Hi, my name is Kathryn Thomas and I am a self-confessed, hopelessly addicted Greekaphile….Have been for over ten years. I love the people, the food, the islands.
So having seen much of my beloved Greece on television over the last year,albeit inside frustrated government chambers or rioting on the burning streets of Athens, I wanted to go back and show that my love had not wavered. And if that involved spending my holiday cash on stuffed vine leaves, lamb kofta and litres of Amstel and Ouzo, God damn it, I was prepared to do it.
Along with five fellow travelers, all of whom had hopped the greek islands as broke students, we wanted to do something a little different. After a late dinner accompanied by plenty of good wine, one of the group, an experienced sailor, suggested hiring our own boat. A slight pause before you could hear the rest of us laughing in Athens. We wanted to support the Greek economy, but none of us were Aristotle Onassis.
Ignoring us and logging on to the Sunway website, a 40ft boat for six worked out at €400 each for the week including meals and drinks on two nights. “It would be island hopping grown up style”, announced “Captain Birdseye”. He assured the rest of us, his prospective crew members, we would have the safety of being part of flotilla, including a lead boat with a captain, engineer and hostess.
So after a few enjoyable practice days in Dun Laoghaire figuring out our stern lines from our cleats, our jibs from our masts and most importantly how to operate a pump system toilet, we flew with Aerlingus into Athens and took the two hour transfer west to Epidavaros, the Sunsail base from which to explore the islands of the Saronic Gulf
On arrival, we were shown to our boat “Kalamos”, our home for the next week. She had three berths, one at the front and two at the rear with an option of lowering the kitchen table into an extra double bed. There were two bathrooms, a tiny kitchen and small fans in every berth and in the main cabin to keep things cool at night.
After stocking the boat with supplies from the local supermarket we met the rest of our six boat flotilla including our lead crew; Skipper Vince from Paris, Engineer Cliff from Stoke-on -Trent and our hostess Judy from Crosshaven in Cork.
Our first briefing took place out on the quay wall the night before we set sail. Each boat nominated a skipper and first mate who’d attend the briefings every morning to find out the route, the wind conditions, best places to drop anchor and to ask any questions or iron out any problems.
The following morning, it was a tentative moment as “Captain Birdseye” ordered to lift the anchor and we nervously motored out of the small harbour. Twenty minutes out with everyone at their stations, fenders pulled in, ropes set on cleats, the jib was released, the main sail pulled up and we were off.
The wind was a moderate five knots and the exhilaration, the sense of freedom and the fact we were all working as a team was a brilliant feeling as “Kalamos” sliced through the calm blue waters.
We anchored up in a tiny cove for lunch, then continued to tack our way toward our first destination, the island of Aegina. By four o clock the little harbour was already getting busy and “Captain Birdseye” was nervous about his first mooring.
“Stern to quay” shouted Vince from the pier wall, indicating we were to reverse in to the small space between his boat and a much larger one flying a German flag.
“Drop the anchor…….Left, left a bit…you’re coming in too fast” shouted Vince, as we headed straight for the bow of the German boat which by now had an angry looking German standing on its bow.
“Go forward, go forward” shouted everyone including the German. With the perspiration pouring out of him, “Birdseye” attempted his second landing, and gallantly slotted “Kalamos” into her berth.
We watched the other boats come in, some making it first time;others after two or three attempts. Every evening after that, it became the best hours entertainment. Everyone watched to see who was going to make it. Who’s going to get caught in someone else’s anchor or worse hit the pier wall? Who’s going to lose their temper with who? Definitely a highlight for me!
Our hostess Judy had organized a punch party on the harbour wall in where everyone gathered and shared stories of their first day. Then tired and hungry, we all traipsed up to the family run Jamaica Bar for a gorgeous meal around a big communal table which was later pushed back for a spot of greek dancing.
Up early for our briefing the following morning, we set sail for Poros. Again the wind wasn’t too strong and with day one behind us everyone was more confident as we set sail taking turns at the helm. The physical work of sailing would then be complemented by a few lazy hours motoring to find a little bay, dropping the anchor in the glittering clear blue waters and relaxing to eat, read and swim.
When all boats were safely tied up in Poros, we sat down for an amazing meal of fresh fish and calamari in Georgios before exploring the local bars along the promenade.
The summer winds (meltemia) which usually start in mid July and last through September are mainly north easterly gusting to force 4-6 and dying down once nighttime arrives. Departing Poros for the island of Hydra, Vince told us to expect stronger winds and choppy seas so the decision was taken by most of the boats to motor to Hydra and get there as quickly and safely as possible. It was a wet and windy crossing, as Kalamos travelled up and over the waves, the spray soaking us to the skin as we went.
Pulling into the beautiful, sheltered, horseshoe shaped harbour of Hydra was magical. This traffic-free (and that includes bicycles!)island is one of the prettiest in Greece. Sleepy looking donkeys are loaded up with stock at the port and disappear up into the narrow alleyways, delivering to shops and tavernas that stretch into the hillside behind the port.
Climbing the steep hill to the right of the port we had dinner at The sunset restaurant, which has been awarded for having one of the best views in the world. Local lobster salad for €12 as the sun was setting on the Saronic Gulf was the perfect end to an imperfect sailing day.
A Free sail day in the week allows each boat to go it alone before meeting back up with the entire flotilla on the last night for a barbecue and cocktails on a deserted island, close to Epidavros where our week began.
It seemed an apt way to finish our holiday in ‘the Land of the Gods’, where the word recession had not been heard once. After a feast of meat and fish, retsina was poured and we danced and laughed recounting highlights of the week under twinkling stars as flickering candles cast long shadows onto the sand.
Sunsail are currently offering a 25% discount on flotillas in September so
Prices start from €254 per person, based on 6 people sharing a 38ft yacht for one week
For more information on Sunsail flotilla holidays
log onto www.sunway.ie or call 01 2886828
AerLingus fly to Athens 3 days a week until 15th September
Log onto www.aerLingus.com for the best fares
June 25, 2018