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Greece is the Word!

10th September 2022 - Agios Nikolaos - Ormos Oxia (48.4 nautical miles)

The plan was to get across to the Greek mainland that evening but before that, we wanted to do a drive by of Shipwreck Beach. It was disappointing that we had come all this way and would not be able to anchor there and go ashore to explore. Others had spoke of an idyllic and peaceful place once all the tourist boats had left for the day. To get there we would have to head out and around the top of the island onto the western side. We dropped our line from the mooring ball just before dawn and raised the anchor. I have to say I was feeling a tad worse for wear after the day before. The Greek tradition of being able to order a half litre carafe of wine seems like a good idea but then when you’ve ordered a couple of them you realise you’ve just polished off more than a bottle. Combining that with a lovely delicate fish dinner and making new acquaintances necessitating some ouzo leads to a rough morning. Not helped by the swell that was monstrous as we rounded the northern point of Zakynthos. I know, poor me. Just painting the picture. There was not much wind and the sea was pretty lumpy and confused. Nevertheless we soldiered on. We’d left at 6:30am so as we approached the towering cliffs of Shipwreck bay the sun had not yet risen up overhead. The first thing we noticed was that the swell was rolling in to the little bay. Even if there hadn’t been a landslide we would not have been able to anchor there overnight. As we got closer we saw a coastguard boat anchored just off the shore. It was clearly there to stop others from getting near. Accepting that this was the best we were going to get we got the cameras out and took some pictures. The water was indeed a powder blue and the sand was bright white. Still an impressive bay to see. We didn’t hang out for long and as we turned to leave another boat was coming in for the drive by. In hindsight it might have been a good idea to wait until the sun was overhead but time was ticking and we needed to get across to the mainland so we moved on, back round the top of the island. By 10.30 the wind had started to fill in so we were able to raise the main and jib and sail across to the mainland. Thankfully the swell had died down a bit too. For the rest of the day we swapped out the jib for the Code 0 when the wind became lighter and managed about 20nm under sail. We finally reached a large sandy bay on the mainland just north of the island of Oxia. There were mooring balls closer to the shore and a little restaurant that presumably owned them but after the night before we opted to anchor and eat onboard.

11th September 2022 - Ormos Oxia - Vasaliki (28.6 nautical miles)

After a really peaceful nights sleep we weighed anchor at 9:50am and set off down towards the Gulf of Patras. The goal for the day was to get to an anchorage just shy of the Rio Antirio bridge, which connects mainland Greece with the Peloponnese. The wind was coming from behind us but as I looked at the instruments we were getting about 6kn max. Not even worth bothering putting up the sails so we motored on the port engine. It was pretty calm so Carl set about splicing the ends of our new bridle for the anchor. There was an awful lot of swearing coming from the cockpit and I knew better than to get involved and besides, I had other concerns. There seemed to be an armada of small racing yachts coming my way, all tacking back and forth across my path. They didn’t appear to be racing, just out for a weekend sail. As I was motoring it was my responsibility to get out of their way but they were everywhere. Looking down at my wind instrument I marvelled at how they were able to sail in what I was seeing was about 4kn. It was then that I realised that my apparent wind speed and my true wind speed figures were the same. And the boat speed indicator was not reading anything at all. We had obviously clogged up the speed logger and therefore I had no idea what the true wind speed actually was. Since we were travelling with the wind it appeared a lot less than what we actually had. I could have been bloody sailing these past few hours, along with everyone else! It wasn’t a lot of wind but enough to make me feel like one of those charter cats that never even bother raising the sails from beer stop to beer stop. Shame on us! Anyway, after dodging the boats, and hearing that the swearing from the cockpit had ceased we were nearing our next stop. We turned her round to anchor and then clocked that the wind speed was around 15kn. Again, shame on us! We dropped the anchor in 6.5m and didn’t really need to back down on the anchor. The wind was doing that for us. It was a bit choppy but at least we were pointing directly into it and had plenty of space behind us. This was just a quick stop anyway. There was nothing really onshore to go and see so it was another day onboard.

