Thursday, 30 July 2009

Leaving Montenegro and onto Croatia ..... July 2009

27 - 30 July 2009

***Stern tied to the tip of the Customs Dock in Cavtat*** The cute harbour and town of Cavtat*** Passing the walled town of Dubrovnik*** The most scenic view from our anchorage up the Dubrovnik River***

We had a couple of false starts trying to leave Montenegro. On our first attempt the engine stopped before we had let the last line go from the marina. The lift pump was not pumping the fuel through so Skipper added Montenegro to his list of maintenance in exotic places and first tried to repair, unsuccessfully, so then replaced the pump. We had had a spare onboard since our departure from Thailand so fitted it and got the engine running again. By this time we decided it was probably too late in the day to leave so stayed another night. The next day the forecast showed winds of over 35knots overnight during the next two nights, so we just stayed nicely tucked up a little longer.

We finally let the lines go from PortoMontenegro Marina in Tivat, Montenegro on 27 July and headed into the bay. About 10 minutes out the engine stopped, from memory the first time it’s ever stopped underway, but Skipper went below and bled it and it fired up again with no further hiccups. We were beginning to think we were not meant to leave!! Our first stop was the customs dock at Zelenika for checking out, there was little wind so we put all our fenders in a big pile and nudged up next to the big black tyres. Check out was quick with no charges, and no issues with staying a little longer than our 7 day permit. We pushed off from the dock and headed onto Herceg Novi in search of the fuel dock. It is tucked away at the end of the ‘marina’ and small boat harbour, there is barely room between the bow lines from the stern tied boats and the small boats on moorings to enter and we touched the bottom while on the fuel dock. The diesel is only .82euro cents a litre so worth the effort. Exiting was even more tricky, we had no room to get the bow around to motor out so our stern had to be pulled around by hand and then Skipper did an excellent job of backing us out, avoiding the odd lump of concrete jutting out underwater. Three docks in one morning was way too much entertainment for us and we were happy to escape to open water, put the sails up and head for Croatia.

It is a short hop up the coast, we had a good sail and around 20 miles later we entered the small port town of Cavtat. This is a popular customs port for yachts, as the alternative - slightly further north in Dubrovnik, is on a large commercial quay with those big black tyres we all try to avoid. The quarantine area is at the end of the town pier and you must tie to this in order to check in. Unfortunately a couple of super yachts were already tied up so we did a somewhat unconventional manoeuvre and stern tied perching on the corner of the dock, but it did the trick. About half an hour and 250Euro later we were all checked in to Croatia with our 1 year cruising permit. We had an uneventful departure from our 4th dock of the day and motored around the corner to the bay of Tiha just on the other side of the headland where it was free to anchor. Yes we had reached Croatia, the only country in the whole world (as far as we know) that in certain places, which are not advertised by any signage or leaflet, there is a charge to drop your anchor. In Cavtat harbour we understand the charge to be 50Euro per night, eek!!!

We stayed three nights as on our 2nd day we were joined by New Zealand friends (who will remain nameless!!) on their way south to Italy. It was great to catch up and we went out for dinner in the lovely little old town of Cavtat. By the end of the meal a gentle breeze started to blow, and we had seen on the forecast that we would have 20knots overnight so we finished dinner and headed back to their dinghy. Our dinghy had been left tied to their boat out at anchor. As we walked around the corner into Tiha the wind was much stronger but probably still only around 20knots so we headed straight out to their boat at speed with the waves crashing over the dinghies bow. The big problem was we could not find their boat, we could see Balvenie and she was where she should be but we could not find their boat, and of course it was dark by this stage. Heading downwind, across the bay towards the rocky shore we found her, attached to a charter boat (unmanned), our dinghy painter (rope for those not familiar with what a painter is!!) having wrapped itself around the charter boats anchor chain. Both boats had dragged and were perilously close to the rocks but the charter boats anchor seemed to be holding them, just. It seemed to take forever for us to untangle our dinghy which we had to leave attached to the charter boat as we could not get it around or under the anchor chain. Eventually our friends got their anchor chain up and after several attempts we managed to get their boat clear of the other anchor chain so they could reverse away to safety and re-anchor. Once they were securely attached we speed back to collect our dinghy, just moments before the charterers returned, pulled up anchor and left into the night.

We returned to Balvenie and did anchor watch until around 5am when things eased right down and life returned to normal. This was not an experience we would like to repeat, but it seems most of the stronger winds up here come through at night, and even though we are always happy that we have dug our anchor in firmly, not everyone else does the same, and some of the holding is not great. Although in this case the charter boat possibly saved our friends boat from ending up on the rocks it seems many charter boats seem to drop their anchor till they think it touches the bottom, turn off the engine, put all their fenders out and go ashore.

From Cavtat we motored in very light winds the short hop up to Dubrovnik. We passed the old walled city, fishing harbour, customs and cruise ships docks and then we anchored the night up the river outside the ACI Marina. It was very busy with traffic into the marina and again the wind came up overnight, everyone seemed to be holding ok during the night but in the morning a large catamaran that had been fine all night started dragging down on the power boat next to us, luckily is was daylight by then and they were aboard and re-anchored. Anchoring in Croatia just might be a challenge. When the wind eased mid morning we went ashore and finally managed to fill our gas bottles, something we hadn't been able to do in Greece. When we got back to the boat there was an easterly blowing so we decided to save sightseeing in Dubrovnik for our return, lifted anchor and sailed west.

