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People of the Salt Water
The Cyclades
Belinda and Kit

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The Cyclades

19th July - Kea: With only very light easterly winds Kit hoisted the MPG - multipurpose Genoa - a light, brightly coloured headsail, and we enjoyed a leisurely downwind sail to the island of Kea, 12 miles to the east. Anchoring in Ormos Vourkari in 12m - relatively deep water for an anchorage - Kit had to let out almost all of the anchor chain. This was to be our home for a week as next day the Meltemi finally started to blow - and how!! It blew relentlessly night and day, F6-7 from the north, stretching the anchor chain out and twisting the boat this way and that with strong gusts off the hills, despite the fact that we had good shelter in the bay. We held firm, thank goodness, and soon got used to the motion - in fact the wind brought relief from the soaring temperatures and we were much more comfortable in 25-26C. Kea is an attractive island close enough to the mainland and Athens to attract the rich and famous - prices in the seafront tavernas certainly reflected this clientele!!! One or two 'superyachts' were anchored in the bay complete with crew and servants - we watched amazed as a panel opened up on the back of one of them and a set of 'toys' emerged (jet- ski, windsurfer, canoe etc.) - an incredible display of wealth!!
A Welsh yacht - 'Dawn Chaser' came in shortly after us and anchored nearby. As we passed in the dinghy one afternoon they invited us over for a 'cuppa', and we shared sailing tips and tales. Norman and Gill have been cruising for several years in the Eastern Med and are now slowly heading westward on the return journey to the UK. They kindly offered to keep an eye on Quilcene one day whilst we caught a bus up to the Chora - a picturesque whitewashed hilltop village - where we wandered through the narrow streets, out past the graveyard and up a steep hillside to see the famous Kea Lion. The Lion, with its enigmatic smile, dates back to the 6th Century BC and is chiselled out of the slate rock. It looks incongruous reclining regally halfway up a steep slope on the open hillside, and is a bit of a mystery as there is little explanation to be found of its origins.
We managed to get the bus time wrong for our return trip to Vourkari so decided to have lunch, a lovely Greek salad, and a wander around the interesting little museum in the Chora whilst we waited - still no more information about the lion tho'!
On the bus as we rounded the corner overlooking the anchorage we both heaved a sigh of relief to see Quilcene exactly where we had left her - we are always anxious when out of sight of our floating home, especially in such strong winds! We thanked Norman and Gill later over 'sundowners', and again on Friday night when we shared one of Kit's yummy curries with them!

25th July - Syros: The forecast showed a two day slot when the Meltemi would drop to manageable strength so we upped anchor early and set off to the island of Siros, 35m miles to the east. Siros is only 20 miles from Mikonos where we shall meet Marcus and Clara in a few days. After a week of strong winds the crossing was a bit lumpy but now more moderate winds gave us a sail most of the way. It was deliciously cool out at sea but approaching the island, a blast of hot wind off the land reminded us just how hot the afternoon sun has become!! We entered the Bay of Finikas, dropped anchor off the beach in crystal clear water and dived straight in to cool off. It is a delightful spot with a small beach and whitewashed houses - a perfect place for our visitors to come to. We didn't even try to get to Mikonos as it has a reputation for industrial noise levels, raucous behaviour and nudity - some combination!!
The anchorage on Syros is safe even in the Meltemi, which blew up again as predicted, but after a few days we moored bows-to on the quay where we could safely leave the boat and go to the main port of Ermoupolis to meet the ferry from Mikonos. In the evening a charter yacht arrived and pushed his way into a small space beside us. He only had a few tiny fenders - not much use really - so we had to run around the decks re-arranging ours to avoid damage. Kit had a few strong words about safety with the German skipper, who claimed to have lost fenders overboard. We then noticed that his Genoa was shredded and realised that he'd had a bad time contending with the Meltemi! Next day skipper Manfred apologised, Kit capitulated and good international relations were restored!!
We spent the rest of the week in Finikas on the outside of the quay where we could still swim off the boat and had a nice view of the bay whilst we enjoyed our 'sundowners'. Marcus and Clara arrived and we spent a few days relaxing, snorkelling, swimming and sampling the local fare.

1st August - Paros: We decided to take advantage of another lull in the Meltemi and sail to Paros, 27 miles southeast. With the hatches firmly battened down we set off with a reefed in mainsail hoping that the sea state wouldn't be too bad. A pleasant sail took us down the west coast of Syros but we emerged from the lee shelter of the island into rough seas and gusty 25-30 knot winds! It was all going in the right direction so we carried on and had an exciting sail down to Ormos Naousis, a large sheltered bay on the NE corner of Paros. We tucked in behind the headland and dropped anchor. An idyllic spot with clear turquoise water, sandy beach, a small white chapel perched on a rock and in the distance, a taverna and a small boatyard with brightly coloured caiques hauled out on the shore. A few moments later Gerard from 'Mermaid' appeared rowing a dinghy - how lovely! They were anchored not far away and he had come over to say Hi! The last time our paths had crossed was on Ithaca in the Ionian; they had chosen to sail around the Peloponnese instead of through the Corinth Canal. Small world!
Next morning Marcus and Clara set off, with a few Euros and some sun cream in a plastic tube, to snorkel over to the beach and walk around the bay to the taverna. Later Kit and I launched the dinghy and met up with them for lunch; the Taverna sits behind a small beach where a local tripper boat operates a service from the main town of Naoussa. It is all very 'low key' and peaceful and we enjoyed a very relaxed lunch under a shady parasol.

3rd August - Naxos: Sadly, Marcus and Clara's holiday was coming to an end, so we set off for the nearby island of Naxos where they could catch a ferry back to Mikonos and the airport. The sea was still a bit lumpy and confused as we left the bay but soon calmed down as we rounded the NE headland and made our way down to the busy ferry Port of Naxos, where we anchored inside the breakwater. Naxos is picturesque with its whitewashed buildings spread prettily over low hills behind the harbour and the white marble archway of an unfinished Temple to Apollo standing on Nisis Apollonas, a small islet joined by a causeway to the town. But what a busy contrast to our previous anchorages! Huge ferries constantly coming and going disgorging passengers, motorbikes, cars and lorries. The bustling seafront is lined with tavernas, including many seafood ones with octopus and fish hanging on lines outside! We picked out a nice looking one for our last dinner together later that evening. The Kastro, or old walled hilltop town is one of the few remaining that is still residential and relatively unspoilt. It was lovely to explore the warren of alleys, archways and tunnels set around a Venetian castle on the summit.

