Choosing your flotilla: Sailing areas

There are lots of flotilla sailing areas to choose from. Most flotilla destinations are in the eastern Mediterranean, in Greece, Turkey and Croatia. There are a few flotillas in Italy, one in Spain, but none I know of in France. For those wanting to escape the British winter there are a couple of options in the British Virgin Islands (BVI’s) and Grenadines in the Caribbean.

There is of course a premium for Caribbean flotillas, because of the length of the flight so most people will head for the Mediterranean destinations. Within these countries are flotilla sailing areas ranging from easy to more challenging, from quiet backwaters to bustling tourist towns.

To choose your ideal flotilla destination you’ll need to consider what’s ashore, the sailing itself, and various other factors that may focus your decision such as the qualifications required.

Moorings & facilities

Quick Choices - Ports

Marina lovers head for Croatia. For isolated bays with nothing more than a single restaurant go to Turkey. For harbours in small towns and quaint fishing villages it’s got to be Greece. Love nights at anchor? Then try Italy.

In the Mediterranean, flotillas generally tie up at night rather than anchoring. Some people love marinas, with their plethora of showers and handy restaurants. Others prefer the peace and quiet of isolated bays. Or you may feel that town or village harbours provide good compromise between the two.

Of course, all the areas offer a variety of stops, but the route maps will give an indication of the predominant types.

Attractions

Lets deal with the easy one first – there are beaches everywhere, and swimming opportunities galore, not least as you’re on a mobile swimming platform!

Greece is justifiably known for it’s archaeology, but you might be surprised how much exists in Turkey too. Turkey probably offers the more exotic experiences from Turkish baths and traditional bazaars to carpet making and wooden boat building.

Marmaris: Get your genuine fake watch here!

Marmaris: Get your genuine fake watch here!

For shopping, each country has it’s own strengths. Souvenirs and local specialities are universally available but if you need frequent retail therapy head for Croatia & Greece first, rather than Turkey.

However, Turkey probably offers the best chance of a bargain leather, jewellery or clothing purchase with some high quality goods on offer.

But beware, it also offers the largest risk, with large quantities of  counterfeit goods on sale in the bazaars, though sometimes quite openly sold as such. Don’t be afraid to ask- they’ll often tell you!

Dining

Where ever you choose you’ll be reminded how fruit and veg used to taste before our supermarkets managed to suck all the flavour out.

Croatia is a fusion of Germanic, Italian and east European cuisine. It’s a meat lover’s paradise but it’s also your best bet if you’re addicted to pizza and burgers.

Turkey wins the healthy eating award – I lost two stone in my first season there. The choice can be a bit limited in the smaller bays – you’ll get to know the menu which is generally lamb kebab, chicken, spicy meat balls, fish (often non specific or “Sea Bream”) or omelette. But it’s all freshly prepared and they work wonders with often limited cooking facilities; I’ve seen 80 people fed from a single stone oven.

Greece offers much more variety (the quantities can be pretty huge too). Like Turkey, salad prevails over vegetables, the latter rarely escaping being mashed and deep fried (don’t miss the courgette balls) or smothered in tomato sauce. Meals may sometimes look a bit oily but it’s high quality olive oil and it all adds up to great tastes.

Prices

As at home, the prices depend a bit on what you buy but here’s a very general guide.

Croatia will probably work out most expensive, mainly because of the marina charges. You won’t be in marinas every night but when you are you can be looking at around £45 a night for a 32 foot yacht in low season, twice that for a large yacht in high season. Otherwise, prices are not dissimilar to the UK.

Neither Greece or Turkey are as cheap as they once were but Turkey is looking like the bargain destination for 2014 as its currency is on the slide. It must be said that around the Gocek and Fethiye area, the restaurants in the bays have pushed up prices in recent years so they’re little cheaper than Greece.

However, your shopping in Turkey will probably work out a little cheaper in Greece which in turn will be a little cheaper than in the UK, provided you stick to local goods rather than imported brands.

Weather and Sea Conditions

As a simple rule, in the Mediterranean, the further south you go the hotter it gets in summer, and longer it stays warm. So Croatia is cooler in high summer than Turkey, with Greece somewhere in between. Likewise, the sailing season is a bit longer in southern Greece and Turkey than in northern Greece and Croatia.