Cruising Info for exiting Montenegro, arrival Croatia and Dubrovnik:
Anchorages/Docks -
Zelenika Customs Dock Montenegro - 42 26.994N 18 34.278E 8m Concrete Dock, large black rubber bumpers. Difficult to leave in afternoon seabreeze
Herceg Novi Fuel Dock Montenegro - 42 26.99N 18 32.07E 2m but we stayed afloat - just! Very tight, no turning room. Diesel .82euro cents per litre
Cavtat Customs Dock Croatia - 42 34.98N 18 12.94E 8m. Look for big yellow square sign with Q on it, this is the customs area
Tiha Anchorage at Cavtat - 42 35.07N 18 13.21E 6.2m, sand and weed, some poor holding dig in well

Dubrovnik River by ACI Marina - 42 40.29N 18 07.14E 8.8m, we held ok
Internet - Some unlocked at Tiha, signal on and off . No signal in Dubrovnik
Money - Croatia uses the Kuna. 01 Aug 2009 7kuna = 1euro. ATM's by Customs dock in Zelenika and in Cavtat town, don't remember one at ACI Marina but no doubt one there
Provisions - Small supermarket and good fruit market at Cavtat., supermarket also at ACI Dubrovnik and another up road enroute to LPG Station. About 1km walk in Dubrovnik upriver to LPG station (follow homemade road signs), cost 157kuna for about 15kg's gas. Will fill any connection

Formalities - Montenegro Checkout quick and straightforward. All offices together on dock
Croatia Check in about 30minutes, offices all close by. Cost for us 247Euro for one year (minimum) cruising permit. Purchased courtesy flag at souvenir shop in Cavtat Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Exploring the "Black Mountains", Montenegro ..... July 2009

17 - 27 July 2009

***Regatta Week in Montenegro gave Mark a chance to go racing on British yacht Monty B*** Annual festival at Perast making their way out to Our Lady of the Rock*** Overlooking Lake Skadar, the biggest bird sanctuary in Europe*** Looking down into the fjord-like inland waterway with Our Lady of the Rock in the foreground***

When we headed for Montenegro, this small new country, with a compact inland waterway for a coastline we expected to spend the week exploring the few small bays dotted around with shallow enough water to anchor. We had heard from cruiser friends via our morning 'radio net' that there was a new marina there offering free berths but we didn't know where. Then we were lucky enough to make contact with friends on Samsara who had found it and gave us details. After clearing customs we headed straight to PortoMontenegro Marina in Tivat. We decided to stay the duration of our cruising permit in the marina and discover Montenegro by land instead, a great idea!!

Tivat is a small tidy town set along the waterfront with a busy beachfront and bustling outdoor cafe scene. Their summer music festival was on, so there was live music every night set in a small outdoor theatre against a backdrop of a floodlit ancient stone wall and crypt, magical. We strolled up every night at 9.30pm and enjoyed a mix of styles, never quite sure what we were in for as we couldn't understand any of the programme, one night was a children's pantomime - we gave that one a miss and went for a gelato instead !!

The two day Montenegro Sailing Regatta was also on, Mark was offered a spot onboard Monty B, our dock neighbour in the marina. The winds were light and fluky, the fleet varied but a good time was had by all and he enjoyed being out racing again.

We took the local bus around to the ancient walled town of Kotor, it sits at the end of a very deep fjord in a magnificent location. The castle walls rise high above the town, clawing into the steep mountainside. It is a beautiful small town in excellent condition. Its narrow alleys are a maze, originally designed this way to confuse unwelcome intruders. There are churches everywhere, cafes, restaurants and a few boutique shops, but this is also home to many locals and the sight of laundry hanging from windows and balconies above certainly gives it that 'lived in' feeling. We visited 4 times during our stay, one night to attend a well advertised concert - we had a pizza in the square then set out for the concert but couldn't find it in the maze, we asked several people but ended up admitting defeat and headed home, next time we were there we discovered the indoor concert venue was no more than 50 feet from where we had had our pizza, but we had been looking for an outdoor theatre!!!

We also visited Perast, a tiny waterfront village tucked between the deep fjord and mountains. It was July 22 and on this day for the past 550 years the locals make their way out by boat to a tiny island they have 'built' and throw stones overboard. This construction was helped by the sinking of 87 captured ships here!! Still, it is a part of their history and we enjoyed watching the procession and taking part in the festivities.

On another day we hired a car and set off to explore inland. First we headed south along the coast and saw Budva again, still looking just as manic as when we had visited on Balvenie so we headed inland to the old capital of Cetinje. It is now a small town, almost crumbling down but it still has some beautiful buildings in leafy lanes from the days in the late 19th century when it housed the government. Some of the old embassy buildings and former parliament building have been restored and house museums and art galleries, and some are art and music schools. It would all be splendid if restored, but for now has a feeling of decay with little hope of returning to its former glory. Next stop was to see the old stone bridge in the tiny hamlet at Rijeka Crnojevica, down a narrow twisting road into a valley, the road signs were few and far between and our map somewhat lacking in detail and we were quite amazed we actually found it. After the outstanding bridges we had recently seen in Zagora, Greece this wasn't anything too special but the scenery was worth the trip.

