Report & Photos by Ken & Carmel Kavanagh Cruises Index >>

Safari of Howth's Greek Odyssey
May to early June 2013
Posted: 12/06/13

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Celebrating the Greek Orthodox Easter

May 2nd marked the beginning of our Greek Odyssey when we crossed the short 5 mile stretch of water from Turgutreis in Turkey to the Greek island of Kos. We had decided to spend the month of May meandering through Greece and then cross over to Italy from Corfu.

Shock Horror! We hadn't realised it was the Greek Orthodox Easter Week and the marina was full but with persuasion and a generous tip, a berth was found and there ensued a delightful 6 day stay in this excellent and very sociable marina.

On arrival we were presented with an Easter breakfast basket consisting of red hard-boiled eggs and pastries. We soon got caught up in the festivities and attended the Good Friday procession in the Main Square.

While in Kos we enjoyed the company of Penny and Alan Spriggs of Pennypincher and the Clarke family from Bunclody on board their yacht Sandeel and also had a pleasant catch-up with Viva, a boat that had crossed the Atlantic with us in 2007.

Kos is well known as the birth place of Hippocrates of Hippocratic Oath fame. There is a wonderful old Plain Tree planted in the centre of town to commemorate him. Unfortunately, the museums and sites of archaeological interest were all closed for the Easter holidays.

The direction of the wind was a problem! Our plan was to head northwest to the Corinth Canal but as the prevailing wind is from the northwest, it was proving difficult to find a weather window. Eventually, we decided to head directly north to either Lipsi or Samos and then due west towards Mykonos and eventually Athens and the canal.


How things can change in 2 years!

On Wed May 8th, we regretfully threw off our lines at 0800 in Kos and headed north. The sky was overcast and it was cold but the wind was favourable being from the west so we took advantage and pressed on leaving Lipsi to port and arrived 9 hours later in Pithagorian marina on the island of Samos which is only 15 miles across from Kusadasi in Turkey.

What a disappointment this marina turned out to be! 2 years ago it had been a thriving marina. It was now rundown and nearly empty. The shelves in the supermarket were as empty as the marina itself and cockroaches had taken over the showers and toilets. Apparently, the owners, a hotel chain, had doubled the prices last year and everyone left!

After one night, we, too, departed and went on anchor in the bay of Pithagorian which is named in honour of my old enemy Pythagoras (I hated Geometry at school) who is a native of Samos.

It is a really delightful Greek town with a snug and well protected harbour with lots of good restaurants and quaint little shops selling hand-crafted souvenirs. We enjoyed our 2 night stay there.


Not such a gay stop-over for sailors!

Our next port of call was Mykonos, 80 miles west of Samos. On Sunday May 12th, with a forecast of winds from the south, we weighed anchor at 05.15 and headed along the south coast, cutting through the gap at Ikaria and sailing along its north coast towards Mykonos. There were some strong katabatic winds off Ikaria but we had a great sail most of the way to Mykonos where we arrived at 20.30. Thunderstorms were on their way from Athens so we were anxious to find decent shelter.

We phoned a number which had been given to us by a sailing friend and Naxos answered. He assured us there was an available berth in Mykonos and that he would await our arrival. His efforts were duly rewarded when we tied up at the pontoon at 20.45 with darkness fast approaching.

Describing the few pontoons as "a marina" requires a considerable leap of imagination as there were absolutely no facilities and many of the lines tailed to the quay were unusable. We then discovered that it was free! No-one seemed to be in charge.

We never discovered Naxos' role in the scheme of things but he was very helpful. There was just a small once-off port tax of Euro Symbol15 to be paid upon registration with the port police.

The thunderstorms soon materialised and there was torrential rain throughout that first night so we were very glad to be sheltered from it even without facilities!

As the bad weather continued for the next few days, we stayed put and explored the island by bus. The low white buildings with cobalt blue trim dotted around were very reminiscent of Lanzarote. The hotels looked quaint and welcoming especially at Kalafatis Beach.

Mykonos town itself is pretty with the port and cafes on the waterfront but the streets consist of wall to wall tourist shops selling lots of tacky souvenirs with some really expensive clothes shops thrown in here and there.

Every schoolboy knows that it is a gay-friendly island but it is also a popular holiday destination with lots of other holiday makers as well and with its colourful and convivial atmosphere, a fun holiday can be guaranteed except perhaps for sailors who happen to land in the "marina"!

The Culture Vultures descend on Athens!

Athens lies 91 miles to the west of Mykonos. The island of Kythnos lies halfway between the two and if progress was slow, we planned to anchor in Loutra on the north east corner of the island. As luck and a favourable wind would have it, we clipped along with all sails hoisted making an average speed of 7 knots. We departed Mykonos at 05.15 and were passing Kythnos at midday having covered 40 miles. We were elated!