4th August - Dhenoussa: It would have been great to linger for a few days on Naxos, as the interior is reputedly beautiful, but the Meltemi was forecast to return in 3 days time. There is no knowing how long it may blow and we needed to get somewhere near the island of Kos from where we fly back to the UK on 21st. So after we said our goodbyes to Marcus and Clara and dropped them off by the ferry we prepared the boat and pulled up the anchor. We were heading for Dhenoussa, a small high island 9 miles off the eastern coast of Naxos; it has only 110 inhabitants and is well off the tourist track. In the lee of Naxos we had to motor up the west coast but once clear managed a leisurely sail across and anchored for the night in the small cove of Ormos Dendro, the next bay to the small village of Stavros. What a fabulous place! The cliffs rose steeply from the water and were covered with a surprising amount of vegetation. Snorkelling showed that underwater was brilliant too - probably the most colourful and full of life we've seen for a while. There were brightly coloured starfish, anemones, sea squirts and millions of small fish darting about. We didn't go ashore but the only building was a wooden shack - probably a beach tavern, and there people camping in small 'bubble' tents on the beach.

5th August - Levitha: Again it would have been great to linger for a few days but we pushed on to Levitha, another small island and the most easterly of the Cyclades. The sea was flat and without even a tiny breeze we motored the 33miles to a deep inlet on the south of Levitha. The population of the island consists of a few fishermen, a lighthouse keeper and a farming family! - well off the beaten track with not even a ferry or a phone mast to connect it to the world!! The enterprising farmer has laid a few moorings so we picked one up and dived in to cool off. Not so much underwater life here but Kit pointed out the largest gastropod shell (snail-like mollusc) I have ever seen and I thought I'd get it for our collection. I dived down and picked it up before I realised that it was still alive, with a large rippling white and black spotted foot!! Naturally I replaced it - the only live animals we would take are fish for dinner - if we could catch any!!! There were also quite a lot of brightly coloured polycheate worms, which I've not seen before, swimming over the bottom - I made a mental note to buy a Mediterranean species guide!
Later the farmer and his young son came rowing around the moored yachts to ask if we wanted dinner in their farmhouse Taverna. It sounded too good to miss so we rowed ashore armed with torches to find our way back. The farm is about 15 minutes walk away across dusty stony fields and consists of a little cluster of whitewashed buildings between which a rush roof covers a few tables and chairs - really rustic and charming! The farmer and son were spruced up and acted as waiters whilst Mum cooked. With just local fish or meat (goat) on the menu we chose fish, with Greek salad to start. The feta was also made on the island with milk from the herd of goats that we'd passed en route to the farm. The whole evening was enchanting, I wish we could take all of our friends there to share the experience!!! Finding our way back to the boat wasn't so easy tho'; the night was very dark and the moon didn't show until very late. We managed to lose the path and strayed to another small inlet! All part of the fun!

6th August - Kalimnos: Although sad to be leaving Levitha this was the final leg which would take us further east to the island of Kalymnos in the Dodecanese, where we hoped to find a safe place to leave the boat whilst we return to the UK. It was a perfect day with light winds, blue seas and the islands of the Dodecanese on the horizon - the sort of day when we are reminded how lucky we are to be here exploring these beautiful islands. Kit was literally brought down to earth with a bump when he banged his head on the boom; luckily not a bad injury although it certainly bled a lot and he felt a bit sorry for himself with a large dressing on his forehead!! With the wind in the east we made a long tack southeast, then one northeast and motored in on the final approaches to the island.
Kalymnos is the home of sponge diving; originally the divers fished in shallow water, jumping overboard from the traditional 'trehandiri' boats with a heavy stone to weigh them down and scooping sponges off the bottom. Today, many still 'free dive' but some also dive using compressed air and collect from deeper waters off Cyprus and Africa. All species, shapes and size of sponges are displayed for sale everywhere!
We found a spot on the town quay in the main town of Pothia and moored bows-to with stern anchor and a tailed mooring. Later a huge 65-70ft 'gin palace' decided to moor next to us - as it reversed in towering over Quilcene, its prop caught our mooring line and pulled us roughly into its side! Whilst Kit and I did what we could to fend off and avoid damage, the Greek skipper announced that we were to blame as we were too close! Even when it was clear that they had pulled Quilcene into them he did not concede and continued to be offensive, telling us (in perfect English) that he didn't understand English, and swearing in Greek (we recognised one word!). Eventually Kit cut the rope and we were free with no damage (hurrah!) but the 'gin palace' needed divers to cut the end from around his prop! I must say we felt no pity and may even have gloated a bit!!! This is the first time we have encountered unpleasantness from a Greek person - everyone else has been very friendly and welcoming.
Fellow yachties beware this motor boat - it is called 'Notus' (should we have noticed the subtle reference to shunning responsibility? !!)
Pothia is a lively place with ferries coming and going to Kos regularly. As our water tanks were a little low we filled up from the quays' water supply. It wasn't until we made a cup of tea that we realised the water is a little 'brackish' and not for drinking - yeuk!! By that time we had three full tanks! Never mind, it is OK for washing and pasta etc.! ....just not for drinking and certainly not for tea!! We soon replenished our stocks of bottled water for that.
Next day we arranged to moor the boat in a safe spot whilst we are away. Until then the plan is to sail around the SE corner of the island and explore anchorages up the east coast and possibly on the nearby islet of Pserimos. First tho' we have to wait out the next blast from the Meltemi!!

