We left Saranda after saying goodbye to our agents Jelja and Gazman and headed straight to Kassiopi. We exchanged our gas bottle and as soon as we were ready set off from the bay and sailed westwards.
I was lazing about reading the pilot guide when Ian mentioned something about a big black cloud ahead.
I scurried off to get my wet weather jacket. I had already had to remove my wet weather trousers because I was too hot. So I was looking rather fetching in my wellies, shorts and waterproof.
Ian suggested putting a further reef into the sail to make it smaller. I was busy with my zip! He realised we had no time to put the reef in because by the time you’ve thought of it, it is, of course, already too late! I had time to release the main sail just when the storm hit us. The rain came lashing down, Ian had reached the wheel and resumed the helming from the auto pilot. We turned in a huge circle and ran away down wind. The wind was gusting up to 46 knots and the boat made a top speed of 13.5 knots. (I am glad I didn’t know about that until we made landfall in Italy some 24 hours later!) Ian was being lashed by horizontal rain as the lightning came down and the wind howled. He was like King Lear raging against the elements!
As quickly as it arrived the storm left us and thunder continued to rumble overhead for another hour gradually retreating. Ian put his jacket on over his soaking wet shirt – in an attempt to keep warm. How am I going to get that dry?
The rest of the day and night went uneventfully as we batted at an average speed of 6 knots towards Crotone, Calabria. The sea was rather lumpy and so we rolled up and over waves the whole time which made us feel pretty awful. It seemed like an incredibly long crossing but, in fact, it was quite quick. We arrived at 0430hrs just off the coast and rather than trying to enter the port in the dark we decided to hove-to and sat bobbing about like that for three hours whilst we had a nap.
Soon we were heading into the Yacht Kroton Club in Puorto Vecchio, Crotone and were looking forward to a pizza, a sleep and some wine later in celebration of Ian’s 56th Birthday!
When your yacht is carefully slotted in amongst ferries and cruise ships as an equal; when you read signs telling you how Albanians aim to serve tourists and customers ‘wholeheartedly’; when you are let off paying the full amount you owe because you don’t have the right change; when people come up to you in the street and just want to chat in English; when shop assistants have a fit of delighted giggles because you had a go at saying thank you in Albanian (you fal eh man dare ez) ; when you are hugged spontaneously by a cafe worker – you know you’re on to a good thing.
Albania is relatively new to tourism, having only just shrugged off Communism fifteen years ago. Remnants of that life still remain in abundance. The drab and baggy clothing, the uneven pavements and scruffy buildings, unfinished construction projects, cigarette smoking, bad teeth, smelly drains and knackered old Mercedes cars.
Saranda Town is burgeoning – in a kind of concrete-block-Soviet-style kind of way. Old red tiled buildings have been overshadowed. I’m sorry to say that any number of palm trees and frond umbrellas on the pebbly beaches just won’t really sway the unadventurous package tourist; but what Saranda lacks in smartness, style and sophistication it more than make up for in the helpfulness, warmth and friendliness of the people!
Not only that, Albania has a good few hidden treasures too. It is a country for walkers, climbers, canoeist, white water rafters, waterfall gazers, horseback riders, boat trippers, Roman ruin enthusiasts, historians and explorers.
Saranda is a town that manages to successfully combine Christianity and Islam. The call to prayer sounds out in the evening and it is incredibly evocative to hear the notes rebound around the bay. In the morning the church bells ring – opposite sides of the same coin.
The market flourishes its colourful wares and ladies sell their knitted, crocheted and laced items. Stalls line the streets around the market selling anything from fish to flip flops, baskets to bedding, cooking pots to camomile, magnets to manicures.
There are huge eucalyptus trees dotted around the town. The back drop is barren sedimentary rock mountainsides plunging into deep valleys, embracing the bay.
Butrint Lake, just inland a little way, is an vast expanse of water with not one single piece of development or building work around it except unassuming fish farm processing shacks.
Enormous fertile plains extend between the feet of the mountains and the sea where the silts from the lakes and rivers have settled over millennia.
