We had chosen the Corinth Canal as our route to the Aegean as it is the most direct from Preveza. A feat of engineering completed in the late 1800s by the French, after many other attempts over the years from the time of Emperor Nero onward. It was a grey and drizzly evening, and we were the only boat going through. The excitement of reaching the Aegean was palpable, hard to explain why. Perhaps the anticipation of exploring the larger area of Greek islands. The only challenge the Captain encountered was the tenacious, very large, Greek dog that would not let go of our mooring line when we were trying to leave the dock at the eastern end of the canal.
The Aegean is fabulous. The islands in and around the Eastern Peloponnese and Saronic Gulf are delightful. To see the largest surviving amphitheatre at Epidhavros was incredible. It seats 14,000 and you can hear a pin drop or a whisper on the stage from even the highest point. The island of Poros and nearby azure blue Russian Bay are stunning. A trip to the famous Idhra, home to Leonard Cohen and other famous names from the 1970s gave us a taste of another world, it was a little like a ‘wanna be’ Capri with large motor yachts and well dressed cruisers but somehow not quite the same. Not to be forgotten or missed was the nearby Skindos Bay, we spent a couple of very relaxing days in ‘our’ bay with the donkey, the farmer and a couple of other boats.
We waved good bye to Carrie on Idhra after a great ten days on board. As a travel expert who has visited many countries and many amazing places, we managed to show her some new sights and she is hoping to get back to Greece for work in the near future.
The travelog in June and July gets complex. This was the first time we had the boat to ourselves since launching and we did some moseying around the Eastern Peloponnese. Perhaps our favourite spot was the charming and unspoilt town of Astros. We met some fun Kiwis, Murray & Lyn on their Halberg 54’ and had fun chatting with a British couple who were chartering but had sailed round the world a few years ago on their own boat. Then to top it off there was a local dancing festival where the most nimble dancers were the tallest and largest bellied men you have ever seen!
The leisure time had to come to a close with the onset of very brown exhaust bellowing from our stern even at low revs. As any diesel engine expert would know, this is not a good sign. Limping carefully to Pireaus where we were expecting to leave the boat for a few days, we reached Zea Marina and put them to work to find a diesel engineer asap. This was Monday, bearing in mind we were to fly to the uk for Georgie’s degree show on Thursday, it was a tall order. BUT true to the mechanics word, he arrived at midday after the call and then proceeded to take the engine apart. By Tuesday afternoon the Captain declared he had NEVER seen the engine in so many pieces…….
Wednesday rolled around and remarkably everything was being put back together, a sea trial undertaken and no brown smoke at low revs or high revs. Only white. Hurray for the work done by the guys at Zea. We could head back to Loughborough University Design School degree show with easy minds knowing that we would be leaving the dock with our next guests in just a few days.
Willi, Shirley & Emma Powell arrived in the rain, we hadn't seen rain for weeks so this was a little odd especially as even in the UK there wasn’t a drop. It didn't matter though as it was still warm and so good to see old friends. The time with the Powells was great, as ever and having Georgie join us for the latter part of the trip so good too. The paddle board was used, we headed south as far as Milos and met up with sv Believe having wintered two rows of boats away from them and left Cleopatra yard within a week of each other it took 6 weeks to rendez vous! We had a super special trip down to the south of Milos, anchoring in flat calm weather next to the caves at Kleftiko. What a magical place and such a treat. Thank you Rick and Julie for taking us there. Then back to Milos for birthday celebrations for Julie who is now hopefully the proud owner of a paddle board.
The Powells left us in Milos, and we meandered back up towards Olympic Marina on the eastern tip of the Athens Peninsula. Next was a moment of inspiration from the Captain, after weeks of unsuccessful fishing with the lures that were promised and proven to catch tuna he decided to abandon all previous advice and strike out on his own. The lure from our old Canadian fishing boat, Pierre, was fastened and cast over the stern. As the wind picked up and the boat galloped along at 7kn we were suddenly aware of the rod and line pulling, with cries of "quick get the hammer, the ouzo, the gloves, the gaff" we carefully brought our first Mediterranean tuna on board. This was so exciting and a real sense of achievement in what seems to be a very overfished, understocked sea. Georgie was scheduled to fly back to the UK and I joined her on the trip to visit mum whilst the Captain took a survey expedition back to Lisbon. Onegin was abandoned for a few days with the prospect of big wind coming in, the first of the meltemi which had been widely talked about but actually yet to be encountered.
After a hectic week away, getting back to the boat was exciting. New guests and new conditions. The Captain who had arrived back earlier confirmed that indeed the wind had blown like stink and that we had more in the offing. Uh oh, how would Nick and Alice like this? Luckily as long as the wind blew and the engine was off everyone held their sea legs and stomachs extremely well as we revisited some anchorages and went to new ones too. The biggest wind we had off the back of Tinos were gusts of 35kn literally out of no-where. It was loads of fun and warmed us up for more fantastic ‘backside’ of the island gusting : heading past Ikeria the Captain and I were in gusts of 40+. This was a long way from the early part of the season when we hoisted the code zero on multiple occasions and enjoyed a good sail in wind of just 6kn. It may have been blowing 40+ but the sun still shone and the sky was blue as we reached along at 9knts with 3 reefs the main and and partially furled staysail.
