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Friday 31 December 2010

Saturday 30 October 2010

Messalonghi to Aegina

In the last month we have travelled through the Gulfs of Patras and Corinth, through the Corinth canal, island hopped through the Saronic Gulf and travelled along some of the Peloponnese coast. We've suffered electrical problems on the boat, slowing our progress, and met some lovely people along the way.

After we left the Ionian we anchored in Messalonghi harbour, a pleasant and secure anchorage with turtles occasionally popping up their heads in the water. This was where we met another cruising family, Philippe, Natalie, Lounis and Celian living on Parci Parla. Lounis & Celian are the same ages as Isla & Maggie and they enjoyed swimming together and exploring each other's toy collections, as well as a bizarre collection of decommissioned military equipment (planes, tanks, rocket launchers, missiles) on the shore.

Isla with Parci Parla

After Messalonghi our next stop was the island of Trizonia, passing the impressive Rion-Andirrion bridge on the way. This coincided with Isla's first official day of schooling, so it was a bit distracting! The winds were favourable for us to continue east to Galaxidhi so we only stopped one night in Trizonia, which was a very quiet island with a sheltered half-finished harbour with a big boat sunk in the middle of it.

We came to Galaxidhi with the expectation of stopping a couple of nights, visiting Delphi and then heading on to Corinth. It's a lovely little town which had an important ship building industry (pre-steam age) and the picturesque waterfront is of well-maintained 19th century townhouses, now restaurants and cafes.

We relaxed for a couple of days to enjoy the atmosphere, rented a car and headed up to Mount Parnassus and the ancient ruins of Delphi. Delphi was the centre of the world according to ancient Greeks and thousands of pilgrims flocked to consult the oracle at the sanctuary of Apollo. The setting is spectacular, sited amongst the mountains. We explored the museum first, where the staff are highly protective of the displays and when it comes to young children they verge on the paranoid so we didn't linger too much, just time to admire some of the statues. By then it was almost dusk, a far more comfortable time of day to explore the site itself, which leads up the hillside.

The following day we left Galaxidhi harbour for Corinth, but just minutes out of the harbour a problem with the electrics/engines arose, where the engines were putting out too high a voltage, potentially dangerous and damaging to the batteries. We quickly cut both engines to drift a short time and then restarted them but it happened again so we headed to Itea, a town only 4 nautical miles across the bay from Galaxidhi which we'd visited it with the hire car and stocked up at the supermarket the day before! What next? Colin suspected there was a problem with the diode splitter (I know this is a bit technical), a box which directs the charge from the engines to the battery bank. I took the girls off to give him some space so he could spend time checking the connections and test running the engines. It seemed possible that the fault had corrected itself and next morning we set off again. But then shortly after leaving it happened again and so we put in to the nearest harbour, this time Galaxidhi which although lovely we were starting to tire of slightly!

Galaxidhi has a small chandler and the owner suggested an electrician who could come and look at the problem. We waited a day for him to come but when he did he obviously had no idea what he was doing. Fortunately, while we were sitting in the harbour wondering what to do next, La Vida, a really friendly Norwegian boat arrived. On board were Harald and Torrill, Svend Erik and Rita. Harald spent 5 years building their boat and he and Torrill had sailed down from Norway. He suggested a way to work round the problem so that we could run the egines safely to move on. They were also heading our way and offered to accompany us in case we had any difficulty. Finally a week after first arriving we had a chance to get out of Galaxidhi!

The 30 nm journey to Corinth the following morning began smoothly, with the engines running and very light winds. So light that we ran out of wind and behind us the crew of La Vida stopped for a swim. Then in the space of 30 mins the wind increased from 0 knots to 30+ knots and the sea came up behind us, completely against forecast. Suddenly we were sailing downwind at 8 knots, with the end of the gulf rapidly approaching. Fingers and toes were all crossed that the engines would behave for the approach into Corinth harbour. After ploughing through a confused lumpy swell around the harbour mole we swung into the marina and tied alongside painlessly. Phew. Half an hour later La Vida arrived and we enjoyed great hospitality on their boat.

