Greek beach club
Ali Wood and family unwind with a fun-packed, adventure-filled dinghy sailing Neilson holiday
A cruising family enjoy an adventure filled Neilson dinghy sailing holiday
The sun’s high above the hills on the Greek island of Lemnos, and I’m enjoying the shady side of my Laser, not feeling particularly inclined to tack.
My cousins Lindsey, Nick and Jamie are on the water with me, whooping and yelling ‘starboard’, whilst I’m thinking of my sun lounger under the olive tree, and whether – after the regatta – I’ve time to read my novel before windsurfing.
The whistle blows three times and I remember I’m supposed to be racing. I lean under the sail as Lindsey passes: “Help! Where’s the start-line?”
“Between the yellow buoy and the safety boat.” “Got you.”
A lapse in concentration has got me in irons. The two-minute whistle blows. I flap around for a while, push the tiller over, and get going. Thank goodness. I’m going to make the line.
The race officer is counting: 10, 9, 8 – a gust hits me. 7, 6, 5 – I broach. 4, 3, 2 – my sail’s in the water. 1 – the whistle blows. I’m hanging over the high side of my boat, coaxing it like a prize racehorse. “Come to me. You can do it. Slowly now…”
We level out, I sheet in, head up, and breathe a sigh of relief. Then I look over my shoulder… coming at me like V-bombers are 12 Lasers, close-hauled on starboard tack. My heart sinks. I’m going through the start-line the wrong way! In a panic, I capsize on top of the boat leading the fleet, which capsizes, too. Fortunately, when the head pops out the water I see it belongs to my cousin Jamie, he’s grinning. Phew! That’s a pint of Mythos I owe him.
Though I’m last over the finish, the regatta is the perfect start to our Neilson holiday at Portomyrina Palace. There are eight of us here from my family. In previous years, we chartered a yacht, but now the kids are grown up and can sail for themselves, we thought we’d try a beach club holiday instead. That way we could all take out our own boats, no arguments!
After the regatta I return poolside where a fitness instructor dances with a ghettoblaster and the swimmers play tug-of-war with woggles. My cousins are debating the start. “So which end of the line did you think was closest to the windward buoy?”
A man dozing on a nearby lounger pipes up: “Lie-to on the start-line and see which way your sail fills,” he says. Over the next five minutes he explains precisely how to create room on the start line, and reveals he was an Olympic Tornado sailor.
“A long time ago, love,” adds his wife, without looking up from her book.
Still, I’m impressed. If this is the kind of place ex-Olympians go to relax, I’m sure I’ll learn a lot.
Back to the classroom
As well as signing up for the daily regatta, I take the Dinghy Skills course in the mornings. Meanwhile my cousins’ partners Jess and Zoe, and my aunt Judith take their RYA Level 1 sailing course. Steve, my uncle, an experienced yachtsman, opts for RYA Level 2 as a refresher.
My course is more ‘freestyle’ than the
others. As we’re not aiming for a qualification we tell our instructor Peacock what we’d like to improve on. He gives a short lesson in the classroom (a wooden beach shack) then we take out the Laser Radials. On the first day we have 15-knot winds. Upwind, my calves burn as I have to hang right out, and downwind I learn to surf the waves on a broad reach, which I find more stable than a run. The boat lifts, hums and planes. I’m flying! Incredible.
Peacock lays a course, and most of us capsize on the gybe mark. The first time I capsize, the boat turtles and the daggerboard slips down flush with the hull. Remembering Peacock’s warning never to swim under the boat, I instead clamp both feet around the daggerboard and push it upwards in some made-up synchronized swimming manoeuvre that I’m sure will never appear in an RYA manual. Then I grab it, and stand on it, giving me the leverage to right the boat. The problem is, I do it from the leeward side and the kicker’s on tight. No sooner does that mainsail lift out the water, the boat powers up and capsizes right back on top of me. Fortunately, the RIB’s there in a jiffy and the cheerful safety officer suggests I right it from the windward side. Next to her is the resort photographer Tania, clicking away!
After the lesson I take the Laser out again, refusing to be beaten. The wind’s picked up even more and it’s only me and one other boat on the water, plus two happy windsurfers: Nick and Lindsey. By my eighth dry capsize, I’m clambering over the high side like a pro, and standing on that daggerboard before you can say ‘MOB’. I have a little game going, ‘beat the safety boat’. I win – they stop coming over, and watch from a distance, giving me a wave each time I get going.
By the evening, my limbs are like jelly and my shins are blue but I’ve never had so much fun.
It’s a non-inclusive meal night (Neilson holidays are full-board, except for three evenings) so we walk into town. We dine in a taverna below a Byzantine castle with waves slapping against the harbour wall.
“Are you sure you can eat all this?” asks Judith as enormous plates of Greek salad, fried cheese, stuffed vine leaves, tzatsiki and moussaka are placed on the table. Of course, it’s hungry business, capsizing.
Sailing with spinnakers
By Wednesday, the wind’s even stronger, so I’m delighted to be partnered with a 6ft 8in helmsman, Dave. Before we go out, Peacock explains that the best angle to hoist and drop the asymmetric
‘In previous years, we chartered a yacht, but now the kids are grown up and can sail for themselves, we thought we’d try a beach club holiday instead. That way we could all take out our own boats, no arguments!’
spinnaker is somewhere between a broad reach and a training run (where the wind is slightly to one side of your stern).
