Cyclades Regatta 2017 Syros-Paros: Man overboard (almost)!
By Helen Iatrou
Videography and photography by Carlo Raciti www.carloraciti.com
Aeolus failed to heed our pleas to blow a little wind our way on the first race leg of the Cyclades Regatta, from the island of Kea to Syros.
But he pricked up his ears the morning we headed out aboard the 51-foot Traité de Rome for the second race leg of the offshore international sailing race, held in the first week of July.
Joseph, the jovial Greek-Belgian captain and co-owner of the navy blue aluminium one-off sloop, kept a keen eye out at the race start just outside Syros’ small port town of Finikas, observing fellow competitors swirling around us.
At the helm was fellow Belgian and co-owner Elena, tanned and excited to be back in Greece and navigating the Aegean Sea in this history-making 20-tonne yacht.
The final horn blew and we were off! Sailing open beam reach the entire way to Paros, little did we know we would learn a valuable lesson on our journey.
The Traité de Rome (Treaty of Rome) was designed by Sparkman and Stephens and constructed in 1975 as an Admiral’s Cup yacht for German industrialist Willie Illbruck.
Originally named Pinta III, the yacht was renamed Traité de Rome in 1977 honour of the 20th anniversary of the European Union’s founding document.
It is the first yacht to fly the European flag and still proudly bears the special sail number EUR 1 on her mainsail.
The vessel has participated twice in the prestigious Whitbread Round The World Race, on behalf of the non-profit Sail for Europe Association, the first time in 1977-78.
Together with skipper Belgian-born Philippe Hanin, a team of crew members each representing the then nine European countries – a first at the time, led Traité de Rome to an impressive third place.
She may be in need of some serious work, particular her interior, but Traité de Rome remains a formidable competitor for many vessels of a lighter weight.
It was thrill to be working the sails on a yacht carrying such history and renown.
Joseph and Elena acquired the yacht in 2011, which is berthed off Piraeus, and have been sailing it since then.
They frequently participate with Traité de Rome in sailing races in Greece, including the recent Andros Race, on the event’s 50th anniversary, the Spetses Classic Yacht Race and the Aegean Rally.
But back to the Cyclades Regatta, a week-long annual event which involved a hop between the Cycladic islands of Kea, Syros, Paros, Serifos and Kythnos.
Carlo and I were fortunate enough to not only be covering the regatta but also playing an active role as crew aboard the grand vessel.
The powerful Etesian winds, or meltemi as they are known in Greece, had arrived in the Aegean just in time for the 51 yachts and 350 captains and crew to harness their power and push off from Syros for the second leg of the race.
Fresh northerly winds, welcome after consecutive windless days of 40+ degree temperatures, reached a maximum 44 knots.
We were sailing at a good pace, with both the mainsail and Genoa fully out as the captain prefers, and heeling steeply.
In a split second, a crew member sitting opposite me, leeward, rolled backwards and down towards the rail.
Luckily he quickly grabbed the rail, as I lurched forward instinctively to give him my hand. He managed to avoid falling into a churning Aegean and, fortunately, without so much as a scratch or a bump. We were all relieved that he did not bump his head.
It was a rather shocking lesson in the importance of wearing lifejackets and strapping in with a belt when the conditions call for it.
Clearly, we all strapped ourselves in after that incident.
Traité de Rome revelled in the swell and rode the waves like a true pro all the way to Parikia, allowing us to arrive in good time.
Mooring Med-style in Paros’ Parikia port was an experience and, after we settled in, we sat and watched the rest of the yachts file in.
Crew members had to let out a few shouts here and there to prevent near-misses, while there were a couple of dings but no damage sustained.
Greek sailing legend and multiple race-winner Giannis Giapalakis, replete with a lady’s sun hat, coolly glided in on his little yacht. Without uttering a word, he tied up in high winds as if it was child’s play. We silently tipped our hats to his effortlessness.
That evening we headed ashore for a dinner of mostly mussels prepared in unusual ways (one version included ricotta), perhaps the best we have ever had.
The next morning we breakfasted (major club sandwich points) at the Paros Nautical Club, an attractive little spot on Paros’ Livadi beach, and hung out there for the rest day with fellow racers.
In the evening, we strolled along Parikia’s coast, past its busy restaurants and bars, and up to Paros municipality’s attractive courtyard.
There, amid Cycladic figurines, the Cyclades Regatta award ceremony for the Syros-Paros race leg was held as a blazing orange sun set over the Aegean.