Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Ionian Islands (continued) - Ithaca and Kefalonia

1st July. Kioni, Ithaca
A new month , a new island. Ithaca is supposedly the home of Odysseus, although there does seem to be remarkably little archaeological proof. He would have had a palace here several thousand years ago, so its not entirely unlikely that it was swallowed up by the numerous earthquakes that ravage this part of the Med. Even the supposed site of the 'Cave of the Nymphs' was thought to be accidentally destroyed by quarrying – how careless! Of course, the Iliad and Odyssey have to be read whilst in these parts, though I think some sort of award should be forthcoming for anyone who finishes the Iliad!
Kioni was a sweet little place with clear turquoise water in the port. We had just got our anchor to grip, and were trying to tie a line ashore to some rocks, when a charter yacht with 4 men-in-a-boat,  retired Sheffield lads,  tried to suck our line into their prop in their hurry to get anchored and tied up, resulting in a lot of shouting and tangles. They did treat us to G&T's on board to make up for it, and they promised to warn us next year when they come on holiday again.

3rd July Vathi, capital of Ithaca
We anchored in the harbour of Vathi, it has mud that sucks your anchor in and doesn't let go. Thank goodness, because the wind really knows how to blow here. Most evenings it blows F5-6 due to thermal and geographic katabatic effects of the surrounding mountains, and that's when there's no background wind. When there's wind around the rest of the Ionian it really howls here. This makes for an interesting time as the charter boats have to leave the normally serene anchorages that have become untenable and there's a lot of unhappy people looking seasick at anchor, too scared to get in dinghies and go ashore, or constantly relaying their anchors to avoiding dragging onto the quay walls. When it blows like this, the best trick is to anchor off, and if you want to go ashore, go in your swimwear, with your evening clothes in a drybag!
Vathi claimed to be having a cultural weekend, and so in the good company of Bob and Liz on Birvidik, we set about enjoying the activities on offer. Friday night, music on the quay – we never heard any ! Saturday night, cultural discussion about Homer, advertised in Greek and English. This should be interesting, we thought. We tried to find out more at the tourist information but no English was spoken there. So we all went along to the cultural centre at the appointed hour to find the talks were all in Greek. So we went and ate and drank ourselves silly instead.
Sunday -small church procession and Greek dancing on the quay. We went along 30 minutes before the advertised start time of 10pm, which was good, as the dancing finished at 10pm. More drinking and eating to compensate for our disappointment. Still it is a lovely little town, very Greek and not too touristy, but oh boy does it blow!
There are some lovely swimming bays around Vathi, so we made it our base for some time, popping out for the day and coming back to the safe anchorage. One evening we came back in 42 knots of wind, and the gusts were picking up buckets of surface water and flinging it at us.
For a few days a loggerhead turtle kept the boats company in the bay. I thought since they were endangered that they would be quite cute, but he was an ugly brute, with a head the size of human head, teeth, and a barnacle covered 1m round shell. I shudder to think about ever meeting one when swimming – I'll jump as high as the mast .......

Mirabella V to the right of the harbour

We had an interesting neighbour for a couple of nights when Mirabella V visited the port. This is the largest single-masted sailing yacht in the world, and of unfortunate notoriety for being grounded on rocks within a few days of its maiden voyage. Despite it's prodigious size, it is perfectly proportioned, so doesn't appear so big, until you see one of the crew walking past the furling drums, and he's about half the height! It is 75m long, 14.8m wide (2m wider than we are long!), 85m mast height, 10m keel. The boat is available for charter for $375,000 per week (that 1 week would keep us at sea for at least 20 years!). In the 'garage' it has 3 ribs (400hp, 240hp, 125hp) 4 laser dinghies, 2 seedoos, 3 replica models, diving gear, kayaks, and on deck a 20 person jacuzzi and dip pool. But even so, they were in the same anchorage as us, swimming in the same sea!