Next morning we headed out of Corinth harbour but just missed a transit slot, so we drifted with La Vida and several other boats outside the canal entrance. Luckily it was glassy smooth and totally relaxing, unlike the previous afternoon. Eventually boats started to come through from the Aegean side and then we got the green light for our transit. Go go go!

We followed behind La Vida and each documented the other's journey through with comprehensive photography. The canal is amazing, it's got bridges that sink as you approch and everything! Ancient mariners used to drag their ships across here on a paved road and it's easy to understand why as it's only 3.2 miles between the seas (and even though it is one of the most expensive canals in the world per mile it was much easier not to have to carry the boat).

From the canal we had a good sail downwind to the town quay in Aegina Town. La Vida came into Aegina the next day and we spent a nice few hours with them in one of the waterfront cafes on Svend Erik & Rita's last night before going home to Norway. In the end we spent 4 days in Aegina, with a local mechanic again failing to properly diagnose the elecrical problem but we had a sociable time meeting the crews of the other boats around us, especially Karl and Laura from Edinburgh (who had just launched their boat Madison from a stay in a local yard and were in town before starting a 3-month cruise) and Helge, Vibeke and their friends from Denmark on Sheban Gold who gave us some contacts on Poros, a short hop south.

Thursday 7 October 2010

More Ionian photos

A private cove on Ithaca

Dinghying to the beach

Isla at Fiskardo

Cliffs along Meganisi's south coast

Maggie enjoying cream cheese

Sunday 3 October 2010

Greece - The Ionian

Our crossing from Croatia to Corfu took 40 hours, bypassing Montenegro (unfortunately we didn't have enough time to visit here, it is apparently beautiful) and Albania (deliberately as apparently they are not quite ready for tourism yet). The conditions were very calm and we spotted two turtles on the way, one of which appeared to be mounting an inflatable swimming ring! We were 30 miles offshore and the water was 31C so we took the engines out of gear for a quick swim - a very quick swim as all the movie scenes of what could happen next sprung to mind! At one stage we were overrun with flies even though we were so far from land. The fly swat earned its place on the boat that day. On our second night we were engulfed in a thick fog which reduced visibility to just past the bow navigation lights, and spent tense hours watching blobs on the radar screen moving around us (lots of blobs as there are lots of ferries go between Italy and Greece).

We arrived into Gouvia marina to complete our arrival procedures as recommended in the Greek pilot guide (written by Rod Heikell aka Rod the God to many sailors for writing the first ever pilot books, and Rod the Cod to us). However this is Greece and the bureaucracy was not as joined up as it could be. We couldn't get our cruising permit on a Saturday so had to visit the port police again on Monday, then take a taxi to the local tax office to pay a small fee (in company with the population of Corfu paying their taxes) and then return with the receipt to get the last forms completed! No other country we have visited makes it so difficult to pay your money on entry, espcially such a token amount. No wonder the economy is in such strife.

We then anchored in Garitsas Bay, Corfu Town for most of the next week and enjoyed some family time with a reunion of the Sing/Scotters - Louise's Mum and Dad, brother Jon, and Uncle Paul and Aunt Jan, who moved to Corfu before the girls were born. Grandma enjoyed celebrating her birthday with everyone and treated the girls to oversized balloons which they loved. The holding in this bay is good so long as you find a suitable patch of sand - our anchor had held well through weed for the first 3 days but then unexpectedly dragged as for the first time on our trip. And unfortunately with no one on board. We were exceedingly fortunate that Skyran gently nudged a German boat called 'Escaped' (yes, we know, the irony wasn't lost on us either, our boat escaped, theirs didn't) lying downwind, whose owners tied her alongside. The lesson we learned that day is that an anchor can drag even after you have felt secure for several days.

