Peloponnese Blog 5 (19 August 2019)
30 August 2019 | Gulf of Corinth
Martyn Morris | A lot of sunny skies
We have had guests on the boat and I have slipped becoming behind with the blog. Right now we are winding down the clock to the lift out on 21 August. We are in Ligia and planning just to do a night on the town quay at Lefkas tonight before getting to Preveza town quay for our lift out on Wednesday before flying out Friday but lets jump back and pick up at Zea Marina in Athens, where Mike had just joined.
We left the Competent Crew book on Mike's bed and gave him the normal safety briefing before casting of our lines and saying cheers to our friendly tripper boat neighbours. The Corinth canal some 30Nm away was closed on every Tuesday for dredging and maintenance, only opening at 18:00, so we headed for the southern tip of Salamis, a whole 9Nm away. It was a pleasant anchorage inside two small islands. It was quite shallow and tight but the weather was benign and it served its purpose as a staging point for the canal. The most interesting thing was the Flintstone house. Built freeform from rock and the roots of olive trees moulded into cement with eccentric flare and dedication, it is a truly unique masterpiece tucked away on a normal size plot in an average suburb. Nothing square everything Flintstone-ish, check out the galley for a picture. The island of Salamis is basically written of by Heikell as a barren unattractive, largely industrialized island, we saw none of that in the south and found the bay very pleasant. In the morning we had about 16Nm to go to the canal. Doing as instructed on the Corinth canal website, we had been sending e-mails, 48 hours before our arrival, 24 hours before and then 12 and 3 hours before. We showed up in the approaches and milled around with a few other boats, announcing ourselves and awaiting instructions. A boat called "Lucky Trader" proceeded to the waiting quay without being invited or instructed to do so. The bollocking that they received over the radio was spectacular and immensely amusing but left no other vessels in any doubt about what not to do. Later we were called onto the waiting quay and Veronica tottered of to pay the not unsubstantial canal fee. There she fell into conversation with the skipper who was doing a delivery to Corfu, originally from Constantia in Cape Town and his mother is married to my friend Marc Fischer's brother, small world. The canal was impressive and Dylan had given us the idea to tape the iPhone to the mast and do a time lapse. It worked a treat as we followed Lucky Trader and two other large motor yachts through the deep white 5Nm slash in the earth. It set you thinking of that fact that in ancient times they hauled ancient fleets of ships over the isthmus, rolling them on logs. Worth also noting that the word isthmus is derived from old town at the eastern end of the canal called Isthmia. The white walls of the canal had many tales to whisper down at us as we stood on deck and watched the bungy jumpers leaping from the bridges, these were tales of those that slaved to dig it, 79m deep into the earth, some beautifully preserved structural geology in the fault traces, whispers of the bombings during the second world war and of course much more.
Lucky Trader was in a hurry to get to Corfu and they revved their motor whist we tacked our way into the gulf, eventually having to motor and settling for an anchorage in the isolated four island archipelago of Nisoi Alkionidhes. We were the only yacht there, surrounded on one side by abandoned buildings and on the other by a family's comings and goings, on Zoodhokos in their humble and isolated island getaway dwelling. There is an abandoned monastery on that island but apparently it is privately owned but clearly in a humble way with none of the trappings of Skorpios or Koronida.
The morning dawned and Mike and Veronica remained in slumberland deep in their pits. The tender was not down so the skipper put the camera in a double dry bag and headed for the deserted island on the SUP. The building certainly did not look like an abandoned monastery and clearly at one time a lot of money had been spent on these building and particularly on the mini harbour below them. There was an overgrown but at onetime significant road cut that led up the hill. I headed up it, noting the pipe that ran parallel. I thought it led to a water source but on such a small island and high up that would be remarkable. The mystery was solved at the top, this was at one time a mini iron ore mine. There were some trenches and the top of the hill had been shaved off. Well I thought it and the other bigger mines nearby were iron ore mines but in fact later research told me they were actually Bauxite (the primary source of Aluminium) deposits. The thinking was not that wacky though, as the main by-product is haematite and the remaining scar in the mountain is haematite red with the associate dust when not watered down. Back down in the houses and workers quarters at the foot of the island it was bizarre because everything had been left as it was, it was as if one day they just walked out, and there was crockery, pictures on the walls and some quite nice pieces of furniture. It somehow reminded me of some abandoned mines I had visited in Namibia many years ago. I got back to the boat on the SUP and the sun was just up, yet the first mate and Mike were still pushing Zzzzz's deep in their pits.
