The only thing better than having a yacht…is having a friend with a yacht. In 2011 and 2012 – I was fortunate to sail with my friend Graham on his yacht Jouster for a couple of really great voyages through the Gulf of Volos and into some of the Greek Aegean islands.
As a little kid geek reading big fat sci-fi and fantasy novels, I used to hide out in my tree fort and read for hours every day. The amount of time I spent reading must have doubled when I found A Spell for Chameleon by Piers Anthony.
In the Xanth series, Anthony introduced me to Centaurs and creatures of Greek myth and I was hooked, entranced, and spending far too much time in my teens reading Piers Anthony’s other books when I should have been out chasing girls.
That geeky kid never disappeared from within me so it was with a huge amount of excitement that I set out for the Gulf of Volos in Greece. You may be asking what the connection is – don’t worry, I’m about to tell you.
The Gulf of Volos is where the Greek Argonaut, Jason set out with his argonaut crew to recover the Golden Fleece and his crown. It was in this very body of water that Jason learned to sail the Argo.
Here is the legend in brief:
Pelias (Aeson’s half-brother) was very power-hungry, and he wished to gain dominion over all of Thessaly. Pelias was the product of a union between their shared mother, Tyro (“high born Tyro”) the daughter of Salmoneus, and allegedly the sea god Poseidon. In a bitter feud, he overthrew Aeson (the rightful king), killing all the descendants of Aeson that he could. He spared his half-brother for unknown reasons. Alcimede I (wife of Aeson) already had an infant son named Jason whom she saved from being killed by Pelias, by having women cluster around the newborn and cry as if he were still-born. Alcimede sent her son to the centaur Chiron for education, for fear that Pelias would kill him — she claimed that she had been having an affair with him all along. Pelias, still fearful that he would one day be overthrown, consulted an oracle which warned him to beware of a man with one sandal.
Many years later, Pelias was holding games in honor of the sea god and his alleged father, Poseidon, when Jason arrived in Iolcus and lost one of his sandals in the river Anauros (“wintry Anauros”), while helping an old woman to cross (the Goddess Hera in disguise). She blessed him for she knew, as goddesses do, what Pelias had up his sleeve. When Jason entered Iolcus (modern-day city of Volos), he was announced as a man wearing one sandal. Jason, knowing that he was the rightful king, told Pelias that and Pelias said, “To take my throne, which you shall, you must go on a quest to find the Golden Fleece.” Jason happily accepted the quest.
Mt Pelias which sits above the Gulf of Volos was the home to the original centaurs, including Chiron who educated Jason and later Achilles in the arts of sailing and swordplay. I was going to be sailing and eating and drinking on the same body of water as the ancient heroes and centaurs.
The Gulf of Volos, it turns out, is a fantastic place for a novice sailor such as myself. With winds that usually stay below F3 and not a whole slew of hazards that can catch you by surprise. Called the Pagasitikos Gulf, this is a place that hasn’t been overrun with tourists, yachts, or development. While you can go to most of Greece and find thousands of people on holiday, the Gulf of Volos has just a few – some days we saw no other yachts and just a couple of fishing boats!
We found crystal clear waters and a good wind provided by the ‘Meltemi’ blowing from the NE, quiet bays and fishing villages, history to investigate and many islands to explore. The whole area is known as Magnesia – which I might add has the same name as the region I lived in Turkey though the Turks have allowed the name to become Manisa!
Magnesia is one of four counties which make up the region of Thessaly. Magnesia is the coastal county with Mount Pelion and the Aegean Sea to the east, the Pagasitikos Gulf to the south and includes the islands of Skiathos, Skopelos and Alonnisos otherwise know as the Northern Sporades Islands.
Pelion is a hidden peninsula, an unexplored area of Greece, where life in the mountain villages and little fishing harbors remains as serene as in the distant past.
This was an awesome and beautiful place though I must admit – I din’t meet any centaurs, sirens, or heroes – except in my imagination. What I did meet though was the beauty of the Greek culture, the kindness of the Greek people, and the joy of sailing for days on open water without being crowded, barraged with noisy jet-skis or powerboats, or annoyed by blaring booze cruises.
I’d been in the Aegean in Izmir, Turkey. I swam in the Moroccan, Italian, Spanish, and Turkish Mediterranean, but always I had this idea of sailing sailing sailing in Greece. The problem was part monetary and part mental. I’d gotten it stuck in my head that only rich guys get to go sailing and as far as living in caves…those islands and (I was thinking) all of Greece were so developed and monetized that the kind of cool adventure I was thinking of could never exist in anything but dreams. Maybe, in some ways, I was right but also – I was definitely wrong.
