Sailing through the Corinth Canal is a huge bucket list item for many sailors. Navigating through the canal that splits Greece and the Peloponnese apart is quite the experience. But is it worth the cost? Read this article to find out.
The Corinth Canal is a passage, created back in 1882 and 1883, that connects the Ionian Sea to the Aegean.
Rather than traveling south around the Peloponnese, you can pay a handsome fee to cut through Greece and pop out near Athens. Around 12,000 boats pass through the narrow canal each year including small boats through to tankers and large cruise ships.
Previous to the canal being in place, the ancients used to drag ships across the land on a paved road.
I’ve been told that on the north side you can still see remnants of the road. Throughout history, the Greeks and Romans drew up plans to create a canal but the task was too difficult.
In the late 1800s, the French started on the Corinth Canal and the Greeks finished it.
For as long as I can remember, my husband always wanted to voyage through the Corinth Canal so the lead up to the event filled us all with anticipation.
The night before our planned canal transit, and knowing that gale-force winds were predicted, we anchored in the northeast area of the Corinth Bay, about 1 mile north of the canal entrance.
We anchored with our friends, Jim and Carole on sailboat Nepenthe while our friends on Horizon went towards Corinth to see if they could get a spot on the quayside.
Horizon radioed us to let us know they got the last spot so we had to make do with our anchorage.
Around 9 pm the winds started and they were forecasted to increase to 7’s and 8’s (30 to 40 knots of wind or up to 50 mph) by 3 am in the morning. When anchored in normal conditions the boat swings around the anchor chain usually swinging no more than 180 degrees with the bow facing the wind. If the wind changes, the boat may swing right around.
When things are calm, it’s a very slow-paced swing and it’s easy to ignore the movement. And at times, the boat barely swings at all!
When gales hit a boat on an anchor it’s a totally different experience – it’s somewhat scary!
Depending on where the boat is on its swing and when the wind hits the boat you can experience different things. The worst is when the wind hits the side of the beam of the boat and the boat gets slightly pushed over while it swings quite violently around the anchor chain. The background view spins around!
And it’s not the pushing and spinning motion that freaks me out the most.
What keeps me up all night long is the possibility that our anchor may pull loose causing us to drift towards land or out to sea! If other boats are close by, that increases my anxiety. There’s a chance that their anchor may drag and hit us!
Under normal conditions, I sleep fine but during gale force winds I find it difficult to get real sleep. I catnap and whenever I hear the winds hit us, I pop up and look for spots on land that I’ve earmarked.
On the evening prior to our Corinth Canal transit, we had gale-force winds and a boat anchored too close to us for comfort. My husband and I slept in the cockpit so that we could keep a constant anchor watch.
Around 4 am I went to bed while my husband stayed up.
At 5:30 am we started our discussions with sailboat Nepenthe and sailboat Horizons about the weather and the necessary requirements to enter the canal. No one on Britcan or Nepenthe slept very well and more winds were forecasted. Horizons at least had the comfort of knowing they were tied down.
Carole on Nepenthe suggested that an anchorage on the other side of the canal would provide us with a safer harbor. We chatted over channel 71 for a while and decided it was best for us anchored boats to make a move. The crew on Horizons chose to stay put and wait for the winds to die down.
We were exhausted but the idea of going through the canal gave us all the energy we needed to get going.
When reading more about the Corinth Canal I discovered that boats enter in one direction in convoy until they’re all through and then the authorities open up the other end. So, boats go from west to east, and then the east boats go through to the west. Apparently, the canal is open 24 hours a day every day except Tuesday. On Tuesdays, necessary repairs are made to the canal.
After reading the Greece Pilot Book for sailors, we called the required VHS channel 11, using the callsign ‘Isthmia Pilot’ asking for permission to make the transit. My husband made the call on behalf of Britican and Nepenthe. The Corinth Canal radio operator told us to, ‘leave your anchorage and call us when you’re ½ mile from the canal entrance.’
By 7 am we were pulling up our anchors and pointing our boats towards the entrance of the canal. For some reason, I thought there would be locks or gates but upon arrival, you could see straight through the canal to the other side!
Being only a few kilometers the trip wasn’t going to take too long.
My husband entered between the red and green navigation lights and I noticed that a road was closed and a bridge reclined to prevent traffic from crossing the canal. Jim on Nepenthe (pictured below) radioed us to slow down a bit as the waters were rough.
