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Ionian Sailing Odyssey
In Odysseus’ Wake - Corfu to Ithaca

My interest in sailing Greece’s Ionian Sea arose when a friend mentioned Homer’s tales, the Iliad and the Odyssey. He asserted, "I’ve had a dream of following Odysseus’ 10-year route from Troy back home to Ithaca!" This sparked my own fervor. Before long I was reading of Homer, the Trojan War and early Greek heroes such as Agamemnon and Odysseus. I was soon planning my own personal odyssey to sail a chartered sloop from Corfu to Ithaca, the last stage of Odysseus’ fabled route. A weeklong sail offered the possibility of visiting many beautiful isles along the way. My wife and son gladly signed on as crew for the trip of a lifetime. The map displays the route of our Ionian travels. I gladly planned to bring along a copy of Homer’s Odyssey as my read while sailing "the wine-dark sea."

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A week on Corfu

My wife and I started our adventure with seven days exploring Corfu, hailed as one of Greece’s most beautiful isles. It’s a well-deserved claim owing to isolated beaches, lush greenery, steep mountains, and the unique capital, Corfu Town. [Homer refers to the isle as Scheria. Odysseus washed ashore here, alone and shipwrecked. He was many years into his odyssey that included the Lotus Eaters, Sirens, and Cyclops among the multiple hazards of his journey. Here on Corfu the Phoenician king, Alcinous, was so impressed by Odysseus’ tale and his competitive sporting feats with the Phoenicians that the king gave him gifts and sailed him back to his home kingdom of Ithaca]. We joyfully visited Ermones Bay where Odysseus reportedly washed ashore and Paleokastritsa with its beautiful coves, the supposed location of Alcinous’ palace.

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Paleokastritsa cove, Corfu Island

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Corfu Town square

In the mountains we hiked past vineyards and olive groves between small villages such as Strinilas and Petalia. We sunned and swam on beaches such as Barbati, Mirtiotissa, and Agni. Agni offered three wonderful tavernas where we dined on mezes, a sample plate of many appetizers that proved to be a satisfying meal. The island’s highlight was Corfu Town. With its two fortresses, narrow pedestrian streets and fifteenth-century Venetian architecture, it was easy to spend a whole day getting lost and discovering varied treasures: Greek Orthodox churches; small squares with cafes; views from the sea wall; and enticing restaurants.

South to Paxi

At the end of the week our son joined us from Munich for our sail towards the southern Ionians. Aboard our 41-foot Oceanis sloop, Angeliki, we said a fond goodbye to Corfu. We had arranged a one-way, weeklong charter sail to Lefkada, enabling us to visit many islands and reach Ithaca.

Although customary May-time Ionian winds are northwest, we faced moderate southwest winds as we motored from Corfu’s Gouvia Marina. Our destination of Paxi Island lay 30 NM (nautical miles) SSW, so we decided to motor to the northern tip of Paxi where we viewed the beautiful village cove of Lakka. We then headed out again to put up our sheets for a short sail to Paxi’s largest village, Gaios. It was a pleasing sheltered setting. The long quay fronting the town, bordered by tavernas and cafes, looked across a narrow channel to the small protective isle of Agio Nikolaos (St. Nickolas) with its olive trees and hilltop fortress.

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Ionian scene; Angeliki's crew (insets)

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Gaios belltower

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Coming into Gaios, Paxi Island

Heavy Seas to Lefkada

Captain’s Log, Angeliki, Monday, May 28, 2007:
"This morning’s weather forecast:  unseasonable SSW winds from Africa, increasing to six Beaufort [averaging 25 knots], creating swells of 1-2 meters across open sea. Our intended destination is Lefkada, 30 nautical miles SSE. Leaving Gaios at 11:30 am. Set a half mainsail, staying on a port tack under full motor power [not an option Odysseus could have used]. Reached the sandy spit at the entrance to Lefkada Canal just after 4 pm. Motored slowly, waiting almost an hour before the swing bridge opened as scheduled. Moored at Lefkada Marina just after 5:00 pm."

It had been an exhausting day on the white-capped swells of the Ionian. Angeliki had sailed well, but none of us had dared press our luck by eating a morsel. We had seen only two other vessels, both headed downwind. Several breaking swells had wetted us to the bone despite the boat's excellent spray hood and bimini. Once docked, the energetic town of Levkas called us to explore and enjoy the lively main square. A comforting dinner at an out-of-the-way taverna was the grand finale for rekindling our bodies and our spirits: Greek salad; dalmades of grape leaves, rice and beef; tzatziki dip; and kleftiko, slow-baked lamb on the bone… Heaven!

