New Adventures and Old Favorites

Every year, Dan and I try to expand and deepen our sailing skills. Last year, doing an overnight passage was high on his list (yes, I said his list). I had agreed since this was the only way we would be able to visit more far flung countries and break free from our coastal cruising up and down from Northern Italy, Croatia, Montenegro, Albania, and Greece…..and then back again. To be perfectly honest, I’m pretty sure I would be more than content to do this for many years to come 🙂 Somehow, I managed to drag my heels through the season (in my defense, we were now regularly making 10 hour passages….just not overnight and in the dark), and we closed the books on 2019 without sailing overnight.

Despite our very late start to the 2020 season, we got busy honing our anchoring skills beginning day 1 on the water. We were also making long passages further and further south. Our goal was to circumnavigate the Péloponnèse peninsula and come through the Corinth Canal. When we reached Navarino Bay(our furthest point south on the western side), it was time to make some decisions. We monitor 5 or 6 weather forecasts on a daily basis in order to determine our best time to sail as well as where our safest place to anchor will be. Unfortunately, the eastern side of the peninsula was frequently showing wicked wind conditions, and we were regularly picking up transmissions calling for gale force winds. We finally looked at each other and asked ourselves “why?” Why beat ourselves up trying to make this happen when we would be here again next season (and hopefully much earlier in the season), and we could make the circumnavigation then. We both agreed to finish out our exploration of Navarino bay and start making our way back north.

Heading north meant we would be going against the prevailing winds which means a rough ride as you beat into the wind and waves. We decided (more like Dan convinced me) that doing a night passage would make for a much more pleasant cruise north as the winds tend to die off once the sun sets. The winds had been up the previous few days which meant the seas would likely be a little rougher than normal, at least in the beginning. The forecast was calling for little wind and fairly small swell, so we decided it was time. We decided to leave about an hour before sunset in order to leave the bay and get ourselves set on course with a little bit of light. This meant an 8:30 p.m. departure. We talked through our plan….up together for the first few hours, and then I would take the first 3 hour shift. From there, we would switch off every 3 hours while the other got some sleep and then do the last hour into the anchorage together. All in all, this was going to be about a 12 hour journey.

Our overnight passage from the Peloponnese to Zakinthos

Anchor was hoisted, and we were underway at 8:00 p.m…..excited and nervous at the same time. As we came around the point of Navarino Bay, we were slammed by big swells right on the nose. This meant that the bow of our boat plunged down deep into the trough of the wave, sending spray up over us, before we rocketed up the next crest of a wave. Some might find this fun….I found it utterly terrifying. I know this boat is capable of handling far worse conditions, but my brain refuses to accept it and couldn’t help envisioning us catapulting in a giant forward somersault. Dan, of course, was whooping like a little boy on a bucking bronco. Together we thrashed through this mess, watching the sun set on the horizon, before darkness finally enveloped us. At around 11:00 p.m., Dan headed below deck to catch some sleep while I took over. All alone, in the middle of the sea, in the pitch black, in the still pitching seas…..yep, not a happy camper. You might be asking….why did you choose to go out in such rough seas? Well, as is frequently the case out here, we were only suppose to have 1-2 foot seas…HA! Yeah right!

Rounding the peninsula at the entrance to Navarino as the sun is setting

I spent the next 3 1/2 hours doing my watch. Despite the bucking bronco ride, I did eventually settle into a groove, and my fear began to lessen. Unfortunately, moonrise was not until 2:45 a.m., so I didn’t have the light of the moon to help brighten my way. The other challenge was the navigation instruments (despite being turned to their lowest light setting) messed with my vision, so I had to stand up and over top of them to keep them out of my line of sight unless I needed to see something specific. It was really hard to tell the difference between a random light on land or an approaching boat (more unease). It wasn’t all horrible though. I did get to watch the Neowise comet for much of my watch, and the Milky Way was huge and bright overhead. At 2:30 a.m., Dan came up and relieved me of my watch. I tried to get some sleep down below, but the sea was still throwing up some occasional big swells. Down in the hull, the crashing sound is amplified and sounds like the boat is going to blow apart. Needless to say, I didn’t get much sleep (I expected as much since sleep seems to elude me these days).

At 5:30 a.m., I called it a night and got up to make us some coffee. The seas had finally calmed down and dawn was approaching. So, together we enjoyed the final few hours of our journey watching the sun come up over the horizon. As we pulled into the bay on the island of Zakinthos, we celebrated our first overnight passage. Once our anchor was securely set, we both collapsed below deck for a few hours of much needed sleep.

Blissful sunrise at sea!

We spent the next 5 nights anchored in the bay of Keri. The first spot we chose (in our sleep deprived haze) was off a popular beach resort area. We were fairly close to this awesome little island that had been turned into a beach bar. There was a foot bridge over the water to the island which had beach chairs, umbrellas, a bar and swimming. What caught your eye the most was the huge, white sheets strung out over the island that billowed in the wind. While it was beautiful to see, we soon discovered that we were in the middle of a constant flow of tour boats and rented motor boats buzzing around ALL day long….ugh. The next morning we moved to a quieter part of the bay (close to where we had anchored last time we were here). After swimming our anchor, I was very disappointed to only see the top third of it buried into the sand despite backing down on it fairly hard. We decided to enjoy our morning swim and then re-anchor. This bay has restricted areas for the protection of the sea turtle hatcheries. From time to time, we would be gifted with a sea turtle cruising by or popping his head up for a breath of air. We decided to move ourselves a little further down the anchorage to a beautiful area backdropped by sandstone cliffs. Here, we dug in nice and deep.

Beach bar island from our anchor spot.
Sandstone cliffs from our next anchor spot in a quieter part of the bay
Sea turtle ducking under our boat in the glow of our underwater lights

The next day, we dinghied over to the island of Marathonisi. It was a short ride to this uninhabited island that sits in the center of the entrance to the bay. Much of the island is roped off to protect the sea turtle eggs, but many tours and rental boats flock her to snorkel in the beautiful waters and explore the caves. We tried to arrive a little early in the hopes of beating the crowds. We beached our dinghy and immediately hit the water for a snorkel/swim workout around the island. While we did go into some really cool open caves, we were not graced with the presence of any sea turtles. By the time we returned to our dinghy, the beach was loaded with boats and people 🙁 Time to go! So back to Zoe, we went.

Marathonisi beach. The boat with the flags in the background is a floating beach bar
Protected turtle egg nests. There was national park ranger in the hut in the background keeping an eye on things.
Caves of Marathonisi
We enjoyed swimming and exploring the caves. It was a bonus we had them to ourselves before the tour boats showed up later

The next day, we rented a car to do a little inland exploration of the island of Zakinthos. I have to say, this has probably been one of my favorite islands in the Ionian Sea. Our first stop was to the cliffs overlooking Shipwreck Bay. As you will recall, we had sailed into the bay to get an upfront look, but this time our view was from up above……WAY up above. To get the best view, you needed to bushwhack down this little trail along this peninsula that sat way above the sea below. When I first saw the goat path leading the end of the point, I had pretty much determined that I would not be enjoying the stellar view from out there. Well, I managed to suck it up, pull up my big girl panties, and trek out to the end. It was definitely worth the view. The colors of the sea were amazing! The views were spectacular despite leaving me a little queasy with vertigo. There were many warnings about staying clear of the edge of the cliff (not a problem for me…..I went deeper into bushwhacking to make sure I was nowhere near the edge). I did however come closer and peer over the edge…..ack.

Hiking the cliffs of Shipwreck bay
Breathtaking views
Dan getting his shot!
There are no guardrails and the trails are a bit slippery. We’re a bit surprised this place isn’t in the news from a hapless tourist getting to close to the edge and falling. It would be easy to do and there are hundreds of visitors a day…

After that hairball fun, we drove to the town of Zakinthos to explore the city center. It was definitely bustling with people (and VERY windy). We stopped at a Taverna called Dimitris where the owner extolled the greatness of several of his dishes. While not the first time we’ve heard this hustle, he was not kidding. I am in love with a dish called Lamb Kleftiko and order it frequently when I can find it. I have to say, his was hands down one of the best I’ve had in all of Greece. After a fabulous and filling lunch, we drove through the countryside and stopped at a local winery for some tasting. The grounds were lovely, and we purchased a couple of bottles to enjoy back on the boat. After driving the whole of the island, it was time to get back to the boat for the evening. Getting off the boat for some land based excursions always brings us such great joy (and helps ground us from our sea legs). The island of Zakinthos and the anchorage in Keri has been another of our favorite spots for beautiful swimming and lovely, countryside walks. We could easily see getting “stuck” here for a long time….but, it was time to continue our journey.

Klima Grampsis winery in the interior of the island. Great wines to taste in a beautiful setting.

The next day, we sailed (yes, we actually got to sail!) out of the bay on our way to the island of Cephalonia. Our destination was the town of Spartia. As we rounded the corner to the lee side of Zakinthos, the wind collapsed, and we were back to motoring. Once we passed the tip of Zakinthos island, we were in the open channel between it and Cephalonia. Now, we had blustery wind right on our nose. As we slogged up the channel at a whopping 3.5-4.5 knots under motor, I looked at Dan and said, “why are we doing this? If we divert to the town of Poros, we will be able to sail.” That is all it took. Before long, we were flying along at 8 knots under sail (and a much smoother ride). In the end, we shortened our trip by an hour and half! Unfortunately, when we arrived in the Poros anchorage, our favorite spot was taken! Boo! So we anchored a little further down the coastline and closer to some rock reefs. On the plus side, we spotted a turtle nearby and the swimming was great. On the downside, as evening approached, we were hit by a huge, unexplained swell that seemed intent on hitting us on the side. This went on for hours and well into the middle of the night. We’ve been on rough passages before, but this is the first time that things actually fell and crashed. NOT FUN! Incredibly different from our last stay here. This was a one and done. The next day we were underway again.

Our next stop was the anchorage of Spartia on Cephalonia, 3 hours away. The winds were extremely light, so it was another day of motoring 🙁 We chose the bigger side of the anchorage and chose our spot in front of some beautiful, sandstone cliffs. Once again, we were off on the outer fringes away from the swim areas and tavernas….which usually means fewer neighbors. I’m not anti-social….I’m socially distancing! This was another great spot in our books. We had amazing swimming with lots of rocky reefs to explore. On one of our swim outings, I rousted a ray from his hiding spot and later, a turtle joined us for a bit. It was incredible.

Zoe at anchor in the bay
We love anchoring in bays with these cliffs….
A turtle we came across while snorkeling in the bay. So cute!

After 2 days, it was time to continue our journey north. Our next stop was back to Poros. This time we were able to claim our favorite spot from the first time, tucked up behind a reef. Well, it wasn’t any better this time. By the time the sun went down, we were pitching violently for most of the night 🙁 Needless to say, we headed out the next day. Destination….the island of Kastos….another one of our favorites from last year. It was another blustery day with the wind in the right direction, so we were able to sail again. It wasn’t long, however, before we were reefing (making our sail smaller). The winds really picked up and the seas were getting rough. By the time we arrived in Kastos, our hearts fell. Both of our very favorite anchorages were jammed full of boats. Finding a spot for our big girl was nearly impossible and the winds were howling which added to the challenge. After setting the anchor and both of us feeling incredibly uncomfortable with our proximity to a reef in high winds, we decided to abort. Off to Vlikho Bay we went. We spent a lot of time in this bay last year despite the multitude of jelly fish, so we were really familiar with the holding and availability of space. By the time we arrived and dropped anchor, we had gone 45 miles and been out for 8 hours. We decided to settle in for a few days here and spend some time revisiting the town of Nydri (another place we love) and driving to some of our other favorites around the island (olive oil mill, winery, etc). Once again, our biggest challenge is going to be leaving here 🙂

Heading back to Zoe after dinner ashore.

