In the first half of August we headed north from the Nidri area. First we would travel through the Lefkas Channel, a narrow passage that separates the island of Lefkas from the Greek mainland, and has a turning bridge that opens to let boats pass. Anchors aweigh, and off we went!
The Lefkas Channel is about 3 nautical miles long. The Corinthians started digging it in 650 BC, turning Lefkas into an island. Lefkada, the capital of Lefkas, is situated on the edge of the channel, and the northern entrance is guarded by Agia Mavra Castle, built by Venetians during the middle ages. The castle, originally called Santa Maura, was finished around 1300 AD.
We had studied websites and cruising guides and learned that the bridge opens every hour, on the hour. We arrived just before 1 pm, and then we waited. And waited. Ten past there were quite a few others waiting as well, and twenty past we were the first to lose our nerve and get on the vhf. It turned out there wasn’t going to be an opening until 2 o’clock. When the bridge finally opened, there was a pretty dense rush hour!
After the bridge we admired the stone walls and towers of the castle, and then headed out to sea. Soon we could hoist our sails, as the afternoon breeze was at its best. Our Aina had a blast, making record speeds of 6-7 knots with her sleek new bottom, in her favourite wind, the beam reach. We felt like we had a totally new boat – the difference to old Aina with her tired barnacle bottom, and to the slow, hopeless upwind sailing we had done ever since leaving our home country, was unbelievable!
Five miles further north we turned towards the strait of Preveza. We now had the wind behind us, and after furling in our mainsail we were still making good speed with only the big genoa. We didn’t slow down as we passed the town of Preveza and the huge boatyards of Aktio – biggest in Greece – on the opposite shore.
Now we were in the Ambracian Gulf, an inland sea about 20 miles long and 7 miles wide. The northern shore of the gulf is very shallow, full of salt lagoons much like those around Messolonghi, and beautiful mountains surround the gulf from every side. The highest peaks to the north are part of the Pindus range – beyond lies the Zagori national park that we visited before Christmas (more about our mountain holiday here).
The colour of the water in the bay is not as blue as it is on the on the outside. Perhaps it’s because of the many fish farms in the area, or because of the limited size of the gulf. But it seemed clean and clear. The wind was quite fresh, but there were hardly any waves – optimal sailing conditions! And apart from us and one or two other sailboats, there was no one there!
A good breeze pushed us all the way to Vonitsa town. Vonitsa has a small marina, but we chose to anchor in a bay further east, protected from the prevailing westerly wind by the small Koukouvitsa island and a causeway that connects it to the mainland. The evening wind was getting a bit gusty, but as soon as we were in the lee of the island, it was completely calm. There were a few other boats in the anchorage during our stay – perhaps ten or so every night – and plenty of room for all.
The next day, August the 13th, we got a pleasant message from a Finnish sailing couple we had met a few days earlier in Nidri – they were on their way to Vonitsa and would anchor next to us very soon. If there’s one thing we’ve learned in this cruising life it’s to make friends quickly. Whenever we see a boat flying the Finnish flag, naturally we will go and check it out!
We spent a few days in good company, getting to know the little fishing town of Vonitsa, the Venetian castle that has been protecting it since the middle ages, and of course the famous Ambracian seafood. It felt special to spend time in the company of our countrymen. The corona spring and summer had cancelled all the plans of our friends and family members to come and sail with us, and we do miss them – but we hadn’t realized how much we have also missed being able to talk in our own language in like-minded company.
After our new friends had gone their way, we decided to visit the town of Amfilochia at the eastern end of the Abracian Gulf. We had stopped there briefly on our car journey in early spring, and it had seemed like a nice place. After leaving Vonitsa, we had a fast sail in the afternoon breeze that was getting stronger and stronger as we were approaching the east end – a little too fast, perhaps, though we were only flying the genoa. We even managed to gybe the large headsail rather gracefully, and turned southeast towards the bottom of the bay. Approaching Amfilochia we saw that the waves were growing and the wind getting very strong and gusty. We tried to find a place to dock – we had seen a marina of sorts in the winter – but the wooden pontoons were bucking wildly and big waves were crashing into a concrete quay. Another sailboat was attempting to dock, but kept turning away at the last moment, until succeeding on the third or fourth try. We decided it was too wild for us, and turned away.
We followed our own tracks back a little way, then found a small anchorage on the chart – perhaps it might be a quieter place to spend the night. And it was! It was a tiny bay close to Sparto village, next to a small bathing beach, and despite the breezy, wavy sea outside it was completely calm. The peaceful night was followed by a gentle wake-up call of goat bells in the shoreline thicket. We were up early in order to get to Amfilochia while the morning calm still lasted, and this time we found a very tame, harmless little town. We had time to visit the supermarket, the butcher, the fish shop, and even enjoy a cup of coffee before the wind came up again. By that time we were already back in our paradise of a private anchorage.
The evening swims were marvellous! We had heard and read of a phenomenon called bioluminescence – marine organisms that emit light. We went for a moonlight swim in the velvet water, and our every movement would cause a luminous, glittering swirl. It was very dark, we could see the Milky Way spread across the sky, and under the water’s surface the fantastic sparkles following the movement of our hands. This blue planet of ours is a wondrous place.