The Greek Is­lands by su­pery­acht

A su­pery­acht char­ter in the Greek Is­lands need not cost a mint

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Front Page - LAURA WHATE­LEY Laura Whate­ley was a guest of Ar­gen­tous. • ar­gen­

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


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