Swept Away HR46 at anchor Second Wind at anchor Northern Exposure at anchor

Sunday, July 7, 2013, in Lefkada, Greece

Hi everyone. We’re hanging out in the Ionian Islands of Greece, so I thought I’d bring you up to date. Last week, we were in Lefkada, ready to take a little spin around our island neighborhood.

It was calm in the morning when we departed Lefkas Marina and headed down the channel to the south. Fishermen were already out one at a time in their low-slung wooden boats, paying out or pulling in a hand line.

The channel didn’t quite match our electronic chart display, but Art already felt comfortable staying centered in the deepest part. To our left, towards the mainland, a lagoon that would put me knee-deep was kept from us by a thin utilitarian causeway of scrub and floating debris of interest to a dozen seagulls.

One of the mountains around us was topped with a castle – my guess would have dated it as medieval -- that must have been of some importance at some time in the past. It wasn’t noted on our nautical chart, wasn’t in any of my guidebooks, and didn’t seem to be heralded with flags or signs. Maybe Greece, with its rich 3000-year story, simply considers the structure too new to notice, the way we’d ignore an abandoned drive-in theater in the US.

We sailed soon after we exited the channel, making our way to the island of Ithaca. This island gets more than some recognition as the place that Penelope waited patiently for Homer’s Odysseus to return from the sea. Its two parts converge in a small isthmus, creating a large harbor for anchoring and many concrete quays for securing lines for those who want step-ashore access to the town of Vathy.

The winds were picking up when we arrived, and Art followed the advice of the cruising guide to anchor in the lee of the mountains and near a small island inside the harbor. When we arrived, a boat was already anchored. Courtesy and safety direct you to anchor in a way in which the two anchored boats could not hit each other in any wind direction.

But even following that rule, when we settled back, we looked impertinently close to our neighbor. To me, it was as if a person entered a movie theater where only one seat was so far taken, and then sat four seats away from that person because the original person had taken the seat that had the best view in the house. If the movie theater – or anchorage – is already crowded, nobody gives it a second thought. But it felt weird for a while, and then the anchorage filled in with boats, and it felt a little bit more normal.

The town swept around the waterfront and ran deeper into one or two streets further. Every few minutes the calm would be broken with the whirring of a motor scooter going dangerously fast on a ride that probably doesn’t last a kilometer. Nobody on a bike, whether on a bicycle, scooter or motorcycle, wears a helmet in Greece. When I asked about helmets with our bike rentals, it was apparent to me that they were available, but discouraged on the basis of extreme dorkiness.

Palm trees and bright flowering trees decorated the lowest level near the water, and olive trees covered most of the mountain. The houses near the town were boxy, painted in pastel colors, mostly in the beige family, and covered with red tile roofs. Sprinkled on the mountainsides were holiday homes, small and large. Cypress trees also made their way up the hills pointing skyward, creating an overall palette of bright green, grey green, and deep green vegetation as the eye sweeps up from the turquoise water to the primary-color blue sky.

After a dinghy ride into town, we found a place to have lunch along the waterfront. The afternoon winds had already picked up, and the tablecloth kept flapping into my meal. After the meal, we walked the blocks of commerce in Vathy proper, and went back to the boat for a quiet afternoon.

It was our intention to come back into town later in the day or evening when the winds calmed down, as they invariably do elsewhere in the Ionian. But they never even settled down enough for Art to secure the dinghy in the davits until the next morning. The wind kept us from a sojourn ashore, and made it so chilly that we kept threatening to check the calendar to make sure that it really was July. This was a benefit, actually, because there’s no air conditioning at anchor, and we’d already eschewed opportunities to anchor overnight when our guests were visiting, simply because we worried that the boat would be too hot for sleeping.

It was calmer by morning, and we pulled up the mud-covered anchor while moaning farm animals bleated somewhere in the hills nearby. There was moderate wind inside the harbor, but the moment we got outside the harbor, the wind died down considerably. We started to sail anyway, because we had all day to go only about ten miles, and sailing is simply more pleasant than motoring.

In the beginning, our speed was a pittance, but under the blue sky and the sun, I felt as though I was paddling along with my fingers on a floating toy in a gigantic pool. In a while, the wind picked up, and we sailed at a moderate pace for the duration of our trip back to Lefkada Island.

