Last minute bareboat charter sailing in Greece via Athens.
Sat 31 Oct 2015
Like an instant travel challenge? Have a girlfriend in business consulting that has holidays on same day notice. This is precisely the way that I found myself in Zurich Friday 11am and 2pm Saturday arriving for a Greek bareboat charter, having booking completely last minute. You need a sense of adventure and your wet weather gear handy so you can simply go when the opportunity arises.
"Last minute" could extended from two weeks out I guess, but sailing on 24 hours notice requires that you have completed freedom of work, such as my freelance web design and SEO business permits.
The initial idea (Friday 11am) was to take a cabin on a crewed boat. This option included joining 8 Polish 18 - 35s on a Beneteau 50 and part of a 6 boat flotilla making a rapid voyage around the entire Aegean. Comparatively, a whole boat for ourselves looked a much better option and a quick search for "last minute bareboat charter Greece" gave up the goods.
The cheapest yacht in all of Greece for the next week was just 880 Euro + 80 Cleaning + fuel from Hermes Yachting, Athens. While not the pride of the fleet, the 1995 37.1 foot Jeanneau Sun Odyssey was honest about her pains and handed over with everything working and very clean.
Flights booked on points and we arrived in Greece at 2pm Saturday, less than 24 hours from finalising the detail. The crew at Hermes were impressed that we had managed it, payments made on the spot, credentials photocopied and by 4pm were being checked onto the boat by its relaxed and experienced sailor owner Panayiotis.
Shopping, Sim cards, weather, Tavernas, beautiful protected bays, island walks, swimming, sailing and a final night in Athens all featured in a magical week in the dream island destination, Greece.
This adventure is proof that bareboat charters can be booked last minute in Greece and so I very much recommend it.
For efficiency, I will summarise some important things to consider.
Shopping by 6pm Saturday
From the Alimou marina, we were directed to the Carrefour Express across the road from the Edem tram / bus stop where a frenzy of shopping was underway by crews of multinational bareboat chartering were paying way too much for what little was left on a Saturday night. Seemingly more convenience store than supermarket, prices were higher and more product stashed downstairs. The staff were busy asking us to leave by the 6pm closing time. Price surprises we 2 minute noodles at 1 Euro per packet, and a range of shrink wrapped pressed ham upwards of 3 Euro for just a few slices. As supermarkets are CLOSED SUNDAY you can see the run down of product on the shelves. Lucky there are some grocery supplies available at the island towns to supplement the provs.
TIP: If time allows head North from the Alimos marina two streets and East to find the locals' shop street that includes larger supermarket with prices far more reasonable, a green grocer, pharmacy, bakery ... and a couple of shops East of the supermarket the Cosemote agent for that all important local sim card.
Sim Cards before 4pm Saturday!
Speaking of sim cards ... The well planned Internet option is 40 Euros and you can rent a Wifi Internet device from your charter company, but they need notice! Last minute, my recommendation if you want to go for it, is run directly on arrival Saturday to a Cosemote or Wind F2g store (agency) and get a SIM on arrive. The stores are open until 4pm Saturday and closed Sunday. You can only get new SIMS at the official stores AFTER showing your passport.
Our holiday kind of got held up a day as I needed a SIM to stay in touch with clients, and could only do this Monday morning - Booo.
TIP: From the Alimou marina Athens, I found a shop street and Cosemote agency shop just 10 minutes from the boat. The guy assisting me had reasonable English.
I booked out about 20 Euros for 3GB of data and a SIM for a WIFI device we already had. Coverage among the islands is pretty good.
Boating Sailing Skills required
Like most bareboat locations around the world, you have to have a suitable qualification and experience before you can take charge of a yacht. My crew for the week has few sailing skills, but I have 20 years sailing, with 5 years living on board... so I could do it all myself. Even still she had to sign a co-skipper declaration saying she was capable.
If you are bareboating you will need someone with the "quals" to take charge... and was interesting to meeting other charters along the way and a level of deference to the "skipper" by crew. I had never seen that before, but it is cute that the "Skipper" is a peg above the "Crew".
