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.
We weighed anchor on the 9th of September, just as the church bells of Naxos were chiming at noon, and headed out to the sunny sea. During the afternoon a nice breeze started from the north, giving us a beautiful beam reach, our boat’s favourite point of sail. Aina was doing her freight train thing at 6 knots, even though we had reefed her old, baggy mainsail in an attempt to flatten it, and were only flying the small jib up front. Despite the fresh wind, it was so hot, we were sweating in our swimsuits. What larks!
During the night we had winds from many different directions, until it seemed to settle on a very tight close haul, which, sadly, is our most common point of sail. The waves started to build up, until they were very steep and pointy. But the Ionian Sea had a surprise in store for us!
At night, after sailing some 36 hours, we saw lightning behind us. Soon, the whole western horizon was filled with amazing bursts and flashes of electricity, and dark clouds were closing in on us on both sides. In the morning light we saw that the clouds were approaching at an alarming speed, and heard the first rumbles and peals of thunder. We were moving at barely 4 knots because of the opposing wind and choppy waves, so we knew the storm would come over us. We battened down all hatches and closed the windows, and stashed our navigating tablet, vhf radios, mobile phones and laptops into the oven, hoping it would act as a Faraday cage in case we were hit by lightning. A lonely sailboat in the middle of an empty sea is a tempting target, and the damage could be extensive – at least it usually destroys all the electronic devices onboard.
Soon the storm was right on top of us, with lightning all around. We counted seconds after each strike. The closest was only half a mile away, and the bang was deafening. The wind suddenly swinged 180 degrees, and massive waves were building behind us. But every single lightning strike missed our mast! Then the rain started to pour, and neither of us had ever seen a rain like that! It was like a jet wash, and it washed every grain of salt off of our boat – which was in dire need of a good wash after sailing all summer in the salty Atlantic and Mediterranean seas. The rain was so powerful, it turned the high, choppy storm waves into heavy, rolling hills. Zeus and Poseidon, the stormy brothers, seemed to be having a bit of a quarrel in the middle of the Ionian sea – the power show was terrific to watch, and now we know that these boys are not to be trifled with!
After the storm passed, two little birds landed on our deck. They tried to find a place to sit among the ropes and guard rail wires, took off again, and came back. Finally just one of them returned, and found a sheltered place underneath the solar panel. He sat there, on his electric cord twig, exhausted. He must have been carried away to the sea by those thunder clouds, who knows how far – we were still at least 40 miles from any dry land – and hitchhiked with us all the way to Greece. When we were close enough to land, he spread his wings and flew off.
Suddenly it was calm. There was merely a breath of wind, and the water was smooth. We could see the silhouette of the island of Kefalonia before the sun went down, and smelled the wonderful fragrant air of pine forests and flowering bushes – the scent of land, which feels especially strong after a long offshore passage. It was completely dark by the time we reached Argostoli, the main town of Kefalonia. But there was a bright moon and no wind, so it was easy to find a good spot for anchoring in the large bay in front of the town. Just before midnight, after almost 60 hours at sea, we were in Greece!
We spent a few days in Argostoli, getting to know the local markets – vegetables, meat and fish in every shape and form, and very affordable, too! – some restaurants, and the most famous local inhabitant, a large sea turtle. This person certainly knew how to attract tourists, swimming up and down the town quay in front of them. Then it was time for us to continue our sail to the Greek mainland, and make some decisions about our next winter’s base.