The inland Ionian

Here we are in Sami, Kefalonia, sitting in a thunderstorm and heavy rain at 10am. Some windows and hatches are leaking and it’s miserable weather.

Brief respite from the rain, Sami

Brief respite from the rain, Sami

Our friends Trina and Joe left yesterday to go back home to Scotland, just in the nick of time. We had a wonderful week’s cruising with them and a couple of days ashore exploring the north part of Kefalonia.

Assos, Kefalonia

Assos, Kefalonia

Typical fishing boat

Typical fishing boat

We met them on the town quay at Sami where we arrived after an 8 hour motor from Messalonghi on the mainland. It was great to see them. They were staying in a lovely apartment just outside Sami, so we enjoyed their pool and home comforts before setting off on our week’s cruise.

Our first cruise stop was Agios Efemia, just a few miles away on the other side of the bay from Sami. The harbour master took our lines and there was also power and water on the quayside. An added bonus was the lovely clear water and hundreds of fish in the sea just outside the town. We all enjoyed the snorkeling and Trina and Joe loved being able to stay in the water as long as they liked, unlike Scotland!

Trina and I had a swim and snorkel before breakfast the next day, joining the gang of local, mature ladies who meet for a blether and a swim off the beach every day. We saw at least 6 or 7 fish species, pink soft corals and spiny black sea urchins. After breakfast we set off for our sail to Ithaka, which is considered to be Odysseus’s island in Homer’s epic poem. It’s a wild island on the west coast which faces Kefalonia, but has some charming towns and woodland on the east coast.

Snorkeling, Ithaka

Snorkeling, Ithaka

We anchored in a small cove for lunch and more snorkeling amongst the shoals of saddled sea bream, so it was late afternoon before we reached Kioni. Predictably, the wind was gusting 12-15 knots as we searched for a space on the busy quay. It was really full but there was just one small space between a big catamaran and a 42 foot yacht. Andy went for it and luckily it was not just two of us on board, as the big yacht’s dinghy was doing its best to fill the gap. Joe heroically managed to move the dinghy by climbing on to the neighbouring, unoccupied yacht and heaving the dinghy on to the dockside. Andy reversed quickly into the gap to stop the wind blowing us sideways, while I handled the anchor. It was all a bit fraught! The guys on the cat were also helpful (self preservation) but had the good grace to admit that Andy had done a great job getting us into a tight space.

So there was relief all round to be safely in the harbour and we could enjoy exploring the wee town. Like a lot of the island towns, Kioni is built upwards on the slopes surrounding the sea. The houses are piled on top of each other, with winding closes and flowers spilling over garden walls and steps.

Kioni restaurant

Kioni restaurant

Terraced restaurant in Kioni, Ithaka

Terraced restaurant in Kioni, Ithaka

Our dinner stop was at a delightful restaurant which was vertically arranged on terracing, with only one or two tables on each terrace. The views were over the harbour, with its myriad twinkling lights, all seen through the branches of old olive trees. The waiters were kept fit by constantly going up and down the steps to serve us lucky people.

Trina and I managed a swim off the rocks the next morning before we headed off to our next  destination, Spilia on the island of Meganissi. We were away by 11am, to avoid the ferry that uses the pier we were docked on. A mixture of sailing and motoring covered the 18 nautical miles and we arrived at 1530, which meant it was not too busy.

Spilia

Spilia

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Sheep, Spilia

Sheep, Spilia

Spilia, Meganissi

Spilia, Meganissi

The owners of the Spilia Taverna have laid lazy lines so there was no need to deploy the anchor this time. We really appreciate now why they are called “lazy lines” as it does make life much easier! The owners also provide toilets, showers and even a washing machine. Naturally, they expect you to eat at their Taverna, but that’s not a great hardship.

Spilia restaurant

Spilia restaurant

The only slight downside was that the owners, waiters etc of this particular Taverna are not very cheerful, unlike most of the other Greek people we have met. This has led to the taverna owners being known as “the Brothers Grim” in boating circles. The Greek election took place while we were in Spilia (the 5th one in 6 years). The Greek  people here seem resigned that not much will change, although in the Ionian islands there are still plenty of tourists. Long term cruisers here are also commenting on how busy it has been this September with flotillas and charters, as if people were leaving it late to book to see what would happen.

The forecast for the next evening was for wind and thunderstorms, so we headed for the safety of Levkas marina.

Pelicans, Levkas

Pelicans, Levkas

It was only a short 12 mile hop and we were berthed by 1500. One of the pubs at the marina was showing the rugby world cup games so we enjoyed watching a couple of games, especially the exciting  All Blacks v Argentina match. The reported wind did not materialise until about 9pm, so we managed a BBQ on the Magma, and then watched the sheet lightening display turning the whole sky purple for about 2-3 hours. Luckily, the wind did not last all night, so we managed a fairly undisturbed sleep.

The next morning we awoke to a “dreich” day. Reading, coffees, a walk into town….lazy, lazy. Glad to be in the marina and planning the return trip to Kefalonia, as Trina and Joe were flying off 3 days later.

We left Levkas on Tuesday 22nd September and even managed some good sailing on the way back to Ithaka. This time we stopped in Vathi (“big Vathi” to distinguish it from ” little Vathi” in Meganissi).

It’s a beautiful big bay with the town lying all the way round. It’s very sheltered, as it’s a deep indentation off another bay, reminiscent of some fjords.On the way in to the bay on the point, there is a beautiful white chapel with a blue door, just the sort of thing you associate with Greece.

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We tied up in the old harbour and Trina and I watched the sunset from a perch above the entrance to the bay, where the Venetians had a gun emplacement. The huge canons, emblazoned with the winged lion of Venice, were still there (well who would steal several tons of cannon from a tiny island in the Ionian?).

Everywhere here people are enterprising,  even bringing water tankers and fuel tankers to the pier.

Water delivery

Water delivery

Later, we had what was probably  the best meal of this year, at a table right by the sea, overlooking the lights of the town.

Dinner in Vathi

Dinner in Vathi

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We sailed past the island of Skorpios which was once owned by the Onassis family and is now in the hands of a Russian female oligarch. Unfortunately there are signs all over the island to say that approach and anchoring are prohibited and the best bays are buoyed off. A few sunsail yachts had managed to squeeze into one of the few permitted anchorages.

Skorpios

Skorpios

All too soon it was back to Kefalonia, but we arrived late (1645 hours) and the town quay was pretty full. When we tried to reverse into a space we were told that they were booked for a flotilla. This was the first time we had not been able to get in somewhere, but luckily in Agios Efemia there is room to anchor and the holding is good, so we had our first night at anchor for a while. Entertainment was watching the dire attempts by boats to reverse into spaces and to anchor. Everyone has to learn, but some of the big boats had the worst techniques despite bow thrusters and lots of hands on deck. We were very glad not to be an the town quay, as the music and raucous singing went on until 4am!

Trina and Joe left the next morning.

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We had not managed to show them any dolphins on their week’s cruise but we did get a loggerhead turtle swimming right past the boat in the morning.

