Amy recently joined G Adventures on a sailing trip in the Aegean from Athens to Mykonos, experiencing a small group sailing adventure in the Cyclades. Starting as a complete sailing novice, did she manage to get her sea legs?

Clustered across the Aegean Sea from the mainland, the Greek Islands evoke images of blue domed churches and huddles of marshmallow-like white buildings contrasting with the rocky outcrop and the dazzling blue of the seas, which sparkle below the sun. Much admired for their picture-postcard beauty, the Greek Islands are just as popular for their historic ruins, friendly locals, beaches, rugged landscapes…and for their sailing opportunities. As someone who – and I feel I must provide full disclosure from the outset – does not have the best sea legs (to put it mildly and perhaps euphemistically, despite a lot of cruising experience), I was somewhat apprehensive about a sailing trip, so determined to cling to the visions of how beautiful the land would be.

As I arrived in Athens and made my way to Alimos Marina, I wasn’t sure what to expect with the itinerary as it’s entirely flexible, and dependent upon wind, sea and weather conditions! As this was part of a global fam trip with agents from all over the world (and ranging in age from 20-somethings to over 50), we had a flotilla of six sailing yachts. This was a slight variation on the usual sailing trip offered by G Adventures, as ordinarily there would only be one sailing yacht of up to 8 people, and presented an extra factor for the skippers to consider when deciding on the itinerary, as all six boats would need to be able to dock or anchor in the same place. All I could be sure of was that we would sail out of Athens the next day and ultimately end up in Mykonos – what happened in between would be up to Poseidon, and sure to be an adventure, as we explored the Cyclades, one of the main groups of Greek Islands. Located southeast of the Greek mainland in the Aegean Sea, the Cyclades are an archipelago consisting of over 2,000 islands, islets and rocks, but just 33 are inhabited. The Cyclades, or ‘circular islands’, are so-called because they form a ring around Delos, their once great epicentre, which today is a magnificent archaeological site, an open air museum giving visitors glimpses into an ancient civilisation long past, home now to just 14 residents (as of 2001, at least), and a few of the ubiquitous Cycladic cats. Today, the biggest hubs are perhaps Mykonos and Santorini; they’re certainly the most popular with visitors, and the most cosmopolitan. Other islands offer a sleepy charm, seemingly paused in time, and frequented mostly by Greeks rather than overseas tourists.

Upon arrival at the marina I was taken to my yacht, Tinos, named after one of the Cycladic islands. Ours was the newest of the fleet, and – considering it was a 50ft sailing yacht – I was pleasantly surprised by the comfort offered inside, with a communal kitchen/dining area/lounge area, a toilet and shower room, and five cabins, two of which had their own en suites. The kitchen was certainly well stocked for any breakfasts, lunches, dinners or snacks we may choose to have onboard! However, if you are used to cruising, it is worth noting that the cabins are more compact, and the toilet facilities more basic, than those found on a cruise ship! But they were adequate and functional, and it’s much nicer to spend most of the time up on the deck taking in the fresh sea air and admiring the views (or keeping a strong focus on the horizon to mitigate seasickness). I met the other girls on the boat, and our skippers, Skipper ‘Scott from Scotland’, one of G Adventures’ most experienced skippers, who has been sailing with them for about seven seasons, and Alan, who – after some thirty years sailing, including seven years as a professional sailor, circumnavigating the globe – is starting his first season with G Adventures. Both of our skippers were brilliant, and their passion and enthusiasm for the trip was infectious. The skippers’ role is one of great responsibility, ensuring the safety of the yacht and the passengers at all times, not only when sailing, yet they were always upbeat and positive. But sailing for both Scott and Alan is a long-ingrained passion, a seemingly intrinsic part of their characters; as Alan says, ‘you’ll find a lot of the people that work on the water and a lot of the skippers are what I like to call “water babies”, they need to be beside the shore, on the boat, in the water, and that’s where they’re happiest. It’s just what they love and need to do.’ For Scott, ‘sailing’s in the blood with my family, my grandpa was a champion Dinghy sailor in the west of Scotland, so was my dad…And then I always had an affinity with the water.’

