Sailing / Yachting tourism
Ah, summer in Greece. Blue sky, blue sea, golden sands, baring all, just soaking it up. The Greek islands have never been beaten at providing just this, so here in a nutshell is the best way to go about enjoying that warm sea holiday you always wanted.
All holidays are relaxing. But in Greece you can really achieve a no-stress situation, especially if you charter a yacht to take you skimming over the waves and to islands you’ve never even heard of before. No hassles in booking air or ferry tickets, no driving, no need for a hotel, as your yacht is your home.
On a yacht you have total freedom. No itineraries or timetables. You leave when you want and go where you want. It’s the only way to discover those secluded beaches and bathing spots that beckon with their total solitude even at peak periods. At any time you can enter any island or mainland port and hop ashore for a meal and drink without having to elbow your way through hordes of fellow-travellers. Farther out, you can windsurf, dive and fish whenever you feel like it. Convinced? Okay, here are the details.
Riding the winds
Greece’s seas are among the calmest in the world, being mostly studded by island groups and enclosed by deep gulfs. For most of the year the climate is mild, with good visibility. Fog is scarce. All the main promontories and rocky points have lighthouses to guide the unwary. The Greek Navy has prepared detailed charts of all Greek territorial waters, while other equally reliable charts are available from commercial publishers in many languages. It’s the winds that you have to watch out for.
The winds in the Aegean Sea are usually brisk between May and September, mainly northerly, the so-called meltemi winds. The seas can get a bit rough when these blow at the height of summer, so the best months for sailing in the Aegean are May, June and November. In July and August the meltemi winds can blow for a few days at a time, from early morning to early evening, reaching their maximum intensity around lunchtime. At these times it’s wise to keep the boat or yacht tied up in a sheltered spot.
These winds tend to blow strongest among the Cyclades islands, and more in the north, gradually weakening towards the south. They are rather weaker in the Dodecanese islands, except for the waters around Ikaria which can get quite choppy. In winter the scirocco southeasterlies blow frequently, moisture-laden and often bringing low cloud and rain. These are more prevalent in the southwest Aegean.
The Ionian Sea in the west tends to be a good deal milder, which is why less-experienced yachters tend to prefer it. The prevailing summer wind is the north-westerly mistral that blows up early in the afternoon and abates at sunset. These winds can get to Force 3 or 4, and occasionally Force 5, becoming stronger when they get to the mountains of the adjacent mainland. The summer also includes periods of complete calm and intense humidity.
In winter, and often in the autumn and spring, the north-easterly gregos winds prevail, piling up the choppy waves on the islands’ western shores.
The prevailing winds around the Sporades islands (Skiathos, Skopelos and Alonnisos) off the mainland east coast are generally northerly all year round. These winds can become quite strong in the winter, and so mariners are advised to use the shelter of the Evia channel (north and south) whenever possible.
Calm generally prevails all year around the Argosaronic islands (Aigina, Angistri, Hydra and Spetses) close to Athens. From July to the end of summer, the meltemi northerlies tend to prevail, though the intervening land mass of the Attic and Argolis peninsulas weakens them considerably. The calmest months in this area are April, May and June, when mild southerly winds blow for most of the day. Sometimes, in late winter or early spring, strong southerlies might blow up, bringing torrents of rain.
Chartering that yacht
Before making the decision to charter, you must decide the following:
• What kind of boat you want.
• If you need a crew or not.
• How many people will be on board.
• The exact dates and number of days of the voyage.
• The port of departure.
There are four main classes of pleasure craft for charter, and dozens of sizes and types to choose from:
• Sailing Yachts: These have sails and a crew. They can be either single-hulled or catamaran, and are generally spacious and fast. Some catamarans have hammocks stretched between the hulls in the bow, ideal for sunbathing.
• Bareboats: These are sailing vessels chartered without a crew, though according to Greek law at least two people among the charterers must have a sailing diploma. This requirement can be reduced to one person if he or she can produce evidence of adequate competence. In case of doubt it’s best to hire a skipper for little extra cost.
• Motor Sailers: These are larger vessels equipped with sails, an engine and a crew.
• Motor Yachts: These are large, modern powered craft with no sails and with a crew. They have luxury quarters and can get up high speeds so as to be able to visit more places in a shorter space of time.
