The plan for this year's cruise was to sail around the Peloponnese. Take it easy. Stay places we liked and winter on one of them.
But due to Covid-19 and not least the break-in on Heron we were unable to follow the plan.
Fortunately, plans can be changed.
Our revised plan was to take it easy and perhaps sail down to the southern part of the Ionian Islands. We had heard others talk so enthusiastically about them.
A little about the Ionian Islands
The Ionian Islands are located in western Greece and are one of the 13 administrative regions of Greece - (OK. yes 14 if you include the peculiar monastic republic of Athos).
The region, one of the smallest in Greece, is divided into five smaller regional units - Corfu, Lefkada, Ithaca, Kefalonia and Zakynthos - and 11 municipalities. The administrative headquarters are located in Corfu, where half of the region's 200.000 inhabitants live.
The archipelago, which is mountainous with mountains of up to 1.200 meters, stretches over 150 nautical miles from Corfu in the north to Zakynthos in the south. The climate is typical Mediterranean climate with hot summers and cool winters. The relatively much rain gives a rich fauna and a green vegetation.
Tourism started in the mid-1960s. Today, half of the region's income comes from here. The rest is derived from fishing, growing citrus fruits, melons and vegetables and making cheeses, honey, wine and olive oil.
A little Greek mythology
The name is said to originate from the Greek mythology tale of the beautiful girl Io. She was one of Zeus' many mistresses and by the way also the first human woman he fell in love with. To hide her from his jealous wife Hera, he turned Io into a heifer. But Hera sensed what was going on and clever as she was, she cunningly divinely forced the heifer Io on the run. During the escape, Io swam across a sea, which was named the Ionian Sea and the islands the Ionian Islands.
The archipelago is also associated with Homer's legend of Odysseus. Archaeologists today dispute whether it really was Ithaca he came from. Some believe to have evidence that Lefkas was his home island. Others that it was Kefalonia.
A little history
The location of the islands on the major trade routes has at times given them an important commercial and military strategic position. Thereby, they have been influenced by several different cultures.
When the English defeated Napoleon in 1812, the islands became a British protectorate called The United States of Ionian Islands. Only when the Greeks in 1864 crowned the Danish prince Georg king did they become part of the Greece that had been formed just 43 years earlier.
In 1941 the islands were occupied by Italy and in 1943 by Nazi Germany when Mussolini's Italy collapsed. As early as 1944, the islands were liberated by the communist fraction of the Greek resistance movement. However, peace did not come until the Greek Civil War ended in 1949. Four years later, the archipelago was hit by a powerful earthquake, which particularly affected Kefalonia, Ithaca and Lefkas.
We are off again
A few days after Lars had gone home, we left Corfu again and headed for Lefkas. The trip can be sailed in 10-12 hours. But as the plan was to take it easy, we once again called at Gaios on the small island of Paxos, which is halfway.
Even now there were vacant berths at the town quay.
Shortly after we had moored, 6 young men on a charter boat scouted towards the vacant berth next to us. The skipper gave short commands in a friendly and subdued tone. The anchor was laid a good distance out in the basin. A few meters from the quay it was set, after which the large catamaran, well supplied with fenders, was maneuvered safely into our starboard side.
"OK, the skipper knows what he's doing, but this is a good bye to this nights sleep."
But the young men disappointted our prejudices. After the perfect maneuver, they talked in low voices to each other, fished from the bow, went to bed early, and helped us fill up the water tank the next morning.
Another guest boat - a large privately owned English motor yacht - challenged the same prejudices some berths further away. When bars and restaurants closed at 24, started a party on the giant boat.
“I wanna´ party” a female voice kept screaming, while a loud music thumped out of super powerfull loud speakers until late at night.
When we left Gaios in the morning, it was quiet on the big motor yacht. Lots of bottles, glasses and filled ashtrays on the large aft deck testified that the woman had had her wish fulfilled.
We resisted the temptation to send the partying Englishmen a farewell salute with our powerful fog horns and left in silence the now quiet and idyllic town quay.
