Corinth, the second largest city in the Peloponnese, was destroyed several times by earthquakes and rebuilt in a very pragmatic chessboard fashion. The city is not very pretty - but very lively, many young people, the University of the Peloponnese is here. The huge harbour is not very busy, probably due to Corona and economic crisis.
A few kilometres south of Corinth there is a gigantic single rock, Acrocorinth, 565 m high. It clearly towers above the barren partly karstified, partly volcanic hilly landscape. From its summit there is a breathtaking view to the west of the Gulf of Corinth and the surrounding mountains and the Greek mainland, to the east of the Saronic Gulf with its many islands, a red-brown-green-deep blue composition.
Since the early Greek time, 7th century, the rock was inhabited, a temple of Aphrodite is said to have stood on it. You can visit the by far the largest Greek fortress here, an impressive experience. Several defensive rings stuck to the partly almost vertical rock walls, towers and battlements, meter-thick walls, a cistern, a small church and a mosque stand on the site high above Corinth. The fortress is more than twice as high and much more extensive than that of Nafplion, which is already gigantic. With its strategic position, from which it was possible to dominate the gulf, it was of course always fought over by competing powers: the basic complex was built by the Byzantines in the 7th century. The Franks followed in 1210, then the Palaeologists (the last Byzantine emperors) in the 14th century, then the Knights of Rhodes, then the Turks, then the Venetians, then again the Turks until Greek independence in 1822. Everyone continued to build the fortress, which is one of the reasons why it is so impressive.
With its history, it is typical of the Peloponnese as a whole as a sought-after interface between East and West, as an important station on the trade routes from Italy to Constantinople, and as a transit area for crusaders.
We took a taxi up the steep mountain to the first gate - and after several hours of sightseeing, hiking and clambering through the extensive grounds we walked back by foot, always with the magnificent view of the gulf, down to ancient Corinth with its columns and excavated ancient buildings.
In the middle of March, together with Beatrix and Peter, from whom we had bought Aglaya, we stood on top of the car bridge and looked out over the Corinth Canal. And I (Gisela) had stood there 40 years ago and thought about what it would be like to sail through in a boat. Now we have done that with Aglaya. For our boat it was not the first time, for us it was.
The channel connects the Saronic Gulf with the Gulf of Corinth. There were plans for it in ancient times and in 66 AD Emperor Nero made the first attempt, which he is said to have personally helped with a hoe and spade. 6000 Jewish prisoners of war were forced to work. But when Nero died two years later, the project was discontinued. Only the Venetians resumed the planning in 1687, but in view of the masses of rock that had to be moved, they put it down again. After the Suez Canal was completed in 1881, the new Greek state commissioned French engineers to build the Corinth Canal. It was completed 12 years later, despite major funding problems.
Already the journey was exciting: After we left the cosy little harbour in Nea Epidauros, we were unexpectedly met by wind from the front with gusts up to 45 knots with the corresponding swell. Is it possible to go through the channel with such a wind?
The day before we had already sent an e-mail to the Customer Service Corinth Canal and registered. Two nautical miles off Isthmia (eastern entrance) we then reported by VHF and immediately received permission to fix our boat in front of the office. Because you don't get through the canal for nothing. We paid 180 Euros for Aglaya. After a little waiting time, in which we could watch the oncoming traffic coming out of the canal and for that the almost archaic little road bridge was pulled under water with steel cables, we were called “Aglaya, quick, quick! Go!" So go! We had the canal all to ourselves, no other ships went in with us. 6.3 kilometres distance to the exit in Posidhonia, very close to us the partly bricked walls. 8 metres wide, that's not much, you're not allowed to make any detours. 30 knots wind from the front, but in the canal it doesn't matter, there is current from the front, but no swell. The small road bridge at the end of the canal disappeared under water when we were just before it. And then we were through. A great exciting experience!
But the welcome in the Gulf of Corinth was quite uncomfortable. The same strong wind from the west as on the eastern side of the canal. In addition up to 3 meter high waves. Fortunately we only wanted to turn left and enter the harbour of Corinth. That was the little excitement at the end of the day: mooring with 30 knots wind in the harbour. It worked. Luckily we had help from other sailors who were already in the harbour with their boat.
