THE SARONIC GULF: SAILING CHARTER ITINERARY
“If you have ever wanted to cruise the Greek islands, look no further than a charter out of Athens and a week sampling the many quaint destinations of the Saronic Gulf and eastern Peloponnese. We chose the first week of the charter season (the third week of April), electing to brave the cooler temperatures in favor of lesser crowds and significantly cheaper chartering prices. Bottom line, we had an absolutely fantastic vacation cruising in the Saronic Gulf. Vasilis and the people at Prima Yachting (chosen with the help of NauticEd) were outstanding.” – James Brown (NauticEd Client)
We arrived in Athena from Philadelphia at 9:30 am and had arranged with Prima to have a van waiting for us at the airport. It was a little expensive at around €100, but I felt comfort in the fact that I knew we were headed right to the marina with all of our gear. Over the course of the trip, we found that using the Uber app actually gets you a Greek Taxi, and the rates are very good. For instance, on our return to the airport, we used Uber and the fare was about €28.
We arrived at Alimos marina around 10:30 AM and were welcomed by the staff working to get things ready for our charter. I had assumed we were spending the night on the boat Saturday night and would be free to leave Sunday morning, but I was told that we could leave as soon as everything was ready. This took a few hours, as they were still getting some things organized and our request for extra blankets (it was a cold week) & Wi-Fi, along with making sure paperwork was in order took a while.
Ours was the first charter for “Aquaholic“ (Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 41) for the year, so getting her ready, clean, and commissioned for the week occupied the crew for most of Saturday morning. They are a small operation, so they don’t have unlimited resources, or the ability to just make things appear from the back closet. Most importantly, they are sailors, and the boat was in good condition for sailing. I think they have 8 boats total, divided between monohulls and cats.
This was my sixth time chartering a sailboat at various destinations around the world. I was expecting the standard “sit down“ chart briefing replete with all the inside info and local knowledge. I had not done a ton of research about the area because I like planning the cruise with everyone participating, asking questions and weighing in on the sights and destinations; and matching that with forecasted winds and weather. I was somewhat disappointed with the informality and brevity of the briefing. I had to ask a lot of questions and it wasn’t very organized. In the end, however, we learned enough about the local area to get started and over the course of the week, we were able to fully acquaint ourselves using the “Greek Waters Pilot” provided, which I highly recommend having aboard.
There is a supermarket about 300m from the dock that is perfect for provisioning. Despite generous offers to source us a vehicle to haul provisions, we elected to walk over and carry back, reasoning we needed the exercise. Later, we noticed that some cruisers had taken the liberty of “borrowing” the shopping carts from the market to haul their provisions back to the boats, but I was glad I had not chosen that option.
We were able to get away in the late afternoon sailing west, then south to Perdika on the SW coast of Nisos Aigina. Perdika is a quiet little town with room on the quay for a handful of boats. There were several typical tavernas right by the waterfront to choose from. We were tired so we just ate and slept comfortably.
Depart Perdika and sail to the lovely village of Poros. This is a beautiful village on a small narrow strait between the island and the mainland. Lots of bars, restaurants, and a nice walk up to the flagpole at the top of the hill. It’s important to choose your mooring wisely considering winds, currents and busy local ferry traffic.
Poros through Kolpos Ydras to the small village of Ermioni. Ermioni occupies a narrow peninsula jutting out from the greater Peloponnesian peninsula from west to east with a picturesque wooded park at the tip. This village has two waterfronts; a couple of piers and a shallow protected harbor on the north side, and a wide exposed deeper quay on the south side. We elected to moor on the south side due to prevailing winds and more favorable availability. This is a lovely little village that was nice for walking. We had a lovely taverna supper and ended the night with a little dance party on the back of the boat.
Highlight: Lauren got to hold an octopus liberated from a fishing line.
Day 4 & 5
This was special. We sailed the small distance from Ermioni to Hydra which we had bypassed the day before. We were not disappointed. First, let me say that Hydra is a small and challenging port. When we first arrived and sailed into the harbor in the late morning, there appeared to be nowhere to moor the boat. Consequently, we went to the outside of the jetty (not advised for smaller boats) and were able to get ourselves tied up stern-to the rocks. One captain came over to tell us that it really wasn’t a good idea, (which I already pretty much knew).
We then sent an envoy (Lauren) on foot into the inner harbor quay to inquire who might be leaving later that day. She was told that it’s customary and acceptable to “raft up” (stern to bow) sometimes three boats deep to each other from the quay. We were invited to tie up to another person‘s boat if we would hurry up and get there. What ensued was another couple of hours of maneuvering while several boats tied up to each other with our anchors out front! It’s really pretty cool how they manage the whole thing but certainly not normal for a North American sailor. This is a great opportunity to make either friends or enemies. I am happy to say that we achieved the former while minimizing the latter. I had experience in Croatia a few years ago but everywhere there were slime lines, not anchors off the bow. Apparently, it’s very common for boats to crisscross anchors in Hydra harbor and for divers to have to be employed to sort the mess out.
We loved it here! This is a must if you can stomach the mooring! A beautiful little town nestled in a semi-circular inlet where there are no cars and just donkeys to carry your things up and down the sidewalks! We spent two nights but had to maneuver on the second day to accommodate departures and arrivals. Specifically, there was a very large sailing yacht (probably 60+ feet) for whom another very large sailing yacht was not willing to move over a few meters and make room. The former got on the telephone and called the port police (I assume there was some influence here) and everybody was instructed to accommodate while the guys in uniforms with guns stood by. Fun!
Hydra to Epidaurus. The village of Epidaurus on the eastern Peloponnesian peninsula is a gem. Quiet, with only a handful of boats tied up, a couple of really cool restaurants, and a short taxi ride to the large and famous ancient theater. We made a point of arriving here early enough to go visit the theater and were not disappointed. Further, we had our nicest meal of the trip at a small outdoor restaurant. In the morning, we left early and motored over to the north side of the bay nearby, dropped the anchor for coffee and a swim in the brisk Mediterranean.
Back to Athens. Covid tests. Taxis to the Acropolis, dinner, packing, and sleep. The crew at Prima was thorough checking us back in. All critical parts of the boat were examined for damage and a diver was employed to check everything underneath. We had not damaged anything, but I was struck by how thorough they were so if I had had a scrape with a ledge I would have been discovered. The crew was very helpful in helping us find a suitable place for Covid testing and getting up to the acropolis for a quick tourist trip.
The kids left for the airport at 9 AM and Lauren and I decided to stay for an extra day. Vasilis was incredibly generous in allowing us to stay for an extra night on the boat before our departure on Sunday. (His idea) He did not ask for any additional compensation and trusted that we would be responsible with the boat. He actually left on a cruise to Hydra with some friends and instructed us where to leave the keys to the boat. I found this “above and beyond“ and it really put a cherry on top of the whole trip.