Sailing the Ionian Sea

May and June 2024
It is now time to head for Greece, and this year we will sail from Malta to the Greek islands in the Ionian Sea.

While studying the weather, the wind direction and strength, we decided that our best bet would be to head to the island of Kefallonia, 328 nms away to the northeast, probably a 3 day passage with the variable wind conditions.

For the first day, we had perfect conditions, broad reaching with reefed main and #2 jib, but we had to remain vigilant as we crossed the busy shipping channel, with hundreds of vessels heading up and down the western Med via the Messina Strait between Italy and Sicily.

As predicted, these ideal conditions didn’t last and we were soon battling 35 knot winds and huge confused seas for the next 24 hours. It was wet and ghastly.

At the end of day 3, we still had 50nms to go to find a safe anchorage, which means we would have to make landfall in the dark. Normally, not ideal, but we chose to continue rather than laying hove-to until morning, in these lively conditions.

Thanks to the modern navigation systems, Navionics in our case, we put in a track to follow right up to an anchorage at the head of a deep bay. We have used our Navionics successfully in the past, so felt we could trust it to guide us in here.

The difficulty here, is that all we could see were hundreds of lights on land, all around us, without us being able to see the actual land, or determine where islands and reefs started and ended. We simply had to trust our pre-set track.
As we turned into the deep bay, the seas became calmer and we were able to douse our sails and motor the 5nms to the head of the bay. After 1 hour, we stopped when the depth showed 5 metres, and dropped our anchor into the soft mud, and crashed to bed. It was now 0200hrs.

What a fabulous surprise the next morning to wake up to a still morning, enveloped by blue skies, completely surrounded by rolling farmland and a line of big wind mills lining the crest of the hill, which told us that they must get constant winds around here.
We spent the day resting and doing a few loads of washing in my washing machine. It wasn’t long before we began to feel ourselves again and ready to start exploring the island. Such is this cruising life.

We lifted the anchor and motored back down the channel to a township we had passed in the night. This town of Argostoli is a busy township where ferries, and even huge cruise ships, call in to disembark their passengers to take tours around the island of Kefallonia.

There is an area where we could anchor in front of the town, plus a town Quay where we could tie up, but we found a free spot across the bay, at an old abandoned marina.

As we arrived and pulled up to the dock, a fellow immediately jumped off his boat just ahead of us, to come help with our lines to tie up. A wonderful new friendship is born, Jessica and Alf, from Sweden, who immediately invited us over to their yacht, SV Taipan, for drinks, fresh sour dough bread straight from the oven, salamis and cheeses.

In the morning, once we had checked into Greece with Customs, Port police and Immigration, we were free to go exploring.
This old marina was never really finished, so does not have any services connected, like water and electricity, but it offers excellent all-weather protection, and a 15min walk over a pedestrian bridge, gets us into town.

We had learned that this big bay is a protected turtle hatchery for the endangered Loggerhead Turtles, so it was not uncommon to see turtles swimming around the boats. Many of the turtles are tagged so that their condition and numbers can be monitored. One day, we came across a group of young students who were doing just that, measuring the size and documenting the progress of each one.

In 1953, a huge earthquake destroyed much of this town and caused damage to many other parts of the island, but the infrastructure has been rebuilt and is a very popular place for tourists to come by plane or ferries to enjoy the natural beauty of the area.

Always looking for a hiking trail, Jess and I found a lovely wooded trail out to a lighthouse at the entrance to the large bay, with stunning views out over the harbour, looking down on the islands we had so cautiously sailed by in the night. How different things looked by day.

Nearby there is an old water wheel. It was interesting to learn of the old sink holes, where this waterwheel now marks an unusual geological phenomenon. Sea water pours into the underground sink holes and emerges 2kms away, on the other side of the island. (This was proven by following a flow of dye added at this point.) Such is the force of this water, that wheels were built to harness the energy and right here, in 1835 the wheel was used to operate a corn mill. It is no longer in use today,

We realised that we would not get the chance to visit all the lovely bays with Mai Tai, so we rented a car with Alf and Jessica, to drive through the mountainous interior, which is very fertile, with large olive groves, vineyards and punctuated with the tall skinny Cypress Trees.

Along the coast we visited some of the absolutely gorgeous fishing villages, which are also very popular destinations for tourists and charter boats.

We visited the famous Mirtos Beach, the little fishing village of Assos, with the Venetian fort on the hill, and Fiscardos, another fishing village on the NE tip of the island. Tavernas, restaurants and charter boats tied to the quay, very charming, much of it having been rebuilt since the 1953 earthquake.

We then sailed up to the next island in the Ionian chain, Ithaca, and anchored in Big Vathe, a fabulous big protected anchorage, with steep hills all around the bustling town. There were even hot showers (something we don’t have on Mai Tai) and a laundry.

After Ithaca, we sailed up to Meganisi Island which has numerous bays, very deep and very steep right up to the shoreline. You can tie up to the town Quay if you can find a space amongst the charter boats, or, you need to anchor out, then stern-tie to the steep cliff face. These anchorages get very crowded in summer and very often end up a mess with crossed lines and anchors, and many cross shouting matches.

We usually managed to find somewhere to “free” anchor, away from the noisy night clubs on shore. Many of these bays do have restaurants around the shoreline, and they have built jetties for the use of their restaurant clientele.

We did dine at one such delightful place, called Restaurant Karnagio, where we had booked to ensure a place at the restaurant pontoon. We had planned to meet up here with some Italian friends, Silverio and Marina Della Rossa, owners of this gorgeous and famous classic yacht, Katama. She is a Sparkman & Stephens Finisterre Class, built in 1957 in mahogany over oak frames. Similar design and just a few years older than MaiTai.

