Sail Future is a Sarasota, Florida based nonprofit that seeks to help high-risk youth in the juvenile justice system find a way out through sailing programs that teach leadership, teamwork, and responsibility, while pairing the youth participants with mentors. In the early part of 2015, a generous philanthropist donated a 65-foot MacGregor sailing vessel to the program. With the boat based in Turkey, Sail Future’s leadership got creative and designed 15 one-week long vacations for roughly a dozen people at a time, while moving the boat across the Mediterranean between June and October 2015, with plans to sail the vessel across the Atlantic in November and December.
The following blog post tracks the official elements of Sail Future’s Week 4 expedition (July 4-11, 2015), starting and ending in Athens, visiting the islands of Aegina, Dokos, Hydra, Poros, and the mainland beach cove of Methana, before heading back to Athens. Most members of the group did their side journeys in Athens, visiting historic sites such as the Acropolis, including the Parthenon and other ruins like the Temple of Zeus and the original Olympic Stadium. The journal below was kept by Francisco Gonzalez, one of 17 members aboard the “Defy the Odds” vessel as part of Sail Future’s Week 4 expedition, highlighting the official parts of the journey. It’s not quite the Odyssey or the Illiad, but get ready to set sail for the next 15 minutes, following most of our moves over 8 days in the Aegean Sea.
Day 1: Setting Sail on the Fourth of July
On July 4th, the Week 4 group met up for lunch at the Astir Marina, and joined the group from Week 3 (all of which were from Florida). We arrived in waves, but all were excited to meet everyone including our captain Michael Long, founder of Sail Future, and the crew, Jeremy and Lawrence.
After lunch, we loaded our bags into the dinghy to be taken out to the boat (about 200 yards from the dock). As we waited for the dinghy to come back for us, some of us jumped in the cool and refreshing water.
We went over to the boat in waves (no pun intended). Once there, the beers were broken out and people started jumping in the water. That was when we discovered our names were all written on the side of the boat. And in big words the boat’s name “Defy the Odds” were printed with a #SailForJustice.
Our group represents various parts of the country – including states like Florida, North Carolina, Wisconsin, and Michigan and major metropolitan areas such as Washington, DC, New York, Boston, and San Francisco. We also had two from Canada. About six members of the group are currently studying in England, five of them doing so through the Marshall Scholarship. They are getting graduate degrees from Oxford, the London School of Economics and Cranfield University. One is also a Mitchell Scholar and just finished his schooling in Ireland.
We hung out anchored in the bay until almost 10pm, watching the sunset and enjoying some food and drinks. Then, we motored up and sailed for a 30-minute ride and docked at one of the hottest nightclubs in Athens. We were greeted by hosts from the club with glasses of champagne and then went on a path up to the club that cannot really be described. We drank, (some of us also smoked Cuban cigars), and enjoyed the club until nearly 3am. From the terrace, we could see our boat anchored about 200 yards out, sitting in the light of the moon. The next day, the various members of the group exchanged stories – trying to piece together the details of the night. And then realizing this was only the first day. We learned quickly this was quite an adventurous group.
Day 2: Greece Votes No
On Sunday, we sailed out of that bay around 1pm, heading toward the island of Aegina. At one point we stopped in the middle of the Aegean Sea so a few people could take a swim, and a few people dived from the middle of the mast. These swims in the middle of the sea would be a common occurrence each day. We did dinner on the boat just before docking in Aegina.
Once there, we all split off in different directions in small groups to eat, drink, and shop. Aegina is a very touristy town. But in all the little restaurants people were glued to the televisions watching the results come in from the vote of the Greek people to accept or reject the terms of the EU bailout agreement, which are imposing some austerity measures on Greece. As the vote counts came in, Greece shocked the world, with more than 60 percent of the Greek people voting to reject the EU’s bailout terms.
That night a few of us went bar hopping and ended up at a historic bar called Belle Époque. But overall, it was a pretty chill night in Aegina.
Day 3: Scooting Around Aegina and Departing on a Night Sail
We awoke the next day and one by one, we peeled off the boat and into a nearby cafe that was less than 100 feet from the boat (we had the perfect docking spot in a very busy port). Since we were spending the day in port, about 10 of us decided to rent some scooters (for just 15 euros for the day!). We scooted around the island, stopping at a monastery, the ruins of the Temple of Aphaia, and then at a beach spot where we experienced a delicious and filling lunch. We then followed the northern coast of the island, enjoying the mild elevation and taking in the beauty. From the northern side of Aegina, you can still see Athens, many miles across the water. We scooted back to the rental place – and ran into some issues regarding one of the bikes. After dealing with that, we were ready to get on with out trip.
