You can't beat a good love story, and tales of romance in the Greek Islands aren't uncommon. If it wasn't the story lines of Mamma Mia or Shirley Valentine, the ancient Greek Gods were a certainly a flirty bunch for sure. When Ben Reierson and Sandy Barker individually joined onto a trip from Santorini to Mykonos late in the Summer of 2006, neither of them probably suspected that they'd be falling into a life long love affair right there and then. So inspiring was it that Sandy adapted their fairy tale firstly into a short story, and currently into a novel which is in its final stage of completion. While we'll surely keep you updated on that, Sandy also took time to pen this trip report from a Tropic Sailing trip to celebrate their 10th anniversary a couple of seasons back. Sandy really is quite the wordsmith, and here she captures the essence of sailing Greece exceptionally. If you're thinking about a sailing holiday this is a must read, my thanks to Sandy, do enjoy!
There's something rather magical about going where the wind takes you, quite literally. The cares and stresses of everyday life ebb away, and the present becomes everything. Briny air, inky blue swells, and a wind that carries you and your fellow sailors to the next port. It’s freeing.
The weather is a perfect 28°C with a warm breeze and only a few clouds in the vibrant blue sky.
Our Yacht, The Argo, will be our home for the next week. I take off my watch and stash it away, because I won't need it today. Time moves differently when you're on a boat.
We are seven, including our skipper Patrick, our ages ranging from mid-30s to mid-50s. We are across industries and continents in our everyday lives, but for the next week we will be Argonauts.
Tonight we will anchor just off Akrotiri on Santorini, ready to enjoy more favourable winds for our sail up to Ios in the following morning. None of us mind. The view is beautiful and we enjoy swimming off the boat in the deep Oxford blue water. Colours, particularly of the water, will be important to the Argonauts, because every day we sail, the Aegean will reveal its vast palette and we will discover that the waters off each island are distinctive.
The next morning, sailing through the caldera offers a magnificent view not just of Santorini, but also of Thirasia, the island sitting opposite, and the ever-evolving Nea Kameni which is situated in the caldera's centre and was site to the cluster's most recent eruption in 1950. Looking up at Fira and the other towns that cling to the cliff edges, you can't help wondering how they stay there and what feats of engineering got them built in the first place. It's stunning.
We moor for a simple lunch of tomatoes, bread, tzatziki and cheese in a cove with a perfect view of Oia. After our meal and a quick dip, we will be purely under sail as we forge our way north to Ios.
Patrick gives commands to his crew of civilians with the ease of someone who has done this many times before. The undulating sea is mesmerising as we talk about nothing and everything. We will find that we form friendships quickly with so much concentrated time to get to know each other.
Before long we can make out the brilliant white of a church standing guard at the entrance of the port, and we ease into a berth beside a luxury yacht with its Italian skipper lending a helpful hand as we secure our moorings. I am fascinated by the easy camaraderie of the two skippers despite being complete strangers and having no common language.
Ios is bustling and dinner that night is a stone’s throw from the yacht – we can see the ‘Argo’ from our seats. Children play loudly nearby as we eat, adults laugh and toast each other, and there is a thrum of energy. At a time when I would typically be asleep, it seems like the village is just ramping up. I wonder at being able to sleep aboard a boat docked in such a busy port, but the lull of the rocking sends me off peacefully. Patrick's promise of a spectacular and secluded spot to spend our third night has us all intrigued.
After stocking the boat with supplies the following morning, the frenzy of the market will prove a vast contrast to the second half of our day.
We are heading towards a secluded bay on the island of Dhespotiko. As promised, the hidden bay is incredibly beautiful. The island rises sharply from the water on either side of the narrow bay and is covered in reddish rocks and tufts of dusty green. We anchor just off a small sandy beach and are the only boat in sight. The water is clear and we can see to the sandy depths. A little teamwork sees us with the fixings and tools for a BBQ set up on the beach. Tonight we will eat by moonlight, a selection of meat, seafood and vegetables grilled under the stars. The warm water laps at the tiny shore, the food is incredible, as is the reflection of the moonlight on the small bay. We laugh and talk and poke sticks into the fire. We are a million miles from anywhere.
We are in no hurry to leave the unnamed bay the next morning, all of us wanting to get the most out of this unique location. Some of us swim, others set off to climb the giant hill that overlooks the beach. Even from only half-way up the vantage points will produce some incredible photos. The Argo is a long white sliver in an arrow head of vibrant blue, cupped by rugged red earth. After following a goat track back down the hillside, I leave my camera, shoes and clothes in the tender and swim back to the boat from shore. It is exhilarating being in this water. I want to stay all day.