We carried on in the car to Lake Skarda home to the biggest bird sanctuary in Europe. The road was narrow, with potholes that big they nearly consumed our little VW Polo, but the views down over the lake were spectacular. We stopped for a late lunch but decided against a boat trip out on the lake, no doubt the best way to view all the birds, but when you live on a boat it's very difficult to pay for a boat trip!!! With many hours of daylight left we travelled further inland skirting the present capital of Podgorica, ghastly looking place with row upon row of concrete block square multi-storey apartment bunkers, no obvious town planning, no trees, rubbish everywhere, set on a flat plain surrounded by uninspiring countryside. Such a huge contrast in an otherwise clean, green, scenic country.

Our next challenge was to visit the Ostrog Monastery, the Lonely Planet describes it as 'precipitously resting on a cliff face 900m above the Zeta valley on a long and windy road'. Maybe we should have read into that, that the long and windy road would also precipitously rest on the cliff face. I can only describe it as terrifying, one lane wide for two lanes of traffic, potholes even bigger than before, passing spaces few and far between and a steady stream of traffic. The views again were spectacular of course and the monastery interesting, but I was extremely pleased to be back down on the flat in one piece. Then it was time to head on back home to Tivat. Still using our very vague map we travelled down more one lane country roads, past tiny villages with houses still showing obvious signs of the recent war. We found compact vineyards around the village boarders, fertile valleys with fruit trees, farmers tending their fields and eventually we turned a corner and our pothole ridden track turned into a two lane highway for the final half hour as we descended on this deserted ghost road from nowhere, down to the waters edge not far from Perast. After 300kms we made it home to Balvenie, what a great day and a beautiful country.

Sightseeing info:-

The buses go from Tivat to Kotor hourly and take about 40minutes around the waterfront. 1.50E pp ow

Our VW Polo was 50E for the day and fuel was 20E, organized through Sip Travel in Tivat ph (382)32670090. They were very helpful and spoke enough English. It is compulsory to have your lights on at all times when driving (why????)

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Friday, 24 July 2009

Montenegro - Country No 20 ..... July 2009

15 July 2009

***Stevi Stefan just south of Budva, sun loungers and umbrellas not included!!!***An artist captures the beauty of Kotor***The buildings of the ancient walled town of Kotor***Look at the the zig zagged wall going up the steep hillside at Kotor***

Our 170 mile overnight passage in the Southern Adriatic north from Corfu in Greece was reasonably uneventful. We were headed for Montenegro, a country that was once part of war torn Yugoslavia, then twinned with Serbia until May 2006 when it became totally independant.

We had left with very light winds forecast for a couple of days so motored the entire way. As we approached Southern Albania late in the afternoon, we could see in the distance a line of white water and motored into some choppy, messy seas and 20knots right on the nose for a couple of hours, then it dropped away as quickly as it arrived. We had variable winds overnight of 10 - 15 knots, but always on the nose and relatively flat water so just kept on motoring through. Several friends had done this passage to Croatia before us and got caught in thunderstorms and gale force winds, even when they had left on a favourable forecast, we wanted it behind us as quickly as possible!

As we motored along the coastline of this new country we enjoyed stunning scenery with high mountains coming right down to the waterline. We looked in at Sveti Stefan, a small exclusive resort island, famous over the years for the high profile people that stay there. The bay was netted off for swimmers, sun loungers and coca cola umbrellas crammed the shoreline, not quite my idea of an exclusive getaway.

We made landfall at Budva, a large bay on the Med coast. Eventually we were directed to the Customs Dock, tied up and preceded first to the Port Police for check in. All went well there, but Customs and the Harbour Master only work from 10am - 12noon so we could not check in with them and obtain our Vignette "Cruising Permit" until the following morning. We stay tied up to the Customs Dock and went off for a walk around the small but picturesque old town, nestled at the end of the harbour. On arrival back at the dock we were told by marina staff that we must leave the Customs Dock immediately and move to the outside marina wall where an available stern-to berth would be 61Euro. 61Euro to tie up anywhere is way too steep, but on the outside, unprotected wall it was a total rip off. One of our pilot books indicates no anchoring here, the other says its ok, we decided to give it a try, so in between fishing boats & tour boats, and with pedalos, jet skies and para sailing speed boats all wanting their piece of water we squeezed in to a spot for the night. Sun loungers and umbrellas totally covered the shore, hundreds of bodies were cooling off in the sea and music was blaring out from various bars, this was our first real busy holiday resort and it was all rather manic. In fairness things settled down before dark and we had a restful night with much needed sleep.