Once back on the boat, we were joined by a new member of the group, Ahmad, who joined us late since he had been in Santorini with some family and friends. We took off on the boat (to the music of Pirates of the Caribbean) in mid evening to a beautiful sunset, which we enjoyed for about the first hour.
Unfortunately, as we motored out, Ahmad lost his West Point class ring, which had gone overboard. Captain Mike immediately stopped the boat and a few people dived in to look for it, but we were already in water that was 40 feet deep so it appeared lost. After contemplating what to do, we decided to carry on.
A few of us lit up some Cuban cigars as we watched a spectacular sunset. Several of the members of week 4 cooked up a great dinner and we ate it as the light disappeared into the night. Throughout the week, everyone pitched in to cook and clean and it became like a big family of seventeen people from four different groups of friends.
As the night sail carried on, we enjoyed some music and the stars and had an amazing time over drinks and good conversations. One by one, people retired for the night. Around 3am we reached the island of Dokos and set anchor.
Day 4: Cove Swimming in Dokos, Arrival in Hydra, and Code Names Assigned
We awoke one by one in the morning. A few people made breakfast for the group, as some took a swim & snorkel around this beautiful cove with blue-green water, a few swam all the way to the beach, about 200 yards away.
Around noon, we took off out of the cove and put up the sails, since it was a windy day. Captain Mike reminded us to appreciate the area we were in. “This is the best sailing in the world,” he said. “People work their entire lives to sail here in the Greek isles. The weather is always sunny and beautiful and ideal for sailing.” And yet here we were, a group of people in their 20s and 30s, sailing in one of the best places in the world.
Later that afternoon, we arrived in Hydra. It is a very beautiful town with no cars or any kind of motored vehicles. People get around by walking or by donkey. We all split off into some smaller groups. Some went for a walk around the city, others dived off a platform into a cove area, some sat at cafes for food or drinks. That night, most of the group went to the Sunset Tavern restaurant and watched another beautiful Greek sunset and enjoyed good company and conversation. The food was a little pricier than most meals we experienced around Greece, but it was very well prepared and delicious. I don’t think anyone had a bad meal in Greece. From there, we took the dingy back to the boat to change and enjoy some drinks on the boat, before hitting the bars.
It was during this time out on the boat that evening that we came up with a code name for everyone on the boat that was related to something about them. This code name idea started because we had a few walkie-talkies and we were trying to be funny by calling people by code names.
Since we live by the notion that “what happens in the Greek islands stays in the Greek islands,” I won’t give the reason for everyone’s code name. This is more inside jokes and knowledge for the 17 members of Week 4. But here they are: Buzz, Ghost, Refun(d), Scooter, Amazing, Rhapsody, Hammock, Walmart, War Eagle, Pipes, Maple, Buick, Baby Face, Havana, L.A., Tyson, and Charizard.
After the code names were assigned, we headed out to a few different bars, including the Pirate bar (where we met a bartender from New York named Fiona) and Red bar. The entire group all went out together. And when we arrived at the first bar, we were the only people in there besides the bartender and the DJ. The second bar had a few more people than us, and the final bar, we made up about half of the clientele.
Earlier in the day, there was a dare hoisted upon Andrew. He had been wearing a speedo for part of the trip. So the dare was for him to do push-ups on a bar top, in his speedo. While at Pirate bar, Captain Mike joined him as they both did push-ups (with their clothes on) on top of the bar. But then, they jumped off the bar, stripped all of their clothes off and ran naked outside – about two blocks down the street. We took them their clothes as they hid out in an alley. The locals sitting in the cafes were quite amused. Then, we all went to Red Bar and danced. Simon, the biggest flirt of the group, found an older woman to dance with. At first we thought they were German, but she and her husband ended up being from California and we wound up seeing them again at another bar a few blocks away – and again the next night in Poros.
Day 5: Hydra and Poros
The next morning in Hydra, we split off into small groups. James and Francisco hiked all the way to the top of the mountain and got an amazing view of the town – and nearly missed the boat out of Hydra. As they hiked, they were lucky to be offered a bottle of water from some other hikers (it was hot and they had run out by the time they got to the top). Those other hikers then told us they were from New York. Such generous Americans.
That afternoon we sailed towards Poros, but we took a pit stop in a cove/lagoon area. We anchored there for about two hours and we swam in the beautiful waters, some snorkeled, some dived off the mast of the boat, or simply off the side. The mountains and rock formations around us just felt likely had our own private piece of paradise in the Aegean Sea. It was here we took a lot of great pictures of various people jumping off the boat and next to where their name was located on the Sail Future vessel.
