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Sailing and the Golden Mean

Jarvis Smith on the break of a lifetime sailing the Ionian Islands
Jarvis Smith - My Green Pod
Sailing and the Golden Mean

This article first appeared in our Earth Day special issue of My Green Pod Magazine, distributed with The Guardian on 22 April 2021. Click here to subscribe to our digital edition and get each issue delivered straight to your inbox

Anyone who has managed to go abroad over the last 12 months has been lucky.

We had a trip to Greece booked to mark my 50th in August 2020; it was planned months in advance but, as the departure date drew close, we were still unsure whether we’d be able to go. In the end the travel gods smiled and off we went.

This birthday seemed a significant milestone so I had chosen to do something really special with family and close friends.

The idea of being out in blazing sunshine on turquoise blue seas, exploring a group of beautiful and culturally rich islands while feasting on some of the best food in Europe, pretty much summed up my dream holiday.

Getting to Greece

We researched heavily and discovered family-owned Nisos Yacht Charter, which had a fleet of new or nearly new yachts ready to sail in the Ionian Sea off the coast of mainland Greece.

The flight from Gatwick to Preveza was just 3.5 hours. I had studied what the journey would have been like in my electric car; even with its 300-mile range the trip would have taken us three days. It just wasn’t feasible.

We planted 100 trees with our charity partner TreeSisters, which went some way towards balancing the flight’s impact.

At the Nisos base on Lefkas, just 40 minutes from the airport, we were greeted by Andy – our captain for the week. We went through the itinerary over an iced coffee, stocked up on food from the local supermarket and were shown to our yacht, ‘Champagne Flute’. It was a perfect start to our break, and things only got better.

Most people travelling with Nisos skipper their own boats; I wasn’t yet qualified so I took the opportunity to learn as much as possible from Andy. He was great fun and very trusting, letting us all take turns at the helm. By the end of the week he felt like family.

Exploring the Ionian Islands

Our friends chartered their own yacht but we sailed in tandem the whole week. This made for some great memories; we raced alongside each other, always trying to be first to get our sails out and steer full-tilt into the wind.

We anchored together in stunning bays for lunch, swimming and snorkelling, and moored in different harbours at night before heading out to dinner in local tavernas. As the evening ended we headed back to our boats for a drink and a game of cards before retiring to our cabins, where we were rocked to sleep by the waves.

We stayed overnight at Vathi (Meganisi) Vathy (Ithaka), Sami (Kefalonia), Fiskardo (Kefalonia), Sivota (Lefkada), Abelike (Meganisi) and Nidri (Lefkada).

Our boat was equipped with everything we could have asked for; the kitchen was ample for light lunches of soups, breads and salads, and everything was intelligently designed to make the most of the space.

We also had a paddle board and a tender, which meant we could drop anchor and explore smaller bays and coves, including the Fiskardo caves. Andy’s fun-loving nature made him a hit with the kids as well as the adults; he was soon pulling the girls along on a paddle board attached to the tender, in what fast became the favourite sport of the holiday.

Finding the mean

Greece has always been close to my heart; as a teenager I worked in Corfu and gorged on sun-ripened fruit and salads that always tasted sublime in the warmth of the sunny climate.

This time round I was more in tune with the history and culture; Socrates kept coming into my awareness – in particular his teaching that we must know, as far as possible, how to choose the mean and avoid the extremes on either side.

This all made sense to me when I took Champagne Flute’s wheel; I could feel the pull of the wind in the sail as I held our course, eyes fixed on our next destination on the coast ahead. It was a high-wire balancing act that pulled the boat onto its side and whipped us through the aquamarine waters on what felt like a knife’s edge.

Discovering this balance as we skirted round the Ionian Islands – home of Odysseus and sanctuary to Aphrodite, Zeus, Apollo and many other Greek gods – is what made the holiday a truly spiritual experience for me. 

Living in balance

Sailing connects us to the elements in an extremely meaningful way; if we choose to accept its lessons, we will be guided to live that perfect balance in all we do. Lean too much in one direction and the imbalance caused can easily get us into trouble.

This is now a reality in the way we have chosen to live as a species: we have taken but not given back, we have lived from a masculine and patriarchal system and now need to move back towards the feminine principles so we can collectively rebalance, restore and reimagine the world we want to create.

If we could give any gift to nature on Earth Day, what would it be? I invite you to live from a balanced perspective, and to walk that tightrope of hope with eyes focused on a new destination.

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