It all started one Sunday evening. My eye caught a small advert in the paper offering a week’s ‘pot luck’ sailing in the Ionian. What captivated my mind though, was that it was cheap although the start date was imminent. A week later I flew into Preveza airport and was bussed over to Nidri on the Greek island of Lefkas, arriving in time to see the sun set in all its shimmering glory. After a short safety briefing, I was ready to board a 35’ Beneteau sloop along with 5 other shipmates. The Skipper Luke was bright, charming and years younger than my youngest son!
We slipped our moorings and left the pontoon after a relaxed breakfast and at last I was sailing again in the comfort and warmth of waters as smooth as glass – broken only by our gentle wake which was spectacular!
Previously, I had joined the OYTS (Ocean Youth Trust Scotland) on retirement and sailed off the Scottish west coast in 70’ Challenger yachts. This too was an excellent experience, not least for the reward of seeing troubled youngsters blossom from their experience of being ‘under sail’. Safety was paramount with 12 youngsters aboard and training in both seamanship and youth development was excellent. I progressed from RYA Competent Crew, through Watch Leader to Day Skipper and sailed all over the west coast and to Ireland with numerous memorable teams of youngsters. As the years rolled rapidly bye, the weather and the seas steadily eroded the comfort of sailing and reluctantly I had to listen to the RYA training of ‘be aware of your limitations’.
So, I decided to become a landlubber but dreamed of sailing in warm calmer waters. I looked at yachts available on Apolloduck and similar. Not too small but not too large while at the same time dreaming of ownership which I knew full well, was well beyond reach. However, one is allowed to dream!
I subscribed to Practical Boat Magazine, Captain John online, maintained my RYA and RNLI membership, and dreamed on! (As is the wont of landlubber sailors!) Numerous craft came and went while I dreamed, and then I began following the yacht syndicate concept. To cut a fairly long story short, in the Spring of 2018 my wife and I arrived in Sivota (about 8 miles south of Nidri) to be introduced to ‘Fluke’, a Beneteau Oceanis 320 built in 1989 and very affordable as a yacht share. I was the third share sold and there were no surprises in both the owner and the yacht.
Sivota is one of the safest harbours in the Ionian Islands, as the entrance is a dog’s-leg and extends almost a mile inland. ‘Fluke’ was moored stern-to on the southern quay away from the several Tavernas but right opposite the mini supermarket owned by Christos. So, victualling was easy, and a great benefit for new arrival is that Christos has excellent rooms with the best showers in the port that are reasonably priced! Another great find on our first day was Ioanna’s (pronounced Janna) Family Café on the west quay front, which is a delight – as is Ioanna herself who is a fountain of knowledge about everything locally.
The first leg of our journey was down to Vasiliki and we pottered down the dogs-leg in the early morning stillness. The 18 h.p. Volvo penta diesel was purring comfortably at 2000 rpm and making 5.5 knots. Most mornings in the Ionians during the season of early May to end September, begin in bright sunshine with not a breath of air. By 1030 hours there may be a light air that builds towards midday to a gentle breeze, sometimes a moderate breeze of 11 – 16 knots, before falling away all afternoon to a still evening. Perfect sailing conditions! There are exceptions of course, so be sure to obtain reliable weather forecasts.
We anchored in Ammousa Bay for lunch and the bow chain ran out almost to the bitter end, but the hook held. Cold meat and a salad of lettuce, cucumber, tomatoes, black olives, and lashings of olive oil with fresh bread. All washed nicely down with just the one allowed glass of cold, cold rose wine. Another larger Beneteau lay off our starboard quarter, flying a South African flag. We left the Bay and continued to follow my meticulously plotted (Imray chart G121) and written passage plan and pilotage, but I soon discovered that as one is in visual contact with the islands, it is easy to know exactly your location at any time. No tides make for much easier planning. The Imray Pilot book is invaluable and gives so much more information than just nautical details.
Vasiliki is a large harbour developed to take a ferry service, but the ferry has not materialised yet. We anchored stern-to as usual. This was our first real attempt (in front of the usual many interested eyes!) and of course the windlass started playing up by not letting the chain run out smoothly and rapidly. On the fourth attempt a German flagged yacht suggested loudly that there was more room further down the quay where I could try again, but I advised him I was happy with my chosen spot to berth! The South African flagged yacht was already berthed and offered helpful advice about spraying silicon spray on the windlass cogs which did the trick and we came in sweetly under the German’s nose!!
We had a very happy evening meal with the South Africans at a Taverna on the edge of the harbour under large shady eucalyptus trees. Yachting is so sociable and the Ionian experience is certainly so, although there can be a fair amount of leg-pulling, hollering and shouting when things go wrong as every yachtsman knows can happen. The South Africans had watched us anchor for lunch and thought we must be very experienced to have succeeded as we did in deep water. Little did they know!
Our next leg of the passage was directly South, 10 miles to Fiskardo on Cephalonia. A gentle westerly breeze was up by 0930 hours and we were soon cruising comfortably along on a beam reach at 5 knots, under full genoa and mainsail. Ferries use this broad channel to enter and exit the south Ionian Seas, on passage from and to the North. A sharp eye needs to be kept but visibility is excellent, and they can be seen miles away. Nevertheless, it is surprising how quickly they close with you if on a collision course, and ferries do not give way to little nuisance craft in Greece! The wind picked up to about 12 knots and backed to southwest with a small sea building. I had in mind to take in a reef on the mainsail balanced with some furling of the genoa, but we would soon be in the lee of north Cephalonia. Anyway, it was fun cracking through a bit of a chop at 6.5 knots! Fluke handled well with a light touch on the tiller. Oh yes – no cockpit wheel but real sailing with a tiller!
Fiskardo is a beautiful medium sized harbour that is fashionable. The quay and Tavernas are smart. People like to strut their stuff which we both found amusing. The food was good and Jonathan, our portside berth neighbour, was very friendly between periods of sitting on a chair on his foredeck shouting advice through a megaphone to new arrivals. He had seen our Red Ensign and signalled us in and fortunately we came in on only the second attempt, ever so slowly but precisely. We learnt that he was impressed when we invited him over for a drink!
The next day, as forecast, it blew a gale so we stayed put as one can in these islands. There are plenty of safe ports to hunker down in, should the weather turn nasty. Distances between islands are short and every night we slept well, while secure in port. Night sailing is too strenuous and mooring in a bay on the hook may need an anchor watch. This sort of safe sailing is a mile away from the Scottish west coast and suits us of a certain age very well. We sailed on the next day to Eufemia followed by Vathi, the capital of Ithaca and then quaint Kioni, for a night each. Next we then headed east across to the island of Kastos after a lunch stop and swim in One House Bay on the uninhabited island of Nisos. Then a short hop on to Kalamos where George saw us safely to our berth before we were served the most delicious meal at his taverna. Our table was on the very edge of the sea and that evening the sunset was inspirational.
We headed home via two ports on beautiful Meganisi island, called Karnagio which has excellent showers, and Spiglia. Both are stand-alone tavernas offering their own jetty or quay respectively with quaint villages within an easy short walk. Peaceful and calm, and each has an excellent idyllic sandy swimming beach next to the taverna.
So dream on dreamers, for with a bit of effort and care the dream can come true.