Greek honeymoon became a family affair
OUR son Jess has never been afraid to choose the path less trod.
Two years ago, for example, while living in Melbourne with his British girlfriend Abi, he rang his mother with the welcome news that they were getting engaged.
Could they hold the celebratory party at our Maroochydore home, he asked, knowing full well that his mum would be only too happy to oblige.
It was to be in three weeks' time - and, by the way, could we also host their wedding the following day?
They say you can overplan functions like this, and that sometimes "spur of the moment" works best. Certainly, that was the case with Jess and Abi's wedding.
It turned out to be a wonderful day, spoilt only by the fact none of Abi's family or British-based friends were able to attend.
But, never mind, the happy couple were planning on living in the UK and there would be a follow-up ceremony in Britain in due course - a second wedding, this time attended by Abi's side of the family.
That much-anticipated event took place recently in Jess and Abi's new hometown of Bristol - on the docks, outside the Benjamin Perry Boatshed, more usually frequented by members of the Avon Sea Scouts troop.
Entertainment was provided by a couple of Abi's friends, the celebrant was her uncle Ian, the bridal party included 11 bridesmaids and the food was supplied by The Little Taquero - a street food trader specialising in gourmet tacos, which turned up at 6pm and, in Jess's words, served up the best street food in Bristol.
Again, with precious little planning but with great goodwill and lots of love, it turned out to be a joyous day.
Abi's family and friends were joined for the occasion by my wife Janelle and me, our son Sam and his partner Kate, Jess's uncle Terry, a couple of former workmates from Melbourne, and two friends of ours who were touring Europe at the time and decided to pop over for the weekend.
The next day we all flew to Corfu to join Jess and Abi on their honeymoon.
Four years earlier Jess and Sam had spent a northern summer working for a charter yacht company called Sailing Holidays, based in Corfu. Jess had skippered a flotilla of six 'sail yourself' yachts and, among his crew of three was a lovely English lass named Abi Southwell.
This was the idyllic beginning of a romance that was to lead to two weddings - one on either side of the globe. It seemed appropriate to Jess and Abi to return to the place where it all began.
We arrived at Corfu late at night, stashed our luggage aboard the 43 foot yacht we'd hired for a week's sailing around the northern Ionian islands, and headed for Navigators, a convivial bar/restaurant just outside the marina at Gouvia, where we rewarded the barman's decision to stay open longer than he had planned.
We slept aboard the yacht that night, and headed out from Gouvia early next morning.
Jess, who has his skipper's licence, was at the helm and, even though he and his brother Sam had not set foot on a yacht for nearly four years, it was remarkable the way they immediately and effortlessly rekindled the language of the sea - port, starboard, jib, astern, leeward - and rediscovered their seafaring skills.
Eleven of us were on board a yacht that slept 10. But we'd arrived during a late summer heatwave - with afternoon temperatures of 36 degrees or more - so it was no hardship for somebody to sleep on deck each night. Indeed it soon became a preferred spot.
We went a week without seeing a cloud in the sky.
During the day we sailed the calm waters of the Mediterranean - albeit sometimes only 15km or 20km - stopping at regular intervals to leap into the sea to cool down.
In the afternoons we'd slide into a berth at a marina, or anchor and chug ashore in our rubber dinghy to shop and explore this remarkable part of the world.
At night we'd find a bar, then a restaurant, commandeer a table, and enjoy the wonderful food and wine that this region is famous for.
We had overnight stops at Lakka, on the northeast coast of the island of Paxos, Mongonisi on the island's southeast coast, Parga on the west coast of the mainland, Kassiopi on the north coast of Corfu, and at Gaios, also on Paxos, where you can tie up literally in the centre of town.
They're all geared towards tourism with souvenir shops, bars, restaurants and hotels in great number. But who cares? The scenery is spectacular, the welcome warm, and the food to die for.
Pressed to nominate the best food we had, I'd go for the Castello, in the delightful seaside town of Parga, where you can spy the wine cellar through the glass floor as you walk to your table.
Despite it being booked out, we secured the last table because the owner remembered Jess from the times he used to bring yachties to eat there.
An idiosyncrasy of the Greek islands - and for all of Greece for all I know - is that nobody flushes paper down the toilet. Instead, used toilet paper is placed in a container that rests beside the bowl and, presumably, is appropriately and regularly disposed of.
It's a concept that takes some getting used to - but, eventually, you do.
Ice is also very expensive but, presumably, it's a supply and demand thing. On a yacht, where it's often necessary to conserve power for more important things than operating the tiny fridge, how else are you going to keep the beer and wine cold?
It was a sublime week. The days flew by, the 11 of us got on extraordinarily well, we enjoyed ourselves immensely, and Jess and Abi - bless them - made their mum and dad feel very welcome on what, normally, is a celebration to which parents are seldom tolerated and rarely invited.
Sailing holidays in the Greek islands need not be expensive, and there is a wide choice.
People can charter a yacht complete with skipper and, if necessary, crew. They can join a flotilla where they captain their own boat, but are part of a group - all travelling to the same destination under the direction of a flotilla skipper.
Or, like us, they can hire a "bareboat", but that is dependent on you having a licensed skipper and at least one other crew member who knows their way around a yacht.
You could charter a yacht like ours - a 13.25m Benetau Cyclades 434 with 10 people sharing the cost - for around $5500 at peak season.
A cheap price for a lifetime of memories.