Ionian to Turkey via Corinth and the Cyclades

Thursday 16th to Tuesday 28th March - on the hard at Gouvia, Corfu.

At the start of our fifth year, we drove in a one way hire car to Heathrow in the bitter cold to catch the lunchtime BA flight to Athens. After lots of cheap airline and charter flights we were impressed by the leg room, and even the in-flight meal, on the scheduled flight. We had a three hour wait in Athens before catching an Olympic flight to Corfu which took just over half an hour and were then met at the airport by our landlady and her husband. After last year's icy welcome in Majorca at the same time of year we have decided to stay in an apartment whilst preparing 'Sundancer' for the sea.

On our first day we had torrential rain for a good part of the day so it was Saturday before we walked the half mile along the marina to find that all was well and our 'A-frame' had been fitted by Vassili. This will take our sun panel and we hope a lot of the other clutter from the back of the boat. The first week's weather continued mixed, but far, far warmer than that we left in Malvern.

We got on with the all usual tasks, anti-fouling and polishing the hull, plus another which Mike had been dreading and putting off for some time. For some three years now our stern gland, a 'Deep Sea Seal', has been leaking when motoring, perhaps not surprising after 13 years service. Unfortunately this was one item where maintenance had not been at the fore-front of Mike's mind when building the boat. The seal had been fitted to the shaft before the engine was installed and the assembly then slid through the stern tube from within the boat. Now there was no way the shaft could be withdrawn forward past the engine and the inboard end was terminated in a hefty boss and half coupling, mating to the engine gear box. This had therefore to be removed to allow the old seal to slide off and the new one to slide on. We managed to drive out the taper pin securing the boss to the shaft (having first made a temporary support for the shaft) and then removed the boss using a puller which our friend Graham had made for us. It sounds easy but it wasn't because of the inaccessibility of everything. Mike then got out the replacement seal only to find that, two years ago, he had been sent the wrong size!! Cries of 'I do not believe it'. We got on to the supplier in UK and ordered another one which magically arrived in only two days. Slipping on the replacement seal was easy, but then he had to get the boss back on and this was an interference fit to the shaft. By putting the flange and boss assembly into the oven for half an hour whilst cooling the shaft with a bag of frozen peas the differential expansion was enough to allow the boss to 'slide' on with the help of some judicious hammering. The seal was compressed and the engine re-coupled and realigned - job done. We felt enormous relief when it was all completed. Hopefully that's it now for another 10 years.

28th March to 20th April - touring by car, working afloat, celebrations and dentistry.

We were told at the office that we could not be lifted back into the water until the 2nd April but Mike talked to the workers and they found a slot in their programme to get us in on Tuesday 28th - just in time as over the next week the men were busy lifting in about 100 'Sailing Holiday' charter yachts. We moved out of the apartment and settled into living aboard again. We shared a car with Bev and Dave of 'Wight Egret' and drove up to Mount Pantokratora - up steep winding lanes lined with wild flowers, and through ancient olive groves. Everywhere in Corfu is very green because of the plentiful rain they get, but it isn't a spring green - it is more the colour you get in England in August after a wet summer. From the top of the mountain there are wonderful views across to the snowy peaks of Albania. There is also a very old church (14th century) with a splendid embossed silver wall behind the altar, and a painted ceiling. The building is being renovated, with men putting on a new roof, and others digging holes in the pretty courtyard to plant trees. However, already planted firmly in the courtyard and reaching heavenwards, is the tallest communications mast we have ever seen, and from the walls you look down to another hill some 100 yards away where a forest of more masts is growing. We drove on to look at several pretty harbours in the north east corner of the island, including Kassiopi, Kalami where the Durrells spent some time in the 1930's and Agios Stefanos. The bays retain their prettiness even though there is a lot of development around. The next day we drove south through the notorious tourist developments of Benitses, finding an almost completed new marina on the way, then Messongi and over some very rough roads round the less developed corner of Boukari and Petritis where we were the first customers of the year in a harbour-side café. We then drove through the almost deserted town of Kavos where, in season, drunken English youths are reputed to riot in the streets. From here we walked out through the woods to the southern coast of Corfu to look at Paxos across the straight. This is the start of the 'Corfu Trail' which travels the length of the island avoiding roads as far as possible. It is 250km long, and since the island is only some 70km long, it must wander about a bit.

After the break afforded by the land tour, work continued preparing the boat for cruising again. Sails were put on, the replacement Navtex installed on the 'A frame', a mark 3 pasarelle completed and a stern anchor chain roller fitted. We took time out to celebrate our wedding anniversary and were virtually ready to go when Mike broke a tooth which caused us a 2 week delay because it had to be crowned.

April and May - Cruising the Ionian Islands

We finally took our leave of Gouvia and Corfu on the 20th April when we sailed to Igoumenitsa Creek, a very tranquil anchorage in a mainland bay surrounded by green hills with mountains fading into the distance. We then dodged the ferry traffic coming and going to Igoumenitsa and sailed most of the way to Gaios on Paxos. Our new arrangement for the rear anchor worked perfectly and we tied bows to on the north quay. After a very quiet night we hauled up the stern anchor (hard work - some refinements are still needed) and set off for Levkada (Levkas) at 8.30am under a hazy sky with no wind. Gradually the wind picked up until we were rocketing along under genoa alone as we approached the Levkada canal. Unlike last year, when we nearly didn't make the bridge opening time, this year we were half an hour early and had to circle around in the entrance dodging large numbers of huge plastic bags while waiting for the 3.00 pm opening. In Levkas Marina the very efficient and friendly staff showed us into a berth and took our lines.

We joined in the Easter celebrations on Saturday night. (Greek orthodox Easter falls on different dates from our Easter). The town was full of local families carrying candles, the priests were chanting on the steps of the churches and at midnight the cry went up 'Christ is Risen' and a wave of light spread out from the churches with everyone lighting their neighbour's candles. The bells were ringing and everyone was hugging and kissing and wishing each other a Happy Easter.

On Easter Monday we cycled round the 6 mile perimeter of the saltwater lake behind the town. This was a nice flat route - the kind of cycle ride I like. On the way we explored the fort of Santa Maura which guards the entrance to the canal. This was first established by the crusaders and then rebuilt by Venetian and Turkish forces. There are high walls and the broken remains of many buildings and a church but the centre of the fort is now full of wild flowers and scented with dill, thyme and mint. Back on the cycle ride, there were masses of wild flowers on the edges of the road and bushes of broom with huge bright yellow flowers. We saw white egrets and possibly some pelicans - but since we had forgotten the binoculars we could not be sure. A long, shingled beach stretches the length of one side of the lake.

