Family and Friends in the Saronic and Argolic Gulfs…..part 2

At the end of the last blog I left you stranded in Póros – which isn’t a bad place to find yourself in that state! Its popularity with yachties and holidaymakers means that during the summer months it is a busy, vibrant town.

The narrow Póros Strait separates it from the mainland…

Looking towards the mainland from the upper town

… and boats passing through have to negotiate other boats at anchor or on mooring balls and keep a look-out for the frequent water taxis ….

Just leaving for Galatas

… which regularly ferry people across to Galatas on the other side – a nice trip for a bit of shopping or a drink on the waterfront with fabulous views of pretty Póros.

A view of Poros from a Galatas waterfront bar

In my last blog I mentioned anchor wars and Póros is another of those places where crossed chains are a regular occurrence. We liked, if possible, to use the pontoon rather than the boardwalk….

Before the storm- the pontoon and boardwalk

….but I am not sure how much of it remains after the destructive October storm. There will be more about that in my next post – this is still about family and friends visiting and, fortunately, none of them were with us when the “Medicane” struck. Friends who went through Póros late in the season said boats were still berthing on the pontoon but they weren’t sure how structurally sound it was and the “bridge” to the shore had gone.

There are several good anchorages near to Póros. Between visitors Mike and I spent a couple of nice, quiet days in Ormos Vidhi and, with Andrea and Fiona, we managed to find space to anchor in popular “Russian Bay”.

At Maria’s – a great place to chill

A short sail “round the corner” into Kolpos Idhras [Gulf of Hydra] brought us to Nisís Soupia which is often named “Frog Island” because it is said to look a bit like a crouching frog when approaching from the east. We thought it looked more like a lizard, but – regardless of which reptile – it was a pleasant, but slightly rolling, place to anchor for the night.

The swimming was good and, thanks to Steve, Fiona showed excellent balance on his SUP.

First time she has done this – took to it like a duck to water!

The islands of Idhra and Spétsai and both very beautiful but finding a berth in either of their main town harbours is difficult. We didn’t actually try because we saw the number of boats approaching every time we passed. We did, however, when the wind was in the right direction find lovely anchorages on both.

Ormos Molos, Idhra

Ormos Zoyioryia, Spetsai

A Loulouthia flower

We also visited Spétsai by bus and ferry from Porto Kheli.

Berthing is available on the side of a ferry dock [top right] – but it always looked choppy and full

Like Idhra, Spétsai grew wealthy as a result of ship building.

Signs of past boat building activity

Their ship’s captains are famous for bursting the British blockade during the Napoleonic Wars and also for being part of the Greek fleet during the War of Independence.

Most famous of all was Laskarina Bouboulina, who’s house/museum we visited.

That does say “Bouboulina”

The daughter of an Idhra captain, she was born in a Constantinople prison when he was imprisoned, with his wife, for rebelling against the Ottomans. She moved to Spétsai when she was four or five years old after her mother’s second marriage to a local man.

She was a formidable ship commander and a fearless fighter, fully supported the independence movement and spent her own money buying weapons and ammunition for her ships, most notably the “Agamemnon”….

Bouboulina’s flag ship – “Agamemnon”

…… on which she sailed, on 13 March 1821, along with her fleet of seven other ships to join the successful Greek naval blockade of Nafplio.

As I said above we visited Spétsai from Porto Kheli, where we spent a total of 21 nights at anchor during 3 separate visits.

The first time we were there alone, the second time we had Andrea and Fiona on board. On that occasion we were also in the company of “Coriander” as we were again for our third, and longest, stay there during the aforementioned storm.

Originally just a small fishing village….

Mail boxes at the old village quay

…..it was developed in the 1960’s when work was started to build a NATO base there. The plans were shelved, but the long newly laid quay remained and the large and well sheltered bay makes an excellent anchorage.

Porto Kheli church by night

Its outdoor votive altar

A Porto Kheli sunset

Whilst here Fiona, again thanks to Steve – who has such a collection of “toys” – tried her hand at wind surfing.

A little instruction from Steve….

Not quite as successful as the SUP but she did manage to stand up and go for a short time.

….Wow – off she goes

Unfortunately an injury to her foot from an underwater rock prevented any other attempts at improving during the rest of the holiday.

Between “Frog Island” and Porto Kheli we spent two nights in delightful Ermioni.

Drougas bakery on the right. Great bread, great coffee

We anchored in the bay to the north of the town and walked around the headland to have a look at the southern side.

Interesting artwork on the waterfront path on the north side of town both modern…..

…. and more traditional

On the headland

Had we had the time and opportunity it would have been a great place to revisit and, wind direction allowing, I would have liked to anchor here or berth along this picturesque quay.

The south side quay

Up the east side of the Argolic Gulf we found three really nice places to drop the hook.

