Some of the most beautiful beaches on the west coast of Corfu can only be accessed by boat. Tiny patches of yellow hidden at the bottom of towering grey and white cliffs, they offer peace and relaxation for those willing to seek them out.
We drove to Paleokastritsa, a pretty coastal resort and hub of the bays that we wanted to visit.
We needed to hire a boat and go exploring. It didn’t matter that the last time I captained a ship was thirty years ago, I hadn’t lost it I told myself, it’s just like riding a bike.
“Tom, before you go over to that beach hut and hire a boat, can you explain to me exactly what you captained all those years ago?
“A twin out board thirty foot power cruiser, she was a beauty. Two hundred horses, thirty knots top speed.
Sarah couldn’t failed to be impressed. The brown faced kid took my money and in no time we were on the jetty staring at an eight man power boat, the open sea ahead of us.
“Thees eyes the most powerful boat we av. It is eezee to spin so be careful. And do not drop the anchor in rocks because wee will av to come out to get you back to port.”
I laughed and shook my head. “That, will not be happening my friend.”
Out of the port we chugged. Past the yachts and dinghies we cruised, out into the deep royal blue sea. We were in a wide open inlet, on one side Corfu, on the other, the vast sea and beyond that, Italy. On the horizon lay little coves in a pretty semi circle, inviting to be visited, like tiny nirvanas of beauty.
I was at the wheel and all was well. I told everyone to hang on as I pushed the lever to put us up to near full speed. The spray hit the girls as I increased the power.
The prow lifted as we started to skim the waves. The wind got up and white gobs of surf started to soak us as I made for a beach. Sarah seemed to relax as we came towards our first destination.
I eased the power down and hit my first problem. How do you stop this bloody thing?
I looked over the side. There was no sand to be seen on the sea bed, all I could detect were rocks. We drifted nearer and nearer to some stern looking Germans, moored near the shore in a pocket battle ship. They glared over, clearly unhappy with our position.
We were going to hit them, no question. And from the brightly painted livery of his craft it was obvious that his ship wasn’t hired, it was his pride and joy.
The bathers on shore stated to look up as we floated nearer and nearer to the beach and the Germans.
The words from the hire guy rang I my ears.
“What ever you do sir do not beach the boat pleeze.”
There was no option, I had to slam on the anchors, literally. Over the side the three pronged iron claw flew, closely followed by the rope that burned my fingers as it slid over the side. I cursed myself for not paying more attention to Richard Dreyfus on board the Orca.
The anchor dragged some purchase off the sea bed and we stopped, uncomfortably close to the Graf Spee.
He smiled a cold smile as we bobbed into his personal boat space. Sarah examined my hand. The burn mark was nasty.
“Even I know to let go of the rope Tom, haven’t you seen Jaws?
“Please be quiet, I know what I am doing
“But those Germans in that boat don’t look happy. Come on, let’s move nearer to the shore. Pull up the anchor.
Just as I did exactly that the German boat bumped against mine. He pushed us away and flicked his hands in an entreaty for us to bugger off. He had a point, the was more than enough sea to go round after all.
I pulled at the rope. It went tight and we moved away. Then my arms came nearly out of my sockets as the boat came to a dead stop.
I might as well have been trying to pull Excalibur out of the stone. The rope was going nowhere and neither we we . We were stuck .
Disgusted, the Germans moved away. Now we bobbed around like the proverbial cork as Captain Pugwash, aka yours truly tugged and heaved at the blasted hemp.
Sarah had her head in her hands as the girls giggled and donned their snorkels. They flopped overboard to examine he problem.
After a few seconds the surfaced and breathlessly reported back to their captain.
“Tom, it’s really really deep! About twenty foot down.
“Yes but is it stuck?
“Oh god yeah it’s stuck under a massive boulder, you’ll never shift it!
This news seemed to delight them even more
“Are we shipwrecked mum? Awesome.
Sarah took her sunglasses off and rubbed the bridge of the nose.
“Tom, will you please stop tugging on that rope? You’re going to put you back out.
“I’ll ring the boat guys they come out and move us
“No! It’s embarrassing
“I’ve got an idea, why don’t I throw it into reverse ?
“Reverse? It’s not a Ford Mondeo, it’s a speed boat for god’s sake. Listen, you know this thirty foot boat you captained, where did you sail it .
“Taylor park boating lake?”
“But you said it was a thirty footer?”
“Equivalent scale, yes.”
“What you mean equivalent scale? Don’t tell me, it wasn’t a –
“A Model yes but it’s the same thing, you still have to know what you’re doing, haven’t you seen Hardy Kruger in Flight of the Phoenix?
“Tom you are so full of bull…”
And With that, our saviour arrived. A teenage Greek boy with what seemed like webbed feet swam up and asked if we were stuck?
“Yes!” We shouted in unison. He nodded, took two deep breaths and dissapeared into a scattering of bubbles.
Hannah stuck her head under to observe.
After twenty seconds he was still down there. She surfaced
“Wow, he’s gone right to the bottom!,
Eventually he emerged, his head thrown backwards so that his mouth was the first part of his body to surface, like a salmon snapping at a gadfly. As he took in a gasp of air and smiled at us, I thought of how his lungs must have been burning up. Even the thought of attempting such a dive panicked me, the pressure of the tons of sea water above squeezing my eardrums, the water turning from warm to icy cold.
But to this boy, showing off in front of us and his pals, that scrape with death was an everyday event. Plunging into the turquoise clear sea and free diving twenty feet was as normal to him as skateboarding under the multi story was to the kids in my hometown.
In any case, finally we were released from our unwelcome tethering . Checking for bathers around us, I clicked the engine into reverse and the outboard gurgled into life, churning up water into a fury of boiling white bubbles. In a desperate attempt to reassert my salty sea dog masculinity, I set my jaw to chisel mode and grim faced, pushed the lever up to set course for shore. The bow lifted and we bounced forward, the sea turning from the pale of the shore to the deep azure of the open sea.
Round the bay we sailed, laughing at the incongruous sight of a pen pusher from Liverpool guiding his family home after their epic odyssey.
We chugged into port, our faces stinging from the salty sea air. I had done it, I had brought us home safely. I slipped her into neutral, calmed her beating heart as I eased her into her berth. Our harbour master grinned and asked how it had been. I assured him that for an experienced sailor such as myself it was a walk in the park. Ignoring Sarah’s hissed aside that my walk in the park usually ended up at the boating lake, I shook his hand and bid him farewell.
It was time to drive over the mountains and go home. Emboldened by my mastery of the open seas, I decided to examine the capabilities of our jeep, who I had christened Rocinanti. I slotted the smaller of the two gear sticks forward, putting her undercarriage into four wheel drive.
“Tom, why are you fiddling with that little stick?
“Right Sarah, let’s see what this baby can do.”
Sarah, bedraggled by her nautical journey, appealed for calm. Not a bit of it, those hairpins where just screaming at Rocinanti’s tyres to squeal
But there was only one lady squealing as we snaked up the hills back to Agios Gordios.
“Tom, will you please slow down? You’re not clever. Tom! Look at the drop ? Please! And why are you singing that stupid song ?
Good job James wasn’t on board