Whilst in Levkas we hired a car and drove to the mainland and went via the underwater tunnel at Preveza to visit the ruins of Nicopolis. The town was built by Octavian to celebrate his victory over Anthony and Cleopatra and must have been enormous as the ancient walls stretch for miles. Mike found a snake and a wild tortoise in Cleopatra's bathhouse. Later we passed a large crowd of locals sitting under the trees in a churchyard waiting for 8 sheep to finish spit roasting over an enormous barbecue pit. We finished off with a Lidls run to stock up on wine and provisions. The average price for a bottle of Lidls perfectly drinkable wine is 2 euros.

On Thursday 27th April we moved on. The weather had become cloudy with some rain in the evenings and overnight and we motored, against the wind as usual, down the canal into Vlikho Bay, passing the water sports centre at Nidri where dozens of charter boats were lined up ready to go. Just then our echo sounder decided to pack up - not what you need when you are looking for somewhere to anchor. We waved 'Wight Egret' ahead and followed them in. Vlikho is an enormous safe anchorage and is really peaceful at this time of the year but we are told that from June to September it is full of water-skiers and powerboats racing around. We walked along the shore back towards Tranquil Bay (full of moored boats, so not so tranquil really) passing a rather splendid house with water frontage for sale. We never investigated the price!

From Vlikho we headed for Port Atheni bay on Meganisi. We spent two days here, going for several lovely walks. The olive trees grow on terraces among wonderful gleaming white boulders. Up the hill is a little white village with winding lanes and steps going up and down. The villagers all greet you with a friendly 'Kalymera' and on the local football pitch three Greek ladies, all dressed in black, were busy winding wool. There is a Squacco heron flying around the bay which Dave assures us is a rare one - greenish breast, brown back and white wings.

Mike has now fixed up a spare echo sounder.

On Monday 1st May the sunshine returned and we actually managed to sail a good part of the way, albeit tacking at about 4 knots, to Kalamos. The mountains of Kalamos Island are a stark contrast to the gentle green hills of Meganisi as you approach from the west, but Port Kalamos proved to be a lovely little place. It is a small harbour, surrounded by quaysides, where the tree covered hills slope down to the village. In the little harbour are a few cruising yachts and many little fishing boats. George, the taverna owner, came out to greet us and take our lines. We then used his washing machine and very smart new showers and dined on locally caught fish in his restaurant. We sat in the open with the sea lapping gently beside us, looking out on the distant hills of mainland Greece. Walking back along the quay under a new moon and starlit night, with the streetlamps reflected in the water, we felt we had really arrived at last - it took over four years to get here but it has all been worth it.

Next day we motored the few miles down to the deserted village of Port Leone - apparently an earthquake in the fifties damaged the local water supply so everybody emigrated. We had lunch here and then motored round the south of Kastos Island into Kastos harbour where we tied up bows to the quay. The pilot book says that most of the people in Kastos were evacuated after a typhoid epidemic in 1976 but some are gradually returning. In the evening we took advantage of an offer on a notice board which invited us to phone for a lift to Chef John's taverna up the hill. When the lift arrived it was a broken down old van and we climbed in the back to sit on stools not fixed to the floor. We were then driven up a 1 in 5 bumpy hill clinging on to the sides of the van. When we eventually arrived we found we had kept all the other diners waiting since our driver was also the chef. He told us that about 20 people live on the island in the winter, swelling to 100 in the summer and that sometimes 60 boats are tied up in the small harbour.

Moving on, we anchored for lunch in One House Bay, a small turquoise bay on Atoko, en-route to Vathi on Ithaka. Ithaca is reputed to have been the home of Odysseus and Vathi harbour is in a wide bay, tucked up a dog's leg off another deep bay, and is very secure. We decided to tie up to the north quay, away from the town and made a complete mess of it. First I told Mike to drop the stern anchor too soon and we ran out of warp (50 metres). Next time we dropped it too late and it didn't hold so he had to haul it in yet again. The third time was successful. We have decided that, despite the fact that 'Sundancer' doesn't like going astern, we will have to try mooring stern to, using the bow anchor which is on an electric windlass. We spent two days on Vathi, cycling and walking and sunbathing.

May 5th is my birthday but turned out to be a day of traumas. Leaving Vathi we found we had crossed anchor lines with a local who had moored alongside a quay at right angles to ours and put out an anchor to the side. We had to drag our line from the stern to the bow of the boat as Mike could not lift the anchor by hand, and then use the electric windlass to raise it and to lift off the other chain. We then sailed three quarters of a circle round the south of Ithaca with wind that shifted with us to stay determinedly on the nose. Our destination was Ay Eufimia on Cephalonia which is a nice wide harbour with plenty of space so we decided to try going in stern to. However, with the wind on the port bow and a prop that kicks the stern to port we just went in a circle and there was no way 'Sundancer' would go in backwards. I was at the bow operating the winch and managed to get my finger trapped between the winch handle and the dinghy stowed on deck and one of the lines sawed into my finger. We gave up after Mike had rescued me and went in bows to, and our lines were taken on the quay by a tall, shaven headed young man called Kevin who supplied me with ice for my bruised hand and invited us to eat in yet another Spiro's - his Greek father-in-law's restaurant. The food was excellent and the next night offered Greek music to go with the food so we returned again. Three hours of Greek music is a little more than I would really choose, but the evening was fun.

From Ay Eufimia we hopped across the bay to Sami where we moored in the little fishing harbour to the right of the main town and here we again hired a car to see some more of the island. Cephalonia is very pretty, mountainous in parts but also with green and verdant valleys. We saw hundreds of handsome, well fed goats, many of them long haired and accompanied by lots of little kids. It is amazing how they balance on rocks over precipitous drops, often shoving past each other on narrow ledges. We drove round narrow, winding roads down to the little village of Assos with its pastel coloured houses. It was damaged severely in the 1953 earthquake which flattened many of the Ionian towns and villages, but was rebuilt with help from Paris (the city not the god). We drove across the narrow causeway and then walked up the long winding road to the huge Venetian castle built on the top of a tall hill. After a splendid Greek lunch of kid stifado, we motored on, ending eventually at the huge and almost empty marina in Argostoli. Work on this, which must have cost millions, stopped a few years ago and it seems destined never to be completed. It is in a scruffy and windswept area, and the few boats in the harbour were bouncing around it the swell, even though it wasn't particularly windy. One we shall certainly give a miss! Next day we had a very energetic walk up a tree covered ridge to the ancient Acropolis of Sami, from which there were wonderful views of the bay, and on to the beach at Antisamos, taking in a monastery on the way.

