Sailing in Greece

You can’t beat sailing in Greece for variety. From the gentle sailing of the Ionian and the Saronic Gulf, through the more challenging Dodecanese and Sporades, to the sometimes vigorous Cyclades, there something for all sailing abilities. There’s the full range of holidays on offer, including bareboat charter, flotilla holidays, skippered, crewed or cabin charter, and sailing courses. And when not sailing, the countless Greek Islands provide endless ways to enjoy your time ashore.

Map of Greece’s Sailing Areas

For a larger map showing the sailing areas click here.

About Greece

Greece hit the headlines in 2012-3 with it’s parlous financial state and resultant riots and strikes. In truth, most travellers wouldn’t have noticed other than for the news reports. Now in 2014 with the UK Pound buying you more Euros than for some time, it’s great value.

Chalki Town: Fishing boats in front of the town's prominent clock tower

You’ll be sailing in an area of small towns and villages, mooring mainly on town quays. Though ferries between the many islands are plentiful, many tourists don’t stray far from the larger centres and in some areas your yacht will give you access to places well off the tourist trail.

You can expect a choice of bars, cafes and places to eat, with a smattering of small shops for provisions. Greece is awash with antiquities so there is often a ruin or old tomb to explore somewhere nearby, and of course plenty of places to swim.

Greece is one of those are places that really does look like the picture postcards. The whitewashed or pastel painted buildings, classical churches and fishermen mending their nets are sometimes only spoiled by the endless buzz of scooters!

Mooring in Greece

Given the amount of money sailing must bring to the economy, it’s surprising how few marinas there are (though maybe less surprising when you hear how much tax goes uncollected). Most people will only see a marina at the start and end of the trip, with the fees then picked up by the charter company.

Vathi: The approaches, showing the large bay

Other than in the scarce marinas, tying up your boat is cheap, and in fact often free. Mooring fees are only payable in harbours with a port police presence, and only then when they can be bothered to collect them!

In some areas, notably the Ionian, you can often spend you whole holiday without ever paying a mooring fee.  Even if you are asked, the charge is usually small, typically three or four Euros.  It’s hard to be precise as the formula seems so complex that no two officials seem to be able to come up with the same result!

Unless you’re in a marina, facilities ashore are as you’d expect in a small town or village. Showers, if available at all may be in a municipal block, or courtesy of an enterprising hotelier who has realised that charging 5€ a time for a procession of sailors to take a shower earns much more than hiring the room out!

Mykonos: The narrow alley ways offer shopping opportunities galore

On the down side, Greece does have some extremely busy spots. Without the organising presence of the marina staff you’d find in many (though not all) Croatian marinas, or the “can do” attitude of the Turkish restaurateurs, mooring can become a stressful squabble. This applies to large parts of the Ionian (even outside peak season), and a few isolated spots elsewhere such as Hydra and at weekends, Skiathos and Rhodes.

For those that don’t want to anchor off in busy places, the Greek solution is rafting out, where you treat the yachts already moored as “quayside” and tie your boat to the seaward side of theirs. This sounds quite normal until you remember that yachts in the Med usually moor stern to the shore, not alongside.

This can be a bit of an eye opener for inexperienced bareboat charterers, perhaps less so for those that have been on flotilla!

Rafting out works fine in calm conditions, and provided that you don’t moor too close to your “quay” in an attempt to reduce the leaping distance to the next yacht. But it’s not without its hazards, both to your yacht, and in people crossing between yachts, the latter often resulting in someone falling in before the night is out!

But sailing in Greece isn’t all like that – in most areas you can happily sail until teatime safe in the knowledge there will be plenty of space to moor up at the end of the day.

Sailing In Greece

Sailing in Greece offers very varied sailing conditions. From the  tranquil Ionian to the sometimes raging Cyclades, there’s something for everyone but it’s important you pick the right area and the right time to visit.

Parga: Aerial view of the bays, separated by the Venetian castle on the promontory

Greece’s real selling point is the easy sailing in the Ionian, and the often overlooked Saronic.  For these less experienced skippers, or crews that like the boat largely upright, these areas are ideal starting points for discovering the joys of sailing in the Med.

If you like more wind, or longer distance sails, there are several other options. The South Eastern Peloponnese is a bit blowier, while the Dodecanese and Sporades provide potentially more challenging sailing. Here winds up to F6 are not uncommon, especially in more exposed areas or when the Meltemi wind blows. The Cyclades can be real hard work if you hit it at the wrong time of year (July & August) and even at quieter times is definitely not a place for the inexperienced.

Sailing Holidays in Greece

There’s plenty of choice when sailing in Greece. Bareboat charter is available in all areas, and as many operators have several bases one way charters are readily available. This is particularly true at the start and end of the season when yachts have to be returned to their winter base in Athens from outlying islands.

Voutoumi: The popular bay and beach with its lush vegetation

Flotilla holidays are popular and available in all areas except the Cyclades. However, there aren’t so many options in the Sporades and Dodecanese of late so if your heading there don’t leave it late to book.

Greece sits somewhere between Croatia and Turkey in terms of its attitude to sailing qualifications. The authorities do theoretically require a Skippers certificate (ICC, RYA Day Skipper or similar).

However, the rigour with which this is enforced varies from place to place and, as staff are moved around, from time to time. An area that doesn’t check one month can become sticklers the next, so don’t rely on what friends got away with last year!

At present, the only area you’ll be allowed to join a flotilla without a certificate is the Ionian but even here you may be required by the authorities to self certify that you are competent, and in doing so, you take the consequences if events later suggest that you aren’t.

Lipsi: Fishermen mending nets on the quay, in front of the church

Skippered and crewed charter are readily available in all areas and several operators offer cabin charters, which can be an excellent way to enjoy the pleasures of sailing on a large yacht at a manageable price.

There are a number of RYA sailing schools in Greece, several of which are tied in to flotilla operators. This gives the option of combining some training with a flotilla holiday. And of course once you’ve got your certificate, the options for next year are much greater.

So if you think Turkey sounds a bit primitive and Croatia a bit too developed, Greece is the ideal compromise with plenty to do, sailing to suit ever taste, and a charm largely undiminished by tourism.

There are numerous bareboat operators, plenty of flotilla options, RYA sailings schools, and cabin charters in several locations.  Though it perhaps lacks the simple charm of Turkey, or the extensive facilities of Croatia, with more islands than anywhere else in the Med, it offers an excellent compromise between the two.  If you don’t enjoy sailing in Greece, I’d be very surprised.