Lefkas sailing holidays

Lefkas - Λευκάδα - Lefkada (ancient Leukas; Italian Santa Maura) is a hilly island marked by karstic action, lying off the Acarnania region of Mainland Greece, from which it is separated by a shallow lagoon varying in width between 600 m and 5 km. It is now linked with the mainland by a causeway and a pontoon bridge.

Most of the island is occupied by a range of hills rising to a height of 1158 m in Mount Stavrotas and running south-west to end at Cape Doukato, at the tip of the Lefkas peninsula.

It was from the nearby “Sappho's Leap” rock of gleaming white limestone that Sappho of Lesbos was supposed to have thrown herself for love of the handsome Phaon.

Anchored off Porto Katsiki – goat port near the south-west extremity of Lefkada / Lefkas island, not far from “Sappho's Leap” and Cape Doukato.

This western coast is principally lined with sheer, bright-coloured & white rock faces reaching a height of 500 m, giving the island its name: from the Ancient Greek λευκός (leukós, “white”), compare leucocytes, “white blood cells”.

These precipitous cliffs provide an impressive backdrop for several sandy beaches that are among the most beautiful on the Ionian Islands.
The southern and eastern coastlines are richly indented. Many small coves and off-shore islands make for a picturesque view and offer yachtspersons ideal conditions for sailing holidays. See my:

Lefkas never had any permanent natural connection with the mainland. The shingle spit at the northern tip was pierced in ancient times by the Corinthians in the 7th c. BCE to provide a channel for shipping, and, like the spit to the south of Lefkas town, which came into being in the Middle Ages as a result of the establishment of salt-pans, allowed vessels of some size to pass through.

The main sources of income of the inhabitants – aside from tourism – are farming on the island's thin soil, fishing, the recovery of salt from the lagoon and various crafts, particularly lace and knitwear.

Sailing holidays Lefkas island, South Ionian
Map of Lefkas island and the isles of Meganisi, Kalamos, Kastos islands and mainland Greece; ports and anchorages of the “Inland Sea”.
British Admiralty Chart 203

Mythology and history

The earliest evidence of human settlement on the island dates from the neolithic period.

In the 7th c. BCE the town of Leukas was founded by the settlers from Corinth, who closed off the south end of the lagoon, opposite the fort of Ayios Yeoryios (St George), by a 600 m long mole, remains of which are still visible under water. They cut a channel throught the spit of shingle at the north end of the lagoon, opposite the fort of Ayia Mavra (Santa Maura) – though by the time of the Peloponnesian War, in which Leukas was allied with Sparta, the channel had silted up.

In the time of the Achaean League Leukas was the capital of Acarnania. It supported Phillip II of Macedon against Rome, but was conquered in 197 BCE by the Romans, who later built a bridge linking Leukas to the mainland.

In the Middle Ages the island belonged to the Barons of Cephalonia and Zante and other Frankish dynasts.

In 1479 it was taken by the Ottomans – the only one of the Ionian islands to fall into Ottoman hands – but was recovered to Venice by Morosini in 1684.

After a brief interlude of French rule during the Napoleonic wars it was assigned in 1815 to Britain, which returned it to Greece, together with the other Ionian islands, in 1864.

As a result of the vicissitudes of its history and of a series of earthquakes, in particular the 1953 Ionian earthquake Lefkas has preserved very few old buildings, and whereas the other islands opted to rebuild in the traditional style, Lefkas town is a mix of modern mayham, yet with typical wooden architectural features designed to withstand earthquakes.

Wilhelm Dörpfeld

The German archaeologist Wilhelm Dörpfeld (1853 – 1940), who worked on Lefkas and made his home here, believed that this island, and not the one now called Ithaca, was the Homeric Ithaca, the home of Odysseus.

He based his theory mainly on topographical similarities between Lefkas and the Ithaca described in the “Odyssey”, but this was contested by other archaeologists, and Dörpfeld's excavations failed to produce convincing evidence in support of this theory.

Not as famous as his collegues Heinrich Schliemann, Arthur Evans or Frank Calvert, Dörpfeld's fundamental idea that locations mentioned in Homer's writings correspond to real places is now accepted.

Lefkas and “Inland Sea” ports & anchorages

Lefkas island

Vasiliki

Vasiliki - Βασιλική bay is one of the best windsurfing spots due to the strong mistral (NW) wind, which the surfdudes rebaptized as “Eric”. This also means dangerous gusts can occur, much like in the Kalamos strait, at Atokos island and the east coast of Ithaca.

