“Are you really travelling around the world in that little boat?”
As much as I hated to decrease our status as instant celebrities, I had to admit the truth: “No, we are travelling around the Ionian Sea for a few weeks.” The person who asked the question was the third party in fifteen minutes to approach us as we tied off stern to at a quayside taverna. Apparently, one of the earlier passers-by had misheard me and our legend had grown exponentially in a short span of time. We were to discover that we would often be approached with questions and curiosity as we entered harbours and marinas in one of Philip Osborne’s lovely Drascombe Luggers.
I had found out about Philip Osborne’s Dragon Drascombes through an advertisement in the Drascombe Association’s magazine. As I was familiar with Drascombes and their capabilities in strong wind and sea conditions, I decided to inquire about the possibility for conducting a self-guided three-week expedition in the Ionian sea. Phil got back to me quickly and we began to form the foundations of an expedition that would travel to five islands during the first three weeks of July.
We arrived much later in Preveza than planned due to a series of challenging connections with airlines. We had packed lightly for the journey, and unfortunately, our luggage did not arrive with us. Phil had been in contact with us throughout our travels and had thoughtfully arranged for a taxi to meet us late at night. We travelled to our beautiful accommodation in Geni on Nisos Lefkada and surprisingly, Phil was there to meet us. He had arranged a lovely welcome meal for us and compassionately guaranteed us that he would assist us with finding our lost luggage.
Over the next two days Phil went above and beyond in assisting us with the luggage handlers at Preveza airport as well as taking us to buy clothing to substitute for lost items. In the process, we also familiarised ourselves with Heulwen, our chartered lugger. She’s a lovely restored lugger and was outfitted completely for our journey, including a set of new sails. I even managed to coax Phil into loaning me a set of oars so we could row on occasion. After a couple of days of preparation and waiting, and still minus one of our bags, Phil guided us out of Vlicho Bay. He pointed us to a beach for a quick swim and gave us some tips for navigating the passage to our first destination, Poros, at the south end of Nisos Lefkada.
Due to unfavourable and light winds, we motored nearly the entire way to Poros. What a lovely spot! We had our first opportunity to nestle the little lugger among the local fishing boats – a technique we used for mooring throughout the trip. The great thing about travelling in a little, open boat is that there is always space for a mooring, even in the most crowded harbours. With the shallow draft of a Drascombe and the minimal tides of the Ionian Sea, it was possible to anchor or tie off quayside in water too shallow for the large keelboats that most visitors charter. Our host and accommodations in Poros were just as nice as in Geni. We discovered a love for Greek coffee at the taverna and we had a day to swim and relax after all of the preparation of the past few days. Phil paid us a visit and brought along some items I requested, including a new yard, that I thought might improve our sail shape a bit. Next stop: Kioni on Nisos Ithaki!
We set off from Poros under such light winds that we elected to row all the way out of the harbour rather than engage the outboard. Although rowing a Drascombe Lugger isn’t the most efficient means of travel, it provides excellent exercise. Phil provides each boat with a custom sun shade – perfect for staying cool while working out. Our route to Kioni provided a great mix of conditions, from flat calm to spirited sailing under a reefed main with plenty of spray over the windward rail. It can get cool in the wind and spray. Pamela was happy to have a light spray jacket to cut the chill. The passage was over too soon.
Our arrival in beautiful Kioni was met with the interaction described in the first paragraph of this trip report. It’s hard to put into words the affection we felt for the village and wonderful people of Kioni. A helpful taverna owner made sure that we were tied up properly to the quay near his business. I think he really enjoyed the attention Heulwen brought to the location! Our host for our lodgings for the several days we spent in Kioni picked us up on his motor scooter and took us and our luggage up the steep road to our apartment. It pays to pack light! The apartment overlooked the entire harbour from a private balcony. Pamela and I would sip Greek Coffee each morning while watching the always entertaining comings and goings of the yacht crowd. I have to admit that I was pretty happy not to have to deal with all of the yelling, fouled anchors and drama that accompanied the larger boats in the harbour. I had set up an impromptu private mooring near the local fishing boats and we came and went on day sails without a care. We found a lovely cove with several traditional Greek fishing boats a short distance from our apartment, and we enjoyed a few refreshing swims there. Next stop: Fiskardo on Nisos Kephalonia!
