Sarande, Albania

As we sailed up the Ionian islands to Corfu, our luck with the weather continued. Nice breezes, flat water, warm temps and swim stops were de rigeur.

These waters are full of charter boats, even at this time of year. At times, it looked like Long Island sound on a busy sunday afternoon! Don't come here to seek solitude. We stopped at a lovely bay in Menganissi which we shared with some 10 boats, at the town dock in Levkada which we shared with at least 50 boats and at Mongonissi on Paxos island. At Mongonissi, the bay was so full that I decided to take a line ashore to avoid crossing anchor lines with others. It was a very complex maneuver that took the better part of an hour, but Benno and Rieke are excellent crew mates that put up with a demanding skipper! Last port before Gouvia marina on Corfu was Mourtos, where we anchored outside the packed harbor and enjoyed a quiet night.

Crew change took place in Gouvia marina on Corfu, where Rieke and Benno left and Achim, Christoph and David joined. Our mission was to sail the boat to Marina di Ragusa, Sicily, via Malta and Albania, some 450 miles as the crow flies. We had 9 days to do so and at the beginning, the weather was not looking too promising. Heavy winds were forecast, initially from the North but later from the Soutwest, where we were headed.

Checking out of Greece was a somewhat challenging experience. There was a new port police office at Gouvia marina but maybe because it was Sunday morning, when the time came for me to get the stamps from them, there was simply a sign "Back this afternoon". So off I went to the main port police station in Corfu town where things were mercifully relatively quick. After less than one hour of waiting for clearances to come in from immigration and customs via fax (!!!!), I was then able to head to the customs office in person and return my transit log. Bingo, Kincsem was cleared to sail to Albania!

Why Albania? Under EU rules, a non-EU resident can buy a boat in the EU without paying the substantial VAT on the purchase price as long as the boat does not stay within the EU for more than 18 months. After the 18 months are up, the boat has to leave but can reenter the EU and start a new 18 months period. There is no minimum stay specified - so most people do at least one night outside the EU and get a receipt from the harbor to have proof that the boat in fact departed the EU. So at least every 18 months, Kincsem has to depart from the EU water for at least one night - and this year, again, we chose Sarante, Albania for the exit. Last year, we did the same in September and left the next morning. This year, we decided to stay and do a bit of sightseeing. It was a good decision. Formalities are easy - we're using a young lady from Sarante Summer Tours as agent and she handles all the paper work with the police and customs, secures a berth in the tiny port and even handles our lines, all that for a very reasonable sum of Euros! We rented a car from her and checked out two World Heritage sites: The ancient city of Butrint and the 12th Century castle of Gjirokaster. Butrint was a major city first settled by the Greeks, then the Romans and later by the Ottomans. The Gjirokaster castle sits atop a quaint historic town by the same name and was used until the 19th Century. Both were very well maintained sites and well labeled. Our general impression of Albania was that the people were very friendly and open and the food was not worse than in Greece!


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