On 28 July we berthed in Preveza Marina to prepare the boat for the arrival of our daughter Beth and her friend Jas, who were flying in to join us for a week. We had decided against staying on the very noisy town quay, where music from the bars went on into the early hours, in favour of Preveza Marinat further down the sea front. Although the marina was only half-finished, it was a peaceful and cheap berthing option. Many town quays in Greece do not charge to come alongside, unless you need power and water and those that do charge, may offer excellent value from 7 euros per night upwards. Marinas can vary hugely in cost, but at 21 euros per night with power, water and shower facilities available (and no all-night music), this was a bargain. We turned a blind eye to the fact that the marina was still pretty much a building site and were grateful for the facilities available and decent sleep!
We prepared the boat, restocked food supplies and the girls flew into Preveza airport on 29 July, arriving in good time to get supper ashore and discuss plans for the week ahead. Preveza is a very lively town and throbs with locals and tourists at night, there are many places to eat with traditional Greek cuisine in plentiful supply – the food is basic but the house wines are both palatable and incredibly cheap. There is a vibrant and relaxed feel to Preveza, a worthwhile stop and handy venue for picking up incoming crew.
The next morning we slipped our lines from Preveza Marina and headed back out towards Levkas once again, taking the scenic route down the west coast for a lunchtime anchor stop and swim. It is amazing to see how the sea changes colour along this coastline and the girls were in awe of the beautiful golden beaches and aquamarine sea. This was the first of many swimming opportunities and during the week together we sailed a now familiar route from Preveza to Levkas, to Kefalonia, Ithaca, Kalamos and Meganisi. The weather was very hot and sunny and the girls got to swim, snorkel, paddle-board and were very handy crew, always happy to dive into the sea and secure shore lines when at anchor and generally muck in with sailing the boat, cooking and washing up. They filled our week with smiles, laughter, great music and youthful energy. Sadly the week flew by for us all and we returned to Preveza on 4 August, as the girls were flying home the next day to go back to University – no long summer break for Student Nurses!
Alone again Damian and I both experienced a sense of loss after the girls had left and it was suddenly very quiet onboard with just the two of us… It is so wonderful to be able to share our passion for sailing and travel with our children and heartening that they appreciate the tranquility and peace of time on the water enough to want to continue holidaying with us.
We spent the morning in the marina getting the washing done, cleaning the boat and restocking food supplies before venturing out again. We headed out via the Levkas Canal, refueling at the end of the canal before setting our course for Varko and a large protected bay, further south on the mainland of Greece. The Levkas Canal journey had taken a couple of hours longer than normal as the 3pm bridge lift that we had aimed for didn’t happen and there were a large number of boats backed up, waiting at both ends to pass through the canal. Chaos ensued with everyone trying to hold their place in the queue and with the wind steadily building this was no easy feat! We finally dropped our anchor early evening in Varko and were treated to a relatively peaceful night in preparation for the journey down into the Gulf of Patras, which would take us east through the Corinth Canal into the Aegean Sea and the Cyclades Islands. Using the Corinth Canal saves a distance of around 150 miles between the Ionian and Athens and the prevailing winds on the alternative route south would make it a much harder sail back north up into the Cyclades. Given the time that we had – the canal route was an obvious choice of passage.
We made an early start next day heading to Messolonghi in the Gulf of Patras, a sheltered bay accessed via a narrow canal and a well protected overnight stop en route to the Corinth Canal. Damian flashed up the water maker on our way south, whilst we were in open sea. Having installed the new membranes and fully serviced the water maker back in Preveza, we were turning sea water to drinking water once again – an excitable event!
Along the route of the canal to Messolonghi are some interesting fisherman’s houses standing on stilts in the shallow water, looking like something out of SE Asia. Some of the houses appeared to be well cared-for holiday homes, whilst others stood derelict and abandoned. It was a peaceful journey along the canal and we dropped our anchor outside of Messolonghi Marina, which apparently has been shut down in the last year or so, due to license disputes. The sight of the near empty marina was a sad one.
