After leaving our winter base, Messolonghi, we rounded the southwestern corner of mainland Greece. Next to a small but very high, rugged island called Oxia we hoisted the sails for the first time. Our destination was a boatyard on the island of Lefkas, to the northwest, where our boat would be lifted out and we would spend a month or so doing boat projects “on the hard”. But before that, we would have a little mini holiday of at least a couple of days, and we planned to use it anchoring in pretty coves and getting a little first glimpse of the Ionian archipelago.
Last time we left our readers hanging on the shore in Itéa, after a wonderful trip to the temples of Delphi. It’s about time to wrap up our October journey on the Bay of Corinth, but before settling down for the winter in Mesolonghi, we still had time to visit the town of Galaxidi. It’s situated opposite Itéa and it took us less than an hour to motor across the bay.
The sun was beaming from a bright blue sky when we began our ”autumn holiday” on the Bay of Corinth. We had our winter base in Mesolongi sorted out, but the winter was still a long way away! The day turned very hot, and a gentle breeze started in the afternoon. We rolled out our big genoa, and let the boat move downwind at her own chosen speed. There was no hurry, but our big lady seemed to be waking up as the wind gradually freshened, and was making good speed. Soon we could see the Rio-Antirrio Bridge looming in the distance. This imposing bridge that opened just before the Olympic Games of Athens in 2004, separates the Bay of Patras from the Bay of Corinth, and connects the Peloponnese to the Greek mainland.
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.