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Greece - Corfu to Athens 2004

by Marianne Wheeler

Although our white shirts with navy trim had "2004 Greek Armada" stitched beneath the Tradewinds' logo, we came in peace. We would not sack Troy nor sink the Argonauts. We would voyage leisurely in the Ionian and Aegean Seas, Homeric realm of Odysseus. We came to make landfall at ancient Greek sites, tasting modern Greek life, good wine and sweet baklava along the way.

David Kory, honorary member of the Greek Navy and skillful leader of our armada arranged this prime sailing vacation for us, including flights, hotel stays, and yachts - plus the shirts, to have us looking good. His well planned itinerary from Corfu to Athens via the Canal of Corinth would take us to fascinating islands and legendary ports. Places like Levkas, Ithaca, Missalonghi, Galaxidhi, Hydra, and Aegina - a Mediterranean dream. And so, on the eve of September 22, our group of sixty happy mariners set out to sail the Med.

We flew from San Francisco to Heathrow/London and due to a lengthy lay-over before proceeding to Athens and Corfu, enjoyed a quick day of sight-seeing. We took the tube (subway) from the airport to the heart of London, craned necks on the red double-decker (bus), and walked blisters taking pictures: Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, Lord Nelson's Column, Waterloo Pier, Victoria Gardens, Hyde Park, South Bank, Westminster Abbey, the Tower, Big Ben. Quick, a refreshment, afternoon tea. Embarked on a Thames cruise, so much to see. But wait . . . there was the armada in Corfu.

Nine beautiful "Moorings" charter yachts, luxurious Sun Odyssee Jenneau's from 35' to 45' long, and one Laguna 3800 catamaran, all ready to board, ready to sail in the sun, winds blowing fair. David had booked our first day in Corfu at the Hotel Hellenius. That gave the crews one more day on shore. We were here! Happy, excited, inspired, and at a loss: we couldn't read a thing. No street names, no maps, no newspapers - it was all Greek to us, alpha, phi and upsilon. We felt thankful for menues in English and locals speaking our tongue.

Corfu has lots of hotels, but still is considered "the greenest Greek island". It is also said to be the place where Odysseus was washed ashore and met the beautiful Nausicaa, favored by the Gods.While the crews sorted their stuff and themselves out at the "Moorings" base, big dark clouds formed in the sky. The sun burned down between them and the air felt hot and thick.

A thunderstorm was brewing, nothing unusual, just inconvenient. Weather reports showed a low to the north, but we were headed south. It started to rain while I stowed my bag on the "Tonina", the catamaran with David, his wife Caroline and daughters Rachel, Jackie, and Katie.

We left in sloppy seas and increasing winds towards Paxos, where the skies would be clear.Within a short time, we were in lightning and thunder, sheets of rain and gale force winds. The sky was as dark as the sea. The catamaran, wearing all canvas, flew across the water, but soon turned into a bucking bronco in the building waves. Drenched and chilled, we hung on. The rough ride broke a mainsheet block on the boom. Thunder crashed overhead, the rain was setting in. We steered for the nearest harbor, a small fishing village.

The entire fleet was introduced to the Med in a similar way. Bashing through heavy seas and rain, crews fought sea sickness, some had to turn back to the base. Rails were burried even with sails reefed down. On the "Didimos" the main shredded along the length of the leech. Our own Odyssey was off to a bumpy start and the Gods definitely did not favor us. But, San Francisco Bay sailors don't quiver easily. We were sailing and having a good time anyway, pointing south, chasing the sun.

The girls on the "Tonina" sang "A Pirate's Life for me" into the teeth of the wind and created poetry in the wet:

There once was a boat in the ocean
that sailed with an uncomfortable motion
there was plenty of rain
and we broke the main
and we didn't need our suntan lotion.
(A collaboration)
Rain falls down quickly
over the roiling ocean
dripping on my arm
(Rachel)
Pieces of Pringles
soggy little icky bits
underneath my foot
(Jackie)

Eventually, we escaped the unseasonal weather. The sun burned blue patches into the low clouds and double rainbows joined one island with the next. Blue skies and sunny days quickly made us forget the unfriendly welcome. "Didimos" found a place to have the mainsail repaired, crews stopped getting rope burns, and clothes dried on the lifelines. The Med was good.