Yacht chartering companies can give all the information you need. Their personnel are qualified, and their advice must be followed at all times when the voyage is being planned. Refuelling and provisioning can be had at just about every mainland and island port, regardless of whether they have yacht marinas. Of course, Piraeus is not the only port of departure. Any port can do, as long as it has a pleasure craft charter business. At you don’t have to return to the port you started out at. The larger companies have people who can ferry the boat back to where it was hired.
Many people are under the impression that chartering a yacht is an expensive business. That’s not necessarily true. Rates for, say, a thirty-foot sailing boat start at €300 a day. That’s really not a lot, considering that such a yacht can sleep six people – hotel accommodation for them all would be whole lot dearer. On a yacht you can also do your own cooking, which means you don’t have to pay for eating out. A yacht can provide a truly economic holiday. Admittedly, the costs rise steeply when the boat is powered. Rates for a thirty-five-foot motor yacht, for example, start at an eye-glazing €4,000 per week, and that’s because the fuel is pricey and the crew have to be fed.
The cost of bareboat chartering includes the use of the boat itself and insurance. A security deposit is usually required beforehand, to defray the cost of anything that might be broken. This is returnable. Of course, the earlier the booking, the better. Rates will be lower and there are more chances of finding exactly what you are looking for. All boats are fully equipped with GPS, autopilot, electronic navigation aids, a tender with an outboard motor, hot water, a complete kitchen, blankets, pillows, pillowcases, two sets of sheets and bathroom towels. On board also are detailed charts, lifesaving equipment and first aid materials.
What to remember afloat
• The boat is not a hotel. Its space is limited, and so it’s preferable that the people on board get on with one another and each be willing, in the case of no crew, to share all tasks.
• It’s vital that someone in charge know where the boat is going. This is best done by thoroughly studying the route before setting off, and consulting the charts during the voyage.
• Before starting, be sure you know the ropes, as it were, and how to operate the emergency lifesaving equipment.
• Respect the environment. Clean seas and beaches are an inestimable gift of nature and must be protected as such.
• If your yacht is foreign registered and flies a foreign flag, be sure you know the official entry and exit procedures for Greek waters before arriving.
• Greece operates dozens of yacht marinas that contain some 6,000 berths. Besides that, most Greek ports have concrete jetties where you can tie up.
AEGEAN SEA: Kythnos – Polyaigos – Kimolos – Milos
This route can be covered in seven days. Setting off from Kalamaki near Athens, it takes eight hours to Kythnos, an island that offers plenty of secluded and sheltered coves for tying up, and beaches to swim at. Many yachts get their provisions at Meriha, the main port. On the food side, Kythnos is known for its thyme honey, marinated fish and almond paste sweets.
Polyaigos is an islet that offers good anchorages at Manolonisi. It’s mostly uninhabited, with rare opportunities for magic solitude among the impressive landscape.
A mile away, across a strait with a lighthouse in the middle, lies Kimolos. This island, well known for its chalk, is a provisioning centre. There is good fishing to be had, while the island is one of the refuges of the rare Mediterranean monk seal. The island is famous for its non-fat cheese (manouri), olive oil bread and spiced red mullet.
Milos, where the famous Venus de Milo statue, now in the Louvre, was discovered, is just across the strait from Kimolos and the site of the some of the best beaches in the Aegean. The main port of Adamanta and other refuges provide shelter from most winds except northwesterlies. One such location is Kleftiko on the southeast of the island. The volcanic origin of Milos comes out in the varied and fascinating landscape, rock shapes and warm springs. There are catacombs at the archaeological site of Fylakopi, while most of the island’s houses are small and multicoloured. Cheeses and honey are the main produce of Milos, as well as a curious sweet spinach pie.
IONIAN SEA: Paxi – West Kephalonia – Zakynthos
We’re now in the Ionian Sea west of the mainland. Starting at Levkas, sail north to Paxi and Antipaxi, two tiny islands just south of Corfu, and considered by many to be veritable jewels. There are imposing sea caves in the craggy western sides, and a safe anchorage at Lakkas, where you can get fuel and provisions, and relax at a bar. Be careful when you round the promontory on the way to the port of Gaios. There’s no visibility in the other direction, so a long and loud warning whistle is in order. Gaios is a well-sheltered port.
