Skip to main content

Saronic Islands with Rackpeople

I have no sailor material in me. At all. I don't mean qualified skills that are fascinating and easily acquired through study and experience. I mean literally and physically, my body is simply not built for the navy. I realized that when I entered those 4D/5D theaters for the first (and the last) time, about dozens of years ago. I remember anxiously waiting for that sophisticated motion ride system built into movie theater seats to come to my city, and when it finally arrived, I was among the first in the tickets line... And I was first to get out of the small theater with a terrible motion sickness thundering throughout my entire body. I should have guessed what was going to happen after seeing the title of the short film had the word "rollercoaster" in it. I fully recovered more than 24 hours later. After that, I never stepped into any movie theater with more than 3D label on its front gate. Sometimes even in those I check if the chair is fixed solid.

To be honest, I knew the outcome would be like this because it has happened to me many times at sea during summer vacations, and every time I promised myself the dancing boat floors will never see my foot again. However, in my case, it's just that all those self-promises are easy to reject when new experiences and adventures knock on the front door. In that spirit, when my good friend Lasse, the head of Rackpeople, one of the leading IT company in Copenhagen, asked me to join the cruise around Saronic Islands this May in Greece, without thinking I said yes. How could I say no to seeing all the wonders of the Saronic Gulf, it's crystal blue waters, the amazing history of Ancient Greece and the place where Themistocles' outmatched fleet defeated the forces of King Xerxes and drove the Persian army back to Asia never to try again to conquer the Greek mainland.

Bastions with old canons at the Hydra entrance

The cruise started on the island of Hydra. I boarded a catamaran yacht, medium sized but impressive in every way. Fortunately for me, the first two days of the cruise passed with extremely calm seas and enjoyable spring weather, which is usual for Saronic Gulf in this time of the year. As for the island itself, two things immediately caught my eye. The residential area is so compact that there is simply no room for any type of motor vehicles, and by law, cars and motorcycles are not allowed (except for garbage trucks). To travel outside the port town, the only means are horses, mules, donkeys and water taxis. The second site was bastions on the port entrance with lots of cannons still pointing toward the sea. They originated from the 18th century in order to protect the island from assault by the Ottoman fleet and pirates during the Greek war for independence.

At first, I thought that the island's name is connected to the legendary myth of Lernaean Hydra, the multi headed water monster who was slayed by Heracles in his second labor, but unfortunately, very little is known about ancient times of the island. The name in Greek is simply derived from the word "water" (ὕδρα). Although, in classical Greece, Lerna was a region of springs and a former lake near the east coast of the Peloponnesus, which is close to the island of Hydra, just across the strait and in ancient myths represented as one of the entrances to the Underworld.

The view from Poros Clock Tower

The next destination and where we spent the first night was the well known tourist destination, the island of Poros. It lies on the other side of Argolis, the eastern part of the region of Peloponnese, where it acts as a Saronic Gulf's southern arm. The Poros' main port is separated from the Peloponnese only by a 200m wide sea channel, and my main impression in the morning was that poor little ferry, which is breaking the perfect silence connecting Poros with the town of Galatas across the strait every half an hour. Sometimes carrying only couple of people across. I'm sure a future bridge would be something worth building.

Fortunately, and I mean it when I say it out loud, we had ex-Royal Danish Navy sailors at the helm of every boat. If it weren't for them, we wouldn't have running exercises in the morning, and if we hadn't had a morning run, we wouldn't have passed through the phenomenal narrow streets of the small town that stretches through the entire hillside by the marina. Running (and sometimes walking while catching our breath) down and up the small streets and countless stairs from the harbor to the famous clock tower, made me think and better understand the life in such small towns where you can feel the ease of living life to the fullest.

Rackpeople at the Moni island and photos from the mainland

The next day was absolutely the best one on the cruise. It started with the sailing competition between the two boats. In the best spirit of the teambuilding activity we competed in sailing between Poros marine and the Moni island, the strange islet in the middle of Saronic Gulf, that absolutely hates humans, but lets get back to that later. One would think shutting the engines down and sail to speed of, in some occasions less than one nautical mile per hour and sail only by using maps, compass and wind arrow is ridiculous but it is complete opposite. It requires full team effort and cooperation, just like in tech companies and it was one amazing experience. From the navigation part, through speed and time tracking, steering the ship and hard work with two sails, everything had to be synchronized and precise and when inexperienced IT people do it, the result is exceptional and filled with all possible sailing phases, from challenges in understanding the basics of sailing and navigation to all the comical moments we went through but also all those proud moments when you realize you've done something right.

As for the Moni island, half of it is rocky and barren, but what was most interesting was its other half. The only inhabitants of that part are a family of wild peacocks, deer, wild goats including Cretan Ibexes and of course many squirrels. Humans are limited to the only seasonal beach accessed only by sea, included us that day. The animals are not afraid of humans and wandered free even on the skirts of the forests where ruins of human's tryouts to inhabit the Moni are visible all over. The old men of Aegina island across the bay tells various stories about the history of the island that always include curses, inexplicable destructions, three fires, and an ongoing struggle between the divine forces and human stubbornness. Telling in whisper, they say that always when people tried to inhabit the island, no matter if that was in Byzantine period when they tried to turn the island into a dairy farm or during the 1970s, when the island served as an organized camping spot, it always ended in large fires that devastated the little isle to the full.

