Catherine Eade enjoys a fantastic family holiday, swimming, snorkelling, exploring – and just staring at the Ionian Sea
For all-weather sailors with grit and determination, there are a range of UK-based sailing companies offering anything from a weekend learning how to sail a Mirror dinghy to a week cruising around the coast on a tall sailing ship.
But, for a 'soft' entry into sailing, you can't beat joining a flotilla to sail around the Greek islands in the sunshine. I was lucky enough to get the chance to do just this with my three teenagers, flying out to Corfu for a week-long holiday in the Ionian with family-run business Sailing Holidays.
The company's aim is to allow experienced sailors the opportunity to enjoy a relaxed holiday while introducing family and friends to their passion, as well as to give people with little or no experience the chance to charter their own boat. Sailing is done as part of a relaxed flotilla – a group of 10 – 12 yachts – with an enthusiastic, friendly young crew on the 'lead yacht' always available to help when needed.
With much excitement, my three children and I excitedly explored Alexia, which was to be our very own 40-foot yacht for the week, complete with friendly young skipper Josh who would join us during the day and sleep on the crew boat with the lead skipper, engineer and reps.
After a thorough induction where we learnt all the different parts of the boat, including which ropes were for which sails, and got a safety briefing – including how to use the ship's radio in an emergency – we cast off, leaving Gouvia for the small port of Petrides, on the southernmost tip of Corfu.
Our pattern for the week is idyllic: after an early breakfast of fresh fruit and Greek yoghurt with honey, we attend a briefing about the day ahead and then sail to a succession of beautiful bays for swimming, snorkelling or just relaxing on board.
As well as patiently giving us all lessons in sailing, Josh teaches the children how to use the dinghy's outboard motor safely and they enjoy the independence of zooming to shore to explore beaches and caves. Being in charge of a powerful engine in such a safe environment is a great opportunity for my teenagers to experience freedom and responsibility at the same time.
Each evening we moor at a different port and have free time to explore the nearest village or beach before a communal evening meal taken in friendly local restaurants with the other families in the flotilla.
This allows everyone to mingle and my three teens soon strike up friendships with others of their own age.
There's plenty to keep us occupied during our days on the boat: learning the ropes, working out which way the wind is hitting the sails, tacking, taking the helm, anchoring and mooring, and keeping lookout – not to mention going below deck to the airy cabin to whip up a Greek salad for lunch.
Dolphins swim alongside us one day, and Josh catches a couple of good-sized tuna for our lunch on another. The gentle movement of the boat makes for an ideal environment for the odd indulgent nap or game of cards.
Low winds in the Ionian mean we end up using the motor, rather than the sail rather more than I had hoped, but just being on board a yacht with all the time in the world to potter in and out of coves, read and sunbathe, or simply sit and gaze at the ocean all around feels like sheer luxury.
The highlight of the week has to be the breathtakingly beautiful Emerald Bay on the tiny island of Antipaxos, where we end up mooring for most of a day.
This cove, with its white sand beach and turquoise waters, is also known as Paradise Bay, and the sound of people diving, swimming and pottering about in dinghies happily fills the day.
There's nothing quite like leaping off the boat for a swim and following up with an ice-cold beer and lunch on deck.
As the week comes to a close we sail from Mourtos, on mainland Greece, to Corfu Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
A maze of beautiful cobbled streets make this a fitting end to our week in Greece before we head back to the port we initially sailed from.
The beauty of the Ionian Islands combined with the tranquility of floating noiselessly along under sail on a turquoise sea cannot be underestimated.
By the end of the holiday my enthusiasm for life on the ocean wave has clearly rubbed off on my children, who all talk excitedly about their hopes to sail again at some point in the future.
Sailing Holidays owner and long-time sailing enthusiast Barrie Neilson sums up the concept just right, I think: 'We offer the opportunity to meander around the beautiful Greek Islands in the comfort of your own yacht, living the dream.'
Now that sounds like a plan...
Catherine Eade and her family spent the week sailing the North Ionian Route which runs at the start and end of every season (May until October).
To book four people on a Beneteau 40 costs £655 per person including flights, transfers, mooring fees, manual and harbour guides, linen and towels and the guidance of the lead crew. Hiring a skipper costs £80 per day.
For more details or to book, visit Sailingholidays.com or call 0208 459 8787