Anavissou to Thassos by Steve Parks

There was no sign of liveliness in the water from the storms the night before, and it was crystal clear. The winds had dropped away completely so we motored out of the harbour that we’d sheltered in.

We were all a little groggy from the interrupted sleep of overnight watches — and welcomed the soft early sun, and the fresh breeze on our faces.

A pair of boats crossed our path in the distance, but fairly soon we were well away from the island, and the only vessel in sight.

The favourite moments of the trip for me were like these. Wide open sea, big blue sky, and the sound of the twin bows breaking the waters as we skimmed the surface.

I was on watch and spotted something in the water at twenty degrees port (as we’d been taught by Chris to say, rather than something like “at eleven o’clock”). I took the binoculars and found slick black backs breaking the surface.

“Dolphins!”, I gave the alarm, and the others rushed up to the bow.

A short while later we could see them with our own eyes, jumping and diving. Playing, or fishing? But then they seemed to spot us too, and the pod dived and swam together under the surface towards us.

One by one each dolphin burst from the surface in front of the boat, and we could watch through the clear water as they dived and rolled beneath us. They seemed to be playing with the boat, racing us.

It was both hypnotic and exhilarating to watch, and something we were lucky enough to see a few times in our week on board the Windependent.

And what a special week it was. We’re keen to learn to sail so Chris very kindly spent a lot of time coaching us through what we need to know to be good sailors, and to pass the RYA Day Skipper exam. We learned about the boat, navigation, the rules of the water for avoiding other craft, knots, man overboard, using the dinghy and much more.

As well as learning it, we got to try it out too. He would let us take time at the helm and on watch. We had some days where we had to motor because the winds didn’t favour us, but others where we’d have the mainsail and code zero up, and making over 5 knots. That was exhilarating. It was so lovely to switch the engines off and only hear the sound of the sea.

But even better, Chris and Valeria are fantastic hosts, so there was great food and good conversation on board too. How Valeria manages to cook full meals in the tiny galley as the boat rides their waves is a minor miracle, and that the food is so tasty just makes it more so.

Our journey took us to a few different islands (you’ll find Chris’s own blog documents the places and journey better than I can, so I’ll just share our experiences), but one of our favourites was the port of Linaria on Skyros. It was tended by a dedicated and kind harbourmaster called Sakis, who took great care of the water, the quayside, and the visitors.

We stayed a few days here, relaxing in the little port’s cafes and restaurants, and then hiring a car to explore the island.

The sailors on the neighbouring boats were also lovely and joined us on board Windependent for a barbecue one night, during which a lot of Greek wine was consumed. It was a great evening.

But the biggest adventure came near the end of our time on board. To boost our experience we decided to do a night sail. The forecast was good, there was an ideal route to take, and the plan was set.

We adopted watch shifts, so that we could take clear time to rest and sleep between being on shift — and then be very focused when we were on watch.

At some time after midnight, I was off shift in my bed below deck, dozing. I notice that it was getting really quite bumpy. The boat must be riding some higher seas than we’d seen so far, pitching and yawing. I could hear the waves smacking the bow.

But I knew that Chris and Zeynep were on shift, and the best thing a crew member can do when they’re not on watch is to stay out of the way, resting so they are fresh and ready to take over later. I dozed back to sleep.

I was woken a while later by Zeynep who asked me to come upstairs because there was a storm.

When I got on deck the view was scary and beautiful. There were separate local thunderstorms in different places on the horizon, their lightning intermittently illuminated the dark rolling sea beneath us. The winds had reached 30 knots, whipping up the water, and adding to the noise from the thunder.

We’d roll over the high swells, and back down.

I took a seasickness tablet, and put on a harness so I could clip onto the boat — to ensure I didn’t have to be one more thing for the skipper to worry about.

Chris consulted the chart and the horizon, and developed a plan. But the storms were moving around, and the effect between them made the wind and sea unpredictable. In the end he decided we should head for a harbour rather than continue on — but the harbour was still a few hours away.

Zeynep went to bed at this point so she could sleep and be fresh for taking an anchor-watch shift once we got to shelter. Chris was keen for us to keep watch as we’d have laid anchor in the dark. She slept well, despite the storm — probably because she was being rocked so much.

It’s wise to be wary of the sea and the weather, but a boat like this is built for much harsher conditions – and Chris is a very experienced sailor. So I just kept calm and enjoyed the view. There was a rare and raw beauty to it all. The power of the sea, the isolation of being so far from shore.

We’re keen to sail more in future, and will be sure to encounter storms — so I was actually really glad to have our first storm experience now while Chris was the skipper.

We eventually made harbour in the early hours of the morning and managed to get a few hours kip.

But then the sun was up, the water was smooth, and it was time to get out there again — and see the dolphins.

Thanks to Chris and Valeria for an amazing week, great hospitality, and delicious food. We can’t wait for a chance to get out on the water again.

Steve.

Chris in the tender, motoring back to Windependent at dawn after dropping us off at the start of our journey home