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Sail learners say... MOOR THE MERRIER; Yachting lessons so easy in Greek isle paradise.

Byline: Colin Packham

WELL, I didn't know enough about the luff and hadn't a clue about the clew, not to mention the stanchion...

But all this would become crystalclear as my girlfriend Britta and I embarked on a week's learn-to-sail course around the Greek Ionian Islands.

We were welcomed by our skipper Andy Cameron in the beautiful village of Nidri on Lefkada where our yacht was moored.

Instead of suit cases we took our soft luggage bags, as advised, to Artimis, a Gib Sea 352 - for you landlubbers that's a sleek-looking modern family cruiser.

We were allocated our cosy double cabin before meeting the rest of our group, a couple of budding seadogs called Sam and Dave.

We gelled pretty quickly and I had the feeling this was going to be a brilliant trip.

Sam and Dave had almost completed their Day Skipper Certificates - which means they're able to carry out all manoeuvres, command the crew and control all aspects of handling the yacht.

Novices like Britta and I took a back seat and became a couple of deck hands.

Next morning a beautiful bright crisp hot sun greeted us as we prepared to raise anchor.

Sun cream and sun glasses were in order as well as baggy T- shirt and shorts, not forgetting non-slip sandals, customary silly hat with a cord under your chin and deck shoes.

Safest

Cap'n Cameron showed us the ropes, from tying knots to hoisting the mainsail, It was a lot to take in at first, but as the week went on we got the hang of things.

We headed for Vathi on the island of Ithaka, a picturesque port with one of the world's deepest natural harbours.

"Man over board!" Andy shouted as we sailed through a slightly choppy sea.

Why, it was "Jim the p***head" - one of our fenders specially named for this training exercise.

We were soon learning how to manoeuvre the yacht for the quickest and safest rescue mission of anyone - inebriated or not - who had the misfortune to go overboard. Not that anyone did, I hasten to add, but a sense of adventure is a must for these trips. Problems do sometimes occur, but good humour and being part of the team will overcome such hiccups.

While I was getting confused above deck Britta was concocting the most amazing lunches in the tiny galley below deck. With her knowledge of Italian cooking they usually consisted of pasta dishes and the most delicious sauces accompanied by a bottle or two of the local vino. Yummy!

The chill-out after lunch was usually followed by a snorkel and a snooze.

"Look!" shrieked Britta, "a dolphin!"

Dived

Not quite...but the sight of a turtle the size of an oval coffee table was just as impressive.

Too excited to leave it be, Britta dived in and swam along side this amazing creature.

Next day hawkeye Britta spotted a manta ray, with its eight-foot wingspan, very close to the boat.

Strangely no one seemed keen this time to be a swimming buddy to the formidable-looking creature.

After our daytime excitement, our nights were usually spent in a harbour in our "smarter clothes".

At Vathi we could shower for a few euros at the back of a shop or restaurant - sounds strange but it's the norm in these tiny fishing ports.

We would meet up with yachties whom we'd met en route or were members of other Sunvil flotillas.

We chewed the cud over the day's adventures while chewing the delicious local Greek cuisine.

Wine and Mythos beers would be downed and a good time would be had by all.

It wasn't all matey, though. On our way to Kioni on the island of Ithaka, with a gentle wind whisking us along, we suddenly felt a thud followed by a cold sensation against our sun-warmed bodies.

It was the scurvy crew from our sister ship Naftika launching waterfilled balloon bombs at us from a makeshift catapult. Very effective it was too. Not to be outdone, Skipper Andy sent me down to the galley and I promptly filled up half a dozen similar projectiles, hand thrown this time, although the impact wasn't quite as astounding and my aim was abysmal.

Aside from warfare, the beautiful scenery was constantly changing as we sailed and explored such places as Fiskardho on Kefalonia, Kioni on Ithaka, Kastos and Palairos.

Ever-new challenges faced my adventurous girlfriend, especially using the loo while the boat was scudding along at five knots and leaning at a tricky 30 degrees.

Is this what they call a toilet roll, I wondered, as I tried to balance myself, too. Britta made up for the challenges with a burst of shopping.

For girls on the boats, going retail on the islands isn't impossible, just different.

One shop that caught her eye was TEXNHMA handmade jewellery, original gold and silver pieces fashioned by Dimostenis Ganazoulis in his 300-year-old shop in Kioni, Ithaka. The shop itself is worth a look on its own. Back to the serious business of sailing, our finale was Presentation Night when Sam and Dave (Bligh and Pugwash) were awarded their day skipper certificates. Quite rightly so.

Britta and I were awarded competent crew which is not bad considering we'd only signed up for a week's break.

Apart from learn-to-sail courses you can hire a skipper and have a lazy trip. But come on! Where's your spirit? So would we go again? Aye aye - already booked for mid-September, shipmates.

FACTFILE: Colin joined a learn-to-sail week with Sunvil Sailing. Prices start from pounds 717 per person based on a shared cabin and including return flights, transfers, on-board accommodation and tuition. Contact Sunvil Sailing on 0208 758 4780 or www.sunvilsailing.co.uk for last-minute deals.

Start your trip in style at No 1 Traveller Lounge at Gatwick South Terminal, pounds 17.50 per person for up to three hours including complimentary food and drink, Wi-Fi, office services. Go to www.No1Traveller.com.

TRAVEL TIPS

Just by the very nature of where you'll be at some time you'll get wet. Keep electrical equipment, cameras, mobile phones, music players etc... below deck until required. Don't leave wallets, documentation, passports or perishables within your deck clothes as spontanious dips in the briney can cause havoc at the airport. Make sure sunglasses, jewelry, hats are secured to your person as once in the drink consider them lost.

CAPTION(S):

PANT & DECK: It's lunch time FINE LINE: Fellow yachties line up before lunch SPECIAL: Gatwick lounge FORWARD: Britta and Colin at the helm SKIPPER: Andy Cameron MOTLEY CREW: Sam at wheel, Dave (left) and Col FLIP SIDE: Turtle basks alongside the flotilla
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The People (London, England)
Date:Aug 29, 2010
Words:1111
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