We had decided to spend some time in the Ionian (south of Lefkada – i.e. skipping Corfu and Paxos this time around). To get there from the Saronic Gulf, one option is to take the long way around the Peloponnese. The other to pass through the Gulf of Corinth and Gulf of Patras to the north of the Peloponnese. The Gulf of Corinth is 60nm from the Corinth Canal to the Straits of Rion and Andirion and then it’s another 30 or so nautical miles to the Ionian sea – passing through the gulf cuts off about 150nm. This is all made possible by the amazing piece of engineering that is the Corinth Canal. The canal is 3.2 miles long and 25m wide, with 79m clearance. Per mile, this is the most expensive waterway in the world (cost for Planit-Earth was €278). There are two hydraulic bridges either end and these are lowered into the water to allow boats to pass. There is a traffic controller and lights system to direct traffic (one way east or west at a time), so depending on when you arrive, you can be left waiting. There were a number of attempts to build the canal with it eventually being completed in 1893. Before the canal was built ships were actually transported on rollers over the hills – that must have been a sight.
As you cross between the Gulf of Corinth to Gulf of Patras you sail below the very impressive Rion Suspension bridge which was completed in 2004, and at that time was the longest cable-stayed bridge in the world spanning 2,252 metres and air height of 25-45m (fine for us with a mast clearance of 24m).
So after picking up our guests in Korfos just south of the Canal east entrance we headed up an waited our turn to pass through the canal. The Corinth Canal is on most sailors bucket list, so I was delighted to be here. We left Korfos at 6:30 and arrived at the canal entrance at 9:50. We had booked and paid our fees online. We called “Isthmia Pilot” the Canal Authority and awaiting our call to pass through. At 10:50 we eventually got the call to follow two other boats through. The passage took about 25 minutes and it is as impressive as one might expect.
On exit we went to Corinth commercial harbour to drop off a guest and then headed to Galaxidi on the north coast of the Corinth Gulf. We arrived in Galaxidi at 6pm in calm seas and anchored in the north harbour in 3m. It was pretty late so not much time to appreciate the place but we did have time for a swim, a bite and a few beers. A pretty place mainly frequented by Greek tourists.
We headed west next day to Navpaktos (32nm – 22nd June) leaving at 8:15 and arriving at 13:10. We anchored just outside the impressive historic harbour entance in 5m. This is an incredibly well preserve fortress town with walls and castle in fabulous condition. The new town is full of bars and restaurants and beach tavernas. Definitely a good place to visit – mainly used by Greek tourists.
From Navpaktos we decided to spend a day anchored off the beach north of the island of Oxia (39nm – 23 June) on the north west corner of the gulf of Patras. We left Navpaktos at 6:40 and immediately called “Rion Traffic”, the control centre for traffic passing under the very impressive Rion-Andirrion bridge. The controller asks for your mast height and instructs where to pass under the bridge – in our case we were to use the north channel and to repeat “one pillar right, three pillars left” – we had to call again when one mile off and repeat the instruction.
We anchored in 3m off the beach just off the small taverna. This is really an off the beaten track place with a small caravan park/RV stop attached to the taverna.
And then is was on to the Ionian next morning.