Long time no blog
18 February 2015 | Hampshire
George. Very cold.
I can't believe I haven't written a blog since last September, but we are back in the UK for the winter and left the boat out of the water in Preveza.
As this site is called Sailblogs, I feel a bit of a fraud writing non-boatie stuff. So I think when we get back to the boat in April I'll feel more inclined to write something.
I have been writing more articles for the uk yacht magazines, I've had about ten or more published over the last couple of years, with a couple more in the pipeline for publication shortly. I've also had an article accepted in a cat magazine of all places - we rescued a Greek kitten back in April. We named her Artemis and she has lived happily on board our yacht Fandancer with us. Last October we decided to bring her back to the UK with us - that was a huge mission involving a lot of research and a lot of travelling - two planes, a ferry and two long car journeys! But as I write, I have a huge white and tabby Aegean cat sitting on my lap.....
Don't miss Mitika!
21 September 2014 | Mitika
George. Beautiful Greek weather as usual
Facing the north coast of Kalamos, and 10 miles south of Paleros, the little town of Mitika seems relatively unknown to cruisers. It sits in an enviable position in the north Ionian, just half a day's sail from the popular stopping places at Nidri, Meganissi, Sivota, and Kefalonia further south. An Internet search revealed hardly any information about this place, apart from a couple of areas with the same name in other parts of Greece. From the sea, the stretch of houses bordering the L-shaped seafront at Mitika with its dramatic mountain backdrop can be seen from some distance away, and many charter yachts and flotillas must have sailed past it on their way to Kastos or Kalamos, but very few call in.
Mitika is quite unlike most other Ionian towns. We describe it as very "Greek" - as well as the picturesque waterfront, the rest of the town behind was rather scruffy in parts, an unfinished harbour, sprawling back streets with half built houses and open areas with abandoned cars. There are no tourist shops here, the small hotels and apartments attract mostly the locals, and the hustle and bustle of the popular yacht harbours has been left behind. But it has a charm which is infectious. The attractive narrow main street heads north, lined with many local eating and drinking establishments, many of which back on to the sea, making a wonderful place to stop for a drink or a bite to eat and admire the glorious sunset over Lefkas Island. There are a few local shops including a bakery, mini market and two pharmacies. We walked past one tiny open doorway which we thought was someone's home, with a small table and chairs outside. When we looked more closely, it was actually a tiny shop run by a tiny old woman - her front room had been turned into an emporium of delights where the wall shelves were decorated with coloured paper holding bottles and jars of all sorts, and on the floor were piles of fruit boxes and some ancient weighing scales.
Rod Heikell's Ionian pilot book (6th edition) and the Navionics iPad app both suggest that there are two harbours at Mitika, but in fact the smaller one to the SW does not exist! There are the remains of, or maybe the beginnings of, some underwater blocks forming the shape of a harbour, but they are just under the water and dangerous to approach. Several orange lights indicate their presence at night, but this area is unusable. The existing slightly larger harbour is well used by local small boats, but there is a reasonable space for 6-10 yachts to go stern to on the south west wall, with a depth of up to 3m. Do not obstruct the yellow striped markings on the quay which is the area reserved for the barges and foot passenger ferries which go to the nearby islands. If the harbour is full, you can anchor off the west side of the village in light winds.
We enjoyed our two-day stay in Mitika - we must have sailed past it about a dozen times in previous years on our way to and from other harbours and anchorages, but we had missed a little gem.
26 August 2014 | Killini
After a couple of days at anchor in the south of Zakynthos at the lovely bay of Keri, we moved on. With time to spare before my daughter Alice arrived at the end of the week, we headed for Killini on the Peloponnese mainland. About a five hour trip, around 24 nautical miles.
This is well out of flotilla boat territory, there is little information available on the place, and most of it is out of date. We did meet one fellow sailor on Kefalonia who mentioned it, so we thought we'd give it a try. It is known for being a major ferry terminal, with frequent vessels coming and going from Zakynthos and Kefalonia. Being fairly close to Patras, which has major ferries from Italy, Killini is a stopping point before taking another ferry to the Ionian islands.
Killini is not a terribly attractive town or inspiring place, I didn't even feel like taking any photographs. The town is very Greek, not catering for foreign tourists, although there is a large stretch of beach with umbrellas and sunloungers close by. I guess a lot of local people from the interior travel to the coast to spend the day at the beach. There were some small hotels but it is certainly not a major foreign holiday destination. The town looked a bit run down, several shops had closed and it was a bit scruffy. But as well as some tavernas, we found a couple of butchers, mini markets and bakeries.