Castles, Antiquities and a Palace

We have fallen in love with Navarino Bay on the Péloponnèse, as evidenced by our week long stay here! This is our third anchorage within this huge bay, and it’s been great. There are a few other boats here at anchor with us, but everyone has done a great job with keeping a respectable distance from one another. This tends to be a real rarity in Greece for some reason, and many seem to feel the need to anchor nice and close to everyone else. We chose our spot right outside the town of Pilos which is basically the city center of this bay. We really wanted to explore some of the inland sights here which meant renting a car and leaving the boat behind at anchor. Our anchor was dug in nice and deep, so we waited for a somewhat calm wind day and headed to shore.

Zoe’s 3 anchorages in Navarino bay, and our base for exploration of this part of the Greek Peloponnesian peninsula

As mentioned in our previous post, we had spent a day hiking up to Nestor’s Castle. Nestor was the legendary King of Pilos described in Homer’s “Odyssey.” Bet you want to go read it now, don’t you? Having already explored Nestor’s Castle, our first stop today was Nestor’s Palace, at least what was left of it. It is believed that the palace was abandoned after a fire around 1200 BC and later covered over, so it is one of the best preserved sites of a Mycenean palace. This was one of the more interesting archaeological sites that I have seen because they have built a catwalk structure over top of the entire site which allows you to look down on the ruins from above rather than from behind a rope or fence. All the artifacts that had been excavated from the palace had been moved to a museum (our next stop), so what we were looking at was the basic footprint of the palace itself. There was a remarkably preserved bathtub still on site. Not far from the palace was one of several tholos tombs to be discovered. I have explored many tombs in a lot of places around the world, but none were quite like this. The tholos tomb is built as a round, bee-hive type structure with a very high domed ceiling. They were built by the late Bronze Age Mycenean people.

One of the “Tholos Tombs” dating back to antiquity.
Cruising the catwalks that overlook the ruins of Nestor’s Palace.
The massive throne room that dominates the palace.
How the throne room was believed to have looked back in its time.
There was a raised walkway to make touring the ruins easy and with a unique vantage point.
Several thousand year old bath tub with a step leading up into it! The surrounding area contained a variety of jars containing scented oils and herbs for the bathing experience.

Our next stop was the museum where the antiquities from the palace were on display. There were vast amounts of clay pottery, frescoes, tablets with script, weapons, arrowheads, amphorae, and jewelry. The very large jars and amphorae were often filled with wine or olive oil and given to the king as a tax payment. Many of the pieces had been painstakingly put back together like a 3 dimensional jigsaw puzzles. One can only imagine the endless hours that went into sorting through the thousands of pieces to figure out which pieces went where and to which object. It was all very impressive (but then I have always had an incredible fascination with archaeology….a missed calling, I think…..or maybe I was one in a past life! Haha). When we finished with the museum, we decided to head to Nestor’s Winery to do some wine tasting (and of course pick up some of Nestor’s wine). Unfortunately, we got skunked. They were not open to the public the day we arrived. Oh well.

Entrance to the museum just filled with mycaenean antiquities.
Several thousand year old pottery, in many cases painstakingly pieced together from pottery shards
Sightseeing in the age of Covid-19. These large clay jars were typically filled with olive oil or wine and given to the king as a form of tax payment.
Jewelry made of strings of stone beads. On the right, some of the smaller arrowheads made during ancient times.

Since we had the car and a calm wind day (we don’t like to be off the boat at anchor if the wind is going to be really strong or shifty), we decided to really wring the most out of this day and see as much as we possibly could. We headed further down the Péloponnèse Peninsula to the town of Methoni. Originally, we had planned to sail there as part of our circumnavigation of the peninsula. We ended up aborting our plan to circumnavigate this year due to our very late start to the sailing season. The Cyclades (the eastern side of the peninsula) is known for wicked winds called the Meltemi. These winds are the worst in July and August and can blow really hard for many days at a time. We have sailed in them before, and they were NOT fun. Given our shortened season, we decided that we will circumnavigate next season when we can hopefully get back in April. Anyway, our destination in Methoni was another castle. A beautiful Turkish tower graces the entrance to the harbor and is in amazing shape. The grounds were absolutely huge. It is said that this area has been a favored region since ancient times, and it is easy to see why. Homer mentioned that it is was ‘rich in vines’ and under the Venetians it was renowned for its wine and pork. The Venetian castle is on the headland and surrounded by the sea on 3 sides. The castle was built by the Venetians around the 13th century, and the harbor was considered important on trading routes to the Levant and Venice. I had never heard of Levant and therefore had to look it up. Apparently it was a large area in Southwest Asia. Around 1500 the castle was taken by Beyazid II (apparently he was considered infamous, and the inhabitants were massacred. The Turks lost it and then retook it again in 1715. This was by far my favorite castle ruins we have seen so far.

Now this is a moat! Heading into Methoni Castle.
The landward side of castle Methoni
The castle walls were fun to explore! Look ma, no safety rails! At least the walkway was wide, I guess.
The seaward side of the castle. It was strategically positioned to protect the entrance to the Ionian Sea
Elements of Turkish influence
Turkish tower view from the castle
Venetian trade passed here from the eastern Mediterranean on it’s way to Venice

Our final stop on our journey took us back to the town of Pilos, and the castle located on the headland as you enter Navarino Bay. We have read that the castle was built by the Franks and later the Venetians, but it was the Turks who built up the fort sometime after 1498) to the size it currently is. It was recently restored and houses a couple of museums including a museum of underwater archaeology. It also contains a beautiful little church which was once a mosque. Here too, the grounds were massive. We walked along the wall walk of the castle remains and explored the large, inside courtyard where a variety of artifacts were on display. We wandered through both of the museums which contained many more artifacts including a clay jar filled with sand and the skeletal remains of two infants. As with some other posts, I’ve tried to give you a brief introduction to the sites and then let the pictures and captions tell the whole story.

Fighting a serious case of vertigo! Dan: Get closer to the edge. Me: If I could run to the other side without worrying about tripping and falling over the edge, I would!
Beautiful examples of pottery from antiquity.
The Pilos Castle walls guarding the entrance to Navarino Bay…..spectaular views all around.
Safety barriers do not seem to exist anywhere in this country as evidenced by the high wall walk at Pilos Castle….it’s a very long way to the cobblestones below…..yikes!
Gilded funeral headdress for royalty.
Tomb of infants found nearby
Church on the castle grounds with a wonderful view
Interior of the church that had one time been a mosque.

Navarino Bay has definitely been one of our favorite stops on our journey through Greece, and we definitely hope to return here again. A few other highlights of our visit here….Dan and I went for a morning swim (we try to swim a mile a few times a week for fitness). On this particular morning, we were swimming from the boat towards shore when I spotted something below me (no, not a shark!) There on the seabed was a well intact amphora! I was stunned to see this artifact just laying there. Unfortunately we did not have a camera with us since we were only swimming for a workout. Needless to say, I left it untouched where it rested. It was beyond exciting to see though. Once we were back on board, excitement number 2 unfolded. The Coast Guard decided to do their rounds (we had been here almost a week and had never seen them). They came steaming out of the marina and sure enough, they bee-lined straight for us. They did a very slow cruise around our entire boat and then hovered at our stern. I quickly went inside to gather all our paperwork, figuring paperwork and questions would be next. In the end, we all waved at each other, and they went on their way. As I have said before, this is a bit like getting pulled over at home. You know you haven’t done anything wrong, but it makes you uneasy none the less (especially when you are a foreign guest and the rules/laws are often open to interpretation by those enforcing them). We have also noticed the islands tend to be behind in getting the updated changes in rules.

A stealth photo of the Coast Guard approaching us. I didn’t want to get in trouble for blatantly taking his picture as he pulled up behind us….haha.

Sadly, it was time for us to go. We had our weather window to make our way back north. The prevailing winds in this part of the world blow from the Northwest….the exact direction we were headed. Doing an overnight passage was on our list of new experiences this year, so we decided this would be the night. The wind had been pretty strong for several days and the seas were up. Since we would be sailing, or should I say motoring, directly into the oncoming wind, a night passage should be less uncomfortable. Stay tuned for our next post as we make our way back up north and into some new adventures.

Sunset from Navarino point as we head north on our first overnight passage.

Back On The Sea Again!

Captain’s log day 1 (July 1): We have finally cast off lines and set sail. We had to time our departure carefully since the swing bridge between the mainland and the island of Lefkada had been towed away for repair over the winter, and in it’s place was a large drive on/off ferry. This ferry allowed cars to drive through it and would then pivot away to allow boats to cross through the channel. Unlike the swing bridge which opened every hour, the ferry cleared the channel every two hours. We timed our arrival so that we would be in the basin, hovering, until the ferry motored itself in a pivot to allow boats to pass through on one side. It was quite a sight to see and felt like a bit of a squeeze! Luckily we had very little wind and current, so we passed through without any drama. Once we cleared the very long channel, we headed for Two Tree Bay….one of our favorites from the end of the season last year. When we arrived, there were only 2 other boats in this beautiful bay. We were a little disappointed that there was already another catamaran anchored in our favorite part of the bay. Oh well! We dropped anchor and went for a swim. It was good to be back!

Leaving Cleopatra marina behind…finally at Sea! The marina can house 2000 boats….and it looks like they still have 1999 of them after our departure.
The Lefkada swing bridge is being repaired and a ferry boat is being used as a temporary bridge. They swing this beast open every two hours to let boats through and into the canal.

Captain’s log day 2 (July 2): We decided to spend another night in this lovely bay. It wasn’t long before we were questioning our decision. On the horizon, we spotted 7 chartered catamarans heading straight for us! Before we knew it, they had anchored themselves in a large circle behind (and very close to) the catamaran that was in our favorite spot. I found myself feeling very grateful that we hadn’t been able to anchor there. By late afternoon, the bay had 15 boats anchored! Lucky for us, most only stayed a few hours for some swimming and fun. By early evening, only 5 of us remained. We decided it was probably time to start making our way south.

A catamaran regatta joined us for a few hours. Thankfully they left and took their party somewhere else for the night!

Captain’s log day 3-4 (July 3 and 4): Today we got underway earlier than normal since our sail would be about 6 hours….okay, so sail is a bit of a misnomer….we motored since their was not a lick of wind 🙁 This also meant it was blistering hot as well. As a result, we pulled into a small bay on the island of Ithaca to cool off with some swimming and snorkeling. We anchored fairly close to raised, rock reef and headed off to check out the underwater scene. The water was quite crisp and beautifully clear. Before long, we hoisted the anchor and were on our way once again. Destination: The town of Poros on the island of Kefalonia. About 45 minutes outside of our intended anchorage, we noticed a high speed, official looking boat rapidly approaching us. We had no doubt that we were about to be “pulled over.” Sure enough, he pulled up beside us after checking us out for a bit (in the meantime, Dan and I donned our mask….we didn’t know if they would want to board us or not). He finally put down his window and asked us where we were coming from and where we were headed (I’m pretty sure I saw them chuckling that we were wearing masks despite them being 30 feet from us). Anyway, we answered their questions and they told us to have a nice day as they zoomed off. It’s always VERY unsettling to get pulled over and/or boarded by officials even when you know you’ve done nothing wrong. Given that we were American, we were both pretty sure that this will not be the last time we are questioned by officials. Once again, we spent two nights in this lovely anchorage doing a lot of snorkeling in the crystal clear water. On the second day, we took our dinghy and explored the beaches and town. Like everywhere else, it was a virtual ghost town despite being the weekend. The locals have been very kind and gracious to us….even thanking us for coming to Greece. One local woman explained to Dan that they earn their wages for a year during the tourist months of summer. With very few tourists this year (and Americans being locked out), they are very fearful that they will starve this winter 🙁 There are some European tourists around, but we have heard that American tourists spend 40% more than Europeans when they come to visit. Our hearts break for Greece right now.