Upon entering the canal we were still experiencing gale-force winds. Water was slashing up onto the deck and I kept having to work fast to protect my cameras.
We slowed down as we entered calm waters in the canal.
Not long after, the authorities radioed us to speed up. For the amount we had to pay to transit the canal I think we all wanted to last for quite a while. While between the two high cliffs we felt absolutely no wind – it was blissful.
The sun was coming up, the water was like glass, my daughter was enjoying breakfast and we all felt absolute awe as we motored down the beautiful Corinth Canal.
I took around 200 photos – several of Nepenthe and several of the journey.
I was surprised by how narrow the canal was. And I didn’t realize that the cliffs would be so high on either side.
Seeing the elation on my husband’s face, I had to take a video!
But where are the steps the workers used to get out of the canal?
On my SailingBritican Facebook page, a friend sent me a note saying to ‘make sure to take photos of the steps the workers used to get out.’ I wasn’t sure what he was talking about and after traveling for quite some distance I didn’t see any steps.
Eventually, I discovered what I was looking for. See the pictures to show how the canal creators entered and exited the canal back in the 1800s.
Aside from high cliffs on either side and calm waters in front of us, there wasn’t much to obstruct our view. I took some photos of the rock, shrubs, Britican’s shadow, and all of the crew enjoying the passage.
And we went under a railroad bridge and some car bridges.
When coming to the end of the Corinth Canal we moored up on our starboard side (right side). I jumped off, got us tied down, and then ran back to Nepenthe to take their bowline. Simon from Britican and Carole from Nepenthe jumped off with the boat papers and went to the office to pay our dues.
Our bill came to 347 euros to go 3.2 miles.
The Corinth Canal is one of the most expensive stretches of water!
Our daughter, Sienna, and I took a walk around the area looking at the views. She found a twig from a palm tree that looked like a witches broom. When she got on it and tried her best to will it to fly, I had to explain that it must have dead batteries!
Being nosey, Sienna and I then wandered into the offices where Simon and Carole sat showing their documentation.
As usual, the staff member saw Sienna and gave her a huge smile. He went to a drawer and pulled out a whole package of Oreo Cookies.
We all enjoyed them back on the boat.
Feeling pressure to get off the wall within the exit of the canal, we slipped our lines and headed towards our new mooring in Kalamaki.
Thankfully, the winds died down quite a bit and we felt more secure in the new bay.
Although Kalamaki wasn’t very picturesque it was a more comfortable anchorage and we could watch all the boats entering and exiting the canal.
Around 1 pm, Jim on Nepenthe radioed Vince on Horizons to tell them that the winds died down. He enquired if the crew might decide to come to join us in Kalamaki for a 4th of July celebration.
After a bit of convincing, Horizons cast off, traveled through the Corinth Canal, and met us in the bay. We invited everyone over for a spaghetti meal, some wine and lots of good cheer.
Carole on Nepenthe brought one of her no-egg, stove-top upside-down cakes that we all love. Jim made some popcorn and Horizons brought a fruit salad. We gathered around the table trading stories, laughing, and enjoying everyone’s company.
Many people often remark that ‘it must be so isolating living on a boat,’ and once again this story demonstrates that it’s anything but isolating.
No matter where we’re sailing we run into someone we know or quickly meet new friends. Never in my life have I had such an active social life!
When the grown-ups got tired they took their dinghies back to their boats. Sierra, a 9-year-old from Horizons, decided to stay longer to watch the movie ‘Flushed Away,’ with our daughter Sienna. The two girls have enjoyed playing together for several days now.
So, our Corinth Canal voyage was enjoyed with friends, combined with an American holiday and started off with force 8 gusts of wind – what an experience. One that my family, friends, and I will hold in our hearts forever.
Check Out Some Other Areas In Greece & The Mediterranian
If you’d like a breakdown of all the places we’ve visited while sailing the Mediterranean please read our destination overview: Sailing The Mediterranean. Otherwise, check out more posts about our time spent in Greece.
- Sailing Sicily to Corfu
- Corfu – Palaiokastrita & Gouvia Marina
- Corfu Town
- The Magic of Fiskardo Kefalonia
- Navigating Through Lefkas Canal
- Nisis Atoko
- The Greek Ionian Islands