During the afternoon the wind obliged even more by going round to the southwest and we had one of the best sails of our trip so far into Faliro Marina where we were tucked up in our berth by 19.25. We had covered the 91 miles in 14 hours - a record for Safari!

The strange tale of Faliro Marina.

We had chosen to stay at this marina instead of the more popular Zea Marina in Piraeus because of its proximity to the metro station which could take us speedily into the centre of Athens. Its location near the deserted car park attached to the little- used Olympic Stadium leaves a lot to be desired.

Mostly super yachts berth here but they do welcome small sailing vessels like Safari as well. The basic facilities are intact but the deserted car park immediately outside is frequented by very dodgy-looking types. The 10 minute walk to and from the metro station was a bit fraught and would not be advised during the hours of darkness.

Historic Athens - fantastic!

We did not allow the location of the marina to deter us from enjoying the delights of Athens! Over the following days we became real tourists spending our days visiting as many sights and museums as possible. The Acropolis and Parthenon along with the new Acropolis Museum were first on the list. The War Museum was also most interesting. We then thoroughly enjoyed a full day in the National Archaeological Museum where Linear B tablets are on display as is the Antikithera Mechanism.

We enjoyed going around on the Hop-on Hop-off bus and walking through the cobbled streets of Plaka in historic Athens. There was a carnival atmosphere with musicians and circus jugglers performing live on the streets.

We enjoyed delicious Greek meals in a variety of different restaurants as I had taken a holiday from the galley. All in all we spent a wonderful 4 days exploring Athens and feel the bad press it sometimes gets is most undeserved.

The Corinth Canal

a really lucky break!

Once again, the only way to beat the wind at its own game is to get underway either before or just after dawn. So on Monday May 20th, we arose at 04.30 and were steaming out of Faliro marina by 05.15 for the 35 mile trip across the Gulf of Saronikos to Isthmia at the entrance to the Corinth Canal.

The Corinth Canal
After threading carefully through the long line of ferries entering Piraeus and the many cargo vessels at anchor, we opened the throttle and sped on her way. The 09.00 update of the weather forecast was not great - northwest winds 4-5 locally 6. At one stage we were motoring against 26 knots which slowed us down considerably but we still managed to arrive at the Canal entrance by 12.00.

After paying the transit fee of Euro Symbol206, we proceeded through the Canal emerging into the Gulf of Corinth by 13.00 where we were met by very windy and choppy conditions.

We headed straight for the Commercial Harbour in the nearby town of Corinth and the Port Police gave us permission to tie up on the quay wall because of the windy conditions and because the depths in the nearby small marina were too shallow for Safari.


Windy but worthwhile

The wind really got up during the day and by evening was blowing a good near- gale which continued throughout the night. Basically we were pinned against the harbour wall with all our 10 fenders protecting Safari's newly painted and polished hull!

Having found ourselves in Corinth, we could not leave without visiting Ancient Corinth. On Day 2 we took the ordinary bus first out to Old Corinth which was destroyed by an earthquake in 1928 and then on to Ancient Corinth where we spent a most enjoyable day exploring the site and visiting the excellent museum.

The night of the big surge!

The following morning, May 22nd at 05.30 saw us up and about once again and by 06.00 we were off the quay wall and heading further along the Gulf towards Itea, 45 miles away. It is an ordinary but very pleasant market town which attracts few tourists.

We had to motor all the way as the wind just didn't materialise as expected. We had the current with us and were tied up alongside the quay wall in Itea by 12.15. It was unchanged from our previous visit 2 years ago- still no facilities even though everything is in place.

The berth along the quay wall became untenable during that first night due to the surge which gushes through tunnels in the quay wall into the marina/harbour at low water. This occurs when the wind is from a southerly direction which it was.

We were unlucky to be at an exit point. The noise of it beating against the hull was deafening and indeed frightening but the wind was blowing so hard that moving away from it was not a real option. A group of much younger Australian sailors spotted our dilemma and helped us to move the boat along the quay wall in the middle of the night - great excitement and a blessed relief!

The humble bus saves the day!

The weather continued to deteriorate. The strong winds kept us in port for the next 4 days. We used the time to explore further afield. Our first trip was down to the little town of Galixidhi at the mouth of the inlet- unfortunately too shallow for Safari.

On another day we took a 2 hour bus trip all along the coast of the Gulf of Corinth to Navpaxtos, formally Lepanto. The great naval battle of 1571 which halted the spread of the Ottoman Empire into the west was fought here.

The small harbour of Navpaxtos, guarded by its castellated walls and fortress wins the prize for the most picturesque harbour we have ever been in!


The bumpiest night of them all!

Finally on Sunday May 26th, there was a favourable forecast and by 04.45 we were underway hoping to get through the infamous Rion Bridge where the Gulf of Corinth meets with the Gulf of Patras.

By 11.35 we were through the Bridge. A choppy sea and wind on the nose meant progress on to Messolongi would be difficult so we headed over to the city of Patras just 3 miles away. Our stay there was to be pretty short-lived!