Family gathering at Paul and Jan's

A balloon almost bigger than Maggie

Garitsas Bay

View of Garitsas Bay from the fort

After that we made certain our anchor was in the middle of a big sand patch, and it's just as well we did, for our last night spent here was rough but our anchor held, unlike some of the other boats around us. The forecast was for strong winds from the south in which case the bay would have been protected, but instead it came round to the east with Force 5 gusting 6 winds blowing straight in and giving us our most uncomfortable night at anchor yet. It was completely open and each time as the bows crashed into the oncoming waves we felt like our anchor would be pulled free. Several boats around us were dragging and resetting in the dark. One boat thoughtfully anchored just meters in front of us (in the dark), which was bad enough, but then their anchor light promptly went out giving us even more cause for concern! Once the morning light came we upped anchor and moved round to the marina at Gouvia for some shelter, rest, and to service the engines. At Gouvia we met another sailing family, a couple and their two sons on a 32' trimaran who had spent the summer travelling round the Pelopponese. Shame we only met them an hour before we left the marina, this keeps happening to us!

Before leaving Corfu we stopped in at Benitses, a few kms south of Corfu Town to check out the free marina - one of several built in recent years which are not officially up and running - no power or water but no charge either. Paul and Jan keep their boat here and showed us around, including the impressive 80' converted racing yacht they are caretaking while their friends who own her are back in the UK.

M is for Mmmm chocolate mousse

From Corfu we headed south towards the Gulf of Patras making stops at Paxos and Antipaxos (stunning turquoise waters and sandy beach here - we were the first to arrive, within half and hour we were surrounded by boats!), Preveza, Lefkas, Ithaca and Kefallonia. The weather was a bit mixed and it really began to feel like autumn on the cloudy days, although there was still a lot of heat on the sunny days.

Preveza was ok, the noisy nightlife and bouncy town quay were fine for a night. From here we set off for Lefkas. There is a swing bridge which opens on the hour at the entrance to Lefkas and we left it a bit late leaving to reach it, so had an exciting motor sail down in a stregthening Force 5 wind racing towards the bridge and arriving just as it opened, slightly later than it should have, perfect! We couldn't get tied up on the town quay in Lefkas Town, the local liveaboard community closed ranks and tied ropes between boats blocking any spaces, claiming it to be a private quay (not sure how British yachties can own a Greek town quay). Along with a few other boats we anchored off to go shopping and then had a good downwind sail to Vlikho Bay near Niddri. Niddri will never win any prizes for being the prettiest town but the bay is incredibly well protected. We anchored in the gooey mud with many others and sat out a couple of days of wet windy weather. Hiring a car for the day was a good distraction.

The bridge at Lefkas


From Lefkas we headed to Ithaca, admiring all the pretty islands on the way such as Meganisi, noting good anchorages for possible future trips but not stopping now as we wanted to head for the Corinth canal and possibly the Aegean. It was a windy afternoon spent travelling down to Ithaca, the wind gusts strongly off the high islands we were travelling between. Our anchorage on Ithaca that night was not very comfortable so we headed off early to Fiskardo on Kefallonia, which Rod the Cod said was protected from all winds. We arrived early and had the pick of the town quay for mooring. It's lucky we did as within half an hour the place was full, mostly with flotilla charter boats. This was a great place to relax after the previous long day at sea, it's a small village and life revolves around the harbour. The pavements are lined with cafes, so close to the edge that our passerelle (gangplank) was under a table! We took advantage of this by booking that table and going out for dinner once the girls were in bed - for the first time since we'd left Edinburgh we were out by ourselves! We were lucky too that by chance we had parked up by the most popular restaurant in town and the food was lovely.

Fiskardo harbour

Next morning we waited for the flotillas to untangle their anchors before heading off once again. We left it a bit late to find an anchorage on the south of Ithaca, the best looking bay from the chart was full, but fortunately we found good holding instead in a tiny little inlet by the SE corner of the island. We took lines ashore and had our own small private beach for our last night in the Ionian.

Tuesday 14 September 2010

Croatia (with photos)

After Venice we spent a couple of nights anchored back at Rovinj, exploring the town and continuing our pattern of swimming and relaxing. This Venetian town's network of alleyways is best visited in the evening once the heat of the sun has subsided, and there is plenty of atmosphere as the cafes, restaurants and shops fill with tourists.