We had a day of rest, sunbathing in the day and walking along the beach in the evening with the pink of the sky over the distant hills reflected in the calm water lapping on the shingle, the hoot of owls in the distance and the bright moon shining down through the eucalyptus trees. Hundreds of fireflies were dancing under the trees. Next day we set off for the seven hour trip to Zakinthos, sailing for a good part of the way. Zakinthos harbour is horrid - huge, full of ferries, and very dirty and with the odd dead rat floating in the corners with the rubbish. We disliked the harbour so much that next day we returned to Eufemia where we found there was now a man in the kiosk on the quay charging for the stay but the water and electricity had been turned on. Both of these are in short supply in this area so we were happy to pay. 'Mrs Kevin' kindly offered to wash our bedding and towels for us. We walked out of the harbour to the north and found a series of delightful little shingle beaches with turquoise water, interspersed with areas of flat white rock - ideal for sunbathing. Aloe Vera sprouts from the cliff with occasional 12 ft flower spikes which loom dangerously over the sunbathers.

We had a friend to stay for the next week and retraced our steps around the islands visiting old favourites and finding new ones. One of these was Abelike Bay on Meganisi. This is the loveliest anchorage we have found so far, with beautifully clear water and surrounded by low green hills covered with olive trees. It was also another first for us, anchoring by the bow, with a long line to the shore from the stern tied to a convenient tree. This is standard practice where swinging room is limited and the anchorages are in quite deep water. (We completed this without problem but with beginners' luck - see later). We walked over the ridge into another Vathi in the evening for a meal. Sailing back to Cephalonia we called in at Fiskardho for the night on its north east tip. This is quite an up-market spot with lots of bright (expensive) tavernas surrounding the little harbour and is popular with the charter companies so it gets very crowded.

24th to 31st May - Into the Aegean - The Gulfs of Patras and Corinth.

The Gulfs of Patras and Corinth are the stretches of water which divide mainland Greece from Peloponesia and on Wednesday 24 May we crossed from Ay Eufemia to Missalonghi in the Gulf of Patras. It was a very hot day with a flat calm sea so we motored for 7 hours. Missalonghi is approached via a dredged channel through a large area of shallow water. On the way up the channel we passed wooden houses on stilts which used to be fishermen's homes but are now mostly renovated for tourists. Once in the harbour there are several concrete quays to moor against - another unfinished marina project. The surrounding area is boggy wetland with lots of water fowl (and biting insects). Byron died here while fighting in the Greek War of Independence. Our next port was Patras - a major city with a huge harbour and lots of ferries. We turned into the yacht marina to the left of the main port and were helped onto the first pontoon. The town by the marina is smelly and noisy with a very busy main road about 50 yards from where we were moored. There are lots of tavernas along the front and in the evening the girls parade in their finery while the lads sit on the walls and watch. The noise went on until about 1.30 am and the boat rolled a lot so it wasn't the best of nights. The minimum charge at Patras is for 3 days so it was expensive to leave after one night but we wanted to get on. Rion marks the eastern end of the Gulf of Patras and the narrows here are spanned by a very elegant suspension bridge which we sailed under into the Gulf of Corinth and on to the small island of Trizonia. This is a delightful place with a cluster of white and cream houses with red roofs set above the harbour which is in a circular bay surrounded by lush green hills. The marina is yet again unfinished so there is no charge, but it is a secure and peaceful place to tie up, and many boats seem to have made it their home. One had a parrot and three birdcages on board and the owners had planted a garden next to the boat. We ate at Lizzie's Yacht Club restaurant which has a balcony with excellent views overlooking the bay. We had a good meal of Thai fish curry and sesame chicken - a nice change from the usual meat balls and chicken souvlaki. We motored all the way to Itea with a backdrop of barren mountains with occasional fertile slopes near the sea. The entrance into Itea is interesting with lots of little islands and rocks to negotiate.

The main reason for choosing this harbour is its proximity to Delphi and next morning we set off on the local bus. Delphi is in a splendid setting, high up on a craggy mountain, and looking down on a deep green valley. We arrived at 8.00 am, before the hordes of Americans and Japanese, so had time to explore in peace and quiet and before it got too hot. It is a steep climb to the stadium at the top where the Pythian Games were held every four years. We climbed past the remains of the Temple to Apollo and lots of treasuries built by the various city states of Greece who brought treasures to the oracle in return for her prophecies and erected great sculptures on the site. The oracle's prophecies tended to be a little obscure. One general asked whether he should go to war and was told that a great army would be destroyed if he did. He made the wrong assumption about which one and lost the battle. Later that day a friendly Greek in his seventies sold us some diesel from his mini tanker and then insisted in driving Mike off to the next village to find a replacement gas cylinder and helping him collect some water from the tap on the quay. He regaled Mike with stories of flying Spitfires in the second world war and with his opinions of the government's policy on pensions, all in rather broken English.

We had a great sail from Itea to Corinth with full genoa and double reefed main making 6 or 7 knots. A pod of dolphins joined us for about half an hour on route jumping around the boat and enjoying the bow wave. There seemed to be two different types of dolphins in the pod. One with a blunt head and white nose had a calf alongside. The scenery is mainly brown mountains with some scrubby trees. In Corinth harbour there is only room for a very few visiting yachts and we were lucky to get the last alongside berth. Another five boats managed to raft in by nightfall. Corinth is a sprawling city, built mainly of concrete blocks, but there are many pedestrianised streets with lots of shops and cafes, and the atmosphere is buzzy and fun.

Wednesday 31st May to Tuesday 20th June - Into the Aegean, the Cyclades and Dodecanese.

