Sailing in Greece can be the sail of one’s lifetime. The islands are filled with ancient ruins, quaint and historic towns, beautiful beaches with sands in many colors, secluded coves and luxurious resorts. Designating specific cities or ports as starting points for exploration, the island groupings may be accessed with adventurous itineraries designed for top quality sailing experiences. The Greek islands are divided into seven main groups, spread over two seas. The seas are very different, and offer sailing experiences unique to each sea and each island group.
The main island groups are:
With its proximity to Athens, the Saronic gulf area includes the prime yachting waters in Greece. It is filled with many ancient historic sites and popular tourist areas, such as the Akropolis. There are many marinas along the coastline near the Attic coast, so savvy sailors avoid the chartered areas and sail toward the east coast of the Peloponnese to access the anchorages and harbors there that are unspoiled. The summer months experience the meltemi summer winds. These vary by area, so checking for wind force is necessary depending on the sailing locations.
A sailor’s choice for sailing in the Saronic islands includes:
- Day 1: Leave the port- Alimos/Kalamaki
- Day 2: Sail to Methana 25nm
- Day 3: Sail to Hydra 16nm
- Day 4: Sail to Spetses 16 nm
- Day 5: Sail to Poros 32 nm
- Day 6: Sail to Aegina 17 nm
- Day 7: Return to Alimos/Kalamaki 13 nm
The Cyclades are a circular group of islands which embrace the sacred Delos island birthplace of Apollo. There are 23 larger islands and about 200 smaller ones. It is an archipelago of hilly islands. Because none of the islands except for Naxos have perennial rivers, the islands have no trees and the Meltemi summer sea winds are hot and cold and sharp in the winter. The whitewashed houses are famous around the world, along with the windmills and their thatched roofs.
There are many sailing opportunities in this island group. Experts recommend sailing for at least two weeks to have ample opportunities to explore inland on several islands. Sailors view the most attractive islands as Sanroini, Amorgos, Sifnos, Naxos, and Folegandros. Here is one sailor-recommended 7 day sailing itinerarie that avoids the crowds and takes the less worn track to explore sequestered anchorages natural beauty and archeological sites:
- Day 1: Leave the port -Alimos/Kalamaki
- Day 2: Sail to Sounion 22nm
- Day 3: Sail to Kythnos Mericha 23nm
- Day 4: Sail to Kythnos Loutra
- Day 5: Sail to Syros Finikas 20 nm
- Day 6; Sail to Kea 35 nm
- Day 7: Return to Alimos/Kalamaki 36 nm
The Dodecanese, or literally Twelve Islands in Greek, are situated off of Asia Minor on the south west coast. The island group actually has 14 larger islands and at least 40 smaller islets and rocks. It is best to sail from Rhods or Kos to visit the group, but the northerly winds must be taken into consideration.
One nice sailing trip is to the island of Patmos. It is a tranquil spot to sail, and celebrated as the island where Revelation, the final book of the bible was penned by St. John while living there in exile. Not many tourists visit here as it is quite barren.
- Pelagos or Kira Panayia
The Northern Sporades is the correct name for this island group, though most refer to it simply as the Sporades. The Eastern Sporades includes the sailing area which includes the islands Lesbo, Chios and Limnos, which are situated along the Turkish coastline.
The Northern Sporades are ideal for sailing. They feature some of the best beaches in the Mediterranean. Though ports on the beaches of Skiathos and Skopelos are prime tourist destinations and often crowded, there are also many stunning and secluded bays to anchor away from the crowds.
The ports of Skiathos, Skopelos, Patitiri and Linaria are also towns, and craftstmen, fishermen and farmers make their livelihoods in these locations. Seeking out the smaller traditional tavernas is the best way to find refreshment along the narrow winding streets typical of these towns.
Some places to visit include the National Marine Park of Alonissos and the Venetian building style in Skopelos. The volume Greek Waters Pilot by Rod Heikell is a definitive yachtsman’s guide to the area.
A day sailing excursion from Potos is a great way to see the forest covered mountains and all that is the island of Thassos. One nice excursion is to sail towards the southeast coast of Thassos to stop in Salonikios for breakfast and swimming. The remote island Panagia is on the way, and it is possible to see this protected marine eco-system. The EU’s 2000 Natura Policy protects the seagulls, cormorants and their coastline nests there. Dolphins are also spotted in the area. Next, sailing up the eastern island coast is a way to take in the beautiful ocean and land views. Sailing by Giola on the way to the Archangelos Monastery, there are interesting rock formations. Stopping at the monastery’s old port and its beach offers the chance to swim in the waters. Anchor in Aliki to swim in the water, and visit the 197 B.C. Roman theater and Byantine church ruins with a view of the northeast Aegean sea. Continue further north along the island’s east coast to Paradise Beach. The pine trees reach the shore here, and the green Koinura island is visible directly across from the shore. Return to Potos for a swim at Saint Anna or Rosogremos beaches.