14th July, Sami, Kefalonia. 
Another new island. I visited Kefalonia 20 years ago so was interested to see how tourism had developed on the island, particularly post Captain Corelli's Mandolin fame. Despite the site of much of the filming, Sami is remarkably unaffected, apart from every other bar and restaurant having a Corelli theme or photos of Nicholas Cage and Penelope Cruz ! It still remains a laid back Greek town, without any high rise tourist apartments, and not too many tourist tat shops. The small quay was free and even the water supply was free, so this was a good base from which to explore Kefalonia (and do laundry!) 
We took a hot walk up to the ancient site of Same, a 3rd century BC fort on the hilltop overlooking the Strait between Kefalonia and Ithaca. Incredibly one of the cyclopean walls is still standing despite the earthquake that levelled the whole of the island in 1953, and numerous ones before that. They sure knew how to build in those days. How much has mankind forgotten!
Now the site is only home to a lot of funnel-web spiders. 

Stu rearranges some pots 

The Cyclopean wall – the ancients thought that only a Cyclops (a giant) could bring these blocks to the hills to build a wall like this

A funnel-web spider in his home
Steve and Sophie from Poole Yacht club were on holiday nearby, so we spent a pleasant couple of days with them. As thanks for taking them on a sailing trip they gave us a tour in their hire car, with a special stop at LIDL, where their eyes popped out of their heads when we filled the tiny boot with another 6 weeks supply of beer! 

Mourtos beach -the colour of the water is due to the local limestone, not digitally enhanced
The last time I was here, there was no road to the beach. 

Our next visitor was Janet from Sheffield, taking a break from the radiography-rat-race. 
Janet must have inadvertently packed some Sheffield weather, as we had rain for the first time in 60 days! When not dodging rain and wind in Vathi, we spent the week touring swimming spots around the islands of Kefalonia and Ithaca, our favourite one Ormos Ay Andreou, which we renamed Goaty Bay. A large herd of wild goats populate the cove, sheltering from the sun and tourists in their caves during the day. A dusk they trundle along to the small beach and their favourite bathing spot and stand in the water cooling off, and probably getting rid of the insects in their coats. At night they sleep on the beach, while some others appear to keep watch at the edges of their 'camp'.  It was better than Eastenders, honest. 

Ormos Ay Andreou- Goaty bay

We briefly popped into the well known Fiskardo, but it was stuffed full of charterers. As one boat left it's slot another would zip into its place risking all out anchor-rage. We turned tail and fled, renaming it Fiascardo! 

After taking Janet, our last booked visitor, back to the airport we had to face our decision – to stay in the Ionian, to go around the south of the Peloponnese, or to bite the bullet and pay for the Corinth Canal. After an evening spent with Martin and Gill on 'Sapphire' we were absolutely decided on the Canal route, and not least because of the battering our friends Kate and Davy were having with the meltemi in the South Aegean. We'd seen enough of the Ionian islands, lovely though they are, at times it seems that half the world's yachts must be here at one time, and it was still only July. The dreaded August holiday season was just about to start, and the first Italian holiday boats were starting to arrive. Time to be off in search of new adventures......

For those that are interested in these things, in this 3 month period in Greece we paid for only one nights mooring fees, at Gouvia (€50), the other nights were at anchor or on a free quay. We paid for water only twice, once at Gaios- €7 for a tank fill which was straight out of the reservoir and green, and €3 at Nidri on the Neilson pontoon - charter companies do have their uses after all, particularly when all the boats have gone out for the week. We have not plugged into mains power since leaving Vibo, all our charging is from solar panels and the wind generator, or as a by-product of motoring from place to place, except for running the 1kW petrol generator a handful of times using no more than 5l of petrol. The remainder of our budget we ate and drank in numerous tavernas and very good it was too!

