TRAVELLERS SAILING STORIES IN GREECE

Eight guests embark on a sailing cruise
in the Greek islands. Rookie sailor Elise narrates.


The crew: 1 captain, 8 guests USA, Mexico and France.
Type of cruise: cabin charter
Boat owner: ARCHIPEL
Yacht: Pahi 53 catamaran
Departed: Paros on September 13th, 2013
Returned: Paros on September 19th, 2013
Weather: fair, 27 C, wind northerlies 15 to 20 knots.

croisiere avec Archipel
  We move onto the boat and everyone takes his bearings.
 
cabine-catamaran-pahi
  One of the double cabins.
 
location-bateau-paros
  Starting off on a calm day
 
dauphins-croisiere-grece
  A school of dolphins crosses our route.
 
syros-finikas
  Finikas port as seen from the taverna early evening.
  

DAY 1: Paros-Syros

I embark today on a catamaran together with 7 other folks who, like me, have come from far away to sail and discover the Greek islands. I have never done such a share-a-boat cruise before, neither have I ever sailed, so quite excited by the prospect of this new experience, I drop my rucksack at the Marina café, in front of the boat harbor. There I meet George Gritsis, Archipel’s boss, Eric the captain and the other guests: Jay & Derby (USA), Juan & Liliana (Mexico), Scott & Rose (USA) and Sandra from France, like myself.
 
Sipping our drinks, we listen to George and Eric as they describe the cruise’s workings: sailing from morning till early afternoon, liberty the rest of time. The itinerary slowly takes shape as George and Eric work through the week’s wind forecast. Jay, Deborah and Sandra seem a little disappointed that Santorini, destination extolled by tourist guide books, appears out of reach. Here’s where Eric’s job starts: explain to novices that while sailing downwind poses no problem, beating against 20 knots northerly from the southernmost island of the Cyclades is a tedious and wet task. Everyone seems to agree but who can really know what Eric is talking about? Seen from the café, the sea appears so tame!
 
Being through with introductions, we work out the ship’s provisioning list: a cruising kitty is set up to take over all our common expenses, breakfasts, lunches, dinners ashore as well as costs for fuel, water and harbor dues. Jay takes over the purser’s part to whom we each remit 200 € for the week’s expenditure.
 
In order for us not to lose any precious time, Archipel’s team has already delivered some basic groceries onboard and 3 guests are detailed to shop the rest of our individual wish lists from the nearby minimarket. I decide to explore our catamaran and acquaint myself with this remarkable boat. The Pahi is not a run-of-the-mill production fiberglass boat, she was custom built in wood, for Archipel. She’s 53 feet in length and may accommodate up to 10 people including the captain. The rooms,...oops... sorry, the cabins are very well appointed and comfortable: individual companionways, double berths, reading lights, plenty of storage space, en-suite toilette and shower, several opening ports and a fan. Amidships, the well aired and user friendly galley includes all the necessary appliances. Oddly there’s no great table but small individual ones. In practice we will find out this set up is quite beneficial as everyone may stand up and move about without bothering his neighbors: a sensible feature in an environment where we don’t really know each other! The boat features aft a helm station and a clever swimming platform with a large inflatable dinghy on top.
 
Once everyone has got their bearings and stowed away their gear, Eric briefs us on the boat rules (fresh water and electricity management, operation of marine toilets and gas stove, etc...) We weigh anchor at 13:00 and head for Syros. Today it’s hot and windless; the sea is calm. The diesel engines drive the boat. Contrary to July and August when Northerlies may blow relentlessly, in September winds get a little fluky like today. We all hang around on deck enjoying the vista or reading. Stroke of luck, 3 dolphins appear and cross our bows!
 
Syros is the islands’ seat of government. Its hilly landscape looks bare of vegetation but the coastline features two natural harbors, Finikas to the West and Ermoupolis (the capital) to the East. We dock at the tranquil port of Finikas around 17:00. The water is incredibly clear. I can distinguish urchins on the sea floor.
Light decreases quickly past 18:30 in September, so we unanimously decided to walk to nearby “Kokina” beach, instead of visiting the island. We return onboard an hour later for a shower and then head for dinner at the “Limanaki” taverna, a 100 yards away from the catamaran. To speed up ordering (we are starving!) and in order to sample some of the local delicacies, we ask Eric to order of the dishes. Here’s what our first meal consists of: grilled octopus, stewed cuttlefish, breaded hard cheese, tzatziki, rocket salad, grilled calamari stuffed with cheese, fennel flavored local sausage, white wine and tsipouro (local brandy). The food is delicious, spirits are high and discussions are joyful (notwithstanding my language problems!).
One of the topics is the next day’s agenda: weather permitting we shall head for Mykonos. This perspective seems to please every one! We return onboard around 22:00, some go to bed, others lay on the netting, chatting under the moonlight. I feel exhausted and decide to hit the sack.

cyclades-en-voilier
  We hoist and trim the sails.
 
croisiere-cabine-archipel-club
  Jay’s at the helm. Rose and Scott relax at the front.
 
mykonos
  Stop over in a deserted cove.
 
mykonos
  Famed ‘Little Venice' in Mykonos.
 