The bleak new port of Vasiliki. The outer basin with the pontoons – laid moorings to be installed – is nearly dredged to the planned 4 m.

The port of Vasiliki at the head of the bay has been massively extended, the dredging is all but finished and you will already find safe berths in the inner basin, although the new breakwaters still allow some swell to penetrate.

From here ferries transport tourists to Porto Katsiki beach on the west coast of Lefkas, Fiskardo on Kefalonia and Frikes on Ithaca.

Enjoy the “Yacht Cafe Bar” – facing the inner port – and the affordable “Batzanakias · The Tavern Of The Village” at the west side of the beach. For the rest we found Vasiliki rather lacklustre…

Nautical Map of Sivota Lefkas

Sivota

The Homeric town of Sivota - Σύβοτα – not to be confused with Syvota on the mainland – is set in charming verdant surroundings.

There are frequent strong gusts from the NW – NE, so instead of anchoring, ideally go stern-to the quays or pontoons.

The pontoons are operated quid pro quo by the adjoining tavernas. Try to dock at the pontoon of the “12 Gods Taverna”, the best dining in town, call +30 26450 31880 to reserve a berth.

The west quay area – certainly if there are flotilla fleets – can be quite clangorous, and a more agreeable spot (at a price) is in the north-east corner: the Yacht Bar pontoon, Tel. +30 6946 670 716 or +30 6979 617 718.
Undeniably, this community thrives on the visiting yachts.

Rouda / Mikros Gialos

To the north-east of Sivota is the bay of Rouda / Mikros Gialos - Ρούδα / Μικρός Γιαλός which offer anchorages in more bucolic settings, although also here: strong gusts are possible.
There is a lovely cove on the other side of the fishing port Lat Long anchor in the deep and drag the second anchor onto the beach.

The bright-coloured bay of Sivota, and the anchorages in Rouda bay in the distance.

The Mikros Gialos port will usually be full with fishing boats. Moreover, anchoring is prohibited within 45 m of the quay   , so only go stern-to with maximum scope. Otherwise anchor further west and take a line to the breakwater. The hamlet has some lovely tavernas, notably: “O Molos”.    In stable weather you can anchor near the north beach.

If you like company: Vlicho bay, looking north towards the entrance.

Vlicho

Vlicho - Βλυχό village consists of a long long stretch of houses under a steep hill, relatively serene so close to Nidry and Lefkas town. It is the ludicrous amount of yachts that rather disturbes the ambience.

The quay – at least outside the holiday months – will offer plenty of opportunities; good holding, yet use as much scope as possible; opt for a berth closer to the L-shaped pier, elsewhere insufficient depths for larger monohulls.

Nautical Map of Vlikho, Vlicho Lefkas

The berths on the pontoons and L-shaped pier are usually reserved: private / local fleet of charter yachts / Vlicho YC.

Most yachts prefer to anchor in the bay, and in peak season it is swarming. Since this large bay is an uninspiring impasse, best to steer clear altogether.

Desimi  ·  Desimou cove

Desimi - Δεσίμι, located on the outside of Vlicho bay, is a preferential alternative and also considerably more attractive.

Dine at the Kantina / Καντίνα Lat Long anchor in 4 – 10 m (the bay is therefore not “very deep” as the GWP states).

On the east side, near the cape, is a tiny cove – conspicious white cliffs and minute sandy beach – where you can take a line ashore.

Desimi bay, looking south, is a wonderful anchorage; amenities ashore.

Nydri

The touristy village of Nidri or Nydri - Νυδρί lies at the entrance of Vlicho bay. Many sailing holidays start from this bustling little port.
The port (for the most part: quay) is only affected by easterlies and southerlies over 5 Bft; good holding in mud / weed, though use plenty of chain. Also keep the yacht well clear of the quay (or the outside pier of the fishing port) to allow for the wash of passing vessels and truly indifferent tripper boats & ferries.

Nydri, looking north-west, with its pontoons and in the distance the L-shaped fishing port. Note, that the southern pontoons are not shown. To the right are yachts anchored in Liaditis bay.

The 5+ pontoons mostly belong the various yacht charter companies operating out of Nidri; on weekdays you can negotiate a berth with those fleet owners. Their charter yachts are rotated on Sundays for the strong contigent of British sailors in these waters (matching their flights to/from the UK) and sometimes on Saturdays for other nationalities.
New pontoons, intended for visiting yachts, are planned north of the fishing basin.