Martin, Linda, Davy, Kate, Norman, Jill, Stu  at the fabulous 'Ionion' 
David, Linda, Ollie, Martin, Dave, Pam, Stu at Vathy

Monday, June 30, 2008

Ionian Islands (continued) - Lefkas, Meganisi and the mainland

26th May to 25th June -  Tranquil Bay and Vliho Bay, Nidri, Lefkas
After retrieving our anchor from underneath that of our neighbours flotilla boat, we headed south and west to the entrance to the Lefkas canal. Luckily we had calm weather, even so it is disconcerting to be heading towards a lee shore, where the canal entrance is impossible to make out from the sandbars and beach- thank goodness for GPS.
We motored past Lefkas town and on through the canal to Nidri and anchored in 'not so' Tranquil Bay.  For several weeks this was to be our temporary base to meet up with friends and make short visits to surrounding islands and bays.
It didn't take long to discover that many of our sailing acquaintances had similar ideas, and we crossed paths with Roamer, Will You, Dawn Chaser, Marlin, Birvidik. Also we met Rob and Juliet Kemp, and Clive and Teresa Lawrence, on their respective holidays. Sue and Martin from Bournemouth grabbed last minute holiday and stayed in an apartment in Nidri, on the waters edge.

Davy entertains us in the cockpit, with me, Kate, Martin, Linda, Jill, Norman

Early on in our stay we discovered the 'Ionian' restaurant, among the many on offer in Nidri. It has top quality food at rock bottom prices. The staff were constantly amazed because we always turned up with different people, such was the social activity for the month.

Tranquil Bay (round about when the disco started at 5.30am)

Nidri is a great place to get things done. Whilst getting our genoa (front sail) UV strip replaced by Sioux Sails to avoid another sticky problem with the furler, we carried on sailing with our smaller blade jib. A bit of overzealous cranking up of our inner forestay highfield lever (that helps hold the mast up!) had resulted in the detachment of the deck from the bulkhead underneath. This bonding of the bulkhead and deck gives the strength to keep the rigging tight. After three days with fibreglass and an angle grinder and some locally made stainless engineering, the bond is now better than the day the boat was built. I, on the other hand, am definitely several pounds lighter due to the 35 degrees still air temperature in the front cabin,  which I had to seal to stop the fibreglass dust permeating the rest of our living space. It's not all sunbathing and swimming you know.

A highlight of our stay in Nidri was hiring a quad bike for €20 per day. We went in company of Sue and Martin and toured the interior of the island. It is really unspoiled, and the quaint villages are untouched by tourism. The island has stunning beaches on the west coast, high mountainous interior and challenging roads over the passes. At one point Martin's bike showed the low petrol light, and we found ourselves on the wrong side of the pass, 26km from the nearest petrol station. So we nervously ascended to the ridge and then free-wheeled with the engine off non-stop downhill for 12km, reaching a peak speed of 67km/h ! We trundled into the petrol station with only vapour to spare.

We had been tempted into a walk to the waterfalls signposted 3km away. We're glad we didn't attempt it as they are much further, as we discovered by bike, and only a small piddle in summer!

We also should have known better than to try to catch a bus to the monastery on a holiday. We'd been told that buses went every 30 minutes to the hilltop monastery as it was a 'special day', the town's saint day. After walking all over to find the bus, we gave up and decided to walk. We asked a local 'how far?' He said 'about 3km'. It was a lot, lot, lot further and we didn't see a bus all day. These experiences lead us to suspect that Greeks can't comprehend numbers greater than three, so a long way = 3km !!

Farenomeni monastery -  incense, candle wax and cinnamon cake.....
The great thing about the Ionian is that island hopping is so easy. The distances are small and so even though the wind is often fickle you can usually sail from bay to bay, mostly in the afternoon, although we found  that the engine hours do mount up.

Here is a brief overview of the places around Nidri that we visited.

28th May - Mitika, mainland Greece
A lovely little Greek town, where we struggled to find anyone who spoke English, or any taverna open for business. Eventually through sign language we managed to get a meal on the waterfront, as dolphins fed in the bay in front of us.

A simple meal with dolphins, with Rob, Angus, Juliet and Imogen

30th May – Spiglia and Spartakhori, Meganisi
Lovely bays on this island, but an unfortunate problem with persistent wasps, which land on any bit of you and then sting if you move. It is apparently because the island is arid, and they are looking for water, which accounts for their interest in anything blue. Its good sport to kill as many as you can, but the game wears thin after a while and the wasps win out in the end. Stuart was sympathetic to them until he got stung in the goolies while showering, now he's on a trail of retribution!

