Volos to Porto Rafti via the Chalkis Bridge and Athens
Our travels took us from Volos and down the Evia Channel with stops at Likhadon, Ormo Amirou/Atalantis, Politika/Mnima and through the Chalkis Bridge. A few days in the marina at Chalkis gave us an opportunity to fix our broken throttle cable and provided a cheap and safe location to leave Emerald from which to visit Athens by train. Heading on south we visited Eretria and finally Porto Rafti.
The channel was peaceful and empty; even ashore the summer holiday crowds had gone leaving only a few making the most of the still good weather. We had several anchorages to ourselves, even when other boats did arrive there was only one or two. The scenery was beautiful and the winds were kindly to us, providing one of our best sail to motor ratios of the whole summer. Read on for more…….
We finally undid the lines and left Volos! It was a sunny, windless day which unfortunately meant motoring but it felt like the time to be getting on. We decided on heading straight for the anchorage at Likhadon, at the top of the Evia Channel, rather than calling in to Orei where we’d probably have got stuck for a few more days!
We were the only boat anchored around the headland of Ak. Kinaion, the water so calm and flat it looked like a lake. With no wind we laid to the tide which we struggled to put any pattern or reason to. During the day the current ran from the south, overnight from the north. Well if Aristotle couldn’t work it out then we had no hope!
Jelly eggs floated past en-masse which was putting me off the job I’d said I’d do. Whilst at Volos, Emerald had grown a fringe of wafting, green hair around the waterline and a coating of slime on the hull. Hoping not to get a tickle from a jelly egg (they don’t sting, but still, ugh), we tied a line to the guardrails on the bow for me to hold on to whilst I worked my way back using a rubber scraper to wipe off the slime and a metal one for the hairy growth and the few small barnacles that had appeared too and from which I received a couple of scratches; maybe one day I’ll learn not to use my fingers to check that they’ve gone.
Atalanticus / Ormo Amirou
With strong westerly winds forecast we moved on south to the Atalanticus area on the mainland and into the large bay of Ormo Amirou, where we expected to escape them. We chose a spot down in the head of the bay towards the motorway, road noise was just a background hum rather than being annoying. That evening we were walloped by 40kts, however the holding was good and there was little fetch.
The next day all was calm and we went for a wander ashore. There isn’t much; a pontoon for little boats, a couple of tavernas and some holiday homes. It seemed like a place that was trying to eke out the last of the summer before closing up for winter. But the setting was pretty with fresh water springs burbling out of the rushes and running into the sea with quite some force.
Whilst we were in Amirou I was doing some forward route planning and noticed that we were only 100km by road away from Itea in the Gulf of Corinth, where we would go for a visit to Delphi. by sea we were going to do around 200nm (370km) to get to the same place!
The opening times for the bridge at Chalkis are advertised on the website olne.gr and depending on the stage of the moon, ranges from 10pm to 3am. We really didn’t fancy staying up to the wee hours to pass through, so was aiming for midweek when the crossing was a more civilised 22:00. To eke out the days until then, we headed for another anchorage on Evia. Once again we were the only boat. With winds clocking round the whole compass it was tricky choosing somewhere to go, but even when the winds went south for a few hours the anchorage was fine and without too much fetch. Ashore was a beach and a few tavernas, again the place seemed on the verge of it’s winter sleep.
We stayed another day so it was looking like an 23:00 Chalkis crossing for us.
Chalkis is famous for the Euripos Strait – a narrow passage between mainland Greece and the island of Evia that is crossed by a sliding bridge that opens during the night for boats to pass through. The tide rips through the 40m wide channel at several knots creating a mealstrom of min whirlpools and crazy currents. The timing for boats to pass is governed by when the flow is at it’s lowest.
Arriving late morning at Chalkis, we needed to wait for that evening’s passage, so we anchored east of the red and green buoys in the area marked E on the OLNE chart. Looking at the chart, there seemed to be only a short area of wall with sufficient depth for us. When we dinghyed in we saw large blocks sticking out of the wall in places.
We completed all the formalities (see the end of the blog for details) paid €35 for the crossing and only €18 for four nights in the Vourkari marina! We were then advised to visit the port police after 5pm where we would be given further instructions.
So just after 5pm we returned to the port police where we’d asked for directions earlier, to find a sign saying not to use that door. We circumnavigated the building and found a door with anchors on it. This must be a clue as there were no signs! Inside there were signs, but all in Greek. A helpful lady pointed upstairs where there was a sign saying ‘no entry’ however another lady pointed to us to go in. Mixed messages or what.
Inside we were given our instructions to be on the boat from 21:30 hours after which time we would receive two radio calls. The first to get ready at which point we would raise our anchor, the second to proceed to the bridge. The lady wasn’t sure if a cargo ship would be heading north so she asked us to stay out of the area north of the bridge until we received the second call.
