Prince Phil Waz Here

It took us a couple of hours to do the 15nm across from the top of Paxos to the small fishing harbour of Petriti on the east coast of Corfu. We decided to split our time between Petriti and Corfu town to make sure we saw as much of Corfu as we could. Petriki is the last of the real fishing harbours in Corfu and most of the restaurants come down here to buy their fish.

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There’s not a lot of free spots on the wall but we managed to arrive just as a couple of yachts were departing so we dropped our anchor and backed up to the wall.

We found a number for a rental car and organized a car for 2 days. We concentrated on the southern half for the first day, visiting a few resort towns on the southern tip, before heading up to Achilleion, an imposing Neoclassical villa built for Empress Elizabeth of Austria. No expense was spared on either the inside or the outside gardens with its impressive statues. Something different from the usual Greek Island sightseeing.

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We then headed off to Pelekas, which is a mountain village with great views from a high. Our last stop of the day was Corfu Town, where we checked out the berthing options. Both the Noak Yacht Club and Mandraki had plenty of paid berths available. We stop and chatted with some Australian yachties in Mandraki. One of which turned out to be Andrea (along with hubbie Ian), my PE Teacher from Bunbury High School, way back in the seventies. It’s a small world. Anyway one drink turned into five as we picked Merv and Judy’s brains about Albania, where they had just spent a couple of months. Drove home very carefully that night.

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Day 2 of our Tour de Corfu saw us head north on a stunning mountainous coastal drive. Well it would have been stunning if we could have seen anything through the rain and low cloud. The drive is noted for its great views of Albania – it was out there somewhere.

The weather started to clear (a bit) as we wove our way down to Agios Georgios, a spectacular little beachside town with a monastery on a prominent headland that splits the town into two large bays with lots of nice swimming spots scattered around. Dee was here years ago and managed to find some nice beaches when her and her niece found some nice local boys with a boat.

Next day we did the short hop up to Corfu Town. We pulled up the anchor to find a steel cable on the end of it. No way could we shake that off so out came the grappling hook. We hooked the grappling hook on the cable and got the anchor free only to see that I’d managed to wrap the loose end of the rope I’d tied to the grappling hook around the anchor winch mangled in with the anchor chain. It was going to be that sort of Frank Spencer morning – it was in fact May 13th. So now we had La Mischief attached to a steel chain by a flimsy grappling hook that we couldn’t dislodge until we got the rope free from the anchor winch. We managed to loosen the anchor winch and unwind the chain enough to get the rope free. That still didn’t help get the grappling hook off the steel cable – we needed a trip line on the grappling hook. Reminder for next time. However the good news was it was only a couple of metres deep so it was a simple matter to throw Dee over the side and get her to dive down and free the hook. Nothing like an early morning swim.

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In our travels to Corfu Town, we’d spotted 15 or so yachts in the beginnings of a new marina being built just south of the old port. We talked to a couple of yachts and they said it was free so that’s where we headed.

We tied up and hit the old town. Corfu has two forts, a new fort and old fort. The new fort was just behind where we parked the boat. It was free and we spent half an hour clambering around it. From there we wandered into the old town, with its myriad of walking streets. It was nice to wander through. We finished up at the Esplanade that runs along the front of the Old Town. Along the way we past a cricket pitch, the legacy of being a British outpost.

The old fort is the highlight of Corfu. Its separated from the Esplanade by a canal, sitting on a rocky promenade that juts out into the sea. It dates back to the middle ages, with lots of Venetian and British add ons around the extensive outcrop.

Ancient fortress done, we set off on foot to Kanoni, 4kms out of town. Along the way we came across a plaque saying Prince Phillip was born here in 1923. Mum will be pleased given she delighted in telling me all about the Queen’s 90th birthday celebrations.

Kanoni had good views across to Mouse Island, the 17th century monastery of Vlaherna, and the Airport. We climbed down to the beach and checked out one of the big hotels before hopping on a local bus back to Corfu Town.

Back at the boat, we decided to cook dinner before heading off to enjoy our last bit of Greece with a nighttime walk through the old town. This was not to be as the Port Police had decided Friday night at 6pm was a good time to come around and kick everyone out of the half complete marina. Bummer.

We ended going around to the new port where customs were. We found a berth out of the way from all the ferries and completed our check out from Greece.

Our impressions of Corfu were that it was a little bit over hyped – nice island but must be getting picky given all the other Greek islands we’ve been to.

Then it was off to Albania at 5am the next morning.