The view to Scorpios from Spartakhori

3rd June – Nisos Thilia, Meganisi and Nisos Scopios 
Beautiful anchorages, perfect for scrubbing the bottom to avoid having the boat hauled out. Scorpios is the Onassis island, now a private parkland, as the two children died tragically and there seems to be no-one to inherit it now. Wardens patrol the island and prevent anyone from landing, but you can anchor in any of the bays.

14th June -  Lefkas town, Lefkas
A fun town, we managed to stock up on Thai supplies in a strange little minimarket shop, run by Australian Greeks – now that's a strange accent.

Sivota, Lefkas
Nice stop, if a bit twee. Lovely supper with Clive and Teresa on the waterfront. Theres a nice photo of us all, except me, so it doesn't get on the website.......

View of Sivota from the road above

26th June – Porto Leone, Kalimnos
A village abandoned after the earthquake redirected the spring supplying the village water. Fascinating to wander around, but so many wasps. We must have killed about 300, mostly in our homemade wasptrap  !

27th June Vasiliki, Lefkas
We enjoyed a couple of visits to Vasiliki. One of the top windsurfing venues in the world due to it's regular high winds. The town is friendly and has not sold its soul to tourism, rich kids or flashy fashions. The wind with amazing regularity starts in the morning at about force 2 until about 2-3pm when it picks up the pace for the afternoon of F 5 to 7. As the sun goes down over the hill to the west the wind dies instantly- make sure you're back to the beach or you'll be swimming home.

The evenings were spent quietly on anchor just off the town quay. Good holding on sand with crystal clear water. No need for the jostle and fretting of crossed anchors on the small quay side. We bought a second hand windsurfer with a sail and rig for just under 200E. It made me weep when I thought how little I sold all my old gear back in the UK before we left. The board we bought was an old Mistral Tarifa which needed a little work with the epoxy filler but it goes OK now and we both are enjoying the exercise. Cycling is simply too hot to be enjoyable now, exercise has to be on or in the water!

Friday, May 30, 2008

Stromboli, Volcanic Adventures, April 2008

After a couple of weeks of cramming all the winter jobs into a few days we went out for a test sail. Good job we did, as we could feel some excessive vibration as we were motoring. Back at base we found that the nylock (supposedly cannot vibrate undone) nuts had loosened from the coupling of the prop shaft to gear box. One of the nuts was completely undone and was found in the engine bilge. This was probably a result of the fishing net that we hit way back in Portugal. If we hadn't spotted it in time, the prop shaft would have come loose, and we might have sunk – it would have been nasty anyway. So we did  few more days of repairs and checks and then came  a decent forecast (5 days without a storm is a decent forecast in Calabria). Then we were off, leaving poor Martin and Linda on the shore waving us off. They had ordered a part for their engine in nearby Tropea, but the day it arrived, they were informed that 'tomorrow is a holiday' , then a long weekend, and then next week the whole engineering workshop is closed for holiday!!!!
Glad to be out on the water again we headed for the Aeolian Islands. These had beckoned from the horizon all winter, but there was no way we could easily visit by boat or train and ferry as the winter timetables made it impossible. Dolphins entertained us on our afternoon trip towards Stromboli, the constantly active volcano of the island group, known throughout the ages as the lighthouse of the Mediterranean, as its red glow and fireworks could be seen from sea, guiding the ancients towards the Straits of Messina. Unfortunately in 2004 the crater collapsed inside sinking the active part behind the volcano rim, so it is less visible from the sea now. As we approached the island at nightfall we saw a few sparks and explosions on the NW side of the island before cloud hid it from view, plunging everything into the deep dark moonless night. We pottered onwards, thankful for our GPS plotting, threading down between the islands to Lipari (where Odysseus was given his bag of wind by Aeolus, the god of wind), and arrived at daybreak at the small marina of Pignataro. We'd come to this place as research showed it to be the cheapest safe marina in the islands (€30 per night). It is just possible to anchor off Stromboli itself but we wouldn't feel comfortable leaving the boat for several hours to climb the volcano, as the weather can turn nasty very quickly here, particularly this time of year. We spent the day resting, and booking the ferry to Stromboli, the hotel we'd need for the night there, and the trip itself. Everything fell into place, and the next day we headed off on the 7.30am ferry. A rain squall came through as we made the 3 hour trip to Stromboli, with visibility reduced to a few meters and a short sharp chop blown up. We were glad that Matador was safely tied up in a marina, while we were adventuring.
Miraculously the rain stopped and the cloud cleared to a bright blue clear sky as we stepped off the ferry. It was to be the first night in 5 nights that the crater wasn't covered in cloud, so we were really lucky.

