At 7.15am on 9 June 2018 we slipped our lines in Brindisi, Italy, steering a course for Corfu. With another overnight passage ahead, the weather forecasts were all good – reasonable wind but calmer than we had seen over the last few days and it looked like our greatest challenge would be the very ‘lumpy’ seas that had been left behind from the previous unsettled weather. The sea state was throwing up 2 to 3m waves, which created a bit of a roller coaster effect, but our course allowed us to ride the waves rather than punch into them.
We followed the Italian coastline south for some time and from our vantage point out at sea, we had a fantastic view of the eclectic mix of the old town/new town architecture along the Puglia coast. In contrast to the stunning mainland coastline, the ocean coastline was littered with rubbish and plastic, tossing around in the choppy sea and I was quite shocked at the difference in sea pollution between Croatia and Italy considering that these two countries are neighbours across the Adriatic. It had been particularly bad in Bari along the shoreline, extending out from our marina and onto the local beaches, but on this crossing we were able to see for ourselves how far away from the coastline the problem extended. The Blue Planet Series has done much to raise awareness of sea pollution, but no doubt that awareness will take many years to spread around the world.
Disappointingly there were no dolphins to escort us on this trip, but the evening passed relatively peacefully given the sea state. This time we were able to cross the shipping lanes during daylight hours, which made it much easier to dodge the tankers and cruise liners, free from the fear of missing their navigation lights in the dark. Our newest passenger, fondly named Basil – who had joined us in Bari, gave us a fabulous ‘farewell to Italy’ lunch and the sun shone warmly for the best part of the day. We had a good North Easterly Force 4 wind to give us a comfortable ‘broad reach’ and we managed to keep our sails up for most of the journey back across the Adriatic. We shared the night watches as before, dipping back into our supply of Cadbury’s (we are so restrained!) with some good strong Italian coffee. Damian had been up the mast to fix the radar in Bari, so it was doing it’s job nicely, alerting us to all sea traffic in the darkness and helping to keep us safe.
We watched the sun rise over the Albanian coastline as we sailed steadily towards Corfu, hoisting our Greek flag and docking in Gouvia Marina on the east coast of Corfu – 27 hours after we had left Italy. Once again both pretty weary, but pleased to have had a peaceful passage.
On our arrival Gouvia Marina was an absolute hive of activity, full of holiday charter boats and more British boats than we had seen in one place for a very long time. Gouvia is Corfu’s largest marina and provides facilities and berthing for 1200 boats, with a swimming pool, restaurants, cafés, laundry, supermarket, boatyard and maintenance services as well as other tourist support services. Our plan was to chill out for a couple of days and prepare ourselves for our next hop, which would take us down into the Greek Islands.
Gouvia is well located to get into Corfu Town, so we took a bus there to check out the town, do a bit of shopping and investigate a Greek Data Card for our onboard Wifi router. Although it is now possible to use UK mobile contracts all over Europe, it is amazing how quickly data disappears. We did a reasonable amount of research before we left, into how UK contracts work abroad and it seemed that both of our providers have a limit on how much contract data can be used outside of the UK. Buying a local SIM card appears to be the best way around this, but although this was a relatively pain free shopping experience in Croatia, in Greece it is a whole new world of pain. We couldn’t find anything to match the ‘unlimited data’ package we had in Croatia, what is on offer is pretty expensive, top up support apps are in obviously in Greek and don’t seem to translate particularly clearly. Now we are likely to be in Greece until September, so any useful advice out there – please let us know!
Corfu Town was once again a full day with lots to see and explore. The Old Town is pretty spectacular and Corfu Town Port is an extremely popular destination for Cruise ships.
The town was very busy with tourists, so we eventually found ourselves a pretty little back street taverna away from the masses for lunch and were happy to sit in the shade and let the world go by for a while. Along with another change in time zone there appeared to be a gear change in pace, slowing things down some more and in the increased heat, not a bad thing at all.
We returned to Gouvia late afternoon, replenished stores at the local supermarket and prepared for the off next day.
Up bright and early we slipped our lines in Gouvia, heading towards the Ionian Islands, first stop Lakka Bay, Paxos. We had good winds and a pleasant sail south arriving late afternoon. The colour change in the sea was quite remarkable and the number of boats anchored in Lakka Bay even more so. Photographs cannot do justice to the spectacular aquamarine colour of the sea, which is what makes the Greek Islands such a popular sailing destination. The bay was pretty busy when we anchored, but the boats just kept on coming right into early evening. We are so unused to boats anchoring so close and so haphazardly, a real contrast between Croatia and Greece. In a situation where there appears to be a lot less concern or knowledge regarding ‘safe anchoring’, it is much harder to settle for the evening. Damian tends to sleep with one ear and one eye open, as any severe weather change during the night can cause anchors to drag and chaos ensue. We have a 30kg ‘Spade’ anchor and 80m of 10mm change, which means we are well geared up for anchoring and usually stay put once anchored, but it doesn’t stop other boats from dragging onto us! We are able to set alarms on the boat to notify us of any major wind or sea depth changes, but we have nothing to alert us to other boats losing their anchor. That evening we had to push a badly anchored boat away from us five times before it’s ‘jolly’ crew returned from their supper ashore. Thankfully they re-laid their anchor but it was quite a relief next morning to leave Lakka Bay and head south again towards Preveza. The weather forecast was not looking good and we were keen to find a safe anchorage to wait out the big winds expected.
After another unsettled night with winds gusting up to 30 knots, we decided to move on and sailed down through the Levkas Canal. This was quite an experience as we had to hang around the entrance to the canal (with many other boats) and wait for the floating bridge to open. This is supposed to happen on the hour, but the bridge often doesn’t stay open for long, potentially making the experience somewhat chaotic with two-way boat traffic trying to get through before the bridge closes. Once through the canal we continues to Nidri, Levkas Island and managed to anchor in a large but more sheltered bay for a second night of high winds and worsening weather. The skies were becoming increasingly grey and ominous, so next morning we pushed again to Abelike Bay on the northern side of Meganisi Island, to stay put for a few days, wait out the expected storms and tackle our boat ‘defect list’.
Since we left Croatia we have developed an ever-growing list of boat defects, the worst being our water maker breaking down. This event was very deflating, especially after our previous excitement at getting this precious piece of kit up and running so well in Croatia. So far our defect list has included the toilet pump, washing machine outlet valve, shower pump sensors for washing machine, air conditioning pump hose, anchor light at the top of the mast, radar and dinghy water drainage valve. Damian has managed to fix most of the problems but we also have a couple of more serious jobs that can only be done with the boat out of the water. The water maker requires some major parts and we will have to get those shipped out at some point. As I wrote in a previous BLOG, having a long defect list is part of the joy of being a boat owner and lucky for us that Damian is so capable in that department. It can, however, become a little depressing when you have a run where it seems that every day something new breaks down. Watching YouTube Sailing bloggers, helps to keep things in perspective – it reminds us that other families out on their boats doing exactly what we are doing, are having similar experiences. All of life is a balance, bad days happen and every bad day makes you appreciate the good days all the more. With the blue skies, the smell of the ocean and the potential peace available, there are definitely more good days!
At the point of writing this BLOG we are waiting to catch up with some friends who have chartered a boat and are coming out here sailing for a couple of weeks. The weather is looking very unsettled with less sunshine and intermittent storms forecast, but it will be nice to have some company and a little distraction for a while.
We sailed the Ionian Islands on flotilla 26 years ago, but so much has changed since then and we are looking forward to expanding our range in the coming months and exploring some more. With friends and family coming out to join us, we are going to be in the Ionian until August, before we push into the Aegean and beyond.