There’s no doubt that flags and boats seem to go together. Cruising abroad it’s always interesting to discover the nationality of one’s neighbours without having to ask. But I’ve noticed an increasing problem over the last couple of years with regard to flags.
I’ve also been more than a little suspicious of the British blue ensign brigade. Their wasted attempts to prove they are somehow superior to the rest of us through the membership of a “royal” yacht club and its attendant privilege of flying a defaced blue ensign has always seemed rather pathetic to an unabashed republican like me and, whilst the red ensign has been thoroughly debased by the tax dodges of British Overseas Territories which means one often sees Russian billionaire gin palaces flying red ensigns from the BVI or Cayman Islands, the red ensign is our maritime flag and the blue flag is only recognised in UK waters. That doesn’t seem to stop British yachts flying them, much to the confusion of yachtsmen and women of other countries and port officials across the world. In fact I saw one British yacht this week flying both a blue and a red ensign from its transom: somehow legal and better than the rest of us at the same time. In fact it just looked rather stupid.
But this piece is not about the silliness of a certain type of British man (and its nearly always a man) wearing pink trousers, sipping pink gin, but refusing to fly our red duster. That’s for another day and after all it’s just idiosyncratic and mostly harmless and class-based and symptomatic of everything that’s wrong with modern Britain...
My recent concern about flags is a mostly British one but it’s not solely a British issue. In the Ionian, British flagged boats outnumber other foreign boats by a considerable number and at least one half of charter boats are crewed by Brits so my sample is somewhat biased. The concern is this: over these last couple of years the size and number of flags has grown like a virus. It’s now common to see 2 metre flags flying from the stern of 40 foot boats and charter boats are now routinely dressed with multiple flags flying from the port spreader displaying multiple nationalities (Welsh seems disproportionately popular?) football club allegiances and other assorted nonsense. I’m only surprised not to have seen flags with Instagram addresses and Facebook groups on them, it’s surely only a matter of time...
So what is it that is driving this passion to advertise one’s tribe so prominently? I’m at a loss to explain it. For British boats and charterers it could be a new nationalism created out of the train crash that is Brexit? We are Welsh and we don’t care? But we do really want to tell you that we are Welsh so that you can’t be in any doubt about it. Perhaps the wider weirdness of social media self-promotion is the root cause, not only do we want to send everyone we have any vague connection to pictures of our souvlaki and Greek salad, we also want to advertise and publicly promote our tribe in the somewhat artificial world of cruising. It’s a mystery. At least to me.
A little promotional plug here I'm afraid. My first novel, 'A Very Modern Hero' is now available as an ebook and paperback on Amazon. For the next seven days the ebook is in a countdown deal and is only 99p. http://bit.ly/verymodernhero Enjoy!
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.