Spinning to a Stop in the Ionian: September 19 2009
Historically, the Ionian Islands were an important stepping-stone between the Aegean and Italy and Sicily creating a thriving economy based on sailing and trading. The geography is lush and green...a contrast to the sun-baked islands in many Greek tourist brochures. We started with the island of Zakinthos and worked our way north (Sept 2). Keri Bay on Zakinthos Island was a lovely anchorage; unfortunately, the only turtles we saw (in the turtle sanctuary) were the toys for sale in the tourist shops. However, early one morning we had a great time exploring some of the caves nearby while the water was glass smooth (Sept 3). A passing afternoon down pour scoured the decks and got rid of all remaining salt and dust...just in time for sundowners with Bert and Annette who we have been hopping anchorages with almost in sync since Nafplio. Then it was off to Kefalonia. Gosh, motoring along the west coast of Zakinthos provided spectacular scenery (Sept 4). Sheer walls of limestone cliffs looked as if they had been hacked off by a meat cleaver. And at times almost resembled icebergs?! Along the way we took a slight detour to see shipwreck beach. It is supposed to be one of the most photographed sights in all of Greece...hhhhmmm...a pretty tall order with all of the ancient monuments to choose from. But we were game...well, it was cool but we think the hoopla might be a bit overblown.
Kefalonia is loaded with natural wonders; from huge stalagmite chambered caves to jaw-dropping beaches to highly praised vineyards. Add to this a bit of controversy because several scholars contest that Kefalonia was actually the home of Odysseus (the hero of Homer's poem The Odyssey) rather than the island of Ithaka next door. And finally, Kefalonia caught Hollywood's eye and was the main location for "Captain Corelli's Mandolin" (but the locals are mixed as to whether they like the publicity or not). We decided that we needed a few days to explore. There were strong-ish winds on the horizon so we opted to see the island via rental car rather than hopping between bays with Barefeet (Greekstones rent a car www.greekstones-rentacar.com ph.30.2671042201). Our sideways tie at the town of Argostoli's "new marina" was a snug spot but it was definitely not yet open for business. The most activity we saw were a herd of sheep passing the docks with bells-a-jingling.
Kefalonia is a rugged island and the largest of the Ionian islands at 350 sq miles (one-quarter the size of Rhode Island). The roads of Kefalonia were in great condition but they were narrow and caused a few heart racing moments when we passed a mega-tour bus or a semi-trailer. We started our exploration with a whistle stop tour of island sights (Sept 5). Fiskardo is on the northern most tip of the island and was the only town to evade the devastation caused by the 1953 earthquake. It is storybook perfect...maybe a bit too perfect for us. However, maybe we were not charmed by the place because we overlapped with countless tour bus deliveries and hordes of cruise ship day trippers. Yikes! Ah well, plenty of other stops to make so we did not linger. The chilly Drogarati Caves were visually amazing...and so acoustically perfect that even Maria Callas has given a concert there. Driving from place to place we chose not to wind our way down the cliffs for beach time; however, their pristine colors always required a quick photo. We were almost back to Barefeet when we spotted a winery turnoff so off we went to the Robola Producers' Cooperative (www.robola.gr). Harvesting and bottling was in full swing which added a bit of excitement as we tasted the whites, reds and roses. It was a long day but we certainly made the most of the car.
Sept 6 we set out early for a walk "along an ancient mule path" from Assos to Drapanitika and back to Assos with Bert and Annette. As we made our way through the town Chris realized that he had been there in 1980 with his parents and brother...remembering the still broken buildings from the earthquake, winding dirt roads and castle on the hill. Hugh and Fran were pleased to know that the memory stuck. Unfortunately, our walk was off to a dubious start because we could not find a sign for the trail, a passing hiker had never heard of the trail and an elderly local guy definitely thought we were crazy for even contemplating the walk...Chris conducted the entire conversation in Greek. Well done! Ah well, we continued to poke around and did find the trail. It was a magnificent walk along the coast and through forests of pine and cypress trees with periodic herb smells that literally stopped us in our tracks. The grades were never very steep and the path was wide enough to walk at least two abreast. Best of all there was a light cloud cover during most of the walk which kept us cool. Ooohhh, hello...sheep jangled out from the bushes thinking we were going to fill their feed bins...sorry guys. It was an enjoyable four hour round trip. We capped off the day with a huge meal at Dum Spiro's Spero Taverna in Svoronata village near the airport (ph. +30 26710 42150). Everything was homemade, portions were enormous and we all sampled the house specials; stifato, Kefalonia meat pie, moussaka and Papa Dum (sliced potatoes topped with a creamy cheese sauce, bacon and mushrooms)...okay, and a Greek salad and a plate of tzatziki. Everything was delicious and we all rolled from the table back to our boats. Yum!
