Stuck in Roccella Ionica, Italy

In the light of the following day, it was apparent that we had seen this yacht before (anchored out in the bay at Argostoli, Chephalonia). Curious I went to chat with the owners, a gregarious French couple who were more than happy to recount their ordeal at sea. When I asked how they had managed to navigate the breakers, they answered that it was simply fear and good luck that saw them through.

Over a glass of Ouzo with ice (such luxury), we swapped details of our traveling exploits, and it was only several (well lubricated) hours later that I returning to Eileen of Avoca, laden with fillets of swordfish generously supplied by my new French drinking buddies (they obviously had considerably more success in the fishing department that I did). The fish was delicious!

The weather has been atrocious and we have been stuck in port for four days. If it wasn’t for the excellent pizza restaurant at the marina and the sociable company of the other stranded yachtsmen we would be going stir-crazy. The local dogs have certainly gone mad. One attacked Matt yesterday and ran off with half his thong (the flip-flop variety).

The forecasts had it all wrong.

Matt weathering the storm

Matt weathering the storm

By 11pm on day two (we still hadn’t caught a fish but I did manage to loose my newly acquired lure), the VHF started spurting gale warnings and I was getting worried.

Roccella Ionica (our destination) is not an all weather port (Crotone more than 70 miles distant was the nearest), and easterly winds breed enormous breakers at the entrance to the marina. Boats have been rolled by the surf in the past and conditions were definitely deteriorating.

With 20NM to go I pushed Eileen of Avoca to maximum speed in the hope of beating the storms. Matt took over the shift and I tried to get some sleep.

Surf outside Rocella Ionica port

Surf outside Roccella Ionica port

Three hours later I found Matt at the tiller, drenched to the bone but looking surprisingly cheerful. The gale force winds had not yet materialised but the swell was decidedly larger. With 2 miles to go I called up the coast guard at Roccella Ionica on VHF to ask whether the entrance to the marina was safe. Their answer was ambiguous and of little practical help so we were left to discover the situation for ourselves.

We were lucky, a land breeze had kept the swells at bay and at 5:30am, with considerable relief, we motored into the marina.

Several hours later, the entrance was seemingly impassable. Seemingly because despite the raging surf, one small yacht defied the odds and to the amazement of all found its way to safety at 9pm. What a feat!

Argostoli Cephalonia

Greek night in Cephalonia

Greek night in Cephalonia

Matt and I had started making a habit of night passages (sleeping in shifts) because; apart from enjoying it, we had more time to explore our destinations. Looking back over the weeks adventures, it was difficult to believe we had only spent a single night in most ports.

Argostoli was a welcome sight after a night of lumpy seas. We tied Eileen of Avoca to the quay as the fishermen set up their impromptu stalls and as the immaculately maintained town came to life.

Provisioning at the markets here was a pleasure, but most of the day was spent getting serious about fishing. So far we’d caught nothing, nada, niente and however you say it in Greek!

In desperation we sought out the only fishing tackle store and splurged on a trolling reel and new lures. Surely now we would be hauling in a daily catch of fine fresh fish! While disappointed to leave the island before “Greek Night” (see photo if you don’t believe me), we were happy to have forecasts show a perfect weather window for our crossing to Italy. Easterly winds and at least three to four days of fine weather.

Killini, Greece

Suspension bridge

Suspension bridge

A dawn departure saw us speeding along with the 2kt current under the new suspension bridge connecting Rion with Andirrion (the Peloponnese with the mainland).

Would you believe it was necessary to call traffic control on VHF channel 14 for permission to transit the bridge? The radio operator asked for my yachts dimensions and couldn’t quite digest a mast height of 7 meters, so in their books, I am now classified as a seven meter yacht with a mast height of 17 meters…

Makes me feel grand!

Rafting up with our French neighbours

Rafting up with our French neighbours

Our next port of call (Killini) was the antithesis of Navpaktos. The port is about as interesting as doing boat maintenance. 😉

Though to be fair, people interested in watching large ferries maneuver and load at all hours might find Killini rather special. Unfortunately, I’m not one of those, but I did give it a try. 🙂

Upon arrival the inner harbor was full, and we were obliged to ask permission to raft up for the night on what turned out to be (in our inflated opinions), the most interesting boat in port. A well traveled all aluminium cruiser owned by a French family who had been living aboard for several years. They were delightful company.

