayed in port, the sea between Paxoi, Corfu and the mainland was too rough but in our sheltered mooring we were very comfortable and no swell made its way between the islands that protected us. Lynn discovered dress shops and jewellers in the little town and spent many happy hours supporting the local economy! Our mooring was three or four hundred metres away from the town waterfront by necessity as the depths on the town quay were too shallow for Pamarzi and how glad I was that we were where we were. We strolled that last evening into town, along the hushed waterfront the steep wooded slopes of Paxoi softly darkening as the sun sank behind them. Across the water the similarly verdant inclines of Nisos Ay Nikolaos were bathed in golden evening light; stopping at a small waterside bar we enjoyed a quiet aperitif as the shadows lengthened. Around the corner and two hundred metres further on there was a very different scene of bustling activity, where along the town quay two dozen forty footish mostly charter boats, most with seemingly double digit crews spilling out of cockpits and all talking or so it seemed at maximum volume to a background of music emanating from waterfront bars and restaurants. It was a lively, cheerful scene that would go on well into the night, fun to be in for a short while but not to sleep amongst. Gaios is known for its cats and there were certainly plenty of felines about, slinking around the chairs of diners looking as appealing as they could, difficult for those with torn noses and shredded ears, no doubt in hope of a tit bit or two. Bizarrely someone in Gaios has two pet pink foot geese that parade the quay and dine enthusiastically on the watermelons provided for them. We dined that night at Vasilis a small family run restaurant, tables arranged around a cross roads in the web of cool, narrow passages well back from the noise of the town quay, the food, the standard but very good Greek fair of octopus and spit roast lamb served good naturedly by the jovial, smiling eldest son
The weather forecast looked good next morning (Tuesday 19th July) so we prepared to leave saying cheerio to Tony the owner of the magnificent one hundred and one year old, twenty metre, gaff rigged, topsail ketch, Circe on our starboard side and waiting for the pleasant Dutch couple on our port side to leave as they had crossed our anchor chain. Tony who has a house on Paxoi told us that he had been very close to buying an Oyster 575 but had fallen in love with Circe and had pulled out of the deal in favour of this one hundred year old classic. She is lovely but one hopes that he has very deep pockets and lots of patience as the restoration of her will consume great quantities of time and cash.
The voyage to Corfu was uneventful in very light winds although the sea remained pretty rolly from yesterday’s winds for much of the day. We berthed in Gouvia marina around 14.00 and once all the berthing procedures were completed set off to the marina swimming pool to find Rob and Liliane who we had arranged to meet there. We ate that evening at a restaurant in the marina named Argo which turned out to be really rather good.
The ladies wanted to see Corfu town next day so we taxied in and after a couple of hours and a visit to the Vodaphone shop for a 3G top up Rob and I left them to their shopping and returned to Pamarzi. A tour of the mountainous, northern end of the island the following day in our hired car, some memorable views from the precipitous mountain roads, a drink at the oddly named (for Greece) Golden Fox, a taverna that clings to the cliff side several hundred very sheer metres above Palaiokastritsa and its imposing monastery and later lunch on the beach at Georgio Arillas. On the way back Lynn sighted a Lidl supermarket and we topped up our provisions with two trolleys full of stuff.