As we returned to Emerald we noticed a gathering of small boats off of the quay. A tug decked out in flags joined the throng and as a group of people boarded one of the boats, the other boats lit up flares and honked their horns. It was a wedding! We following along in Crazy Horse and saw a crowd on the shore and flags fluttering around a small chapel with bells a peeling. The bride and priests disembarked and the ceremony began with the priest being transmitted on loudspeaker. Nearly two hours later the speaking turned to music and the party began. We left them to it as we received the stand by radio call around tenish.
Anchor up and we waited for the second call. We were watching the bridge on the live webcam and it hadn’t even closed to traffic yet with people running across to make the crossing before the safety gates closed. Eventually, as it began to open, several fishing boats appeared and headed off towards it, the American flagged yacht that had been with us joining on behind. Perhaps they didn’t get the message about staying clear until the second call. They went through with the radio operator demanding to know which boat they were and giving them a telling off for going through without permission. A tough job for the controllers, a bit like herding cats.
We then got our call to go through. The problem was, having waited at the buoys, we had 0.5nm to go and with Emerald not being the fastest off the block, it took a few minutes to get down there. Then we were through in an instant, crowds waving and cheering us. What an experience!
We peeled off right to the anchorage and dropped the hook in 10m. We did our usual thing of setting the anchor in reverse at 2000 revs. Except we didn’t get there. At 1500 there was a tiny pop, the throttle lever went limp and the revs dropped down to tick over. Our guess was that the throttle control cable had snapped. As it was now well past 23:00 there was not much we could do until the next day.
The next morning we crept at idling speed towards the marina entrance, Colin ready below to manually up the revs using the control on the engine using the Star Trek technique – “More power from the dilithium crystals, Scotty!” We didn’t encounter any swirly water on our way and went into an easy, drive straight in berth on the first pontoon. Unfortunately we were told it was private and to move to a space on the other side of the pontoon. With Colin now needing to be on deck, it was easier said than done to turn the tight corner without much power. We got through most of the arc but had to walk her in the rest of the way.
The replacement of the throttle cable seemed like it should be fairly straight forward with the nearby chandlery having control cables of various lengths. The cable comes up from the engine room through the steering binnacle where it is held in an aluminium clamp before being attached to the lever. Unscrew the set screw and the cable will slide free, said the instructions. However, 13+ years (the cables were there when we bought Emerald in 2004) of damp, outdoor conditions had taken it’s toll and corrosion had the cable held in tight. A combination of heat, WD40 and brute strength finally got the cable free; however freeing it took longer than the rest of the job put together.
The next day we had our first day trip to Athens. A direct train from Chalkis takes an hour and a half and costs only €10.20 return per person. With an 8:30 departure we were in Syntagma square by mid morning. A metro line runs from outside the station at Athens, but somehow we failed to find it and ended up walking 10 minutes down the road to the next station.
After watching the changing of the guard we ambled through the Plaka district and up the cobbled walkway below the Acropolis to eat our sandwiches on Philopappos hill enjoying the fine view. The hot hours of the afternoon were spent in the air-conditioned Acropolis museum. Below our feet we could view the ruins of old Athens through a glass floor; on the first floor were finds from the ancient Acropolis. I loved seeing the many karia statues which were so beautifully carved. On the top floor were the marbles from the Parthenon itself; those pilfered by Lort Elgin recreated in white plaster. There was an awful lot of white plaster and we felt anger that the British government hasn’t given the marbles back.
Visiting the museum first gave us a good base for seeing the Acropolis on our next trip in with model recreations of the temples and buildings.
From the museum we walked down to Hadrian’s arch and peered through the railings at the Temple of Zeus. Around the corner and another railing peer at the Panathenaic stadium where the first modern Olympics were held in 1896. From there it was into the National Gardens where we came across the zoo with its poor caged bunnies and antelopes lolling in the dust and a cage of birds. A green parrot was clinging to the outside whilst it’s partner was stuck inside. Further on we came across a tortoise fight, with one chasing another. The first would retreat inside it’s shell whilst the attacker pecked away at it. After a minute it would stop and retreat. Tortoise one would stick out it’s head and scurry off, but the problem with a tortoise shell is it blocks off backwards vision and tortoise two was only just behind it and would scurry after and begin pecking again. A little further on we saw a tiny baby tortoise who seemed to be enjoying the ancient mosaic floor.
Dinner in Plaka followed (we’re suckers for a happy hour beer offer), then we decided to walk it off by strolling back to the train station. We didn’t account for all the crowds who were now out filling the narrow streets and whom Google maps had not factored into it’s time estimates. We broke free once we’d left the Psyri area and then put some speed on through a less busy area where we felt some mild peril. Silly really as no one was bothering us. We made it to the train with minutes to spare on the 2050 to Chalkis.
It had been a while since we’d last enjoyed shore power and water so turned Emerald into a laundry the next day before heading back to Athens for a visit to the Acropolis.
It had been worth visiting the museum previously as we had a better idea of what we were seeing. The crowds weren’t too bad at the south east entrance and we strolled along the south slope to the Odeon of Herodes Atticus. Here we met the coach groups and there was quite a throng heading up through the propylaea, an occasional shrill whistle piercing the hubbub as an attendant told someone off for sitting on/standing on/touching something they shouldn’t.