Next morning we dinghied ashore to complete our check in. 10am came and went, so along with several others wanting to check out we waited for the authorities to honour us with their presence. By 10.45am it was our turn but customs would not check us in as we were not on the customs dock. We told him we had been 'removed' from the dock by the marina staff, it seems this was not acceptable and he went off, with our papers, ranting and raving at someone. Some time later he returned indicating we must bring the boat to the dock, but we couldn't we showed him, it had been occupied by 2 enormous power boats, no doubt paying plenty of euros for the privilege. He could see this, but didn't change his opinion, in we must come!!!! Things were not going well, no one was being helpful, our first impressions of Montenegro were getting more tainted by the minute. We returned to Balvenie and decided to lift anchor and head on into the inland waterway which comprises of most of Montenegros coastline and try our luck there.

We headed for Zelenika, the main port of entry for the fjord like waterway. The customs dock was on a lee shore as the afternoon sea breeze was blowing and there were nasty big chunky black tyres along the concrete jetty. We really didn't want to tie up to it so we anchored and Mark went ashore while I stayed onboard. I could tell by the arms signals and body language that they also wanted us to bring the boat alongside for checkin. I could also tell that this was not going to happen and that our stay in Montenegro was going to be a short one, Croatia is only another 20 miles. As Mark was taking one last look at the dock before getting in the dinghy one of the officals came out to him and they went back to the office, progress!! About 30 minutes later we were all checked in and free to explore. Welcome to Montenegro, things were looking up.

We called our friends on Samsara who had come straight here without the stop in Budva (smart move!), they had meet a boat while checking in that told them about, then shown them to, a new marina here called Portomontenegro in Tivat, as it's still under construction there is no charge, until May 2010, it's great and as I write this we are snugly attached, still there. We will take advantage of the marina berth and do our touring of Montenegro by land, the road winds all the way around the waterway so we will do it the easy way. Next posting will be on our excursions in Montenegro.

Cruising Info for Montenegro:
Anchorages -
Budva Customs Dock ... 42 16.748N 18 50.345E 3.5m side tied
Budva at Anchor ... 42 16.90N 18 50.68E 7m some weed but can see the sandy patches. Exposed to west but had very calm conditions
NOTE ... the pilot books show a town quay and a marina. It is all now operated by the marina with matching price tag. 61Euro on exposed outside wall. Does have mooring lines though
Tivat - Portomontenegro Marina ... Our berth 42 25.96N 18 41.55E Free berths until June 2010 (full over winter, waitlist only) Pilot book shows naval yard here. Entrance is on left side as approaching, huge red and white stripped crane on right side. Bow or stern to, two moorings lines provided. Everything brand new and of high quality. Prepay transponder for power and water on the dock. phone 0382 3267 2353. Most staff speak good English. Try and call on VHF before arrival and they will direct you in
Internet - Didn't check in Budva. Free wifi in Porto Montenegro Marina, good signal
Money - Didn't see any ATM's in Old Town Budva but will be some further afield. Tivat plenty ashore less than 5 minutes walk. ATM close by Zelenika Customs Dock. Montenegro uses Euros
Provisions - Budva Marina has a fuel dock adjacent to the Customs Dock. No fuel dock yet in Porto Montenegro Marina. Diesel currently .82c euro a litre. Tivat has good supermarkets, bakerys, farmers market and a small chandlery all within easy walking
Eating Out - Cappuccino E1.50 We have found a pizzeria where we can have a medium pizza to share, 2 glasses of wine and 1 beer for E8.10 Bread .60
Formalities - We don' t recommend Budva but at a diferent time it may well have been very straightforward. Zelenika would be much easier with huge fenders and either a bow thruster or no on shore wind so you can leave the quay again. It was straightforward and quick once they agreed to let us stay at anchor.
Charges -Vignette (Cruising Permit)
7 to 12 metres 1wk 40Euro 1mth 95Euro 3mths 200Euro 6mths 280Euro 1yr 400Euro
12 to 17 metres 1wk 120Euro 1mth 220Euro 3mths 400Euro 6mths 540Euro 1yr 750Euro
Plus we paid 7Euro port tax and 10Euro (should be gold plated) for a courtesy flag.
We have heard that your insurance must be valid for the entire length of your cruising permit, this would be hard to do if you are wintering over and want a 1 year vignette. Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

The End of Greece ..... July 2009

11-15 July 2009
lasting memories of Greece - ***tucked up in tiny fishing harbours***the colours of the med***the one and only beautiful Santorini ***

We said our farewells to the Greek mainland and left Preveza heading back out into the Ioanian Islands with a good forecast of light northerlies. All was going reasonably well, sailing in average winds but again in quite lumpy seas. As we reached the islands of Antipaxos and Paxos (Andipaxoi and Paxoi) conditions quickly deteriorated with strong winds and a wicked sea coming through the gap between them, and of course the wind veered around to right on the nose, yet again. We double reefed the main, rolled in the headsail and made very slow progress motoring towards our destination of Paxos for the night. We didn't rate our chances of going stern to in the inner anchorage as by now we were getting gusts of 35knots between lulls of 10knots, these islands do some very strange things to the weather around here. We headed for the southern anchorage off Gaios and after 4 attempts finally managed to get our anchor set through the thick weed although closer to shore than we normally prefer. We had a horrible night with regular wind gusts and a beam on roll , pay back time for all those free marinas we have been enjoying!