The Romans recognised its value and used the land and waters to feed their garrisons on Corfu. The excavations at Butrinti National Park, an ancient city port, are fascinating. The park offers a journey through the ages of history dating back to 800BC. After the decline of the communities who lived there the remains became built on, adapted and entwined in the vegetation and were thus largely protected from human intervention. They lay undisturbed for many years until an Italian archaeologist called Luigi Maria Ugolini and his team discovered incredible statues, an amphitheatre, an acropolis, fountains, gates, aqueducts, fortified walls, a basilica, mosaics and artifacts of daily life, during their archaeological digs between 1928 -1939.
The coexistence of historical monuments, nature and landscape make this place unique. It is the most visited cultural tourist destination in the country. We enjoyed the nature trail, views, peace and quiet, cool breezes, wild life, (we saw white tailed sea eagles soaring overhead) and the incredible history lesson with well-written sign boards.
The museum at the top of the peak in the park is an interesting and informative trail through time, detailing the different influences on the promontory of all the peoples who lived and ruled there.
Furthermore it is an easy bus ride (€1) from Saranda to Butrinti. There is a rickety cable ferry
joining the two banks of the river which you can take for (€0.50 each way) to view the triangular castle fortifications and the promontory from a different perspective. It is easy to see how the ruins were hidden for so long.
We returned to Saranda sitting in the back of the bus with the local football lads. Listening to all the banter and watching the hand shakes and back slapping was not the least bit intimidating.
We are only sorry not to have had more time to explore this fascinating country.
Bus leaves from Skenderbeu opposite the ruins of the synagogue/basilica mosaic display.
Bus leaves at every half the hour pretty much and returns every half the hour.
You can pay €1 or 100 Lek – (which at 137 Lek to the Euro makes Lek cheaper!). A conductor collects fares on the way out but on the way back it is necessary to pay the driver. Most people seemed to pay him when they exited. We paid on entry!
The bus is hot!
The bus stops along the way and most people alighted in Ksamil.
The end of the route is at the ferry.
The entrance to Butrinti National Park is not sign-posted.
Look for a white fence and gateways saying enter and exit.
It is worth a quick ride across the river on the ferry and a wander around over there.
It is 700 Lek to go in to the park. Guides are available but I don’t know the price. It is easy enough to find your own way round the paths. Great toilet facilities in the park.
There is a hotel quite close by, The Livia Hotel, going away from the river, which looked to sell drinks and food and in the season there is probably a stall near the handicrafts area to buy drinks and snacks.
Erin, Ian and I set off for Prevesa. Our aim was to complete the necessary Greek paperwork and to do some laundry. Both necessary evils! We had a wonderful sail up the west coast of Levkas so avoiding the channel and the apparently temperamental swing bridge. We arrived in Prevesa in time for the Saturday night perambulations – known as La Passegiata in Italian, and La Volta in Greek. Perfect people watching.
Ian showed incredible persistence to finally acquire our DEPKA form. He presented a letter from the Coast Guard office in Argostoli saying that they had run out of forms and that we had tried to register. There were also no forms in Prevesa either, although apparently, five were due to arrive…would Ian kindly return tomorrow morning? This he duly did and we were in luck.
The form was given to us, stamped and chocked. All our passports and papers were photocopied. Ian then had to go to the tax office to be given an invoice for 29 euros. From there he was directed to the National Bank to pay the invoice, from where he would take his receipt back to the Coastguard in order to have the paperwork finalised.
By this time the washing had been done and dried. We set off for Paxos to meet our great friend Sue Lowrey.
We moored on the north quay, away from the town centre in the most dramatic of settings yet. An island protects the channel from the open sea and winds. It is the most wonderful anchorage. Understandably busy. We set about tidying up the boat and preparing drinks and nibbles. Sue and Margaret arrived and we enjoyed giving them the guided tour.
After a delicious pasta dinner and yet more wine, we staggered back to the boat and slept soundly..
Next day, Sue picked us up and gave us a tour of the island of Paxos by car. We spend a pleasant afternoon sunning ourselves on the beach and then went back to Margaret’s beautiful hillside home for a delicious dinner.
We had a jobs day on the Thursday and then welcomed Sue and Margaret for breakfast and coffee, after their morning swim, before saying a fond farewell and sailing off to Sivota-Mourtos.