12th September 2022 - Vasaliki - Nafpaktos (11.7 nautical miles)

By 9:15am we had raised the anchor with thick clumps of mud and weed on it. Our next stop was somewhere we did want to go ashore and explore. Nafpaktos had a beautiful little semi-circular Venetian harbour which apparently you could Med moor up in but you’d have to drop the anchor right in the entrance and reverse in. Something to try in calm conditions but we were experiencing 15-20kn so decided on anchoring outside. First things first we had to get through one of the arches of the Rio bridge. This would be our first time taking Rockhopper under a bridge. The bridge spanned four pylons across the water. There was plenty of room at the centre of the bridge but maybe a bit tight on the edges. About 4nm out from the bridge we got called on the radio from Rio Traffic asking what are destination was. When we informed them were were heading to Nafpaktos and that we would indeed be travelling under the bridge we were asked what our air draft was (how tall our mast was off the water). I responded with 19.5m but straightaway thought I should have overestimated. No need to be that accurate. Anyway, he directed us to pass 1 pylon to port and 3 to starboard but radio when we were 1nm out to gain permission to cross. It was a busy zone for traffic coming to and from the Corinth canal so it seemed appropriate that someone was directing us all. At the centre of the bridge there was 25m clearance. He had directed us to one end so I was starting to get a bit nervous as we neared. We had been flying the Code 0 and the main so decided to furl the Code 0 and motor through it. A mile out we were given permission to go for it so tried to stick to the centre of the gap between the first pylon and the second one. In the end there was plenty of room. At least a metre or two.

On the way over Carl had fitted our new bridle, the dark blue one. There is quite a bit going on between the bows with furling lines for the Code 0 and the struts for the bowsprit. Getting the bridle attached to the two shackles on each bow but then ensuring that it paid out over the bowsprit struts turned out to be a bit of a faff. With 15kn in the face and the chain groaning from the windlass it was clear it was not on right. Following 10mins of ‘It is right, no its not right, I'm telling you …’ and a bit of fettling and we were set. The new bridle was to have a baptism of fire with 20kn winds to contend with. We were anchored in 7.5m of water with a lot of chain out as there was plenty of room. Up until this point I had not felt comfortable leaving the boat at anchor with that amount of wind but we had been on the boat for two days solid now and we really wanted to see Nafpaktos. The Venetian harbour looked beautiful and there was an imposing castle on the hill that needed exploring. After an hour of checking that the anchor was set, I steeled myself, got into the dinghy and left Rockhopper bobbing about on her own. It was a bit of a wet ride towards the little harbour but once in past the crenellated harbour walls, well, what an entrance! We tied up to the dock just in and to the left, next to some smaller fishing boats. The town beyond the harbour was full of little restaurants, stone streets and narrow openings between buildings. We decided to head on up to the castle first. On our way up through the town Carl got a message from Dave on SV Pelican saying that they were heading for Nafpaktos. We gave them a heads up on communications with the Rio Traffic control and arranged to meet up with them later for dinner. The castle was pretty well preserved, best known for its five protective walls. Two of which went down to the sea and the others surrounded the castle and various levels. As with most strategic sights in Greece there had been a structure there way before but the current castle was Venetian. And had a fantastic view out over the gulf of Patras. Looking back towards the bridge we could see Pelican on its way.

After an hour or so we made our way back down and went for a beer at a cafe near the harbour. By the time we got back to the boat we could see that Dave and Susan had anchored nearby. At around 5pm they invited us over for a drink before dinner. The Amel 50 is a beautiful boat!

Later that evening we all piled into our dinghy and headed back to the harbour. We found a lovely little restaurant and continued exchanging stories with our new friends.

13th September 2022 - Nafpaktos - Itea Marina (34 nautical miles)