Although Paxos is described as being one of the best in the Ioanian we decided to move on just after dawn the next morning. We had a great sail across to the tip of Corfu then tacked our way up the island in flat water and anchored under the fort at Corfu town. We had a great spot, tucked behind the headland and out of the wash from many passing ferries but a tender from the small marina nearby came out and asked us to move, we were impeding on the megayacht maneuvering area, mmmm. So move we did but then couldn't get the anchor to set through the weed, eventually we got attached again but our new spot was much more rolly when the ferries passed, and there are several ferries. A local tour boat tore by one afternoon so close and with such a wake our decks went under water, a first at anchor! I was sick for a couple of days with a bug but eventually we got to wander ashore around Corfu Old Town, through the imposing forts, past the cricket green and through the lush palace grounds. The Duke of Edinburgh, Queen Elizabeth's husband was born in Corfu. Its a lovely old town, no lager louts to be seen even though Corfu is still one of the UK's busiest cheap package holiday destinations. It has a little touch of Italy, England and Greece all mixed together and the outcome makes for a very pleasant spot.

The Ioanian Islands for us had been a disappointment, very busy with the charter fleets, but of course we are in the high season. Many of the anchorages were poorly protected from the prevailing winds and some of the holding was the worst we have had, anywhere. The changeable sea state was similar to the Aegean, things just didn't go so well. Given a less busy time of the year it is quite possibly outstanding, with lighter winds to allow tucking into some of the smaller bays. The islands are mainly green, the architecture appealing, it just didn't work out well for us. We had a 2 day weather window before some stronger winds from the north were due so we said our final farewells to Greece and headed on an overnight passage up the Albanian Coast to Montenegro.

Cruising Info for Paxos and Corfu in the Ioanian Sea:
Anchorages -
Gaios, Paxos 39 11.74N 20 11.52E settled in 15m poor holding and rolly. Les rolly further northeast but unable to get anchor to set
Corfu Town, Corfu 39 37.01N 19 55.66E 10m try and find a sandy spot. Outside the marina there are a couple of tiny red buoys, try and stay outside this area. Other yachts anchored where we had been moved from and stayed.
Internet - Very poor signal from boat, a couple of wifi hotspot cafes just ashore behind marina.
Money and Provisions - Everything ashore in the myriad of alleyways.

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Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Heading for the Greek Mountains ..... July 2009

06 -11 July 2009

***Vicos Gorge, famous in the 1997 Guinness Book of Records for being the Worlds Deepest Canyon. 2950ft deep and 3600f wide between its 2 rims***The beautiful stone bridges of Zagori***One of the surviving monasteries at Meteroa***Another monastery, famous as the backdrop in the James Bond film "For your Eyes Only"

After rather a pleasant short sail up from our jinxed stop in Levkas Town we entered the channel into Preveza. The large free town quay had plenty of room but the boats attached seemed to be jolting around a little in the sea breeze although it was very sheltered. We had a look in the unfinished marina and found just the spot for us, easy to side tie up at the end of one of the quays. We couldn't quite ascertain if it was free or not, or if we could actually tie up there but no one said we couldn't so if in doubt, stay! And we did, for 5 nights.

Preveza is a pleasant spot, mainly visited by Greek tourists, it has a long waterfront quay bustling with visiting yachts and lined with some very upmarket cafes and backed inland with a pedestrian mall.. It's quiet by day but buzzes from early evening till the wee small hours.

We wanted to visit the monasteries of Meteroa, which claims to be Greeces most visited tourist attraction. After the crowds at Santorini it was likely to be very busy! We hired a car with Sheryl and David on Samsara and headed for the hills.

We had also read in our trusty Lonely Planet about the area of Zagori, an area consisting of 46 traditional stone villages lying just south of the Albanian boarder. Although this was a detour north it was certainly worth it. The region is highly wooded covered in pines and firs, it boasts bears and jackals (all taking a siesta while we visited). The Vikos Gorge carves through and the crystal clear rivers are criss-crossed with an network of ancient arched stone bridges. It is a truly beautiful, remote spot, and one that warrants a longer visit in spring or autumn to enjoy the many walking trails leading from village to village along mountain paths and over the bridges.

After a lunch of local chicken pie, which was missing the chicken, we headed back south towards Ioannina, but didn't quite translate the Greek signs in time and missed the entry to the newly opened motorway that heads east, this ultimately will connect Mediterranean Greece with Istanbul in Turkey, an enormous engineering project, and guess what ...... billions of euro funded by the good ole EU. We got to enjoy the very windy but scenic mountain road instead for a few miles until we found the next on ramp. We turned off at Metsovo, partly because there were no signs indicating the next exit and exits were about 30 kilometres apart, and partly because it sounded like a worthwhile place to stop. It was lovely, set atop the highest pass in Greece, surrounded by towering peaks it is a summer hiking destination and a winter ski resort. Unsure of just how we were to get to our evening destination of Meteroa (yes we did have a map - two actually but they didn't show the new road!) we asked a coach driver who told us to wait two minutes and follow him, so we did. Back on the winding road to the motorway then off at the next exit, we wound down through the mountains onto the plains watching the huge boulder like landscape of Meteroa drawing us closer.

We arrived just in time for the soft late afternoon sun and after finding a bed for the night got straight back out and drove up to the monasterys to capture them in the perfect light with hardly a tourist in sight, magic.