The next stage of our trip took us through the Strait of Rhion and Anti-Rion and under the Rion-Andirrion suspension Bridge, one of the longest cable-stayed bridges in the world. The bridge has an air height of 25-45m with three navigable channels, between four pillars. We had to call the bridge pilot on our VHF when we were 5 miles out to request permission to transit the bridge, giving details of our boat including it’s length and the height of our mast and from which direction we were sailing. We were then told which end of the bridge to sail under, marked by the relevant pillar and told to report back when 1 mile out to confirm the transit position. It is a scary experience to look up and see the top of your mast reaching up to the bridge and easy to see why sea traffic travelling under the bridge is closely managed, we hadn’t realised that we were both holding our breath as we went under!
Safely under the bridge we got the sails out and had an exhilarating beat to our next stop, a deserted marina on the small island of Trizonia. We had heard about this place on some of the yachting forums and it was reported to be another well protected spot, despite the fact that it looked like a yacht graveyard, was deserted of staff and had no operational facilities. There were lots of what appeared to be abandoned yachts and even a few half sunk boats, a sad sight to behold. For us it was a safe, free alongside for the night and a short walk around the perimeter of the marina took us to a beautiful little fishing hamlet, which had several tavernas and was a very pleasant evening walk ashore for supper.
After a peaceful night we left bright and early heading further east to Galaxidhi, our last stop before venturing into the Corinth Canal. Weather reports were predicting some serious weather coming in and we planned to try and get onto the town quay for a couple of days to wait out the worst of what was predicted. The wind had been building steadily en route and we were directed quite firmly to a well protected spot on the town quay – we got to see why later that evening when the high wind speeds made the outer wall (our first choice) almost untenable. With temperatures soaring I decided to use this time alongside to work on our deck sun shade and in the heat it was quite a relief to sit down below on my sewing machine with the aircon running. Galaxidhi was one of the prettiest harbours we had visited for a while and we ended up staying there for three nights, giving us time to properly explore the local area, get our gas bottles changed and re-stock supplies. The Temple of Apollo at Delphi is easily reached by car or bus from the harbour and in the absence of the desire to wander too far, the walk around the bay offers stunning views of the coast and there are plenty of waterfront restaurants and shops. The only downside to Galaxidhi is the all-night club music from one bar on the harbour front and as we were moored right outside of this bar, we got our belly full of it. At 6.30am on the morning of our departure, the music was only just beginning to wind down and we were rather pleased to be waving goodbye to what would have otherwise been a perfect stop!
We set our course for the entrance to the Corinth Canal, watched the sun rise above the land and had dolphins swimming around the boat as we sailed east. Our final stage of the journey to the canal was an exciting sail, with the wind gusting up to 30 knots and we recorded our fastest ever boat speed of 9.7 knots, using the tiniest bit of our head sail. One mile out from the entrance to the canal we had to call up the pilot to request permission to transit the canal, giving details of our direction of entry, length and type of boat and vessel flag. The canal is just 25 meters wide and the one-way only traffic through the canal is carefully managed. All vessels transiting the canal have to pay a canal fee, which is charged according to length and type of vessel. The Corinth Canal is one of the most expensive canals per mile in the world and our charge for travelling its’ 3.2 miles was 214 Euros. The canal is a magnificent piece of engineering and the journey through it is quite an experience (especially when you see people bungee jumping off of it!)
We exited the canal from the eastern entrance and came alongside to pay our canal fees. Once back onboard we set off into the Saronic Gulf heading to the island Aigina, dropping our anchor just as the sun was dropping towards the sea. It had been a fast moving week since we had said goodbye to the girls and the next phase of our trip into the Aegean, would be taking us to Rhodes to pick up our other daughter Emily and her boyfriend. We knew we had a lot of ground to cover and our next job was to plan our route through the Cyclades Islands into the Dodecanese.
We are regularly reminded of time slipping through our fingers and the vastness of this sailing ground that we have been exploring this summer. Realistically we could easily fill a couple of years just in the Greek Islands and fully appreciate why some sailors make the decision to extend their time as liveaboards.
My next BLOG will invite you to join us as we sail around the Cyclades into the Dodecanese islands towards Rhodes, before we make the journey steadily back towards the Italian coast and our winter berth in Sicily.