Snobbery is a terrible thing and I can’t deny a sliver of it myself. Particularly when it comes to yachts I imagine myself owning. I wouldn’t be seen dead on a catamaran. Clumsy, squat, and gauche. The caravan of the sea.
However I needed to put my snobbery aside to negotiate my next fix of sailing.
My wife and I had recently passed our ICC (International Certificate of Competence – the lowest possible level of sailing qualification) which enabled us to charter a yacht anywhere in the Mediterranean, but there was no way my wife would entrust herself or our three daughters to my seamanship.
Luckily I had a plan: the Prices, who are good friends and, crucially, experienced sailors with buckets of seamanship. Next I got in touch with Sunsail, who understood my predicament. Clearly I wasn’t the first person to call with, shall we say, reluctant sailors in tow. The solution was the Ionian Sea (easy sailing – no sharks, no storms) and the ten berth 444 Catamaran.
I just hoped no one would see me.
The Prices shared a touch of my snobbery and our collective shock on seeing our home for the week was palpable. Seven metres wide, a galley bigger than most London flats, three dining areas, four loos each with a shower – all it was missing was a thumping great Gordon’s logo to complete the gin palace look.
We all looked askance and wondered what it would be like under sail.
We set off from our base at Lefkas to Sivota to find out, but our endeavour was scuppered by light winds. So instead we made use of the vast open expanses of our foredeck, rear deck, upper deck, cabin and cockpit to read, sleep, sunbathe or, as our collection of six to ten year olds did, run around. We dropped anchor, dived into the bay and began to think catamarans weren’t so bad after all.
Joining a flotilla was another recommendation from Sunsail to help persuade a reluctant family that we would be alright. Each flotilla has a lead boat staffed by Sunsail crew so if anything goes wrong they are there to help. The other boats were crewed by a wide range of people with widely varying experience. There are organised flotilla evenings but never any obligation or pressure to attend.
Over the course of the week we followed a Homerian route through the Ionian Sea to places such as Vathi, a small port on Ithaca; weaving between islands including Skorpios which was previously owned by the Onassis family, and now by mysterious Russians. The signs warning against coming too close and the strong sense of being watched made it all the more intriguing. All we could see was a solitary figure, loading what we could only assume were parts of a thermonuclear device onto a trailer. Either that, or fresh feta for lunch.
That evening we weighed up the relative benefits of a Greek sailing holiday this late in the season. We sailed during October half term. Cooler air, warm seas and the heightened risk of adverse weather versus steaming heat and very crowded harbours. The boat was divided, with my sun-seeking wife somewhat resenting packing ski jackets on what is really a summer holiday. Personally I rather enjoyed it.
By day three our wish for a bit more wind was well and truly granted. A steady 17 knots of wind, gusting 25 knots. We were about to find out that catamarans aren’t brilliant sailing into the wind. Manfully we tacked up a three-mile wide channel between Ithaca and Cephalonia making heavy weather of heavy weather. Snobbery justified. What catamarans provide in comfort they lose in sailing prowess – at least up wind.
Driving rain soon joined the wind and with it, our trusty catamaran was nibbling away at my snootiness. The non sailing crew were spread around the boat, out of the elements in a cozy warm cabin playing games, reading, generally messing around whilst two of us channeled our inner Ainslie.
Partly through the stability of the boat, and with windows on all sides, no one suffered from the motion sickness that being below decks on a monohull can instill.
We moored up in Vathi after a vigourous sail with our crew in fine spirits. But be wary what you wish for. The following day the entire flotilla was “stormbound” as the Ionian Sea was battered by a gale. For us it meant a good day for a walk and time to explore around Vathi.
Once released from port we had a 28 nautical mile sail to our base. Side on to the wind, the catamaran was in its element and hummed along at a steady 8 knots, battering its way through the swell. With waves occasionally spilling over the deck the kids were shrieking with delight but crucially the boat was still steady enough for tea and coffee to be made.
Each morning the flotilla is briefed on the weather and next port. The sail generally takes about three hours, leaving plenty of time to find a suitable bay to anchor in for lunch or a swim. The kids leapt off the sides as we debated the merits of unlabelled white “wine” bought from our fruit-selling friend Kostas.
I’d become rather fond of the boat. For large groups the space means people can be as involved in the sailing as they like, and for a fifteen tonne rectangle they sail pretty well. Against expectations, I am now a catamaran convert.