Once again under sail, four of us take our places on the windward rail. I love this spot on the side of the boat, watching each swell approach. Some of the swells break against the hull and send a wave of cool water over us as we laugh and squeal like children at a water park. We arrive at Vathi salt-crusted, sun-warmed and eager for dinner at the waterside restaurant that Patrick has suggested.
We anchor in the middle of the bay, it is peaceful here, a nice contrast to the vibrancy of Ios. The water laps at a narrow shoreline as we walk – sometimes in the water – around the bay to a lovely restaurant under the trees. It has a perfect view of the setting sun.
We order from across the menu a wide selection of Greek specialities – lamb, octopus, squid, stuffed vegetables, tzatziki and olives. We are particularly impressed with the wine selection, and the first bottle of Assyrtiko is so delicious we order a second bottle almost straight away. Around us, families – many of them Greek – enjoy the serene setting, delicious food, and warm evening breeze. Under the table, I cheekily feed a ginger cat who has hungry kittens in a nearby tree. It's a lazy, enjoyable meal. We walk even more slowly back to the tender, full from our feast and ready for bed.
After a short sail to nearby Kamares, we follow Patrick onto the local bus where a few Euros each will get us across the island to Platys Gialos. Sifnos is just beautiful. The roads to Platys Gialos are winding, and the bus rises to the top of hills and dips into the valleys. There are homes, farms, small towns and windmills – some working, some decorative. The beach, unlike Vathi the night before, is brimming with people, mostly Greek families. Our waitress is delightful and the menu offers an array of fresh vegetables and seafood. I cannot resist the fried anchovies, so don't. They are delicious.
There is a laziness to the afternoon, and we eat leisurely before catching a bus back in the other direction.
Late afternoon, we arrive in Kastro, a fortress town perched high on a hill and with expansive ocean views on all sides. We walk the perimeter of the town, and see Roman-built walls too old to fathom, amongst the whitewash and bougainvillea. Stray cats gaze at us lazily from vantage points. As we round a corner, we see a tiny white church balanced on an outcrop of rock far below us and just above the sea line. As we await our bus back to the marina at the Dolci Café, we overlook ancient farms that dot the valley, while sampling the impressive cocktail list.
Back in Kamares, we’ve enough time to swim before changing for dinner. The water is warmer here than anywhere we have swum before and we can see an almost-full moon rising over the hills before the sun even sets. Dinner that night is in Apollonas, a gorgeous town in the heart of Sifnos. It is reminiscent of Mykonos, with whitewashed buildings and cobbled pathways leading off the main square in a tangle of walkways and alleys. Families, couples, groups of friends, travellers and local alike, fill the town with an intoxicating energy. The shopfronts boast beautiful wares from artisans and jewellers, and clothes in flowing fabrics and vibrant colours.
The choice of bars, cafes and restaurants is overwhelming, and thankfully we have a reservation where we will sit on a terrace overlooking the excitement. The wine is great, the food is fantastic and collectively, we never seem to run out of things to talk about. We will split up after dinner, some of us to shop, others to grab a drink at a local bar. Late that night we meet back at Kamares to ferry to the boat in the tender. It has been our busiest day, and it has been exquisite.
Another day of incredible sailing brings us to to Kythnos, where we moor in a beautiful harbour surrounded by jagged rocks and caves called Ormos Kolona. The cove is peaceful and the atmosphere friendly. The water here is so clear we can see straight to the bottom over 10 metres below, and several of us swim to the beach nearby to indulge in the natural hot springs.
After a simple dinner ashore, the moon is full now and hovers over the cove, with long milky fingers stretched across the water. It is our last night together and we enjoy a nightcap when we arrive back at the boat after dinner.
Our final day sees us sail to Athens via Cape Sounion, the southernmost tip of mainland Greece where the Temple of Poseidon reigns from on high. It's a perfect spot to stop for lunch sheltered from the fresh breeze that has carried us back from the edge of the Cyclades.
An afternoon of sailing under power, and it seems all too soon that we can make out the Acropolis and Mount Lycabettus. We dock, we pack and chat, and when it is time to say goodbye, it feels like we are leaving family. There are hugs and promises of emails and photo-sharing to come. As we climb into the cab that will take us to the airport, I feel contented. It was an incredible week of exploration, relaxation, adventures and just being. Wonderful.