We slipped from the Town Quay in Galaxidi on Tuesday morning, the 6th and set off towards the small port of Palaia Fokaia on the mainland coast south of Athens. This where we were to meet Zeynep and Stephen who were to sail with us from there to Thassos.
The 40 odd miles from Galaxidi were uneventful, our aim being to arrive at the Corinth Canal by about 6 pm when, according to the Pilot Book, the canal opened after the routine Tuesday maintenance closure. Listening to the radio as we approached, and watching the AIS signals on the chart plotter, it appeared the canal was open and running convoys earlier so I called in and was told to come to the canal and wait for the next east bound one. So we stopped messing around with the sails, only the Code Zero again, and motored in. We had to hold position for about 30 minutes before our convoy ran and then, last boat in the line we were off.
The canal is just over 3 miles long, 25 metres wide and 7 metres deep. It is cut through the neck of land between mainland Greece and Peloponnisos and in antiquity ships were dragged on rollers across the isthmus rather than sailing round Peloponnisos. From ancient times the idea of a canal was in existence but the technical ability didn’t exist until the end of the 19th century when French enginers dug it; it took 11 years and was opened in 1893. For the official history see the canal’s website.
The bare facts don’t actually prepare you for the canal itself. The entrance is easy enough, the road bridge is lowered into the water and it is just like entering any port, then you look up and see the canal itself. You know it is 25 metres wide but the height of the ‘canyon’ walls make it look very narrow. Once into it, objectively, you know a 7 metre beam boat will fit 3 times into the width but subjectively it is a different matter, especially as you pass areas of rock falls! Knowing we would need to tie up to pay at the exit Valeria was hanging the fenders out as we went, increasing our width by anothe metre!
The canal is dead straight but the wash from preceeding boats bouncing off the canal sides, and the wind funelling through the canyon meant continually having to make course adjustments. An additional complication came from following other boats. When following other boats, you never follow in their wake. Boats don’t have brake lights so if they stop, or slow, you get little warning,; unfortunately the boats ahead of us were changing speeds a lot. It was not a particularly difficult transit, but it was a pretty intense half hour!
Once into the the eastern entrance, of the canal, Isthmia, we had a slight drama when a yacht decided to pull off the jetty into the convoy causing havoc with boats ahead of us trying to avoid each other leaving us stopped in the narrow bit above the other bridge in what was now a very strong wind.
After a hectic few minutes we managed to get onto the jetty ourselves, paid the €180 to use the canal and then left to spend the night at anchor in Ormos Kalamki just north of the canal entrance.
We had arrived in the Agean!