Until then the best spots are:

  • on the southernmost pontoon (Iris Hotel and yacht charter fleet)
  • the outside of the fishing port
  • on the quay just south of the northernmost pontoon

Tranquil bay – half a mile to the east – is usually so overcrowded that the anchorage should be called by its actual name: Liaditis bay

Avoid the tourist-trap-tavernas along the waterfront   , recommended are “George's place”, “Bardis Tavern” and “Anna Maria Restaurant”.
To cool down, bring bathing suits to swim at the stunning Nidri Waterfalls, pleasant walk 3½ km inland.

Nydri yacht charters and sailing holidays Lefkas.
Overview of Nidri, with to the right the entrance to Vlicho bay, in the middle the islet of Madouri in front of Skorpios and Meganisi islands. To the left is Sparti island and in the distance the mountainous mainland. Hi-res image
Nautical Map of Lefkas Channel

Lefkas city

The approach of Lefkas / Lefkada city - Πόλη της Λευκάδας from the north is rather challenging. The sandbank and silts at the northern end of the channel continuously change shape, and as of 2015 a three-pronged pier has been installed to protect the entrance, marked by 3 yellow buoys.  

The next hindernis is the bridge, operated from 08:00 – 22:00 on an hourly basis, when the floating part of the bridge is rotated leaving an opening of 30 m wide. Officially the yachts going south have right of way, but the gap is wide enough for two-way traffic.

Once at lovely Lefkada you can go stern-to the quays on the east, south-east and a short section of the south of town. Note, that in several areas ballasting is sticking out use your dinghy as a floating bridge and keep the yacht an extra 2 meters or so away from the quay.
The section of quay that faces ESE facing is ideal in the prevailing NW winds.
In easterlies opt for the marina.

Both Lefkas city (Lefkada) and Nydri are bases for yacht charters → 50 – 60 minute drive from Aktion National Airport.

Visit the Archaeological Museum of Lefkada, which highlights Dörpfeld's excavations and findings from Mycenaean – Roman times.
Three churches stand out: St Spyridon on the main square, St Nikolaos on the market and the nearby Pandokrator - Ιερός Ναός Παντοκράτορος.

The Ancient town Nirikos is difficult to find, but do attempt the 40 min southbound quest / walk hugging the canal. The settlement was abandoned in 1300, with continuous earthquakes scattering its traces. The ancient city was protected by a wall of 4.5 kilometers long, which the inhabitants had reinforced with rectangular towers. Some parts of the wall are still preserved, surrounded by arcadian fields and olive trees.

Lefkas/ Lefkada city & the marina – the quays around the city filled with yachts – as seen from the east.
The Santa Maura fortress near Lefkas city.
The northern end of the Lefkas channel – looking NNW, with 4 yachts about to leave the channel – guarded by Santa Maura fortress. The sandbar now also has trifurcate piers pointing north, marked by 3 yellow buoys.

Further reading

Meganisi island

Off the south-east coast of Lefkas lies the sailor's paradise of Meganisi (meaning: “big island”, population ~1200, alt. 299 m) – the Homeric isle of Taphos – with a Chora, sandy beaches, fishing ports, sea caves, and a plethora of anchorages.
There is some farming land in the flatter western part of the island; the eastern part is occupied by a range of wooded hills interspersed with olive orchards accessible by walking trails leading all the way to the elongated southern Cape Kefali.

Zampati

Zampati - Ζαμπάτη is the first port in Spilia bay, which is ideal in all winds except NNE, in which case you should relocate to Spartochori, the second port in Spilia.

The lovely port of Zampati port: adjacent to Spartochori port in Spilia bay, Meganisi.

The seabed rises sharply, hence good holding when stern-to the quays. Prevailing winds are NW – N (and sporadically NE during the night) and the berths along the quay just west of the ferry are premium. Also the pontoons at “Panos and Babis” and the outside of the L-shaped fishing basin are popular. Predominantly laid moorings.

In town there is a statue of Marinos Zampatis, the hero who – in function as a coastguard officer – lost his life when fighting organized crime. The Nautical Club of Lefkada holds since 2011 an annual race in his honour.

For the best tavernas you will have to zigzag uphill to “Taverna Lakis” and “Summer Sun” in the Chora overlooking Zampati port.  

