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Wednesday, March 30, 2016

TOP CRUISING SPOTS OF THE EASTERN MED (PART 8) – CROATIA'S KORCULA ISLAND

We return to Envoy in Lefkas Marina, Greece, early next month.

Destination 8: Korcula Island
Where is it?: In the southern Adriatic Sea between Dubrovnik and Split which are also both worth visiting.
How long is required to enjoy here?: A few days.
Brief outline: This fascinating 15th century medieval fortified Venetian town is on the north-east coast of Korcula Island.
Must do: Wander through the narrow cobbled lanes of Korcula's Old Town and climb the bell tower of St Mark's Cathedral for a stunning vista.

An issue with cruising in Croatia is finding free anchorages but close to Korcula is an excellent anchoring area sheltered by several islands. Buses to Korcula are available ashore. There is also a marina in Korcula.

Korcula is top-centre of map while large anchoring area is to the right


Envoy anchored off Lombarda village near Korcula

While the anchorage is enjoyable in itself the highlight is to explore the narrow cobbled lanes of the medieval walled town and enjoy a beverage or three in one of the many tavernas lining the battlements, enjoying a view over the sea.

Korcula viewed from the sea

One of the many atmospheric lanes

Great view from cathedral's bell tower

Take time out to visit some of Korcula Island's many vineyards. New Zealand's wine industry was pioneered by Dalmatian immigrants from this part of the world.

Vineyard at Pupnat

Nearby is the safe anchorage and National Park at Polace on the north-western side of Mljet Island.

Friday, March 25, 2016

TOP CRUISING SPOTS OF THE EASTERN MED (PART 7) – GREECE'S CORFU ISLAND

We return to Envoy in Lefkas Marina, Greece in early April.

Destination 7: Corfu Island
Where is it?: Off the north-west coast of Greece.
How long is required to enjoy here?: About a week.
Brief outline: While Corfu town is busy the island has great cruising particularly on the north-east coast. Nearby are stunning Paxos Island, the mainland village of Parga and the island anchorages around the mainland village of Mourtos. Captivating Albania just a mile across the North Corfu Channel.
Must do: Visit the stunning village of Palaiokastrita and the monastery of Ay Spiridonos on the north-west coast.

Corfu is about 30nm long and 5nm wide with some great anchorages near and to the north of the town, some of which have excellent tavernas offering gastronomic fare a level above what is typical in Greece.

From Corfu town north is a whole string of delightful anchorages


Agni Cove is a great anchorage with several excellent tavernas

Around the fishing village of Kassiopi on the north-east coast are some good anchorages offering protection from southerlies.
To explore fascinating Corfu town with its Old Town of narrow cobbled streets, churches and two castles you can anchor off the coast to the south-east, visit one of the marinas nearby or go to Gouvia marina a short bus ride away.

Corfu's old fortress viewed from anchorage

Corfu is one of the better places among the Greek islands for the fairer sex to enjoy some shopping

..............among the atmospheric lanes

Anchorage adjacent to Corfu town with one of the marinas on left

Closer view of Envoy in the same anchorage

Gouvia is safe in all conditions with excellent infrastructure and some boats anchor off here like this unusually painted superyacht

A short cruise to the north-west side brings you to the great anchorage of Palaiokastrita and its famous monastery.

Coastline from hills above Palaiokastrita

Corfu is an important cruise-ship and ferry port and hub for cruisers heading to and from the Adriatic.

Monday, March 21, 2016

TOP CRUISING SPOTS OF THE EASTERN MED (PART 6) – GREECE'S CEPHALONIA ISLAND

While Envoy is in Lefkas Marina, Greece, we are home in Auckland, New Zealand – but not for long as returning to Greece early next month to commence cruising a few weeks later.


Destination 6: Cephalonia Island
Where is it?: Largest of the Ionian Islands off Greece's west coast
How long is required to enjoy here?: at least a week
Brief outline: A spectacular island about 30 miles long with a mountain chain rising to 1,600 metres and lush forested valleys descending to the sea. Just a couple of miles to the east, Ithica Island also has several spectacular anchorages and villages.
Must do: Moor stern-to in the delightful sheltered Fiskhardo harbour with its wall-to-wall tavernas and Venetian lighthouse ruins.

Cephalonia, the largest of the Ionian islands, is where the events took place on which the great movie Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is based.

