Sunday, September 28, 2014

On Passage

I’ve spent the last couple of weeks aboard a 45-foot Grand Soleil, a rather lovely yacht belonging to friends who were happy to have a slightly rusty crewmember to help with the usual hand-to-hand stuff in harbours and anchorages.

I started my Ionian odyssey in Corfu, where I was picked up by dinghy from a waterside café on the other side of the bay from Corfu Old Town. This was the last time dry land would feel steady under my feet for two weeks.

We sailed for the lovely little anchorage at Stefanos to the north of the island, and then set out for Kassiopi, but when the thunder and lightning started we decided that being the tallest object in the middle of a large area of water, coupled with having a mast reaching temptingly into the sky was a Bad Plan, and we returned to Stefanos with 45 knots of wind behind us. Still, at least the rain was warm …

I can never get over the number of feral cats in the Greek islands. This old boy was sunbathing on his own private dumpster. I know there are rumours that the locals only tolerate the local feline population during the tourist season and then do away with them over the winter, but if so this feller was wily enough to avoid the cull. Either that or he was the equivalent of a teenager who’d been living a very hard life.

What did surprise me since I was last on Corfu around fifteen years ago was the number of beautiful villas – obvious relatively new builds – which adorn the hills above Stefanos. There are clearly plenty of people on the islands for whom the recession is little more than a newspaper item.

At last, a calm and peaceful sunrise over the mainland of Greece and nearby Albania. We had to steer a very careful course to avoid straying into Albanian waters. Another surprising aspect of this visit was the increased size of the charter yachts we saw. No longer, it seems are people content to cruise around on 30-odd-foot yachts. They want 50-footers at the very least. It made for some comical boat-handling fails.

Having had too much wind, we then had not enough, and mainly motored down to the island of Paxos without enough to shake loose those flappy white things attached to the stick in the middle. (Don’t you hate it when I get all technical?)

Having gone through the Lefkas Canal and spent the night on a mooring off Ligia on Lefkada, we then headed further south to Nydri. There’s something about the quality of sunlight on water I’ll never tire of.

We sailed from Nydri down to Kioni on the island of Ithaca. This is the skipper, Bill, in his best sailing hat. Use of winch handle was choice rather than necessity, as just about every yacht has electric winches these days. Still, it saves the ship’s batteries.

The Grand Soleil is a racer/cruiser and goes remarkably well even in light airs, so the reefed main was a precaution against sudden squalls, which can easily knock you flat. We saw several boats way over-canvased and I wonder how many people scared themselves silly in such apparently friendly waters.

There is a faded beauty about many of the old buildings in Greece that begs to be photographed. This one on the quayside in Kioni was one such example. The detail on the edges of the roof tiles was wonderful, and people in cities pay a fortune to achieve that weathered paint look on the shutters.

One of my favourite anchorages was Port Leone on Kalamos, with its fabulous old olive trees. From this angle I could almost kid myself that we were the only boat there, but sadly it was a popular spot for yachties. The total absence of shore lighting meant that evening we could see every star in the sky, including a couple of shooting ones. (No surprise that I’d be a fan of shooting stars, is it?)

Port Leone has been abandoned since the earthquake of 1953, which damaged the village’s water supply. Apparently fearful of the same thing happening again, the villagers moved out. Only the church is still maintained and used on a regular basis, accessed either from the water or by rough road from further along the coastline.

Vathy on Ithaca – known apparently as Big Vathy because there’s also a Little Vathi on the island of Meganisi – presented a pretty harbour frontage. Used to sailing around the UK, where the rise and fall of the tide can leave a boat strung up on a harbour wall with six feet of air under the keel at low tide, I still can’t get over how low the quays are here. (I particularly liked this pretty little ketch we saw anchored in Vathy. A nice change from the plastic fantastics that were otherwise abundant.)

Gaios, on the eastern side of Paxos, is not the easiest harbour to enter, but it’s one of those most filled with character, and dotted with narrow little alleyways like this one, and – as with everywhere else in the islands – filled with scooters. I suggested to my hosts that we should set up a business supplying silencers for motorcycles, because none of the ones we encountered seemed to have one. Bill squashed that idea by pointing out that the first thing they do is take the silencer off and throw it away …)

Another point that struck me during this trip was the increased number of catamarans I saw. I was brought up sailing cats, and I confess that’s where my heart lies. Another advantage when it came to Gaios was that the cats could enter via the notoriously shallow southern entrance, where the monohulls fear to tread.

Speaking of cats, here’s another old lag, sunning himself on a wall in Gaios. There’s something about un-neutered tomcats that gives them all this particular expression. I think I can probably work out what that is without anybody drawing me a diagram!

People look at me with some scepticism when I say this trip to Greece was as much work as holiday – and to be honest, with all the crap that’s come my way this year I really needed the break. But I also went to shake free old sailing memories stored away in the dusty corners of my mind and to glean information. In fact, I’ve come back with a bulging notebook, and several definite plot ideas fermenting nicely in the vats.

This week’s Word of the Week is viduifical, meaning widow-making. Dates from the early 1700s. Sometimes applied to golf, or even to sailing …


  1. Beautiful photos and thoughts on a sea I've rarely visited. I stay more on the Aegean side, but you're inspiring me to change my ways.

    BTW, did you notice how I resisted fixing (so to speak) on the tomcat reference? I figured EvKA would raise it.

    1. Hi Jeff. You ought to come over to the Ionian side -- we have cookies!

      And yes, I did notice, and thought you were being very restrained. :)

  2. Zoë: Thanks, beautiful trip and beautiful post! Question: is it better to be a shooting star than a falling star? As for 'viduifical', once you gave the definition, I can see the derivation. Similar to 'vine' and 'wine' and 'vinyard' and 'winery,' another of those words where the usage of 'v' and 'w' got mixed up somewhere along the line. Replace the 'v' with 'w' and 'widuifical', of course, means a widow-maker.

    Jeff: Are you impishly implying something? If so, you should know that I have claws that are quite capable of slicing and dicing and performing another one of those 'v' words.

    1. If it's all the same to you Evka, I prefer to remain neutral on the subject as opposed it comes, the big fully-expected-not-to-disappoint-finish...neutered.

    2. Thanks Everett. Hmm, think I'd rather shoot for the stars and fall trying rather than never try at all. Or am I mangling my metaphors?

      LOL on the 'widuifical'. If you're looking for interesting 'v' words, how about:

      venialia -- minor sins or offences
      viliorate -- to make worse
      volgivagant -- pertaining to the common people
      vultuous -- having a solemn countenance
      venustation -- causing to become beautiful
      veteratorian -- crafty
      vappous -- insipid
      vicambulate -- to walk about in the streets
      And finally:
      vinitorian -- to do with the tending of vines

    3. I knew I could rely on you, Jeff!

  3. How beautiful, Zoe. And how wonderful that you had such a great trip and such a wonderful research experience rolled into one.