A charter around the idyllic Ionian islands proves to be the perfect laid-back holiday for Heather Prentice and her family
Arriving in Meganisi, we were greeted by shouting and waving from the jetty. What had been one or two people had grown to five as those docked gathered to watch us reverse tentatively into the narrow gap between the two yachts on the pontoon. Now the beach restaurant owner at Spartakhori came down, waving violently and shouting loudest of all: ‘No, no, no!’
This was the first evening of our family sailing holiday. Not only did we need to sharpen up our stern-to mooring, but perhaps our navigation too – were we in the right place? ‘No space!,’ the restaurant owner shouted with a final gesture, turning around to stride up the gangway back to his guests.
Not long off a plane, we were a little fazed by our welcome to the island. It seemed we should have got there much earlier – who knew? A crackle on the radio and Sail Ionian quickly confirmed that we did indeed have a berth booked. We gratefully reversed for a second time, made sure we shouted back loudly, and threw our stern lines.
Earlier that day we had arrived at the Sail Ionian base at Vliho, near Nidri on Levkas, where owners Di and Neil Bingham were very welcoming, explaining the area and giving their recommendations. Our Bavaria C42, named Freedom (as Scots, it was hard not to think of Mel Gibson in Braveheart), was in top condition, as if new, offering spacious, light accommodation that would suit our family very well. An electric outboard, solar panels, lithium batteries and other eco-friendly systems are mostly standard on Sail Ionian yachts, as well as the obligatory holding tanks.
While I have sailed most of my life, the rest of the family are still building up experience. It is our plan that we all – husband Milen, daughter Siena and son Christian – will sail together around Europe and then explore further afield. We had spent several summers sailing on the west coast of Scotland, with lockdown dedicated to RYA navigation training via zoom. Now we were finally afloat in the stunning Ionian islands and ready to explore.
Before we had even set foot in the restaurant, Siena and Christian were swimming. After a large and tasty snapper fish for dinner, we all had an evening swim, such was the joy of being in this balmy, tranquil bay. In the morning, it was the reverse: a swim before breakfast – even before morning coffee.
We were cruising in an informal flotilla with five other boats, mostly just sailing to the same port at night. Billy, the Sail Ionian representative, was on hand in port to offer assistance. There was no pressure to follow the small fleet so we also did a bit of exploring. The second night’s destination was Sivota, a fjord-like harbour on the south coast of Levkas, with a wonderful fish restaurant.
We set off down the west coast of Meganisi, taking note that winds funnel around the land so we could experience an 180° windshift mid-channel. Fortunately for us, the prevailing northwest wind kicked in Force 3-4 after lunch, as usual, and everyone was happy sailing. Christian soon discovered the cockpit speakers and for a while, Freedom became a party vessel.
In Sivota, we used our electric outboard to motor to a nearby jetty to swim in the beautifully clear waters – the holding tanks mean the harbours are really clean. There we met another family sailing aboard Calon Draig – they were to become our good friends and the children would go exploring together in every port. We enjoyed a relaxed dinner overlooking the harbour followed by the passeggiata (evening stroll), during which we explored the harbour and shops.
Drifting across beautiful bays
A storm was scheduled, unusually, to blow through from the south the next day, so we decided to head back to the north end of Meganisi for a sheltered anchorage near Little Vathi. A leisurely start (we were not getting the hang of this early-into-port business) saw us head around the east side of Meganisi. We stopped to have a closer look at Papa Nikoli’s cave below towering cliffs on the southwest coast of Meganisi. We drifted gently, while taking it in turns o explore the astounding cave by dinghy.
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Once back on board, we sailed slowly around the southern tip of the island and up the eastern coast where the wind picked up. We paused in the beautiful Abelike Bay, at the top of Meganisi, to admire a magnificent private residence with a superyacht moored below. As we dropped our anchor for a swim, the windlass went on the blink and promptly payed out the whole chain. At least we weren’t going to drag.
We made a quick call and Kostas, the standby engineer, arrived 15 minutes later on a high-speed rib to fix it. It was brilliant service.
After this we motored round the corner to tie up to the jetty at the Karnayio taverna in the middle of the southwest side of Little Vathi – surely one of the most beautiful bays in this part of Greece – peaceful and still. We were, however, the last to arrive and again had to reverse our 42ft vessel into a tight gap between two others.
Once moored, one of our neighbours came aboard for a beer to discuss the politics and skills of female skippers! During dinner at the taverna we began to recognise the faces of our fellow cruisers. It was a tasty meal and afterwards Christian caught his first fish – a small snapper.
The next day, we anchored for lunch and a swim at the north end of Kalamos, near Episkopi. We chose a beautiful turquoise strip but the sandy bottom meant we were slowly dragging anchor. It was not very relaxing, so we pushed on. Rounding the headland, we had a beautiful close reach down to Kastos.
In the small port, we took the dinghy and had some fun setting out long lines. The village was quiet and peaceful and only visited by yachts, it seemed. Siena and Christian took the dinghy to say hello to our friends and explore the sheltered bay. Ashore, we ordered tuna souvlaki, which was easily the best meal of the trip. Simply delicious.
Race to Kioni
Next morning we left early – we were finally getting the idea of early morning departures – and headed for One House Bay on Atokos, a stunning turquoise harbour surrounded by tall white cliffs with a small sandy bay. Unfortunately, many others had the same idea. Although Siena was now an expert at anchoring, we were hard pushed to find a spot with swinging room, making it a quick lunch and a swim.
It was time to head to Kioni. As we came out of the bay, we hoisted our sails and saw that sistership Dolce Vita was doing the same. We were at full power as we sailed past them struggling with their sails – it was game on! We hardened sheets and sped across towards Ithaca with them close behind. Neither yacht gave ground. Who would buy the drinks in port?
Ithaca, or Ithaki, is the legendary homeland of Odysseus, the hero of Homer’s epic tale The Odyssey, written in 725 BC and one of the greatest works of Greek literature. In it, Odysseus, King of Ithaca, takes 10 years to wander home to the island, via Africa and southern Europe, after the Trojan War.
Many of the historical sites mentioned in the epic poem can be seen on Ithaca. The port Kioni was a rather chic, charming village with Venetian renaissance architecture, wrapped around a small harbour. We long-lined to a rocky shore, and later that evening, we met our friends for dinner overlooking the picturesque bay.
We headed for Fiskardho the next morning to pick up Milen’s brother who would join us for the last few days. Kefalonia, like its neighbours, was overrun by Italians and Germans during the Second World War, and the novel Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernières was set here.
On the last day, we ventured to Assos, on the western side of Kefalonia. It was founded during Venetian rule and was remote and beautiful. On our return, the wind filled in and we had a gentle run to Spartakhori. We returned to the same taverna, now able to laugh with the owner about our first evening. The Ionian is now one of our favourite places and we will certainly be back soon.
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