Up on top the crowds dispersed and we wandered around the Parthenon as it towered above us, even the scaffolding in place for restoration work didn’t detract from it’s beauty. It is an amazing sight, we could only imagine how awe inspiring it would have been at the height of it’s glory when the carved reliefs were crisp and paint gleamed and before the many unfortunate incidents befell it.
That day’s lunch was had on the north slope of the Acropolis, we know how to choose a picnic spot!
Afternoon took us to the Monastiraki area where the crowds had slowed our progress the other night. Now we had time to wander the flea market and shopping area, an occasional artist wedged in amongst the tourist tat shops. The evening was rounded off with proper beer at Beertime in the buzzy Psyri district, before a more leisurely wander back to the train.
Time to head on south and our first stop was Eretria. The sea was like a lake as we motored first under the overhead road bridge then around the narrows. The scenery was beautiful and there was hardly anyone about.
At Eretria we chose the north west side to anchor, off the land end of the breakwater. The ferries crossed back and forth all day but with barely any wake.
Ashore we walked around the now derelict ‘Dream Island’ and out to the ruins at the back of the town. It seems Eretria was once a bustling place with a theatre and large gymnasium. Behind the ferry we spotted the taverna with pitta gyros for €1.50, possibly the cheapest in all of Greece so it would have been rude not to try one. I had calamari, a large plateful, freshly cooked, only €5. Colin declared the gyro the best he’d ever had. If you’re ever there we highly recommend Flora’s.
Just as we’d finished eating, the wind switched from light NW to SE F5, a 180 degree shift and now coming right into the anchorage. We debated moving to the other side, but the forecast had the wind switching back N later so we stayed put. The chop wasn’t so bad and with clockwork precision, the wind did indeed switch back N at the forecast time.
A sunny morning saw us heading down to Porto Rafti. The wind filled in from the W and we were able to sail gently along with just the genny, the wind clocking it’s way around to the E during the afternoon. We had one of the best sails of the season, slow at times as the wind eased then a F5 to end the day with. Inside the bay there was very little wind and plenty of space amongst the moorings around the outside.
Porto Rafti was not what i expected it to be. In my mind I had it down as a glitzy, jet set kind of place where the hip Athenians came to escape the summer heat. How wrong was I! We found a sleepy, slightly down-at-heel place, some small beaches with sand and pebbles and a dotting of tavernas around the bay. A small raft/gaggle/bevy (select appropriate collective noun) of ducks, geese, two white swans and a solitary black swan glided around and during our stroll a large, abandoned dog befriended us and showed us the way. It makes me so sad to see so many homeless dogs. In the south west corner, heading inland, was a road lined with shops and cafes; there was a small cinema and best of all, a wool shop that had an ideal ball of yarn for my next project.
Yachts sat at moorings, some in need of a lot of love, with a large anchoring space in the middle. We had loads of room and weren’t troubled by anyone anchoring too close.
1st September: Volos to Likhades, Evia Channel, 39nm
Anchored in 5m, sand. Very good holding and water clear enough to see the anchor from the boat.
Position 38 49.62’N 22 50.804’E
3rd September: Likhades to Ormos Amirou, 19nm
Anchored in 5.5m. Very good holding in mud. Gusts from the west up to 40kts but little fetch.
Position 38 37.791’N 23 06.587’E
Pontoon for tying dinghy to and walks along the beach ashore. Two tavernas but no mini markets.
5th September: Ormos Amirou to Politika, 24nm (9nm sailed)
Anchored in 6.5m in position 38 34.313’N 23 32.618’E
Good shelter from N winds, protected by Ak. Mninas. Winds from south up to F4 did not create much fetch.
Small fishing harbour to tie up the dinghy. Tavernas ashore, did not see any min markets.
7th September: Politika to Chalkis, 9nm
Anchored in 7m in position 38 22.236’N 23 35.727’E
We tied the dinghy up to the wall north of the bridge to walk down to make our bridge payment.
Our crossing of the bridge was approx half an hour earlier than the advertised time, we went through at 22:30 having been called on the radio at 22:00.
Once through we anchored in the south bay in 10m in position 38 27.618’N 23 35.002’E.
Breakages: throttle control cable
The OLNE port office needed to be visited first to make our payment. If you’re coming from the south and go on the wall, the office is right there, but coming from the north it isn’t so obvious and we ended up having to ask directions from the port police.
8th September: Chalkis South Anchorage to Vourkari marina
On inside berth on first pontoon. Water and electric are available via a 12 euro card purchased from the OLNE port office.
13th September: Chalkis to Eretria, 13nm (5nm sailed)
Anchored in the NW of the harbour in sand, 8m. Position 38 23.244’N 23 47.55’E
Tied the dinghy ashore along the root of the breakwater wall.
Tavernas, bars and shops ashore. Ruins to visit and a museum.
14th September: Eretria to Porto Rafti, 38nm (32nm sailed)
We tied up on the end of the pontoon that runs in a curve around the small boat marina on the south side of the bay. Shops ashore.