In almost five months living on the boat and sailing the med, I've never had the chance to drive the boat, except in open water. Today I was at the helm when David Gardner suddenly decided we needed fuel. Amidst him telling me I wasn't doing it right, and the two old men on the dock smiling and shaking their heads (like isn't she cute she can't even drive) I backed up into the berth with no problem.
I think I said fuck off with my eyes.
After sheltering at jellyfish infested Vliho Bay, we had great sailing with 15 knots of wind to the island of Meganisi. We were told it's "paradise" and it is, except for the sea urchin spines in my foot that David Gardner had to take out. In Greece they anchor with a line to shore a lot.
We sailed to the towns of Preveza and through the canal to Lefkada, both lovely, busy little towns. In Lefkada we were told we had to wait until Monday to find out about berthing Shalona here for the winter. So we rented a motorbike and toured the island. Beautiful beaches, adorable little villages, and stunning scenery.
After the lovely isle of Paxos we sailed up the River Styx. The actual River Styx! Spoke to no one from the underworld😉
We sailed past the bustling little city of Prevaza into the Gulf of Amvrakikos, looking for sea turtles and a home for Shalona for the winter. The shallow waters of the gulf provided a different sailing atmosphere with plenty of wind but no sign of the turtles we had heard about. David really like the idea of the shelter of a gulf for Shalona's safety over the winter when he didn't plan to be there watching out for her.
It was a longer sail than we had anticipated to get to the sleepy village of Vonitsa. We were able to back into a slip at the only town pier, and saw a small assortment of the usual sailors: British, French, Italian. And a few boats that looked like they had been there for years, untouched and shabby. Nevertheless, Vonitsa seemed to be off the tourist trail and its sleepy vibe, with a mostly Greek population, was refreshing after the tourist towns we had visited before.
The wind was forecasted to rise with the possibility of a storm, so we stayed for a few days. Got what turned out to be the cheapest dinner we ever had in any country there. With wine and appetizers it was only about nine Euros for two people!
David really liked the spot for Shalona. It was free and relatively sheltered, and although it was quite a way from the airport at Preveza and remote for things like boat parts (he planed to spend time living on the boat doing repairs at some point) he thought he could make it work. But we had more to see, and when we left, after the wind storm quieted down, I was glad to keep exploring. My time in Europe was getting short!
We sailed south on the Greek mainland to Parga, a stunningly beautiful spot on the med! Big winds mean we will stay for a couple of days.
Parga turned out to be one of my favorite places of the whole trip. Two spectacular white sand crescent beaches with a big hill in-between, the castle on top. We made it into the small harbor before the onslaught of flotilla sailors and then got to watch them all squeeze in. Chaos ensued.
At the beginning of our trip I used to scold David for laughing at other sailor's anchoring and berthing mishaps, but then I got over it. It was the best entertainment and was truly funny! At this spot we watched a few sailboats attempt to slide in next to us, only to turn around after seeing how little room there really was.
Then, a brave soul and someone who clearly was in denial about how close he really was to us, insisted on trying, and crashed into Shalona. At least he had the good grace to talk to David and insist on coming back the next day to replace the paint on her side, with a decal. He earnestly wrote down the spelling and everything. We never saw him again.
By evening there was not an inch unfilled in the harbor. The flotilla had their boats run up on the sand when room on the pier ran out.
Walking up the steep hill between the two beaches (one was low key, the other verging on losing its soul to tourism) we found a restaurant owned by a Scottish woman, so of course we had dinner there! We chatted a bit and she said she had been living there for over 30 years. Her children born and raised there. I guess that means she's home!
Sailing Italy has been.... Challenging.
Harsh wind and waves, unbearable heat, an engine problem, ongoing health issues and the high prices of marinas have all made the last six weeks difficult. Oh, and I forgot about the woman who chopped off the tip of her finger in the anchor chain. I had to be a nurse at a remote anchorage :( I know, poor us, sailing the Med. But you try it.
Celebrating our last night before Greece!
Although southern Italy has many beautiful and historic sights, the coast on the bottom of the boot in Calabria is rather nondescript, mostly flat, and the area gets temperatures above 100f many days in summer.
I wasn't too happy with David when he insisted on anchoring us off this coast, in the middle of nowhere, to wait for more favorable weather. Gusts of wind were raising uncomfortable seas, and we knew it would get worse rounding the cape into the Gulf of Taranto. The only marina in this remote corner of Italy was abandoned and silted up, and our Italian Waters Pilot book told an alarming story of a boat capsizing, attempting to enter it. So that was out. But at least to be closer to some kind of town!
It was so hot! Hot and depressing really. I was worried that my sickness would come back and tried to cool off in the water. But it was murky and not inviting. Eventually we ventured onto land and sought out a bank and grocery store, which we found after a couple of kilometer walk along a two lane highway. Walking back was treacherous and exhausting, and I was mad at David for putting us through this. We could have anchored closer to civilization!
The Straits of Messina. Famous for whirlpools, squalls, and six headed monsters who like to eat sailors. We made it through, but not without some drama. The boat went from almost nine knots to 0.0 in sixty seconds. The engine gave an inexplicable alarm. I got seasick, and I almost never do. The sky was smoky. The inky water full of malevolent faces. But we made it 😉
It all happened fast. Broad reach with just a reefed jib going almost 9 knots in about 35 knots of winds. Confused seas bouncing us every which way. Then David looks up from the cabin to see what I'm doing cause the boat comes to a standstill. In seconds the engine alarm goes off (for no reason). It was eerie!
For anyone who thinks distance sailing is all fun adventure... We made a ten hour motor sail today, noisy, hot and monotonous. Broken up by visiting dolphins and boat chores!
Rewarded with seeing Tropea, Italy. 200 steep steps to a fascinating old town. Then back to anchor over soft sand and clear water.
Tropea wasn't a town I had ever heard of. Down towards the tip of the boot, south of Naples, it has a population of only about 6500. A beautiful historic village jutting out into the Tyrrhenian Sea, with a blinding white sand beach under the stunning cliff that holds the city. Legend says it was founded by Hercules, who is honored in the naming of the main square, Piazza Ercole.
We climbed the million steep steps for an amazing view and fascinating architecture, surrounded by Italians and other Europeans. (Tropea seems to be off the radar for Americans at this point) I was sorry we didn't have more time to explore the area, and when we sailed away I saw Medieval hilltop cities among the vineyards, walled and ancient. I know that if I ever revisit Italy that's where I'm headed.
I watch the moon cycle through its phases and I can't believe we've been in Italy for a month already.
After the Bay of Naples we are glad to sail south to small towns like Marina di Camerota. Beautiful beach, friendly people who are descendants of South Americans, the old man at the negozio tells me.
"Caracas is my town" he says in Spanish. Families walk the mergellina in the evening. Good homemade food. No tourists.
We should be at Stromboli in the next few days.