Sailors tells tales of mythic experiences…crossing the Atlantic, rounding Drake’s passage, circumnavigating the world. Worthy adventures all. My sailing bucket list is less extreme, topped by crossing the Corinthian Canal. Yesterday I channeled my inner Ulysses, sailing from one side of Greece to the other.
A vanity project of emperors, kings and rulers that took almost 2600 years to complete, the Corinthian Canal is one of those fairly unknown, once in a lifetime experiences. The tyrant Periander floated cutting a channel through the 6.4 k (4 mile) isthmus back in the 7th century BC to save sailing all the way around the southern tip of Greece. He concluded it was too expensive and built a stone carriageway instead. Boats were carried across.
The canal idea pops up repeatedly throughout antiquity. Appolonius of Tyana prophesied misfortune to anyone who tried. The deaths of three emperors who started projects, Julius Caesar (assassinated), Caligula (assassinated) and Nero (suicide), fueled the superstition. Nero actually started building, using slaves to dig trenches from each side before he was run out of town.
Greece gained independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1830. Interest in a canal resurfaced. But it took the success of the Suez Canal in 1869 for things to get serious. The Greek canal would follow Nero’s plan, adding modern engineering.
Financing was a problem. Turns out canals are not profitable for the private companies who build them no matter how long the lease. After many mishaps, mostly be the French companies involved with the Suez & Panama efforts, a Greek company took charge. The canal officially opened July 1893 to no traffic… Landslides, a perennial problem, had to be fixed first. Oops.
The canal does indeed connect the Ionian and Aegean seas but never succeeded in its intended purpose. It just isn’t big enough. At only 21 meters (70 feet) wide it is too narrow for most ship (then and now). Landslide from its very steep walls continue. The last big one was in early 2021. The canal has been a money loser from day one.
That said, I gagged at the 600-euro fee for our boat. Ultimately, though I was suitably impressed. The walls rising straight up on either side feel other worldly. The engineering is impressive. You feel part of history.
We were lucky to get through. The canal has only been open for 3 months this summer before it shuts down again for more repair work.
Another item on the bucket list ticked