Undersail and underway!
Hope this large ferry boat understands we have right of way since he was overtaking us!
Beautiful Cephalonia and the beach resort of Poros
Poros Harbor
Dinghy ride back to Zoe from town
Poros town. Normally bustling with tourists but empty in mid july.

Captain’s log day 5-6 (July 5 and 6): We decided to leave even earlier this morning since today’s sail was going to be a long one. The hot, still weather has continued to plague us making sleeping at night almost impossible (at least for me….Dan seems to be able to sleep through anything!) Forecasts were starting to show some potential thunderstorms coming in the next few days, so we would need to keep our eye on that. They weren’t calling for any high winds, but experience has taught us that thunderstorms rarely come without nasty wind. Up to this point, the seas had been as flat as glass, so our plan was to stop at a very famous tourist spot known as Shipwreck Bay. Under normal circumstances, this bay is inundated with tourist boats so we figured this would be the best year for us to get in there and explore it. At the very least, we planned to do a lunch stop there before continuing on but if conditions were as favorable as they had been, we would anchor there overnight. Ahhh best laid plans. It wasn’t long before the seas were all churned up. We had 5-7 foot rollers with short periods which made for a very rough ride. As we motored into the narrow entrance, the views were incredible! Not only was the water the most beautiful blue you can imagine, the surrounding cliffs were a spectacular contrast of white limestone. Sadly, the chop and swell made it so that we only motored a little way into the bay, took some pictures and quickly exited. Neither of us felt like it would be a safe place for us to anchor today….even for just a little bit.

The rugged windward side of Zakinthos
Entering the bay
High cliff walls mean the only access to the beach is by boat
This bay is in all of the Greek tourist brochures and you can see why!

After taking a few quick photos, we continued our way south to the town of Keri on the island of Zakinthos. We anchored in the bay and settled in. It had been close to a 45 mile journey and the first time we had actually been able to sail. By the next day, the thunderstorms had arrived. We had 30 knot winds, thunder, lightning, and rain. I am super grateful that this time the storm arrived at 8:30 a.m. instead of the usual 2:00 a.m. So, we spent the morning working on boat chores (which included working on our generator which had inexplicably stopped working). By the afternoon, the skies were clear so we headed into town for a nice long walk and a visit to the “pitch” lake. It is literally made of pitch (like a heavy liquid asphalt used to seal boats in the old days). This place is also known as Herodotus Springs since he (Herodotus: An ancient Greek historian) wrote about it in the 5th century B.C. We plan to return to this area soon. On our way out of the bay, we spotted 2 sea turtles in a different anchorage (this area is one of the Meds largest loggerheads turtle hatcheries), so I definitely plan to revisit!

Exploring the island on foot
A lake made of tar (some call it pitch)
Robyn trying out the local pitch well.
Passage from Poros to Shipwreck bay and onwards to Keri on the southern part of Zakinthos

Captain’s Log day 7 and 8 (July 7 and 8): Our next stop takes us to the town of Katakolon on the Péloponnèse Peninsula. We pulled up to a wall and got ready to side tie. The wind was blowing pretty strongly which made for quite a challenge tying up the boat. Not only did I have to leap across a two foot gap from boat to wall, but the wall was about 3 1/2-4 feet lower than the deck. Eesh….my poor knees. Then came the fun of tying our 16 ton boat to a bollard against the wind. By the time I got the bow tied, the port police were tying our stern line. Well, that’s not a good sign. Everywhere you go, you have to go find the port police to show your documents. The fact that they came to us as soon as we arrived was a little unnerving. They spent quite a bit of time studying all of our documents and asking us a lot of questions. This is the first time that we felt like someone was uneasy about our presence. They finally told us we were okay, but one of the officers told us we could not stay on the wall more than an hour or so. We decided to head out to the bay and anchor. Another awesome choice as we dug in well and were surrounded by an endless sand beach. It made for some great swims and walks along the beach.

High winds made this docking less than fun…and we got kicked off anyways.
Zoe resting at anchor off of the beach .
Seafood dinner on the beach overlooking Zoe anchored in the background
Passage from Zakinthos to Katakolon

The second day, we took a very small train into the town of Olympia (home to the first Olympic Games back in 776 B.C.) Dan and I boarded the little train with our masks on. We were working really hard to be responsible visitors. The conductor chuckled a little bit and told us we didn’t need them because there is no Covid here. Sheesh….this is the first time I’ve felt a little mask shamed (he was super nice about it). We also chose a spot toward the back of the train car (socially distancing and all), but he told us to move up to the front for the best view. At this point, there was only one other passenger on board. As we made our way to Olympia, other locals boarded at various stops, but the train was far from full. When we arrived at Olympia, the conductor smiled and reminded us that the return train was at 1:10 p.m. Since this was the only running time, it was important that we did not miss it! We headed off on foot to the ruins of Olympia. Along the way, several store owners greeted us in English, welcoming us and thanking us for coming (I felt like we were in a game of telephone….had somebody called ahead and told the villagers the American’s were coming?) Our first stop was the museum….masks required. We masked up, sanitized our hands, and explored the ancient artifacts. Once we left there, we continued our journey to the ruins. Despite being more pieces than actual structures, the grounds were huge. It was not hard to imagine this place in all it’s glory. I will let the pictures do the talking at this point. After our very hot exploration of the grounds, we had a nice lunch and bought a few local treasures. When we boarded the train, we went back to our original seats. The conductor told us no and to move back (his English was very broken, so we didn’t really understand). We moved to the back of the car and he told us no again. He pointed us through the corridor to the back car. At this point we were puzzled….until we entered the back car and realized that this would now be the front car! He told us to go to the same spot as before which was now the raised seats at the front of the train with awesome views. The car was nice and chilly with air conditioning as well. I love this guy! He took good care of us on our journey…..and, we were the only people on the train! What a great adventure.

Train to olympia. This train normally runs 5 times a day shuttling cruise ship visitors from port. We were all alone.
Last stop – Olympia!
It was a bit eerie to have these ruins to ourselves. It’s normally packed in high tourist season.
A walk back in time on the main street of Ancient Olympia
Wandering the museum alone but face masks required
Entrance to the fairgrounds where horse races where held.
One of the better preserved areas
Beautiful mosaic floor
This place must have been pure magic in it’s glory days
Wonderful day trip inland with Zoe safe in the anchorage.
The sounds of cicadas and the solitude of this weird tourist year.

Captain’s log day 9 (July 9): Today we left Katakolon for the town of Kiparissi (also on the Péloponnèse Peninsula). As we pulled into the bay, it was a lot smaller than we expected and really grungy looking. We had decided to side tie to the high wall we had read about and made our approach. Just as I was about to secure our line, a guy in a truck drove up and told us no. He said we needed to tie up across the way. I really wanted this wall despite how dirty and debris laden it was (not to mention the furthest point from town) because I actually would’ve had to step up to get off the boat! Sadly we moved over to the main wall where we basically had to parallel park our boat, in 17 knots of wind, between a very derelict boat and a tug boat. I once again jumped down from the deck and secured our lines (while the 3 guys from the tugboat stood and watched….thanks for the line help guys!) This area wasn’t a whole lot better. There was a lot of debris here as well and bags of trash (and some not so nice graffiti). I felt a little uncomfortable. A Spanish couple warned us that they had been chased from this very same spot by fishermen. At this point, we decided if they wanted to make us move, they would need to get the port police involved. We were NOT moving! I can honestly say this is the first place I’ve been here in Greece where I felt really uncomfortable with regard to people. We had a steady flow of cars, fishing locals, and people just hanging out on the pier. We felt a little bit like we were in a fishbowl. This hangout spot didn’t die down until sometime after 11:30 p.m. This was the first time we didn’t leave the boat wide open all night long. Anyway, nothing weird happened and everyone left us alone (maybe it was the fear of seeing the pariahs from America…haha). We decided this place was a one and done.

Zoe snugged up in front of a working tugboat
Katakolon to Kiparissia as we explore the Peloponnisian peninsula
Baklava heaven at a local bakery

We got up early the next morning and hoofed it to some castle ruins. It was a very long hot walk (especially since we got lost a few times) and all up a steep hill. Did you ever notice they put castles on the highest points? Unfortunately, these were probably the least preserved ruins we have seen. It took more time to get there than it did to see everything. From there we headed down the hill to an old flour mill that had been restored. It was small but cool to see how it functioned. We continued back down the hill, stopped at the market for a few provisions, and trekked back to the boat (5 miles and 3 hours later). We quickly got underway in time for the afternoon winds to kick up. Next stop: The town of Pylos on the Péloponnèse Peninsula. The wind wasn’t particularly strong at the start, but before long, we were actually sailing again! Woo hoo!

Ancient theater and castle keep
Castle overlook of Kiparissia harbor
Strategic view of the bay and the city

Captain’s log day 10 and 11 (July 10 and 11): We arrived in Navarino Bay. As we entered the bay, we were greeted by some spectacular rock formations (complete with awe inspiring caves….man, I want to go explore those caves!) and Pylos Castle. The bay is huge and has many attractive places to anchor, so we chose our spot and settled in for the night. The next morning, our adventure took us up a hilltop to some castle ruins known as Navarino Castle. It was a hot, steep trek along a very overgrown path. There is nothing quite like bushwhacking in shorts and a tank top. I can only imagine what creepy crawlies were hidden in the 4 foot high weeds. Some additional fun were the sticker bushes to the left and sharp thorned thistles to the right! But wait…..it gets better…..guess what other fun awaited us? Those of you that know me well have probably already figured out what I was about to encounter. Yep…..huge, ginormous spiders hanging across the path…..hundreds of them! Okay….probably more like A 100 of them and by ginormous I mean bodies the size of a dime…..but that is huge by my standards. Dan was kind enough to blaze the trail, so if he could fit under the web, then I certainly could as well. We spent most of our trek dodging these nasty things. However, in my absolute terror of one dropping on me, I ran the trail whenever we encountered the overhead webs. Needless to say, there was a large section of the trail that I spent running. I am sure to an outside observer, I looked like a nut.

We arrived at the castle after 30 minutes of hiking. Unfortunately, it has kind of been retaken by nature. It was definitely in a state of ruin, but the views were astounding (as you will see from the pictures). We wandered all around the grounds (as much as we could given all the overgrowth) and attempted to find the cave of King Nestor of Pylos, known as the wise king and grandson of Poseidon. We were not successful in finding the cave where mythology says Hermès successfully hid 50 cattle stolen from Apollo. I am grateful for my spidey-sense because the deeper into the trail we went, twice I just about walked face first into a huge spider but saw it at the last second….ack!! I even bushwhacked off trail to try and find a way, but no such luck. We explored as much of the ruins as we could (oh, I forgot to mention….the structure has been officially closed because it is considered dangerous). There was nothing barring entrance besides a worn and faded sign warning of the dangers. You are, however, allowed to access the castle from an entrance on the beach since it does not take you through the main entrance with stone overhead….oops. We kept to the pathways, stayed out from under areas that could collapse and stayed well away from the edges where one could easily slide down the cliff to their death if the land gave way. Since you are reading this, we obviously made it out alive. In hindsight, I have learned that I must make Dan give me the background details before exploring. Not only did I learn that the cave can be dangerous to access from where we were (glad we didn’t find it) but that it is also not for people afraid of heights (ummm, yep that’s me too). In addition, there were warnings about snakes….especially the little green ones which were dangerous! It’s probably a good thing that I didn’t know all this ahead of time!

