Following the sea paths of the Ancient Greeks
as the Etesian) winds can whip out of clear skies without warning, reaching speeds of seven or eight on the Beaufort scale. “It’s what makes sailing here so exciting,” said José. And it’s these gusts that gave the Aegean its name – it’s old Greek for “jumping goats” which sailors thought the wind-whipped waves resembled.
“What’s the plan for tomorrow?” we asked. “The winds will tell us at dinner time what’s possible,” replied José. Out here, the air currents, not the clients, determine the itinerary.
They blew us to Parikia port on the island of Paros. We climbed the steep streets, the gutters overflowing with fuchsia and bougainvillea petals, towards its most famous landmark, Panagia Ekatontapiliani. Also known less tongue-twistingly as Church of 100 Doors, it was founded in the fourth century when Helena, the mother of Roman Emperor Constantine, was shipwrecked en route to the Holy Land. Beneath the thick stone, the air was cool and dark. Silver and gold prayer plaques were tied beneath the icons, some printed with legs or babies, others with cars, arms and books. Wishes made manifest. To the side lay a pad of paper upon which to write confessions. I watched as a pretty blonde woman took two sheets, scribbled quickly, spat on them and posted the papers hurriedly into the confessional box. How I itched to know what she had written.
Further south, we moored at Folegandros – one of the lesser-visited isles of the Cyclades, with a population just pushing a thousand. Dmitri, the island’s only taxi driver, shuttled us up the hill to the chora – the name given to all the main towns on the smaller islands. It simply means “cultivated ground.” As day faded, I hiked to the village’s 19th-century hilltop church to watch the sunset. Gilded sunbeams sprayed the huddle of white houses perched far below, the waves foaming silently from this distance. As I moseyed back down the hill, a horn tooted behind me and a black-robed priest whizzed by on the back of someone’s moped.
Cloaked in dusk, the village was heavy with the scent of jasmine and wriggling with cats – lounging on steps, slinking down alleys and winding between the legs of locals, who were clustered on their porches drinking ouzo. The descendants of felines stranded by their sailor masters centuries ago.
Indeed, the first mariners to patrol these waters were the Delian League, an early navy to protect Greece from Emma Thomson travelled with G Adventures (0344 272 2040, gadventures. co.uk), which offers a 10-day “Sailing Greece – Mykonos to Mykonos” tour starting from £1,199 per person and running from May to October. the Persian empire. I liked to think our yacht wasn’t too different from those early seafarers, just an engine in place of a forest of oars. Especially when we cut the motor, so it was just the creak of the ropes, the slosh of the waves on the bow, and the wheel turning itself, half an inch at a time, as if a ghost sailor was steering.
The next morning, the high cliffs of volcanic Santorini loomed above the boat. Their rich seams of iron rusted green and red “like an old penny,” said fellow sailor Liz. Perhaps the most famous of the Cyclades, it attracts a well-heeled crowd – here we were mooring next to catamarans sleek as
The Monet, left, on which Emma sailed around some of the Cyclades islands, including Folegandros, main, Paros, top right, and Mykonos, right. Homer, inset right