After weeks of cruising in idyllic settings and pristine waters, Corinth harbour brought us back to reality with a thud. The seabed was foul, with debris clearly visible in water that somehow retained its clarity in spite of the obvious pollution. It suddenly dawned on me that "crystal clear" does not necessarily mean "clean". Aisling was tied at the end of the dock behind the mole, beside a massive pile of fishing nets covered by a dirty tarp. I eyed it suspiciously-could rats be lurking underneath? We closed up all the hatches, offered a few words of encouragement to a battle-scarred cat hunting along the dock, and headed into the town to look for a tourist office.
At the tourist office, the agent quickly threw cold water on our hopes of renting a car to tour the Peloponnese. Apparently, we had been highly optimistic to arrive at 2 p.m. on a Saturday afternoon without an advance booking. But all was not lost. "It only takes twenty minutes to get to ancient Corinth on the bus" the agent told us. "You still have time to go there this afternoon, and tomorrow you can take another bus to Mycenae and Nafplion." Since she used the Greek pronunciation for Mycenae ("Mick-en-ess") we didn't immediately realize that she was referring to the archeological site said to be the ancient home of Agamemnon.
All these wonders at our doorstep, and we ended up spending most of the afternoon in a supermarket. A real, almost-Sobeys-sized supermarket--how could we resist? After a wild impulse buying spree (Romaine lettuce! Prosciutto! Italian coffee!) we trudged back to the boat and stashed our purchases. Obviously, dinner would have to be cooked aboard, but later that night, as we sat in the cockpit listening to the sounds of revelry and shouts of "Opa!" drifting across the water from the nearby cafés, we kind of wished we'd chosen to eat out.
The next morning, Rick came below and announced that his flip-flops had been stolen from the deck. "Don't be ridiculous" I said, "Why would anyone steal your flip-flops?" But after searching in every conceivable location, I had to concede that the flip flops were nowhere to be found, which in turn led to the disconcerting realization that someone had been aboard the boat while we slept. Then, of course, we began to wonder what else might be missing, but everything seemed to be accounted for. Apparently, this particular thief was interested only in footwear-and not very high-end footwear! Throughout most of Greece, the risk of theft is very low, but we have since read that petty theft is more common in Athens and nearby ports.
Since Rick's enthusiasm for touring ancient ruins was waning, his preference was to leave immediately and go through the canal into the Saronic Gulf. He radioed the canal and asked whether a surcharge would be levied for transiting on Sunday. When the reply came back as "Yes, Captain", I knew we wouldn't be leaving. Adding 25% to the already steep transit fee of 175 euros wasn't something the skipper was likely to be keen on. Later, we learned that this had been a misunderstanding, since the surcharge is applied only to those who require the services of a tugboat. From my point of view, the misunderstanding was fortuitous, since it gave us enough time to see ancient Corinth.
It was well past noon before I managed to lure my reluctant travelling companion to the bus stop. The 45 minutes we spent waiting for the bus in the blistering heat got the expedition off to a bad start, but the caramel ice cream sandwiches we bought when we arrived at the site increased the happiness factor We made our way to the museum to learn a bit about ancient Corinth before we toured the ruins.
Ancient Corinth was a formidable power during the 8th-6th centuries BC. (During this period, the Corinthians also founded the colony of Syracuse in Sicily.) The ancient town planner who chose the site of Corinth must have been well acquainted with the concept of "Location, location, location"- Corinth's wealth was largely due to its strategic position on a narrow isthmus between the Ionian Sea and the Aegean sea. Ancient traders often portaged their boats across the isthmus at Corinth to avoid the long and dangerous voyage around the Peloponnese. The Acrocorinth, a virtually impregnable citadel towering over the ancient site, helped to ensure Corinth's military might.
