CAPE SOUNION – CORINTH CANAL – TRIZONIA – CORFU
We stayed in Lavrio for a couple of days and, the 2nd of October, left at dawn towards Cape Sounion. In Classical Antiquity, Lavrio was famous for its silver mines. The Athenians mainly exploited the silver for coining. After the battle of Marathon, Themistocles convinced them to use this wealth in order to increase their naval force. This is how the Athenians expanded their fleet to 200 triremes and later won the battle of Salamis against the Persians.
Cape Sounion was firstly mentioned by Homer in the Odyssey. He was referring to it as the “holy Cape of Athens”. It is said that when ancient mariners were passing under the cape, they used to make offerings to Poseidon. A very symbolic gesture for any sailor passing this headland. The fact is that the eastern side of the cape is often much more windy and rougher compare to the western side. There is like an imaginary border which separates the calm waters of the Saronic Gulf from the rough Aegean Sea.
In the early morning, we passed close under the cape and did our offerings to the God of the Sea. We were now entering the very busy shipping area around Piraeus.
A good look out was necessary to decide when and where to cross the TSS (Traffic Separation Scheme). It is always terrifying to have those huge steel monsters passing close by.
The night was spent in the crowded harbour of Aegina, which we left the next morning to cover the last 22 nm separating us from the Corinth Canal. This 3 miles long channel is connecting the Saronic Gulf to the Gulf of Corinth and is the entrance to the Western side of Greece. It is also a practical short cut in order to avoid sailing around Peloponnese.
This narrow passage was already in use in Ancient Greece. At that time, ships were carried by rolling on a wooden track. In 67 AD, the Roman emperor Neron was the first to try to dig the channel using 6000 Jewish prisoners, but he died a year later and the project was abandoned. After the Independance of Greece (1821), the newborn government, ruled by Ioannis Kapodistrias, hired a French company to dig the channel. The whole project is estimated to have cost 40 million gold francs. It was designed by the engineer Bela Gester and was finally inaugurated in 1893 by the King George the 1st of Greece.
In a windless torrid afternoon we arrived in the little harbour of Itea. The town itself has not much to offer but, it has the advantage of being a few kilometres away from the sanctuary of Delphi. We only stayed a night there and sailed the next morning to the Island of Trizonia, 22nm further West in the Gulf of Corinth.
We left the boat there and rented a car to visit Delphi, one of the most impressive archaeological sites in Greece.
During Classical Era, once a year, the Pythia of Delphi, who was usually a young virgin, gave her Oracle on the day of the anniversary of Apollo. She was then often consulted through out the year, but her predictions were not always followed by all the Greeks. For example, during the Persian Wars, the Athenians consulted her before the Naval Battle of Salamis in 480 BC. She predicted a disastrous outcome for the Athenians if they engage in the conflict. Her prediction was rejected by the warlords who asked for a second consultation. The unexpected victory of the Greeks was the pinnacle of the second Persian invasion.
After visiting Delphi, we went back to the boat in Trizonia. This tiny island is a practical stop over in the Gulf of Corinth and the local port offers a good all round shelter. Years ago it used to be a bit chaotic because a lot of private yachts were abandoned here. Nowadays, this little port is under the management of the local community and offers water, electricity and some nice tavernas. Unfortunately there is no diesel or any kind of shop on the island and everything has to be brought by boat from the mainland.
Since we had rented a car, we decided to go and visit friends in Patras and crossed the hanging bridge to Rio. Our friends took us for a day trip further south to Olympia, another famous archeological site. Here is where the lightening ceremony of the Olympic flame takes place.
On the way back, just before dark, we stopped in a marvellous little fishing harbour to catch a glimpse of the sunset and eat some grilled fishes.
It is now nearly 20 years since the hanging bridge of Rio-Antirio has been built to connect the Peloponnese with mainland Greece. When approaching the bridge you have to call the traffic control on the VHF. Normally you are not allowed to sail under the bridge but motor sailing is tolerated. Care must also be taken for the small ferries which are crossing from Rio to Antirion.
According to our previous experience, it is always better to pass this strait with the wind and current from behind. Here again, because of the high mountains on each side of the strait, a Venturi effect should be expected. In other words, it is often windy in the area and there is little chance a small boat could motor against the current and the strong afternoon breeze.
We were lucky to have so perfect conditions and motor sailed under those huge pillars with the current and wind pushing us to the West. After the Strait, we entered the Gulf of Patras and gradually reached the Ionian Sea.
A few miles before entering the Ionian, we did an evening stop in Messolonghi. To enter the harbour, you have to pass through a channel about 2 nm long. At the end of it, lies an artificial circular bay which offers an all round shelter and a modern marina with all the facilities. But Messolonghi is also renowned for its history during the Greek War of Independence. On the 20th May 1821, Messolonghi was the first town of western Greece to rise against the Ottomans. It is also the town where the famous British poet and Philhellene Lord Byron died in April 1824 during his stay among the Greek rebels.
The area used to be a huge swamp with malaria and unhealthy climate. Nowadays these marshes are famous for the high quality salt they produce.
We then left Messolonghi and entered the Ionian Sea heading towards Lefkas where we did a night stop. The next morning we passed the bridge of Lefkas at 7:00 Am and headed north for the last leg. We arrived in Corfu in the late evening.
Finally home after 4 months around Greece !