With 7,000 miles of coastline, plus thousands of islands, Greece offers a stunning variety of boating playgrounds that suit all tastes and has long been the most popular choice for sailing holidays. However, it’s impossible to consider the country as a single area, given that the many different regions vary in character and in typical weather conditions. Nevertheless, nearly all the popular charter destinations offer the option of making a couple of short sails each day, maybe punctuated by a lunchtime swim stop, or longer passages as the mood suits you.
Although the most popular harbours can get busy in high season, a two- or three-hour sail is frequently all that’s needed to find nearly deserted picturesque bays in which to anchor. If you do so on a night with a new moon you will have an unrivalled view of the stars in the night sky, including the Milky Way stretching from horizon to horizon.
On shore, you can be assured of a warm welcome at a wide choice of picturesque harbourside tavernas and restaurants. For a more traditional experience, side-street tavernas are worth seeking out, as they tend to cater for more of a local clientele, rather than the tourist trade. Prices can be extremely reasonable, especially by north European standards.
Given that the popular charter areas are generally well away from the main population centres, the country’s financial crisis has had little or no impact on the experience of charter holiday guests. Similarly, other than a couple of very specific spots on islands in the Dodecanese group, the current refugee crisis has had no effect on charter holiday itineraries.
Apart from occasional summer storms and the possibility of short spells of unsettled or thundery weather at the beginning or end of the season, summer weather is predictably good. In spring and early summer, the landscape in many areas is still green, but expect the sea to be comparatively cold for swimming, unlike autumn when it’s at its warmest.
This area on the west side of the country is what many people picture when they think of sailing in Greece. This region generally has relatively light winds, with mornings frequently calm and summer afternoon breezes rarely exceeding Force 4, except in a few isolated spots where the local geography funnels the wind. The most obvious example of this is Vassiliki at the southern end of Levkas island, where afternoon winds may reach Force 4-6.
The area is ideal for first time flotilla sailors, those new to bareboating, and anyone who simply fancies a relaxed and chilled out experience. The area around the islands of Levkas, Kefalonia and Ithaca is particularly good in this respect as it’s well sheltered with little or no swell and there are very few off-lying dangers.
It’s not surprising therefore that the Ionian is by far the country’s most popular charter area, with some of the most popular harbours crowded at the height of the season. Charter bases tend to be centred on either Corfu, to the north of the area, or the island of Levkas to the south.
The Aegean sea, separating mainland Greece from Turkey is in my opinion one of the world’s best sailing areas. Here the Meltemi wind blows from between north-east (in the east Aegean) and north-west (in the Dodecanese) at up to Force 6 in the afternoons, following a usually quiet night and morning. This wind is at its strongest in mid-July and August, when Force 7 or 8 can be reached in the Cycladic islands in the central Aegean.
The northern Sporades chain of islands, including Skiathos, Skopelos and Alonnisos, are quieter than most Greek charter areas and offer reliable winds of Force 4-6 most afternoons, especially in summer. Unlike much of Greece they remain green and verdant year-round, with the mountain slopes covered in pine forest and extensive olive groves. Quiet bays on uninhabited islands can be found even in August, while Skiathos town offers a variety of experiences from excellent boutique restaurants to a vibrant clubbing scene.
Surrounded by stunning mountain ranges, the nearby Gulf of Volos is a quieter area, with numerous small fishing villages and peaceful bays, anchorages and coves. The season here is shorter than in many other parts of Greece, with unsettled weather possible both in May and September. However, the reliable afternoon winds make it a good option if you’re forced to travel in July or August.
These islands, including Kos, Rhodes and Simi, are just a few miles off the Turkish coast in the south-eastern Aegean. The season here is longer than many parts of Greece – spring and autumn are generally really quite warm and the Meltemi is less severe than in the summer months. In July and August it frequently reaches Force 6-7 in the afternoons, with stronger gusts in the lee of islands. Yachts heading in a north-easterly direction against the wind tend to do so under power in the early morning calms.
Chartering from a base near the country’s capital has a number of advantages, including easy access to the airport – many charter bases are within a €20-30 taxi ride. The area is popular with Athenians escaping the city for weekends and vacations but it’s still possible to find quiet corners in out-of-the-way places and wherever you go you’re likely to experience a more traditionally Greek experience than the main tourist hotspots in the Ionian.
The Saronic and Agolic Gulfs, immediately to the south of Athens are sheltered from the full force of the Meltemi. You can expect relatively light winds of Force 2-4 and occasionally 5 from the north to pick up late morning or early afternoon. However, it’s important to realise that if you take a boat from the port Lavrion, a few miles to the east of the airport, you’ll be exposed from the outset to the full force of the Meltemi, where it’s funneled between the mountains of Evvia and the mainland shore and frequently reaches speeds of more than 30 knots.
If chartering from a base in the Saronic Gulf or at Lavrion, it’s possible to visit the Cyclades islands, including Mikonos, Paros and Santorini. These are, however, exposed to the full blast of the Meltemi, so early season tends to be a better bet weatherwise for those wanting to cruise this area.
See the following article on boats.com for more in-depth advice on how to choose and arrange the perfect sailing holiday. Or for worldwide cruising inspiration, see: Sailing around the world on Tamarisk.
Cruising with your own boat in Greece
Many of the attractions for chartering in Greece also make it an excellent place in which to cruise a boat of your own (see: Buying a boat in the Mediterranean or Keeping a boat in the Mediterranean). This is particularly true for those who are able to spend extended periods of time on board: there are many free anchorages, and other than a handful of marinas, overnight mooring fees are extremely reasonable and even then are not always collected. The dramatic coastline and myriad islands means there’s no shortage of new places to explore and favourite haunts to return to.