The harbour at Killini has recently been upgraded and a considerable amount of Greek money spent on it. A smaller inner harbour has been built, giving excellent shelter. This is where the fishing boats and yachts moor. There appears to be lazy lines on part of the harbour wall, so no anchor is needed, but the lines were missing where we moored, so we laid our anchor.
Because of the ferry traffic nearby, there is excellent lighting, rubbish bins, oil disposal bins, and best of all free electricity and water on the quay! So no excuse not to do lots of washing, scrub the decks, fill the tanks, and Hoover the carpets. I also used the electric slow cooker for a delicious chicken dish.
Another excellent attribute that we bestowed upon Killini was that we had the best ouzo meze that we had come across for some time. And we are the experts on ouzo mezes. It is traditional for Greek tavernas to give you a mini snack to go with your meze, as it thought too powerful for you to consume without food. The worst case scenario is that in very touristy areas they give you a small bowl of crisps, or nothing at all, usually you even have to ask them to bring the necessary water to go with your drink, but quite often they might give you a tiny plate of small fish, or some cheese with salad, or a slice of bread topped with taramasalata, or a couple of meat balls. You never know what you are going to get! All this is delicious and very welcome, but then you find places that give you more - something that would even make a good lunch. Once we had a decent portion of gavros ( small fish), fried, with chips. Another memorable meze was a plate of meatballs cooked in tomato sauce. Sometimes they give you a mixture of lots of things, and this is what we had at a tiny taverna in Killini. An oval shaped platter appeared, loaded high with freshly cooked ingredients including spicy sausage, meatballs, courgette and aubergine slices, some delicious fried mini peppers, a few chips, cheese cubes, ham, tomato and cucumber. A real feast!
So we were pleased to find this marvellous meze to accompany our ouzo or two on our first night in Killini, and spent a very enjoyable hour or so people-watching. They were certainly very generous hand poured measures of ouzo - after adding ice, it filled the glass! On our second evening, we again returned to the same establishment only to be told that they had run out of ouzo! Shock horror! We felt a bit guilty at this point as we were obviously responsible for drinking their entire stock of this essential Greek drink the night before! How could they have run out? It's like an English pub running out of wine! No problem, the girl told us - I will make your meze and in five minutes I will get more ouzo! We heard her on the phone, talking animatedly in Greek, clearly ordering in extra supplies for the crazy English tourists.
This reminds me of the little bar in Keri where we ordered a cold lager each after a hot walk around the village. We ordered a second one soon after, as it was very thirst quenching. The waitress looked at us with indignation. "You English - you drink such a lot!", she sneered.......
Zakynthos and the bogus harbour master
14 August 2014 | Zakynthos
George. Weather still hot
Yes, I've neglected you my loyal readers, no blogs this year to speak of so far, then like the number 19 bus, three at once!
We've been to 13 islands so far in 2014, many of them we have visited more than once, like Corfu, Paxos, Meganissi, but we won't exceed the 26 islands we visited in 2013 though.
We are currently cruising along the east coast of the Peloponnese. We left Zakynthos town and sailed to Katakalon on the mainland. I just wanted to give you a little info on Zakynthos town, most of which has already been recorded in other people's blogs, and most of which I agree with!
The main harbour at Zakynthos is large, but very shallow over a large area to the SW which is less than half a metre deep. Lots of ferries use this harbour.. The sailing yachts can go on the west side of the town quay, which is noisy and opposite a busy road, or along the wall towards the sailing club. There is quite a lot of traffic using the quay to the sailing club, and a lot of motorbikes, making it a rather noisy and dangerous road. In the evening many people also stroll down here for their evening Volta. There is a little beach the other side of the wall. Access is via some steps, it is rocky so wear rubber shoes, but the water is beautiful, we swam here a couple of times.
The town of Zakynthos is large, noisy and touristy. All facilities can be found here, but choose your place to eat and drink with care. If you avoid the very touristy bars around the square or along the front, you will also avoid their high prices. If you explore a couple of streets back, you can sit in a nice quiet marble paved street and pay half the price. There is also the most delicious bakery in one of these little streets, that sells the best range of bread, sweet and savoury pies, biscuits and cakes.
Moored along from us on the quay were several huge tripping boats, including an enormous replica pirate galleon complete with bored staff in pirate costume. Every morning around 0930 hoards of day trippers arrive on coaches or by foot, and board these monstrosities which take them on a cruise to the blue caves, or to a beach for a BBQ. They return sunburnt and drunk around 5pm.