On our first night, we ate at a restaurant near the marina, which was prettily lit up by numerous lanterns giving it a charming ambience, before returning to the dock to celebrate Orthodox Easter by lighting candles, and passing the light to each other to symbolise Jesus arising, attempting to correctly pronounce the Greek for ‘Jesus has risen’ and ‘He has truly arisen’ as we did so. Next came a Greek tradition involving colourfully painted hard boiled eggs, which involves pairing up and tapping the eggs together – if one cracks, then it’s bad luck to that person. Typically for me, my egg cracked.

The ‘plan of awesome’, as Scott put it, for the next day was revealed after dinner. We were to sail out of Athens for Cape Sounion, at the southernmost tip of the Attica Peninsula, some 43 miles south-southeast of Athens, stopping en route for a bit of a swimming break for the brave and foolhardy (I briefly jumped in, and it certainly was refreshing, but much too cold for me). Legend has it that Aegeus, King of Athens, leapt to his death off the cliff at Cape Sounion, grief-stricken in the mistaken belief that his son, Theseus, had been killed in his contest with the dreaded Minotaur, held captive by King Minos of Crete in his famous labyrinth. Theseus had, in fact, been victorious in slaying the Minotaur, but had forgotten to hoist a white sail on his return (as promised), and when Aegeus saw the black sail on Theseus’ ship as it returned from Crete, he believed his son had been killed. Cape Sounion featured in Homer’s Odyssey, the second oldest surviving work of Western literature, noted as the place where the helmsman of the ship of King Menelaus of Sparta died at his post while rounding ‘holy Sounion, cape of Athens’, as the various Greek commanders sailed back from Troy. Today Cape Sounion is best known for the ruins of the Temple of Poseidon, which stands proudly on the top of the headland, and is particularly popular for its gorgeous sunset views. Originally built in the typical hexastyle in 444-440 BC, over the ruins of an Archaic Period temple, it was an important sacred venue for a maritime nation such as Greece, with mariners, and even whole cities and states, coming to pay tribute to the mighty and revered god Poseidon, leaving gifts and making animal sacrifices in the hope of safe passage and sailing. In the hopes of our own safe and comfortable passage, we paid a little tribute of local beer to Poseidon near the site of the temple. Today, just a few columns remain, but it continues to strike an impressive air, particularly when lit up, slightly hauntingly, at night. That night we could admire the illuminated temple ruins for ourselves as we enjoyed an al fresco pasta meal cooked onboard.

There were various ‘plans of awesome’, regularly updated throughout the trip at various junctures during each day, and liable to change, depending on (primarily) wind conditions, as well as other factors. On the Monday the original plan had been to anchor outside Kea during breakfast and then sail to Kythnos, but that was at one point amended to bypassing Kythnos as the port had suggested there wasn’t space for all six yachts to dock, and instead sailing for about six or so hours to Paros. Whilst I was feeling sorry for myself and being seasick, it later transpired that we were able to reach Kythnos, and I was personally very relieved to be seeing land much, much sooner than originally thought! You soon learn to accept the flexibility of the schedule, and it definitely has its advantages, adding an unique sense of adventure. For the skippers, the flexibility and freedom of the sailing programme is its greatest appeal. ‘Freedom is definitely number one,’ for Scott, ‘because in sailing you've got to be open to change of plan, as you've seen on this trip, and G give you the flexibility to change it in whichever way you want, as long as you're keeping people safe. You get the freedom to say "oh lets go to this island, lets go off the itinerary, lets do this this, this and this”. They give you the freedom and flexibility to do that, and that's one of the reasons I love sailing - it's freedom, I wouldn't like to be tied down to having to do, follow certain rules and plans, etc - and also, you get to meet awesome people.' Alan agreed: ‘Working for G Adventures gives me that freedom to do what all skippers want to do, which is to have that freedom to go “we’re not stuck in an itinerary…nothing is in stone”. You get your travellers onboard, you get a feel for what they want, and you take it from there. So then you’ve got the world is your lobster, your oyster, so you can [make it up as you go] – it’s all about, what may come around the next corner might be new to me as well as them. That’s the beauty of it – that’s the appeal to me. It’s an open adventure, it’s not a packaged piece that’s the same every time round, it’ll be completely different for every traveller and, again, for the skipper.’

