Our friends from Sydney, Team Argonauts (Rob and Kylie on their Saona) managed to escape from Sydney a few weeks before we did. They had left their boat in Hammamet, Tunisia at the end of season 2019, not knowing what was in store for them. They managed to get out of Tunisia amidst some political unrest and we have been following their adventures around Sicily as they head towards Ionian Greece, hoping we would be able to cross paths and spend some time cruising together.
We set out mid-morning from Methoni intending just to head to Pylos (a massive 10nm north) for the night and meet the Argonauts the following day. We have been to Pylos before and enjoyed it. It’s a wide and sheltered bay with a town and castle at in the south. We stopped by the town to provision and then anchored in the north of the bay for the night, picking out a spot for Argonauts nearby so they could join us tomorrow. Just north of us is a spectacular, fan shaped beach and a lagoon that we could reach across a sandspit. We contact with Argonauts, consult the maps and pilot and realise we are much further south of them than we thought, with not much to do our see in between. So we change plans and decide that we will push north for another day and meet them tomorrow, on the southern end of Zakynthos Island.
In order to leave Pylos bay tomorrow morning we would have to go a couple of miles to the south to get around the headland before turning north, so it made sense to anchor in the south overnight. Somehow along the short way to the southern side of the bay we decided to put a bit more distance in the bank, turn the corner around the headland and make our way north to Proti Island a to give us more of a head-start in the morning. I was a bit dubious as it's one of these anchorages that “only has room for 2-3 boats” (there were none showing on AIS…) and we would be arriving at dusk! Oh and we might have to take lines ashore! Fortunately there are only two boats here when we arrive and they are tied back leaving plenty of room for us to swing anchor. It is Sunday evening and there is a church on the island with an Orthodox service going on, we can hear the haunting sound of their chanting. A small boat is shuttling people back and forth from the mainland until quite late and a then a blood moon rises. Magic!
A 5:30am start to leave our island anchorage the next morning as it’s a 50nm schlep north. I am grateful we did not have to take lines ashore, so no early morning swim to release them! I know there are no sharks in the Med, but the thought of swimming at dawn or dusk sends shivers up and down my spine! Winds are light and so we are motoring all the way with a main up for a bit. The last hour it is on the nose, this is why we got up early! We finally spot Argonauts on the chart-plotter and they arrive at the anchorage (Mavratzis Beach) on the south east tip of Zakynthos an hour or so later. It’s great to see them and we have a lovely dinner and way too much wine on board ITIKI, swapping war stories about escaping Australian and, for them, getting out of Tunisia and almost getting booted out of Italy!
We wake to a beautiful sunrise, although it is rare to see an ugly one I guess. Argonauts join us for morning tea on ITIKI and then we head north to Xigia beach, on the east coast of Zakynthos. There are sulphur springs here but it’s not too smelly and the water is crystal clear and turquoise. We explore some caves on the SUPs before heading north to the small village of Agios Nicholas. It's fairly late when we arrive at the anchorage it's quite full. There is a tempting looking spot on the town quay but we are reliably informed that this spot is reserved for a ferry which is due in at 7:30pm. Luckily Costas comes to the rescue in his RIB, confident he will find the best place in the crowded harbour for us. True to his word he brings ITIKI in to a fore and aft mooring very close to the shore, we could practically step off onto the rocks! Argonauts rafts up next to us and we snuggle up cheek to cheek – well we never expected to be getting this close so early on in our cruising relationship! The price for our cosy mooring is a dinner for 4 at Costas’ sister’s restaurant. Everything has its price but it is a nice meal and not at all expensive.
It’s fantastic to experience this place so empty! Keith puts the drone up for a few photos before we start to see the first of the tour boats arriving just after 9. Time for us to move on and leave them to it. We head north, leave Zakynthos and cross to the southern end of the island of Cephalonia, anchoring off a Spartia beach. The colour of the water is just stunning and we settle in for the rest of the day and evening. It’s great to be in some lovely anchorages where we can relax and enjoy, even though we are still on a time clock we don’t have too far to go. The weather conditions are perfect and there is no Meltemi!