The Corinth Canal and the Saronic Gulf
Belinda and Kit

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15th July - Corinth Canal - It was a burning hot morning with no wind when we left Corinth Harbour and motored over to the Canal entrance where several yachts were milling around and a large cargo vessel was waiting. The Canal is one way so westbound ships and yachts had to exit before we could enter. The heat was stifling even out on the water so we were relieved when the hydraulic road bridge lowered into the water and one large ship, almost touching the sides, came out followed by three yachts. The green light signalled the all-clear and we joined a procession of yachts following the cargo vessel into the entrance past the traffic waiting for their road to re-emerge from the depths!!
The 3.2 miles long canal at the east extremity of the Gulf of Corinth links the Ionian and the Aegean seas between mainland Greece and the Peloponnese. It was envisaged as long ago as 7th Century BC when Periander, tyrant of ancient Corinth tried to cut a passage through the rocks. Finding this an impossible task he had a paved slipway, or dhiolkos, built over the isthmus and sailors dragged their ships across on rollers from one sea to another. Subsequently Alexander the Great, Caligula and Nero all instigated digs but it was a French engineering company who finally completed the canal in the 19th Century.
As we moved further into the canal the 79m sheer rock sides towered above us and we motored under road and rail bridges marvelling at the immensity of the project. Nearing the eastern end another road bridge lowered into the water and we passed through to tie up next to the offices and pay our fee. The Corinth Canal is, per mile, one of the most expensive waterways in the world. We paid 165 Euros for our 12m yacht - expensive but quite an experience!!!
Heading out into the Saronic Gulf we had light winds so a relaxing sail took us Korfos on the NE Peloponnese, where we dropped anchor despite the entreaties of two restaurant owners to tie up on their pontoon!! The weather by now is really hot and sticky, 32C even in the shade of the cabin and we swim a lot to cool off- even tho' the sea temperature is also 32C!!! The nights are hot and sticky too and we often take a 'midnight' dip in the cool dark water. Let's hope it gets no hotter!!!

16th July - Aigina: Next day we were off again to Aigina in the Saronic Gulf, popular with Athenians who descend on the island in great numbers to escape the heat of the City. We anchored just off the town of Aigina, and were amazed at the number of ferries coming and going - it was non-stop! Despite its popularity the island has a 'local' feel so we spent two days exploring the narrow streets and enjoying the bustle of the colourful fish and vegetable markets. There were several Caiques (local fishing boats) selling fruit and veg on the quay, which seemed utterly charming; until we were taken in, and given expensive near-rotten veg from the back of the pile!! A lesson for us!!!

18th July - Ak Sounion: With no sign yet of the dreaded Meltemi but we pressed on northeastward to Sounion Bay, our last stop before heading out into the Aegean. This journey had us on sharp lookout for the numerous fast ferries that ply the routes between Athens and the islands - they speed so fast that they seem to be on the horizon one minute, then almost on top of us! ...their wash puts up tall standing waves that send us rocking back and forth as if in a storm!
An ancient temple to Apollo stands on the headland at Sounion creating a dramatic backdrop to this lovely anchorage. The water is a beautiful turquoise colour and incredibly clear - we could easily see our anchor 8m below!! Again the close proximity to Athens made this a popular spot and we anchored in the company of several enormous 'Gin Palaces', the sizes of which made Quilcene look like a dinghy!!!

Greek mainland and the gulfs of Patras and Corinth
Belinda and Kit
23/07/2009, Astakos to Corinth