With no set itinerary in place, skippers have the freedom to tailor each trip to the general interests of the group they’re looking after, whilst ensuring that the journey taken is safe for the wind, weather and sea conditions. The Greek Islands are renowned for their excellent conditions for sailing; as Alan explained, ‘the Greek islands are very, very special; there’s so many different things here for a sailor, and the sailing aspect here in Greece, that you just can’t find elsewhere in the Mediterranean, and not just the Mediterranean – I’d go as far as to say it’s unique within the entire world! It’s one of those unique little spots.’ No two sailing trips will be the same, so it’s entirely possible that you could go one more than one G Adventures sailing trip – whether it’s from Athens to Mykonos (or vice versa), between Mykonos and Santorini, or one of their longer Greek sailing trips between Athens and Santorini, or a Santorini round trip – and not visit the same islands!

During my trip, I visited Kythnos, a gorgeous island renowned for its seventy beaches and thermal springs in the village of Loutra (which, incidentally, was where we were docked). During our visit to Kythnos we witnessed a small local procession celebrating the ‘Giorgio’ name day, which involved traditional dancing, and being able to experience that splash of Greek culture and tradition away from the masses felt very special. Kythnos boasts one of the oldest known habitations in the Cycladic islands, a Mesolithic settlement dating between 10,000 BCE and 8,000 BCE, close to the village of Loutra. Closely situated on the shore, large portions of the ancient settlement have eroded into the sea, but excavations in the 1990s found intact human skeletons, along with stone artifacts and part of a floor pavement. Despite its proximity to Athens and the obvious attractions of its beaches and thermal springs, Kythnos has been largely untouched by tourism, although it is popular with local Greeks, and retains its quaint charms. Our next stop, after some six hours of sailing (and my worst, but last, bout of seasickness) was Paros, renowned for its fine white marble, which was used as part of the Temple of Athena at Athens’ Acropolis and the famous Venus de Milo. At Paros, we enjoyed an overnight stay, giving us plenty of time for an orientation tour shortly after arriving, dinner ashore, and time to explore (and eat breakfast at a bakery ashore) the next morning. We were in the charming town of Naoussa, which boasted a stunningly beautiful harbour teeming with local fishing boats, and a small Venetian fortress. After Paros, sailing became a lot easier, with shorter journeys and an extended stay in our next stop, Naxos, which lay to the east of Paros. Naxos was a slightly larger island, and was the first time we came across tourists, during our round trip. We were docked for two nights in the town of Naxos, close to the wonderful Apollo’s Doorway, which made for great photos (particularly at sunset). On the first night we ate at a local Greek restaurant, and took part in traditional Greek dancing, complete with fire and plate smashing, followed by drinks at a private skippers’ bar. The next day, we explored the island on a round trip, renting a car and following our skippers in the car ahead. Our tour took in the Temple of Demeter, which – set amidst fertile valleys – was dedicated to the Goddess of the Harvest and fertility of the earth, before stopping at a charming village, Chalkeio, where we visited a small family-owned distillery which produced Kitron, a limoncello-like liquor which can only be found on Naxos, and comes from the fruit and leaves of Kitron, an unique variant of citrus fruit similar to lemons. Our next stop was for an insight into early Orthodox Christianity at an ancient and tiny church, the Church of the Virgin Mary, which had stunning (yet incredibly faded) frescoes. Onwards to Mount Zeus for a taste of the pure mountain water (or ‘Zeus Juice’), and a hike for the others to the caves at the top. This mountain was reputed to be the birthplace of Zeus, hence the name (although some would say Zeus was born on Delos), but I was unable to join on the hike due to pulling my back earlier that morning. By this point, we had all cultivated a healthy appetite and our next stop was the village of Koronos for lunch at an absolutely gorgeous tavern, Matina’s, which served up plates of delicious food, including super-strength (and super-yummy) tzatziki, and goat. Set amidst the hills and mountains, and using only local food, Matina’s doesn’t serve any seafood, and instead you’re likely to be served lamb or goat. The goat was a first for me, and it was incredibly tender, it practically fell off the bone. Our final stop was to visit the ten-foot statue of Dionysus, etched in marble rock, and left incomplete. The Naxos round trip was just one of the many highlights of the trip, as it gave us more of a flavour of the island, away from the seaside village. Away from the labyrinthine town of Naxos which had gorgeous views of the sea, we were treated to stunning views of rolling hills and valleys, dotted with small villages, the occasional windmill, and sometimes seeing goats, donkeys, and even some turkeys. It was also something different to do, and I would highly recommend taking the opportunity if a sailing trip visits the island! Friday saw us stocking up on more food in Naxos and sailing to the deserted island of Rinia, where we enjoyed a beach barbecue and a toga party. On Saturday, we sailed a short distance to Delos, a former cultural centre. It was a fascinating insight into an ancient city, now long gone, with some incredibly ornately detailed marble works, some exquisite statues (now mostly preserved in the onsite museum), and the crumbled foundations of many former residences and other buildings. Our excursion to Delos was followed by a final short sail of about an hour, which took us to Mykonos. The yacht marina is only a short walk from the town itself, but there’s also a water taxi available every half an hour (or every hour later at night). Mykonos was as gloriously beautiful as I expected it would be, and we managed to find excellent seats at a bar in Little Venice, which was a prime location for viewing the azure blue sea below and the famous windmills. That night, after a final dinner which included plate loads of Greek food, we visited Montparnasse Piano Bar, which was absolutely fabulous, and another highlight of the trip.

