How to do the Greek Islands by Yacht

Who said you had to be Abramovich to voyage in sumptuous style? Jeremy Lazell and family sail Greece’s Ionian islands on a rarefied odyssey by yacht

I quite fancy being a Russian oligarch. Pootling about on my superyacht, motoring ashore for cocktails and calamari, securing pipeline deals on deck, while staff top up  my drink. Trouble is, I don’t have a superyacht, there are no pipeline deals, only an ever-expanding overdraft and 27 years left on  the mortgage. But two things happened recently to change all that. First, my mother died and left us some money, simultaneously wiping out  the  overdraft and reminding me that life is too short for ‘What’s  the  sensible thing to do?’ Second, a fellow boat-nut told me about Argentous — a four-cabin, 20-metre  yacht  based in  the  Greek islands that bridges  the  gap between no-frills skippered  yachts  and all-frills Abramovich-level superyachts. It’s  long  been a fantasy of mine to island-hop in private luxury, so we weigh everything up, convince ourselves it’s what my mum would have wanted, and fly out en famille to Corfu.

We are picked up at  the  Corfu Imperial Grecotel, skipper Charlie scooping us up from  the hotel’s beach in a mini speedboat that later packs away like something out of Thunderbirds into — those reading this in  the  hope of improving their  yachting  vocabulary should look away now — the  ‘boot’ of Argentous. Speeding out across  the  bay, my 11-year-old stares at  the  sailing boat, which gleams like an Aston Martin among a fleet of Trabants. ‘People must think we’re millionaires’, he says, stifling an enormous grin.

Erimitis beach on the west coast of Paxos, Greece by Getty Images

On board, the grins get bigger. And it’s not just  the  kids. Upstairs (above-decks?),  the  area beyond  the  steering wheel (helm?) looks like  the  VIP chill-out zone of an uber-hip Ibiza nightclub, with wraparound slate-grey sofas we instantly earmark for sundowners. Beyond that, slung between a towering 27-metre mast and spinnaker, a hammock beckons just back from  the  bow. Half of me instantly frets about  the  havoc my kids will wreak on  the  pristine decor;  the  other half is happy sipping  the  welcome drink brought by our host, Joy.

Because although Argentous costs at least twice  the  price of most skippered-yacht charters on  the  Med (which, incidentally, generally require you to cook for  the  skipper), it also comes with  the  aforementioned host, who cooks, cleans, tidies your room, makes your bed and generally spoils you to within an inch of your indecently privileged life. ‘What time would you like canapés?’ Joy asks as we bounce on  the  sofas and giggle.

A local surveys the harbourfront from a first floor window in Gaios, Paxos, Greece by Getty Images

The  plan is a five-day sail around Paxos and Antipaxos, with Charlie, a Royal  Yachting Association instructor, eager to let us help out or — in our case — let us lie back as  the mood dictates. Before coming, I’d pictured my three boys pulling on ropes and clambering up rigging, blinking at  the  horizon and turning into men before my eyes. However, not 20 minutes into our first sail across  the  Corfu Channel, all three disappear below deck to watch a DVD. For about seven seconds  the  wife and I wonder whether we mind, then sink back on to  the  sofas and gaze at  the  waves.

That evening is a strange one. We drop anchor about two hours south of Corfu town in a secluded bay. We play Uno over canapés, Joy serves us a delicious dinner above-decks, a warm sea-breeze drifts in below a pulsing smear of stars. We are living  the  family holiday dream. And yet, the  problem is we’re on a boat. Yes, it’s a seriously nice boat. Yes,  the  bed in our master cabin is bigger than our double at home. But it’s still a boat. It rocks, it creaks, it wakes me up with urgent noises from  the  en-suite. Some time around 4am, $13,000 suddenly feels like a lot of money to spend on a week of no sleep, with three kids who’d rather watch Harry Potter DVDs than learn to sail.

‘At 6am I go up on deck. It is a scene of almost ludicrous beauty’

At 6am I give in and go up on deck. It is a scene of almost ludicrous beauty, like  the  British Virgin Islands circa 1950. We are all alone below a rocky, uninhabited island,  the  water slack and glassy,  the  only signs of life a pair of gulls painted pink against a vast, rising sun. I step down to  the  back of  the  boat and dive in. It is sunrise in  the  Mediterranean, I am swimming on my own, drifting round  the  boat — my boat. Climbing back on board, I found it utterly impossible to remember what made me so grumpy  the  night before.