In a large, shallow bay surrounded by mountains and with a privately owned islet at its entrance, lies Koiládhia.

Looking to the town quay from the anchorage. We also berthed there.

Koiladhia anchorage

A safe anchorage in most winds, like Idhra and Spétsai, it was once a shipbuilding village.

Speaks for itself

Faded photos of bygone years and boats

However, it is most renowned for the Franchthi caves, an important prehistoric site.

The top cave – viewed from the anchorage

Inside the lower cave

It was first occupied around 40,000BC – the Upper Paleolithic era. At that time the cave was approximately 5km from the shore. By the end of the Ice Age [10,000-9,000BC] rising sea levels brought it to within 3km of the sea. During the Mesolithic period [9,000-7,000BC] it was only 2km from the coast and during the Neolithic period, even closer. Archaeological research suggests it was abandoned around 3,000BC as, by that time, the sea level had resulted in loss of land for crop and animals and also a loss of community as other cave dwellings were covered by water.

It was later inhabited once again – by a C18 goat-herder – and his goats.

A reconstructed goat shed!

14 miles north another, smaller, enclosed bay shelters Khädhari.

Peaceful Khaidari – also known as Livadi

We enjoyed a pleasant walk along the lagoon….

Looking back to the village

……. to Drepano and back before an excellent meal at “To Limani”.

Outdoor seating on the beach

Our third gulf anchorage was at the seaside resort of Toló.

Looking towards Tolo from the church

Very popular with Greek holiday makers we had fun pretending we were staring in Mamma Mia!

Not quite Meryl Streep and Pierce Brosnan!

No, it wasn’t filmed here, but the small church perched up steps on the little island was reminiscent of the wedding scene.

…. and not enough steps!

I seem to remember my sister telling me the scene was filmed on Alonnisos but the internet tells me that the “real” venue for the ceremony was Agios Ioannis chapel which sits on the summit of a 100-metre rock close to the town of Glossa, in the north of Skópolos, and has all the 202 steps shown in the film. Maybe I will find out next summer as we hope to sail to both of these islands – and others.

Speaking of steps, our final port with family members was Nafplio. Here, Palamidi Fortress dominates the skyline….

The well preserved Palamidi overlooks the town

….and there are 999 steps to be climbed to reach it. There is a road and both the sightseeing open top bus and tourist train ply the route. But who needs to take the bus? 999 steps – merely an early morning leg stretcher!

Yes….. we did it

As expected the views from the top were excellent…..

Looking inland….

….over the new town…

… and down to the old town and harbour

….. and the site itself both extensive and interesting.

Main fortress in the citadel

One of the guardians waiting on the steps…

…and another over the main entrance

Indeed, it is touted as the most impressive Venetian fortification in Greece.

Back at sea level, narrow streets wend through the old town…

Quiet during the midday heat

…whilst excellent supermarkets and shops in the new town make it a great place for stocking up.

Whilst in Nafplio we also visited the Peloponnese Folklore Museum….

… which contained, amongst other exhibits, some interesting clothing displays.

Women’s garments – with an Ottoman influence

Loved the photograph behind as well.

It was from here – Nafplio I mean, not the museum! – that Andrea and Fiona left on a bus to Athens, and it is here that I will leave you again. As I hope you have been able to tell from this and the previous post, it was a great summer spent with family and friends….

With Chris and John….

…. James, Steve and Gill

…and Andrea and Fiona

With luck [no I won’t go into a rant about the possible ramifications for liveaboards of Brexit] we will be able to do something similar next year. Greece is just such a wonderful place to be.

A fantastic country…

…waiting for family and friends to return

Permanent link to this article: http://www.sigasiga.co.uk/2019/01/15/family-and-friends-in-the-saronic-and-argolic-gulfs-part-2/

Family and Friends in the Saronic and Argolic Gulfs…..part1

Having come through the Corinth Canal in mid-July we anticipated spending about three weeks in the Saronic Islands and along the adjacent coast before sailing across to the Cyclades. However, the Meltemi had different ideas! The constant strong winds in the Cyclades throughout this summer meant that we ended up spending three months in the Saronics, the Argolic Gulf and the Eastern Peloponnese.

Mike will get round to doing our blog map….one day!

Whilst we might have been relatively happy to weather out the various blows in a secure Cycladian anchorage we had three sets of visitors during the period and it did not seem like a good idea to subject them to either heavy wind and/or seas or to a probable restricted trip visiting maybe just two or three places.

But, no complaints from us. There are certainly worse places to spend the summer and even though we visited some of the harbours and anchorages several times, we didn’t tire of them and we made the most of what the Saronic/Argolic cruising ground has to offer.