When we told our friends and family that we were heading towards the Corinth canal our friends Ben and Amalia said we had to stop at Itea, their home town. We had talked about parking the boat for a few days somewhere along this coastline in order to hire a car and see Delphi and then head inland to see the monasteries at Meteora. The harbour at Itea provided the perfect opportunity so at 8am the next morning we weighed anchor and headed off east. We managed a few hours of sailing with the main and Code 0 but before long an engine had to come on. As is typical, about 5nm from our destination the wind picked up and we were able to sail with full main and jib the last few miles before approaching the harbour. It had a large concrete breakwater which visiting boats were allowed to tie up alongside. We had read on Navily that some local boys offer to take your lines then ask for money so I readied some cash just in case. Some spots had power sockets, some not but we weren’t that bothered about getting electricity. Our trusty solar panels were keeping us topped up and we wouldn’t be on the boat much so all we needed was a safe place to tie up. As we came round the breakwater wall it looked reasonably busy and the wind was blowing us off the quay so we opted to tie up at the first place we saw which was just inside. I readied myself to lasso a bollard and, about a couple of metres from the quay, I let the mooring line fly ... only for it to land in the water. Really need to get better at that. As I was hurriedly retrieving the line a local fisherman who had been sat on a chair on the quayside wandered over to offer some assistance. I accepted gratefully and Carl set about getting the boat back alongside for another approach. As we neared I lobbed the heavy line towards the old man on the dock, nearly knocking him over. With the little bit of English he understood I hoped he grasped my apology. He wrapped the line round the bollard and then just held it. Which was particularly difficult as the wind was pushing our 16 tonne boat off the dock and Carl needed us to get the other line on otherwise the stern would just kick out. I ran to the back of the boat, grabbed the line and leapt off the boat to attach the stern. Meanwhile the little old guy was holding the line and consequently the boat with all his might. Once tied on at the stern I quickly went to grab the line off him. Since we were pinned at the back Carl could use the engines to drive the bow in and allow me to tie off the bow line. I smiled and thanked the guy who smiled back and waved then went back to his chair. No request for money at all. Just a kindly gentleman. Once secured with spring lines to stop us moving back and forth on the rough concrete dock we sat down to have our anchor/docking beer. Carl walked over and offered him a Mythos too which he gratefully received with a big smile. He then also informed us that there was about a metre tide there so to be careful of tying the dock lines too tight and to make sure our fenders were positioned so as not to pop out from dock at high tide. This became quite apparent several hours later when our central spring line became bar tight and needed to be adjusted. Unexpected in the Med and since we planned on leaving the boat for a few days we were very grateful for the local knowledge.

14th September 2022 - Delphi & Meteora

We’d not hired a car and gone off on a road trip since Montenegro in July and had not slept off the boat since Albania. As comfortable as Rockhopper is we were pretty excited.

The next morning we picked up our, slightly beaten up but thankfully better than the heap we had in Montenegro, car and set off towards Delphi. We were going to the centre of the world, according to the Greeks anyway. According to the myth, Zeus was attempting to find the centre of the earth so dispatched two eagles from the ends of the world. Where they crossed was Delphi so he marked the spot with a stone - the omphalos. The original found on site is at the Museum of Delphi but the place is marked by a less ornately decorated lump.

The site was beautifully situated on a hillside looking out over a lush valley. Wandering around the site, dodging tour guide groups, it was still possible to appreciate the beauty of the area and how peaceful it was.

Our next stop was Kastraki, around three hours drive away where we would be staying for the night. We’ve always loved a road trip and this one was quite spectacular. We travelled on the mountainous road between Mount Parnassus and Mount Giona, passing by ski lodges and then dropping down into fertile valleys. As we approached Kalabaka, the town just before Kastraki in the Thessaly region, we started to see the Meteora.

They are rock formations that originally hosted 24 13/14th century Eastern Orthodox monasteries, all perched precariously on the side or on top of vertical pillars of rock. Now only six remain. We passed through Kalabaka and on to Kastraki where we had booked a small room in the village. It was basic but clean and centrally located. That afternoon we went for a wander around the village and a meal out. A fascinating place. There was a lovely hike that took you past most of the monasteries so we made a plan to do that the following morning before doing the drive back to Itea.

15th September 2022

The next morning I made two important discoveries. One, I had only brought shorts and women needed to where long skirts and have their shoulders covered to enter any of the monasteries. And two, I’d left my hiking shoes on the boat. I literally had my Birkenstock sandals with me. Well we hadn’t come all this way not to do a walk so I’d just have to grin and bear it. I appreciate that I looked like an absolute noob (read boob or tit) as we walked passed guided hiking groups along the way, but it could not be helped. It was great to stretch the legs and get out for a walk. The views were pretty spectacular too. Nearing the Great Meteoron and Varlaam monasteries we saw about 15 coaches parked up and a massive queue to get into each one. We decided at this point to just admire the view from where we were rather than venture inside a place of peace and quiet which would not offer any peace or quiet.

