There are so many things I'd forgotten about Greece. The jaw-dropping beauty of the scenery in and around the Ionian islands. The friendliness of the Greek people. Grape arbors and geraniums planted in feta cans. Ducking under trumpet vines and bougainvillea on a morning run. Elderly widows in black dresses and headscarves, sporting their moustaches with pride. The sweet relief of a glass of iced coffee on a hot day. Calamari and octopus cooked to perfection. Thick cut french fries, taramasalata, scordaglia and briam. The secret delight of feasting on Ruffles potato chips dipped in tzatziki. The word for bread. (It's psomi, by the way, and it tastes just like the bread my Granny used to make).
But most of all, I'd forgotten how hot it gets in Greece in July. Today it is 37 degrees. In case you haven't experienced a heat wave recently, that's really, really hot. So hot that you could get second degree burns from touching the metal on the deck. So hot that Rick spends a good part of each day thinking up schemes to cool things down onboard. These include pieces of canvas strung up as sunscreens, a windscoop above the forward hatch and a moveable 12-volt fan mounted on the base of a flowerpot (one of the many good ideas he'd picked up from Rick and Barbara during our visit to "Far Out"). In spite of all his efforts, the temperature below decks is rarely below 30 degrees at bedtime.
The best way to stay cool is by jumping into the water. Varko Bay, with its crystal-clear water and gorgeous view of the mountains, is the perfect anchorage. We swim, snorkel and go to the beach bar for iced coffee.
We take the dinghy ashore to the taverna in the Hotel Porto Varko for dinner and discover that we are their only clients. Our dinner is very simple and the wasps are numerous, but the house wine is surprisingly good and consequently the experience is very pleasant.
Naturally, this good fortune couldn't last forever. As is typical for most cruisers, we can always count on at least one breakdown leading to an unavoidable change to our itinerary. This time, we had problems with two critical items: our swim ladder and our fridge. The swim ladder had broken at one of the hinges and was probably easy to fix. But we couldn't believe that the fridge was acting up. Installed in Pescara at great cost less than three years ago, it is one of the newest pieces of equipment on the boat. Up to now, it's been ticking along beautifully. But it couldn't seem to keep up with the heat, which in turn was draining our new batteries. Nothing ruins Rick's day more quickly than a battery losing its charge. So off to Vlicho Bay we went. Here's a glimpse of some of the scenery that we saw along the way.
We've had some bad experiences in Vlicho Bay. We'd left our boat here one summer when we were called home suddenly due to the death of my cousin and returned to find that a rat had temporarily taken up residence in our bilge. We'd experienced 100 + knot winds here in a freak storm during the summer of 2011. But in spite of that, we do like Vlicho a lot. The scenery is spectacular, and we know that our old friend Horatio Todd will help us track down the appropriate people to weld our ladder and repair the fridge.
As it turns out, Horatio is on vacation in the mountains with his right-hand man Brian. Fortunately, his wife Orchide has stepped into the breach. "Horatio is 80 now" says Orchide. "He needs a break. Sometimes he even takes naps in the afternoon. I can hardly believe it!" I could point out that those of us who are 20 years younger than Horatio often need an afternoon nap in this heat, but I don't. I understand what she means. Horatio's larger-than-life personality is legendary.
It's the weekend, and we'll have to wait until Monday for the fridge repairman. Fortunately, the freezer is on a separate compressor and is still working well, so we help the fridge along by freezing some bottles of water and adding them to the fridge. Rick decides that insulation is paramount, and stacks a foam pad and all the pillows from our bed on the countertop over the fridge. When I object, he downgrades to a couple a polar fleece sleeping bags. We'll have little use for those in the immediate future so I decide I can live with that. Unfortunately, since 75% of our counter space is on top of the fridge and freezer, cooking will be difficult. Actually, this is not all that unfortunate, because Rick takes me to dinner ashore at the Café Elena and we have a very nice evening.
Being back in Vlicho is not so bad. In the morning, we take the dinghy ashore on the Geni side of the bay, and go for a long shady run. Then we go across to Nidri, do a little shopping, and have the best iced coffee ever, at the "No Menu" restaurant. Rick drops in to George's chandlery to pick up a few necessities, while I go shopping and buy a bright blue bikini. Don't worry, you will never get to see it. Especially after succumbing to the delights of the wonderful bakery on the other side of the street. The baklava was all Rick's fault. These grapes were much healthier.
Another bonus is finding our friends Tracy and Mike (Rio Luna) from Marina di Ragusa, anchored just off the Vlicho Yacht Club. We invite them to come for drinks and appetizers, and then decide to also invite San Franciscans Darold and Jennifer Massaro and their son Dante, who are doing a two-year cruise on their Pacific Seacraft 40, Benevento. Mike and Tracy treat us with tuna shashimi, and Jennifer and Darold bring an olive tapenade with crackers. With these contributions added to our caponata, bread, cheese, grapes and oregano Ruffles, the cocktail party stretches into dinnertime and beyond.
Dante is a wise and engaging child, as cruiser kids tend to be. "Dante, I'll bet the Italians really liked your name!" I say. Jennifer laughs. "They told him he was Italianissimo!" she says. He's 11 years old, but can hold his own in any crowd. When I comment that I think age 11 is the age when kids start to become adults, he looks a bit worried. "I hope I can still use my Lego for a while" he says. "Don't worry, Lego is still fun no matter how old you get" I tell him. He tours our boat, collecting ideas for his future naval architecture business. We star gaze, pick out constellations, and talk about books. I have more fun than I've had in weeks.
The fridge repair man arrives first thing Monday morning and solves our problem in less than an hour. We've lost some coolant because of a leaking O-ring, but it's a simple fix. Very quickly, the temperature in the fridge is back down to 5 degrees, and everyone is happy. And it only costs us 70 euros. Our swim ladder has also been repaired, so we decide to lift anchor and head for an anchorage with cleaner water. Too bad we can't anchor off Skorpios for a swim. Last time we were here, we'd had a wonderful afternoon there with our friends Donald and Victoria, their son Fraser and his fiancé Electra. Since then, Skorpios (which used to be owned by the Onassis family) has been bought by a Russian, and the entire perimeter is off limits. Which goes to show that Greek tycoons are a lot more hospitable than Russian tycoons.
Rick has read that the seafood restaurants in Lygia are especially good, and it's just a short sail away, near the entrance to the Lefkas canal. We are eating out far too often, but I don't put up much of a fuss. We'll be back to reality soon enough. In the anchorage in Lygia, we meet Americans Anne Marie and Ulrich on Jubilaeum, who have been sailing in this area for many years.
Anne Marie and Ulrich confirm that the Seven Islands is the best choice. It's certainly a pleasant place to spend an evening, and the food is delicious. Our appetizers of octopus salad and skordaglia (a garlic mashed potato dip that's a bit like aioli) are so substantial that we probably could have skipped the main course, but it's too late to turn back now. Our fish is also very fresh and very good.
We end the evening with a walk along the waterfront, which is lined with a vast choice of seafood tavernas. The next morning we come back to shore, leave our dinghy at the Seven Island's dock, and go for a run. It's a short one, because it quickly becomes too hot for running. Time for a swim!All aboard, we are off to Kastos next!