We sailed past the north coast of Mykonos, the south coast (backside) of Ikeria and headed for Samos, right next to the Turkish border in order to fly back to the UK for the second graduation event: where we received our proud parents award at the University of Loughborough degree show from Lord Sebastian Coe. Samos is a delightful island, anchor off the main town in 2.5m. Funnily enough it was the home of the basil plant I had been given by another cruiser 6 weeks earlier in Zea marina and was continuing to nurture.
From Samos we needed to get to Mykonos to collect girls. This ended up being an amazing surprise as not only did we have the two planned girls: Charli and Dora but an extra of Georgie. I nearly keeled over with surprise but what a treat to have them all on board. Mykonos is very attractive although full of chic boutiques and tons of tourists, we were very lucky to meet up with a very old friend and former colleague of the Captain who has wonderful hillside house on the island, thanks to Jason and Paula for a wonderful dinner and amazing sunset, it was a great first night for out three new guests! This was followed by more fun dinners, fabulous sailing, a second fishing success, swimming, unfortunate too ‘up close and personal’ encounters with super yachts and more. Including an amazing trip to Delos, which is such an incredible archaeological feast very close to Mykonos. It was a fab time. We were thrilled to be able to get back to Milos and meet sv Maya with Rolf, Nicky, Audrey and Bertie on board. Woohoo, party time. The girls were our last guests for the summer and we waved a very sad goodbye.
For the two of us, it was to be around the tip and up the Western Peloponnese. Warnings from everything you read that it’s a difficult sail. The prevailing wind will hamper your journey and you could be stuck for days… that’s never good news for the Captain. Setting off from Milos in light air we felt happy we’d get round the corner to the first bay Elafonisos, which was a huge shallow bay with very long beaches and loads of shore based holiday makers.
Next to Methoni, where there is an amazing Turkish castle and tower, not a provisioning store to be found until you step behind the water front restaurants. There you find the baker & butcher and locals drinking their coffee. Onward to Pilos, a large natural bay where the battle of Navarino, the last sailing ship battle was fought in1827. Here we met up with friends John and Julia and had a lovely time ashore with them and then sat out the wind. We also rescued an Italian man’s boat, which was dragging anchor at speed towards the rocky outcrop in the middle of the bay. The manoeuvre was achieved without too much difficulty and rewarded with a bottle of bubbly from a very embarrassed, thankful and happy Italian man (out of breath too as he had run for half an hour along the beach to from that bar he was drinking at). We would never have left Onegin anchored alone in such a wind.
The consequences for us if things had gone badly could have been great, but we couldn't just watch another boat be lost without lifting a finger. It was a difficult place to anchor, only shallow close to shore and so once out the anchor was never going to hold again. Afterwards we went through the steps to deciding and the implications for us; boat dragging, blow fog horn to get their attention (perhaps they were asleep on board), see no-one was aboard, grab life jacket and get in to dingy, tie on and get onto dragging boat, is it locked, is the key in the engine, will the engine start? luckily not locked, no key needed and engine started; pull up anchor. hold boat into wind and see frantic man running along the shore and jump in dingy to get to his boat, we didn't have to take alternative actions such as pull out a sail whilst the wind blew to keep it off the rocks. One thing neither of us had thought of but a number of people mentioned afterwards were salvage rights, it wasn't even close to our thoughts we were only happy that the boat had been saved and the owner was happy (also v sheepish and aware that he should never had left the boat alone in such big winds).
This excitement over and days of waiting for the big wind to go through left us anxious to get underway again. The following morning offered very light winds but the remains of a big sea and so we motor sailed to Katakolon. It was hard to believe we’d now gone full circle having been there in May to see Olympia. We were now in regular contact with sv Maya who were taking the Corinth route to Cleopatra. Both of us having the same haul out date, we knew we would meet for some R&R prior to haul out.
Having visited the islands in the Ionian already we decided to take the mainland route north. This took us to some lovely anchorages dotted among the fish farm activity. Among which was the huge bay of Petala which was 2.5m deep everywhere it seemed. Also Marathia in which we were one of only three boats (no room for many more) for a couple of nights entertained by the goings on of a butt naked German and serenaded by a British oboe player.
We managed to meet again with sv Maya and had lots of fun in various anchorages swimming, paddle boarding with all the Tunacakes. Some of the biggest anchoring challenges were encountered on this last leg of the trip. We had honestly never seen as many boats as the night anchored off Kastos: we arrived at 11am with a handful of boats around, at sundown we counted 60+. Again off Meganisi, there were tons of boats squeezed in and lots of inexperience and recklessness. To see a +50’ Amel come steaming in at speed to a small bay where there is a reef (the only place where no-one is anchored and tied stern to) and hit hard aground was the first astonishing sight. Follow this with a boat that literally dropped anchor, reversed and blew onto us then refused to move despite some fairly strong words from all aboard Onegin.
It seems the Ionian is busy in August. It didn't stop us from having a lovely last few weeks before putting the boat to bed again. The whole journey was fabulous, the company, the sights, the sailing and general affability of the Greeks meant sailing Onegin 2017 was fabulous.