Greece, 2001

We were familiar with the Ionian area having had a couple of flotilla holidays in the area. Our plan was to potter around in this area at first and go home in August when I had to have a hospital check-up. That suited us fine as Greece gets very hot and extremely crowded during August.

But our first priority was to get our outboard motor working. We had not used it for a couple of years and we could not get it started. Whenever we needed to go ashore we had to row. We assumed it just needed an overhaul and John set about doing that, without much success. We sailed across to Parga on the mainland and moored in Voltos to the north from where we could go into the town by water taxi. Yannis has been running the water taxi for 25 years. He is lean and fit, leaping about his boat in T-shirt and shorts with bare feet, his thick moustache dropping each side of his mouth and a white pork-pie hat atop his thick black hair. He has a fantastic memory and delivers people back to the boats from which he collected them. He remembered us from our previous visit three or four years before. Yannis seems like a typical Greek peasant but I learned later that he goes to Germany every winter and is married to a rich German lady. Like so many other Greeks he just comes for the summer to make some money. Unsurprisingly he speaks some English and German. John and I had been attending Greek classes at home and he was pleased with my efforts to use his language and counted out our change in Greek.

We went into Parga most nights. We could do our shopping and leave it with Yannis whilst we went for a meal. Our favourite restaurant was right at the top of the town, near the castle, reached by a steep, stepped street, lined with souvenir shops. From the restaurant we could look down on the boats in Voltos. Parga is an attractive town, not unlike a Cornish fishing village in the way the houses cling to the hillside around narrow streets which don't seem to have any pattern. The houses are square, and white or colour-washed with red tiled roofs. Houses, shops and apartments have been squeezed in everywhere.

The town has a chequered history, having been fought over by the Venetians, the Turks, and the Greeks. It only became Greek in 1904. There is a Venetian fortress on an island in the bay, and a building known as Ali Pasha's castle floodlit on a distant hill. Ali Pasha appears to have been a very cruel Turkish ruler.

We had a struggle to leave Parga as three boats had laid their anchors over ours. It took us 45 minutes with the assistance of a helpful German to free our anchor and get away.

From Parga we set off for Preveza, but as usual found the wind on the nose. We encountered steep seas and whitecaps. We changed course and sought shelter in Monganisi at the tip of Paxos island. This is one of my favourite places, being a landlocked bay. The water is clean and the swimming good. There is a tavern/bar by the main beach, and two quays with good depth for mooring. There is a road round the bay and the ruins of an early Christian basilica can be seen near the entrance.

Our next stop was Levkas. The sea was calm with no wind until we were about 5 miles off the entrance to the Levkas canal. The wind became so brisk we had to tie up whilst we were waiting for the swing bridge at the entrance to the canal to open. Once down the canal we were able to tie up on the town quay.

Levkas is an interesting town. It is very cosmopolitan and bursting with life. All along the quay were water points in locked boxes. Every evening a man on a moped rode along the quay shouting 'Water, water.' We rushed out to accost him but he had disappeared. About 15 mins. later he appeared from the café across the road. I hailed him. He unlocked the box, gave John the key and disappeared into the café again, mysteriously re-appearing when we had finished.

We were able to re-fuel from a tanker which drove along the quay about 20h45.

We ate that night at a tavern across the quay. Later that night I looked across at the tavern and saw that all was locked up, but the lights were still burning and the tables and chairs were still open to the street. I cannot imagine that in Britain. The chairs would probably end up in the harbour.

Levkas had smartened up a lot since our last visit. The pavements are still cracked and broken, with huge holes and tumble down walls, but there are many new buildings and a park I do not remember from last time. Many of the old buildings had been painted and some have new corrugated iron facades to the upper stories. They are built this way because the possibility of earthquakes is strong. Back from the quay most of the streets are not wide enough for traffic. There are attractive houses with balconies and courtyards and lots of Byzantine churches.

There is a large supermarket about 10 mins walk away and we wheeled our shopping back to the boat in one of their trolleys, planning to return it when we had emptied it. However as we were setting off back with it a car pulled up alongside and asked if the trolley was from the supermarket. I agreed that it was and five minutes later a young lad on a moped came and claimed it, and drove off down the road on the moped, with the trolley alongside, held by one hand. The traffic is crazy in Levkas. I hope he got back safely. The cars honk their horns very loudly at the cyclists and motor cyclists never wear helmets. It is not unusual to see whole families perched on motor scooters, the baby between father's knees or on the handlebars.