A stretch of land about three miles long at the eastern end of the Gulf of Corinth joins Peloponesia in the south to mainland Greece. In ancient days sailors used to drag their boats overland here but now there is a canal, cut deep through the rock giving access to the Aegian sea. At 8.00am we were circling outside the canal entrance and went in at 8.45, following Wight Egret and a large ship which seemed to squeeze its way into the narrow canal with inches to spare. The canal is splendid, with several bridges over the top on which people stand and wave. At its deepest point the rocky sides rise 76 metres above sea level though it is only some 25 metres wide. Formalities at the other end were easy and we were charged 112 euros. It felt like another big milestone on our trip - like Cape Finisterre and Gibraltar. We then sailed to a little bay called Korfos and anchored overnight in the almost landlocked bay. It isn't particularly pretty having a lot of rather tatty development around the sides of the bay, but we had a very peaceful night. A few drops of rain fell during the night - our first for several weeks.

On leaving the Ionian we had planned to take a long loop north via the Evia channel and the Sporades before coming south again to Turkey. However, Dave talked us into going the more direct route across the Cyclades since we were still early enough to miss the worst of the Meltemi, the strong winds from the north that can blow 6 to 7 for days on end.

On the first of June we had a gentle sail over to Aegina and moored bows to the South Quay. We reckoned there was room for about 5 or 6 boats more in the harbour but they came and they came all evening and pushed themselves into spaces somewhere. Crossed anchors are the norm especially when the gin palaces come in and drop across everyone. Next day we caught the hydrofoil to Piraeus and eventually managed to purchase the charts - electronic and paper - we need to get to Turkey. We bought fruit and veg from one of the 'fruit boats' moored on the north quay but wished we hadn't - poor quality and expensive compared to shops in the town Definitely a trap for the unwary tourist. On Sunday Mike and I walked up to see the remains of a local temple and then took the bus to Agios Marina where there is a very impressive temple which still has most of its columns and several cross pieces intact.

Back at the boat we were delighted when a monster gin palace, trying to leave, found his own two anchors chains wonderfully plaited together. This was probably caused by several of the smaller yachts who had struggled to free themselves from his anchor chains in the morning, while he and his crew looked on and shrugged their shoulders. He took an hour and a half to get free with help from the port police, who had done nothing to assist anyone else, and finally with expert assistance from a man with a very large hammer.

On Monday 6th June we were very relieved to get our anchors up with no problem at 7.30 am and set off for Olympic Marina , which was built for the recent Greek Olympics and is actually finished and up and running. It is crowded with millions of pounds worth of motor boats and we felt a bit like the poor relations. It is fairly expensive at 35 euros a night, and a bit out in the wilds, but we haven't paid anything for most of our stops this season and there is water and electricity on the pontoons and a washing machine and enough beautiful showers for an army, so we paid up happily. We looked at Lavrion harbour which seems to have room for a fair number of yachts and would be free - and handier for shopping - but pretty noisy with lots of traffic and a pack of wandering dogs. We were delayed by forecasts for strong winds for a further three days so caught the bus to Sounion one day to see Poseidon's Temple which stands in a splendid position on a headland overlooking a lovely anchorage. Once again many of the columns and some of the cross pieces survive.

Saturday 10th to Wed 14th June - Crossing the Aegean (Cyclades Islands) 150 miles

We had a favourable forecast so decided to go for it - island hopping across the Cyclades. The sea was smooth to the southern tip of Kea but once round it the wind picked up and it became pretty uncomfortable. However we were able to sail at a good speed and once out of the Kea Channel the waves decreased a bit and we decided to give Kalimnos a miss and make the eight hour journey to Siros. We had a glorious sleigh ride of a sail all the way. The harbour at Siros is very sheltered and we managed to get the last haul off line on to the concrete quay. Water and electricity were available at extra charge, but we decided against it as we were only spending one night. Next day we set off to Ay Ioannou - an anchorage on the north end of Paros. We saw a large swordfish jump out of the water on the way. The anchorage is very sheltered, tucked up behind a rocky outcrop in the northwest corner of the bay.

On Monday we didn't like the forecast for big winds further north or the cloudy sky which looked like a front was moving over us. We decided to make the short eight mile hop to Naxos but having got there Mike did not like the look of the harbour - he thought the town was smelly - so we carried on down the Naxos Channel on genoa alone at a comfortable 5 knots and anchored in the bay of Kalando on the southern tip of Naxos. This is a fairly wide bay but very peaceful apart from a crane which is being used to build a jetty. Next morning we got up at seven for an early start but were delayed for half an hour because our boat, circling in the night, had wrapped our chain round one of the flukes of an enormous grapnel anchor lying in the sand. We launched the dinghy and, using our bucket with the transparent base to view the problem, managed to unwind it. We then set off in calm water up the sheltered eastern side of Naxos. At the north end of the island, Mike spotted a line of white water ahead of us and reefed the main, just before the Force 5 and rough seas hit us. We beat up to the little island of Dhenousa . The island is pretty barren, like all of them in this area. It has steep brown hillsides with some scrubby bushes and the occasional tree and one small village. Although the bay is south facing and sheltered from the northerlies, strong gusts sweep down the steep sides of the hills and I put on the snorkelling gear and swam over the anchor to confirm it was well set. In the morning the forecast was for NW4 occasionally 5. It looked fairly calm outside the bay so we decided to go for the 30 mile journey to the next island - Levitha. It was pretty rough for some of the way, but we sluiced along at over 6 knots all the way, occasionally touching 7+ and had a great sail.

The anchorage at Levitha is idyllic, isolated and completely protected. You sail north into the bay and then into a narrow inlet to the east which you cannot see until you are very close so any boat ahead just seems to vanish into the cliff. There is only one farm on the island and the owner has laid buoys in the bay and opens the farm house as a taverna. We took the dinghy ashore to walk up the deserted hills and then dined on meatballs made from the farmer's kids and fresh fish from the sea.

Friday 16th June to Tuesday 20th June - Dodecanese Islands, 55 miles.

On Friday morning we left for Lakki on the Island of Leros. There was little wind, but the forecast was for sixes later so we decided not to hang about and motor sailed all the way. Lakki is a large natural harbour and very sheltered. There is a small L shaped marina here with haul off lines. The marina also has a yard at the north of the island good for hauling out for the winter. Leros used to house thousands of mentally ill patients in past years and is now an army base.