One of our most visited places was Aegina – mainly because all three sets of guests met us there and one left from there. It is definitely a good place to meet and greet people as it is a short “dolphin” or ferry ride from Athens and the church at the entrance to the harbour makes for a real Greek welcome.

The church of Panagitsa

Those sailors who have visited will know that whilst the harbour looks to be a relatively good size, much of it is filled with local boats and/or is too shallow for sailboats with a draft of more than 2m. It is also very popular with Athenians who come across for the weekend or, in some cases, the whole summer – usually in a sizeable motor yacht. Anchor wars [more of that later] are common and our first visit to Aegina in 1992 on a charter boat resulted in us paying a diver to free our anchor. Yes, we were one of those “bloody charter boats”!

Anyway, all of this meant that we were very wary about mooring in Aegina harbour but managed it without mishap on all three occasions. I say without mishap – but actually mean “without mishap on our part”. During our second stay there the owner of a very large motor yacht decided that he was going to moor come what may. All the spaces were actually taken but he decided that he would go stern too against part of the dolphin quay and, regardless of the harbour police whistling at him to stop, he dropped his anchor and backed, crossing as he did so all the anchor chains of the boats berthed on the small section of harbour near the water-boat dock.

Too big….me!

You have already guessed where we were and, yes, which anchor he managed to dislodge!

What made matters worse was he didn’t actually know how to retrieve the situation but finally called for a rescue diver who sorted it all out but who he didn’t then pay!!

Aegina is also a popular place to meet people because it has good provisioning opportunities…

Fruit and Vegetable boats…open well into the evening

Small fresh fish and meat market

….. and lots of bars and restaurants for guests to sample their first Ouzo or beer.

Back street tavernas…behind the fish market

Quirky decoration inside a garden restaurant

It also has a couple of small beaches, one of which is the site of the ancient harbour at the base of the Hill of Kolona on which stands the C6BC Temple of Apollo.

Temple of Apollo atop Kolona Hill

Research suggests that there were originally 30 pillars but only one remains standing.

Weathered but surviving…no earthquakes please

The Temple was built at the top of a settlement, parts of which date to a century earlier, from where excellent views of both the Athenian coastline and the Saronic Gulf can be had.

Different settlement layers

Looking North West over the Gulf

The site also houses the Archaeological Museum of Aegina which displays exhibits both remodelled….

Replica of a casting pit….

…and pottery kiln – both used around C2-1BC

…and original….

Storage vessel depicting ships which were important for Aegina’s prosperity

Sphinx

The remains of a beautiful mosaic path….

led to a small ruined building which surprised me as being a Jewish synagogue. Perhaps not quite so surprising as the two Orthodox faiths have, I believe, one root.

Chris and John and, later Andrea and Fiona visited this temple but “between visitors” Mike and I took a bus ride across Aegina, passing the “Monastery of Agios Nektarios”…

Monastery of Agios Nektarios – one of the largest Orthodox Monasteries in Europe

…. to the fantastic Doric Temple of Aphaia, Aegina’s most visited site.

Constructed from local poros, when built it was then covered in stucco

6 columns form the shorter sides and twelve the longer

The Temple was erected between 500 and 490 BC on what was already a very ancient cult sanctuary dating back to C5BC.

Originally called the Temple of Jupiter Panhellenius, later the Temple of Aphaia

The nymph Aphaia, believed to be the daughter of Zeus, had been worshiped on Aegina since C2BC and this temple was finally named in her honour when Aegina was at its political and cultural peak.

Just outside the temple grounds an old footpath….

The old road down…or up!

….. leads down to Agia Marina, a small resort, from where the KTEL bus returns to the main town, passing lots of Pistachio plantations for which Aegina is also famous.

Pistachio anyone… the main crop of Aegina

Aegina town is also home to the “Tower of Markellos”…

….which, according to tradition was built around 1802 by Spyros Markellos. He, and other leaders of the 1821 revolution at the start of the Greek War of Independence [1821-1829], used the tower variously to house the Greek National Treasury, hold State meetings and provide offices for members of Cabinet.

Aegina is a great starting base for a circular route along the adjacent coastline of the north-eastern Peloponnese mainland. We did it twice, firstly clockwise going south to north along the coast with Chris and John on board and the second time, with James, anti-clockwise. Our good friends on “Coriander” had just transited the Corinth Canal at the start of our second circuit so joined us and we then sailed together for most of the rest of the summer.

Whilst we liked all the places we visited I think that our least favourite harbour on this circuit was Nea Epidavros.

Nea Epidavros, from our vantage point on the harbour wall

In some ways I don’t know why I am saying that because it was there that we had one of the best tasting and best value meals of Chris and John’s trip – at “Ippocampus” restaurant. Maybe it was because I got a bit jittery about berthing in the harbour itself. The pilot book shows 2.5 dropping to 2m by the far wall but our electronic chart shows approx. 1m at the northern end. The friendly harbour master told us that even with our 2.1m draft we would be fine in the corner [the only space left inside] but I just didn’t want to risk it and so we Med moored to the outside of the wall and were thus a little exposed which, given the conditions, didn’t actually matter but we didn’t return on our second circuit.

