A Guide to Sailing in Greece
This guide will be particularly helpful for anyone planning to bareboat charter where they will have to make all the decisions by themselves and not have a skipper on board to advise on potential sailing conditions and hazards.
First of all, I am just going to focus on the area I know best which is where we are based and these groups of islands are known as The Cyclades and The Saronic Gulf. This is also only meant to be a brief guide. There are many variables so please feel free to get in touch if you would like any more in depth details.
The Cyclades is a group of islands southeast of the mainland in the Aegean Sea and include Kea, Kythnos, Andros, Milos, Serifos, Mykonos, Naxos etc etc.
The Saronic Gulf includes the islands Aegina, Angistri, Poros, Hydra and there are many places connected to the mainland in this area like Epidavros, Vathi and Ermioni.
The Sailing Season
The main sailing season is between mid April and mid October. Outside this period there is still plenty good weather but the likelihood of experiencing some unsettled weather during a cruise is higher. When I use the term ‘unsettled weather’ I define this as significant cloud and rain with the sometimes very ferocious and unpredictable winds from unusual directions. Therefore if you are sailing outside of the season make sure you keep a eye on the forecasts and plan your sailing around weather windows whilst always keeping within range of good shelter.
The busiest months are July and August and during this time the ports and marinas do get extremely busy to the point where it does actually deter me from visiting certain places at certain times especially when I know there will be a Sunsail or Medsail flotilla arriving.
Another point to remember if sailing ‘out of season’ is that many of the shops and tavernas will be closed so make sure you are well stocked with provisions. However, a plus point of sailing ‘out of season’ is that there are always plenty of berths available and it won’t matter what time you arrive.
Meltemi is the Greek and Turkish name for the well known Etesian wind. This wind blows from north to northwest across the Aegean Sea. The Meltemi flows from a high pressure area over the Balkans and a relatively low pressure area over Turkey. During a strong Meltemi, the trough may extend quite far to the west and beyond Rhodes and even Crete, forming calm wind pockets leeward of the Aegean islands.
With the numerous islands in the area the wind will funnel through certain channels and this will make them more vicious that what they are in open water. A prime example of this is the channel between the island of Makronisos and the mainland.
The Meltemi will blow generally from May to September reaching its peak in July and August. It will start late morning/early afternoon and gradually die down at sunset. The strength of wind can be Force 4 or 5 but will often reach gale force 8 or higher so always make sure your sails are well reefed in plenty of time. The reefing of sails is something I strongly emphasise to everyone because if you are too Gung Ho you WILL get a battering and leave yourself in some potentially dangerous situations.
When the Meltemi is at its strongest during the summer I would never advise venturing too far south into The Cyclades as this might end up leaving you with a very long and uncomfortable voyage back to base. Likewise I wouldn’t try and visit places like Mykonos during this time because you will be very exposed to sustained periods of very strong winds.
Fortunately the Meltemi is really the only shortcoming of sailing these areas so with good planning you will still enjoy so excellent conditions. If you do need to sail during the height of Meltemi it is better to lift anchor/slips lines early morning and cover as much distance as possible before it builds.
Gone are the days when we had to sit next to the VHF radio at designated times waiting for the shipping forecast. These days there are loads so I won’t try and list too many and only tell the you the ones that I personally find most useful. Something you must take into account though is that some of the forecasts will not take account of local conditions or the influence of the Meltemi. Quite often you can easily add 10 knots or more to the forecast so always bear this in mind.
One time sailing from Methana to Lavrio the forecast said 12-15 knots but what we experienced was peaking at 45 knots. With my experience I knew the wind would be more than the forecast so kept my sails reefed and as the will built I reefed more.
The main two sites I use are:
This link will take you straight to the one relating to the Saronic Gulf but you can change location on the website to suit the area you are in.
With this one you just drill down to the area you are sailing. I find it very easy to use and very accurate in fact this is one I used when sailing from Spain to Greece.
Virtually all your mooring will be done in the ‘Med Mooring’ way (see an earlier post on how to do this). If you go beam on to a quayside expect to have someone raft up to you and sometimes you can be rafted 4 or 5 deep which if you are the one against the quay means you will have people clambering over you deck to reach their boat. The etiquette when climbing over someones boat is to always walk forward of the cockpit to still allow some degree of privacy for them.
During busy times don’t be surprised to get a fouled anchor and if you are in Hydra during peak season unless you are very lucky you will have your anchor fouled so get familiar with how to free a fouled anchor. If you are approaching a quayside and there are painted sections that are blue and yellow this generally means you can only go beam on at that particular part. The reason for this is normally that there are submarine cables and quite obviously it’s not a good idea to drop an anchor on these.
The cost of mooring is generally between 5-15 euros per night depending on what water/electricity you require.
Take note !
During the summer of 2017 the authorities changed the times of when moorings are charged. The times now run from midnight to midnight so effectively if you arrive at 1600 you will have to pay for two nights. As you can imagine this has caused many arguments with visiting groups although some places still apply common sense and only charge for one night but make sure your are aware of this change in the law.
The one and only time I have experienced any crime is when we first went out to Athens to bring Atlas back. When unattended various items were stolen but this was definitely an isolated incident. At that time there was a migrant camp nearby Kalamaki marina where we were and the perpetrators had been watching the boat. Since the migrants have been moved crime has disappeared……amazing eh?
Apart from that you will not have a problem and it is very rare to see a policeman so rest assured unless you are VERY unlucky you will not have any problems.
Sailing around Greece is without doubt one of the best areas in the world. When exploring this area on a yacht you are able to get to places not disrupted by mass tourism and get to see the real Greece. There are many things I could mention in addition to the above but if I did that this post will go on forever. When sailing you will experience complete freedom and total escapism. You will also have some challenging moments that will test your skills but that’s all part of the fun but if you don’t want the stresses and sometimes nerve wracking moments of skippering yourself then you could always put a small group of friends together and join us on one of our adventures.
There are of course one or two places/anchorages that I’m keeping secret because I want to keep those for myself ;-)