Our normal sailing grounds are on the North Norfolk coast, choppy short seas and usually a cold north or north-east wind and very limited tides. So the idea of sailing in 30°C, with a gentle Mediterranean wind, surrounded by mountains sounded really appealing when we discussed it at the tail end of winter and I have to say that it didn’t disappoint.
We flew into Corfu and enjoyed a few days exploring before catching the ferry over to Igoumenitsa where a smiling Phil was waiting for us. It was a long ride down to Vliho Bay, but Phil then kindly treated us to a meze lunch before delivering us to the Geni Gardens, our base for the week. He then returned in his tender to take us out to meet our craft, Lugger Heulwen. It was blowing up pretty well, but undeterred we sailed around for an hour or so, getting the hang of our new boat. She handled well and we were happy sailors.
During our week we sailed every day, except on Thursday, when the wind was blowing into the bay and the sea seemed too choppy. On this day we taxied into Nidri with fellow lugger sailors Gordon and Fran, to explore and do some shopping. Looking at the sea from Nidri, we could have sailed quite happily on this day as well.
The boat does, as promised, sit at the bottom of the Geni Gardens, a stone’s throw from our apartment. Our routine was to have a latish breakfast and then set off, with a picnic lunch (packed in the cool-bag thoughtfully provided by Phil), swimsuits and snorkels. Coming from Norfolk we aren’t used to unlimited sailing, so we just wanted to sail, but as the week progressed we discovered that there is also joy in dropping anchor and hopping over the side to explore the bottom of the very deep, blue Mediterranean sea, so wonderfully refreshing in the heat. Phil provided a bimini, a sort of tent you tie between the masts to give you shelter from the sun when you are moored. This was great, as the sun is quite relentless.
The sailing was spectacular, with lots of islands and a backdrop of huge, impressive mountains on every side. There was not always a good wind for a Drascombe to catch so we had to use the motor more than we would normally, but we still managed to sail for four to six hours a day. The weather was blissful, but also exciting as we had three very big storms whilst we were there. Sailing home as we watched the lightening over the sea some twenty miles away will stay in my memory for a very long time. As will the two and half hours of torrential rain when we arrived back to base!
We were surprised that, whilst out sailing, we were very much the centre of attention. Local fishermen waved enthusiastically, we thought it may have been because we were sailing a traditional craft. Big yachts stared and photographed us; one even sailed in a circle around us taking a video and photos. They then passed us their yacht’s business card (yes, I am not kidding!) so that we could contact them for copies of the pictures and the video. You don’t often get photos of yourself sailing, so this was very kind of them.
Our intention on day one was to visit the caves, but the winds were contrary so we never made it. However that didn’t detract from our trip, because there was so much to look at and always somewhere nice to which we could sail. Maybe next time…
Apart from the sailing, everyone we met: our hosts at the Geni Gardens; Christos and the staff at Phil’s pet taverna The Gialos; Harry the baker (who baked me special gluten-free bread upon request and even delivered it to me in time for breakfast); our Lugger sailing pals, Alex and Penny, Gordon and Fran; and last, but not least Phil and Leslie, were all so friendly and welcoming it was a joy to be with them. We ate most evenings at the Taverna (gorgeous food and very cheap) with our fellow sailors (and often Phil and Leslie as well) which has generated a sense of comradeship which is unusual when on a holiday.
The week passed incredibly quickly and before we knew it we were having our final Saturday night meal in the taverna, with us dreading the thought that our Ionian sailing experience was over. But no! The lovely Phil suggested that, as we were not in a rush to get back to the ferry, perhaps we should spend Sunday morning sailing as well. Well, it would have been rude to say no – and what a three hour sail it was sailing around an island in perfect winds. They say you should always finish a holiday wanting more, we realise that we haven’t finished with sailing a Drascombe in Ionia, so we will are going to have to go back.