Photographs are mostly (C) taken by me, a few by other members of the group. Some of the yacht photos are from the Bavaria Yacht web site. Use of my photographs requires my agreement and permission.
I’ve decided to make this blog entry a little different, so it is a bit of a break from ‘The Stars Looked Down’ posts. This one is more of travelogue and somewhat longer than is usual for SLD items. This is generally a ‘happy’ post as it reports on something that was enjoyable and very different.
Being a single person, holidays can be something of a challenge: there’s not too much fun to be had sat in a restaurant or a bar on your own every day for a week or more. The archetypal modern British summer holiday is to travel to somewhere in the Mediterranean and enjoy warmer weather, sand, and sea for one or two weeks. Being single, that formula has never entirely appealed to me.
Over the years I have done various things. For most of the last 20 years, I usually take a week to go on a residential summer school to do with music. These tend to be based at boarding schools or residential arts centres. At these you indulge yourself for a week of music-making, usually supported by institutional catering of varying levels of quality. I usually have a week away in the winter skiing, generally in France, but I have been elsewhere too.
The odd holiday in the sun has featured. I did spend a couple of weeks in the Dordogne and Provence, but that was 25 years ago. I have visited a few Greek islands, such as Zakynthos, and I did a trundle round Turkey visiting historic sites as part of an organised tour.
Until this summer my most trip had been a week on the island of Santorini in the Cyclades back in 2013.
I decided in early summer that this year I should have a ‘proper’ summer holiday. For various reasons, I was not going to be attending my usual summer school, but an alternative one, and I felt the need to have an ‘away-from-it-all’ summer break too.
I decided that specifically I needed to go on a ‘gay’ holiday. At the outset, I wasn’t sure if that was going to be travelling to somewhere and staying in a gay-friendly hotel, or some sort of gay group travel. Internet search engines are the way forward they say, so I started running various queries and searches.
A lot of results come back but they fall into various categories. Mainstream tour operators are keen to not miss out on the ‘pink pound’ and will come up in searches for ‘gay holidays’. What most of these seem to be is no more than “We’ll take bookings off anyone” rather than destinations, hotels, events specifically geared around gay travellers.
There are specialist LGBT orientated tour companies, many of which seem to be geared to: we will charge a lot more for the LGBT label. Another feature is a lot of these are aimed at the younger element and clubbing in gay resorts such as Mykonos, or Sitges. In effect these are the gay equivalent of ‘Club 18-30’ and no more attractive.
One option that came up several times was flotilla sailing. This is where several yachts spend the holiday sailing together. Options are usually to either skipper yourself (for which you need relevant skills/qualifications) or you charter with a skipper/cook provided. The latter is obviously much more expensive.
This appealed to me as I would like to sail on yachts and I have done some necessary exams/certificates (RYA Competent Crew and Day Skipper Navigation). I’ve never done flotilla sailing primarily because of the cost of being a solo traveller.
A company (GaySail.com) came up several times and I looked closely. Their trips were what I was looking for, somewhat pricey, but challenge was they only did the sailing part – you need to book travel and transfers yourself. I continued searching and eventually found a gay travel agency based (inevitably) in Brighton that would make all of the arrangements. I ended up making a booking for early September via Outofoffice.com.
All the detailed information arrived as PDF documents attached to e-mails a day or so later. One nuance came out of the confirmation which had somehow got missed off the discussion during the booking process. I was aware that Gay Sail operated two styles of holiday: one with minimal clothing worn, and one with none… It would seem I had been booked onto the naked sailing option… This was a surprise… Younger me would have been horrified. I don’t quite know when the change came about, but I just shrugged my shoulders and wasn’t too bothered by it.
Yachts, even largish 56 foot ones, have limited stowage space, so I gave a lot of thought to what to take and how much to take. In the end, I did book hold luggage purely because I needed to take some items (such as power packs) which are not permitted in hand luggage. I bought a pack-away holdall from the travel specialists Rohan and that came to 9.8kg, plus a small backpack.
The day soon came round. A couple of days before departure, a WhatsApp group was set-up and all of the ‘crew’ from the two yachts were signed-up to it. This provided a chance for people to say hello and swap pictures before arriving. The party was mixed nationality: 20 people from UK, Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, Belgium, US, Canada, Argentina…
Flights from Manchester were early with 7am departure, which means leaving the house around 3am. I was parked by just after 4am, but my parking arrangement were a little odd as I was in T2 multi-story, but departing T1, so there was a stiff walk to get across to T1. By not much after 5am I was through check-in and security and wandering around the shops and cafés air-side.
