Before we arrived here we knew some of the issues of sailing in the Ionian; too many boats, too few deserted spots and too many Brits. Despite the warmth and hospitality of the Greeks these problems are all too apparent to us after a few weeks here. It is delightful but there are just too many boats. Many have left Turkey because of the problems there and some of the bigger operators such as Sunsail have moved much of their fleet to Greece. The Aegean is too windy for summer chartering so they've ended up here.
That's fine except it means many of the popular stops are full by lunchtime and as the wind never switches on until lunchtime it means boats motor everywhere to get the next night's accomodation sorted. It's easy to fall into the same trap and we are learning the ways of the older hands to avoid certain places at specific times. We thought September would be quieter but chartering goes on at full blast through October so we will have to continue to adapt.
Having said all of that, it is lovely and it's pretty obvious as to why the Ionian is so popular with sailors.
We are back in Lefkas and getting ready to explore further. whilst we've been away for the hot Greek summer the Atlantic Peso, better known as the £ sterling, has sunk without trace against the Euro and Europe's poorest nation is now more expensive to poor Brits than shopping in Mayfair. When I say bread and olives I mostly mean bread and a few olives and then only at the weekends. I'm only exaggerating a little.
Lefkada is a lovely town, it hides it's charms from the casual visitor but upon closer inspection is a real working town under a tourist gloss.. It has few fine buildings and many of them are made of corrugated iron at first floor level but they are painted in vibrant colours and fit the sleepy nature of the place. Lefkada is a real sailing centre ( by which I mean charter centre) and has more chandlers than a Solent town. Lefkas itself is a mountainous island disconnected from the mainland by a canal that yachts use to transit north to south. The west coast is pretty inaccessible by boat so we explored it by car and saw some of the unusual surf that makes it famous for windsurfers.
Through the month of May we have sailed down the coast of Puglia and crossed from Otranto to Corfu and started exploring the Ionian Sea. The contrast with Italy is considerable. English is spoken everywhere. British sailors are everywhere. The sea is full of charter boats and ad hoc town quay moorings are the order of the day. Greek officialdom has benn less awful than expected. It only took half a day to get a Dekpa and a cross town trip to the tax office ( most Greeks I asked didn't know of it's location!). Officials were friendly though and laughed at their own convoluted procedures. The Ionian deserves its reputation for beauty and it's easy to see why it is such a popular destination. Lots to explore.
Back on board and getting LYRA ready for her next journey. My crew of three arrive later in the week and we will be sailing down the coast of Puglia and across the Gulf of Otranto to Corfu, in readiness for our first season in Greece.
Polignano a Mare
This is a postcard pretty town perched on the cliffs and reminds me of Amalfi and is obviously popular with both Italian and foreign tourists. We are staying in the nearby (3km walk) Marina which is brand new, has a capacity of 350 berths and has about seventy boats moored here. We've used the Marina as a base to explore the town and avoid some bad weather going by train to Lecce and, when friends arrive tomorrow, to explore by car the white hilltop villages that make Puglia famous.
Bari gets poor reviews online and in guide books. I think that's because you have to drive through endless suburbs to get to the centre. Arriving by boat is different and the old town is well worth a visit and we enjoyed our stay here, far and away the largest city we have been to with Lyra. We stayed at Ranieri's Marina, in truth more of a boat yard than marina, but easy access and relatively cheap so all good. Before we left Trani we had a great festival firework show that we were almost in the middle of. So that was a spectacular send off.
Chef Georgio Locatelli describes Puglia as "all baroque or breezeblock, with nothing in between". Well we've arrived in Trani, just 33 miles down the coast from Manfredonia and it's a baroque delight; aport town with a harbour enclosed on three sides, the biggest 11th century cathedral in the Adriatic and a real buzz to it that makes you believe that Puglia might just be the next undiscovered location in the Med rather than a down-at-heel cousin with a dirty secret to hide. The old town is made of white limestone and has had some serious money spent upon it to restore former glories.
when we finally got out to sail last week it quickly became obvious there was something wrong with the engine and we diagnosed a rope around the prop- despite the rope cutter. We couldn't sort it so the marina pointed us in the direction of a local diver and on Saturday we motored out to a mooring buoy and he spent half an hour and €100 sawing and working only to tell us it was 'no good' his only words of English. He indicated problems with the sail drive and the keel and we spent the weekend anticipating major problems when the boat was lifted this morning by the very helpful local yard. Luckily there are no serious issues and a little repair work will sort everything out. We have however broken another bow thruster propellor and face a two day delay in that arriving so we've checked ourselves into rather a smart hotel in the town for a couple of nights whilst we wait on DHL.
So we are enjoying shore time, with a sense of having dodged a bullet and some anger at bloody fishermen the world over who discard unwanted ropes and nets and treat the sea as a dustbin.
Yet more rain
And so the rain continues. For five days now we have endured rain and thunderstorms that have kept us mostly inside and certainly on our mooring. It's lucky that we are in no real hurry to go anywhere in the next little while although we had thought we would explore the eastern coast of the Gargano with some long day sails and some lunchtime anchorages by the cliffs, maybe a with little paddle boarding and swimming thrown in. Instead we have been reading and rapidly consuming our store of DVD box sets. There seems to be a reasonable possibility that the new week will bring new weather systems and some badly needed sunshine to Puglia so with luck we can actually sail Lyra rather than just live on her. Hopefully Tuesday. And yes, the local plonk was a step too far. Locals very friendly but we now feel we have explored Manfredonia to its limits.