We headed north to an enclosed bay behind a line of islands, which all were uninhabited with harsh and rugged vegetation and rock outcrops, beautiful in their own way. What was interesting was that we had noticed several medium size bulk carriers coming through this isolated strait and it later became evident that they were going into a bay two away from where we were to load limestone from the local cement mine. It was so hidden and unobtrusive we would never have imagined it was there from the bay of Ioannou where we spent the night. I learnt something interesting though and that is that iron oxide is an essential corrective ingredient required in the mix of raw materials for cement. I strongly suspect with such a presence in the area of bauxite ore and haematite, that this was a mine that provided a limestone rich in iron ore and hence solved that problem.
It was furnace hot when we entered this bay, which was tiny with one Taverna and a lot of local fishing and ski boats. It was clear it was a favourite swim spot for locals inland and they came at dawn and dusk to take the water. We considered anchoring and taking stern line ashore but it was tight and deep. There was a huge buoy in the centre of the bay which we decided to pick it up and then go and enquire if it was OK at the Taverna afterwards. The Taverna guy said all good and that it had a ton of cement block attached. I thanked him and we ate lunch and dined there in the evening too. The piece about me trying to explain that one ton mattered less than the integrity of the hawser attachment, went lost in translation. It was a brilliant place, full of tranquil nothingness and conducive to much snorkelling and paddling the SUP. We were the only patrons at the Taverna, with the entertainment provided by the frenetic launching and hauling out of local ski-boats on fishing missions. I am guessing that if you work on a cement mine or at the power station over the hill, these activities are what, to excuse the pun, "float your boat".
We motored 35 Nm to Galixidi the next day, stopping the motor in 500m of water with a mirror smooth surface for a swim and a gentle tow behind the boat. As we rounded the Makrinikola lighthouse the skipper decided we should fly the gennaker and that to do so, we needed the pole out. Well, as soon as we had mission-ed with the launch from the sock and the pole was out. The wind backed 180 degrees and died to zero. The crew were amused and peeved in equal measure and the skipper was cursing himself for not thinking about the local topography and compression zones enough.
Galixidi was a recommended place, primarily because it is a good jumping of spot to go to Delphi, which is probably Greece's best preserved and most spectacular archaeological site. That said Galixidi is full of merit in its own right. The town was first inhabited and formed during the Mycenaean era (1600 to 1100BC). It was an important stopover during the Crusades and was particularly noted for its ship building industry during the 1700's, when it was occupied by the Ottomans. Interestingly, during this time and after the Treaty of Küçük Kaynarca (1774), many of the ship owners of Galaxidi operated under the Russian flag. After Greek independence in 1829, it had a large trading fleet and many of the palatial residences, many now looking very tired, are a legacy of those bygone days. Now it is humble but lovely place surviving in style but less grandeur. We stayed 2 nights whiling away the time, swimming, exploring and getting assimilated, at the local beach club and swimming hole, by the local crowd executing amoeba like phagocytosis.
We hired a car on the second evening, ready for an early Le Mans start to head for Delphi. As we sat on the back of the boat there were cars with signs saying hire me on them and within spitting distance. Mike called the number and 10 minutes later the lovely and vivacious Vlastiki showed up with a contract and €40 was paid over, an exceptionally easy transaction.
The drive was firstly along the coast to past the red moonscapes of the bauxite mining operation and the loading wharfs and onwards through what seemed like an endless olive grove in the flood plain before commencing the accent up to Delphi. The road was good with spectacular views back over the Gulf of Corinth. There was some impressive civil engineering feats to be contemplated. The road at one time needed to double back on itself in a figure of eight whirl over a bridge to achieve an acceptable gradient and there was a massive irrigation canal hone into the slope. It is worth remembering that those ancients used to trek down from Delphi to the coast with their donkeys. It would not have been an insignificant undertaking.
The ancient Greeks considered the centre of the world to be in Delphi, marked by the stone monument known as the omphalos (navel). We arrived and found parking just below the navel and close to the centre of the world. It was hot and we were glad we had set our early because these guys had built their masterpiece on the side of a serious mountain and we had a climb ahead of us. I could go into chapter and verse about how spectacular and diverse this world heritage site is but suffice it to say it is not to be missed. We did get to the centre of the ancient world and saw the stone marking the navel. The amphitheatre was smaller than the one at Epidhavros but the sweeping views down the valley from the top benches must have been a distraction to any event staged in it. The ruins had ancient water carved channels and pavements making it easy for you to close your eyes and imagine and hear the hustle and bustle of this as a working ancient city. After passing so many spectacular ruins, you come to the Stadium. If you were going to build a running track 180m long with stadium seating all around, this is an interesting location. It is honed and levelled into the mountain slope above the ancient city at an elevation 670m.a.s.l. I learned some interesting things here. The standard length of a Greek running track was one stadion which is 600 podes (Ancient Greek feet) equal to 184.9m. It is from this that the English word stadium derives. A Hippodrome (hippo = horse and dromos = course) is an ancient Greek horse and chariot racing track, is bigger. This has of course also been adopted into modern language and usage.