We stayed in the smaller village of Kastraki, tucked in under these imposing boulders. We had wondeful views from our rooms at the ???(the memory has gone at last) for 50Euro including breakfast and had a very good meal out at the Taverna Paradisos. Next morning it was time to join all those tourists, but it wasn't too crazy. We went first to the Moni Megalou Meterorou (The Grand Monastery) built in the 14th century on the highest rock in the valley. It is in excellent repair and houses a couple of museums and shows how life would have been in those early times for the monks. We spent a couple of hours wandering through then moved onto Moni Agiou Stefanou. Immediately you notice the 'womens touches' as this is home to an order of nuns instead of the monks. It is small and compact after the Grand Monastery but worth the visit. Visiting two was ample, the aura of the place is more the settings with the monasteries perched high on the boulder tops, some almost inaccesible more than the monasteries themselves.

We travelled the motorway back, across viaducts and through 19 tunnels (we had a sweepstake with 17, 18, 20 and 21 as our picks!!!), right through to Dodona and visited the ancient 4th century BC ampitheatre and ruins there, we have seen some spectacular examples but this wasn't quite up there.

We stopped for a supermarket run on the way into Preveza, never missing an opportunity of having transport and filled the car to the brim. We even had another top up the next morning, filling the lockers with goodies before we took the car back. On our last night in Preveza we strolled the promenade along with hundreds of others, then were lucky enough to get a couple of vacant seats at a waterfront concert featuring an 'International Choral Festival', we sat under the stars listening to choirs from Bulgaria, Poland, Romania, Slovenia to name just a few. What a magic life we sometimes lead.

Cruising Info for Preveza:
Anchorage - Preveza unfinished marina ... 38 57.61N 20 45.40E 2.9m side tied. Water on dock. We didn't get charged but some docks are individually 'managed' so may be small charge. Some are used by charter companies. Its all very hit and miss. The big long town quay is free, either side or stern tie, quietest and less slop as far towards marina as you can get. Water on town quay from taps in middle of lawn
Internet - Locked signals available from various cafes. Go have a drink, people watch and take your laptop.
Money and Provisions - Plenty ATMs. Supermarkets, bakery etc one block back from quay
Formalities - Again didn'y do any or see anyone. Advised not to visit port police as not too friendly!
Sightseeing - 2 car hire companies by marina were 60Euro per day for small car. Got a brand new VW Polo from Kapa Rentals via Jenny at Karyatis Travel ph 0030 2682100232. She was very helpful, speaks good English, office right down the far (south) end of quay about 2 shops back on a side street but sandwich board on quay. Cost 44Euro for fuel.
Monastries are 3Euro each entrance fee, they close on different days so always some open.
On the road into the 'Bridges of Zagora County' there is an excellent tourist information.
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Wednesday, 15 July 2009

The Islands of the Ioanian Sea ..... July 2009

02 - 06 July 2009
After seeing all there was to see we had no more excuses to stay and reluctantly untied from our free marina berth at Mesolongi. We motored back out of the channel into the Gulf of Patras and headed west once again, it was time to move on to the Ioanian Sea. Light westerlies once again, so just 8 tacks to clear the headland at the end of the Gulf before we could bear away a little and head for the popular island of Ithaca. Before we cleared the headland the winds picked up to over 20 knots but while we were thinking of putting a reef in the main they dropped, totally, leaving us with a messy slop which we started to motor though. After about an hour we had about 15 knots so managed to sail through the sloppy seas, but the wind and seas kept building, with the wind back on the nose and up to 30 knots. Engine back on and we motor-sailed for the final 3 hours making slow time in very uncomfortable conditions as the twilight approached. Welcome to the Ioanian.

Vathy harbour on Ithaca had come highly recommended by several fellow cruisers and sounded lovely in the Greek Waters Pilot but as we looked again at the charts and guide book we didn't think it was going to be great coverage but it was our only option late in the day. It's a big long bay, within a larger indentation, but with a strong nor'wester the wind was whipping through, and although on a lee shore it shallowed slowly and the water was reasonably flat, it was ok as home for the night.

The following morning brought clear skies again but around 20 knots plus was still gusting through. We didn't like to leave Balvenie on a lee shore to go off exploring, although the venetian architecture ashore with the surrounding green hills looked very appealing. We decided instead to head off about 20 miles northeast, and once we cleared Ithaca we had a well earned beam reach in flat seas across to the bottom tip of Meganisi. The wind then dropped, so along with about 30 charter yachts we motored up the east coast of the island. Minutes after we turned west at the top were met with 20 knots on the nose, this provided much entertainment as some novice sailors on the charter boats were struggling with the sudden change in conditions.

