Greek Sailing Odyssey Day 2: Corinth - Aegina / by Honza Cervenka

Woke up at 9am--a little better than the shamefully late start yesterday--and then Maurizio and I went back to town briefly to buy a loaf of bread.  We sailed off at about 9:40 and headed for the Corinth Canal, which was a little complicated.

You see, the canal allows ships to pass in only one direction at a time; if it happens to be closed in the direction that you want to go, you have to wait for the ships to pass one way before the direction changes.  The canal control also requires ships to gather in convoys--if you miss your convoy you could end up waiting for another one for a few hours.  A passage through the canal takes about 45 minutes and Maurizio tells me the channel radio control people are notorious for telling ships to move faster and faster.

Well anyway then, there we were at 9:40 trying to join a convoy that seemed to be forming at our side of the canal--chances were that they were going to let ships pass in our direction soon.  We raised the sails and raced to the meeting point.  Raced is to be taken literally--the wind from yesterday was still exceptionally strong and the sea was quite rough with big, sharp waves.  We ended up circling around at the end of the convoy for about a half hour, but then we finally heard radio control give us the go-ahead.

At the entrance of the canal there was a bridge in the way--rather than option for the Tower Bridge of London solution of raising the bridge to allow ships through, this bridge sank into the sea.  There it was (the black/yellow line in the distance, already partially lowered):

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And there it wasn't:

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We entered the canal with our sails down and engine on--the canal authorities require that all ships fitted with an engine use it to allow for an expedient passage.  Now a bit about the canal itself:  The canal cuts through the Isthmus of Corinth between the Peloponnese peninsula and mainland Greece.  It is about 6km long and was first conceived in Antiquity.  The Roman Empreror Nero even cut about 700 meters of it, more than a 10th of the final length.  The canal is cut into a deep rock, which makes quite a sight when passing through.  It is only about 8 meters deep and 21 meters wide though, so big ships still need to pass around the peninsula; most of the canal's annual traffic comes from small to medium size ships.  Here are a few pictures of the canal:

Somebody having a good time bungee-jumping

Somebody having a good time bungee-jumping

Aerial shot of the canal.  The ship in the picture is going the same direction that we did.   Source: Vancouverquadra via Wikipedia

Aerial shot of the canal.  The ship in the picture is going the same direction that we did.  
Source: Vancouverquadra via Wikipedia

Another aerial shot of the canal and the Isthmus from further away.  We entered from NW (Gulf of Corinth) and arrived SE (Saronic Gulf in the Aegean Sea).   Source: Philos2000 via Wikipedia

Another aerial shot of the canal and the Isthmus from further away.  We entered from NW (Gulf of Corinth) and arrived SE (Saronic Gulf in the Aegean Sea).  
Source: Philos2000 via Wikipedia

Soon after passing over the sinking bridge, Maurizio pointed out a little sculpture, a counter-relief,  I suppose, in the southern wall of the canal.  This was a mark of the progress that Nero's workers (read: slaves) made; Maurizio told me it once featured a bust of Nero, Wikipedia tells me it was Hercules, but either way you can't really tell nowadays.

"Nercules" aka erosion

"Nercules" aka erosion

So there we were, well on our way through the canal.  The radio was strikingly absent of canal guards shouting to speed us up, so had it not been for the roar of the engine, it would have been an entirely peaceful sail.  The steep rock walls of the canal were very imposing, I wouldn't wish anybody to be cutting through that mass of stone.  Once we passed to the other end of the canal, we had to dock at the canal guard pier to pay crossing fee--217.  And there were some sizable ships waiting to pass the other way, like this one:

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And then it was onto the Aegean sea where we'd spend the entirety of the trip.  We had good wind once we left the pier (engine off, sails up), but at about 1pm the wind succumbed and our speed decreased significantly. The wind continued to come and go for a number of hours, but it got strong and constant at about 5:30pm and carried us through the rest of the way to Aegina, our destination.  Maurizio said that he could usually see the Pantheon from the sea, but today the visibility over Athens was quite poor and we couldn't find it.  

Aegina is one of the Saronic Islands (named after the Saronic Gulf); it used to be a powerful naval power in the ancient times--even rivaling Athens, which it is very close to.  We originally planned to anchor at the west coast of Aegina, but there continued to be a strong NW wind throughout the evening, which would make anchoring on that side dangerous.  So instead we headed to the east part of the island, which sheltered us from that wind.  

Unlike in Galaxidi or Corinth, we did not moor at a pier and instead anchored in the bay of Agia Marina, one of the towns on the island.  The pier there wasn't large enough for our ship, so we had no other choice.  The ship actually has 5 different anchors on board, each for a different situation.  We used the "Fisherman" anchor which is an all-purpose anchor, good enough with all sorts of seabeds (clay, rock, sand), but not excellent with any.  The other anchor that we prepared (the ship can have two anchors ready at the bow) is called "Brittany," and it is an anchor used for sand bottom and strong winds.

After we prepared the new anchor, it was already quite late--we had dinner and went to sleep.  The town will have to wait for the morning.  

Here are a few nautical sceneries to finish this post off:

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Travel Summary: Anchored at 9:35pm in Agia Marina on Aegina. Distance traveled 76.3 km/40.4 nm in 11.5 hours.  See the map for the route sailed.

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