The island is very strange, as the population purely exist there to serve the tourists who want to climb the volcano. A few B&B's are straddled along the waters edge on one side of the volcano. On the other sides the volcano disappears straight down into the sea, which is also why there is nowhere to anchor. We checked into our hotel (La Nassa) and grabbed some lunch and picked up some picnic supplies for the evening. Our ascent was booked for 4.30pm and we joined the groups of younger fitter  looking people waiting to be allocated a guide to start the walk up. The information we had been given was to take lots of water, a sun hat, a wind proof layer, warm layer, stout walking shoes, some food and a torch. At that time of year we'd add thermals, gloves and woolly hat and a tot of brandy to that list. To walk to the top you have to be part of an organised trip with a guide, as they had a huge safety shake up after the last serious volcanic eruption when they found that they didn't know how many people they should be looking for.
We set off on the 3 hour climb with our guide Giuseppe. It was a slow steady pace cleverly set to accommodate many levels of fitness. It was tough going and steep but by no means mountaineering. A few people found it too much and stopped by the wayside to return disappointed to the village. It is difficult for the guides above a certain height in the park area as walkers are not supposed to be unaccompanied, but I guess by that time they've worked out those who are already struggling are not going to make the whole ascent.

This is not the place to be, when you look down and see you've dragged your anchor!

We reached the top for a fantastic sunset as the cauldron bubbled and burped at us. We all formed a circle on the rim of the crater and shivered as night rapidly descended. Within minutes our thermals and wind proofs were proving inadequate and it was absolute freezing cold with a biting wind. This would not be the time to be worrying about your boat in the anchorage 900m below!

To the bottom right of this photo is the exploding volcano crater!  

We witnessed a large belch of lava, ash and smoke amongst the constant smaller ones, and after 30 minutes at the summit were pleased to be getting our blood going again with more walking. We were told to turn on our torches and were guided over the back of the volcano down the ash flows. We sort of slid down these steep slippery slopes in a torch lit procession, and we could feel the ash landing on our backs as it was blown off the erupting crater.

It was a beautiful clear starry night, and as we looked back at the groups of torch-bearing walkers descending behind us it was like a train of firefly's snaking down the mountain. We'd been so lucky that the weather had held out for us.
It took 2 hours to descend to the village, and at times a couple of steps from the path would have led to a very rapid descent straight down into the sea. No wonder they don't like people wandering around without a guide.
We rested our legs and nerves with  few well-earned glasses of wine at Bar Ingrid before returning to our hotel to fall into an exhausted slumber. It was not a cheap outing, what with the marina fees, ferries and hotel but we felt it was well worth the effort and cost to have access to such an amazing show.
Someone has laid some mooring off the NE corner of the island now, for which they charge €25 to €50 a night. If you are thinking of visiting Stromboli by boat, this is now an option, but you'd have to have a look at them for yourself to decide if you'd be happy to leave  your boat there for 7 hours while you can see the wind and sea picking up from the NE from 900m above!!!
Next day we took a sore and stiff shuffly walk back to the 11.50am ferry to Lipari. With some time to spare before departure we were able to sit and watch the coming and going of the locals. Nothing moves in a hurry on Stromboli and most veichals are eitherthe 2 stroke APEs or golf buggies. There is also nobody so proud of his uniform or his self importance as an Italian Policeman and they paraded between the ferry and their offices in their new shiny police car complete with flashing light.

