The situation is as follows. We’d been locked down for 18 months. We avoided the uncertainty of summer foreign holidays and were scouting round for an October half term option.
That’s how we hit upon the idea of sailing… in Corfu… in October.
On a low season sailing holiday you are taking a double risk. Will the weather play ball? And secondly, will the local tavernas be open? On the taverna front, the answer is more than enough to keep us happy. A good number of owners had packed up but for those that remained there was no need for a reservation and the staff were hugely welcoming. I for one prefer this to the frenetic jostling amongst different hues of north Europeans for some grilled sea bream in the August heat.
We flew into Corfu a day before our charter with Moorings and stayed at the Kontokali Bay Resort and Spa. One great advantage of Corfu is the proximity of the tiny airport to the marina – just a 20-minute transfer with our first night’s accommodation being just around the bay from the Moorings headquarters at Gouvia Marina.
We had the usual supermarket run to stock up on essentials before we were sailing off into the Ionian Sea. All good but the weather gods were not cooperating and my crew were tucked up into the cabin of our catamaran whilst we powered against the driving rain. If holidays are about a change from the day-to-day this was certainly meeting the brief.
Most of the overnight moorings in Greece are stern onto quay walls. This manoeuvre involves dropping your anchor approximately four boat lengths from the quay then reversing towards – but not into – the wall, allowing the anchor to take the tension. As you approach the quay wall, ideally there is someone to throw your stern lines to who can wrap them around an embedded hook and throw them back to you for securing on a cleat. All this is usually done under the judgmental eyes of those who have already performed their own end-of-day test and are gently sipping an ouzo. No pressure, with nearly a £1m of boat at risk. In the height of summer this is made all the more challenging when squeezing between boats under the glare of hundreds of people. Luckily day one passes uneventfully.
As a family we love sailing holidays for their rich simplicity. Everything seems amplified when sailing. You don’t just go paddle boarding – you go paddle boarding in the perfect spots because you anchor in secluded bays others can’t reach. As a sailor you earn a sense of belonging in the quayside tavernas. Waking up early and having coffee on deck can’t be beaten for a cathartic get-away-from-it-all moment. If you want to read and relax, what better way than sprawled across the foredeck of a yacht whilst the keener sailors busy themselves with tacking and trimming. Especially with so much to see on land around the Ionian Sea, being the master of your agenda means you can spend as much or as little time sailing or mooching around the villages as you like.
Our Moorings 4800 catamaran fits the brief perfectly – easy to sail but plenty of space for people to spread out. This particular trip was alone but with four double cabins, each with on-suite bathrooms, it is perfectly possible to share the boat with friends.
On this trip my inner sailor would have liked more wind but there is still plenty of appeal to motoring gently from bay to bay.
Our sacrifices to the wind gods went further awry when a force six gale blew up the Ionian Sea trapping us in Gaios, the main town on Paxos, for an extra night. Given thousands come here every year to wander the back streets this was no great hardship. A stormy evening was spent under the awnings of a taverna drinking coffee and Metaxas (wonderful Greek brandy) and playing backgammon. Youngest daughter remains the family champion.
The west coast of Paxos is famous for its spectacular cliffs and caves. Once again, you get so much more of this when sailing yourself, rather than a quick “drive-by” on a crowded tourist boat. We dropped anchor and used the dinghy to go right into the caves and swim.
For history lovers, the Ionian Sea is tough to beat. As we entered the sanctuary of Sybota (on the Greek mainland) I wondered exactly where the thousands died and over 100 ships were destroyed in the 433BCE Battle of Sybota between the Corinthians and the Corcyraeans. Was it that bay? Which way was the wind blowing? How many drowned amongst those rocks?
Five hundred years later, in the first century AD, one of Paul the Apostle’s companions brought Christianity to the area, giving his name – Gaios – to the place that was, appropriately, our sanctuary during a storm.
Later in the trip we moored up in horseshoe bay of Lakka on the north coast of Paxos and then Parga (back on the mainland), with its domineering Venetia-built fort. Both are stunning destinations in their own right and all this before docking underneath the ramparts of Corfu’s Old Fort.
The whole of Corfu old town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It has a fabulously colourful history from the arrival of Christianity via St. Jason and St. Sosipater in the first century AD, through sackings by Vandals and Goths in the Dark Ages before the Venetians took over in the 14th century, reinforcing the defences of the “Old Fort” to withstand various sieges by the Turks. The Brits chimed in during the 19th century, adding battlements that were only partly destroyed in the Second World War.
Corfu and the towns and villages around the Ionian Sea are truly spectacular as many tens of thousands of tourists will attest. My suggestion – charter a yacht and avoid July & August.