TIP: You should ensure that you have someone with good experience of yachting, and a quality assistant for the foredeck if you want to anchor stern to the town docks, otherwise you may struggle.
Islands within reach of Athens
The most famous of Greek Islands are Mikonos and Santorini. Reaching out to these waypoints on a 7 day charter is a bit of a mission through. I am also assured that the harbour at Mikonos is a distance from the vibe and winds in the port can be a problem.
TIP: Keeping in mind that the Summer and Autumn weather is mostly the North / North East "Meltimi" so its best to island hop East to West so you are reaching most of the time.
Our track took in just a few islands, Egina, Poros, Kea, Kithnos and Siros... with most decisions made based upon the winds for the day and the ability to reach from one to another. During the charter it was mostly North (with a bit of East and West at times).
Each of the islands named have good anchorages with protection from the North (Meltimi), and most of them have protection from swell. The pick of the anchorages what I found included "Korissia", NW Kea and "Fikiada", NW Kythnos... primarily for the lack or swell and people.
Sailing weather in Greece (October)
Greek sailing weather in Summer and into Autumn is classically a North wind called the Meltimi. It flows down the length of the Aegean and bends around islands, funnelled by the Greek and Turkish main lands. Most days the experience was 20 plus knots with 10 to 20 degree shifts during sailing from the North, North, North East. The breeze would typically build in the early afternoon and 50 % of the time die to 15 knots in the late afternoon.
TIP: Be ready for surprises, as in our case storms over the mainland on day one shifting the breeze through 270 degrees and strengths up to 28 knots apparent. Mind too that the Meltimi will strengthen in minutes, so keep an eye to windward for larger waves and whitecaps.
Anchoring or stern to the dock
Romanticised as an essential part of Greek charter experience is to anchor off the town ports and "stern to" the dock and main street. Nestled among the rest of the charterers it is considered the most social and convenient way of accessing the town and allow the crew free roam. An experienced skipper that I met referred to it as "Harbour Cinema" and his need to arrive at ports early to set up with a beer and nuts and watch the mayhem. I did not once attempt it as I had in-experienced crew.
Pitfalls of the "stern-to":
Inexperienced anchor hand setting anchor chain too fast, too slow, too much
Cross wind, cross tide
Parties on adjacent boats till morning do come
Crossed anchors and chain when departing
While it is considered an essential experience, it was much simpler to anchor somewhere safe in the harour in 8 to 10 metres of water, let go all the chain and use the Zodiac to get to shore. During the night: peace, and in the morning an uncomplicated departure.
Tip: If you want to anchor stern to, then be sure to have an experienced foredeck anchor hand to control the free release of the chain as you go astern to the dock ... this has to be matched with the exact anchor braking to ensure your yacht stops before the dock :)
It seems that no matter how remote the bay is among the Greek islands, there is a Taverna to serve you local food, wines and other. It will be pretty similar food each time, but the more remote the Taverna, the more likely they will speak only in Greek - giving the more authentic touch to enjoy and more reason to know a few pleasantries in Greek. In the big towns bordering the most protected bays the english spoken in Tavernas and stores was not a problem.
An essential part of a trip to Greece, even if solely for the dream Greek bareboat charter is to have a night in Athens. Sunset at the Acropolis and wandering the town centre is ideal for a bit of romance.
TIP: Arrive at the Acropolis early enough to meander the ruins at the base of the site for sunset and closing time.
Excellent dining was found at a delicatessen about 15 minutes walk from the town centre square called Karamanlidika. Its written up on Tripadvisor as an excellent cheap eat. Tables around and in inside the store, display cabinets of meat for slicing, a tasting plate of Pastrami and cheese on arrival, friendly table service completed a wonderful meal.
If sailing holidays are important to you, if history is fun, and you don't mind some weather as part of your holiday then a last minute bareboat holiday in Greece is essential to your bucket list.
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John Nayler has been a flat-out-traveller for almost 20 years. 37 countries, but who's counting - he is likely to have been there, done that AND probably recorded something about it. You want entertaining answers? You have come to the right place.
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