The Wildwind Difference: YachtsandYachting.com speak to Base Manager Joe Bennett
Joe Bennett, Base Manager at Wildwind Vassiliki, has now worked for Wildwind for 20 years. Mark Jardine talked to Joe about why people come back time and again to Vassiliki, his own sailing, the Wildwind Cat Training Weeks and what he likes to do on his days off, including his favourite local restaurants.
Firstly I wanted to know what it was that made Wildwind different to other sailing holidays, which Joe put down to the size of the base and the atmosphere:
"It's the vibe we've got at Wildwind; we're a lot more laid back than other sailing holidays. We have a fairly unique atmosphere on the beach where it is very chilled. We're small enough that after a couple of days of the holiday everybody gets to know everyone else, which is really nice. The sailing really brings everyone together and they very quickly become friends. The staff have a massive part to play in what makes our place special. Most of the guys working on the beach come back year after year which makes a huge difference."
"On the water we like to keep things as unrestricted as possible. As long as it's safe, we try to keep everyone doing what they want to do, whenever they want to do it. Because we've been doing this here for so long we know the limits of the kit and the local conditions."
Vassiliki has consistently windy conditions in the afternoons, which provide for exhilarating sailing with three or four days a week from the end of May being in the 15 to 25 knot range, becoming nearly every day in July & August. Once or twice a month they have 30+ knot winds, where they still let boats go out but restrict the type of boat and look realistically as to whether people are going to be able to sail in the conditions and come back ashore in one piece with the boat in one piece.
"It might be fun to go out for 10 minute in that much wind, but for 10 minutes fun is it worth it?" says Joe. "We let slightly less powerful boats out when it's that windy."
I wanted to know how Joe first got involved with Wildwind, and what it was that made him stay there ever since.
"I applied to work here for three years before I finally got the job. I was working at Grafham Water for Brian Phipps beforehand and I'd heard a lot of good things about Wildwind, so when I eventually made it out here I couldn't believe a place this hot and windy existed!"
"I've always known that sailing was what I wanted to do, but I feel if I went to do sailing somewhere else it wouldn't be as good; even if we had the identical fleet with the identical vibe, I just can't see a place where the conditions would be as good. It's great here because even when it's windy, the water is still flat which makes it far more sailable in the strong stuff."
"As well as that the village is absolutely perfect as well - it's the perfect distance from where we are on the beach and it's the perfect size as well; big enough to have plenty of variety of things to do and places to go, but not so big that you don't feel like there are people that you don't know. You feel a part of the community."
"There's also the entertainment side, with our live music twice a week that I'm heavily involved in. That puts a different slant on things and for me makes sure the novelty never wears off; twice a week I get to be a rock star!"
Joe is no mean racing sailor himself, finishing fourth in the 2016 Hobie Tiger Worlds and tenth in the 2012 Tornado Worlds, which explains why the Wildwind Cat Training Weeks in May prove so popular with sailors, be they club sailors or international competitors.
"They're aimed at sailors who are sailing cats with dagger/centreboards and an asymmetric spinnaker. We have varied ability range on the courses, but it doesn't matter whether you've done a bit of club racing or competed in World Championships: everyone improves."
"We do a lot of video training, being able to see what your boat, crew position, sail position and everything else looks like from the outside and then comparing it to other boats, it's very easy to identify where some techniques are better than others. We have some people who've raced for a long time, but they just want a focused week before the season starts in the UK, Holland, Germany or wherever they come from."
"We hold small races when the wind's lighter in the mornings, working on boat handling, how to approach the start line, looking at different options in scenarios that might unfold, which really gets sailors race-ready for the season."
"When the wind is stronger in the afternoons, I'll be handing videoing duties to one of my colleagues so that I'm available to get onboard with everyone and really make some progress with their high wind technique - one of my particular favourites is the high wind bear-away!"
"There is, of course plenty that gets covered on land - everything you could possibly need to know about sailing this type of boat. I am though a big fan of time on the water so we don't spend any longer than necessary talking about it."
Wildwind has customers who return year after year and Joe told of us of one couple who first met at Wildwind on holiday, then arranged to come on holiday again, eventually leading to them getting married at the Vassiliki base!
"From start to finish this was a Vassiliki relationship. It's a package we're offering now; I don't know what the pricing is going to be or whether we can offer guaranteed results!" joked Joe."
The range of boats at Wildwind is extraordinary, going from Lasers to foiling Lasers, Hobie 16s and Tigers through to a 49er. I wanted to know which are Joe's favourite boats in the different wind conditions in Vassiliki.
