Three Billy Goats Gruff Get Past the Bridge

We amassed a lot of Schengen time during our yard work days back in Planaco Marina and it was time to make our way out of Europe and head back towards Turkiye.


Our planned route skirted us north through the Euboean Gulf on a very “sporty” sail day. “Sporty” is what Mark likes to call a tumultuous sea day. He thinks calling it that makes it sound fun. And it is indeed fun—IF your idea of fun is being on the other end of a playground see-saw with a rambunctious kid pouncing you up and down from the other end while pointing a squirt-gun filled with salt water at you and firing it at your face. 


We “sported” our way up the gulf and came to two bridges. The first, The Euripus Bridge, which we crossed under—this always feels like magic. There’s just something about threading under a bridge and coming out the other side with your mast still intact that feels both lucky and spellbinding.


Then more “sporting” ensued as we see-sawed our way to the second bridge, where threading our way through this one did indeed feel like magic, but perhaps the foreboding-bewitching kind.


This second bridge, called the Chalkis Bridge, is located midway through the Euboean Gulf where the mainland of Greece looks pinched together with one of its islands called Evia. And if you were to study it real close on a map, the mainland and the island are barely separated by a narrow strait in what looks to be a peaceful co-exsistance. But don’t be fooled.


At this narrow point, there’s a small two-lane bridge that stitches together life on either side. Incredibly, there has been a drawbridge of some sort here since 411 BC, and even more fascinating is that the great Herodotus mentions it in his description of the Battle of Artemisium, but these two incredible historical tidbits get upstaged by the waters that run under the bridge—this is what gets most of the attention.


And rightfully so. 


Beneath the bridge, mysterious waters churn—two gulfs in a contemptuous and unexplainable tug-o-war over water.


These infamous waters perplexed Aristotle and caused dread among ancient mariners (happily we live in the age of motors which makes our passage sound less daunting,) and would definitely be called “sporty” by Mark in an attempt to make threading through this narrow passage sound more fun. Even today, the water beneath the bridge draws a crowd of onlookers who come to watch the road retract and boats precariously pass through.


We anchored just south of the bridge in a small bay and Mark and Marcel from Kiri Maia 2, went in to the office and paid our transit fee and made an appointment to go through—11:30pm sharp! Be ready!  This gave us time to linger on shore, have lunch, and the four of us got to see for ourselves what all the scuttlebutt was about that beguiled philosophers, confused scientists, and drew crowds of curious onlookers to make the sojourn to see these mystery waters.


The easy story, before the plot thickens, is that between this narrow point of pinched land, the water flows swiftly in one direction for about six hours and then changes directions and flows in the exact opposite direction for another six. It’s rushing often causes swirls of eddies, but we were also told that this is not a tidal current. This bit of natural clockwork is impressive—six hours northward and then momentarily pauses for about eight minutes to catch a tranquil breath, then does an about face and reverses its direction to south flowing for another six hours.


But here the plot thickens—yes, cue some foreboding music—just when you think you can set your watch to it, count on it, plan your day or sail around it, suddenly it becomes fickle and breaks its own rules. Mother Nature, always the capricious mistress, suddenly changes her mind.  The steady cadence of the water war suddenly becomes erratic. 


We’re not sure we can explain what happens when her waters hijack the schedule, but we take comfort knowing that Aristotle didn’t even understand this fitful current enough to explain it either. Allegedly, the waters enigmatic behavior drove him so mad when he couldn’t decode its pattern, that he flung his frustrated self into the maddening waters.


This is because on lunar days the water doesn’t keep to its six hour schedule but instead goes mad. Some call it “the days of the mess,” and on these “messy” days it simply changes direction whenever it pleases—up to fourteen times a day. (And really, is that so bad? I’ve certainly had my own messy days where I’d driven Mark mad by changing my mind more than fourteen times in one day.)


And these churlish waters weren’t the only perplexing obstacle in our bridge conundrum, since we learned that getting the bridge to open can be just as complicated as understanding the waters that surge below them. When the boys made our appointment to transit, they discovered that there needs to be at least two, or sometimes three boats, wanting to pass through to get on the schedule to retract and open the bridge. And perhaps, we had heard, that sometimes you can wait a few days for another boat to come along so that they will open it. It appeared as though the bridge and the water had an agreement to both maintain a bit of shadowy unpredictability.


Thankfully, we were happily buddy boating with Kiri Maia 2, which made the count two. And when the boys had paid and got instructions, they heard that a large ship would be joining us in our passage through. And so it seemed the three of us would be like ‘The Three Billy Goats Gruff’ passing through the bridge. Bedouin, the littlest, Kiri Maia 2 the medium sized boat, and the most delicious fatty cargo ship that we hoped would draw all the attention from the hungry trollish waters, as we hoped that if the ravenous waters decided to swirl and eat one of us, it would choose the big ship full of yummy cargo and not Bedouin, the smallest boat of the three.


