One of my favourite times of the year has just passed: Les Voiles de St Tropez. This sailing regatta is held in the gulf of St Tropez each year in late September/early October, and the view of the sailboats from my garden is just beautiful:
I love sailing. It brings together my love for travel and exploration, for beautiful scenery, and of course for romance. My new novel, Aphrodite’s Tears, is set in the Greek islands, and it was a delight to be able to bring my passion for sailing into the story. Here’s a moment on the water through the eyes of my hero Damian and heroine Oriel:
They were lucky with the weather; it was perfect. The sun blazed down on them from a sky of cloudless blue and the sparkling sea couldn’t have been calmer, with a gentle zephyr favourable for sailing. Alcyone rode the swells with effortless grace, her taut white ails capturing the breeze. Gulls swirled in the sky and from time to time schools of tiny silver fish leapt out of the water in unison as they crossed the boat’s path.
Damian is taking Oriel to Delos (see my article ‘The ancient island of Delos: An archaeologist’s heaven’; https://hannahfielding.net/staging/1129/the-ancient-island-of-delos/). The journey is a long one, and so he suggests anchoring overnight off the island of Milos.
Milos is in the Aegean Sea, part of the Cyclades. It’s a volcanic island that was mined for thousands of years for the valuable glass obsidian. I remember Milos best from my own travels in the Greek islands for its association with the goddess Aphrodite.
Back in 1820, an astonishing discovery was made on the island: a very old marble statue, in several parts. The statue was reconstructed – though famously the arms were never recovered – and it was evident that the subject was Aphrodite, goddess of love and beauty. The Aphrodite of Milos (often erroneously referred to as the Venus de Milo) is one of the most important surviving artworks of the Ancient Greek era, having been created between 130 and 100 BC, most likely by Alexandros of Antioch. It is on display in the Louvre Museum, Paris.
Damian and Oriel do not have time on their trip to explore Milos, but they very much enjoy the views from where they drop anchor, in the bay of Kleftiko, known for its beautifully clear waters and unusual rock formations.
The imposing and convoluted white bluffs and archways, which concealed small beaches and caves, were bathed in the afterglow of the dying sun, which made them look as if they had been set on fire. Kleftico loomed on the southern edge of Milos, its jagged cones darkly ominous against the flushed sky. Dazzling spokes of gold were spread out on the expanse of blue fronting the island. The sea gleamed like molten metal as if rays from some great lighthouse were beaming down on it.
‘It’s magnificent. I’ve never seen anything like it,’ Oriel breathed as she put down the binoculars and glanced around her at the spectacular picture.
Damian explains to Oriel that the bay is called Bandits’ Lair, because it served as a hideout for the pirates of Capsis and Barbarossa. With its many cave hiding places and being accessible only by sea, Kleftiko made an ideal smugglers’ den.
For Oriel, this place feels every bit as fairy tale as the stories of pirates:
The boat swung gently, quiet at last. The waning moon had risen in all her splendour. Although in her last quarter, she was large and near enough to shine bright in the midst of the golddust of stars patterning the sapphire sky. All around the boat, the sea shimmered under her iridescent beams like a woman’s gown, set with a sweep of diamonds, caressing the pearly shore.
There are times, even in the most uneventful of lives, when one experiences an intense feeling of unreality, whether from delirious joy or crushing sorrow. It comes swiftly like a dream. Such was the sensation that gripped Oriel when she laid eyes on that magical scenery conjured by the moon, where the peaks and cliffs of Milos rose and fell, bathed in patches of light and deepening shadow.
Welcome to the bay of Kleftiko, to Milos; welcome to the wonder and beauty of sailing! As Jacques Yves Cousteau said, ‘The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.’