In Part 1, the flotilla departed Athens, sailing, swimming and feasting their way to the islands of Epidaurus and Poros.
By Capt. Valerie Weingrad
Tuesday morning, time to sail to Ermioni for a traditional Greek bar-b-cue and toga party! We motored through the Poros channel and past the ruins of an ancient Roman fort that used to guard the entrance to the island. Sails went up as we made our way down the Hydra Channel on a broad reach that slowly backed around to a close haul. We sailed the 24 miles to Ermioni. Before heading to port we stopped for a swim and lunch at a little known island surrounded by reef. We anchored in white sand in 4 meters of crystal clear water, unlike any I have seen. No matter how many times I have stopped here I am always in awe of the beauty of this particular place. It’s owned by a dive shop on the mainland and when the dive boats aren’t there you are welcome to anchor. (Otherwise it’s off limits.)
After a wonderful meal of roasted chicken in the oven with lemon potatoes, Greek salad, rich kalamata olives and crisp cold wine we weighed anchor and made our way to Ermioni, historically known as the site of the very first recorded regattas. We headed not to the port but the small fishing village on the outside of the peninsula. As we motored in the short mile from our swimming spot we passed a picturesque light house and Don Quixote style windmills on the hill. This is a tricky port but well worth it for the view and hospitality of our friends at the Millennium Café.
When you drop anchor here you’re in 18 to 22 meters of water so you have to time the dropping of the anchor and the backing down to the quay so that you have almost all of your rode out and still have enough to make it to the quay. Usually the wind is on your nose so you must have out enough scope to keep your stern from hitting the wall; the wind dies down as the sun sets so no anchor watch needed. With some coaching everyone was securely moored and ready to do some exploring.
Stepping off the boat, the café with its comfortable chairs was literally steps away. Cold drinks and wifi beckoned us. Yiasou! Our hosts, Fanny and Necktarius greeted us with a warm welcome and a tray of pink colored shots of some tasty fruity concoction. While some explored the town others lounged in the café and checked email. I met with Fanny and discussed the evening’s activities and sampled some of the treats planned for the bar-b-que. It was going to be a fun night and it was rumored that some people had brought appropriate clothing for the occasion. Later sailors strolled across their passarellas dressed in togas! We had everything from Grecian Goddesses to Elvis in a toga complete with pompadour and all! An amazing feast commenced, it was truly an epicurean delight! After polishing off the last waffles with ice cream and chocolate sauce, we danced into the wee hours to work off all that food! Maria was the first to start dancing on the tables and soon, with encouragement from the Greek crew, everyone was in the opa-opa mood!
The next morning we made our way across the channel for Hydra, one of my favorite islands and home to the Hellenic Merchant Marine Academy, artists and a Hollywood film or two. Hydra is also one of the most beautiful islands in the Saronic as well as a challenge for the captains. Coming into Hydra harbor you view stone buildings rising up from the port and a monastery high on the hill. Shops and cafes line the port. As we made our way in, green to starboard, there were ferries coming and going, water taxis, sailing boats, fisherman and large motor yachts all vying for space. It can be unnerving, but once safely moored it’s all good! Now time to explore Hydra.
This island is unique in that it has no motorized vehicles and everything is transported by donkey. Donkey rides anyone? There are no beaches close by, but there are huge tiered slabs of rock that have ladders going down to the sea. Dive off and float in the salty sea, swim into a grotto and listen to the echo of your voice. Climb the ladder and stake out your spot on the rocks where you can bake in the sun like a lizard or walk up to the cliffside café for a cold frappe, the national iced coffee drink of Greece. We did some swimming and then made our way to cafe Hydronetta, where it’s a tradition to watch a spectacular sunset while sipping a cool drink and listening to an eclectic mix of music that always seems to be perfect for the moment.
After watching another perfect sunset we went back to the boats to dress for dinner and the ASA sponsored party at the world famous Pirate Bar. Our host at the Pirate Bar, Zeus, greeted us and showed us to our tables. From our vantage point we could see the boats gently rocking in the harbor and people promenading around the small horseshoe shaped port. Just as the party was starting to pick up I noticed the wind and the boats’ rocking also becoming a bit more lively. I went back to check the boats and my anchor as the wind built to 25+knots. I called Maria on the cell phone and asked her to get everyone back to their respective boats…just in case.
The wind continued to build and we prepared for the worst case scenario, which would have been leaving the port at night and sailing back to the protected bay of Poros. We got out the PFDs, harnesses and tethers and secured everything down below and waited. It was a bumpy ride at anchor for about an hour and then the storm passed as quickly as it arrived. All the ASA boats were still where they were before the storm, but others were not so lucky. Because of the forecasted winds for the next day, we changed our plan from heading to Aegina and opted to raft up in a lovely cove between Methana and Poros where we would be protected from the high winds. Thursday mid- day we left on our 3 hour sail tacking up the channel in 15 to 20 knots of wind.
We arrived at the bay late afternoon, dropped anchor one by one and took lines ashore to the rocks. The boats were rafted up together taking care to stagger the masts and placing fenders where needed. One boat chose to anchor out and one decided to head to port. Everyone was in the water for swimming and I led a few divers on the hunt for clams in the secrete clam bay. An impromptu progressive dinner began as the sailors hopped from boat to boat. Christos and Apo both cooked and Maria turned out another award winning meal on board the “girlie boat” featuring the fresh clams. That night on deck there were millions of stars. I counted at least 7 shooting stars which equals lots of wishes!
The next morning was Friday and we reluctantly headed back to Athens. Our consolation was a great beam reach sail until the wind died down as we got closer to the mainland, time to turn on the motor and dock the boat one last time Mediterranean style.
Back in Athens our week had ended too quickly. We all exchanged emails, addresses and Facebook pages with our new friends. It was a wonderful week with a little bit of everything and plenty of memories and stories to take back home. Flotilla sailing is a great way to meet new sailors, learn, and experience new cultures and destinations all within the comfort of a guide and group.
After the success of this year’s flotilla we have added another ASA flotilla in the beautiful Greek Islands for June 9- 16th. If you missed this one, please join us in 2012. Details are on ASA’s website or contact Valerie at email@example.com.
Captain Valerie Weingrad owns Custom Sailing Worldwide www.customsailing.net and holds a USCG 100T Masters license and is an ASA instructor. She is a traveler and just completed her 9th summer sailing in the Greek Islands.