Rovinj by night

From Rovinj we travelled south, covering over 400 miles to Corfu in 12 days to meet family in Corfu. It involved several overnight journeys, visiting some beautiful places on the way. We stopped only briefly between Rovinj and Split, since we had explored the area on our journey north. A climb up the hill on Ist rewarded us with fantastic 360 degree views of the surrounding islands. We revisited a lovely anchorage on Dugi Otok before continuing on past the Kornati Islands. We reached Split under sail (goose winging for the first time) and endured another uncomfortable anchorage in the harbour while waiting for fuel (the ferries create a great deal of swell). The girls and I jumped ship and wandered through the old town. The setting is very impressive, as the streets wind through Diocletian's Palace (Diocletian was a Roman Emperor who built himself a palace on the Dalmatian coast to retire to). Venetian mansions and a revamped pedestrianised waterfront of chic cafes completed the scene.

Split's not-so-calm harbour waters

Diocletian's palace

The tunnels beneath Diocletian's Palace

From Split we continued south past Hvar to Korcula, another island with a beautiful Venetian peninsula town. This journey gave us our most exciting sail yet, where after a flat calm start the wind got up to force 5-6 and we hit 9.5 knots on a beam reach with full sail up. Picture the scene, Louise at the helm, Colin poised with camera to capture the magic speed on the instruments, Isla enjoying the cool breeze through an open hatch in the saloon. Wait a minute - did someone say OPEN hatch? If only we'd remembered to close it before hitting the wake of a superyacht passing at speed in the narrow channel which we drove into, sending water crashing over the foredeck and consequently into the saloon. Instant low from our previous high!

We searched long and hard around the area for an anchorage with good holding, trying several bays, but the strong winds which gave us exciting sailing meant we needed to find a solid protected anchorage. Finally we found good holding in Uvala Luka, the bay closest to Korcula Town, and the busiest anchorage we've seen on our trip to date. Exploring the town early (ish) the following day was a joy, the narrow winding streets giving glorious views to the sea and the spectacular mountains of the Pljesac peninsula.

Korcula Town seen from the dinghy

Enjoying the views from Korcula Town

South east of Korcula lies Mljet, an island which is predominantly a National Park. The crossing was hot and still, so we cooled off in the water by swimming from a line off the stern. Mid-swim we were overtaken by Mystere yet again, who gave us a wave as they beat us to the beautiful, peaceful anchorage of Ploce which is made up of several islands lying in a crystal water. The pine forest extends down the hillside to the rocky shore here, as on many of the islands we have seen through Croatia and we shared our chosen spot with hundreds, or maybe thousands, of humming secadas.

A mid-passage swim

Views of Mljet

On our way to Dubrovnik we visited Trsteno, a small town with a picture postcard harbour and wonderful botanical garden. We were fortunate that it was a very calm morning so we could leave the boat anchored in the exposed bay and go ashore to explore. And what a wonderful morning we spent wandering through the charming lanes where cottage gardens were laden with ripening fruit and vegetables. The gardens were a delight, beautifully maintained and providing cool leafy shade to explore. These are Croatia's oldest botanical gardens, created by an aristocratic family in 1502, parts of it were destroyed (and later restored) during the 1990s war and a subsequent fire. In the same town are a majestic pair of 400 year old plane trees. After taking far too many photos and stocking up on local produce (figs, tomatoes, grapes and a jar of tasty lemon jam), we set off for Dubrovnik.

Trsteno harbour

Trsteno's gardens

A 400-year old plane tree, with Isla for scale (if you can spot her climbing the trunk)

We had been eagerly looking forward to Dubrovnik as one of the highlights of the Adriatic, an elegant Medieval town with impressive city walls and an old town with real wow factor. Our friends on Islay Mist recommended anchoring in the river (they spent a week there and had found good holding) so we headed there, deciding to take water from the marina first. Little did we know that this would lead to our closest call yet. We took advise from the fuel berth as to where we could tie up for water but, just as we were manoevering in, 2 marina employees called us to halt. This unhappily coincided with a sudden gust of wind and from nowhere 20 knots pushed us towards the boat we were planning to tie up behind. A dramatic push off from Colin which saw him briefly leave Skyran so as not to loose grip of the other boat and full speed ahead by Louise saw us safely away with nothing damaged except our pride and previously blemish-free boat handling record.