The next morning is another early start but it is easy to get up early when the weather is so gorgeous. We have a long way to go today and we want to make a stop or two. We have a great sail up the west coast of Cephalonia, goose-winging the gennaker while Argonauts has their code 0 up. Their angles are a different to ours and they head in closer to the coast, getting smaller and smaller back there... Well, they are a bigger, heavier boat and to be fair they have the Hammamet green beard on their hulls and Rob is onto his 2nd board meeting of the day. Our lunch stop is a stunning beach called Fteri, but it’s as tricky to anchor as it is to pronounce so we leave Argonauts to it and head across the bay to another stunning beach called Myrto. We have our lunch there, have a swim and do a quick drone shoot before heading off to Asos, on the north western side the island. It’s a cute town but the harbour anchorage is way too small for us and the town quay is full of charter boats full so we find a spot outside the habour. Argonauts arrives and anchor nearby. There are high cliffs all around and it’s a great spot to explore more caves on the SUP.
We woke at 3am to the sound of thunder and some flashes of lightning. Got up to move the outdoor cushions inside and then went back to bed. There was a bit of rain but no strong wind. We have a late-ish start the next morning, cleaning the dirty rain off the boat before heading to the village for a wander around. There was quite some damage here during the ’53 earthquake and not all of it has been rebuilt. We walk up the hill to the Venetian fort for stunning views. ITIKI looks so small down in the bay below. We leave mid-morning to head around to the north eastern tip of the island for our last evening with Team Argonauts. Fiskardo is another charming and colourful touristy town. We have to do our first (and hopefully last) tie back of the season. We drop anchor 40m out and I swim the lines ashore like a pro – phew lucky I haven’t forgotten how to do it. We settle in pretty quickly and have time to help Team Argonauts when they arrive. They are relatively new to this but I am sure they will learn quickly. Once we get settled it seems to have gone beer o’clock so we have a very late lunch on ITIKI and then head into town for a quick look around. Dinner ashore tonight will be the last supper with team Argonauts – how time flies!
We farewell team Argonauts, helping them release their lines which is a bit challenging as another yacht has put their line around the same rock and overlapped with theirs. Kylie puts on quite a show for us, firstly falling off her SUP and into an oil slick, and then "nonchalantly" paddling like crazy to get back to the mothership as it pulls away. It was really lovely “2-boating” with them, just a shame we did way more motoring than sailing! We go for a wander around the point up to a Venetian light house, the ruins of a Christian church and then loop back into the main town. It’s a pretty and colourful place, jam packed with restaurants and tourist shops. Plenty of charter boats here too, lining the quays. We head off late morning, try to sail for a bit but we are making slow progress down the east coast of the island. As we turn the corner the wind shifts onto our nose and seems our planned anchorage is not well protected so we end up back at our very first anchorage on Cephalonia, Spartia Beach, completing a 90nm circumnavigation. One more night in Greece and then we cross to Italy.
We leave our lovely anchorage of Sparta Beach mid-morning and head towards Argostoli, one of the main towns of Cephalonia, and importantly a "Port of Entry". We need to refuel, provision and also formally check out of Greece. The town is up a long narrow bay which reaches in towards the centre of Cephalonia island. We tie up outside the Port Police office and are promptly told to move on as we have lobbed into a commercial boat’s berth. We manage to arrange fuel delivery by tanker but have to move to the cruise ship terminal to meet them. Not a great set up for a “small” fibreglass boat. It’s a high concrete dock with big black truck tyres for fenders and menacing steel ladders at regular intervals. The Captain manages to squeeze us on to the wall very well as usual and the tanker is there within 5 minutes of our arrival – great service! I walk back to the Port Police and check out, hand in our transit log (its Sunday, so the police kindly offer to hand it to Customs on Monday) and we are officially out of Greece – well apart from a sneaky final night anchorage on the south west tip… It is a calm night and the spot we chose at Kounapetra is quite spectacular. There is a small beach resort surrounded by cliffs and some old, traditional windmills. Farewell Greece, we have had an amazing time here. Seen so much, missed so much but loved it all – well except the Meltemi... We have a long trip ahead of us, our first overnight passage of the season to get to the toe of Italy. What adventures will be in store for us next??