Even though we had to pay for 2 nights, we departed after the first and were glad to get out with the boat and ourselves intact! The visitors' pontoon is open to the northwest. The surge into the marina was so powerful and Safari was bouncing around so wildly that we had to put on our heavy springs. It was still difficult to get off the boat. Then having successfully climbed over the bow, there was a good chance of being catapulted into the water because the pontoon itself was moving around so much and this was just in 20 knots of wind!

We spent a very uncomfortable night here and departed as fast as we could the following morning as gales were being predicted for the next day. After checking out with the Port Police, we fled to Messolongi which was only 3 hours away.


A safe haven

By 12.30 we were tied up to a nice solid pontoon in Messolongi - a marina we were familiar with from our journey east 2 years ago. Due to weather we stayed in port for the next 4 days and took the opportunity to catch up on laundry, general cleaning and provisioning and of course re-acquainting ourselves with this quiet and peaceful town.

When the storm eventually hit, there were 40 knot gusts accompanied by torrential rain and continuous strong winds. On the night of May 28th, there was little sleep on board but we didn't mind - such was our relief that we had bailed out of Patras!


Preveza wins out over Levkas!

By May 30th the weather had settled sufficiently for us to depart either for Levkas or Preveza. There was little wind as we motor-sailed past Cephalonia and Ithaca. Just south of Levkas and north of Meganisi, we encountered scores of charter yachts gliding back and forth across the bay. It all looked so peaceful and idyllic - a real Lake Placid!

Our progress was so good that we arrived off Levkas marina just when the lock gates were due to open at 1500 hrs. We decided to keep going and after a scary moment or two exiting the canal in depths of 3.4 metres, we found ourselves heading for Preveza just a short distance further along the coast.

We were always keen to visit Preveza, the scene of yet another great naval battle. In 31BC the battle of Actium took place here which saw the combined fleets of Mark Antony and Cleopatra defeated by the fleet of Octavian, leaving him undisputed ruler of Rome. Conditions in the Ionian were much windier and rougher than around Levkas and so we barrelled along under sail, arriving off the entrance to Cleopatra marina at 16.30.

Oops! We choose the wrong marina!

Cleopatra Marina is located on the right hand side of the bay directly across from the town itself which can only be accessed either by water taxi (once a day from marina) or via a tunnel by taxi (Euro Symbol20) or local bus which only runs about twice daily. It also has a strong 2-3 knot current running through. It is mainly used for overwintering boats as the hard standing space is vast and can accommodate hundreds of yachts.

When we crossed over with the water taxi to the town of Preveza to sign in with the Port Police we realised our error. The recently improved Preveza Marina ( now with water & electricity but no toilets or showers ) near the town quay would have been a much better choice but our 2009 edition of Rod Heikell's Cruising Guide had given it a negative report and so we went for Cleopatra Marina. We enjoyed our short visit to this pretty town and upon our return we decided not to feel "down" but to take a bus trip to Levkas which was 22 kilometres back down the road- just to see what we had missed!

Levkas is a major sailing centre boasting a huge marina and a lively town with plenty of tourists strolling around. We enjoyed our short visit but didn't regret not stopping there. We had to head back to Preveza on the 6 o'clock bus as it was the last one of the day!

We decided to treat ourselves to dinner in a typical Greek taverna located near the marina. The lamb slouvaki was the best ever and so our stop-over in Preveza was not so bad after all!


Our last port of call in Greece-Corfu

At 07.00 the following morning June 2nd, the wind had sufficiently abated to allow a safe exit from our berth and so we found ourselves underway once again heading for Corfu which lay 60 miles further north.

The forecast was for west/ southwest 4, locally 5 but instead we had a 4 from the northeast and a big swell. We made good speed through the water but it was rather uncomfortable with the swell which was on the beam.

By 10.15 we had to turn on the engine but with the help of the current we were making 6.5 knots. Once we got inside the shelter of the island of Corfu itself the wallowing stopped and we motored along in relative calm until the sky darkened and the thunderstorms which had been forecast seemed imminent!

Sailing soon became possible again as the wind freshened. However, we were hoping to make it to Gouvia Marina before things got too exciting!! As luck and some quietly murmured prayers would have it, the clouds passed to the south of us and by the time we were making our entry into Gouvia Marina at 17.00 all was calm again!

The storm had not forgotten us!

The storm, however, had not gone too far away and returned with a real vengeance during the night. We were very relieved to be in such a well protected marina even if we were a long way from the facilities! (This marina has berths for over 1,000 yachts.)

The storm continued more or less unabated until 09.00 the following morning. By midday peace had broken out once again and we decided to end our Greek Odyssey without further ado and head across the bay to Albania for a little reconnoitre but more about that in the next chapter!

Carmel & Ken
Safari of Howth