Actually…looking back it was quite a pretty place

Our favourite harbour on this route has to be Vathi, on the Methana peninsular. On one of our sails along the north coast of this peninsular we came across some folk fishing….

Great umbrellas

… before turning into southern Kólpos Epidavros to the picture postcard perfect Vathi with its four tavernas and several fishermen’s cottages lining the harbour.

Wonderful Vathi

The main problem is getting a berth but we timed our arrival well both times and on each occasion stayed two nights to enable us to get full enjoyment from this delightful place.

The pilot book states that “on the black basalt slopes a short distance north there is an old caldera” and suggests it is worth a look. A sign on the road just outside the hamlet points to the volcano so, Mike, Steve and I decided to go and take a look. We had a very enjoyable walk with some fabulous views as we went up and up and ever more up a hot and dusty road. The locals….

Male Vlahiki Goat

…looked very surprised to see us, probably thinking what mad creatures we were to be out in that heat!

At one corner we worked out what we thought was the way to the top but decided anyway that enough was enough and turned back. It’s a good job we did. When we finally worked it out on a map we realised that despite our efforts we had probably only been about a quarter of the way there!

A much more successful walk took us a little inland south of Vathi harbour to Megalachori which, despite its name isn’t very big at all. We think there may have been a shop hidden in someone’s front room and there was a small café serving frappe.

WOT – no Mythos! Had to include this photo – the only cafe/bar one without alcohol in it

In the village we met a farmer who had just returned from his fields and gave us some delicious fresh figs

From there we walked back down the hill where lots of butterflies were flitting amongst the flowers….

“Scarce Swallowtail” – so named in English due to it being rarely seen in the UK – now on the “vulnerable” list in Europe

…. and found an Ancient Acropolis….

Not much of it remains

….some old wells…….

…. and a lovely small church.

Who put that flower there?

Ah, thats better

From where that road joins the coast road back to Vathi there are three or four tavernas dotted along the shoreline – and we have eaten well at two of them. Some yachts were anchored along this stretch but it would only be tenable in settled weather.

Palaia Epidavros is built on the ruins of the ancient city state from which its name derives. Unlike its aforementioned northern “new” town it is quite a bustling place with lots of anchoring options. On our first visit we moored on the harbour wall and witnessed anchor mayhem when boats started to leave in the mornings.

First off….

…but going nowhere fast

Who’s chain is this???? Not ours this time, thank goodness

Mike and John to the rescue. They ended up stuck in the hot sun for an hour when a diver from one of the boats decided to use the dinghy painter as a trip line!

Given that knowledge, we anchored in the bay during our second visit.

As many of you will know Epidavros is a famous archaeological site, but the large Asklepieion theatre, museum and extensive ruins are several miles inland from the coast. What we didn’t know beforehand is that there is also the “Little Epidavros Theatre” just to the south of the anchorage, accessible by a dirt path.

The “Little” Theatre

Able to seat 2,000 people it is given equal importance in the archaeological world but, unfortunately, we were unable to access it as they were setting up for the annual production of Greek plays. We studied the posters carefully as Mike and I considered whether to try to see one of the plays. But, given that we wouldn’t have a clue what was happening in them never having studied Greek Comedy or Tragedy, not being able to follow the language and with relatively expensive seat prices we decided not to bother.

With Chris and John we followed the path a short way up the hill from the theatre and came to “The Holy Church of the Life-giving Spring” [Zoodochos Pigi]…

What a great name for a church

On our first trip we only made it to the first watering hole where posing for holiday shots almost resulted in an unexpected dip.

Don’t push

The bay was lovely and we could see why several boats came round for daytime relaxing and swimming. Or we thought we could, little knowing then that the real reason they came was to snorkel the sunken city.

Says it all…

Fortunately, by the time we visited with James, Steve and Gill we had discovered this fact and took full advantage of it.

Thanks for this shot Steve – that’s us!

Huge storage containers

A few walls…

…and a pavement

Quite fascinating.

The northernmost anchorage on the circuit is Korfos, a fantastic almost landlocked bay.

Looking south into the anchorage

John had enjoyed himself taking the helm on the way there…

Ahoy Cap’n

….. but, surprisingly, suggested Mike or I should take over for the docking procedure!!

Having been sent away from “Papa George’s” restaurant berth because they were expecting a charter fleet we managed to secure a berth on the small pontoon to the south of the tavernas. We were very glad of this later in the afternoon when large spots of rain heralded quite a squall….

