Friday, 25 July 2014

Corfu connection

Sailing past Corfu harbour - the planes keep coming

The girl we've been waiting for

Now we are three again. Three's a good number on Enki. We can all find our own spaces. Claudia is using the boat in ways we don't much. It's a swimming platform. When she's been gone a while, I start scanning the water, looking for her blonde head. I'm mum, worrying about my girl being decapitated by crazy boy drivers.  Back on the boat she finds skinny places on the deck to stretch out her body. It's quickly taking on colour. She's never been pale-skinned, but when we collected her at Corfu airport our skins flashed tan at her and she wanted the sun.

We're happy to have her with us. That goes without saying.

Cruise ship slides past the land border between Greece and Albania

She arrived on a night when thunderclouds were forming over the Albanian hinterland. The next day it rained so heavily that the dinghy needed bailing out, and in the evening we watched lightning over the horizon west of Corfu town. Rain is something we've never much considered before in July and August. In our first season in the Mediterranean we became so blasé about a cloudless sky that we mistook the first autumn clouds for a bushfire coming off the hills above Kas. Summer weather patterns in the Ionian are not as stable, it seems.

In the week before Claudia's arrival, we loitered on the town quay at Levkas. We had some fancy paperwork to see to. Levkas town sits on exposed salt marshes at the north-eastern end of the island of the same name. We thought of it as a place to stop to do a few jobs on the way through to Corfu, and that we'd move on quickly up the canal once we'd wrapped up our business. But it's a town which grows on you.

Houses built to resist earthquakes

Mainstreet Levkas

It's not a conventional Greek beauty. It has tourists, but they don't swamp its inhabitants as is the case in some other port towns where summer is the only working season. Levkas has interesting food stores and decent chandleries (two important boxes to tick), idiosyncratic corrugated iron architecture and a lively main walking street named after the German archeologist Dorpfeld who argued vigorously for Levkas being Homer's mythical Ithaca. Levkadians obviously love him for that - he's buried in a lovely spot near Nidri harbour and in the Levkas archeological museum gets local hero treatment.

The road bridge over the Levkas canal
The sandspit and fortress at the north end of the canal

The Levkas canal is what people in boats talk about. What are the depths like? Where's it silted up? It's an intriguing waterway. The Corinthians dug the first canal through the salt marshes in the 7th century BC so their ships had a quicker, safer passage north. Without the canal, Levkas would be just another bump on the mainland coast. Much more cache in being an Ionian island. We watched the road bridge open and close on the hour for a few days before we went north and when the time came to navigate the final bend of the canal ourselves, followed the boat in front of us out into open water. When we come south again from Corfu, we'll know not to do that. The depth sounder got a fright as we cut across the tip of the sandpit.

Sailing into Corfu town past the old fortress (and below)

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Waiting for Claudia

In the harbour of Vathi, on Ithaca
A stranger who spent a few hours chatting with us this morning  - that is, he WAS a stranger, but now he is Robert, fellow HR owner and he, his boat name and blog address have been added to our contacts list - reminded us of what is a basic cruising philosophy. "When you make your plans, write them in sand below the low-water mark". Seems like our plans to cross the Atlantic are being rubbed out by the incoming tide. If that's the case, we're left with clean sand to write upon.

Ligia, on the east coast of Levkas

At anchor in Vathi, Ithaca

No biggie, as they say downunder. The Atlantic ocean isn't going anywhere. If it can't be crossed this year, it can be crossed the year after, or the year after that. If only time were that malleable.  

Always on the hunt for fresh fruit and vega

Oleander is everywhere

Home alone - dinner in the cockpit

At anchor in the clear water of Ithaca

Tied up on the quay at Fiskardo, Cephalonia

These past couple weeks we've been cruising around the Ionian islands on remote control. Sure, we've put our anchor down in some lovely bays, tied up on some charming town quays and watched closely - too closely at times - how Italians holiday afloat. I'm putting up decoy photos for the express benefit of those of you who check into this blog as distraction from winter and/or work blues. You'll agree that Ithaca and Cephalonia (and even the workaday canal of Levkas in the right light) are gorgeous - the full moon rising, those dusky mauve hills, the fishermen laying their nets, the limpid swimming, restaurants and boats busy with children and animals...but like oil on water, our minds have been separated from place. 

