After collecting my passport with a new 90 day Greek visa from Spyros at Police headquarters, we cast off from Zakynthos harbour with a good following wind to sail to Cephalonia, the biggest of the Ionian islands. The plan was to stop in Poros in the south east of the island, but the wind blew straight into the harbour, so we carried on to Sami harbour, 12 nm to the north which was sheltered from the unusual south easterly.
The major earthquake of 1953 effectively demolished every town on Cephalonia, except Fiskardho in the north, presumably because of the underlying clay in the north. Sami was rebuilt and is a lovely town where the film “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin” was made. The narrow Ithakis channel separates Cephalonia from the island of Ithaca – according to Homer, this is the island home of Odysseus.
From Sami we crisscrossed the channel to visit anchorages on both islands, eventually anchoring at Port Polis on the northwest side of Ithaca, before crossing to Fiskardho the next day to anchor in the lovely Foki bay. Later in the day, another SO 439 anchored next to us, with Chris Evans and Rose Bowey from Adelaide in South Australia on board – also our vintage in age! They took delivery of their Jeanneau at the factory in La Rochelle, France about 18 months ago and were pleased to hear we have come this far without major problems.
Foki bay anchorage deserved a two-day stay, during which time we walked to Fiskardho for coffees and some groceries. Fiskardho was chockers with charter yachts and it was amazing to see up to 50 yachts a day sailing past our anchorage. We spent pleasant times with Chris and Rose having sundowners and a BBQ.
Autumn was setting in and although we have clear sunny days, the evenings calls for jumpers – Annie also pulled out our summer duvet, so nuddy sleeping is on hold. The sea temperature is still a very pleasant 25 deg C, so we swim every day. Having exchanged notes with Chris and Rose on cruising areas, we set forth to explore the east coast of Ithaca, where we anchored at Limani bay just south of Frikes on the first night. In the short 11 mile sail we must have passed upwards of 70 yachts, sailing in flotillas and having fun.
Further south, we turned into Kioni harbour for brunch, before anchoring at Vathi harbour for a two-day stay in picturesque surroundings. Vathi bay is large and sheltered from the winds from most directions, with adequate room to anchor off the town, which wraps around the top end of the bay. It offers some good walks along the shore to exercise our legs, as well as a 6 km coastal walk to the entrance to the bay, where we spotted the chapel of St. Andrew while sailing into the bay.
We walked past the yacht club where young kids were training in Optimist and Laser class dinghies, reminding us of the days we spent on the water while Karen and Michelle trained in the very same classes. At one of the beaches we passed, was a lifeguard tower with a fireman’s pole to slide down, for quick assistance to swimmers in distress. The pole should have been stainless steel, as the rusted pole will result in severe injuries.
At night we listened to the local music from the bars, which was different to the Greek music in the Aegean, being more Italian in influence, with passionate romantic harmonies. On the third day we reluctantly left, to take advantage of the prevailing wind and sailed the 43 nm to the Greek mainland. At the entrance to the Gulf of Patras, the northern shore has saltmarshes and sandbars, so we had to motor up the 2.5 nm dredged channel to the spacious harbour of Mesolongi where we anchored off the yacht club on Sunday 21st October.
We had to spend the following three nights at anchor here because a 35 knot easterly with rain kicked in, making sailing into the gulf, virtually impossible. Mesolongi is an architecturally challenged town, with its claim to fame being, that the poet Byron died here. The only entertainment we had was a cargo vessel tied up close to us with two cranes offloading six huge wind turbines onto low bed trailer trucks.
On the Wednesday we woke up to a sunny day with light winds, which allowed us to set sail for Navpaktos, 35 nm away. By 1pm we reached the strait of Rion and Andirrion, only one-mile-wide with Venetian forts on both sides. The impressive suspension bridge across the strait completed in 2004, is the longest cable stayed bridge in the world at 2,252m with an air height of 25-45m (Similar design as the ANZAC bridge in Sydney).
We sailed under the bridge to enter the Gulf of Corinth and continued to Navpaktos where we anchored off the beach – the harbour being too small for boats over 12 metres.
Navpaktos (Lepanto) is a captivating place, with the minute medieval harbour under the shadow of a Venetian castle. Before we could go ashore, we had to sort out the freshwater pump which delivers water from the water tanks to all the taps and showers – without a working pump, we are in trouble. For some reason, the pump decided to stop working and no amount of switching valves between tanks, would get the water flowing.
Annie and her offsider decided to strip the pump expecting to find a blocked or stuck impeller, which should be easy enough to fix. The pump is of course mounted in a diabolically difficult space to get into. After an hour, we got it out, stripped the pump and hello – what is this? A diaphragm pump, which I have never clapped eyes on before. All the parts were cleaned and inspected and after reassembly it takes another hour (and cursing) to mount the pump again. We hold our collective breaths and turn it on again – it works! Don’t ask me what I have fixed, as I do not know. Anyway it was 6pm and time for a soothing red wine.
The following day we go ashore early to climb up to the castle, which evidently is the best preserved castle in the Mediterranean – 45 minutes later and 250m higher, we reached the top to admire the view. This area was settled around 2,000 BC and the castle construction was started around 500 BC. The battle of Lepanto in 1571, was fought off the coast here, when the Ottoman fleet was defeated by a coalition of Christian countries.
On board the Spanish galley “Marquesa” was a 24-year-old Spanish marine, Miguel de Cervantes who received three gunshot wounds—two in the chest and one which rendered his left arm useless. Cervantes later started writing and is widely regarded as the greatest writer in the Spanish language and one of the world’s pre-eminent novelists. His novel “Don Quixote” has been translated into over 140 languages. In the little harbour of Navpaktos stands a statue of Cervantes to remind us of his service in the battle of Lepanto.
Our next anchorage was on the small island of Trizonia, before enjoying a fabulous downwind sail to Galaxidi, where we anchored in the harbour. This tranquil harbour, hemmed in by a pine-studded peninsula, is one of the most pleasing in the Gulf of Corinth. It is a useful safe harbour near Delphi which can be reached by bus.
We stayed here for three days, enjoying the laid back atmosphere and catching the bus to Delphi on the Saturday. Delphi was regarded by the ancients as the centre of the world. Its spectacular site amidst ravines, rocky bluffs and sheer cliffs on the side of Mt Parnassos contributes to its air of mystery.
Delphi takes its name from Apollo Delphinios, when the god was worshipped in the shape of a dolphin. The Delphic oracle was famous throughout Greece. The French school began excavating the site in 1892 and a museum next to the site houses most of the important finds. Truly, a must-visit place in Greece. I am uploading just a few of the 95 photos I have taken.
On Monday, a favourable easterly will carry us back west to the Ionian islands, to continue our cruising.
Cheers for now.