The weather, which had been pleasantly cool crossing the Cylades Islands, had notched up an extra few degrees and we were beginning to wilt in the heat. The forecasts were for force 5/6 so we stayed an extra day or so lazing and swimming but by Monday I was getting impatient so we decided to go for the last 28 miles to Kos despite the forecast and set off at 6.30 am on Tuesday. In fact we rolled a bit in places but found nothing above a force 4 and less most of the way, so we coasted along under genoa alone for the 28 miles, averaging nearly 6 knots. I suggested that we buy some Tarot cards next session and use them for weather forecasting as I am sure they would be just as accurate. We bypassed Kalimnos, the sponge island which is mostly a huge chunk of barren rock and arrived in Kos Marina by 11.30 am. By evening we had arranged a haul out, booked our return flights and visited the port police to get papers stamped. We arrive in Manchester in the early hours of Sunday 25th, and have booked a one way hire car home. I am insisting we take home our redundant spinnaker which we have not used in five years as I want the extra stowage space! We are quite looking forward to some gentle English rain and grey skies as we haven't seen any for weeks now.

Wednesday 21st June to Sunday 25th June - Kos town.

We had four days in Kos, two on the boat before the lift-out and then we found a cheap hotel right opposite the marina and moved in there for the last two nights so that we could leave the boat clean and tidy. This gave us time for some sight-seeing in Kos town and we were pleasantly surprised. It does have its tourist 'strip' but the town is bright with bougainvillea, and flowering trees and it has some interesting antiquities in the centre, including the Castle of Neratzia, the old Agora (meeting place) and the large plane tree under which Hippocrates, the father of medicine, was said to teach. The tree is huge and is now hollowed with rot but its branches and leaves are still flourishing despite this. Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Ottomans and Italians have all passed through and left their mark on the island. The town has been invaded more recently by thousands of Brits, Germans and Scandinavians riding round on sit-up-and-beg bicycles. Rows of handsome wooden gullets line up in the harbour waiting to ferry the tourists across to visit Turkey.

This has definitely been our best session yet. The Greeks are very friendly, there are lovely places to visit, lots of history, wonderful weather and the best sailing we have had in five years. We are now only 8 miles from Turkey, ready to cross over there in September when we plan to have a relaxing two months exploring and pottering.

Thursday 7th to Tuesday 12th September

We returned to Kos on Thursday September 7th, flying on a My Travel flight. The flight was exactly on time though the interior of the airplane was somewhat dilapidated. I hope the engine was in better nick. There was a lot of turbulence on take-off which had a few people gritting their teeth. Kos airport is really tiny so baggage collection was easy and we found a taxi immediately. We spent the first few days in a hotel until the boat was launched on Monday 11th and as we hadn't many jobs to do, and it was pretty hot, we spent the afternoons lazing round the hotel pool. We did have to wash the boat a couple of times as a very thick layer of dust had accumulated - caused by a combination of strong winds and no rain at all while we had been away.

Wednesday 13th and Thursday 14th September. Kos to Simi and Simi to Marmaris.

Both of these trips were over 7 hours long. We had a really uncomfortable crossing from Kos to Simi, with the wind and waves behind us most of the way so we tossed about a bit. The scenery was very brown and the sky very blue. The next day we had a splendid sail on a beam reach for a good part of the day, and we reached over 7 knots at times. We are now in Turkey. Marmaris Yat Marine is a huge boat park with lots of hardstanding for the winter. On first impression we thought it was a little tatty but it grew on us and we have now taken a year's contract so we expect to cruise from here until summer '07. The marina seems pretty well organised and has an excellent swimming pool and restaurant and a good supermarket. The surroundings are not particularly pretty and the showers/toilets only adequate. It is 20 minutes ride on a very bumpy dolmus (mini-bus) into Marmaris.

Turkey is not an EEC country and on entry you require a visa and to sail here you are required to have a transit log. Getting these entails visits to Customs, Harbourmaster and Immigration, all in separate offices and in the main town of Marmaris. To save all the hassle we paid the Customs man, resident at Yat Marine, to do all the paperwork for us. The total cost, including his fee and the Transit Log, came to 130 euros. (The charge was in Euros because the Turkish Lira is still subject to a lot of inflation). We did spend a morning in Marmaris but were not impressed - the old town has a small castle, built by Suleyman the Magnificent in the 16th century and lots of cheap souvenier shops, but little else.

Mike had to spend a morning clearing the pump on the forward heads which had blocked while I spent some time with my sewing machine making covers for the 2 inch deep bed topping of memory foam we brought out from UK for our bunk. It has made a wonderful difference to our comfort at night.

September/October around Marmaris and the Bay of Fethiye

Having sorted out our winter berth we decided we would spend the remainder of the 2006 season sailing locally. The options seemed to be east to the Bay of Fethiye or West towards Bodrum. East won.

Monday 18th September, Marmaris to Ekincik.

We set off for the 4 hour trip to Ekincik under blue skies with calm seas, but with little wind so we motored all the way. We anchored in the NW corner of Ekincik bay which was fine while the breeze was holding us nose into the swell, but the swell failed to drop at night when the wind did, and from about 2am we rolled and clanged until daybreak. Mike is not very good when deprived of sleep and was distinctly grumpy next day. It is possible to hire a boat from here to go up the river to Caunus, past the reed beds, to see the cliff tombs and hot baths, but we decided to leave it until another time.

Tuesday 19th September, Ekincik to Fethiye.

We had a following wind and sea again, and we motored sailed for 7 hours with just the genoa up all the way to Fethiye, where 'Wight Egret' was waiting for us to join them. En route we saw many of the local tripper boats. There are literally hundreds of these 'gullets' plying this area. They are beautiful boats, usually with two masts, long bowsprits and lots of gleaming varnish. Mostly they take day trippers to bays which are often inaccessible by road, others take groups for a week on board, and if you are very rich you can hire one privately for yourself and friends with a crew to do all the hard work.

Fethiye ECE Marina is big, with lots of space to manoeuvre and helpful marineros. Here we first heard the 5 times daily call to prayers broadcast by a very loud loudspeaker from the local mosque. It is not a happy sound, especially at 6 in the morning.

The town itself is touristy, full of carpet, leather, and gold and silver shops. The hills around are very green again, covered in pine trees and olives. There is an interesting Lycian rock tomb above the village. We stayed a couple of nights here and stocked up with fresh food and vegetables before going off to explore some of the many lovely anchorages in Skopea Limani, the area south-west of Gocek which lies between the mainland and a line of islands.