Loggerhead turtle swimming past

Loggerhead turtle swimming past

They will just have to come back next year for the dolphins.

Tomorrow we head back to Messalonghi to tidy the boat up, do lots of washing and cleaning, inside and out and generally shutting the boat up for winter.

It’s been a fantastic year despite a major scare in Corfu. We have sailed 1700 miles this year. We started in Sardinia and have visited Corsica, Elba, Italy, the Pontine islands, the Aeolian islands, Siciliy, Erikoussa, the Ionian islands of Corfu, Levkas, Kefalonia, Meganissi and Kalamos and the Greek mainland. The highlights for us have been the amazing Aeolian islands with their volcanoes and mud pools and all the Roman remains at Ostia,  Rome and Pompei. We have certainly fallen in love with the Ionian islands and the Greek people and are looking forward to spending our next summer in this area with lots of visitors (as we have taken an annual contract out at Messalonghi).

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Magical Amvraki

The gulf of Amvraki lies east of Preveza and is about 20 miles long and 10 miles wide, with only a narrow entrance to the rest of the Ionian sea at Preveza. The water is not clear but green due to the muddy bottom and plankton and the whole area abounds in wildlife. We spent 3 nights at various anchorages, enjoying the peace and quiet and wildlife watching. The edges of the lagoon are very shallow with lots of smaller lagoons behind sandbanks, making it a wetland paradise.

Amvraki

Amvraki

We saw flamingoes flying over, loggerhead turtles watching us watching them, pelicans laboriously flying just above the water, dragonflies, swallows, seagulls, terns,egrets, herons and dolphins. We stayed sitting on deck for hours the first night listening to the shepherd calling his jangling flock,  while he walked along the shore with his torch. Two tiny fishing boats had laid their nets just behind us and the fishermen talked in low voices with the quiet strains of the radio behind them, while they waited for the nets to fill.

Amvraki scene

Amvraki scene

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It was a magical place and so reminiscent of the west coast of Scotland. Some small scale agriculture, fishing, green hills and stunning mountains in the distance. I swam first thing in the morning and was rinsing off the seawater on the back platform when a pod of dolphins swam into the bay. A mother and young calf came to within 50m of the boat!

We saw more of the dolphins over the next few days. I logged the sightings with the local dolphin project and was amazed to read that there is a resident population of 150 bottle-nosed dolphins in the gulf.

The only downside to being in the gulf was the relentless wind which blew at 20 knots all afternoon, making an uncomfortable anchorage. It’s a wonderful place though and we will return another year to explore further.

We returned to Preveza and Andy managed to get a dental appointment to get his crown stuck back in. He got an appointment the next day and it only cost €20. The dentist spoke excellent English and is seriously contemplating going in for dental tourism in partnership with local hotels, as dental treatment is so much cheaper in Greece than Britain.

Fishing boat, Preveza

Fishing boat, Preveza

Our next port of call was Levkas marina just south of Preveza. In this part of Greece there are many shallow lagoons and sandspits and often the access to towns is via dredged canal with a road on the banks. Levkas canal is one of these and is dredged to about 6m,  but the entrance has a nasty hooked sandbar and a swing bridge which opens only once an hour for 10 minutes or so.Dredgers work constantly to keep the channel clear. So it’s a logistical puzzle to get to the entrance of the canal just before the bridge opens. It’s a busy place and you don’t want to have to hang around inside the canal entrance waiting on the bridge to open.

North end of Levkas canal

North end of Levkas canal

Going through the Levkas canal, swing bridge open

Going through the Levkas canal, swing bridge open

We arrived with a few minutes to spare and proceeded through the canal along with about 10 other yachts. Quite a few were coming the other way too. Levkas marina is one of the few big marinas in the Ionian, owned by the same group as Gouvia. All mod cons and every available service but it can be noisy. We wanted to see what it was like. Unfortunately,  we ended up on what felt like  the British “party pontoon”: a boat that had clearly not been out for months with a crowd of smokers on one side and noisy neighbours further down who kept us awake till the small hours with raucous laughter!! We prefer quieter places. Levkas town itself is very quirky as quite a few of the old houses are made of corrugated iron or tin, because of the earthquake risk in this part of the world.

Corrugated iron houses, Levkas

Corrugated iron houses, Levkas

Tin house, Levkas

Tin house, Levkas

Town clock, Levkas

Town clock, Levkas

Luckily on the next night the weather intervened and stopped the outdoor merriment. Winds gusted to 25 knots, thunder and lightning joined in and torrential rain fell. Everyone was up at 3am to check and adjust mooring lines. Although the wind dropped the next day, more rain fell and it was strange sitting inside the cabin again (just like sailing at home) and watching a film!

The weather cleared after 2 days and we headed off to the island of Kalamos, south of Levkas.  It was a convenient stopping place to break our journey to Messalonghi on mainland Greece. As luck would have it, our neighbour’s daughter and partner were on their boat in Kalamos, so we arranged to meet them there. Leaving the Levkas canal on the south side was like suddenly coming across West Highland week in Scotland. There were so many sailing boats, which made a lovely sight. Luckily in this part of the world there are also lots of harbours, but it meant that they would be really busy.

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The inland ionian, a bit like Scotland but much warmer!!

The inland ionian, a bit like Scotland but much warmer!!

Getting into Kalamos harbour was our first experience of coming stern to on to a quayside using the bow anchor to  hold us in place (no lazy lines in most of the small harbours). The technique is to drop the anchor about 4 boat lengths from the quay where you want to berth, then reverse the boat while paying out the anchor chain. When you want to stop ie before you hit the quayside,  you stop the anchor chain going out and you hope that you have enough chain in the locker!!!  Sounds easy doesn’t it? Unfortunately with wind blowing and lots of other boats, it’s far from easy, but we managed OK. Another Mediterranean sailing milestone!! After us, more and more boats appeared and three flotillas rafted up. The harbour was nearly full, although apparently Geoge, who is the unofficial keeper of this harbour, has never turned a boat away.

Busy harbour, Port Kalamos

Busy harbour, Port Kalamos

Kalamos

Kalamos

Lynne and Keith have sailed these waters for more than 20 years and know everyone and all the good places. It was wonderful to pick their brains and get some inside info. We had a lovely evening together, eating at George’s Taverna and swopping stories. I am sure we will meet up with Lynne and Keith again next year.

We were bound for Messalonghi the next morning and as it’s 40 miles (8hours) we wanted a reasonably early start. Big mistake! A boat going out before us caught a neighbours anchor chain and it was with a feeling of inevitability that we started to pull in our anchor. As predicted, we had another chain across it, but Andy managed to free us speedily with our clever “anchor thief hook” which we had only just bought in Levkas. Serendipity strikes again.

Lesson learned, come in early, leave late!! Unfortunately not always possible. Have your anchor thief on stand by.

So now we are in Messalonghi marina for a quick look and finalisation of our annual contract. A lovely sail over from Kalamos, Vaila romping along at 7.3 knots on a broad reach in 15-20 knot winds. Lovely to get a proper sail at last and hardly any other boats in sight. There was another canal entrance to this marina but much nicer than Levkas, with coloured houses and landing stages on the canal banks.

