Greek beach club

Ali Wood and fam­ily un­wind with a fun-packed, ad­ven­ture-filled dinghy sail­ing Neil­son hol­i­day

Practical Boat Owner - - Contents -

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.

Mid­week re­gatta

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

ABOVE sailors

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!”

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