PIRAEUS, GREECE — Roughly half an hour into our sail from Athens’ chief seaport, a crew member on our chartered sailboat — a 44-foot catamaran called “Windsprite” — points at the water off our stern.
A pod of dolphins, sleek and graceful, breaks the surface with great white splashes.
We turn the boat and drift, our sails flogging in the winds they called the Meltemis (every wind here has its own special name), watching this nautical spectacle in awe as the dolphins cavort every which way. When they finally disappear, my wife and I, and our yacht club friends Ed and Kim North, all smile at each other.
Then we fill the sails again and steer toward the rugged slopes of the Peloponnesian Peninsula. Corinth lazes just beyond the horizon off the starboard bow; the port of Epidaurus reclines just past a towering island called Moni (our signal to turn toward the island of Aegina, tonight’s berth), beside the ruins of an amphitheater where Greek dramas played out 3,000 years ago.
I wrestle the wheel to port, making for Perdika on Aegina. There we’ll lash to a seawall before dining al fresco at a seaside taberna at ancient wood tables set on a cobblestone pathway beside an Orthodox church. There we enjoy saganaki and moussaka, fresh octopus and baklava. And lots of ouzo.
Above: Sailing the waters off Greece brings your to ports where history and good times abound.
Next morning, sipping coffee in the cockpit, I gaze shoreward, and synchronize with the rhythm of this timeless place.
The sky-reaching slopes of the nearby island of Moni blush in the rising sun. A traditional wooden fishing boat chugs out of the harbour. A man crosses himself when he passes the church on the shore. Two girls giggle on their way to school, an old man sipping coffee on a taberna terrace smiling at them.
I leave the boat and stroll through serpentine alleys climbing the slopes overlooking the harbour, every twist and turn revealing a new vista of waters whose colours match the blue trim of whitewashed homes that could hold their own in Santorini.
I enter a church perched on a headland and reflect on the adventure thus far and I envision the next few days of our exploration of the Saronic Gulf in the Aegean Sea.
We’ve set sail on our own voyage of discovery, plying the waters of dreams, along with six other boats.
One boat’s manifest includes our lead skipper, a boat technician, and a social director who will host a couple of group dinners, conduct a week-long friendly competition and even a party like the one we’ll share tomorrow night on the seawall guarding the island of Paros.
Because I am an experienced sailor and skipper and my crew are all seaworthy, we have our own boat. But we don’t speak Greek and we don’t know these waters or local must-dos so we’ve signed up for a flotilla offered by Sunsail, the world’s foremost yacht charter company
“A flotilla is the perfect compromise if you know how to sail but want some guidance – and some company,” says lead skipper Chris Donahue. “You skipper your own boat, but we recommend overnight stops, stops along the way, organize some group meals.”
Left: Yachts drop anchor at special places in Greece. Right: Relics from Roman times dot the islands of Greece.
Late in the week the various boats split up for a couple of nights to pursue individual float plans before we meet up back in Piraeus for a farewell cocktail party.
But first the Aegean awaits.
We continue south, skirting rock formations like gigantic sculptures in the sea, and head west through the Gulf of Hydra, past the picture-postcard island where Leonard Cohen once had a home.
Winds of another name – vorias or boreas, ostra or sirocco – shove “Windsprite” down the gulf toward Ermione.
Safely docked, my wife and I climb the road into a forested park where ancient ruins await at every turn, before we dine high above the water, watching the setting sun gild the seas off Kavas Restaurant.
Next day we beat into waves exploding into glittering shards on our bow. We rock and roll. We tack back and forth up Hydra in 20 knots of bluster, skirting the harbour where donkeys clip-clop on cobblestone alleys.
We turn and motor up the coast past an island fortress where Greeks and Turks once waged war.
We stop at Poros where fishing nets are strewn along the seawall, where a white church steeple towers over rocky slopes above Baroque buildings boasting terracotta tile roofs, arched doorways, wrought iron balconies and shuttered windows.
Then, on our last day, we tarry a while for a swim anchored in the lee of two uninhabited islands before making for Piraeus and the allures of nearby Athens.
Waters are calm when we raise the hook so we turn on the engine and start for home.
I play back the week in my head – slipping into the back of an Orthodox Cathedral in Epidavros and savouring the exotic singing of the priest, inhaling the aroma of incense; dining dockside in sight of ancient ruins; hiking to rocky beaches we call our own – even as we make for the shores of the cradle of civilization, the sun off our stern slipping behind the indigo peaks of the Peloponnese.
• For more on Sunsail schedules and options, go to: https://www.sunsail.com/yacht-charter/mediterranean/greece
• For an excellent introduction to Greece click on http://www.visitgreece.gr