How to Sail the Greek Isles - Family Traveller (USA)

For four people with absolutely no experience of life at sea, our week-long jaunt with a flotilla of catamarans around the Ionian Islands was the perfect introduction to the possibilities of sailing. It was a winning combination of stunning peace and beauty, chilled-out luxury and low-key exploration, with a dash of drama that added a thrilling edge of adventure.

Let’s start with the drama. One evening, as we headed serenely for the port of Vathi on the island of Ithaca — legendary home of the Ancient Greek king and hero Odysseus — the normally benign northwesterly wind turned around on us.

By the time our four-cabin Sunsail 444 catamaran reached port, a force-6 wind was jangling the masts beneath menacing storm clouds. It was chaotic for many yachts — but not us.

Our captain, Fisher, a former British Royal Navy sailor and nerveless veteran yachtsman, quickly took control of the situation and calmly got our entire flotilla tied up safely in a pontoon against the harbor wall. That left us free to wander the streets of Vathi, slightly giddy on adrenaline, before enjoying a fabulous fish dinner beneath lanterns in a harborside restaurant.

This incident couldn’t have been more at odds with the gentle, laidback spirit of the rest of the trip. Each morning, we awoke in our comfortable and spacious cabins to find the sun blazing down on us from a cloudless sky.

A morning briefing on the day’s sailing plans was followed by a lazy breakfast that ranged from fresh bread, cheese and coffee on deck, to the watermelon and ginger wake-up drinks that we were served at the Sivota Bakery Cafe. Then it was off into the blue, the kids helping Fisher gather ropes, putting sails up and down and generally keeping things shipshape before indulging in their favorite pastime of being pulled along behind the catamaran in a huge float shaped like a watermelon slice, shrieking with laughter.

Stunned by the breathtaking beauty of the Ionian mountains and shoreline when viewed from the sea, we would arrive at midday at some secluded cove, moor up on a buoy, climb into our kayaks and paddle ashore to eat at a tiny ramshackle fish shack for a crisply fresh Greek salad, which was a particular hit. In the evening, we’d dock at a new island and eat at a local restaurant with live traditional dancing to entertain the whole family.

Our final night took us back to Lefkas, where we had a delicious meal of feta cheese wrapped in filo pastry and drizzled with thyme, honey and roasted sesame, served with squid-ink risotto, at the lovely Nissi restaurant in the rather chic main square.

It was bittersweet saying goodbye to Fisher and the boat that had been our home for the past week. But Scarlett and Fin walked away proudly clutching RYA Practical Sailing Course certificates, and all of us were left with that warm feeling you get when you try something new and out of your comfort zone, and unexpectedly fall in love with it.

By Steve Tooze

The Lowdown

Sunsail offers a variety of ways to explore Greece for families of all experience levels. You can join a flotilla of catamarans and learn how to sail. Already know what you’re doing? Book a bareboat charter. Or add a professional skipper and let them do the hard work.

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