Flash, Bang: Welcome to the Ionian


It was an uneventful journey from Montenegro to Corfu. We managed about 30nm of sailing, the rest of the journey the winds were far too light to push Emerald along. We spent one night at sea where green was the theme – the sun gave us it’s green flash and the almost full moon had a pale green cast to it, bathing the sea in a strange glow. The dew set in and attached itself to the raised mainsail which meant that whenever the sail flapped it sent the dew down on to us like a gentle rain. We saw barely any other ships which added to a feeling of being all alone on the flat, strange coloured sea.

We arrived at Corfu an hour later than we’d hoped to as the sun disappeared behind the hills leaving us in darkness as we approached the anchorage outside Gouvia. We’d often wondered why superyachts need so many lights on their spreaders; well now we knew – a large sailing boat lit up like a Christmas tree providing us with a target to anchor against. We had a good sleep and when we woke in the morning we saw we were quite some way out of the anchorage so moved ourselves closer in.

Check-in went smoothly (cost was €15) and we soon had the required stamps using last year’s DEKPA which was carried out by a friendly lady in the port police office at Gouvia marina.

During our time in Croatia we’d been spared from any draggers but that was all to change now we’d arrived in Greece. Our second day in Corfu brought thunderstorms rumbling around and the evening had a sting in its tail – a 20kt wind from the south meant we were now turned onto a lee shore. Rolling waves were breaking off the bow and Emerald snatched viciously at her anchor. We held but at least 5 other boats around us began to drag as darkness set in. After two hours of bouncing around the wind switched off and those of us left in the anchorage were able to relax.

Igoumenitsa

The goats of Igoumenitsa

The goats of Igoumenitsa

After that night we decided we wanted somewhere a bit more sheltered so headed off the next day for Igoumenitsa Creek on the mainland. And that evening we had a wonderful surprise – our friends Simon and Katie arrived in the anchorage too. Cue two days of sore heads whilst we caught up!

Unfortunately we weren’t safe from the draggers here either with a charter boat getting just a fenders width off our bow before they got themselves sorted out. And where did they go and re-anchor? Directly back up wind of us! Arghhhhh! These are the kinds of people that really spoil the Ionian for me.

A busy Igoumenitsa. Spot the charter boat directly upwind of us!

A busy Igoumenitsa. Spot the charter boat directly upwind of us!

Two Rock Bay

We had a very uncomfortable night at Two Rock as the wake from ships heading to and from the Corfu Channel rolled in on a flat calm sea. It was a shame as the bay was beautiful and we’d have liked to have spent more time there but decided not to risk another night of no sleep.

We had a cracking sail on down to the Lefkas Canal, only to then be held up for an hour as the bridge decided not to open at 3pm. We later found out that this is a regular occurrence so why are they advertising that they open hourly? At least we were able to make use of the newly built waiting quay as the side on wind that had built up would have made waiting on anchor uncomfortable.

At 4pm we passed through the swing bridge and made our way on down the channel. We even managed a slow sail on down to the entrance at Nidri before anchoring in our favourite corner of Vlicho.

Vlicho

The Vlicho Velcro lived up to it’s name as we ended up there for two weeks. We spent many an hour scouring the chandlers of Nidri and Lefkas for the long list of replacement parts we needed followed by numerous hours fitting the new parts. Emerald now has a new raw water filter on the engine to replace the cracked one which was pulling in air, I made urgent sewing repairs to the bimini to prevent the zip that secures it around it’s frame from falling off, the blocked shower sump pump was unblocked and we have a new tricolour to replace our broken again (expletive!) Lopolight.

But it wasn’t all hard work with plenty of parties as we caught up with lots of friends from MdR, revisited the places we loved from our time there last year and had a couple of days enjoying the delights of the Iris pontoon.

Storms seemed to be the order of the season as they caught us in Vlicho too. We were woken Wednesday morning at 5am by distant rumbles of thunder and through the hatch above our heads the flash of lightning was regularly brightening the sky. We counted the gaps between flash and bang. It was getting closer…. Then all of a sudden the storm was right on top of us. Torrential rain was lashing the decks and the wind howled through the rigging. We threw on clothes, ran around closing hatches and portholes, grabbed rain coats and got the engine going in tickover in case the anchor gave. Colin got drenched in the cockpit as we hadn’t put the sides on whilst I kept my sleep starved eyes glued to the GPS looking for any sudden changes in our position that would indicate the anchor had dragged. It was impossible to see much outside – even when the frequent lightning flashed the rain was so heavy we could barely see the boats anchored next to us. A squall of over 50kts hit the bay, the most we have ever experienced at anchor. I began to gather up things that had migrated out of our grab bag, just in case the worst happened.

