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Last Days of Summer.

October 1, 2014

We spent one night in Palairos Bay before heading up through the Levkas canal. We just missed the 12 noon opening of the bridge so in order to kill a little time before the 13:00 opening, we went to the fuel berth. We didn’t expect to use a vast amount of fuel in the final ten days or so of the season but it leaves the tank fairly full and therefore lessens the chance of the dreaded diesel bug. As we left the fuel berth we noticed ‘Levitha’ sitting at anchor just off Levkas town and hurled a few brief insults at Corinne and Claudio before getting in line to go through when the bridge opened.

This particular transit was made rather more interesting because our depth gauge decided to work only intermittently. The canal regularly silts up and has to be dredged; it is extremely important to stick to the buoyed route as depths elsewhere are very shallow. Indeed there were a number of excavators and large earth-carrying barges dotted along the length of the marked channel as we came through. The bridge opens on the hour for about five minutes so once the warning alarm goes all the boats jostle for position and try to get through as quickly as possible before the bridge starts to close again. Just after you get through the bridge the canal takes a sharp turn to starboard (right) as you head north and just as we got there we met a tug pulling an enormous barge in the opposite direction – not really what you want to meet on a tight bend!

Just one of several work platforms in the Levkas canal as we went through.

Just one of several work platforms in the Levkas canal as we went through.

We made our way up to Preveza, following the buoys that mark the route round The town and through to the Gulf of Amvrakia, parts of which are very shallow. We anchored beyond the little marina in (yet another) Vathy Bay and next morning we took the dinghy ashore in search of fresh food. Spotted ‘Levitha’ once again, this time alongside on the town quay, so we had a coffee with them at one of the waterfront cafés before exploring the delights of Preveza.

Next day we headed into the Gulf of Amvrakikos. Having negotiated the narrow entrance to the Gilf we headed up into the north west ‘corner’ and dropped anchor. No-one and nothing much around. It was a grey day and the surrounding country (what we could see of it) is low lying. Throughout the Gulf there are sand bars and very shallow water so it was necessary to anchor several hundred metres offshore. It is a popular spot for migrating birds according to the pilot book but even they were notable by their absence. Can’t say we were overwhelmed by our first impressions.

Probably if we had had sunshine and blue skies we would have felt rather differently about Salaora Bay in the Gulf of Amvrakikos.

Probably if we had had sunshine and blue skies we would have felt rather differently about Salaora Bay in the Gulf of Amvrakikos.

Next day we decided to head to Vonitsa on the southern coast.  We didn’t get any sailing in but we were visited, albeit briefly, by some dolphins who swam in the bow wave for a few minutes before heading on their way, leaping right out of the water with great exuberance as they swam off.  Always a magical sight!  Just as we were approaching the anchorage north west of Vonitsa the wind decided to kick off.  However we were delighted by the beautiful anchorage; this was much more like it!  We both had a swim but snorkelling was a pointless activity as the water visibility was almost nil, basically because the Gulf is a huge lagoon so full of micro-organisms.

 

"Rampage" at anchor in Markou Bay, Vonitsa

“Rampage” at anchor in Markou Bay, Vonitsa

We stayed a few days in Markou Bay, taking the dinghy round to the town for re-supplies. It seemed quite a reasonable little town with a castle on the hilltop and quite good amenities so we decided that in due course, we would come in and spend some time in the harbour in order to get water and also to prepare ‘Rampage’ for lift out.

Looking down on Vonitsa from the castle.  Note the island linked by an isthmus in the background.

Looking down on Vonitsa from the castle. Note in the background, the little island linked by an isthmus to the mainland.

In the meantime, however, we thought we would go and explore the eastern end of the Gulf, so off we set. We tried to sail but the wind was flukey and kept fading and changing direction and then died away altogether so we gave up and motored. After four hours there was really very little to see; once again it was grey and empty. We knew from the pilot book that the harbours at the eastern end of the Gulf were too shallow for us and the anchorages were either inadvisable in anything other than very settled conditions or once again we would be anchoring several hundred metres from the shore in a wide, shallow bay. We came to the conclusion that we were burning diesel to no purpose and took the decision to return to Vonitsa. We did see dolphins again briefly on the return trip but they were far too busy to come and say hello. Shortly afterwards it started to rain. The rain grew steadily heavier and was accompanied by thunder and lightening. I had a moment of panic when Duncan requested his foul weather gear but thankfully found it fairly quickly and easily. He then nobly stayed up top while I took shelter below, passing up hot food and drinks to the hero at the helm! We had thought we would go straight into the harbour on our return, but because the weather was so foul Duncan said he’d go to the anchorage where he could anchor single-handed and I could stay dry.

The Skipper may look grumpy but in fact he was being a sweetheart and letting me stay dry while he stoically put up with the revolting weather!

The Skipper may look grumpy but in fact he was being a sweetheart and letting me stay dry while he stoically put up with the revolting weather!

