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'Big Fat Greek Adventure' flotilla vacation was spectacular

by Offshore Sailing School 14 Aug 2021 09:29 PDT
Gouvia Marina Corfu © Offshore Sailing School

I had the amazing opportunity to join the Colgate Sailing Adventures® flotilla vacation in the Greek Islands in June 2021. An unexpected, last-minute cancellation on this sold-out trip brought about my good fortune.

So off to Corfu I flew, valid passport in hand, fully-vaccinated, and fully-masked, and hand-sanitizer always at-the-ready. Travel, now more than ever, requires patience, but the pot of Greek gold (and baklava) on the other end awaited me. Five-hour layover at JFK airport in New York? No problem. Six-hour layover in Athens, Greece? It's worth the wait.

Friday, June 11, off we flew to Corfu

We arrived in Corfu, Greece, and checked into the Hotel Debono around 8:00 p.m. on Friday, June 11, after departing from home in Southwest Florida at 7:00 a.m. the day before. After checking into our hotel for the evening, and energized with anticipation, my friend Sharon and I headed off for our first authentic Greek meal, in Greece! It did not disappoint, and all meals the remainder of the week were compared to this first Greek feast at Gerekos Fish Tavern, the oldest, family-run seafood restaurant on the island of Corfu. Most participants arrived at least one night earlier than the trip began, some even arrived a week before and enjoyed the historic sites. Ah, the beauty of working remotely. Our weather was perfect for the week, except one very wet dinghy ride to and from dinner in Sivota.

Saturday, June 12, arrival at Gouvia Marina Corfu

Before each flotilla begins, Colgate Sailing Adventures® trip leaders Nate and Heather Atwater review every participant's sailing resume to assign a skipper and navigator aboard each of our four 45' catamarans. Each boat on this flotilla had four cabins with ensuite bathrooms for the 5 to 6 sailors per yacht in our group. And there was an outdoor shower hose on each yacht to rinse the salty Ionian Sea off after swimming in the chilly water. All 22 flotilla participants met at The Moorings/Sunsail charter base at the Gouvia Marina Corfu on Saturday, June 12, 2021. This privately-owned marina was filled with hundreds of privately-owned yachts and charter boats. It was a striking visual with hundreds of masts bobbing about. The marina had very nice facilities, several restaurants, a small grocery, and a wonderfully clean and refreshing swimming pool for those seeking a break from the heat and humidity.

When you are cruising in a country known for its culinary delights, you want to experience the Greek culture and food ashore. Flotilla trip leaders Heather and Nate pre-ordered provisions for each boat, enough for two breakfasts and two lunches (but honestly, our crew used these provisions for at least three lunches, and daily breakfasts). The larger grocery store up the street from the marina delivered the groceries to the dock and crews retrieved them using carts.

Other crew members went in search of liquid provisions:), snorkeling masks which had been forgotten at home, and to exchange snorkeling fins for different sizes than what were placed onboard in advance. The skippers and navigators met with a charter company representative to review the boat features and systems, and technicians came aboard for any last-minute repairs. Everyone we encountered was friendly and helpful. Crews unpacked personal luggage in their spacious cabin with plenty of storage, and stowed provisions before heading to the Welcome, Meet and Greet dinner at Argo in the Marina. This dinner with beverages was included in our flotilla package.

Everyone on the flotilla received a Program Book in advance that included all the information one needed to make their way to the marina, recommended what to pack and advised what to expect, and highlighted some of the other islands and harbors we were likely to visit. The excitement and energy among sailors renewing acquaintance and meeting new adventure-seekers was evident, and the food was delicious! We were definitely in for a treat this week.

Sunday, June 13, we set sail toward the White House on Corfu

On Sunday morning, June 13, our skipper and navigator aboard Ricky B, Mike and Michael, attended the daily Skipper's meeting with Nate and Heather to understand where we would be sailing and rendezvous later that day. We were headed first to Stefanos on Corfu to anchor for lunch and exploration, and then we would sail on and drop the hook in Kalami Bay, the location of The White House in Netflix's popular series, The Durrells in Corfu. Our crew dinghied ashore to take a look around. Two adjacent restaurant owners stood on their respective docks waving us in.

We saw some of the most beautiful bougainvillea covering a home, and enjoyed a lunch of several traditional Greek appetizers and baklava at Taverna Galini, a pleasant, vine-covered restaurant on the beach. Since we had a late lunch, the Ricky B crew stayed aboard that evening and made a large charcuterie board which some of us paired with wine we purchased earlier. Other boat crews went ashore in Kerkira, dined at Thomas restaurant and enjoyed lively entertainment featuring Greek singers and and dancers.

Monday, June 14, from Kalami Bay off Corfu to Sivota on mainland Greece

After the skipper's meetings aboard each boat on Monday, June 14, we sailed our greatest distance during the week from Kalami Bay off Corfu to Sivota on Mainland Greece (32nm).

A good six hours of sailing was exhilarating with several jibes, achieving nearly 9 knots in the breezy conditions with white caps on the Ionian Sea. It was fun to know we were sailing with Albania on the port side and Corfu on starboard until we reached Mourtos and dropped anchor off Sivota on Mainland Greece. Some crews dinghied ashore to explore Sivota before dinner. Others relaxed on board and dinghied in later, after we heard from the crews already ashore that the dinghy ride was a bit of a slog in the swells. Several boat crews rendezvoused at Hotel Filakas restaurant overlooking the sea. Diners passed around portions of delicious appetizers and entrees, and service was excellent, as was the view!