15th June - After a brilliant month in the Ionian Islands we set sail for Marathia, a sheltered inlet on the Greek mainland. We began at a leisurely pace and were so relaxed that we didn't really notice the wind increasing as we neared the mainland. Suddenly we were in a gusty force 6 with all sails up! However Quilcene sliced through the choppy water with no problem and we flew the last few miles to the inlet, which by all accounts should have been a peaceful haven of tranquil water. No such luck!! The wind was howling down off the hills into Marathia bending the trees that lined the shore and stirring up the water. A quick look at the pilot book told us that the port of Astakos, just a few miles around the headland should be OK - not so! The wind followed us round and we approached Astakos wondering how on earth we would tie the boat up to the quay in these conditions!!
Luckily we didn't have to - anxiously scanning the port through the binoculars we saw two boats lying at anchor outside the breakwater. Brilliant, an anchorage! With some relief we dropped sails to anchor and found good holding. Incredibly the wind died shortly afterward!! It's always nice to be outside the harbour or marina; it's normally more peaceful and we can swim from the boat.
Astakos is a great little fishing and agricultural town with only a small tourist trade - and mainly Greek so not much English spoken. Our Greek leaves a lot to be desired but we get by with a mixture of sign language and the help of a phrase book!! Our water supplies were dwindling so Kit set off in the dinghy with a couple of large water carriers.
The 'water man' in Astakos is a very friendly guy called Nick, who has the key to a quayside tap and a long hose. He waited patiently as Kit made several trips back to the boat with full carriers to top up our tanks. Water is often in short supply in Greece and sometimes has to be paid for, but Nick made no charge so Kit tipped him a few Euros.
We spent 3 days in Astakos and really enjoyed it. There are several quayside tavernas but one evening we found a little place in the back streets with a few tables on the pavement. The owner spoke no English but beckoned us into his kitchen to show us what fish he had. It all looked good so we selected a couple and he cooked them whilst we started with a Greek salad - all delicious, and very reasonably priced! Another evening we wandered along the 'seafront' - a shingle beach - and found a beach bar at the edge of town. It was lovely sitting there in the cool of the evening, enjoying a 'sundowner' at the water's edge - a definite 'holiday' feeling!!
There was a great wifi cafe/tavern on the quayside so we could download the 'Archers', Newspods, Friday Comedy and other favourites from Radio 4 (not to mention a quick look at the weather forecast) over an iced coffee (very popular here and called Frappe). The wifi phone we bought on our last trip home works really well and has been a lifeline whilst we are without our laptop! Unfortunately one afternoon the wifi was down so we went into an internet cafe to use their computer, it's handy to be able to write emails using a keyboard instead of texting! It was a largish place and we were directed to a workstation upstairs which already had some files open. No problem - we closed down everything that was open without looking at it and proceeded to log on. However pictures kept popping up - and not the kind we wanted to see!!! No matter how many times we closed them down they kept coming back!
We soon gave up and went downstairs to pay the lad on duty. We told him that pornographic pictures kept popping up on the screen and he just smirked. 'Not funny' we said, but this lad obviously thought it was hilarious and wasn't going to take it seriously - very annoying. Kit asked for the manager who soon appeared, apologised and said it must be a virus. Needless to say we didn't go back and luckily haven't had a repeat performance in other internet cafes!
18th June - A few miles down the coast we'd heard about a quiet sheltered anchorage so we headed off to find it. Petalas is a semi-enclosed lagoon which we had to dodge around fish farms to reach, but it was worth the effort. A large area with only a few other yachts anchored so oodles of space - and no charter or flotilla boats! (easily identified by flags/website address on the boom/lack of livaboard necessities -solar panels etc.). I guess the charter boats stick to the islands. The water temperature here was 30C so lovely for a swim. We spent two quiet days in Petalas, enjoying the solitude, before entering the Gulf of Patras and starting an eastward journey along the top of the Peloponnese. The Gulfs of Patras and Corinth separate the Peloponnese from mainland Greece and act as a sort of 'short-cut' through from the Ionian to the Aegean.
20th June - The first stop was Mesolonghi, accessed by a 5km dredged channel through saltflats; at the channel entrance stood attractive 'pessades' - fishermen's huts on stilts in the shallow water. Many of these have been converted to holiday lets but still look enchanting with their bright colours and tin roofs; we were almost within touching distance as we sailed past. Mesolonghi's claim to fame is that Lord Byron, the English poet/warrior took up the cause of Greek independence (from the Turks) and moved there in an attempt to drum up support from England. Sadly, the support never came and Byron died there, never seeing his hopes fulfilled. When independence finally came a memorial was erected to him and stands in 'the garden of Heroes' near Liberty gate. Today, many Greeks are still named after Byron, and streets in many towns bear the name 'Vyronas'(Byron).
After a few nights anchored in the bay (again with a resident turtle that we nicknamed 'Tillie') where the water temperature was a warm 32C! we moored in Mesolonghi marina; another unfinished marina - but work is actually under way here. With no facilities it is still free to moor alongside the pontoon, which we were pleased to do as it meant that we could get our bikes out and explore. The town is lovely - it has a university, and a lively cafe society in the narrow lanes . There was a lovely atmosphere as we mingled with students and locals shopping and stopping for an occasional iced coffee. We stayed in Mesolonghi for two weeks altogether waiting for our new computer to arrive. We shared 'sundowners' with Mark and Amanda from New Zealand aboard 'Balvenie', and Ineke and Riens on a Dutch boat 'Zeezwaluw'; one evening we discovered that we had mutual friends - Gerard and Josje on 'Mermaid' !! - small world! Our new friends were heading in the opposite direction to us so we could swap tips about best anchorages and places to visit etc. - always useful information. Ineke and Riens joined us for one of Kits Friday curries and were suitably impressed - at least there were no leftovers!!!
Whilst tied up in Mesolonghi marina we took a trip to Dhiakofto on the Northern coast of the Peloponnese. There is a rack and pinion railway winding its way up through the Vouraikos Gorge, clinging to the precipitous mountainside and plunging through tunnels blasted out of the rock. It was built by Italians in 1885 and is an amazing feat of engineering and an unforgettable ride. We had to catch a bus to Patras, and then a train along the coast to Dhiakofto to reach it but it was well worth the effort to see the breathtaking views. It also necessitated an overnight stay in Dhiakofto where we found 'Lemonies' a small, friendly hotel, and a brilliant Greek restaurant 'Costas'. Again, we were showed the food on offer in the kitchen before choosing, and sitting under a vine-covered trellis we sampled delicious stuffed vegetables and local wine.
8th July - Once the computer arrived we were on our way again; with a strong westerly filling our sails we sailed under the spectacular Rion Bridge, into the Gulf of Corinth and on to the island of Trizonia - a real gem! We anchored for a night in the lush green bay and next day found a space in yet another unfinished marina!!! This small island has no cars or noisy motorbikes (oh joy!); there are narrow windy streets with tiny houses clustered together. It has just one hotel and a few tavernas - definitely off the beaten track!! John, on board 'Iago' was also in the marina, we first met him in Mesolonghi so we spent a lovely evening with him comparing notes about our travels and enjoying the local beer. On our last night there we wandered over to the taverna for a 'sundowner' but were told 'no drinks for 10 minutes due to a funeral'! We sat under the porch with some locals, thinking that this was a bit strange when the priest walked by alone, swinging incense. A few minutes later the priest came back heading the funeral procession and followed by a man carrying the coffin lid, then a Mazda pick-up truck with the open coffin containing the deceased on the back - followed by almost all of the population of Trizonia! We all stood to show our respect as the procession passed, then the tavern opened again and drinks were served. Within minutes the place was noisy and crowded as many mourners had turned back at the church gates and headed for the taverna! Not a bad send-off!!