Beautiful hike to the castle on the hill
Through the castle walls falling into ruin
Spiders were everywhere! Almost walked into one of the creepy crawlies several times
Robyn taking a break from spider watch
Castle battlements protecting one of the entries to the bay
This has to be one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. View from the castle
Zoe anchored in the distance off the beach
Very deep bay means we had to anchor quite to close to shore in order to find a suitable depth
Passage from Kiparissia to Navarino Bay

We were anchored very close to shore in a busy beach/camping area part of the bay, so we decided to move to a more remote part of the bay just off the town of Gialova. It is very quiet and peaceful here, we are much further from the shore, and there are a number of highly reviewed tavernas a short dinghy ride away. Our plan is to spend at least the next few days here enjoying the peace and solitude and checking out the little towns surrounding the bay. We also plan to do some inland exploration, so in the interest of a very long post so far, I am going to leave you here. We will be back again soon with some new stories to tell and sights to see! Thanks for sticking with us on our journey through Greece.

The Long Road Back

We arrived in Preveza, Greece in the early afternoon of June 20th.  We spent a couple of hours on the boat dropping off our bags of supplies and taking a look around to determine our next steps (oh, there were many….so many it threatened to overwhelm me!) Every season we bring several large duffles loaded with spare boat parts and various other items we find easier and cheaper to get at home and shuttle out with us.  All of these goodies would need to find a home…..I think we’re going to need a bigger boat 🙁

Having spent 5 hours driving from Athens, we didn’t spend a lot of time working on the boat the first day back.  We basically plotted out how our next week would go in order to be ready for our launch on Friday (it was currently Saturday).  We checked into our favorite little apartment that we had found at the end of the season last year.  It’s located right on the edge of the city center, so it is peaceful and quiet but an easy walk to downtown and all the shops and tavernas.  We were still jet lagged and rundown from our travels, so we got settled in and hit one of our favorite little restaurants down near the waterfront.  Tomorrow would be a big day.

The next few days, we worked from morning until early evening getting Zoe put back together and ready for sailing.  I will spare you the boring details of all that had to be done.  Needless to say, I was near tears several times by the sheer magnitude of the tasks I needed to complete.  On top of that, we went back to our apartment every evening completely exhausted with every inch of our bodies aching.  Keep in mind, our boat deck is 8 feet up in the air which requires climbing a ladder every time you get on and off the boat.  None of the systems are up and running since we are out of the water and there is no air conditioning.  As you can imagine, doing all this work in the heart of summer was a hot, sweaty endeavor.  

Life on a boat comes with it’s own set of unique challenges, and living on a boat for an extended period of time might not be for everyone.  Not only are you living in a tiny space with limited storage, but everyday tasks can be quite challenging.  One task I hate above any other (and yes that includes cleaning bathrooms) is making the bed.  The beds on our boat are slightly odd shaped and one side butts up against the wall.  The other side is open but only about 1/2 way up and then it butts against the wall as well.  It is also about hip height for me.  Are you picturing this?  I’ve heard other women say that you needed to be a gymnast to make a boat bed.  I’ve determined it’s more like wrangling a cow (no, I have never actually wrangled a cow).  Here is how it goes.  I take the mattress pad and fitted sheet and climb up to the top of the bed.  Then I jump on the corner, straddling it, so I can pull the entire corner up off the base and wrestle the mattress cover and sheet over the corner.  Then I have to repeat this on the other side.  Next, I crawl down to the end of the bed and slide down to the floor to make the bottom of the bed.  Every so often, it is at this point I realize that I oriented the sheet the wrong way and have to start over again.  I’m usually spitting nails when this happens.  I try to get everything tucked down nice and tight around all 4 edges (remember the odd shape I mentioned?  Normal sheets don’t fit nicely).  Since I like my sheets military tight, this becomes a quick exercise in frustration as I crawl from one side to the other trying to make everything tight.  Then I get to do it all over again in the guest cabin!  Heaven forbid Dan needs to get under one of the beds to deal with the batteries or water heater, he’s likely to lose a limb after I’ve worked so hard to get a perfectly made bed.  As you can imagine, my perfectionism with bed making drives him crazy.

Hospital corners a drill sergeant would love…
Applying antifoul to our sail drives.

By Tuesday, we had made pretty good progress and hoped that we could get the marina to put us in the water earlier than Friday.  By doing this, we would be able to finish our work while living on the boat (and enjoying the strong breezes that come up every afternoon).  Sadly, they were too busy with other launches, and we would need to wait until Friday.

On Thursday, Dan huffed it over to customs to try and get our transit log back.  Once you’ve paid the cruising tax (a fun adventure in and of itself), you need to go to customs with all your documentation in order to get this log that allows you to sail around Greece if you are a non-EU boat.  When he arrived there with all our paperwork, the lady gave him the riot act for not self-quarantining.  He politely explained that we had followed all the protocols that we were expected to follow at the time of our arrival (and we did in fact stay in a hotel in Athens which was the required 1 day quarantine).  She also told him that we could not get our log back until we had the document from the marina showing that our boat was back in the water.  Hmmm?  Seemed a little ass backwards (the transit log allows you to be in the water), but who were we to argue.  She was very unpleasant in the beginning, but Dan said she seemed to soften up the more they talked (he seems to have that effect on people!)  We were then told that the office is closed due to Covid, so we needed to email all of our paperwork, and they would tell us when to come in to the office.  

Friday arrived and we were super grateful that the boatyard asked if we could launch several hours earlier than our 1:00 appointment.  The winds pick up quite forcefully around 1:00 and there is a nasty current inside the marina.  The thought of launching in the heart of all that, for our first time back on the boat, was less than appealing.  We were launched by 11:00 and sitting in our space in the marina…..no fuss, no muss.  Yeah!! 

On the tractor and sled and 16 tons (35,000 pounds) of boat tractored to the lifting slings.
Into the slings…
Getting lowered down into the water
In the tank and ready to go!
All moored up and in the water where she belongs!

Dan then sent all of our paperwork to customs, and we waited.  Nothing.  We knew once the weekend rolled in, there would be no contact from them.  We decided it was time for a small road trip.  We drove about an hour into the countryside to a place called Acheron Springs.  If you recall, last year we went to the Acheron River (also known as the River Styx….which is where it is believed that souls were ferried to Hades).  Acheron Springs was the gateway to Hades.  As we wandered up this beautiful slot canyon, thigh deep in ice cold water, we found this bubbling pool in front of a concave rock wall.  This was believed to be the actual gateway to Hades.  We continued trekking up the river (sometimes against some pretty rugged current), frequently passing areas where you could hear the water bubbling deep inside the cliffs.  It was a bit of an eery experience but incredibly beautiful.  I have to say, I truly love the mythical history that surrounds so many areas of Greece.

Acheron Springs. A wonderful slot canyon you can wade through in knee high water to Hades!
It was just gorgeous in here.
Hades Gate, where waters bubble up from the underworld.
Love exploring the wonders of Greek Mythology.
We love these roadside fresh vegetable stands.

Before we knew it….it was Monday.  We still had not heard from customs, so Dan called them.  Needless to say, they had not read the email with all the attachments and told us to call back in few hours later.  We called back later and the first question he asked was why our boat was in the water before we got our transit log.  Are you kidding me???  Dan very politely explained that the agent on Thursday said we could not do our paperwork until we had the paperwork showing our boat was in the water.  Welcome to Greece!  The rules change depending on who you talk to!  The agent then told us to call back tomorrow.  At this point, my very easy going husband was getting quite irritated.  Anyway, we called back the next day….had a few more issues (on their part) and were finally told to come in at 1:00.  It was almost comical when we arrived.  Dan and I masked up when we arrived at the door, and when the agent came to the door he told us to wait outside.  The paperwork exchanges all happened through a cracked door despite all 3 of us being masked up.  We were not allowed inside, and it was evident that he did not want to spend any time answering our questions.  With our transit log in hand, we hustled off to the port police to give them our crew list and get our transit log stamped.  We were finally free to sail!  Unfortunately, early in the day, we ran into a problem with our generator and had to have the mechanic out.  He told us that he would need to come back the next day to finish the work.  Noooooo.  Long story short, he arrived in the morning and got us fixed up.  We were finally on our way!

Preveza customs office during a Covid19 lockdown. They have our boat papers while Zoe was stored on land for winter…no papers, no cruising these waters.
Preveza port police to get some stamps on our documents. and set us free!
Joys of boat ownership. Our generator heat exchanger was salted up and needed an acid dip. Luckily we had professional mechanics right next door.

We hope you will stay tuned.  We are a couple of Americans, on an American flagged boat, in a country that has shut down their borders to all Americans!  What could possibly go wrong?!

Sunset beach walks….life is good.

Traveling Internationally During A Pandemic

We knew it was going to be difficult.

We knew it was going to be stressful.

We knew at any given point on our long itinerary, we could be turned back and told to go home…..but we finally made it back to Greece!

We returned home to Phoenix, Arizona at the end of October last year.  We were happy and excited to reunite with family and friends after being gone for 7 months.  There were many exciting events unfolding like college graduation and the impending arrival of our first grandson.  As is life, the good times also brought about some painful family events that had to be worked through.  And then, Covid hit.  We watched in horror as Northern Italy was decimated by this awful virus….and it spread.  Before long, we were monitoring the daily reports as Covid ripped through New York City.  In Arizona, we were looking pretty good with very few cases.  Well, you know how that story goes.  No one and nowhere was safe from Covid.

Our plan was to return to Zoe at the end of April.  Before we knew it, we were fearful that there would be no return to Zoe at all in 2020.  We did everything in our power to keep ourselves and those we loved safe and healthy.  Before our state locked down, we were already sheltering in place.  When we had to go out, we wore masks and washed frequently.  When the restrictions were lifted, we still stayed home and limited our circle of contact to family.  Then we watched and waited.  As Europe began to emerge from the worst of the pandemic, we began to have hope once again.  We followed the government releases that outlined how and when they would re-open for tourism.  Each time we saw a window of opportunity, it was quickly pushed out to a later date.  We watched as many of our sailing friends made the hard decision to not return to their boats in 2020.  Would we need to do this too?

We made frequent inquiries to both the Croatian and Greek Consulates in an effort to understand whether or not they would let us into their countries.  Ironically, right before Covid took off, Dan received his Croatian passport making him now a dual citizen.  This turned out to be a blessing in disguise (never mind the fact that it took almost 10 years to get it all sorted out).  So Europe finally began to re-open but only to select countries.  Since the US was now in full blown outbreak, we were most definitely not on the list (we still aren’t).  Because Dan was now free to travel to Europe, we had to scramble to ensure we had all the necessary paperwork to allow me to travel with him.  We were excited and nervous all at the same time.  Talk about feeling a barrage of emotions!

7140 miles…three flights….18 hours in the air all with a face mask. Then a five hour drive!
Dual citizenship for Dan to the travel rescue!