Thursday 21st - Wednesday 27th - In Skopea Limani

We spent the first three days in Tomb Bay - named for the rock tombs cut into the cliff side. The 'cheaper' models are just a collection of cave like holes dug into the rock. The 'up market' version has a Doric temple façade carved out of the rock face. One had three chambers side by side, perched 100 foot up the cliff. We scrambled up to have a look and admired the view. Inside there was a shelf on three sides, presumably where the bodies were laid. There is often a rustic restaurant in these bays and most sell a delicious 'village' bread, shaped like a cake and cooked in wood fired ovens. It has a consistency a bit like a soft crumpet - full of air bubbles and is wonderful toasted the next day. We are slightly worried about the hygiene standards but have had now problem so far.

On Saturday we moved north to Boynuz Buku. This bay has two rivers entering it when there has been any rain and the restaurant is set amid reeds, fig trees and oleander bushes. Consequently there are a few mozzies around which mostly concentrated on me and ignored the others. I think they prefer blood which has not been contaminated with red wine. I therefore have a choice - I can drink and get a headache or I can suffer the mosquito bites. On the Sunday, thunderstorms were forecast and we experienced our most violent storm to date which lasted for about 4 hours. We had dropped our anchors and backed up to the cliff to tie a couple of ropes ashore. When the storm arrived there were flashes of lightning and enormous crashes of thunder immediately overhead and then the heavens opened with a monsoon like deluge. You could not see across the bay for the rain. A yacht entering the anchorage caused mayhem by crossing and dragging anchors that were already set. The only good thing was that by the time the rain finished the boat was washed immaculately clean. In Gocek, just north of us they apparently had a twister which caused chaos by making several yachts drag their anchors. On Monday we had lovely sunshine again and managed to dry everything out. We repaired a couple of the leaks that the rain had found, and then went ashore in the evening for a pleasant meal.

On Tuesday strong winds from the SE were forecast so we moved down to Seagull Bay where we thought there would better shelter from this direction. Ahmet helped us onto his quay - built with fir tree trunks as piles, presumably hammered in by hand, covered in rough planks and tied back to the shore with ropes. He assured us that it had already stood for four years. He has painted a seagull on the rocks on the edge of the water (hence the name of the bay). He also says that in a few weeks they will be getting in their olive crop which they market as Seagull olive oil. We went for some lovely walks over the headland to the bays on the east side of the peninsular finding one large tortoise and a three foot long black snake which Ahmet told us was not dangerous. We dined ashore under the vine leaves, on delicious chicken casserole and excellent chips.

Thursday 28th September and Friday 29th September - Gocek.

It rained again yesterday and overnight but on Thursday we motored up to Gocek to the Municipal Marina, right next to the pleasant little town. There is a nice wide square, plenty of food shops with good fresh vegetables and meat and fish. Everything is very convenient so we stocked up again for the next few days and managed to get the laundry done and then went out on Friday evening for a meal to celebrate Mike's birthday. The weather is a bit hot and sticky at present with some sunshine but quite a lot of cloud about.

Saturday 30th September to Monday 2nd October - Sarsala Bay.

We set off south from Gocek to try a new anchorage in Pilloried Cove, Sarsala Bay. We are still trying to establish a technique for anchoring with a line ashore. This procedure is necessary in nearly all the anchorages here because the bays are pretty deep and swinging room is limited. We have been finding it difficult with just two aboard because you really need one person on the anchor winch, one on the wheel/engine throttle and one in the dinghy to take the rope ashore, especially if there is any cross wind and the anchorage is crowded. This time I decided to try swimming ashore with the rope but the boat began blowing sideways before I got there and just as I climbed out onto a rock I ran out of rope and was whipped smartly back into the sea. We had just bought a nice new floating rope but unfortunately it didn't float very well and promptly got caught round the prop. Our nice new 50 metre warp promptly got turned into one 30 metre and one 20 metre by the rope cutter on the prop. A kindly Frenchman jumped into his dinghy and came to the rescue.

Sarsala Bay is really beautiful. It has a small beach, but most of the bay is lined with grey rocks and lime green pine trees grow down from the crags to the shore. There are several nice walks - or scrambles - round the bay and we spend three very pleasant days here. A couple of kingfishers fished from our ropes. We went snorkelling several times amongst clouds of small fry sparkling in the water but did not see a lot else.

Tuesday 3rd October - back to Gocek.

Today we returned to Gocek to pick up Ken and Shirley, friends who have flown in from the UK to sail with us for a week or so. This time we berthed in Port Gocek instead of the municipal marina. Port Gocek is a very upmarket marina although the price is very reasonable allowing for the fact that water, electricity and showers are free and the showers are luxurious! Mike had been concerned with the sound the engine was making on this passage and thought there was more vibration than usual. Head down as usual in a very sweaty engine compartment, he found that one of the engine mounting brackets had lost both of its retaining bolts. He managed to get one bolt back in before the light failed at which stage he gave in and went for a shower and we commiserated by going out to the 'Veranda Restaurant' for one of the best meals we have had this year. Hopefully he will be able to complete the job tomorrow in the cool of the morning.

Wednesday 3rd October to Thursday 11th October. Sailing with friends.

On Wednesday our friends Ken and Shirley made the two and a half hour bus journey from Marmaris to Gocek to join us. I cooked them a nice beef and apricot stew in my Remoska pan as it was Shirley who introduced me to the joys of this form of one pot cooking. We set off on Thursday and motored gently back down to Sarsalla Bay where even with four aboard we again made a mess of mooring to the delight of the German charterers in a gullet. We had a couple of lovely days swimming and occasionally walking and then on Saturday we had a lunch stop at anchor in Boynuz Buku and then sailed slowly over to Fethiye Marina for two nights.

On Monday we went back across Fethiye Bay to Kizilkuyruk Koyu, a small, pretty, pine clad bay at the south western end of Fethiye Bay where we tried yet another anchoring technique, rowing ashore with the rope flaked into the dinghy. This seemed to work quite well. I dropped the anchor and Ken and Shirley rowed ashore and tied happily to a couple of trees. We were just congratulating ourselves on a job well done when we realised our anchor was dragging so had to cast off the ropes and start again. It took four goes at dropping the anchor before it finally managed to work its way through the weed and hold tight. Thank heaven for an electric winch to pull it up between each go. It was three o'clock before we sat down to lunch, somewhat exhausted. Later Mike and Ken walked along the stony path to ancient Lydae to see the remains of Roman and Byzantine buildings on the hill top, with other remains of the town in the valley below mixed in with the present day farm buildings. The site is splendidly isolated and wild with no attempt at preservation or commercialisation at all.

