Athens To Kefalonia By Sail

Join me day by day as I embarked on an exciting journey from the East of Greece (beside the Aegean islands) directly through the centre of the country’s mainland and out to the West side and the Ionian islands to Kefalonia.

My journey below has now been completed. Below is an illustration of the path we sailed.

Map

The purpose of the journey is to help bring a recently purchased Beneteau sailing yacht from current mooring just outside Athens on the island of Poros to her new home in Kefalonia. My trip will be aided by author Rod Heikkel in the excellent book Greek Waters Pilot.

Ever since knowing I would be taking this trip I have been really looking forward to the passage through the Corinth canal, a four mile narrow stretch of man made canal started in the 1st century AD and completed in 1893, it is to this day the only waterway which provides passage directly through mainland Greece.

As well as looking forward to travelling through the canal I am also intrigued by our imminent passage through the Gulf of Corinth which we drove alongside for the majority of our journey back from last years visit to Lefkada, in order to experience the different views of this beautiful mountainous area by both sea and land.

Poros Island

Poros Island and Church Tower

Day 1: Athens To Harbour On The Island Of Poros

After an early morning flight from London Stanstead to Athens we managed to take a quick trip to the summit of The Acropolis, the ancient citadel of Athens. I visited last year and wanted to return as it offers a quite breathtaking 360 view over the entire city of Athens standing at 150 metres above sea level.

Following our brief excursion we took a short taxi ride onto Athens port to catch one of their regular island hopping Hellenic Seaways ‘Flying Seacat’ catamaran type ferries to the Aegean island of Poros where our sailing yacht was waiting patiently for collection.

Upon arrival I was pleasantly surprised to find Poros had plenty to offer; the dockside was well serviced with tavernas and there appeared to be several shops with plenty of sailing related equipment all of which sat infront of a steep facing hillside layered in a patchwork of white washed homes with a beautiful church and bell tower at the summit.

My travelling party of four just had time to unpack and eagerly inspect our new yacht before evening set in, the harbour at Poros looked just as appealing at night turning into a beautiful scene of starry sky, twinkling lights and neon restaurant signs.

We managed to find a popular nearby taverna where we ate a very pleasant dinner sharing a large seabass along with our hopes for the trip ahead. The highlight of our meal was perhaps the best yoghurt I have tasted, fresh that day it was served in an ice cold aluminium pot with a topping of quince compote, simple but delicious.

One thing which took me quite by surprise that evening was discovering the Greek obsession with basketball, nearly every taverna and bar in Poros was playing a match which the locals were eagerly watching with the fervour we Brits enjoy football.

Canal Entrance

The entrance to The Corinth Canal is in our sights

Day 2: Poros To The Entrance Of The Corinth Canal

Today we spent an industrious morning washing the decks, safety checking our equipment, tidying up all stored items, fuelling the yacht, filling our water tanks and stocking up on supplies for the journey ahead.

In the new light of day I was very pleased to be in such an appealing place and felt like we could have comfortably lingered a little longer here. The locals appeared very friendly in contrast to Athens where there seemed little good will, perhaps understandable given current tensions and the fact we were no longer in a busy city.

After a light lunch of Greek salad, freshly cooked local bread and a delicious medium hard cheese like Gouda (the correct name I will post soon) from a local deli we set sail for the Corinth canal.

Our path took us East around the mainland past a few unspectacular but pretty small and uninhabited islands towards the entrance of the canal which we reached comfortably by late afternoon.

It was a very pleasant start to the journey and great to finally have the wind in our sails. I managed to spot a flying fish at one point which was quite exciting as I hadn’t expected to see something quite so unusual.

Passage through the canal is controlled by an office which we contacted by CB radio ahead of arrival to check the available slots, we needed to do this as the canal is very narrow so vessels can only proceed in convoy in one direction at a time. We found the next crossing was going to be first thing in the morning and we were happy to sail to a nearby anchorage and toast our progress with a much deserved gin and tonic.

Day 3: Passage Through The Corinth Canal To Moorings In Kiato

We set off early today to make our way to the canal guards office which we moored beside and went in to show our paperwork and pay the passage fee which goes towards the rather expensive upkeep of the canal.

After a mere 15 minute wait we were ready to make our passage through the canal, which was just enough time for a brief chat with a friendly French family who we had anchored beside last night.

We agreed to follow behind them as we made our passage and you can see their yacht ahead of ours in the images above. It was a beautiful bright sunny start to the day as we made our progress through the canal. The water was gin clear in the shallow depths at the sides of the canal creating beautiful green and blue opaque windows where the occasional fish could be seen swimming along.

