Island hopping odyssey: Charter your own catamaran and discover the Greek islands in a whole new light
- Robert Hardman goes on a flotilla holiday through the UK tour operator Sunsail
- He sails his own boat all day but meets up with a small fleet at night
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We are speeding across the Ionian Sea under full sail while my wife lays out a perfect lunch of Greek salad, fried halloumi and an icy glass of rose.
Happily, none of it is sliding around the table, let alone crashing to the floor, even as the wind gets stronger. That’s because we are sailing in a catamaran. And stability is not its only attraction. This boat is so roomy it has bean-bags on the front deck. It also has two fridges and even air-conditioning.
We have opted for a flotilla holiday, which means you sail your own boat all day but meet up with a small fleet at night, safe in the knowledge that the flotilla organiser has sorted out good places to drop anchor, eat and sleep soundly. If you don’t want to sail your own boat, they’ll arrange someone to do that for you, too.
We had booked through Sunsail, the UK-based experts in sailing holidays, now approaching their 50th anniversary. The whole thing started with just half a dozen boats in Greece back in 1974, the year Abba won Eurovision. And here I am with my family, all these years later, living the Mamma Mia dream as we potter around some of Greece’s loveliest islands with the children blasting Abba through the on-board sound system.
Our boat is a Leopard 45 which comes with four en-suite double cabins, a large saloon and multiple outdoor sunbathing areas. Overall, there is room for up to ten people, easily allowing for two families (as in our case). It’s rather like a villa holiday on the water’s edge, except that the villa changes location every night.
Through the tour operator Sunsail, Robert Hardman and his family enjoy a Greek flotilla holiday, which means you sail your own boat all day but meet up with a small fleet at night. Above is a Sunsail yacht in Greece (file photo)
Sunsail offers several flotilla circuits in Greece but we’ve signed up for the northern Ionian route, which goes up as far as Paxos and the southern tip of Corfu. After flying to Preveza, it’s an easy cab ride to Sunsail’s Ionian base in the big marina at Lefkada.
Here, you stock up on basic supplies, get a lesson on how the boat works and meet the other crews. Our flotilla consists of 10 boats, most with families who, like us, have done a bit of sailing but are grateful to have that expertise close at hand.
Each fleet has a ‘lead’ boat with a flotilla captain (a professional skipper), an assistant and an engineer/mechanic who are just a radio call away if needed. Each morning, you gather for a coffee and a briefing on where to aim for by sundown plus a few tips on where to stop for lunch.
Robert and his family stop by the pretty islet of Antipaxos, pictured, and discover that it boasts ‘the clearest waters’
On the first day, after an easy 20-mile sail and a few swimming stops, it’s a relief to arrive at Preveza old town and see our flotilla captain, Jack, on the quayside to guide us in to a pre-reserved berth.
On another night, he’s waiting in a dinghy to steer us to a quiet spot off Parga where we spend the night at anchor. The children are thrilled to discover that our boat has underwater floodlighting and they jump in and out of the sea late into the evening.
Paxos in summer is rammed, mainly by Britons who think they have cleverly avoided the Corfu crowds. We simply cruise along the more sheltered east coast, stopping in quiet bays which would have been hard to access by land.
‘It’s rather like a villa holiday on the water’s edge, except that the villa changes location every night,’ Robert, pictured with his family, says of the trip
Robert travelled with Sunsail, which offers one-week on its Paxos flotilla from £2,405 per boat for a family of four (including flotilla fee and special offer; flights not included). Book before May 1 for 20 pc off April-June departures and 15 pc off summer bookings (sunsail.co.uk, 0330 3321166).
At the island’s main town, Gaios, Jack arranges for us all to tie up against the old fortress opposite the main harbour, a secluded spot a short hop across to town. So we enjoy all the buzz and back-alley bustle of Gaios and then retreat to the peace of our cool cabins. Even prettier is neighbouring islet Antipaxos, with the clearest waters. At the end of the week, we sail past Lefkada to the south and spend a day cruising the sheltered gulf beyond. Here we find another smattering of enchanting islands, such as Meganisi and Skorpios.
The latter is now the fenced-off, fortified hideaway of a Russian oligarch but was where Aristotle Onassis married Jacqueline Kennedy.
She grew to love the place, especially the little white beach house he built for her in a south-facing cove next to a crescent of sand and pebbles. I can quite see why. Where better to drop anchor for one last lunch — and one last Mamma Mia-style plunge?
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