Lemmings Afloat in Greece

A printing error in a sailing brochure price list, some fast footwork on the phone, and suddenly nine members of that loose collection of bikers sometimes known as The Lemmings were flying out to Greece to pick up our 50-foot yacht for a holiday in the sun.

After some initial confusion at Kalamaki harbour, the gear was soon installed on our boat, and after an evening’s jollity and some kip we were out on the ocean wave.


Today would be the longest haul, all day heading southward around the mainland, with lots of nice open space in which to get used to our new craft, and some time to waste drifting gently in the sun and swimming in the clear blue sea.

Remembering an earlier escapade, however, this time we left somebody on board when we went swimming, and thus avoided a repeat of the sight of our yacht, sails set but helmless, heading off into the sunset. But that is another story, and finally, tired and hungry, we arrived at the little island of Kea.

We were the only boat at the harbour, and the taverna was waiting for the fishing boat to get in, so we mooched about until it arrived. I knew that the Greek sea had been grievously over-fished, and I’d already been surprised by the desert-like nature of the sea bottom on my snorkel excursions, but I was still stunned at the tiny catch that the three-man crew carried ashore when they finally docked; two large fish and some scallops. Sure enough, once in the taverna, we discovered that the piscine menu was limited to “leetle feesh” or “beeg feesh”.

It was all remarkably cheap too, but next day when we came ashore for breakfast the owner was in a terrible state, because he had forgotten to charge us the £20 for the “beeg feesh”. The meal had been excellent and of course we were happy to oblige, and he was so grateful that breakfast was on the house. What a knife-edge some of these tavernas must live on.

After breakfast we pottered about getting supplies, and then I happened to notice one of those ubiquitous moped-hire stalls at one end of the sea-front. A few drachma later, we were heading out into the hills.

It was a glorious day, and we were just riding for the hell of it, bouncing down little goat tracks to admire the beaches, caroming off the inside of immense potholes and generally having a great time. The terraces were lush and green, the flowers were bright and cheerful, and the villages shone whitely in the noonday sun. We managed not to fall off, too.

That night we walked round the coast to a taverna in the next village, on the way climbing up to a tiny little chapel in the dark and admiring the huge millipedes that swarmed all over it. Much later, after another enjoyable meal, we staggered back again.

A Hike Across Kithnos

The next day, as we were setting out to sea, dark clouds built up and it started to rain, but we did well under sail and by the time we hit the island of Kithnos for lunch the weather was clearing up, and rather than messing about with the dinghy we just anchored up in a convenient bay and swam to the nearest taverna.

Engine, who had carefully been watching Cap’n Steve’s every move, and who was himself studying for the necessary qualifications, wanted to have a go at skippering the boat, so leaving him a skeleton crew the rest of us set off on foot across the island, intending to meet up with them that evening on the other side.

The town, Loutra, is built over a hot spring, and steaming russet-coloured water runs everywhere in channels down to the sea. There was a derelict roman-style bath at one end of the town, but a major health spa was under construction so I doubt the town is so sleepy any more.

The walk across the island was beautiful, and although we only had a fag-packet map copied from the pilot’s almanac we were confident that we wouldn’t have too much trouble finding our way. We didn’t in fact get lost as such (although sometimes we thought that we were), but the island slanted higher and higher toward the western end, until we stood on a high cliff staring down into the harbour far, far below.

Was that tiny blob our boat? Or was it another, similar looking one? If it was ours, then why were the sails lying on the deck? Eventually, with some difficulty we scrambled down the cliff and managed to attract their attention.

After some messing about with the dinghy we were re-united, to discover that the crew weren’t exactly unstressed, having managed to soak the genoa half way round, but apart from that the experiment had been a success. Since there was plenty of firewood lying around, a beach picnic followed, with copious quantities of alcohol and a lot of rowing back and forth with food and, later, drunken people.

Back to Kea

The next day we set off back toward Kea Island, and on the way it blew up a force 7 which soon had most of us feeling distinctly green. We lived, however, to reach the port town of Kavia, where we anchored up in the accredited visitor’s mooring and then watched from the shore in some trepidation as an immense passenger ferry squeezed past us to its own quay, luckily without incident.

A Cultural Interlude

On the following day we found ourselves heading back up the mainland coast toward Kalamaki and home. On our way south, we had noticed a classical temple standing on a bluff at Sounion, so this time we dropped in to have a look. It was pleasantly, well, classical, but it was somewhat of a surprise to climb up the cliff from the deserted bay and to suddenly encounter a tarmac road packed with tourist buses. We ignored them, and they ignored us, and after a look around we went back to our boat, upped anchor, and left.

Bareboat Flotilla Antics at Fokaia

At Fokaia we anchored up once more, but just as we were preparing to row to the shore we noticed the sails of a flotilla rounding the head. Seasoned veterans that we were, we soon noticed that these were enthusiastic amateurs, and that a dozen or so forty-five footers were racing dangerously quickly into the bay, spinnakers flying.

Swiftly we upped anchor from our exposed central position, and motored gently in toward the beach. From my regular snorkel surveys of the anchor chain and the bottom of the boat I knew that we had big flat wings on the end of our keel, so we chugged ever so slowly up the sloping sandbar until the wings kissed the bottom, and then re-anchored, hopefully safely out of ramming distance from the incoming hordes.

The lead boat came in fast, making a botch of getting the spinnaker down, but they were pointing at us and shouting to each other and too late we realised they must have been saying, “Look, there’s a fifty-footer safely anchored inshore so there must be plenty of depth, whatever the pilot’s manual says…”.

Then there was an interesting crunch and everybody on board fell over. The rest of the flotilla came in very very fast and tried to raft up with the first boat, and for a while it all got quite amusing.

Salty sea dogs of several days’ experience, we smiled quietly and climbed into the dinghy and rowed ashore to the taverna, although we could probably have waded.

Back to Athens

On the last day, with the wind behind us and the ugly outskirts of Athens appearing on the horizon, we encountered a school of dolphins which played around in our wake for a while before heading out to sea. We did try to get pictures, but they moved very fast so the few that I got were just bits of tail and flipper, and we will never know whether Mark got any good pictures because shortly after that he dropped his camera overboard. It didn’t float very well.

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