We left the island of Kefalonia to sail to the Greek mainland. Along the way we anchored for one night on the island’s southeast corner, and continued in the morning towards the town of Mesolongi. We made landfall at dusk. Mesolongi is situated at the mouth of the Patras Bay, and surrounded by extensive salt marshes and lagoons. A narrow, dredged channel leads into the town bay, about a mile and a half inland. There are peculiar houses built on stilts on both sides of it, and many small wooden piers. Numerous bird species inhabit the wetlands, even pink flamingos, of which we saw a great big flock with our binoculars as we motored along the channel.
After a month of coastal sailing in Sicily, we felt ready to cross the Ionian Sea to Greece. Ionian is the most popular cruising area in Greece, and full of charter sailors and flotillas during the summer months. September would be a much better time – less tourists, and still very warm.
The Straits of Messina was, according to our calculations, the fourth place along our journey, where we had to carefully time our passage with the tides. The others were Alderney Race and Chenal du Four in France, and the Straits of Gibraltar. Messina is the only place in the Mediterranean that has significant tidal currents. The height difference is less than a foot, and it’s really surprising how it can cause such strong currents. In Brittany the tidal range was as much as 12 metres in places, so the currents were understandable. But perhaps the Mediterranean has a logic of its own, when it comes to tides, much as it seems to have its own logic with the winds and weather.
August in the Mediterranean is hot. It makes you understand immediately, why a thing called siesta was invented here. On the northern coast of Sicily there was no wind in August, which made the days even hotter, while we motored from one anchorage to another. But the good thing about no wind was, that we slept our nights in peace – the anchorages in Sicily are not protected. There was always some swell even on a calm night, but at least we didn’t have to worry about our anchor not holding in strong winds. The water is clean and clear, even in front of big cities, so you can always go for a swim to cool down.
As we approached the Sicilian coast on August the 10th, we chose – quite at random, as the sun would go down soon – to stop at the Trapani harbour. We knew nothing about the place, except that there was a free anchorage within the port. But the next morning’s googling revealed an ancient town by the name of Erice on top of a hill close by, and that definitely got us interested! The easiest way to get there would be by a cableway.
We sat under the scorching sun in the Almerimar Marina, waiting for the strong winds to calm down, so we could continue our journey east. In Almerimar there was no sign of any winds, so it felt funny to think there could be 30 knot winds blowing on the other side of the cape. When the forecast showed only 15 knots, gusting to 25, we left.
After leaving Porto, we had two alternatives in mind when trying to decide the next chapter of our journey – to continue south, and spend the winter in the Canary Islands, or to turn left at the corner of Portugal, and sail through the Straits of Gibraltar into the Mediterranean. We had to consider things like finding good anchorages and safe harbours, marina prices, living expenses, places of interest and variety, weather and weather forecasts, and so on. We very nearly had to toss a coin – both have plenty to offer, but both have their own limitations. Now that we’ve made the decision, we can rejoice or regret it every other day, so maybe it’s all in balance. And we can always change our minds later, as the winds surely blow both ways in their turn.
The beautiful Islas Cíes behind us, we crossed the border to Portugal at midnight. The wind was very light at the start of our journey, but there was a big swell. We had the wind with us, a very unusual occurrence indeed. During this year we’ve experienced at least some downwind sailing, but during the first 1700 nautical miles – to our winter base in Brittany – we only sailed downwind for 3 hours. This miracle happened along the inland waterways of Holland, on the lake Markermeer. Now the swell made our boat roll a lot, not very comfortable, but at least we were making good speed.
On the west coast of Galicia, there’s a large national park comprising of many islands and archipelagos, called Parque Nacional de las Islas Atlánticas. The largest of them, starting from the north, are the islands of Sálvora, Ons and Cíes, that provide shelter to the Rías Baixas from the Atlantic wind and swell. Some of the park’s islands can also be found deeper in the rías. To be able to visit any of the islands, you have to apply for a permit through a pretty straight forward online process (form to fill, instructions here). For anchoring, you need an additional anchoring permit – during the high season you can book up to three nights in advance. This is how they keep the number of tourists to a moderate level, so visitors can enjoy the experience in relative peace and quiet – a little bureaucracy is a very reasonable price to pay for a unique experience.
Santiago de Compostela with its cathedral in the north-western corner of Galicia is the major tourist attraction of the area, and of Spain. While in the vicinity, we naturally had to make a small pilgrimage there, even if it was only on wheels, as our Finnish visitor just happened to be in possession of a rental car.