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!!!

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