Friday 3 June 2011 - Friday 3 June 2011
In the midst of a wildly exciting trip, this somehow managed to be the day we were most excited for. With an entire week of sailing in the idyllic Greek islands ahead of us, we all woke quickly and headed straight for the marina in Athens. Yet I have to admit, despite our barely contained anticipation, we were all suppressing the thought that somehow this might not really happen. You see, the entire sailing trip had been booked through a series of emails with a guy running a site online. It seemed kind of … sketch. So we were immensely relieved when Kim finally got in contact with the guy (Vardis) via phone that morning. Phew! With the sun beating down and sweat running down our faces, all seven of us (though I really feel like each of our packs is human-sized, so let’s say all 14 of us) crowded into the skipper’s bar to wait for Vardis. And we waited. And waited. And the feeling that this was a scam grew. And grew. Three hours later, Vardis calls again to tell us that there has been some technical difficulties, and our yacht is out of commission! But never fear. He came strolling into the skipper’s bar several minutes later, the very picture of an old Greek sailor – leathery, sun-darkened skin and knobbly sea-toughened hands with fingers like gnarled tree bark. And he had a new boat for us!
We boarded the Leila in excitement – a tough feat when wearing a person-sized pack and trying to walk delicately across a wobbly gang plank. She was small, but comfortable. A 43-foot yacht with four “double” cabins, a central saloon area inside with kitchen and two bathrooms, a big bench outside, and plenty of ridged, ropey deck outside. It was a cozy fit, for sure, but once we chose our cabins and got everything packed away, it was perfect.
We found out that Vardis wouldn’t be our skipper for the trip, but rather, one of his other captains, Alex/Alexei/Alexis, would be accompanying us. I’m embarrassed to say that we never knew exactly what his name was, since it sounded like everyone called him different things! We settled on Alexei (“Uh-lex-ee”), though he didn’t respond to that a lot of the time. I’m not sure if that’s because we were pronouncing it wrong or because he just didn’t want to talk to us. Alexei was an experienced sailor in his fifties, and he stayed quiet most of the time, except when cursing (like a sailor!) into his phone in animated Greek or arguing loudly with people in the ports we stopped at. But don’t get me wrong – Alexei seemed like a tough grumpy old man on the outside, but I’m pretty sure he secretly loved us. He was probably frustrated with our ineptness 100% of the time, but he would always smile at our antics and laugh at the many mistakes we made. Oh, Alexei. Oh, the mishaps. But more on that later, I’m getting ahead of myself.
We set off from Athens that first afternoon with 8 aboard. Even with such a small boat, there were a lot of tasks necessary to sail it properly. Alexei showed us how to do all the various things (multiple times, usually) so that we could help him sail the boat. From the anchor to the sails, and the bumpers to the wheel, we were all involved in the sailing of our boat from port to port. So cool! Over the week, we each tried our hand at different tasks, and settled into our favorites. Nick was the anchor boy. Noah was supposed to be first mate, but after Alexei found him sleeping every time he wanted to hand over the wheel, Kim became the new first mate. The rest of us managed sails, knots, and bumpers, and we each tried our hand behind the wheel on various days.
Our first evening out on the sea was wonderful. The waves lapped gently against the prow as we cut slowly through the waves toward our first destination – Aegina. The seven of us perched in various places along the deck, and took in the golden sun falling across the deepest blue waters. Just another one of those moments where you find yourself asking, “how did I get here?”
We docked on Aegina in a small port town – and when I say small, I mean small! All our stops in the Greek islands were tiny, adorable seaside towns, usually completely isolated except through boat access. Per Alexei’s advice, we wandered up the main (only?) street and found a little restaurant behind a seafood market that was supposed to serve up a mean dish of calamari or mussels. Yum! We all ordered from the menu (all in Greek, but with little handdrawn pictures of fishes or squid to help us English-speakers) and looked forward to a fresh-caught meal. And it was all delicious! Though I was a little frightened to find that Calamari in Greece hardly resembles the nicely diced and fried rings we see in the states. It was just a big rubbery squid! Delicious, but strange.
Noah tried Ouzo – the local liquor of choice – and we all decided that its strong black-licorice flavor was not very appealing. Unfortunately, since we had arrived so late in Aegina after the boat delay, it was dark by the time we finished dinner. We walked back along the docks toward where our boat was moored, and climbed aboard and into our bunks to be lulled asleep by the slight rocking of the boat.