Sailing North through
The Ionian Sea, Greece
27 July 2015
Agios Nikolaos, Zakynthos
37 54'.42N : 020 42'.44E
What drew us to Zakynthos, the southernmost of the Northern Ionian islands, were the mountains, cliffs, and caves. On the west coast, below a sheer limestone wall, lies a rusting, graffitied hulk at the head of a cove called Shipwreck Bay. In another spot on the island, under the midday sun, the water in the Blue Caves shines a vibrant turquoise. Neither are far from Agios Nikolaos. The good thing about having our own boat - actually three, a sailboat, dinghy and kayak- is that Jim and I can go to places like these on our own.
With light winds from the east we eased Tenaya out of the anchorage at 7:00am. Motoring past the Blue Caves, we were surprised to see a sign marking their location. There wasn't a soul around. If the wind was light the next morning, we agreed to kayak over early before the hoards in small boats arrived. Otherwise, we'd bail.
The west coast of Zakynthos is spectacular. Sheer limestone walls pitted with hundreds of caves are broken up with circular gouges of fallen cliff. Wherever the water is shallow, the luminescent aquamarine sea is reflected on the white rock.
Shipwreck Bay, Zakynthos
37 51'.54N : 020 36'.95E
We reached Shipwreck Bay at 8:00am. Two other sailboats and one small powerboat were already anchored. A French couple and their guide were packing up their kayaks after spending the night on the sandy beach. These were the second paddling French nationals we'd met. Thierry and Marie-Laure were on a five week kayak camping trip across the Aegean to the Ionian. We met them in Antikyra and again in Galaxidi.
Later in the day, when the sun is higher, the water in Shipwreck Bay sparkles a gorgeous turquoise. We missed that for a chance to be there without the crowds. There is a small cave in the bay, the first one of the day we entered. I love caves!
Further down the coast is the only semi-safe anchorage on the west coast, Porto Vromi. We poked our nose in to have a look and it didn't seem pleasant. Several boats, including a large motor yacht, were anchored with their sterns and midships tied to the rocks. The wind was blasting 20+ knots over the mountains onto their beams. The Navionics electronic charts for this area aren't real accurate. Our waypoint for this harbor was on land.
Further down, another small anchorage, Porto Limnionas, was listed in the Greek Sea Guide but not in the Heikells' pilot. It looked very narrow on our chartplotter and no depths were listed. Jim was too nervous to take Tenaya in. I really, really wanted to snorkel through the caves so we dropped the hook in 10 meters on sand. The prevailing NW wind was beginning to kick up for the day so he stayed on board.
Outside Port Limnionas, Zakynthos
37 44'.29N : 020 42'.0E
I jumped off the side with my gear on and finned to the largest cave below the taverna ashore. The cool water was refreshing and incredibly clear. Inside the cave I just floated, listening to the lapping water reverberate and watching the fish swim among the folded rocks below. I could not figure out what the colorful growth - purple, green and yellow - on the rocks near the waterline was, but it made me feel like I was inside a giant geode.
I finned around the corner into the bay. The underwater terrain is amazing with jagged limestone arches, pinnacles and ravines.
It's a good thing we didn't try to bring Tenaya into the tiny bay. It was filled with people floating and floundering. A steady stream of bodies flowed down the hill behind the taverna to a concrete dock. I finned over to the cave in the back and only saw one man pushing his toddler through on an inflatable ring. Why wasn't anyone else in the caves? They are so cool!
On the opposite side from the taverna are more caves and crevasses. I looked between two rock outcroppings to see a long, narrow slice that culminated in a cave at the end. It was a little wider than my body so with my arms tucked to my sides, I finned slowly over the shallow rock to see how far I could go. Below me, the rock on either side gave way to a long, deep fissure in the center. Bright light was shining through and pretty wrasses took no notice of me.
Elated, I finned to the end and back out. Once I could see him, I waved to Jim. He motioned for me to return. He'd been motoring Tenaya ahead to keep her from getting too close to the rocks. The wind was gusting over 20 knots and he wanted to leave. I could have stayed snorkeling this wonderful spot for a week.