Having narrowly escaped disaster we abandoned the river location, deciding instead that we should spend our last night in Croatia in view of the old town. We couldn't get a good holding in the bay where several other boats were anchored, only succeeding in pulling up our anchor full of weed (and making us wonder just how well anchored the other boats were). Instead we tucked inside the island of Lokrum where there was good holding (we also took a stern line to shore) and enjoyed the views of the town and the large superyachts in the bay (complete with floating hot tubs!).


The centre of Dubrovnik is incredibly well preserved, though needed renovation after it was under seige during the 1990s war. There is so much more to explore than we managed in our brief time here. We decided against wandering the 2kms of old town walls - the risks to our backs of lifting up the girls to peer over the walls for every view was too high (that and the 2km at toddler speed taking all day). The first evening we soaked up the atmosphere in the cooler temperatures. It was the final day of the city's summer festival so we were treated to a free concert as the orchestra warmed up for their grand finale (which was after the girls' bedtime).

The next day we were up early to explore before the heat of the day and catch the first cablecar up the mountain to take in more of the views. The original cablecar had been destroyed during the siege; fortunately for us it had reopened this summer, shiny and new, allowing fabulous views not only of the city but the islands stretching away to the north. Also on Mount Srd is a Napoleonic fort and fantastically Communist communications tower which looks like a 1950s space rocket.

View from Mount Srd to Lokrum

Our sightseeing included calling in on the pharmacy of a Franciscan monastery. Established in 1317 it is apparently the oldest pharmacy in Europe. I couldn't resist buying their botanical face creams with anti-ageing properties (for the accelerated ageing I've experienced while sailing with the girls, I hope it works!).

With Dubrovnik being such a popular destination it was no surprise to see Mystere approach and anchor closeby (the sailing superyacht first seen in Venice). This was to be our last encounter - as each vessel lifted its anchor later that day, Mystere headed north and we south to Cavtat. It was coincidental to have shared the same schedule from Venice to Dubrovnik, given that they can travel twice our speed.

Cavtat is another pretty harbour and the southern most port to sign out with customs. We had heard that it could be busy but we were lucky, the harbour wall was relatively quiet and the process didn't take too long. Our time in Croatia was over and it was time to move on to Greece, we had a good weather window for the 2 day/night crossing to Corfu. It felt sad to be sailing away but the happy memories we hold of our time here are too many to count and we had the whole of Greece to look forward to.

Monday 6 September 2010


Our passage north from Pula to Rovinj was straightforward and we anchored in the bay for the afternoon. Rovinj is blessed with a beautiful setting, the old town was once an island but became connected to the mainland by a causeway during the 18th century as the town grew. It also has a beautiful bay surrounded by parkland. We spent the afternoon relaxing, swimming and playing on the (rocky) beach before setting off for Venice.

We had booked two nights at a marina within the Venetian lagoon on the island of Certosa and so, in order to get the best of our time there and to time our arrival with the tides, we decided to travel overnight and arrive in the morning. Checking out of Croatian customs at 7.30pm was straightforward and the overnight passage passed smoothly.

Leaving Rovinj

The next morning dawned a stunning sunrise and through our sleepy haze we excitedly anticipated reaching the lagoon entrance.

Sunrise (red sky at morning, shepherds take warning)

Entrance to the lagoon

There is a strong tidal flow in the lagoon, this is the first time we have had to consider tides during our time in the Med.

Our first stop was a cruise up the main waterway passing St Marks Square. Unlike 007, who was working on his laptop when he arrived by yacht in Venice in Casino Royale, we needed all our concentration to watch the other boats and negotiate our way through. Terrifying and exciting (terrifyingly exciting) and exhilarating sums up the feeling of steering a safe course through the myriad of different boats sharing the same waterways (at least for me, Colin took it all in his stride). The variety of boats ranged from kayaks, gondolas, vaporettos (waterbuses), cruise ships, ferries, and all the other private boats, water taxis and working boats. Everything in Venice travels by boat - the refuse and recycling collection, ambulances, dredging boats, and so on. All this traffic makes the water pretty choppy. The collision regulations rule of passing port to port doesn't apply in these busy waters and, just like driving in Tunisia, a more fluid approach was the best way to negotiate around everyone.