So that brings us back to where our story started.  Our date was set, and we were ready to go.  We flew into Dallas a day early in order to see some friends and ensure that we would be able to make our flight to Frankfurt, Germany.  At this point in time,  the airports and airlines were now requiring people to wear masks.  Since Dan and I had already been doing this, we had no problem with this rule (of course enforcement was less than desirable…..if you are going to require it, then you damn well need to enforce it!  Otherwise, what is the point?)  Anyway, we showed up at the check in counter in Dallas nice and early.  It turned out to be a good thing.  We spent a good 20  minutes being grilled on our purpose for travel.  There were many questions, us pulling out a multitude of documents supporting our travel, and lots of phone calls (which I assume were to get overrides to allow us to check in).  Eventually, we were checked in and cleared to head to our gate.  Whew! Hurdle number one complete.

Airport terminal was eerily empty
Luckily we were able to get an upgrade for the long DFW-FRA flight!
Face mask not optional.

As you might expect, our flight was pretty empty (usually summer flights to Europe are absolutely packed to the gills!)  We landed in Frankfurt 9 1/2 hours later with minimal sleep.  Stressor number 2:  Clearing in with Frankfurt immigration.  Once again, we were asked a number of questions which we managed to answer in our sleep deprived state.  We presented all our extra documents allowing us to travel to Greece despite being those “toxic Americans.”  Hurdle number 2 accomplished.  We then headed to our final flight (this one was going to be stand-by….my all time favorite way to fly!  NOT!)  I’m sure you can guess how that went.  We were peppered with questions and used our paperwork to show that we were approved to travel.  You would never know there was a pandemic looking at this flight.  We were squashed in 3 to a row, and the flight was quite full.  I was very uncomfortable with the closeness of this flight, but we were wearing masks 🙂

Our understanding when we left was that when we landed in Athens, we would be given a Covid test and then be required to quarantine in a hotel designated by the officials.  If our test came back negative, we would be free to leave but asked to self quarantine for a week.  If it came back positive, we would be required to quarantine at our expense for 2 weeks.  We knew this expectation ahead of time and were perfectly fine with following the rules.  On the flight, everyone was expected to fill out a “Covid” form.  This form gave all your contact information, the flight you came in on, and where your trip originated.  I noticed that the top of the form did not list the US as a valid place of travel….uh oh.  We filled them out and handed them to the flight attendant.  It wasn’t much later when the flight attendant returned and told us we needed to fill out a different form.  This one had an orange banner at the top and listed the countries that were not openly welcome (yep, that was us!)  Once again, I filled out the forms and handed them in.  I figured this was going to be the big scarlet letter that marked us for quarantining.  3 1/2 hours later, we landed in Athens.  It had been an incredibly long and sleepless journey, all while wearing a mask (I think my mask now smelled like bad breath).

Contact tracing form in case the authorities need to get a hold of us
Finally made it to Athens!!!

Well, wouldn’t you know…..we landed, collected our bags, and went to get our rental car (I won’t mention that this took almost another hour and a half!)  No one stopped us, no one questioned us…..nothing.  Crazy.  It wasn’t too long after this process that I received a text letting me know that I might be randomly chosen for a Covid screening….hmmmm….a little late, I think.  Dan never got the same message despite the fact that we came from the same place.  We booked a hotel about a half hour outside of the airport and headed there for some much needed sleep.  Since Zoe was a 5 hour drive from Athens, we decided to get some sleep and then finish our journey in the morning.

We arrived at our hotel which turned out to be some very hipster, new age place.  What does that mean, you might be asking!  Everything was very geometrically interesting from a high walled, swirly pool to color coded floors.  Oh, and they didn’t use room numbers!  Each room had a shape and your floor was tied to your color.  Needless to say, this was a whole lot of fun after 2 days of no sleep!  Dan is a pretty level headed and calm guy, but trying to match the symbol on the key card with the symbol on the door and the color code of the floor just about pushed him over the edge.  I can honestly say, I have not seen him get so verbally aggravated as I did watching him trying to find our room (sorry, my eyes are tearing up with laughter as I recall the experience!)  We did finally find the room which was a visual nightmare in it’s own right.  I guess if you are young and hip, it would be considered pretty cool, but the assault of color coordinations was abominable…..pinks, greens, and yellows….all in acrylic with twists and turns.  It was bizarre!

This was a hotel from Willy Wonka
Why rooms and floors did not have numbers was very confusing to me. Go to the orange floor and look for the symbol. Well guess what they all had symbols….
Color scheme was very tacky! This was supposed to be trendy. Maybe we’re getting old
Floor mounted “do not disturb”….who looks at their feet before knocking?.
Very european bathroom…barely enough room to turn around. And again with the colors! My poor eyes…

As you might imagine, jet lag was still plaguing us, and we were awake at a ridiculous hour of the morning.  We decided to just get started and make our way back to Zoe (of course we were super excited to see our boat once again).  Despite being a long drive, it took us through some beautiful countryside as well as the Corinth Canal.  This provided us a unique opportunity to see it from above knowing that in a matter of weeks, we would be sailing through that very narrow channel.  Eventually, we made it back to Cleopatra Marina in Preveza, Greece.  On the outside, our boat looked beautiful!  The marina had polished our hulls, cleaning up all the scuffs, scrapes, and sun damage.  She looked amazing.  The inside was another story 🙁 I had a great deal of work ahead of me.  When you put a boat up for the winter, you completely dismantle your living environment.  I would now have to put it all back together.  All of this did not matter…..we were home!

Corinth Canal…we crossed it on our way to Preveza Greece. We will hopefully be taking Zoe back through here later this season.
Amazing engineering feat to dig this canal out of sheer rock in the 19th century

Stay tuned:  Taking Zoe from her winter storage to being ready to sail!

Reunited with Zoe!!!!

Spoiler alert!  For the first time ever, we hope to bring you some video blogs to share our experience.  As always, we appreciate you following us and would love your feedback so that we can improve our blog.

Overland exploration of Death Valley

While Zoe sleeps for the long, cold winter in the Med, we are here in the States. After a number of family events and holiday gatherings, we decided we were much overdue for an adventure. Next stop….head out and explore Death Valley by Jeep and Turtleback trailer.   This combo is perfect for the rugged 4×4 trails that the largest National Park in the lower 48 states is known for.  It’s a great park to explore in a 4 x 4 vehicle because of the dramatic changes in scenery within the park. The landscape goes from the mountain peaks towering up over 10,000 feet to the lowest point in North America, Badwater basin at 282 feet below sea level.

We enjoyed the trip, but we were quite surprised to find ourselves camping in the 20’s (-4 C) at night.  One morning we woke up to a frost covered tent…..INSIDE! Unfortunately, the high mountain passes were snowed in and icy.  We ended up aborting Dan’s goal of driving Lippincott pass to Saline Valley after talking to the rangers at the visitor center.  They said it was very icy at the pass and to drive it alone, like we were planning on doing, was extremely ill-advised.  Good to know 🙂   We ended up skipping the pass to Saline Valley in the hopes of returning one Spring to try again. So much for the “hottest place on earth”.

This coyote is a long, long way from any water. What a treat to come across him randomly in the wilds of Badwater
You can see why this stretch of Death Valley is called Artist’s Palette. What amazing colors…
The transformer toy of trailer campers about to expand out into a base camp with a week’s worth of fresh water, hot water heater, solar power, shower, propane heater, bathroom, kitchen and queen size bed
Titus Canyon Jeep trail
Through Titus Canyon
Inyo Ghost mine, high in the mountains in Death Valley
Inyo mine entrance. This mine must have been built by dwarves for dwarves. It was about five feet tall in there.
The mine was bored straight into the mountain
Inyo Mine abandoned cabin
Inyo Mine processing equipment
At the top of Inyo mine. Great Death Valley views.
Descent from Inyo mine…it was pretty steep!
Echo Canyon Jeep trail
Exploring Twenty Mule team canyon
Twenty mue team canyon
Shadow boxing in the canyon 🙂
Zabriskie Point
Headed to next campsite at Racetrack Playa
Teakettle Junction
Mysterious sliding rocks of Racetrack Playa. They leave a path dozens of feet long in their wake as they slide across the flats of the Playa.
We were treated to an impromptu airshow of F-18s engaged in low altitude simulated dog fighting (like something out of Top Gun). When it was finished, they topped up from a KC-135 tanker and left. Fun to watch!

Winter is coming…

Well, as the saying goes, better late than never.  I’ve definitely drug my feet in completing our final post of the sailing season.  I guess you could say I am in mourning 🙂  So, here is the rest of the story…..

As the close of our season was rapidly coming to an end, we decided to make our way to the town of Preveza.  The thunderstorms had  gone away, and we were left with sunny skies and moderate breezes.  We had been watching the weather and our remaining days very closely after finding out that the swing bridge between the island of Lefkada and mainland Greece had broken.  This is a car bridge from the island to the mainland that opens once on the hour to allow boats to pass through.  When it broke down, it would no longer swing away which meant the only boats that would be able to pass through the channel had to have a beam (the width at the farthest part of your boat) no more than 5 meters.  Zoe is 7.25 meters wide!  We would not be able to fit.  If the bridge did not get repaired in a timely manner, we would be forced to sail all the way around the island, adding significant time to our journey (an hour and a half trip would turn into an 8-9 hour trip).  We had a slot booked at the Marina to have Zoe hauled out on Wednesday the 16th of October.  We anxiously watched the bridge from our berth in the marina.  You can imagine our excitement when we saw a couple of catamarans head up the channel, and the bridge fully opened.  Woo hoo!  We decided it was best not to wait until haul out time in case the bridge broke again.  We scrambled to get underway and make the next bridge opening.  At this point, we would have about a week to cruise around if the weather permitted.  

Last sunset in Lefkas Marina before heading north.
Lots of boat traffic in the Lefkas canal headed to the bridge opening
The canal has a swing bridge that opens once an hour to let boats pass through, saving a long trip around the island to head north from Lefkas

We headed out of the marina and up channel to get in the line up of boats waiting for the bridge to be opened.  Once it cleared, we all zoomed through the gap out into the open sea.  It would be about an hour and a half to motor to Preveza.  The forecasts were still all over the map, so we opted to head to a brand new marina in Preveza and spend some time digging deeper into this town since this was the area where Zoe would be wintering, and where we will prepare her for re-launching next spring.  Anyway, we had tried to book with Preveza Marina before the last big storm, but they had been full.  This time, they were able to accommodate us.  Once we arrived, the marinero directed us to our spot and helped us to tie up.  We were in an awesome spot close to all the marina facilities and an easy walk to the town center.  It was a beautiful marina and definitely one of our favorites.  

Preveza Town
Enjoying the cobblestoned alleys of Preveza town

We spent the next few days getting to know our new stomping ground, eventually riding our bikes to the ruins of a castle nearby.  As we rode down into the center “courtyard” of the ruins, we were quickly enveloped by a very creepy feeling.  Surrounding us on all sides were high stone walls with rotting rooms behind them.  As you walked by the dark, gaping openings, the roosting pigeons made their unhappiness very clear.  If you’ve ever seen the movie “The Birds,” this would be a scene out of that.  The unease was further magnified by the graffiti and evidence of human misbehavior within the hidden sanctuaries of the castle.  As we continued our exploration, we found our way up a decrepit, stone staircase that led up to the ramparts and an amazing view of the Ionian Sea.  Despite the overcast skies, you could still see the varying hues of blue, green, and black across the water.  Unlike sites you see in America (and even other parts of the world) which are fenced off for safety, the ramparts had an abrupt edge where one misstep would send you plummeting to the rocks or sea below…..no fence, no barrier, nothing…..just crumbling rock being retaken by nature.  By this point, I had gotten a little bit braver and ventured into some of the abandoned halls…..yep, still super creepy.  They were very, very dark, and I had no interest in encountering whatever might be hiding or lurking in there.  After Dan managed to flush out a barrage of pigeons, we decided it was time to go.