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Dinner in Lefkada

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Ionian sailing

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Swim at One House Bay, Atoko Island

On To Kastos

A short motoring on the canal south from Lefkada brought us to the Inland Sea of blue waters enclosed by the islands of Lefkada, Cephalonia, and Zakinthos. The sea is dotted with numerous mountainous islands and we had soon set our sails for a downwind trip to the rugged island of Kalamos. A single port tack took us 12 NM to the island before we headed around its eastern nose, sliding past Greece’s mainland village of Mitika. Our day’s goal of Port Kalamos soon came into view as we sailed upwind around the other side of the island. However, a flotilla had already harbored for the night, leaving no room for Angeliki. No problem… we headed five NM slightly south to Kastos Island and its peaceful namesake port village. Here we docked stern-to against the breakwater and took our dinghy over to one of the town’s tavernas for another great dinner looking over azure waters to Greece’s Peloponnesian mountain ranges.

Odysseus’ Ithaca

We left early the next morning to reach Odysseus’ fabled Ithaca by lunchtime. En route a stop at cliff-ringed One House Bay on Atoko Island provided a refreshing swim stop. The bay’s namesake house was the island’s only structure, used occasionally by a fisherman’s family. We then sailed to Ithaca’s capital town Vathi (deep waters). We motored into the port, overwhelmed by the beauty of the steep hills and houses that climbed from the harbor. We wondered, had King Odysseus’ palace been situated here overlooking the port? After mooring and walking to the town square for lunch, we searched to rent some motor scooters. A few queries of friendly locals soon brought us to the town’s lone shop where we had no problem accepting the owner’s offer, "How’s 10 euros per scooter for the day?"…"OK!!!"

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View from above Port Vathi, Ithaca Island

The speed-induced wind felt great as we climbed the steep road, then leveled out on a long ridgeline, heading north. Ithaca Channel shimmered below and rugged Cephalonia Island rose two miles to the west. We parked in the small village of Stavros and studied the town square’s honorary map to Odysseus’ long journey home from Troy. The nearby Greek Orthodox chapel beckoned our visit for some cool and quiet moments. We then followed signs from the village on a dirt road toward our goal, the School of Homer. The going got very rough on our scooters, so we parked and hiked a steep trail to reach the scant ruins from the 8th century B.C. We took in the sea view from atop the aged stone walls and reflected on the possibilities at this now desolate location where goats reigned the landscape. The site’s archeological findings had included some etched stones with Linear Script B, the earliest alphabet of Homer’s era. Homer may have come here to teach and research the sites of his tale’s hero. (This vicinity is also considered a possible location for Odysseus’s palace). We then rode down to another of Ithaca’s beautiful bays, Frikes, where we enjoyed a beer overlooking the harbor and gazed at the centuries-old windmills on surrounding hillsides.

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View from "School of Homer" ruins, Ithaca Island

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Fishing nets at Frikes, Ithaca Island

That evening as we supped at a Vathi taverna touted as the locals’ favorite, we toasted our odyssey and the beautiful and mysterious isle of Ithaca. The traces of Odysseus were few and far between, certainly speculative; there was definitely an aura of historical fantasy to this Ionian island treasure.


The next morning provided our best sailing day. Strong winds of five Beaufort greeted us from the north as we sailed out of Vathi harbor, so we set the mainsail and jib appropriately and pointed upwind on a NE tack at a great clip for over 10 NM before tacking NW to sail into protected Kapali cove on northern Meganisi Island. After anchoring and tying our stern to shore, it was the perfect time for a refreshing swim. As the sun lowered towards the horizon we hiked around a peninsula to the small village of Vathi (same moniker as Ithaca’s capital). As we settled down for another great taverna repast, we enjoyed watching the local fishermen busily finishing their preps for the next day's outing.

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Angeliki anchored, Kapali Cove, Meganisi Island

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Meganisi fisherman

Fond Farewell to Angeliki

Another great upwind sailing day brought us back to Levkas where we again enjoyed the lively town. With both fondness and sadness we prepared to disembark for next morning's bus ride back to Athens. The Ionian Sea and our chartered sloop Angeliki had provided an incredible sailing odyssey. In the spirit of Odysseus, I completed reading Homer's famous work our last evening in Lefkada. With many other islands, coves, and villages still to be discovered, it won’t be long before we plan another trip to Greece’s Ionian Sea.


Click here for details to plan your own trip to Greece's Ionian Islands.

Les Furnanz
Photos by Rita Furnanz

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