  

DAY 2 : Syros-Mykonos

Sandra is first on deck at 08:00 and walks to the bakery to kindly purchase fresh bread and pastries. All the team feasts on a hearty breakfast. We weigh anchor around 10:00. Sea is calm and the breeze gentle. Suddenly the wind picks up and Eric hoists the sails. The sea is now choppy, the waves crested with white caps. I feel a little nauseous and prefer to lie down in my cabin. Jay being an experienced sailor, Eric posts him at the helm for about an hour. Before 15:00 we reach a wonderful cove and surrounded by turquoise waters, we drop our anchor in front of a deserted beach. For a short hour we will have this place just for our selves. We then proceed to Mykonos proper.
Mykonos is a low, barren and rocky island in the middle of the Aegean Sea. Her coastline consists of numerous indentations lined with white beaches. At 16:00 we moor in Ornos bay. With its busy international airport and ferry terminal, Mykonos is well connected to the outside world, the down side being mass tourism. Luckily on our boat we escape the crowd pressure.
 
At 17:00 Eric takes us all ashore onboard the motorized inflatable. We intend to visit the main village (the Chora) situated just 4 km to the north. We have the choice of walking, catching the bus or a taxi ride. We opt for the last, and pile in the cabs, for a thrifty ride. We stroll to the “little Venice” picturesque with its seaside cafés and windmills profiling against the sunset. The light being so beautiful, understandably this was an artist hangout.
 
We scoot back to the boat for a shower and then out to the beach in front of the catamaran, for dinner. “Kostantis” taverna’s tables are set on the sand, the stars are lit, the staff is friendly and the food tasty. Tzatziki, grilled vegetables, zucchini with sun dried tomatoes, meatballs in tomato sauce, cheeses, sesame with honey and an excellent white wine constitute tonight’s fare. Delighted by our evening we return to our boat. During the dinghy ride we see the moon glittering on the sea surface like a large diamond. Sheer magic.
Tomorrow Eric plans to start at 07:00, early enough to escape the crowds and the heat expected on the nearby island-museum of Delos. It’s one of Greece’s fabled ancient sanctuaries, so we are naturally pleased to make the best of our private cruise. Going to bed I take a glimpse at fireworks behind the hills, while the wind carries light sounds of music from the beach front restaurants.

 
pahi-53
The boat's layout

delos-en-voilier
  Visiting the archeological site of Delos.
 
catamaran-archipel-club
  Playing with an octopus.
 
croisiere-a-la-cabine-grece
  Liliana and Juan enjoying cruising.
 
vie-a-bord-pahi-53
  Card game while sailing.
 
donoussa
  Our catamaran docked in Donoussa’s tiny harbor.
 
  

DAY 3: Mykonos-Delos-Donoussa

Engine noise wakes me up at 07:00; Eric is at the helm, the boat whizzes on the calm sea. An hour later when we arrive at Delos’ anchorage, we are delighted by the view of all the columns and ruins bathing in the golden sunlight. No wonder this sanctuary was dedicated to the God of light! The remnants of the antique city spread at the foot of the single hill of this rather small and narrow island. The only vegetation is few rare bushes growing here and there.
The ancient harbor, set between 2 breakwaters and protected all around by a small archipelago of deserted islets. Eric disembarks with the dinghy. This time I go exploring on my own, enjoying the morning peace, exploring ruined colonnade alleys and statues on my way to the Isis temple, so recognizable from afar.
 
Returning to the boat after the visit, some have a copious brunch, others like myself head for the snorkeling gear locker and jump into the turquoise waters. The boat carries a vast collection of fins, masks and snorkels, a real invitation for a “sea hike”! Eric recovers a sea shell with a small octopus hiding in it. The mollusk gratifies us with an ink squirt before returning to his element!
 
