Let Us Set Sail
"The Sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net forever"
Something about water, the open ocean, and all of the beauty it contains, has always been extremely drawing to me. The thought of casting all land-based cares away, and being carried by the wind has been stuck in my mind!
So, what gave us the final push to actually do it? Well, primarily because I turned 30 last year! What better way to celebrate than to learn the ropes, and set to the high seas together!
After receiving our safety briefing and an introduction to ropes and initial boat terms, we set sail the first day to calm waters and winds. Looking back, we probably didn’t know how easy that first day really was. Or it may have been the fact that it was under the skilled and experienced hand of a skipper who had been sailing those waters for 40+ years. Our instructor, Vassilis, was a patient and practical man from whom we heard a lot of Greek wisdom and humor. We learned how to pull the sheets (ropes) and coil them properly (clock-wise, always clock-wise). We learned how to winch and release in order to trim the sails. And we learned how to guage the windward and leeward (non-windward 😉) sides and also did our fair share of maneuvers (docking, helming, night sailing, man-overboard exercises). I think the most memorable times were the night sailing in which we prepped the boat at 2 am and left the port to navigate the open waters via lighthouses, vague land masses and keeping watchful eyes for other vessels. Another memorable moment was when we did over 10 alongside docking exercises and Dan and I had it down like clockwork. We found our groove and really mastered the art of the routine/method of docking and tying off a ship.
The most nerve wrecking exercise came on the last day when the captain asked Dan and I to each do a man-overboard exercise (‘in case it’s skipper overboard’ he said). We had watched all our other shipmates (aka the ones who were trying to get day-skipper certified) do this the previous day, but from a much less stressful vantage point. Now, I have to say, other than: ‘1. don’t panic’ and ‘2. point at where the man overboard is located’, the crew pretty much do very little in these M.O. exercises. In fact, it’s pretty much all on the skipper because the better the art and speed at which they can safely maneuver the ship to the person to be rescued, the more likely the chance of successfully completing the maneuver. So, after an afternoon the previous day, of perfecting the ‘1. don’t panic’ and ‘2. just keep pointing at the M.O.’, I hadn’t expected to have to maneuver the ship myself in this scenario.
Our ‘man’ that was being thrown overboard constantly was a little buoy we dubbed ‘Moby’. However, it became increasingly macabre as one by one, the buoy was named after our day-skippers ‘Chris’, ‘Yiota’, ‘Felicity’ and finally ‘Dan’ as they slowly had been sent ‘overboard’ which just left me to man the ship and try and save whoever the buoy was at the time.
With a LOT of help (from ghosts apparently since everyone was ‘overboard’) and tips about which was the windward side — not ALL of the lessons from the first day stuck 🤷 — I managed to get the ship alongside the buoy, go slow enough to warrant a nice easy pick up, and save the buoy crew. It was a successful day of saving lives as Dan did it much more effortlessly and adeptly (of course) as did the rest of our shipmates! #nobuoyleftbehind
All in all, it was an active, sometimes stressful, salty and hard experience. But it was incredible. It helped me feel like I could still learn new things, still put myself in uncomfortable situations and come out with some new perspective on life and people, and most importantly learn a lot about myself and the person I continue to become.
I’ve been wanting to sail for many years; however, growing up in the deserts of New Mexico, I never found a pool large enough to fit a 40 ft. monohull in it and take advantage of the strong desert winds we received in the Mesilla Valley.
Once I started the process of planning, I remember thinking “Ok, where do I start”. At first, I bought a book called “The Annapolis Book of Seamanship” which throws you straight into the terminology and concepts of sailing. It was hard to read through, and as such, I had only read the first 25 pages before we jumped on the boat! It took me some time to figure out where I wanted us to learn to sail, and with what school. By sheer luck, I ran across this reddit post about a guy learning to sail, and read through some of the questions he had answered from a few other redditors, and decided I should have a look into this school. I ended up scouring their website and reaching out to them for availability. They were super friendly and helpful, and best of all, this school was in Greece. I had never been to Greece specifically, but had been to Croatia so was a little familiar with the area. After a short conversation with Andrea, we decided to book the class, and book the flights that night. Next was the hardest part - waiting two months.
Before I knew it, it was August, and we jumped on a plane to Athens. The way to get to the Island of Aegina (the Island where the school is based) was quite simple as we just needed to take a bus from Athens airport to Piraeus, and then a ferry to Aegina. This being my first time to Greece, I was reminded a lot of Rome, in how the buldings and roads were a bit worn down, and the buildings not the newest (or prettiest). However, for me, this style and environment is quite charming and puts me at ease. On the ferry ride, we grabbed a few cans of cheap beer, and sat on the top of the ferry in the wind. When the time finally came to meet our new crew and settle in on “Philip” for the first night, all of my excitement was replaced with nervous tension. For the first night, we met all the other crews that were part of the sailing school, and had a few pints and a Greek feast (lots of dishes of fish, fried feta, Greek salad and other Greek tapas). It was a good intro to the sailing scene, but entirely intimidating. After our first night of staying on the boat in the docks, the first day went by quite quickly as we were attempting to absorb all of the terminology and controls aboard the boat. The feeling of finally being aboard a boat, putting up the sails and helming through the Mediterranean Saronic Islands just took my breath away.The experience pushed Andrea and I entirely out of our comfort zones.
The second day was by far the most uncomfortable and yet probably an accurate representation of sailing. On our morning sail this day, we were struck by 40+ knot winds right on our port beam. This wind lasted about an hour and a half and had us heeled over about 60 degrees. During these winds, you would usually drop sails and just motor until the winds died down, but with our Captain, he wanted to keep them up (trimmed, but up) and take over the helm to fight this sudden wind. I swear, it was the best representation I have seen of a man against the elements. On this 60 degree heel, my instincts were telling me we were going to capsize even though we all knew that wouldn’t happen. This didn’t change the fact that if we let go of whatever we were holding onto (in my case the railing on the port side and having my feet on the side of a table), we would fall overboard. At the end of the day, we put in what was the toughest day of sailing that we had on the course, so a cold beer was a welcome greeting when we arrived in port.
Another one of my favorite experiences was on our third day of sailing from Methana at 3am. We were charged with crewing a night sail for approximately six hours. While it felt almost impossible to wake up at 2am to prep the boat for sail, we did it, and started motoring and navigating by lighthouses. It was extremely calming and such a unique experience being able to see all of the starlight reflecting off of the water. By sunrise, we found a small cove on a tiny island and dropped anchor. We got a few hours of sleep on anchor and continued our adventures through the Saronic Golf.
From the entire Island of Hydra experiencing a power outage, to a renegade instructor sailing full speed through a flotilla of anchored boats, I could go on and on about our experiences in Greece on this trip. It was one of my favorite experiences in my life so far, and I look forward to sailing again. I have to thank Andrea for following me and my random, if not dangerous ideas. If you’ve ever thought about sailing, do not hesitate, just do it and you will not regret it.
Sailing School we went to:
Aegean Sailing School: https://aegeansailingschool.com/
If you ever decide to go to this school, let me know and we may join you!