Bareboat Sailing the Greek Isles
Sailing Greek Islands
After months of research and endless group discussion, we had a plan, a one-way seven-day sailing trip starting near Athens and ending in the island of Ios, hitting lots of the best and prettiest islands of the Greek Cyclades including Kea, Syros, Mykonos, Paros, and Antiparos. At the end of sailing, we would be an easy half-hour ferry ride to Santorini, where we had post-sailing cliff-side hotel reservations. Provisioning orders were all set and food deliveries to the three catamarans were scheduled.
When you sail, you have to be prepared to change your plans on the fly. Stuff goes wrong, boats break, the weather can go bad, folks can have health issues. But we (and 11 other couples) were not prepared for what we were presented with upon our arrival in Athens.
“Sorry, but the catamarans you reserved for your 7-day sailing adventure are no longer available”.
The previous charter group had wrecked them in various ways (ran aground, engine problems, ripped sails) and all three of our reserved boats were now in dry dock on a distant Greek island far from Athens. Obviously, that left us and our vacation plans way up in the air. The charter company had a semi-palatable solution – they came up with 3 catamarans at a different marina. We could have them at a slightly reduced rate (they were lower quality) with the catch being that we would have to return them to the same marina – no one-way trip was possible. It was either that or cancel the sailing portion of our trip and figure out something else to do in Greece (which would not have been difficult). After some group discussion, we chose Option A, but we still did not have an itinerary. As a bonus for our troubles, the charter company threw in free ferry rides from Athens to Santorini (6 hours instead of a half hour) and a bus to get us to the ferry after sailing.
The morning of sailing was a frenzied, stressful, frequently comical ordeal for many reasons.
- Our hotel was very near the original marina, but nowhere near the new one.
- Our food order had to be cancelled. Instead we rented vans, shopped at a nearby market and schlepped it all back to the new marina.
- This marina was not really equipped for group charters so the skippers had difficulty getting information about the boats and our itinerary options.
- By the time we finally were underway, there were only a couple hours of daylight remaining, so our only real option was to go halfway across the Saronic Gulf to the island of Aegina.
Aegina in time for sunset
We got it all done, made it to Aegina for sunset, and rafted the sailboats together for a planning meeting and a much deserved “holy crap, we made it” party. We were tired, but happy we were still going to have a sailing vacation. We had several nice options for our modified itinerary and we went through them as a group. What we did NOT have was consensus. With two dozen folks to please, there were all kinds of opinions as to what was important. From our perspective, we wanted a fun, leisurely time with a variety of experiences. Some folks were very insistent that Mykonos was a non-negotiable piece of the puzzle (otherwise there might have been a mutiny or a splitting of the group). Mykonos was part of our original itinerary, but would be difficult to reach and still allow time for the return trip. Since we only had 6 days left, we mapped out a course that got us there in 3 days, allowed for 2 overnights in Mykonos, and a return trip of just 2 days. The distances between anchorages (daily sailing distances) were much longer than originally planned. The group generally likes the sailing to be no more than a half day so that there is more time to enjoy each destination upon arrival. Some of the sails would be close to 50 miles. But the skippers all agreed to be early risers so that we could pull it off.
The next challenge – little or no wind – great for sunning, not so great for sailing.
Fortunately, there is an easily solution for this – fire up the engines and motor away. We did get to sail occasionally during the week, but mostly we were under propeller power. Once we were under way with a plan, we got into relax and have fun mode quickly.
We never made it ashore during our first overnight in Aegina, so even though we had a very scenic anchorage, and it was calm enough to raft the boats together, we were anxious to get our new itinerary underway:
Kea and one of the top 10 beaches in the world. Not.
Next stop was the island of Kea where a guidebook had told us that one of the top 10 beaches in the world awaited us. We’re not sure who created this list, but I wouldn’t trust the other 9 picks. The beach was scenic and interesting to be sure – but top 10 in the world?? It was covered with fist sized rocks and very little sand – impossible for walking barefoot. The water was clear, but very cold – only a couple from our group took a dip. The highlight was a short hike to the remains of the Greek Temple of Athena. We did have the beach to ourselves, but there is a good reason for that. Since there was zero civilization where we anchored, it was dinner aboard that night.