Our bikes in the ancient castle courtyard.
Enjoying a quiet day of exploration in the ruins
Strategic view south to Lefkas from the castle

At this point, we had paid for 3 days in this awesome marina, but decided that we could really have a lot of fun here.  There were beautiful beaches not far away and great places to ride our bikes.  We had just come to the decision that we would stay put in this lovely marina when Dan received an email telling us there was an issue with the large travel lift that would lift Zoe out of the water.  They told us that they needed to move our winter haul out from Wednesday of the following week to Sunday!  Are you kidding me???  We had less than 2 days to play around in the heart of Preveza before Zoe would be out of the water and stored on land.  Then comes the real fun….prepping her to be shutdown for the next 5-6 months 🙁

Zoe lifted out of the water and headed to her winter storage home.
Zoe getting settled into “catamaran row”
Three diesels onboard Zoe, and each one needs annual maintenance before winter shutdown. Dan is working on our generator in this picture
We stripped the topsides of all canvas, sails and rigging for storage out of the elements
Some new cruising friends we met at the marina. Great Greek dinner and conversation had by all!
Looking back on Zoe as we are about to close the door for 5 months of storage.

Unfortunately, we had already purchased our tickets to fly out of Preveza which meant we could not head home earlier despite the boat being put away for winter.  We decided we’d take our time getting her shut down and head inland by car for a bit of exploration off the water.  We rented a car and headed to Meteora which is a rock formation consisting of one of the largest and most steeply built complexes of Eastern Orthodox monasteries. The six monasteries are built on immense natural pillars and hill-like rounded boulders that dominate the local area.   The sight of these very old monasteries perched high in the sky are absolutely breathtaking.  We arrived in the town of Kalabaka, at the base of these towering rocks.  Dan found us a great little AirBnb that looked out at the cliff face.  We wandered the town that evening taking in the beauty and getting the scoop on where to go and the best things to see.

View from the Airbnb in Kalabaka
Dinner under the rocks of Meteora

The following day, we drove up into rocky formations to take a closer look at these famous monasteries.  Given the somewhat extreme locations of these monasteries, each had it’s own set of unique challenges for accessing them.  Only one of the six had an easy entrance where you just walked straight in over the roadway.  The remaining 5 required an incredible amount of stair climbing to reach the entrance (and of course lots more steps once you got inside).  This day definitely provided a strenuous workout, but you could not beat the views.  Check out the pictures, and you’ll see what I mean.

One of the several monasteries perched precariously on a rock spire
Breathtaking views
Cable car to get supplies to the monastery
Robyn enjoying the views
Beautiful Meteora
Meteora views. Just amazing
Walking the exquisite grounds
Grand Meteoron Monastery
Monk’s kitchen
Looking for wine in all of the wrong places

We spent a great 3 days driving through the inner parts of Greece before heading back to the boat to finalize her shut down.  Once complete, we said a very sad farewell to Zoe.  It was time to head home.  We had a 3 hour flight from Preveza, Greece to London where we spent our 15th wedding anniversary.  The next day was an 11 hour flight to from London to Phoenix.   There you have it.  We had another wonderful cruising season in the Med. and met so many great people.  While we are happy to be home with family and friends, we are also very excited for the adventures ahead in our next cruising season.  We wanted to thank all of you who have followed along on our journey.  As I’ve mentioned before, our purpose of our blog is to document our travel adventures.  We may go quiet for a period of time until we get our winter adventures figured out.  We hope you’ll stick around to see what kind of trouble we can get into in the near future.

Courtesy flags of five countries we sailed to this season – From left – Italy, Croatia, Montenegro, Albania and Greece. As a visiting US flagged yacht, it’s required to fly these when in that country’s waters.

Friends, Foul Weather, and Finale of the Sailing Season

When you joined us last, we were once again happily anchored in Vlikho bay on the island of Lefkada.  At this point, our final set of guests (Dan’s college fraternity brother and his wife) were due to arrive in 3 days, so this seemed as good of a place as any to pick them up.  As luck would have it, another storm was forecasted (yes, this one was actually forecasted) to arrive the same day as our guests.  We came to the conclusion that it just might be better all around to head into the marina.  The boat would be secure, and they could walk on board with all their things rather than having to be shuttled in on the dinghy in rain.  Besides, we didn’t want their first night on board to be another one of our hair-raising experiences (that could come later)!  The day they were due to arrive, we pulled into Lefkada marina and cleaned up the boat.  Remember, we had been at anchor for almost 3 weeks now, so Zoe was in need of a good cleaning.  For the next two days, we explored the area with Jeff and April, our new guests.  Since they had driven down from Athens, we were able to explore further afield in their car. 

A college reunion here in the Med
Guests onboard Zoe, getting ready to get underway

We drove to the River Styx (also known as the Acheron River).  This was the river I mentioned in a previous post that was said to have ferried the souls of the dead to the underworld.  Unfortunately, the boats were not running on this day, so we were unable to go to the underworld 🤣 We did enjoy walking along the river though.  From there, we went to Necromanteion.  This was an ancient Greek temple devoted to Hades.  People would come here to speak to the dead.  We tried to speak to the dead, but our reception was poor.  Our next stop was the amphitheater of Nikopolis.  It was founded in 29 BC to commemorate the Roman Emperor Octavian’s victory over Marc Antony and Cleopatra at a battle nearby.  Unfortunately, we couldn’t get close due to the danger of falling stone.  As we made our way back, we stumbled upon a local olive oil producer who kindly opened up his mill and sold us some of his oil….Yum!

The Acheron River, known as the River Styx in ancient times was considered to be the gateway to the underworld
River Styx!
Roiling waters at the entrance
Gates to the Underworld
There was a large temple called a “Necromantieon” that the ancients believed you could speak with the dead from
It can be spooky at times
Ancient ritual hall for speaking to the dead. It’s as creepy as it looks
Ancient pottery, believed to hold ritual items
A friendly local olive oil producer shares some samples from his fresh pressed batch, straight from the vat
We enjoyed the impromptu visit
Out in front of the Olive oil mill
Ancient city of Nikopolis with it’s earthquake ravaged ruins
Ancient ampitheatre of Nikopolis
Nikopolis ruins

After 2 days of land exploration, we were all eager to get underway.  It was time to get out on the water.  We decided to take our friends to the island of Kastos.  This time we found a narrow, little bay with no one in it.  We anchored in the center to give us the greatest amount of swing room which also meant it would be really uncomfortable for anyone else to come in and anchor.  The sun was out and the water was crystal clear and inviting.  The boys went exploring by kayak and played on the SUPs….yep, I say boys for a reason.  The two of them laughed and played all day long.  You know you have a good friend when you can pick up where you left off despite not seeing each other for many years.  Above the anchorage was a cute little windmill that housed a cafe, so as sunset approached, we all headed up there for a drink.  It was a great time.  We all decided this was well worth a two night stay.  

Beautiful waters off of Kastos Island
It’s late in the season but the water is still very warm
Kayaking to the little town
Wandering Kastos town
Old windmill converted into a cafe
Our friends enjoying the greek islands
That’s Zoe all alone in the bay
Everywhere you go there are NY Yankee fans
The four of us posing for a drone shot

As much as we loved this bay, it was time to move on again.  We headed back to Vlikho bay (jellyfish bay) since our friends had not yet been there.  With solid holding, we would be comfortable getting off the boat to do some more land explorations.  Our friends would be leaving us soon, so this was also a good place to be to avoid the expense of the marina.  Our first stop was the waterfalls of Dimosari.  After picking our way up the hill, we were treated to beautiful, lush vegetation and some small pools of water.  The waterfall itself had definitely seen better days.  It was falling down the rock face in a trickle.  From there, we drove to the little town of Vasiliki….another cute little seaside village. This town is known as the windsurfing capital of Europe in August with over 100 windsurfers taking to the water.  By now, the sun was beginning to go down, so we made our way back to the boat.  Sadly, the next day would be the last day of Jeff and April’s visit with us, so we decided on a winery tour followed by a visit to the town of Nydri which is a quaint little seaside resort, and one of our favorite places to explore.  The next day we headed to the small, hillside winery that we had driven by on numerous occasions.  The four of us were treated to a private tour of the wine making facilities as we learned the process their grapes go through to become that delicious nectar of the gods that we all so love.  You gotta love touring sights during off season.  Everywhere we’ve been, we’ve pretty much had the sights all to ourselves.  Anyway, after learning about the wine making process, we returned to the tasting room where we were treated to a variety of their wines.  Needless to say, we all walked out with some of our favorites.  From there, we decided to grab some lunch by the sea in Nydri.  While waiting for the wine tour, I had been thumbing through a tourist guide and found a very highly reviewed restaurant.  Sounded like a winner!  As promised, it did not disappoint.  It was definitely one of my favorite meals in Greece so far.  Our friends dropped us back at our dinghy, and we all reluctantly said good-bye.  All alone….once again.

The town of Nidri on Lefkas Island
Robyn prepares to drop anchor
Jeff paddleboarding surrounded by huge jellyfish
Testing the claim that the big, nasty jellyfish don’t sting. They don’t! Still not swimming…
Zoe at anchor in Vlikho bay
On the way to the waterfalls
Not a whole lot of waterfall flow in the dry season
It was a pretty hike anyways…

Our time on the boat was rapidly slipping away….and with it, the weather was becoming less settled.  It seemed as though we would have a few more days of calm weather, so we decided to head south again…..this time to the island of Ithaca.  The 22 mile voyage brought us into the bay of Limin Vathi where we found a nice spot to anchor behind this tiny little church on it’s own little island.  This islet was once a quarantine station long ago and then turned into a prison during English rule.  It was destroyed in an earthquake in 1953 and never rebuilt.  The “church” which was built in 1668 is the only thing remaining.  The main part of the bay was full of boats at anchor, but our little spot on the outskirts consisted of only one other boat.  Since we were confident that Zoe was secure at anchor, we rented a car to explore the island.  There are a number of sites associated with Homer’s Odyssey that we wanted to check out.  Once again, we found ourselves on very narrow, winding roads as we made our way into the mountains.  We found some of the ruins to be a little bit questionable….meaning it looked to us that perhaps something more modern (in the last 100 or so years) had been built over top of the site and it was THAT which was actually in ruin.  We aren’t archaeologists by any means, so who knows…..On our way back, we stopped in the village of Kioni for lunch.  This was another potential anchoring spot, but after witnessing the utter chaos of the many boats trying to tie up while dodging one another, I decided this spot would never be on my list of anchorages.