Part 2: Kythera & Methoni
Our next destination is the port of Kapsali on the island of Kythira. Kythira is a small island off the bottom of the eastern most finger of the 3 fingered Peloponnesus peninsula of mainland Greece. We came around the peninsula when we entered the Med and had planned to go out of the Med via the Corinth canal, which is a significant shortcut. Sadly the canal is closed due to a landslide, so it's back around the peninsula we go in the opposite direction, trying to make some different stops than before. From Milos we had a great sail under gennaker and full main most of the way to our destination until the breeze dropped too low to keep us moving. Sailing always puts a smile on our faces. It is quite a busy anchorage but a powerboat leaves just at the right time and we find a space near some Kiwis in a 52' Grainger cat. We go and say hi before heading out to dinner. They had brought the boat from Brisbane through Thailand and the Suez to get to the Med. They were very curious to know how we had escaped Prison Australia! Apparently Oz has quite the reputation now. Anyway dinner ashore was a real treat as we haven't had goat for a while! We decide to tackle the fort and the Chora (town) up on the hill by foot tomorrow before we leave.
We managed to get him back on dry land before complete immersion and quickly whipped out the phone to dry it off (all good thankfully!) The bread didn’t come out too badly either and as far as the tissues go, time will tell... Oh and Keith was fine, a little rattled and some minor swelling on the ankle. Nothing a gin and tonic won’t fix later on.
Anyway we head out of the port with good breeze, one reef in the main and 1 in jib. We cop some strong wind along the south of the island, with katabatic gusts coming down from the steep hills we climbed this morning. This settles into a steady 18-22kts and we make good progress. The swell on the beam is not great though and is pushing us around until we get further into open water. The breeze starts to drop into the low teens and after applying the 5 min rule (plus VAT) we shake out the first reef. Of course, immediately the breeze is back up to high teens - can you believe it!?
We reach land in great time, having travelled from the southern tip of the eastern most finger of the Peloponnesus to the southern tip of the middle finger. Here I would like to give the “middle finger” to all boats that don’t have AIS. (This is the Automatic Information System that allows boats to see each other in real time on their electronic chartplotters). We had picked out a couple of remote anchorages to take a look at. According to our sources, these are quite small and would only take 2-3 boats. We could not see any boats here on the chart-plotter, but when we arrive there is no room at the inn! Bloody selfish boats in stealth mod have beaten us to the spots you picked out. We have wasted valuable time going in and out of a bay, assessing whether we can squeeze in and still have enough swing room, then it gets later and later as we try to find somewhere else to anchor. We swing by two of these anchorages (Cape Tenaro & Cape Matapan) with no luck and end up in Porto Kagio, which is a drab place that we stayed on our way into the Aegean. Its crowded and rolly but at least it is safe and everything settles overnight. We get away early the next day to head to Methoni.
Methoni is at the southern tip of the western most finger of the Peloponnesus. Again we have been here before but we are happy to return. It’s a lovely wide, protected anchorage and sandy beach but the main feature is a spectacular Castle of Methoni which sprawls over the cape, with a prominent Venetian tower on the southern tip, marking the entrance to the harbour. The Castle, like many ancient ruins and archaeological sites in Greece is normally closed to visitors on a Tuesday. When we were here before, you guessed it, it was a Tuesday! So it is a treat to be able to go and visit the Castle this time. Methoni is mentioned in historical records as far back as 8th Century BC. It was invaded by Venetians in 1125 who razed the existing castle to the ground, presumably rebuilding the stylish tower. They ruled until 1500s when the Ottomans moved in, and it provided refuge for the Muslim population during the Greek Revolution of 1821. We wander through the ruins and out to the Venetian tower, then take a walk along the sandy beach before heading off to Pylos for the night. We had intended to spend the night here and meet team Argonauts here the following day (Rob and Kylie from Sydney who are cruising in their Saona), but you will have to wait for the next instalment to see why that plan didn’t quite come to fruition.
Lynda is slowly getting used to the transition from working to not working and racing to cruising.