If only year round cruising was a thing! While, technically it is possible of live on the hook in the Med through winter, you’d need to be well prepared, and be ready to move from shelter to shelter, or weather the 50knt winds that are common during the winter months.
With a long list of maintenance tasks to get through, I chose the safety of a marina berth to see out the European winter. Asking around on forums, Lefkas Marina came well recommended, especially for catamarans, and from afar it looked like a good bet. Unfortunately, I found that life in this particular marina wasn’t all plan sailing.
Lefkada in the winter
Never one to shy away from a bit of controversy, here are my thoughts, tips, and observations on what to expect if you plan on surviving a winter in Lefkada. It’s written from the perspective of a live aboard sailor but might also contain a few tidbits for other travellers to the island.
Don’t get there too early
I arrived in early October. The weather was good, with plenty of sunny days and temperatures in the high teens to low twenties (celsius). It was too early. Anyone wanting to enjoy Lefkada in the sunshine would have come for summer, or will stay on after winter. At this time the marina is still busy with charters (and there’s hundreds of them), and all the onsite stores and restaurants are still open. It gives you a false sense of the place.
Better instead to spend another month cruising and arrive in November. The weather will be more unsettled, but all the charters will be gone, and summer workers will be on the way out too. In fact, the liveaboard social activities don’t start until November anyhow.
Watch out for the little extra charges
In some marinas off-season fees include electricity, water, and often wifi, in Lefkas Marina you pay for a berth and that’s all you get. Electricity is charged for, water that apparently used to be free in 2016, is now charged for at around €12 per cubic metre. Sure in Cartagena it costs too, but a more palatable €4 per cubic metre. But what really grates many cruisers is the fact that even the showers charged for separately. Sure, it’s only €0.50 per (claimed) 10 minutes, but it’s another inconvenience. Added to that the water isn’t particularly hot, and most of the shower heads are in a state of disrepair.
I guess anyone coming next year ought also bring their toilet paper, as no doubt that will attract an additional charge soon.
Prepare for a shitstorm of weather
Before arriving, I was warned that Lefkada can be wet. Growing up in the UK, I thought “what’s a little rain to me?” Unfortunately there’s no such thing as a little rain in Lefkada. When it rains it does so in biblical proportions. Good then that everyone in the marina has a boat. Though those in know, will be aware that boats often leak.
Average annual rainfall is roughly 1,100mm per year. Considering that it doesn’t really rain in the summer, that’s a lot of water. Bear in mind that popular winter spots such as Almeria, Spain, and Faro, Portugal, have an annual rainfall of just 200mm (26 days) and 500mm (90 days) respectively.
Rain by itself though doesn’t constitute bad weather. Unfortunately here, the rain is usually accompanied by strong winds from the SE. Yes everyone says the prevailing winds are NW. Perhaps for two or three months in the summer maybe. In my time here it rained a good 80 per cent of November, maybe 70 per cent in December, January and February. Frequent winds of 25 knots or more, gusts of up to 50knts are not uncommon. In fact, they are more the norm. With the marina being mostly unprotected, the effect is that of a rolley anchorage. I’ve seen a fair few boats, even those moored closer in, end up almost sideways.
The dark days, driving rain, and gale force winds, make the island a pretty miserable place. I’ve been told it’s not usually like that, but for I have no evidence on the contrary. As you’d expect, humidity is high so a you’ll want a dehumidifier. Even in mid-February, I went out on a rare sunny day and laid down some plastic sheeting to cut into templates. Almost immediately it was covered in condensation.
It’s not all doom and gloom though. When the sun shines, and it does come out from time to time, the scenery is fantastic and it can be almost t-shirt weather even in December. In fact over Christmas it was nice enough that I went cycling up into the hills in just a t-shirt. And at the end of January (when I wrote this piece), we’ve just come off the back of 7 days of sunny weather.
Don’t have one of the charter/service companies look after your boat
If you plan one leaving your boat in the marina for a period over winter, whilst you fly back home, or elsewhere, I’d recommend asking a fellow liveaboard to keep an eye on it. Most if not all of the charter companies offer a winterisation or similar plan, and can look after your boat for you too, but I wouldn’t want them near mine, and that’s saying something.