Our passage to Fiskardo was a mix of light winds and strong gusts. We began the day with a bit of rowing for exercise, we switched to motor, over to sail and back to motor and then back to sail again as neared Fiskardo. One of the benefits the lugger is that it takes so little time to strike the sails, they don’t need to be lowered: just roller furl the jib, roll the main back on itself and secure it with a sail tie to the mast and roll the mizzen around its mast. It takes just moments to go from sail to motor or oar and back to sailing again! Our entrance into Fiskardo was once again met with hails from other skippers: “Nice boat. Where did you sail from!” In spite of the the harbour being very full of keelboats we once again found a suitable mooring on the quay in shallow water – so easy!!
Ah, Fiskardo! There are excellent restaurants, amazing groceries, inexpensive Greek wine, lovely hiking trails and outstanding bakeries. Pamela even measured the distance to the closest bakery to our lodgings – just 100 paces (needless to say, we ate a lot of baked goods!). Our trip to Kephalonia was also punctuated with a wonderful day on a rental motor scooter as we explored vineyards and the other harbours of the island, including beautiful Assos. Our lovely landlady washed our clothes for us free of charge and was an incredible source of information on the island and its inhabitants. Next stop: The long passage to Nisos Kalamos.
Once again we set off under oar power. The passage to Nisos Kalamos was our longest of the trip and provided some of the most enjoyable sailing of the trip. We had good, consistent winds throughout the day and arrived tired and happy at the tiny village of Episkopi. What a gem! We were able to set a bow anchor and a stern line right in front of our lodgings in Episkopi – so convenient! Episkopi was a departure from the hustle and bustle of our previous ports of call. There’s just one taverna, no store, and not much to see, yet we quickly fell in love with this unassuming location. The sunsets were gorgeous, Heulwen was happily moored close at hand and we could swim right off our front porch on an uncrowded beach with clear water.
Needing a few groceries and a bit more adventure, we elected to circumnavigate Kalamos. The winds were forecast to be brisk and we weren’t disappointed! It’s important to reef early and anticipate the strength of the wind as it’s deflected and directed by the land. Keep the mainsheet in your hand. Even with strong gusts, Heulwen was steady on her lines throughout a thrilling day of sailing. We entered Port Kalamos under the strongest winds of the trip to find an entire charter flotilla shore bound for the day. One of the skippers asked, “you’ve been out there today? In this wind? In that little boat? Our flotilla captain required us to remain in port!” We stocked up on groceries, good wine, baked goods and fresh fruit (kept cool in the little cooler provided by Phil) and set sail to complete our circumnavigation as the flotilla charterers looked on in envy. Next stop: Nisos Meganisi.
Although our original itinerary had indicated a direct course back to our starting port on Nisos Lefkada, Pamela and I elected to explore another island. We reluctantly cut short our stay on Kalamos in favour of spending a couple of days on Meganisi. We easily arranged another lodging via Airbnb and set sail for Vathy on Meganisi. Light winds prevailed, but we enjoyed the exercise of “motorsailing” under sails and oars for a couple of hours and then turned on the iron ‘genny to complete the passage.
Vathy is a busy yachting destination with seemingly every space on the quay taken, yet we once again found ourselves conveniently moored against the quay in shallow water right in front of a taverna. Our hosts for the next two days picked us up and drove us and our simple luggage to the apartment. Yet again, we were rewarded with a lovely, comfortable lodging within easy walking distance to the harbour, shops and tavernas. Inspired by our previous motor scooter rental on Kephalonia, I elected to rent a scooter to “tour” Meganisi. Within less than an hour, we discovered that we had covered nearly every navigable road on the island, so we did it three times! Along the way, we enjoyed a lovely meal, and were thrilled by the tiny roads through the villages on the island.
I haven’t yet mentioned a major attraction that Pamela fell in love with on the Greek Islands. Everywhere we went, we were entertained by small, affectionate, Greek cats. Our apartment in Vathy was home to the most delightful kitten of the trip. I was afraid that we’d end up back in the ‘States with an adopted pet, stowed away in Pamela’s luggage. Next stop: Return to Vlicho Bay, Nisos Lefkada.
Our return to Lefkada was powered by a light, following breeze. We spent most of the passage motor sailing under oar power and trying to coax Heulwen along by sailing wing and wing with the boat hook employed as a whisker pole. Just as we were about to give up and resort to burning dinosaurs, we rounded into Vlicho Bay to be met by Phil who had motored out to greet us! He joyfully directed us back to the bay and our most luxurious lodging of the trip: Geni Gardens. We joined Phil and his partner for a lovely dinner at the water’s edge that evening and toasted the success of our journey – what a fitting end to an outstanding adventure.
Thank you, Phil for all of the support and service. From one adventurer to another, we truly had an adventure we’ll treasure for years to come!
Dave Craig, July 2018