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’

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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

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