All Greek to me: sailing the Sporades

by j_doe_2982

A flotilla holiday is a relaxing way to sail – most of the time, anyway. Joining the fleet in Skiathos, we set a course for Loutraki, the bay of Pelagos and a hilltop restaurant high above Glossa

Picture the scene. (You will have to try quite hard because, like all good holiday moments, no postcard can do it justice.) You are lying on a soft towel, the shade of your book blocking the Grecian sun from your eyes as you try to summon up the energy to reach for your gin-and-tonic. The heat is beginning to prickle on your skin, but the cool breeze coming off the emerald Aegean Sea offsets it just enough for you to lie there drowsily and enjoy it. It's quiet, apart from the wash of the water against the keel. And then...

And then there is pandemonium – or as much pandemonium as three people can squeeze on to a 29ft Beneteau Odyssey boat. My father has decided to "go about" impulsively – and now, as we career wildly off-balance in a sudden gust of wind, my mother is clutching on to the yacht with one hand and clasping at an assortment of brightly coloured ropes with the other. My gin-and-tonic is on the deck, its sad slice of lemon nestled into my abandoned deck shoe.

“Where's the winch? Who's got the bloody winch?” she shouts. I suddenly feel the heat of metal under my left thigh and guiltily hand it over, noticing that I am on a 45-degree slant and sea is rapidly edging towards me.

At the start of our two-week jaunt around the beautiful Greek Sporades, we met our yacht in the marina of Skiathos Town – freshly cleaned and shining, with towels, sheets (both nautical and domestic) and a welcome basket of goodies. After meeting all the other members of our flotilla, we spent a few hours acquainting ourselves with our home and vehicle for the next fortnight. The beauty of a flotilla holiday is the diversity of people there. Families with children, groups of twenty-somethings, retired friends and one couple on their honeymoon – all with widely ranging sailing ability – made our holiday richer than it would have been, had it just been my family and I. Not only is there something for everyone; there is someone for everyone.

After a delicious lunch of dolmades and salad, we took the plunge (not literally) and followed some of the other yachts to boldly criss-cross over to Loutraki through the oncoming wind. After spending a bit of time getting to know all the ropes and sails, we moored at a wonky wooden jetty just in time to see the sun set. Luckily, Nick, our flotilla leader, was there to guide us in and throw a few well-placed ropes to haul us to the quayside.

Over the next two weeks, we and the rest of our flotilla anchored together in deserted bays such as Pelagos (where the shooting stars kept us up all night) and moored in cosmopolitan yet traditional Greek towns such as Skopelos (where the disco music lulled us to sleep). For every balmy evening strolling around remote hilltop monasteries and winding backstreets with my parents, I spent another dancing until the sun came up with the youthful Setsail crew – the Rock and Roll Bar in Skiathos and its Tropical Depression cocktails being one particular, if slightly hazy, highlight.

On our last night, we returned to Loutraki and trekked up to the hilltop village of Glossa. There were taxis, but we mistakenly thought it would be a pleasant evening walk. However, the hillside was much steeper than we imagined. We dined outside on the vine-trussed balcony of Agnanti's restaurant, eating fish and seafood caught fin the waters below us and salad and vegetables grown in the lush kitchen garden. Looking out through the flocks of swifts into the distance, Skiathos was just in view and we suddenly felt completely in awe of the miles of ocean we had crossed.

In hindsight, I'm not sure whether to describe a flotilla cruise with Setsail as an adventure holiday or a relaxation break. It veers so constantly between the two, the lack of consistency in itself becomes reassuring. Anything can go wrong – but with our friendly and eerily calm lead crew always on call, there was enough of a safety net to embolden even the most inexperienced sailors to disappear off on our own for a few days during the second week. Where did we go? Sorry – a true sailor never tells.

Setsail (01787 310445, arranged our flotilla trip around the Sporades. It also does sailing holidays elsewhere in Greece, and in Turkey, Croatia, Majorca and the Caribbean.