Zoe in Vathi Harbor, Ithaca
Exploring the ruins of “School of Homer”
Ithaca is a pretty island to explore by car
These structures were built to mark the local cemetery
View of Vathi Harbor from high in the mountains
Zoe at anchor, right where we left her
Leaving Vathi Harbor

We enjoyed two days on the island of Ithaca and decided it was time to move closer north.  We had been carefully watching a very large storm system that was forecasted to come in, and we had already secured our spot in the marina.  Our only worry now was whether or not it held true to it’s predicted date and did not arrive early.  We contemplated heading back to…..you guessed it….Vlikho bay.  As we drew near the channel entrance, we decided to head across to the mainland and check out the bay of Ormos Varko.  It was close enough that if it didn’t look good, we would still have time to head back to our trusted hidey hole.  When we arrived, there were only 2 other boats at anchor, so we picked a nice spot and dropped the hook.  This turned out to be a phenomenal decision.  We were surrounded by rock outcroppings, sand beaches, and sparkling aqua water.  This might very well be our last few days of swimming this season….and swim we did.  We swam 450 feet to shore and back and just enjoyed basking in the water one last time.  We continued to keep an eye on the approaching storm and agonized over when it would be the best time to duck into the marina.  In the end, we opted to play it safe and left the following afternoon.  We arrived and got tied up a few hours before the winds started to kick up.  In the end, we probably could’ve gotten away with one more night out at anchor, but when the storm took off the next day, we were grateful that we didn’t have to tie up in that craziness.

Robyn is swimming for the last time this season…she is the dot in the distance

As I wrap up this tale, we have been in the marina (along with many other cruisers) for the last 3 nights.  We have had pouring rain, thunder and lightning.  We have also seen 40 knot winds IN the marina and bounced around in the 2 foot waves that came with that wind.  There are still storm clouds all around, the temperature has dropped dramatically, and we are still blowing consistently at 15-20 knots.  Unfortunately, rain is forecasted up until our last few days on the water, so at this point we will probably remain marina bound until it’s time to pull Zoe out of the water.  For now, we will begin the process of packing up and shutting down for the season.  Our plan is to do some more inland exploration, so we will likely have one more post from this part of the world before heading home.  We hope you will join us as we close out one more sailing season.

Islands of Ionian

You may recall from our last post, we were happily ensconced in Vlikho bay on the island of Lefkada (also known affectionately as Jellyfish bay and Velcro bay).  It becomes quickly evident why it is also known as Velcro bay…..once in, it’s pretty easy to just stay parked….and we were no exception.  Your anchor digs in deep to this thick, sludgy mud, it’s usually well protected from all winds, it’s surrounded by high mountains, and it’s easy access to almost anything you could want. 

The taverna scene in Vlikho bay is great. You dinghy right to your table….
The resort town of Nydri is close by, with all kinds of restaurants and shops
Wonderful views leaving Nydri
Huge jellyfish surrounded the boat…

After the third day, we had to remind ourselves that we did not buy a boat just to sit in once place, so we reluctantly pulled up anchor and headed out into the beauty of the islands.  Our next stop was going to be the island of Kastos, anchorage to be determined upon my review 🤣 Yes, I hold THAT kind of power!  Our journey south would be about 3 1/2 hours with the wind at our back.  As luck would have it, we did manage to sail for some of the cruise there.  Despite it being mid-September, there were still a ridiculous number of boats in this part of the Ionian.  So much for it being low season!  As we cruised up the east side of the island (the perfect protection for the direction of the wind), we spotted a couple of empty anchorages and stored them in the back of our mind in case the one we had in mind was full.  When we arrived at the spot known as Wasp bay (none of these cute little names are official of course….they are the names that sailors before us have given title to), there were only 2 other boats anchored in this lovely bay.  We quickly chose a great spot that was respectfully distant from our two neighbors, and dropped the anchor.  The bay was surrounded by spectacular rock walls and crystal clear water.  This will definitely do!

Our Kostos anchorage was pretty with really interesting snorkeling amongst a lot of rock formations
The waters on this island are super clear!
Wasp bay, without the wasps.

Not long after we were settled, another boat came in and dropped anchor right in front of us.  This was a little unsettling as he was quite close and did not appear to do much more than drop his anchor overboard.  We seriously hoped he wasn’t staying the night since he would be a risk to us if the winds picked up even slightly.  Fortunately, he only stayed for a few hours and went on his way.  Dan had been out snorkeling to check our anchor and had said that their anchor was literally just laying on the sea floor, not dug in at all.  Not long after, a large catamaran came in and anchored behind us.  They caught our eye as they were flying a large California flag.  This was the first Americans we had encountered all season on the water.  They ended up inviting us to their boat for dinner and drinks.  As we motored over in our dinghy, we were greeted by the captain and his friend both decked out in Rasta wigs and Bob Marley playing on the stereo.  Needless to say, we busted up laughing….this was definitely going to be a fun night!  The 10 of us enjoyed a great dinner, lots of wine, some games, and of course laughter and storytelling.  We found ourselves disappointed that we had not crossed paths earlier in their voyage.  Despite meeting for the first time, it was like being with friends we had known for years.  The following day, they continued their journey, and we opted to spend one more evening in this beautiful bay (never mind the fact that we were nursing a wee bit of a hangover).

A catamaran filled with California people ready to party…they anchored next to us and we had a fun night onboard

After 2 nights, it was time to explore our next port of call…the island of Cephalonia, bay of Eufimia.  This passage was 24 miles to the west.  Initially, we had thought we might med moor to the town quay, but I quickly nixed that idea.  Since this would be our fist time to med moor our boat alone (and I had already been warned about the harbormaster who barks orders at you for how he wants it done), I didn’t feel like putting on my big girl panties and dealing with being yelled at. 🤣 We found a spot in that small bay that we liked and dropped the anchor.  Unfortunately the sand bottom was hard packed sand, so it took us 3 tries to get the anchor dug in and holding.  Later in the day, a small catamaran (looked almost homemade) with 4 young Germans dropped anchor somewhat close to us.  Given the amount of room in the bay, I was not super happy that they chose so close by.  Before long, one of the young men had rowed over to our boat to ask if we were okay with where he had anchored.  I told him that as long as he felt he was dug in and secure, I was fine.  He very kindly offered to move, but I told him it was fine and thanked him for asking (you know this random sidebar about our neighbor holds a key piece to this part of our story).  As the evening drew to a close, ominous clouds had begun to build.  None of the weather models had called for any sort of weather, but we have learned from experience that these type of cloud formations usually bring bad times if you are on a boat.

Our family car, our dinghy, at the dock in Ag Euffimia. It’s how we go to shore when we are at anchor

As we laid in bed, I could not shake the uneasiness I was feeling (this is often the case for me in unknown anchorages).  Around 2:00 a.m., I could see lightning flashing in the sky through the hatch over our head.  Not long after, it started to rain.  Dan and I scrambled to close up all the open hatches before heading up on deck to see what was happening.  By 2:30 a.m. all hell had broken loose.  The rain was coming down sideways, thunder and lightning boomed all around us, and then came the wind….the worst wind we have ever seen at anchor.  Within minutes, Dan and I were soaking wet as I ran below deck to grab our foul weather jackets (a little late at that point….we were already drenched from head to toe).  Dan fired up the engines in case we broke free.  When the wind hit 40 and 50 knots Dan powered forward on the anchor to relieve some of the strain.  This went on for about a half hour.  A couple of boats dragged and chose to head out to sea until the worst had passed.  Just then, we saw our German neighbors’ boat go flying by us…..and NO ONE was on deck!  They were headed straight for the jagged rocks of the shore.  I grabbed our air horn and big spot light and started blasting it at them.  It felt like it took forever for someone to finally come up on deck.  Thankfully, they were able to get control of their boat before they hit shore.  Several boats circled around in the chaos until things began to settle, and they could re-anchor.  Within 45 minutes, the storm had come and gone.  As I stood on deck shivering in my soaking wet pajamas, my crazy husband proclaims, “I’ve never felt so alive!”  Sometimes he baffles me beyond belief.  It was a terrifying experience with a lot of running around and yelling information to each other over the howling wind, but our anchor held like a champ.  We had survived our toughest storm yet.  I’ve come a long way in reading the clouds and understanding when things are likely to go sideways.  I also have full faith in my gut now….when it tells me to go sleep up in the salon or on deck….I do.

Drenched after the storm…but our anchor held and all was ok
Our “anchor kit” we keep readily available for nights like this. A spotlight and air horn at the ready

After our soggy, sleepless night (we were on a definite adrenaline high for the next few hours), we decided it was time to move on.  We had asked about the possibility of tying to the quay (yes, I was willing to brave it at this point), but the harbor master said there would be no room as a flotilla was coming in.  Well, that cinched it….time to find a quiet, safe place to anchor.  Where was our anchorage of choice?  Back to Vlikho bay, of course.  We knew we’d hold well and could get a good nights sleep despite being at anchor.  The one thing I have not yet learned is to get a deep, restful sleep at anchor, and we have been at anchor now for 17 straight days.  Thanks to last night’s storm, the seas were rough and confused (going in all directions).  It was cloudy and rainy with 3-5 foot seas.  As we came into the channel to the bay, we crossed paths with our California friends.  They were on their way to turn in their charter boat, so we passed close by waving and shouting our goodbyes to one another.  Once again, we were happily secure in our peaceful bay.  Time for some much needed rest.  

Vlicho bay is notorious for it’s jellyfish

Chairetismoús Apó Greece! (Greetings From Greece)

When we checked out of Albania, Dan was able to go ashore and take care of the paperwork the night before (this was a new treat).  The only caveat was that we had to be out of the bay by 9:00 a.m the following day….otherwise, we would be required to come back in and check out again.  We made sure to set an alarm to give us enough time to get underway and meet the 9:00 requirement.  For some bizarre reason, our process went a little slow.  We ended up motoring out right at 9:02….really hoping they weren’t militant about being gone before 9:00.  As we came out of the bay, the Greek island of Corfu was directly ahead of us.  This would only be a 2 hour cruise to get to our next port of call (a big change from the last 3 trips of 55+ miles each).  Unfortunately, after a phone call to the marina, we learned that we could not check in until 4 p.m.  Ugh.  After another phone call, we were told they could probably accommodate us if we came after 1 or 2 p.m.  There was very little wind (as usual).  Normally we would motor, but since we had so much time to kill, we decided to sail it…..ssssllllllooooowwwwwlllly.  It gave us a lot of opportunity to play around with our sail trim and get a feel for maximizing our speed in light winds.  We were able to match our boat speed to the wind speed much of the time, so we were quite pleased with ourselves.  It was finally time to head into the marina.  Wouldn’t you know, the wind picked up quite a bit right when it was time for us to dock (and it was a crosswind)!  Needless to say, docking was a lot more “fun” than we would’ve liked….but we managed to get securely tied up.

We arrived in Gouvia Marina on the island of Corfu on Sunday, September 1st.  We purposefully chose this date since Greece had recently instituted a cruising tax that is paid by the month (literally by the month, meaning if you arrive on August 31st you will pay for the entire month of August).  Anyway, once we got the boat secured and checked in with the marina, we set out to get ourselves and Zoe cleared into the country.  As I may have mentioned in our first post of the sailing season, checking into and out of countries is often its own little adventure.  Not only does the process vary between countries, but it can vary greatly even within the same country.  Sometimes this can be rather frustrating.  Our arrival in Greece was no exception. We were advised at the marina office to grab a cab into the old town since they would drop us in front of the correct offices.  We headed over to the taxi zone and waited….and waited….and waited.  Dan tried calling several times to no avail.  At this point, we were both hot, tired and frustrated, so we wandered off to find a place to rent a car.  As luck would have it, there was a rental car place right there in the marina compound.  We were able to quickly rent a car and get on our way to the old town (big shocker….there was a cab sitting at the taxi stand as we drove away).