Antipaxi, just to the south, has good beaches and a safe anchorage at Agrapidia. This island is inhabited only in the summer months. The delicacies of Paxi and Antipaxi include local red wine, ice cream with fried sourdough (loukoumades) and a variety of marinated fish dishes.
Sailing south from Antipaxi you come on the western shores of Kephalonia, especially the scenic inlet at Athera. The little harbour at Aghia Kyriaki in the inlet of Myrtos is good only for calm weather, but features green and blue underwater grottoes. Myrtos has been described as one of the most striking shores in the Mediterranean. Kephalonia has two main ports, Argostoli and Lixouri, both of which have more than adequate provisioning and fuelling facilities.
Zakynthos combines craggy mountains and shores with pleasant plain lands. The Venetians, who used to rule it, called it the Fior di Levante,or Flower of the Levant. Cape Skinari in the north is a scenic spot with blue grottoes. On the south side lies Laganas Beach, the endangered home of the loggerhead turtle, which is a protected species. Recently in danger of extinction from unregulated tourism, the turtle now has a new lease on life sheltered in two protected nature reserves.
The main town of Zakynthos has all the required port facilities, though it might get a bit crowded in the summer. There is plenty of night life. Food delicacies of Zakynthos include almond sweets, honey and wine. You can feast on a ragout of meat served in tomato paste and with pasta, and follow it with a dessert of wheat, sugar and cinnamon.
The Marine Park in the Northern Sporades represents a unique complex of land and marine Mediterranean ecotypes, which is host to many varieties of plants and animals amongst which are also the indigenous, rare or the protected varieties. It is located in the Northern Sporades; it is a complex of islands that is located in the North West Aegean Marine, north of the island of Euboea and east of Pelion. The region incorporates the south eastern section of Skopelos and Alonnesos, which are the only inhabited sections and smaller islands and islets that are not inhabited, with the exception of some guards and occasional shepherds. In addition to its scientific and educational interest, the region also has a significant archaeological interest, since on the islands there are discoveries and monuments from the prehistoric, classical and Byzantine periods (cave discoveries, ship wrecks, old monasteries and churches). The numerous caves and the beaches that have been created between the steep rocky coasts constitute the ideal refugees for the Mediterranean seal, whose population in the region has been estimated as being the most significant in the Mediterranean. Piperi Island, which is the most significant region for the reproduction of the Mediterranean seal, also constitutes the nucleus of the Marine Park in the Northern Sporades. An isolated population of Capra aegagrus ssp. dorcas lives exclusively on Gioura. Also of significant interest is the reptile fauna in the region that includes rare and protected varieties. The avian fauna is rich in its varieties and includes a significant number of migratory birds as well as many varieties that reproduce in the proposed region. The marine ecotypes are characterized by the abundance of the species with significant populations. The huge variety of the marine species is to a large extent due to the marine ecotypes (such as the excellent Posidonia fields, the reefs, etc.) and the absence of pollution. This fact also renders the proposed region as significant from a geographic perspective. There have also been recorded here 170 varieties of fish, 70 varieties of amphipods and 40 varieties of sponges.
Marine Park in Zakynthos
The region incorporates Laganas bay and the Marathonesi and Pelouzo islets on the southern coast of Zakynthos. The substratum is sandy and the water depth is shallow (maximum of 10 m), a fact that favours the huge spread of Posidonia. The Laganas off shore exhibits a huge biological significance, due to the existence of many significant ecotypes, such as sandy beaches, rocky shores and off shore lakes. On Marathonesi beach there are low sand dunes that at some points extend up to 50 m into the interior.
The Laganas region has become very well known because the small sandy beaches in the region are considered to be the most significant places for the egg laying of the Caretta caretta sea turtle in the entire Greek (and perhaps the Mediterranean) are. The two islets (of Marathonesi and Pelouzo), which are located in the Laganas bay are characterized by well developed species of Mediterranean vegetation.
The Laganas beach is one of the most significant regions in the Mediterranean where the Caretta caretta sea turtle lays and hatches its eggs. The region is also of a major ecological significance due to the presence of the marine Posidonietum oceanicae bio-society, which creates a very sensitive type of ecotype and has exhibited a significant spread in the Mediterranean.