12th July - We spent three days in this lovely spot then sailed on to Itea on the mainland as we were keen to visit Delphi - regarded by the ancients as the centre of the world.
Delphi sits high up on the side of Mt Parnassus amidst ravines, rocky outcrops and sheer cliffs. We caught an early morning bus up the mountain as we hoped to avoid the heat of the day, which is now becoming extreme - 35C in the shade! The location alone of Delphi is dramatic, and with the remains of several temples (to the Gods Apollo, Athena and Dionysius) a gymnasium, a stadium and various administrative buildings set within this landscape it is stunning! It was tiring climbing up the steep paths to see it all but very worthwhile. Our early start meant that we'd done the climbs in relative comfort , but unfortunately we had to wait around for the site museum to open at 1pm (no-one told us it was late opening on Mondays!). The Museum is an attractive modern marble-floored building and houses various items found in the ruins, showing exact locations so you can imagine how it must have once looked. Again it was worth the visit so we'd had a long but interesting day by the time we arrived back on Quilcene.
14th July - With a forecast for fair winds we left Itea next morning and headed directly to Corinth Harbour at the West end of the Corinth Canal. The promised wind didn't blow - instead the sea was flat calm so we had to motor all the way. This is bad news now, because the engine stays warm for several hours after a journey, and combined with the high temperatures and humidity makes the boat very hot and us very sticky! As we approached the east end of the Corinth Gulf we saw several pods of dolphins and innumerable fish jumping on the surface. Perhaps they swim along thus far in the deep gulfs of Patras and Corinth and suddenly find themselves at a dead end! Surprisingly there were few fishing boats in evidence to take advantage of the rich pickings!
Corinth itself is an attractive city with all the trimmings; smart bars, department stores, deli's, designer shops etc. Once tied up in the harbour we went in search of provisions and internet facilities and were very tempted to stay a few days. However, we had to take advantage of the calm weather to transit the Canal and make our way out into the Aegean. We've read about, and heard hair-raising tales of the Meltemi - a strong northerly wind which can blow at gale force for days or weeks in the Aegean during July and August, keeping all but the largest (and bravest!) shipping confined to harbour. We want to get somewhere near Mikonos by late July to meet my son Marcus and girlfriend Clara who are joining us for a week's holiday. With this in mind we set a course through the Canal and decided to press on eastwards.

Ionian Islands
Belinda and Kit
23/06/2009, Greek Ionian

Ionian Islands - Argostoli, Cephalonia (20th May)

Once tied up on the town quay, we checked in with the customs and had to buy a DEKPA cruising permit. This cost 29 Euros and allows us to cruise in Greek waters for the next year. We have to get it stamped when we tie up in a port (this has only happened once so far as we anchor wherever possible). Port fees in Greece are actually incredibly cheap at around 7 Euro per night to tie up to a quay, although for this there are no services except perhaps water (usually from the 'water man'). There are a few marinas dotted around the islands with all services, but they are invariably expensive and full of flotilla yachts. An unfinished marina lay across the bay, with infrastructure complete but no services in place. This was also mentioned in the pilot book dated two years ago!! Maybe they ran out of the money or the will to finish it!!

In Argostoli the 'water man' is Leonard; he met us and took our lines as we tied up, welcoming us and pointing out his taverna, a few yards away where he offered free showers! He also offered water from a hose attached to a standpipe - again no charge. Naturally we took advantage of these offers and enjoyed a refreshing cool shower at the rear of his Taverna, in cubicles open to the sky. ...and naturally we felt obliged to buy several coffees and beers whilst we were there!!! Argostoli is the main town on Cephalnoia and has a small British ex-pat community so there are several 'English breakfasts' advertised. It has a lively feel about it, especially along the main street which is lined with shops and restaurants. We stayed in Argostoli for a few days, on the quay at first then at anchor in the bay. A turtle has taken up residence in the bay and we often saw little crowds of delighted tourists on the quay as it surfaced nearby and basked in the warm water. The weather is now very hot and the water temperature has increased to around 28C. After stocking up on Greek produce we sailed around to Poros on the east coast of Cephalonia. It was here that we tried out the 'Med moor' - mooring bows-to on the quay with a stern anchor laid out. Things went well and we were just congratulating ourselves when a flotilla of Sunsail yachts came in and one caught our line on his keel! However it was soon sorted out and we stayed in Poros for 3 days. The lovely little village is 10 minutes walk from the harbour and sits in a spectacular position on a strip of land between a precipitous gorge and the sea. We enjoyed wandering through its narrow streets pausing for coffees and beers as the mood took us. A nearby beach provided a swimming and cooling off spot in the evenings.

From Poros we sailed further north to the village of Eufemia, still on Cephalonia. We anchored in the harbour for the night and planned to stay longer as the village looked charming and well worth exploring, but the wind changed to blow straight in making it a bit lumpy so we set off next day for Ithaca.

Ithaca claims to be the home of Ulysses and our 'Lonely Planet' guide tells us of several potential sites that may have been Ulysses palace, where Penelope waited patiently for many years for his return. It sounded interesting but we decided to save our next 'culture fix' until we visit the Ancient site of Delphi in the Gulf of Patras. We sailed for most of the trip enjoying Ithacas beautiful coastline, passing one small island that looked inviting. However the pilot book warned of large bold rats that could run onto yachts along mooring lines, in search of food and so we gave 'Rat Island' a miss! We finally dropped anchor in the deep picturesque bay of Skhoinos, with trees on the hillsides and a white beach at its head. Cypresses, Olive groves, Eucalyptus and Cephalonia pines make up most of the vegetation here, and provide wonderful fragrances in the evening which is very relaxing along with the calls of cicadas. Goats could be heard in the trees and at night owls swooped and called to each other. The scenery is reminiscent of Scotland with tall hills and pine forest, but it's much warmer both in and out of the water!! We spent two days here swimming and relaxing. Kit donned his scuba gear and cleaned a few barnacles from Quilcene's bottom whilst I swam around the boat supervising!

Just around the headland was Vathi, the main town on Ithaca and our next stop. We anchored off the town at the head of the sheltered bay, keeping well clear of the ferry. Vathi is another lively place where we took the dinghy ashore several times to make use of internet cafes. Our computer appears to be having problems so one of our tasks was to start looking for a new one. Local prices are very high so we began to consider ordering from the internet - our IT consultant Glyn found a great offer from Dell but unfortunately they won't deliver out here - more head scratching! On the second day Gerard and Josje on 'Mermaid' sailed in - we had last seen them on Malta and our paths seem destined to keep crossing!

A noisy ferry had kept me awake at nights and the nearby island of Meganisi looked like a quiet spot for the weekend so we motored over and anchored in another small bay with only a couple of other yachts for company. We swam in the warm water to cool off and just relaxed with books for two days. With no large towns nearby the stars seemed brilliant at night.

