Fol­low­ing the sea paths of the An­cient Greeks

The Sunday Telegraph - Travel - - Front Page -

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

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