We had a very peaceful night and next day set of for the 25 miles back to Ekincik where we had had a very uneasy night at anchor on our way east two weeks before. We decided that this time we would tie up to the pontoon in front of 'My Marina' restaurant which had been virtually deserted when we looked at it last time. This time however we were waved off by the owner who seemed to have promised the spaces to a Moorings charter fleet. A cross wind made the alternative moorings here difficult so Mike made a management decision to go over to the large bay SSW of Ekincik village, which turned out to be peaceful, calm, to have acres of shallow water and was almost empty - 1 gullet and 1 fishing boat. In these ideal conditions we succeeded in dropping anchor and tying back to a tree in a very professional manner. Another late lunch!

Next day was overcast and the forecast for the next few days was getting worse, with a lot of rain to come - in fact back to Scottish weather for Ken and Shirley though somewhat warmer! We decided to curtail our plans and head back for Marmaris Yat Marina. We had a beautiful sail for a good part of the way with just the genoa up and the sun coming out. We tied up in the marina and had lunch. The wind dropped completely and we were just beginning to wilt in the sticky heat when out of nowhere we heard a roaring noise approaching and seconds later wind gusting to force 9 came howling through the bay. Mike had to put rolling hitches on the haul off line and use the winches to haul us off the pontoon. We had a text from Dave in Gocek to say they had had hurricane force winds there and his haul off line had broken.

On Thursday 12th, Ken and Shirley left in murky weather to go back to their package holiday accommodation. Fighting claustrophobia, Mike crammed himself upside down into the small anchor locker, lying on the anchor chain, to change one of the attachments for the passarelle so that it can now be used on either side of the bow and thus kept away from any obstructions such as water and electric points on the quay. As I type this the wind is getting up yet again and the rain is thundering on the cabin top. But we are safely in the warm and dry with no need to go out - I hope.

Friday 13th to Thursday 19th - In Yat Marina.

The weather remained unsettled and on Tuesday one forecast was for rain and light winds. Another said up to force 5. The day was overcast and gloomy and in the evening we started to see lightning on the hills around us. When we went out to dinner the wind was getting up, and as we ate we watched the palm trees by the swimming pool swaying, the lightning flashing, and eventually saw there were waves on the surface of the pool. Every so often the lights in the restaurant went out. When we left the restaurant about 10 pm we found the wind had increased tremendously, the rain had started, the lightning was almost continuous and we couldn't hear the thunder for the sound of the wind in the rigging of all the boats in the marina. The storm continued with constant lightning for about three hours before tailing off through the night. People told us next day that the wind speeds registered on their instruments had been 60 miles an hour. The couple on the boat next door have been all the way round the world and said that is the worst wind they have ever been in! Other people who have been here for several years say they have never experienced weather like this in October before, so we are back to our usual state of suffering exceptional weather patterns. Next day was a complete contrast. The day was entirely innocent, the sea in Marmaris Bay lay flat calm and glittering in the sun and there was hardly any wind.

Saturday 20th to Wednesday 24th October - Last trip of the season.

Our last sail of the year took us to the anchorage at Gerbeske. We had intended to make for Bozuk Buku at the south western point of the peninsular. However it was after 11 am when we left the marina and as the wind died half way to our destination we decided to have a look at Ciftlik Bay. Here we had to make three attempts at anchoring as our CQR doesn't go through the weed very well. When we were finally stuck in, we decided the bay was too rolly, besides being pretty ugly with a monstrous white concrete hotel stuck in the middle so we went down a further mile to Gerbeske which proved to be a little gem. It is quite small, only about 150 metres across, and 400 metres long, so we tucked ourselves in at the head of the bay, anchoring and then taking lines ashore. On the narrow isthmus there are the remains of a Greek church amid some olive trees, and several grey stone buildings in various states of collapse, a large well, and the ruin of another little church up on the hill. The rocky grey cliffs rise steeply on both sides in beautiful formations and have a covering of pine trees and bushes. Three cows were browsing on the shore and a young man, dressed in a bathing costume, made his way down one of the long rocky tracks every day to feed and water them. He climbed an olive tree and shook down some olives and tended some beehives. One morning he put some honey and bags of herbs on a table to sell. We bought his herbs as a demonstration of support for his endeavours, but declined the honey as it didn't look very clear and Bev had bought a dreadful waxy, twiggy mixture one day from a man selling stuff from his little fishing boat. The water in the little bay was really clear and full of fish so it was like swimming in an aquarium. We spent three idyllic days here swimming, scrambling over the rocks and picking our way along the rough tracks. There were robins and warblers and at one point a merlin sped past us chasing some hapless little bird.

On the fourth morning we set off north again and moored bows to a pontoon in Kumlu Buku where we had free electricity and showers and a good, if expensive, meal ashore. A group of eight young Dutch people on the boat next door were enjoying their holiday and drank, chattered and laghed and played dreadful music increasingly loudly all afternoon. All life is compromise. Fortunately they had exhausted themselves by bedtime so we had a restful night. Next morning they were all very quiet! The day was beautiful and we motored quietly back to the marina to start packing up Sundancer for the winter.

Thurday 25th October to Wednesday 1 November - laying up in Yat Marina.

We had several sunny, warm days on the water in which to do the necessary tasks involved in getting 'Sundancer' ready for the winter. We were booked to be lifted out on Monday 30th although no-one seemed able or willing to tell us at what time. We woke to find a very grey day, with a heavy shower in the morning and threatening black clouds all day. The forecast was for strengthening winds and Mike began to worry we would have difficulty getting to the travel lift if they left us too late. (the previous day they had been moving boats well past dark). However, out of the blue we were told to move out at 4 pm and by 5 we were safely ashore when the thunderstorm arrived with lots of wind and heavy rain. It then rained on and off pretty heavily for the next two days which meant that we had to take more clothing than usual back to UK rather than leave it damp on-board.

In the end everything was completed on the boat and we locked 'Sundancer' up and said goodbye on the evening of the 1st November.

Tomorrow we catch the coach to Istanbul where we will stay for 3 nights and 'do' the town. It is a 13 hour journey so I hope Istanbul is worth it. We then fly home BA to Heathrow on Sunday 5th in time to see the Guy Fawkes celebrations!