A fantastic sail took us north to the island of Levkas, passing Skorpios, a pretty island owned by the Onassis family. We anchored for 5 days in Tranquil Bay opposite Nidri, where we tried unsuccessfully to buy a new compressor for the fridge. It had been struggling for some time and in these temperatures just couldn't keep the wine and beer cold!! Whilst here we became reaquainted with Tony and Lin on 'Lord Anthony', and Peter and Sue on 'Rockhopper of Lune', both of whom we haven't seen since last summer. It was nice to catch up with their news and cruising plans, and Kit cooked a lovely Friday curry which we shared with Tony and Lin - it must have been good because they threatened to find us every Friday from now on!! A quayside shop offered free delivery so we had a few cases of beer, water and soft drinks delivered to the boat - very helpful!

Next we headed up to the main town of Levkada, reached via the Levkas canal, a narrow strip of water dividing Levkas from mainland Greece. We had emailed the fridge manufacturer in Sweden who put us in touch with their agent in Levkada so cold beer was becoming a distinct possibility! The approach to the canal was a bit worrying as we couldn't see the entrance in the low lying land, but once we'd identified the buoys it was like sailing in the Norfolk Broads! We coasted along between 'withies' - sticks marking the 3 mile dredged channel to the town - in a stately procession of yachts heading both north and south with good 'lane discipline'.

Anchored with several other yachts between a smart marina and the town quay, we stayed for a few days whilst we got the fault with the computer diagnosed (pronounced dead!), ordered a new one to be delivered to my sister in the UK, and ordered a new fridge (including compressor, electric box and holding plate). The fridge was a very expensive item; whilst a fridge for a house can be quite inexpensive, anything for a boat costs 4 times as much!!! Kit said it should have come with a 'SMEG' label!!

The fridge arrived very quickly and Kit spent a very hot day pulling out the old one and fitting the new in a tight space behind the seating in the saloon. Cool drinks again!!!

I was very keen to visit the island of Atokos, a small rocky offshore mound with only one anchorage - 'One House Bay'. We sailed over to it early one morning and anchored in the bay for lunch. It is a spectacular anchorage with crystal clear water over a white shingle bottom. There is indeed only one house... but also a small chapel! Unfortunately the holding was not too great and we weren't happy about staying the night so we upped anchor in the afternoon and sailed over to Port Leone on Kalamos. Port Leone was once a thriving place set in a pretty bay but the earthquake in 1953 irrevocably disrupted the water supply and the villagers abandoned the village. The houses are still standing though a bit dilapidated now. Strangely the church appears to be in good repair and former residents allegedly come over to clean it now and then. We anchored and spent two days there, rowing ashore to walk around the deserted streets. It was quite eerie seeing the abandoned houses and gardens from 50 years ago, now with grazing mountain goats the only residents. There were some very large spiders spinning webs from trees right across the footpaths and we had to duck to avoid getting tangled up with them! One evening as we were enjoying a 'sundowner' on the boat the church bell rang once!! There were no dinghies on shore so we have no idea how it happened!!! Spooky or what???

Our next stop was an anchorage on the mainland so that was the end of our Ionian Island odyssey. The islands are really beautiful and greener than we'd expected considering the high temperatures here. Although a bit touristy in places seeing them by boat we can access quiet bays and see areas that are untouched by commercialism so we count ourselves lucky!!!

Sicily and on to Greece
Belinda and Kit
23/05/2009, Cephalonia

Sicily: We liked Syracusa immediately, the weather is fairly settled now and the days hot and sunny so we stayed on anchor in the bay for a week. It was lovely there - and excellent holding in mud. There were about 15 other yachts in the anchorage, mostly from Europe but we did spot a New Zealand flag. Sadly the water was not inviting enough for a swim, as there seemed to be a discharge nearby that discoloured the water.

Syracusa, founded by Greek colonists, was once a leading European power and military base. Ancient Syracusa was on Ortygia, a fortified island. With its strong, high city walls it was easily defendable and when in 215 BC it was attacked by the Romans and there began a siege. Archimedes was on the Greek defence team and contrived various mechanical devices (catapults etc.) which kept the Romans at bay for 2 years!

Today Ortygia is joined to the mainland by two bridges and Syracusa spreads onto the mainland. The old town is really lovely, with narrow streets overlooked by tall buildings that are bedecked with wrought iron balconies. Flowers seem to trail from every balcony creating a really attractive and colourful impression. The central Piazza is a grand space dominated by the impressive Doumo (Cathedral), and we enjoyed several mid-morning cappuccinos in the smart cafe opposite.

On show in the Piazza was a 70` aluminium sculpture of a giant emerging from the earth. This sculpture by Seward Johnson, and entitled 'The Awakening' was installed for the opening of the G8 special environmental meeting of world leaders. It is in five parts and shows the giant's head, knee, foot, hand and arm with the rest of the body apparently submerged beneath the floor of the Piazza! This is intended to signify humanity's emerging consciousness about the fragile environment and promote sustainable practice.

Not having an artistic bone in my body, it looked to me as if the giant was sinking into the ground rather than emerging!!! (- let's hope not!!). Nonetheless it is a really impressive sculpture and quite famous. It was certainly popular with the parties of schoolchildren visiting the Cathedral, who vied for position to be photographed by friends (mostly on mobile phones!) with various parts of the giant!

We spent the days relaxing on the boat, replacing our stores, and wandering about the town. Our Dutch friends (on Mermaid) had recommended a wine Co-operative where you can buy fine wines straight from the vat. We soon located the place, where the people are very friendly and offered us a tasting - we tried them all!! Needless to say we now have a good supply on board!! We celebrated Kit's birthday with a delicious fish and shellfish dinner in a small courtyard restaurant hidden away through a stone doorway.

We had been at anchor for about two days before we realised that we could see the top of Mt Etna, some 50 miles away, from the boat! Some days it was very clear and despite the plume of smoke rising from the summit it looked as if there was snow on the slopes. Our next port of call on Sicily was to be Catania, further north, where we could book into a marina and safely leave the boat to visit the volcano.