There’s a Nautitech 40 supposedly for sale on E pontoon, it’s being managed by one of the local companies. I see the guys sitting outside drinking tea and chatting when the weather is somewhat decent. When it’s bad they are no-where to be seen. The reason i mention this is this particular boat has had super slack lazy lines since I’ve been here. Every northerly wind causes it to smash it’s sugar scoops into the pontoon. Often the passeral is left down, which in similar vein tries to make its way across the dock, and mate with the electrical box on the other side of the pontoon. Definitely something to watch out for after a few beers.
Another example I saw of this was one of the companies raising the sails on a boat they were managing. It was a calm pleasant morning, and presumably they’d raised the sails to air out, then gone for a break. A few hours later the predicted strong winds (it always picks up in the afternoon anyhow) came, and the boat was being thrown around all over the place. This must have went on for over an hour before anyone came to sort it out. By this time the geona had completely come free from its track and the boat was heeling all over the place.
Don’t just take my word for it though. I believe that there is a noonsite comment mentioning that the service isn’t worth while. If however, you are going to use a service company, be sure to do your research.
If you have a narrow beam catamaran, then don’t bother coming here at all (from 2018 onwards)
When I was looking at wintering destinations, Lefkada was recommended to me as being a catamaran friendly marina. While catamarans didn’t enjoy the block booking winter discount that monohulls get, they didn’t have to pay 150% either. This must have proved popular judging by the amount of catamarans here, and not just huge 7m beam monsters, but the numerous Broad Blues, Geminis, Prouts, and Catalacs too.
Unfortunately from 2018 the marina will be charing 150% for catamarans. It’s unclear whether they will be eligible for the block booking discount. While those with huge beams probably won’t worry too much. The narrow 4.5m beam catamarans that can fit into a 13-14m monohull space will likely look elsewhere.
Still, that is fair enough. Those of us with catamarans know the drill. What isn’t though is them cheekily trying to charge the new rate mid season. I popped into the office in December to pay for the month. I arrived just as a friend of mine with Lagoon was having an argument over the marina trying to charge him the 150% price rather the 100% price that he booked at. The girls in the office did finally say that ok since you pre-booked you can carry on under the old pricing structure. I think he was so wound up at the time he didn’t quite understand, so carried on arguing, which was somewhat amusing.
Anyway, queue my turn to pay, and they try to pull the same bullshit. Telling me that the price from January is 150%. The thing is, they knew I’d pre-booked, so not sure what they were trying to pull especially as I’d just witnessed the last argument. Anyway, sure enough, she said, “ok, since you pre-booked, and we gave you the price before the increase, you just pay the original quote.” Problem sorted, but worth mentioning.
Do pre-book time on the hard
If you need time on the hard then you need to pre-book. I didn’t full understand this before I arrived, hoping to find some time at some point during my 6 month stay. To be fair, they did indeed find me space, but it took some persuasion. The yard here is small, and fills up quickly with private and charter yachts alike. Some have long standing bookings, so space isn’t easy to come by. If you’re interested in working for a yacht company, Yacht jobs are provided here. Check them out!
While the yard in the marina isn’t the cheapest, you’d get better value in Akitono or Ionion (avoid Cleaopatra if you want to use outside contractors ), it is certainly the most convenient, as the other two are isolated from all civilisation. You are permitted to do your own work on the boat, but any outside contractors must be approved by the office. Mine wasn’t. You can’t live-aboard the boat whilst on the hard, so need to factor in accommodation costs too.
Do use a wifi range extender
I work online, and need a somewhat decent connection to the internet. That’s fine and relatively easy to get in Greece via a 4g sim card. What’s not so easy is a reasonable size data limit.
Wifi in the marina is actually ok provided you’re not too far from the tower. The issue for many will be that it’s €30 per month, however depending on where you’re berth is, you might be able to pick up wifi from either some of the bars and restaurants along the harbour.
In another article I’m writing, I mention how with MicroTik Groove 52 AC router/wifi extender, that I’m able to pick up wifi from a local restaurant I often visit, in a 50knt gale, with driving rain, and with three rows of boats in between. Your mileage may vary, but give yourself a fighting chance by getting a decent wifi extender.
Do make friends in Porto Cafe
Social life in the marina revolves around Porto Cafe, the somewhat smokey on-site bar. It’s worth visiting and getting friendly with the staff, who are a great bunch. Given the issues with deliveries to the marina, ‘Friends of Porto’ can use it as their delivery address. The benefit being always getting your package on time.