The flight was direct from Manchester to Mykonos and was meant to be 4 hours, but a favourable tail wind made it about 3.5 hours. Disembarkation and clearing the airport was quite quick and my transfer was waiting for me. By around 2pm local time, I was stood on the harbourside with my luggage looking for a pair of yachts sporting a gay rainbow flag on a halyard by the mast…
I soon spotted the yachts Prometheus and Proteus and Ted (cook on the Proteus) welcomed me and took my luggage. We weren’t due to board until 5pm, so I had several hours to go and wander around the old town, which is about a mile away.
At 5pm, I was back at the side of the yacht and this time boarded. I was welcomed by Ted again and by JP (Jan-Pietr) the skipper of the Proteus for the week. Accommodation on a yacht is always tight, and I was in a small cabin with bunks: I opted for the lower one. I was right to severely limit of luggage.
After initial chats and introductions, we headed off to the old town by ferry for dinner. This would be the pattern of the week with breakfasts and lunches aboard the yacht, but dinners ashore somewhere.
The yacht (Proteus) was a Barvaria Cruiser 56, which is quite large. It has main sail and a fore sail (spinnaker) at the front. There is an 100hp engine for when sailing is not viable and for entering and leaving port. There are 6 berths, with three toilets (‘heads’ in sailor speak) and showers. The salon has seating, the galley, and the chart table and navigation station.
On deck, there is the main cockpit which has seating and a folding table. The two steering wheels are located at the aft. There is a swimming platform which can be lowered to allow people to step off the back of the yacht into the water. There is a freshwater shower there too to rinse off.
Modern yachts have sophisticated rope management systems which mean that a lot of rope handling can be done from the cockpit, reducing the need to be on deck near the mast etc. Modern self-tailing winches, one powered, make life easier.
The structure of each day varied to some extent, but essentially were as follows. Quiet time was from 11pm to 8am. Breakfast was served in the cockpit collectively at 8.30am. Generally continental in style with bread, cheese, cold meats, cereals, muesli, fresh fruit salad, yoghurt, tea, coffee, fruit juices. Ted our cook prepared everything: we all got involved in the washing up and clearing away.
Entering and leaving port is when the work load on a yacht is at its highest. We always moored ‘astern’ i.e. reversed into the marina. This is done by dropping the anchor in the middle of the harbour then reversing in to the quayside. Warps (ropes) are thrown to people on the quay to loop round a bollard and the loose end is thrown back to the yacht where is secured to a cleat. By doing this, you can ‘slip’ your mooring when you leave since you don’t need anyone ashore to undo ropes. Fender buoys are tied onto the rails to prevent adjacent vessels damaging each other. When you leave, you slip the mooring warps and wind in the anchor chain which pulls you away from the mooring, assisted by the motor.
Once clear of the shore, sails are raised. For the first part of the week, the wind was from behind, so we mostly sailed on the spinnaker. Later in the week, we were able to use the main sail as well and sailed ‘close hauled’ to the wind. We took turns ‘helming’ i.e. at the wheel. From time to time sails would have to be adjusted, either due to change in conditions or to change tack.
Around lunch time we would look to moor in a bay somewhere, lower the platform at the stern and have a swim. Lunch would then be served in the cockpit. Lunches varied a lot: some were cooked, others were salads. The standard was good throughout the week.
I have glossed over one detail. Once we were clear of port, weather permitting (so every day except Thursday) it was sun cream on, shorts off and no clothes until in sight of people as we approached port for the evening. Despite some apprehension before the holiday, to be honest, it was no big deal since everyone was quite literally in the same boat… It just wasn’t important.
On board, there was a plentiful supply of wine, beer, soft drinks, which was freely available at lunchtime or any other.
In the afternoon, typically around 4 to 5pm, we would sail into the harbour of our destination island. During the week we visited Mykonos, Naxos, Ios, Santorini, and Paros. Once moored up, we were usually free for an hour or two to explore the local town. The timing of the days meant that sunset was around 7.30 or so, which meant plenty of opportunities for photographing colourful sunsets. The crew of both yachts were booked in as a large party to a restaurant each evening. This made the overall group a party of 20.
To be continued….