Our new refrigerator had finally arrived, and we pulled into Preveza Marina on Wednesday. Within a half an hour, the guys were on board to pull out the old and put in the new. We spent the next two nights enjoying the town of Preveza one last time before leaving Greece on Friday. As we walked down the town quay, we spotted an American flagged boat. It turned out to be our friend Mike whose hailing port is Eloy, Arizona. It’s not often we encounter Americans on boats out here, and we’ve definitely never encountered someone from the same landlocked state as us. As the 3 of us headed into town for dinner, we stumbled upon an international choral competition taking place that week, so we were treated to some beautiful music all around the town from different groups from various countries.
When Friday morning came, we ran around taking care of formalities to exit the country of Greece. It always amazes me how long the process takes, but by 10 a.m we were underway for Albania. HA! Well, that was the plan. As we rounded the corner out of the channel, the wind and swells began to pick up. Before we knew it, we were being blasted by 25 knot winds on the nose and hitting 4-5’ swells and waves. Each time Zoe’s bow buried into a trough, we were doused with sea spray all the way in the back of the boat. Dishes began crashing inside the cupboards, things on shelves came crashing to the floor, and drawers and cabinets flew violently opened and closed. We braced ourselves against the onslaught. After about 5 unrelenting hours, we made the decision to pull into a bay for the night and try again early the next morning. You have 24 hours to leave Greece once you’ve checked out. We would definitely be underway, but still in Greek waters, technically. By 6 a.m., we were underway once more. Once inside the Corfu channel, things settled down pretty nicely (plus the wind and seas typically don’t come up until the afternoon). We hugged the mainland side of Greece since this would put us in Albanian waters the quickest. As the wind and swells began to increase again, we decided to pull into a small bay in Albania to anchor for the night. Unfortunately, the best places to anchor were all buoyed up with fish farms. We tried one potential spot off of a beach and quickly decided it was not the right place for us. It got deep very quickly, and closer to shore put us uncomfortably close to the rocky land surrounding the shoreline. We gave up. We pulled on our big boy pants and headed out into the teeth of the sea once again. Between the strong wind on our nose, and the crazy sea state, the last bit of our journey was painfully slow even under two motors. We pulled into the bay of Saranda, Albania and were a bit surprised by the number of boats already anchored (and the majority were catamarans!). We chose a spot that wasn’t too deep and respectfully spaced from our neighbors. Unfortunately it landed us right in front of all the big pirate boats that take all the tourists out on excursions. This meant non-stop loud music and very close encounters as they came and went.
Our original plan had been to stay one night and then be on our way to Italy. The weather had a different plan. We check forecasts using 4-5 different models every morning and every evening. Each time, it was the same….winds gusting high (not a huge deal) but the swells were more of the same (quite large and short periods). Since we would be doing an open water passage over 14+ hours, we had no interest in getting beaten up for that long. So, we settled in to enjoy the town of Saranda. Wanting to try some new places, we stumbled upon this cute little restaurant up a hill that had the most amazing roasted lamb and goat on a spit. I think it was some of the best we have ever had. At night, the seafront lit up with bright lights and loud music from every direction. Sunday night brought a live performance that we enjoyed from the serenity of our boat. We finally found our hole in the wind and seas to make our crossing. We were up at 4:45 a.m and underway by 5:00 a.m. Dan called me a whirling-dervish. In those 15 minutes, coffee was made, hatches were closed, instruments on, everything stowed, and anchor up. Check!
It turned out, we exited at just the right time. As we crossed the channel, we watched a huge cruise ship, carrying 3000 people, enter the small port of Saranda. Yikes, glad we weren’t there for that inundation of people. We quickly settled in for our long passage to Italy. As predicted, there was very little wind and the seas were tolerable despite the high winds of the night before. A few hours in, I took my shift at the wheel. Up to this point, all had been quiet with very little boat traffic anywhere near us. About two hours in, I noticed 3 different boats on our instruments making their way towards towards us. I pulled them up and quickly realized they were cargo ships. Two were coming at me from one direction and one was coming at me from the opposite direction. I held my course and tracked them incessantly. When you are watching them with your eyes, they appear to be coming right for you. I carefully monitored their track on our screen which lets me know how long until we intercept and at what distance. In the end, the closest one passed by at .3 miles (but when you see the enormity of their size near you, you swear you can reach out and touch them!) Wouldn’t you know, that was the only ships or even boats that came anywhere near us. Always my luck! Sure enough, as I took my final watch, I got to play frogger with 1 more cargo ship. Dan’s shifts….no boats of any kind!