My friend Graham runs a guesthouse in Fez bought a share in a Greek sailboat a few months ago and he invited some close friends to come out and sail with him during the end of the summer season. The only problem was that they only were staying half the time and as a new sailor, he wasn’t entirely comfortable manning the yacht solo – lucky for me, he mentioned he needed crew and even luckier, when I told my wife about it she said that I should take the opportunity to go for two weeks even though we have a new baby who was only about six weeks old. I think she was glad to be rid of me for a while. Since she had her whole family around her, she assured me that she would be fine and so…off I went!
While I wasn’t able to get the ultra low fares from Morocco to Greece that I got on the way back ($16 US dollars from Volos, Greece to Bergamo, Italy and $16 from Bergamo to Tangier, Morocco and then $18 from Tangier to Fez by Train!!!) Even with last minute fares, I was still able to get to Greece for a relatively cheap amount and since I would be sleeping and often eating on board – the cost was worth it. I went with Ryan Air from Fez to Girona, Spain for about $125, then from Girona to Milan for about $80, and another $100 or so from Milan to Volos, Greece. So all together round trip from Fez to Volos with stops in Milan and Girona ran me about $355 US dollars!
It’s things like RyanAir, WizzAir, AirArabia, Jet4You and other budget airlines that make me very hesitant to ever return to the USA where even a flight from one state to another will cost you more than it costs me to visit five countries (a fact which I can confirm in 2018 – in fact, flying from one Hawaiian Island to another can cost more round trip!)
So anyway. There I was. A not rich guy on the way to sail in Greece. Who says you have to be rich to lead a rich life?
Sailing in the Gulf of Volos is a total joy – not just because the weather is mild and the gulf is beautiful but also because it is far from crowded and the places you can visit are so incredibly not-ruined-by-tourism!
Take our first port of call- Amaliapolis on the west side of the gulf. Just a small fishing village with a lovely beach and several great tavernas sitting right on the water. We were able to tie up to the quay and this is where I went ashore for my first taste of real Greek food in Greece.
The Taverna overlooking the quay I ordered feta, tzatziki, and cheese stuffed eggplant – plus the bread and of course some ouzo. While Greek food can be very similar to Turkish food in many regards, I would say that the Greeks tend to use about ten times more garlic which is just fine for me. The waitress told me – don’t order the tzatziki if you plan on kissing anyone – my only plan was to enjoy amazing Greek cuisine. Not a problem there at all!
This was a particularly nice place for me to experience Greek culture for the first time as the staff at the taverna spoke some English and since Amaliapolis is small and not overrun with tourists, they were able to tell me about and demonstrate at the same time the Greek custom of filoxenia which essentially is being welcoming to guests and friendly to visitors. Everyone I met in Amaliapolis was incredibly warm.
There was a wedding in the center of the town and while we would have certainly been invited to dance and join the festivities – Graham and I hung back and watched from a distance while having some adult beverages by the sea. We were hardly dressed for a wedding and the bride certainly didn’t need a couple of foreigners bumbling around what looked like a wonderful event. Music, dancing, and more than a little bit of singing too.
In fact, when I was in the taverna eating – earlier in the evening, the group next to me was a big family all singing together and really enjoying being a family. I wish families were like that all over the world. I hope that my little family will sing together like that someday.
Further south was a second mooring we thoroughly enjoyed. Nies Bay was a very sheltered little harbor with nothing around it. A nice looking beach lined one of the shores and a few fishing boats were anchored in the shallows of the deep interior. No other yachts and no one on the beach – but this was late September and early October so the beach season was over – even though the weather was perfect for the beach and the water was warm and clear.
By the way my extravagant first Greek meal spoiled me since the prices in Amaliapolis are about the lowest you will find anywhere – four mezes, bread, and ouzo for 8 euro! I hear that the tavernas in Amaliapolis are famed for their seafood – I’m sure it’s the best you’ll get anywhere with price and friendliness!
I treasure those memories of sailing on the Aegean with Graham and other friends. Sometimes, when I get stressed out living back in the USA and having to work all the time to make ends meet in Hawaii, I think about those tavernas and I’m instantly in a better place. I will go back again someday. Until then…Greece is certainly in my dreams.