The last blog left off with us on the verge of practicing
our meditative states as we outwaited a Meltemi wind that hammered Paros and
the surrounding Cycladic islands for over a week. We were in for at least
another day of 35 knots-plus winds and we were also about to welcome Steve and
Christy on board. Steve was our broker for when we purchased Sea Rose two years
ago. He helped us take delivery of her in France so we could sail in the Mediterranean
before taking her to our home waters of Maine in the United States. I went to
elementary school with Christy and we were friends throughout our school years.
We lost contact with one another for a while as we each raised our families
then reconnected again when we were planning a sail through the American Great
At least we knew these two would understand the challenges Mother Nature introduces to sailing schedules and plans. They are located on the eastern end of Lake Ontario which sees its fair share of crazy weather and demanding sea states! Tom and I spent the summer of 2017 getting up into and navigating throughout the Great Lakes. If you are interested in learning more, see our Youtube channel playlist, “Sailing Into The American Heartland”.
As we looked back on our time with each of the collections of people we had aboard Sea Rose over the past summer, special details stand out for each group. Some had particularly amazing snorkeling experiences or a bunch of caves to explore. Others had lots of opportunity for star gazing from isolated coves. Our good friends Bob and Lisa joined us on the island of Mykonos, Greece and got off Sea Rose in Paros and their time with us was defined by high winds. As Tom mentioned in our last blog post, the hot, dry winds that come out of the North and slam down through the Aegean Sea during the Greek summers are called the Meltemi and we got very familiar with that term while Bob and Lisa were with us!
As we departed Poros in the pre-dawn light, we would be leaving the Saronic Gulf and entering the greater Aegean Sea region. This part of the Aegean is best known for the Cyclades islands, with popular destinations like Santorini, Mykonos and Naxos. And popular with our friends, of which we had four groups joining us over the next five weeks. Karen and I had one more week by ourselves; seven days to cross the 100 miles to Mykonos, where we would pickup our good friends Bob and Lisa. The excitement of having guests after several weeks of being by ourselves was tempered by the reality check of the mid-Summer wind conditions in this area. We had been casually watching the weather forecasts in the Aegean since we had arrived in Greece a month ago. Boy, was this going to be interesting! July and August here are renowned for the Meltemi, a very forceful wind that blows down from the Black Sea and fans out over the Cyclades islands. It can ebb and flow, but when it really blows, it can carry on for five or more days, pinning you down in the closest south-facing harbor, trying to avoid the fetch of waves that start several hundred miles to the north.
If you read our previous post, you will remember we were poised to pass through the Corinth Canal, an east-west oriented waterway 6.4 kilometers (4.0 miles) in length. The eastern end comes out in the Saronic Gulf, near Athens. Further east is the Aegean Sea with her world-famous, island littered cruising grounds. Look at the map below – Point A shows where we were 10 days ago, Point B is where we hope to be in another 10 days. Utilizing the Corinth Canal means we could go in nearly a straight line from one wonderful cruising playground to another while eliminating the added risks associated with the greater distance and more open-water navigation required for going below the Peloponnese. Besides, canals and their roles throughout history and across societies are fascinating, as I hope to illustrate.
Corinth Canal History – For over 2000 years, rulers in the area now known as Greece had envisioned a waterway that would cut across the isthmus of Corinth and allow for easy navigation between the Ionian and Aegean Seas. Once built, the canal would save about 140 nautical miles over the journey around the Peloponnese. Several proposals for such a waterway were put forth, the first known in the 7th century BC. The first construction project began in 67 AD but the effort was abandoned when Emperor Nero, who was the visionary who initiated the work, died. Their total effort amounted to having dug a total of 700 meters, approximately a tenth of the total distance across the isthmus. The project that would culminate in completion was begun in April of 1882 and the canal was used for the first time on October 28, 1893.
Today, the canal is used primarily by tourist cruises and private boats since it is too narrow for commercial ships. The single channel is 8 meters deep and 24.6 meters wide. Groups of boats travel in a single direction at a time, due to the narrowness of the channel. Each boat wishing to transit calls the canal operator with details on their boat and which direction (eastbound or westbound) they intend to travel. The operator groups boats together and directs them regarding where to wait, when to begin transit and how to pay the tariff. The canal closes for 12 hours each week to perform regular maintenance. The high walls are composed of limestone and erosion is a continual challenge.