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On Tuesday we head back across to Kefalonia, to meet up with our friends Trina and Joe and sail for a week. Hopefully the weather will be kind and let us get to the beautiful places in Kefalonia and Ithaca.

Afloat again, Corfu and Paxos (24 August -1September)

Vaila Checklist:

No damage to keel or rudder

Engine fixed

Hull polished

Antifouling complete

New anchor

Fridge fixed

Certificate of seaworthiness issued

Boat papers returned by port police

Insurance claim settled

Vaila back in the water and ready to go

Skipper and first mate happy 🙂

At last we got away from Gouvia marina. Although everyone there had been amazingly helpful and kind, after 2 weeks on the hard we were more than ready to get back into the water, marinaitis had set in!!

Back in the water, Gouvia, Corfu

Back in the water, Gouvia, Corfu

We had made the most of our enforced break ashore though and hired a car for a few days to explore the wild NE part of Corfu. We stayed in a beautiful apartment overlooking the sea, with a lovely swimming pool and quiet balcony. We had lunch at the “White House” in Kalami, where Lawrence and Nancy Durrell lived in the 1930s. His younger brother Gerald and the rest of the family also lived in Corfu at that time.

The white house, Kalami

The white house, Kalami

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Evening at Agni, Corfu

Evening at Agni, Corfu

Some of the interior roads were merely dirt tracks through olive groves but with stunning views of mountains and the sea  far below. The castle of Angelokastro seemed to hang over the sea, accessible only by hundreds of steps.

Angelokastro castle

Angelokastro castle

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Olive groves getting ready for harvest

Olive groves getting ready for harvest

Typical wayside shrine, Corfu

Typical wayside shrine, Corfu

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Our first “sail” was only about half a mile to just outside the marina. We did not want to go far until we were confident of the engine. All was well though and after a night at anchor, we left for the island of Paxos, about 25 miles south of Gouvia. We had a great sail to Paxos with the wind getting up in the afternoon. We had opted to anchor in Lakka on the northern tip of Paxos. It’s sheltered from the prevailing NW winds and less noisy than Gaios the main town. When we got there though it was very crowded and it was quite tricky to find a good spot to anchor. Unfortunately the wind was also more northerly than NW,  which sent a swell in to the anchorage and a strange current meant that boats were lying in all sorts of directions and getting too close to each other. We stayed on deck watching the anchor dance and feeling uncomfortable.  There was nowhere else to go. Usually the wind drops when the sun goes down and this evening was no exception, but the crazy swinging got worse with no wind. So by 10 pm, in the dark, we decided we needed to move. We managed to find a spot in the very entrance of the bay, dropped the anchor and settled down to sleep, well away from other boats and risks of collisions. We awoke in the morning to find another boat even further out than us. Luckily the wind had not got up in the night.

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A lot of boats left in the morning, so we moved further into the bay and went ashore. Lakka is a delightful wee town with limestone houses and little tavernas round the quayside. There are touristy shops but also ordinary houses and lovely old fashioned shops. We stopped for an ice-cream and it’s not every day you sit at a table next to an orthodox priest having his coffee!

Shopping trip, Lakka

Shopping trip, Lakka

Lakka, Paxos

Lakka, Paxos

Lakka, Paxos

Lakka, Paxos

Lakka, Paxos

Lakka, Paxos

We enjoyed the peace and quiet and the swimming in the crystal clear water in Lakka bay, but it was time to move on the next day. We motored down the west coast of Paxos , with its spectacular limestone cliffs and caves and without the tourist developments of the east coast.

Paxos west coast

Paxos west coast

West coast cliffs, Paxos

West coast cliffs, Paxos

We had a quick visit from 2 bottle-nosed dolphins and saw lots of flying fish (one was only about 5cm across but sparkled in the sun which allowed us to see it). Our destination was Preveza marina and it was lovely when our friends Alison and Tony from “Reveller ” were on the quayside to take our lines. The marina staff had stopped work at 3 pm and it was about 5pm when we arrived and the wind was blowing the usual15 knots making it tricky even with help.

We have had a lovely couple of days in Preveza catching up with Alison and Tony who we first met in Tropea in southern Italy. We are now off for a few days to explore the gulf of Amvraki.

Drama in Corfu

We arrived in Greek waters on 31 July after a lovely12 hour sail across from the heel of Italy. We had good wind and even saw some dolphins. We took down the Italian courtesy flag and hoisted the lovely blue and white Greek courtesy flag. We also put the clocks forward 1 hour.

Down with the Italian flag

Down with the Italian flag

Up with the Greek flag

Up with the Greek flag

We dropped anchor in a beautiful bay at Erikoussa island which is one of a group of islands off the NW corner of Corfu. We opened the Prosecco and enjoyed the view. For the next two days we took it easy, explored the island and did lots of swimming. The restaurants ashore were lovely and it was nice to get some good Greek home cooking. Prices were cheaper than in Italy despite the added 23%VAT!

Erikoussa island

Erikoussa island

Busy day at Erikoussa pier

Busy day at Erikoussa pier

Andy and Sally at Erikoussa

Andy and Sally at Erikoussa

Our next stop was a tiny lagoon on the mainland of Greece, very close to the Albanian border. Albania was dramatic with high mountains and thunder clouds building. There was no obvious border but it was marked on the chart plotter and Sally flirted with it for quite a few miles as it twisted and turned.

Pagnania Creek was delightful, once we threaded our way past the fish farm cages. Herons and egrets were in the trees and by the water and ponies with bells managed to nibble at the little vegetation there was. We were the only boat there for about an hour until two French boats arrived. It was a lovely peaceful evening and we had our first Canasta match of this voyage.

Pagnania anchorage with the goats ashore

Pagnania anchorage with the goats ashore

In the morning the swallows were skimming over the lagoon. We set off for another Creek further south. This time we were getting closer to civilisation and had to dodge a lot of ferry traffic. The entrance was very shallow, but once inside it was calm and sheltered. The thunderstorms over Albania were dramatic but luckily not too close to us.

We officially “cleared in” to Greece on 5th August in Gouvia marina, North of Corfu town. Greece still has very formal arrangements for foreign yachts arriving, despite all being in the EU. It took Andy a few hours getting all the paperwork finalised and money paid. It was great to get proper showers and stock up with food. We treated ourselves to a restaurant meal as a farewell to Sally who was leaving the next day.

Merlin at Gouvia

Merlin at Gouvia

The next 2 days were ” turn around” days, as we were expecting Kirsty and Chris on the  Saturday. Washing and cleaning to be done and communications to be sorted. We got a Greek data SIM for our tablet and a SIM for my phone. Corfu town was heaving with tourists. It’s all very English here with M&S and Bodyshop on the mainstreet. The good thing is that the Greek people on Corfu speak excellent English, so communication is much easier for us than it was in Italy.

