Cyclades Regatta 2017: A thrilling sail from Paros to Serifos
By Helen Iatrou
Videography and photography by Carlo Raciti www.carloraciti.com
Winds gusting up to 44 knots, wild waves almost three metres high crashing across the bow, leaping dolphins and a snapped genoa sheet flailing around like a mad sea snake.
Racing in the Cyclades Regatta, the leg from Paros to Serifos proved the toughest sailing conditions we have yet to encounter.
Traité de Rome, the 51-foot history-making yacht we crewed on, surfed across the waves, overtaking our competitors, like it eats Beaufort 7 conditions for breakfast.
We got soaked to the bone, hiking out on the rails as the yacht heeled steeply and captain Joseph expertly helmed the vessel.
At one point, the genoa sail sheet snapped, unable to withstand the force of the wind and Carlo put down his camera to coax it back in like a snake charmer.
We arrived in Serifos completely exhausted but on an enormous adrenaline high!
It was the most challenging leg of the week-long offshore sailing race, and the most thrilling sailing we’ve done yet. And we’re thirsting for more!
Waking up to rather healthy winds in Parikia, the capital of the Cycladic island of Paros, we were excited to strap on our knee pads and gloves and jump back on board sailing yacht Traité de Rome for the third leg of the Cyclades Regatta.
Little did we know that this would prove the most thrilling and challenging leg of the week-long offshore sailing race held in the first week of July.
So far, we had sailed between the islands of Kea, Syros and Paros, spending a much-needed rest day at the latter two.
There was talk among race crews the previous night, at the award ceremony for the previous leg, that the Paros-Serifos segment might need to be cancelled due to strong winds.
We were relieved that it wasn’t, particularly considering that the first race leg from Kea to Syros was a wipeout in terms of sailing conditions. Zero wind meant we pulled out very early for that leg.
Together with our fellow crew aboard Traité de Rome, we untied the dock lines and headed out into the bay to prepare for the race start, leaving Paros behind us. One crew member had suffered an ankle sprain but it had nothing to do with the race.
She misstepped on her way out of a bar during a regatta karaoke party the night before, where competitors were taking rounds to exercise their singing skills.
The horn sounded and our captain, Joseph, at the helm this time, weaved the 51-foot, 20-tonne aluminum sloop through the waves, fairly low at this early stage, past some of the participating yachts in our midst.
Soon enough, we were no longer in the protected bay but out in open sea, and the winds picked up considerably.
With the mainsail reefed, Joseph called out to bowman Panagiotis to pull in the genoa sail, as Traité de Rome lurched forward, sailing close haul, her favourite point of sail.
“Trim the main, Panagi trim the genoa . Forzaaaaaaaaaaaaaa,” Joseph, smiling ear to ear, boomed.
This was going to be a long yet enjoyable day of surfing across and through a steady barrage of waves measuring almost three metres high, in sailing conditions of Beaufort 7.
Traité de Rome seemed to be lapping it up. This is what the historical yacht does best; eating winds gusting up to 44 knots for breakfast.
Carlo and I had made sure our heavy-duty sailing jackets were out and ready for use, but we left them below deck as the wind and waves were still fairly light when we left port.
Carlo perched himself astern, above the cockpit and right behind the captain, strapped in, so he could secure the best view with his still camera and action camera.
We were heeling steeply, so I spent most of the race leg strapped in hiking on the rails, and this meant I bore the full brunt of the waves constantly crashing and dumping onto the bow.
Without my jacket on, I was soaked to the bone in no time but was experiencing such an adrenaline rush that nothing could faze me.
At one point, a pod of about six dolphins joined us windward, leaping in and out of the churning waves as if to say “this is child’s play”, and we hoped they would prove a good omen for the race.
There were a few hairy moments, so I felt relieved were crewing on such a big, sturdy vessel.
Feeling like I was on a crazy rodeo ride out deep in the western Aegean, it was surprising to find the sea was so warm. Perhaps it was the natural chemical concoction my body was producing, to protect me from the cold, because I felt shivers run through at times.
While my sailing jacket hung on a hook below dry as can be, I thought of the sailing instructor and fierce competitor for whom we had crewed several weeks back on a partly wet weekend race.
His number one mantra? A good sailor always carries their sailing jacket and swimsuit. Clearly.
Traité de Rome was doing good time, her mainsail and genoa under full sail, and captain appeared pleased with our progress, as we overtook some of our toughest competitors – with far more experienced crew on board – and left them reeling in our wake.
Then a crew member who was trimming the genoa lost control of the sheet. It started flailing about in the wind like a manic sea snake. If you’re not a sailor, you cannot imagine the immense power of a sheet in the grip of high winds. And the bigger the boat, the thicker the sheet. It can quite easily cut off fingers or slice up your face.
Thankfully we had Panagiotis on board. We’re really not sure what we have done without him.
Panagiotis, who hails from and lives on the Sporades island of Skiathos, might have limited experience in racing but grew up sailing Lasers and Optimists, so he has that all-important base of sailing knowledge and is well-versed in the vagaries of Greece’s seas and winds.
Conditions in the Aegean can twist on a dime – from glass calm seas to roiling waves and winds that will put even the most experienced sailors to the test. The advantage in Greece is that there is always land mass in relatively small proximity if one needs to take shelter.
Panagiotis managed to grab the runaway genoa sheet and fasten it to the winch.
Before too long, however, the sheet escaped once more, so Carlo stepped in this time, putting away his camera gear and moving forward to the bow.
I felt a little anxious as he carefully positioned himself, holding his left arm, bent at a right angle to protect his face from the thrashing sheet, and repeatedly reaching out with his right to snatch it.
Phew. I breathed a huge sigh of relief when he grabbed it.
But it wasn’t mean to be. A short while later, with the genoa sail fully extended and taut against the strong winds, the sheet snapped, unable to withstand the massive power. It was already worse for wear and should have been replaced pre-race.
So, that was it. The genoa was furled and we lost a good measure of speed, falling back behind some of our competitors.
Turning in to Serifos’ natural harbour, which appears fairly well protected from the elements, we thought the toughest part of the leg was over.
But the approach was not easy, with winds whipping over the island land mass and hurling across the sea, all of the participating yachts had their work cut out for them.
Finally, we passed the race marker, sailed in to the small marina and moored Traité de Rome, exhausted but still riding high on an adrenaline high like any other.
We rented an attractive studio near the marina with views of the rarefied indigo-hued seas surrounding Serifos and took turns enjoying a long, hot shower, each of us still wearing our salty, drenched clothes.
We learned a great deal that day: how far you can expect to push a sail, why reefing early is important, that all equipment needs to be in perfect working order, how to handle a risky situation in heavy weather, and how important it is to be aware of safety procedures.