Sailing the Cyclades

The Cyclades is an often requested destination but unfortunately is often chosen for the wrong reason. True, the area contains probably the most famous Greek islands, such as Santorini and Mykonos, but it also has strong winds, particularly in summer when the Meltemi can push strengths to F7-8 for days at a time.

Ios: View over the port from the town

Ios: View over the port from the town

It’s not always so windy but unless you (and your crew) are happy with some harder sailing, I would suggest you go earlier or later in the season, when winds are lighter. Even then, this is not an area for those with sensitive stomachs. On my last trip we spent one night in a sheltered bay with 40 knot winds whistling through the rigging! It can even be rough in some of the harbours!

The distance between the islands can also be more than some people want, with most itineraries usually involving at least one long leg. Some planning is well worthwhile as the prevailing winds are broadly northerly, encouraging a circular route if you are to avoid a hard slog back to base at the end of the trip.

Provatas: Fyriplaka beach in the east bay. A superb if rather exposed anchorage.

Provatas: Fyriplaka beach in the east bay. A superb if rather exposed anchorage.

If that hasn’t put you off, the Cyclades is a fantastic cruising ground and it will take you several trips to scratch the surface. There are islands large and small, from the well known tourist destinations to quiet spots far from the crowds. Many of the harbours are relatively small but it’s fairly quiet and there’s no rush for a place at the end of the day.

Those who are happy to pass the odd night at anchor will probably enjoy the area the most as this greatly expands your options. And if you really like to get away from it all, it’s not hard to find spots where you will be the only yacht in the bay.

Kimolos: Typical arid landscape with stone walls

Kimolos: Typical arid landscape with stone walls

The main bases for the Cyclades are the two Athens ports of Alimos marina at Kalamaki, and the marina and harbour at Lavrion.  You can also charter from bases on the islands of Paros and Syros, and there is a small fleet in Santorini.

Given the sailing conditions, it’s probably no surprise that there are no flotillas operating in the area but with the vast fleets in Athens there is a huge choice of yachts for those wanting bareboat and skippered charters.  There are also cabin charters running from Lavrion, Santorini and Mykonos.

Naoussa: Colourful fishing boats tied on the quay

Naoussa: Colourful fishing boats tied on the quay

The most popular starting point is Athens which is relatively easy to reach compared to the other bases.  However, this means starting right at the north end of the cruising grounds, so if you want to get right down to the southern end you’ve a long way to go, and more importantly a long way to come back in to the prevailing winds.  There are daily flights to Athens from Heathrow and Gatwick and several flights a week from Manchester and Edinburgh though none of these run on Saturdays.

Santorini is served by flights from Manchester, Birmingham and Gatwick, though only the latter run on Saturdays.

Klima: Fishermans cottages with boat "garages" on the ground floor

Klima: Fishermans cottages with boat “garages” on the ground floor

Syros and Paros, lying in the centre of the cruising grounds are ideal starting points.  However, neither have a direct flight service from the UK, so you will need to use the internal flights from Athens or the ferries from the main Athens ferry port, Pireaus, or Rafina. Fast ferries take only around 2 to 2.5 hours, but both these and the slower ferries can stop running in strong winds.  If this happens at the start of your trip, you may miss a little sailing time, but if it happens at the end, you may miss your flight home!  So if you charter from here I would suggest using the planes or planning a couple of days in Athens for some sightseeing at the end of your trip, to provide some contingency.

More details on the Cyclades, including write ups on lots of possible stops and some suggested routes, will be coming in due course. Meantime, to get a feel of the area, take a look at the pictures on this page: Cyclades: Gallery