Bit wet out

…… followed by a short thunderstorm. Whilst John, Chris and I steamed in the resultant sauna below decks, Mike braved the weather to ensure that all was well at the dock – particularly as the small motorboat next to us was not actually anchored even though his anchor was down. With no-one aboard Mike had tried to tighten the chain for them which was when he discovered it wasn’t holding and that the anchor was probably directly below its bow. Anyway, with fenders on both boats all he did was push into us and no damage was done. The weather cleared….

Well its nearly stopped

…. and everything went back to normal enabling us to sample the delights of the small town.

A bit tumbledown but so much character

Dried off on the guard rails – a Barn Sparrow

We really liked the feel of the place and were happy to meet Gill and Steve there for their first taste of the Aegean. We concur with the cruising guide which describes the holding as “poor in places”. On our first visit we saw several boats struggling to set their anchors and a spot towards the eastern side which “Coriander” first tried wasn’t suitable but we both found excellent holding more towards the north-west and spent a happy evening ashore. Interestingly, there wasn’t a charter fleet on this night and Papa George’s berths and restaurant were totally empty. It appeared to us that the locals don’t frequent it – so neither did we. Instead we returned to the friendly and popular “Ostrako” of our first visit with its limited, but relatively inexpensive, menu of well cooked food.

The final stop for Chris and John was the small island of Angistri, three quarters of the way back to Aegina from Korfos. Again a very small harbour and stopping point for the Angistri/ Aegina/Athens “Dolphin”….

View from the village….

… and from the bar

…. and where, again, we considered ourselves lucky to bag a berth. On our first night there we witnessed a total lunar eclipse resulting in the famous “blood moon”. Lying prone on the quay behind the boat Mike was lucky not to get run over whilst trying to take photos of it. He needn’t have bothered as Chris captured it perfectly with her excellent compact “point and shoot”.

Before…

….and during

Thanks Chris.

We walked across the north side of the island taking about 45 minutes to reach the ferry harbour, Scala. This is a very popular resort with younger holiday makers – a kind of Greek Ibiza. It was obviously once a very traditional small Greek village with its lovely church.

Church of Agii Anargiri, Scala, Angistri

It is now full of trendy bars, café’s, gift shops and clubs and, unfortunately, Angistri village tries to compete with its club just above the harbour which kept us awake until 3am. One of these days – or rather nights – we will just have to bite the bullet and join in.

Having said that we are perfectly happy with early evening drinks on the terrace.

On the south of Angistri are the Nisís Dhorousa anchorages and it was here, with James on board and in the company of “Coriander” that we anchored and took long lines ashore. Mike and I remember doing it once before during a Greek charter holiday, though we can’t remember which island. What we do remember is that we had a strong swimmer on board [Bill] for whom it was no effort. James and I tried taking the lines by paddling in the dinghy. That worked well until we tried to paddle back but, as we don’t have floating lines we couldn’t get back to the boat. I ended up diving in and swimming the rope back. Steve had the outboard on his dinghy which gave it enough “Umph” but made it difficult at the shore end because of the prop. Still we both managed….

Coriander

You can just make out our long lines

…. went to the pleasant nearby tavern to celebrate…

The well earned beer

…and learnt some lessons as a result of the experience. It is a very popular anchoring technique for many people and, in some places such as this, the only way to facilitate all the boats wanting to be there to be there safely i.e. not swing but it is unlikely to become my preferred option.

James’s final overnight anchorage – before leaving from Aegina – was the small island of Nisís Mona – a very popular day anchorage for passing yachts and where tourist day trip boats come from nearby Aegina. By sundown the taverna closes and it becomes almost deserted.

In some pamphlets it is described as a nature reserve with deer and peacocks wandering around. I went ashore on my own for an early morning stroll. No deer, but several strutting peacocks.

Peacock blue

“Owl and Pussycat” and “Coriander” at anchor on Nisis Mona…check out the water clarity – gorgeous

Just a short half day sail south of Aegina Town is the island of Poros. Whilst there was no time for us to extend the trip to there with James we were able to include it in Chris and John’s circuit because they spent two weeks with us. Its position is such that it is an obvious stop for anyone going between the northern and southern Saronics and/or into the Gulf of Argolis. Thus it was another regular stop off point for us [and just about every other boat out there!]

But I think you will have probably done enough reading by now so, to hear all about it, you are going to have to wait for part two of the tales of family and friends in the Saronics and Argolic Gulf.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.sigasiga.co.uk/2018/12/31/family-and-friends-in-the-saronic-and-argolic-gulfs-part1/

The Gulfs of Patras and Corinth and the Corinth Canal

Sailing through the Corinth Canal is something that Mike and I have talked about over the years and which we sometimes considered for one of our bareboat charter holidays. However, we always ended up finding other itineraries – partly because we would have wanted to incorporate it into a “round the Peloponnese” trip which, we always decided, was too far for a two week charter. In terms of miles it is no doubt achievable but I could never decide which places I wouldn’t want to stop along the route so there were always too many places and never enough days!