Besides that though, it’s where everyone hangs out, and is host to a variety of events. Happy hour on Monday (£4.50 for a litre of wine), Quiz night on Wednesday (non-smoking thankfully), and a bunch of other activities throughout the year.
If you do go, say ‘Hi’ to Dina from me, but try not to get her too excited otherwise she’ll talk your ear off (bless her).
Do visit the Irish bar
At last, a bar that actually respects the no-smoking law. Opened in 2017 the bar was just finding its feet when I arrived. Since then I’ve had many a good night in there. Service is first class, the owners are great, and the drinks are good. To top it off there’s live music on Friday nights, and a rock night on Saturday. Good times all around.
Don’t order goods for delivery before you arrive
Most places in the world you can book a hotel, hostel, private room, marina berth or whatever, and have an important package or two delivered and held for your arrival. Don’t bother trying that in the marina here. I had a package arrive a couple of days early and the marina would not sign for it. In fact the marina is particularly unhelpful when it comes to post and packages.
In Cartagena, I had multiple large packages arrive from all over the world. The office would hold these (if they were small), email me to come and collect them (if they were larger), or have the marinero deliver them in their golf cart (if they were bulky/heavy).
Don’t expect anything like that. The office will direct couriers to your boat. Regular post can be collected from the office, but it isn’t delivered to the marina. Instead someone from the marina goes down to the post office to pick up all marina addressed mail. Crucially, they don’t do this every day. If they are busy, it might be a day or two.
Further to this, they can’t collect signed mail. Instead you get a slip which you must take to the post office. Not much of an issue, but an annoyance nonetheless. Especially when you find that it takes a good couple of days after the package has arrived for the slip to be presented to you.
Better instead, to make friends with the owners in Porto, and ask if you can have some deliveries sent there.
Join ‘Friends of Lefkas Marina’ Facebook group
Outside of the liveaboard community, there’s a 908 member strong Facebook group who are ‘friends of the marina.’ It’s certainly worth joining that group if you have any questions about getting anything done in Lefkada, want to buy and sell items, or just want to be social. Lots of useful advice, discussions, and articles on there.
Don’t expect it to be full of cruisers
There are a good number of liveabords in Lefkas Marina. Looking at the last community list I believe I counted over 60, plus the 900 members of the ‘friends of lefkas marina’ Facebook group. Just don’t expect them all to be cruisers.
I was actually surprised at the first liveaboard community event to meet a few couples I’d befriended back when I was in Cartagena, but for the most part, the marina liveabords tend to be based here at least semi-permenantly. Most I’ve spoken with sail locally, and come back year after year after year, that or they live on the island.
It’s not that that’s a bad thing. It’s just something to bear in mind when looking for people with similar plans and cruising perspectives.
Don’t bother with the on-site chandlery
It’s always handy when a marina has a chandlery on site, but seldom is it better than venturing further afield. The Chandlery in Lefkas Marina is run by Paleros. It’s staffed by a woman with an Austrialian/Kiwi (I can’t quite place it) accent, and while she can be delightful to talk to at times, her customer service is severely lacking. I’ve lost count of the number of times I gone into the store (and been the only person in there), yet asked “can’t you come back later?”, or told “you’ll just have to wait.”
Perhaps others are more forgiving, but in a town with four other chandleries within a 5 minute walk, it’s just not worth it. My preferred store especially if spending serious money is Nautilus, unlike Palearos, customer service is top class, it’s well stocked, and the staff are extremely helpful and knowledgeable. It can be expensive, but not obnoxiously so. Marine Point on the main town quay is a good for small items especially bolts and stainless, while Thalassis is great for electrical wiring.
If you need electronics like multifunction displays, radars windlass etc.. you’d do well to skip Greece altogether and order abroad. The 24 per cent VAT is a killer. I popped into Palearos’ other store to take a look at the B&G Vulcan (I fancied a second display). I was shocked to find it over €300 more expensive than ordering from SVB in Germany.
Enjoy your time in Lefkada
It’s been an experience. Some people love it, and I expect it is a nice place in the summer, but one winter here is enough, and with the marina’s new pricing structure I doubt I’ll ever be back with a boat.