We had heard the wind influence in the canal can be significant. The land both to the north and south of the Gulf of Corinth quickly climbs to several thousand feet. When you add long, hot days warming the rocky landscape and large cool bodies of water nearby, you have all the makings for high winds, as you read how we experienced a lot of this in our previous post. Given the narrowness of the channel, we were hoping our morning passage would mean less wind. We certainly didn’t want to be pushed into the canal walls. Luckily, the winds were uncommonly light as we got the call from the Canal Operator that we were clear to follow the boat named, ‘Catamaran’ who had just turned around after transiting the canal in the westbound direction. I guess this was one of the many tour boats that offer trips along this historic waterway. We had been circling outside the breakwaters on the western end of the canal after having requested an eastbound transit about an hour earlier. It was about noon when we pushed the throttle forward and passed through the breakwaters and toward the lowered roadway.
Within an hour, we had made it to the eastern end and tied up along the Canal Authority’s dock to pay our transit fee. Tom learned we could fill up with diesel from a mini tanker that can drive up to the dock; it seemed like a no-brainer to take advantage of the convenience since we were already tied alongside the dock. This practice is quite common in Greece, but it certainly feels odd to have your gas station come to you!
By 1 pm, we were casting off and heading out to explore the sights of the Saronic Gulf. First stop, Korfos, a mellow bay only 12 nm away. We had left early that same morning and going through the canal was cool but quite stressful so we were ready to drop the anchor and chill for the afternoon! Getting to this point had been a big accomplishment and we wanted to recognize that with a cooling swim and some well deserved relaxation!
In the morning, we moved on to Epidavros, an area rich with ancient sites. It was not even a week ago that we had visited Delphi and now, it seems, we had stumbled upon another archeological site, this one referred to as the cradle of medicine. We had read that one of the best examples of an ancient Greek amphitheater was in the hills outside of Epidavros so we would embark the following morning to make our way inland. However, our first day here would be spent locally in both old and new Epidavros.
As we explored on shore, we learned that another ancient amphitheater existed between these two towns. We also read about a portion of Old Epidavros which was now underwater but which could be viewed by snorkeling in the shallow water covering what had been the town’s waterfront marketplace. Of course we would take our dinghy from our anchorage in New Epidavros over to old town – this is something we couldn’t miss. Wow – we stumbled upon these special places almost by accident.
Early on our second day in Epidavros, we hopped on a bus
bound for the archeological site called, ‘The Sanctuary of Aslepios at
Epidaurus’. Not only could we walk around this huge and acoustically perfect
amphitheater, but we also learned that this location was a vast site of
temples, hospital buildings, dormitory style residences, baths and more, all
devoted to healing. Much of the site had been constructed between the 6th
and the 4th centuries BC.
The theatre is the best preserved monument in the Sanctuary
of Asklepios, in the foothills outside of Epidavros. This was erected at the
end of the 4th century B.C and excavated in 1881.
The Sanctuary is the earliest organized sanatorium and is significant for its association with the history of medicine, providing evidence of the transition from belief in divine healing to the science of medicine. Initially, in the 2nd millennium BCE it was a site of ceremonial healing practices with curative associations that were later enriched through the cults of Apollo Maleatas in the 8th century BCE and then by Asklepios in the 6th century BCE. The Sanctuary of the two gods was developed into the single most important therapeutic center of the ancient world. These practices were subsequently spread to the rest of the Greco-Roman world and the Sanctuary thus became the cradle of medicine.
Among the facilities of the classical period are buildings that represent all the functions of the Sanctuary, including healing cults and rituals, library, baths, sports, accommodation, hospital and theatre.
– World Heritage Collection UNESCO web page
We spent several hours here and left speechless. We live
near Boston where ‘very old architecture’ is a couple hundred years. It is so
hard for Americans to grasp ‘ancient’ without repeated exposure to incredible
sites like Delphi, Epidavros and Asklepios. We felt saturated by the flood of
information we had been exposed to. We picked up our anchor and headed for a
Before we settled in for the night, we made a quick stop off
the southern shore of the tiny island of Thorussa (seen on the left in the
photo below). There was supposedly a ship wreck that you could see in 20 meters
of water and it conveniently had a mooring buoy for boats to tie off to. The
still shots didn’t come out well so when we produce a video of our experience
here, I’ll link to it.
We motored a few miles along the southern shore of the
somewhat larger island of Agistri and found a cove we hoped could accommodate
us for the night. It would take some work, but it was stunning and we were up
for a challenge. We wanted to get tucked in on the western side of this cove to
have maximum protection from expected afternoon/evening winds. We dropped our
anchor in 11 meters of water and backed toward the corner of the cove. Tom was
ready with stern lines so I held the boat in place once the anchor was securely
holding by keeping our engine in reverse with a moderate throttle. Tom got one
line tied onto a shore-side rock and the other, he looped over a bollard placed
along a rough stairway going up the back of the cove.