**NEWSFLASH**NEWSFLASH**NEWSFLASH** I don't really know how to say this but we think we might have a RAT aboard. We can barely think about it at the moment but found SIX poop calling cards. We are really trying not to think about it too much...maybe he just had a look around and got off?! It is easier if I imagine him to be Templeton from Charlotte's Web. Regardless, we will buy glue traps tomorrow (everything was closed today, Sunday) and...and we just do not know what we will do. Chris PROMISES he will get it...somehow. **STAY TUNED**
The winds at Kefalonia continued with stronger gusts every afternoon. The next weather window appeared and we could not resist the call of the barn any longer. After a gyro dinner we tossed the lines from Argostoli and made an overnight hop to Corfu (90 miles). At noon on September 10 we arrived into Gouvia Marina after a dolphin welcome to the island (www.medmarinas.com). We snugged into our laid line spot, plugged into shore power and gave a sigh of relief for another fabulous sailing season. We find it hard to believe that just nine months ago we departed Thailand and just six months ago we were in Sudan. Needless to say Barefeet needs a bit of TLC. We will use Corfu as our base until approximately May 2010 when we will continue moving west toward Gibraltar. We scheduled a haul-out date, familiarized ourselves with the next door village of Kantokali and began to settle into the place. Ah, dropped eggs on toast is back on the Barefeet breakfast menu! We have been months without them (not sure if it was the water or the eggs or both but the eggs literally fell apart in the boiling water).
**NEWSFLASH**NEWSFLASH**NEWSFLASH** We went nuclear on Templeton...purchased more glue traps, poison pellets and read all we could find about "how to catch a rat" on the web. We have learned a few of his preferences and can now exploit them to catch him. Templeton is not interested in peanut butter, potatoes, onions or bread; however, he loves granny smith apples, tomatoes and roach poison. No, we do not have roaches; however, Chris wants the traps out just in case one wanders aboard. One night, after much racket, Chris saw him climbing up a wall and mentioned that he was kinda cute...gray body and white paws...not an ugly sewer rat at all. That is nice to know but he is still NOT welcome. After no evidence of his presence for four days it looks like he has vacated the boat. We think he was solely a night marauder while we were in Argostoli and really hope that this is the end of the story. But of course another scenario is that the roach poison did him in, he died in a small nook or cranny of the boat and we will find a stench...soon. Yuck! **LIFE RETURNS TO NORMAL**
Corfu (Kerkira in Greek) is the northern most island in the Ionian group located west of mainland Greece...also west of Albania (one mile at the narrowest point) and east of the heel of Italy (70 miles)...and wrapped in Greek mythology. Corfu is identified as the Homeric home of the ancient sailors who ferried Odysseus home to Ithaka...or was it Kefalonia. This Greek island has been influenced by Venetian, French and English tastes for centuries. Buildings have arched colonnades, decorative iron grillwork, fading pastel paint and...cricket fields. No kidding, beside the Gouvia Marina are both a cricket field and a croquet field...complete with grass lawns and players clad head-to-toe in spiffy white outfits. Yikes, it might be hard to practice our Greek here?! September 13 we headed into cosmopolitan Corfu Town...just a 15 minute bus ride away. We strolled the esplanade and the labyrinth of narrow alleyways before settling into an outdoor cafe at the Liston for a hot chocolate...temperatures are dipping just a bit from time to time. Gosh, kumquat liqueur is sold on nearly every corner...an island specialty cultivated since the 1800s...but we have not yet given it a try. Later, the Archaeological Museum provided a nice sanctuary during a thunder storm with canon sounding peals of thunder. Then it was back to the village of Kontokali for a dinner at George's Grill...also known as the chicken man...with pork, lamb and chicken roasted on the spit.
With our haul-out date quickly approaching we got started on our list of "To Do's." Erin got the boat bonded with customs, did laundry, scouted the provisioning situation, found a place for us to stay while on the hard and felt great relief that Templeton was gone. Chris assembled the bikes, pickled the water maker, lined up the sandblasting and bottom painting, cleaned all sea strainers and was glad that Erin was happy about no more Templeton. Out of the water we came on Sept 17. Yikes, it just never gets easier to watch...shaking like a leaf just hoping that nothing popped off or was crushed due to a misplaced lifting point. Once settled on the hard and balanced on blocks of wood our heart beats returned to normal.
We moved into Stavros Studios in Kontokali but found conditions on Barefeet quite okay despite the "work in progress" environment so back aboard we went (www.stavros-apartments.com). We have several jobs to keep us busy before heading off to Italy while Barefeet simply drips dry. Corfu is an eight hour overnight ferry from Bari, Italy, where we will work our way north through the country (leaving Sept 25). We will spend some time in Naples, Rome, Florence and Venice linking them all by train. Then it will be back to Barefeet for a last push of work before being returned to the water for the winter.