The moon rises over the Greek mainland, opposite Levkas

Gone fishin'

Anchored at the south end of the Levkas canal

The family holiday, Fiskardo
Claudia's meltdown has consumed our family and close friends for several months now. Between us, we've been able to talk or think of little else except how to help her. The fact that she's an artist makes her more vulnerable but hardly exceptional. For many young people, growing up is more complicated than it used to be - the world is more competitive than it was in our day, and you're not wrong if you feel everyone is looking at you. They usually are, thanks to social media. When you're 23, all that and more can be overwhelming. When you're 27, you think differently. Like Sam. We take a lot of comfort from Sam, and she can too. 

So now she is coming to join us for a while. She has a ticket booked to arrive in Corfu next week, and we'll be there to meet her.  She wants to be with us. The boat is our floating home, and she'll go where our home goes. Where exactly that is, we're not sure yet. We'll make it up over the next few weeks. 

Wild thyme in flower, Cephalonia

One day they'll name a ship after her...

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

The journey to Ithaca

One of the main reasons we have a blog is for Later On. It's unconscionable how much we forget. With photos, and a bit of text, we've got a better chance of preserving the taste of our boating years for our older, land-bound selves to roll around on the palate and savour.

Approach to the Rion bridge between the gulfs of Corinth and Patras

Anchored on the east coast of Ithaca

The problem I have now - and have had before, but never so acutely - is what to post when the taste du jour is bitter, when it draws tears.  I'm not particularly fond of revealing our private life online (you can't find me on Facebook). But you can go only so far with allusions before the story either makes no sense, or it loses its zing, becomes as flat as week-old tonic water. I admit that the blog has gone flat lately.

Fragments of a religious past in the Venetian citadel at Navpakros

So this is the thing you need to know. There's a daughter back home, old enough to look after herself but young enough to still benefit from our care and affection. She's been keeping her head above water, but only just. This week, she called out for help. Or did she? What was she saying? What did she mean? How could we reach her? You know how we always say, "oh, it's such a small world"? Well, it isn't. It's a long way from the gulf of Corinth to Sydney.

The Navpakros fortress guards a long stretch of the gulf of Corinth
We in our turn called out to her godmothers in New Zealand, and they scooped her up. She is safe now, but our conversation, that which we still have with each other and not on Skype, goes around in circles. We are in limbo, moving the boat and ourselves across the water while our minds scan the available data for clues and solutions. Please hang in there with us. We are still cruising, but we're skipping the mojitos.

Enki at anchor beyond the tiny Venetian harbour at Navpakros

Navpakros harbour walls

School's out

Navpakros harbour - the town was called Lepanto in the 18th C

You can see from the pictures that we're travelling along some glorious coastline. The gulf of Corinth is more like a lake than the sea, bounded by steep mountains and, in some places, lush plains. It's been a critical waterway forever, but it's not often mentioned in cruising dispatches. Generally yachts hurtle east-west, or vice versa, intent on reaching either the Aegean or the Ionian and saving a distance of 150 miles by traversing the Corinth Canal rather than rounding the Peloponnese peninsula. But there is reason to take your time.  We did, if only by default.  We have not been in a decisive frame of mind.

In my dreams...shall we finish building this house on Trizonia Island

Harbourfont Trizonia - and the agonising Brazil vs Chile game...

...which we watched with Anette (her with the flag) and Helmut

We've met some interesting people along the way, other cruisers rather than Greeks. It's funny how we meet like-minded people in rushes. We  can go for weeks without bumping into anyone we care to spend time with, and then for no particular reason, we'll be all talked out and swapping boat cards like there's no tomorrow.

Helmut and Anette, of Tao 3, another HR48 (and below)

We passed like ships etc - NZ-owned Birgitta, with Lyn, Murray and Sophie aboard

Ria, an English-owned HR46 we met in Korfos 

I'm the forward one, but in the end it's Alex's company which is the lure. There are few cruising skippers who can resist his level of technical knowledge. They bring out their problems - or does he draw them out? It doesn't matter. He is in his element either sharing information or, in one case in Korfos, actually providing the spare part as well as the knowhow to fix the problem (I'll have to make sure he doesn't delete this - it's his birthday today, so perhaps he'll accept this compliment graciously).

Alex (aka OTS) turns 67 today