After several days in Athens, the time had arrived to move on.
It was to be a very unusual passage. Ordinarily, we know exactly where we’re going and when we’ll arrive. However, on this run we’d be passing through the Corinth Canal, which only accepts one-way traffic. There would be some amount of wait-time to get through the canal. Plus, commercial traffic has priority at the canal. We didn’t know if we’d be waiting minutes or hours.
|Seabird pulls away from the dock in Athens.
That said, our agent told us that we were still pre-season and shouldn’t expect much of a wait.
When you travel internationally, agents become a regular part of the routine. There is bureaucracy whenever you enter a country, exit a country or in some cases take fuel or in this particular case, pass through a canal. It is possible to do all the paperwork yourself, but this sometimes means standing in line for hours working your way through the bureaucracy, assuming you can figure out which line to stand in, and that they speak English when you reach the front of the line.
Typically, agents are fairly inexpensive; usually costing from $100 to $250 USD. Originally, we hadn’t planned to hire an agent for crossing the canal, but when we read that we would have to dock at the entry to the canal, and process paperwork, we decided, “Let the agent figure it out.” We wired the exorbitant fees to our agent (nearly $1,000 USD for my boat!)
|En route to the canal we passed many freighters. In Hong Kong we became accustomed to close encounters, as Seabird demonstrates here.
|This cruise ship passed us, and amazingly was not broadcasting AIS (a system that alerts other boats as to your speed, heading, destination, etc.) All we could figure was that it was a “budget” cruise line.
Wikipedia describes the Corinth Canal this way:
“The Corinth Canal is a canal that connects the Gulf of Corinth with the Saronic Gulf in the Aegean Sea. It cuts through the narrow Isthmus of Corinth and separates the Peloponnesian peninsula from the Greek mainland, thus effectively making the former an island. The builders dug the canal through the Isthmus at sea level; no locks are employed. It is 6.4 kilometres (4.0 mi) in length and only 21.3 metres (70 ft) wide at its base, making it unpassable for most modern ships. It now has little economic importance.
The canal was mooted in classical times and an abortive effort was made to build it in the 1st century AD. Construction finally got underway in 1881 but was hampered by geological and financial problems that bankrupted the original builders. It was completed in 1893, but due to the canal’s narrowness, navigational problems and periodic closures to repair landslips from its steep walls, it failed to attract the level of traffic anticipated by its operators. It is now used mainly for tourist traffic.”
With a build-up like that, it became a “must see” for us!
|On arrival at the canal, we expected to be sent straight in, but minutes before arrival we received a call from the agent saying that we’d need to dock, and go into the office for a paperwork review. We were being blasted by wind, and didn’t really want to be tying to the dock. More importantly, we had paid the agency fees in order to avoid having to do this. The agents said that, “Because you haven’t been through before, they want to see you.” This resulted in a series of angry calls.
|After fendering the boats, and preparing to dock at the entrance to go do paperwork, I suddenly heard on the radio, “Seabird, please enter the canal. Sans Souci, please follow Seabird.” Seabird immediately headed into the canal. I responded on the radio, “Corinth Canal, this is Sans Souci, are you saying we don’t need to stop?” No response. Steven came on the radio, on a side channel we use for private communications between our boats, “Ken. Don’t push your luck. Follow me.” And, I did! The agent apparently had worked some magic!
|Inside the canal it feels much skinnier than it shows in these pictures. For four miles I knew that even the slightest error would result in expensive crunching sounds. Rather than use the steering wheel and risk over-steering I ran the entire distance with the rudder centered, and used just the bow thrusters to tweak my course as needed. We ran the canal reasonably fast, at 7 knots.
|Even the puppies (Toundra on the right and Keeley on the left) were amazed. They spent most of the passage on the back deck looking up at the walls around us.
While I was busy steering the boat, Roberta shot this video of our passage. She did a great job and I think you’ll really enjoy it:
If you don’t see a video above, use this link:
|Thirty minutes after entering the Corinth Canal we were at the exit. Tourists were on shore to watch boats transition the canal. It was QUITE an adventure!
|Soon after exiting the canal we were visited by a welcoming committee. For a video of the action. CLICK HERE
|Once past the canal, we entered a 75-mile-long bay that was as much as ten miles across. We had transitioned the Corinth Canal earlier than expected, and decided to run as far as we could before stopping for the night. The seas were cooperating and were glassy smooth the entire passage.
|Meganisi Island in the Ionian sea.
After a night at anchor in a non-descript bay, we decided to push hard, and do another long (12 hour) day. We had flat water, and one of the first rules of boating is to “move when the moving is good.” Plus, I have been admiring a picture, on the cover of the Ionian Cruising Guide, of an island called Meganisi. It looked incredible! Meganisi would be out of our way, but, after five days spent at the dock in Athens, we needed some time at anchor.
|The Rion-Antirrio bridge is the world’s largest multi-span cable-stayed bridge. The first of these two pictures was taken from five miles away! We had to request permission to transit under the bridge and were given routing instructions.
