A Tense Start to 2019 and an Athenian Odyssey

We had a somewhat disastrous start to the 2019 Exotica sailing season, which we can hardly believe is our seventh in the Mediterranean.

At the end of last year we left Croatia and sailed, via Italy, to Greece and left the boat at Cleopatra Marina in Preveza which is on the Greek mainland about 50 miles south of Corfu.

Launching on a cold May 1st

This was, by far, our least happy experience with a boatyard for winter storage. When we arrived back to Exotica on May 1st we found the boat covered in dirt both from the dusty boatyard and also Sahara sand which is deposited when it rains and the wind is southerly. Leaving dirty streaks in the white gelcoat. Inside the boat, which we had left neat and pristine, was a shambles. Whenever workmen had done any maintenance they had failed to clean up after themselves and the place was a mess. Furthermore, they had not ordered the batteries as requested and the ones installed were flat.

After first clean

The list of our dissatisfaction is too long to enumerate but, suffice to say, we will not be returning or recommending this boatyard. Once the boat was in the water we checked the bilge, only to find a thick layer of yellow, oily, dirty liquid covering our normally perfectly clean, dry bilge. The boatyard manager was summoned, couldn’t recognise the turpentine smell and declared it was nothing to do with them, ascertained there was no leak from the fuel tank, got his men to sop it up and waved us goodbye.

Welcomed by a new scratch on port side, not happy

Worse was to come. On our second night we were returning from quite a good meal late in the evening. Julie got aboard using the passarelle but when Terry stepped onto it a clip on the side broke and he suddenly found himself under water. Unfortunately, he was carrying Julie’s iPhone and his own iPad, which although were still held tightly, were instantly dead. In addition, his glasses also went to the bottom. It could have been worse; he must have missed hitting his head on the dock by a fraction.

Castle of Santa Maura built in 1300 by the island’s Frankish ruler, Giovanni Orsini

Procession of boats entering the Lefkas channel

We left Preveza the next day with few regrets and motored to Lefkas, where we have taken a berth in the Marina for a whole year. For the first time on our travels we have decided to have a base. This is a good spot in the middle of the Ionian, the sea to the west of Greece. It is close to an airport for the arrival and departure of guests and a pleasant town with all facilities and the best grilled tuna at restaurant La Vinaria.
Within a couple of days of arrival,

Wildflowers on a dismal day, good for touring Castle of Maura

Ruined remains of the city it once was

The causeway from mainland to Lefkas town

Lesley White, our first guest arrived to cold winds and driving rain, the weather finally improved so we set off on a trip to Athens.

After 32nm south, our first stop was a delightful bay in the lee of the island, Nisis Petalas, just north of the Gulf of Patras where we had a most comfortable night with only one other yacht in sight – rare for the Ionian.

Dinner on board in Patras

Then on to Patras, a 37nm passage, the third biggest city in Greece and the capital of the Peloponnese. We took a lazy line on the town quay wall which was so high that it was mighty dangerous to climb off the boat. Julie and Lesley did, very gingerly, and declared the town to be charming, full of designer shops but not one supermarket to be found.

Early morning passage under Rion Bridge, longest suspension bridge, 2,252m, air height 25-45m

Car ferries supplement the bridge

From Patras to Corinth we had one of the best sails ever. After an early start we caught a following wind up to 28 knots and with full sail we barrelled down the Gulf of Corinth, the stretch of water that divides the Greek mainland from the Peloponnese. At times Exotica was surfing at 10.5 knots, very exhilarating if a bit scary. We had to gybe about seven times and then, the weather gods being kind, the wind dropped as we entered the little harbour of Corinth, after our 66nm ride.

We tied up to the last spot on the floating pontoon, directed by George, who said that would be 25 euros for one night, no water or electricity. We gladly paid, only to be confronted by an earnest, young French Canadian couple who said he was illegal, they had taken a photo of him and reported him to the port police! The Germans beside us had paid him 10 euros for two nights.

The pink taverna in Corinth, unpronounceable name but terrific food.

We were directed to an excellent restaurant in a back street in Corinth town and had a fine meal.

Entering Corinth Canal May 11th

Two road and one railway bridge span the highest section of the canal

Early tourists waving from the bridge

Another early start meant we could enter the Corinth Canal without waiting, a six kilometer cut through the piece of land which joins the Peloponnese to Greece. It is 23 metres wide and rises 90 metres above the water. This canal was started by the Emperor Nero in 87 AD but not completed until 1893 by French engineers. It is said to be the most expensive canal by length in the world to travel through.

The never to be forgotten steps at Isthmia, treasure is on the bottom

It was made even more expensive for us when Terry, while he was scrambling on to the dock to pay, inadvertently flicked the wallet containing all our kitty money, into the water and about 500 Euros went to the bottom. Another disaster which left him feeling old and stupid.