Paxos – Off the Beaten Track

With pump bits sorted, we made a late start out of Lefkas. We had to wait in the channel for the swing bridge to open on the hour and then it was off to Paxos. Our original plan was to anchor off AntiPaxos on the way there but time and wind was against us so we had to do with just Paxos.

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Paxos is one of those little gems in the Greek Islands that often gets bypassed for the bigger sexier islands – in this case Corfu. Paxos is only 5 miles long and 2 miles wide. Its claim to fame is that Harrods only buys its olive oil from there. We were pretty well stocked with olive oil so we passed but did stock up with more wine from a great little wine shop. Can never have too much wine!

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Our first stop was Port Gaios which looks fascinating on the chart and in the photos. The small harbour sits behind a large-ish island with a small channel running between. There’s a south entry but we choose the north one as this looked much more interesting. We weaved our way through the narrow channel past lots of fishing and day tripper boats to the town wall. We found a perfect spot, one of the few remaining and went stern to in clear water. We could literally step out into the restaurant strip perfect.

13247930_10205753886559306_9198993853963956762_oIt’s quite funny cooking on the BBQ on the back of the boat metres away from lovely restaurants but when you are cruising full-time you can’t afford to eat out every night so we limit our restauranting when we can.

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Next morning we moved a short distance up the coast to the top of the island where we found the beautiful almost land locked bay at Lakka.

 

13226786_10205754074524005_2734774155119360647_n This is what Paxos is really known for – beautiful clear bays with sandy bottoms. We parked up in 2m of water and jumped in for a bit of bottom cleaning. The water is still a little cold but hey its only May.
13239209_10205754079204122_4836132110870848968_nLater on we dingied into the small town of Lakka and had a look-see and a walk around to one of the swimming beaches.

  13220532_10205754036043043_4827918071730853901_o We spent the night here before upping anchor early next morning for our 3 hour sail across to Corfu.

Monks on a High

Lefkas is a Greek Island that never used to be an island. Way back in 800 BC, the Corinthians managed to dig a canal through some marshlands to create the island. Later on the more modern-day Greeks had installed a swing bridge so you can drive from Lefkas to the mainland.

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And that’s what we did at 6am, heading for the Meteoras. Ever since I got to Greece with Dee, she’s been raving on about the Meteoras. So now it was time to see what all the fuss was about.

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The drive up there was pretty cool. It took us 3 hours to wind our way up through the mountains with numerous tunnels and viaducts, all built with lots of EU money. At one stage we hit fog as we drove through the clouds. The drive itself was worth the price of admission.

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We arrived at the town of Kalambaka, just after 9am and found the tourist office who gave us a really good map. Then we were off. There’s six monasteries you can visit and we did them all. Theres quite a few others dotted around that airen’t open to the public and those that are open are closed on different days so we jagged it arriving on a Sunday when all 6 were open.

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The monasteries sit perched on top of rock columns and in the olden days the only way the monks could get in and out was by a series of ladders and rope baskets. Begs the questions as to how exactly did they manage to build the impressive building perched on top of sheer rock cliffs in the first place.

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Nowadays they have carved steps into the rock face and put in a modern road that goes round the back of each of the six monasteries. There are also flying foxes that winch across supplies.

DSC_0843Each of the monasteries are a bit different, all retaining their air of myth and mystery. For starters, one is a nunnery – evoking images of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The most famous is the one that was in James Bond’s “For Your Eyes Only”. Must watch that movie again. This is the most photogenic but the least interesting inside. Megalo Meteoro is the most extensive, housing several museums, including the blacksmith’s shop and the extensive kitchen. As you wander around, you catch a glimpse of monks and nuns going about the stuff that monks and nuns do.

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We managed to knock off all the 6 monasteries by 1pm and we then headed off to find a nice restaurant in the cute little village of Kastraki for lunch. Kastraki sits spectacularly right at the foot of the Meteoras and it was filled with rock climbers, one of which only had one arm. Now there’s guts. The adrenalin junkies are well catered for here as there is also an annual mountain bike race down through the Meteoras.

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We still had some time up our sleeve so we headed for Parga, which is a charming little resort town on the neck of a promontory flanking two bays, with an impressive Venetian Fortress perched high on an adjacent headland guarding the whole town. We spend a couple of hours there checking out the old town, the nice beach and the views from the fortress.
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Then it was off back to Lefkas.

Spending Some Boat Dollars

Whilst in Ithaca I’d rung up the marina in Lefkas and ordered my replacement water pump from the Chandlery recommended by the Marina. I hadn’t been to Lefkas before so I thought this was my best course of action.