On some charts and navigation apps it refers to a marina inside the harbour here, but there is nothing. A word of caution. We heard rumours about a non-official harbour master here who tries to charge you for a berth. He has been here for at least six years according to some fellow cruisers.
He will see your yacht arriving and ride his motorbike down the quay to meet you, and indicate where you should moor. Once you have secured your boat, he will approach and ask you how many nights you want to stay and tell you the price, we heard he was asking 15 euro a night. We challenged him and asked if he was working for the Port Police, but he tried to tell is some story that the PP no longer take responsibility for the mooring of yachts and he said he works for the municipality. He has made himself a home made badge, carries a money satchel and writes notes in a book, but he in not official and you don't have to pay him any mooring fees! We think that he may be responsible for providing water and electricity, for which he charges 5 euro a day each, but then he adds on his own mooring fee, which is not official. We didn't want water or electricity, and told him we would go to the port police to pay our harbour fees, then he seemed to back off. The guy on the boat next to us who arrived earlier, happily handed over 25 euro in total, based on the fact that he had not paid harbour fees for a couple of weeks, so he felt it ok to pay up this time! Of course we don't mind paying when it is legitimate, but we don't like these scams which seem to crop up now and then in Greek harbours. Everyone had to try to make a living somehow, I suppose!
Our trip to ancient Olympia
14 August 2014 | Katakalon
George. Same as before
Even if you are not keen on ancient Greeks (although I always thought Zeus was pretty cool), I would recommend you visit the site of the first Olympic Games, coincidentally situated near a little Greek town also called Olympia, about 25 miles from Katakalon.
There is a little two-carriage train which runs from Katakalon to the little town of Olympia, then it's about a ten minute walk to the ancient site. Although it would have been slightly more convenient if the ancient Greeks could have located their first games arena a little closer to the station, it would have meant less of a walk in the 35 deg heat.....
It's a good idea to check the train times the day before you go, if you can. I discovered that when there are NO cruise ships in harbour, there is only one train to Olympia in the morning around 0840, and no direct trains coming back. You have to get off at Pirgos then catch a bus back to Katakalon, but we did this and it wasn't really a problem. If there IS a cruise ship in harbour, the trains are more frequent, and return direct from Olympia. I found a website with bus and train times on it, but as you know, things can change in Greece overnight, so best to ask a local.
The day we arrived on Fandancer, we could hear the little train approaching Katakalon as it goes all through the fields and farms, past the backs of people's gardens, tooting it's horn frequently as there is often no barriers when it crosses the tiny roads. We went ashore and looked for signs of the station, but this being Greece, there are no signs or posters telling you how to find the station or how to get to Olympia! After a bit of searching, we found the very old railway lines and some rusted buffers and deduced that the tiny red roofed building which looked like a cafe must be the station. There was a tiny platform and no ticket office. After asking the bar owner about the train times, we arrived in good time the next morning and boarded the train. It cost three euros each, one way to Olympia, and two euros back from Olympia to Pirgos then 1.70 euro each on the bus from Pirgos, but I believe if the train is running normally it costs 5 euro return, although other Internet sites seem confused about this. The train driver issues you a hand written ticket when you get on the train.
It's a great little journey, the train driver pressing the hooter very frequently, like a toddler making train noises when playing trains! Woo-woo! On the way you pass masses of agricultural land, especially fields of sweetcorn, as well as melons, tomatoes, grapes, fruit orchards and olive groves. You can see little Greek farmyards with ducks, geese, turkeys, goats and sheep wandering everywhere, and even fields of hay being cut and left to dry. Some of the views are amazing, rich fertile valleys, cypress trees, oaks and pine forests. There is a huge amount of water here, the train crossed a flowing river, and everywhere the bulrushes were scraping past the train windows.
Eventually we arrived at Olympia station, and again, despite this being one of the worlds most important archaeological sites, we did not see any sign or indication of where the first olympic site was, or which direction we should walk! I guess this is because hardly any tourists use the train, all the cruise ship sheep are taken on coaches and dumped by the entrance to the site. So we followed our noses, and walked through the very pleasant little town of Olympia, with it's attractive wide paved streets. There was some influence of tourism of course, and you could have bought an Ancient Greek warrior's helmet, a gigantic amphora, or a costume worn by a vestal virgin if you so desired.
