More properly called the Northern Sporades, to distinguish it from the less visited islands further east, this area includes a string of islands including Skiathos, Skopelos and Alonnisos. If you’re looking for a bit more energetic sailing than in the Ionian or Saronic, or want sandy beaches, this is an area well worth considering.
The area recently provided the backdrop for the film Mama Mia and has several popular tourist towns. Fortunately, the islands’ transport network is limited which means there are still plenty of places you can reach by yacht that would be somewhat of a challenge for the average tourist.
From small village harbours to peaceful anchorages, it’s a beautiful area to explore, and once you’re away from Skiathos you’ll leave the tourist crowds behind.
Beginners though may find the sailing a bit of a challenge, especially in July and August when the Meltemi wind blows down from the north. Keeping south of the islands can give you some cracking sailing in fairly flat waters but as you pass between islands out of the lee of the land, it can be a little choppy.
The Meltemi doesn’t blow as strongly here as in the Cycaldes though, typically to F3-5/6 in high season. Winds are lighter in early and late season but if you’ve only just got your skipper’s ticket, there are better places to go.
The climate is a little cooler than most other Greek sailing destinations due to the more northerly location. That isn’t to say you’re going to be shivering – it’s still plenty warm. But it does mean the season starts a little later and finishes slightly earlier than elsewhere.
As well as the area around the islands, many people head west in to the Orei Chanel and Gulf of Volos. Here there is a bit more shelter (though the Gulf of Volos can get surprisingly exciting at times).
The main base for the area is Skiathos, a town dedicated to tourism but with a certain charm. The mooring arrangements though are a shining example of a missed opportunity. Although there is ample space for some floating jetties, a number of charter companies are crammed on to a small length of quay and a pontoon which looks ever more likely to sink by the year.
There are also no showers or toilets ashore, other than those offered by nearby cafes or hotels. Sadly the authorities and charter companies seem too preoccupied arguing about who was responsible for letting things deteriorate to this state rather than sorting the problem out, a situation that is unlikely to improve given the current parlous state of the Greek economy.
Flotilla sailors get a better deal in this respect – the only flotilla that curently starts from the islands (2016) departs from the next island, Skopelos, with the price including the transfer over from Skiathos.
Skiathos moorings aside, it’s a great cruising area and the limited facilities in Skiathos do keep the number of yachts down. This does however mean it’s not a good choice for a late booking.
Virtually all the Skiathos yachts winter in Athens and are brought up at the start of the season. It’s too far to keep moving yachts back and forwards so once the yachts there are booked, that’s it.
Skiathos is served by flights from Bristol, Birmingham, East Midlands, Gatwick, Manchester and Newcastle. Most run on Fridays so the flotillas start then. Flight seats from the UK are, like the yachts, available in limited numbers so another good reason fro not booking too late.
For bareboat and skippered charters the Friday flights from the UK can limit the choice of yachts, many of which are only available with a Saturday start. However, it is possible to travel on Saturdays with a flight change in Athens.