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Spring Sea Kayaking Expedition: Ionian Islands 2024

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Spring Sea Kayaking Expedition: Ionian Islands 2024

So, there I was. Sitting on a storm beach on Skye, attempting to stay warm under a storm shelter having been literally blown sideways off the water by a F7. My thoughts turned to my ‘happy place’. It’s a particular spot in Southwest Crete at the foot of the White Mountains. Its sun baked, with cooling afternoon breezes caused by anabatic conditions. Oh, and the food! My hallucinations continued. At that very moment I’d have killed for a Greek salad, saganaki cheese, spanakopita, Goat Stifado, fresh fish and baklava all washed down with retsina. My friend, Shaun, for it was his shelter I was sharing, used to live in Kefalonia for 12 years, and as Director of Sea kayaking Cornwall, still ran expeditions in the Ionian Islands. “Shaun, I want to go to Crete!”. “No can do, but why not come with me to Kef next year?”. And so, my love of the Ionian Islands began.

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There I was, 3 years later and about to start my third expedition to the Ionian. It is Easter Monday 2024, I’m at Gatwick and waiting to be called for the first flight of the year to Argostoli, the Kafalonian airport and authentic Greek town, i.e., very few tourists. Soon the Team had assembled. I’d paddled with Leander and Matt on several expeditions, including previous Ionian ones.

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We were joined by Stuart, Ben, Tony and the boss, Shaun. Our discussion turned to where Shaun would take us this year. I’d been following the regions weather for several weeks, and it had been settled with few storms and rising temps, If the predicted High-pressure system remained, we could be in for an epic time. Contrary to popular belief, it can be very wet, windy, and cold in Greek waters during early Spring. It may not have tidal conditions, but paddling can be challenging; long open water crossing, committed paddles between suitable campsites and the winds can be as strong as anything an Atlantic system can bring in. The omens looked good for the expedition.

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Two days later, having ‘acclimatised’ in our favourite tavernas and coffee shops, we’d stocked up and set off. Sea Kayaking Cornwall had invested in a new fleet of craft, and Shaun was rightly proud of his still wrapped, pristine fleet of P&H Leo’s. It’s not the most voluminous of boats, but with careful packing you can cram in all you need for 10 days. I was really pleased with its capabilities, albeit limited, over the duration of the trip, although you need sound skills to prevent weathercocking in the more extreme conditions, but which boat doesn’t…. please don’t rush to tell me, I’ve owned a few, they all do!

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Every Greek Island is different in a subtle way, and it has taken me multiple visits, out of season and away from the hordes to appreciate this. What does unite Greece and its islands is the people. They are proud of their homeland, proud to be Greek and very welcoming, hospitable, and extremely friendly. It is truly life affirming, a million miles away from cynicism. Our expedition started on the east coast of Kefalonia, overlooking Ithica, the birthplace of Homer’s* Odyessus. (* Note to younger readers, not Bart’s Dad).

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After Ithica, our voyage would take in Meganisi, Levkas Kalamos, Kastos, Arkoudi, and back to Kefalonia to do a three-quarter circumnavigation by continuing down the exposed west coast with its huge limestone cliffs and committed paddles as beaches and habitation are sparse here. The Ionian Islands are green, fertile, and mountainous: huge peaks and mountain ridges sloping down to sea level on the larger islands and adjacent land mass. This can bring challenging weather systems with winds whipping up from the slightest of zephyrs to a F6/7 in no time. What’s good is this phenomenon is predictable; occurring from early afternoon once the land masses heat up and cool down causes both anabatic and katabatic wind.

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We would be living out of our boats for the duration of the trip, camping on the most spotless beaches and having them all to ourselves. One of the many pluses of using a guide who knows his patch, is they know the best places and Shaun had always delivered. That said, he hadn’t been to Kalamos for 12 years so something may have changed! That, for me is the fun of expeditions. It’s the anticipation, never trepidation, of what is around the corner. Being early April, the tourist season hadn’t started, so beach bars and tavernas remain mothballed. Even some mini marts would not be open. We didn’t mind this. If we came across a taverna once we camped and it was within 45 min walk, we may have gone, and we’d collectively bought enough provisions to keep an army on the march for a month, so it suited us perfectly. Like most places nowadays wild camping has become a nuisance to the locals and in some place’s had initiated resentment and minor hostility, largely caused by lack of respect shown by campers to their environment. Everyday we’d break camp and be on the water by 9am and set up camp after 5pm to lessen our impact on the environment. I believe the Islanders are rightly becoming a little less tolerant and tighter on what they will accept. Take only photos and leave only footprints is what I believe in. We visited pristine fishing villages that were just awakening from their winter sojourn to re-stock. Assos and Fiskardo on Kefalonia are jaw dropping beautiful with blossom on trees and none of the detritus of tourism. Sad to think it’s guaranteed to be bedlam by the end of June to September.

What I did notice though, was the pervading smell of fresh paint. It reminded me of preparing for visits from royalty at two of my previous employers.

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If you appreciate natural history, the Ionian is a fantastic place to get up close to it. Argostoli Town has its own resident family of green turtles, with areas of protection on beaches throughout the Ionian for the Turtle to lay its eggs. The scarce Monks Seal can be found in these waters, although in all my visits I’d seen only seen one once. The conditions were so good this year that pods of Dolphins and shoals of flying fish were seen daily. In all Greek Islands, the wildflowers and orchids are in full bloom and spring bird migration is beginning to grow. At sea level, many type of gull not found in our British waters were abundant, and above I was craning my neck looking up at migrating birds of prey, storks, cranes and even flamingo’s fly over. The forests are full of songbirds and most evening I was serenaded to sleep by the sound of Scops Owls. They sound like a car alarm ….

I really can’t think of a minus point about this, or any other Ionian expedition. Not even the time we became gale bound on Arkoudi on its only ‘beach’, surrounded by windblown flotsam and jetsam, pitching the tent on a carpet of goat droppings and ticks, and having a rat gnawing through my inner tent to get at an orange.

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As hoped for, the Grandaddy of Greek God’s, Zeus, had aligned the other gods to collectively deliver near perfect conditions. The team ‘broke’ a few records, most distance paddled, more islands visited than previous Ionian expeditions, and not one cross word amongst the team! We had covered (300km) in 10 days. Some days we’d paddle 30-40 km, others less so. We had pristine beaches to camp on and the most sublime sunrises and sunsets. Shorts and rash vests, SPF 50 and great company were the order of the day. The nights could still be chilly, however the days progressively warmed up, and not a thunderstorm in sight this time around!


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It’s not the weather, best boats, kit, or paddling companions that can make for a memorable, invigorating expedition experience. These all help, but for me you need to have a positive attitude for when it doesn’t go to plan. To be philosophical and make the most of the situation, knowing tomorrow is going to be better. Our team was lucky this year as the weather window allowed us to explore way beyond our usual remit.

It ticked all the boxes, and then some to the point that in 2025, our 2024 team have all agreed to a 21-day expedition from Corfu to Zakynthos and the Greek mainland, with a possible excursion to Albania…. weather permitting!

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1 thought on “Spring Sea Kayaking Expedition: Ionian Islands 2024”

  1. That looks an amazing trip, thanks for sharing. I love Greece and really want to paddle there, but it does appear hard to find locations willing to hire out boats without a guide.