Kirsty and Chris arrived as planned at lunchtime on Saturday.  We all cooled off with a swim in the pool. In the evening there was a concert of traditional Greek songs on the quayside, which was lovely and atmospheric. Luckily it cooled down overnight and we all got some sleep. The fans on the boat really make a difference.

We took Kirsty and Chris up to Erikoussa the next day, as we had loved it so much.

Kirsty and Chris relaxing on board

Kirsty and Chris relaxing on board

Unfortunately the weather was not as kind and there was a swell coming in, however we did manage to get ashore. The night was lumpy, so disturbed sleeps for all, but it did calm down by mid morning. The forecast was for south westerly winds, so we headed for the north coast of Corfu and managed to find a tiny bay that was sheltered from the wind. There was only enough room for one boat at this anchorage and we put a second anchor out to stop us swinging. The trees came right down to the shore in the little bay and Jays provided a splash of colour as they flitted through the trees. We had a peaceful night and caught up on sleep.

Tranquil anchorage

The following day we headed back to Pagnania Creek and enjoyed a lovely peaceful night. Unbeknown to us, it was to be the last peaceful night for a while! A short sail over to Corfu town with Chris enjoying the helming, saw us drop anchor in the wide bay south of Corfu town about 5pm. There were many boats of all shapes and sizes anchored in the bay which is  sandy and provides good holding. The forecast was for hardly any wind, so we  decided to go ashore to explore and eat.

Kirsty and Chris in Corfu town before the storm

Kirsty and Chris in Corfu town before the storm

We stopped for a drink and an ice cream and suddenly it got very dark and rain started to fall and the thunder kicked in. Andy decided to head back to Vaila. In the space of the next 10 minutes the wind hit 60 knots, tables, chairs and bits of tree blew everywhere and torrential rain fell. I was really worried for Andy and Vaila, but did not want to walk in the storm with all the flying debris. It calmed down about half an hour later and I  headed down to the anchorage as fast as I good. Debris was everywhere and the limestone pavements were like ice.

I was frantic as I could not see Vaila at all. Lots of boats had been driven ashore and other boats were desperately going backwards and forwards dragging anchors. I found our dinghy but no sign of Andy. Eventually I spotted Vaila about 20m away from the sea wall much further along the bay. Andy was on board. He had seen her drag anchor, get pushed to shore sideways and watched, horrified, as waves crashed right over her coachroof in the height of the storm. He could only get on board once the storm had died down a bit.  If it had lasted any longer Vaila would probably have been totally wrecked.

A bit too close for comfort, Vaila aground

A bit too close for comfort, Vaila aground, another boat even closer!

Andy jumped off the boat into about 1m of water and waded  over to the sea wall to see me. Vaila was deeply embedded in the sand which saved her. There were about 6 other boats in the same predicament and several others on the rocks. We managed to get the dinghy and get on board. Despite lots of efforts from ourselves and others we remained stuck. The local vhf radio station were not really helping but eventually the coastguard appeared. As no one was in any real danger, and the weather had calmed down, the tug would not come until the next day.

Kirsty and Chris managed to find a hotel room for the night and they picked up a few clothes etc, which Andy carried ashore in a dry bag.

We spent a horrible, sleepless night on board, juddering with the waves and hoping the storm would not reappear. We kept trying to work our way out using our second anchor and being pulled over with a mast head rope attached to a neighbouring boat, but nothing worked. Eventually even our engine gave up! Everyone was helping each other though which was great.

The tug appeared mid morning.

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Tug “Doxa” approaching

We then heard that several boats had been badly damaged and some others had lost their rudders. Even 2 superyachts had extensive damage. It was a freak storm that was not forecast and no one could remember weather like this in August in the last 30 years!

The tug pulled us out after 3 attempts, using increasingly bigger hawsers and more power. We were so deeply embedded, we popped out like a cork and then splashed under with the bows before floating normally. Andy had managed to get our engine working, so we set off to motor to Gouvia. Unfortunately it was not to be. The engine failed again, there was no wind and we had to get the tug back. We had a fairground ride at 9.2 knots behind the tug and the staff from the marina tied us up alongside.

A wild ride to Gouvia marina

A wild ride to Gouvia marina

Everyone was great and the insurance company also swung into action. Vaila got lifted out the next day and she is now on the hard awaiting inspection.

Lift out

Lift out

Vaila on the hard

Vaila on the hard

We all managed to find hotel accommodation and so Kirsty and Chris had three nights ashore. Not quite the holiday they had expected!! However they said they enjoyed themselves and it has not put them off.Thank goodness we were not on board when the wind hit, as we would have been helpless anyway. A British guy on a boat not far away was on his boat and could do nothing against the wind and waves. He was also blown ashore and lost his rudder!

Andy and I  are a bit exhausted and stressed, so we are now enjoying a bit of a shore based “holiday”. Vaila looks like she has come out of this fairly unscathed, just a bent fairlead, broken electrical deck fitting and second anchor lost (it was that well dug in that even the tug could not shift it!!).

Now we are waiting for the surveyor and diesel mechanics to come  to give us an assessment. We are keeping our fingers crossed that there is no major damage and we can get back into the water soon to resume our summer cruise.

The end of Italy: the heel end.

Well, here we are at the end of Italy – the heel end. We are sweltering in marina Santa Maria di Leuca and this will be our last night in Italian waters. At €57 a night it doesn’t make you want to hang about!

We left Siracusa on 23 July and headed for Riposto at the southern end of the Messina strait.

Leaving Siracusa

Leaving Siracusa

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We had to motor into a head wind all day which was boring but we did get a visit from some dolphins. Andy’s sister Sally arrived the day after from Scotland. Her plane was delayed at landing due to a big thunderstorm, which thankfully gave some cooler weather for a couple of hours. Sally had helped us sail across the bay of Biscay two years ago and we didn’t manage to put her off, so she was coming to help again on this leg to the Ionian islands of Greece. It was great to have her along again.

We really enjoyed Sicily,  although we only saw the east coast. The people were all lovely and friendly, but unfortunately we never did catch a glimpse of inspector Montalbano!

The southern coast of Italy is a wild part of the country, with deep indented bays, headlands and lots of wind. Distances between safe harbours are large, so overnight passages are needed and it’s definitely easier with three people taking watches. Some of the coast is surprisingly green as rain falls on the Aspromonte mountains.

Surprisingly green coast, Calabria

Surprisingly green coast, Calabria

Our first overnighter was from Riposto to Rochella Ionica, 70 nautical miles. We left at 4pm and had a very rough few hours crossing the southern Messina strait. This bit is about as tidal as it gets in the Med and the 23 knots of wind did not help things along. But Vaila is a good boat and we never feel that she can’t cope with big seas. We all managed to snatch some sleep during the night and later the wind dropped and we motored the rest of the way.

We arrived at 0830 and the ormeggiatoro (marina staff) came out in his rib to take us across the sand bar. We washed the salt off the boat and got some rest. Sally and I plucked up the energy for a swim at the nearby beach later and In the evening we ate ashore, where pizzas came by the meter.

