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2005 Cruise

2005 June - July

June 2 – 7    

We were back in Sicily at the end of May and on 2 June, having loaded a new anchor and chain, set out for a short cruise to visit places that we had skipped during our 2004 tour of Sicily. Our first stop was an anchorage off the town of Scilla, close to which used to be one of the two famous whirlpools in the Strait of Messina, but which was tamed by an earthquake during the 18th century. (Scilla the ‘renderer’ and Charybdis the ‘sucker-down’!!).

From Scilla we went on through the Strait of Messina to Taormina, which is on the SE coast of Sicily and anchored in the bay below this ancient town.  We visited the Greek and Roman remains, walked the narrow streets and marvelled at the doubled prices in this tourist mecca, busy even in the first few days of June. On 5 June we ambled round to Riposto, which is a delightful small port below the slopes of Etna. This port of call was specifically so that we could ride round the base of the volcano on the Circumetnea train. This narrow gauge line is one of the must-do train rides of Europe. In the latter stages of this circular tour by elderly diesel railcar, the train became crowded and a group of young women rode in the driver’s compartment. Several were sitting on the top of the instrument panel and one of them was keeping the conductor’s knees warm. It would never happen here!

On the 7 June we made the whole trip back to Portorosa in one hop. The Italian Meteo had forecast a south-westerly but as usual what we actually got was from the NE. Guess which way we were going. It only got worse, as when we turned WNW after the Strait of Messina, the wind obligingly went NW and freshened so that we had a choppy head sea.

This mini-cruise consisted of 4 days sailing and had taken us 171NM.

June 9 – 12    

After a day in Portorosa to sort out a warranty problem with, of all things, the galley mixer tap, we were off again on 9 June back to our old favourite of Porto Ponente on Vulcano. By 0730 the following morning we could hear thunder, but the storm seemed to be downwind of us. However within minutes the wind had reversed, increased greatly in strength and the storm had our name written on it. The anchor dragged round and reset leaving us in 3m and close to a lee shore. Soon we had torrential rain and 30-35kt gusts so we motored gently to take some pressure off the anchor and to stop the boat sheering violently around the chain. When the deluge abated we re-anchored in more water and by 0930 were enjoying breakfast and the morning sunshine.

With normal Mediterranean service resumed, on 11 June we sailed NE to Panarea, the next island and after a quiet night near the off-lying islet of Dattilo we sailed back to Vulcano but into the eastern anchorage of Porto Levante. On our way were increasingly aware of a strong and none too pleasant aroma. (Had the holding tank sprung a leak?). However as we passed through a passage between some groups of rocks the source of the pong was revealed. There was a patch of sea with large amounts of volcanic gas containing hydrogen sulphide and sulphur dioxide bubbling up from the sea-bed.

We reached back to Portorosa on 12 June, after 4 days sailing and having covered 71NM.

2005 July – September    

This was our main cruise of the season and would take us from Sicily across under the ‘boot’ of Italy to the Ionian area of Greece, a distance of about 700NM. However, as we had our daughter Katie aboard for the first few days, we made another trip up to the Aeolian Islands and back westwards to Cefalu.

We left Portorosa for the last time on 1 July and headed north to Porto Ponente on Vulcano. The weather was very light but with a forecast of NW5 for the following few days. After a quiet night, by 0800 on 2 July the promised NW5 was bringing the waves and swell into the anchorage and we had to move to the other side of the island. Not wishing to stay on Vulcano again, during the afternoon, we sailed to Portocello on the island of Lipari. This gave us shelter from the wind but the swell was creeping around the nearby headland and making the anchorage rather ‘bouncy’. By midnight the swell was worse and coming at us from roughly 90º from the wind, a formula for uncomfortable rolling but we decided to wait for daylight before moving to shelter in the harbour of Lipari. However by 0300 on 3 July we could stand the rolling no longer and set out for Cefalu. Since we were going SW, the NW5 was ideal and Kabardar averaged about 6.5kts for the 58NM to Cefalu harbour.