Lefkas, Lefkada, Leukas or Santa Maura. The island has had many names after the Corinthians colonized it in 700 BC. Fifty years later, Lefkas became an island when the Corinthians dug a canal connecting the two areas of the Ionian Sea. The ancient canal can still be sensed when sailing on today's, which is 4 nautical miles long, 5-6 m deep and well marked with green and red nautical marks.
At the northern end is a swing bridge. It opens to sailors every full hour. We motored and had adjusted the speed according to the estimated time of arrival. That was why it did not take long before a loud siren warned motorists that the bridge would be opened. A queue of cars built up on both sides of the bridge, which turned, opening into the canal.
"Northbound gives way to southbound" it said in Rod and Lucinda Heikell's pilot book. That was undoubtedly true, but it did not matter much. The opening was wide enough for the two rows of yachts on the opposite course to pass at the same time.
“We are in Lefkas now. Shall we meet somewhere? ” we wrote on Messenger to the three boats that had spent the winter in the same yard as Heron.
"Let's meet in Abelake Bay on Meganisi," replied one.
Shortly after, we left Lefkas.
When we had sailed through the flat marshland and got out into the narrow sea, the water got the dark blue color that is so special to the Mediterranean. To both sides were high mountains and right in front was the small island of Meganisi.
In front across our starboard side was an even smaller island - Skorpios.
This was where the wedding between Aristotle Onassis and Jacqueline Kennedy had been held.
The unexpected marriage between the odd couple was far from harmonious. During one of its dramatic highlights, Scorpios once again became world famous. With the help of Onassis, 10 paparazzi's managed to get so close to the island that they could photograph the former first lady of the United States while she bathed naked from her refuge on the south side of the island.
The photos went around the world and once again put the small island on the world map for the astonished public.
There have been rumors that other billionaires - specifically Giorgio Armani, Bill Gates and Madonna - have shown interest in buying Skorpios, which is today owned by Onassis`s only grandchild.
But a few years ago, Skorpios was rented by the the Russian oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev. He or rather his 24-year-old daughter has plans to turn the small island into a luxury resort. However, the plan has not yet been implemented because the Greek State considers the agreement to be illegal. According to will of Aristoteles Onassis, the island is to be handed over to Olympic Airways or the Greek State if the Onassis family does not have the means to maintain the operation of the Island.
Incidentally, the Russian oligarch is believed to have paid 150 million dollars to rent Skorpios for 99 years. Onassis bought it for a only eleven thousand dollars.
But that was in 1963 and a few years before the tourism industry started to influence Greece.
Scorpios is today guarded 24/7 by specially trained French and American security guards.
However, we did not meet them. Unlike the 10 paparazzi, we kept a proper distance to Scorpios as we got it across our course towards Abelake Bay on Meganisi.
To lay an anchor
There are 17 anchorages on Meganisi's 25 nautical mile coastline. Abelake Bay, which we reached just after noon, is one of them.
We sailed all the way to the bottom of the bay and found a good anchorage a few hundred meters from the bay's two taverns.
We laid the anchor close behind a Danish boat. When it had reached the bottom of the 4 meter deep water, we put the engine in reverse gear and loosened the anchor winch so the anchor chain slid out while reversing. When the 25 meter anchor chain had been laid out, we locked the anchor winch. The anchor was now pulled across the bottom and plowed its way into the heavy sand. The anchor chain became tight. Heron stopped moving and remained in the same position even when we gave the engine almost full throttle. Then we unlocked the anchor winch and laid out another 5 meter chain.
"Good. Now we can sway without bouncing into each other, ”explained the skipper of the Danish boat, who had advised us to drop the anchor behind their boat and use the same length of anchor chain as them.
We put on snorkel masks, jumped into the crystal clear cool water, swam along the anchor chain to the anchor and could see for ourselves that it had settled solidly in the light bottom.
… The night's sleep was guaranteed
Where good people are
On the trip from Denmark to Greece we had met a number of Swedish and Norwegian boats, but only a few Danish.
In Greece, it was just the opposite.