We cast off around 07.00 the next morning promising to take Rob and Liliane to Gaios on the understanding that if we could not get a berth at the northern end of the town we would have to sail on. Luck was with us with the only remaining berth, just two boat widths from where we had been previously. Our starboard neighbours, who had just docked completing their first Mediterranean moor with anchor, were a still trembling, middle aged couple in a creaky, sixty year old wooden boat with very little in the way of modern conveniences that apparently went backwards like a drunken spaniel! Lynn and Liliane (unsurprisingly) were soon hot foot into town to further enhance the Greek economy and support local enterprises. They had not been gone long when I heard heated discussions coming from our creaky, sixty year old neighbour’s direction as they were berated by a Croatian guy in a six meter rib telling them to move their tender on their starboard side as he wanted to moor there. They were gentle sorts and I could see that they were trying to tell the snorting Croatian that it was not their tender but some one else’s boat that they could not move. I was about to go to their aid when the Croatian got the message and moved off, only to return five minutes later and seeing a half meter gap between Pamarzi and our creaky, sixty year old neighbour started to try to squeeze his two metre wide boat into it under our fenders. I assertively told that he would not get his boat in that gap and that I would seek recompense for any damage he had already or might cause to Pamarzi if he continued to try. He responded we a tirade of foul language saying he would do whatever he wanted and I should f##k off back to England. My response to this foul mouthed, rude, ignorant eastern European was to point, somewhat imperiously I must admit, to a number of spaces on the quay reserved until 17.00 for commercial boats and with disdain convey the fact to him that it was now 17.15. Still muttering obscenities he withdrew from the gap (no damage was done to Pamarzi) and went where I had indicated. Not ten minutes later I heard his and other raised voices and recognised his foul language. Apparently in the process of mooring his little craft he had pulled up the anchor of the yacht he was mooring next to forcing them to release their lines weigh anchor and remoor. By the sound of his expletives he was not apologising either! Generally I like the Croatian people but this guy gets the award for the most obnoxious character I have ever had the misfortune to meet whilst cruising.
We left Gaios next day, after clearing our anchor chain that someone had crossed (again!) and headed for the Lefkas canal. The floating bridge on the northern end of the canal opens, we had read in the pilot book, every hour on the hour and we thought we had timed our voyage to perfection when we arrived ten minutes before the 13.00 opening, only it didn’t. Nor did it open at 14.00 or 15.00. The water at this entrance is very shallow and there is a current of about one knot, after an hour of keeping the boat on station using the engine we gave up and dropped the hook. No one on the bridge had responded to our radio calls and by 15.00 there were dozens of boats, some anchored others trying to hold station under power and all getting very frustrated. Finally at 15.30 the damned thing started to move and we could get through the narrow gap as could boats coming in the opposite direction but with twenty five knots of cross wind the inevitable happened and behind us we heard a crash as two boats traveling in opposite directions collided. Meanwhile we had our own problem in the form of an Irish flagged catamaran in front of us who having made it through the gap proceeded at a snail’s pace down the canal while the already frustrated boats behind us closed up hooting and shouting. My crew ran to the foredeck gesticulating and yelling “go,go”. He started to speed up, got scared and slowed down again and then just to complicate matters as we approached the turn off to Lefkas town quay there was an Italian charter boat anchored in the middle of the channel! This completely threw Michael the Irish who seemingly did not know what to do despite vigorous encouragement to do something from my crew on the foredeck. Seeing a slightly wider area of deep water and a gap in the oncoming traffic I gunned it passed our Irish friend and breathed a sigh of relief. Fortunately I had reserved a berth in the Odysea marina on Meganisi so our late arrival was not a problem as we renewed acquaintance with our friendly marineros Charlie and Mike who helped us tie up in a cool and airy berth and after all the usual berthing routines we repaired to enjoy some excellent tuna steaks ashore.
Lynn had been in touch with our friends David and Samantha from Marina di Ragusa who are also cruising the Ionian and found that they too were coming to Nisos Meganisi and would be mooring in a bay called Spartakhori on the pontoons of a taverna there. David has known the family for thirty years and said he would ask them to hold a berth for us. So Sunday was a very lazy day for us as we motored round to an idyllic little bay just around the coast, dropped the hook and spent the day swimming and lazing in the sun. Late afternoon we sailed around the island to Spartakhori where Panos the owner found us a berth on a mooring buoy and took our long line ashore. It was the perfect spot, a green and wooded cliff descended into alarmingly clear water, the air and the water cooled by the shadow of the cliff. I picked up David and Samantha in the tender to bring them back to Pamarzi for pre-dinner drinks and later that evening we all dined together at Panos’s tavern.
