Monday, August 27, 2007

Cruising the Greek Islands

Just got back from a magical week of cruising the Cyclades, a spectacular group of islands a few hours southeast of Athens. Our crew was a tight group of b-school friends who have regularly sailed together over the last five years. It was a trip of spectacular sights, great sailing, wild partying, amazing destinations, and the occasional wonderful surprise (Congratulations to Will & Jen on their engagement!!)

Our trip began in Paros, where an advance crew of Cam, Will, Nic & Jen attempted to pick up the boat and sail it to Mykonos to meet up with James & Dennis. Unfortunately, we failed to adequately plan for Greek efficiency, which makes Mexico look positively industrious, and Cam fumed as our promised 10am pickup time stretched to 6pm and beyond... Thankfully our first tastes of the excellent Greek cuisine kept us from exploding. Undeterred, Nic & Cam jumped on a ferry to Mykonos to sample its legendary nightlife, leaving Will & Jen to their own devices (which are pretty efficient, considering they were engaged upon our return!).

Our first night in Mykonos introduced us to a mix of overtanned Greeks & Italians, obnoxious and entertaining Aussies, backpacking 15-year-olds running amok, and a host of other stereotypes. As you can imagine, our motley crew fit in just fine!!

The next morning we staggered out of our hotel to catch an early ferry back to Paros, assisted by Dennis' gentle encouragement & vocal talents. After realizing Will & Jen's new status mid-sailing briefing, we set sail for Schinoussa, a small island south of Naxos. The initial seas were a little feisty, causing some to wish they'd taken the sea-sickness pills, but that evening found us in a gorgeous secluded bay, with nothing to disturb the splendid isolation except Will's yelp as he trod on a sea-urchin, and our swearing as our outboard engine failed. A huge repas of lobster pasta, fresh fish, and more Tatziki & Taramasalata than we could jump over made the initial trials and tribulations of our journey fade away.

The next morning we sailed south for Santorini (Thira), and the splendour of arriving in Santorini's volcano caldera under sail is an experience I will never forget. We were fortunate to tie up directly to the quay underneath the main town of Fira, where we stayed for the next couple of days, hiking, eating, partying, admiring the sunsets, and just drinking in the splendour of Santorini. Will & Jen left Dennis, James, Nic & I to enjoy some time alone, and apart from James sending his blackberry and camera for a swim, and more encounters with Donkey crap than we care to recall, we passed the time very pleasantly. When it came time to leave, we inadvertently took a souvenir- a large rock came up with our anchor, requiring some gymnastics and effort to dislodge it!

On our fifth day, we sailed from Santorini to Ios, where we again managed to luck out with an ideal mooring, with a position right on the quay. We rented a car and careened around the island, skillfully ending up in a swimming pool bar on the beach at sunset. The night was spent in the debaucherous back alleys of Ios, where we tried to remember whether we'd acted like that when we were 16 (and generally agreed), since that seemed to be the average age of the rest of the crowd.

The following morning, high winds in our protected bay, and reports of an impending meltemi (a strong seasonal northerly wind) led to desertions, with Will & Jen claiming they needed more "couple" time on the beach, leaving the four of us to brave the high seas. Under jib alone in 35+ knots of wind, we slogged our way upwind to Naxos, which despite the challenges was a fun sail, and contained one of my highlights of the trip as a pod of nine dolphins surfed, jumped and played around the boat for part of our journey.
That night we spent under a blanket of stars in some of the clearest water I've ever seen in a secluded bay in the south of Naxos. The four boys proved we could indeed feed & water ourselves, and we had the ever-present meltemi (heated to steel-melting temperatures from its journey over Naxos) to keep us company.
Our final day of sailing found us working northwards along Naxos to pick up Will (and some all-important gyros) in Naxos town and make the crossing to Paros, through the washing machine seas, spurred on by DJ Cam's Moscow club music mixes. Overnight the meltemi strenthened, causing all sorts of carnage for yachts to windward of our marina, making us thankful we'd reached the safety of our mooring the night before.

Exhausted, sunburnt and happy, we disembarked our boat (and its myriad technical failures- but really- who needs a working fuel & water gauge, outboard motor, or wind/speed/depth readings anyhow?) and boarded the Ferry back to Athens. Unbeknownst to us, Athens was in the grip of serious bushfires, and dozens of people had been killed. Athens was covered in a thick pall of smoke and ash was falling from the sky. While this put a slight damper on our final day, we headed for a delicious modern greek meal at a trendy local restaurant, and then Jimbo & I met some friends and partied the night away before crawling back to Moscow late Sunday night.
A wonderful trip with wonderful friends. The photos are here.

No comments: