Fraser’s last blog brought us as far as a beautiful anchorage where we met a fried egg jellyfish, and enjoyed the clarity of the water as we snorkelled around, supposedly checking the anchor.
The next stage was a relatively short 30-mile hop to a marina. We were a little anxious after our experience in Cefalù, but this place was as different as it could be. Porto delle Grazie-Marina di Roccella was one of the best marinas we’ve ever stayed in. Instead of the dreaded stern-to Med mooring, this one has finger pontoons, so the dinghy can stay on its davits and we could step off the boat onto the pontoon without needing to deploy a gangplank.
As we entered, the place seemed sleepy and quiet, but when we radioed, two marineros appeared to catch our lines for us, a courtesy you’d never usually find in UK waters. They proceeded to tie us up securely and explained in perfect English where everything was to be found. We had a quick bite of lunch before heading to the office, which was blessedly air-conditioned, and booking in for two nights. The two nights cost us far less than a single night in Cefalù on Sicily, and the facilities here were second to none.
If we hadn’t been on a mission to reach Greece, we might have been tempted to take out an annual contract in this marina, but we just stayed for two nights and used the time to do all our laundry (much needed by a certain crew member who shall remain nameless), shower several times, and wash all the encrusted salt from Barberry. There was even a mini market where we could stock up with bottled water, and a little cafe where we bought ice creams, beer (Fraser) and iced tea (me).
We set off fairly early for the 50-mile trip to our last anchorage in Italy, another pseudo-anchorage that really provides very little shelter but gives a nice, sandy bottom into which you can dig the anchor. We reached it quite late in the day, and were very glad to stop for a while. We would have loved to have swum there, as the water was perfect, but unfortunately there were several powerful jet skies racing around the bay.
When we arrived, they were terrifying the families trying to swim by raking past as close in as they dared, chasing one another along the length of the beach, but once we dropped anchor they realised there was another sport they could try. They started lapping us, criss-crossing each other’s wakes for maximum water disturbance. We were so tired that we just went down into the cabin and ignored them in the hope that if we didn’t give them a reaction, they’d get bored of us and go away. It worked, eventually, but we went to sleep that night to the sound of loud music and raised voices. Not the most peaceful anchorage.
At 0600 the following morning, Tuesday 15th August, we lifted the anchor for the last time from an Italian seabed and pointed Barberry’s bows east into the rising sun. We had a 174-mile crossing ahead of us with some strongish winds forecast, so we were a little anxious. We took our usual watch pattern of hour-on, hour-off through the day and then 4.5 hours-on, 4.5 hours-off at night from 2100. I took the first watch, as usual, and it was a magical experience.
For this passage, we knew we’d very quickly be out of sight of land, and that we’d be surrounded by nothing but sea and sky for most of the journey. This can be quite daunting for many sailors, but I quite enjoy the feeling of isolation and calm. The water is extremely deep in the Mediterranean, often thousands of metres, so you’re not usually worrying about running aground but we’ve come across marker buoys attached to long lines even in super-deep water. We’re told they might be drugs caches, so we’ve always steered well clear of them!
A falling star seared the darkness, exploding in fire and light as it hit the earth’s atmosphere, and the International Space Station flew overhead, a steadily-moving star travelling at about the same speed as some of the airplanes above us. Then I spotted something really puzzling that had me thinking UFO: A string of maybe 20-30 bright white objects passing overhead above me, all in a line. I called to Fraser, who was still awake, because I didn’t think anyone would believe me if I didn’t have a second witness! He stuck his head up out of the companionway, and his mouth dropped open in shock. As we watched, the whole string faded away in the distance and disappeared. It was only later that it occurred to Fraser (after some googling) that we’d seen some of the network of Starlink satellites that Elon Musk is sending up to litter our skies and allow us to stream soap operas from the middle of nowhere. Grumble grumble.
The phosphorescence was incredible that night. I’ve seen it before, sailing at night in warm waters, but it seemed to be putting on a special show for me this time. We even had dolphins alongside briefly, only visible because the bright blue phosphorescence as water streamed from their backs.
It was such a wonderful experience that time seemed to fly past. When I checked my watch, I discovered I only had an hour left of my 4.5-hour watch. I wasn’t even cold, dressed just in shorts and a thin, long-sleeved cheesecloth shirt that I use to protect my shoulders from sunburn in the daytime. I was even a bit sweaty under my lifejacket by the time both phone and watch told me my watch was finished at 0130.
But there was no sound or movement from the cabin. What had happened to Fraser? Had he forgotten to set his alarm? I was still enjoying my watch and decided I could happily continue a bit longer, so I gave him another 15 minutes. Surely he’d wake up soon? Nothing. My eyelids began to grow heavy as my brain told them they’d been awake for 20 consecutive hours.
I switched on my phone torch and shone it inside the cabin. Maybe he was ill? He does have a tendency to seasickness, so perhaps he was curled up in a miserable ball down there, unable to function? Nope. He was peacefully asleep in the V-berth bed, but the bright light of my torch must have penetrated his sleep because he turned over, shielding his eyes from the light, and asked me if I was okay. That’s when the awful truth dawned on me. Both my watch and my phone had automatically adjusted themselves to Greek time, another hour ahead of Italian and French time. Despite what the watch said, it was actually only 1245, and I still had another 45 minutes of my watch to complete!
