On the 12th July we made our second (and this time successful) attempt to head through the Lefkas canal and head to Preveza, the main town in the gulf.
We left the Lygia anchorage at 10:00am to go for the 11:00 Lefkas ‘bridge’ opening. There should be a floating bridge that swings to one side every hour, the bridge has to be towed by a tugboat for maintenance in Preveza each year and it is normally done in the quiet winter period. This year, however, because of the lockdown they weren’t able to tow the bridge until the end of April when some firms were able to re-open. While the bridge is away it is replaced by a RORO ferry which wedges itself across the channel and because it takes longer to move it only opens every 2 hours, making it all the more important to get the timing right.
We made it to the marina and town quay just before the bridge in plenty of time. There was a bit of an issue when one of the yachts that had moored stern to the town quay got their anchor caught in the anchor chains of other yachts and were stuck in the middle of the channel but we were able to get passed them. They didn’t make this opening though.
Once through it was an hours motor to the dredged channel that you have to follow to get into the gulf.
The Gulf of Ambrakia, also known as the Gulf of Arta or the Gulf of Actium (or in Greek: Αμβρακικός κόλπος, Amvrakikos kolpos), is a gulf of the Ionian Sea. About 40 km (25 mi) long and 15 km (9 mi) wide, it is one of the largest enclosed gulfs in Greece, and due to its ecological importance is one of the National Parks of Greece. The main towns are Preveza, Amphilochia (formerly Karvassaras), and Vonitsa.
The gulf takes its name from the ancient city of Ambracia located near it’s shores. It’s alternative name comes from the medieval (and modern) city of Arta, located in the same place as ancient Ambracia.
The entrance to the gulf is through a 700 m (2,297 ft)-wide channel between Aktio (ancient Actium) on the south and Preveza on the north; a recent road tunnel connects the two. The gulf is quite shallow, and it’s shore is broken by numerous marshes, large parts of which form an estuary system. The Louros and Arachthos (or Arta) rivers drain into it; for this reason it is warmer and less salty than the Ionian, and a current flows from the gulf into the sea. It is rich in grey mullet, sole, and eel, and is also very famous for shrimps. Sea turtles and dolphins regularly make an appearance, while it contains lagoons very important for birds.
The Ambracian Gulf was the site of the Battle of Actium, in which Augustus’ forces defeated those of Mark Antony and Cleopatra. From Greek independence (Treaty of Constantinople, 1832) until the Second Balkan War (Treaty of Bucharest, 1913), the gulf formed part of the border between the Kingdom of Greece and the Ottoman Empire.
We anchored in the Preveza anchorage just north of the newly opened marina by 12:30. The anchorage is well sheltered and pretty shallow in places. We anchored in 2.5m of water which was shallower than we would normally anchor in but we were 200 feet from the 2m contour and as we only draw 1.8m we were quite happy.
At Claire’s suggestion we took the dinghies into Preveza for a walk along the quayside and round the headland to the castle which guards the entrance to the gulf. From the sea on the way in it looks really impressive but from the land side it is a little the worse for wear. It was around an hours walk to the castle, along the coast and by 2 beaches, but we were promised a beer at the taverna next to it, unfortunately it was closed which wasn’t surprising since we hadn’t seen anyone on our walk except for the few people on the beach.
We took the direct route back through town and to the front where we stopped for an ouzo and beer at a quayside café. This was slightly more expensive than usual given that it was on the promenade next to where flotilla and charter boats normally moor. This time it was manly live aboard yachties or empty charter boats that hadn’t been chartered.
We went back a street and found a small square where locals sat at the various cafes for coffee and ouzo. We chose Nikopolis, named after the site of an ancient city and battle just to the north of Preveza. The prices were half what they were on the front and the drinks came with a fantastic meze which was a meal in itself. This was a common theme in the non tourist areas of the gulf and a taste of real Greece.
2 years ago the marina hadn’t been completed and boats could tie up to the pontoons without charge. The marina has since been finished and officially opened and was fenced off. It is the base for a charter fleet of catamarans and was full with boats without customers. The pricing may put people off from going in longer term, for a comparison it is approximately €8 per night on the quay compared with €69 per night in the marina. There was a 62 foot catamaran in the marina and for fun I went on the website to see how much it cost to charter for a week – I hadn’t expected it to be €27,000 even if that did include a skipper!
Preveza is a great town, it has good shopping, a great range of bars and restaurants and lovely alleys and monuments. As a stopover and place to restock it is excellent. It also has a number of very helpful and well stocked chandlers.
Last year I’d had a problem with our generator and it had to be taken out of Coriander and sent to Athens to be repaired. Onan Athens did a great and reasonably priced repair and it was re-installed in February. When it was back in it was tested briefly and started ok and produced electricity. A month later there was a power cut in Kalamata so we decided to run the generator. It stopped with a similar error code to the one which we had last year. On checking the gen set, we found that it was sitting in a pool of diesel. We called back Yani who runs the company that re-installed it and he traced the fault to a cracked connector. While checking he also found that the flexible exhaust pipe had split. The coupling and the exhaust pipe were replaced and we ran the generator for an hour to assure ourselves that all was ok.
We next tried to use the generator in Pylos, this time it ran for 10 minutes before cutting out. I checked that it wasn’t a repeat of the diesel problem and it wasn’t. I half resigned myself to being without the generator until we returned to Kalamata. After helping Mike out in Vathi by going up his mast I mentioned the issue that we were having and he offered to come over to have a look, being something of an engineer. I pressed the start button and after priming for a few seconds the generator started and ran fine. We put it down to an airlock or something.