Zoe in her berth in Gouvia Marina, Corfu

We had no clue where to find the port police or customs/immigration, so we headed for the port in old town Corfu hoping our destinations would be clearly marked (they of course were not).  We drove by a building that said “customs” on the front, so we quickly found a place to park and headed over.  It was clearly a defunct building.  We found a break in the fencing, and squeezed our way through to the interior of the port.  After several attempts, we finally found the port police.  He then told us to go to customs and immigration, and then return to him once more.  He pointed us to the building with no instruction as to where exactly we needed to go.  Once again, we wandered aimlessly trying to figure out where we needed to be.  To make a long story a little less long……we walked over 2 miles trying to find these offices and spent 2 hours taking care of paperwork.  The majority of our time was spent in the customs office trying to show that we paid the cruising tax and trying to explain that we were pretty sure we screwed up when paying it because we forgot to put in our “ID” number that would associate the tax with our boat.  The agent was kind, but she was definitely flustered and tired of dealing with us.  In the end, we were finally checked in and on our way (although still very uneasy about this cruising tax because if you don’t have proof that you paid it, you get HUGE fines).

The culmination of hours of red tape….the “Transit Log” that makes Zoe legal in Greek waters
Nice of the Port Captain to make our destination the Ionian Sea instead of a specific place. Gives us lots of flexibility!

After that long and stressful endeavor, we continued on our way to old town Corfu to wander around and grab some dinner.  The town is a maze of stone streets lined with cute little shops and restaurants.  Surrounding the old city is an old fortress and a new fortress.  Corfu was once controlled by the Venetians (many, many years ago) since it was considered the gateway to trade in the Adriatic, so their influence on the architecture is very evident.  It is a beautiful place to explore.  Unfortunately, several huge cruise ships arrive in port every day making the old town extremely crowded with large tour groups and buses.  On our way back to the car, we stumbled on this little dessert shop that had more than 50 different types of exotic baklava.  Needless to say, we bought several of the more unusual ones to try out.  They were amazing!  The next day, we popped into the port police at the marina (they were closed when we had arrived the day before) to show him our paperwork and explain our dilemma with the cruising tax.  The money had come out of our account, but without proof we’d be in trouble.  He looked over our papers and showed us that customs had stamped us as paid, but the reality was that we were not paid and the money would likely be refunded since it did not have a way to associate it with our boat.  We told him that it was important for us to be legitimately “legal,” and we weren’t looking for loopholes.  He was kind enough to tell us where several banks were that we could go into and pay.  He also told us that his colleague had been very kind to us because he had stamped us into and out of the Ionian.  This meant that we were totally free to roam the Ionian islands without having to check into and out of every port we visited.  Awesome!!!

Corfu old fortress
Maze of charming walking streets in Corfu town
So much history here
Such beautiful sights
New fortress, built even stronger than the last one
Driving goat tracks trough the Corfu countryside in a rare summer rainstorm
Top of Corfu…too bad we were clouded in and not much to see

We ended up staying in the marina for 3 days before we decided it was time to continue making our way south.  Our next stop was on the east side of the island in a small town called Petriti.  We found a great little spot outside of the main bay in the hopes of avoiding crowds of boats anchored on top of us.  I swear charterers are like moths drawn to the light!  Every boat that came in anchored closely around us!  This was not suppose to happen!  Everything we had read said everybody anchors in the bay right outside of town.  Liars!  It wouldn’t have been so bad except we ended up with two different charter boats very close to us.  One in particular re-anchored 4 different times (every time equally as close) throughout the day and evening…..that inspired a lot of confidence that he wouldn’t drag into us in the middle of the night.  There would be no sleep for me this night.  I literally slept up on deck, popping my head up every hour or so to make sure no one was getting any closer.  Buy a boat they said…..cruising is fun they said…..it’s so peaceful at anchor they said…HA!  More often than not, it really is peaceful and fun…..but it’s the bad times that really stick with you 😝 The next few nights were much better.  We had a few, very well spaced neighbors and the hordes had filled the main bay as expected.  After a few blissful days, we decided it was time to move again (can I just stay here?). We headed south again to our next chosen destination.  It was packed!  We cruised through at least 8 different anchorages, and every one of them was uncomfortably full of boats (as in reach out and touch your neighbor!). Nope, nope, nope….not gonna do it.  So guess what we did?  Yep, headed straight back to Petriti (2 hours away).  This time I talked Dan into anchoring even farther from the town.  Our old spot once again took on quite a few boats…..but not us!  Score one for team Muzich!  We giggled and marveled when 40 boats crammed into the town bay, all on top of each other.  We, of course, were blissfully secluded with only a couple of boats also anchored a nice distance away.  We enjoyed it here so much that we ended up staying for 9 days!

Pretty fishing boats in Petriti harbor
So many boats at anchor!
We were treated to a dolphin show while eating breakfast
Fantastic stifado at Savvas restaurant

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end.  It was time to move again…..NOOOOO!  This was going to be a really long push.  Our goal was to make it to the inland Ionian Sea (about 57 miles away).  We had pre-selected a couple of possible anchorages in case we didn’t feel like doing a full 9-10 hour slog south.  Bet you can’t guess what we found???  Yep, each one we came to was full of boats 🤦‍♀️ Geez, I though we were finally out of peak season.  We did cruise through one bay in order to see the Acheron River where the souls of the dead were thought to descend into the underworld according to Homer’s Odyssey.  Supposedly we could’ve cruised up it a little ways, but once we saw how narrow and choppy the rocky entrance was…..we respectfully declined.  I am hoping to go back and explore it more thoroughly by land once we pull the boat out for the winter.  We finally had the channel markers in sight that would take us into the inland sea.  We also cruised past the marina where Zoe would be spending her winter.  I have never seen so many boats!  They can store 1000 boats on land!  Anyway, as the inland sea opened up before us, the winds had picked up quite a bit and there was a fair amount of chop and swell.  Storm clouds had begun to build off in the distance.  We had chosen a bay that would provide us with good protection from the predicted winds and made our way there.  When we arrived, there were only 2 other boats in the bay, so we found a spot that we were happy with (and well spaced from our neighbors) and dropped the anchor.  Unfortunately, the water here is not the typical crystal blue that we had grown use to….it was more like the murky green of a lake (clean, just not clear).  This would be a case of drop the anchor and pray.  Usually, we swim the anchor to verify it’s dug in and holding well.  Not a chance of seeing it here.

Pretty inland sea
All quiet in the anchorage with full moon rising

As the evening went on, two more boats joined us in the anchorage.  We continued to watch the storm clouds build.  This was not good…..when storms come in, so do big winds….and of course none of this was in any of the forecasts!  Not long after we sat down for dinner, all hell broke loose.  The winds were gusting to 30 knots, 3-4 foot waves came crashing into the bay, and big bolts of lightning rained down.  We were all now pointed in the direction of shore if our anchors let loose.  Every one of us was scrambling on deck securing things, closing hatches, and monitoring our anchor….oh, and of course night had now fallen.  Dan fired up the engines and I ran to the bow to monitor the anchor (my favorite place to be when there is lightning!). Whenever a huge gust would hit, Dan would give a little forward throttle to help ease the pressure on the anchor.  One boat ended up pulling his anchor up and moving to the other side of the bay.  Luckily, the storm blew itself out within about 30-45 minutes.  They say that sailing is 90% pleasure and 10% terror.  I think I’ve had more than my 10% of terror at this point.  The next day, all the boats had bugged out leaving us all alone in the bay.  We kayaked to another bay to check it out for future stays, and depth checked our bay close to the rocks just for peace of mind.  This little bay quickly became another favorite of ours, but after 3 nights it was time to move again.

Not so quiet as this thunderstorm blew through with 30 knot wind gusts!

We headed out of the inland sea and made our way to the swing bridge that opens your access to the Ionian islands.  This swing bridge is well traveled by many cars, so it only opens for boats to pass through on the hour, and the operator is very gruff about getting your butt through as fast as possible.  We arrived at the bridge about 10 minutes before opening and queued up with all the other boats.  As the bridge swung open, we all formed a single file line and blasted through the canal as the operator vigorously waved for oncoming boat traffic to get moving.  As we spilled out of the canal and into the sea, I was taken aback by the number of sailboats I saw.  If this is the decline of the season, I would hate to see what July and August look like here.  No thank you.  I have no plan to sail here in peak season!  Yuck!  As we made our way to several different anchorages, we found them stacked deep with boats.  I am so not ready for this.  I tell Dan in no uncertain terms that I do not want to do this….we need to find a place with less boats.  The conversation continued like this….Dan:  You’re not afraid to park a car between two other cars.  What is your problem?  This is just like parking a car!  Me:  (mouth hanging open and spitting fire) This is most certainly not like parking a car!!!  The wind does not push on the car! There is no current acting on a car!  You cannot possibly be comparing parking a car with backing a boat down in between 2 other boats and taking a line to shore so you don’t swing and hit them!  I’ll spare you the gory details, but our conversation rapidly devolved from there.  Cruising is fun….cruising is fun….cruising is fun!  We were at a loss as to where to go and the day was slipping away.  Fortunately, I remembered an email a new cruising friend had sent me with her tips for this area.  I quickly pulled it up and showed it to Dan.  We decided we would try Vliho bay on the island of Lefkada.  It was supposedly a huge bay with plenty of room for lots of boats.  When we arrived, it was certainly full of LOTS of boats, but there was plenty of room for us.  We chose a spot we were happy with and dropped the anchor.  Once again, we could not see the anchor through the murky green water, but we had read that you hold like glue in here.  We did.  It’s a beautiful bay despite the unpleasant looking water.  The major downside is that you can’t swim here.  Well, you can…..if you’re brave enough.  The bay is teeming with these giant jellyfish.  We’ve seen them before and read that they are not poisonous to humans (supposedly no painful sting), but I have no desire to be swimming around with them.  There are so many of them that you will be touched by them 🤢.  They are the size of a freaking basketball.  Nope….no thanks….that’s a hard pass on the swimming.  Since we were holding so well, we decided to dinghy into the town of Nidri and explore.  We wandered around this great little town that is lined with all kinds of shops and tavernas.  We both were really kind of digging it here.  Maybe we will just live here for the month 🤣 (You know that’s me, right?). 

Ancient venetian fortress protecting Lefkas town and it’s canal
Swing bridge that opens for maybe 10 minutes every hour
Man made canal between Lefkas and the mainland
Lots of boat traffic making it’s way through the canal
“Fried egg” Jellyfish were everywhere! No swimming here!
So many jellyfish! A night view.

After wandering for a bit, we decided to rent a car and go explore the island.  This is the first time we have left the boat on anchor and gone really far away….it was a little bit scary.  Ironically, we were more worried about the dinghy getting stolen than the anchor letting go and our boat ending up on land.  We drove all around the island….up steep winding roads with sheer cliff drop offs, overlooking beautiful crystal bays, and through adorable little villages.  We even stopped at an olive museum to learn some more about the making of olive oil (which of course came with some tastings of their products).  It was one of our nicest days in a long time.  Don’t get me wrong, we have been having a great time, but we have been at anchor for almost 2 weeks now and this was our first big adventure off the boat.  We thoroughly enjoyed it.  So, at the time of this writing, we are still at anchor in this bay.  This will be our third night.  Neither of us is in a hurry to leave.  As a matter of fact, we are thinking of renting a scooter tomorrow and touring some wineries before heading to a beach along one of those crystal clear, turquoise bays we saw.  Stay tuned….our finale is rapidly approaching!

So much olive oil, so little time
Goodbye from the Ionian Sea, for now!!!