After logging 2,046 nautical miles in 150 days; would we do it all again? Without a doubt! It’s been a steep learning curve with countless novel experiences – mostly pleasurable; some stressful; a small handful somewhat terrifying. Despite the ups and downs, Xela was returned completely unscathed and probably in better shape than when we first boarded her – thanks to the intensive maintenance schedule! We’ve learned a lot – including how much there is yet to learn. We’ve learned to love and respect a good anchor. We’ve learned what we want and don’t want in a boat. Everything is a compromise in finding the ideal boat but we now lean more towards security and reliability over comfort – although there is a limit to that formula! However, there is little doubt that confidence in ones boat is the most important part of a complicated equation. We’ve learned that the Med weather, while generally benign, deserves a healthy respect as it can bite you – sometimes unexpectedly. It can also be very frustrating for the sailor (ie too much or none at all at times). August is to be avoided if possible – May and September were our favourite months (despite the somewhat more unsettled weather). Next time we’d park the boat and find a quiet place (if it exists in Europe) to escape the August madness and charter boat circus. We’ll certainly be back for more – the Eastern Aegean and Turkey are next on our list – hopefully sooner rather than later.



Some recollections:

  • Clearest water in the Med: Toss-up between Lastovo Island and Drevenik (Croatia).
  • Favourite Greek Island: Paxos (and Antipaxos)
  • Favourite Croatian Islands: Lastovo, Miljet.
  • Weirdest anchorage: Former Yugoslav military base in Lastovo.
  • Best beaches: Myrtos (Kephalonia); Emerald Bay (Antipaxos).
  • Best monastery: Visovac (Krka river), Croatia
  • Best (and cheapest) coffee: Petrol station at the Bosnian-Croatian border (75 Euro cents). (Coffee is Bosnia’s national drink).
  • Best Capuccino Freddo (wonderful Greek “iced coffee”): Gaios
  • Most surprising moment – catching a fish 3 miles off Split/Trogir – there still are fish in the Med.
  • Dumbest things seen: A close tussle between the following two boats: 
  • a) The ship of charterers (sporting a pirate flag), who within 1hr of anchoring virtually on top of us in Sounion Bay had: lost their hot pink floating mattress to the Meltemi; nearly lost 2 of their crew + dinghy when they chased it without oars and a faulty outboard (rescued by a nearby crew from Super yacht); nearly lost one extra (poor swimmer) crew who swam out to get them and nearly didn’t make it back against the wind; jammed their self furling mainsail; hoisted the captain up the mast in a bosun’s chair to unjam the mainsail and then “dropped” him – Jatz crackers first – onto the spreaders – facial expression was priceless. All within one hour!
  • OR b) the yacht that cut inside us too close to a dangerous headland on a lee shore and “raced” ahead to beat us to the last section of breakwater wall in Loutra (Kythnos) – he was in such a hurry to grab the spot (in a 25kt cross-wind) that he backed to the wall, attached stern lines – but had forgotten to put out his bow anchor first. Not surprisingly he rapidly collected all boats to leeward and created a huge amount of fuss on the dock.
  • Most bureaucratic experience: Checking into Greece in Corfu – 2.5 hrs. Second most bureaucratic moment – checking out of Greece. This particular “job creation scheme” has to be seen to be believed.
  • Nicest anchorage: We’re not telling – in case it gets ruined! Close contenders: “Lilo’s” Bay in Croatia; One Tree Bay and Billygoat Bay on Ithaca.
  • Most unexpected place: Galaxidi (Gulf of Corinth) – lovely harbour town very close to Delphi and Navpaktos. Off the “beaten track” and away from the crowds being in the Gulf.
  • Most interesting chance meetings: Wolfie and Doris (SV Seenomaden) Lastovo (2 circumnavigations including 2 seasons sailing in Patagonia).
  • Most amazing sight: Seeing the stars reflected in the water in Lastovo (lowest light pollution in Europe).
  • Most disappointing moment: Watching the Springboks wallop the Wallabies in a bar in Frikes harbour.

Blog 6: The home stretch

The home stretch: favourite haunts and new surprises

Arrived back in the Ionian Islands, dreading the August crowds awaiting us there. Couldn’t believe our luck first night back – had the lovely Sarakiniko Bay on Ithica all to ourselves! We renamed it Billy Goat bay after the little family of 4 who visited each morning and afternoon to lick the salt off the rocks by the water’s edge. 


Back to Kefalonia to meet Emily and Alex, who were meeting us for a few weeks at the start of their Gap year European adventure. Spent a few days on Kefalonia visiting ‘must see’ spots such as Mytros Beach. Unfortunately, as there was little wind during their 10 days, we only managed to sail once. 



Spent another (more crowded) night in Billy Goat Bay, where Em and Alex practiced their rowing skills, then on to Frikes (Ithaka) which was full of flotilla yachts – mostly with Pommie, Kiwi and Aussie skippers. Ian enjoyed their company (and too many pints) watching the All Blacks and Springboks game in the Greek/Aussie bar in Frikes. 



Back to Sivota Bay and dinner with Spiros. So busy! In mid August, the bay looked like a parking lot and the small marina choked with large (mostly Italian) motor boats. Our last few days with the girls were spent organising their future travels, swimming and eating before they left us in Lefkas to catch the bus to Athens. 