Map of Cephalonia



Restaurant cashing in on Captain Corelli

Fiskhardo is a fantastic harbour where we moored stern-to the quayside lined with tavernas and cafes. Yes this can be busy but it's one of those special atmospheric harbours that's worth the effort.

Ruins of Venetian lighthouse at entrance to Fiskhardo

Just an easy walk away is an idyllic anchorage called Foki Bay, where the forest comes right down to the water's edge and the crystal clear water is ideal for snorkelling.

Envoy anchored in idyllic Foki Bay

At a lone taverna here we enjoyed an evening drink and heard the faint ring of a goat bell that shortly turned into a cacophony as a huge herd of goats passed close-by.

Wandering goats outside Foki Bay's taverna

Nearly half way down the east coast is the village of Ay Eufimia where you can anchor in the harbour, but with a forecast of Force 7-8 winds, thunderstorms and very rough seas we elected to moor quayside and enjoyed perfect safety.

Envoy alongside Ay Eufimia's wharf with stormy skies overhead

Ay Eufimia on a better day - note traditionally garbed priest

At the island's main town, Argostoli, on the south-west coast, again you can anchor out or go alongside the quay and this is a delightful quiet town with interesting architecture and good shopping.
On Cephalonia’s wild west coast is the tiny but stunning village of Assos with its barely 200 metres by 100 metres harbour overlooked by the ruins of a huge Venetian Fortress dating from 1593, with impregnable walls totaling 2km long making it one of Greece’s largest. Originally built for protection against Turks and pirates the fortress eventually became a prison and was used as such by the Germans during WW2. It eventually closed in 1953 after a devastating earthquake, although people continued to live there until the late 1960s.

The enchanting small harbour of Assos

Envoy in the very un-crowded anchorage of Assos - what better could you get?

Saturday, March 19, 2016

TOP CRUISING SPOTS OF THE EASTERN MED (PART 5) – NORTH-WEST COAST OF CRETE

While Envoy is in Lefkas Marina, Greece, we are home in Auckland, New Zealand planning to return to Greece early next month to commence cruising by late April.

Destination 5: Gramvousa
Where is it?: On the north-west coast of Crete, which stretches 260km from east to west in the southern Aegean Sea.
How long is required to enjoy here?: A few days or about three weeks for the greater area.
Brief outline: A delightfully isolated spot on stunning Crete, rarely visited by cruisers having some great anchorages, mountain villages and ancient Minoan sites
Must do: Pay your respects at the New Zealand war cemetery in nearby Soudha Bay where 446 young Kiwis are buried.

It's a sombre feeling visiting the NZ war cemetery at Soudha Bay

Crete is a large island with three mountain ranges rising over 2,000m, an extremely rugged topography and few major inland roads. With many rocky ravines and caves it’s easy to see how the partisans were able to resist the Germans so effectively in WW2. On every spare piece of land there are olive trees – over 21 million of them in fact!

We often encountered herds of goats on Cretan roads

Cretan villages are exactly as you would picture them – narrow winding streets where a car has to pull over to let an oncoming car through, ancient rustic buildings mostly in a poor state of repair, old men with waistcoats and mustaches sitting outside small tavernas, elderly hunched-over women dressed totally in black.

Picturesque village of Alikambos

There are only a few areas to anchor on Crete’s north coast offering good shelter because the Meltemi wind is consistently from the NW or N generating a 1-2m swell. One is Ormos Milati, a stunning bay protected from all except easterlies, and although this is one of the best anchorages on the coast we were the only boat anchored here. It's on the NE side of a four-mile long inlet, Soudha Bay, a deep and beautiful harbour and NATO base where we found about 13 warships anchored.

Natural anchorage of Soudha Bay. Ormos Milati is on the north-west entrance

Around the most westerly point of Crete’s north coast is the island of Gramvousa. This is a spectacular area and the island has a couple of bays on its south side, making it reasonably sheltered from the Meltemi.

Gramvousa is the most isolated of out top ten spots

Envoy anchored at Gramvousa

Crowning the island are The ruins of a huge Venetian fortress built in 1579 crown the island, and was the last Cretan stronghold to fall to the Turks in 1692. In the early 19th century the area became a haven for pirates until an Anglo/French expedition rooted them out in 1828.

Looking down from the castle

On rocks separating the two bays is the wreck of a steel ship, about 40m long. Most of the parts are still recognisable, and a sombre reminder of what can happen at sea.