We were probably right not to attempt a Peloponnese circumnavigation in two weeks as, in July this year, we took 14 days just to get from Astakos – near the western end of the Gulf of Patras to the Saronic Gulf at the eastern end of the canal. As you will hopefully go on to read, we stayed more than one night in some places but even so, having now done it, we do not think that taking less time would really do it justice.

We left Astakos at 8am on 1st July for the 34 nautical mile leg to Mesalongion. Approaching the north coast of the Gulf of Patras as we did, from the west, we passed the low lying salt marsh coast – and its ribbon of islands. In calm weather it is probably possible to nudge towards the shoal waters and drop a hook almost anywhere but we had our destination in mind and, at about 2pm, approached the entrance to the dredged canal.

The canal is approximately 3 miles long and along both banks are interesting houses on stilts called “pelades”.

From the rather ramshackle and abandoned…..

…. to the fisherman’s abode….

… to the holiday home.

It is possible to go alongside the quay or, according to the Cruising Guide, to get a berth at the marina. The latter had some boats moored in it but the office didn’t look as though it was open [ever!] and, anyway, we had planned to anchor in the basin.

Heikell’s guide describes the town as being a dusty kilometre walk away, past lots of reinforced concrete, but charming once you are there.

It was, indeed, quite charming and very quiet with just a few people watching the World Cup in a couple of the bars around the square.

Where is everyone!

As it was “beer o’clock” we decided to watch the match too and, unknowingly, chose seats at the “Byron Hotel” so named because the poet died here – in Mesalongion that is, not at the hotel!  Apparently there is a statue of him in the town but we didn’t come across it. Having paid €6.50 for a small wine and small beer, probably one of our more expensive drinks in Greece, we moved to the taverna by the quayside for the second half. Large wine and large beer €6 with a small meze thrown in. Good result – once again I mean the price of the drinks, not the match score. [Incidentally, for anyone vaguely interested, it was Croatia 1-1 Denmark]

Overall our conclusion was that Mesalongion was not somewhere we would say was a “must do”, especially if time was a factor. However, for us, it broke the journey at a sensible time, it was a very secure anchorage in terms of both shelter and excellent holding and it was an opportunity to see the pelades. Also, had we not gone we would not have witnessed this magnificent sunset.

Peace and beauty

Our next leg took us into the Gulf of Corinth. Passing from one gulf to the other means going through the Straits of Ríon and Andírrion, a one mile wide stretch of water once known as the “little Dardanelles”. Venetian forts stand on both banks but the most spectacular sight is that of the suspension bridge.

Central tower

Completed in August 2004 it is, with a span of 2,252m, the world’s longest cable stayed bridge.

An amazing feat of engineering

There are 3 navigable channels and as expected when, at 5 miles out, we called Ríon Traffic control on Channel 14 we were asked to make for the southernmost navigable passage as this is normally used for east bound ships. We now think we could have asked to use the northernmost passage – which would have saved us crossing to the southern side and then back to the north – because there was only a small motorboat coming the other way who, when he requested it, was given permission to go through the central passage, normally reserved for larger commercial traffic, just so that he didn’t have to alter course.

Once through the bridge we needed to keep a sharp eye out for the car ferries which, to our initial surprise, continue to cross regularly.

Ferry leaving Andirrion

On investigation I found that the cost of €6.50 for a car to use the ferry or €13.50, the bridge, to be the likely cause.

From the bridge it was just 45 minutes to Navpaktos where we anchored outside the harbour in 10m to keep us out of the breaking waves. Fortunately both wind and waves were gentle because not to have been able to stop here would have been a real shame. It was fabulous.

Outside looking in…

Under the shadow of the castle lies the small Venetian harbour.

 

…inside looking out!

Being typical Brits we generally tend to do as we are told and so when we read in the Cruising Guide that large yachts over 14m should not go into the harbour, as they would block it, we behaved and, as I wrote above, anchored outside. Having taken the dinghy ashore we found out that others didn’t do as they are told, as a couple of boats moored there were longer than us, and that the statement that it would block the harbour was untrue.

Hmm… a 15m boat

Anyway, it didn’t really matter. It wouldn’t have been the easiest of berthing experiences and we were fine where we were.

So, we set out to explore the town. Although quite small it had everything in the way of supermarkets, bakeries, butchers etc and we had fun provisioning.

Around the harbour are numerous quaint café’s….