Back on the ferry we were reminded why ancient Rome was never known for it's naval conquests -  Italian 'mal de mer' being rife on board, on a smooth sunny day.
After returning to Lipari and the boat. We untied and headed off on a short motor to the the nearby island of Volcano.

This is still active, but in the slowly steaming sulphur-stinking phase of volcano life. We'd gone in search of promised mud pools and bubbling springs in salt water pools to rest our weary limbs.  The mud pools were not yet open (not tourist season yet) and the salt water springs were freezing cold, so it was a disappointment. We had every intention of staying the next day to climb to the volcanic crater, which you can walk across, but we looked at the forecast and saw that there was a 5 day forecast weather opportunity just too good to miss. 

Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Ionian Islands, Corfu and Paxos

A sailing holiday within a holiday, 1 May 2008 to 30 July 2008

We had a vague plan to head from the north end of Corfu to Kefalonia or Zakynthos before heading east through the Corinth Canal or around the south of the Peloponnese. All that we read about the Ionian encouraged us to get here early in the season before the crowds and flotillas and charterers made it less enjoyable. We'd been told that by August the bays would be very full as the Italians arrive en mass for their summer holiday. 
Apologies first - we've tried to be brief in writing about our travels, but it never works!!

Ay Stefanos, Corfu
After leaving Corfu Old town, our first anchorage stop was in my name-sake bay Ay Stefanos, at the north east end of Corfu. It was an idyllic place, but a Sailing Holidays flotilla had already beaten us to it. Never mind – there was still plenty of room. The taverna to the right as you look at the beach has prize for the most overpriced and poor quality meal in Greece yet!  You can easily see Albania across the water, and occasionally a Greek patrol boat cruises up and down looking for trouble. At night the ferries that ply this stretch of water produce waves that reach into these eastern bays, making you fall out of bed in the night.

9th May – Petriti, Corfu
A relatively unspoilt fishing harbour with a few tavernas, occasionally visited by a sailing flotilla. 
It was free to stay on the concrete wall, with the bow (front) anchor out and tied to the quay at the stern in the normal Mediterranean manner. Its free because the local businesses benefit from the tourism of sailing boats. There was a free water supply on the quay so we did our laundry too. 
One day the fishing boat came in and gave us a big bag of anchovies. Stu occupied himself for the rest of the day filleting them and we ate anchovies in various recipes for days. 

10th May – Sivota Islands/Mourtos Greek mainland opposite Corfu
This is a beautiful anchorage, very protected from the weather and enclosed, so it feels like you are in a French river. We went ashore to the town to find the port police to attempt to get stamped in and out. They started to get the quadruplicate book out and asked us where we had moored. When we said we were at anchor, they dismissed us with a wave. They told us that if we anchor we should just report to port police once per month for a stamp. This is the advice that others have had but none of the officials are willing to put it in writing! 
While at anchor Stu was fiddling with the anchor hook leaning out over the chain. I looked up in time to see his legs disappear through the bars of pulpit in a perfect dive! He managed to grab the chain as he went, and then the chain hook landed on his head giving him a little gash for his efforts. 
It was the first swim of the season, and he didn't spend long at it. He got out, had a warm shower and got dressed, then realised that his sunglasses had been on the top of his head before 'the accident'. So he had to have the second swim of the season to retrieve them from the bottom!

12th May Lakka, Paxos
After a short motor we arrived at a new island. We had arranged to meet Kate and Davy (Roamer) here and we spent a couple of days catching up with their news since we stayed with them in Malta. 
The bay is pretty and lovely clear water for swimming but the town touristy and priced accordingly so we didn't stay long before we motored around to the west coast. The cliffs are gargantuan and peppered with caves. To the right of the photo you may be able to see the cave that had recently collapsed into a big pile of stones and trees.

14th May Gaios, Paxos
We moved a whole 8 miles today and moored on the quay next to the seaplane dock. This was very convenient for a walk into town, but we didn't really enjoy aviation fuel fumes in the cabin at 7.30 every morning. The manoeuvrability of the seaplanes is impressive, as is the short distance they require for take-off and landing. We were amazed that there was no boat on patrol to clear the area of boats, but it manages to come and go without landing on anyone's head!