Preliminary remark: Salamis! The naval battle of Salamis, an island we also passed by, is almost an anniversary to the day! It was in the last days of September 480, exactly 2500 years ago, that the Greeks (Themistocles) defeated the Persians (Xerxes). Historians say that this was the origin of an independent, western, non-orientated occidental culture, with political development, with literature, theatre, epics, "classical Greek" as we understand it today. But of course there were already advanced civilizations in this area, Mycenae, and Homer's epics date back to the eighth century. But the cultural area of that time, the Levant, probably reached as far as Syria, Mesopotamia, and Egypt in the south, so it was not as independent as it is…….
Greek country life - of course Aglaya remained in the water. But as storm was announced, we wanted to weather it as safely as possible. So Nea Epidauros, a tiny harbour, but protected on all sides - 3 km away the village (the famous theatre is only 15 km away), which is picturesquely and wildly rising up a mountain slope, surrounded by steep rugged rocks and canyons. On top, on one of the rocks, the remains of a Byzantine fortress, and a village like in a Greek picture book. Sleepy steep streets, rather corridors, tiny squares, a single pub in the village square, but: this is where Greek independence was declared, in 1822, after the Ottoman domination was overcome; a column and a museum bear witness to this. As always, we climbed up in the midday heat and were rewarded with a gigantic wide view of almost all the islands of the Saronic Gulf, suburbs of Athens so to speak. Aegina, Methana, Poros, Salamina, Agristi……..
Between port and village a plain where oranges, lemons and wine are cultivated, very idyllic everything. So we walked through these groves and, as usual for us, we got further and further into the hills. The walk ended after 10km in Palea Epidauros, i.e. in the old Epidauros, a charming bay - and on a peninsula an amphitheatre, which is only a fraction of the size of the famous theatre, but which has a completely different and wonderful charm amidst olive groves - and completely without tourists.
The taxi brought us back to our little harbour, where Aglaya was patiently waiting for us.
Aegina is a beautiful island that is almost a suburb of Athens, which makes the port extremely turbulent and hectic. Many boats from Athens make short trips here. But more about the harbour later. In Aegina, hydrofoil boats from Athens, Methana, Poros and other islands dock, as do large car ferries.
The island is hilly and overgrown with pistachio trees. In the city there are kiosks and shops everywhere, selling huge quantities of pistachios and pistachio products, from ice cream to salted, unsalted, but also unroasted pistachios or pistachios pickled in honey or covered with sugar. For dessert we once got unroasted soft pistachios, marinated in honey with ginger - a delicacy.
On a hill, about 15 km from the main town, with a wonderful view as far as Piraeus and the entire Athens coast, lies the sanctuary of Aphaia, who was worshipped here - and only here on Aegina - the temple is older than the Acropolis in Athens. Probably already in Mycenaean times a fertility goddess referring to Egyptian deities was worshipped here, a sphinx stood on a column. In Greek-Classical times it was a daughter of Zeus (once again).
A large, relatively well preserved temple, surrounded by a mighty wall, evokes associations with Agrigento or Paestum, but is not quite as complete. And the frieze, which is hardly surprising after all the history, is in the Glyptothek in Munich.
The hill is located above a small fishing and bathing resort, Agia Marina, very idyllic, but it has also suffered from the financial crisis and now the Corona crisis, some taverns and also hotels are abandoned.
After three days we left Aegina - but first with heavy obstacles: The harbour, where you lie with bow anchor and line at the stern to the pier, has a roughly semicircular ground plan. That means: All boats drop their anchor approximately in the middle. This in turn means that the anchors of the boats with their chains lie criss-cross over and under each other. And suddenly, when we were pulling up our anchor, we had a chain on it and an anchor, but it was from another chain. This caused stress, the wind pressed us against other boats, a chain blocked our propeller - a diver untangled the chains and freed our propeller. After I told him that I didn't have enough cash, he was content with 150 instead of 200 €, an expensive "fun"!
Moni is not just the abbreviation for a woman's name. Moni is also a tiny uninhabited islet just west of the island of Aigina in the Saronic Gulf. If you come - like us - from the south, it looks like a barren, grey rocky ridge whose walls drop steeply to the sea. Completely inaccessible and without any green. But: We anchored there beautifully overnight. Actually we didn't want to go there at all, but to the harbour of Perdika on the southwest side of Aigina. But it was full. So we looked for an alternative. We had just passed the narrowness between Aigina and Moni, when Moni showed her beautiful green north side. The slopes below the rocks were covered with light green pines and there was a small bay. The weather was predicted to be calm for the night, so we had found our anchorage. The last day's guests, who were bathing at the small beach, were picked up by a taxi boat one by one. Then it became quiet, only now and then a bird call. With wonderfully clear water we could see to the bottom and go swimming. And at night an impressive starry sky. When can you see the Orion directly above the mast top of your own boat?
