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Sailing around the Greek Islands

Imagine sailing to a beautiful, sandy beach on one of the Ionian Islands and the view of the coastline with its tiny white houses and churches perched on the rocks. With thousands of beautiful islands to explore, sailing around the Greek Islands is a fantastic experience. There are many ways you can travel around the islands but one of the best ways is by boat or yacht and there are numerous Greek yachting companies, who can hire either full blown yachts or sail boats with skilled crew to help navigate your way around the islands of your choice.

The Season to Sail

The total area of Greece is made up of 20% of islands, creating a veritable sailing paradise. Its coastline spans over 15,000 km with a Mediterranean coastal climate consisting of mild damp winters and long, dry, hot summers. The sailing season commences in March when the air temperatures are higher than those of the seawater providing a calming effect. By mid-May the Euro-Asian High loses its control and the Azores High becomes increasingly more powerful creating stable weather conditions for sailing. The peak months for sailing are July and August, with maximum temperatures and long hours of sunshine. By October and November the process is reversed again and the Azores High recedes to give way to cooler air masses, which bring unstable conditions with more rain.  

Ports and Harbours

Most island ports and marinas offer boat and docking facilities as well as a host of other services. You can either hire a boat or yacht from one of the islands with Corfu and Rhodes having particularly good selections or from the mainland; Athens is a good place to start your sailing holiday because there are far more companies offering charters here and once your vacation ends you can easily return home from Athens airport. More yacht and boat ports are springing up to cope with the growing demand for such vacations including many smaller harbours with emergency facilities. The port of Lavrion to the south east tip of Attica on the mainland is a great place to charter a boat for a tour of the Cyclades Islands.

Types of Vessels for Charter

Three main types of yachts exist, namely crewed, bareboat and flotillas. Crewed yachts are usually more than 50 ft in length and include motor cruisers and sailing boats. Most are luxuriously equipped and also provide VIP facilities. Bareboats consist of yachts up to 49 ft. They can be chartered so long as two of the passengers have a skipper's licence. Flotillas were made to cut the cost of yacht charters and to make the pastime more accessible to a wider audience. Flotilla programmes often consist of a two week fully inclusive cruise with charter flights included in the price. In a flotilla you cruise together with 8 to 12 similar small boats all with berths for 4 to 6 people. The route is planned by the tour company in advance and the boat is crewed by skilled personnel.

An effective way to sail around the Greek Islands is with a one way charter. By this you sail from one island to another rather than doing a round trip and ending up back where you started. This enables you to cover more ground although it is a little more expensive.

The Right Weather for Sailing

The weather throughout the Greek Islands is idyllic with blue skies, lots of sunshine and hardly any rain. Bad weather is rarely a problem and should even off the mainland; however the islands provide easily accessible shelters should the weather dare to take a turn for the worse. Wind varies between April to October and sailors tend to split the seas into four groups according to the wind; The Ionian Sea and the west coast of the Peloponnese are affected by the ‘maistos’ during the summer. This is a light to moderate north-westerly wind occurring in the afternoon and dying off by sunset. Moderate-to-strong westerly winds also blow around the southern and western Peloponnese. The famous ‘scirocco’ wind, a hot southerly wind occasionally blows throughout this area. The second are consists of the sea around the eastern Peloponnese and southern Attica. It is sheltered to the north by the mainland and winds are usually calm during the summer. Sometimes there are sporadic southerly winds but they are generally light. The rest of this area is under the influence of ‘meltemi,’ which can reach force 8 over a period of days. The area most affected by this wind lies off the Turkish coast. The sea south-west of the Peloponnese experiences westerly winds during the middle of summer and the central area covering most of the Aegean, as well as the Sporades and Cyclades receives winds from the north-east in the northern Aegean and the north-west in the southern Aegean during summer. Here the ‘meltemi’ is strongest during August and autumn.
The Greek State Radio station in Athens broadcasts frequent weather forecasts in Greek, but any special weather warnings and bulletins are also broadcast in English. It is imperative if you charter your own boat that you pay constant attention to these as wind conditions can suddenly change without much notice.