38 21'.87N : 020 36'.99E
We were on our way north by 7:30am on July 18. The wind was light, the sea was calm, and there was not a cloud in the sky. We've started sailing with the bimini up as it provides shade from the intense sun and we don't seem to be using the mainsail, whose positioning is inhibited by the structure, much at all.
We motored up the east side of Kefallonia and into the channel that separates it from Ithaca. After all the town walls we'd been staying on, we were ready for a night in a secluded anchorage. Again the Greek Sea Guide came to our rescue and we anchored at Chorgota with just one other boat. Total miles that day: 29.
It's hard not to make comparisons of our time sailing in remote places of the Pacific to sailing here in Europe. We miss the remoteness, are happy for the proximity, and still can't quite kick the hoarding habit although I have stopped bringing Costco canned chicken back in my luggage.
For dinner in Chorgota I made an Asian chicken salad. It was a staple for us in the Pacific and brought back a flood of memories. As I tossed the cabbage, chicken and mandarin oranges with the dressing made of sesame oil, rice wine vinegar and sweet chili sauce, tears welled up in my eyes. This was my last can of Costco chicken. I'd never been out before. Ever. This was the end of an era.
38 56'.93N : 020 45'.78E
Greek friends told us not to miss Lefkada/Levkas. It's a beautiful island attached to the mainland by a bridge and separated by a salt marsh and a narrow channel. But trying to squeeze through with a lot of other boats when the bridge only opens every hour did not sound like fun to us so we left the island to starboard and kept going to Preveza.
A fire began ashore as we approached Preveza. Greece reminds us of Southern California in the summertime with frequent fires, sunny days, and baking temperatures. Will we ever need our medium weight and heavy foul weather gear again?
We came to Cleopatra Marina, on the mainland, because it happened to be in the right place along our route. We'd heard good things about the yard and hoped there would be a machine shop that could repair our aging holding tank valve.
Turns out it requires a lathe to create the threads and they don't have one. Panos and Panos, the technicians, were prompt and helpful and made a good impression.
Jim changed the engine oil and replaced the cooling system's impeller but when he started the engine, no water came out. He checked the seawater intake valve and it felt funny. Not wanting to mess with this hole in the bottom of the boat, he called them again.
Light-haired Panos returned, checked it out, and said it was broken and needed to be replaced. He said they'd haul us out as soon as possible and we hoped it would be in the next day or two. Two hours later the crew came to tow us to the lift. The boat was a mess with the kayak floating off one side, lines and sheets in buckets of soapy water, clothes drying on the lifelines, and books all over the tables.
Panos replaced the valve at once but the glue had to dry so we spent the night cradled in the yard. Although Tenaya was pitched forward (we assume to clear the bilge) we had a comfortable night sleeping in the cockpit catching a nice breeze and beautiful sunset.
We shared our last meal at Cleopatra Marina with Bonnie and Rick aboard Aisling and their friends Marcel and Ghislaine. How fun it was to see Rick and Bonnie again! We met them in Almerimar in 2007 and have kept in touch via Sailblogs and Facebook ever since.
Gouvia Marina, Corfu
39 38'.96N : 019 51'.27E
We'd heard the islands of Paxoi and Antipaxoi are beautiful but we're into the crazy holiday period now and seeing a lot more boats. We figured the few anchorages there would be packed so we went straight to Corfu. 64 miles in 9 hours.
The wind never puffed more than 6 knots and the sea stayed calm so we made good time.
We paddled from Gouvia Marina to this little church. To our surprise, there was a wedding going on and at one point the groom turned around and waved to us.
Corfu is lovely with steep green mountains beyond the azure sea. It is also a major holiday destination. That's not really our thing so we're headed off to Albania. Most yachties we've talked to either skipped the country or warned us about it. For some reason we're attracted to places like this. I wonder what we'll learn there.