A Timeless Odyssey

Allures 45 (a thing of great practical beauty)

Eastern Med Blog 3, The Ionian (June 2018)

We passed through the Lefkas canal for the first time on 11 June 2018. Since we have returned back through it again, I will tell the story of the places between that date and posting this blog, rather than give a chronological account. Some of the places on Levkas and Meganisi that I visited with Clive, were revisited with Veronica. Clive flew back home to Cape Town from Preveza late on the evening of 16 June, with a day in Athens on the way. Veronica returned from her jolly with her sister in England and Ireland, landing at lunchtime on the 16th June.

On our first southwards transit, we anchored just on the other side of the Lefkas canal, just because it was getting late and we had had a long sail. We braaied chicken and roast vegetables on the boat. I did not go ashore at all but Clive did the next morning on the SUP, to get some milk. He reported Ligia to be a busy noisy main road and nothing remarkable. Later when we set of, there was a light breeze from behind and we were going nowhere fast but did not care. At one stage we were level pegging next to a Dutch boat doing 2 knots, sailing on a mirror. Clive had read a book about Aristotle Onassis and was quite taken by the opportunity to circumnavigate Skorpios, which was his private island. We discovered that it had fairly recently been sold to some Russians. There are signs up saying do not approach and no anchoring. This is despite the fact that in Greek law, everything below the waterline belongs to the state. There were some rumours that the local police/coast guard had mysteriously got two brand new RIBs just after the Russians arrived and just before the signs went up. These are of course, just rumours. We sailed by at a respectable distance noting the channel where Aristotle used to moor his private yacht, Christina, acquired at a time when super-yachts were 'not a thing'. We also sailed past the south side of the island where there is a beach and a small white cottage that used to be Jackie Onassis' (Kennedy's) favourite retreat.

We stopped in a magnificent anchorage between the fingers on Meganisi, Ambelike Bay. Meganisi is the island just south of Skorpios. We went stern to with a line to the shore. It was oppressively warm and humid but the sea was refreshing. There were a lot of boats but the water was crystal clear and ideal for swimming and chilling and even better for the SUP in the morning. In the afternoon, we walked over the hill amidst the din of the shrill sound of the cicadas to discover the very quaint little village and harbour of Vathi. I was later to learn that this was known locally as Little Vathi as there is another Vathi on Ithaki. We were quite taken by Meganisi, so much so, that we in total spent 4 nights there: two with Clive and two with Veronica. Our real discovery was the Karnagio restaurant/bar/yacht-haven, run by Alex, this super efficient, Romanian lady who is married into the family of the Greek owners. It is truly a yachtsman's haven, they know exactly what people need, a secure mooring, super clean ablutions, fantastic restaurant, small shop selling essentials, a laundry, a little beach with loungers and a quaint outdoor bar. Veronica loved it and the hosts were fantastic. We befriended a South African family from Durban there: Tim had kept a boat in the Ionian for 15 years and was virtually a local. They had had Alex and her partner out to South Africa on more than one occasion and they had done a 5000km motorbike ride around southern Africa with them. Anyway I would highly recommend Karnagio but you have to book ahead as every day we were there, we saw them turning people away.

While I was with Clive we also went over to Órmos Vlikho on Lefkus island. It looked great in the pilot guide and on the map but Nidri caters for package holidays and all that goes with them. We arrived late in Tranquil (not anymore) Bay and after a morning SUP around the island with the Baroque Valaoritis Mansion on it, we scampered back to Meganisi. Dorpfeldt, the archaeologist that challenged the orthodox theories on the homeland of Odysseus had a house, which is close to Tranquil Bay but we did not visit it and there were reports that the museum has closed.

We headed back through the Lefkus canal to be in Preveza the night before Clive's flight out. There was a thunderstorm building and although it was not overhead we went into the Preveza Marina in more than 15 knots of wind. I decided to take a marina berth and be secure in case the stormy weather got worse. The marina is still under construction, within the old harbour. They are spending €10 million on it so it should be great when it is finished. They charged us a very reasonable €22.38 including electricity and water. We could walk to town, so we were happy. Town turned out to be quite charming and that evening we had a rather excellent meal in a restaurant nestled in an ancient alleyway, draped in bougainvillea. We over did the carafes of wine whilst reminiscing about school, university and everything between then and now.

The next day we repositioned the boat into Cleopatra marina, across the channel. It was convenient for the airport and I also had to talk to the people in the office about the arrangements for the boat haul-out on 14 July. I said cheers to Clive that evening and here I should say thanks for the great company and help, Clive! The next morning, after consulting Google Earth, I did a recce on the bicycle to the airport, which was all of 1.5km away. As Veronica was traveling with hand luggage only, I went out there later, cycling both bicycles to the airport, which was quite a novel way to pick someone up from an airport! It saved the €15 taxi fare, which at about €1 per 100m, has to be one of, if not the most expensive taxi ride in the world.

The next day after Veronica had taken the marina water taxi over to do a look-see at Preveza town and do a shopping run we headed into the Ambracian Gulf and to Vonitsa.

