Looking back now in November from a storm-tossed UK, September in the Ionian seems far away: blissfully warm sailing under blue skies, our very own Drascombe Lugger anchored in a secluded bay, bathing ladder down, crew swimming in turquoise sea.
I’d never met Phil Osborne in person, though I felt I knew him well already. I recently renovated a 52 year old Drascombe Lugger which I’d bought cheaply – I fell in love with her name (Kingfisher to match the lovely but faded turquoise of her hull) and couldn’t resist the lure of setting her to rights again. I found Phil online while I was searching for replacement parts and timber. I could not have found a better mentor. https://justluggerjoinery.com/stories/kingfisher-rebuild/
I soon gained confidence and a skill or two. Phil was very generous with his time and expertise, and through his other company Just Lugger Joinery supplied new Iroko centreplate casings amongst many other things. Kingfisher took me a whole year to restore but last summer we hardly had chance to sail her. She sat on our driveway, beautiful and out of the water. We’d had a tough year with illness and various challenges, and then a summer of ghastly weather. We were frustrated, tired and desperate for a break.
Phil’s suggestion of joining him at the end of the season was a real temptation – one we couldn’t resist – so we signed up.
When we arrived on Sept 24th, we were whisked from the airport by taxi (included in the booking) to be greeted by a delicious mezze lunch and the friendly smiles of fellow Dragon Drascombers, Captain Phil in his red Dragon Drascombe t-shirt, and our boat, Clara. Phil took us to the nearby supermarket to buy basics, and then across the bay to our simple, spotless and comfortable apartment at Geni Garden where we met Sandra and Katharina who would look after us. The garden was beautifully tended by Kostas and the pool invited us for an evening swim before supper and a glass of wine or two. Let the rest of our wonderful ten days begin!
Day One wasn’t the best. I felt rotten with a bad cold, Paul was tired out. Though we’re experienced sailors, it was months since we’d been afloat. It felt as if we’d forgotten more than we knew! Embarrassing. I couldn’t remember how to lower the engine, and then I couldn’t raise it again. The lowlight was when Paul put the outboard into reverse rather than forward. Phil was sitting in his boat watching our manoeuvres. Why, when you’re on a boat, is someone always watching when it goes wrong? Clara zoomed backwards, boomkin poised like the lance of a charging knight on an unruly horse, towards Katharina who was lying on a mooring. Phil was justifiably unimpressed.
‘Bluddyell, Paul, what you doin’?’
His Welsh voice rang out in alarm and he unwittingly furnished us with the catchphrase of the week when anything was amiss. It’s a phrase that’s come back to England with us and makes us laugh and remember! Luckily, disaster was averted, but it seemed as if we were likely to spend the rest of our stay in Phil’s remedial sailing school room at the safe end of the bay. I think he wondered what kind of duffers he’d taken on.
Although Captain Phil’s induction wasn’t always comfortable, it was invaluable. The lugger requires different handling to sail well. I still recite, 1,2,3 (Mizzen, main, jib), 3,2,1 (jib, main, mizzen) whenever I rig and de-rig Kingfisher. ‘Back the jib, Pam! Back the jib!’ echoes in my head whenever we go about. Being confident with the outboard is vital too.
That evening our equilibrium was restored by a delicious meal at Gialos’ Taverna (a short walk away from Geni Garden) and then a good night’s sleep. Our state of mind and mood were soon as sunny as the weather. Phil was satisfied that we were safe to go and explore, making useful suggestions of where we might go.
An entirely unexpected pleasure of the whole stay was the company of other guests, in particular Ben and Helen from Jersey on our first day. We hit it off immediately; we sailed in company with them all week, and often ate with them either at the taverna or on the balcony of one of our apartments at Geni Garden.
We turned into regulars at Gialos and enjoyed getting to know Kostas and his Mum (who rescued me one night when I spilt an entire glass of red wine down my yellow dress. She beckoned me inside, lent me a dress of her own that fitted me, and with little drama, I took my seat back at the re-laid table and the evening carried on as if nothing had happened!) Everywhere we went we experienced a generous welcome, and a willingness to let me practise my very few words of Greek.
With Dragon Drascombe you can be as independent as you like, joining in or not, as suits you, but, for us, it was special to be part of a small community which we could dip in and out of. Most afternoons ended with a debrief with the rest of the gang over a welcome drink and snack at Hotel Iris on the other side of the little bay. Later we met Elspeth and Rob who were having a week’s personal tuition. We were invited to join them in a carburettor servicing lesson. You get to learn more than you imagine on a DD holiday! Devon and Rutland sailing rendezvous will certainly happen next summer. Perhaps even Jersey too.
Unsurprisingly, the boats were well-maintained and equipped with all the safety gear and kit we needed. It had been a busy season, and we appreciated all the hard work, planning and maintenance behind the scenes that kept things up to scratch. Chart and compass helped us orientate ourselves, the bimini kept us cool and the coolbag kept picnics cool too. We were a cool crew!
The wind isn’t as reliable as in England (where you can mostly be sure of a bit of a blow), and the mornings in the Ionian are mostly dead calm, a light or steady wind coming up most afternoons. We did have one huge storm on Day Two which lasted all day and all night – spectacular as it rumbled and flashed round and round the mountains which make a dramatic skyline circling the bay. In our holiday humour though we simply didn’t mind. We were very glad we had chosen a 10-day stay. Really a week isn’t long enough.
Under motor or sail, walking, reading, swimming in the pool or the sea, eating, drinking good local wine, exploring – we were content. Spartakhori, Ormo Athene, Tallia Island off Meganisi, Nikiana up toward the Lefkas Canal, Sivota, tiny bays and lively harbours – all different and all delightful. There were some wonderful tavernas we’d love to go back to. In fact, there’s so much more to explore, we’ve only scratched the surface. The real draw for us is to follow a bit of the path of Odysseus from Ithaka – so romantic and resonant with ancient myth. Perhaps we could explore a bit further afield.
Thanks so much, Captain Phil and your team! You looked after us wonderfully. Nothing was too much trouble. We have fine memories of our holiday with you, and wear our red Dragon Drascombe T-shirts with pride. Perhaps they’ll soon be as faded as yours!