The next morning was an early start to cross the “bay of squalls”. It did not disappoint! Winds gusting to 25 knots made for some challenging and physical sailing.Vaila surfed down the waves at 7 knots and the dolphins were also enjoying the waves.

A wild sea, south Calabria

A wild sea, south Calabria

We had an interesting experience with 2 trawlers. Normally trawlers go forwards and drag the nets behind, but as we got closer Andy realised that these two boats were reversing together about quarter of a mile apart, so the plan of going between them suddenly had to change. We have never come across this before. You live and learn. After that the narrow entrance to Le Castella harbour did not seem  too bad.

We spent a rest day in Le Castella and visited the castle. The Aragonese built it on previous buildings dating back to Hadrian.

Sally and Andy

Sally and Andy

From the castle, Le Castella

From the castle, Le Castella

It was incredibly hot and a swim was cooling but not for long. Even the hosepipes on the pontoons had warm water. The marina was lovely and sheltered from the swell in an old flooded quarry. Thousands of sparrows roosted in the oleander shrubs in the evening, providing a spectacle and noise as they swirled around.

Vaila in Le Castella

Vaila in Le Castella

Then we had our final overnight sail last night. It was windy when we left Le Castella and we had some good sailing until 9pm (even some goose winging) then we had to switch the engine on.

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Beautiful moonlight and shooting stars and some dolphins with just the usual dodging of fishing boats and buoys. At least we all got a bit more sleep.

Approaching Santa Maria di Leuca

Approaching Santa Maria di Leuca

So now Greece here we come…..

Scilla and Sicily

Our last stop on the Italian mainland before Sicily was Scilla. This tiny place is just before the Messina straight, so was a good place to stop. Anchoring is impossible here as the bottom is all rock and old moorings, so you have to pick up a buoy. The town is vertically built on the cliff, with a castle on the headland. The owners of the buoys laid on a water taxi service to get ashore so it meant we did not have to get our dinghy out.

Scilla from our buoy

Scilla from our buoy

Scilla

Scilla

The town is very touristy at sea level, with lots of restaurants and tourist shops, but it is lovely, with fishing boats winched up in the evening and little alleyways down to the sea. A typical fishing community as in so many places, like Fife, but in Scilla the fishing is still thriving.

Boats hauled out and sword fish boats

Boats hauled out and sword fish boats

One of the main fish caught is swordfish and we were lucky to get a close up view of a couple of the boats as they were in the harbour. They are quite small, with a crows nest at the top of the mast. The captain sits here, can spot the fish near the surface and steer the boat from up there. At the bows is an impossibly long “passerelle”, a ladder like extension where the harpooner stands. It all looks precarious but works. The word passerelle has now been taken over to mean the gang plank used to get ashore from boats moored in harbours in the Mediterranean, but it originally came from the fishing boats.

Sword fish boats

Sword fish boats

We had a wonderful meal at one of the restaurants, sitting on the deck outside with candles on, the sea lapping underneath the decking and Vaila about 200 m away on the buoy. It doesn’t get much better. The best sea food risotto ever followed by grilled swordfish (what else), all washed down with Calabrian wine. And it certainly didn’t break the bank as it cost less than a meal at most places in Edinburgh

Dinner with Vaila in the background

Dinner with Vaila in the background

The next day we headed down the Messina strait. Having read how busy it can be with large ships, we were pleasantly surprised by the lack of big traffic. It’s only 1.5 miles wide at the northern end and the worst thing was the many ferries plying across between mainland and Sicily. Most of them were small car ferries with double ends like there used to be running between many of the Scottish islands. Just round the corner from Scilla are the whirlpools mentioned in the Odyssey. There are also whirlpools on the Sicilan side (Charybdis), again of Odyssey fame. According to the pilot books these are caused by the salinity and temperature change between the Tyrhenian sea, north of Messina and the Ionian Sea south of it. The Ionian sea is more salty and a couple of degrees cooler which sets up a strong current that flows south at the surface and north deeper downl When the current meets underwater rocks it sets up overfalls and whirlpools just like a Corryvrecken in Scotland. We certainly noticed the current and were doing 8.5 knots over the ground for some time (a 4 knot current).

8.5 knots in the Messina Strait!

8.5 knots in the Messina Strait!

Apparently the whirlpools are no longer as bad, as an earthquake in 1783 altered the sea bed. However it must have been very tricky for sailing ships with no handy engine. There were rip currents along the coast too and not surprisingly no-one was swimming and boats were all hauled out.

Messina strait

Messina strait

Sword fishing boat

Sword fishing boat

We carried on down the east side of the strait until it got wider and we were away from the ferries going in and out of Reggio,  then crossed over to the Sicilan side. We picked up a bouy just under the town of Taormina, so we could go ashore the next day. The water was crystal clear and no jelly fish, so lovely to get some swimming again.

On the buoy at Taormino

On the buoy at Taormino

The water taxi was not included in the buoy price this time, so we took the dinghy ashore and caught a bus up to the town on the hilltop. It was the usual hairpin bends with no crash barriers and crazy Italian taxi drivers to be avoided, but apart from  the bus  scraping  along a wall,  we got there safely. The views from the bus made up for the driving!

Taormina anchorage

Taormina anchorage

Taormina itself is a lovely hilltown, like so many in Italy, desperately trying to catch any breeze there is. Mount Etna is in the distance, smoking away. There is a Greek theatre, rebuilt by the Romans, where they regularly stage concerts. A run of Carmen had just finished and Spandau Ballet were setting up. I would love to go to a concert there, maybe one day….

Taormina Greek/Roman theatre with Etna in the background

Taormina Greek/Roman theatre with Etna in the background

Back on Vaila it was calm and we decided to anchor that night, further along where some other boats were anchored. The bouy cost €50 per night and we were leaving the next day anyway. We foolishly left the dinghy and outboard on the back as we were not going far the next day and would have time to put it away in the morning. Yes, you guessed, the wind got up during the night and by 8am we were fighting to get the outboard lifted on to the boat and the dinghy on to deck. Just then I noticed a French flagged boat getting very close to our bows and he was obviously dragging his anchor, completely oblivious because he was fishing. By this time his stern was about 5m from our bows and I shouted at him to start his engine as he was dragging. He just carried on fishing!!! I screamed at him and he got the message, but he was on his own so could only motor away dragging his anchor and so the inevitable happened. We hauled our anchor in with his firmly attached. Andy came to try to untangle us while I took the helm and reversed. All this was happening in a force 4 with quite choppy water and now the two boats were only about 3m apart bows on! Luckily Andy got his anchor off, just as an American couple from a nearby catamaran came to offer assistance.  They had seen everything happen and even had photographic evidence in case a collision had happened! Very nice of them to offer to help.

We got out of there pronto and headed for the shelter of Riposto marina.

Riposto and Etna

Riposto and Etna

Etna at night from Riposto

Etna at night from Riposto

Much to our surprise our French/Italian “friend” arrived several hours later and was put into a berth 2 down. He looked very sheepish and kept looking at our anchor! He obviously couldn’t speak much English as he tried to speak to Andy about our anchor. He certainly didn’t know the word for sorry!