The boats spread out, on course to find their own special anchorage off Ithaca or in-town taverna at Messalonghi, but met up again at important waypoints. We also stayed in touch and compared notes on the 9-9-9 net, our radio check-in on channel 9, at 9am and 9pm.On the "Tonina" we voted for Swim days and Explore days. On a Swim day, we'd pick a spot to relax, like the cove on Meganisi, a small nook with deep blue water, sandy beach and groves of silvery-green wild olives. Ideal to lower the hook and tie a stern line to a gnarly, age-old trunk. We had the whole place to ourselves and endless fun snorkeling and splashing. Another time, the girls and I went spelunking south of O. Kapali. We paddled the dinghy to some craggy cliffs and into a dark cave. Inside, the strong surge slapped us around, but we fended off the rocks and managed to get away from a huge, looming shape, a cyclops, we're sure.

Exploring Greece could be a life-long quest and on a 15 day cruise, we had to choose. With Delphi a priority on everyone's list, the boats came in at Galaxidhi, lining up neatly, filling the harbor. According to tradition, Delphi was the religious and spiritual center of the ancient Greek world. Way back, Zeus dispatched eagles from the ends of the universe to find its center and they met here, on Mt. Parnassus. Later, in the 14th c.B.C., Gea, Mother Earth, was worshipped, with priestesses attending a rock chasm that exuded strange vapors. Then, the cult of the sun god Apollo, who had come over from Crete in the form of a Dolphin, hence the name Delphi, flourished. In the 6th to 4th c.B.C., a sanctuary was created with lots of buildings, amphitheater, sports stadium, and two large stone temples dedicated to Apollo and Athena, goddess of wisdom. The vaporous chasm grew famous as a true oracle and for over a thousand years pilgrims flocked to the mountain, seeking divine di! rection.

From Galaxidhi, Delphi is less than an hour by taxi and we had a fascinating day visiting this archaeological treasure, although the oracle wasn't in.Sailing into a Greek town is a thrill. And, not just because you med-moor. You are dazzled by white-washed houses with red-tiled roofs on rocky hillsides. Medieval castles and close-to-heaven monasteries, both strategically placed, perch above. Town harbors are central. They line town squares water-to-cobblestone-touching close, or follow busy main streets along a curved shore. You tie up in the local hub with traditional, toy-sized fishing boats, brightly painted, nets piled high, or next to imperial motor yachts, grand and glossy, uniformed crew standing by. You are amidst sailboats of all makes and nationalities, freighters loading and unloading, and hulks of ferries and hydrofoils, docking and undocking. You step off and straight into Greek life, dodging mopeds, cars, and donkeys carrying heavy sacks. Outside tavernas and cafes, old men sit at small tables and play backgammon or spin worry beads through their hands. Women dressed in black carry home fresh produce and ! catch-of-the-day or hang laundry from their balconies.

The Young and Beautiful rule, always fashionable, always moving, always talking on the cell. All seem to have the look of those who know the secret of life.For even higher heartbeats, there's the harbor of Navpaktos. It is entered through the original gate of a high, cannon-studded stone wall that encloses a small horseshoe-shaped port. The wall rambles up the hill behind the town, to the Kastro, a Venetian fortification from 1571. The "Tonina" with a 19ft beam had to be steered through this gondola-sized gate and docked seawall-tight in the bobbing fishing fleet. But her skipper made it look easy and the crew had the med-mooring down by now: as the boat backs up towards a large bunch of other boats, drop the anchor and let out loads of chain. Hope that your tackle won't snag on the many others already there. When the boat has pressed into a spot, leap onto anything firm, like a slippery stone quay or uneven rough rocks, sternlines in hand. Thread the lines through big rusty rings or wrap around dirty bollards and scramble back on board as the boat moves away to snug up the anchor rode. Do not let propellers eat lines. Try to look good no matter what.

