A race lost in translation
The Nisida crew were expecting sun, sand and sangria, but the Aegean Rally wanted more from its entrants
What do you expect from a rally? A bit of gentle sailing, nothing too energetic, lots of sun, sand and sangria? Hmm. Well, we did get a lot of sun, sand and sangria but interpretation of gentle sailing was clearly lost in translation.
The programme offered four races each followed by a day off to recover and was that recovery day needed. The shortest race was 72 miles and the first race was over 100, and overnight.
Examination of the competition around revealed some speedy boats, the pick of the crop being SuperFast (which was a super fast Farr 52 which finished first in every race). We should also have realised that this was a serious programme by the number of craft with carbon fibre masts, ultra lightweight sails, colour co-ordinated gear - as well as a few that had their own shore team who took their van with the spare sails and gear off to the next island in time for their arrival. The only thing colour co-ordinated on our boat was the sun tan, and even that was a bit variable.
Racing to Naxos
The first 100-mile race, overnight to Naxos, started at 16.00, in bright sunshine and gentle winds. We discovered our Committee Boat was a Greek Navy warship (the captain of which received a trophy at every prize giving - if he attends these rallies on a regular basis he must have a ton of silverware in the hold). The fleet soon spread out and we were gratified to find ourselves hanging onto the tails of the big boys - or, more to the point the very fit and healthy crews pushing 25 at the most. On our boat we realised that the average age was over 54 and that was only because we had a singularly youthful young woman with us who reduced the average.
The course took us first along the coast (amazing how fast the densely populated, and polluted, capital city turns into near deserted scrubland) and then on a slalom route round islands. This required more sail changes and hoisting and dropping of spinnakers than our new crew had bargained for, but being shouted at by the skipper of a large Greek boat sponsored by a major bank as we finally managed to sail past them, spinnaker flogging, did wonders for our determination.
Darkness fell and as we drew close to Naxos some worrying large lumps of rock appeared rather too near to our starboard quarter for Hilary Cook's comfort. Lots of discussion with the navigator ensued but our worries evaporated and were replaced by frantic searching for the finishing line, the advertised strobe light was not easily found in the pitch black but we found it eventually and crossed the line 3rd in our class at 0325.
Finding our way around a small marina (with lots more lumps of rock alarmingly close) in a fierce wind took some time but we eventually found a potential mooring alongside a Greek Swan 42 which refused our mooring lines on the grounds that their boat was not robust enough to cope with Nisida alongside. It was a Swan, for goodness sake!
We finally found a quay and moored alongside. During the night more yachts arrived and by the morning we had three others tied to us á l'anglais (a Mediterranean term for our method of mooring side to the dock, as opposed to the stern-to method).
A great deal of fun was had the following day when the three yachts had to get off into a strong broadside wind. The first yacht finally managed it but the second then came to grief by being blown onto the anchor chain of a nearby very large and expensive stink boat. Fortunately, the chain held and they eventually worked their way off. Lots of advice was given, all of it ignored. Another yacht had been chartered by a group of friendly Australian sailors with a Greek owner on the helm. A lot of fending off, advice, and multiple attempts at going forward instead of reverse resulted in Peter offering to come on board and assist. One of the Australians shrugged his shoulders, saying: "It wouldn't help, mate - we all know what should be done, but he's the skipper."
Racing to Lipsi
We set off for Lipsi at 10.00 (meaning that at least this race was likely to finish in daylight) in a light wind and expectations that this would prevail during the race. We got our one bad start of the week, failing to appreciate the wind shift round the headland, and this was followed by an attempt to re-write the book of sail handling errors. There were lots of opportunities for spinnaker work, with the hasty hoist of the small spinnaker a result of the skipper asking for "more slack" being interpreted as "let go the tack". The huge spinnaker shot off and the crew spent the next 10 minutes trying to get it back out of the sea and down the companionway. The smaller spinnaker went up but somehow that too flew off the tack but it was grabbed by one of the crew.
With our sail handling by now much improved, and the wind having finally picked up, we shot towards the finish under bare headsail at 10 knots and came 5th in class.