Postscript - 2nd to 5th November

Thursday 2nd November - Marmaris to Istanbul

Together with Bev and Dave, we caught the 9 am coach, from Marmaris to Istanbul - a 13 ½ hour journey. In fact it wasn't as arduous as it sounds because the coach was very comfortable and made short stops about every two hours so you could get out, stretch your legs and get something to eat. The steward brought round tea, coffee and cakes at intervals as well. The scenery for the early part of the journey was very impressive and varied. It was a sunny day and there was a long stretch of mountains with some splendid rock formations. The roads were pretty good though a lot were single carriageway with a dangerous overtaking lane in the middle and we had already heard that the Turkish road accident rate was very high. We weren't impressed with the huge crack in the windscreen running up from the driver's side, across the top and down the middle. Mike and I were in the front seats so were well placed to assess the standard of driving. We had two drivers who drove half way each and were equally bad. While driving they received and made mobile phone calls when not turning sideways to chat to the steward or the four year old child they allowed to sit between them on the step. Periodically the driver also compared various lists with scraps of paper and after each stop, money seemed to change hands and the driver took out wads of notes and counted them while driving. Once or twice they took out the tacograph, fiddled around in various compartments and put in another one. Most of the time they drove with one elbow since both hands were otherwise occupied. For a final trick one of them took out a catalogue of small electrical items - kettles, irons etc, and spent ten minutes browsing through this, while all the while driving at his maximum allowed speed of 85 kilometres and hour.

At 1 o'clock we drew into Bursa - a big town - and someone said '30 minutes' as we got off. We decided we had time for a meal so Mike and I went into a fast food restaurant and had a very good selection of Turkish food. We had been there about 20 minutes when Dave came running in to say the coach was leaving. Mike rushed up to the counter to pay, and then managed to run, at speed, into a glass wall on the way out, doing further damage to his poor nose which bled copiously for the next couple of hours.

When we arrived in Istanbul at about 10.30 we transferred to a small bus to do the last few kilometres into the old part of town and the driver of this took pity on us and all our bags and delivered us to our hotel door. Since he didn't know where the Legend hotel was, he asked the dustbin men, who were clearing up the day's rubbish, for directions.

Istanbul is built on the 'usual' 7 hills and the population has exploded up to 15 million in the last ten years. Traffic is constantly snarled up and everyone hoots their horn constantly even though there is no chance of any movement. Our hotel was very central, though a little run down. It had a roof terrace and a penthouse restaurant, very friendly staff, and rather noisy plumbing.

On Friday the forecast rain arrived. We signed on for an all day tour with guide, and dressed in macs, went out to explore. Bev and I dressed warmly, but the men, reluctant to admit that the summer was over, were inadequately dressed and spent the day shivering, and Mike's shoes let in water as we trudged through the puddles. The guide took us first to Hagia Sophia, a Byzantine church, built in 533 by Justinian when he was emperor. It has a huge central dome, surrounded by smaller domes, all beautifully painted. There are several wonderful mosaic pictures and a couple of huge marble jars in which water was stored. We then went to the famous Blue Mosque with its 6 graceful minarets. Inside there are attractive blue tiles, painted ceilings and some lovely stained glass. Our guide then took us to one of the many cisterns built by the Romans to hold the city's water supply - which just happened to be under a carpet shop - where we spent some time admiring the beautiful carpets but not buying. A girl with flying fingers demonstrated the technique of making them and we were told that it would take her 16 months to make a one metre square of silk carpet. In wool it would only take one month. We had a quick half hour in the huge covered Grand Bazaar and then lunch. In the afternoon we were taken to the Topkapi Palace. This used to house the sultan and his harem until the mid 19th century but is now a museum. One of the exhibits was the second largest diamond in the world and there were some splendid jewel studied thrones. After this we should have gone on to a further mosque, but the men were freezing and Bev and I were pretty tired so we asked to be dropped back at our hotel. In the evening we went down to the railway station, which used to be the terminus for the Orient Express, to see some Whirling Dervishes. This was a bit of a tourist rip off as it was quite expensive. For the first half hour the musicians played ear jarring, mournful music. Then the dervishes came in dressed in the kind of black cloaks my teachers used to wear at grammar school. They put down a couple of sheepskins to kneel on, and a red mat, the purpose of which was never revealed. They then mooched around for the next fifteen minutes, occasionally bowing to each other and finally took off their cloaks to reveal their swirling white skirts and red sashes, and got into whirling mode for the final fifteen minutes. Apparently the genuine Whirling Dervishes perform for a week once a year somewhere in the middle of Turkey, and whirl for hours at a time, going into a trance.

Next day it snowed. We braved the elements to go and see the Suleymaniye mosque - the first one ever to have four minarets. It also had 6 madrasses, or schools, a poor house, soup kitchens, baths, a mental hospital and a mausoleum with the tombs of Suleyman 1st and family. The mosque inside is elegant and beautiful and was built in 7 years from 1550 to 1557 - somewhat quicker than our cathedrals. Lots of inadequately clothed young men were taking advantage of the weather and selling umbrellas. We spent some time spending money in the Grand Bazaar, buying presents. Mike got really good at haggling by the end of the session and the stallholders obviously enjoy the whole process. His final purchase was a new leather jacket. We retired to the hotel to warm up and when it stopped snowing at about 4.00 we walked down to the main Roman cistern. Here hundreds of tall pillars hold up the ceiling and fish now swim in the water below. In the evening a taxi fetched us to the fish restaurant recommended by our hotel and we had a good meal, to lively music played by a group of four musicians.

We arranged an alarm call for 6 am next day but were called at 5 because of 'a problem with the system'. A taxi took us to the airport and we flew home to Heathrow courtesy of BA - lots of leg room and a good meal - picked up a one way hire car and were home by mid afternoon. This was still a long day bearing in mind the 2 hour time difference between Turkey and UK.

So that is it for another year. It has been a good year with some of the best sailing we have ever had and beautiful anchorages to visit. We now have to decide 'what next' since we have already surpassed our initial goal of Greece and do not have any more passage plans. Maybe we will decide to stay in this area next year but it will be difficult to come to terms with not having a destination to aim for. Mike already has the charts out!

Pauline Nixon, 'Sundancer', Turkey

November 2006