We passed the famous cliff where the poet Sappho jumped to her death to escape her romantic angst, and neared Sivota Bay on the southern part of the island. Dozens of boats were leaving nearly as if in a flotilla. We had a sort of half-full, half-empty response to that, Art suggesting that there’s something wrong with a place that everyone needs to leave, and my suggesting that it must be a place that everyone had wanted to go. In truth, we probably just arrived around the time that holidaymakers like to leave for their next port. Whatever the cause, the harbor was decidedly empty, and we got our pick of anchoring places, the right distance from shore and the right depth. Now we’d have to worry about newcomers anchoring too close by.

Sivota Bay is known for a 432 BC battle between the Corcyrians (from Corfu) and the combined forces of the Corinthians and the Threspotians. One hundred triremes were sunk there, 70 from the Corcyrians and the rest from the Corinthian forces. Most of the ships are still somewhere under the sea. This famous battle was at the beginning of the thirty-year-long Peloponnesian Wars.

Today, Sivota Bay is an unabashed summer destination for boaters and tour groups, with a harborside lined with restaurants competing for patrons. The land above and around the harbor is in the process of buildout, with a substantial percentage of unfinished homes, a staple of the Greek landscape and a testament to the undulating economy.

Again, the mountain hues were lightened by hundreds, maybe thousands, of olive trees. Because few buildings interrupted the growth, and none had the organization of groves, it was tempting to conclude that these trees lived on their own, never to be harvested. But I make the same mistake when I see horses in wilderness in the south of England, or camels in North Africa. At this point in our development, within the areas of tourism, nothing – not land, not coastline, not animals or flowering trees – isn’t owned, with their products monetized by someone. But the trees in their random state were lovely nonetheless.

Ashore, we selected a taverna for lunch and headed to the second level terrace for a sweeping view of the harbor. We were surprised that we were the only patrons up there, as most of the tables on the ground level were filled. Later, I wondered if the people in the restaurant had arrived inside a plump white tour coach I’d seen in the parking lot. After all, though this place looked, and was, remote, we were still on the large pointed hand of Lefkas Island.

After lunch, we walked downstairs to the other dining room. About ten elderly Greeks were dancing in a circle with their arms up to a bouzouki tune playing somewhere in the room. This was the first time I’d seen spontaneous Greek dancing during the day, and I retrieved my camera from inside my shoulder bag and wandered closer to fill the photo frame with dancers. In that moment, someone grabbed my hand and immediately I was the far end of the dancing circle.

Art was as surprised as I was, but I pressed the camera into his hand, and started to dance with the group. The steps are routine and not more complex than the hora that accompanies the song Hava Nagila at bar mitzvahs or performing the Alley Cat at weddings. I watched the lady at the other end, and copied her free arm tucked behind her back, and copied another dancer for the steps, adding a flourish of a plie or two on the emphasized first beat. The dancers were welcoming and even elated that this young foreigner (to them, I was young) would be as eager as I was to join them. The song ended, and the dining room erupted in applause, not a small amount perhaps intended to recognize my courage, or impulsiveness. As always when this sort of thing happens, I was elated and ebullient.

We stayed an extra day in Sivota, and used our time to enjoy the simplicity of watching the sky and the mountains. Though the time we’d been traveling had been unseasonably cool, even chilly in the mornings and evenings, summer arrived gently on our second day in port.

Our next cruise, up the coast of Lefkada, ended across the bay from Nidri, where we anchored again. The mountains in the distance behind the town were tall and bald. The harbor itself was large and protected, with bays in several corners to choose.

If Lefkada Town is the metropolis of the island, Nidri is the playground. In the center of the harbor street stands a taller-than-life statue of Aristotle Onassis, depicted gazing out to sea to his beloved Skorpios Island. Taverna next door to taverna competes for customers, especially during the day, where meals are shorter and patrons are fewer.

Down the beach, someone is offering rides in inflatable tubes, towed at exhilarating speeds by a ski boat. Several years ago, we’d sat at the café next door watching our niece and her friend as they flew above us on parasails.

This was the first day in a week that we felt real heat in the air, and the first night that I was tempted at anchor to use a fan. Around the anchorage, most of the sailboats appeared to be liveaboards rather than charterers, and the vessels were in a wide variety of states of repair, or disrepair. Near the shore, one workboat was half submerged and an old sailboat didn’t appear to be floating. A dock was splayed out with planks studded with nails radiated up and out.

The night was so still that I didn’t bother at all with setting my GPS anchor watch application. In the morning, we hauled up the anchor, rinsed off the mud, and motored in calm winds into the channel that would deliver us back to our home base at Lefkas Marina.

Hope you all had fun on the Fourth and that the rest of the summer is drier than the last few weeks have been.

Love, Karen (and Art)