"That's a great question! If there's some racing going on then the Tornado is the ultimate in light to moderate winds as it gets going that little bit earlier in the wind range, but it's only really interesting when there are other boats to sail against. We have had a number of top teams who come out for the Vassiliki Watersports Festival, including the Greek Olympic team from 2008 and the World Champions which is really great. The 49er is the number one choice for a good sailor in light winds as you can get trapezing upwind and downwind in our morning winds."
"In a moderate wind, when it's constant double trapeze conditions, a Hobie Tiger is really good choice as you can get the boat absolutely shifting with the kite up and, even when I'm trying to give the customer the best possible sail, I find I'm always thinking "I am training here" and when I'm out in 18 knots of breeze it's perfect training conditions as well. I give it 100% so the customer has the time of their life; of course if the customer is less athletic I'll reign it in and make it as steady as possible, but if they've got more experience I'll absolutely send it if they're enjoying it!"
"Things get interesting when it's really windy. One thing that has shown me a totally different world is when we got the foiling Lasers in 2016; that is the most fun I've had in a boat in a long time on my own. When it's 18-25 knots the foiling Laser is so much fun, there can't be a more perfect introduction to foiling. The sensation of foiling in the Laser is fantastic and for me it gives the exact same feeling as when I was 16 years old on a Laser trying to get it planing. Over the winter Marko, who's our resident foiling Laser expert, has been building some hiking wedges to help heel the boat to windward, to make it easier to hike and foil. Marko only touched on getting the Laser foiling upwind last year and it's going to be very interesting to see what we can do with these wedges this year."
"The ultimate for me in the strong wind is the Hobie 16: it's such a simple boat but it's an absolute rocket ship. There's simply nothing as good as sailing a Hobie 16 in more than 25 knots of wind. I've been getting really into speed trials in the Hobie 16s, pushing the boat as hard as I can. For a while I had to ban myself from sailing them in high winds as the rudder blades weren't up to the job and I was snapping a rudder blade every two weeks! Thankfully in 2015, Hobie brought out a new construction of rudder blade; we fitted them to all of our 16s as soon as they came out, and I've been pushing the boats harder than ever and we haven't had one break since. There's nothing like it and, in my opinion of the non-foiling boats, it's got the highest potential top speed because of the shape of the hulls and the way the power is delivered from the rig. As long as you can stay in control the Hobie 16 just keeps going faster!"
Vassiliki isn't just about sailing, and there are a range of other activities you can take part in. I wanted to know which were Joe's favourites.
"If I'm not sailing, windsurfing, kitesurfing or playing the guitar, then the mountain biking out here is really good. There are such a lot of tracks and trails in this part of the island that even if you came out here for two weeks you could ride a different route every day if you wanted to. I really got into that over the winter and it's so much fun."
Vassiliki has a range of restaurants, so I asked Joe which was his favourite and which dish he likes.
"The restaurant I go to most often is the Miramare, which is on the harbour front. The menu is really varied, they're nice guys and there's a big open space where Harry, our little boy, can run around once he's fed up of sitting at the table!"
"My favourite dish would be the Kleftiko, which is lamb baked in the oven with garlic, lemon and herbs. You can go to any restaurants out here and they all serve a good Kleftiko."
Once a year, in the last week of June, Wildwind host the Vassiliki Watersports Festival. I asked Joe what happens at the event.
"On the water for the catamarans we hold long distance races - out of the bay around a small island called Arkoudi - or if it's too windy we can go around the rocks at the Southern-most tip of the island. The races are not as severe as Texel or Round the Island: we're looking at around 4 hours which is much more sociable when you're on holiday. We also hold round-the-cans racing inside the bay. We've opened the event up to the whole country, trying to get as many competitors from the rest of Greece to join us as well, so we have some really good numbers out on the water."
"For the monohulls we have round-the-cans racing and one very exciting event we hold is the 'Laser Slalom' which is held in about 15 knots of wind on an entirely downwind course taking in three gybe marks right in front of the beach. Even if you're not taking part it's really exciting, and sometimes hilarious, to watch with some amazing crashes and capsizes!"
"Ashore we have various events, including a David Bowie Tribute Band, which Simon (Morgan) is very excited about. It'll be really fun!"
Load more videos on Joe's YouTube channel here.
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The Wildwind Difference: YachtsandYachting.com speak to Base Manager Joe Bennett