There are two possible bases for your Saronic cruise; Poros, on the island of the same name, and Kalamaki Marina (also known as Alimos) in the suburbs of Athens. Athens offers a huge choice of yachts and is convenient for the airport. There are fewer yachts from Poros but the quality is superb and it enables you to start your cruise in the centre of the sailing grounds.
- Athens Kalamaki (Alimos)
Kalamaki Marina is home to countless charter companies and is easily reached from Athens Airport, less than 20 miles (30km) away. It is also handy for the centre of Athens, 5 miles (8km) to the north. There’s even a beach next door.
That’s the good news. On the other hand, although it has improved greatly since the days when you had to step carefully to avoid the junkies’ discarded syringes, the marina has a run down air, being very much functional rather than glamorous.
The restaurant and bar on site are expensive. There are cafes on the beach but they tend to close once the crowds go home. However, central Athens is only a short ride away. The main coast road outside the marina has bus and tram stops which run in to the centre. Here you’ll find a great choice of restaurants in areas such as Plaka. And of course there are all the usual shopping facilities you’d expect of a city centre.
The city itself is of course blessed with a wealth of history and even if you’re not big on old ruins, you really should try to spend some time seeing the sights whilst you’re there, even if it means checking in to a hotel for a night or two.
Kalamaki serves two cruising areas; the Saronic and the Cyclades. Geographically, it’s not the best starting point for either when you could start in Poros, at the centre of the Saronic, Athens Lavrion which is closer to the Cyclades, or Syros or Paros, both in the middle of the Cyclades.
However, Kalamaki has two great advantages; its proximity to the Airport and the excellent transport links mean you can board your yacht half an hour after leaving the terminal, much quicker than you could reach any of the above bases (except Lavrion which is a similar distance from the Airport).
And the sheer number of yachts available exceeds any other base in Greece, albeit that I don’t rate the quality of some operators too highly. Let me know if you’re looking for the cheapest option, otherwise I will only offer you bareboat charters from the better operators – it doesn’t cost much more.
- Directions to Athens Kalamaki Marina
From Athens Airport you have two options:
- By taxi – the rank is right outside the Arrivals Hall at the left hand end (as you walk out of the terminal). The journey normally takes 25 minutes though can be longer in rush hour. Price is around 35€ during the day but between midnight and 5am can be almost half as much again. (You can find current fares on the Athens Airport Taxi website). Taxis will only take 4 people though you may only get three in with your luggage.
- By express bus – the X96 bus to Piraeus stops outside the marina en route. It departs from just outside the Arrivals Hall at the right hand end (as you walk out of the terminal). Departures are every 15-20 minutes during the day, around every 30-40 minutes at night. The journey usually takes about an half an hour. The price is 3.20€ (2015). Tickets can be bought at the kiosk next to the stop or from the driver and then need to be validated by inserting in to one of the machines on board. Ask the driver to tell you when to get off as the stops are infrequent so you won’t want to miss it.
- Mooring: Athens Kalamaki
The marina is not easy to see from the sea, but as you approach look out for the vast number of masts. Keep clear of the reef about a mile south east of the entrance which extends from Ay Kosmas.
Many of the berths are allocated to the charter companies so unless your company has berths here, you may want to call up the marina (VHF ch 71 or 16) for guidance. Mooring (lazy) lines are laid in the marina so don’t use your anchor unless directed to.
The small town, which bears the same name as the island, is only 30 miles from Athens but a world apart.
A popular retreat for Athenians, the island retains it’s “Greek-ness”, with a range of traditional restaurants, a fish market, and good selection of small shops providing the necessities of life.
There’s also a good range of souvenirs, which are cheaper here than on the more touristy islands of Hydra, Aegina and Spetses. There is a choice of beaches close by, served by local buses, with water sports available for those that wish.
The town is built on a hillside, so for some superb views (and excellent exercise), take a walk up the hillside to the clock tower which overlooks the bay, or hire bikes and explore the almost deserted north side of the island.
Culture vultures will also want to visit the ruins of the Sanctuary of Poseidon, a few miles in land, as well as the small museum on town. There is also a monastery but it is not open to the public.
As the sun sets, look out for the Sleeping Lady of Poros, as the outline of the hills makes the shape of a reclined and rather well endowed female (albeit these days with some wind turbines on her belly)!
For those seeking some night life, there is an assortment of bars and a few small clubs on the front, with a larger club up on the hill at the east end. Those wanting to enjoy their sleep will be pleased to know the clubs are well away from the main yacht pontoons at the west side of town. The sole yacht base is reasonably quiet too.
