Thursday, 21 August 2014

Greek wrap, with Sicilian chaser

We grew fonder of Levkas town each time we returned there, but it was almost a relief to leave the Greek side of the Ionion.

Stepping aboard from Levkas town quay

Back with the shopping

Claudia tracking Enki at the top of the east coast of Ithaca 

We spent far too much time motoring. That's because what wind there is around the Ionian islands  tends to come at about 3 or 4 in the afternoon, too late to be useful. There are so many boats competing for water space in the height of summer that if you're not settled at anchor before midday, you'll be sucking in your fenders, so to speak, or skirting around anchorages desperately looking for depths under 20 m and (heaven help us) a patch of sand. Enki's Rocna anchor is helpless in the face of a thick pelt of Mediterranean weed, something we've had cause to remember several times in the past few weeks.

We found the sand this time - on the second time in this bay we failed to anchor

DIY beauty regime

Check those scores - the smile says it all

But then again, why would you forfeit an afternoon's sailing if you can breeze into port just before sunset? Finding a park shouldn't ever be problem - you do it just the way you would in Rome or Genoa. Find the gap - a hint of a gap will do - and shove the boat into reverse. The other guy will loosen his lines to make space for you. Or if it's one of those exquisite little turquoise coves we're talking about, just drop the pick. Anywhere there's water will do. This is close? Are you serious? All right, we'll raft up to our friend over there. No, make that three of us. My other friend is coming in too. It's too windy to raft up? Of course it's windy. We should know. We've been out in it. We're hungry now. We're going ashore for dinner. If the anchor drags, someone will let us know. Those worrywarts who stand on their bow, frowns on their faces, and shake their heads at us, will shout or do that funny whistle thing. But we're Italian. We like a bit of melodrama. This is how we go sailing.

Thank goodness, in a way, for the Italians. I won't say they drove us out - it was time for us to make a decision about moving on (or not). It was becoming tempting to stay in Greece for another season. We know people who've spent decades there. Greece in any month other than August is sailing heaven. It's not just about the islands and the gulfs, it's also the Greeks. They're so relaxed. Too relaxed for their own good, of course.

A reservation is needed for dinner by the water in Port Kioni

This was not our last Greek salad - quite

The Greeks like to think of themselves as sea-faring people. The sea has its own demands, and people on boats have certain needs. The Greeks understand that. With few exceptions, they're very flexible. Rules are for other people. That's what makes the Germans cross. Greeks pay no attention to EU rules, except when it suits them to. You wish at times they were more consistent, less ambiguous in the way they manage their "assets" - in general terms, their sunshine and their water, but in immediate terms their town quays, their popular anchorages and their many small harbours and marinas, including the ones they built almost to completion with EU money but never got around to finishing.

The town quay at Vathi, Ithaca

The man and his job

Town quay at Port Kioni, Ithaca

In theory, for example, a yacht should pay to tie up to a town quay. In practice, people often pay nothing. Port police will take your money if you make the effort to find them but if you don't, they rarely come calling. If you make the mistake of calling too frequently, you sense their confusion and displeasure. What is the point, they seem to ask? You could call them lazy, and sometimes we have. But more often they make us smile. They're on a watery wave-length. You worry about them, and wonder if they will ever get the hang of what's expected of them. But then you say to yourselves, we had a great time in Greece, didn't we? We could get used to Greece. Lots of people do.

Concierge, Syracuse
So now we're in Sicily which plays to different rules again. You might remember that our previous visit to Sicily was a nightmare from start to finish. It was all about the engine, stupid. We've tried to forget most of what happened to us in Milazzo and Messina, and if we can help it, we won't be revisiting those towns. Our port of entry to Italy is Syracuse on Sicily's south-east corner. It was also our port of departure in 2012 once the engine was finally fixed and our bank account had been lightened by many thousands of euros. The town was beautiful then, but we couldn't stay - we were out of Schengen time - so we told ourselves we'd come back one day.

We made the crossing from Levkas to Syracuse in fresh north-westerly winds, which looked good on paper but we missed charts showing the beam swell. Novices. So we had a rocky, boisterous ride. Fast, but uncomfortable. This was Claudia's first night passage - we were two nights at sea. She was great. She made bread, got up in the night, slept better than either of us, and generally survived in great shape - she will mention queasiness, but it was nothing in the scheme of things. A born sailor.

Crossing the Ionian (and below)

We've checked into Italy with an agent - Guiseppe, from the Luise group. It seemed a tad indulgent, but we have no regrets, and would recommend the man and the agency. Professional on all levels, and the bill surprised us. Pleasurably so.

Our spot in the Grand Harbour anchorage, Syracuse

Promenade, Ortigia old town, Syracuse

View of the anchorage from the old town

We're at anchor in the Grand Harbour, as it's called. The big bay. A wonderful place to be, although not so much in a fresh southerly when a serious fetch builds across the bay. There have been quite a few luxury motor vessels keeping us company as we bounce about. Every captain needs a secure anchorage in a fresh wind, whether he's got 15 meters or 200 metres in his care. The Grand Harbor has been sheltering boats since the Corinthians founded the city in the 7th century BC, and maybe longer.

Sunday fun in the water in Grand Harbour

Some people have bigger boats than others

We've got no plans to leave Syracuse soon. Maybe in a week. We've got lots more to feast on. I could be talking about the food - the market in particular - but not just. Everything about Ortiga, the old town of Syracuse, charms us. Alex has been in a photo-taking frenzy. You can see why. All the photos below are taken in the old town of Syracuse, the isthmus called Ortigia. Claudia dreams of being stranded here.

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