Position: 38°21’36.3″N 21°25’19.4″E
“Be thou the rainbow in the storms of life. The evening beam that smiles the clouds away, and tints tomorrow with prophetic ray.” – Lord Byron
Protected as it is, the Gulf is not immune to strong winds. Having spent the morning mooching along at 2-3 knots in light air, I double checked the weather forecast. The gribs showed sustained winds of 25 knots and more for the afternoon. But where were they? Two miles later we got our answer. A broad bay at the foot of a narrow, steep valley churned whitecaps off to the starboard side. While still in the lee of a large hill, I said to Carol, ‘I’m going to tuck a reef in the main’, and went forward. Back in the cockpit I shortened the jib, too.
It’s nice when we not only get a warning but also have a few minutes to prepare. Seconds later the wind hit the beam at a steady 25. Aleta leaned away and transferred all that energy down to her keel. She leapt forward at 7 knots. Though not for long. Two miles along we reached the other side of the wind tunnel and were once again becalmed. Fortunately, the harbour on North Trizonia was a half hour’s motor away at that point. Named for the cicadas that sing constantly, the island was once an object of Aristotle Onassis’ eye. The locals turned him down. Too bad. They might have got enough funding to finish the harbour.
In the morning we picked up a light breeze and sailed west for Nafpaktos, a citadel for centuries. The most recent conquerors were the Ottomans in the early 1800s. But it was the Venetians who last built anything substantial. Perched on a bluff, the 17th century castle allowed broad views of the gulf in both directions. Only 5nm from the strait near Patras, ships entering the gulf are easily spotted. Steep mountains behind the castle tempered any enemy’s enthusiasm for a land attack. The view east gave plenty of time to respond to any naval activity from that direction. Better still, the land spreads out beside the town, flat and cultivatable. Proving, once again, the ancients picked their sites well.
Nafpaktos is a foodies’ getaway. The old, walled harbour and it’s immediate surroundings contain a couple dozen small, well run restaurants and bars. The vibe is bright sunshine under the cooling shade of an umbrella or awning. Waiters buzz in and out never forgetting what or how much a table ordered. Prices are reasonable. Farther down the street, forgettable modernism makes up the rest of the city.
The old harbour can swing only a couple of cats, but the holding is good outside its walls, and we slept well.
DOWN TO THE BAYOU
Our last port, Mesolonghi, sits on the far side of the modern bridge marking the gulf’s entrance. Situated up a long, dredged channel it’s not completely clear why this sleepy town still has access to the sea. Perhaps the large marina has something to do with it.
Navigating our way in we left Greece and joined the Louisiana bayou. Broad wetlands flayed out on either side of the canal. Houses on stilts with rude wooden docks lined our way. We even saw a few flamingos. The area’s reputation for turtles escaped us, but from Aleta’s stern we saw large trout flying up for bugs, then belly flopping back into the water.
Lord Byron Died Here
Yep, it’s true. Byron died in Mesolonghi. Most likely at the hands of his incompetent physician who bled him to death trying to cure his chest cold. How this came about opened a whole mess of history that the University of Chicago Lab Schools overlooked in its curriculum.
You see, Lab taught Byron as part of English class. Boring! (The English department had a gift for sucking the life out of even the most engaging literature.) No. Byron’s real adventure was his role as an rebel leader standing with the Greeks against the Ottomans. (His greatest gift to modern humanity, however, was his brilliant daughter, Augusta Ada King – Countess of Lovelace.)
What I learned in high school was that Byron was a sybarite with a gifted pen. A romantic bacchanalian born into wealth who indulged his whims travelling around Europe. While that might be true, in 1826 he turned up in Greece and took up their cause of removing the infidel interlopers from their traditional lands. Herman Melville later described him as ‘mettlesome‘.
So keen was he, that he bankrolled the refurbishment of the Greek navy by selling property in England. It isn’t clear what he wanted out of his investment. Greece was desperately poor and riven by factional conflicts at the time. The Ottomans, spying opportunity, simply plunked down their beach chairs and took over.
When Byron showed up there was no money, no country, let alone a functioning government. He had money and charisma, but no military experience. Nonetheless he started pulling together the best strategy money could buy. This was a time when the uber-rich invested in nation-building. Today the upper 1% invest in mega yachts that piss-off entire nations. Frankly, I’m not sure which is more productive.
Catching a cold in February set the poet up for pneumonia. Because bloodletting was the high-tech approach for most any infirmity at the time, by April his doctors had bled him dry. He died before he could lead a charge. It was 1836. He was 36.
I suspect many Greek leaders at the time breathed a sigh of relief at Byron’s passing. The difficult questions of repayment and honoraria were also laid to rest. Still, given the outsized role Byron played in the war, I’d have thought Mesolonghi would have had a museum, or exhibit. Perhaps on the 200th anniversary of the routing of the Turks something will happen to commemorate his contribution.
Such are the things we’ve stumbled upon. I suppose if I’d been more attentive, more studious in my youth, I’d have insisted that we make a beeline for Mesolonghi as soon as we had the notion of transiting the canal. What more romantic reason could we have had than to track down the final resting place of the father of the daughter who was the mother of computer programming? None that I can think of.
This latest installment is a nice blend of first-person sailing adventure, and history lesson – a nice diversion as I sit on my deck with my coffee and avocado toast (being on the left coast and all). I had only skeletal knowledge of Byron; thank you for fleshing it out.
Looking forward to the next chapter, my friend.
Thank you Michael! You are a gentleman and a scholar. I’m glad we were able to complement your breakfast. Were you drinking Stumptown? We desperately need good coffee!