That evening, we docked in Poros. Most of the group did dinner in the boat in the port. James, Kristen, Tyler, and Francisco wandered off and found a great restaurant on the top of a terrace, called Garden Taverna. It overlooked the mountain valley and the water and the lighting just before sunset was breathtaking. The food was delicious and cheap. We had a local glass of wine for 50 cents.
The group all reunited back on the boat. We cranked up some music and started with some drinks. Then we walked around the corner and went to some bars and nightclubs. Most places were bars with dance floors. We met some Belgians, who some of the group had apparently met the day before in Hydra. They bar hopped a bit with us. We also ran into our California friends. It was a really fun night out.
Day 6: At Sea and a Bonfire on the Beach
We spent the morning in Poros and people all did their own walking around the town, before we headed out of port at about 2pm. While in port, we found 3 pirate flags. As we sailed out of Poros, we hung them up on the boat, while blasting music from the Pirates of Caribbean soundtrack. We spent the afternoon drifting peacefully in the beautiful waters of the Aegean Sea, snaking around many small islands, while enjoying music. The boat is equipped with a very good sound system and we took turns hooking in our mobile devices to play music – but were mostly guided by DJ Simon.
The members of Week 4 are also a very intellectual and well-read group with diverse backgrounds. At times along the sea, almost everyone is on deck getting lost in a book – books ranging from classic and modern day novels, to books on history, public policy, and leadership. From time to time, public policy issues (and even some very mild debate) broke out on the boat. But all were there to learn and not to judge, to share experiences and ideas. This is a group that also loves America. We sailed around with a large USA flag. A few wore red white and blue bandanas (especially Mike Norton – he barely loses his), shirts, and even bikinis. Of course, we also had two Canadians with us as well to add to the North American flavor.
After sailing throughout the afternoon, we pulled into a cove that was in an area called Methana. Technically this area is part of the mainland, but barely. We had to park the boat a good distance away from a sandy beach we found. Many of the other beaches here are pretty rocky. We arrived there around 4 or 5pm and we were at the beach the rest of the day and all night. A few people made runs back to the boat via the dinghy (mostly driven by Lawrence).
We built a big beach bonfire and it stayed lit until past 4am. At one point, Mike and Liz brought over dinner to the beach around 10:30pm. While on the beach, we listened to music via a portable stereo connected to a mobile device. We also met a man named Nikos who was probably in his 50s or 60s and had a very dark tan (we gave him the code name “Coppertone”). We first saw him showering naked in a public beach shower, then exercising on the beach, and later he introduced himself to us, telling us he had been on vacation and sleeping on that beach for the last two weeks. We invited him to join us around the bonfire with our beers.
During that evening, we saw so many stars, and even several sightings of the International Space Station. Between about 1-2am, most of the group headed back to the boat, while six of us stayed and slept on the beach.
Day 7: Sailing Back to Athens
Around 9am, Lawrence came back with the dinghy to pick up the rest of us and the remaining supplies. We returned back to the boat and most of the rest of the group was just waking up.
During this week, everyone pitched in and did their part to cook and clean. There were not any showers on the boat, but from time to time, we would find a hose at a port and wash off. Of course, the best way to feel refreshed was to simply dive into the sea (even though it was incredibly salty). We all made due – with 17 people on board! This was likely the largest number of people on any of the fifteen weeks of the Sail Future Expeditions.
Around 10:45am on Friday, we left our little cove and headed on the 4-hour journey to Athens, to enjoy our last day on the boat. Of course, it took us a little longer to get into Athens, as several of the marinas Captain Mike tried to dock us at were full. Lots of vessels go in and out of Athens between Friday and Saturday. Once back in Athens, a couple groups split off to find dinner.
Then on Friday night most of the group met up at the White Fox Cafe in Athens and reflected on things they were thankful for during the week. One person commented that it would have been very easy for four separate groups of people who shared this boat to sort of stay in their own “cliques.” But instead, we all ended up intermingling both on the boat and on land. It was a very intellectual, social, and fun group of people to share this incredible journey with. Our main connection we started with were the people we came with, our friendship with our Captain Mike Long, our desire to travel to some place fun and scenic, and our interest in helping Sail Future succeed in its mission to give kids trapped in the Florida juvenile justice system a second chance.
One of those former kids was Lawrence, a member of the Sail Future Expeditions crew. As Liz said in her own short blog about this week’s journey, if it wasn’t for Sail Future, we would not have met Lawrence and perhaps he would not have had the opportunity to escape a broken juvenile justice system, turn his life around, work for Sail Future, and start college this fall. Throughout the week, even when we partied hard, enjoyed the sailing excursions, and experienced the beauty of Greece, Claire and Liz often reminded us to “Pause for the Cause.” It was a nice way to take a reflection on the bigger purpose we were there for.
