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Sailing Greece
by

Arnie Greenberg

“Why don’t we go sailing in Greece,” someone said, and nobody objected. I never thought it would be that easy. After all there were sixteen of us and everyone had the power of veto. It was part of the rules we set down when our discussion first began. Eight couples would put $100 per month in a special bank account and we would take a two-week holiday together. We all knew each other for many years but I never thought we’d agree on a place for our holiday so easily. It wasn’t only a question of where to go but also ‘when’ and for how long. The major decision having been made, we now discussed the ‘when’ and ‘for how long’. Since at least one person in each couple would have their fiftieth birthday in 1999, the year became academic. We decided to sail through the Cyclades (the Greek islands of the Aegean) for no more than one week.

We set up a ‘club’. We chose a treasurer who would bank the money so that we would earn interest. The trip was planned three years in advance and we calculated about $3800 per couple would be put aside, thus making the out of pocket costs that much less. I was selected to find the boat. We would meet periodically, see videos, go to Greek restaurants, and talk about Greece. None of us had been there before. By 1999 we would become experts. My wife even decided to take Greek lessons. She became our interpreter.

Being a novice at planning at this level, I bought a magazine about sailing and started reading the ads. There were boat dealers from each of the seven seas and a broker who specialized in crewed boats in the Mediterranean. I called him. Dick Gimigliano, then working out of Pennsylvania, of all places, came to our aid. He took the information about our needs and agreed to get back to me, I waited only two weeks. He said a broker in Athens would get in touch with me, “She has exactly what you are looking for.”

A few weeks went by, The first deposits were made and one morning the phone rang. It was a lady named Cristina representing Isola Cruises in

Piraeus. She said she had an 85-foot boat that had eight identical air-conditioned staterooms with WC & shower. It had a crew of five, including the captain and chef for the all inclusive price of $17,500 US. That included all food and an open bar and all taxes. For seven days it would be less than $3,000 per couple for our room, board and tour. I accepted in principle and she said she’d send pictures. She reported that contracts were guaranteed by The National Tourist Organization of Greece. Half of he money would be placed in escrow until after the tour was over. We had recourse if not satisfied. I reported to the group. A week later we sent a deposit by wire transfer.

Now the excitement really kicked in. Knowing that we would be limited to Greek waters, we began to research the islands we wanted to visit. We met frequently, even though we didn’t all live in the same city. We had weekends in Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto. We planned, read and drank too much. It was a high I’ll never forget. We learned that the Cyclades was once home to an important civilization (3000-1000 BC). Some believe that this is the region of the lost continent of Atlantis. The name is derived from  an imaginary circle around the sacred island of Delos. The mild average temperatures in the region are attributed to the prevailing winds I’ll discuss later.

Over the next year or so we realized that the cost of the boat plus the air fare was too much for just a week in the area so we broke up into twos or fours and planned trips in the area before or after the cruise. I decided to tour Turkey beforehand as did others and two couples stayed on to tour the Peloponnese after the cruise. (Story to follow)

As arranged, we arrived from various destinations the day before we were to meet the boat. From the airport we found our way to The Athens Gate Hotel. Our room had an unrestricted view of the Acropolis. Our friends arrived by mid afternoon. We found a cantina, drank and exchanged stories. That night we entered the historical placca and sought out a typical restaurant. We argued over the best selection and settled on one with a roof garden and a typical Greek show. It was worth the effort. I slept on a full stomach that night but I was happy to be in Greece, with close friends and at the beginning of a Greek odyssey. We would sail in the morning.

After a copious breakfast our bus took us to Zea Marina in Piraeus. It was Monday, July 18th, supposedly a perfect time for sailing. The boat lived up to our expectations. We examined our choice while the crew loaded our luggage. I can’t say our stateroom was roomy but it was functional, well equipped and air-conditioned. We settled on deck for a drink when the captain arrived. I knew it was the captain immediately. He walked towards us briskly, with a broad smile and his wavy whitening hair neatly coifed.