In Syros we anchored in a pretty cove on the west side of the island and took taxis to the main town of Ermoupoli on the east side. Dinner was yummy and the setting along the bustling harbor was fun.
Finally arrived in Mykonos early afternoon on day 4. It was definitely worth the effort to get here. We were ready for some couple time on our own, so we strolled the picture perfect streets together, stopped in lots of shops and churches, and drooled at the bakeries and restaurant menus. Mykonos streets are laid out like a maze. This was done deliberately to make it tough on marauders – all it did for us was get us lost (in a fun way) a few times, but not for too long.
The next day featured some welcome relaxation, more exploring, a fantastic sunset, and a very fun group dinner at a restaurant featuring authentic Greek traditional dancing. One of our sailing friends is Greek with contacts in the area, so he found out where they would be performing. We never would have found this restaurant on our own and oddly, this turned out to be the only time we were part of such local dancing.
The early morning of Day 6, it was time to start the journey back to Athens. In spite of the lack of wind, we were making great time and decided to bypass Syros and made it all the way to Kythnos. We found a beautiful little sheltered harbor with a nice quiet shaded beach, but not much else. That’s okay because it was leftovers night on the boat and plenty to choose from.
Our last full day featured a surprise visit by a pod of friendly dolphins swimming with us for several minutes. One sure way to get Sheila out of bed early is to start screaming about dolphins! Later we stopped for a fun hike up Poseidon’s Temple at the southern tip of the peninsula south of Athens, and finally back to the marina in Pireas. Since we had an early morning ferry scheduled to Santorini, our last night (after our farewell group dinner) was spent in the marina on the sailboat.
I think he’s coming too fast – he’s definitely coming too fast – I think he’s going to hit us!! Hold tight!! CRUNCH!!
This happened toward the end of our trip when another boat was attempting to maneuver through an anchorage. The collision was obviously not our fault. After all, we were at anchor. Another challenge: one of the boats suffered from an extreme water shortage of their own making. It seems the crew didn’t know that long luxurious showers are not practical on a sailboat and water tanks do run out. The other boats were able to give them enough water to get by, but it did get a little stinky over there toward the end.
What have you done to my boat?
When we got back to the marina at the end of the trip, the boat’s owner went berserk and started screaming at our skipper. Our skipper remained calm and kept stating that we were at anchor when the collision occurred. It was like getting blamed for being rear-ended while sitting at a stop light. Fortunately, the owner eventually calmed down. Good thing insurance covers such things. Our group insists we all pitch in for boat insurance and we highly recommend it.
She said: Speaking of stinky…we’ve adapted to the fact that when sailing it’s necessary to either use approved biodegradable TP or actually stash your TP in a ziplock and never flush it. We were a bit surprised to find that habit requested even in many nice establishments in Greece. Their plumbing just isn’t robust enough for TP.
Olives? Yech! Throughout our sailing, and also at our post sailing stops, the food was delicious with lots of variety, and relatively inexpensive. We also enjoyed the local wine. Service was always friendly, though not necessarily speedy (but we weren’t in a hurry anyway). Olives are a staple in Greece and it’s one of the very few foods that Tom just doesn’t like (not even a little). He got some funny looks when his plate was wiped clean except for the olives. Sheila loved the food, esp. the platters of gyro meat and our friends drooled over the caprese salads.
Athens, Milos and Santorini
After the sailing part of this trip, we took a ferry to Santorini for 3 picturesque days, then on to Milos for 4 unexpectedly amazing days, and then back to Athens, before heading home. But those are additional stories…
Our overall impressions of bareboat sailing the Greek Islands were mixed. We would sail there again, but now that we’ve been on five destination sailing trips (also BVI, Belize, French Polynesia and Thailand), we’ve decided we prefer to sail in tropical locales with warm water. In Greece, the water in June was just too cold for extensive swimming and there’s no snorkeling/diving to speak of, which is tough on a mermaid. There were no mooring balls and anchoring was sometimes difficult. Conversely, provisioning options are everywhere and the food and wine are great!
We LOVE Greece and especially the Greek islands. The time spent with our sailing friends was wonderful and Greece has a magic about it. There are many islands we’d love to visit, including some that were on our original plan that got scrapped. Their ferry system makes it very easy to island hop, so next time we might spend more time exploring the various communities.
Trip Date: June 2011