The real beauty of the canal however are the huge high narrow walls which make it appear as if you are sailing into a triangle and looking above to the bridges created some excellent photographic opportunities also pictured above. On several occasions we passed items of significant historical note including a small temple carved into the side and ancient foot holes towards the West Ionian side where you can imagine excavation of the canal began all those years ago. It is recorded historically that the Greeks and Romans drew up plans for the canal at the height of their empires only to be thwarted in their efforts by the difficulty of the task. The journey as a result feels a bit like visiting an ancient site and quite fascinating to see.

The journey through the tunnel was smooth and good progress was being made until we were around 5 miles out into the Gulf of Corinth when the weather turned for the worse and we were sailing directly into very strong winds. It was a bit of a reminder how fierce the weather can become and we were forced to motor to the nearest substantial port in front of the town of Kiato which fortunately has a significant sea wall for shelter.

Having driven past this substantial town before I was quite intrigued to stop here and have a look around. As we entered the port we could see a large modern Cathedral with a red tiled roof and quite a busy port with lots of yachts and locals out fishing.

I took a walk into town and found several nice cafes, deli’s and fruit and veg stalls which we bought some fresh supplies from but it isn’t really a place for tourists. On my return I walked past the cathedral just as people were leaving and it was nice to see lots of happy locals and a friendly community atmosphere.

We ate a very pleasant early dinner of chicken and vegetable casserole and hoped for better weather in the morning. If the weather is good i’m told it will be a 5am start so I need to stop writing now and get this posted.

Day 4: Kiato To Poros in Kefalonia

Having forecasted good weather ahead we had a really early start to the day setting off under the cover of darkness at 5am.

Our aim was to make as much progress as we could and despite the early start we were in great spirits with our adrenaline going for the exciting journey ahead.

The first hours sailing was eerily quiet with a gentle rising fog and quite poor visibility, the water was as flat as glass and the moon reflected in the water like it was a big mirror. My friend remarked this was the apparent cause of abandoned ships as delirious sailers began to think they could walk off the boat to their freedom. I thanked him for the encouraging chat and was pleased when the sun started to make an appearance closer to 6am.

Despite the rising sun the water still as flat as can be had a persisting fog but landmarks on either coastline were starting to come into view to give us something to look at as we motored along.

By 8am visibility was much better, I realised then that in the past three hours we had made significant progress already, largely helped by the calm waters. At this point we hadn’t past a single vessel and I was wondering when we might expect some company when all of a sudden a family of dolphins appeared in the distance jumping and playing together. It was a beautiful sight to behold and we were very fortunate when they decided to swim around us for what must have been at least 15 minutes. I managed to take some great pictures including a young dolphin leaping right above the surface.

Our journey continued largely peacefully as we took it in turns to helm the wheel until the afternoon when we began to approach the Gulf of Patras and the main Rio-Antirio bridge which links the Western side of the Greek mainland together.

By this point in the afternoon the wind had started to pick up a bit and we were now able to get our sails out which sped up our progress even further. By late afternoon we had passed under the bridge smoothly despite a much increased wind speed which caused us a few issues and having to navigate safely out of the path of a large shipping container by contacting the bridge office.

Once we had passed under the bridge we found the wind behind us to our stern which increased our progress yet again. At this point we had made such great progress that we found ourselves in the position of deciding whether we would like to continue out past the mainland all the way to Kefalonia or find somewhere to drop anchor.

After double checking the weather forecast was favourable we were all buoyed by the decision to press on and the excitement of reaching Kefalonia a day early. We therefore continued on out past the tip of the mainland which seemed to linger with us for a long time as we rounded it but great progress was being made on our charts.

As soon as we got into open water Kefalonia appeared on the horizon looking like a big black rock ahead to our bow. By this point it was around 7pm and it had already been a very long day but we were given a big boost by the sight of land.

Unfortunately by 8pm the wind direction had changed into a quite severe side wind which was pushing us North and slowing our progress. Nevertheless our yacht was having no issues with the now much more bumpy ride and we had committed to it so we just enjoyed the adrenaline ride.

Just past 9pm it had fallen quite dark and we still had around 6km to travel to the port also called Poros, coincidentally the same name as the island we started our journey from. By 9:30pm we spotted the flashing port lights which guided us safely in past the sea wall.

