Interview with the President of the Spetses Yacht Club,
Mr. Vassilis Orloff:
“Spetses is a jewel in Attica’s crown, all year round.”
1. Spetses is a land intertwined with the sea, traditional shipbuilding, and tourism. In your opinion, what are the unique characteristics for which the island stands out?
Historically, Spetses has had a rich naval tradition with a commercial fleet that was later transformed into a navy, justifying references to its contribution in the celebrations of 1821-2021. It is an island that provides visitors with the opportunity to easily explore it and safely discover the nature and sea, whether from the beach or from a boat, as the conditions are ideal both for swimming and sailing, while the mountain’s imagery and scents connect you to its past and reveal an island teeming with pine trees and bursting with aromas. Naturally, the love of the people who lived here, from the simple fishermen to the island’s historical beneficiaries, has left behind a rich heritage and tradition, which, thankfully, we still keep alive and is experienced by visitors. The architecture of the traditional homes with the tiled roofs, their pebbled yards with depictions from life at sea, the wooden windows with the iron bars for protection from the pirates, their interior cisterns for water autonomy, and many other things indicate to visitors the relationship between this land and the sea. A significant advantage of the island, naturally, is the ease of access, both by sea and land.
2. What are the advantages of the Saronic Gulf for those interested in water sports and what is the best period to practice them (are there seasonal restrictions, etc.)?
The Saronic Gulf features mild sailing conditions, quite predictable, while its main characteristic is that there is always land on the horizon. That gives you a sense of security and reassures anyone trying their hand at sailing or those who are more experienced and want to enjoy the beauties of the Gulf with their mind at ease. Also, the local winds (boukadoura) always guarantee enough of a breeze for sailing. The open sea has intense weather that may keep you docked for days. In contrast, sports activities on our island never meet with any restrictions, because Spetses is a suitable destination for all seasons, each with its own beauty. In spring and autumn the land’s beauty always surprises and offers unforgettable memories.
3. What are those elements that make Spetses a popular destination for sea lovers in general, and sailing enthusiasts in particular? What sea routes can visitors to the island enjoy, and what opportunities are there for those who wish to become acquainted with the sport for the first time, as well as for more demanding sailing athletes and champions? Tell us about the sailing classes held on the island. What age groups are they addressed to?
The island is a hub for nearby getaways to many destinations, such as Nafplion, Monemvasia, Hydra, etc. The sea around Spetses is ideal for sailing, as the Saronic Gulf protects us from intense weather and the island’s coastline provides safety. Crossing the Spetses-Argolis (Kosta) strait is a wonderful experience, as the view of the island is unique and the wind conditions fluctuate steadily, which is a lot of fun. Entering the Old Harbour, the natural harbour of Spetses, takes you back in time.
The Spetses Yacht Club has been active since 2014 and has at its disposal a boathouse equipped with Optimist, Laser, and Bug type racing dinghies. Sailing classes are addressed to young athletes aged 7-18 and the purpose of the Club is to organise the sports department and educate young people in their first contact with the sea.
It has also successfully maintained a small fleet of RHODES 19 type vessels, in order to host small competitive teams (MATCH RACES). These vessels are suitable for all ages, they can accommodate a crew of up to 4 people, they are safe as they have a keel, and they are ideal for sailing near the coastline, as they are very easy to handle.
At the same time, the shipyard facilities with their shipwrights provide all the support a vessel may need, and the opportunity to become acquainted with the craft in person. One could even order a traditional wooden vessel for themselves!
4. Sports events and activities are an important incentive for attracting visitors to a destination. Tell us about the sports events organised in Spetses and the nationalities participating in the competitions.
In recent years several sports events have been launched on the island, placing it in an important position for Greek and European standards. All events, small or large, receive the key support of the Spetses Yacht Club-SYC. Every October the Spetses Mini Marathon that features the Spetses-Kosta strait swimming race, is extremely popular with more than one thousand swimmers participating every year, from Greece and abroad. The Spetsathlon, with its demanding triathlon, is usually held every May, attracting athletes and para-athletes from all over Europe.
The Spetses Classic Yacht Regatta is an International Classic and Traditional Boat Race, and it is held every June, offering a unique sailing spectacle, with both beautiful yachts as well as wooden ca?ques, the jewels of Greece’s naval tradition. Such an event highlights the naval tradition of the island and its connection to the craft of wooden shipbuilding, proving that the history of a land is often the source of its power and what redefines its identity. This year there are 54 participations, among which Italian, British, and French.
