The sea was sapphire coloured, and the sky
Burned like a heated opal through the air;
We hoisted sail; the wind was blowing fair
For the blue lands that to the eastward lie.
From the steep prow I marked with quickening eye
Zakynthos, every olive grove and creek,
Ithaca’s cliff, Lycaon’s snowy peak,
And all the flower-strewn hills of Arcady.
The flapping of the sail against the mast,
The ripple of the water on the side,
The ripple of girls’ laughter at the stern,
The only sounds: -when ‘gan the West to burn,
And a red sun upon the seas to ride,
I stood upon the soil of Greece at last!
Oscar Wilde’s words capture our feelings about sailing in Greece in a fashion that I can hardly attempt to do more aptly and beautifully! The Irish poet even depicts girls’ “rippling laughter at the stern”, like we heard with Leonie and her friend, Maya.
It was a long sail from Porto Rotondo in Sardinia (where we left on April 26) to landfall at Othoni, a tiny island situated northwest of Corfu in the Greek Ionians. We covered more nautical miles (about 1000) in those 26 days than we did during the 15 weeks we have been under way all of last summer and fall in Italy. Not only did those long passages end up going more smoothly than we had anticipated, we enjoyed the peacefulness of being in our small capsule-outside-of-time, the solitude of night and morning watches, the independence of having everything one needs close by.
Nevertheless we felt great joy when with land in sight Bill and Sol got to hoist the Greek flag and, in Othoni, “stood upon the soil of Greece at last”. In the 19th century did it take Oscar Wilde 26 days to reach his desired destination? I don’t know. But likely it took him a fair stretch of time as well, since traveling in those days was a considerable process that took much preparation, attention and patience.
Luckily we had an appointment to keep – otherwise we might still be dilly-dallying in Sicily! On May 27 our friends Rachel, Eli and Maya from Victoria, who are spending a year in Paris, were flying into Preveza on the Greek mainland to spend a week on board with us. By no means did we want to miss their much-awaited arri��21 (Sadly, dad Tim had to stay behind in Paris to work.) Together we got to explore the so-called “inland sea” in the Greek Ionians, which on calm days does feel like a huge lake surrounded by layers of high hills stretching into the distance.
Unlike our experience in Sardinia, anchoring in bays seems to be less common here. Instead there are many quaint villages by the sea with a (mostly free) public dock to tie alongside or stern to with your own anchor as a mooring. The kids are taking advantage of their freedom to move off and on the boat as they please, hunt for crabs and octopus, collect shells and rocks, and interact with locals and other boaters.
For us adults, eating local fare at the countless original and affordable tavernas is a welcome break from cooking in our galley. Spit-roasted lamb, rabbit stew, moussaka, grilled octopus, spanakopita, fresh fish, souvlaki and tzatziki are some of the tasty specialties we tried so far. Greek people spend a lot of time sitting and chatting in street side cafes, mostly drinking “freddos”, an ice-cold coffee drink enjoyed with a straw.
Continuing our immersion in Greek mythology we had to sail to “Ithaca’s cliff”, not knowing then that we were not only following Odysseus in his epic journey home, but also stepping into Wilde’s footsteps. (We had sailed in Odysseus’ wake earlier, in the Aeolian Islands and when we passed through the narrowest point of the strait of Messina, which Homer described as guarded by the six-headed monster Scylla on one side and the whirlpool of Charybodis on the other).
Ithaca proved to be a gem, welcoming us in Kioni the nicest and quietest little harbor town we have been tied up in so far. On walks around town and along the ocean to another sea-side-village called Frikes, we caught glimpses of an archaic Mediterranean lifestyle that is still alive on some islands. The shepherd with staff herding his bell-necked goats home, tiny orthodox churches with beeswax candles lit by the faithful, old widows in black greeting us with toothless smiles and the 100-year-old store with its owner of the same vintage serving homemade baklava made us feel like visitors to the past.
P.S. Diving into a different past I do every day reading since Rachel, upon request, brought me her brand new book, “Charity and Sylvia, A Same-Sex Marriage in Early America”. The history of two brave women, living together like a married couple for more than 40 years in the beginning of the 19th century, captivates me and having the author close by to talk about it has been an unusual treat.