Reading the pilot guide would leave you with the wrong impression of Messolonghi. The town has obviously had money spent on it since Rod Heikell was here and this, along with the rapidly developing marina may just be the saving of the town. The Greeks are proud of its history, officially making it a "sacred" town because of the role it played in the War of Independence. It was here that Lord Byron died.
But it is the people themselves who make the town. Welcoming without being pushy, a simple meal in a taverna becomes an all night affair as extras are laid before us. And it is not just to make the restaurant look busy, attracting other customers, as we first thought. Even though they were putting out more tables for the ever increasing demand they still seemed reluctant to let us pay the bill and leave.
There's also a sizable live-aboard community still in the marina. We've met up again with Michele and Dave on Alhambra from our winter in Almerimar. Having spent the last winter here they were a positive mine of information about the place and invited us to the barbeque yesterday afternoon where we met a lot of other Brits. In actual fact the marina is like a league of nations. Just from where I'm sitting I can see French, Dutch, Italian and German flags as well as the Red Ensign and, of course, the blue and white of the Greek. We've booked for next winter. So, seemingly, has everybody else.
It was a longer sail than we've done for a while from Kastos to Messolongi. The weather didn't look promising when we set out but improved as the day wore on, the wind strengthening but still not very helpful. By the time we entered the basin at Messolonghi and dropped the anchor the sun was shining but the wind was whistling through the rigging and we ducked behind the spray hood.
First impressions were not that favourable, to be honest. We had taken a turn around the quay before anchoring but hadn't found anywhere suitable. It all seemed a long way from the actual town, too. However, we were both shattered so an early night after a meal on board seemed like a good idea. The wind dropped overnight and, as we ate breakfast in the cockpit, we watched the birds diving into the glassy water and the head of a turtle pop up now and then. The area looked a lot more favourable.
When the nearby marina office opened at nine we chose to head into a berth. This is where we are considering over-wintering come the end of season so it seemed like a good idea to spend some time here. Now with new shower and toilet blocks and a bar/cafeteria it certainly seems like a possibility. We recognised a couple of boats including Curly Sue and Sea Dragon but no sign of their crew.
After all the usual paperwork was sorted and sufficient euros handed over (extra for water and electricity, 50 cents for a shower) it was time to see what the town had to offer. Again we were pleasantly surprised. Although it's quite a long, dusty walk in the heat of the day, especially if loaded up with shopping, part of the centre of this small town is pedestrianised and the rather chic coffee bars spill outside. On a Saturday morning these were filled with locals rather than tourists and seem to be a meeting place. Naturally we joined them (the only ones in shorts and t-shirts) and pounced on the little doughnuts, sprinkled with icing sugar and filled with chocolate sauce, which came with our drinks. The Greeks didn't seem to bother with them at all - I wish I'd had the courage to take ask if I could take theirs as well - Yum!
The windmill at Kastos looks very different in the spring, too.
Leaving Nidri in warm sunshine, the misty hills hazy in the distance, flat sea and a light breeze makes you realise why we live this life. On an empty Ionian we danced to Lady Gaga as the breeze filled the sails.
We were headed for Kastos a small village we had visited on a bank holiday at the height of the season last year. We had taken what we thought was the last space on the quay while Isabelle had moored with lines to the shore opposite. It was a night for loud company and strong drink.
Today couldn't have been more different. Apart from two charter boats who left as we arrived (?) we thought we might have the place to ourselves. A French boat stayed for lunch but left in a hurry looking rather embarrassed when his anchor dragged and he couldn't reset it. I suppose it didn't help that, with nothing else to do, we were openly watching their every move. Since then a German and a Swiss boat have joined us and it seems this is enough to make it worthwhile opening the Windmill Restaurant. Everywhere else is closed. The pilot guide says that about 80 people reside here over winter. We've seen four. I think they must have included the cats as well.
How lovely it is to be sitting in a shaded cockpit, moored on the quay of a small Greek town, the afternoon breeze cooling the skin. Really, it is. I just wish we could do more of it. It all seems to be pretty non-stop at the moment.
Nidri is the place to get washing done and to stock up on fresh food. Neither of these tasks is as easy on a boat as we've got used to over winter. Washing day means taking all laundry to the launderette on the other side of town and carrying the heavy, wet bedding, towels and clothes back to string around the boat. Thankfully it dries quickly in these temperatures and there's no ironing.
Shopping means visiting several small shops to see what looks best in each, much as our parents/grandparents must have done pre supermarkets, then lugging it back (no car, of course), passing the bags whilst balancing on the passarelle (gang plank) over 4 metres of non-too-savoury water. Our passarelle leaves a lot to be desired. Either side of us are big 54 footers, both with the ultimate accoutrement - electric, hydrolic, telescopic passarelles with handrails from which they can just step ashore at the ideal level. These I lust over. Ours is a broken motor cycle ramp with wonky wheels suspended on elastic. Neil thinks it's a work of art. I kid you not.
We'd just sat down for a rest when Pedro and his diving accomplice arrived to have a go at the holding tank seacock. As I write Pete the diver is bunging up the outlet into the sea while Pedro dismantles the seacock. They pumped out the tank last night so hopefully any mess will be limited. Keep your fingers crossed. I don't fancy either job myself.
I mentioned we'd had problems emptying the holding tank. In case you're not familiar with the term perhaps I should explain how important this joy of life-on-the-ocean-wave is. Quite frankly it's all about poo. Yes, that's what it holds. Not being attached to a sewage system, a boat is dependent on this tank to stop brownies bobbing about in unwelcome places like harbours and beaches. Once out into deep water, away from land, this can be safely emptied where its mashed up contents are happily devoured by marine life (or so I'm told).
Before entering Preveza harbour we'd tried to empty our tank as I had flushed some water through to clear the pipes before we were put back into the water. The handle to open the tank wouldn't budge. The sea-cock (a handle that opens the tank) had completely seized up and when Neil tried to open it with a spanner it broke away. Not wanting to flood the boat he, wisely in my opinion, decided to leave it for someone who knew what they were doing.
Having worried about it all night, Neil had been up since Silly-O'Clock doing his usual banging about routine to make sure I was awake too. I resisted as long as possible before surfacing to scratch a few mozzie bites. It was just about early enough to make the 10.30 opening of the Lefkas Canal and on to Nidri where we've had work done before. After a chat with Pedro and a set price of 250 euros we now wait until he has time to sort it out. Certainly the prospect of sea water rushing into the boat is worrying but to be honest it's the thought of where all that pooey water is going to go that I can't help dwelling on.