We had our friends, Rob and Sally come out to visit us in Corfu on our second week on board and managed their expectations beforehand. “There might be a few things left to sort out on the boat” Simon warned. Rob and Sally had sailed with us before on Thursday Island, from Guernsey to Alderney and then crossing the channel with us. They are the sort of unwaveringly polite and charming guests who would be far too lovely to say anything along the lines of “humph… we came out to Greece to sail around the islands and all we’ve done is hang around in the marina waiting for a fridge repair man called Spiros who never showed up”. So I was relieved and happy that after the first day of waiting for our engineer, Nikos to give us the green light with our engine, we finally managed to leave Corfu and make a little tour around some of its neighbouring beauty spots. Having watched so many charter boats come and go over the summer last year when we were marina bound, waiting for various technicians, an unfeasibly high number of whom were indeed called Spiros, I had become a little impatient and not being so diplomatic as Rob and Sally, a little petulant. So it was a great pleasure to be able to visit some of the places I had been reading about all last summer in such lovely company and to make a first test run of live-aboard life outside the marina, managing our water supply and living off the generator if only for a few days.
As Rob and Sally are both keen dingy sailors, we had also managed their expectations regarding the Ionian wind or to be more precise, lack of wind. Although Rob told us that they enjoyed the challenge of dingy racing in light winds, our thirty ton Princess prefers stiff gales to light zephyrs. So it was a pleasant surprise that at the beginning of our week together we had some sailing winds of 15 to 20 plus knots for the first couple of days. As our new crew members had left England in a historic heat wave they professed to be perfectly happy to don fleeces in Greece. We made a first afternoon sail to introduce our guests to the boat and Rob at the helm set the first record for speed on the Princess which, as I write this in August has yet to be beaten; 8.5 knots. On the second day, we waited for rain to pass over before leaving Gouvia.
Gouvia to Corfu town
This is my favourite thing about Gouvia marina; its proximity to Corfu town. Just a hop and a skip from Corfu bay on the lee of the old fortress, there is ample space for any boat to anchor securely. You can dingy into the heart of town using the Corfu sailing club dingy pontoon. You go from boat hell to heaven very quickly, leaving a distinctly smelly dingy pontoon to walk up the steps alongside the fabulous NAOK bar with its beautiful young people taking cocktails and drinking in the glamorous view over the bay and fortress.
We had heard from a neighbour that even more fabulous panoramic views could be had from the terrace restaurant at Cavalieri, a hotel on the main street facing the square. We were slightly chilly at the top, and the pasta went cold quickly, but as there were so few customers because of the uncharacteristically cold weather we had the best table of all; the corner table with views over the old fortress and the largest square in Greece, the Place Leonida Vachou where the world comes out to promenade in the late evening. The town is at its best at night, when it comes alive, like a “less crowded Dubrovnik” we have been told. A quick walk around the labyrinthine streets for ice cream after pasta was compulsory. In fact, after a fortnight in Italy, I can report that the Italian ice cream in Corfu is still my favourite.
One of the nice things about having organised friends with a library card is that they come equipped with a guide book. Thanks to Sally’s foresight in checking out such a guide, we discovered Corfu market the next day. A little to our shame, as this is such a foodie paradise that Ron and Sabina, our guests the week before, would have loved to visit. However, better late than never, as this introduced me to a great local market which I returned to later with my friend Chris.
The best calamari on the island are to be had from the outdoor café,where we shared a drink together before returning to the boat. Sally started her mischievous quest for kitsch to improve our live aboard life with things that were needed on the boat and bought us some coasters with pictures of Corfu and its friendly Gods on them (not to be used for navigation purposes).
Corfu town to Sivota Mourtos.
The Greek sailing Gods were still smiling on us and we left with a following wind which reached 25 knots in the afternoon and coasted downwind towards Sivota on the Greek mainland (or “mother Greece” as I’ve heard Corfiots call it), a comfortable half day sail from Corfu town. Apparently, this small town was the site of a massacre in 680BC and later suffered under a bloody Turkish occupation and so gained the nickname “Mourtos” (place of the dead) but the locals prefer you to call it Sivota. It is now occupied by a more peace loving tribe of Austrian waterskiiers. Nielson have a base in the inner channel between two little islands, Sivota and Nikolaos island where boats may anchor either side of the channel which shallows.
At five pm, after dragging many teenagers around on waterskis, the staff are allowed to come out and play and put on impromptu shows of waterskiing skills such as forming a human pyramid. We had a pleasant first dinner at anchor (many thanks to Sally for her Coleman chicken in a bag recipe which tastes so much better than it sounds and keeps the boat oven clean).
The next day we went ashore for coffee and restaurant reconnaissance. The town is tiny and basically consists of a front quayside with many bars and restaurants. In the afternoon Rob and Sally went snorkelling and I had my first dive lesson from Simon. Having snorkelled and dived all over the world, Sally reported that there were “many really nice grey fish” in Greece. We promptly went ashore to eat some of them and realised why the quayside was such a popular place for restaurants; it faces due west and is bathed in that magical sunset glow all through the conveniently late Mediterranean dinner hours. We watched the sun go down over some beautiful boats, one of which was ours!
