How four landlubbers sailed into the unknown

For Tom Mead and Steph Holden, the sea has not always been a safe place. But they still booked a flotilla sailing trip, based on the Greek island of Paxos, with tour operators Sailing Holidays. Here is their report.

For a couple whose previous sailing experience extended to narrowly avoiding crashing a pedalo into a German ferry, a week’s sailing around the northern Ionian islands on a four-person yacht could have a been a daunting prospect, write Tom Mead and Steph Holden. But we were tempted.

We and our two friends were met at Preveza airport, on the Greek mainland, by the crew of our lead boat, and they took us by coach to the flotilla’s starting point, the small town of Plataria. We had booked on to the one-week Paxos flotilla with Sailing Holidays, with calls at a number of small towns and villages on the mainland and the islands of Corfu and Paxos.

On arrival, we were introduced to our fellow holidaymakers and were somewhat unnerved by the apparent experience gap. Unlike many companies, Sailing Holidays were happy to accommodate novice sailors but, while we four were not the only complete beginners, most crews included at least one experienced sailor. There is the option to pre-book a skipper for a day or longer and, while we had decided against doing so, with hindsight we would definitely recommend at least a day of instruction for beginners.

On the first day, lacking confidence, we ‘sailed’ north to Sayadiha under engine power alone, armed with only a map and compass (and sophisticated satellite navigation system!). On the second day, forecast strong winds meant we could not move to a new harbour. This proved a blessing in disguise, as one of the lead crew offered to take us out for a few hours to gain some experience. Without doubt, this happy accident made the trip and we learned the basics of navigation and tacking en route to a beautiful beach where we were taught how to drop anchor and stay in place by ‘free swinging’. After a short swim, we enjoyed a lunch of bread, oil and salad bought from one of the markets found at almost every harbour.

Our yacht, a Beneteau 331, was advertised as sleeping six but being ‘ideal for four’ and that was exactly right. It would have been snug had there been another two on board and the third bedroom made an excellent repository for shoes, suitcases and the extra bedding that was completely unnecessary in the Mediterranean weather. Along with the navigational equipment and radio, the boat had a toilet and shower on board and there was the opportunity to top up the water at various points. The boat’s kitchen came complete with a gas hob, kettle and a fridge. Since the fridge only worked when the engine was running, we were grateful to a flotilla holiday veteran who suggested buying frozen bottles of water each day to help the fridge stay cold so we could enjoy a refreshing gin and tonic in the harbour.

Sailing Holidays recommend tavernas at almost every harbour and we ate well everywhere they suggested. But if we wanted to venture farther afield it was never a problem. In Parga, especially, we did well to head away from the front and walk up towards the fort (it’s quite steep in parts so sensible shoes are recommended!) for dinner at Stefanos. There we had the best seafood of the trip and enjoyed traditional dancing and music in a friendly atmosphere. The generously portioned sardine starter was a particular favourite.

Of the recommended restaurants, Nionios in Lakka stood out. The owner – a natural showman – took us to the kitchen to show us everything on the evening’s menu. He hardly stopped for breath throughout the energetic performance (although at one point he did appear to break into a sweat) and the authentic regional food was exceptional. Nionios was the only restaurant on the trip where we had to wait for a table, and it wasn’t hard to see why.

As well as excellent food, the overnight stop at Lakka provided another highlight of the trip. Some of the boats decided to drop anchor in the picturesque bay and free swing rather than moor up. This required us to row to shore in a dinghy (and regret the decision not to hire an outboard motor – another optional extra). The outward journey in daylight was a breeze but the return trip after dinner saw us trying to find our dinghy in the dark before paddling back across the bay trying desperately to spot our boat’s name in the moonlight so as not to give any neighbours an unwelcome surprise.

The only night not moored firmly to the harbour wall also saw the only storm of the week, and as we were kept awake by spectacular thunder and lightning we were glad to have been off the dinghy and back on the boat. We were also quick to check first thing in the morning that the anchor had held us in place during the storm!

Having arrived as complete beginners, the four of us left with our confidence and competence much improved. With the benefit of hindsight, we would book a skipper for at least the first day in order to learn the basics. A day’s instruction might also help refresh the memory of those who have sailed before but are perhaps a little out of practice.

A flotilla holiday is a great option for those looking to move around and see a number of towns, but they are very much a ‘sailing’ holiday with each day involving around four to six hours of sailing between destinations, usually with the option of stopping for lunch. But with plenty of good food, fresh air and the chance to learn a new skill, we would happily recommend a week with a Sailing Holidays flotilla.

Tom Mead and Steph Holden paid £742.50 each for their holiday (based on four people sharing a Beneteau 331)





























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