Learning to Sail in Kefalonia

Rabbit Island

Rabbit Island

Kefalonia, Cephalonia… however you want to spell it, this Greek island is well-known for its natural beauty. The coastline is dotted with small bays, often harbouring golden sand beaches and crystal clear waters. Sounds like the perfect destination for relaxing, sunbathing, and doing nothing more active that the odd dip in the sea to cool down. It probably is. But I wanted something more exciting, something fun and challenging. So my trip was spent onboard a yacht with my partner, my parents and my brother. And we were the crew.

Having never even been a yacht in my life, nevermind sailed one, I was slightly apprehensive. We had booked three days with an instructor and then the remainder of the week we would be sent out on the yacht on our own… scary! I was worried that I just wouldn’t get it, I mean it took me a lot longer than three days to learn to drive a car! I was worried I would crash the yacht into another boat, or onto rocks. I was worried I would tip the boat over – have you seen the angle yachts lean over to?! Despite all this I decided it would be fun to try for the ICC, International Certificate of Competence, which, if I passed it, would mean I would be able to skipper a sailing boat (with certain restrictions). I spent the weeks leading up to the trip swotting up for the theory test using the recommended e-learning course. It covered everything you need to know, from distress signals to anchors and compasses to weather. A huge amount to remember, but I managed to cram for my university degree, so I wouldn’t let this phase me!

Our yacht for the week.

Our yacht for the week.

One flight, taxi ride and ferry journey later, we were in Lixouri and being shown around a yacht which would be home for the next week. Lessons didn’t start until the next day so we had an afternoon free to have a dip in the sea, explore the pretty town square and visit some of the water-edge tavernas. The next morning we met our ex-pat instructor, Julian, who immediately put all my fears to rest by explaining it is physically impossible to tip a yacht over by wind alone. Phew!

Over those three days we learnt a huge amount, with Julian allowing us to take the helm and do the sailing ourselves the whole time. Each day we would stop to anchor for lunch at a different bay, allowing as much time for swimming and snorkeling as we wanted. Sometimes we swam to shore for a drink in a taverna or to wander along a sandy beach. At Rabbit Island we rang the bell at the fishermens’ church and explored the monastery left in ruins by the 1953 earthquake. Julian pointed out beaches that featured in Louis de Berniére’s ‘Captain Corelli’s Mandolin’ (a romantic tale set amid WWII, a must-read for anyone vaguely interested in the island’s history), the movie of the same name was also filmed in Kefalonia.

Swimming to shore while anchored for lunch.

Swimming to shore while anchored for lunch.

Having a fantastic instructor made all the difference, Julian soon had us understanding a whole new sailing language. We learnt what was meant by tacking and the difference between a beam reach and a broad reach. It certainly wasn’t an easy job for him though, after showing and explaining what to do in a man overboard situation he wanted us to have a practice. After shouting, “Man overboard!” my partner, Zach, did nothing. He carried on sailing in a straight line, seemingly oblivious to the fate of whoever may have fallen off the yacht. After a few seconds of the rest of us wondering what he was doing Zach realised we were all looking at him. He turned to Julian with a confused expression and said, “Wait, do I have to turn now?”

Despite the odd hiccup, (I am definitely not a fan of Mediterranean mooring – rear end to quay), we were deemed proficient enough to be trusted to take the yacht out by ourselves. We weren’t completely abandoned though, there was somebody on the dock to help us leave in the morning and moor-up in the evening, as well as being available via radio all day. Even without an instructor we managed to not hit any rocks, although we did give ourselves a very long swim to shore in one bay but the ice-cold drink from the taverna was worth it!



Keeping watch for pirates!

Keeping watch for pirates!












A two-hour written theory test later and I had passed my ICC. This may have been my first time sailing, I know it won’t be my last.

The Boring Bit!

  • Learn to sail with Sea-Trek
  • Flights from London Gatwick to Argostoli with Easyjet
  • Taxi from Argostoli airport to ferry port 20
  • Ferry from Argostoli to Lixouri 2.50€ per person

Posted on October 3, 2013, in Europe, Greece and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Interesting article. I just returned from Kefallonia but didn’t sail. It is really one of the most beautiful places in the world. I also posted some photos if you are interested.

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