Out we go on the Laser Bahia. No broaching today; Dave simply hikes out a bit when we hit a gust and the boat is flat.
It’s my turn to helm and we’re sailing towards a rocky islet that Lindsey and I snorkelled around that morning. I try a beam-reach. With a pleasing whoosh we power-up, heel over and pick up speed.
“Shall we drop the spinnaker?” Dave asks. “In a minute maybe? Isn’t this fun!”
He waits a minute. “Erm, how about now perhaps?” He has a point. The islet is very close now. We must go upwind soon.
“Sure, no problem. Counting down in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.” I bear away, only to realize the cockpit looks like Spaghetti Junction. The spinnaker sheets and halyard are so tangled there’s no way the spinnaker’s coming down. The island’s approaching fast, but fortunately so is Peacock on the safety boat. He holds us steady while Dave untangles the lines and finally we get that spinnaker back in the bag. Next time, I promise to be more prepared.
Feeling more confident after my lessons, I enter the ‘Friendly’ regatta, where all the boats take part, not just the Lasers. I’ve clocked the Tornado fellow and he’s lying-to on the line, guarding his space.
The whistle blows. The man ahead of me is on port tack, and everyone’s shouting starboard at him. Poor guy. It’s not until Lindsey calls “Ali, that’s you too!” that I realise I’m also on port. I tack and capsize. He just tacks. I right the boat and capsize again before giving chase. Everyone’s in front of me, including Level 1 sailors.
The course is a confusing variation of sausage and triangles, but the good thing about being last is you can follow the others. At the windward mark, I see the friendly Tornado sailor, on his second lap.
“Release your kicker,” he shouts as he overtakes. I do, and my downwind lap is nice and controlled despite the waves. At the gybe mark I sheet in, push my daggerboard down, and tighten the kicker before I round the buoy. No death rolls this time.
“Well done, Ali,” shouts Nick, which gives me a buzz. Lindsey waves from the Laser Pico, where she’s teaching Jess, and I pass Judith and Jamie on the Bahia. Steve and Zoe are sailing single-handed. We’re all on the water together!
Over the course of the race I overtake the slower boats and the Darts struggling to windward. On the last lap, I get a favourable wind-shift and reach the mark in just two tacks. The boat in front capsizes and I sail past. The skipper rights himself and is hot my tail, but I pip him to the post. I finish mid fleet, absolutely thrilled.
I could easily sail all day, but decide to try the Level 1 windsurfing course with Zoe, Jess and Steve, each afternoon. While the rest of the family play tennis and do yoga, we tack and gybe on top of each other in the beginners’ area. It’s frustrating. Every time we get going we reach the pen’s limits and have no room to manoeuvre.
On the third day we rebel and tell the instructor Brook we want to out to sea. No more yellow buoys to get tangled in! He agrees – we’ve practised hard and shown we can do it. We head off straight downwind and give him a thorough workout on the kayak, as he chases after us, begging us to tack back. Fortunately,
‘By evening, my limbs are like jelly, my shins are blue but I’ve never had so much fun’
the safety boats have it covered, and several class members get a tow back.
On the last day the wind drops entirely. As we’ve already passed our Level 1, Brook and fellow instructor Josh teach us a few intermediate moves such as heli tacks and 360s. The funny thing about windsurfing, it seems, is that everything you learn as a beginner goes out the window when you become ‘intermediate’.
After five days of hard sailing, I’m grateful for light winds in my sailing class which allow us to practise roll-tacks and gybes. Pulling a boat on top of you from the leeward side is far from intuitive. It’s like a game of chicken – how far do you dare tip it until you leap to the high-side and roll the sail across? Even in 5 knots, I manage to snap the grab-rail and capsize, getting a thumbs-up from Peacock for effort!
Neilson’s strapline is ‘relax as hard as you like’, something we do with gusto. By the end of the week we’ve tried all the watersports, including wakeboarding, plus tennis, cycling, massage and fitness classes. If we had another week we’d probably do the excursions, too (such as wine-tasting, snorkelling and horse-riding).
After a delicious buffet dinner we head to the pool bar for the prize-giving ceremony. On a large TV screen we watch the week’s photos. My family cheer at a funny sequence of me capsizing. There’s a live Zumba demonstration from class goers. It looks fun – something I’ll sign up for next time. Nick won the racing series and Judith won her tennis tournament. The rest of us cheerfully compare bruises, certificates and tan-lines. For a yachting family, the beachclub holiday couldn’t have worked out better. We can’t wait to do it all again (though right now, I should probably go home for a rest!).
Beginner sailor Zoe gets to grips with Laser racing
Nick comes ashore to get a bigger windsurf sail
Level 1 dinghy
Ali Wood wakeboarding BELOW Jamie coaches fiancée Jess
Ali enjoys a lull between capsizes
A fabulous view to wake up to each morning
Jess is thrilled with her first experience of wakeboarding The family finish the day with a spot of yoga
Relaxing on the beach between sailing lessons
“Next time, you need to tack back, oK!”