Katie left us on 6 July and we set out eastwards on 7 July. We planned to visit the island of Fillicudi on the way but in a moderate N breeze we could not fetch the course needed so we settled for Vulcano again, not wanting to have to motor. After a somewhat bouncy night at anchor we then headed for Scilla at the N entrance to the Strait of Messina and anchored in the S bay. The following morning, with a favourable S going stream, we whistled through the Straits and headed E with overnight anchorages at Bruzzano and Cabo Rizzuto. The wind had been forecast as W but needless to say was either NE or E and our course needed to be 045º! The anchorage at Cabo Rizzuto was rocky so we set the anchor with a trip line and buoy. so that we could be reasonably sure of getting the anchor up We had a bit of a job getting the chain and anchor in but the trip line was well and truly fouled and it took a fair amount of motoring back and forth to release it. On the way we had crossed the Golfo di Squillace, which is famous for big gusts off the high ground of Calabria. We had hardly a puff let alone any gusts.

Our next port was Crotone which at the SW corner of the Golfo di Taranto, the ‘instep’ of the Italian boot, and by this point we had covered 146NM since leaving Scilla. Most yachts do not go up into the Golfo but we wanted to visit Taranto itself, so we set out northwards on 12 July and, with a stop in the new fishing harbour of Cariati, we reached Taranto on 13 July and found a berth at the local YC. Taranto is a major port and naval base but is also an ancient city of Greek origins. The dilapidated state of many buildings in the old town made us think that there had been little maintenance for hundreds of years. We had planned to take the bus from Taranto to visit the troglodyte town of Matera, a bit to the north. This was scuppered because, having waited around for ages at the bus station, we found out that the bus company had a strike! On 16 July we headed SW and, with an overnight stop at Secco del Oro (Shallows of Gold), arrived at Gallipoli on 17 July.

On 19 July we set out for Greece, confident that the forecast N/NW wind would sweep us away to the SE and across the mouth of the Adriatic to Greece. Our chosen destination was Preveza, some 175NM away. Most yachts head for Corfu, which is about half the distance, but we were going there later in August. Passage plans rarely work out as intended and after a day spent tacking into a SSE4/5 and a rough sea, we made an unscheduled stop after 36NM at Santa Maria di Leuca, which is right on the tip of the ‘heel’ of Italy. As we entered the harbour a marina RIB came racing out to invite us into the new marina. We declined the offer having seen a nice section of harbour wall where we could lie alongside for free. It was also very satisfying to note that the marina berths were in line with the swell entering the harbour and boats on their pontoons were dancing about while we lay smooth as anything. We had an untroubled night and saved €60 in the process.

The following day, at 1000 and with the wind round into the NE, we finally escaped from under the heel of Italy. The NE wind gradually freshened to F5 and we were passage making in style, sailing a reach on 118º. Over the first 4 hours we averaged over 7kts and with the wind up to F6 at times, after 6 hours, the average was even more. There was a sizeable sea from the N but not giving us any problems or even much water on the deck.

Great fun but, as always there was a catch, we were going too fast and, had we kept up the same speed, we would have reached the entry to the Preveza channel in darkness. With a NW wind the entry to Preveza is on a lee shore with extensive sandbanks and on a NW facing bay where the sea can ‘get up a bit’. So we put the brakes on by reeling in a fair bit of the main and genoa, which brought our onward rush down to around 6kts. During the afternoon the wind backed to NNW and eased to around F4 but the quartering sea coming from the Adriatic was no less and we were thinking about alternative ports for our arrival. The prospect of finding the narrow Preveza channel with it’s smallish buoys in heavy surf was a matter of some concern. To comply with Greek law we had to head for a ‘Port of Entry’ and the best divert options for us were either Gaios on the island of Paxos or Nidri on the leeward side of Levkas. The latter would however have added about 50NM to our crossing. Fortunately our course was taking us close to the SW tip of the island of Anti Paxos and if necessary we could turn into the lee of the islands. However, our fears about the sea state were calmed because, as we tracked into the lee of Corfu, Paxos and Anti Paxos, the wind, and then the sea, eased considerably. In fact by 0600 on 21 July we had the classic Greek Ionian morning calm, followed by a light SE wind. The remaining slight swell was not a problem as we entered the buoyed channel, and we finally tied up to the town quay at 0930. Even with the brakes on we had covered 147NM at an average of over 6kts.

