Greece, Sailing

What would you have said?

I was standing at the bar of the Black Horse when my pal Cycling Jesus leaned over;

“I’ve got a week’s free sailing in Greece and the guy says I can bring a mate. Are you up for it?”

I could have replied; ‘What? And miss British Bake Off?’ but I said ‘What are you drinking?’

I’ve always fancied staying on a yacht. It appeals to the romantic in me; the tug of the wind in the sails, the sparkle of the sunlight on blown spume, dropping anchor in a secluded bay, playing my guitar while the stars come out, the gentle rocking and sleeping snug in a cosy bunk… all that guff. Anyway, my wife and I went along and here’s my blog on it.

It wasn’t an easy trip to pack for; we were advised to bring clothes for a day at the beach and yet prepare as if for a walk on the Lakeland Fells. Apparently, there was little space for luggage but, bizarrely, my guitar in its flight case was fine (good priorities!). I didn’t take many clothes, and I didn’t wear half of them. I prefer to stink as it protects my personal space.

Now this is crucial. If you’re ever planning a sailing trip, think carefully about who is going to be onboard. You will be living in a confined space and you need to get along with each other. A yacht is basically an aquatic camper van. It’s potentially claustrophobic, and definitely intimate. We all waited till we got to port to have a number two. Nobody likes an audience.

We arrived at the tail end of a massive storm that had lashed Greece like a merciless dominatrix the week before. For the first three days, it was too windy to leave the marina. It was October and out of season to be fair. But then, I love hanging out in marinas. It’s the combination of the boats bobbing, their rigging pinging against the masts in the breeze, the sea, just the whole yachting vibe.

There was plenty of stuff to do. Lavrion is a cool little town with plenty of places to eat and drink in the evenings. One day we walked up to see the Temple of Poseidon in Sounion. The building is impressive and worth an hour or so. It’s perched on top of a cliff with nice views and a decent cafe. It was from here (so the story goes) that King Aegeus waited anxiously for his son Theseus to return from his mission to kill the Minotaur. To signal his victory from afar, Theseus had to replace his black sail with a white one. Theseus won his punch up with the bovine brute on a points decision, but forgot about the sail thingy; consequently, his distraught father threw himself off the cliff to a watery grave. Ever since the large, blue, moist thing around there has been called the Aegean Sea.

To kill time on another day, we took a trip into Athens. It was OK. I can’t do justice here to such a big city, but we got a flavour of the place and thought we might like to come back for a weekend break. We took a walking tour, which included many of the main sights. There’s plenty to see, and it’s up there with Rome, though not as good in my view. The Temple of Hephaestus looked brilliant, but we only saw it from a distance. First time I went to the Acropolis (30 years ago) I saw nothing because it was closed due to a strike. I didn’t see much this time either because there was a big queue, my legs were tired, my feet hurt, it started to rain, and I wanted an ice-cream mummy. As is usual with historical monuments, the Parthenon was partially shielded by scaffolding. Anyway, if you want to see the best bits of it you have to go to the British Museum in London because Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin, stole them. It’s a disgrace that we haven’t returned them.

Speaking of disgraces, I’ve got to mention the food at some point, and since we ate some dung in Athens, now is as good a time as any. On the face of it Greek food, at least the stuff they serve up to the hapless grockles, is OK, (they do meats very well). But there doesn’t seem to be much variation, the menus are almost identical, and I quickly got bored of it. If you look carefully, however, ‘proper’ Greek food can be had away from the tourist honeypots, you’ve just got to seek out the ‘proper’ restaurants. Overall, the beer was fine, but be wary of the cheap house wine. It is served in comely aluminium jugs like you might see in a primary school canteen; they’re battered, homely, tactile, and they look appealing… beware the contents. That said, I’ve had great house wine in Greece, especially in Parga.

But let’s stop whining and get sailing! Three days after arriving in Lavrion the wind finally dropped and off we went. We sailed south for five or so hours to Methana. We were at sea all day and only got into the port in time for a few beers and an evening meal. My hunch proved correct. There’s something magical about sailing. Gliding along at a leisurely pace, tying up at a little port, going off to explore. There’s a sense of freedom and adventure.

Many people are naturally concerned about seasickness. There’s no denying it can happen to anyone. Admiral Nelson suffered badly from it, apparently. Antihistamines can help, we took Stugeron 15 and had no problems. Other good advice would be to stay on deck where you can see the horizon. This helps your brain maintain balance. We seemed to get our ‘sea legs’ quite quickly, but the odd consequence of this is that you start staggering around like a drunk when you’re on land. I did. Mind you, I was also drunk. Anyway. Methana was okay, nothing to write home about, and next day we set off for Agistri.

My favourite part of every day was just pulling into a port. As you get nearer the destination slowly reveals itself, like unwrapping a present on Christmas Day. There was a nice beach at Agistri, I ordered a beer and lay on a sunbed just as the clouds parted and the sun came out. It was so mellow that I had ‘a moment’. It was a spiritual thing, and I felt at peace with the world. There was a beautiful orthodox Church by the beach, a few bars and restaurants, but most were shut as the summer season was fading away. That night we took the guitars into a local bar and had a singsong.

Next day we sailed to Epidavros. It was a prettier spot than Agistri and had two main attractions; the ancient ‘Great Theatre’ and a nearby beach with a sunken ruin which you can snorkel around. Indolence won the day and sadly I missed seeing the legendary theatre. But it was a lovely walk in the sunshine and the beach was fine if a little pebbly. Again the sunbeds were free, so, as is my generous nature, we had a few beers to say thank you to the proprietors. The sea was clear and warm, but the underwater ruins were sparse and, well, a little dull. It’s not like I found Atlantis, but, hey, it was mildly diverting. As ever, splashing about in the sea and lying in the sun added up to an agreeable afternoon.

The next day we pootled off to Poros. It’s just across from the mainland and it’s probably a beautiful island if you have the time to explore. We didn’t and settled once more for slumming it on the beach and having a few beers in the attached bar. The leathery skinned, gecko-like owner gave a speech on the dangers of immigrants taking ‘our’ jobs in the UK; she was a cockney running a bar in Greece. Her name was Mrs. Irony. Poros town was good, with lots of bars and restaurants. If you’re ever there, I can recommend a restaurant called Casanova for a good pizza. Poros was our last stop and the next day we headed for Lavrion and home.

Should you go sailing?

Sailing has the reputation that it’s a hobby for the rich. This is true to an extent. You’ve got to pay for your flights and, for a week in July, it would cost about £700 per person if there were six of you onboard (it’s cheaper if one of you can skipper the yacht). You’re talking £1000 per person per week plus spends, though in May or October the same holiday would cost about £300 per person less. So, it’s not insane money.

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