We reached Meganisi after a twelve-hour cruise. We had left our anchorage at 05:30am, as it was just getting light.
|As usual, we found all of the coves too tight to hold us. None of the boats were “free swinging” in the middle of the bay. Instead, they were lined up (parked) neatly against the side walls of the bays with lines tied to shore. Our dream of this being pre-season, and having whole bays to ourselves, was shattered.
We found a beautiful bay at Meganisi, but it was too tight to swing at anchor. We looked at other bays, but all had the same problem. Roberta and I had gone through running stern lines to shore before in Turkey, and knew the drill. We radioed Seabird to watch us. We dropped anchor, and started spinning our stern towards shore. Meanwhile, Seabird, who had never done this, was too tired to be learning new skills (it had been a LONG day!) They made the decision to continue the search for a place to free-swing at anchor.
|The view behind Sans Souci after tying our stern to shore at Meganisi. I swam the lines to shore, enjoying the swim. Unfortunately, I had forgotten to wear gloves, which meant that once I reached the rocks to tie the lines, my hands were exposed to the coral and sea-life. After being attacked by various sea urchins (imagine grabbing a cactus with bare hands,) I tripped on the rocks, opening a fairly large gash in my elbow.
|Tranquil Bay on Lefkada Island. Prior to arrival we had studied the bay thinking there would be room for both of us. As I rounded the corner this is what I saw – a very crowded anchorage!
Once we were tied up, I called Steven on the radio to see what had happened with Seabird. They had found a place to drop their anchor and swing, but they were much tighter than they wanted to be, and not completely happy with their location.
Roberta and I had an idyllic day and evening. We are happiest sitting at anchor, barbecuing, sipping adult beverages, swimming, hot-tubbing, and of course, fiddling with our computers. I have a tendency to say, “I love everything about boating, except the boating.” There are probably people who get excited about bashing through waves, or turning a wrench in the engine room. I do those things, but they are just so that I can achieve days like we had at Meganisi.
Unfortunately, our perfect day became much less so, soon after going to bed. The wind suddenly came up, and we realized that we had made a serious error. In order to create some privacy we had anchored on the opposite side of the bay from everyone else. It was a rookie error and we would have known better had we not been so fatigued. When you enter a pretty bay, and there are lots of boats on one side of the bay, and none on the other, it is smart to ask yourself, “Why?” In this case, the answer was that anchoring where we were would mean being exposed to the north-west winds entering the bay. Our calm anchorage suddenly became a rodeo ride on bouncing seas, as we were hit on our right side by three foot swell. Roberta and I tried to sleep but were worrying that the extreme motion might unseat the anchor. To solve for this, we loosened the lines tying us to shore such that they would allow the boat to rotate into the wind. This took the pressure off the anchor, and lessened the swell. It was still an uncomfortable night, but no longer was it an unsafe night.
The crowded anchorage at Tranquil Bay turned out not to be a problem. There was an adjacent bay which had PLENTY of room for both boats. It was also crowded, but there was plenty of room.
We were now at Lefkada Island, very far off our intended course. We needed to get north, but as we studied the charts we realized we had boxed ourselves in. In order to go north we were going to need to swing back south, losing five hours of travel time. This wasn’t a big deal, but we did see a short-cut on the charts. At the north end of Lefkada Island there is a passage, similar to the Corinth Canal in length, but instead of walls lining the narrow passage there were only sticks in the water. My first reaction was, “No way in hell.” That said, it seemed like it could be an adventure, and we like adventure.
|Captain Steven running the tender as we ran through the narrow passage at the north end of Lefkada Island.
We called the marina at the north end of Lefkada Island to ask about the narrow passage, and see if we could offer to pay someone to guide us through. He said it would be impossible to find a guide, but that he thought we could make it if we were cautious. He then offered the suggestion that made the most sense. He recommended that we run the passage in a tender, and learn it before making the run.
Once in the passage we used the tender to zigzag across the channel mapping the depths along the way. In most places the channel was nearly 100 feet wide, wider than the Corinth Canal, but we had two-way traffic to contend with. Ultimately, we decided that it was a fine passage, and nothing we couldn’t easily handle, or should be worried about.
Dinner at the restaurant Zio Fede in Nitri town on Lefkada Island. We wanted Italian food, and the food was ok, but the overall experience was horrible. Our server, who I think was the owner, was very stubborn about what we should eat, and how we should order. Even when we were trying to order, she kept interrupting us to say, “Stop!” She wanted to pick who got to order, and then refused to make the smallest of adjustments. For example (and, there are lots of examples,) Roberta wanted penne puttenesca without the anchovies. She said, “No. Without anchovy it would not be a Puttenesca.” Roberta thinking she had a way around the system said, “Can I get the penne arabiatta and you add capers and olives to it?” This was Roberta asking for a similar dish, thinking she could add ingredients to get what she wanted. The answer, “No!” When I asked for the wine list, the answer was “Red or White?” I said red and two bottles were brought to the table. The first we opened smelled so bad I could barely bring myself to taste it. She understood when I refused it, and opened the other, which was only somewhat better.