We headed into the sheltered anchorage of Abelike Bay, we had at last hit the "busy anchorages", there were boats just everywhere, and a new addition arrived every couple of minutes. So with little time to ponder we claimed our spot. This was our first med mooring anchorage of the season, so while Skipper runs out the chain and tries to reverse in a straightish line simultaneously, (never easy with a good breeze blowing, a skeg rudder and no bow thruster), I take a quick dip and dive overboard with the floating mooring line attached to the boat at one end and swim ashore in search of a hardy tree or stable rock to tie to. Of course, this all needs to be effected in a very short space of time or Balvenie simply decides she doesn't want to be where we say and bounces back out on her anchor chain before I can get the line attached. This really is the most difficult way of anchoring with only 2 people on board, but when there are 27 boats tied up for the night in an anchorage that may comfortably fit 4 if swinging, then it is a necessary evil. The afternoons entertainment is also provided, watching everyone having there own way of doing this. Concern is always raised with the odd boat that likes to tie up to shore first and then just drop the anchor over the bow, not quite the way to do it!!!! We were also provided with much entertainment from some of the 'nudist' boats in the anchorage, they didn't seem to want anyone anchoring next to them (but it certainly didn't seem that they wanted the privacy!!) so would stand up on the bow, arms and other body parts waving in all directions if a boat came close. It is very hard to take anyone seriously when they are in the nuddie!!!

We decided to move on the next morning, it was the weekend and we had heard that the Yacht Club in Vlikho Bay on Levkas Island was showing the rugby test and the Wimbledon Mens Final, skipper was overdue for an injection of sport!!!! Off we set and motored the short distance in glassy seas. Enroute we circumnavigated the small lush island of Skorpios, which has been privately owned by the Onassis family for many years. Although they own the island you are allowed to anchor in the bays and step ashore up to the high water mark, as dozens of the charter boats were doing. I suspect the family and visitors have a very large swimming pool at their summer house and never come down to the waters edge!

Onto Levkas and past the town of Nidri and Tranquil Bay. It quite possibly was Tranquil when named some years ago but now bumper to bumper with boats and jet skis whizzing around it is anything but Tranquil. We spotted fellow circumnavigators Samsara, with David and Sheryl from Melbourne onboard and rafted up next to them for a catch up and lunch. Always great to see familiar faces along the way. Then we headed down into Vlikho Bay, and although there were many boats it is a huge sheltered anchorage with room for all. Next day we had more friends arrive, Richard and Pam on Aliesha , a British boat we have known since Darwin. They are nearing the end of their circumnavigation and were waiting to head for Sicily. We had a great afternoon at the Yacht Club watching the epic mens final at Wimbledon and finished off the day with an excellent Roast Beef and Yorkshire pudding, nice to have 'normal' food out for a change!

Time was moving on, and so did we. We planned to motor up the bay and channel north to Levkas Town, stay for the night on the town quay and await the opening of the floating bridge which connects Levkas Island to Mainland Greece at 10.00am the following morning. There was a reasonably sized space on the quay next to Samsara but the wind had picked up, blowing us sideways. After 2 failed attempts at dropping anchor and trying to reverse in we admitted defeat and gave up, but then snared someones anchor chain while lifting ours, lost our boat hook overboard while freeing it and nearly ran aground while reversing out.! We know when we are beaten! We decided our best option was to go through on the 2pm bridge opening and head the 10 miles north to Preveza. Standing station with around 15 charter boats for the bridge opening in a tiny canal was more than enough excitement for me for one day, but then once out the other side through a myriad of tiny red buoys arranged in no sensible manner at all through 3 metre waters nearly finished me off completely. Still, we got through into deeper water, rolled just the headsail out and actually had rather a nice sail north, things were looking up. Preveza here we come

Cruising Info for Ithaca, Meganisi & Levkas:

Anchorages - Vathy Bay, Ithaca ... 38 22.03N 20 43.08E 4.0m held well in strong winds. Lee shore in prevailing winds, flat water but annoying chop
Abelike Bay, Meganisi ... 38 40.29N 20 47.34E settled in 4.4m dropped anchor in around 12m, stern tied to rock and tree. Tucked up away from sea breeze
Vlikho Bay, Levkas ... 38 41.09N 20 42.03E 6.1m mud bottom held well. Very big shallow bay but well sheltered, may get chop in strong winds. Boats are wintered afloat here at anchor.

Internet - Didn't manage a signal onboard from any of these anchorages. Yacht Club in Vlikho has dial-up, very slow and 2Euro half hour

Money/Provisions - Didn't go ashore in Vathy. Nothing in Abelike but can walk about 20minutes to town. Small mini market in Vlikho best to go to Nidri. The Yacht Club in Vlikho has a wealth of information about the area, an excellent library for book swapping at no charge, washer and dryer 3Euro each per load, and satellite tv with all the sport on!

Formalities - Didn't do anywhere

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Thursday, 2 July 2009

Mesolongi, Ancient Olympia and Diakofto.....June/July 2009

27 June - 02 July 2009
***underneath an overhang and into another tunnel on the Diakofto rack and pinion railway***ready on the starters blocks for the mixed 100 metre finals at Olympia Stadium***Mark doing his victory lap with the ancient arched entry way in the background***a few of the many reconstructed statues in the Olympia Musuem***
Time to move westwards again. We left the little island of Trizonia and motor-sailed until we cleared the Rio-Andirio suspension bridge, the longest suspension bridge in the world. Then it was time to practice our tacks again, just 10 today. Finally we headed up the narrow channel into Mesolongi (Messolongion) and tied up yet again in another unfinished free marina. Mesolongi is low lying and hasn't got too much going for it. The 'marina' is quite a distance to town, but nearby there is an interesting array of war planes, canons and other equipment, just sitting in a fenced off area by the port. Adjacent to this are lying several huge wind turbine parts, still shrink wrapped awaiting installation, but looking like they had been there for quite some time, undoubtedly more EU money and worth millions! We had intended to just stay the night here, but we met up with a couple of other cruising boats, Rien and Ineke on Zeezwaluw from Holland and Kit and Belinda on Quilcene from England. Kit and Belinda had just returned from an overnight excursion to Diakofto to ride the rack and pinion railway there, something we had looked at doing but thought it currently wasn't running, so with offers from both of them to keep an eye on Balvenie we planned our next mini-break.

