Leaving our winter home and sailing to Greece
Updated: May 24, 2019
It’s a beautiful May morning in Greece. This time last year we had just returned to London after seeing Polaris for the first time in Roses, Spain. Now, exactly one year later we are living the dream, truly. The waiting is over, winter is gone, and we are cruising the Mediterranean. We have been sailing for nearly three weeks and already I don’t know where the time has gone… Winter was fabulous in Marina di Ragusa; getting to know the local and liveaboard community, eating amazing Sicilian food, living by a beautiful beach and seaside town. The winter period felt like it would go on forever but like all good things, it came to an end in favour of the summer sailing season. A few weeks before leaving though we had the pleasure of VIP guests that made the effort to come out to wish us well. There was some of Jim’s family followed shortly after by some of mine. Having the opportunity to show them the local sights, villages and our favourite restaurants was another reminder of how lucky we had been to have called Marina di Ragusa home for over 6 months. Some guests stayed on board and some in apartments nearby and the whole experience felt like a great send off from our nearest and dearest. But saying goodbye is never easy and with the sailing lifestyle ahead of us we couldn’t say anything more definite than ‘See you somewhere, sometime...’
Preparing to leave Marina di Ragusa (MdR)
After these visits we had to knuckle down and get the boat ready for the upcoming summer sailing season. Among many other things the radar needed to be fitted which was probably the most difficult and lengthy job of the lot. Jim was up the mast about ten times trying to fit the thing. Then there were the many provisioning trips to supermarkets, home goods stores and hardware stores. I received lots of valuable advice from seasoned sailors in the marina about provisioning and what tends to work well whether it be handy things to precook and freeze or hearing what they liked to eat when the sea got rough and they just needed something easy. We bought lots of storage boxes to re-organise the boat and make better use of our space and I picked out some extra cushions and throw covers for the seats to protect them and make the place feel more homely. With a full and much heavier boat, we were nearly ready to go.
Goodbye work, for now!
Towards the end of April, we finished work completely. It was strange to say goodbye to colleagues we had worked with for over three years. We threw a ‘Finishing work party’ too and invited some of our friends from the neighbouring boats. We talked about the prospect of not working for the foreseeable future but were assured that it would be worth the sacrifice in income to throw ourselves into sailing fully. We spoke to some who had tried to work and sail. They felt that they were doing both things badly instead of dedicating themselves to one or the other. Our idea to take a few years out was reaffirmed again, but still scary! We started to hatch an ‘escape from MdR’ plan and teamed up with ‘Right Meow’ a fellow Catana 47 captain and ‘admiral’ and with a huge amount more experience than us. Thankfully they took us under their wing which was much appreciated. They saw to it that we struck the balance between getting the important boat jobs done on the one hand but on the other imposing on ourselves a drop-dead date (weather dependent only.) It could be all to easy to drift into the month of May trying to get everything perfect on the boat but consequently not actually sailing it!
Departure at last
Polaris and Right Meow left MdR on Thursday the 2nd of May going a short hop up the coast to Porto Palo. The idea was to ease into sailing slowly providing an opportunity to tweak things and remember how things worked as well as having a night at anchor before setting off to Greece. That evening we had a ‘captain’s meeting’ where we reviewed the weather forecast. We decided to leave at the break of dawn the following day, which we did. However, after being underway for about three hours the previous weather forecast was updated with a much less favourable one. We would be hit with large uncomfortable swell and winds of up to 30 knots and constant wind blowing at least 25 knots. We decided to divert our course to Syracuse instead and shelter in the large bay there until the storm passed. Bad weather and high winds persisted for almost a week. If you have been to Syracuse, you will know it is no hardship to be ‘stranded’ there. It is an amazing historic place with a lot to do and see, a great market and generally a very colourful fun place to hang out.