Having arrived in Greece, one of our first jobs was to go to the Port Police / Coastguard office to buy our Cruising Log. This document, which cost €45 for Kabardar, is required for all non-Greek flagged pleasure boats. It is basically a tax, but requires yachts to check in and out of all ports where there is a Coastguard or Port Police office.

We left Preveza on 23 July and headed for Cephallonia, going round the scenic western side of Levkas, rather than the usual route through the canal. After a delightful night at anchor at Palio Koravo, we went into the attractive port of Fiskardo. This is drowning in it’s own popularity and in high season it is a charter boat / flotilla madhouse. (It is probably very pleasant out of the high season). After one night we were off south and after another attractive anchorage at Kalo Limeni, we went into the harbour at Ayia Eufimia on 26 July, and where we stayed for 3 nights. On 29 July we sailed to the island of Zante and anchored in Ormos Aikes. Our intention was to see the dramatic northern coast of the island, including Shipwreck Bay, which is reputed to be one of the most photographed spots in the country. There was however a bit of swell from the SE, which seemed strange as the Greek mainland is not far in that direction. By 0100 the swell was much worse and we had to leave. Not wanting to join the mass-market holidaymakers in Zakinthos town, we simply sailed around to the NW coast of the island and sailed up and down until daylight. There was an unforeseen benefit to this anti-social hour of departure, which was that we saw the cliffs and the famous bay in the early morning, without the usual clutter of tripper boats.

From Zante we sailed NE right across the ‘Inland Sea’ and found an anchorage behind the island of Oxia. This was an idyllic spot where rocky islands are partly joined together by the delta of the river Acheloos. We had sand for the anchor, clear and warm water for swimming and even a ‘private’ beach about 100m. from the boat. This corner did not seem to be on the charter boat / flotilla circuit and during our 2 days there we saw few other boats. After a night in the shallow but sheltered Limin Petala, on 2 August we went on to the small port of Astakos. We needed provisions and particularly to fill the water tank, but on arrival we were told that Spiros the water man would not be around until 1700, so we spent a night there. By this point in our trip the temperatures were at their peak and over 40º by early afternoon. We were by then fairly well acclimatised but we felt sorry for some of the charterers who were suffering badly.

We sailed north from Astakos on 3 August heading for the island of Kastos. On the way we passed the sheltered bay of Porto Marathia, which faces south and with substantial mountains to the north. (More of this later!). Near the northern tip of Kastos we found an attractive but rather tricky anchorage. The bay is deep in the centre with only a limited strip of sand, rocks and weed for anchoring. During the night the wind gusted fitfully from various directions and I had a sense that the previous week’s hot weather was breaking down although we had not seen or heard a forecast of anything untoward on the way. At 0640 on 4 August, Kathleen woke me because the GPS anchor watch alarm was bleeping and we were dragging. (I had not heard it!). The wind was by then a brisk N-NW and the Navtex forecast from Kerkira was warning of gales from the NW. We went to look at the harbour at Kastos village but this seemed to be full, so we headed back 12NM SE to Porto Marathia. We were towing the dinghy, luckily without the outboard on, and several times gusts flipped it over, and in the process we lost the seat. In the wind I had a quite a struggle to haul the dinghy up onto the foredeck and lash it down.  Once round the headland and safely into Marathia we wondered if we were over-reacting as conditions did not seem too bad at all. However, as the morning progressed, the NW wind rapidly strengthened and the gusts rushing down from the mountains to the N were making Kabardar sheer about violently on the anchor chain. By early afternoon we were dragging so we re-anchored in 7m. with over 40m. of chain out. An hour or so later we were slowly dragging again so this time we laid 2 anchors with about 10º between the warp on the second anchor and the chain on the bower. This worked and we moved no more. The wind was very strong, at least F7, but the main problem was the severe turbulence and gusts coming down the valley at the head of the bay. Kerkira Navtex weather forecasts are normally transmitted somewhat irregularly but all that day, and the two following days, we had gale warnings every 4 hours or so. A couple of 40ft. plus charter boats came into the bay and tried to anchor but gave up and went off in the direction of Astakos.