We had the cove to ourselves for most of our two-night stay.
The snorkeling was tremendous, making our afternoon activity of underwater
exploration an easy choice – we would fondly recall this spot in the weeks to
come. Around the corner from the main cove, there was a make-shift rock landing
that had a simple ladder affixed to it. This was basically serving as a small dock
which allowed people access to a lovely swimming hole. A group of young adults
were jumping from the cliffs surrounding this water access point. We would
later learn this was called a ‘beach’ by the locals even though there was not a
grain of sand or a pebble to be had! The appeal was obvious; however, the
marketers should come up with something other than ‘beach’ as the attraction
The second day in this anchorage was my birthday so we decided to visit the only restaurant in the tiny township up the hill from the cove that evening. The winds had been high all day and by early evening, we had a bit of a swell coming into the cove. Because we were pointed out of the cove, it wasn’t that uncomfortable on the boat. However, getting off the boat might be difficult. We didn’t want to leave the dinghy out near the ‘dock’ with the ladder because it would be pushed against the rocks the entire time we were on shore. Instead, we would to try to scale the steep rock-face that one of our stern lines was tied to. I had put on my favorite dress and put my shoes in my zippered bag … I would need to get off quickly in between swells. I perched on the dinghy’s bow and Tom took me up next to the cliff. I quickly grabbed hold of some of the rocks and he pulled back away. I couldn’t hold myself and my foot was slipping. I didn’t want to slip straight down the set of rocks so I pushed myself backwards as I let go and fell flat on my back in the deep water. I went completely under, back-pack and all. Tom quickly grabbed my arm and got me back into the dinghy. Uggh. We quickly made our way back to Sea Rose and I pulled everything out of my backpack to make sure nothing was water damaged. Amazingly, very little water got into the pack’s compartment so our electronics were alive for another day! I, however, was deflated and embarrassed. Since my husband is a very sweet person, he gently encouraged me to dry off and change clothes so we could try another approach. He would take me over to the stone dock and leave me with a bag containing a change of clothes for him. He would take the dinghy back to Sea Rose then swim over to the landing, change into his dry clothes then walk with me up to the restaurant.
Wouldn’t you know that the restaurant is closed one night a
week … tonight! Now it was Tom’s turn to be deflated. However, I was so
impressed with his attempts to make my birthday dinner special that I tried to
get him laughing as I thanked him for the effort. Dinner out was not going to
happen! We walked back down the hill and onto the rock landing. Tom changed
back into his wet swimsuit and jumped in for the short swim back to get the
dinghy. Back on the boat, we opened the best bottle of wine we had on board and
pulled together a simple dinner. It was a memorable birthday spent with my
favorite person in the world! Thank you,
Tom, for making life fun.
We got an early start the next morning to make our way down to the island of Poros, which sits less than a kilometer off the mainland of the Peloponnese. What a great number of boats we found scattered through the many anchorages near Poros and along the waterfront docks which surround this cute and bustling town onfthe same name. We found a service to do our laundry and good markets to restock our fresh food. We anchored off the main town for our first night in the area – we had a birthday dinner to go ashore for after-all!
Our time in the Saronic Gulf was nearing an end. We had friends we would meet on the island of Mykonos, roughly 80 miles east, in less than a week so we would enjoy one more day near Poros before hopping through some of the Cyclades Islands on our way to Mykonos. We picked our laundry up early then relocated to a cove called ‘Russian Bay’. Today was our 27th wedding anniversary and we would do something we seldom let ourselves do – we would go to a beach-bar to relax in lounge chairs, sip cold adult beverages and not do anything else except chat. Aaaahhhhh!
In the early evening hours, we hiked up the hill behind the cove that we had relocated Sea Rose to. The view from the hilltop was beautiful and the breeze refreshing. We watched boat after boat sail around the headlands toward the town of Poros.
We departed just after sun-up the next day. The sooner we got started, the less intense the sea state would be. However, the channel between the island of Poros and the Peloponnese Peninsula is narrow, shallow and crowded – a passage best done with sunlight.
We were in open waters by 8 am and would soon pass out of the Saronic Gulf and into the Cycladic Island group. Although we only got a taste of the treasures scattered throughout this part of Greece, we will always think back fondly on our time in the Saronic Island Group.
“Rion Bridge, Rion Bridge, this is the sailing vessel Sea Rose, over!”
“Sea Rose, go ahead.”