With the weather so settled there was no wind at all so we motored 28miles up the coast, with Etna looming ever larger, and tied up in Circulo Nautico Marina, in the docks area of Catania. Catania is the second city of Sicily and a busy port. On our first excursion ashore we were looking for an internet café but somehow managed to end up in the red light district! Then we found ourselves pushing through a crowd gathered to hear speakers protesting about the poor conditions of immigrants. Internet cafes were a disappointment too, as without exception they are also phone shops, seedy places filled with booths where the immigrant population call their relatives and friends far away. Not a very good first impression! However we soon got our bearings and found that Catania is a vibrant city, and the people very friendly. It must once have been a beautiful city but sadly many of the grand old buildings are now a bit dilapidated. The narrow streets were not designed to take today's traffic and the Italians negotiate their way around the city with much horn beeping and shouting, as a fleet of Vespa's and motorcycles wind in and out between the cars.

From the marina Etna dominated the landscape with its ominous, constantly smoking cone. We were keen to get an even closer look and took an early morning bus that wound its way up the slopes through villages and countryside to Refugio Sapienza - as far as the road goes at 1900 metres above sea level. The lower slopes of the Volcano must provide good growing conditions as there are acres of green cultivated land growing all kinds of fruit and vegetables. As we rose we passed wide fields of black lava and could see the roofs of houses and farms that had been engulfed by the 2001 lava flow. There is indeed snow at this height despite the heat that must emanate through he ground from the active volcano! You can apparently ski up here in the winter. From there a cable car took us up another 600 metres where we hopped on a Unimog 4x4 jeep for a very bumpy ride up a track cut through the snow. At the summit, we climbed on snow, black rocks and lava up to the south crater. Despite the sun it was very cold and we were glad of the extra clothing we'd carried with us. We both felt the effects of the thin air at this height (3323 metres or 10,700ft) and had to take our time walking around the crater, taking in the awe-inspiring views over Sicily and the boot of Italy. We were lucky to be there on such a clear day as there is often a cloud over the volcano. The main crater, a short distance away, is too dangerous to get close to as it is active, but I got some good photos of the sulphurous smoke rising from the cone. I sat up next to the jeep driver on our descent to the cable car station and got a first class view as we drove down the precipitous track between walls of snow - quite an experience!

With our Etna excursion over we started preparing for a 2-day passage to Cephalonia, one of the Greek Ionian Islands. A large depression was due to pass over us with easterly gales so we had to wait for that to clear before setting off.

Filling up with diesel before we left was quite an experience as we had to take the boat around to a shallow pontoon in the fishing harbour and carry cans of fuel from the petrol station. Luckily there were several pairs of helping hands in the shape of three Sicilian fishermen, Kit had arranged things the previous day but we didn't expect such willing helpers!!

As we sailed away from Sicily we could see the foot of Italy in the distant haze and reflected that this had been our second visit to Italy, but we've still not sailed to the mainland! Perhaps en route west out of the Mediterranean....

We had a good passage across the Ionian Sea. As usual the wind was fluky and either too little or too much - but the weather was fine and we sailed for 50% of the trip. Once Italy was out of sight there was no shipping, it felt strange - just us on a blue sea! We took 4-hour watches this time and felt more rested after a good break. The nights were very dark despite the amazing vista of stars, because the moon didn't rise until early morning. Again we saw loggerhead turtles miles from the shore; in fact one of their main breeding grounds is on Zakynthos, the island south of Cephalonia, so we must have crossed a migratory route. We were also escorted by delightful dolphins for several miles, which always pleases me. We had strong winds during the second night giving us a bumpy ride, and although we had to reef the sails in and keep a good watch, this did enable us to make up time lost in periods of lull, and we arrived 52 hours after leaving Sicily.

Cephalonia looked lovely as we approached, with its spine of mountains and green slopes down to the blue sea. We headed up an inlet to Argostoli, the main town, and tied up on the town quay, opposite towering green hills. Greece - the ninth country we have visited on our voyage!

11/06/2009 | Sue and Dave
Great to hear about your trip so far. It all sounds fantastic and we are following in your wake - reached Malta now and will be updating our blog soon. Fair winds and safe passage, Dave and Sue xx
Malta and Gozo
Belinda and Kit
11/05/2009, Sicily

Malta and Gozo: 16th April - 5th May: After a good night's sleep we awoke to a sunny day in Malta. We immediately noticed the traffic noise as there is a road running around the marina (Port El Kantaoui had been very quiet), it took a few days to get used to it and luckily the nights were very quiet. Our first task was to complete formalities with Police and Customs in Valletta; there were no problems and it was surprisingly quick and easy- especially after dealing with over-zealous officials in Tunisia!!

Maltese and English are the principal languages spoken and the people are so helpful and pleasant that we felt immediately comfortable. The customs offices are situated near the ferry port and the dock used for cruise liners, reached via a clean and spacious promenade seafront lined with restaurants and cafes. We couldn't resist a coffee at the Hard Rock Café, it was so good to back in European surroundings! On our first trip to the supermarket we were like kids in a sweetshop! So much choice after the limited availability of provisions in Tunisia.

It was also easier to get repairs done: a problem with the radar was soon diagnosed but a new part had to be ordered from the UK, so we knew that we'd be in Malta for around 2 weeks. Plenty of opportunity to see the island!

We were pleased to see that our friends Gerard and Josje on 'Mermaid' were close by in the marina. It was great to see them again. They had spent the winter months here and were about to leave, but not before we passed a few pleasant evenings catching up with one another's news over a glass of wine! We realised that we have both booked into the same marina in Turkey for next winter, a happy coincidence!

Over the next 10 days we travelled the length and breadth of Malta on the distinctive 1950's buses that are a feature of the island. They are original and consequently some are a bit rickety and noisy. We were told that they are very popular with tourists but that locals curse them!! Fares are inexpensive - most journeys cost only 47 ' cents. Valletta, the capital is quite lovely and was the first planned city in Europe. Built as a home for the aristocratic Order of the Knights of St John in the 1500's, it retains the feel of a fortified city. The legacy of the Knights lingers on - not least in St John's Co-Cathedral which has a plain exterior but is richly decorated and full of art treasures inside, as every Knight ordained had to make a gift to the Cathedral. We spent half a day there and were particularly impressed by the intricate silverwork, and two Caravaggio paintings.