If you want to get out to the beaches, either anchor off, or take the buses from town. There are two buses; the white one heads east, out to the Monastery with it’s nearby beach, via Askeli, one of your options for water sports. The green one heads west to Neurion and Russian bays. They usually run hourly on the hour, though you may find the financial crisis has reduced the frequency. There are no bus stops – just stick out your hand to flag one down.
If you’re fit, the beaches are walkable from town, though those in urgent need of a swim can do so off the rocks a couple of hundred yards past the east end of the quay.
If the buses aren’t running or you want to head inland to the Sanctuary of Poseidon, there are taxis or you can hire mopeds and quad bikes from near the west quay and the new pontoons. Once away from the town and it’s beaches, it’s a very quiet place and the north side of the island is completely undeveloped. If you’ve got transport, you will find the beach at Vagionia Bay almost deserted.
For such a small place, there’s a good range of shops, including a couple of excellent cake shops for those wanting to take some traditional Greek deserts home. Restaurants offer everything from gyros (kebabs) and pizzas, through traditional Greek tourist fare, to tapas style offerings, giving you the chance to try a number of small portions of fish, meat and vegetable dishes.
Finally, if you want to visit Hydra or Spetses, but don’t fancy battling for space in these two busy harbours, Poros has a good hydrofoil service to both islands, so you can leave you yacht and have a day off sailing.
Poros is an excellent start point for your Saronic or Argolic Gulf yacht charter, or if you’ve chartered from Athens, a must see destination.
- Directions: Poros Yacht Charter Base
The nearest airport is Athens (Eleftherios Venizelos), one of the few positive legacies of the 2004 Olympics, served by a range of scheduled and low cost carriers (but not UK charter airlines who are deterred by the high landing fees).
From the airport, the most pleasant route to Poros is by fast ferry from Athens’ main ferry port in Piraeus. However, the ferries stop around 7pm in high season, about 6pm in low season, so later arrivals may have to use land transport which is available around the clock.
It’s not as complicated as it sounds but if it’s all too difficult don’t worry; if you’ve chartered a yacht from Poros the operators can arrange transfers for you. They charge 45€ per person each way (2016) via the ferry. Ask if you’d like a quote for a road transfer.
Getting there by ferry
First you need to get from Athens Airport to the main port of Piraeus. You have three options:
- By taxi – the rank is right outside the Arrivals Hall at the left hand end (as you walk out of the terminal). The journey normally takes 40-50 minutes though can be longer in rush hour. Price is around 50€ during the day but between midnight and 5am can be half as much again. (You can calculate current fares on the Athens Airport Taxi website). Taxis will only take 4 people though you may only get three in if you have lots of luggage.
- By express bus – the X96 departs from right outside the Arrivals Hall at the right hand end (as you walk out of the terminal). Departures are every 15-20 minutes during the day, around every 30-40 minutes at night. The journey usually takes about an hour and a quarter but is very traffic dependent – I’ve done it in less than an hour but a couple of trips have been over an hour and a half. The price has recently sky-rocketed from 1.20€ to 5€, still a good deal (these are 2015 prices). Tickets can be bought at the kiosk next to the stop or from the driver and then need to be validated by inserting in to one of the machines on board.
- By Metro train – the other great legacy of the Olympics! The station is just across the road from the Arrivals Hall. You will need to change train at Monastiraki on to the Green line (line 1) – don’t worry, station signs are dual language so easily read. Trains depart every half hour from around 6am to 11.30pm. Tickets are 8€ single (14€ for 2 persons, €20 for 3) or 14€ return (in 2013).
At Pireaus, the ferries to Poros are operated by Hellenic Seaways and depart from the quay between gates E8 and E9. It’s about a 5 minute walk from the bus stop or 10 minutes from the Metro station. The fast ferries (catamarans or hydrofoils) are painted lime green and leave from the corner where the quay bends. The slower ferries (ships) are painted blue and leave from the quay area nearer gate E8.
Fast ferry tickets can be booked in advance via the Hellenic Seaways website and this is recommended in high season, though the schedule (and so the booking facility) is not always available until a few months before departure. The fast ferries do get full in high season, especially the later departures – I’d aim to book at least a week before you travel. Tickets were 24.50€ one way (2016).
You can now print your boarding card on line then just turn up and board. However, note that the ferries aim to leave at the scheduled time, so the boarding ramp may be removed 5 minutes earlier.
If you’ve not booked ahead, tickets are sold at the booths opposite the ferries. In high season when the ferry may be full, aim to get there at least half a hour early – there are often some tickets returned.
I’ve never known the slow ferry get full but if you want to check times and prices the operator is Saronic Ferries.
Fast ferries take about an hour and are 24.50€ (single, in 2016). Slow ferries take 2-2.5 hours but cost around half the fast ferry fare.