The museum containing many interesting excavated artefacts was fascinating. This is a must see place, checkout this blog site's gallery to get a better sense of it.
As we left and pulled out in the hire car, this sizable mangy powerhouse stray leaped out of the shade on the other side of the road and accelerated towards us. The driver's side window was open and the rabid beast launched itself at the open window, scratching at the paintwork of the door of the moving car and baring salivating gnashers, with a manically focused look in its eyes. It was so random and so unprovoked that it provided good conversation for a while after and I was glad it did not get its head into the window. Clearly Delphi is no place for sissies.
We left early afternoon for Trizonia in an oppressive flat calm, we had noted the wind would fill in later and that it was going to be a beat but no one mentioned 25 knots. With two reefs and a staysail we bashed into the short and vicious knot knocking chop having to steer by hand on the one tack as Philemon was not doing a good job. After two tacks to the other side of the gulf and with 5Nm to go and the sunset clock running down on us, we turned on the engine. It was the first time on this trip that we have had to close the central window on the dodger to stop the spray.
Trizonia is an interesting place. There is very little on the island except restaurants and a landing for tripper boats coming from the mainland about 800m away, yet there is this extensive harbour that must have had some former purpose, military I suspect but I can find nothing to corroborate this. Permanent population is 64 in 2011, less than half of the 157 in 2001 census and one wonders why? Before he bought Skorpios Onassis offered the locals an extremely attractive lump sum for this island but they refused. We stayed two nights, walking to the Red Beach and visiting the mainland. The little village with a large variety of restaurants was quaint, a place quaint enough to attract quite a few medium size super yachts.
The Gulf of Corinth had surprised us, I had written it off as the home stretch to the Ionian with no or fickle winds and little else, so far I had been proven pleasantly wrong but we had not visited Navpaktos yet.
Navpaktos has a tiny ancient Venetian harbour and Peter from Absolutely Amazing had said that if there was room we should drop the anchor outside the harbour and back in through the walls onto the quay. We took his advice and ended up in a spectacular setting. The old castellated city walls enclosed the harbour and extended up the hill to the castle high above. It was a lively town with a nice beach and many waterfront restaurants and bars. Early in the morning we climbed up to the castle before the heat was at its zenith. The castle was originally built by the Venetians but had been added to during the Ottoman occupation. The castle itself was spectacular but so were the views down to the ancient harbour and across the Gulf to the suspension bridge.
As we stood up on the castle ramparts we contemplated two impressive structures from centuries apart. Navpaktos Castle and the Rion-Antirrio bridge. The views from the first of the second were impressive. The bridge is world's longest multi-span cable stayed bridge, total span 2880m. it was designed to deal with a few challenges, water depths of 65m, the fact that the Gulf of Corinth is expanding at a rate of 30mm a year and the piers are resting on a meticulously levelled bed of gravel (not piled into the seabed), so as to cope with and dampen any earthquake generated movement. The bridge is designed to handle 250km/h winds and an impact from an oil tanker doing 11knots.
Mike was leaving us on 9 August and the easiest place for him to catch a bus from was Patras which was only 9 Nm away across the gulf. We got chased out of the marina as it had been damaged in a storm two winters ago and ended up against the wall in the main ferry harbour. There was water and electricity but it was a desolate place and the town was unspectacular. On the upside it was very close to the bus station for Mike's departure to Athens and we found a fine place to have a farewell dinner with Mike.
Taking advantage of the harbour fresh water with fine pressure, we embarked on a boat wash down and it was during this operation that the First Mate picked a fight with the companionway sliding cover. She leaned on the vertical section and the bolt was not properly located and it collapsed suddenly, resulting in Veronica face butting the horizontal cover. This resulted in a rather nasty black eye which became the topic of conversation for many weeks to come and resulted in me getting a lot of strange looks. In the next blog, we see out our last 10 days or so in the Ionian before putting Timeless Odyssey to bed again for another winter.