After a windy and turbulent night, but with no more dragging, the 5 August dawned rather less windy and the sea looked to be much flatter. We decided to head west across to Ithaca and look for somewhere to ride out the rest of the forecast ropey weather. As we sailed W the wind was building again and as we approached the island of Atakos, which was about halfway on our 32NM run across to Ithaca, we were heavily reefed and struggling to hold a COG of 90º to the wind. Our leeway was considerable. By this time the wind  was back to NW6/7 and with huge gusts, some of which laid us over more than 45º. We headed for the harbour at Vathi which is wonderfully sheltered from the sea but whose harbour lies NW-SE and hence open to the full benefit of the NW wind. We anchored in 3m. of water and veered 25m. of chain . It held and we did not need the second anchor because, as we discovered when we weighed anchor, the bottom was mud, giving holding to die for.

During the rest of that afternoon, the NW wind increased further and for the next 18 hours or so fairly howled down the 1NM length of the inlet that is Vathi harbour. For a time we had waterspouts coming down the harbour. By late afternoon of the following day, 6 August the wind was decreasing and we were able to go ashore in the dinghy. The town quay was at the leeward end of the harbour and at the height of the blow, the chop against the quay made it impossible to get ashore. We went, with our papers and the dreaded Cruising Log, to the port police office. However we were told that, because we were anchored and not tied to the quay, they did not need to stamp the entries in our log. The logic of this escaped us!

This had been by far the biggest blow that we have ridden out at anchor. The limited value of barometers in the Med. was illustrated by the fact that pressure fell gradually by only 2mb at the beginning of the gales and took several days to crawl back up again.

On 7 August we weighed anchor, well eventually, as our 16kg. Delta was seriously dug in after the gale and we had to motor around the ‘straight up and down’ chain to free it. As we were meeting Richard and Jeremy at Gouvia Marina on Corfu on 15 August, we then headed north with overnight stops at Spartachori, Levkas, Preveza, Ormos Ioannou, Mourtos and Ormos Valtou, arriving at Gouvia on13 August. Ormos Valtou is a sheltered and unspoiled inlet close to the main port of Igoumenitsa. While having dinner in the cockpit we were watching sea bass jumping all over the place.

With our visitors safely on board we set out on a week’s cruise of the area close to Corfu. Some places we had already visited but were new to R & J. We went to Ormos Valtou, Gaios (Paxos), Ormos Ioannou, Platarias, Mongonisi (Paxos) and back to Gouvia. Whilst in Platarias we hired a car and went up into the Epirus Mountains to see a little of the Zagorohoria villages and the stunning Vikos Gorge. This is a wild and mountainous area still with bears, wolves, wild cats and wild boars. We saw none of these but on the way back we had to stop the car because there was something in the road. Not a ‘sleeping policeman’ but a sleeping wild tortoise, which we gently moved out of harm’s way.

With R & J safely on their way to the airport, we left Gouvia on 23 August and headed first for Pagania, a sheltered bay close to the Albanian border. This used to be off limits for yachts but, now that Albania is more settled, it makes a pleasant alternative to the commotion and pollution of Gouvia. From Pagania we went back to Paxos, first to Lakka on the N of the island and then to Gaios, where we stayed for 3 nights. This was so that we could explore the interior of the island on foot, walking along donkey paths amongst the ancient olive trees that cover the island. Paxos thankfully does not have an airport but does have an air service. This ferries passengers to/from Corfu in small float planes that use a reserved part of the quay in Gaios harbour as an air terminal.

We then headed back to Preveza on 28 August to arrange the lift-out with the boatyard where Kabardar was to spend the winter. With this booked for 2 September, we spent our last few days exploring the Amvrakikos Gulf which is an inland sea linked to the Ionian Sea by the channel at Preveza

Our cruising for 2005 ended at Preveza on 1 September and the following day Kabardar was lifted out at the Preveza Marine Boatyard and installed in a substantial cradle for the winter. Our July / August cruise had taken us 1445NM and we had visited 37 harbours and anchorages, 12 in Italy and 25 in Greece.

Our cruising over the whole season took us 1670NM and took our total miles over our 5 seasons with Kabardar to over 7000NM. This summer we experienced much better winds and sailing. On several occasions we had to run the diesel whilst sailing, not to drive the boat but to keep the fridge running and ensure that we had some ice for our ‘sundowners’. Such are the hardships of Mediterranean sailing.

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