The Greek Islands by superyacht
A superyacht charter in the Greek Islands need not cost a mint
If this is what it’s like to be an oligarch, sign me up. It is 8am on a Monday and my friends Harriet, Arpita and I are taking a gentle swim through the still, clear water of an olive grove-lined bay around our 20m yacht, Argentous. Our private chef leans over the rails to call that breakfast is ready — strawberries and melon, Greek yoghurt, pancakes and espresso — on the table of the cushioned lounge area that later will fold away to give us maximum sunbathing space. As we eat, drying off in matching white bathrobes and sunglasses, our neighbours, a group of bronzed, broad-shouldered Norwegians, judging by the flag on their (vastly inferior) yacht, swim back and forth a suspicious number of times, craning for a closer look.
They must assume we are international supermodels or, at the very least, reality television stars. We wave regally, as we imagine Kate Moss does with a fag and glass of rose in hand when she holidays. The sun is burning through the haze and the wooden deck is warming up nicely under our bare feet. It’s about time to settle into the hammock strung across the bow. This is the life, all right, and, remarkably, you don’t need to be a billionaire. It costs from $1100 each for a three-day weekend like ours, or about $3050 a person for a week in early or late summer. Argentous fills a gap in the sailing holiday market, Alisdair Luxmoore, of tour operator Fleewinter, tells me. He’s relaxed and tanned, having just washed off the salt from a week testing the yacht, which he co-owns with flotilla company Sailing Holidays. He had been looking to buy something like this for a while, to offer people with little or no sailing experience the chance to have a break on a boat without compromising on comfort. “If you have ever been sailing and had to pump the heads you will know that it is very exciting that ours flush,” he grins.
A week aboard is a big step up from a DIY charter on a 30 to 40-footer, where you have to put in the effort yourself or, as our skipper Charlie puts it, “taxi-driver” boats, where the skipper may not speak English and won’t let you near the helm. Argentous is accessible in the way that renting a bespoke superyacht is not. Also, a lot of boats of Argentous’s size are ocean-going, rather than available to mere mortals in bikinis and sarongs to pootle around the Ionian Islands. You can treat Argentous as a luxury villa if, like me, your sailing nous stretches to tacking a dinghy on a lake. Or you may be a keen yachtsman eager for the bragging rights of commanding such a big boat. Argentous’s “crew”, Charlie and Joy, are qualified instructors with thousands of kilometres behind them, including five Atlantic crossings.
As we glide through a glittering sea, sipping bottles of cold Mythos lager, they tell us about their adventures. There was the crossing-the-line ceremony at the Equator that Joy, a former barrister, says was tempered by being in the middle of an Atlantic storm. And the time Charlie, a former army engineer who served in Afghanistan, had to climb to the top of the mast while lurching through the Bay of Biscay. They are more than happy to take a step back if you want to take over the boat yourself. “Look at it [as though] you are the captain and we are the crew,” says Joy, “but we will do the boring bits.”
Those boring bits include preparing meals and washing up (two meals a day are included in the package price); getting the tender (a 35-knot speedboat) in and out of the yacht’s “garage”; being alert to inclement weather at 4am; and mooring while guests have an early evening shower, before Joy serves cocktails and canapes. Looking slick is not an issue; below deck are three ensuite bathrooms, with Molton Brown toiletries, well-lit mirrors, showers and those flushing loos. There is also a hot shower on the platform at the stern for rinsing off when you clamber out of the sea. A box of rolled, fluffy towels is magically replenished every day.
In theory, Argentous, which has airconditioning, can sleep eight passengers. Six adults can happily cope in three double cabins, but the fourth is tiny, with a couple of bunks; it is ideal for children but probably not a footballer. You will have to fight it out with your companions for the master cabin, which stretches the width of the boat. It has a flat-screen television and DVD player, if all that endless turquoise sea and star-studded sky gets tedious, and a super-king bed with so many pillows you spend five minutes before you get under the covers wondering where to offload them. There is also a leather sofa and desk space for when surfing on your laptop appeals more than, say, a candlelit dinner in a secluded harbour.
Trips set sail from Corfu in the northern summer, and Luxmoore’s idea is to take Argentous to the Caribbean in the winter. In a week you can just about make it to Fiskardo on Cephalonia and back, or you can choose to head north to the secluded Diapontia Islands. We go south to Lakka, in Paxos, for our first night; Harriet, Arpita and I taking turns at the wheel. We sail out of the Gouvia marina, watching our progress, location and depth on digital screens on the dashboard, and getting, to Charlie’s amusement, comically nervous the moment we see another vessel. “How close do you drive to other vehicles when you are in a car?” he says, laughing. “You can chill out.”
The breeze is strong enough for us to set the two huge, beautiful sails. As the boat tips, all three of us stand in a row at the bow, stretching out our arms and letting the taut fabric take our weight. Joy, frying zucchini at an increasingly sharp angle, yells up, “No more heel than this!”
A turtle the size of a coffee table floats alongside for a while, its nostrils poking out of the water, and then a school of dolphins accompanies us, dipping and diving along. From Lakka we motor to Voutoumi, on Antipaxos, more commonly known as Emerald Bay, where Charlie gets out the watersports gear, including paddle boards on which we wobble. There is also a wakeboard, waterskis and windsurf rigs; Voutoumi’s birdlife is still recovering from my shrieks.
At some point it is good to get on to dry land, where the ground will sway even without a half-bottle of ouzo. And no trip to Greece is complete without calamari and chips in a taverna. We wash down our seafood in the little port of Gaios on Paxos, looking out to our floating home from the table on the water’s edge. On our last afternoon, after one more lunch of tzatziki and souvlaki (the boat has a barbecue kept in a secret hatch), we anchor in front of the five-star Corfu Imperial Hotel. Popular with Russians, it has seafront villas and private plunge pools with views to the hills of Albania and the peninsula, where you will find the Rothschild family’s estate.
Charlie zips me in the speedboat towards the Corfu Imperial’s private beaches, wind in my hair, and we are greeted at the jetty by a bowtied waiter with a tray of drinks. Sunbathers raise their heads from their loungers, wondering who the VIP could be. In a clever move, Argentous doesn’t have any branding, which means no one can tell it isn’t a private yacht. For a few days, it really is yours.
The sun is burning through the haze and the wooden deck is warming up nicely under our bare feet
Luxury aboard Argentous, top and above right; Voutoumi on Antipaxos, above; the little port of Gaios, top right; Corfu Imperial Hotel, below