The seaplane moors alongside us at Gaios

Feeling that we should do some exercise before the summer arrives and it gets too hot, we got the bikes out and went for a cycle. In the usual mad dog fashion we got organised by around midday just in time for maximum heat and sun! In Paxos you only need 2 gears on your bike, first gear for going up and top gear for going down. There is nothing in between. We went off looking for a nice coastal path, but this involved going over the highest hill on the island first, then exploring every road in case it led us back around the coast – they didn't – just down to a cove and then back up to the same road again! We liked it so much we went and did it again the next day!

We can only spend 72 hours in company with Roamer before we mutually have to have a liver-recovery break, so we waved them off, they went north to Corfu and we went to Mongonisi, a landlocked anchorage at the south end of Paxos. 

Mongonisi, Paxos
20th May Preveza, Greek mainland
After a wonderful upwind sail at 7 knots, we crossed back to the mainland to the busy Greek workaday town of Preveza. It was tempting to stay on the quay, and it rumoured that the port police were yet to start charging. We found out later that the glamorous bars and restaurants on the newly poshed-up waterfront are active and loud until the very wee hours, so we were happy that we'd chosen to anchor a little way off the town and come in by dinghy. 
The weather deserves a mention at this point, only because we had about 2 hours of rain on 22nd May. It soon passed and after an hour everything was dry again. 
We took the dinghy across the busy fairway to have a look at the 3 huge boatyards side by side, Cleopatra, Preveza and Aktio. There must be about 1000 boats in each yard, testimony to the number of people who keep a yacht in the Ionian and have it launched just for 3 months in the summer. We subsequently met a lot of yachties doing just that. We got prices for a haul out and hard standing - all very similar, not surprisingly, and a fraction of the cost it would have been in Italy. Then we thought about the heat and the joys of antifouling when the paint dries on the roller before you can spread it on the boat, and we decided to carry on scrubbing the bottom of the boat from the water, until we winter the boat in Turkey. 
The names Aktio and Cleopatra reflect the historical significance of Preveza, as this was the site of the Battle of Actium in 31BC. The future Emperor Augustus routed the fleet of his adversary Mark Antony who was accompanied by Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt, thereby deciding the fate of the Roman Empire and the history of the Mediterranean. 
Preveza stands at the entrance to a large inland sea, called the Ambracian Gulf. We sailed inside and anchored in the north west corner, looking across the 30 mile wide sea. All around us fish jumped out of the water and pelicans swirled around the sky looking for food. 
We wandered ashore and found the road. A short walk found us at the ruins of the Nikopolis (Victory City) founded by Augustus in 30 BC to commemorate his success at Actium. We were about to clamber across the grassy banks to the ruins, when we remembered that the guide book said to watch out for snakes. A little further along the path, we saw a big brown snake (5 ' long and as thick as my wrist) and were very glad that we hadn't gone on a foray into the undergrowth! 

Nikopolis ruins

Can you spot him?
All around us flowers sprung from every crevice, birds chirped and insects jumped. It is an area rich in nutrients and the presence of so much flourishing nature is testimony to the lack of intensive farming and pesticides. 

24th May - Vonitsa, Gulf of Ambracia. 
A lovely laid back Greek town, still waiting for tourism to happen. Free berthing on the town quay which is in the process of having moorings laid. The water is free here, and is straight out of a spring, so the quality is exceptional.
We met another kiwi boat, Kiwi Volant, with Gary and Maria on board. We enjoyed a couple of cheap and delicious meals at the local spiteria – like a BBQ without all the washing up. It has become a regular quest throughout Greece, to search out good spiterias as they are the best value and tastiest food. 
Another Sailing Holidays flotilla arrived and provided an early evening of entertainment as they crossed anchors and bashed into each other and into the quay, broke down, and generally demonstrated their startling lack of experience and knowledge of all things nautical.

This chap really fouled up; he has one anchor chain under his bow, and another between the keel and rudder. After being untangled he left the bay with his tail between his legs, too embarrassed to try again.