Friday, 19 August 2016

From the Peloponnese islands to the Ionian part II

After a few days restocking the boat and some domestic chores it was time to leave Kalamata for the trip around the last peninsular of the Peloponnese island and back up the Ionian Sea. The first leg was a gentle run back down to the lovely town of Koroni.
Anchored off we swam to cool down on the hottest day we had yet experienced at 39. The next day it was south around the point and then north west up between the small islands off the end of the peninsular. Winds varied all over the place but eventually settled in the prevailing north westerly before we arrived at the beautifully sheltered bay of Methoni to anchor just off the sandy beach along with many other yachts making the transit either west or east. This town is dominated by an old Venetian fort and a beautiful tower on the rocky promontory.
We were up early the next morning to leave at first light when the prevailing wind was lighter because now we had to punch into it for the next two days and we had lost the shelter of the island and got the swell running all the way down the Ionian Sea from Italy. Fortunately the wind was light all day and after 37 miles we put into the quiet harbour of Kiparissia and tied alongside.
The countryside along the coast here was delightful with much cultivation of citrus, grapes, olives and salad crops in the verdant low slopes of the mountains but backed by dramatic high peaks. As soon as we had tied up alongside in the harbour some Loggerhead turtles showed themselves swimming in the clear harbour water. The town was pleasant and quiet but van loads of immigrants were sleeping in the shade of the trees and the children begging. A lady in the local shop shook our hands when she knew we were English for having the courage to vote for Brexit. She said Greece wanted to do the same but the politicians did not have the courage. She said Britain will do well outside the EU.
Another long leg the next day took us north to Katakolon. After an early motoring start the wind came up and we tacked north until the shallow sandy shore of the bay near Katakolon came close and the onshore wind was causing a confused sea in the shallow water so we motored into the bay to anchor. We had logged another 31 miles. The countryside here is so different as it is all low lying land and sandy shores. Katakolon is a strange place with a large harbour capable of taking cruise ships but looks as if it rarely does. We later found out that there were several cruise ships using it to take people to Olympia. The town is small, built in 1875 as a harbour to export Corinthian currants mainly to Britain but now seems sadly forgotten.
The ancient remains of Olympia are near here and we took a bus to see the site where the Olympic games started in the year 776 BC. It was Sunday and the bus stop looked deserted. Luckily a bus came along and we learnt that there was a limited service this day but we could get to Olympia by changing buses in Pyrgos. On route through beautiful countryside the roads were strewn with bags of rubbish as they apparently have not collected any for six months! There is some dispute about building an incinerator and so nothing is happening except the risk to health. After a somewhat slow trip we arrived at Olympia and it was wonderfully quiet.
The site at Olympia is quite dramatic set in the valley between two rivers. The remains include the stadium, called this because it was 600 feet long which was a stadion. There were also gymnasiums, buildings for the athletes and the officials and swimming baths. They had elaborate water systems with hot water as well as cold and kitchens to feed everybody. Most of the buildings were destroyed in an earthquake but the site is interesting for its age and incredible to think this was 2800 years ago.The picture shown here is where the Olympic flame is ceremonially lit for every games today. The modern Olympic Games were started in 1896 by Baron Pierre Courbertin and his heart was buried in Olympia after he died We had a slight problem getting back as the return bus was early. We had stopped for a drink to cool us down in the intense heat and 15 minutes before the bus was due it came past. We ran after it but it did not stop and disappeared through the town. This is Greece you know! We had to walt another 2 1/2 hours for the next one. We therefore had something to eat in the restaurant and whiled away our time until the return bus. Pelagia was waiting for us on her anchor in the bay and we had a welcome swim to cool down after the hot but fascinating day.
Our final leg in the Peloponnese was to Killini about 30 miles. The winds were light and variable so we motored, then tacked a bit under sail and eventually after logging over 36 miles we anchored in the bay just outside the ferry terminal harbour. Our anchorage was sheltered but close to the noise of the harbour and the surroundings were uninspiring. We did not bother to go ashore.
From here we set sail to Cephalonia island to the town of Poros about 25 miles. We were lucky that a force 3 wind set in at just the right angle to sail well nearly all the way. We moored stern to the town quay where the concrete harbour side was reflecting the heat and we melted in the near windless harbour at 39 degrees. Luckily we could swim just a short walk from our mooring to cool down. Poros is a little town we have visited before and although it is bustling with ferry traffic it is quite quaint nestling into the hills around the small harbour. Water is available on the quay for topping up tanks and for a cool shower after a swim before the evening.
We intended the next day to go to a small anchorage on Ithaca island. We sailed on a light wind for a while before the wind died. On arrival at the bay it was crowded so we decided to press on to Vathi town. The wind came up at force 2 to 3 and we gently sailed the next 10 miles. Mid afternoon we entered the large bay and anchored amongst many yachts. The wind almost immediately came up to force 5 to 6 and although it is a safe anchorage it is still uncomfortable. Yachts piled in from all directions and we were surrounded especially by horrible catamarans! We thought the wind may go down at dusk as it should. The weather was quiet and stable but still it blew relentlessly at force 6. We kept anchor watch for many hours as it was so congested with boats and you never know what will happen even though our anchor remained secure. It is clear that we have left the lovely quite Peloponnese and rejoined the crowds of yachts swarming through the Ionian. Also it seems that the number of catamarans has increased alarmingly. They fill the anchorages, crowd the town quays, are often crewed by eight men on a booze cruise and we hate them with a vengeance! The wind finally died in the early hours and we got some if little sleep.
The next day we decided to get a good night on the town quay at Frikes, so set off early to be sure of a space. After the 8 mile run we timed it just right as a similar sized boat to ours was about to leave and we got a perfect alongside berth. Frikes is a lovely little town on Ithaca island with a quaint harbour set around with tavernas but it is not big. Yachts started flooding in and as the afternoon breeze picked up and the available berths diminished the antics and arguments began. A 53 foot yacht wanted to tie alongside our already double berthed 36 foot boats but we managed to persuade him to span two sets of boats to lessen the load with the now strong wind pressing him on. Later a 46 foot charter boat full of Italians had tried to anchor in the harbour several times and failed. They then came alongside the 53 foot one so adding more pressure to us all. Luckily one boat on the pier with a couple from Sicily set about them verbally and insisted they try elsewhere in the harbour. With their lack of boat handling skills they set off to get off this position being blown onto all the boats and nearly demolished the Sicilians boat in the process. The air was blue!!! Eventually with help from other boat owners they got anchored on the other side of the harbour and a regional Italian war was averted. The afternoon breeze died down and we all had a good nights sleep.
A gentle breeze the next day took us north to one of our favourite bays, Vlikho, on Levkas island. A large bay with good holding for the anchor and space for everybody surrounded by the most magnificent mountain views and azure blue water. It is hard to imagine that this island suffered an earthquake in November and the whole island is now 36 centimetres further south. We hope it does not move again tonight!

