A boat sails in the Saronic Gulf waters shortly after the start of the 54th International Aegean Sailing Rally at Piraeus port on July 14, 2017. Greece's oldest and most prestigious annual sailing event kicked off on Friday. Over the next ten days 21 boats from Greece, Germany, France and Israel will compete in three offshore races and will make three stopovers at the islands of Syros, Chios and Skyros covering over 300 nautical miles. (Xinhua/Lefteris Partsalis)
By Maria Spiliopoulou
ATHENS, July 14 (Xinhua) -- The 54th edition of the International Aegean Sailing Rally, Greece's oldest and most prestigious annual sailing event, kicked off on Friday at Piraeus port.
Over the next ten days 21 boats from Greece, Germany, France and Israel will compete in three offshore races and will make three stopovers at the islands of Syros, Chios and Skyros covering over 300 nautical miles.
Organized by the Hellenic Offshore Racing Club (HORC) the Aegean Sailing rally is characterized as a Marine Marathon.
Sailing boats taking part in the event have a wide range of length and sail and are divided into vessels designed especially for racing and seagoing vessels.
Since participating vessels are non-identical, competition between them is made possible by means of a handicap system, according to each vessel's degree of capacity, organizers explained.
"The Aegean Sea is calling" is this year's motto. Under the auspices of the Greek Tourism Industry and the Region of Northern Aegean the event aims to showcase the beauty of the Aegean archipelago and Greece's maritime tradition.
"I would say that this is the most interesting event across the Eastern Mediterranean. It is different, because when sailing the Aegean Sea waters one should be prepared to face all kinds of weather, from calm sea to 8-9 Beaufort scale winds, therefore all crews are given the opportunity to show their maritime skills and experience," HORC President Ioannis Maragoudakis told Xinhua.
The Aegean Rally is also supported by the Hellenic Navy which will host on July 24 the prize ceremony at the Aegean Naval Command at Piraeus.
On Friday, Spyros Gianniotis, Greece's Olympic silver medalist in the 2016 Rio Games at the 10 kilometers marathon swim, gave the signal for the start of the race.
Gianniotis, a Hellenic Navy officer, plans to take sailing lessons to participate in future Aegean Sailing rallies, he said.
"I love the sea and I would like it very much in the future. I have thought about it since I was a kid. This is an opportunity for me to start taking lessons and get to know a different part of the sea which is so beautiful," he told Xinhua.
Two other Greek Olympic medalists were among crews of vessels on Friday. Voula Kozoboli, silver medalist in water polo in the 2004 Athens Olympic Games, was on board "Alsouma - Allianz".
She took lessons from Sofia Bekatorou, gold medalist in the 2004 Olympics in the women's double-handed dinghy event in the 470 class and bronze medalist in the yngling keelboat class at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.
Dimitris Mougios, silver medalist in men's lightweight double sculls in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, took sailing lessons at HORC, and on Friday was a crew member of "Optimum 3" which won last year' s event.
For all crews the main goal is to finish the race safe and sound and enjoy the trip, according to Petros Papakyriakou, one of the contestants.
"Always the goal is to do well, hoping for lack of misfortune and injuries. This is what I am wishing for all vessels and all crews," he told Xinhua before taking position at the starting point.
Papakyriakou and his "Fairy Tale" team had won the third place in the 51st Aegean Sailing rally and aim for the first this year.