The spirit of Rackpeople after a long but a great day

But, the sightseeing of the Moni, after the cruise competition wasn't the end of the day. It continued with one amazing lecture given by Erik, the second ship captain about leadership, relations between competence and confidence among team members and all the connections between tech companies and sailing. The epilogue of the competition itself was unclear and ultimately not important, what was matter the most is great spirit and team building closure which ended in singing popular songs led by the first ship captain Lasse, who surprised us all with his musical talent which was not left unrewarded even by the people on the neighboring yachts with thunderous applause.

Unfortunately, in the spirit of the Moni island hatred for people, that night came really nasty weather from nowhere. In the morning it turned into small windy rollercoaster that woke me up with the first sunshine. I came on deck to find a spot where I could pass it as best I could but soon it was the 4D movie theater all over again. Only this time it lasted several hours and I sadly realized that the cruise for me is over as I knew I would need more than a day to recover. After couple of hours of 'pros and cons' measuring, with great regret I opted out myself from the remaining of the trip. After all, being on the boat is all about being part of it, otherwise is something else entirely.

The Seaview from the hotel Methanion

At the next marina, a taxi took me to the nearby port town of Methana where I missed the last ferry by an hour, so I went strait to the first hotel where I took the night to recover. There, I witnessed a worm hospitality by the hotel owner, something only in Greece I felt before, especially in my childhood when we were visiting the country frequently on family vacations. Serbia and Greece have this unusual friendship between the two countries from the time immemorial. There was no part in the history of two countries with any animosities between the two, let alone any conflicts or wars. So it's always nice to see a genuine smile on people's faces when I say from where I am coming from. Anyhow, when she heard I am Serbian, with the warmest smile she said 'I will give you the best Seaview in Methana'. And the best it was.

It turned out Methana is not an island at all. The best I could describe, it is a 'wannabe island' peninsula. It has an island shape but connected to Peloponnese with a narrow land bridge. Methana is entirely of active volcanic origin with the last eruption occurred in 3rd century BC. Due to the pressure of the plate of North Africa, which slid under the Asia and European plates, there were active tectonic movements on the line of the Aegean islands of which are Methana, Milos, Santorini and Nisyros. As it seems, the future of volcanism in Greece is not yet written, and Methana is one of the volcanoes that unfortunately has not yet said its last word. The last great eruption in Greece was Minoan super-volcanic catastrophe that reshaped the island of Thera in the middle of the second millennium BC and devastated entire Mediterranean for years.

Aegina port seen from the ferry

As a central island of the Saronic Gulf, Aegina shared rich history of ancient Greece with other independent states. It was inhabited since the Neolithic and was at the peak of power around the 7th century BC and after, due to its strategic position. Aegina economy was strong and competed with Athena with silver coins as a currency recognized in other states. They were rivalries for many years and Aegina even made a close collaboration with Persia until the battle of Salamis (480 BC) when the island ultimately sided with Themistocles. The rest of the history of Aegina's independence was full of turmoil but it's glory at the end faded out through numerous invaders and occupations in the face of Macedon, Romans, Venice and Ottomans. Today it is a holiday and weekend resort for Athenians and tourists worldwide. Just next to it, Agistri, a small pine-clad island, with pristine beaches and crystal-clear waters, shared the history of neighboring Aegina island and considered being part of its statehood. It was unfortunately not a part of the cruise. Perhaps in the years to follow.

Finally and historically the most famous island is Salamina, where already mentioned battle of Salamis took place two millenniums ago. It is the largest Greek island in the Saronic Gulf and due to its close proximity to Piraeus it is not the best choice for a vacation time. If we add the fact that the northern part of island is a home for the largest naval base of the Hellenic Navy it is clear that the island is not as popular a tourist destination as the other islands, but it is far from lacking destinations worth attention. If I happen to visit it in the future, on the top of my list would be monuments dedicated to Salamis' ancient battle and the Cave of Euripides where the playwright Euripides came to write his tragedies. The man was described as a misanthrope who avoided society by lurking in that cave but even so his 19 plays that survived the time since then are still performed and studied today over the distance of more than two millenniums.

Concept art of the Battle of Salamis by artist Court Chu*

If I were to try to sum up the past week and describe my first cruise longer than a day in three words, it would definitely be "an extraordinary experience". Especially the part about learning new things about sailing and trying to be part of a team in close cooperation with colleagues. Being in Greece for the umpteenth time is also special to me and having opportunity to talk to locals is another dimension of the travel. Spending most of the time at sea limits that part of the experience, but in this case it was intentional and focused on teambuilding which is perfectly fine. I am sure there are many methods to achieve this and sailing is definitely among the top five.

© 2023 Milan's Public Journal