LateSailor Jim Verrechia recently chartered a Dufour 385 from Athens for a week in October and has shared his tips and experiences with us. Whether you are considering sailing in Greece yourself or already booked, this blog give you everything you need to know to make your trip something special.
Written by Jim Verrechia
Day 1: Alimos (Kalamaki) Marina to Cap Sounion (22 NM)
We arrived at Exadas Yachts base at Alimos Marina just before 10am to pick up our yacht ‘Eftixia’, a Dufour 385 Grand Large. We were met punctually by The Exadas Agent, followed shortly after by the owner of the yacht ‘Nikos’. Being Sunday, a lot of local shops were closed so Nikos arranged for a local grocery shop to collect me from Alimos and take me to their shop. They returned me back with our ‘victuals’ – excellent service!
Nikos took us on board and talked us through the yacht’s features. This was the best handover I have experienced to date with a thorough demonstration of all the safety equipment, electronics, sails, ropes etc… Because we had worked on our safety brief before arriving in Alimos, we were soon ready to depart for our first stopover at Cap Sounion. Eftixia was secured by lazy line rather than anchor so getting away was straight forward. We were out of the marina and into the Med, generally making way under motor due to lack of wind. The Route…
It was now 6pm, with the sun lowering in the sky as we approached Cap Sounion. There were quite a few yachts in the bay when we arrived, so we had to consider our anchorage carefully, ensuring we did not get too close to other vessels in case we swung round. We finally decided to position ourselves further out in the bay where we were more exposed to waves than yachts that had already dropped anchor. We used all of the 55 metres of chain to ensure we were securely in place for the night.
Poseidon’s Temple and the cliffs below were now bathed in yellow light as we dropped anchor in 17m of water, just in time for us to take some stunning photos of the sunset over Nisos Arkhi…
We dropped the dinghy into the water, attached the outboard and made our way to the Tavernas overlooking the bay, where to our surprise we were greeted again by Nikos with his partner Nadia, who invited us to join them at their table.
We spent some time with them and had our first taste of Greek hospitality, a mezze and fresh sea food was ordered – we had a great meal. We had an early night as we were planning to do our longest voyage the next morning, heading across the Saronic Sea (via the remote island of Nisida Agios Georgios) to Ermioni.
Day 2: Cap Sounion to Ermioni (56 NM)
An early start! It was still civil twilight and a very flat, calm sea greeted us. I (rudely) awoke Andrew and Nick as we needed to get moving if we were to get all the way to Spetses. We raised anchor and made way under motor. Nick announced that he was still tired so we let him go back to bed while we started our first leg to the uninhabited island of Nisida Agios Georgios…
As we approached, we decided it would be more interesting to see the south of the island, which we then passed on our starboard beam. Nick emerged just in time to see his first of many islands on the trip.
As we rounded the south of the island, the wind was now making waves rather than cat’s paws so we hoisted the sails, making the most of the wind before it quickly died, meaning the motor was again our mode of propulsion. We were (literally) in deep water and there were flying fish (and leaping fish). Te depths now exceeded 300 metres according to the chart – the instruments gave up with ‘last recorded depths’ exceeding 180 metres and this lasted well into the channel between Hydra and the mainland. It was now midday and we decided not to push on to Spetses, altering our course to aim for late lunch at Ermioni, which proved a good decision as the port quickly filled up with other vessels.
We spent the night stern-to on a busy pier used by buses and passengers for the ferry services. There was considerable wash from the ferry boats so we relaxed the stern lines, pulled on the anchor a little and inched Eftixia away from the pier just in case.
Having asked about Port Police we were informed, “they did not exist any more”, so we had no harbour fees to pay, which was just as well as the limited shore power was already swallowed up by other yachts and there were some minor arguments caused by people fiddling with plugs and sockets. We instead relied on battery power for the night. There were limited services in Ermioni, the local shops opened up after 6pm but they were adequate for our needs. The harbour was busy with lots of tavernas, plenty of night life and noise up until midnight, when all seemed to die down quickly, allowing us to get a good night’s sleep. As we travelled in October, we wondered if there might be a Port Police presence in the high season.
Day 3: Ermioni to Mandraki, Hydra (10 NM)
We emerged at about 8:00, downed some cereal and cleared our mooring en-route for Hydra shortly after.
