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The Tates Take on the Ionian Sea

An adventure in which three Americans who don't really sail, skipper a 34 foot sailboat around the Ionian Islands, make life long friends with Brits, and crash the lunch of a Scottish Laird.

How did this happen? Well, our anniversary was approaching and I kept trying to pick a Greek island to visit. However, having moved to Greece less for less than 2 weeks, I experienced decision overload. Typically I LOVE finding a vacation spot, picking an AirBNB, researching what to see/do, and of course where to eat. It was a "Danielle Systems" failure. I had too many options and too little decision-making power. So, of course I researched relentlessly and ultimately overloaded because I couldn't make Operation Anniversary Vacation perfect enough to pull the trigger on.

Enter the idea of a sailing holiday. A friend in Turks and Caicos had mentioned living in Greece crewing for a family sailing holiday group... and how magical the islands were (and that there were tons of kids that played as soon as the boats docked.) We called Sailing Holiday, and they were booked solid. Whomp, whomp, whomp! Fortunately, their competitor had paid for ad words, so Google served up a lovely ad for Odysessus Sailing... AND when we called they had 1 boat left AND offered a 25% discount. I considered it a gift from God and booked the trip immediately.

Then there were the logistics. Culin had to submit a boating CV so the company could get an Overseas Helmsman certificate issued (gulp.) Oh, and there was the part about getting to the marina. All of the flights were booked so we faced a 5 hour drive through Greece to get there. No big deal, right?

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It all worked out. We listed Culin's crewing experience from high school, took the toll road, saw amazing sea/mountain views, and at one point Merric piped up from the back seat that we were crossing the longest bridge in Greece. While he's smart... he also excels at making stuff up. I asked how he knew and he pointed to the photo of the Charilaos Trikoupis Bridge in the Greek kids book I gave him (mom score.)

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Fast forward a few hours, touch and go AC, and the check engine light coming on in our rental car... and we arrived at Marina. As soon as we looked at the water we could see our flotilla (aka group of boats traveling together.) Our boat was named Adonis... and it was awesome.

Merric's one concern with this trip was that there wouldn't be anyone to play with. We unloaded the tons of food I bought to "provision" our trip and immediately met the British family on the boat tied up next to us. With two instant buddies next door (and 3 more on other boats) he was immediately exploring their boat and learning to play a new card game. Mission happy kid accomplished.

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This blog post could be a book of short stories based on the number of islands we visited and adventures we had. Sadly, that book will have to wait. Here are the highlights of our flotilla adventures.

For our first time sailing as a family we did well. No one died and the boat remained intact. We used one sail the first day (Culin was pushing for the second and I said one new sail per day) and our diesel motor to get from the marina to the island. We had thought a flotilla would sort of sail together following the head boat. Not so much... everyone left when they wanted and had to arrive by 4:00pm at the predetermined meeting point. The Tate plan was simple: leave early, get there first, and tie up before anyone could see us make and major sailing mistakes. It worked like a charm!

Meganisi was my favorite destination of the entire trip. We had this perfect little cove and the "lost boys" as we called the collective gaggle of boys aged 6-13 took our tender (a small inflatable boat with oars) and rowed around, snorkeled, threw each other off the tender, and generally caused mayhem for hours.

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We walked into town to scout anniversary dinner restaurants and ended up sitting down at one right on the water. As we ordered drinks we noticed that the kids at the table next to us were using a hook and fishing line (no rod) to catch fish quite successfully. Every so often they would catch a large fish, put it in a plastic bag and run over to their mom. Then this posh woman in a red silk sundress would calmly stomp on the fish's head to kill it so they could eat it for dinner. (*I grew up in the mountains of Pennsylvania and have NEVER seen anyone do this.)

Merric was mesmerized by the fishing, and of course got involved. Then it started pouring and the posh woman and her husband invited us to join them. An hour (and bottle of wine) later we were fast friends. It turns out they were Scottish and from a few things mentioned I realized that he was a laird (scotch for lord.) As an American my brushes with royalty are pretty non existant... but I managed to not be a weirdo.