It was a pleasant walk to the site, and a great deal of money has obviously been spent on it, with sweeping footpaths and landscaped road, but could I suggest to you Greeks that you put some more signposts or information at the station? There was a museum about the History of the Olympics, and another museum about how the site was excavated. Didn't go in either. There is one tiny ticket office, and Tim was pleased to get an old person's discount without having to show his passport (I'm not sure if this is something to be pleased about or not!) but they could clearly see I was nowhere near being eligible for a discount, so the entrance fee wasn't too expensive.
I'm not a huge fan of Greek history, especially when what is in front of you has to be imagined in it's previous splendour, due to it being flattened by earthquakes, or being centuries old so nothing much remains, but the site at Olympia was truly impressive. Despite being mid August and about 33 degrees, there was plenty of shade under the trees as you walked round. I tried to follow the diagram they give you about what the piles of rocks represent, and some areas are more recognisable then others. Much of the site was built at different times, so it was in differing condition. Everything was on a huge scale, and the sheer enormity of the buildings that once stood there was breath taking.
The centre piece was the ruined Temple of Zeus, which once had the biggest stone pillars you have ever seen which now lie discarded in pieces on the ground, but one has been reconstructed to show the size. It is amazing to think how they managed to make them, let alone put them in place! The term slave labour comes to mind. The temple of Zeus once held the enormous 12 metre high gold and ivory statue which was one of the Seven wonders of the World.
We saw the original 200m running track, with sloping grass sides which could hold,45,000 spectators. Apparently the Greeks invented the first automatic starting gates, especially for the games. I declined Tim's kind offer to time now long it would take me to run the length of the track, although a group of more gullible school children seemed to want to please their teachers and did do this.
What I find difficult to understand is how did the organisers tell everyone in the country or the world that they were holding the first Olympics? What means of communication or transport did they have? How long did it take the team from Brazil to get there? Did you know that In the Olympics of AD 67, Olympics, Emperor Nero chose to have a singing event, he participated, and won the singing competition! Clearly not fixed at all........
14 August 2014 | Katakalon
George, poly zestee, as they say in Greece!
We sailed from Zakynthos over to the Peloponnese mainland, approx 20 nautical miles to the lighthouse on the tip. Once we rounded the headland, we saw an enormous cruise liner, which was docked in the harbour at nearby Katakalon. It was a monster - about twelve decks high, looking like huge blocks of flats welded together. It reminded me briefly of the council flats in Paulsgrove....(reference there for friends in Pompey). It turned out to be the MSC Fantasia, and a little Internet research told me she carried over 3600 passengers and 1250 crew.
I'm still sitting on the fence regarding a cruise ship holiday - I like the idea of sitting on the sun deck for a week reading a trashy magazine, and eating at the 24 hour restaurant to my heart's content, and it would be nice to glam up in the evening for a posh dinner followed by a theatre show, watching the rejects from Britain's Got Talent singing show tunes, but I always think with that many people on board there must be queues for everything! Imagine the queue for the buffet! Or fighting for a sunlounger, or queuing at the duty free shop. Or imagine the queues at the bar. And you know what happened when all those people tried to get in the lifeboats at once on the Titanic, fights broke out! I'm not a queuing person........
Anyway, this block of flats left from Vari in Italy and her next port of call after Katakalon on her whirlwind tour of the Med was Santorini.
Katakalon has a pretty waterfront with coloured taverna buildings right on the sea. There is also a vast expanse of concrete adjoining the 'marina' which is used as a huge coach park, as well as a boy racer skid pan for youths to show off in their souped-up Nissan Micras or 50cc mopeds. We decided to anchor off in the bay, partly due to the unattractive outlook if we were in harbour, the heat coming from the concrete, and the stress caused to us by the feline crew member should she decide to go ashore and explore the underside of a coach.....
Just a word about the 'marina', it is not a very attractive place, and not really a marina. Apparently there used to be three large floating pontoons for visiting yachts, but these were damaged some time ago and never replaced. There are a large number of tiny motorboats moored along the harbour wall, and on the quay, leaving a smaller section for visiting yachts. There is another large hardstanding area where boats have been taken out of the water. This location is outside of regular flotilla and charter boat territory, so you are unlikely to find any UK cruisers to swap books with, or discuss the weather. A fellow cruiser tells me that there is a semi official harbour master here, who will provide a key to a shower and loo onshore, as well as water and electric for your boat, but this still wasn't attractive enough to prevent us anchoring in the bay.
And I still haven't got round to telling you about our trip to Olympia....