Despite intensive bombing during World War II Valletta remains intact and visually imposing. It is built on a rocky peninsular and has few level surfaces. We wandered between tall buildings and leafy squares and climbed up through narrow streets of stairs to see fantastic views over Grand Harbour on one side and Marsamxett Harbour on the other.

I sloped off alone for one mornings' shopping in town - some of the shops were familiar (M&S, BHS, Next) but prices were very high, even taking into account the weak £. Never mind, it left Kit to potter around on the boat and fit new guard wires - which look very smart!

On Friday night, we decided to forgo our traditional curry and ventured into Valletta as we'd spotted a restaurant with a Jazz band playing. The tables were under a canopy in a leafy square opposite the illuminated and grand Bibliotheca and the band played very laid back mood music - a beautiful setting. We sampled a local dish of braised rabbit - delicious! ...and luckier than our Dutch friends who'd ordered rabbit in one restaurant and been served the head and paws!! (Apologies to vegetarians!)

The north of Malta is more undeveloped and looks over to the northern island of Gozo, a short distance away. In between lies the small islands Comino and tiny Cominotto with their famous Blue Lagoon. After stopping off at St Paul's Bay for lunch on the return journey, we walked around the headland to Bugibba, a popular resort and the destination for many British holidaymakers, as confirmed by the number of 'English' bars and 'full English breakfasts' advertised!

We also visited Marsaxlokk, a fishing village to the southeast, there was no sign of the Sunday market we'd expected but we enjoyed walking around the harbour looking at all the brightly painted fishing boats.

The days passed quickly and soon the radar part arrived and was fitted on 30th April - a Thursday afternoon. We were all set to leave but next day was Labour Day, Friday 1st May, and a Bank Holiday. Everywhere was closed so we couldn't pay for the work until Saturday morning!

After finally settling up we set off for Gozo with a good weather forecast. Gozo is a smaller island, less densely populated, and looks much greener. As we rounded Comino we decided to take a look at the Blue Lagoon, a lagoon almost totally enclosed by Comino and Cominotto. Several yachts and a few motor boats lay at anchor and it looked very inviting so we dropped our sails and motored in between the rocks on either side of the entrance. The lagoon lived up to its name and we dropped anchor into crystal clear turquoise blue waters over a white sandy seabed. The motor boats left toward dusk, as they often do, and we spent a wonderful evening enjoying the peace and quiet. I took my first seawater swim of the year - a bit chilly at 17۫ C but a fantastic feeling!!

Next morning we woke early and sat on deck with a coffee just gazing out over the calm blue waters. A church bell on Gozo chimed out 'Ave Maria' in a deep resonant tone - one of those magic and memorable moments!!

Comino is almost uninhabited apart from an hotel on the other side. It was very peaceful until, to our surprise, a crowd of people appeared over the top of the hill and descended to the small jetty. We were trying to decide if they were waiting for a ferry to go to church, when we realised that they were all wearing Stetson hats and waistcoats! Just then, the strains of Country & Western music floated across the water and they took up their positions and began line dancing at the waterside!! Bizarre!! Maybe 'extreme' line dancers?? Even at a distance we could see that they were having fun - doubtless it would be an unforgettable experience to dance with the Blue Lagoon as a backdrop!

Later we reluctantly upped anchor and motored over to Mgarr marina on Gozo. Strong winds were forecast which would make it uncomfortable in the anchorage that night, and we also wanted to explore Gozo before setting off to Sicily.

Gozo: Gozo is only 14 x 7km and one third the size of Malta. Mgarr, a small port on the south of the island is a sleepy harbour; even the regular ferry from Malta hardly seems to disturb its peace. However shortly after we tied up, there was a loud engine noise and a seaplane arrived and cruised in through the narrow harbour entrance to tie up to another pontoon - it's not every day we see that!!

We just wandered around Mgarr on our first evening and had a 'sundowner' in a little bar that overlooked the harbour. Next morning we caught a bus (almost as ancient as the Maltese ones!) to Rabat (or Victoria) the main town. After a morning wandering around the imposing citadel that overlooks the town and the narrow streets and alleyways that surround it we hopped on another bus to Xlendi, a small village set in a deep inlet. Xlendi was once just a fishermen's cove but now boasts several hotels and newish apartment blocks. Nonetheless it is still a very pretty spot and we climbed up the cliff path for the lovely views over the village and inlet.

It would have been nice to linger on Gozo for a few more days but the forecast was good for a crossing to Sicily, 65 miles away, next day.

We set off to at first light next morning. As soon as we left the shelter of the Island the wind filled our sails and gave us terrific day's sailing across to Sicily. At first we had a gentle 10-12 knots breeze and with all three sails up we were making a respectable 5-6 knots. Later the wind increased, gusting up to 22 knots, so we pulled down the staysail and were still zipping along at 7 knots. This was great until early evening when we arrived at the SE corner of Sicily where we had aimed to drop anchor and overnight in Porto Palo. The entrance to the harbour looked a bit too rough as the wind had increased further around the headland of Capo Passero. We decided to continue on around to Syracusa, another 20 miles up on the East coast. Typically, once around the SE corner of Sicily the wind dropped away to nothing, so we finished our passage motorsailing in the fading light. As if to compensate a large pod of around 15 striped dolphins appeared and escorted us for a few miles, jumping, diving and racing under our bows.

It was 9.30pm as we approached Syracuse Bay and we were peering into the darkness trying to identify the leading lights to guide us in. The water was inky black and smooth as we slowly inched our way into the anchorage and dropped anchor amongst the dark shapes of other yachts. We'd covered 84 nautical miles - an awfully long day trip!

12/05/2009 | Nett
Very poetic and evocative. I don't remember Gozo being as attractive as you make it sound.
Certainly sounds like you're having a great time since leaving Tunisia.
20/05/2009 | Lin & Paul
Lovely to read your latest news and we are both jealous being still stuck in the UK. You certainly seem to be enjoying interesting sailing - we will be back on Sareda at Christmas all being well.

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