Travelling through the lagoon

View towards St Marks Square (this one's for you, Fee!)

Super-yacht Mystere moored by St Marks Square (more about her later...)

Happy skipper

Too much excitement for Maggie

Due to the shallow depths of the lagoon there are waterways marked out by wooden posts. We found our 'turn-off' from the main route (I held my breathe as I made the left turn across the main route with a ferry and several speedy water taxis bearing down on us, though needn't have worried, there's room enough for everyone), and headed to Marina Vento di Veneto on Isola di Certosa. The marina has a wonderfully peaceful setting only 500m from St Marks Square, yet is away from the churning waters of the main 'drag'. After settling in we headed off on the next vaporetto to explore some more.

We took the girls up the Campanile to get the stunning 360 degree views of the city, marvelling at the wonderful secret rooftop gardens and beautiful architecture surrounding us. When it came time to leave, and as we waited at the front of the queue for the lift down, the bell hovering just above our heads started to slowly swing. Surely, I thought, they don't actually chime the bells while there are people up here? But oh yes they do. At 7.30pm. The bell swung back and forth chiming and chiming, on and on like an apocalyptic cinematic scene. My thoughts returned to Maggie and her shrill hysterical screams and sobbing when we watched cannons and muskets being fired in Malta, and I anticipated her meltdown. Fortunately she just about held it together and the lift rescued us just in time - Maggie wide-eyed and clinging to me for dear life with her entire body. (By chance we happened to be in St Marks Square at the foot of the Campanile at 7.30pm the next day and I thought about the tourists crouched below the ringing bells sharing the same experience).

The Campanile

Those bells

Fantastic views

Safely back in St Marks Square we were treated to the dulcit tones of a busking soprano singer and cellist who were travelling from Italy to Edinburgh solely on the donations of their audiences.

Classical busking

As the adrenaline rush from the bells subsided we thought we'd visit the port officials as the pilot book was a bit vague as to whether we needed to report into the country (having arrived from a non-EU country). But all we succeeded in doing was confusing the officials at the entrance who spoke little english and thought that we had arrived by ferry and were looking for a hotel. And so typically of the friendliness of Italians they even tried to suggest where we might find one!
The following day the weather turned ugly. We found ourselves in the midst of a powerful thunderstorm while on a vaporetto and so we abandoned our plans for the day when the rain was particularly torrential and stayed on board for a bit of a tour. The vaporetto route took us to Murano, a separate island within the lagoon famous for its glassware. Some of the glass is exquisite, some bizarre and some highly imaginative. Taking the girls into a couple of these shops was more than our nerves could take (don't touch ANYTHING). We had some fun at [museum modern art] on Grand Canal. There is a lit floor in the entrance with changing colours and pop music playing, running around on that was enormously exciting for the girls.


The weather forecast showed more thunderstorms so we decided that we'd stay another night in the marina, and spent our unplanned third day having a relaxed time. We found a playpark with amazing views by the canals, and wondered the streets some more. Our lunch at a popular local cafe was shared with Luna, a hungry looking dog with no obvious owner but clearly known by and popular with everyone else in the cafe.

Face to face with Luna, who only had eyes for our sandwiches

Sunday dawned bright sunshine and so with sadness in our hearts (but relief for our bank balance), we left Venice and headed back across the Adriatic for Rovinj. The water is extremely shallow even once you have left the lagoon, averging around 30 metres depth. As a result the recent stormy weather had created a choppy sea and it was a lumpy bumpy motorsail east. We were making good speed, averaging 7 knots, when a large yacht with a very tall mast appeared on the horizon and sped past - Mystere which we had seen on our first day. And she was there again on the quay, attracting crowds come to stare at her, when we finally arrived back in Rovinj at 7.30pm, exactly 4 days after we had left (and just as those bells would be chiming again). Our long-weekend in Venice was truly wonderful and unforgettable.

Views of Certosa