We wanted to use it again at Preveza and it again cut out and refused to attempt to start, just turning over. This indicated that it had to be a fuel problem. Thinking back, each time that it had run ok, it was when we’d filled the boat tank with fuel. I began to wonder if the engineer who had put the generator back in had connected the diesel in and diesel return the wrong way round. The return is at the top of the tank and would be able to suck diesel through if the tank was full but not when we’d used some.
Taking the pipes off and using a suction pump I was able to ascertain that they had indeed been connected the wrong way around. A trip to the chandler was required to get some fuel hose and connectors to correct the installation. Once done the generator ran perfectly and, touch wood, fingers crossed, continues to do so a month later. I’ll have a chat with the engineer when we return to Kalamata.
To celebrate the fix, we all went ashore for a drink and had intended going for a gyros but we came across a delightful looking taverna and decided to stop for a drink and have a few starters as a meze. The taverna was called Alatopipero (salt and pepper) and was fabulous. They suggested that we have pork kontosouvli (marinated pork roasted on a spit) rather than the pork dish we’d chosen and it was one of the best things I’ve tasted.
Preveza has an international airport just to the south of it and on the morning of the 15th July we noted a large number of flights coming in –Greece had opened the boarders to tourists flying in. We decided to head further into the gulf and took the afternoon breeze to sail 10 miles to Koronisia. We anchored in sand off the beach and were invited to Owl and Pussycat for pizza cooked on their Cobb barbeque. Mike had prepared the dough from scratch and topped them and we proceeded to learn how to use a barbeque to cook pizza. They were all fantastic and by third one pretty much perfect. Just to the north of the anchorage is a marsh and unfortunately when the sun went down we were inundated with insects so we beat a hasty retreat.
Koronisia (Korona Island!) is a small ‘island’ connected by sand bars over the marsh to the mainland via a number of bridges. It is a delightful little town with a small fishing harbour. A few years ago a pontoon was put in to try to attract visiting boats but the shallow 1.6m entrance means it is too shallow for many yachts.
We took the dinghies to the beach and walked over to the village and harbour. We stopped at a small café where we had frappes and chatted with the owner. Like many she was interested in where we’d come from and spent the winter. We were possibly the first foreign ‘tourists’ to visit this year.
We waked back to the anchorage via the town centre with its’ old church with, for some reason, a millstone within its’ grounds and a well just outside it.
We took the afternoon breeze to sail 9 miles across to a wide bay called Ormos Paliomilou.
We’d read comments in an online pilot guide that we use that it is very tranquil and beautiful and that’s how it turned out. There is a small beach with umbrellas and a beach bar which remained closed. Not surprising as the most people we saw on the beach was 4. We went swimming and generally chilled.
We again sailed the next morning to the resort town of Menidi. The sailing was a real bonus because we’d expected to have to motor. It was possibly the best sail of the year so far, even though it was only 10 miles. Menidi is where the Greeks go for a holiday and at was lovely. The swimming is good in clear-ish warm water.
We anchored just to the north of the town in 4m of water just beyond the buoyed off swimming area. We took the dinghy into the harbour and met Mike and Claire for a walk around the town, culminating in a gyros on the seafront. There were still people in the water when the sun went down around 9pm. The town got busier as is the norm in Greece around 10pm. Apart from the serving staff wearing masks you wouldn’t have known that there was a worldwide pandemic going on.
We stayed the one night and had intended moving just 2 miles to the other side of the bay but our experience with insects (may have been mosquitos but I can’t be certain) we decided to re-trace our steps to Ormos Paliomilou where it was our turn to host a ‘Mexican’ night.
We started at 3:30pm with a domino game called Mexican Train. It’s something we play fairly regularly but time has to be allowed as it normally take around 6 hours for a game. I’m not going to go into how to play, there is plenty to read online about it.
For a change I was doing quite well and by the final round I was in the lead by around 50 points but fate (and Claire’s skill) managed to convert that into a win for Claire by 5 points.
We’d had a few drinks and snacked on beef burrito spring rolls throughout the game. As a finale we dined on cheesy nachos with salsa, sour cream, guacamole and jalapenos with chicken fajitas.
It was now the 19th of July and we moved to one of my favourite places where we would stay for 4 nights, the town of Vonitsa.
Vonitsa (Βόνιτσα) is in the northwestern part of Aetolia-Acarnania in Greece and is seat of the municipality of Aktio-Vonitsa. The town is dominated by a Venetian fortress on a hill. The Greek National Road 42 (Lefkada – Amfilochia) passes through Vonitsa
We anchored behind Nisis Koukounitsa next to the causeway joining the island to the mainland. The island and causeway provide excellent shelter in lovely surroundings and it is only a short walk to the town from the tiny fishing harbour.
We swam off the beach and had an excellent BBQ while watching the sun go down
After 4 nights it was time to return to Preveza to stock up again before starting to make our way back south. There was a very marked contrast in how busy the town now was. All of the establishments were full and the promenade was packed with tourists. It was a little unsettling and maintaining social distancing etc was next to impossible. We went to the supermarket on a couple of occasions, choosing to go at 3pm when the town was at its’ least busy.
We had drinks at a local bar that we’d frequented 2 years ago which serves up a fantastic meze and ate at the “salt and pepper” avoiding the busier tourist areas.
We departed to head back through the Lefkas canal on the 23rd July, 2 weeks to the day after we’d arrived.
We thoroughly enjoyed our time in the gulf and hopefully we’ll be able to head back in September when Mike and Claire are expecting visitors to fly in to Preveza.
Stay safe everyone.