After another night in Vlikho and having got more provisions in the town of Nidry which seemed to get more scruffy and dirty every time we visited it, we sailed to Spartachori on Meganissi island. You can tell it is July as the number of boats coming in for moorings was unbelievable. Somehow Gerry and his team from the taverna Spilia managed to find spaces. We had a splendid meal in his taverna that night and a beautiful quiet night to follow in the most magnificent surroundings.
From there we sailed to Varka bay on the mainland the next day. Only 8 miles and we managed to do it on one tack as the gentle wind gradually bent round in our favour to take us right into the bay. There is a holiday complex there behind the sandy beach which has long since closed. Small bungalows set in beautiful gardens are now starting to deteriorate and become overgrown. Someone still lives in the house come restaurant as there were lights at night but no other sign of life. One wonders what went wrong to fail like that. Whilst we were sitting in the cockpit after dinner in the dark a wild fire erupted just behind the house. It raged for a while and then died down. Luckily there was no wind otherwise it may well have spread across the hills.
Finally on this leg we motored the short channel to Levkas marina to do some cleaning and shopping.
This leg has added another 240 miles to our log since Kalamata, making just under 600 miles this season so far. We loved the Peloponnese and the surrounding islands. They were quintessentially Greek. Small villages, beautiful surroundings, and very quiet and unspoilt by tourism in most places. From here we shall potter around the Ionian area until mid August when we return to the UK. Pats brother and sister in law are joining us for a week for day sails out from Spartachori where they are staying in an hotel. The increasing heat means we shall have to do more swimming to survive the days.

Regards to all Chris and Pat.

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