Around noon, we set sail towards Dhonoussa. This small island situated east of Naxos is part of the « Lesser Cyclades » archipelago, together with Keros, Koufonissia, Schinoussa and Iraklia. After 4 hours downwind voyage we dock at Stavros (the Cross in Greek), the largest hamlet with 80 inhabitants. The white beach lining the waterfront is so inviting, everyone jumps overboard in no time.
 
I take a walk upland. A sign indicates a hiking trail: “To Kalotaritissa”, the trail does not look very passable but the sign comes in handy. I continue my climb for an hour and am rewarded by a breathtaking view. I sit on a flat rock overlooking a slope of thorny bushes and boulders, overlooking the Aegean Sea with the tall mountains of Naxos and Amorgos clearly visible. A hunter greets me from a distance. The setting sun warns me it is time to get back to the pier and meet the rest of the crew at the taverna there. We are really privileged to enjoy our meal literally in front of the catamaran, like in the poshest marina. In the mean time we all found out that the Greek island cuisine is a trove of culinary treasures: at each meal, new discoveries and new tastes. We let Eric order again and the table is covered with dishes we share. Tomato salad with capers and soft fresh yews cheese, smoked eggplant dip, mountain kid goat lemon stew, veal tomato casserole, octopus chowder...what a feast!
 
The good vibes go on well into the night, with all the crew back on board sitting in the galley. I show the pictures taken from the hill top. Tomorrow Amorgos is scheduled!

skipper-eric-coppola
  Using fish hooks, Eric recovers Elise’s mobile phone.
 
location-voilier-cyclades
  Getting ready for docking in Amorgos. The captain instructs the crew.
 
amorgos
  Aighiali Bay in Amorgos.
 
amorgos
  Traditional architecture with stone and wood.
 
  

DAY 4 : Donoussa-Amorgos

07:30. The sun is up. I rush to the bakery to shop for our breakfast pastries. On my way back, damn, my mobile phone falls and slips in one of the catamarans beam troughs. I give up after a few futile attempts at retrieving it. A little later, Eric’s obstinate efforts manage to get it out with the help of two fish hooks. We set sail at 10:00, steering towards Amorgos. Despite the sea spray and the breeze, it’s a hot day. We approach Aighiali Bay around 13:00, noticing a large tanker docked alongside and taking up all the available space at the pier. It’s the water ship, pumping drinking water to the surrounding villages during the summer tourist season. Waiting for the vessel to finish its job and clear the dock, Eric anchors in front of Aighiali’s long white sandy beach. As in all the anchorages we visited so far, the sea is crystal clear, turquoise hued and the beach perfectly clean.
 
Situated at the easternmost edge of the Cyclades archipelago, Amorgos is a long precipitous ridge jutting out of the Aegean Sea. It is one of the filming locations of Luc Besson’s cult diving movie ”The Big Blue”. The island’s capital (the “Chora”) situated at the middle of a fertile plateau features a Venetian fort, an aqueduct and a wonderful Cycladic architecture, devoid from any modern buildings. Nearby, on the east facing cliffs, the staggering 11th century Panagia Chozoviotissa monastery seems to hover 1500 ft over the Aegean.
 
Since we arrived rather early and remain docked till next morning, we decide to have have lunch at the nearby “Limani” taverna, close to the beach. This eatery features large original paintings hanging on its walls by German artist Wolfgang Mann, depicting island life. Our meal consists of pork and chicken on skewers, fries, tzatziki and salads.
Near our boat we notice a gang of skinny cats stalking fishermen’s catch. Eric reminds us to stow away at night all the food in the galley lockers, otherwise nothing will be left by next morning!
After lunch, our team splits in two and rents two cars from a local agency, for touring the island and visiting the Chora. Feeling a bit jaded, I get my book from my cabin and head for the beach. These solitary moments, allow me to set the cruise on “pause” mode and prevents the feeling of rushing time. Later, I go to the agency in order to rent a scooter. The renter, who obviously sees a lot of accidents on these mountainous roads, discourages me and convinces me to choose a mini car instead. The wind has picked up and clouds wrap themselves around the island’s peaks. My visit starts with the high perched villages of Tholaria, Langada and Potamos surrounding the valley. On my way I meet a young Greek woman hitch hiking, I pick her up and take her back to Aighiali. As soon as I am on my way again, it’s an elderly lady who lifts her thumb! I like this nearness and confidence that share these Greek islanders.
 
The road to the monastery is overrun by mountain goats. I park the car and continue on foot. The ascent is wonderful; I am on my own and fit for the climb. Unfortunately, the clouds pile up, the wind freshens, temperature drops and I feel cold. I must give up and turn back, without reaching my destination.
 