Back to Lefkas for some preventive maintenance on the fuel tank. In true Lefkas Marina style, we parked under the travel lift next to the rubbish dump for which we paid Euros 60 per night – complete with the flies and no water/electricity hookup. Fortunately we were only there for a night, leaving pre dawn for the sail (mainly motor once again) to Gaios, on Paxos. We spent a very pleasant few days there people watching and swimming. 


Next stop – the wonderfully positioned Mandraki Marina in Corfu Town. It sits right under the old fort with access to town via a tunnel through the walls, probably one of the best spots to stay in Corfu. Corfu, once we got used to the tourist masses, was quite charming. Our last night was spent at a mixed opera recital at the Ionian Academy – organised by some Brit expats. Seemed fitting as the first opera ever performed in Greece (1740) was in Corfu. Fortunately, as it was so very hot, we weren’t the only ones attending in shorts and deck shoes! That will probably be the first and last time we attend such an event in such an unglamorous attire! 

 Time to leave Greece. Thankfully completing the Customs/Immigration/Port Police circus (AKA, Greek public servant job-creation scheme) for the last time. This bout only took us an hour to check out, in preparation for our passage to Croatia. We would have been happy to stay in Corfu, but a favourable weather forecast can’t be ignored, so we sailed (or motored once again) for San Stefano, on the northern tip of Corfu. It was a lovely bay (popular with the British “Villa vultures”), but unfortunately totally spoilt by the boat rental companies. We counted about 40 motor boats for hire tied up at the dock, which meant a constant flow of boats speeding past Xela, resulting in noise and rocking and rolling all afternoon.


21st August: The morning Naxtex signal from Split and local forecasts were both favourable, so after a quick check of the long range forecast (and last frappe in Greece) we left at 10.30am for our passage north into the prevailing north westerlies. Unfortunately at this time of year the wind is NNW or NW 90% of the time and bashing into it is unavoidable when heading back to Croatia. As it turned out, we had benign conditions, (slight seas and winds 2-10knots on the nose), resulting in motoring the entire 177 N miles. Quite a few other yachts heading for Italy, and lots of dolphins to keep us company! 


Twenty six hours later, we arrived in Bigova, Montenegro, a lovely quiet, large bay with incredibly clear water, much colder than Greece, a great spot for a relaxing afternoon recovering from our lack of sleep. 


Reluctantly left Bigova for Cavtat our check in point for Croatia. To our surprise, it was a lovely town – planned to stay only a day and ended up spending 5 here. We anchored in Tiha Bay, adjacent to the main town (which was full of superyachts) feeling very relaxed being back in Croatia. We now had a month before we needed to be in Hvar, so we could finally slow our pace. During our first night we were enjoying a guitar recital in the cloisters of the local monastery when one of the windows slammed in the breeze, making us wonder how Xela was faring in the adjacent bay (exposed to the north with reportedly poor holding). Managed to row the dinghy into the breeze out to the boat as it was only blowing 20 knots at that time. It quickly increased, however, to 35kts. As we were on a lee shore, we quickly shifted the boat across the bay – blowing just as hard but with more room to move, and re-anchored. The “unreliable holding” and a few anxious hours listening to the wind whistling, made us realise that maybe we had been just a little too relaxed! Despite the commotion, the anchor held and the wind settled the next morning ahead of a few mirror calm days in this lovely bay enjoying sunsets, swimming and pottering around Cavtat. 14



We headed for the Elafite islands, staying on Lopud and Sipan. Despite their proximity to Dubrovnik, they were surprisingly unspoilt and uncrowded for the last week of August. 17



We spent almost a week in Mjlet Island, moored in the very sheltered bay at Polace. Miljet is a perfect base for walking, cycling and swimming and sampling freshly caught fish (stored under the dock where we moored Xela). A few days of a very strong (northerly) Bora and some rain provided cooler temperatures for land based activities in this lovely National Park. 2122





Our next week was spent in Lastovo, the most western of the Croatian Islands. It is wonderfully unspoilt, having been open to tourists for only 15 years, and has a strong Italian background. In fact on a clear day from the peak one can see Italy only 57 miles away.




Lastovo town was a wonderful old town nestled on a hillside overlooking the vineyards below.




28We were lucky enough to see the local folk dancing in the square followed by a dinner in the town where we were entertained by some locals, guests at the next table who pulled out the accordion and spontaneously sang before, during and after their dinner. 








30The Hotel Solitudo provided a good base for catching up with some work, especially as the unsettled weather continued, with strong southerly and then northerly winds. Xela was safely tied to a concrete wall adjacent to the former Yugoslav base complete with tunnels into the hillsides large enough to accommodate small ships.


A few lively evenings were spent with Wolfie and Doris, Austrian “sea nomads” who have spent 12 of their last 21 years of cruising living aboard their 41 foot yacht Nomad, clocking up over 65,000 nautical miles during 2 circumnavigations (including 2 seasons in Patagonia). (See their website http://www.Seenomaden.at to learn more about this fascinating and delightful couple). 


The last few weeks aboard Xela were spent pottering around Hvar, cycling between Starigrad, Vborska and Jelsa, and catching up with friends Mal and Janet Robilliard.




36We also managed to finally put up our cruising chute!












Being cool and September, it was now possible to find isolated bays where we could anchor alone – much welcome relief after playing “beat the charterers” to overcrowded anchorages during the busy summer months. 









We farewelled (ate) Basil (our surrogate pet for the 22 weeks), and sailed Xela at sunset back to base at Kremik, before heading for Budapest, Prague Berlin and home! 38