The first time that I “competed” in a sailing race was in 2011 with the Candita one of the prettiest classic boats – a 1929 J Class – to take part in the now-firmly-established Spetses Classic Yacht Regatta. To be more precise, the crew of 13 were competing while I sat quietly, enjoying the banter and teasing between them, the bronze details, the sounds of the elegant wooden hull cutting through the waves, and, of course, the play of the sails in the wind. And particularly the spray of the sea as the boat heeled in strong gusts.
In that first race 12 graceful classic boats and 11 traditional caiques took part. Going against the turbulent winds of the economic crisis, the Greek skippers dared to issue an invitation to the world of classic yacht sailing, even though they knew that the undertaking would be a demanding one. Large yachts are concentrated in the western Mediterranean in places such as Monaco. Traveling to Greece for them would be difficult, time consuming and costly. The call was aimed at people who truly love the sea and would not be fazed by the difficulties. People Such as Ion Argyriadis, a resident of France, who has taken part in some years with the Sagittarius, a vessel with two trans-Atlantic voyages under its belt. The race has also been boosted by the participation of Greek Olympic champions, such as gold-medallist Sofia Bekatorou.
Times are still tough, but the regatta’s organizers remain optimistic and the race has grown year-on-year drawing ever greater interest. This year, 85 vessels will take part, including boats from France, England, Turkey. Among them will also be the Antara belonging to Australian Ian Kortlang which will be competing for the second year. Last year the Antara travelled around 10,000 nautical miles on a ship from Sydney to Genoa and from there another 1,160 – this time under its own sails – to reach Spetses.
“I have taken part in many regattas all over the world and this one in Spetses is on par with the others and charming on many levels,” Ian says who, on returning to Australia, left the Antara in a Greek dry-dock in order to race again this year.
The vision is always the same: to bolster the international character of the regatta and boost the number of participants from abroad, be it as it may that our country is a hard-to-reach destination. “They have to say, ‘we will have our holidays in Greece’ in order to come,” Lisa Stathatou says, a member of the organizing committee and of the Yacht Club of Greece.
Last year the regatta comprised three categories: races for classic yachts, for schooners and traditional work boats, and for traditional open boats. This year a fourth category has been added: that of family open boats and dinghies.
The traditional open boat category includes “latini” type vessels – latin-rigged small wooden sailing boats – sailed by sea scouts in what is likely a world first for this sort of race, demonstrating the deep affection the organizers have for Greece’s seafaring tradition.
“The latini is the little boat that a Greek grandfather would take out in Aignoussa, for example, to catch an octopus in order to feed a child. That child went on to become a sailor, he became a bosun, later a captain, he became a shipowner and obtained a gentleman’s boat. There is a story behind the philosophy of the regatta,” explains Manolis Vordonis, president of the company Protovoulia Spetson and of the Poseidonio Hotel.
The base of operations is invariably the Poseidonio, one of Greece’s most historic hotels, which first opened its doors in 1914. The regatta is supported by important sponsors, such as Grey Goose and Moët & Chandon which are this year’s gold sponsors, the company IWC and others. Other events are held before and after the races including the traditional cocktail party for participants before the start of the regatta. On many levels the entire event has an aristocratic air, but first and foremost it is a great celebration of Greek and international seafaring, of teamwork and the spirit of fair play.
“It is important in a period of crisis to organize such events that put the spotlight on Greece with a positive message and which, over time, can bolster the Greek economy,” says Alexandros Papadogonas the president of the Yacht Club of Greece, the body that organizes the races.
The Spetses Classic Regatta has two important secondary goals: to support the shipbuilders of Spetses, and to get kids involved with sailing. To these ends the Spetses Yacht Club was founded five years ago. This even has special classes such that young people living on the island can get to know kids whose families vacation on Spetses. The hope is that over time lasting bonds of friendship will be forged all around the sport of sailing.
“As a yacht club we want to get the kids out on the sea, to get them up from the computers, to get them thinking strategically. When they get on a boat, all together, they start thinking as a team!” their instructors say.
It is this teamwork and single-minded focus on a goal that I have truly come to admire watching the international Spetses Classic Yacht Regatta over the years. And I look forward to being impressed by it all over again during the 2018 races.