We decided if we were to go across to the Peloponnese Peninsular to do the train journey into the mountains we may as well go a little further and visit Ancient Olympia. We enquired about hiring a car but there are no hire companies in Mesolongi so armed with bus and train timetables we set out, first by bus to Patras then by train eastwards to Diakofto. It's a small seaside town sandwiched between the Gulf of Patras and the Northern Peloponnese mountains. Not much happens here, the sleepy town centres around the train station, and a few tourists pass through to travel to Kalavryta, through the Vouraikos Gorge up into the mountain ranges and ski resorts in season. We stayed the night at the pleasant Hotel Lemonies (€50 incl breakie) and had our best meal out yet in Greece at Costas (both Lonely Planet recommendations). Next morning we were off on our train journey into the mountains. The journey takes about an hour each way and climbs over 700m in 23km. The railway was build in the late 1800's by the Italians and clings to the side of the gorge, snaking up the river side and following it up into the well wooded mountains.

Back down in Diakofto by 11.15am, we started our marathon of getting to Olympia. There seems to have been no consideration given to connections onward when the once a day timetable for the mountain journey was decided. So after a very long coffee, then a dreadful cheap lunch we bordered the intercity train westwards at 1.37pm via Patras to Pygrus. We arrived after the last train to Olympia had departed which runs at 3pm!, so did plenty more waiting and caught the 6pm bus to Olympia village, finally arriving around 7pm. Olympia is a lovely little place, fully set up for the tourists but certainly not overrun at all. We checked into the clean and comfortable Pension Posidon (€50 incl breakie), then rewarded ourselves by venturing out for a well earned drink and meal, followed by a stroll around town.

Next morning we were up and out early for the 8am opening. First we visited the Archaeological Museum. It has an excellent display of votive offerings and other artifacts, and an exceptional amount of statues, all very well displayed, recorded and described. Then we moved on to the ruins of Olympia, home of the first Olympic Games held in 776BC. It is so hard to imagine that nearly 2800 years ago they were staging athletic games for leisure and entertainment. We wandered through the ruins, unfortunately they are rather ruined, due to the age, many earthquakes and Theodosius II who decreed in 426AD that the temples be destroyed as they held 'pagan festivals' there. You do still get an excellent overview of everything however and the running track and surrounding area is a very special place, complete with entry archway, rock starting blocks and judges seating. Mark did a quick lap of honour, and we sat in the peaceful surroundings and tried to imagine how it must have been. After the ruins we had time for a look through the History of the Olympic Games in Antiquity Museum, also very good then headed for the train station.

By catching the 12noon train to Pygrus we had time for a tasty €1.50 gyro (pita wrap with pork, tomatoes, onions and fries in it), while we watched the 'mobile chicken truck' selling his live wares, all jammed inside in cages, and given a periodic whack on their becks if they stuck them through the wire too far. not quite how they do it at home!!! We caught the intercity train to Patras, then had only an hours wait for the bus to Mesolongi. All was going to plan until we got stuck in a traffic jam due to road works for over an hour, something we are certainly no longer used to, but made it back to Balvenie by 6pm, worn out after two big, but very enjoyable days.

Cruising Info for Mesolongi:
Anchorages - Mesolongi Unfinished Marina ( ... 38 21.61N 21 25.04E 7.4m side tied No charge currently but works underway to finish marina (working slowly!!)
Internet - Patchy unlocked signal at dock
Money - ATM machines in town, about 20 minute walk
Provisions - All shops in town, nothing at the marina. Water hose on dock, did not see a fuel truck
Formalities - Didn't see/do any
Sightseeing - This wasn't an ideal way of doing our tour but this is what we did -
1/2 hour walk to bus station outside Exodus Gate
Mesolongi - Patras Bus 1430/1530 €5.10 p.p
Patras - Diakofto Train 1707/1807 €1.80 p.p (local train - no air con and a couple of extra stops)
Diakofto - Kalavrita - Diakofto Rack and Pinion Train 0854/1150 €6.80 p.p return
Diakofto - Pygrus Train 1337/1604 €8.10 p.p (intercity train - air con)
Pygrus - Olympia Bus 1800/1845 €1.90 p.p (bus station about 7 minutes walk from train station)
Olympia - Pygrus Train 1205/1235 €0.70c p.p
Pygrus - Patras Train 1257/1452 €5.40 p.p (bus station about 10 minutes walk from train station)
Patras - Mesolongi Bus 1530/1615 €5.10 p.p
If we had caught a later train or bus from Olympia we would have had a couple of hours in Patras and got back about 8pm.

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