Nautical Map of Spartakhori, Spartachori, Spartochori

Spartochori

The nearby port of Spartochori - Σπαρτοχώρι – also in Spilia bay, but further east – is referred to as Spartachori in GWP.
A short section of the east quay can be used by visiting yachts, although most will have to moor at the SE quay, “Taverna Spilia”. The tiny mole (which is partly pontoon) for the fishing boats does not provide extra shelter and the prevailing NW – NWN winds blow right onto the SE quay. Fortunately good holding due to the steeply inclined seabed; some laid moorings, otherwise deep anchoring; most yachts go bows-to.

Same restaurants apply as in Zampati. The Chora is very worthwhile and you should be heading in that direction anyway: marvellous views.

Vathy

Vathy - Βαθύ is the main ferry port of Meganisi and the deep Vathy bay offers several mooring options: the old harbour in the SE, the marina directly west and the short quay at Taverna Karnagio - Καρνάγιο Lat Long

The old port and marina offer allround protection and – crucially – are ideal for the summer mistral / maestro conditions: the prevailing north-west winds.

Vathy port on Meganisi, as seen from the south-east. Mountainous Lefkas in the distance, behind Skorpios island.

Although immensely crowded in summer the appealing Odyseas marina is rather the opposite of a typical concrete colourless marina.
In all but strong northerlies opt for the old harbour: less expensive and even more engaging, right at the town square and the superb Rose Garden Taverna.
There are shaded trails to the unspoilt village of Katomeri - Κατωμέρι, the “capital” of Meganisi.

Kapela bay

Kapela - Καπελά is the bay directly east of Vathy and is branded Kapali bay in GWP. There are four anchorages in weed / sand: one at the head of the bay, two deeper spots in the west coves and one in the east cove.

Ambelakia bay

The trifurcate Ambelakia - Αμπελάκια or Abelike bay further east offers at least 3 commodious yet often crowded coves. The south-easternmost spot (with a line to the north shore) is superior → amble to the Vathy town square.

Atherinós

The bay and modest port of Atherinós - Αθερινός, also known as Atheni, is open to the N – NE. Go stern-to or along-side the quay on the outside of the pier. Limited provisions, but lots of fresh fish and a few taverna.
The islet of Micro Nisopoula lies within the white sector of the lighthouse of Cape Elia.
There are several anchorages, notably to the north of the infamous reef Lat Long by preference place your anchor in deep water and take a line ashore.

4 anchorages

  • Epano Elia lunch-stop on the NE coast Lat Long
  • Elia bay on the east coast Lat Long
  • Akti / Kolopoulou bay Lat Long or the narrow west cove
  • Cape Kefali  ; embraced by vertical cliffs Lat Long
Cape Kefali anchorage, looking north-west along the slender spine of southern Meganisi.

Also sail to the sea caves   of Papanikolis Lat Long – where the homonymous submarine took cover during World War II – and Giováni Lat Long

Mainland Greece

Varko

Opposite Lefkas island – in the east approach of the channel – is Varko - Βαρκό bay guarded by the wooded islet of Agios Nikolaos.
To avoid the various reefs, extending from capes, steer towards the islet from open waters.

Good holding in sand and protected against the northwesterlies. The middle stretch along the north-west shore is riddled with shoals, anchor at either beach or, more adventurous: take a line ashore Lat Long

Palairos

The delightful village and port of Palairos - Πάλαιρος offers allround protection. In the afternoon the prevailing wind is WNW, veering to a nightly – possibly stronger – ENE flowing down from the formidable Acarnanian mountains.
The best restaurant is a short distance from the waterfront: enjoy the walk to, and the crawl back from “The new mill taverna”.

In most berths there is solid holding in mud, but be sure that the anchor holds. A large flotilla fleet operates out of Palairos: all amenities available. In an emergency the charter marina Vounaki further south can be used

Ancient Palairos   is 11 km (25 min. by taxi) to the north-west.
In the first year of the Peloponnesian War (431 BCE) Palairos was in alliance with the Athenians; and when the latter conquered the neighbouring town of Sollium – a Corinthian colony – Athens handed Sollium plus its territory to the inhabitants of Palairos.

Palairos existed at least as early as the 6th c. BCE, but reached its zenith in the 3rd c. BCE.

In 31 / 30 BCE, after the Battle of Aktion and the foundation of Nikopolis by Octavian Augustus the city must have been abandoned, since all the inhabitants of Acarnania and Epirus were forcibly moved to Nikopolis.

The city walls present one of the most extraordinary examples of defensive architecture in western Greece, still standing in their original height. It is ca. 2 km long, enclosing the city center and terminating in an acropolis on top of the hill. The city also spreads outside of the fortification, where a large number of ancient house ruins can be seen.