5. What are your plans in order to make sports events even more open, attracting young visitors to the island?
The purpose of the Club from its very foundation is to bring children into contact with the sea. The involvement of young people with sailing provides them with valuable physical and mental “supplies”, which will benefit their life and character. Furthermore, it lights a path that could lead to further involvement with the sport, even on a professional level. The SYC, although recently established, successfully hosted in 2015 the First Pan-Hellenic Bug Championship, with the participation of more than 10 clubs from all over Greece. It also established the ARMATA CUP, which is organised every September as part of the Armata celebrations. Then there are the SUMMER CAMPS, a successful event organised by the club that attracts young athletes and members, providing the opportunity to both adults and children to come into contact with the sea. Even holidaymakers from abroad who want to get some exercise and discover the beauty of the Greek seas can participate in these camps and training sessions.
6. The renowned “Armata”, the re-enactment of the Spetses naval battle, attracts visitors from all over Greece and abroad every year. Tell us more about this great celebration.
The re-enactment of the naval battle of Armata has become an institution in Greece. It is the event of honour this year, as this is the 200th anniversary since the Greek War of Independence. However, in 2022 the celebration will be even more special, since 8 September 1822 is the historic date. Throughout the week-long celebrations there will be events on the island. The weekend before the Armata, the SYC also organises the established ARMATA CUP interclub race, which includes theatrical performances, children’s theatre, exhibitions, book presentations, gymnastics, dance performances, traditional dances, all leading up to the concert at Posidonion Square. On Saturday night there is an exciting narration of the historical naval battle that is worth watching. It takes place while the re-enactment awakens your senses with the explosions, the smell of gunpowder, and the fires. The closing of the Armata with the fireworks enchants those in attendance, who can safely enjoy this unique spectacle.
7. The sound utilisation of environmental resources, respect of the natural landscape, and the cultural authenticity of local communities are the pillars of sustainable growth for a region. In your opinion, how has Spetses responded to the implementation of the above, and therefore to the sustainable tourism growth model in recent years?
Spetses is a jewel in Attica’s crown, all year round, and all we need to do is to preserve and promote it. I firmly believe that we have fully comprehended that progress and growth must be sustainable, or it will be catastrophic. Education and setting the good example on a daily basis are necessary requirements for sustainable growth. The Group has carried out important ecological actions on the island with the establishment of “Spetses Plastic Detox”, aiming to deal with the problem of plastic pollution. Updates were provided and the local community was involved, and, in cooperation with local bodies and businesses, very successful activities were organised, aiming at cleaning the island’s seabed and beaches.
Also, we should stress that the “Spetses Classic Yacht Regatta” is one of the first races to be certified as “Green” by the “Sailors for the Sea” organisation.
In order to meet the ever increasing demands of the times for the protection of the environment, which our very fragile tourism product depends on, infrastructure is required in the management of waste, rubbish, energy, water, harbours, etc. A massive biological waste treatment project has begun on the island, which we hope will be completed soon. Another positive fact is that there is small-scale land utilisation for the production of certain organic products.
8. Modern travellers tend to seek authentic experiences. What would you recommend to someone who is coming to Spetses and wants to feel like a local?
I would recommend hiring a bicycle, an electric one preferably, and cycling all around the island to enjoy the entire coastline of the city and the countryside. I would also recommend going to the top of the hill and looking out onto the strait, to enjoy the breeze and scents from the forest. Then they can also visit the shipyards and observe the fishing boats — each family has one they use to go fishing. With a glass of ouzo at the Old Harbour all their senses will come alive, and they will enjoy all the sights and sounds.
9. Culinary traditions are an enjoyable way for visitors to become acquainted with the culture of a place, and Spetses is a destination that is renowned for its high level of gastronomy. In your opinion, how is tradition combined with modern gastronomy in the island’s food and restaurant scene, and which local products would you recommend to visitors?
In recent years the food and restaurant scene has evolved as regards quality and variety. Our customers are demanding and cosmopolitan, and that automatically raises the bar for us. There is experimentation with new trends, but in general visitors are in search of authenticity in taste and local raw ingredients. That is what creates memories and longing for the next visit. Local fishery, even to a small degree, imbues traditional dishes and recipes with unforgettable flavours, such as oven baked fish with tomatoes a la Spetsiota, grilled calamari in its ink, and taramosalata with fried potatoes. The flavours become more and more refined every year, but the base still exudes a sense of the sea, the Mediterranean, and Attica. There are also the traditional almond sweets, a treat that makes the sorrow of parting all the sweeter.
10. How safe, do you believe, can a visitor to Attica feel during the Covid-19 pandemic, and how do you ensure the protection of visitors to the island of Spetses?
The island itself is a natural quarantine. It successfully handled the past year and that says a lot. We have visitors from all over the world and from Attica’s mainland. Thankfully, road access to the island provides greater safety for visitors on their way here and on their way back. The island fully respects all health regulations. The Municipality organised the horizontal vaccination of island residents and business employees. Tests and vaccines are carried out on a daily basis by the excellent staff of the Multipurpose Medical Centre of Spetses, whom we would like to thank for their important work.