Sailing into the sunset

Broadsides from the pirate captain of the Jet Set

Text settings

To the Royal Hellenic Yacht Club, high above the tiny gem of a marina once upon a time known as Turkolimano, its name changed to Mikrolimano after the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus. The yacht club also dropped the Royal, which is par for the course. Actually, it is the standard method used by Greek busybodies and other pests for seeking redress against those who have never sinned against them — like the Greek royal family. Never mind. The club will always be connected to the royals because it is they who sponsored it and put it on the map. The present King Constantine was our first post-war gold medal sailing winner in the Rome 1960 Olympics, and it was he who as crown prince managed to get Athenian society to turn into sea wolves.

Needless to say, those were heady days for the club and for its members. The building itself is beautiful, hidden high above the port among pines and cypress trees. Members back then owned sailing boats which they anchored below, people wore white linen suits or blazers, and there were elegant dinner parties on the terrace every night. On Sunday evening, when the boats returned from the islands, we dined informally in the port below, entertained by strolling troubadours singing songs of lost love and perfidious women. (In the syllabus of Greek songs, I do not think I’ve ever come across one that tells you otherwise.)

Last Saturday night was nostalgia time. The Greek royal family was there in force, including the King’s sister Sophia, also known as the Queen of Spain. Many of the old members resigned after the King was deposed in as phoney a referendum as there ever was, but now, under the presidency of my schoolmate Andreas Potamianos, there’s been a rebirth. I must say the place looked wonderful. One of the old waiters recognised me and reminded me of a disgraceful incident which included a bush in the garden, the obligatory sweet young thing and yours truly. Why is it that we Greeks always remember such things but forget the promises of the crooks who govern us? My favourite is when I was taking a nice pee next to a grand admiral who was president of the club at the time, and saw him lift his heavily bemedalled white uniform coat, pull out only his undershirt from his trousers, and proceed to relieve himself for a rather long time.

Oh well, nostalgia time or not, I did the usual, dancing the night away, chatting drunkenly to old friends, and thinking how quickly it all passed. One moment I was in my late teens raising hell in the club, then suddenly I’m in my late sixties, not quite raising hell, and certainly not finding anyone to go into the bushes with. My friend Robert Miller, father-in-law of Prince Pavlos, and grandfather of the just-christened Odysseas Kimon, has recently set the transatlantic record with his sailing boat Mari-Cha IV, and he was there looking fit and rather humble about his accomplishment. Thirty-five knots under sail is pretty damn fast, and Mari-Cha IV reaches that magic number easily. I haven’t checked it, but it surely is a record for a mono hull.

And speaking of boats, I’m off on mine in about ten days. First, an intellectual cruise with the Buckleys and Lamberts, then a rendezvous with the Bismarcks and Hoares somewhere near Turkey, finishing off without the mother of my children in Mykonos, in the company of karate friends. I know, I know, it could be better, more intellectually stimulating, like going to Palm Beach or St Tropez to see Roman Abramovich and the dregs of humanity, but what can a poor little Greek boy do? After all, we Greeks were born to suffer, and nothing can be more painful than sitting becalmed on a boat hoping against hope that Aiolos decides to blow our way. This is why I loathed racing. Once becalmed one cannot turn on the engine — although it has been known to happen — and sitting with a bunch of muscle-bound coffee-grinding old salts is not my idea of pleasure. Old dad used such times to have a nip or two, so he was known to arrive a bit under the weather, although his Nefertiti almost never lost. Last time I raced was at Cowes, in 2001, for the America’s Cup Jubilee, on board Gianni Agnelli’s Stealth, which wipes the floor with the competition. But I was just a passenger. Which is what happens to all old salts. They don’t die, they just turn into old voyeurs, watching young people having fun ashore.