We pulled into Santa Maria di Leuca, Italy just before sunset and got ourselves anchored despite the barrage of sightseeing party boats coming in and out. Unfortunately, it was too late for us to do formalities (check in to the country), so we had to stay on board for the night. We headed to the Coast Guard office promptly at 9:00 a.m. (not before wandering the streets for a bit trying to find them). Struggling through the language barriers, we discovered that we had to check in with customs and immigration first which required them to call them up and send someone from an hour away to check us in. So, we waited. The two guys showed up 1 1/2 hours later. Once again, it was a comedy show of struggling through our language barriers, and a long phone call with someone higher up (I’m pretty sure I heard the word consulate). We complicated things a little bit this year because we want to spend 4 months in Italy, and we are only allowed 3. Our way around this was for Dan to check in using his Croatian passport. It gets a little dicier for me. The official wanted to make sure that we understood that we needed a marriage certificate and that we must be together at all times….especially when we go to leave the country. Luckily Dan had spent months and months researching this, so we were well aware of the rules. Next stop, back to the Coast Guard for our paperwork there. It was now 11:45, and they close at noon. Yikes! We thought walking would be quicker (instead of taking the dinghy)…nope! We ended up practically running since the path back did a lot of meandering. We arrived at 11:55.
Dan headed in while I waited outside in the heat. Another round of humorous miscommunication ensued. CG: Where is your next port of call? Dan: TaRANTo. CG: Otranto? Dan: No, TaRANTo. CG: Otranto? This went on for several rounds before Dan whipped out his phone and showed him on the map. CG: OHHH! Taranto! (According to Dan, it was only a slight variation in pronunciation). They all had a big laugh. All in all, this was probably one of the nicest check-ins (done without assistance….we love you Jelja and Sophia) we have ever been through. Everyone was very friendly and super helpful. We were now free to roam Italy! Woo hoo!
Back on the boat, and we were underway by 12:30. Our next stop was the town of Gallipoli (about 4-5 hours away). You may be wondering why Dan didn’t tell the Coast Guard that was our next port of call. If you are at anchor, which we planned to be, then your are not required to check-in. If you tie up to the city quay or go into a marina, then you must check in with the Coast Guard. We were settled in around 5:30 and prepared to head into the town of Gallipoli. Rather than take the dinghy for 10 minutes into the marina closest to the city, we opted to go into the marina near us and do the 20 minute walk. After trying to talk to several different people (all very eager to help us….but again, no English), we determined that it was okay to leave our dinghy tied up where we did and still be able to return to it later in the night after they locked up. Off we headed to the beautiful walled city of Gallipoli. Unfortunately, the walk there was extremely intense. For the first half, there were no sidewalks, and two directions of cars driving at very high speeds on a very narrow road. While the locals had no reservations walking side by side, Dan and I were single file and contemplating plastering ourselves to the wall like Spiderman!
Once inside the city walls, we were met with incredible beauty. The architecture, the cobbled streets, the colors were a sight to behold. Since it was already after 7:00 p.m., we decided to go grab dinner before things got really crowded. We found a highly reviewed restaurant tucked up an alley with local Salento specialties. We sat staring at the menu. I am sure you’ve already guessed…..no English. With handy Google translate, we began to decipher the menu. Since some of the words were about the style of cooking, they did not translate. There were several horse meat dishes on the menu (um, that’s a big hell no!). My eye caught on the either the lamb dish or the octopus dish. Dan had the clever idea of putting the information into searching for recipes. That worked perfectly in describing the dish. That also meant that I learned that the lamb dish I was planning on having was actually lamb entrails (tripe). Ummm, that would be a big no again. Octopus it is! It turned out to be a very enjoyable dinner of local specialties. From there, we wandered the alleyways for awhile and popped into this adorable little Christmas shop (I like to buy ornaments from the places we travel). By 9:30, the city was hopping and the streets were packed with people. It became very overwhelming and less than enjoyable, so we made our way back to the boat. This town is definitely on my list of places to return to and spend a lot more time (preferably not in the heart of summer tourism).
The next morning it was time for us to continue our journey further into the Gulf of Taranto and the actual city of Taranto. I think we are due for one more misadventure before closing out this chapter of our story. Our plan was to leave at 7:00 a.m, but the sea decided it was not going to release us without a little bit more drama. As I began pulling up the anchor, I noticed this very odd shadow coming up as well. Uh-oh, that’s not good. As it came to the surface, I saw that a fisherman had laid his trap lines across our anchor chain (also knocking our bridle off in the process…..grrrr). It took Dan and I both to get it untangled from our bridle while little crabs, worms and other sea floor debris littered our deck. Dan was ready to just cut the trap line, but with a little work, we were able to free it without costing the fisherman his trap. NOW, we were ready to go. This would be an 8 hour passage, but the wind was perfectly positioned for a really nice sail. We have been here almost 3 weeks and have had the sails up twice for a small bit of time. The forecast did not let us down, and we are currently flying up the gulf at 6.5 knots in 15-20 knot winds from the stern. I am going to close this here since it is already getting pretty long. Stay tuned for our adventures in our next ports of call as we take you on a tour of this beautiful country.