Sailing the Wine-Dark Aegean Sea
In the Odyssey, “Sailing over the wine-dark sea” was how Homer described the Aegean nearly 3,000 years ago. Today, his pulse would still quicken, roused by the allure of those waters.
By David Stone
An archipelago stretches from the Greek mainland south into the Mediterranean Sea.
The Aegean can sometimes look like myth itself, too beautiful to be real.
In summer, hills piled above the water are dry and whitish brown. Barren washes prove that it never rains here in the high season. Nature saves that for the cooler winter months when beaches are empty and prices are rock bottom.
I’m already daydreaming about coming back after Christmas when we can join other smart tourists at Rodos Palace. There, we get spacious rooms and gourmet meals at ridiculous discounts. We stroll uncrowded streets through remains with which history left its marks in the Old Town.
But the Aegean is our universe today, and I’m prepared, lathered with sunscreen and ready to have an adventure.
I’m about to be blown away. I fall in love with “sailing over the wine-dark sea” in which, by the end of the day, both Homer and I will have sailed.
Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Sea Bream and Dolphins
In a speedboat also outfitted for sailing, designed by our pilot and guide, Stavros swings us out out of the small harbor and into the Aegean. To spice things up, he lets anyone who wants take a turn at the steering wheel. He keeps us a safe enough distance from shore to have the fun without risk.
We race between islands before curling close to shore. Dolphins greet us near circular, enclosed pools where sea bream are raised for export.
A marine biologist, Stavros explains that while his tours usually include a chance to feed the fish, we can’t. The current crop is being forced to fast in preparation of harvesting in a few days.
He hands out flippers and masks for snorkeling. The water is so clear, the bottom, maybe twenty feet below, is easily seen through wavy aquamarine.
Clear aquamarine all the way down.
I save my plunge until Stavros steers us into a small cove. Goats feed at a distance in the dry, rocky terrain.
On our way to Simi Island, Daniel Watson, founder of Livid, and I spend an hour at the rail. We scan the islands and notice a surprising number of small, isolated buildings, usually white, washed by sun high above the shores. We find out that these are tiny monasteries, mostly unoccupied. Hundreds dot the archipelago.
We are anchor fifty feet from shore on what looks like another unoccupied island. The water is, again, clear beyond imagination.
I’m the last to jump overboard, conscious of how long it’s been since my swimming muscles were expected to keeping me afloat.
Into the Aegean
Because the Aegean is deep close to shore, the water is cool and refreshing. Breaking the surface, I’m amazed to find I can see things almost as clearly underwater as above. It feels clean like the free running streams I swam in while growing up in the country.
As I swim toward shore, the Aegean sweeps gracefully away like the surface of a dream, bluer as swells into the distance.
My friends are already exploring the island and taking photographs. So, I pull on my flip-flops and walk into a sandy area marked by hearty shrubs.
Daniel, Sheryl, Kinya Claiborne (Style & Society Magazine), travel writers Isoul Harris (Uptown Magazine) and Jan Eckland (TravelRave) were all smart enough to pack swimming shoes I previously knew nothing about.
My friends explore an old abandoned chapel while I struggle to keep the sand from wrecking my feet. I stop every ten steps to shake sandpaper-like grains out of my open footwear.
Abandoned structures and the landscape are fascinating, and Stavros has a battle to round all of us up to stay on schedule.
There’s more swimming ahead and a lunch too wonderful to fit the term, as we understand it in the U.S., at an open air restaurant in Halki.
Swimming Under the Gaze of Cyclops
Before leaving the Aegean for a lunch to end all lunches, Stavros navigates our boat into another hidden cove.
Our group indulges in a remote cove beneath the Cyclops Cave.
Cut into the top of a sheer rock face is the cave of Cyclops, the one-eyed giant of Greek and Roman myths. A cave, shaped like a single eye, stares out into the Aegean.
But who needs mythology when theres an empty beach waiting onshore? Most of my friends jump into another calm pool of irresistible aquamarine, the sea’s bottom visible beneath the gentle wake of our boat.
I stay behind, somewhat enviously, meditating in the perfect peace of the Aegean.
When I open my eyes, my friends luxuriate on the shore, some still in the water, a few soaking up sun on the soft sand.
For a while, this is time out of mind, a perfect stretch of endless enjoyment, the world standing still. But, alas, we have a schedule to follow, and Stavros gets busy shepherding a flock that may never willingly leave onto the boat.
Sailing the wine-dark sea to Halki, Food, Wine, and “Yamas!” All Around
There should be another word to replace “lunch” when it refers to the pleasures of this late afternoon feast in Greece. Back in New York, lunch means a sandwich, maybe a salad, and back to work.
In Greece, at least for us, lunch means a couple of hours of great food, wine, conversation and frequent shouts of “Yamas!” Greek for, “Cheers!”
Unless you’re a tour guide, a nap while a cool sea breeze sweeps over you is a soothing thought.
First, though, there is the food. By the end of the week, I’ll be convinced that there is no such thing as bad Greek food, and this is an important step along the way.
A Greek (What else?) salad comes first. A big chunk of feta balances atop cucumbers, peppers and onion. Local wine fills our glasses while we wait for the main courses.
Simple food, perfectly prepared, a classic Greek salad.
Even in a casual place like this, the food is as much presentation as taste treat. Everything looks great carried out of the kitchen. Octopus, calamari, shrimps and more appear in plentiful quantities. Finished off by perfectly prepared sea bream, the local gourmet fish of choice.
The clearest water with which any God ever blessed a world…
What eventually strikes me about Greek food is the sheer variety, the boundlessness of creative ways to prepare it.
At the end of an afternoon of unexpected pleasures, we walk slowly along Halki’s sun-washed waterfront to the dock. Stavros will pick us up for our trip back to Rhodes.
In the meantime, a few of us pick up souvenirs. Waiting, I glance at small boats bobbing in the water nearby and, amazingly, am able to see their shadows darkening the harbor’s bottom. It’s the clearest water with which any God ever blessed a world.
The food is what sailing over the wine-dark sea is really all about.