Having successfully found our way to Greece, it was time to go off and explore.
Our first destination was Levkas Canal, which cuts through the salt marsh between the mainland and the island(?) of Levkas. It also provides a useful and interesting shortcut, rather than going around the outside.
It was a bit of a hairy approach as we passed close to a sand spit next to an old fort, keeping inside a row of port markers. We were rushing to get to the swing bridge that opens on the hour and we made it with five minutes to spare. This bridge swings sideways, rather than up, creating a somewhat narrow passage into the canal behind. We were the only boat going south, but we had to pass 5 or so heading north, through the narrow opening.
We passed Levkas Marina, which is situated on the canal, where Happy Cat (another 421 we had seen in Sydney) had wintered a few years before.
The canal is marked by red and green triangles on tops of poles, with some regular bouys at the southern end. Quite a weird place.
We burst out into a wonderful cruising ground with heaps of yachts having a great sail in the brisk conditions. We sailed through the strait between Meganisi and Levkas, said to be one of the loveliest channels in the Ionian. Couldn’t argue with that.
Then it was onto Ithaca Island, the home of Odysseus. We gave the main port a miss and headed for a lovely bay around the corner at Ormos Skhoinos. It was wonderfully protected from the southerlies that were blowing. We dropped anchor in about 7m of water and had a refreshing swim, our first in Greece.
Next morning, we started our trek towards the Corinth Canal. It turned out to be quite a miserable day, with the wind howling out of the Gulf of Patras, along with a 1.5kt current. We battled to make much headway and called it a day, heading into Mesolongion, along a canal that cuts through a series of salt marshes. The entrance to the canal had some interesting fisherman’s houses on stilts.
Mesolongion is nothing to write home about – its claim to fame being the place where Byron died. We also had our first nice feed of Greek food, in the centre of town, amongst all the Uni students. We stayed there a couple of nights, waiting for the wind to die down, so we could continue our journey east.
We were med moored, with the anchor out the front and our back tied to the town wall. This was something we hadn’t done a lot of – in Croatia we would pick up lines for the front rather than use the anchor. This inexperience caused us to get up in the middle of the night in the middle of a thunder and lightening show and tighten up the anchor to stop us crashing onto the town wall. Lesson learnt, but we all got soaked to the bone, no doubt leading to my bout of “man flu”.
With the wind finally dying down, and the weather clearing a little, we left Mesolongion and headed back out into the Gulf of Patras. The wind was still on our nose, but manageable as we motor sailed the 12nm towards the Rion-Andirrion suspension bridge, the largest cable stayed bridge in the world. It was completed in 2004 and you can see it from miles away, and when you get 5nm from it you need to call bridge control to get instructions on transiting under it. Its quite a sight with four big pillars in the water. The middle section is for large ships, we went through on the south side, with tons of clearance. The funny thing is that there are still car ferries going back and forward, despite there being a bridge just there.
Once under the bridge and through the Straits of Rion, we were in the Gulf of Corinth, but still 70nm away from the Canal. So we picked out Ormos Anemokambi on the north side and dropped anchor there for the night.
Next morning, we were up early and heading for the canal, with a favourable wind for a change. We had thought about using an agent, but they wanted an extra 50 euro for their trouble and it was already 200 euro to transit the 3.2nm of canal so we gave the agent a miss.
We arrived about 1pm and called up the canal on VHF channel 11. We didn’t have to wait long as the hydraulic bridge that blocks the entrance dropped to the floor of the canal and we were off. There was a nice current running our way at 1-2kts.
What an amazing experience going through this narrow canal which is only 25m wide. The side tower 80m up at its highest point and there is 6m of water under us. The ancient Greeks and Romans tried to build a canal here but failed. Instead they used to drag ships across the isthmus on paved roads. Octavius dragged his ships across here when he was in pursuit of Marc Anthony. It wasn’t until 1893 that the Greeks finished off what a French company started.
At the eastern end of the canal, there is another hydraulic bridge, which dropped down to let us through. We then tied up to the wall next to the canal authority on the south side and paid our dues. Too easy.
And then we were off to explore the Aegean Sea.