We keep meeting the most interesting, wonderful people on this voyage, but it is a life of “goodbyes, until we meet again”. Luckily, we do often meet again, albeit several years and many adventures later.

We now need to continue northwards up the Ionian Sea, as far as Preveza, on mainland Greece. To get there, the most direct route is to sail up a canal, that was originally dug by the Corinthians, way back in 650 BC. They dug a canal through shallow salt marshes, and by doing so they created the Island of Lefkada, which then became a significant trade point and gateway to the southern Ionian. A large fortress still guards the northern entrance to the canal.
In 1986 a floating road bridge was built connecting Lefkada at the main city of Lefkas, to the mainland. This is a very efficient system to move both marine and road traffic.

Coming from the north or south, we must time our arrival at the bridge for the opening, which happens on the hour, every hour, 24 hrs a day. Coming from the south, there is a long 4nm channel up to Lefkas, and from the north only about 1nm. Precisely, on the hour, a siren is heard, the traffic stops, the bridge ends lift and the whole bridge begins to pivot to allow boats to pass through. So efficient.

Heading north we take the channel right into the large bay of Preveza, passing by the huge Cleopatra Boat Yard to the right, and, the busy international airport of Aktion. Many of our cruising friends had hauled out their boats here for the winter at this huge boat yard where there are also excellent ship chandlers and marine services. They boast that 3,500 boats are on the hard during the winter here.

I kept wondering about the relevance of Cleopatra and Aktion, right here in Greece. So, the Battle of Aktium was a naval battle that took place in 31BC, right here in this narrow Strait between the maritime fleet of Octavian Caesar (later known as Augustus), and the combined fleets of Mark Antony and Cleopatra. It is a fascinating story, but in brief, Augustus won the battle and Antony and Cleopatra returned to Alexandria, in Egypt, only to commit suicide soon after.

After his victory, Augustus built a city nearby called Nicopolis, which became the capital city of the Roman province of Epirus Vetus. I sense there will be some more ruins for us to explore.

Preveza was a great stopover as it had all the necessary shops, ship chandlers and a big safe anchorage. Many of our cruising friends were already here and we were fortunate that the Preveza International Jazz Festival was happening on the city waterfront boardwalk. There were 3 different bands playing each night over 3 nights.

But there were still some ruins to explore, so we did hire a car to visit some of the region nearby.

As we dropped anchor in the large bay of Preveza, we recognised several of the anchored boats. Some, we had met previously in Turkey, or Tunisia, but another couple we hadn’t seen since a chance encounter in Forestry Bay, Great Barrier Island, New Zealand, way back in 2016. They had sailed out from England on Alcedo of Ryme, but their departure from NZ was delayed, so we sailed on ahead of them. We always hoped our paths would cross somewhere, some day. And here they were, in Preveza.
They are members of the OCC (Ocean Cruising Club) and were planning to attend a 70th anniversary reunion of the club’s formation, at a nearby island. We had been invited to join the OCC some time ago, but had not yet applied, so we thought this would be a perfect time to do so. We were fortunate to have our application accepted and were invited to join the festivities.

The Ocean Cruising Club exists to encourage long-distance sailing in small boats and is the true “Home Port” for the ocean-going sailors. Every full member has made at least one 1,000 nautical mile non-stop offshore passage in a vessel of 70 feet or less. However, many members have circumnavigated the globe. The OCC members have formed a world-wide network, passing on local knowledge and experience to anyone wanting to sail the oceans. OCC Members are cruisers who comply with international, national and local laws and regulations, respect local communities, their customs, the environment and other sailors.

Back down through the Lefkas Channel, we sailed into Vliho Bay to join the 10 other boats turning up for the occasion. What an amazing anchorage, and soon we were surrounded by the other yachts.

Two dinners had been organised at the Vliho Yacht Club and another restaurant over the next 3 days, plus lunches, drinks, coffees and hikes so we had plenty of opportunity to meet these new friends, and finally catch up with Sally and David after all this time, since New Zealand.

What an amazing few days we shared together and we look forward to connecting with other members as we sail into new ports around the world.

But now it is time to move on further north, so we chose to stop into the Island of Paxos. We found a new visitors dock in the delightful town of Gaios, so we spent a couple of lovely days here, alongside the fishermen busy clearing their nets.


We took a local bus to tour the rest of the island.

The famous island of Corfu is our next stop. Cruising in the Med involves a lot of very light sailing conditions or, more often than not, we are motoring. There is a lot of heavy weather with nasty sudden storms, katabatic winds, but we try to stay in protected anchorages during those times. So, it is a real treat when we can enjoy hoisting our light wind sails.

We dropped anchor under the famous headland of Corfu. What a thrill seeing this up close and to think of the centuries of invasions by people wanting this very strategic island, and the impressive fort guarding the peninsula would have many stories to tell.

It is quite daunting anchoring beneath the old walls, but it was so much fun taking our dinghy through the original moat to get to the entrance on the other side,

From the top we could look down on one of the modern marinas, and over to where Mai Tai lay at anchor.

We have finally checked out of Greece, so our next stop will be in Albania, a new place for both of us to explore.


  1. WOWSER! One of your best posts yet! You guys are warriors! Living the dream (and also the. Nightmares!) with strength and aplomb.

    Hats off to our heroes!



  2. Absolutely loved ready about your Greek Island adventures, and thoroughly relate to the beauty of the cypress trees and the imposing fort above the marina on Corfu. Do get in touch as tou get within driving distance of Kosova, ie Albania, or Montenegro as we are often able to jump in the car to come and say hi, or even to pick you up so you can come sleep in a real bed and take a warm shower before we show you our interesting little country… keep having fun!

  3. WOW ! I so loved this post – so much history and beauty ! You bring it all so well to life with your fabulous photos and descriptions.

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