We all meet up on the boat, the others having completed their trek. Dinner time, tonight opt for a fish restaurant. I select 2 appetizing red mullets and a salad. During our meal, the wind further strengthens, rain squalls batter the harbor and some swell finds its way around the breakwater. It seems the night is going to be rocky. A small monohulled yacht rolls wildly, its mast swinging back and forth while our catamaran sits relatively quietly on the water: I am happy to be cruising on a large multihull.
After dinner, some of us wander around narrow village alleys, looking for a minimarket. Rose and Scott, our American friends seem to be craving for chocolate. Later the winds abates but I can’t find sleep. We are so dependent on the weather and tomorrow’s program certainly looks uncertain.

catamaran-pahi-53
  The catamaran’s great swim platform.
 
catamaran-pahi-53
  Andra swims ashore to fasten a warp on a rock.
 
archipel-club-croisieres
  The motorized inflatable tender allows us to land comfortably.
 
iraklia
  Sundowner for the crew in Irakleia.
 
  

DAY 5 : Amorgos-Keros-Iraklia

The Blue Star ferry docks near us at 06:00 and wakes me up. I am almost angry. But what’s the point? The sky is blue, the wind is gone, another beautiful day starts! We take our time shopping fruit and veggies for lunch and at 10:00 we head out for Keros.
Keros is a mountainous desert island between the southern tips of Amorgos and Naxos. Many 4000 years old burial artifacts from the Cycladic civilization have been uncovered here. Eric anchors the catamaran in a lovely cove: just another perfect spot. A lot of activity in the galley as we prepare lunch, washing and chopping salads, slicing bread and cheese. Eric takes the hardcore snorkelers underwater cave exploring.
 

With the Pahi’s adjustable bathing platform, getting in and out of the water has never been so easy.
 

 

We remain at anchor for a couple of hours then head out again, setting our course towards Skhinoussa. This low and fertile island of 150 inhabitants stands between Koufonissi and Irakleia. The tavern at Livadeia beach is boarded up and sheer bad luck, the little harbor of Mirsini is full. We cross the straights pointing the bows towards nearby Irakleia. We are a bit upset by this change of plans but Eric remains stolid.
 
Irakleia is the westernmost of the «Lesser Cyclades». The mountainous island has 2 hamlets — Panaghia and Agios Georgios (population 60 souls) — built at the edge of a fertile plateau. It is 17:00 when finally arrive in the tiny port. There are only 3 yacht slips but being all taken, we anchor in nearby Aghios Georgios inlet, out of the wind and close to the beach. Sandra is again recruited for help at mooring. This maneuver entails diving overboard, swim to shore and fasten a line around a boulder. For the rest of us it’s a great show. Once the boat is firmly secured between her anchor and the rocks we all join in by jumping overboard.
 
One of the things I enjoy with this cruise is that everyone participates, without real advance planning. It all comes naturally without stress.
 
Sometimes Eric gives directions and then everything goes on as matter of course. Apparently, transforming our boat in a gypsy wagon by hanging drying clothes and towels all over the place is what seems to upset our captain the most. He barely tolerates it at anchor, but god forbid, not while sailing!

 

Eric phoned to reserve a table at the taverna for 20:30. Since we’ve got time, Sandra and I wander off in the sinuous alleys of the small village: neat white washed houses, vines, potted flowers and everything’s spotless clean, even the pavement. As we stroll, we are challenged from a terrace: it’s the rest of the crew, sipping drinks at a bar. I‘ve got to admit that basil flavored mojito makes a great sundowner! We later join Eric enjoying another tasty and friendly meal. This is a great off-the-beaten-track stop over. I don’t care about tomorrow’s program, as in any case the weather is going to be great and the sea beautiful!

cyclades
  Sun rise in Irakleia.
 
archipel-club
  Arriving in Antiparos.
 
antiparos-grece
  Dawn, Antiparos.
  

DAY 6 : Iraklia-Antiparos

Today I wake up around 06:00, decided to enjoy the big catamaran and the sunrise on my own. Well, I see that some of my fellow travelers are also up, did they have the same idea?
Since we decided not to leave for Antiparos before 10:00, I try to make the most of our tranquil anchorage and go swimming, while others, I must confess, busy themselves with breakfast preparations. For those interested by the experience, I did try last night to sleep on the trampoline. I moved blankets, sheets and pillow on the net and spent a couple of hours under the moonlight, hanging over the sea, enjoying the night sky and the stillness. The water being so clear, I could watch below me swimming fish. It was a great moment. However, dew forced me to retreat to my cabin.
 
