To our Winter Home Across the Ionian Sea

We’re now in our winter home and settling in to winter chores and exploring the area. Our time in the Ionian took us from Messolonghi for an overnight stop on Ithaka then on to Vlicho. We decided to make a single passage across to our winter home in Italy rather than shorter hops via Corfu and the north Ionian. We were getting to the point where we wanted to be in and single hit was the quickest way, but it wasn’t much fun. The Ionian Sea does not like us and to be honest the feeling is mutual. But more onto that later……

Our track through the Ionian

Our concern on arriving at Messalonghi had been the batteries and whether we could eke out life from the remaining four of our bank of six until we got to Italy. We had tested each battery with a hygrometer which helped us identify the bad battery – just one of the three cells was giving a bad reading but it was enough to cause the whole unit to fail. The failed battery had created a lot of heat which had conducted to it’s neighbours and the middle two had been gently bubbling during the afternoon; not what we wanted to hear as we couldn’t be sure if they were on the verge of failure too. By the next morning we were relieved to find all the batteries had cooled, we had sufficient voltage and there were no longer any ominous noises coming from them.

Thick Messolonghi mud

We joined a line of boats motoring out down the Messalonghi channel – a fleet of charter boats heading SW and a handful like us heading west. Once out of the channel we tried to sail, but the wind angle wasn’t the best for us and we barely managed 3kts. With 40nm to go we gave up and on went the engine.

Busy Ithaka

Turning the corner at Nisas Oxia we could see the Ionian Inland Sea lying ahead of us, flat as a pancake and it’s islands rising out of the haze towards a cloudless, blue sky. We had a go at fishing – no surprise that we didn’t catch anything.

We were surprised to find Big Vathi on Ithaka busy. Five boats were in our usual spot around the corner from the fuel station, so we headed over to our second choice behind the little island. We had the anchorage all to ourselves which surprised us as the next morning we counted 70 boats in the various mooring options along the walls or at anchor with some having left already. If it was this busy at the end of the season, what must it have been like in the summer?

On our way to Vlicho

Keen to get on we motored on up to Lefkas Island and our familiar spot off Maria’s yard in Vlicho Bay. On the way we had another go at fishing – this time we did catch something but it took the end off of our lure and was gone!

Farewell to Greece

We had a few errands to run as well as visiting some of our favourite places from our time here the past two seasons including our annual pilgrimage to Bill’s Bar (link to favourite little boozer). Plus making the most of our favourite Greek foods like gyros and moussaka. Strong winds kept us aboard for one day then released us for a farewell to Greece dinner at Elena’s and joining in the end of season party at the Tree Bar. We shared the day with friends from our winters in Ragusa which made it extra fun.

Not much water at the Nidri waterfalls

To Our Winter Home

With the winds blown through we waited a day for the swell and our hangovers to die down before setting off on our longest passage of the season across to our winter home. It seems we hadn’t waited long enough as the swell was still annoying there and what wind there was wasn’t enough to keep the sails full in the roll. Better some hours on the engine that a ripped sail.

Farewell Greece

Heading into the west

Our last contact with internet showed us a thunderstorm had bubbled up in the Ionion, but it was far over the other side. As darkness fell flashes lit up the far horizon. As I began my watch I calmed my worries by looking up and seeing stars above us, if I could see stars then there could be no storm nearby. The moon had risen by midnight casting a muted white light over the sea as it intermittently hid behind wispy high level cloud. Some wind arrived early morning and we sailed for a few hours; it was much easier to sleep without the rumble of the engine.

My off watch ended abruptly with the arrival of a storm and accompanying squall. I threw on what clothes were quickly available and with rain pouring down we got the genny away and a second reef in the main. Even under the bimini I was soaked with rivulets of water trickling down my legs and into my boots. Once the boat was safe I changed into dry clothes and oilies and Colin went off watch.

Thankfully the storm had passed but it had left a churned up sea in it’s wake. The moon created an ethereal atmosphere as we ploughed on through the damp air and a lack of sleep had me jumping at shadows. It was a long three hours. I usually have the pleasure of seeing sunrise on this watch but now that we were well into autumn, all I saw was a faint hint of grey on the eastern horizon.