We eventually ended up back at the car and folded our bodies back into the seats. Three hours in the seating position after a five hour hike was going to hurt. Still, it had been totally worth it. As much as we love our life onboard Rockhopper, getting off her for a bit is essential.

16th September 2022 - Itea Marina - Corinth Anchorage (38.2 nautical miles)

With batteries recharged (us, as well as the boat) we were ready to head over to the Corinth canal. After getting the stamp in our transit log from the port police and paying a quick visit to the bakery, we were ready to slip our lines at 9:45am. The plan was to get up to the anchorage just south of the entrance to the canal and stay the night ready for the crossing the following day. We had booked the passage online and had asked for a slot at 10am but thought we’d see if we could go a bit earlier. Others had said that the booking slot for us little cruisers made no difference. We managed to sail the majority of the journey, at one point needing to put a reef in the main for an hour or so when the wind increased. But by 5pm we were back down to running on one engine. The town of Corinth had a large breakwater that you could sneak your boat round and anchor which would do nicely for our overnight stop. We could see a fairly large motor yacht already at anchor there, just outside the breakwater so we ventured in and dropped the hook. Unfortunately it didn’t hold very well so we opted to go a bit further out to find a good sandy spot. We eventually settled in 7m but just beyond the breakwater so it was a bit of a rolly night.

17th September 2022 - Corinth Anchorage - Agia Marina North (35.8 nautical miles)

Not too much sleep was had but we were excited nonetheless so were up at the crack of dawn. There were some protocols associated with the Corinth canal crossing. We needed to radio the canal control about half an hour before our intended arrival, and then again when we arrived. We would then have to wait for permission to enter. To be fair, on the west to east crossing there was a road bridge that needed to be lowered for us to cross so tackling the canal without permission was a non-starter. We had the radio tuned to the Corinth traffic control so could hear others radioing in. At around 7:30am we heard the big motor yacht next to us radio in so we thought we’d give it a go too. Another two boats were approaching from the west so if we could get in with this lot then we’d be able to go through fairly soon. Whilst we waited we set up the insta360 camera on a tripod on the coachroof. We’re not that great at capturing things on film but this one we didn’t want to miss. We were told to proceed to the entrance and wait our turn. At around 7:50am we were hovering at the entrance, along with the motor yacht and two other sailing boats. Another large super yacht appeared and we all just bobbed about. At 8am we started to see the road bridge lower and we anxiously looked at the red light on the side waiting for it to turn green. Once the bridge was lowered the red light remained and we saw on AIS that a few boats were on their way through towards us. Once they cleared the French sailing boat was straight on the radio asking whether they could go through. They were told to wait until called. The traffic control sent the super yacht and the motor yacht through first. As we were radioed to go through next the two sailing yachts in front of us took it as a signal for us little ones to go through so they charged on ahead with Rockhopper bringing up the rear. It was cool though, we got to see the road bridge start to come up out of the water, within seconds of us clearing it.

We weren’t sure what to expect, this being our first canal crossing. Some had said you needed to keep your speed up as the traffic control would whinge at you if you were too slow. Others had said there was a current flowing through it so it would work against you. I was just praying it wasn’t too narrow so that we didn’t hit a wall and cause another landslide. The thing had only just opened up after years of being closed for repair. In the end it was fairly straightforward. Carl would call it an anti-climax but I’m ok with it being uneventful. As we popped out at the eastern entrance (or exit) we were glad we had paid online. You can only pay on the eastern dock so everyone who needs to pay has to dock there. There were boats waiting to transit and those who had just come through. Watching the French boat having to wait whilst boats were tying up, leaving or refuelling brought some satisfaction as we breezed on by.