Riposto is a proper working town, right under Etna. There was a great fruit and veg and fish market right across the road from the marina, so lovely fresh stuff for tea. We decided that this would be a good place to pick Sally up on the 23 July as it has a good train connection to Catania airport.

As we still had a week to spare, we decided to sail down to Siracusa, near the SE corner of Sicily. It turned into another longer motor in big swells from the NW, but it was worth it when we dropped anchor in the grand harbour in front of the old town. The old city sits on a peninsula jutting southwards into the sea with the huge natural harbour to the west of it.

Siracusa

Siracusa

Siracusa

Siracusa

Siracusa was an ancient city state founded in 734 BC, which rivalled Athens and controlled the the western Mediterranean for 200 years. Archimedes lived in the city from 287-212 BC and helped to repel the Roman attack with giant catapults and other fighting machines he designed, however the city was captured and he was killed despite orders to take him alive.

Duomo frontage, Siracusa

Duomo frontage, Siracusa

Inside the Duomo,  Siracusa

Inside the Duomo, Siracusa

The old city is dominated by the Duomo, a baroque building which incorporates the old Greek temple of Athena. The massive columns of the temple are still visible.

Column from the old Greek temple in the side of the Duomo

Column from the old Greek temple in the side of the Duomo

There are lovely, shady, winding alleys and views to the sea. Today there is building work all alongside the waterfront. The Town Quay is being turned into a cruise ship docking area and a new marina is also being constructed.

Siracusa waterfront

Siracusa waterfront

Tomorrow we are heading back up to Riposto to pick up Andy’s sister Sally on Friday. Sally will sail the next leg to Corfu with us.

You say Volcano, I say Vulcano : the Aeolian islands, 8th – 13th july 2015

The pilot book contains dire warnings about the storms that can appear out of nowhere in the Aeolian islands. They are not named after Aeolus, the wind God, for nothing. So when the forecast gave nothing greater than force 2 for the next week, we took our opportunity and sailed across from Tropea. Tropea was like an oven, so we were not sorry to leave this beautiful place.

It was 30 miles across to Stromboli, the most volcanically active of all the islands. It is also known as the lighthouse of the Mediterranean, as it erupts regularly and can be seen from quite a long way away at night, pointing the way to the Messina straight. There is a small volcanic outcrop called Strombolichio, just off the main island. It has sheer cliffs, a lighthouse with hundreds of steps up from the landing place and looks like it has been designed by a computer game designer.

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Strombolicchio

Strombolicchio

Stromboli itself is very active but has only regular, small eruptions which apparently lets the pressure off and makes it less likely that there will be a huge eruption. Amazing to think that people live on Stromboli, although occasionally they do have to be evacuated for a short time.

We anchored in a big bay on Stromboli’s north east side, with about 40 other boats, including tripper boats which were going to see the eruption at sunset. The crater was shrouded in cloud and smoke, so we decided to wait and to sail past Stromboli at 3am the next morning.

Anchorage at Stromboli

Anchorage at Stromboli

When we left at 3am we were amazed that no other boats were leaving. We motored round to the north west part of the island and were blessed with great views of fountains of magma and molten rocks being shot into the air every 10-15 minutes.

Stromboli

Stromboli

You could even see the magma flow down the upper reaches of the mountain and a couple of times there were loud explosions. As Stromboli is 3000 feet high and we were about a mile offshore it was not dangerous. A couple of bigger boats appeared and passed by but apart from that we were on our own. An awe inspiring sight and not something we will forget.

Sunrise behind Stromboli

Sunrise behind Stromboli

We left Stromboli in the dawn light about 0530 and headed to Vulcano, another active island in the group. We passed the bigger Isles of LIpari and Panarea on the way. They both have large settlements and lots of ferry traffic.

We anchored in one of the bays on Vulcano and immediately noticed the smell of rotten eggs. Vulcano spews gas not magma. We met a lovely couple Mike and Grace, from Canada, who came over for a drink bringing charts of Greece and Turkey for us. They have been cruising in the Med for the last 10 years and they were now on the return journey to the Great Lakes.

After a lovely, sociable evening the night became a bit of a nightmare. What little wind there had been dropped, but a big swell came in, rolling Vaila horribly. By first light there were big waves crashing on the rocks and we had to leave. Luckily there was another anchorage just round the corner which did not get the swell and we managed to pick up a mooring buoy for €30 per night. Nice to be secure.

Outside the mud pools

Outside the mud pools

Amazing colours of rocks at the mud pools

Amazing colours of rocks at the mud pools

The day could only get better! Brunch at 11am, a walk into town to an amazingly well-stocked supermarket followed by a hot mud pool experience for me. Andy did not think much of my idea!! The mud is meant to have therapeutic properties. For €2 you could cover yourself in mud that was so hot you could hardly touch it, stinks of sulphur and then you come out looking like an alien!! It was completely bizarre watching all these grey/green coloured people sitting on the rocks,  luckily I could not see myself!! A shower got rid of the mud from my skin which felt lovely, but my bikini will never be the same again, sadly. A cool drink was definitely required after that.

We were up at 6am the next morning for a walk up to the crater, via the town. This volcano is only 1000 feet high and has no magma, just sulphur dioxide fumeroles. There is a big sign at the bottom warning of the fumes but thankfully no health and safety people stopping you going up.

At the bottom of the volcano

At the bottom of the volcano

Up the ash cone

Up the ash cone

The walk up was on volcanic ash and later hardened mud with dust like talcum powder on top. It was very hot and there were just a few families also mad enough to go up so early. I am glad we did it then, as we got lovely views back down to the anchorage and it would have just got hotter as the day progressed.

View to the anchorage, Vulcano

View to the anchorage, Vulcano

We were at the crater by 8am and it was really surreal watching the greeny yellow fumes creeping out of holes and over the ridge. The smell was strong but not as bad as the mud pools. Sulphur “flowers” covered the rocks. The crater was clearly visible too.

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The crater, Vulcano

The crater, Vulcano

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We had another of those coincidences in the evening. A big New Zealand boat was parked next to us and we were invited for drinks. Two of the guys were virologists who had set up an Austrian biotechnology company and knew Intercell (the Austrian company I worked for) and some of the people. You couldn’t make it up could you!

We had a peaceful nights sleep, thank goodness and headed up the west coast of LIpari the next day to see the beautiful coastal scenery of impressive stacks, arches and coloured rocks.

Stacks at LIpari

Stacks at LIpari

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These islands attract a lot of tourists and we had to continously dodge ferries and fast hydrofoils coming away from Vulcano. We anchored for our last night in the Aeolian islands off Panarea. It’s known as a party island but we were well away from the dance music and enjoyed some lovely swimming followed by fresh sword fish steaks done to perfection on the aptly named Magma BBQ.

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No Calamities in Calabria

When we left Salerno we cruised down the Calabrian coast of Italy. This is a beautiful, wild corner of Italy, not yet on most tourist itineraries. The Appenine mountains are in the background making for an interesting coast.

