The Saronic includes the Argolic Gulf and is also sometimes called the Peloponnese. Like the Ionian, it is a fairly easy sailing area, maybe more so as it’s much less busy. Take you pick from bareboat charter, flotilla holidays, skippered charter, cabin charter and sailing courses.
It is a mainly Greek holiday area and its proximity to Athens seems to deter many sailors. It shouldn’t: Except at weekends when the harbours north of Poros can clog up with motor boats out for a break from the capital, you would never guess you were just a days sail away from a major conurbation. And because it’s less of an international holiday destination, it remains truly Greek.
The area doesn’t have quite the density of harbours of the Ionian, but there is more than enough to see for a fortnight without having to trek further afield, including the famous islands of Spetses and Hydra (albeit that these two are probably the hardest spots in the area to find a mooring). If you want to avoid doubling back on yourself, there are a couple of slightly longer runs necessary south of Poros but these are only around 20 miles.
For those who think the sailing is too easy, a run down the east coast to Momemvasia is a little more challenging and well worth it, though not a good plan if there are any easterlies forecast. Alternatively, even more testing sailing can generally be had in the adjoining Cyclades (and indeed some only discover the Saronic when seeking shelter from the stronger winds there)!
Stops are a mixture of small town and village harbours, most well provided with restaurants, cafes, bars and provisioning options. As well as Hydra and Spetses, there are the islands of Aegina and Agistri. Other highlights include the superb amphitheatre at Epidavros and the forts at Monemvasia and Navplion. The ruins at Mycenae are also within easy reach.
There are two places to start your charter, both reached via Athens airport. In Athens itself most charters start from Kalamaki (Alimos) marina, but for those prepared to transit a bit further, yachts are available from the island of Poros. (The other large “Athens” base, Lavrion, is within reach of the Saronic but is not an obvious starting point, being further away).
Kalamaki has the advantage of being close to the airport but means you’ve a days sailing across the busy shipping lanes to reach the main cruising area. It isn’t a particularly attractive place to start or end your holiday, (though much improved from the junkie hangout it once was).
Kalamaki marina is in a commercial area. Once the cafes on the adjacent beach close, your dining choices come down to the pricey marina facilities, or taking a trip in to the city centre..
Getting to Poros means either 45 minutes ride from the airport to the port and an hours fast ferry ride, or a 2.5 hour road trip with a 5 minute water taxi crossing at the end. So is a bit harder to reach (though the ferry trip is quite pleasant), but it does mean you can start your holiday right in the centre of the cruising grounds. Even if you don’t start there, Poros is a must for any trip around the Saronic.
For those close to London, Athens is well served by daily flights from Heathrow, Stansted and Gatwick. Otherwise, there are several flights a week from Manchester and Edinburgh.
The Manchester flights don’t run on Saturdays. This is less of a problem than it seems because though I wouldn’t want to spend a week in Athens, if you’ve never been, it’s well worth spending a day or two seeing the sights before or after your sailing.
If you’re looking for bareboat or skippered charter, Athens probably offers the biggest choice of charter yachts anywhere, though the quality isn’t always as great as the choice. There is also a flotilla which operates from there. There are far fewer yachts in Poros with currently only one fleet operator based there, though these are probably some of the best yachts available in the Med. There is a choice of flotillas and an RYA sailing school too.