We resisted visiting the island Nisos Dokos in favour of an early chance of mooring in Hydra Town’s harbour, only to find it heaving with all kinds of vessels.
Just as we arrived, a large ferry also announced its arrival with a loud blast on the horn causing chaos in the harbour entrance, so we retreated into the channel and headed for our backup solution – Mandraki Bay.
We dropped anchor just after 1pm in 11m of water. The bay quickly filled up with other visiting yachts but there was enough room to accommodate everyone. We again put the dinghy into the water and rowed over to the shore, where we found a run-down hotel on the east side of the bay and, by contrast, a lovely taverna on the west side. We ate lunch here and, after a break to let our food settle, had a long swimming session in the crystal clear water.
By late afternoon we were ready for the short walk from Mandraki to Hydra Town, which we reached at about 5pm. We took lots of pictures of this iconic settlement with lots of narrow, cobbled streets to explore and a bustling harbour side, somewhat reminiscent of Padstow in both its amplified size, shape and noise.There were cats a-plenty, hovering around the tables in search of tit-bits and we ended up with kittens on our laps.
A water taxi took us back to Mandraki (15 euros) and again we settled down for the night.
Day 4: Mandraki to Palaia Epidavros (46 NM)
Once underway we made the bold decision to pass straight through the channel between N. Spathi and N. Tselevinia and then the shallow channel between Poros and the mainland.
We wanted to ensure we had plenty of time to complete our circular tour of the Saronic Sea without putting pressure on our last day at sea.
With the channel between Poros and the mainland cleared, the wind picked up for the rest of our journey.
Methana was now on our port bow, so we raised the sails and managed a comfortable 7-8 knots as we rounded Methana and headed west toward Epidavros with Angistri to starboard. Methana let us know that it still a semi-active volcano. Every now and again you can smell ‘bad eggs’ from the methane gas that leaks through the rocks and waters off the coast.
With about 3 NM to go the weather changed abruptly. We were now looking at a very large and thundery mass of cloud that was rapidly descending from the Peloponnese mountains, quickly smothering Epidavros and heading straight towards us. Two yachts behind us turned back, which somewhat alarmed us. Perhaps they knew something we didn’t? We immediately dropped our sails and shortly after the heavens opened.
I was glad that I brought our wet weather gear – we needed it for the final leg of our journey into Palaia Epidavros and preparation for dropping anchor in the bay. We had a great meal at the Poseidon Taverna, with lovely seafood, plenty of local cats for entertainment and very pleasant front of house staff. We were all on anchor watch that night. Eftixia decided to drift off at one point, so we had to re-set the anchor – this time with overkill on the scope of chain to ensure this would not happen again. Still we had a very unsettled night and all were shattered as we got up at day break and quickly got under way to Angistri.
Day 5: Palaia Epidavros to Angistri.(16 NM)
We soon got under way to Angistri – on motor (again!)
As we passed Nea Epidavros on our port side, the wind increased so we raised the sails. Fully canvassed we were pushing along at approximately 7 knots. This lasted about half an hour before the wind once again died and we had to use the motor to complete our passage. It was clear by now that we were only experiencing localised sea breezes. Summer was over and the Meltemi had now lost its strength as the temperature variations between land and sea narrowed, a sure sign the Mediterranean winter was on its way. We passed south of Nisis Kira and maintained a steady course for Milos (Megalochori), the main town in the NW corner of Angistri, arriving just in time for lunch with an easy stern-to mooring. We were joined by numerous vessels which quickly took the remaining spaces in the harbour. We had arrived just in time.
We had lunch at the nearest taverna in the corner of the harbour.
After lunch we hired scooters from a company nearby, well signposted from the harbour and only a short uphill walk. Fortunately we all brought our driving licenses with us and for 15 euros each we got our scooters and set off around the island, managing to use up all of the island’s roads in less than an hour.
We even had time to stop at Skala for a swim and had a drink at the Copa Cabana Café where we had an enjoyable chat with the female (British) owner, who moved to Angistri 30 years ago. The bikes were returned shortly after.
In the evening we walked east from the harbour to a small café with a limited menu. We were in two minds whether to stay but the food was actually very good. A young lady worked very hard on her own throughout the evening, somehow managing to serve at the bar, cook and bring food to our table – so we left a good tip.
