I’m just back from Greece after another successful course on our yacht Cloud Nine – congratulations to Paul, who passed his Day Skipper, and Jasmin, who is now a Competent Crew to her delight and surprise (but no surprise to anyone else). Here are a few of the highlights.
We departed from Nidri and headed over to Spartakhori for our first night, to our usual warm welcome from Panos and Babis at the Porto Spilia taverna. The food is simple but very good and I almost always have fresh fish (because it’s one of the very few things I miss about the UK that I can’t easily get in Switzerland). It’s a 15-20 minute walk up to Spartakhori village on the top of the hill, but it’s almost a step back in time. Bougainvillea flowers, crazy paving on the streets, the occasional tiny shop, white houses with painted shutters, and elderly widows in their black widows’ weeds – this is Greece as you always imagine it.
Following an unscheduled night back in Nidri to collect Jasmin’s luggage that hadn’t reached Preveza airport at the same time as her, our next stop was Sivota to sit out forecast bad weather. When it’s blowing 20+ knots in the shelter of Sivota Bay, you know it’s blowing a hooley outside. The rising storm did, however, make for an exhilarating sail down from Nidri, even if we did have to beat all the way down the Meganisi channel. Sivota is always a lovely spot to stop – there are a few nice shops, small supermarkets for provisioning, an actual ATM, and a host of good restaurants. You can also take the opportunity to watch your favourite sports events on television, and Yianna’s full English breakfast is the best in the Ionian.
Frikes (Ithaca) is simply delightful. Although it’s a very small hamlet, it boasts (in my opinion) one of the best restaurants in the Ionian, Rementzo. It has bars, coffee shops and an ice cream parlour as well as the ruins of two ancient windmills, one of which is illuminated at night.
Gourmet tastes aside, another great reason to go to Frikes is that it is one of the very few places in the Ionian where alongside mooring is the norm, and there is usually an opportunity (or indeed a necessity) to raft up. Alongside berthing also provides an opportunity to practice springing off the next morning.
A great sail in perfect conditions – so good we took the scenic route! – eventually led us to Kalamos, but not before dropping the anchor in One House Bay on Atokos island for a short lunch stop.
Finally we decided we’d better make our way over to Kalamos – another 13 miles, which we covered in less than 2 hours. George, who runs the main taverna in Kalamos (imaginatively named “George’s”) and doubles as the self-appointed harbour-master, has a reputation for always fitting in everyone who wants to moor in the harbour, no matter how busy it is.
With 3 large flotillas and lots of independent boats all heading for Kalamos that day, he needed those every one of those skills by the time we arrived at just after 17.00. We ended up in the middle of a raft of 12 boats which made up a second row of moorings in front of those boats who had managed to get in early enough for a spot on the harbour wall. We normally try to steer clear of crowds as far as possible, but there’s no denying a large raft tends to engender rather a fun sense of solidarity among neighbouring boats. Just don’t play your music too loud or run your engine too long!
Kalamos was also time for a day of R&R. We’d been working a lot and sailing quite hard fairly short-handed (making for a steep learning curve) and we still had a night sail to complete. When it’s not fully dark until 22.00 and you then have to slip and cover 4 hours of night cruising, you know you’re in for a late night and need your wits about you. So it’s best in those circumstances to rest up for the day first.
Those of you who have sailed at night in places like the UK or Gibraltar will know that those areas are very well provided with lit aids to navigation. Not so Greece, so your other pilotage techniques get a very good workout. Add in strings of fishing boats less than half a mile apart from one another right across your route and night cruising in these waters can be quite challenging. We arrived at our destination of Porto Spilia long after the restaurant had stopped serving and everyone had gone to bed. We therefore had an opportunity to moor up using just the manpower on board to execute our plan.
Our final destination was Vathi on Meganisi, home to one of the best fish restaurants in the area. We always get a very warm welcome from Stavros and his family and last year we were even their very first guests of the season. All the fishing boats are family-run and there’s something very eternal and unchanging when your restaurant host says he’ll go and find out what his cousin has just caught that he can offer you for dinner.
Like many places in the Ionian, there are lots of local cats living in the open who eat rather well from restaurant guests during the summer.
We learned on this trip that on Kalamos, the cats are positively encouraged because in the winter they survive by catching and killing the over-population of snakes and lizards. One cat in Vathi couldn’t wait for the fish to make it to the restaurant, via the guests’ plates to its stomach and I caught it in the act of trying to short-cut the process in the nets on a fishing boat!
We had superb weather almost throughout the trip, but overnight in Vathi the first of a forecast series of thunderstorms hit, with torrential rain and thunder directly overhead. The main street was awash at 3am, but by morning the skies had cleared, enabling us to head back to Nidri and unload in dry, calm weather.
We were rather relieved later that we’d decided to do that early, as the second storm hit at 15.00. This made the previous night’s storm look like it wasn’t really trying; visibility dropped to zero, roads were flooded, boats at anchor were swinging first this way, then the other – and it was incessant until after 18.00. No matter the time of year, it’s always dangerous to say “I won’t need my wet weather gear in Greece”!
If this report seems more like a culinary tour of the Ionian, you might be right! And that is testament to the openness and friendliness of the local Greeks, and how welcome they make us feel. We’ve had some fantastic sailing too and I hope it also whets your appetite (for both sailing and food) to join us. We still have some space in the summer holidays and the autumn this year – ask us for details.