Checking out of Greece was more straight forward than checking in, however, the day that we arrived in Lefkas to submit our documents turned out to be a national holiday in Greece and so the Customs Office was closed.
Every year there is a big celebration for Ohi or Oxi Day (which translates to ‘No’ day) to commemorate the courage of the Greek Prime Minister, Ioannis Metaxas, who in 1940 defiantly said ‘Oxi’ (No) to the Italian Fascist leader, Benito Mussolini, who had demanded that he surrender his country to the Italian forces.
Mussolini’s army had already occupied Albania and planned to invade Greece. Millions of lire had been put aside to bribe Greek politicians and generals to not resist the Italian invasion. However, this proved to be a disastrous military campaign when Metaxas said ‘No’ and the Greek troops succeeded in pushing the Italian invaders back into Albania after just one week.
There were celebrations around Lefkas town throughout the day with marching bands, military parades and wreath laying ceremonies.
Many buildings were decorated with Greek flags. Shops and schools were closed, but restaurants and bars were all open as usual and very busy, filled with the many people watching the parades and joining in with the festivities.
Luckily, we had allowed ourselves a couple of days to check out as we had anticipated that it may be a long procedure. The following day everything was open and back to normal, checkout was actually very straight forward and after a quick visit to the Port Authority and Customs Office we were free to leave.
Over the previous couple of weeks there had been high winds and torrential rain around the eastern coast of Sicily, all associated with a strong low pressure system which had been declared as a Medicane and was stationary in the western part of the Ionian Sea.
There was an opportunity for us to sail across the northern part of the Ionian Sea as the low pressure system was due to finally move south. However, this did mean leaving Greece 24 hours before that change took place and trusting that the weather forecast was correct. If all went to plan this would enable us to sail across to Sicily using the easterly winds blowing anti clockwise around the low pressure system. We did have a plan B if things became too uncomfortable which was to head further north to one of the harbours on the sole of Italy.
We did a quick trip to the shops to make sure we had plenty of food for the passage, topped up our water and fuel tanks, untied our lines and left via the 2pm bridge opening. The sea was flat and with no wind we motored west along the top of the island towards Crotone on the ball of the foot of Italy.
After an hour some swell started to build but we still had very light winds. The sky had clouded over so we only had a glimpse of the sun as it set behind the clouds. By the evening we had a good force 5 sailing wind blowing from behind, giving us some good waves to surf down but unfortunately there was also a big swell coming from the south caused by the previous storms.
The boat was rocking and rolling through the night making it difficult to sleep whilst not on watch, there were no other boats at sea which made us wonder if they knew something we didn’t! The clouds eventually cleared leaving a starry night with a small ‘banana’ moon lighting up the sky.
Day 2 started with the sun rising behind stormy clouds, but this was all as forecast and we were making good time. So we decided to continue on and changed direction heading further south directly towards Siracusa on the east coast of Sicily. We still had the option of going into Roccella Ionica on the toe of Italy if necessary.
It proved to be an uneventful day apart from being constantly thrown from one side of the boat to the other. Normal daily tasks such as preparing meals were almost impossible (not that either of us felt much like eating), when I opened a cupboard the boat rolled and the complete contents of the cupboard came flying out at me!
Thankfully by the evening the swell had reduced slightly making it much more comfortable so we continued past Roccella Ionica and onwards to Siracusa as the sun went down.
The moon rose in the night brightening up the sky briefly until it clouded over and suddenly went very dark. We were heading into pitch black storm clouds. Being out of range for receiving any internet or radio signal we had been unable to get the latest weather report so did not know the strength of the storm that we were heading into.
We considered turning back to Roccella Ionica but we could see lightening from many directions and the storm was all around us. We couldn’t easily escape it and the conditions that we were experiencing at the time were quite benign so we pressed on. Heavy rain was soon upon us but thankfully it didn’t bring strong winds and only lasted about an hour.
Day 3 and the sun rose through the clouds, the water was calm, the wind had disappeared so the engine was on and there were now a lot of boats around, it felt like we were back to normality. We had a small bird visit us which tried to land on Paul’s head (thinking that it looked like a comfortable nest), luckily he moved just in time and its little present to us landed on the deck instead!
We had to motor most of the day although it was a lot more comfortable than the previous 2 days. We were very excited to finally see land ahead and arrived in Siracusa just as the sun went down and the rain started.
Arriving at a harbour in the dark is never ideal but Siracusa has a large bay which we have been to several times before. Only four other boats were anchored when we arrived so we easily managed to find a good spot where we dropped our anchor, dug it well in, had a quick dinner and went to bed.
This was definitely one of the most uncomfortable passages that we have experienced so far. Following a big low pressure system we expected some unsettled seas but the swell was up to 5 metres (from the top of the wave to the bottom) and constantly rolling us around from different directions, it felt like being in a washing machine!
However, we are very pleased to have continued all the way to Sicily and arrived safely in Siracusa. Ziggy was in her element and looked after us well, at no point during the journey did it feel unsafe. We were on passage for 55 hours and completed 318 miles (our longest journey this season).
There was now only approximately 60 miles to go around the coast to MdR. We plan to wait in Siracusa for a favourable wind to take us on our final journey this season which according to the forecast should be in a couple of days.