Next morning we moved onto the pontoon and immediately started making preparations for lift out. We reckoned we wouldn’t need the dinghy again so it was hauled out of the water to dry off and be deflated and stowed.  Next day, the wind having dropped a fair bit, we hoisted the cruising chute to dry it off; it lives in a bag on deck so it had got wet in the recent rain. Having done that, since the wind had all but disappeared by this stage, we hoisted the mainsail to dry, prior to removing it. Taking the mainsail off is never easy (although putting it back is even worse because you have to remember where all the reefing lines go!). The big problem is frankly that it’s just so big and awkward to cope with in the limited space on deck. We tried a new technique this time: we dropped the sail into the stack pack, disengaging the cars from the mast as it came down, (so far no different from usual.). Then, having removed the reefing lines etc. we zipped up the stack pack and removed it with the sail inside, pulling it onto the foredeck like a giant, blue slug. Now I am sure many people have done this before us, but it was revolutionary as far as we were concerned as it kept the mainsail manageable while we got it off the boat, down the pontoon and across the road to a place where we could lay it out to be properly folded and bagged.

 

Drying off the cruising chute.  (Note the blue stack pack on the boom that we later removed as a single item, together with the mainsail.)

Drying off the cruising chute. (Note the blue stack pack on the boom that we later removed as a single item, together with the mainsail.)

Having packed up the mainsail, we dried and dropped the furling foresail. This is relatively straightforward, the only challenge was that just as we were doing this the wind decided that it had been quiet for long enough so we had a small struggle to make sure that the sail came down onto the deck and not into the water. By the time we had photographed the small areas of wear which Barry at Souix Sails will repair for us over the winter and then packed everything away, we were both unbelievably tired. We considered going out rather than cooking ourselves, but in the end couldn’t be bothered to do that. Finally, when faced with the prospect of bread and cheese for his evening meal, the Skipper felt sufficiently motivated to fry a couple of steaks which we ate and then went to bed shortly afterwards!

Evidence of wear on the foresail.

Evidence of wear on the foresail.

Next morning we thought we’d give ourselves a day off and having dropped off three loads of laundry at the Remezzo taverna who offered a washing service as a sideline from their usual business, Duncan and I walked up to the small castle above the town.  Like most of this part of the world, control of the town has passed back and forth from one conqueror to another.  In the case of Vonitsa this was particularly between the Turks and Venitians with the French muscling in for a while at the end of the 18th century.

 

The castle itself is better preserved than many others we’ve seen and commands wonderful views of the surrounding area.  Having looked around, we decided to go down and round the waterfront to a small island to the east of the town, which is linked to the mainland by a man-made causeway.  This causeway turned out to be rather remarkable since rather than being a level, or gently arched piece of road it zigzags up and down over a series of arches; I don’t believe I’ve ever seen anything quite like it before!

Vonitsa castle

Vonitsa castle

When we arrived in Vonitsa we met a couple called Bob and Roe on a boat called “Mintaka”. They have been coming to Vonitsa for 10+ years so they know the town and many of the locals very well, not to mention quite a few other yachties who have also come here regularly for years. While we were chatting we learned that the owner of one of the boats in the harbour had recently died and Bob and Roe had undertaken to move her back to one of the yards in Preveza to be lifted. However, since “Waverley” had not moved for four years they were a bit anxious about her so we volunteered to act as an escort boat for the seven or eight miles back to the yard, ready to provide a tow, should it be necessary. In the event, the expedition passed without incident.

Among other friends that Bob and Roe have made are the family who ran Remezzo taverna at the head of the pontoon. It suddenly emerged that for various reasons, including a poor season this year they had decided to close and this was to be their final day. We joined Bob and Roe for a rather poignant meal that evening, as they all had so many happy, shared memories. At the end of the evening, Bob produced a bottle of whiskey and poured drinks for everyone in the taverna and all the family – about 20 of us in all. We toasted Bill, the erstwhile owner of “Waverley” and wished all the best to the family from the taverna, now all going their separate ways. Somehow, I don’t think coming back to Vonitsa will ever be quite the same for Bob and Roe in the future.

 

The waterfront at Vonitsa ( Taverns Mikanis with bright blue canopy supports to the right)

The waterfront at Vonitsa ( Taverna Remezzo with bright blue canopy supports,  to the right)

After that our time in Vonitsa has mostly been spent packing up the boat and preparing for our return to UK. This has included taking lots of measurements for the various projects we have planned for this winter, including making a rat-proof guard for the companionway and a new stack pack cover for the mainsail. You have seen pictures of “Rampage” being lifted before so I will bring this post to a close. Tomorrow, having picked up a one-way rental car, Duncan will take the sails down to Souix Sails and we will then drive to Igoumenitsa, catch the ferry to Corfu and spend the night aboard “Levitha” in Gouvia marina. On Friday we fly to UK.

This is our final post for this year. We will resume next April, when we will attempt a new format of shorter, more frequent posts which we hope will be more digestible for our readers.

Scruffy yet charming, Vonitsa is a maze of little, cobbled streets, dilapidated buildings, bright flowers and friendly people.

Scruffy yet charming, Vonitsa is a maze of little, cobbled streets, dilapidated buildings, bright flowers and friendly people.

 

 

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2 comments

  1. Thanks for another season of interesting blogs. Looking forward to next April. (we are wintering in Licata this year instead of Finike) regards Terry Hogan

    S/v Common Sense Catalina 42 Mk II

    Date: Wed, 1 Oct 2014 07:45:45 +0000 To: hogesinwa@hotmail.com


    • Licata is where we had planned to go and had booked. However family matters have intervened, hence we are staying here and being lifted. Enjoy your winter; I think you’ll have a great time.



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