After exploring the village of Spartakhouri perched high above the tavern next morning we set off to visit Vathi in Ithaca again and had a great sail with all the canvas aloft. Safely anchored in the breezy bay I took the girls ashore in the tender so that they could do the shops, Rob and I joining them after a couple of hours to dine ashore.
Onwards next day back to Kefalonia and the harbour of Euphemia where we were met by our friendly harbour master George who found us a berth in the exact same spot as our last visit. Jessica and Roy more friends from Marina di Ragusa were anchored in the harbour and they came over to spend a very happy couple of hours with us. Just after 19.00 Charles and Gemma arrived and we had a lovely evening at Staki the taverna immediately behind our berth. They looked after us very well even to sending us a taster of the skordalia to make sure it was garlicky enough for us. Gently the evening breeze cooled us, enthusiastically the bouzouki trio played, sang and danced whilst we ate our fish and drank our chilled wine en famille. A night cap back aboard Pamarzi completed a delightful and memorable evening.
The following day we met up with Jessica and Roy our Dutch friends and breakfasted together at Fiore D’Amore another favourite taverna before Charles came over to collect Lynn and take her back to see their villa and spend some more time with the children. Later that afternoon walking down the waterfront I saw that Ashley and Rachel our newly met friends from Lefkas on their curiously named boat Custard Pie had docked so invited them over for drinks. They had not long joined us that evening when a hail from the dockside announced the unexpected arrival of David, Samantha and Tommy (their dog) who joined us briefly before returning to their catamaran anchored just outside the harbour.
The weather looking favourable we set sail around noon on the 28th July for Sicily and Syracuse. Having said farewell to our Greek friends and our fellow cruisers we were just slipping our lines when Charles, Gemma and the children appeared to see us off, a charming scene as the little family group waved us goodbye. We called into Fiscardo on the way up the coast so Liliane could take photographs of the pretty but very busy little place and then settled down for the three hundred nautical mile voyage back to Sicily. A voyage that was punctuated by a special moment as at a shout from Liliane I made a dive for our rod, the reel still screaming out line, Rob slowed the boat and after a not overlong battle we hauled aboard a very nice four kilo tuna. Other than that bit of excitement it was an easy and uneventful two night crossing and we arrived in Syracuse early in the morning of 30th. After contacting by radio (as now demanded on pain of a three hundred and sixty Euro fine) the Guardia Costiera we were given permission and coordinates to three decimal places to anchor. Well I can’t say that I was spot on but they did not seem to mind and in any case was it the anchor or the boat that needed to be on the spot! Ortigia, as always an absolute delight where once again we dined in the glorious Piazza Domo. Such a marvellously atmospheric place, surrounded by softly lit baroque magnificence, aurally soothed by a busking jazz trio, people watching was never better than when three wedding parties danced their way across the limestone floored piazza mingling with the friendly hubbub of locals and visitors. It felt very much like being in a 1950’s Italian film.
The final leg next day as we sailed around the south eastern end of Sicily to the now oh so familiar Marina di Ragusa, welcomed like old friends by the office over the radio and by waving marineros and staff we made our way to our usual berth to be greeted by fellow cruisers John and Midge still here after boat maintenance problems. A last night with Rob and Liliane at Quattro Quarti where we were greeted like old friends by Theresa and her staff and enjoyed a triptyque of seafood followed by an excellent fillet steak with Mount Etna mushrooms and of course a bottle of Nero D’Avola.
Time for goodbyes on the 1st of August as we waved Rob and Liliane off and returned to Pamarzi for two days of boat jobs and cleaning before we fly home on the 3rd. Sailing service will be resumed on the 17th August when we return and welcome good friend and training partner Peter aboard for his first taste of ocean sailing. Till then “Ciao miei amici”