Sailing around the Cyclades with Variety Cruises

“I am sailing, I am sailing”

National Flag of Greece

I’ve been on barges, liners, motor-sailers, rowing boats, Egyptian dahabiya and Keralan kettuvallam. But never a ‘proper’ yacht with sails. Seafarer’s cabin charter around the Greek Cyclades appealed: a crew of two to do the hard work but with an option to help out and ‘splice the mainbrace’, or at least discover what it meant.

The boat

Home for the week was the 52-foot Malama, with two cabins at the front and two at the rear, or as I learned to call it, the aft. My first impression of the cabin was ‘it’s tiny’. The bed took up 90% of the space and as we were at the front, the bed narrowed at one end resulting in a long discussion about which way round to sleep. There was a small wardrobe, two drawers and a useful shelf running the length of the bed. The Malama Once we’d unpacked a limited range from our limited luggage, and decided on a home for everything, we managed surprisingly well. The nights were warm and, although we had a small fan, we kept our three small ceiling hatches open preferring potential mosquito bites to stuffy air.

The tiny bathroom had cupboards for toiletries and decent mirrors and lighting. The hot water shower was surprisingly effective, with water being pumped out using a switch. The pump-operated sea toilet couldn’t be used at swim stops or when in harbour and paper had to be put in a bin. Early morning coffees at nearby cafes were essential, not for the caffeine fix, but to use the loo.

The Galley The small open-plan galley had a fridge for food and a cool box to store drinks we’d brought for sundowners and nightcaps. The cooker, with gas hob and kettle, was cleverly designed to sway in rough weather. Opposite the galley was a dining table with cream leather seating and a selection of books and games which we never got around to using.

We spent most of our time sat on deck, where at the aft, was a partly-folding table and bench seats where we ate. There was a small amount of sunbathing space at the front and down the sides, but this was directly onto the wooden decking.

The Crew

Our two-man crew were vastly experienced.

The Seafarer crew Lee, the Skipper had been sailing since childhood, but it was not until after university he got into big boats. Having been on numerous Seafarer holidays, he liked the company so much, he didn’t buy it, but started working for it. It was his third professional season, and second with Seafarer.

Wendy, our First Mate, had lived and worked around boats of all types since the age of 6. She sailed competitively in dinghies with her son, but when he left home, she took up big boat sailing to stop her worrying about him. Wendy had done five seasons with Seafarer in Turkey, Croatia and Greece and she knew the Cyclades well.

The sailorsThe Passarelle

Compared to other companies, Seafarer attract a more mature market and the seven of us were all in our late 50s/early 60s. Whilst some had yachting experience, we were complete novices. For Australian and New Zealanders, it was part of a longer trip to Greece, and for others, it was a main holiday.

Although age is no barrier, a reasonable level of fitness is required to negotiate the passarelle (gangplank), the steps down below and to simply move around confidently on a moving boat.

A typical day

Our days fell into a regular pattern:

8am to 8.45am – we helped ourselves to breakfast of fruit, Greek yoghurt, cereals and bread, which we ate on the top deck in the early morning sun.

9am – Skipper’s briefing on the day’s itinerary, route and weather conditions. On the first morning, the comprehensive safety briefing covered lots of scary items including what to do if you fell in and how to use the radio.  

Ship wreck 9.15am to 9.30am – we set sail under motor from the harbour but got the two sails up as quickly as the wind allowed. With only 25 to 30 nautical miles to cover each day, our itinerary was relaxed.

12noon to 1pm – the anchor was dropped in a secluded bay and we swam in the refreshing, incredibly clear turquoise water. I’d been worried about getting in and out of the sea, but two hand rails ensured I could easily hoist myself up the steps where a freshwater shower removed salty water. One day, a submerged WW2 aeroplane could just be spotted with goggles in the clear water, whilst on another, we swam right up to the haunting, visible wreck of the Olympia which featured in the film, Big Blue. Snorkelling equipment and a paddle board were available for the more adventurous. Lunch followed our swim and Wendy produced a marvellous array of salads which we ate with bread bought that morning.

Roy the Helmsman 1pm to 4pm – we continued sailing to the evening’s mooring. Although Roy tried his hand as helmsman and others loved hoisting the sails, I was happy to sit back, relax and enjoy the sun, breeze and fine spray.

4pm – after arriving in port, we explored the island and had dinner ashore.

10.30pm onwards – it’s true, sea air makes you tired and although we were never late to bed, one of my favourite parts of the day was a nightcap on the top deck.

The weather

On a sailing holiday, the weather is crucial.  Just as we were about to set sail on our first morning, the heavens opened. But as soon as wet weather gear had been put on, the sun came out and continued to shine all week. The wind was perfect: it allowed us to get the sails up every day, rather than use the motor, but was not so strong that we were keeling all over. I’ve not always been the best sailor but found that being on deck in the fresh air, was the best cure for queasiness: the newly purchased sea sickness tablets remained unopened.

Putting up the sails Whilst sailing round the world single-handedly is unlikely to appear on my bucket list, it was a relaxing way of seeing different Greek islands. And although I struggled to tell a clove hitch knot from two half hitches, I found my forte in splicing the mainbrace, which is simply an order to issue the crew with an alcoholic drink – ‘fancy a beer Lee?’

My top tips

Take soft bags as there’s nowhere for suitcases and you’ll end up moving them around constantly.  

Decide what clothes you’re going to take and even if you’re a light packer, remove half. By day, I lived in a swimsuit and sarong and in the evening, rotated two pairs of shorts and a few t-shirts. This is not a dressy holiday and even make up and jewellery were too much hassle for me.

David and Goliath Take soft shoes which can be easily kicked on and off. As bare feet are the order of the day on board, I’d suggest a pre-holiday pedicure.

Ear plugs will combat the noise from nearby ‘party yachts’, night clubs on shore or large ferries that moor overnight next to you and noisily leave at 6am.

Don’t worry you’re having a turn if you feel wobbly on land: it took me a couple of days to convert ‘sea legs’ into ‘land legs’.

As well as offering cabin charter, Seafarer are well-known for flotilla holidays and can tailor make holidays to your requirements.

Helen’s cruise was organised by Seafarer who are the UK agent for Variety Cruises, a recommended partner of Silver Travel Advisor.

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Helen Jackson

Traveller & writer

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