Stratis Mytilineos was the proud owner-captain of m/y Meltemi, a rebuilt and redesigned Gullet, known to Greeks as a Caique (pronounced ky-eekey).  The name Meltemi is the same as the summer winds that race across the Aegean and bring joy or misery to some sailors. They can be quite frightening to the novice. 

I’m one of the few of the group who became ill when the winds whipped up the water to thirty-foot swells. I soon learned that Gravol is a sailor’s best friend. Munching on crackers helps too. The second time the winds kicked in, I was an old accustomed salt with my new sea legs. Luckily for us the Meltemi was a motor-sailboat. We would travel without sails if the wind was too strong. But let’s not get bogged down on high seas, illness and spraying waters. For the most part the trip was calm and totally pleasurable.

That first day we sailed across the Saronikos Kolpos to the lovely island of Poros close to the main body of Greece’s Peloponesse. I had spent over an hour in the wheelhouse getting to know our host who had spent 20 years as a navigation officer for large cruise liners. His brief lesson in navigation was a welcome and calming experience. He was ever-cautious and good-humored. We talked easily about Greece, Canada, families and work.

Just before we entered Poros harbor, Derek, one of the group called a meeting on deck. He distributed white baseball caps to each traveler and said there would be a special showing , judging and significant prizes for those who could best decorate their hats on the theme of Greece-Canada Friendship. So for the next two hours we discovered Poros by scouring the island for items to use as decorations. The results were astounding and after dinner we set up a fashion ramp and each person trotted out wearing his/her decorative hat. The crew were the amused judges and the prize was a magnum of Champagne. I came second to Darlene whose bikini-clad movements along the ramp won her extra points from our all-male crew. But never mind.

Before I get too far into my saga, let me tell you of that meal the first night in the harbor at Poros. The chef whipped up a Greek salad of fresh tomatoes, oils from Calamata and Feta cheese to be remembered. The heavy Greek bread made it memorable. The menu had said “chicken/ fish”

And when the roasted chicken in basil was served with potatoes hot from the oven, I thought it a great choice. I was thinking of my new dress clothes and wondering if they would fit at the end of a trip of feasts. Imagine my shock when the dishes were cleared and they began to bring out huge dishes of freshly caught fish. And there was still the promise of desert. We argued politely that we couldn’t eat that way and that one main course was enough. It was laughable later but not when we had to at least eat what was prepared that memorable first night. Yet, sleeping wasn’t difficult in the comfortable bed in that quiet Greek harbor, especially after all the wine we consumed.

Things were to change the next day. We were heading south into the western Cyclades.  While our final destination would be the large island of Milos, today we headed into the rougher waters of the unprotected Aegean

Sea. I wasn’t ready for the winds and waves. After a while I found myself leaning over the rail feeling like the world would end. But as we finally approached Kythnos, I was feeling better. The oldest indications of Man’s presence in the Cyclades were discovered here. The terrain was mainly mountainous and harsh except for the occasional vines or fig trees. We were only 52 nautical miles from Athens but it looked more like a coast of Norwegian fjords. But the secluded beaches were inviting and there was a happy holiday spirit as we walked around the port village of Merihas.

That night we had a costume party at dinnertime. Local fishermen gathered to watch the crazy Canadians dress in the oddest costumes they could find. One couple, dressed in white togas, stole the show.

The next morning after a pancake breakfast in the busy harbor, we headed south on calm seas to the island of Serifos. Our captain had a special interest in this 73-sq. Km. Island. His son was there. So he dropped us at Livadi on the eastern side and went visiting. Later he returned and invited whoever wanted to go to a taverna for a drink. Some joined him in a line of mopeds. They returned while the rest of us slept. We would return to Serifos but the next destination was the greedy landscape of Sifnos. We had no idea how beautiful the islands were until that day. First we moored offshore in a protected cove and started our days of Olympic competition. We swam, skipped stones, dove into the pristine waters and competed until mid afternoon. People did swan dives from the top cabin for points. I am not the world’s best diver so I removed my bathing suit and dove in bareback and all. I received extra points for originality but not for form.

