Barchetta Day

A day of touring out of season on the exquisite Island of Corfu.

The Island is one full of ex pats. Dutch, American, German, English and even a few Irish. The winter is the secret time when all year rounders come out to play. When the roads are clear of hire cars, when the beaches have no more sunbeds and the olive trees are laden with fruit, peace invades the land.

Where to Madam?

The mountains are still spectacular, the trees still mostly green and one in fifty tavernas are still open. We can put our noses out, like Moley in the Wind in the Willows after a winter of hibernation, and breathe clear, cool air once more.

In between the parties, christenings and the get togethers, my neighbour offers her car for a trip around the island. A Fiat Barchetta, no less, one of the few hand made cars, before robots took their place in the assembly line. A nhttp://fiat.barchettaeat roadster convertible.

My Greek boyfriend nearly faints at the thought, thinking back to the days when he drove one himself. I get a message early in the morning to say it has started, a minor miracle as it’s not taken out much and the battery gets run down.

We dash up and get hold of the key. My other half is struggling to get into it with the roof in place.

-How could I do this when I was forty? he groans.

We wrap up with woolly hats and jackets, figure out the roof procedure and the engine roars.

On our faces are plastered large smiles, as the air rushes past and the low slung car hugs the road. We feel like tourists.Once or twice the car refuses to start first time, but it always obliges in the end.

We chose the coast road, with the sea to our right, still and azure as ever it was on a calm summer’s day. We explore a couple of deserted resorts – picture perfect villages with their jetties empty, the tavenas deserted. When we drive all the way to the end of the pier and then slightly off it, on to more uneven ground, it is explained to me that Barchetta is the Italian word for a small boat, so it’s only normal to bring it as close to the water as possible. My panicked face breaks into a smile again and we retrace our steps up out of the village.

At Kanoni, Church of Vlacherna with Pontikonissi – Mouse Island in the background

Then along the north coast, stopping for a grill lunch of souvlaki and beer, then on again this time down the island through the mountain range where we see over to the west side and then slide down, down to the central plain and home. Hugging our neighbour in thanks for an exquisite day driving a true touring car that hugged the bends from sea level to 75 metres above in this concertina of an island.

Still high on the fresh air, we add a new phrase to our vocabulary – a Barchetta Day.

At Sea in the Ionian

It’s never too late, no matter what they say about old dogs.

The first time I took out my boat, I was a nervous wreck, eventhough I had two friends to crew with me. I sat drinking coffee looking over the jetty, while a Swiss couple encouraged me.

-you will take it out yourself soon-

This was the farthest thing from my mind as I noticed my two friends arriving, coolbags in tow.

I nervously introduced everyone and then we abruptly left, the Swiss insisting on standing me the coffee. I tried and failed to relax as we settled on to the boat, and I went through the written out procedure for starting the engine. The throttle was slow to respond, so the rope holding the bow had well and truly sank by the time we moved for ward. I inched out of the berth and past the hundreds of assorted boats, power boats, sailboats and then the superyachts, tied up at the farthest jetty.

The adrenaline was pumping until we got out into the bay and I was able to take a deep breath. We put out a fishing line and caught a tuna first time, the only one of the summer,as it turned out.

The following week, I was swept along by my friend from Dublin, let’s call her the Dynamo, who showed me the ropes , literally. We sailed the channel from Kassiopi to Benitses, until , passing Corfu town, I said to her- let me take down the sails and steer. I pointed the boat into the wind and when the sails were in and we were motoring up the channel again, I glanced at the Dynamo. She was smiling from ear to ear with satisfaction at her pupil doing so well.

So the seeds were set. The day the Dynamo left, my eyes scanned the marina to add to the stash of enthusiastic crew. I noticed a sailor heading out on his own, standing tall at the back of his 34′ yacht, so I interrupted his meditations at the bow of his boat one day and asked him how he learned to sail alone.

He’s a man of few words, and with a strong South African accent he said- Next time I go to Sayada, you come with me in your boat.-

And so, the following week, I was given an hour’s notice, to leave on a trip south. I stocked up on food, water and for the first time, I slipped my lines myself.

The fish that were follwing me…