The port was very busy so we had to make do with mooring up stern to bow alongside the outer port wall but it was a great sigh of relief to be able to stretch our legs on dry land and go to a local taverna for a pint of Mythos beer and a late but well deserved dinner.

Day 5: Poros To Argostoli

After a decent nights rest from such a long sail we were happy to take a leisurely morning in Poros which was a pleasant place to stop with picturesque hillside views and a handful of restaurants, cafes and supermarket.

We set off around lunchtime for the final part of our journey which took us around from Poros on the East side of the island to Arostoli on the West.

The weather was much better today and we were really happy to get the sails out again and enjoy sailing. Kefalonia immediately provided more coastline scenery than our previous days with several beaches and mountain side villas to gaze at as we travelled.

We arrived in Argostoli by early evening with time and the light on our side and found a good spot to moor in the marina. Argostoli is sheltered naturally by the landscape and was immediately striking by how much larger it appears than any of our previous destinations.

From the marina we could see many restaurants and we also spotted a cruise ship so it became quite clear we had very much arrived in a holiday destination. On a quick stroll around the marina we managed to see some large turtles swimming along and speak to our friendly English neighbour who was sailing around the world but reluctant to leave Kefalonia which I thought to myself bodes well for our holiday ahead staying in Villa Kalliste known as arguably one of the best on the island.

Villa Kalliste Kefalonia

Villa Kalliste

Day 6: Villa Kalliste

Having now spent a full day at Villa Kalliste I can thoroughly recommend it to anybody seeking a luxury break in Kefalonia.

The villa is in a stunning position with elevated views out into the Ionian waters across a nearby vineyard and fields.

The garden and pool area is very tastefully manicured with herb beds, cyprus pines, honeysuckle pots, grasses and flowers and there is a separate terraced barbecue area away from the villa which will be perfect for late dinners and reading during the day.

View To Sea

The Villa Kalliste view to sea

Inside the villa there is an open plan kitchen, dining and living area which is well furnished with modern and Greek items. There are 3 large bedrooms 2 large bedrooms upstairs including a master bedroom and one smaller room downstairs also as well as a guesthouse which sleeps 4 so we are extremely well catered for.

The upstairs rooms in which I am staying has a generous balcony which was a lovely setting for this mornings coffee.

On arrival we met the expat owners Vincent and Denise who are really friendly and passionate about Kefalonia. They have a highly efficient team to look after guests and were seemingly able to cater for any request so I managed to obtain the most important details from them which to me were the names of all the best local restaurants. We started off by visiting one of the very best called Avithos Preview Taverna which had already been highly recommended to me during our trip.

The unassuming looking restaurant is situated overlooking Avithos beach a popular destination beach and is run by a friendly local called Panos Sarris and his family who serve fresh seafood and really authentic Kefalonian dishes of which my favourite was a simple but delicious dish of fresh prawns cooked in a well seasoned tomato and feta cheese sauce.

Panos is a trained sommelier and produces an excellent white wine, look for the Sarris label if you visit which has a large finger print on the label and their own Panchori olive oil which is also very good.

Panos proudly gave a copy of his family recipe book ‘Tastes of Kefalonia’ which has some wonderful recipes and explains the subtle differences with Kefalonian cuisine due to the islands history. I have had a quick browse and didn’t realise that he island wasn’t ruled by the Ottoman empire like the rest of Greece but by the Venetians and Francs so many of their dishes have some Italian and French influence which can be no bad thing.

No summer holiday related post would be complete without my top Summer 2015 essential fashion picks so I will leave you with an image of my favourite items this summer.

My favourite is a pair of swim shorts from impressive British designer Leo Joseph, this seasons range was inspired by his travels in South Africa which you can see with the elephant and tree pattern, the full range is available to purchase online.

The other essential item is the pair of sunglasses I took on the journey, I still don’t think you can do any wrong with the brand Illesteva and their Leonard frame, so I have swapped last years mirrored lenses which are now definitely off trend for a more subtle clear white tortoiseshell frame and dark lenses, available at Opumo.

Leo Joseph

Leo Joseph swim shorts and Illesteva sunglasses

Thanks for reading this post, I hope you enjoyed it and I will be happy to answer any queries about Kefalonia and the sailing route we took via twitter @travellinggent

3 thoughts on “Athens To Kefalonia By Sail

  1. Dear GT, this is your Uncle Bill here enjoying your blog. Your Great Grandparents (Elsie and Reg) were amazed by the Corinth Canal on one of their cruises, funded by the sale .of their Blackpool boarding house.

Leave a Reply