Once in port, we rented eight or all available mopeds and headed into the hills that once yielded gold and silver for the treasures of Delphi. We looked down from the highest peak at windmills and the countless pure white churches with their special Grecian blue roofs. After dinner we joined the other merrymakers at the tavernas. Greek nightlife on this peaceful island was a welcome surprise.

Our final destination was Milos, by far the largest place we visited. We arrived there on Saturday night, had a lively singsong on the boat while the locals came to watch us. The next morning we started our last major activity. One of the couples organized a scavenger hunt. Imagine our surprise when the rules were given to us in Greek. When I asked the lady in the post office what a word meant, she replied ‘fruit’. I bought an apple but the word meant ‘plum’. It cost us points. We were paired off in couples but each was with someone else’s spouse. We got bogged down trying to find a live squid. The fishermen were home on Sunday. But the biggest trial was finding a condom. We all found ourselves in the same general store arguing over which couple would get the last box in the store. The locals kept looking out the window to see what flag our boat flew. They will long remember the visit by a zany group of Canadians.

Sunday was the day we returned to the mainland via Sifnos. It was like coming home. But the most breathtaking place we visited was ahead of us back on the mainland.  As we reached the southern most tip of the mainland (Atiki) we moored offshore and took a small jetty to the where the great temple of Sounian sitting in the setting sun. Filled with mythology and history we felt the full impact of our insignificant place in history. It was one of the most romantic places I ever visited. We lay out on the open deck under the stars as we returned, late that night to our mooring place in Piraeus.

Monday’s pancake breakfast was our farewell meal. We made short farewell speeches to our most congenial crew and were awarded the distinction of being the group that consumed the most beer in Captain Stratis’s memory.

He can’t be blamed, though. He never played host to Canadians before.

A perfect holiday in a romantic and historical setting. But now we would move on to the next phase.                                           

To reach Captain Mytilineos contact: ISOLA CRUISES LTD.

Akti Themistokleus 196
185 39 Piraeus Greece

Phone: 41 22 539
Fax: 42 80 167  -    41 21 703

Tell him Professor Greenberg from Canada told you about him. 

The Athens Gate Hotel is at:

10, Syngrou Avenue (A short walk to Syntagma Square)
117 42 Athens

Phone: 9238 302

For reservations, call: 9238 781.

Dick Gimigliano can be reached at: 

Phone: 800-877 9313
Email: gimig@bigfoot.com 

For those of you who would prefer to tour the Turkish coast in a Gullet, get in touch with Star Zuckerman in New York City.

NEXT TIME WE TRAVEL AROUND THE PELOPONNESE from ATHENS TO KALAMATA AND BACK.

#  #  #

You can Contact Professor Arnie Greenberg at

Email:  Ultours1@gmail.com

Over the past few years, Professor Greenberg has traveled with groups to France, Italy, Spain, Greece, Budapest, Vienna, Salzburg, Prague and both Sorrento and the Bay of Naples plus most of Sicily. His tours traveled to the far reaches of the globe including Italy and most of China (Beijing -Hong Kong) and to Russia where his group cruised the waters from St.Petersburg to Moscow. 

"He took a group to Greece and another to northern Russia. In Nov 07 he took a tour group to much of India and ended his tour groups by revisiting France. He now travels with his wife and friends. They winter in Argentina or San Miguel Mexico.  His newly found spare time is taken up with his painting and writing. "I must write every day." His current work is a cautionary manual for would-be tour leaders..  "So You Want To Be A Tour Leader." 

Arnie now travels with friends. He continues writing Travel articles about unusual places but often concentrates on novel writing. Two books based on French Art will be published this year.  Keep reading his web for travel ideas.  His next novel HELLSTORM'S Folly, will be available this fall. He now lives in British Columbia.

Go to:  www.top-travel-ideas.com or contact him directly at ultours1@gmail.com.

(More about the writer.)

 

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