HIDEAWAYS OF THE GODS
The Greek Islands
BY LYNDA MORRIS CHILDRESS, GREECE
WHEN THE CHANCE TO CHARTER for 10 days in the Greek isles came my way more than a decade ago, I’d already chartered in most of the world’s top spots as a boating journalist, and never dreamed that this country would change my life. To my astonishment, I discovered a small but
beautiful country with more than 1,000 islands, a stunning coastline, and
a distinctly nautical focus, shaped by a warm climate, excellent breezes, and
azure seas. Mountains towered above the ocean, and the terrain changed
from verdant to stark as we sailed between islands. History and an ancient
culture lurked behind the beauty. The island people were warm-hearted and
welcoming; the native cuisine, sublime. After a few days, I was hooked.
That first charter was an exploration of the blue and whitewashed
Cyclades Islands, in the center of the Aegean — the popular Mykonos and
Santorini, along with lazy, hidden islands, each with its own unique charm.
We spent each day sailing, with stops for swimming in the warm, clear sea;
then Med-moored in late afternoon at a new island town to explore archaeological sites, meander through villages, or relax in the cockpit or at a seaside
café over a cool drink or a taverna meal. During that 10-day sail, I also discovered a soul mate: a Greek captain who shared my love of the boating life.
SO MANY ISLANDS, SO LITTLE TIME
I returned to Greece many times after that, and the skipper and I logged thousands of Aegean Sea miles, from the Saronic Islands and Peloponnese coast in
the west, to the beautiful Dodecanese Islands in the east. Six years later, we
married. Naturally, we bought a boat. We now have a small charter company,
and sail the Greek Islands each season, sharing our favorite places with guests
aboard our Atlantic 70, Stressbuster. A recurring question our guests always ask
is: What’s your favorite island? There are so many, and they’re all so different.
However, my favorites are not the places known by most visitors to Greece,
such as Mykonos and Santorini, both of which are beautiful, but expensive and
crowded. Some of my favorites are off-the-beaten-path coastal places such as
the tiny village of Yerakas on the Peloponnese peninsula, which lies at the end
of Greece’s only mainland fjord; and Monemvasia, also on the Peloponnese,
a majestically restored Byzantine town that’s one of the most beautiful but
unknown places in Greece. Finally there’s Leonidion (Plaka) — like Yerakas, a
quintessential Greek village, with a beautiful swimming beach near the harbor.
In the islands, Hydra in the Saronics — the island of the glitterati — is my
pick. It’s busy, but there are no cars or motorbikes; transportation is by donkey
or water taxi only. Its cobbled streets, sea captains’ homes surrounding the
harbor, winding paths, and windmills are something to experience. Dokos, a
tiny, nearby deserted islet (not in the guidebooks!), is wonderful for anchoring
off, swimming, hiking, and barbecuing. In the Cyclades, Paros is one of my
favorites. The port of Paroikia is busy during summer, but Paros has variety:
Along with this bustling Cycladic town, there are quieter villages, amazing
beaches, and scenery. Deserted Rinia (also not in guidebooks) is ideal for a
beach barbecue, snorkeling, and swimming. In the Dodecanese, Patmos Island
where St. John was inspired to write the Book of Revelations’ Apocalypse, and
Nisiros (home to a sleeping volcano) are highlights. To find your favorites, you
must sail in Greece yourself! No matter how many times you return, there will
always be new discoveries.
LOGISTICS: It’s possible to sail from April to November, but he ideal months are May to September. The busiest month is August, when Europeans vacation en masse. Greece isn’t for the nov- ice boater; seasonal wind called meltemi can blow Force 8 or 9, and there are few aids to navigation except at port entrances. You’ll need to dock stern-to at town quays. If you’re unsure, opt for a crewed charter, or hire a skipper for one or two days. The Moorings, Sunsail, and Istion are three reputable bareboat companies with bases in Greece. All also offer crewed options. A three- cabin bareboat in Greece in June is about $3,213. Contact: www.moorings.com; www.sunsail.com; www.Istion.com. For info on sailing aboard Stressbuster, go to www.greecesailingcharters.com.
PLANNING: If you’re starting
your sailing charter in the Athens
area, where most companies are
based, and you have one week,
you’ll sail the Saronic Islands
and Peloponnese coast, or the
Cyclades; if you have longer, or
a company has bases elsewhere,
the Dodecanese, the Ionian, the
Sporades Islands — or combining
island groups — are options.
Don’t try to see too much in
too little time. Allow time to
linger and venture beyond the
ports. You won’t be sorry!