With Corfu as the starting point, sailing the Ionian Islands is one of the most popular routes. The Ionian Islands are some of the most beautiful in Greece due to their beautiful woodlands. Within a week’s vacation, it is possible to explore them from north to south.
- First Day: Sail 33nm from Corfu to the bay of Lakka Paxos. This is a scenic but small island due south of Corfu. Sail past the southern end of Corfu into the north Ionian Sea. The islands of Paxos and Anti Paxos will be off the bow. The beaches in the Bay of Lakka Paxos are beautiful. Walking paths to the interior or snorkeling the area are two ideal things to do there. Other options include exploring coastal sea caves of Ypapanti, visiting the Monastery of Panagia and the Museum of Paxos, or soaking in the hot springs on Paxos. Though there are no moorings, anchorages available in Paxos at the ports of Gaios and Lakka and the bay of Spuzzo. Fuel and water are found on Paxos.
- Second Day: Sail 56nm to Ithaca, the home of Odysseus, the hero of the Trojan War and the epic poem the Odyssey of Homer. It is a hilly island covered with stands of cypress, olive groves, pines and vineyards. Its shore is rugged. There is a three mile wide channel which lies between Ithaca and its larger neighboring island of Kefalonia. Ithaca has three ports including Frikes, Kioni and Vathy, which are quiet towns located on the east coast. There are shops to visit, pretty narrow streets and taverna on the waterfront. There are no moorings, but it is possible to anchor off these three towns. Many sailors take the option of docking at their piers. A remote and stunning anchorage is in Andreas Bay, which some feel brings the sailor to a spot which is like it was in the time of Odysseus. While there, visit the Cave of the Nymphs near Vathy or see the ruins that are said to be the grand palace of Odysseus. Visit the Kathara Monastery or go to Kioni to its tavernas. Dockage, fuel and water are available.
- Third Day: Sail 18 nm to Kefalonia. Sail north around the tip of Ithaca and then southward to reach the northeast shore of Kefalonia. There are beautiful bays and coves, and tiny port towns to explore. See the two stone lighthouses of Fiscardo. See the Venetian fortress of Assos. Scuba dive with an organized excursion while in Kefalonia.
- Fourth Day: Sail 55nm to Lefkas. The sailing is with fair winds and flat seas through the sheltered waters between Lefkas and the mainland of Greece. See Lefkas’ white high cliffs and green mountains, and anchor just east of Lefkas in the many coves of Meganisi island. Or sail the east coast of Lefkas to enjoy the beaches, harbors and resort of Nidri which are all prime yachting destinations.
- Fifth Day: Sail 27nm to Parga. Head northward on open water to mainland Greece to explore the town of Parga. It is filled with whitewashed walls, colorful roofs, homes and shops which seem perched on the hills, crystal clear bay waters and lively Parga nightlife. Anchor in nearby Valtou Bay as there are no moorings or dockage for transient yachts. Take a dinghy ashore or take a water taxi into town to enjoy the many shops, cafes and restaurants. Enjoy the watersports available on family friendly Valtos Beach.
- Sixth Day: Sail 35nm to return to Corfu. Located just 1nm off the Albanian coastline, the sailing around Corfu island is some of the most picturesque to cruise of any spot in the world. Anchor east of the Customs Office near Corfu, the island’s capitol or on the north coast by Sidari for beauty. While on the island, visit the Palace of St. George and see the pretty public Esplanade. Visit the Archeological Museum, go scuba diving with a guide, try some beach watersports, go horseback riding, play gold of tennis, tour the castles, forts and monasteries with a car rental, and plan to reserve lodgings on the island, as it is a popular tourist destination.
Crete is the largest of the Greek Islands and situated near the coast of North Africa. The island features many Minoan historical sites. It is rare that sailors venture further south than this island. Its mountains are normally covered in snow. Yacht charters to this island are also rare because it is far away from Athens and other ports. For yachting adventurers who own their own vessels, things to visit include the Malia Palace at Milatos, the Spinalonga lagoon, the Paleohora, castle ruins, Loutro, the charming port of Panormos and the Iraklion which is ideal for museums and a good place to arrive when sailing from Thira or Santorini.
Sailors must take note that the summer winds have strong katabatic squalls due to the mountainous nature of the southern island coast.
Written by Garrett Parker
Read more posts by Garrett Parker