By the end of the trip, I actually felt enriched by the whole experience. I had met people from all over the world, I had visited some incredibly charming little islands, and felt like I had experienced a level of local authenticity which I probably would have been unable to experience otherwise if I was either in a larger group or visiting by ferry or cruise, or any other mode of transport (and, indeed, it would probably have been impossible to visit some of these islands with these methods of transport). Whilst I was inevitably seasick and that was a few hours of discomfort and unpleasantness, it certainly made me really appreciate terra firma when we visited. In some ways it’s a bit similar to what some people say about child birth – that you forget about the unpleasantness and pain of childbirth, and think only of the joy of having a child – and when I look back on my experience, I think instead about the sense of camaraderie and bonding I felt with the other people on my boat (and the other boats), and the delight of discovering quaint and idyllic villages, mostly untouched by large-scale mainstream tourism. I even enjoyed sailing, once my sea legs kicked in! Not knowing too far in advance what your next destination would be added to the adventure, and it’s important to have an open mind – the journey was just as important and exciting as each of the destinations, and the flexibility, for me, added a special dimension to the trip, as it means that each sailing trip is unique to that group of travellers.

If you're interested in travelling with G Adventures or joining one of their memorable sailing trips, contact us today!

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  • Tinos

    Tinos

  • Kythnos

    Kythnos

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    Kythnos

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  • Paros

    Paros

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    Paros

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    Paros

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    Paros

  • Naxos

    Naxos

  • Apollo's Doorway, Naxos

    Apollo's Doorway, Naxos

  • Temple of Demeter, Naxos

    Temple of Demeter, Naxos

  • Kitron, Naxos

    Kitron, Naxos

  • Matina's, Naxos

    Matina's, Naxos

  • Statue of Dionysus, Naxos

    Statue of Dionysus, Naxos

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    Naxos

  • Sailing

    Sailing

  • Delos

    Delos

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    Delos

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    Delos

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    Delos

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    Delos

  • Mykonos

    Mykonos

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    Mykonos

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