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Going Up the Lefkas Canal

The guy from the Chanderly told me it would be there Friday definitely –  Thursday maybe. The Greeks only go back to work on Wednesday after their Easter break so the chances of Thursday were pretty bleak; but we thought we would go in Thursday anyway so we would be there to pick it up Friday morning.

Lefkas is a big boating centre in Greece with lots of charter boats based there, and has lots of chandlerys, sailmakers etc. So we took the opportunity to run down our boat shopping/ chores list.

We had the choice of booking into the Lefkas Marina at 57 euro a night; or going stern to on the town wall for free. I always have trouble knocking back “free”. The water depth next to the wall is a bit shallow in places so we had to pick our spot, but otherwise it was great.

Contract Yacht Services (CYS) was the nearest  chandlery, right opposite where we pulled up, so we started our shopping expedition there. It’s run by a couple of British expats, who are great to deal with – highly recommended if you are in that neck of the woods and like me wondering who to contact.

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Unfortunately the guy I bought my pump off was a nice guy, but disorganised in a typically Greek sort of way. The pump didn’t arrive on Friday but he assured me it would arrive on Saturday. Come Saturday, no pump. He (supposedly) chased it up and told me it would definitely be there Monday. Bugger. We were planning to leave ASAP. So a quick rearrange of our plans and  we hired a car to drive around Lefkas Island on Saturday afternoon before heading to the Meteoras on Sunday. But the Meteoras are a whole blog entry in itself so you will just have to wait for that part.

Returning from the Meteoras on Monday, I got the phonecall to say that my pump model number is not available in Greece. The Greeks never fail to surprise me. It’s a 40psi Jabsco and the advice he got back was that you need to buy the 25psi pump and then buy a 50 euro pressure switch that converts it to 40psi. So we rushed back to CYS and got the same story – this time in 10 minutes rather than 5 days. Another marine store that had lots of Jabsco pumps said the same thing. Onto Google for a bit more research and then back to my original guy to do a deal given he’d screwed us around. Needless to say I got my new 40psi pressure switch for 14 euros more. 13071972_10205728819772652_2908687019931347638_o

But enough of my boring pump story, as we ended up having a really great time in Lefkas. The town itself is quite lively, with good bars and restaurants. These got a bit of a flogging as we kept running into yachties that we didn’t know, but soon got to know over a wine or five.

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The first of these was Barry, who was a Kiwi who owns Sailing Holidays in Greece (and Croatia) and has run flotillas for the last 40 years around these here parts. One of those larger than life characters who had stories to tell and knowledge to impart. At the other end of the sailing experience scale was Johnny and Julia, who had just bought a boat and were embarking on their first great sailing adventure. Barry and I helped them perform their very first Med moor and we had a great night with them. Johnny is Johnny Morant, a young successful painter whose paintings are in a couple of London Galleries (check him out at http://www.johnnymorant.com). Johnny describes himself as a “Youtube sailor”, but has good common sense and wiliness to get out there and learn so they will be right.

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After a hard nights drinking we were looking forward to an AFD, but that was never going to happen when 3 Perth sailors rolled up at the back of La Mischief.

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Stunning Beaches on the West Coast

Lefkas has some great beaches and it was good to get a car and go off exploring. Once again, we were stuck by just how green and lush the islands of the Ionian are. Maybe it’s the time of the year we are here. All the really good beaches of the Ionians seem to be on the Western Coasts and this was the case in Lefkas. We called into a few before we drove down to the south coast to Vasiliki, famous as a windsurfing destination. Then up along the East coast to Nidri, which looks across Vilko Bay, which is a large lagoon with boats anchored everywhere. In the corner of this large bay is another bay called Tranquil Bay. This place is super protected, with some yachts having wintered afloat here.

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An afternoon of driving over, it was time to head back to La Mischief and prepare for an early morning start to the Meteoras.

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Early morning start to the drive to the Meteoras

Passing the Rorschach Test

We left Frikes in the morning and enjoyed a beam reach across to the straits that separates Lefkas and Meganisi, before the wind completely died. As Rod said, the channel is one of the loveliest straits in the Ionians and it was great motoring through it a second time.

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It’s quite amazing to pop through the other side into this wonderful protected bay with yachts everywhere. There was some sort of race going on as well as all the cruising boats. We headed for the private Skorpio Island, which was owned by Aristotle Onassis for a sticky beak.

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You can’t land on the island, it’s still privately owned but it was still interesting circumnavigating it.   Then it was on to Inkblot Island…Meganisi.

