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.
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.
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.
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.
We 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.
The 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.
We 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!