At 10:00 we weigh our anchor, heading west. The sea is moderate in the straights between Naxos and Paros and the wind blows around 15 knots. As soon as possible, Eric hoists the sails and turns the engines off. We notice a large “careta” turtle swimming next to us, then a school of small fish, some of them wriggling at the surface. The wind veers to the west, complicating our sailing as we now have to tack to reach our destination. Luckily we are in the lee of Antiparos, the sea is slight making our task easier. I can imagine that if we had a rough sea it would be long, wet and arduous.
 
Antiparos, situated to the west of Paros, was once connected to it. Geological upheavals and a rising sea level separated the 2 two, leaving a narrow and shallow channel, sprinkled with islets. Most of the 300 inhabitants live in the main settlement near the harbor, the Kastro. It’s a neat looking village, featuring 13th century Venetian-built battlements. We anchor in 4 feet of water, despite the muddy bottom, the sea is turquoise and transparent.
 
Tired from sailing I take a nap, waking around 19:30, just in time to shower and board the dinghy that will take us ashore for dinner. We are all starving; I opt for a gigantic portion of delicious moussaka, which I will not be able to finish. Sated, we stretch our legs by sauntering through the Kastro’s “shopping” street. All shops are open, the night air is fragrant and we joke and laugh. Still, I cannot remove from the back of my mind that tomorrow will be our last cruising day.
 
Ferried back on the catamaran by Eric with the dinghy, we all gather in the galley, swapping pictures and munching on chocolate. Tomorrow we will be on the other side of the channel, but in the mean time we enjoy the vista on the night lights of Chora Antiparou.

cyclades
  Dinghy ride to the bakery.
 
loeur Archipel
  Swimming near Antiparos’ deserted northern shore.
 
antiparos-grece
  
  

DAY 7 : Antiparos-Paros

Today I wake up even earlier. At 05:00 I indulge in the solitary contemplation of the sun rise. A while later some of us go ashore at to the bakery.
 
Around 09:00, we weigh anchor, moving through the narrows, to the northern tip of Antiparos, in the midst of a maze of desert sandy islands. Here only the wind and the gulls shrieking from a distance can be heard. The view of Paros in the East is stunning. We stay until 13:00, swimming, snorkeling and snacking. Although cheerful, the vibes have somehow changed: it’s our last day together on the boat, this evening we will be disbanded... Leaving the catamaran, we feel we leave behind the easy living and this incredible sense of freedom conveyed by the great catamaran. I wonder how all the season long, Eric lives these unceasingly recurring separations and encounters? It’s a mystery; our captain is not very talkative about it.
 
We head back for our starting point, Parikia. Easily recognizable from a distance with their blue polo shirts, we are greeted upon arrival, by Archipel’s team. Disembarkation officially takes place at 18:00, but time has come to swap addresses and say goodbye. Being so emotional, I am the first to pack and leave the boat, as I don’t want any one seeing me with wet eyes. Rose and Scott, Jay and Derby, Liliana and Juan, Sandra and Eric, farewell my dear companions.
 

Assessment

This cruising week represented a unique experience for me, even if the language barrier seemed overwhelming, at first. I feared that sea sickness would be one of my unforgettable experiences; it was not. Actually land sickness impressed me much more, after my first day sailing, stepping on firm land I undulated like an eel! It wasn’t unpleasant, just unexpected and bizarre. Weather was almost perfect. We formed a good team, despite age and personality disparities we got along well. Being very individualist and solitary by nature, I worried that because most of the crew were couples, things might be a little overly-romantic for my taste, but very quickly I decided to move on my own when I felt it necessary and that went well. I must say that the catamaran’s spaciousness and outstanding design helped a lot with its multiple common areas and individually accessed cabins. Even equipment, although not flashy was particularly well conceived and executed— for example: the swimming platform and the watermaker/desalinator.
One last word for thanking Eric Coppola, an excellent captain, always calm and steady even if the going is rough. His personality and his knowledge of these islands make of him a valuable teammate.
Here ends my Greek getaway.  
Elise. September 2013.      

 

What I liked
- Everytime I stuck my head out of my cabin, surroundings were always gorgeous.
- Swimming in crystal clear waters.
- The stimulating experience of sailing.
 
What I did not like
  
 
 
- The language barrier (my English is awful!)
- Not being able to go for a walk while sailing
 
 
Over 50 years experience in crewed yacht charter in Greece
A friendly and expert team by your side until your disembarkation
Permanent skippers
for constant boat maintenance
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