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On the charts it looked fascinating with bays and inlets littered along its northern coast. We picked out Port Atheni from Rod and headed there. It wasn’t a port in any sense of the word…just a nice indented bay.   I must admit that I was a little disappointed in Meganisi. It looked really cool on the 2 dimensional chart, but I like Ithaca a lot better.

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Mind you, the water was lovely and clear and the little bays interesting. It’s just that I was expecting a bit more.   We anchored in the head of the bay amongst 4 other boats in about 7m of water. Still too cold for a swim. So we dingied in and had a half litre of wine at the one and only open restaurant. Then back to the boat for a movie and a morning get away.

Where’s My Mandolin? – Off to Cephalonia

The sail up from Shipwreck Bay to Cephalonia was actually a sail at times, as the wind was on the beam for a change. Still had to motor at times as the wind varied from 30kts down to zero.
DSC_0702 We were aiming for Sami but changed our minds halfway across and decided to go into Agios Eufimia as it looked prettier and was closer to the underground cave, according to Rod.

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Boat trip on Lake Melissani

It was a good choice as the harbour had just received a facelift with a nice new wall and power and water facilities – plus a welcome sailors life-ring. Nice touch. We were happy about the water as our water pump had developed a leak; still useable but you needed to turn it off and on at the panel every time we wanted to use water. At the dock, we could simply plug in the shore water and use its pressure to supply the boat, completely bypassing our faulty water pump.

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Winery

It was Easter Sunday and Roast Lamb is the traditional meal for the Greeks. We decided the restaurant straight over the road was as good as any, with the added advantage we could pinch their Wifi password for our Badboy wifi extender on board. And it was raining so no need to get wet walking far in the rain.

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We’d spied an Australian Flag on a Canadian cat up the wall so we said hello and decided we could all rent a car the next day to see the island. Just as well as Rental Cars were expensive on Cephalonia – 71 euros it cost us. So off we went, next morning, Rita, Sten, Chris, Dee and I, heading for Lake Melissani. Using Google Maps, we sort of found where the underground lake should be – that was if the one and only road that goes to it hadn’t had a great trench dug through it. We got out and found we were in the mist of a bit of a neighborhood tiff. The police arrived and told us there was a hole in the road – really. Anyway we pressed on on foot, clambering down and up the hole and made it to the grotto, which remarkably was open in all this kerfuffle. You get to the Lake through a tunnel that someone has carved out and then a boatman picks you up and takes you on a short tour underground. The lake is quite beautiful and the interesting thing about it is that it’s fed by the sea that gets forced through some fissures across the mountains on the other side of the island, travelling the whole width of the island, through the cave and into the sea on the other side. Quite remarkable. Never heard of anything like it.

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Next stop was the Cave of Drogarati, which was worth a stop, before we headed inland to the wine growing district, for a bit of wine tasting and stocking up. Then it was onto Argostoli for lunch and then a drive along the Western coast to check out some nice beaches there. We end up at Assos (jokes aside), which is on this amazing headland with a really cool Venetian Fort at the top. And when I say top, I’m talking “26 switch backs walking up to it” up. Having got our quotient of exercise for the day, we headed down the 26 switchbacks and then drove back to La Mischief, where a few glasses of wine were consumed over a few charts as we explained some of our highlights and where we had been.

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Assos in the distance

Next morning, we headed off for Fiskardho, a cutesy little harbour, that somehow managed to escape being flattened by the 1953 earthquake that completely flattened the rest of the island. Unfortunately it was a really cutesy little harbour that everyone else had heard about, and with the flotilla season just starting, it had its Sorry We Are Full” sign out.

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Assos looking down from the Venetian Fort

The good thing about the Greek Islands is that there is ALWAYS somewhere else good to go. In this case it was on Ithaca, the neighboring island. I’d stopped in their briefly on my way across to the Corinth Canal in 2013 so now I’d effectively completed my circumnavigation of Greek. Back in familiar waters. This time, we headed for Frikes, a cute little port with 5 other boats. It was a tiny town with beautiful, beautiful water and a free dock.

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Inland Cephalonia

It had been stormy and overcast as we came across but the skies cleared leaving a beautiful day. We took a walk up the hill to a town called Stavros and called into a Homer’s Ulysses museum, Ithaca is supposedly the island of Ulysses from 800BC, but it’s evidently still open to debate.

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We just stayed a night and in the morning we headed off to Meganisi – the Rorschach Inkblot Island.

Off to Zakinthos – Eventually!!!

I can’t remember how many times I have looked at a Greek weather forecast and then been unpleasantly surprised. But then again, these days I’m not really that surprised – more like p@ssed off than surprised.

