Sunday, April 27, 2014

Day 122


Stephanos called me the night before.  He was a Greek paddler who wanted to paddle with me for a day.  He was coming from a long way off, but could arrive by 11:00.  It was Friday, so I had to finish everything before the Sabbath started at sundown.  Since I was close to Athens, I hoped to hop on a train and spend it with fellow Jews.  In other words, it was the worst sort of day for a late start.

While I waited, I walked to the booth over the bridge.  The fellow who operated the radio for the canal didn’t speak any English, but he put me on the phone with a woman who did.  She granted me permission to go through the canal.  The critical timing would be communicated over the radio.  She didn’t know what I was asking when I mentioned currents, and wished me luck on my journey.

Stephanos arrived at 11:30 and we were on our way at 12:00.  Two friends from Extremer's Base dropped him off and would pick him up at the end of the day.  They kindly hauled my camping gear for me.

For the last week I’d flown with fantastic winds.  The Corinth Gulf always has strong winds, either west (yay) or east (boo).  The winds blow for a few days, then switch directions.  It was clear that they had switched overnight.

After a short wait at the mouth of the canal for oncoming traffic to pass, boats lined up nearby and entered the canal one at a ttime.  Over the radio, we were instructed to enter last.  I had hoped to catch the wake of the boat in front of us, but we were not permitted to get close enough.

The current was against us.  The wind was against us.  And time was against us.  The boats ahead gradually pulled away and were gone.  Tankers and sailboats waited on the other side for the two straggling kayakers.  If it took us a long time, the canal oppertors would be less likely to let other kayaks through in the future.

For four miles, the canal cuts a 21-meter swath through the hills of Greece, and we paddled through it we marveled at the sheer cliffs climbing above us on either side and the short bridges far overhead.  The canal represented a milestone for me.  I was crossing to the other side of Greece and approaching the last major city.  Just a few days from the Aegean, with it’s strong winds and constant crossings, I was begining the most skill intensive part of my trip.  In short, my expedition was reaching its crescendo.

The Extremer's Base team took pictures from one of the bridges and cheered us on.

Exhausted, we emerged from the other end and paddled past the line of waiting boats.  I thanked the canal operators on the radio and they wished me a safe and successful journey.

Then we paddled into force three to four headwinds.  Blech.  I stuck close to the shore and hoped, in vain, that the wind would be gentler there.

Off my starboard there was a tanker parking lot.  Enormous vessels spread out for miles.

Stephanos paddled faster than I did.  I choose a pace that I can keep up all day, after having paddled yesterday and the day before, and that won’t leave me too sore to paddle tomorrow.  And he was zooming ahead.  So I tried switching from my storm paddle to my winged paddles.  My cruising speed with each of them is about the same, but I hoped that by switching I would go faster.  I didn’t, but the slightly different techniques for each paddle allowed me relax tired muscles and bring in others that were fresh.

We were running out of time.  I wasn’t sure if we would arrive at the next port with enough time to take the train to Athens for the Sabbath.  Stephanos assured me, with his local knowledge, that there was no problem.  Kineta, just around the corner, had a port.  Funny, I hadn’t seen one when I looked at the map.  He called the Extreme Base team and asked them to meet us at the Kineta port.

A big white buoy was in front of me and I turned sharply to avoid it.  Unfortunately, I turned into Stephanos.  Before we collided I swung my weight over to the other side of my kayak and turned hard in the opposite direction.  My winged blade dug into the water, and then dived in a way that I hadn’t planned.

I capsized, and rolled back up.  My pride was a little the worse for wear, so I tried to explain to Stephanos what had just happened in a way that didn’t make me look like a total idiot.

“So you see, what really just happened was this...”

I think he bought it.

Kinetta did not have a port.  But it did have a beach with some stairs and the team was there waiting for us.  We took out and got permission to leave my boat in the backyard of a local for the Sabbath.

They gave me a ride to the train station and I got to spend my day off with the Jewish community of Athens.  The Chabad house here fed me beef and many months of cravings were satiated.

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Nautical miles paddled: 16.5
Current location:  37.955145,23.192706