In Abelake Bay alone, there were 5 other Danish boats.
In the evening we rowed the few hundred meters ashore, moored the dinghy and went up to Minas - one of the two taverns located at the bottom of the bay.
Here, the skipper of one of the Danish boats had booked a table for a 'Danish evening', in which all 6 Danish boats participated.
It felt good to be in a community we could relate to and somewhere reassuring to hear about other people's challenges on their long journey from Denmark to Greece.
Some had reached the Mediterranean by sailing 'around'. That is, the route had passed through the English Channel, across the Biscay and south along Spain and Portugal to Gibraltar. Others had - like us - sailed on Europe's rivers and canals and had reached the Mediterranean just west of Marseilles.
Some had made the trip in a short time. Others - like us - had taken their time.
Some - like us - liked to be in a marina. Others loathed it and had not spent as much as a cent on marina fees.
Some had already planned the trip home when they had sailed from Denmark. Others - like us - would stay in Greece, at least next year, when we hoped the Corna virus would be under control.
After a few hours, the party broke up - almost as fast as it was assembled. We found the dinghy in the dark and rowed in pitch-blowing darkness out to Heron, whose brightly flashing light we could easily find among the many white solid anchor lights.
The next day, most of the Danish boats left the bay. We spent another day at anchor, swam in the crystal clear water, rowed ashore in the dinghy and tried to get used to life at anchor.
The next day we also left the bay and sailed over to Syvota on the southeast side of Lefkas. Distances between the islands in the southern part of the Ionian Islands are short. After a couple of hours we sailed through a narrow passage and out into a bay surrounded by mountains and which - according to one of our pilot books - was the best protected bay on Lefkas. Here were cafes, taverns, bars, shops, WiFi and mini markets. Several of the taverns had their own guest pontoon with mooring lines, water, electricity and access to toilet, shower and washing machines. It was free to moore atthe pontoon, but "it is expected that you have your dinner at our tavern" as it was discreetly expressed on q sign on the pontoons.
We liked Syvota.
In the morning we saw the busy charter boats rig up and set off on the next day's trip. During the day we went for a walk, shopped, swam from the beach and had coffee at one of the cafes. In the afternoon, the first guest boats entered the now half-empty bay. Some anchored resolutely in the middle of the bay. Others looked around and were then waved into one of the pontoons by a waiter eager to get customers into the store. When it got dark, we had dinner at a taverna and watched the quiet buzzing life of the small community, which was clearly kept going by tourists.
After a few days we left Syvota and after a short time reached Dessimini Bay. We jumped into the cooling water, swam and relaxed on Heron while looking at the caves to one side and the fashionable houses on the olive groves overgrown mountain slopes on the other.
Late in the afternoon we sailed to Nidri, located on Lefkas a little further north of Syvota.
“North East is rare and no good” explained the harbor master as we had moored at his pontoon and he added “Tighten up the lazy line and get further out. It may get rough ”
And the harbor master was right. It got rough when the wind picked up from the northeast during the night. But Heron was well moored and the only thing the northeast wind ruined was our night's sleep.
The next day we provisoned in Nidri and then sailed back to Meganisi. Here we had booked a berth in Karnagio, located in a bay five minutes walk from the small town of Vahti.
It was wonderful here. Peaceful and quiet. A small pontoon that in its tenth year was run by a family that also ran the only taverna in the small bay. Three to four meters of crystal clear water, which we entered from the small beach, which lay in cooling shade from early afternoon.
Great to get a good night's sleep after having been kept awake in Nidri by the northeasterly wind.
The next morning, we studied the weather forecast as usual
For some time, a hurricane, or medicane as it is called in the Mediterranean, had been building up off Tunis.
The weather services predicted that Ianos, as the medicane had been named, would move east. But there was disagreement about its route. Most believed Ianos would pass over the southern Pelopones, which was at a comfortable distance from us.
During the night, all the weather services finally agreed.
Now there was no doubt.
The medicane would pass over the southern Ionian Islands.
Ianos had changed its course and would reach us within 36 hours.
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