A short run through the Ionian Islands before sailing for Sicily 

greece-map190919 4 A flotilla of charter boats

One of the many unforeseen benefits that we have had during our eight years of cruising is our improvement in world geography. Prior to setting sail in 2012 in the Baltic we would have struggled to identify exactly where the major countries of the Baltic lay, let alone small islands like Bornholm, the independent province of Marienham in Aland or the Finnish town of Hanko where it can be -1 degree and blowing a gale on the first day of summer. As we set out east earlier in the season from Spain any thoughts of Greece instantly conjured up an image of Athens or the white washed houses of Santorini.  As to their exact geographical location that knowledge was definitely lacking. Five months on we are now a little wiser to the layout of Greece and to the fact that there are a heck of a lot of islands in a total of six regions to explore. 

On our doorstep once we left southern Italy and stretching just 160km to the south lay the Ionian Islands. There are seven main islands six of which are off the west coast of mainland Greece, the last Kythira, is off the southern tip of Peloponnese, (that’s southern mainland Greece.)  

Corfu or Kerkyra (there are two names for everything in Greece just to keep you on your toes) which we had used as our arrival into Greece from Italy and our return from Albania is probably the most well known of the Ionian islands. It caters for a huge charter boat industry, something we witnessed first hand in Gouvia marina. Each Friday/Saturday boats arrived in droves and literally offloaded dozens of happy sailors no doubt all with stories to tell, just in time for the next lot to be uploaded equally excited for their upcoming adventure.  Just don’t try to go down a pontoon on change over day as there appeared to be no comprehension that perhaps other people needed to traverse along the pontoon between their luggage and grocery delivery. 

Anchorage off the mainland - ever changing landscapes

190921 8 Andrew surveying the anchorage with the new chart plotter

After anchoring the first night close to the marina, just in case the new windlass did not cooperate we began our journey south.

Paxos the small island off the south of Corfu had been the intended destination but strengthening winds from the wrong direction saw us head instead to the mainland to a bay recommended by Gabbi from Lady Vienna. It was a great recommendation as we found ourselves once more totally alone. It was also a good opportunity for Andrew to test out the new chart plotter installed in our dinghy - a tool which with its mapping facility is going to be very handy for surveying anchorages in the future. 

The Santa Maura swing bridge that connects Lefkas to the main land

190921 3 Approaching the swing bridge Levkas

The next island of Lefkas is separated from the mainland by a mere 50 meter wide canal. The canal is dredged to a depth of 5-6 meters and runs for a distance of around 6kms (3.5miles). A swing  bridge operates connecting the island to the mainland for vehicles and pedestrians and to facilitate passing boat traffic. 

190921 6 Traffic in the Lefkas Canal  Levkas

As the siren sounds to mark the opening of the bridge there is a serious scramble of boats, particularly for those who have found a spot along the approaching wall to wait. The bridge is open for only a very short time as authorities aren’t keen to hold up vehicle traffic, so apparently if you're too slow you just have to wait an hour till the next swing. No negotiation with the bridge attendant at all.

The canal owes its origins to the Corinthians who colonised the island in the 7th century BC and began work on the canal in 650BC separating Lefkas from the mainland and turning it into an island. 

190921 7 Scenery along Canal Levkas

The view of mainland Greece along the Lefkas canal 

190922 2 Meganisi anchorage Abelike fisherman

On the island of Meganisi we anchored on the north of the island near Albelake Bay. Here we stayed for two nights, watching charter boats come and go and the odd fisherman going about his business.

We had a surprise visit from an Australian couple Rob and Virginia who we last met over 10 years ago. They were on a cruising holiday with New Zealand friends and happen to anchor in the neighbouring bay and spot Katherine. Certainly no hiding on our boat. We were so grateful they took time to pass by to say hello. 

190923 3 Ormus Aetou Ithaki our anchorage

Our view on anchor Ormus Aetou Ithaki 

190924 3  Ormus Aetou Ithaki church in our anchorage190924 1 The colourful town of Vathi Ithaca - Version 2

On the island of Ithaki we chose to anchor in a bay just a few miles from the busy harbour of Vathy. The solitude of the bay with its quaint church tucked away in the hillside and handful of houses was only occasionally disturbed by the passing traffic.

We took the dinghy around the following day and could instantly appreciate why Vathy was such an attraction for visiting boats. Colourful houses lined the bay from the entrance, a church sat on a small island in the centre of the bay and along the waterfront were a huge collection of restaurants. Add a handful of beautiful art, craft and clothing stores to be discovered amongst the streets leading away from the harbour, Vathy could no doubt satisfy the sailors and the shoppers alike. 

190926 3 harbour view  Zakinthos

The Harbour Zakynthos early morning

190926 8 Zakinthos Harbour Katherine and pristine blue water190926 1 Turtle in harbour Zakinthos

With time running short and a potential weather window opening up we sailed past the island of Kefalonia and onto the island of Zakynthos. The colours of this harbour changed with the light of the day - but no matter what time of the day the water was simply stunning. 

South of the township of Zakynthos lies the Bay of Laganas which in 1999 became the first marine park in Greece. The Bay is significant as a nesting site for the endangered Loggerhead turtles. Within the harbour each morning a turtle could be spotted hanging around our anchor chain but no matter how hard I tried he never seemed to be close enough to photograph. 

One common element we have found in every tourist harbour in the Ionian is there is always a party pirate ship. Zakynthos seems to have taken it to a whole new level with a huge ship and a huge attendance. 

We enjoyed the ambiance of this busy harbour, the helpful marine staff, the availability to water and the efficient services of the fuel truck that arrived within minutes of us docking to see if we required fuel. Now that was entrepreneurial.

190927 2 Sailing Zakinthos Greece to Syracuse Sicily Landscape

There certainly is a whole lot more of the Ionian Islands to explore. We barely scratched the surface of recommended anchorages let alone the experiences to be found inland, but the weather window to make our way across the Ionian Sea to Syracuse in Sicily was constantly changing and so the decision was made - it was time to go. 

Though sad to have to push on it is always nice to leave a place knowing that you want to come back to explore more. 

Sailing west to Sicily into the setting sun

IMG 0043190928 3 Sailing Zakinthos Greece to Syracuse Sicily Andrew

Our sail across from Zakynthos Greece  to Syracuse Sicily was a distance of some 300nm which we managed to do with just two tacks (changes in sail and direction) No zigzagging chasing the wind on this crossing. The wind literally blew from the North West for half of the journey, took a break for a few hours in which we had to motor then came in from the South West. A fast upwind sail and towards the end spirited finish as we decided to push on to the anchorage for the evening. 

Arriving around 830pm just 36 hours after departing Greece and with only 6 hours under engine we were happy as always to put down the anchor and have a well earned solid sleep. 

(Click for more photos)

Below two short video clips to share the experience of our crossing. No editing so you get the full  wind noise. Thats sailing.

Day 1: Lee on watch, George our auto helm steering - we do two hour shifts from sunset to dawn when on passage and during the day work with each others need for sleep 

Day 2: Sailing into the sunset and getting closer to our destination of Syracuse

© SV Katherine 2018      Cover Photo: Katherine on Anchor Isle Tabarca Spain