Another watch tower

Another watch tower

Calabrian hill town

Calabrian hill town

There was often a good sea breeze blowing from the west by 10am sonde managed to sail most of the time in the first few days. We had one very lucky escape as we just managed to dodge a floating hawser about 10 cm thick and many metres long south of Salerno.

 

There are few good anchorages but we managed to find a lovely spot just round Punta Palinuro about 40 miles south of Salerno.

Anchorage

Anchorage

There were a few other yachts anchored but no large power boats or jet skiers. This coast has proved a lot quieter than further north and we often don’t see another boat all day.

The next three nights we spent in Maratea marina. It’s very small and tricky to get into but it’s a delightful town. It’s overlooked by a huge statue of Christ on the mountain above.

Entering Maratea

Entering Maratea

Maratea

Maratea

Maratea harbour from the top of the town

Maratea harbour from the top of the town

It was primarily a safe fishing harbour for centuries, but now the pleasure boats predominate. The town nestles at the bottom of the mountain and is in the shade for the first few hours of daylight, which was lovely, as it was extremely hot during the day. We stocked up with food, walked up lots of steps round the town, sampled the ice cream and had a lovely meal on the “blue moon” evening, 1 July. We also had a great view of the Jupiter and Venus conjunction. Unfortunately, the biting insects also had a great view of our legs and just for once Andy came off worse than me!

Interesting boat name

Interesting boat name

I braved the Italian postal system again to send some postcards. The wee post office only opened on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays,  0830 to 1230. By 8am on the Friday there was already a queue. I only wanted 3 stamps. It was obviously pension day judging by the age of the queuers. Just my luck. The first pension payment took 15 minutes and with the prospect of 6 more people in front of me , I waved my 3 postcards and said” tres francoboli” and the kind postmistress took pity on me! We eventually got away at 0930.

South of Maratea, the mountains turn into hills and there are miles of beaches with resorts. There must be thousands of beach umbrellas, all in colour coded, sections along this coast. It did not seem busy but by August it will probably be full of Italian holiday makers. Our next stop was Cetraro marina.

We ended up here for 2 nights, shopping and washing. There was a washing machine in the marina, bliss! We also ended up with another Moody next to us, owned by a lovely Italian couple. This is the first other Moody we have seen for ages.

I was intrigued by the little flashing lights near the harbour wall. It turned out they were on top of the pot buoy flags on the small fishing boats. The fisher folk appear to be much more considerate round here if they put lights on the buoys. A few times on night passages in the last couple of years we have had lucky escapes from buoys in the dark!

The next stage was a 50 mile stretch to Tropea. There are no harbours suitable for anything than tiny boats on this stretch of coast and there are sandbanks close to shore. There was no wind so we had to motor all the way. The only highlights were Andy seeing a turtle and me seeing a blow up child’s swimming ring with an animal head on. Luckily no child was attached as we were 10 miles offshore.

Tropea is a large town that sits on impressive ramparts and sandstone cliffs. The harbour has a tricky entrance but once inside it’s really sheltered. So sheltered in fact that it was boiling hot! We climbed the 200 steps up into the town a couple of times, early or late to avoid the worst of the heat.

Coming into Tropea

Coming into Tropea

Looking up at Tropea town

Looking up at Tropea town

We met some of the same yachts from Maratea. Everyone is making for the Aeolian/LIpari islands as the forecast is really good. This is Odysseus country (Ulysses in the roman version).

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The legend goes that the straights of Messina were guarded by Scilla and Caribdys,  2 whirlpools and the legend goes he also saw Stromboli. Luckily the whirlpools are no longer so bad as an earthquake last century altered the sea floor, but there is still quite a current in the straights of Messina which is unusual in the Mediterranean which has virtually no tides. We don’t need to worry about that yet though.

We are now in the Aeolian islands and despite the settled forecast it’s pretty windy today and we had to make a sharp exit from our anchorage. More about these amazing volcanic islands in the next post.

Down the Amalfi coast and up Pompeii, 19th – 29th June 2015

We left the marina at Ostia on the 19th June and sailed about 30 miles further down the coast to Nettuno. Nettuno is a huge marina with room for 1000 boats! We were put about as far away from the office as you could be (1 km), luckily the showers and toilets were nearer! We stayed 2 nights there to replenish supplies and do washing before heading over to the Pontine islands which are about 30 miles offshore.

The main island of Ponza has a lot of places to anchor and we had timed it not to arrive at the weekend’s midsummer celebrations. As we neared the islands, we counted 40 yachts and many motor boats leaving. So when we arrived there was lots of space. We opted for a delightful little spot called Cala Inferno, as the cliffs are very white reflecting the sun.

Andy at the BBQ, Cala Inferno, Pontine islands

Andy at the BBQ, Cala Inferno, Pontine islands

All was well until 7am when we were moved on because the 300ft water boat needed to get in to top up the islands water tanks!

Cala Inferno with water delivery tanker

Cala Inferno with water delivery tanker

We motored round the island to view all the beautiful coloured rock formations. Apparently it’s Kaolin and Bentonite containing rocks. Anchored for lunch and a swim and then back to Porta Ponza to anchor closer to town (the water boat was still in the Cala). The bells in the town church played a lovely tune on the hour.

Porta Ponza,  Pontine islands

Porta Ponza, Pontine islands

Porta Ponza

Porta Ponza

The next day we set off at 6am (first light) to sail the 50 miles to Procida island, just beside Ischia in the bay of Naples. We had a great sail in a great F3/4 southerly wind beside a big steel ketch for most of the way. The usual gusts and playing jib hokey kokey (you reef the jib in, you let the jib out, in, out, in, out…..) but we did the trip in 9.5 hours which is not bad for a 34 foot boat. We even overtook the ketch in the last couple of hours. As we approached the bay of Naples we had to deal with a lot of traffic, especially fast ferries zipping back and forth.

Fortress on Procida

Fortress on Procida

We loved Procida island. We could see Vesuvius from our berth and the town was just a few 100m away.

Procida marina. Vaila with Vesuvius in the distance.

Procida marina. Vaila with Vesuvius in the distance.

Procida town from our pontoon

Procida town from our pontoon

The island is not as touristy as Ischia or Capri and is very charming. I even found a house with my name on it and surely one of  the world’s most scenic outdoor shower.

The house with my name on, Procida

The house with my name on, Procida

Scenic shower, Procida

Scenic shower, Procida

The town council?

The town council?

The town is built on the hill and the colourful houses seem to be built on top of each other with hundreds of steps to negotiate. People cycle but most of them have electric bikes. Procida has been used as a location in many films, including “The talented Mr Ripley”.

Procida

Procida

We took a scary bus trip to see the further away parts of the island. Very glad we did not attempt to cycle. The buses must be made specially for Procida , as they only just fit between the house walls. The driver went hell for leather, presumably on the premise that if his wing mirrors did not hit the sides he was OK!