I felt terrible, especially as it turned out Fraser had managed very little sleep as the boat tossed around. He climbed into his clothes and emerged anyway with the suggestion that he could take over now if I set my alarm an hour earlier and relieved him at 0600 Greek time instead of 0700. Mumbling apologies, I handed over to him with nothing to report except for some strong winds that had made me glad we’d reefed the sails before night fell.
I collapsed into the bed and was instantly asleep. I was vaguely aware that the boat’s motion had worsened as the night went on, but I was lying on 7″ of memory foam mattress and it’s a wonderful shock absorber. I woke up as the sky was just beginning to pale towards dawn and relieved Fraser from his watch. There’s something really special about sailing into a sunrise, and this one was all the more poignant for the narrow strip of land along the horizon. That was Greece ahead of us, far earlier than expected after a fast crossing. We’d made it… …or had we?
A couple of hours from landfall, with our trusty replacement autopilot, Robbie II, steering the boat, Fraser had gone for a lie-down and I was keeping watch for other boats and pot marking buoys. I first noticed that the main sail was no longer giving me shade, then I noticed that the shadowy bulk of Lefkada that had been on our starboard side for hours had disappeared. Finally, my tired brain realised that the boat had made a slow 180-degree turn and was heading back the way we’d come, but by then the wind had died away to nothing, so the flapping sails hadn’t warned me of the course change.
I disengaged the autopilot and gently hand-steered her back onto the correct course, calling down to Fraser to tell him of the sad demise of Robbie II less than 2 months after he’d been installed. We hand steered the rest of the way, taking short shifts as the sun was at its hottest and there’s no shade at all at the wheel.
Preveza Marina was a great place to stay, and we’ll definitely be back there. The staff are wonderful, so welcoming and helpful, and the marineros are efficient We were directed to our berth and helped to dock (stern-to, but we had no close neighbours which made it easier). I even managed to dredge a word of Greek from the gooey and rancid bottom of my memory banks: efcharistó (thank you).
We spent a few days in Preveza. We were too tired that first day to appreciate the euphoria, but it crept up on us gradually. After 4.5 months, almost 2,500 nautical miles (closer to 3,000 in land miles), and ten countries (Northern Ireland, Ireland, Wales, England, France, Corsica, Sardinia, Sicily, Italy and finally Greece), we’ve finally made it.
There’s a lot of paperwork to complete when you arrive in Greece in your own boat, which we haven’t experienced in any of the other countries we’ve visited. There’s so much red tape that we decided to use an agent to help us with it, and it’s a good thing we did. Elsa, from All4Yacht, has been incredible. We hadn’t realised that there are so many quirks to the Greek system. They are the only country we’ve visited so far that levy a cruising tax, TEPAI, (€25 a month for a Barberry-sized boat) as well as issuing a transit log (which we not only have to pay for but also have to get stamped everywhere we go) as well as other bits of paper It was a minefield. Thanks to Elsa, and Sofia, her boss, we now have all we need.
While we were in Preveza, we managed to source a dealer for our autopilot, and he had a spare belt in stock, so we hired a car (which was fun as the car hire company didn’t speak much English and we are still not great at Greek) and drove to Levkas (Lefkada) to collect the new belt.
This was fun as I haven’t driven a left hand drive car or on the right hand side of the road since our honeymoon in 1991. That time, I went around a roundabout the wrong way, so Fraser was a little nervous as I nosed the Nissan Qashqai onto the narrow, dusty road. As he’d flat refused to be the driver, he can’t have been that worried! With some false starts and interesting navigational challenges involving small children and goats, we managed to escape the narrow streets of Preveza and hit the dual carriageway where I reached third gear for the first time.
Our route took us through spectacular countryside with mountain and coastal views the whole way. We queued to pass over the opening bridge on the edge of Lefkada and watched even longer queues of motor boats, yachts, catamarans and fishing boats waiting for the bridge to open and let them through. By some miracle, we found the shop and bought the belt, but we still had most of the day free, so we decided to explore an old fortress on our way back to Preveza.
After the fortress, we stood and watched the bridge as it opened to let boats through. I’ve never seen such a surge of traffic, as it only opens for a short while and the backlog of boats seems never ending. There was a little policeman with a red face, trying to direct traffic at the bridge. He kept blowing his whistle and waving his arms but most of the drivers just ignored him completely and did their own thing.
As the bridge began to close, we watched a small boat sprint for the rapidly-closing gap. We were certain he’d be crushed, but somehow he squeaked through and seemed unfazed by the whole thing!
After a few days spent resting in Preveza, we booked Barberry in to be lifted out of the water at Cleopatra Marina, just across the bay. There, we spent a couple of very hot and sweaty days preparing her for a winter ashore, cleaning her inside and out, stripping down sails and canvas, and storing them all safely in the cabin. Fraser serviced and winterised the engine so Barberry will be ready for us whenever we can next persuade our adult children that cat sitting is fun, honestly.
We flew back home to Northern Ireland a couple of days ago, with flight delays, missed connections, and replacement flights so we’re pretty exhausted, but it’s great to be back with family again. Feels funny, sleeping in a normal bed where you can get up for a wee in the night without going through contortions and buzzing body parts on the fan. Being cool is a nice change, too, although I think we both enjoyed the dry heat and will definitely miss the sunshine.
We’re going to miss our brave little boat over the winter, but we’ll keep ourselves sane by planning our next cruise, whenever that is, and dreaming of snorkelling in turquoise waters once again. Fraser has plans to make us a new cockpit shade (bimini), and I plan to learn to speak Greek this winter.
This adventure is complete, and now we’re getting ready for the next one.