At Peace In Greece

Sailing the azure waters of the Cyclades inspires the art of relaxation

November 25, 2007|By Stephen Henderson | Stephen Henderson,Special to The Sun

There are blessed moments in every life that are so wildly out-of-the-ordinary, it's as if one has floated free from reality. This past summer, I had one of these rare experiences when I woke up one morning aboard a gorgeous, 60-foot sailboat, Arianna, which was moored in a secluded cove off the Greek island of Rhenia.

Was I still dreaming? I couldn't completely believe my good fortune, as I crept up to the deck, dropped my towel and dove into the still, chill waters of the Aegean Sea, naked as the day I was born. My partner, James; my brother, Douglas; our friend, Alison; and our captain, a 24-year-old half-French and half-Greek man named Niko, were still asleep aboard Arianna, so I had the whole wide world all to myself for a few magical minutes.

This dip was the dazzling beginning to a week spent sailing from Syros to Santorini, primarily through an archipelago named the Cyclades. Cyclos (pronounced "kee-close") is a Greek word for circle and the Cyclades ("Kee-Clah-days") are arranged like a ring around the sacred island of Delos. According to Greek mythology, it was on Delos that Leto gave birth to Apollo, god of light, and the fruit of her union with Zeus, father of all gods.

I'd learned about Leto on my flight to Athens, since I had taken along The Echoes of Greece, a book written by the esteemed Greco-Roman scholar Edith Hamilton that offers a fascinating summary of how the then-radical idea of democracy suddenly kindled in fifth-century Athens. Hamilton's point is that true democracy requires people to be completely free in thought, word and deed, but voluntarily limit themselves through moderation, self-control and love of neighbor.

The paradox of liberty bounded by implicit rules is, I learned, quite similar to what exploring on a sailboat is like. One is free to journey where one likes - but only if the wind, water and one's shipmates all agree.

`Timelessness'

My brother discovered Arianna was for hire by visiting the sailboat's excellent Web site (sailcyclades.com). As I made arrangements with the ship's owner, Soren Stammers, he offered helpful advice on arranging an itinerary, as well as ways to prepare my expectations.

"A sense of timelessness oozes out of Greece. These people have been through it all for over 7,000 years. They are very modern in their outlook, but are wedded to their mythology," Stammers said. "Greeks have figured out the values of life. It's not about acquisitions, but about joie de vivre. On even the humblest island, you find a sensibility that is incredibly elegant."

Arriving in Athens in early September, we took a high-speed ferry to the island of Syros, and were happy to see Niko waiting for us in the harbor. He showed us about Arianna, which has four cabins with baths, surrounding a comfortable dining area and small, but serviceable kitchen. Niko had his own captain's berth up front.

Above, the decks were teak and the cockpit roomy enough to have two banquettes on which to sunbathe. There was a dodger, or weather covering, about the upper deck, providing shade for those who'd had enough sun.

After a good night's sleep - we were all shocked that the hubbub of the tavernas and bars along Syros' waterfront didn't keep us awake - we began our leisurely sail south. Days would begin with a breakfast of strong coffee, fruit and fresh Greek yogurt. Then, we'd pull up anchor and off we'd go.

Easy days

September is the season for meltemi winds, which blew strong all day.

Douglas, by far the most experienced sailor among the passengers, claimed to be miffed that the winds were "broad reach" or right into the sails all day, so he couldn't practice his nautical technique by tacking back and forth. Since all the Cyclades lie fairly close to each other, we were never out of view of land - another slight disappointment for my brother, but something that delighted James, Alison and me, the landlubbers. We felt nestled and safe by always being able to see our destination on the horizon, and knowing exactly where we were headed.

Days passed slowly and pleasantly as I sunbathed and caught up on my reading. I'd also brought along a watercolor set and, to my delight, found myself so inspired by the pure clarity of colors in the sea, sky and horizon, that I was soon busily painting away with a focus I hadn't manifested since art classes in college.

Usually, at about 1 o'clock or so, Alison and I would go below to the kitchen to rustle up a Greek salad for lunch. Nothing could be easier, as the ingredients we'd find in produce stores each afternoon were locally grown and tasty. Tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers, fresh oregano, feta and black olives - chopped together and served with crusty bread - made an excellent lunch.

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