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We discussed all sorts of things and then the rain finally stopped. They asked us to join them at their vacation villa when we got back from our flotilla adventure, and we parted ways. It wasn't until we were back to our boat that we realized Culin had accidentally taken the laird's sunglasses. Fortunately we have their address and can mail them back... once we find and understand the Greek postal system.

The next day we headed to Agia Eufimia. On the way we passed a beautiful cove and decided to drop anchor. Merric delighted in rowing the tender into a sea cave... which gave us time to toast 14 years of marriage and marvel at the fact that we were lucky enough to find each other and to be sitting on a sailboat in the Ionian to celebrate our anniversary.

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One of the best parts of exploring a country by sailboat is the opportunity to visit hidden gems that most tourists will never see. Agia Eufimia was absolutely one of these. It's a picturesque port town that feels like a blend of Italy and Greece. There are endless charming shops and restaurants lining the streets on the water. When you see it lit up at night, it's magical.

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Let's talk about the whole sailing experience for a moment. Chartering a sailboat in the Ionian sounds like something you would read in a romance novel... and the idea (and several moments) were absolutely romantic. We watched tiny islands with granite mountains set ablaze with the sunset's reflection. Looking into the Ionian Sea you gaze into the deepest cobalt blue with no waves... so your boat wake ripples away like silk billowing in the breeze. We were reading The Voyage of the Dawn Treader as a family on this trip... and looking around us really made the wonders of the last sea of Narnia seem plausible.


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On the flip side would be the logistics of 3 people living on a boat for a full week. Our cabin was triangular... so we would wedge ourselves into bed with our feet touching and our heads almost on the door. Very, very cozy. Merric slept in the aft cabin (which was rectangular but roughly the size of a coffin.) The hands-down best item purchased for this trip was a USB plug in fan attached to a battery pack. It served as our air conditioning and never let us down.

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Cooking on a boat is always interesting... but the fact that we had a propane fueled stove added an extra element of excitement and danger to breakfast. Would the stove light quickly? Would the gas accumulate and blow us up as I struggled with the lighter? It was a game of breakfast roulette that we were quite fortunate to win each morning.

After lighting our burner the first morning I was confident in the success of breakfast. Calling on my inner Girl Scout, I had poured 2 travel bottles in anticipation of our trip. One was olive oil and one was lemon dish soap. Breakfast number one consisted of eggs fried in lemon dish soap hastily flipped with a plastic plate when the silverware drawer jammed and refused to open. #EpicFail

It turns out that pre-caffienation is necessary for successful boat breakfasts... so Culin always brought me coffee after that... even if he had to row it in (reason 988,599,623 that we are married.)

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Best Parts:

Learning to sail... and sailing FAST! When the winds picked up and caught both sails, we had the experience of zipping along at 19 knots (faster than the motor could go.) I loved the sound of the water and wind in the sails. As power boaters we hear an engine... so the experience of going super fast silently was really cool.

It was also amazing how quickly we bonded with our fellow sailor families. We were a mixed bag of British, Irish, and Americans... but the joint adventures and children playing together cemented our families in a matter of days. After being "alone" in Athens for two weeks, it was wonderful to have a sense of community again. I even threw a wine and cheese party on our boat for everyone (and it takes a "close" community to smash 14 adults and children on one sailboat!)

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How small a 34 foot sailboat can be. Each of us hit some part of our bodies several times each day. It became a family quip to hear an injury and yell out "That will happen on a boat."

Road cows. Free range cattle that chill next to and on the hairpin turns of the highway leading to and from the marina. I was enchanted with their tufted ears and general presence. Culin was not.

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What's next:

The Tates take on Rome!

Trip Takeaways:

Even if you're not sure what you're doing in a new country or vacation... JUMP IN!

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