After a few hours of welcome sleep I emerged to a bright morning. Fluffy clouds were bubbling to the NW, some with the potential to become thundery. The Ionian does not like us! (link to previous crossing). The sea had thankfully lots it’s churn but there was still a rolling swell from the north. Not much wind so we motored onwards, but by mid afternoon we had 12 knots on the aft quarter. Still not enough to prevent the genny flogging in the roll so we went for the main held steady on the preventer. It was slow but our calculations had us arriving mid morning to Roccella which had been our plan.

By late afternoon those fluffy clouds had reached their potential and the setting sun dramatically outlined dark curtains of falling rain. And oh – is that a funnel cloud? It was far ahead of us but we could see it had touched down to the water. Were we in for another over-exciting night?

Heading for a funnel cloud!!!

The setting sun behind the rain clouds makes for a dramatic sight

For once our luck was in and the storms gave us a wide berth. Unfortunately the sea chopped up again and I was seasick for the first time in years. Proper head over the side chundering. This passage had skipped any fun and gone straight on to miserable endurance. This watch dragged on even longer than last night’s – even watching the sparkly phosphorescence in the waves couldn’t lift my spirits as I willed my insides to settle. There was a lot of self pity swirling around that night. However I slept very well when my off watch finally arrived and three hours later I emerged feeling much restored. We decided to motor-sail as our sailing speed had dropped so much we wouldn’t be in until the afternoon. We really, really just wanted to be in now.

My next watch passed boringly but without incident or storm and lights ashore sharpened from faint glows to orange pinpricks. Emerging after a couple of hours sleep, land was clearly visible and the seas had eased to a long, low roll; combined with a blue sky and warm sun on our faces it went a long way to smoothing off the rough edges of the bad night.

Land ahoy!

We made contact with the marina who advised us to stick to the middle at the entrance, we had 3.5m of water all the way through. Our friends and the marineros were there to take our lines and relief fuelled our bodies that we were in. Amazingly we even managed to stay awake until nearly midnight that night as our friends cooked us a welcome dinner.

And sleep……

Except bodies are strange. Italy is one hour behind Greece so our usual waking up time of 8am was now 7am. Despite two nights of reduced sleep and stress we were awake just after 7am. Argh! It took nearly a week before we’d left the ‘jetlag’ behind and slept on past 8am.

First Impressions of Roccella Ionica

Our first impressions are favourable. The scenery around the marina is very attractive with a soft sandy beach curving away to the north and south and mountains rising up in the background. The sunset along the ridge line to the SW with the town’s castle in the foreground is stunning.

Roccella Ionica castle

The marina staff are the friendliest and most helpful we’ve met and on our first full day we had had gas delivered to us and appointments made for Colin to visit a dentist to fix a broken tooth. There is a toilet block, showers with a wash and dryer machine and a clubhouse for our use.

A few days after our arrival there was the Sunday BBQ, a good opportunity to meet the other residents of the marina. There was a good crowd and even with some of them going away for the winter there will still be between 10 and 15 boats staying most of the time.

On Saturday morning there is a market in the next town along; a 20 minute cycle and another chance for socialising as we meet for a coffee and beer after the shopping is done.

The town of Roccella is a 1.7 mile walk or bicycle away with buses and trains running along the coast to provide some exploring opportunities. It’s a working town and has enough bars and resturants to provide variety and several supermarkets to keep us fed. And many pizza restaurants to try out too!

Sailing Info

3rd October : Messalonghi to Vathi, Ithaka – 40nm (3nm sailed)
Anchored behind the little island in 6.5m in position 38 22.062’N 20 42.703’E

4th October: Vathi to Vlicho, Lefkas – 22nm
Anchored in 6m in positon 38 41.386’N 20 42.113’E

10th October to the 12th October: Greece to Roccella Ionica, Italy – 212nm (51nm sailed)
Porto Della Grazie 38 19.72’N 16 26.2’E