Sivota, Thesprotia, Greece is a charming seaside town with many shops and restaurants. Residents ashore were truly delighted to have tourists after 18 months without any visitors. However, you could see that a few businesses weren't sustained through the tourism drought. There was a bit of excitement along the sea wall with one yacht (not from our fleet) having trouble med-mooring (stern-to-shore) and bumping into other yachts. We stayed ashore a bit later than intended, well past dusk, and had our own excitement transferring from the dock to dinghies and onto our own anchored yachts with the constant swells of the sea. A definite adventure!

Tuesday, June 15, exploring fishing village of Logos and delicious dinner on Paxos Island

While probable itineraries are shared with flotilla participants in advance, trip leaders Heather and Nate are flexible due to weather and participant comments. Some of us mentioned our desire to visit an authentic Greek fishing village and on Tuesday, June 15, Nate added Logos to our itinerary as it was on our way to the evening anchorage in Lakka Bay off Paxos Island. Logos was exactly what we had imagined: colorful fishing boats, gear and nets nestled along the sea wall, small, walkable village with family-owned, multi-generational businesses and cafes. Several of us found treasures in the shops with attentive and appreciative owners, while others relaxed with wine and lunch by the sea. And the bakery had its own treasures that made their way back to Ricky B for breakfast.

Personally, I enjoyed the most delicious grilled octopus salad and vegetable-stuffed, fried feta cheese. Vino, crusty bread, and fragrant, hand-pressed olive oil from local olive trees rounded out our lunchtime repast. While we were ready for a siesta, it was time to sail on to Lakka Bay where our group would convene for dinner together at Pounentes, pre-arranged by Heather. This was clearly a very popular anchorage. Unfortunately other boats anchored around us were moving about, so in an abundance of caution as trip leaders, Nate and Heather stayed aboard Free Bird to watch over our fleet and enjoyed a nice pasta dinner. We definitely missed them at dinner as the meals and hospitality at Pounentes were superb. Each dish looked more enticing than the last. The beautiful courtyard overflowing with flowers and vines included a wood-burning oven where delectable fish, meats and pizzas were prepared for our enjoyment. Everyone mingled and sat with new friends. This was an evening to remember!

Wednesday, June 16, Sailing from Paxos to Parga

On Wednesday, June 16, we sailed from Paxos Island back to Parga on mainland Greece.

We anchored in Valtou Bay with many options for lunch and dinner ashore. Heather and Nate pre-arranged a water taxi with a character named Yanni and his son. The arrival and departure of the water taxi from boat-to-boat in our flotilla added to the fun that evening. The homes were all nestled on oceanside hills overlooking a large beach and the town full of shops and restaurants. There were two very colorful, wooden ferry boats on the dock.

Some of our group hiked to the top of a hill to visit a large monastery and enjoyed Frappes from Pargathe cafe with an incredible view of the Ionian Sea. Our Ricky B crew enjoyed a fabulous dinner at Toros with every appetizer on the menu. Three generations of the owner's family were present and attended to us. We truly lingered over each dish and happily shared. It was difficult to choose a favorite dish, but I voted for the crispy, gooey phyllo-wrapped haloumi cheese, glazed with apricot/honey compote and slivered almonds. Just recalling this dish makes my mouth water. The seaside view with a white-washed chapel and old fort across the bay were just as special.

Thursday, June 17, anchoring under fortress off old town Corfu

On Thursday, June 17, we had light wind so we motor-sailed on the long haul from Parga to Corfu's Old Town area and anchored below a grand fortress in Garitsas.

We dinghied ashore for lunch and found several items to bring home for family and friends. Old Town contains many alleys, nooks, and crannies. Restaurant owners and shopkeepers were absolutely thrilled to welcome guests back after such a long hiatus due to the pandemic. The owner of the restaurant where Sharon, Michael and I enjoyed lunch said we were the first American guests he served in 18 months. We really did have a siesta that afternoon. Some of the crews dinghied ashore for dinner, but two of us decided leftovers from lunch, a glass of wine, and a good book sounded like the ideal evening. We savored our last anchorage with a beautiful sunset and beautiful yachts surrounding our fleet of four.

Friday, June 18, Fond farewell and birthday celebration

Wait. What? Today is our last day aboard Ricky B with our new friends. Shucks! We lifted the anchor for the last time on Friday, June 18, to motor around the corner from Garitsas, back to Gouvia Marina. This was the only time our skippers and crews had to Med-moor and everyone did brilliantly! The dockhands were most impressed. We started to pack luggage and all went to Free Bird for a 3:00 p.m. swab by a medical professional to obtain our required negative Covid test results for entry back into the United States, and other countries we transferred through. We enjoyed one last group farewell dinner at Olympia Mare in the marina and celebrated Skipper Jeff's birthday with a toast and balloons. A waiter shared the same birthday so that added to the festivities. The meals on this trip were simply glorious, from the first to the last supper. We slept on board for our last night in the marina.

Saturday, June 19, Olive Oil Mill tour and tasting in the countryside

We disembarked at 9:00 a.m. Saturday morning. Since some of us had late-departing flights on June 19 or were staying on Corfu a bit longer (and some were going on to Santorini, Paris, Italy - lucky ducks!), 12 of us organized a tour of The Governor Olive Oil Mill and Farm in the countryside. We boarded a luxury tour bus and had the most enjoyable time learning about olive harvesting, oil making and the best part, tasting! Who knew olive oil ice cream would be so delicious?!

Sunday, June 20, back to reality

One quick overnight in Athens at the airport hotel, and we were headed back to reality. I really can't say enough about how truly special and wonderful this trip was. Memories made for a lifetime. I hope to sail again with any of the fine folks on this trip.

View future Colgate Sailing Adventures® flotilla dates and locations here.

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