Strangely, we found a “Tenants” sign outside one of the pubs and a “Eurobet ” shop 3 doors down. Perhaps an exile?

Tennants beer, Procida

Tennants beer, Procida

At a previous marina one of the staff had asked Andy if he drank Tennants beer (turned out he had shares in Brewdog). It’s a small world. The church bells were working overtime in this town, but it sounded lovely as we were not too close.

From Procida we sailed past Capri, admiring the stacks and cliffs.

Capri

Capri

Impressive stacks, sailing past Capri

Impressive stacks, sailing past Capri

About 7 superyachts were anchored in front of the town! We anchored for the night just round the corner from Sorrento on the south side of the Amalfi peninsula. We picked up a buoy, as it’s meant to be national park and no anchoring. The park warden did not want our money and said his colleague would come back in the evening and collect €50. By 6pm another guy turned up and said he had buoys for €30 further along. Presumably he waited to see if the park warden turned  up and then poaches. It turned out to be a horrible night, so we were glad we had only paid €30! A big swell was coming in and there was still no wind so we spent a sleepless night rocking and rolling and set off at first light (6am).

Dawn over the Amalfi peninsula

Dawn over the Amalfi peninsula

It was lovely sailing along the Amalfi coast early in the morning though. The area is really wild, with big cliffs and the odd house that can only be reached by boat. There are old watch towers on every headland, some in better condition than others.

The wold Amalfi coast

The wild Amalfi coast

Possitano

Possitano

Amalfi

Amalfi

Caves, amalfi

Caves, Amalfi

Apparently this coast was frequented by pirates,  Barbarossa (Red Beard?), being the most infamous. You can imagine the signal fires being lit in times of danger. By the time you reach Positano it is more civilised and Amalfi had several large cruise lines anchored off. No wonder, as it’s a stunning part of Italy.

Our final destination that day was Salerno where we went into Marina di Arecci. It’s logo was a swordfish and funnily enough we had seen one jump several times just a few miles off Salerno.

Being in Salerno gave us the chance to visit Pompeii.  It involved 2 trains and a taxi but was definitely worth the effort. Despite the heat and the busyness, we really enjoyed it. Having been to Ostia helped.

Pompei

Pompeii

Pompei

Pompeii

Pompei

Pompeii

The measuringbtable, Pompei. Different sized holes for different stuff. Simple but effective.

The measuring table, Pompeii. Different sized holes for different stuff. Simple but effective.

Typical

Typical”bar” in Pompeii fast food joint

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The villa of the mysteries with Vesuvius in the background.

The villa of the mysteries with Vesuvius in the background.

The frescoes in Pompeii are so well preserved and have been conserved.

Fresco in the villa of the mysteries

Fresco in the villa of the mysteries

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The 6m of ash which covered the site helped to keep buildings intact apart from roofs and higher storeys.

Andy outside a villa with the

Andy outside a villa with the “have” welcome mat!

In one of the many the bath houses

In one of the many the bath houses

There is still so much hidden and a huge effort is being put in by archaeologists. Many parts of the site were closed to visitors due to consolidation work in progress.

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Most of the time we did not even notice Vesuvius from Pompeii. It’s on a hilly site and the buildings are quite tall so you don’t get long views. It must have been a terrible shock to the inhabitants when it erupted.

Guess what, we found another Scottish pub in Salerno!

Scottish pub, Salerno

Scottish pub, Salerno

Not very authentic as the pictures on the outside were Exeter cathedral and an old racecourse in the USA. There was a massive allied military landing here in WW2, so perhaps some people stayed on after the war?

Having visited Ostia, Rome and Pompei in quick succession, we are now a bit Romaned out! We are looking forward to some Greek history later.

Ostia and Rome, 17th and 18 June 2015

When we were planning the trip for 2015 we were not really intending to go into Rome, as we thought it might be too hot and busy at this time of year. We arrived at Porto Turistico di Roma with a poor weather forecast, strong southerly winds, so decided that a couple of day’s sight seeing might not be a bad idea after all. The marina is situated at Ostia about 20 miles West of  Rome and there are great, cheap transport links to Rome (€1.50 for a ticket that lasts 100 minutes and can be used on bus, train and metro). Edinburgh could learn some transport lessons here!!

Ostia was once the main port for Rome as it was on the sea at the mouth of the Tiber. It fell out of use in 3rd century AD when the river changed its course and eventually it was covered in silt, which preserved buildings, mosaicsc etc. Ostia Antica is an amazing archaeological site. All the buildings are of brick, with a little marble here and there in important places. The construction techniques are obvious and the whole site is enormous and open and you can just about walk anywhere.

Ostia Antica

Ostia Antica

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The theatre, seating for 4000 people

The theatre, seating for 4000 people

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We loved walking around and imagining all the life going on 2000+  years ago: ships arriving and grain warehouses being filled, carts rumbling across the shiny cobbles, inns and pubs serving food and wine and the general bustle.

In one of pubs, mine's a white wine please.

In one of pubs, mine’s a white wine please.

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People lived in “insulas” just like our tenements but no penthouse suite in those days. The rooms got smaller as the building went up so the poor people lived at the top.

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It was very easy to spend a whole day there and there was even some shade from huge pine trees that are younger than the buildings. Wild flowers and butterflies were everywhere too.

Back at the marina, we noticed seagulls making a nuisance of themselves for the first time this year. Two immature herring gulls had taken a fancy to a motorboat just along from us with the usual consequences. Glad they did not like Vaila.

The next day we went into Rome. What can you say that hasn’t been said before. Its amazing!

Colloseum,  what else

Colloseum, what else

Very busy and touristy it is, but we just walked around the old city and did not attempt to go into any places except the Pantheon. The 3rd metro line is under construction so parts of the forum area were being shored up. A bit of added interest for Andy!!

Tricky building work

Tricky building work

View from our coffee stop

View from our coffee stop

The Pantheon and obelisk from our lunch stop

The Pantheon and obelisk from our lunch stop

We had a coffee stop just beside one of the forum sites and lunch ( including gluten free pizza for me) just behind the Pantheon. The Pantheon is incredible, a huge dome with a 9m hole in the roof. I can’t get my head round how it doesn’t collapse. Andy knows of course!

Inside the Pantheon

Inside the Pantheon

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A walk up the Capitoline hill gave fine views over the forum area and the Colosseum and a gelato shop was in an old warehouse just like the 2000+ year old ones we had seen at Ostia the day before.

Trajans column

Trajans column

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There were people dressed as centurions at strategic places, waiting to take your money for a photo opportunity. We saw a heated argument between a young centurion (complete with plastic 6 pack) and one of the older guys. The young one was obviously on the older ones “patch” and it nearly came to fisticuffs. Wooden Swords were not drawn though! Very funny.

Navtext continues to amaze and amuse. A recent message tells of a hazzard to navigation which is paddle boarders going from Elba to northern Sardinia over 4 days. They have a support boat but what a crazy undertaking! The fridge floating in the Ligurian sea a few weeks ago must have sunk,as it’s no longer being mentioned as a hazard.