 

…… and along the harbour wall are several plaques commemorating various people and countries who assisted in the battle of “Lepanto” – which was the name of the town in medieval times – and in the Greek War of Independence. A small statue on the waterfront honours probably the best known fighter….

….. Cervantes, who lost an arm in the battle.

 

Unfortunately it was Mon/Tues when we were in Navpaktos so we could not visit what is apparently a stunning Ottoman mosque – called the “Fethiye Mosque” as it is only open to visitors for around 2 hours each Fri/Sat/Sun evening. We did, however, walk up to the “kastro”.

It is a well preserved fortress which has five different layers built successively by Doric, Roman, Byzantine, Venetian and Turkish conquerors. The Tsaous Bastion was the final fortification, one of the constructions added by the Turks….

…. as were these baths situated in the second lowest level.

The citadel at the top is 200m from sea level.

The small church in the citadel

Remains of the decorative mosaic path leading to the church

It affords excellent views down to the harbour….

… and along the gulf.

East down the Gulf of Corinth

West to the Rion bridge and into the Gulf of Patras

We spoke with one of the custodians and he told us we should also visit Tzavellas Mansion which houses a small museum with exhibits relating to the Battle of Lepanto. We found the mansion but it was closed.

At least the small courtyard was accessible

We walked up to a tower we had seen from the bottom, which was a bit of a disappointment…

…and saw various wells, of which this is one.

Navpaktos is surprisingly well watered in an area of Greece where water is scarce throughout the summer months.

We timed our visit to the castle perfectly. As we were heading back out to the boat the breeze started to increase and, once aboard, we raised the anchor for a lovely gentle 2.5 hour sail to “Nisís Trizónia”.

This is one of the most popular stopover places in the Gulf and some people leave their boats here over winter. The marina is not actually operating commercially but the pontoons are in place.

Looking across the marina to the anchorage

Once again we preferred to anchor in the sheltered bay and spent two lovely evenings there.

The island is approximately 1.5miles long and 0.75miles wide and its single small village consists of a church…..

…. an hotel, a few guest houses and about half a dozen restaurants.

A beautiful setting

It is a very popular place to visit by ferry from Glifida just half a mile away on the mainland. Some friends happened to anchor at Trizónia on a National Holiday and found it packed, with every restaurant full to bursting. We saw it operating at a much less frantic pace and, as a result, enjoyed it much more than they did.

During the early afternoon on 5th July we moved eastwards again and were able to sail in 4-10kn wind 6 miles down the gulf to Skala Kallithea. The holding there is described as being good in sand. We found weed, poor holding, little room in a depth we wanted and winds being funnelled over the mountain directly into the bay so, at 7pm we decided to move to Panormos 7 miles further on – a very pleasant anchorage with better depth and more shelter.

Our next port of call was the fairly large town of Itéa where we went alongside the breakwater of the harbour [no charge].

It is a fairly scruffy working town but the local people were really friendly and we loved the waterfront which bustled in the evening with people undertaking the traditional “promenade” before congregating in the numerous small ouzeries, coffee shops and gyros bars. Most people who go there are on their way too or from Delphi, which is a few miles inland, though probably more people visiting the site stay at Galaxhidi just 4 miles south of Itéa.

Galaxhidi is also a much more popular place than Itéa with yachties though the comments “not always good holding” and “can send a swell in” resulted in our decision to favour Itéa. We did however visit Galaxhidi, by bus, and can certainly see why it is so popular.

The harbour….complete with “duck house”

It has a history as a shipping town both in terms of boat building and as a thriving port and we had hoped to spend time at the Nautical Historical museum which, we have heard, is well worth a visit. According to the Lonely Planet it is open Tues-Sun throughout the summer. It was closed on the Sunday we were there! We contented ourselves with wandering round the town…..

 

 

Decorative church entrance

….and had a great lunch.

The proprietor [the guy waving!] came to chat with us and, whilst at our table, a friend of his turned up with some small “fresh from the garden” cucumbers which our convivial host proceeded to peel, slice, add salt and oil to and then left us in peace to enjoy as a pre meal appetiser.

We do sometimes have less positive experiences and “Andíkiron” was one of those. Having gone slightly out of our way to get there i.e. 10 nautical miles up ‘Ormos Andíkiron to the head of the bay, we went alongside the outer wall of the breakwater. We had hoped to get an inside berth but for our draught there are perhaps three possible spots and they were already occupied by two French boats and some local fishing boats. We had been there about 5 minutes when a guy came along to charge us. It was only €5 per night and we happily handed over €10 intending to stay for 2 nights. Interestingly it was the only place we did not get a receipt!

We went into the town described as “a small and friendly Greek resort” to find it run down, with very little signs of any tourists and some locals who barely responded to our “Hellos”. We stopped at a restaurant for a couple of frappé. There were only two tables with anyone at them. We were told they didn’t serve just coffee – you had to eat. We have never been told this anywhere else in Greece. We left.