From Syracuse to Preveza- Day.1
On Thursday the 9th of May we left that safe haven and headed east to Preveza, Greece. This was our first completely independent night passage. Before when we sailed the boat from France to Sicily, we took a small crew. Within 20 minutes of leaving Syracuse we were joined by a pod of dolphins which felt like a good omen. Getting fully underway the passage became a lively one. Winds reached 30 knots at one stage and the swell was at least 3 metres high. I had grand plans of blending soup… but those ideas dissipated pretty quickly when I realised the conditions we were in! The boat reached it's top speed on that passage of 13.8 knots and I think we managed a few peanuts. Around then we decided to put two reefs in the mainsail. That first day, flying along, was fantastic. From late afternoon we took turns to keep watch on a three-hour rotation. This worked really well for us. Three hours at a time was long enough for the one not on watch to get to sleep properly but not so long as to be a struggle for the other to stay awake. Thankfully the wind decreased during the night and we saw virtually no other boats except the odd far off container ship and of course Right Meow.
Syracuse to Preveza- Day.2
On Friday, our last day of the passage, the wind dropped off almost completely and we did a mixture of motor sailing and motoring. We had the privilege of seeing a couple of turtles swimming surprisingly fast against the waves. I also saw an enormous sun fish. The prehistoric looking creature swam right past, totally oblivious. With no wind and brilliant sunshine there was nothing left to do but get the trawling fishing rods out and hope for the best. We got nothing but we were joined by two little birds that would not leave the boat. They even flew inside, and I found one sitting on our bed. We had a late dinner to pass the time as we knew there would be no sleeping. We were thankful of the warming Moroccan stew I had precooked and frozen, so easy. After dinner and showers, we braced ourselves for a night arrival in an unfamiliar port. We were due to arrive at 1am in the dark. We put on our headsets so we could easily communicate from opposite ends of the boat and I went up to the bow to help Jim navigate as we guessed together where the channel markers were, what the strange lights were and how far away certain obstacles were. Honestly, we could barely see a thing! The moon was invisible behind thick clouds and we just had to try our best. It is incredible how your eyes trick you in poor light but luckily, we got into the anchorage unscathed. Even at that hour we were invited to Right Meow to share a few celebratory drinks! The truth is we stayed there until the sun came up over-excited to be in a new country with our friends.
Check-In to Greece
A part of sailing to a new country involves the check in process. On Saturday, after about three hours sleep, we went ashore with Right Meow to the town of Preveza to try and get the process underway. The port police was shut and we were all secretly relieved to not have to bother until Monday morning! Instead we explored the town and met up with other MdR friends on their boat, Sah Sen. On Monday we sailed a few hours further into the inlet to an anchorage beside a town called Vonitsa. It is a beautiful bay however the weather was pretty dreadful, so we used the time to get some boat jobs done and do a general spring clean of the boat. On Monday morning we sailed back to Preveza to finally complete the check in process including paying the newly introduced Greek cruising tax online which was a cumbersome and complicated process, but we got it done, nevertheless.
To the island of Meganisi via the Leftkas canal
On Thursday the 16th of May we set sail, headed for Meganisi, a gorgeous little island off the island of Leftkas in the Ionian. The journey was stunning and going through the Leftkas canal was slightly daunting but so worth it. The views were incredible with dramatic green hills lined with little fishing boats and lots of lush trees. We had an exciting sail with lots of tacking back and forth and finally we arrived at Abelake bay and were met by a gang of our friends from MdR helpfully taking our long lines and tying them to nearby trees to secure us along with our anchor. That night we got into our tender and met our friends on the little beach in the bay where we had a BBQ together and made a bonfire. We listened to music and exchanged sailing stories of the season so far. I think Jim and I both thought at this point ‘Yes, THIS is it, this really is the dream, the thing we have been aiming for. Crystal clear water, sunshine, BBQ, paddle boarding, a perfect tranquil bay and new friends. The season ahead is looking bright! Two days later we left and headed to Leftkas island and dropped anchor at Vliho bay beside Nidri, where we are now. What an incredible start to the season.