It is  the  start of perhaps  the  best day in this family’s life.  The  original plan was for a three- or four-hour sail to Paxos, but Charlie, sensing we’re a lot less Ellen MacArthur than most Argentous clients, suggests we stay and play instead. Because as well as having its own mini speedboat, Argentous has more water-sports toys than you can shake a selfie stick at. For  the  entire day,  the  boys snorkel, windsurf, paddleboard, waterski, jump off rocks or scream as they hurtle behind  the  speedboat on inflatable tyres.

That night, Charlie runs us by speedboat to Sivota, a pretty seaside town on  the  mainland with a few modest tavernas and armies of friendly stray dogs and cats. We feast on calamari and kleftiko, and feed fish off  the  jetty between courses, sipping drinks in  the  balmy night air as  the  boys lick ice cream and cuddle kittens on their lap. ‘I love Greece,’ says  the  eight-year-old, a splash of freckles on his sunkissed cheeks. I know exactly what he means.

The  next day we do sail to Paxos. I say ‘we’, but  the  actual sailing is, obviously, down to Charlie. 

I’d love to reveal that, having fallen in love with  the  sea  the  day before,  the  boys are impossible to prise from  the  helm, but as it happens, they’re mostly back below-decks with Harry Potter. ‘Those box sets won’t watch themselves’, says  the  12-year-old. Still slightly heady on yesterday’s success, it is impossible for me to get cross with him.

Fried calamari by Getty Images

That afternoon we drop anchor in a preposterously cobalt-coloured bay, Lakka, beloved of postcard-sellers and  yacht  charters. We windsurf, paddleboard, and take selfies against  the improbable blue, but somehow  the  magic is gone, crowded out by the  yachtie hoi polloi.

‘How about a walk?’ suggests Charlie, delivering a masterstroke. He drops us ashore, then takes Argentous along  the  coast to pick us up in  the  next village, Longos, leaving us to follow a thyme-scented donkey track between beaches and abandoned watermills, olive groves and hamlets. I’m not saying there’s no moaning, but in between grunts  the  boys chase crickets, stroke goats and play Marco Polo in  the  shallows at Manadendri Beach. It feels like we’ve wandered off  the  tourist trail to glimpse a Greece that few people get to see.

What you don’t get on Argentous, we discover waking to a force-six wind  the  next day, is guaranteed good weather. But Plan A’s loss (we had been aiming for  the  indecently photogenic Voutoumi Bay on Antipaxos) is Plan B’s gain, as we divert to Porto Ozias, a one-taverna inlet at  the  eastern end of Paxos. Glassily calm and inexplicably free of other boats,  the  inlet is a gloriously windless shelter from  the  storm. For hours we windsurf and wakeboard, sunbathe and read, eventually sailing in for dinner in Paxos’s main town, Gaios, where our boys play football on  the  cobbles below  the  church.

So far, so Instagram, but don’t you get exactly  the  same memories — for half  the  price — on a bog-standard skippered-yacht  charter? Well, actually, no. For one thing those bog-standard charters might occasionally have a mini speedboat to ferry you between boat and port, but with nowhere near enough horsepower to tow a waterski or wakeboard. Take away  the water sports, and a  yacht  — for kids — is basically a floating prison.

‘It’s a catered villa, a luxury mobile home and sports resort all rolled into one’

But more than that, Argentous makes you feel like royalty. It’s partly just  the  sleek lines,  the teak deck,  the  towering mast. As we pulled into Gaios, people actually got out of their boats (daubed in rental-agency logos) for a better look. But it’s also  the  service: no-frills  yacht charters are hard work. You cook, you clean, you pull ropes, you shop: it’s fun, but you’ll need a holiday afterwards. With Joy below-decks and Charlie at  the  helm,  the  only finger you lift on Argentous is  the  pinky on your drink. It’s a catered villa, a luxury mobile home and sports resort all rolled into one.

Sunset bridges the gap between Corfu and Sivota islands, Greece by Getty Images

On our last day, we sail back into Gouvia marina on Corfu, all five of us sitting silently on-deck in pre-emptive mourning. ‘You’ll just have to come back next  summer,’ says Joy. Yeah, right. At $13,000 a week and without another inheritance on  the  horizon, it’s a ‘probably not’ from us. However, there were times on this trip — wakeboarding in that abandoned cove, swimming round  the  boat at dawn, playing cards on deck — when we felt so truly spoilt, so dizzyingly privileged, I knew it was worth every penny. 

A year on, Argentous’s owners have added three more luxury  yachts to their fleet. One, Aurous, is a five-cabin catamaran with a trampoline and sundeck. My advice? Nab it before my kids get wind of that trampoline.

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