Sivota to Gaios
All good things come to an end, and the Gods had decided that some motoring weather was about due. We put on the iron horse and drove across to Paxos, arriving in its capital, Gaios, at lunchtime before the hords that arrive with the early afternoon ferries . Saturday is the ideal day to visit Gaios by sailing boat as the charter boats generally have to leave on Thursday or Friday to return to base. We were chuffed and felt privileged to have a prime spot, stern to along the quayside right on the central town quay. The practice of going stern to onto a quay is new to us.
We had only ever attempted it once before, in Gaios the previous year, and it had been traumatic. As I was letting out the anchor chain on the bow I was stung in the armpit by a wasp. Our first attempt to go astern failed, and Simon called to me to winch the anchor back up. As I was bringing the chain up, it got bunched and jammed tight in the windlass leaving the anchor dangling just below the water’s surface. Just then, a French boat tried to nip in to take what was the last place. As I yelled to them that we were not leaving, Simon applied the bow thruster and heard a small explosion, which turned out to be two of our batteries which had exploded, having boiled hydrogen gas into a hot box for too long. Luckily we had a friendly neighbour, Tony the skipper and owner of Circe, a beautiful wooden schooner which was big enough to tie up alongside. Not only was he charming and welcoming, assuring us that we could use his boat as a finger pontoon for the night, he came aboard with a crowbar and helped Simon to free the anchor chain and produced an antihistamine stick for me.
Any way; suffice it to say that we were happy to have such competent crew to help us to manage the manoeuvre smoothly with no such anecdotes to tell afterwards. In fact this year, snug and secure, we enjoyed watching other folk have their escapades. We ate delicious baklava courtesy of Rob and watched as a 50 foot charter boat gently went aground in front of us. The harbour appears to have an easy exit to the south, but the depth approaching this harbour exit is a mere 2 metres. The boat eventually got a tug free from two power ribs,one to pull the mast over and one to tow the boat off. Free entertainment.
The island of Paxos is extremely popular in part because of its beautiful clear water and charming quayside which faces two small islands, one of which is forbidden to the public but one of which (Panyia island, further out) is accessible by dingy. After a quick walk around the capital which can be explored in its entirety in a half an hour at a slow ambling pace, we dingied out to go snorkelling and venture onto Panayia island, which appears inhabited mainly by seagulls, although there is a spooky house and signs of cultivation on it. I fulfilled a dream of mine that evening when we ate at a restaurant that we could literally step into from the boat.
Paxos to Parga
We motored down the coast of Paxos and nosed into Mongonisi, an anchorage south of Gaios which appeared to be really charming and off the beaten track, then investigated Anti Paxos briefly, a taste of future Caribbean cruising, with its turquoise waters which draw in countless ferry boats for day trips. We spotted dolphins on leaving Paxos, to date our only dolphin spotting.: ( We motored over to Parga in the early afternoon and took the only anchoring spot in the harbour in front of Parga town, re anchoring once after having been told that we were in the way of the ferries. All other boats had to anchor around the corner in Valtos beach. We stayed and watched our anchorage a little warily, taking it in turns to go into town to be sure that we wouldn’t swing onto the rocks behind us. This remains one of the most fabulous places that we have anchored, and a trip to shore made me appreciate the privilege of the position.
Having read that Parga is “a classic picture postcard Greek town” I was somewhat surprised to arrive in a heaving tourist seaside resort that appeared at first sight to be packed full of sunbathing Eastern Europeans, noisy pubs and shops selling tat. It is only when you climb the hill in front of the old Venetian fortress that the backstreets become suddenly quiet, with the characteristic white streets of Greek villages that are not to be found readily in Corfu.
The view from the hilltop gave us our first bird’s eye photo of the Princess. I was happy to return to the peace and tranquillity of our anchorage and to watch the quayside begin to throng with hordes of tourists as the late evening rush hour started. Sally treated us to another boat necessity: oven gloves, emblazoned with “Souvenir from Parga” and regaled us with another delicious chicken dish. We watched the ferries arrive comfortably without finding ourselves in their path.
Return to Gouvia: Palaokastritsa by car
I wish I could say that the highlight of our week was a stonking sail back to Corfu, with all three sails unfurled and some exhilarating surfing down waves, but alas.. the ionian anticyclonic conditions had well and truly settled in, and although we hoped for an afternoon sea breeze, it was not to be. We motored back for eight hours or so, without so much as a dolphin escort. The only event was my run in with an Albanian ferry which blasted its horn at me as I motored past Corfu town to get out of the bloody way. Simon was most indignant, pointing out that I was the stand on vessel as the ferry was overtaking, and even went so far as to call them on the radio to give them a piece of his mind. They didn’t answer. It taught me a valuable lesson once more; to look behind the boat as well as in front when on the helm. I already knew this but obviously needed a reminder.
The last day together, we rented a car to visit the west side of Corfu. One of the island’s most breath taking views is from the mountains above Paleokastritsa, a beautiful resort nestled in the hills with the monastery overlooking the sea out towards Italy. We treated Rob and Sally to an exhiliarating drive up the hairpin bends above and had lunch in the restaurant overlooking the sea. The mountains of Corfu are an experience to drive!
The week was a fabulous taste of cruising which although we didn’t know it at the time, we would not experience for another month, having four more weeks of project managing boat jobs in the marina ahead of us. Thank you Rob and Sally for your lovely company, the many treats to delicious restaurant meals and cake dripping in honey, your more than competent crewing, the quirky coasters and for making this week which would not have happened otherwise, possible!