In these situations I think it is the fear of the unknown that is so terrifying. We do everything we can to make Emerald safe with extra anchor chain down but you just can’t predict what might happen. Lightning that could strike our mast or even just the water close to us and do untold damage and we fear other boats that could drag and pick up our anchor chain. At least having the engine in tickover meant that if we saw a boat heading towards us we would have a chance to get out of the way.

After an hour or so being on tenterhooks the storm finally felt like it was moving away. Dawn was just breaking and with nerves shredded we were too wired to head back to bed. As daylight took hold we surveyed the anchorage for our friends’ boats to make sure they were still there. We spotted some damaged boats – a few moved out of position, one with a shredded genoa sail and sadly our friends with a damaged engine.

Ithaca

Crazy Horse and Emerald all alone at Vathi

Crazy Horse and Emerald all alone at Vathi

The storms didn’t end there. After a few calm days we headed on down to Vathi on Ithaca, where they rumbled around us on our second day there. On our first day we headed out to repeat a walk we’d done last year to the Cave of the Nymphs. We’d had to hurry back that first time as thunder rumbled overhead so this year we hoped for a more leisurely wander.

The slog uphill seemed much easier second time around, maybe because we’d kept much more active this sailing season. We found a new gate across the cave so we couldn’t sneak in and where there had been a ticket office was now a recently cleared and levelled patch of land. We headed on up the path with the sky looking decidedly black above us.

The sky looking a little ominous for our walk

The sky looking a little ominous for our walk

No thunderstorms but this time we got the rain: a fine, drizzly type not seen since last we were in Cornwall! Making our way quickly between sheltering trees we arrived at the picnic bench with roof we remembered and settled down to enjoy our cheese pie lunch in the dry.

The clouds passed over so we could continue on our way to Paleochora where the rains returned whilst we relaxed with an end of walk drink. Another gap had us making a run for it down the hill but we caught up the cloud and had to shelter under the awning of a post office. The rain cleared and after that, no more rain all day.

Building up a cairn along the walk

Building up a cairn along the walk

Zachinthos

A sunbathing terrapin

A sunbathing terrapin

A long motor on down to new territory for us – the island of Zachinthos. First stop was an anchorage at the top end for the night then on round to Keri. Unfavourable weather forecasts scuppered a longer stay at the island meaning we had to give up plans for scooter rides and canoe trips to find turtles. There are times when this cruising life is really frustrating. We did manage a walk ashore and spotted lots of terrapins enjoying a sunbath in a stream. We had to sneak up on them so that they didn’t hear us and disappear with a plop under the water. And we saw one turtle as we left the little harbour in Crazy Horse. Hopefully we will return on our outward leg to finish off the adventures.

Emerald anchored off Keri

Emerald anchored off Keri

Sailing Information

20th August 2016: Montenegro to Gouvia, Corfu, 193nm (sailed 33nm)
Anchored in 10m in position 39 39.64’N 19 51.35’E

24th August: Gouvia to Igoumenitsa Creek, 18nm
Anchored in 5m in mud in position 39 31.284’N 20 11.052’E

26th August: Igoumenitsa to Two Rock Bay, 29nm
Anchored in 5m in sand in position 39 12.63’N 20 29.497’E

27th August: Two Rock to Vlicho: 36nm (19nm sailed)
Anchored in 6m in mud in position 38 41.397’N 20 42.184’E

10th September: Vlicho to Vathi, Ithaka, 22nm
Anchored in 10m in mud in position 38 22.239’N 20 43.005.E

13th September: Vathi to Ak. Katastari, Zachinthos, 35nm
Anchored in 9m in sand in position 37 52.823’N 20 43.628’E

14th September: Ak. Katastari to Keri, 24nm
Anchored in 7m in sand in position 37 40.998’N 20 50.336’E

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