On that last night, on the walk back to the boat from the White Fox Cafe, a few of us were followed by a stray dog. It was a cute, happy little dog. It had a collar on, but no identification. It seemed well trained. But it’s owner was nowhere in sight. When we got back to the boat, it tried to jump on board with us, but landed in a window where Nick was sleeping. It tried to latch on, but instead fell into the water and was rescued by Mike Norton (a self-proclaimed American hero). That was around 2:30am, and it served as a little wake up call for Nick, who had an early morning flight back to England. Nick ended up walking out of the marina to go find a taxi and the dog ended up following him out. Later we would find out that Nick handed the dog off to two Greek guys who he met on his way to hailing a cab to the airport.
This little abandoned dog really represents the story of Sail Future. In the midst of life happening, we are often unexpectedly called to pause for a cause greater than ourselves and take care of the most vulnerable around us. At that moment at 2:30am, it was a little happy dog. But back here in Florida, it may be an at-risk youth. It’s a reminder that sometimes we simply need to spend a little time making sure that the vulnerable around us find a happy home and a purposeful direction to their lives.
Day 8: Departures and Picking our Name
The next morning, the remaining members of week 4 helped to clean the boat, unload trash and load up fresh laundry sheets, new food and drink items, as the crew cleaned the boat. Slowly, more members of the group left, and about half the group joined together for lunch with some of the members of week 5, exchanging stories and travel tips, and getting week 5 excited, just as week 3 members had done for us.
For one week, 17 of us came together on a boat. We came in roughly 4 separate groups of friends and this could have easily become “cliquey” but instead, we all become family and formed new friendships, some of which will likely be long lasting. There were hugs and sentimental feelings as we said goodbye to each other.
But before departing, we picked a name for our week: “Team N. American Stimulus.” We picked this for a variety of reasons. First, our boat’s departure date was on July 4th. We waived the American flag from the sails, sang our national anthem from a harbor in Athens, and about 5 members of our group were made up of Marshall scholars – a tie back to the Marshall Plan that provided American recovery for Europe after WWII. We were a patriotic group. And since we also had two Canadians with us, we added the N. for North American. But also, we were there during a very historic week for Greece. In fact, on our second day of sailing, while we were in Aegina, the people of Greece were voting whether or not to accept the EU’s terms for yet another bailout of the Greek government. In the birthplace of democracy, more than 60% of the Greek people voted no, shocking much of the world.
During this entire time of our journey, the Greek people were facing major financial and economic hardships. ATMs and banks limited Greeks to taking out no more than 60 euros per day. Most of us prepared for the possibility of ATMs being out of cash, so we brought lots of cash into the country (a little American stimulus for the Greeks).
Things were very cheap wherever we want. While in various port cities, we ate, drank, shopped, and purchased other services. For the most part, many other tourists stayed away from Greece. Many of the cities were not very busy in what is typically the height of tourist season. Most of the restaurants we ate at were empty. But we were welcomed by very friendly, cash-strapped Greeks. We made ourselves known as Americans and you could tell they appreciated our presence, and our business. We did our part to help stimulate their economy, show them our American values of freedom and entrepreneurship, and perhaps in some way, encourage them to stay as a part of Europe.
As one headline had Russia’s Putin telling the Greeks he would help them if Europe didn’t, perhaps our small presence assured our new Greek friends that it was better to keep looking West. We don’t know what will happen to Greece, but as some of our group members’ shirts said (those who were Marshall scholars studying in the UK) – “For European Recovery, supplied by the United States of America,” we did our small part to save Greece, and perhaps rescue the birthplace of Western Civilization.
We shall never know what the full impact of our American spirit brought to Greece that week, but we do know that every time we pulled into port the striking design on the Sail Future vessel, with the American flag waving from it, the universally accepted American music blasting from our speakers, and the commitment to having fun while supporting a great cause, must indeed have been a positive influence on the Greeks that encountered us.
So to week 4, to Team N. American Stimulus: well done. What an incredible journey with an amazing group of people. Let us all carry on this spirit to help our Captain and his crew continue to change the lives of Florida’s at-risk youth. Let us remember that amidst the fun times, there’s always a reason to pause for the cause. It’s the best stimulus we Americans continuously offer to the world.
Other members of Week 4 also wrote some blogs (much shorter than this daily account) with their own perspectives of the week. They are linked below:
Elizabeth Linzer: “The Best Way to Vacation: With Purpose”
Grace Young: “Bliss”
Kristen Moran: “Greece 2015 with Sail Future”
James O’Keefe: When he wasn’t on the boat, he went undercover and produced a video report of the protestors and the voting process during the historic week were in Greece. “James O’Keefe: Undercover in Greece.”