Rod Heikell reckons the Peloponnese is one of the best cruising grounds in Greece
How do you escape the crowds in Greece? Easy, says Rod Heikell – you cruise around the wild, rugged and overlooked coast of ‘Pelops Island’
T he Peloponnese is often thought of as a rocky obstacle between the cruising grounds of the Ionian and the Aegean and overlooked as a cruising area in its own right. I’ll be upfront and tell you it is one of my favourite cruising areas in Greece and I look forward to each time I cruise around it – and that’s a lot.
It is a wild, rugged place split by high mountains and peopled through history by fierce warrior clans seemingly as tough as the landscape itself. It is named after Pelops, son of Tantalus, who had his son sliced and diced and stewed for the gods. Zeus took exception to this and brought Pelops back to life. A little of the father must have rubbed off on Pelops because when he later challenged a suitor for the hand of Hippodamia, he surreptitiously removed the pins from the wheels of his competitor’s chariot and, not surprisingly, won the race for her hand.
In truth, the Peloponnese is not an island at all, or at least it wasn’t until the late 19th century, when the Corinth Canal cut off the narrow isthmus joining the Peloponnese to mainland Greece and turned it into
‘ The Peloponnese is one of my favourite cruising areas in Greece’
one. Prior to this the ancient Greeks used to haul ships across the isthmus on a paved road (the dhiolkos) and later the Roman emperor Nero decided to build a canal. Using 6,000 Jewish slaves he started digging, but soon gave up when civil unrest diverted him. The present canal is not used by shipping as much as it was, though it is still busy with smaller ships and yachts heading into or out of the Aegean. One of the questions I get asked regularly is which way to go around the Peloponnese: clockwise or anticlockwise. Like all things to do with sailing it depends on the wind gods and the prevailing winds behaving themselves and blowing in the direction they are supposed to. If they do, then my advice is to go clockwise. In the Ionian, the prevailing winds
are from the north-west, funnelling into the Gulf of Patras and the Gulf of Corinth to blow more or less from the west. These gulfs are enclosed by high mountains on either side and so the wind is accelerated between the high land and can get up to 10 or more knots faster than the wind outside.
Once into the Saronic Gulf, the wind tends to be from the northeast, and so you can squeeze down the coast of the eastern Peloponnese and around into the Argolic Gulf. Here the prevailing wind is the Bouka Doura from the south-east, but it doesn’t normally get up until midday so you can motor down the coast of the eastern Peloponnese in the morning if you don’t fancy beating down in the afternoon. From here to Cape Malea, where you turn the corner into the southern Ionian, the wind is usually from the north-east, boisterous at times but at least you are going with it. Once around the corner the wind will be from the north-west, though it follows the coast so it curves around to become more westerly. Again, the wind will not usually get up until midday so you can motorsail if you don’t want to beat to windward. Once up into the Inland Sea you can duck and dive through the islands to finish your circumnavigation.
For boats circumnavigating from the Saronic the sequence is the same except you pick it up midway through. For those on charter the big question is: Can I get around in a two-week charter? The answer is yes, but you will miss a lot of what the Peloponnese has to offer and leave little room for days off when bad weather is about. If you want a more leisurely trip, then look at it as a three-week option. There are a lot of wonderful places to dally in and you need to leave a bit of time for a leisurely exploration of places around Pelops Island. Over the following pages I have selected a few of my favourite places along the way, but there is much more if you have time to explore.
Palaia Epidhavros sits at the base of steep wooded slopes and is the stop for Epidhavros theatre
Visit Delphi from Itea or Galaxidhi, Gulf of Corinth