“Yes, Rion Bridge, we are a 13 meter sailing vessel with a height of 19 meters, approaching the bridge heading East. We request permission to pass.”
“Sea Rose, you are clear to transit the bridge. You must use the north channel. Call again when you are one mile away.”
Our VHF radio conversation with the Rion Bridge Traffic Control office marks the early morning start to our passage into the Gulf of Corinth. This short cut to the Saronic Gulf and Aegean Sea – the ‘real’ Greece if you believe the travel brochures – was very intentional. There was no way we could round the big bulge south of us comprised of the Peloponnese peninsula without a serious hit to our time line. Karen and I were eager to see the eastern portion of Greece and re-discover the Cyclades Islands that we so fondly remembered from our honeymoon. And a sailing trip through Greece wouldn’t be complete without exploring these classic blue and white washed islands.
The big news this post is that Tom got our water maker working! We carried all the components of this reverse osmosis desalination system from the states to Italy when we came over in May. Tom had worked on various aspects of the installation since launching, whenever he could find spare minutes. Now we were ready to flip the switch and see how everything had come together. We ran the system for 30 minutes, making water into a bucket at first. This is a recommended step to clean the system from any manufacturing or shipping particles before running the clean (or desalinated) water into your tanks. He found one leak that was quickly fixed by tightening a hose clamp. After testing the salinity and being comfortable with the level, we turned a valve which directed the flow into one of our two water storage tanks – how exciting! We could now check off one more factor that made us ready for long-term, self-sufficient cruising! Our solar panels supply the energy for electricity, our sails provide power for movement, our freezer enables “fresh” food storage for longer periods and now our water maker turns sea water into drinkable water. This gives us the freedom to stay in remote locations for as long as our food stores hold out!
After a long day of transatlantic travel, it felt great to be back onboard Sea Rose. During our trip back home to the States, she had managed just fine in her slip at the Gouvia Marina on Corfu. When your boat is your home and you put your blood, sweat, and tears into her care and feeding, it’s a little unnerving to leave her alone for ten days. In our favor, no sudden storms arose nor bumps from navigationally-challenged neighbors. She was just as we left her, plus a little growth on her waterline from the few days of idleness. It was time to get our pride and joy prepped and ready for more adventure. Our friends Steve and Julie would be arriving in two days and we had a full task list to complete before we started entertaining again.
The day and the hour had arrived. It was time to exit Croatia once and for all. Six weeks ago, we had cleared into a country that we knew only through travel books and friend’s stories. This morning, we would trek back to the harbourmaster’s office to clear out, with a plethora of diverse experiences tucked away in heads, enough to fill a few storytelling sessions around a winter’s fireplace.
Our kids and Andrew were on their way to the airport, and we wasted no time shoving off from the Q dock to make progress south along the isolated last few miles of the Croatian coast before entering Montenegrin waters. This time around, we weren’t groggy from an overnight passage from Italy. We had slept well, and knew exactly where to go and how to clear in to Montenegro.
It was mid-July and we were headed back up the Rijecka River just north of Dubrovnik for another quick turn-around for fuel, water, laundry, cleaning and provisioning (all easily done at the ACI Dubrovnik Marina). We were very much looking forward to welcoming our two young-adult kids and one of their friends on board for a week of continued exploration of the amazing Croatian islands. Our fingers were crossed, hoping we had reached the end of the long streak of bad weather we had been coping with. You will recall our last couple blog posts about the many, low-sleep nights we experienced at the hands of Mother Nature where we had a night-time fight with an unfurling code zero followed by several nights of dragging anchors (ours, but more often others) and repositioning boats mid-storm. Our nerves were frayed, our patience was tested and strained and our ability to cope was compromised by not enough sleep. This is not the best way to begin a week with family, but we hoped a night on anchor in a very familiar and secure place would help.
For the next week, we planned to slow down and take a break from hosting mode, as we made our way by ourselves south to Cavtat to pickup our kids. In the last few weeks in Croatia, we had been forced to skip several interesting islands due to the weather or schedule challenges. We now finally had a chance to check these places out before we said goodbye completely to this country of countless islands.
Bidding adieu to Emmy, Graham and Sarah, we set off from Murter with the eagerness of seeing new places, while re-visiting some of our favorites. As we entered our fifth week in Croatia, we were starting to gain the comfort and confidence that comes with prior knowledge of these waters. No longer were we shuffling through pages in a cruising guide on a cold wintry night; we had zig-zagged our way through these long, skinny islands on our own craft, faced a fair balance of adventure and adversity, and were still married happily enough to want to spend another week alone together!