To top it all we had a really bad night with waves slapping the sides of the boat and jarring us on our lines. We thought that if either of the French boats left we would move inside the following morning, only to find when we awoke that they had been up before us and moved down the quay because they too had had an awful night. It was therefore no good taking those berths and, given the general unfriendly reception the town had given us, it didn’t take us long to decide to leave – especially as the wind which had resulted in the waves and swell was actually forecast to increase.

Goodbye …..

So, on 10th July we moved to our final Gulf of Corinth destination – Kiato. We had intended going first to the inlet “Kólpos Domvrainis where I had picked a couple of fairly isolated anchorages with just a small village or taverna ashore. Unfortunately the weather conditions which had made Andíkiron uncomfortable would also have affected Vathi and Alikis so we headed straight across the gulf to Kiato.

We were really lucky and managed to get onto the end of the mole inside the small fishing harbour which lies in the SE corner of the commercial harbour.

View of the main church from our berth

The church at night

We spent four nights in Kiato and found it to be a very different experience from Andíkiron.

Friendly, busy, great provisioning – including Lidl! – and no harbour fees. We also found a lovely restaurant and a very nice, if rather pricey bar, outside which we shared a couple of glasses of wine at sundown.

Looking across the fishing harbour to our berth

We had thought that we were going to meet Chris and John there at the start of their holiday so they could experience the Corinth canal. However, although we really liked the town it would be a stretch to describe it as a typical Greek holiday destination so we gave sis the choice of still coming to Kiato and “doing” the canal or meeting us on the other side in Aegina. She chose the latter. Therefore it was just Mike and I who set off at daybreak [06.40] on 18th July to transit the canal.

Looks like its going to be a nice calm morning for going through

Leaving the fishing harbour

As with the Ríon bridge we followed the instructions in Heikell’s Guide and contacted the canal authority – “Ishmia Pilot” on Channel 11 when we were 5 miles out. We were asked the usual questions – boat length, draught, number of crew/passengers etc but were then surprised to be asked whether we could pay in cash. Being the most expensive stretch of water in the world it was going to cost us [with an overall length of 14.8m] €264 to transit the 3.2 mile canal. Fortunately we had sufficient money on board and were therefore able to say that cash was OK.

We were told to proceed and call again at 2 miles out after which we were instructed to wait near the entrance where one other boat was already holding position.

We were, we think, quite lucky as we were only there 20 minutes before the transit began. Others we know have had a much longer wait.

The idea of having a canal at Corinth goes back a long way with both Greek and Roman leaders making plans for one to save them having to haul boats across the Isthmus. Nero was the only one who actually started digging but work soon halted as he diverted his thoughts, and slaves, to combat Gallic insurrection. The present canal was started in C19 by a French company and completed by the Greeks in 1893.

At the entrance to the canal is a hydraulic bridge which is lowered into the water…

…and boats then enter.

Here we go…

In the west basin

Into the canal proper

Looking back near the end….OK, so its out of sequence!!

We were the lead boat followed by “Lyndy Lou” with the smallest boat bringing up the rear.

It took about 30 minutes end to end and we enjoyed every minute.

Apparently the canal was enlarged following damage during WW2 – goodness knows how narrow it must have been at that time because as it is now it felt as if we could lean out and touch the sides.

Getting narrower – at least it looks that way

Great rock formations

Reflections

Mike also had the sensation of sailing downhill ….

…..and, as with all bridges, even knowing our mast needs just over 20m clearance – to get the aerials safely through as well – and the clearance under the three bridges crossing the canal is 52m, it felt like a close shave.

We emerged into the western basin……

….and, at 09.30, docked alongside to go to the tower to make payment.

It was all very professional, took very little time and we still don’t know why we were asked by the canal controller whether or not we could pay in cash because electronic card payment was what the guy in the payments office expected. It maybe that they want to make sure that if your credit card or their machine doesn’t work you have the cash as a backup?

And so, that was that we were through into the Saronic Gulf in the Aegean.

The Corinth canal cuts 150 miles of the journey from the Ionian to Athens but our observation was that it is little used other than by a few small commercial vessels, tourists boats which take trippers through and back and a handful of yachts daily. Throughout our passage from one end of the Gulf to the other we hardly saw any other boats – it certainly wasn’t the busy waterway we were expecting.

With regard to commercial traffic I expect that the size of vessels today precludes their passage. I think it is a shame that more yachts don’t use it – but the cost factor is probably an issue for some.

We would certainly recommend it even if boats don’t go through the canal. So, if anyone reading this is considering a charter holiday in the Ionian region or bases their boat there and visits annually we suggest that they think about sailing at least around the Gulfs of Patras and Corinth as they are well worth it.

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