We anchored in Middle Bay since the weather was quite settled and enjoyed some nice swimming around the boat. I tried fishing again but with no luck at all. We shot out in the dinghy to do some beach combing. We were about to go ashore on to the biggest of the islands when we noticed a herd of rather shaggy goats with large horns on the beach. We stayed off some distance and admired them from afar.
Next stop was Corfu. We anchored stern to in the incredibly smelly East Basin. Compensated by the fact that you are right next to the Old Town and tucked under the fort and it’s free! We wandered through the streets to the cricket field and showed Erin the colonnaded Venetian style streets.
The next day, Ian and Alice Daggett arrived and we promptly set off to our anchorage further north where we had a quiet and smell free night. The next afternoon we had to dropped Erin off at the airport. She was returning to the UK to work for six weeks to save money for her up-coming ski season in Tignes.
We zig-zagged across the channel to stay in Plataria and then Pagania. We had some good sailing. The anchorage at Pagania half a mile from the Albanian border was amazing. Once we had driven past numerous large and ugly fish farms we turned the dog leg to discover a completely enclosed anchorage. No tavern, no bars, no body and no signal!
So, back to Corfu Town and another fond farewell to Mr and Mrs D. We had had a wonderful few days with them.
As strong southerly winds were expected over the next few days we decided to head north to Kassiopi on the Northern tip of Corfu. We had a few happy days there meeting up with Andy and Denise Hurley on Comet whom we had first met in Mallorca back in April/May.
Our next visit was from old friend and fellow sailor, William Dear. We had a boozy night with him in Corfu Town celebrating the sale of his boat. As you may know, the happiest days of any sailor’s life are the day he buys a boat and the day he sells it! )
After our top week in the UK, we scooted back to Sicily, leaving Erin behind, as she had to attend interviews for ski season jobs. We met up with Kim (Carnegie friend) and Ollie (Kim’s son) at Wetherby services and travelled with them to Ragusa where we met up with Sheena (Coo-eee!) (Another Carnegie chum). This was to be the super crew to help us sail from Sicily to Kephalonia in one hit – three days and nights at sea.
We had a fantastic crossing, great laughs and pleasant sailing on very convenient winds. We had a stowaway for a small part of the trip…a swift, soon named Taylor, who came into the boat for a sleep and then, as suddenly as she had arrived, disappeared off in the vague direction of Africa.
We arrived in Kephalonia to be greeted by the most amazing smell wafting on the breeze from the island of cypress trees, rosemary and jasmine! Gorgeous! The church bells were peeling exactly as we sailed into the bay at Argostoli.
We were soon tied up and jumped ashore to have a hearty breakfast in one of the many cafes.
We walked down the quay to see the giant loggerhead turtles that frequent the bay. Simply stunning. The conservation group were there telling us all about them. www.wildlifesense.com
Erin flew in to Kephalonia for a holiday on board and we set off around the island. (We met her at the airport and saw this interesting sign.)
Leaving Argostoli we headed south. Unable to get into the planned port of call on the south coast we had to divert to Zakinthos. A fortunate diversion it proved to be. Almost as soon as we arrived alongside, Kostas helped us tie up and offered us discount at his restaurant and hotel and Nicolas arrived on his tractor offering us tastes of his wares. We ended up buying heavenly olive oil, wine, honey, feta, olives, dried sage, fresh bread, tomatoes and currants! Perfect.
From there we headed north to Effimia on east Kephalonia. We were bossed loudly into our berth on the town quay by an officious but efficient marinero/harbour master, who really knew his stuff. He gave us our best lesson yet in mooring Med style with an anchor and lines to stern.
We pottered further north and stopped en route to swim and relax in a gorgeous bay. The sea bream were out so grabbing my line and rod and stale bread supplies I set to catching fish. Within seconds I had my first bite. Two fish at once. In the next 30 minutes Erin and I had caught another three. They were duly gutted, prepared, marinated, and cooked by Sheen, and eaten by us all for lunch.
Next stop was Fiscardo in the north. We moored stern to the Northern part of the bay with long lines ashore. And had an anxious time trying to get the anchor to bite and to get the lines ashore in a dinghy with a broken rowlock!
Sadly, after a couple of days relaxing and exploring the village, it was time to say goodbye to my mates
and then it was just the three of us again.