POSITION: 38°55’22″N 20°53’53″E

We are indentured to the weather. Bound by the terms and conditions set forth by the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts, we stayed in Corfu town only long enough to clear into Greece. Forty-five knot winds and three metre seas were in our future if we didn’t get a move on. The question was, where best to ride out the storm?

Poring over the chart and cross-referencing it with the ever-mutable forecast, I spotted a bay in an inland sea about 55 nautical miles southeast. Sometimes Sirens whisper in your ear and you’d best heed their call.

Buoys

After a quiet night in a secluded cove just over 35 miles from Corfu, we hauled anchor early enough to catch a fresh easterly offshore breeze. Too lazy to raise the main, we sailed under jib alone. Aleta, long since tired of the engine’s rumbling in her tummy, lifted her bow, breathed deeply and happily plunged ahead. “Dammit, Jim! She’s a sailboat. Let her sail!”

You enter the Ambracian Gulf via a long, well-marked channel. Silting is a problem at the entrance’s narrow neck, but a big white dredger, streaked with rust, had obviously done its job well. We never saw less than 40’ under the keel. Turning the corner past the marinas on either side of us, a dinky little lighthouse warned of shoals to starboard and a large red buoy of shallows to port.*

Wetlands

I’d never heard of the Ambracian Gulf. Perhaps you haven’t either. It’s a treat. Dozens of coves snuggle into the crenelated shoreline offering sanctuary for sailors and vigorous aquaculture sites for the locals. Greece’s largest wetland nature reserve lies along the northern shore. Government agencies also protect several species of turtles and dolphins that thrive in the rich feeding grounds. Rounded hills and taller mountains in the distance act as windbreaks while lending visual drama to the horizon.

A couple of green turtles popped their heads up near our anchorage outside Vonista, breaking the monotony of 30 knot gusts heralding yet more thunderstorms. Situated within an hour’s ferry ride of the Ionian islands, some of Greece’s most heavily touristed, the Ambracian remains largely unspoiled by foreigners. A steady Greek tourist trade, however, helps keep prices low and food quality high.

Friends in New Places

Dolphin

A message from Flavia, our hostess in Gaeta, popped up on Carol’s phone. Sandy and Helga, our neighbours two boats down last winter, wanted to get in touch. They saw us arrive and successfully drag our anchor three times before we gave up and moved to the bay next door. Needless to say, we were oblivious to all but the boats we might run into should the anchor drag. We arranged to meet for lunch the following day – weather be damned. They were joined by John and Cora, the charming, multi-passported (Canadian/British/Dutch) owners of a mighty Nordhavn 56 motor-sailor, Migaloo. At 55 gross registered tonnes (Aleta by comparison is an emaciated 15GRT), John still averaged six knots crossing the Atlantic in her three years ago. You gotta love the physics of sailing!

The three-day storm passed, and we reluctantly headed out of the Gulf. Along the way, we passed a pod of dolphins feeding rapaciously. In pairs and singly they first broke the surface and shyly spouted. Then, distracted by their prey, they joyfully breached, arcing a full body’s length into the air and landing with a giant splash. All seemingly for our amusement. If we’d had the time, we would have spent a couple of weeks poking around the rushes in our dinghy looking for herons or exploring the remains of Greek/Roman/Venetian archaeological sites. But more weather was brewing, and we wanted to make as much progress as we could towards Turkey between the storm fronts.

(Click on the image below to enlarge it)


*It is important to remember buoyage is reversed in Europe. Instead of Red-Right-Returning it is Red-Right-Leaving. My guess is this stems from the War of 1812 when the Americans tried to confuse the Royal Navy by reversing navigational aids. It must have worked.

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