So here is a story I have to tell which is a big shout for the physically challenged, as well as being a tale of uncanny coincidence and a tale of people with a sense of humour and an ability to make light of their own challenges. We decided to sail from Preveza into the inland body of water called the Ambracian Gulf and visit the town of Volitsa, which has a Venetian castle overlooking the town. The castle has a history going back to the Crusades. For a change we had a nice sail zigzagging between the peninsulas, islands and fish farms. We arrived in Volitsa and were trying to decide whether or not we were going to anchor or find a place on the quay. It was pretty crowded and I didn't think we would find a place on the quay. So we decided not to put fenders down until we were sure of being able to get in. There is the A quay (floating pontoon) which was already full to overflowing with charter boats and organised cruising types. Then there is a long B quay with an assortment of yachts in various states of repair interspersed with the occasional cruising/visiting type. There were actually two gaps to go into and as luck would have it, there was a 15 knot plus crosswind to make it more complicated. We decided to go for it. A guy got off one of the boats to come and help. I noticed he only had one arm. I rejected the first gap as there were no lazy lines as most of the other boats had used them and because there were reports of a lot of debris on the bottom, I decided against dropping an anchor. Another gesticulating old sea dog type appeared between the boats and shouted for us to come into the gap between his boat and the next-door boat. This was a pretty small gap and the boats on either side were smaller than us, so laying down on them in the cross wind could have got messy. Veronica got all the fenders down and we made our first approach. As we got the stern into the first part of the gap the bow was getting blown down and the thruster couldn't hold it. A vision of us pivoting around the smaller boat with the anchor tangled in the rails flashed so I called a missed approach and applied full forward thrust to escape the possibility of lazy lines getting caught on one of the twin rudders. The second attempt was much better. The gap was so tight that we pushed the boats apart as we squeezed in. Our helpful neighbour and Veronica stuffed popping out fenders back into the gaps. We were wedged in and got lines ashore. The guy with the one arm took a line and deftly thread it through the ring, with amazing dexterity. Then, as he picked up the lazy line, it quickly became apparent that this lazy line had not seen action for at least 6 months! I could not leave the helm, as I needed to keep thrusting upwind to keep the boat straight and off the anchor of the small boat of our neighbour's, so Veronica dealt with a lazy line that was colonised by mussels. She did a fine job of walking this muddy mussel-clad mess forwards, with kilograms of mussel clumps dropping all over the deck and into the sea. As Veronica was struggling, our downwind neighbour shouted, "Permission to come aboard?" Permission was immediately granted and he leapt over the rail to help Veronica. As soon as the lazy line was on, I told Veronica to come back to the helm so that I could go forward to help him haul on the lazy line and carve off more massive clumps of mussels. It was then that I noticed that he only had one leg, he has a prosthesis below the knee. He is no youngster either, probably in his mid 60s, smiling, friendly, task-solving and strong.

After we were secure, I thanked both helpers profusely and could not resist commenting on what a unique experience this had been. It was my first time of exceptionally able help from a guy with one leg and another with one arm! What are the chances of that! Then, there is a shout from a Dutch boat 4 boats up... He simply announced, "Quite good actually, there are three of us here"! As true as Bob, he had only one arm too. I offered them all a beer for their help. They all were grateful but refused the offer. I asked whether there was any connection between them, it turns out no, one from Montenegro, one from England and one from the Netherlands.

Later we had the braai (barbeque) out and were sitting in the cockpit drinking wine when the Dutch guy and his partner walked by on the way to a restaurant in town. He said, "Welcome to the Leper colony" and laughed heartily. I was just sorry that I didn't get a picture of the 4 of us.

From the Ambracian Gulf we made our way back past Preveza, through the Lefkus canal and went back to spend two totally chilled days at Karnagio on Meganisi. I cannot speak highly enough of this place and Veronica loved it. We have since had a night in Kioni on Ithaca and are currently in the more upmarket and trendy Fiskardho on the north of Cephalonia. Both of these places are delightful although we did have some anchoring antics at the latter in a strong crosswind. Last night we ran into James, from the Aussie boat, that we had met in Paxos about 10 days earlier. As Clive had commented after the first meeting, what a great guy. It was interesting that they had gone back to Corfu to do a crew change and stopped again in Gaios with their new crew, James' mom and his girlfriend from Sweden. They had had a thunderstorm there that night, with exceptional winds and another boat dragged over them and they ended up alongside the quay. Giaos (a.k.a. Chaos) living up to its name. Then he said coming through the Lefkus channel, it had rained so had the visibility was reduced to 150m and to cap it all, they had anchored in the same place we had, just out of the Lefkus channel, Ligia, and a nearby lightning strike took out all their electronics. Impressively the charter company came out and sorted it all in two days following them wherever they went, while working on the boat. I guess the observation for me was although we experienced hectic rain in Meganisi and we saw thunder and lightning in the distance the weather was relatively localised and we were lucky to miss the worst of it.

Time to say cheers until the next blog. We are heading south with the intention of visiting the famous, much pictured Shipwreck Beach on Zakinthos before turning north to meander back up to Preveza. We have between now, 23 June, and about 12 July when we will be back in Preveza preparing the boat for the haul out on the morning of the 14th.