See a getaway to a Greek island

Spysea is a 45-foot, 35-year-old sailing yacht, cooperatively owned by a diverse group of partners. It is not necessarily described as a pleasure boat for the faint-hearted. After sailing around Crete last summer, the ship had been placed in a Rhodes shipyard to restore the hull.

After two relatively slow months, we were finally informed last week that the ship was ready to be relaunched for the return to Israel. I hastened to assemble a crew of six sailors with varying experience, and on short notice we flew from Ben-Gurion Airport to Rhodes.

The flight was short, but upon arrival I discovered that my suitcase with all my navigation equipment was missing. The flight attendant had not marked the suitcase with a tracking code and therefore there was no trace of the suitcase. Fortunately, my son’s mother-in-law works at the airport and, after a thorough investigation, discovered the suitcase in the lost and found and, to my relief, it was forwarded on the next flight to Rhodes. (It reminds me of the time my son’s dog was flown to Canada, escaped, and wandered through Ben-Gurion Airport for 2 weeks, before being discovered!)

Mandraki Harbor and the Old Town of Rhodes are a pleasure to wander, both day and night. Beyond the massive limestone fortifications, tall watchtowers and arched entrances, dating from the 14th and 15th centuries, a maze of streets and alleys with colorful shops and restaurants reveals itself. It is a city that has survived a history of confrontation and subjugation, and today it is a vibrant and bustling metropolis.

We arrived at the shipyards in the morning, to see a large crane cradling Spysea and, using conveyor belts, lowered the boat into the water. Discharged batteries and a faulty alternator hampered our preparations and halted our boarding, but allowed time to retrieve the suitcase and provision the ship for our journey ahead. Skipping several hours of bureaucratic paperwork cleared the way for our passage.

Towards the end of the afternoon, with a strong tail wind from the NW, we set sail from the port of Mandraki towards our first destination: the Greek island Nios Kastelorizo, located next to the Turkish coastal port of Kas. To compensate for the strong wind, we cornered the mainsail, reducing its size, but we made the most of the large headsail: the Genoa. Reaching over 8 knots, Spysea was plowing and charging through the small waves, testing the elements. In the light of the full moon, the dark bodies of water melted below us as the ship held its course.

THE PORT in Nios Kastelorizo, located next to the Turkish coastal port of Kas. (credit: PIEDRA GRAEME)

The night was divided into three shifts, each lasting three hours. We sailed for two nights; The next night, I had my shift from 3am to 6am, and I had the pleasure of watching the sunrise slowly unfolding like a great splash of gold, crimson, and magenta on the horizon. And once again, enjoying the visibility of the sunlight and the view of the approaching island.

The entrance to Kastelorizo, involved passing a series of small rocky outcrops and avoiding submerged obstacles. The marina is located in a small protective bay, with a narrow promenade, lined with restaurants and cafes. Behind these installations is a backdrop of quaint log cabins with balconies and an emphasized wood frame for doors and windows, all colored in pastel hues borrowed from an artist’s palette, and lending a sleepy, dreamy quality to the image. , as the village climbs the hill behind. , with a castle perched on top, to overlook the scene below.

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

Frappa, an espresso with ice, is a great way to start a quiet morning. We hired a taxi boat to take us to the Blue Grottoes, underwater caves that emit an effervescent glow, covering the entire spectrum of blue, from turquoise to indigo. The entrance to the grotto is through a narrow and low passage, negotiable only at low tide and while falling to the floor of the boat. Diving into the sparkling, refreshing water feels like discovering the elixir of life, infusing energy and a radiant smile.

Lunch was at an oceanfront restaurant. The local beer is highly recommended and compatible with the thirst generated by the Mediterranean sun. The Greek salad, fresh vegetables topped with feta cheese and dripping with olive oil, accompanied by crusty bread, is a good preparation for the grilled Locus, as a main course, which received a raunchy rapport. We spotted the restaurant’s other unlikely customers, two very robust and very large sea turtles, competing with cats for leftovers.

In the late afternoon, Spysea set sail for Pathos, located in the southwestern corner of Cyprus, and another 40 hours of sailing. Initially there were good winds, and again we took turns during the sailing night. We arrived late the next night at the small port and received a warm welcome from the coast guard police, although we had to wait for the visit of the health authorities the next morning before we could disembark.

I arranged to enjoy Friday night Kabbalat Shabbat at Beth Chabad, after a refreshing dip at the local beach. Beth Chabad is relatively close to the marina, which I found with the help of a charming taxi driver. It is always a pleasure to find a center of Jewish family life among all the foreign travel experiences, and to refocus on the Jewish spirit. The delicious food that followed the prayers brought together Jewish fellow travelers from all walks of life, an inspiring and satisfying experience.

Returning to the ship, I joined my crew, sitting in the moonlight, playing guitar and singing, drinking the local ouzo, and listening to the sound of the sea against the ship.

On Shabbat day, we visit the famous Pathos archaeological park, adjacent to the marina, known for its magnificent collection of mosaic floors dating from the early Roman and Byzantine period (4th centuries), when Pathos flourished as a major trading port.

On Saturday night, we set sail into darkness, bound for Ashkelon, Israel. The stars lit up the sky, waiting for the rising moon. We avoided some shallow reefs before heading out to sea.

Sailing at night presents its own challenges: Distances in the dark are very deceptive, especially when it comes to the direction of approaching ships.

While at the helm, I observed two white lights and one green light on the dark horizon. According to the maritime convention, two white lights signify a ship over 50 meters in length. Green and red navigation lights indicate the direction of travel of a moving boat. The distant mass appeared to be moving at significant speed to starboard.

As patterns, we are taught to observe the angle of approach of the opposing navigational light. If the angle remains constant to our ship’s direction of travel, then it is clear that we are both on a potential collision course. I took traffic readings, taking an illuminated point on the shoreline and the angle it created with the approaching green light. To my amazement, the angle remained constant, a textbook classic, instilled in learning to sail. Our ship was sailing. I informed the crew that I was starting the engine and increasing the throttle. The shape of the ship was emerging from the darkness and placing a searchlight on our ship. It looked like a massive metal monster, roaring from above, preparing to devour our relatively fragile ship, a sailor’s nightmare, with only one option for an evasive response.

I pushed the throttle to full forward and turned the rudder a full 90 degrees as the huge steel minotaur passed 30 meters to our port side and we bounced in its wake. The relief after the moment of impending calamity that had transpired reverberated in our being. Perhaps a Shabbat spirit had watched over us divinely, that we will never know, although for our crew, Birkat Hagomel (the blessing for the redeemed when faced with grave danger), it was the order of the day!

The journey back to Ashkelon went smoothly.

The author is a licensed Israeli tour guide. [email protected]

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