Exploring Offshore Greece
The yacht is cruising along at 10 to 15 knots. Your clothes billow with the brisk wind. The sun kisses your brow, but your steady pace keeps the sweat you’re working up from lingering. You’re having the time of your life. Your last name may not be Onassis, but you’re still certain to revel in the special exhilaration that only sailing the Mediterranean can bring.
Sailing is a great way to visit Greece, with its 2,500 islands, wonderful people, beautiful sites and beaches, and of course, history and archaeology. By taking your hotel with you, you’ll be able to avoid the crowds, especially in late summer, and find as much or as little sailing adventure as you desire.
The months of July and August provide the highest and steadiest winds along with the highest temperatures and busiest charter time, so we suggest going in early summer (May and June) for ideal sailing conditions. Sailing in the restless Aegean Sea around the Cyclades Islands and Dodecanese Islands can provide enough high-speed excitement for even the most experienced sailors. Take heed, though. The rough Aegean Sea and its winds, called the Meltemi, can sometimes be enough to drive chartered yachts to harbor and pose a significant danger to smaller bareboat (do it yourself) charters. The winds on the Ionian Sea are less dramatic winds and make for a safer location for bareboat sailing.
The multitude of yacht chartering options is almost overwhelming. You can charter a luxury yacht for a week costing more than most people pay to buy a house, or sign onto a smaller yacht for less than it would cost you for the flights within Greece and hotels—perhaps a more palatable option for those without deep pockets who are eager to spend time at sea. Sailing also includes a ready swimming and snorkeling option.
The average size charter, which takes six to eight passengers, is approximately 15m (50 ft.) in length. Accommodations vary from berths to double cabins and a variety of meal options are available, from basic meal packages to gourmet cuisine. The incredible sunsets are thrown in for free. To maximize the number of islands you visit and to avoid tacking into the wind for days, consider a one-way charter.
Most charters provide the ability for novices to learn about sailing and for experts to brush up on their skills. Having a skipper provides you with an expert on the winds and currents, as well as an interpreter, a guide, a historian, and someone who knows the better restaurants and out of the way places.
Although they are two of the larger, more popular islands, Santorini (Thira) in the Cyclades and Rhodes in the Dodecanese still top the list of must-see islands. The west side of Santorini is a huge volcanic caldera which is so large that your yacht is little more than a speck when seen from the cliffs 300m (1,000 ft.) above. I particularly like the village of Oia on Santorini with its blue painted church domes and cave houses. (Try to avoid visiting when the cruise ship hordes have descended on the island.) A trip to the caldera with a hike to the top is worthwhile. The Dodecanese Islands, which are a bit off the beaten path, can provide some exciting sailing mid-summer with steady winds of around 20 knots. The old city of Rhodes, where car traffic is forbidden, is surrounded by a high stone wall and provides you the opportunity to walk the same alleys the Knights Hospitallers (a religious military order) walked between 1309 and 1522. Hire one of the many private guides, such as Rhodes Private Tours (www.rhodesprivatetours.com) for a few hours to tour the restored castle and surrounding area.
When to Go: Mid-May through mid-June to avoid the heat and crowds.
Athens International Airport; Corfu Airport; Heraklion Airport (Crete); or Rhodes International Airport.