Michael Blyth’s family tackle concussion and high winds on a tour sailing the Ionian, the Greek sailing Mecca

Being hit by the boom is not unusual, but headbutting it is. It was the second morning of our Ionian cruise and we were about to manoeuvre out of Episcopi, when a praying mantis appeared on the bimini. Louise leapt up to look, but the boom was in the way.

Concussion is worrying; what is appropriate action when at sea in a foreign land? Consulting doctor friends in the UK, we proceeded with caution. Louise was ‘out of it’ all that day, sleeping fitfully, and not really herself for days.

Chartering for the first time in several years, now with Sail Ionian, we arrived at Vliho. Dumping our bags aboard Firefly, a Bavaria 34, we went for a briefing with Neil, one of the owners. Once we’d finished, we headed out of Ormos-Vlycho, reaching in a brisk mid-afternoon wind.

We were returning to an area of the Ionian we’d not visited for a decade. I was interested to see what had changed.

Neil mentioned Episcopi on Kalamos as suitable for our boat length. Arriving towards dusk, we dropped anchor close to the far side of the harbour and slid back to hand our stern lines to some yachties on the jetty.

It became obvious the next day that our neighbour’s anchor was over ours, and, by the time they had demonstrated how not to leave a tight harbour in a crosswind, we decided to wait until the next morning when hopefully conditions would be calmer.

Firefly at anchor off Kastos. Photo: Michael Blyth

It was gone midday when we left. One of the girls took the helm, and I fiddled with the foresail. Heading south we passed the tip of Kastos when a headwind took over.

We put up the mainsail but soon had to reef both sails. The wind was gusting to the top end of Force 6, and when we did come to tack she just wouldn’t go through the wind – I’d not acknowledged that the genoa was overpowering us! Bea, crewing, was clearly losing faith in the skipper when he couldn’t even tack the boat.

Changes afoot

Our sail to the bay just north of Kastos town was exhilarating and fairly wet – upsetting the sun-worshippers on the fore-deck. My chosen anchorage was objected to by an American couple who felt we would be over their anchor, which we weren’t, but moved anyway.

Tucked in next to the ‘no go’ ferry berth at Episcopi. Photo: Michael Blyth

It was here we saw the greatest changes; more yachts at anchor and the girls noted fewer fish, both in size, number and variety. The previously dark mainland shore was lit by floodlit fish farms.

Louise felt somewhat better the next morning, so I dropped her and the children ashore for a swim before breakfast. The call came, ‘We’ve found the “perfect” café, come immediately.’ It really was perfect too – right on the shore, with numerous varieties of coffee and croissants straight from the oven.

The morning had gone, we set off with a friendly breeze past the bottom of the island and set close-hauled for Kioni on Ithaca. As we passed the windmills at the entrance there was a queue into the harbour. Lucy spied the bays to the south inside the inlet and it was decided to anchor there.

The wind was now blowing down creek at around 20 knots, gusting 30, making setting long lines challenging. The rocks here are incredibly sharp and I spent a lot of mental energy worrying about chafing.

Returning from supper ashore the wind had died, but Firefly was subject to an uncomfortable swell. Sleep was disturbed as I fretted about lines parting, but they didn’t.

Setting long lines. Photo: Michael Blyth

The delights of Ithaca

Rounding the north of Ithaca next day, we met the full force of the gusting wind, under reefed Genoa and main. Fiskardo was full if one wanted to go on the harbour side. We didn’t, and long-lined off the north shore. Louise was still under the weather but we went ashore for a gentle stroll, to be joined by our three daughters. We shared our supper table with a very content cat, but didn’t share our food.

Wishing to leave early but failing big-time reached its zenith here – we needed water, only available once certain boats had departed the harbour wall, and that was adjacent to a wine bar… so, well, we ended up leaving early afternoon. The weather conditions led to re-routing, from Meganisi to Kalamos, uncomfortable but less so than the pitch and roll that would have been prevalent at Meganisi.

Not all harbours welcome cruising boats, so check if you can use the berth first. Photo: Michael Blyth

We’d hoped to anchor at Port Leone but couldn’t, and ended up in the harbour at Kalamos. Another change from previous visits was all the yachts were on the inside of the outer harbour wall, making more dedicated space for working boats on the shoreside.

Supper at George’s restaurant was hilarious with a sudden cloud-burst driving outside diners inside, displacing the cats.

We left promptly the next morning, glad to be on our own again, and headed back down the channel with a truly grand sail across towards Meganisi. Anchoring briefly off the small island of Kithros, the girls swam, but wanted to find a less exposed spot so we headed north. Numerous shearwaters glided with us.

One more anchorage, one more swim, then a rush back to base. Lucy was on the helm racing another Sail Ionian yacht – they put in an extra tack, we held longer, we beat them to the entrance. It was a truly great holiday, and we can’t wait for the next!

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