There were other attractions that drew the ancient mariners to Corinth. When the sailors rolled into town, they probably headed straight for the Temple of Aphrodite and into the arms of one of the hundreds of sacred prostitutes whose "services" allowed believers to pay homage to the goddess of love in the most appropriate way. Although Corinth later declined and was essentially razed by the Romans during the 2nd century BC, it quickly regained its reputation as a hotbed of iniquity after being reestablished by Julius Caesar during the 1st century BC. By the time St. Paul arrived in the 1st century AD, Corinth was a city seriously in need of salvation-but not surprisingly, his new religion was not an easy sell.
The Corinth museum holds many beautiful and interesting artifacts. I loved the exhibit of items from the Asklepieion- the "healing temple". Another interesting room had a display of items that had been stolen in a museum robbery and later recovered. In April of 1990, four robbers assaulted and tied up the single unarmed guard who was on duty, and carried away 285 priceless artifacts, plus a large sum of cash that had been set aside for the employees' payroll. Some of the artifacts eventually popped up in a Christie's auction and the Greek police, working with the FBI, recovered most of the collection from a storage house in Miami in 1999. Apparently, several Greek nationals were charged with the robbery. One was sentenced to life in prison. Who knows what leads a person into a life of crime? Perhaps it all started with something as harmless as stealing a pair of flip-flops. But one would have to say that the museum's management had made it a bit easy for the robbers by storing millions of dollars worth of artifacts in an out-of-the-way site without an alarm system. And does anyone else find it strange that, in 1990, a nationally-operated museum was paying its employees in cash?
By the time we left the museum to tour the site, there were only a handful of people on the grounds. There is something wonderful about standing in silence in front of a Doric temple, and as we wandered through the streets of the Roman agora we could almost imagine what life had been like when St. Paul spoke to the Corinthians from a platform that still exists. It might have been nice to linger until evening, but we didn't dare risk missing our bus.
On Monday morning, I made one last run to the grocery store. With all the clothing and gift shops open for the day, the streets around the harbour suddenly seemed more attractive. As often happens, the place was growing on me, and I found myself wishing that we could stay for just one more day.
We were both excited about going through the Corinth canal- it was something we had been looking forward to since the winter, and when we reached the other side we would be in the Aegean sea! The modern Corinth canal cuts through the isthmus in the same place that the ancients dragged ships across. The canal has been described as the "longest public works project in history". The ancient Greeks dreamed of it, Nero put 6000 Jewish prisoners to work on it in 67 AD, but that effort was abandoned and the project didn't come to fruition until 1893.
Travelling through the canal with the steep walls towering over us was the experience of a lifetime.
Rick's stress level was almost as high as the engine RPMs, with the Canal Control Officer shouting on the VHF, "Aisling I, faster....faster Captain, faster...full throttle, full throttle!!" They have a schedule to keep and we weren't keeping pace, even though we were doing seven knots over the bottom!
With our transit completed and the bill paid before 10.30 a.m., we had most of the day still ahead of us, so we pressed on toward Piraeus where, we hoped, we would find a berth in a marina. No such luck. With everything full, we decided to try anchoring off the beach near Kea marina. Several boats were already anchored, and it looked like it might be tough to find room. The American boat "Time Warp" was already anchored, but the skipper called out "I could move over a bit if you need me to." What a nice thing to do! We managed to get anchored without taking him up on the offer, but we were happy to accept his invitation to dinner. Over a delicious pasta and red wine, we learned that Peter, two crew members and Peter's 12 year old son Will had sailed Time Warp across the Atlantic and Peter and Will had been double-handing since they left Gibraltar. They were counting the days until Will's mother Ruth landed in Athens to join them for their world cruising adventure.
The next morning, we all had hasty departures when the Port Police chased us out of the anchorage. We were fortunate to get a temporary spot at the end of the dock at Kea marina while we had our refrigerator repaired, but we didn't have a chance to say goodbye to Peter and Will. Luckily, we've been able to follow their every move on sailblogs. They are still sailing- check out their very entertaining blog at the link posted to the right of this page in the "friends" section.
I enjoyed that little journey back to Corinth...maybe I'll wander on to Delos next!