Quick Choices - Ease of Sailing

For easy sailing try the Saronic and Argolic Gulfs, the North Ionian (Greece), the Hisaronu Gulf or Fethiye Bay (Turkey). The hardest Flotillas are in the Dodecanese. For something in between, try anywhere else!

Winds are more variable and the strength, along with the amount of land nearby to break the wind up, affect how choppy the seas get. The differences can be quite marked over small distances. So for example, the Saronic in Greece has much lighter winds and flatter seas than the adjacent Cyclades.

I can’t guarantee you’ll get the typical weather of course, but with ever improving availability of forecasts thanks to the internet, your Lead Crew will usually know if a strong blow is coming. In extreme weather, they may keep you tied up, though this is unusual.

The wind strength that makes it necessary to stay in port depends a bit on the group. I’ve kept Flotillas tied up in force 5’s and taken them out in force 8’s. (Lest you should think I was the Lead Skipper from hell, we only went out in force 8’s if I thought everyone was capable and after an anonymous ballot they all agreed. The rule was if one crew voted to stay in, we all stayed. So we didn’t go out in force 8’s too often)!

So don’t panic, you will not be forced out in a storm but it’s no fun if you and your crew are pressed to the limit each day so don’t pick one of the harder areas if you’re all relatively inexperienced. It’s a holiday, not an endurance test.

A number of operators give difficulty ratings but treat these as a loose guide only. I can think of at least one run that I would rate quite differently depending which direction I was doing it! For more about the weather and sailing conditions see the Sailing Areas section where you will find more information.

Distances and Routes

All operators publish routes for each Flotilla. These are not cast in stone, particularly in terms of the sequence, due to weather variations and “operating considerations”. The latter often means other yachts.

Flotilla’s can’t generally book mooring space and there comes a point where favours from locals (like “accidentally” blocking off mooring spaces with strategically placed fishing boats) aren’t enough! So routes may be juggled to avoid other Flotillas or particularly busy days at a particular port.

Quick Choices - Distances

Broadly, the harder the route, the greater the mileage. For longer passages try the Dodecanese, Peloponnese (Greece), Hisaronu or Lycian East (Turkey) Flotillas

The routes do however give an indication of typical daily mileage. Whilst most Flotillas don’t involve many long passages (though geography often dictates one or two longer legs), a few do greater distances.

With short legs, you have the option of detouring if you fancy more sailing. With longer passages there’s less time to divert for lunch stops and if the wind drops, more time to be spent with the engine on.

Your holiday duration may also affect your choice of route. Some Flotillas do a one week route so if you book for two weeks you’ll see the same places twice! Other operators string different one week routes together so you can do two or sometimes three or four weeks without any major repetition. For two week trips, this does mean that some crews may depart and other new groups arrive mid way through your holiday.

Other operators offer genuine two week itineraries with no drop offs or pick ups mid holiday. Be aware that operating considerations(!), such as low sales, can lead to mid holiday crew changes even on these routes.

Qualifications

If your skipper doesn’t have at least an RYA Day Skipper Practical certificate, ICC or similar recognised ticket, you can’t sail yourself in Croatia (though you can always take a professional skipper). The rule is rigidly enforced by both the charter companies and the authorities.

Elsewhere, if you have suitable experience but no certificate you will have some options in Turkey and the Ionian (Greece).

Courses

Courses are usually only offered with the easier flotillas in Greece (Saronic Gulf and Ionian), occasionally in Turkey.

Flight Options

If you don’t want to fly from London or Manchester, you can cross off the south Ionian. Turkey is well served by regional flights, Croatia also has a reasonable service. There are some options for the Dodecanese, and to a lesser extent, the Saronic Gulf and the  Sporades.

Choice of Yachts

Large yachts are more popular in high season, when there are more families. The reverse is true, but to a lesser extent for small boats, whic tend to be more popular than larger yachts in low season.

Even if your preferred yacht size is sold out, many operators can add additional boats from their own or other companies’ fleets, but this is harder in the case of small yachts as fewer are available in bareboat fleets.

Be aware though that if you book late and the operator has to bring in an additional boat for you, the price is likely to be higher than if you’d booked the same yacht earlier on. So whichever way you look at it, if you want the best deal don’t book late.

On harder routes, you are less likely to find 2 cabin yachts – a small yacht in a bouncy sea is less comfortable than a larger one and operators adjust their fleets accordingly. This can make the harder sailing areas more expensive for couples who may be forced to take a larger yacht than would be necessary in an easier sailing area.