The part of the walls that use the polygonal system date to the 5th c. BCE, and most of the rest of the fortification covers the time span of the end of the 4th c. BCE. At some sections the wall is reminiscent of cyclopean construction. Stairs leading to the battlements still stand and can be used even today.

Six towers were built next to the 7 gates, the best preserved ones are the (central) north gate and the vaulted north-western gate or “harbour gate”.

Visible house remains show a unified city plan organized in the Hippodamian system. The ancient agora and likely stoa are on the northern part of the plateau.

Mytikas

Mytikas or Mytika - Μύτικας on the mainland is a non-touristy working place.
The unfinished breakwaters of the 2nd basin are now overall below sea level. In the larger basin there is good shelter aside from the SSW winds; few available berths.

Episkopi port on Kalamos island, looking south-west, provides excellent shelter against the prevailing NW winds.
The agronomical town of modern Palairos with the port looking north.
The utilitarian port of Mytikas – with the new, submerged breakwaters in the foreground – looking north-east.

Kalamos island

Episkopi

Episkopí - Επισκοπή is a rather shallow and isolated port on the north coast of Kalamos. Closer to the entrance there are sufficient depths – smaller yachts can dock in further inside. The port is unsuitable in westerlies and stronger easterlies; the foliage combines amazingly with the cerulean waters.

Along the coast farther east there are several (lunch-stop) anchorages (and small piers to tie a line to), notably at the monastery and at the Ayios Donatos church.

Kalamos port

The port of Kálamos - Κάλαμος is surrounded by magnificent woods, while higher up the more barren hills are visible, since these rise up to a steep 754 m. There is allround protection except from a strong Sirocco (SE) that could occur in early spring.

Eagleray, Navionics and C-Map mention a reef 045° and 780 m from the light, 100 m from the coast. Also C-Map shows a stone awash directly east from the port.

Go stern-to the quay or the breakwater, yet go bows-to where there are protruding blocks from the breakwater.

During the night there can be gusts from NW – NE.
The prevailing SW winds become stronger in the afternoon.
Synoptic westerlies become southerlies in the Kalamos strait. Furthermore, this strait is notorious for its violent gusts when the north-westerlies blow

The pine trees of Kalamos are precious and home to many species of birds – the only other forests of this type are found on the Northern Sporades.

The port and village of Kalamos underneath the steep peak, looking north-west, adjacent to lush woodland.

Kefali / Gerolimnionas

Kefali - Κεφαλί also known as Gerolimniónas - Γερολιμνιωνας is a lovely bay on the south-east coast of Kalamos. The village of Kefali, known in earlier days by its Venetian name “Porto Leone”, was abandoned following the 1953 Ionian earthquake. Note, that the Port Leone Bar is out of business; the jetty is now private; on 30 June and 15 August pilgrims visit the church.
Anchor at the north or south beaches, or rather – my favourite – east of the two derelict windmils; good holding, aquamarine water.
See Greek chart terms.

Kastos island

Kastos port

Kastos is a low-lying island – the hills peak at just 143 m – generally barren, yet with some fertile cultivated areas: figs, opuntia and very old olive trees. Since there are only a few roads the islanders travel by boat.

When approaching the port of Kastos - Κάστος on the south cape you will see the conspicious windmill that now hosts a cocktail bar.  

Go stern-to the breakwaters inside the basin or anchor and take a long line the the west or north beaches.

Poor holding and only solid shelter in SN – NE winds. Setting a second anchor is advised. Katabatic gusts from the mainland flowing down from the NE, so the breakwaters are the preferred berths. In SSW winds the port can become untenable.

The small water taxi (Kastos → Mytikas) docks close to the entrance of the fishing port, alternatively you can anchor and take a line to the south quay. Tavernas open in the summer.

Sarakiniko bay as seen from the north. At the other side of the isthmus is Vathy Vali.

Sarakiniko

Sarakiniko - Σαρακίνικο is a very secluded bay apparently appreciated by the Saracen who found refuge here Lat Long The toponym is quite common, e.g. on Ithaca island, Syros island, Milos island or Parga.
Anchor in 4 – 6 m; there is a short breakwater to tie a line to; catamarans can go alongside; no facilities, but a 15 min. walk to Kastos port.

Vathy Vali

The lovely anchorage of Vathy Vali - Βαθύ Βάλι bay is directly south of Sarakiniko, yet rather on the east coast of Kastos island.
As the name “vathy” alludes it is very deep, so get close to the shore in the northern cove and place the second anchor on the beach Lat Long