Racing to Tinos
The race to Tinos was the toughest of the rally. Up to 40 knots of wind with lots of gusts off the islands. Trevor, on the foredeck, was having a bath every 30 seconds and, as the day wore on, sitting to windward took its toll. Trevor - whose oilskins he has since consigned to the bin - ended up in the saloon looking very sorry for himself and cocooned in a fleece. We had not expected be in full oilskins and fleeces in July in Greece!
After about eight hours or so Peter generously sailed close to a very small island which gave us some flatter sailing and produced a stampede for the heads. Those who were not too swift off the mark found that by the time they got there we were past the island and back on a hard beat.
Nisida is a lovely roomy yacht with spacious heads. Unfortunately, they have no hand holds. As a result, getting into it when the deck is at 45 degrees and bouncing is an art in itself. Having wriggled one's salopettes off one's backside one is then faced with getting to a loo that is parallel to the bulkhead. Having got to the loo the next problem was jamming oneself on it - having long legs and the ability to do the splits helps enormously. An extra pair of arms wouldn't have gone amiss, either.
We sailed on thinking that this race had more in common with sailing across the Channel than a jolly gentle sail that the publicity suggested. One of the crew suddenly announced that he felt sick and before anyone could get him to leeward he threw up - in the cockpit. And promptly repeated the performance while we were encouraging down to the leeward side. Finally, we got him into a position where he could be sick overboard, but then it was clear he was also chilled so he was persuaded to spend the rest of the sail below, lying on a spinnaker clutching a bucket. Ten minutes after mooring up he appeared bright and breezy.
Having moored up, one of the crew went below to have a quick shower. Not wishing to delay the queue she threw on a floaty summer dress, rather than climb back into jeans or shorts. In this elegant garb she was spotted pinning out her dripping smalls to the foredeck rail and when she looked up she saw Pogo (a Slovenian Class 40) pulling alongside. The crew, dressed in their oilies, looked somewhat surprised to have their line received and attached by a barefooted female in a floaty dress who then shot to the stern to take the stern line, only to have the line grabbed off her by Peter who realised that this yacht also had a very nice complement of attractive blonde young women. We came second in this race.
Racing to Sounion
We were 6th over the start line and, once again kept up with the big boys. With a 13.30 start we expected to be finishing again in the dark. The winds were lighter and, again, the fleet split into two distinct groups. To our delight, we were ahead of Compost (a name one of the crew gave to a colour co-ordinated fast yacht that had its own personal shore party). The crew were kitted out in lime green gear - including socks. They had been moored inside us at Tinos and were surprised when we had arrived shortly after them. In preparation for this race the crew had rushed about changing their mainsail for a super light one while our enthusiastic crew clambered over their yacht clutching bags of beer, wine, tasty food and other necessities for a sail that was expected to end around midnight.
We crawled towards the finishing line in the dark, teasing every last zephyr possible, and finally crossed the line at 0027. The marina was 25 miles away and the thought of motoring there did not appeal. Peter took Nisida into the bay, dropped the anchor, broke out the beer, wine and food and we spent a happy few hours watching a few more yachts crawl across the finishing line. The following morning we motored to the marina at Piraeus to be met by disbelieving sailors when we told them that we had crossed the finishing line just after midnight. When the handicap was worked out we had come first in our class, confirming a third overall for the week.
After each race the crews had a day off and an opportunity to party, lie on a beach, attend the barbeques and collect their prizes, all but one of them announced in Greek. Each island seemed to outdo the others and on every one the beer was free! Happiness all around. The restaurants on each of the islands presented the crews with some wonderful food and it was fortunate that we were able to work it off the following day.
At one of the parties, the crew of one of the yachts was sporting attractive red T-shirts emblazoned with Boubis Sailling Club. When we buttonholed them and pointed out the wording on their backs the young woman giggled and said that she knew that Boubis in English had another meaning. None of them had picked up the spelling mistake - and one of them had an English MBA.
Clearly, the Greeks idea of a rally involves serious racing, and crews hailed from Canada, Australia, Slovenia, and Belgium, as well as the UK. Peter was interviewed twice for Greek television, no doubt intrigued by an Italian numbered boat crewed by a bunch of Brits who appeared to have a very laidback attitude to the serious stuff. We had a wonderful time with some great sailing and we met a load of very friendly people. And on top of that some of us got a serious tan, while others managed alabaster to mushroom.