View a Greek island escapade

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Spysea is a 45-foot, 35-year-old sailing yacht, owned cooperatively by a diverse group of partners. It is not necessarily described as a pleasure boat for the faint-hearted. After sailing around Crete this past summer, the vessel had been placed in a Rhodes’s boatyard for refurbishing the hull.

Following a relatively slow two months, we were finally informed last week, the boat was ready to be relaunched for the return sail to Israel. I hastily put together a crew of six sailors with varying experience, and on short notice we flew from Ben-Gurion Airport to Rhodes.

The flight was brief, but upon arrival, I discovered my suitcase was missing with all my sailing equipment. The flight attendant had failed to mark the suitcase with a tracking code, and hence, there was no trace of the suitcase. Fortunately, my son’s mother in law works at the airport, and following a thorough investigation, discovered the suitcase in the lost and found, and to my relief, forwarded on the next flight to Rhodes. (Reminds me of the time my son’s dog was being flown to Canada, escaped, and wandered around Ben-Gurion Airport for 2 weeks, before being discovered!)

Mandraki Harbor and the old city of Rhodes are a delight to wander through, both day and night. Beyond the massive limestone fortifications, tall watch towers and arched entrances – dating to the 14 and 15th centuries – a maze of streets and alleyways are revealed with colorful shops and restaurants. It is a city that has survived a history of confrontation and subjugation, and today a bustling vibrant metropolis.

We arrived at the dockyards in the morning, to watch a large crane cradling Spysea, and using conveyor belts, lower the boat into the water. Discharged batteries and a faulty alternator hampered our preparations and detained our embarkation, but allowed time for recovery of the suitcase, and provisioning the boat for our journey ahead. Hurdling several hours of bureaucratic paper shuffling cleared the way for our passage.

Towards late afternoon, with a strong N-W tail wind, we sailed out of Mandraki Harbor towards our first destination – the Greek island Nios Kastelorizo, located adjacent to the Turkish coastal port of Kas. To compensate for the strong wind, we reefed the mainsail – reducing its size – but took full benefit of the large forward sail – the genoa. Achieving over 8 knots – Spysea was ploughing and lunging through the small swells – testing the elements. Under a full moonlight, the dark masses of water melted beneath us as the boat held its course.

 THE HARBOR in Nios Kastelorizo, located adjacent to the Turkish coastal port of Kas. (credit: GRAEME STONE) THE HARBOR in Nios Kastelorizo, located adjacent to the Turkish coastal port of Kas. (credit: GRAEME STONE)

The night was divided into three shifts – each of three hours duration. We sailed for two nights – the following night, I had the shift from 3 a.m. to 6 a.m., and had the pleasure of watching the sunrise slowly unfolding as a large gold, crimson, magenta splash across the horizon. And once again, enjoying the visibility of sunlight and the sight of the approaching island.

The entry into Kastelorizo, involved passing a number of small rocky outcrops and avoiding submerged obstacles. The marina is located in a small protective bay, with a narrow waterfront, lined with restaurants and coffee shops. Behind these premises is a backdrop of quaint cottages with balconies and emphasized wooden framework for doors and windows, all colored in shades of pastel taken from an artist’s palette – and lending a sleepy, dreamy quality to the image, as the village ascends the hill behind, with a castle perched on top – to overlook the scene below.

Each restaurant has its own local cat patron, basking idly in the sun alongside the checkered covered tables, and flexing their tail to welcome the guests.

Frappa – an ice coffee espresso – is a good way to start a lazy morning. We engaged a taxi boat to take us to the Blue Grottoes – underwater caves that emit an effervescent glow – covering all the spectrum of blue from turquoise to indigo. Entry into the grotto is through a narrow, low passage – negotiable only at low tide and whilst dropping to the floor of the dinghy. Plunging into the refreshing, scintillating water – feels like discovering the elixir for life – infusing energy and a radiating smile.

Lunch was a waterfront restaurant. The local beer is very commendable and compatible with the thirst generated from the Mediterranean sun. The Greek salad – fresh vegetables covered with feta cheese, and oozing with olive oil – accompanied by crusty bread, is a good preparation for the grilled Locus, as a main dish, which received a salacious rapport. We discovered some other unlikely patrons to the restaurant – two overgrown, very robust, sea turtles – who compete with the cats for leftovers.

In the late afternoon, Spysea set sail for Pathos, located in the southwest corner of Cyprus, and another 40 hours of sailing. Initially there were good winds, and again we rotated shifts through the night of sailing. We arrived late the following evening into the small port, and received a friendly welcome from the coast-guard police – though we had to wait for a visit the following morning from the health authorities before we could disembark.

I arranged to enjoy Friday night, Kabbalat Shabbat at Beth Chabad – following a refreshing immersion at the local beach. Beth Chabad is located relatively nearby to the marina – which I found with the assistance of a charming taxi driver. Always a pleasure to find a center of familiar Jewish life amongst all the foreign travel experiences – and refocus on Jewish spirit. The delicious meal following the prayers enabled the meeting of fellow Jewish travelers from all walks of life – an inspiring and satisfying experience.

Returning to the boat, I joined my crew, sitting under the moonlight, playing guitar and singing, imbibing of the local ouzo, and listening to the lapping sounds of the sea against the boat.

During Shabbat day, we visited the famous archaeological park of Pathos – adjacent to the marina – noted for its magnificent collection of mosaic floors dating from the Roman and early Byzantine period ( 1st – 5th century), when Pathos flourished as an important trading port.

Saturday evening, we set sail into the darkness, heading for Ashkelon, Israel. Stars lit the sky – waiting for the ascending moon. We avoided some shallow reefs before heading out to sea.

Sailing at night presents its own challenges – distances in darkness are very deceptive – especially with regard to the direction of approaching vessels.

Whilst at the helm, I observed two white lights and a green light on the dark horizon. According to maritime convention – two white lights signify a vessel more than 50 meters long. Green and red navigation lights indicate the direction of travel…

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