So there we were, bashing away into 35kts of norwesterly, with Zakinthos looking hours away. We tried tacking out to sea a bit hoping for a wind angle change, but instead the wind kept building along with the swell. So I tacked back into the bay and this seemed to work better as the swell dropped and the wind angle improved – a bit. But there was no way we would make it to Zakinthos in daylight. So back to the Peloponnisos we went. Consulting Rod, we picked out Katakolon as the likely suspect and got in at 6pm with still a couple of hours of sunlight left.
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It wasn’t all bad as Katakolon is the main cruise ship port for passengers visiting Olympia; Dee having called in there on a much larger version of La Mischief with her Mom and Niece in earlier times. Unfortunately, it was Greek Easter Friday so all the car rental places along with just about everything else was shut (barring the restaurants of course). We eventually got hold of Georgio’s mobile and organized a car for 30 euros. Georgio also helped us organize diesel to be delivered by truck for the next morning – we’d used a bit motoring up against headwinds a lot of the way.

In the meantime we took up the offer of yet another George to come to his house and buy some wine, olive oil, olives and eggs from his family farm. We followed him up a steep set of stairs to his house perched overlooking the harbour. Here we met his mother and father; his father having travelled the world as a Greek seaman. We sampled the wine and chatted in broken English for a while. Their second son was in Athens, an IT guy (I think) and was returning home for Easter.

Returning back down the hill, we found the car park was filling fast; and Georgio explained later, when he dropped off the car at 9pm, that a lot of Greeks were returning to the village for Easter as this is when they gathered their families together in their home villages. We could see something brewing at the church from our boat, so  we wandered over and saw a lot of well dressed people gathering around – from Athens I guess. Then the procession started, lead by a whole heap of boys with staffs, followed by the local priest and then 6 pall bearers holding an effigy. There must have been 1000 people in the procession as we joined in, taking photos as it went by.

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Next morning the fuel truck duly came at 8.30am and we got what we think is enough diesel to get us to the duty-free fuel at Montenegro. Then it was off to Olympia, 38kms away. Olympia has a very pretty setting, amongst olive tree groves with a stream flowing through. I couldn’t resist a dash on the athletics track – but I’m pretty sure Usain Bolt is fairly safe. The ruins are pretty ruined, but its pleasant walking through them. What is really, really good however is the museum, one of the best for Greek antiquities we’ve been through. Some of the marble statues in particular were exquisite. Whole frescos of statues – stunning. Our last stop at Olympia was the “other” museum – the museum of the ancient Olympics, which was interesting but a bit of a come down from the main museum.

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Olympia done, it was off cross country to Tornese Castle built by the Franks in 1220 and improved upon by the Venetians. The restoration work is going well and it looks great, with commanding views across to Zakinthos and Cephalonia Islands. Well worth a visit.

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Greek ruins and Castles ticked off, it was back to the boat and straight off to Zakinthos. We had originally intended to get to the top of the island as the weather forecast had said the winds were dying off in the afternoon; but the only thing dying off was the Poseidon Weather Forecaster – just as soon as I find him.

Hence we bashed our way to the somewhat closer Zakinthos Town, the Island’s capital.  We pulled up on the wall with the help of George. I’m beginning to think every harbour guy in Greece is called George. George (the forty third) suggested we visit the supermarket ASAP as it was closing for Easter in a few minutes and we took him up on the suggestion. Then we had a wander around the town, thinking it may be a good place to see a bit of Easter action, being Easter Saturday –  but it was dissappointly quiet.

Next morning, Easter Sunday (believe it or not), we left in very little wind to head around to Shipwreck Bay, the famously iconic beach that inevitably appears on all those Greek Travel Brochures. The weather was overcast but otherwise perfect for visiting the West Coast – no nasty Nor Westerlies.

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As we neared the bay the water turned a wonderfully beautiful blue. It’s a spectacular setting, the white beach set amongst towering chalk coloured cliffs, with a wreck plonked neatly up the beach. We dropped anchor in 10m of water but couldn’t see the bottom. The cloudy chalk in the water was what made it so blue. We dropped the dingy and took 10 million photos of La Mischief in front of the beach, before setting foot on the iconic beach itself. There was a steady stream of day boats coming and going but it wasn’t too bad. Unfortunately it was a bit cold (for us) to go swimming so no pictures of me (or Dee) in our bikinis – so sorry!

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We returned to the boat and just got our anchor up before 10 flotilla boats appeared from around the corner for a bit of anchoring mayhem in the bay.

Then it was off to Captain Corelli Country – Cephalonia.