A yacht trip in the Ionian Sea
We tune the boat’s radio to channel 72.
“Vathi harbour, this is Gypsy Love,” we say into the handset.
There’s a bit of static then a crackle.
“Gypsy Love, we have a space for you,” comes the reply. “You can pull in in front of the restaurant with the white awning.”
The voice on the other end is British, a woman’s. It’s no surprise to hear the accent, though. Although we’re in Greece, these islands in the Ionian Sea are the summer playground of visitors from across Europe. Greek flags on the boats mix with those from Italy, Germany, England and Norway, among others.
We guide our boat into the space in front of the restaurant and put our gangplank onto shore. It lands less than a metre from one of the tables. That’s the way with these local ports on the smaller islands. The boats, the restaurants, the shops – they’re all intertwined physically and symbiotically.
It’s the first day of my sailing trip with Intrepid Travel, on board the ‘Gypsy Love’, a strangely-named forty foot catamaran. For the next week it is our home, the waters our days, and the islands’ harbours our nights.
The sun shines down fiercely for the whole week, despite the claims one evening from our Greek captain, Adonis, that a pain in his wrist is an indication of an approaching storm. The waters are a rich dark blue and islands are covered in trees, much greener than their sandy and rocky counterparts on the eastern side of the country.
Although the region here gets enough rain in the winter to sustain all the plants, the summer is notoriously hot. Looking at the other sailors in the ports, with their even brown skin, is evidence of that. My red shoulders and nose are another reminder.
Some of the other sailors are clearly in this for the long-term – or at least a longer period than me. Although their yachts move quickly though the waters, when they hit land there’s a languid rhythm to the atmosphere. Activities are slow, everything is relaxed and the ports are a refuge from stress as much as they are protection for the boats.
A father fishes with his two young daughters and a homemade rod by the water’s edge; a family sits outside on their deck and shares some food and a bottle of wine; a woman lies in the shade and reads a book through her sunglasses. In some of the ports, tourist ferries arrive and hundreds of people will wander through the town for an hour before leaving again. The club of sailors, of which I have temporary membership it seems, don’t consider themselves tourists and tolerate the brief crowds, knowing there’ll be peace again soon enough.
The Greek islands for sailors
The ways of the island-hoppers was a mystery to me before I joined the trip. Now I see there’s not really much to it. The days are spent travelling between ports – not because the next one is any better or even particularly different, but because the wind in your hair is activity enough in these parts. It never gets boring to hear the sound of the sails flapping in the wind and ropes juddering before they can be pulled taut and catch the wind. There’s a tease in the salt water splashing up onto the boat and onto your skin while you’re on your way to the next swimming spot.
The nights fall late in Greece this time of year but most of the boats make for a mooring by late afternoon. It means there are still a few hours of daylight to enjoy a drink and an afternoon snack and wait to watch the sun set over the waters. It also guarantees a spot for the night. Some of the smaller harbours are quite popular and can get full well before night falls. Not that it’s ever a big problem – there’s always somewhere else to stay an hour or two away. You know what they say, ‘any port in a storm’. It seems the opposite is true here too, ‘any port because they’re all as beautiful as each other’.
It’s a lifestyle that’s very easy to fall into and very hard to drag yourself out of again. There’s enough variety, enough activity, enough relaxation and enough simplicity in the lives of these sailors. I can see why people would do it for weeks or months on end over the summer. The Mediterranean and associated seas offer plenty to explore. And where else do you sail into town and park your accommodation a metre away from your dinner?
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* Time Travel Turtle was a guest on Intrepid Travel’s Sail Greece – Ionian Sea trip but the opinions, over-written descriptions and bad jokes are his own.