Once clear of the canal entrance we raised the sails. There was a healthy 20kn breeze so we’d be able to get some sailing in before our stop on the island of Aegina. It was at this point that I saw a message on the Airbnb website from a guest who was staying at our cottage in Suffolk. The lady was struggling to operate our hob and needed assistance. I keep an eye on these messages but within minutes Meg usually deals with it all. Three minutes after the first message was sent the woman was back on saying that they needed help immediately as their kids had sailing lessons planned and they needed a good breakfast. As she seemed pretty insistent I gave her a call. I ended up on the phone with her partner. It became clear that I was talking to someone who was confusing an electric hob with an induction hob and couldn’t understand why the ‘ring’ was not getting red hot with nothing on it. We progressed onto a video call in order for me to work out what was happening as mere words were not cutting it. Midway between a conversation like Me: ’Do you see any numbers on the dial?’ The guy: ’No, nothing on the dial’, Me: ’What no numbers at all? Not zeroes?’ ‘The guy: Yes, I see zeroes’ [IS THAT NOT A NUMBER??], the wind started to pick up and Carl yelled to me that we needed to put a reef in. It's pretty easy to put one in on your own when close hauled but when the wind is almost directly from behind it really does need two. Luckily we had just managed to get something happening on the hob and he was satisfied before I ended the call and assisted in getting the reef in. I then got a message from Meg saying she had been in the shower so missed the first message and the one three minutes later. She had been on the phone with the lady whilst I was on with the husband. All good, everyone was happy. We sailed goose wing with a preventer on the main for a few hours. But by 1pm that was it, the jib was furled, the main centred and the engine on. Just before 3pm we made it to Agia Marina North anchorage and dropped the hook in 6m of lovely clear waters. What a day!

Whilst we had been on our road trip, Dave and Susan onboard SV Pelican had been into Itea marina, cycled to Delphi (kudos on the cycling!), and left before we got back to our boat. They had transited the canal the day before us and were now in the same bay we were in. We therefore did as cruisers do and invited them onboard for drinks.

18th September 2022 - Agia Marina North - D-Marin Zea Marina, Athens (14.9 nautical miles)

When friends or family fly out to visit it is always difficult to say where you are going to be. It’s a nightmare for them trying to book flights and luckily for us, we have some friends who are easy-going and happy to go with the flow. Carl and Lisa (our friends we met on our very first flotilla to the Ionian) and Niki and Gav (who have featured several times before on these blogs) were due to fly out on the 19th of September. Niki and Gav had met Carl and Lisa previously on one of our charter holidays so it seemed like a good idea to combine their visit. Not good for the livers though. Even a week and a half before their flight to Athens we could not tell them where we were going to meet them. We had our winter berth in Kas, Turkey booked from the 1st of October but had already informed them that we would be arriving closer to mid October. They had assured us that the marina contract started when we arrived but since the Turkish marinas had been fully booked months ago we were a bit nervous about waiting too long past our original arrival date. So for the gang, we may have been somewhere across the Aegean and they would have had to get a ferry to us and then back from wherever we dropped them off. As it turned out, the weather had been atrocious in the Aegean with strong Meltemi winds battering the islands for ages. This northerly wind is notorious during the summer months and this particular year had been brutal.

We had been watching it closely for a few weeks now thinking how on earth we were going to navigate it with guests onboard. We had therefore chosen to slow down a bit, do the trip out to Zakynthos and the road trip from Itea, then meet them in Athens. It had all worked out perfectly.

We even had a day in D-Marin Zea Marina in Athens to clean the boat and stock up on food, fuel and water.

So at 8:30am we weighed anchor and set out for Athens. Not the best nights sleep as the anchor alarm had gone off at 3am jarring us awake and prompting a check to make sure we were still attached to the sea bed. All seemed good but trying to get back to sleep after that was not easy. On the plus side we had 22kn on the beam and since the sea state was pretty flat we had full main and jib up, flying across to Piraeus. We achieved a maximum boat speed of 9.9kn! Luckily the shape of the bay offered some protection from the wind as we approached the marina. Zea marina is a horseshoe shaped marina right in the heart of Athens. Once past the breakwater, dodging boats coming out, we went past the biggest super yachts we had ever seen. I mean these were ships. We took Rockhopper into the horseshoe which was blissfully calm and tied her up to pontoon C with the help of a couple of marineros. Since our blast across the Saronic gulf had taken less time that we thought we were all tucked up by 11:30am. It was a great place from which to explore Athens (which we had done previously with this same group of friends on a charter trip a few years back) but alas we needed to get Rockhopper ready for guests so no time to explore. We did manage a few cocktails and a meal out on MegaYacht row, just to suss it out for when the motley crew arrived…



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