The town itself had little to offer (other than free Internet Wi-Fi that needed to be reset every hour), so by 11pm the following evening we cast off and motored toward our next destination, the port of Argostoli in Kefallina (also Cephalonia).

Navpaktos (Lepanto)

Navpaktos, Greece

Navpaktos, Greece

Navpaktos (also known as Lepanto), with its small medieval harbor, extended fortifications, and Venetian castle overlooking the town is a must see.

However there is space for perhaps only two or three visiting yachts of diminutive dimensions.

Everything was reasonably priced and close at hand, (provisions, fuel, entertainment), so we made the most of it.

This was definitely one of our favorite ports.

Westward toward the Corinthian canal!

Corinthian canal

Corinthian canal

Departing Aigina at sunrise, Matt and I motored westward toward the Corinthian canal entrance. By 1:30pm we lay moored by the canal authorities control tower where I paid the 95 Euro transit fee. Several boats were on route from the western end, and as they approached I moved off the quay to avoid their wash. Easy.

Just after 2pm we were literally waved through (so much for standing by on channel 11 VHF) and Eileen of Avoca majestically (if you ignore Matt’s laundry hanging everywhere) motored into the Gulf of Corinth.

Spectacular! Especially when the sky darkened, storm clouds moved in and lightning forked menacingly over the mountains to the south. That sort of spectacular I can do without, especially when it is accompanied by rain. Thoroughly drenched, we motored on into the night arriving in Navpaktos by daybreak.

Aigina (the tourist trap)

Aigina, Greece

Aigina, Greece

With continuing fair weather we set sail for Aigina near Athens, skirting the south of Sifnos and west of Serifos. The sailing was uneventful, and only the port of Aigina is worth a special mention.

Warning! This is a quaint but expensive tourist trap!

To be avoided, unless you don’t mind paying 3.50 for a lukewarm espresso or 3 Euro for just a few minutes Internet usage in a cafe exuding unpleasant plumbing odors. The miser in me suffered considerably. 🙂

Note: This was the only port I visited in Greece since leaving Kos that charged me for the privilege of tying to the quay.

Return to Ios

Windmill on Ios, Greece

Windmill on Ios, Greece

By early afternoon we arrived at the anchorage of Ormos Kolitzani for a swim and I was able to fulfill a promise I had made to myself more than fifteen years earlier, to return here in my own boat. I had briefly worked on the Island, carting alcohol around for the local tavernas in the 1990s.

Ios has changed considerably. While it previously catered for cash strapped party going backpackers, it now boasted facilities for a different (more mature and more affluent) clientèle.

At the port (which I remember as a slum), we found laid moorings, tailed to the quay, chic restaurants, and excellent provisioning.

I retraced my steps through the main town to the old windmills. The town had grown and it was apparent that the locals have done well from tourism over the last decade. Everything was clean and renovated.

No dilapidated houses or severed goats heads left to bleed in the sand under the mills at night this time.

Thira (Santorini)

Sailing past Santorini

Sailing past Santorini

Approaching Thira at dawn, I found myself desperately dodging all manner of shipping intent on running Eileen of Avoca down.

Matt attempted to sleep, feet wedged into the “trotter box”, in a position that would inspire any contortionist.

The distinct smell of sulfur tainted the air as we sailed by the impressive cliffs. Had we known there had been recent serious subterranean rumblings here (reaching more that 6 on the Richter scale), we might have thought twice about sailing through a volcano’s caldera. But like the other uninformed tourists, oblivious to any danger, we motored past the main anchorages on the eastern side of the crater to take photos.

Numerous cruise ships converge here disgorging boatloads of sightseers at what must be the Cyclades most popular destination. Not really my cup of tea so I’m happy to report that I’ve been there, seen that, and kept going…

On to Ios.

The perfect weather window

Matt's idea of diving

Matt's idea of diving

Sunday the 13th of September.

Checking the weather (my new found obsession) on my laptop from the boat (one hour passwords for Internet Wi-Fi access were available at the marina cafe at no charge), I was pleased to see that several calm days were forecast for the Cyclades. Good weather appears to have been a rarity this summer, so we made haste to depart and make the most of it.

Our destination? Ios via Thira (approximately 100NM distant).

With a few hours to kill (so as to arrive at Thira / Santorini by daybreak), we motored to the small island off Iraklion called Nissos Dhia. It has a splendid little anchorage ideal for swimming, or if you are so inclined, doing back-flips off the boat (BTW that’s Matt in the photo). At dusk we continued north at 4.5kts on a gentle sea.