Whilst in Levkas we discovered a problem - an oil leak. John spent the best part of two days trying to discover the source without success. Time to call in the professionals. There was a workshop and chandlery called Contract Yacht Services. Their engineer, Mark, came to survey the problem. With John he went over all the most obvious reasons for the leak, again without success. The next step would be to remove the engine. In order to do that we would need to be alongside the quay, rather than end on and there was not room to do that where we were.

They were in the process of building a new marina which will be officially opened in a few days time. There is a new concrete quay which has been built to give access for the marina and that proved suitable for our purposes. We learned later that it has been designated for the Port Police but as yet there was no boat there.

CYS had kindly suggested that we cut down the cost by John doing as much of the work as he can. Mark arrived with a trolley and set of chain blocks and he and John removed the engine using the boom and topping lift. The engine was taken to their workshop and the following day they reported that they had found the fault - a twisted gasket - and would be bringing the engine for re-fit the next day, 26th July.

Alongside where we were moored was a large car park. The comings and goings of the vehicles was quite interesting with people often sleeping in or alongside their vehicles. On Saturday two larried parked close to our boat. They were soft-sided lorries and the tops were piled high with plastic bucket, bowls etc. Inside there was a small compartment where we could see a row of heads on pillows. Eventually a youngish woman climbed out and started to re-arrange the plates, pans, jugs etc. in the back of the lorry. She was tidily dressed in a long floral skirt and a T-shirt, and her dark hair was neatly fashioned into a bun at the nape of her neck. Eventually four children emerged, three boys and a girl, all under 6 years of age. Three other women and a man also emerged.

The women carried large amounts of laundry to the nearby tap and proceeded to wash. It looked as though they were making use of the water whilst it was there. By now I had concluded that they were gypsies who tour the islands and remoter areas providing a useful service to the inhabitants who are cut off from shopping areas.

We made enquires about leaving the boat here. The marina was charging half price as it is not yet finished and there is no extra charge for catamarans. The other alternative is to leave Chefren in the care of CYS as they have their own quay, but it is crowded. We decided to go to Nidri and investigate the boatyard there. On our way to Nidri, as we passed the entrance to Tranquil Bay I saw a boat similar to Dolma, the boat with which we had travelled most of the French canals two years previously. But this boat had a wind generator which I knew Dolma had not had. However after we had anchored in the bay at Vliho a dinghy came alongside, and yes, it was Maureen and Steve from Dolma. They brought Dolma down to Vliho that night and joined us for a meal that night.

In Vliho there is a second hand chandlery known as Geoffs'. Geoff is a larger than life character, naked to the waist and wearing a straw hat. He has an assistant, a short stocky man without any front teeth who spends most of his time cleaning and repairing the many dinghies in Geoff's yard. There were lots of outboards for sale and we decided to buy an Evinrude for about £100. We attached it to our dingy and motored away and as soon as we left the shore the motor died. After much to-ing and fro-ing we swapped the Evinrude for a Seagull. We had a great social time with Maureen and Steve and went for a night or two to Abileke Bay where we shared meals, swam and generally chilled out. In the corner of the bay was a small tavern and we went over for iced coffees and beers. Whilst drinking I got something caught in my straw. I sucked very hard and got it into my mouth. I thought it might be a bit of ice but rather than swallow it I spat it out. It was a wasp! What a lucky escape.

But it was now getting time for me to go home. Contract Yacht Services had confirmed that they had a space for us, and had arranged flights for us to Britain. They provided transport to the airport and, sadly we returned home.

We returned to Greece in early September and spent the following few weeks exploring Port Spiglia, Sivota, Kioni, Vathi. We made some good friends and discovered more about Greek life. We had a little adventure one day when crossing from Spiglia to Nidri to go to the bank. Our route was criss-crossed by many little yachts to which we had to give way. Suddenly Chefren stopped and the engine cut out. We then became aware of a fishing boat, way in the distance, waving and gesticulating to us. We had fouled their net. John immediately lowered our dinghy and leapt into it with his pen knife to cut away the offending net. The men in the fishing boat did not like that and began to winch in the net, with us as their 'catch of the day'. When we were near enough to talk to them they kept saying, “Big, big problem” and “Port Police”.