Sailing in bright sunshine and under high cotton clouds, we covered the length of the Gulf of Patros, all the way to Corinth, gateway to the Corinth Canal, shortcut to the Aegaen. Old Corinth has its own very old acropolis, Greek for high city, way up on an amazing mass of rocks, and the archaic ruins of Arhea Korinthos date back to when Athens was a province of Rome. Untiring, we marveled at the rich culture of these ancient civilizations, gazed at magnificent marble statues, friezes, pottery and tools, and were impressed by the monolithic columns of yet another temple to popular Apollo.At the harbor of Corinth, we teamed up with "Polo III" for the transit of the canal. The "Evangelos" was also near and we made a stately procession driving through the long strip of turquoise water. Cutting a canal across the isthmus between the Ionian and Aegean was first attempted in the 7th c.B.C. Around 67A.D. Emperor Nero tried it, even digging a little himself with a silver shovel. But it took modern machines and technology of the 19th c.A.D. to slice through limestone and rock several hundred feet thick. The result is a narrow but tall cut about 4 miles long, barely wide enough for a freighter to scrape by.

To us, it seemed more like the eye of a needle before the bow as we glided past the sheer yellow cliffs, spanned by an occasional bridge. We entered the Aegean and found it just as clear and ink blue as the Ionian. We set course for a new cluster of beautiful islands: Angistri, a favorite with Athenians, has scads of good swimming holes. Poros, flooded with French, German, Dutch, and Scandinavian sailors, is the base of a Greek charter company and lots of nice yachts were out with a Dutch island-hopping regatta in progress. Hydra, a mountainous island with a snake eye-sized harbor, is charming. No motor vehicles are allowed on the winding little streets, only wooden push carts and donkeys, who don't balk at trotting up and down stony steps, worn flat, leading straight up to the sky. Daring crew of the "Serres" climbed onto the back of some fuzzy-haired taxis and had a fun ride. In Hydra, many of our boats met up, and later also on Aegina, where we celebrated the last night before sailing to Athens. Crews went for a last gyro, the tasty flat bread stuffed with meat from a vertical spit rotating in most taver! nas and sampled one more dark red house wine, sitting together swapping stories.

Champagne flowed on the "Didimos" and her water line was lowered by appreciative visitors late into the night.In the morning, we sailed off with a fresh wind, aimed for Athens. Odysseus and his men spent years in the Aegean, but our wanderings had come to an end. We delivered our holiday armada to the "Moorings" base in Athens, the "Alki," "Arimia," "Didimos," "Evangelos," "Filomelo," "Mastef," "Polo III," "Serres," and "Tonina," all safe and sound. We cleared out reluctantly, but had one more treat coming. Shiny new Mercedes busses with tour guides waited at the docks and whisked us away in comfort and style to see the great landmarks of the city. The incomparable Acropolis, the stunning Parthenon, the Olympieum, temple of Zeus, god of all gods. The royal palace, arches of emperors, government villas, gardens and parks.

We were awed by the enormous stadium of the first modern Olympics of 1896 and the remarkable architectural achievements of the recent Summer Olympics. Athens has been inhabited continuously for over 7000 years and holds far more highlights than would fit into our! brief stay. We just have to come back. Brimming with the cultural legacy of Greece, we stretched out in the welcome beds of the Hotel Presidente that night. Wake-up calls came before sunrise and the busses carried us to the airport for our flight home. This was a great trip. It was a sailor's Mediterranean dream come true. We enjoyed spirited sailing, mind expanding landfalls and no matter where we went, we encountered the friendly people and generous hospitality of the Greek Islands.

Thanks, Aeolus, god of the wind and Neptune, god of the sea, and lots of laurels to David.

More on Greece: Also see the trip website created by one of the Greece skippers.

Last modified on: Friday, 16-Dec-2016 23:05:24 UTC