Day 6: Angistri via Aegina to Alimos Marina (24 NM)
A not so responsive crew that morning, the reality that this was the final day meant we were all a bit quiet as we got underway to Aegina.
No wind again, so we arrived at Aegina Town having crossed north of the Metopi Shoals using the motor. Aegina was by far the busiest port, with large ferries coming and going. Fortunately the larger ferries moored onto the outside of the harbour wall. We gingerly ventured into the harbour but were spoilt for choice as there were plenty of berths available. We chose a spot on the road side harbour wall and moored stern-to without incident.
Aegina is a very busy town, with numerous back alleys full of clothes, souvenir and pistachio nut shops. There was a good a fish market plus fruit and vegetable stalls and tavernas.
Pistachio nuts are a main crop for the island and we each bought a few bags to be used as presents. There was a bank on the opposite side of the road at the north east corner of the harbour where we were able to get cash from the ATM.
We were people watching at a taverna opposite our mooring for a short time and we saw horse drawn carts, lots of scooters carrying a variety of (what would be in the UK illegal) ‘payloads’ and were surprised to see a flat-bed truck noisily dragging along a whacker plate, which was attached by a piece of rope!
When departing we had to wait a while for a gap in the busy harbour traffic before raising the anchor, slipping our warps and easing out of the harbour.
Then there was an abrupt yell from Andrew, the windlass had jammed and he could not lift the anchor any further! I quickly leapt to the bow and pulled the chain up by hand, securing the anchor by the lanyard so that it would not unexpectedly drop again, then we set off for deep water to try to fix the problem.
A link in the anchor chain had turned sideways-on and jammed itself in the capstan, the click-click of the windlass was not because the windlass fuse had tripped but because it simply could not turn. Out came the tool box and a swift bash with the hammer freed the offending link. I inspected it to ensure it was not damaged before dropping about 30 metres of chain and raising the anchor with the windlass. Job done!
The wind picked up again, we raised the sails for what we thought would be the last time – and probably for a short distance. What a surprise! The wind just kept getting stronger and stronger and then we spotted dolphins. Our first sighting was a good distance off our port quarter, then much closer, off our starboard quarter. They did not get any nearer but were a welcome sight on an otherwise cetacean-free holiday.
Some flying fish also darted away from Eftixia’s wake and the wind stayed strong for the rest of the journey back to Amilos marina. We were on a beam reach all the way and making just under 10 knots, easily passing a new, high spec yacht. The crew looked somewhat bemused as we passed by leaving them to port. They simply did not have their sails trimmed correctly!
When we arrived at Alimos we did the handover back to the charter company almost immediately, but stayed on Eftixia for one more night. We did not venture far from the marina that night, dining at the nearby ‘Kitchen Bar’ restaurant.
The next day we handed over the keys, spending a day in Athens after dropping off our bags at the airport.
Final day: Departure
Here’s a little about Athens and Athens Airport. Should you arrive at the airport early, there are facilities on the lower level of the airport to temporarily drop off bags. This costs approx. 30 euros for three bags and well worth it if you have a long wait ahead as it gives you the opportunity to explore Athens.
The X95 ‘bendy-bus’ takes you into the centre of Athens for 5 euros. You need to purchase tickets from the (nearby) ticket office and must get your ticket ‘stamped’ by the machine on the bus. There was an inspector on the bus enforcing this. The journey takes approx. 40 minutes and when you arrive there is a noticeable city square where you will want to be dropped off.
Nearby are the National Gardens, Zeus’s Temple, the Museum and the Acropolis. Avoid the ‘National Garden Restaurant’ (name escapes me but it is in the SW corner) with its used-car salesmen who will do their best to drag you in and leave you with a hefty bill (we learned the hard way). After this we noted plenty of bustling back streets with very inviting tavernas between the Acropolis and the city square. Many of these had much better menus for half the price of our choice.
Athens is a lovely place to spend your last day and you will soon run out of time if you are not careful with your planning.
Back at the airport the duty free set-up is a little confusing as it appears before security for ‘B’ departure locations and is beyond security for ‘A’ locations (probably your route if you are flying abroad.) The rest is straight forward but it confused us very tired Brits!
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