Fast ferry tickets have seat numbers. These are fairly universally ignored, but don’t be afraid to invite people to get out of your booked seats – they will have seats reserved elsewhere. Don’t get off at the wrong island – some ferries stop at Aegina and/or Methana en route to Poros.
On disembarking in Poros, turn right and walk along the front – the charter base is about a 10 minute walk. If you want a taxi, get off the fast ferry and turn left (or from the slow ferry turn right) to the taxi rank. Often a member of the base staff will meet arrivals and may organise a vehicle for the bags.
I’m conscious the above makes it sound a bit of a palava but it’s really not as complex as it sounds. On the down side, it’s not fast if you’re unlucky and have to wait around at Pireaus for an hour or two for a ferry. Time to adjourn to one of the many cafe’s or bars!
Getting there by road
This requires less organisation but is more expensive and involves 2.5-3 hours sat in a taxi, despite the recent road improvements. Alternatively you can hire a car.
A taxi from the airport to Galitas will cost about 200-280€ (depending in part on the time of day). If you haven’t agreed a fixed price with the driver before you set off, make sure the meter is turned on! From Galitas it’s a short water taxi ride to go the few hundred metres across the water to Poros. The water taxis run pretty much around the clock and the fare is a couple of Euros. They drop off next to the fast ferry quay so turn right to walk to the charter base (it’s about 10 minutes), or left to the taxi rank. Note that the taxis on Poros do not run all night and you’re unlikely to find one after midnight.
If you’re chartering fro Poros and need a road transfer, I recommend you let the charter company arrange it. They have a deal with a local taxi firm that works out cheaper than just taking a cab of the rank at the airport.
If you fancy driving yourself, Pop’s Car (I presume he only had one when he decided on the company name) offer one way hires between the Airport and Galitas, then take the water taxi across to Poros as above.
- Mooring: Poros
Poros is separated from the mainland by a channel a few hundred metres across with a shallow area at the South East end. The town can therefore be approached from the east, keeping north of the rocks just west of fortress island of Nisos Bourtzi, or from the west. Generally, if you’ve been cruising south of Poros, you will arrive from the east, if you’ve been sailing to the north, you’ll arrive from the west.
The channel is busy with ferries and hydrofoils passing in both directions, small passenger ferries and larger car ferries shuttling between Poros and it’s mainland sister town of Galatas, and yachts arriving and leaving the quay. So keep a good lookout and don’t forget to look behind you as well as ahead. It can be daunting to see a ferry heading towards you but there is plenty of room for you to pass, provided you keep to the edge of the channel.
The channel follows the line of the quay, kinking north then south again. If you attempt to take a short cut across the southern half you will go aground. This is particularly tempting if you arrive from the east as you will see yachts on buoys opposite the charter base and many more further down, but between the two it is shallow. The bottom is soft so you will be unlucky to do any damage but the water taxis make good money towing people off – they don’t do it for free!
They seem to get at least one customer a day in high season, sometimes more. I watched two yachts in succession do it last June and even Flotilla lead yachts have been known to end up there! The chart is clear and if you haven’t bothered to check it I suggest you go slow so at least you have a chance of getting yourself off without assistance. Keeping your speed down in the channel is wise anyway – the locals get fed up with people tearing through putting up unnecessary wash.
If you’ve chartered from Poros, the company’s quay at the east end of the channel is available for your use but make sure there is a member of staff around to help you in – there’s a technique to dealing with the crosswinds and strong currents that sometimes come down the channel! Mooring here is on mooring lines.
If you’ve chartered from elsewhere, use the new pontoons and quay at the west end of town which have water and electricity available. There are a few mooring lines on the pontoons, though these seem to be disappearing at a rate of knots, certainly far faster than thy’re being repaired!
I would suggest you avoid going stern to on the south quay, between the charter base and the water ferry landing spot. Aside from the large swell put up by passing ferries, which will be with feet of your yachts and challenges the most well set anchor, the bottom is strewn with all sorts and fouled anchors are common. There’s nothing to get the adrenalin going like pirouetting around your stuck anchor mid channel as a ferry bears down on you!
There are a few spaces here where you can go side too (near the main square) but yachts usually raft out here so be prepared for company, and a lot of noise from the bars nearby. You will find it quieter on the quay and pontoons on the west side.
If you prefer anchoring, most of the bays are fine for daytime stops, with the bays west of the town offering better shelter if you’re staying overnight. In fact if you’re the type who has always worried about spending a night on the hook, these are excellent places to build your confidence, with virtually all around shelter and good holding. In high season you will need to take a line ashore as you’re unlikely to be alone.