Across from Lefkada Island is the island of Skorpios, previously owned by the Onassis family but recently sold to a 24-year-old heiress from Russia for 100 million euros. There were two megayachts parked out front, the little one, and the big one. As we approached the island on the tender we were tracked by a very serius looking security team. The sign on shore says, “Anchoring, swimming, and any fishing and recreational activity are strictly forbidden.”
This picture, which looks boring, was actually one of our more challenging times. We had just come through a 3-mile long channel, which is “capped” at the north end by a large bridge that only opens (rotates) once an hour. We tried to time our passage such that we’d arrive just when the bridge was opening, but arrived 10 minutes early. To explain the situation: I was in a 75′ wide channel, with shallow water to my right (starboard) side. On my left (port) side was 20 knots of wind pushing the boat towards the shallow water. I couldn’t back up because of a line of sailboats that were also waiting for the bridge, or go forward, because Seabird was blocking me. It should be simple. I knew that what I should do is turn slightly into the wind, give it just a bit of throttle, and wait patiently. Seabird had no problem, but Sans Souci is a taller boat, with much more of a “front” to present to the wind, and the wind pushes hard on the back of the boat, the fly bridge, the bimini top, etc. I couldn’t seem to achieve a point of stability, and kept having to fuss with the controls. We did hold position, and it looked easy from the outside… but, inside the pilot house it was quite exciting. I was very happy it was only for 10 minutes!
Once through the bridge, I had two tight turns to make, one close enough to a sandbar that I considered asking Roberta to get me a beach towel – and then we were in open seas. Eight hours later we arrived at Corfu, Greece, near the southern border of Albania.
Our ride to Corfu Island was reasonably calm, and reasonably long — another eleven-hour run. Amazingly though, to this point we have not had to turn on our running lights (used after dark.) Incredibly, we’ve been able to run 900 miles, from southwest Turkey to the southern Albanian border, all during daylight hours.
Corfu is our last stop in Greece. As I type this an agent is processing our paperwork to leave the country.
One story from our last passage, which we found incredibly amusing (but, probably I won’t be able to relate correctly)…
Seabird and Sans Souci made the run from Lefkada to Corfu side by side. From time to time we were taking pictures out the window of each other’s boats, hoping for a great shot. Unfortunately (in terms of picture-taking) what started as a lumpy ride soon calmed and the pictures were all boring. Several hours into our ride, I heard a phone ringing. I looked at my cell phone, and it wasn’t ringing — but my iPad, sitting on the chart table was lit up…and it was ringing like a telephone! I picked it up, and suddenly there was Steven’s face grinning at me in live action! He had called my boat on Apple’s Facetime software. We were video conferenced between the two boats!
On a long run, the dress code can be fairly sloppy. I was wearing only shorts, and had been eating a bag of microwave popcorn while driving. Suddenly, Steven was seeing me looking pretty grungy with popcorn fragments trickling down my chest. He found this very funny, as did I. Now that I realized what was happening, I reversed the iPad and sent him a live video feed of his own boat. It was the first time he’d seen his boat running from outside! He then did the same for me. There were no big revelations, but it was a bizarre and very funny surprise.
One interesting thing to note about Corfu is that we are now very close to Italy. We could be there in four or five hours if we wanted, and if time permitted we’d make the jump, but we are trying to reach Montenegro by July 1st. The Italian influence is very visible in Corfu, which shows clear signs of a Venetian influence.
Here we see Steven, myself (Ken) and Carol after a shopping expedition, to replenish Sans Souci’s wine cooler.
Problem of the week
This week we have two major issues!
- Our v-sat (satellite internet) failed. Luckily I have a good set of spare parts for it. After a week of trying to get it to work, KVH recommended I try to swap the LNB. This worked! It was important to get the v-sat running as without it we’d have no voice or internet connectivity off of Albania.
- The hot tub has failed. It now gives an “oh” (overheating) error, immediately from being powered on. I’ve spent many hours trying to fix it and now suspect the hot tub needs a new brain (circuit board.) It isn’t really critical for operations, but it is a major loss of fun!
A map to show where we are
These pictures show our route from Athens to Corfu.
Weather permitting, we depart on Saturday morning for our first major run of the trip: a 24-hour straight run to Montenegro, bypassing Albania. We had planned to stop in Albania, but we need to get moving, and other than it being something cool for the blog, we’re not convinced there is much to see.
My next report will be from Montenegro!
Ken (and Roberta) Williams
MV Sans Souci
Plus, updates most days at: http://www.facebook.com/kensblogdotcom