Our instructions at the bridge office were in broken english—thankfully most official people here are able to speak enough english for us to understand.  Regrettably, the beautiful Greek language continues to elude our capacity to understand much. And if we did indeed understood right, we were to stay on anchor outside in the little bay and wait until 11:30pm.  At that time we should be ready for instructions over the radio to line up in the order they would tell us and then hurry up and clear through the bridge as soon as it retracted.


Sounded simple. And so we went in for lunch, looked at the bridge waters (not a good idea), and roamed the town until 5pm. Then we returned and waited on our boats.


At long last—six and a half hours later—the time was nearing. At 11:25pm, both Kiri Maia 2 and Bedouin fired up our engines, weighed anchor, and turned the volume up on our radios.


At 11:30pm sharp we heard nothing.


11:45pm, still nothing.


So we circled around at a slow idle and waited.


And waited.


And waited some more.


At the stroke of midnight our radio was still silent. Surprisingly, the bridge was still abuzz with cars, LOTS of them. This small two-lane bridge seems to be the island’s femoral artery and we were the looming tourniquet.


Still circling, it was now 12:30am. Still lots of cars, still total radio silence.  At 1 in the morning, we’re starting to wonder about our ability to understand Greek/English, and also about the sanity of all the people still driving around and in need of the bridge at such a crazy hour. This was a Monday—well, now a very early Tuesday, and the cars were coming and going like it was the middle of the day. Except it was not. And the crews of Kiri and Bedouin were getting sleepy. Idling in circles sure wasn’t helping the matter.


Were the bridge gods waiting for the slack tide? Had the waters gone “mad” so we needed to wait? And if the slack only lasts about 8 minutes, we were doing the math and realizing that only one of the boats would likely get to enjoy the reprieve while the other two would each have to fend for their tiny selves. At 1 in the morning we even started wondering if we’d mixed up the day of our appointment.


At 1:15am, we were feeling a bit like Aristotle, questioning our own sanity when it comes to deciphering the formula for how to interpret the unpredictable waters, bridges, and pieced-together linguistically challenged instructions. 


And seriously, why the heck were people still driving around at this ungodly hour?


Suddenly, at 1:30am the sweet melodious squelch of the radio comes over our handset and the bridge up ahead began to retract. The time had come! And the three of us Billy Goats proceed to line up like lambs to the slaughter.


Here we go.


First, in the lineup was the behemoth cargo ship, it was given the go-ahead. A curious choice since we were hoping for slack and calm.  This was not to be as once the big ship hit the narrow neck where we were to transit, the water churned into the frenzied state of a boiling Cup o’ Noodles. 


With the cargo ship through, Bedouin was called up second. Mark followed behind the ship and headed into the jaws of the bridge. Up ahead, we could see people lined up on both sides of the gaping bridge to watch the show. 


They had come to watch us try and get past the hungry troll.


The waters were rushing about 4 knots as we entered—slish-slosh-slish-slosh-through the bridge we went. Mark had to give the engines more power to keep Bedouin steady. She wanted to scoot sideways a bit but he gave it more power and she steadied and straitened out. The onlookers waved and cheered as if to say, “run little goat, don’t let the troll eat you.”


…actually, the crowd’s banter was all in Greek, so perhaps they were cheering on the troll in hopes of seeing us get eaten. I’m sure this scenario would have been way more entertaining.


We pushed forward, through the tiny narrow neck and for all the hours of waiting we did, we passed through the churlish waters in less than 60 seconds without getting eaten.  


Kiri Maia 2 followed behind —slish-slosh-slish-slosh—she too did a little yawing, but successfully threaded the churlish tides. We both had made it past the mad waters and the only loss we suffered was a few hours of sleep.


In the story of the Billy Goats Gruff, the three happily head to green pastures. But for us, its now 2am and real challenge was finding a safe anchorage in the dark of night. With headlamps on and our radar humming, we motored our way to several options and finally settled on a wide bay just around the corner.


At last we set our anchor in a tranquil bay, we could all finally go to bed.  We would fall asleep with the memory of our boats slish-sloshing past the ravenous waters happily knowing we did not get gobbled up in front of a live audience.

Euripus Bridge


Kiri Maia 2 making her way under the Euripus Bridge.

Chalkis Bridge

The green anchor in the lower southern bay is where we spent hours circling waiting for the bridge to retract. And the green anchor in the northern bay is where we happily anchored for the night after getting through the bridge.

Kiri Maia 2 threads through just after us…

This is the route we’re taking to Türkiye, dodging Meltemis as we go.

2 thoughts on “Three Billy Goats Gruff Get Past the Bridge”

  1. Del Skillman

    Thank you for your continued reports of your travels. We enjoy reading them and are happy you are doing it!
    Del Skillman

    1. Thanks Del! We finally got some internet and were able to post more. We love seeing your travels as well! Hope everyone is doing terrific! Thanks for the comment.

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