Marina Zea, superyachts

We still had another four hours before reaching Piraeus, the port of Athens. Probably, with Marseilles, one of the busiest ports in the Mediterranean. We had a booking for a week in Marina Zea, an enormous marina full of super yachts. We had a comfortable place close to the town with electricity and water provided. Our bilge problem had  continued to cause us grief, so we employed an engineer who immediately diagnosed diesel as the culprit. He believed there had been an overflow when the engine was serviced by Cleopatra leaving the bowels of Exotica flowing with diesel. Five hours and three hundred euros later there is an improvement but Julie continues to have her head regularly in the bilge sopping the residue.

Exotica in Marina Zea

Large fleet of small boats racing in Piraeus

Lesley braving the Piraeus to Athens train

Over the next seven days we negotiated the Athens transport system on buses and trains and saw all the sights as well as finding the Australian Embassy, which sadly was not a smart villa in the right side of town but part of the third floor of an anonymous office block. However, they were there waiting to receive our votes which did not arrive in Australia until after the election is over.

The Acropolis can bee seen from many squares in Athens

The modern Acropolis Museum

New Acropolis Museum, they leave an empty spot for the Elgin marbles

The Roman arena at the foot of the Acropolis

Sunset at the Parthenon

Temple of Nike

Hundred of steep steps to Lycebettus furnicular

Worth the view from Mount Lycebettus

Changing of the Guard every hour at Athens Parliament

Best mussels at Parmigiana restaurant on Marina Zea waterfront, a long lunch

Spectacular food at Belle Ami in Piraeus

Charming ambience

Leaving Athens at daybreak

On Saturday May 18th we departed at daybreak from Athens to make the return journey through the Corinth Canal and the Gulf of Corinth where this time we had a cold hard motor against the wind and sea. Made more tedious by having to wait over two hours before entering the canal because of very slow towing tugs.

Sunrise over Athens

Towing tugs at last exit Corinth Canal, May 18th

Return journey through Corinth Canal

Still snow on mountains above Itea

After 74nm we arrived at our destination was Itea, where again, we got the last spot on the town quay. No water or electricity here either, but no charge.

Itea is a small, neat town on the north shore of the Gulf, from where we took a local bus to Delphi, a twenty minute ride.

Spectacular bus drive to Delphi

City carved into mountainside

We toured the museum and the archaeological site where remains of the Temple of Apollo and the site of the Delphic oracle from the 6th and 5th centuries BC have been uncovered. The site itself is carved into the hillside and requires much climbing to get to the stadium at the top. It was very busy with tourists although this is only the start of the season. Met up with some Aussies, who are also on their seventh summer cruising, and had a very jolly evening on Exotica.

Arena with a view

Original wall of five sided marble blocks supporting Temple of Appollo

Temples of Delphi

An old man, hardly damaged at all

Roman boy

Twins from 5BC found in Delphi

Ancient Greek boy

Spectacular artwork found in Delphi

Cold leaving Itea

From Itea to Messolonghi, a 56nm day. Famous for being the town where Lord Byron died in 1824 and also for a massacre of up to 9000 of the townsfolks by the Turks in 1826 .

Back under Rion Bridge near Patras

Messolonghi channel, 3m under the keel

Exotica at night in Messolonghi

Messolonghi will be remembered for a beggar, mistaken for a waiter, who grabbed chips left on Julie’s plate and shoved them into his mouth, ran away, then returned trying to snatch the salad. Sad

A comfortable night alongside the quay but a less than inspiring town nowadays.
It has been an unseasonably cold May, we’ve been grateful for our thick waterproofs and beanies. One joy of the Gulfs of Patras and Corinth were the sightings of several dolphin pods.

Asian style houses on stilts in Messolonghi channel

More houses on stilts

Sunset at anchor in Vathi, Ithica

From Messalonghi we motored to Vathi on the island of Ithaca where we anchored in the bay for a comfortable night.

Motley crew in Spartahori

Then to Spatakhori, a small inlet on the north of Meganissi, a free berth at the restaurant of Babis Konidaris and a rendezvous with Juliet and Nick Mason-Jones on their yacht Johanem.  We first met them outside Rome in 2015 and our sailing paths have crossed on frequent occasions in Italy, Croatia and Greece ever since.  Early next morning they were off to the Gulf of Corinth.

Farewell lunch with Lesley, Marina Lefkas

We made our way back to our home base in Lefkas for four loads of washing and some electrical repairs and update out safety equipment. Farewell to Lesley.

Our Athenian Odyssey, two hundred nautical miles each way.

Lefkas to Athens - Black = Outward journey Red = Return

The Athenian Odyssey – Lefkas to Athens.

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