Envoy anchored near shipwreck

Shipwreck with castle behind

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

TOP CRUISING SPOTS OF THE EASTERN MED (PART 4) – GREECE'S ASTIPALAIA ISLANDS

Real-time blogging will soon return!
When we weren't able to cruise during 2015 we've tried to keep our blog alive with relevant boating material. Soon we'll be able to return to blogging about real-time cruising adventures including the not-so-much-fun issues that invariably arise - watch this space!
Envoy is in Lefkas Marina, Greece and we are home in Auckland, New Zealand planning to return to Greece early next month to commence cruising by late April.

Destination 4: Astipalaia Island
Where is it?: In the Aegean Sea's Dodecanese Islands Group
How long is required to enjoy here?: Just a few days
Brief outline: A stunning butterfly-shaped island indented with numerous anchorages regarded as some of the best in Greece and well sheltered from the prevailing north-west Meltemi wind.

Astipalaia is shaped like a butterfly with many great anchorages

Must do: Take the bus to Skala overlooking Ormos Livadhi to explore the village and ruins of the 13th century Genoese castle, inhabited until the 1950s when an earthquake largely destroyed it.

15th century Genoese castle and Chora

We based ourselves in Maltezana Bay, so-named because it was formerly a lair for Maltese pirates preying on shipping plying the Aegean. Historically the island's inhabitants had an understanding and co-existed peacefully with the pirates. We met a Croatian couple on a boat similar to, but larger than Envoy. They are professional crew for the British lady owner.

Envoy and Sarah Jane anchored in Maltezana

Here is a memorial to a French Naval Officer, Captain Bisson, who in 1862 was sailing an under-crewed captured prize-ship, Panayoti, back to France with some captured pirates aboard. Bad weather forced him to shelter here and some prisoners escaped and joined Maltese pirates ashore. That night about 140 pirates attacked the ship, and knowing that he had no chance and not wanting the ship to fall into the hands of pirates, Captain Bisson blew up the ship up killing himself and most of the boarding pirates.

Memorial to Captain Bisson who blew up his ship killing many pirates

We had one of our most delicious meals ashore yet – an enormous platter of delicious local prawns and pasta washed down with some very nice Greek wine.
We also met a butcher with a distinct Australian accent, and it turned out he was born in Sydney to Greek parents who returned to the family home in Astypalea when he was 14, and he’s stayed there since.

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

TOP CRUISING SPOTS OF THE EASTERN MED (PART 3) – GREECE'S SIMI ISLAND

While Envoy is in Lefkas Marina, Greece, we are home in Auckland, New Zealand planning to return to Greece early April to commence cruising by late April. Envoy is of course being well cared for in our absence and we're confident that despite what our friends joke about, we won't find several families of refugees camped aboard.

Destination 3: Simi Island
Where is it: Just five miles off Turkey's south-west coast between the villages of Datca and Bozborun.
How long is required to enjoy here: Five days
Brief outline: Let your mind conjure up images of the perfect Greek island and Symi is the reality with a delightful small harbour surrounded by tavernas, quirky shops and multi-coloured traditional buildings in various states of condition ranging from rustic to derelict.
Further south is the protected anchorage of Panormittis where a large interesting monastery opens to the public.

Map of Simi shows there are many sheltered anchorages

Must do: Take a leisurely walk up the steep cobbled lane leading to the hilltop behind Simi to visit the atmospheric church with its icons and enjoy stunning views of the harbour and island. It's a tough upward walk so break it stopping at shops and tavernas along the way. It's easier coming back down then reward yourself with a cold beer at one of the many Simi harbourside tavernas.

The narrow lanes of Simi

Looking down on Simi's harbour from behind the hilltop church

Definitely better back downhill

The monastery at Panormittis

Being so close to Turkey many cruisers visit Simi to purchase difficult-to-buy-in-Turkey items such as bacon, pork and different varieties of wines. We also found our favourite Lambs Navy Rum at Euro 11 per bottle. Simi harbour can be crowded and is subject to wash from large ferries. If you berth there it's generally required to clear-in to Greece, so many cruisers popping over from Turkey elect to anchor at nearby Pedhi and walk or catch a bus to Simi itself. Pedhi also has a shop and good taverna.

Envoy (right) with the first Nordhavn built - FrogKiss in Pedhi

 Ashore at Pedhi