We extended twice - so we stayed there for nearly one week. The island is located at the extreme south-eastern tip of the Peloponnese, separated from the mainland only by a 500m wide channel. One of the safest harbours in Greece, it is said - although it is not an enclosed harbour at all: You lie on a 2km long pier, opposite the mainland, but protected by it. Here we weathered the Medicane, which had raged violently on the Ionian Islands, but which arrived here "only" as strong wind and cloudburst.
In the harbour there is always a lot going on, of course, also because the fast ferry from Athens arrives here and there are many small taxi boats between the mainland and the island. Sailing boats and motor boats also anchor in the middle of the harbour.
Directly at the pier the town of Poros stretches along, one tavern at the other, inside small Lines. And the town is grandiosely built up along the slope, winding steep alleys, stairs, passages - you don't need to ban Cars here, no car can get up here anyway. At the top there is a blue and weite clocktower, from which you have a wonderful view over the city, the harbour and various bays. There are many anchor bays here, Love Bay, Russian Bay (here the Russian Tsar built a naval base, of which a ruin still stands) and many others.
In a long walk along the shore with many views of the bays and the surrounding islands you can reach the "Monastery of the life-giving spring", situated on a hill above the "Monastery Bay", with dense forest and in front of it overgrown with many olive trees towards the beach.
Halfway up between the winding alleys and corridors there are also restaurants, not only at the harbour. Here we ate something very special: snails! Much smaller than the snails we know from France, a little spicier in taste, with an incredible sauce of tomatoes, garlic, wine, juniper and cinnamon.
Sometimes we had the feeling that if we were not careful, we would not get out of here at all.
Anchoring has many advantages: You don't have to be careful not to get too close to other boats, you don't have to be careful not to touch other boats in a narrow box, exact going Backware (with a long keel!) is not necessary either. Also you don't need help from land to take the ropes…..narrow harbours, noisy towns/villages…….
When anchoring in a bay you find a nice place and then drop the anchor - no. It is not quite that simple. The weather should be as calm as possible, not too much wind, as stable as possible from one direction - but you have the least influence on that.
The place has to be chosen so that you don't get too close to other boats. You have to take into account the radius in which the boat will swing, i.e. swing back and forth at the anchor. Which of course also depends on the wind direction. Will the wind calm down at night? Or will it change direction?
The depth of the water is important for the anchor to hold well. There are different philosophies here: some say you have to chain (= let out) seven times the water depth, others say three and a half times.
In good weather you can still see five metres to the bottom without any problems. What is the anchorage ground? Sand? Silt? Grass? Stones/ Rocks? Will the anchor hold? Will it wedge between stones on the ground?
How should you bury the anchor to make it stable? How hard should you pull the anchor so that it pushes into the ground? When the anchor is down, it is said: wait and see - landmarks, houses, trees, towers……always check whether the boat is in the same proportion or whether it is shifting.
Swell can be unpleasant, especially at night when the boat rocks up and down violently and pulls on the anchor. Then you sleep badly.
We have had different experiences, it depends on the shape, size and location (open or rather closed) of the bay. Seven wind forces are easy to cope with - if the anchor holds.
In a very narrow bay, a small fishing boat with a fisherman sleeping on it bumped into our boat at two o'clock in the night - we were probably just as frightened as the fisherman who then tried to get away.
One should not sleep as soundly at anchor at night as in the harbour. In Portocheli the boat behind us had suddenly come damn close, so our anchor had slipped. And so far that a little bit of pulling in the chain would not have been enough. So we started the engine, raised the anchor and looked for a new place - at four in the night. But then the anchor was sitting and kept us well in our place for the next two days and nights in strong winds.
We always sleep (in good weather) outside in the cockpit when anchoring. And this is where one of the fascinating experiences of anchoring comes into play: no disturbing light far and wide, an unbelievable number of stars - and sometimes even shooting stars, you don't find anything like that in any harbour.