Chartering a yacht in the Cyclades
Delos was considered a cultural centre in ancient times. The islands in the Aegean Sea were thought to be a circle (Greek Kyklos) around Delos. So the name Cyclades literally translates as a ring of islands. Today, owing to numerous natural events such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tectonic shifts in the Aegean Sea, the shape of the archipelago has changed somewhat.
The Cyclades are a very popular holiday destination for sailors and tourists hoping to get off the beaten track. This yacht chartering area has held its allure for several decades. The islands boast significant cultural and historical architecture, and a well developed infrastructure.
Wind and weather: The Cyclades can be a tricky area to navigate in spring and autumn, with sudden winds reaching up to 7-8 Bft. During the summer, the northerly Meltemi can sometimes mean postponing your departure from an island by a day. But in spring and autumn, the wind blows much more calmly from the south and southeast.
Please note that the Meltemi wind is called ‘the fair weather wind’ but isn’t restricted to sunny days, it can start on cloudier days too. In the off-season it sometimes also blows as Lodos from the south or southeast. And in northern Cyclades, the Meltemi comes from the northeast, and continues to blow in the southern part from the northwest to the southwest. In the southwest, it is somewhat weaker than in the north or east of the Cyclades.
The Aegean can be rough. Between the islands especially, the sea can be stormy and gusts are common. Sailing can be demanding even for the most experienced of skippers. In July and August, we only recommend the area to those who like a challenge and who have an experienced crew with them, as well as a suitable yacht. Mykonos Island is demanding for any crew. During the summer months, temperatures can reach up to 35° in the Cyclades. There is hardly any rain, so water often runs out on many islands come autumn.
Difficulty: Medium to high.
Navigation: Most nautical charts for Greece are now revised and up to date. When navigating near land, caution is still advisable. We recommend using GPS. Keep an eye on ferries and hydrofoils as they cause a lot of swell at harbour entrances and exits.
Ports and anchorages:
Lavrion [Archipelago: Cyclades | Greece] – Situated near Athens, Lavrion is ideal as a starting and finishing port for the western Cyclades. It’s a convenient location that will buy you a lot of time as the first Cycladic island of Kea is only 12 nm away. The harbour at Lavrion is well protected, but look out for swell close to the quay.
Northern Cyclades – Kea, Kythnos, Syros, Andros, Tinos, Mykonos, Delos and Rinia.
Kea (Keos) [Archipelago: Cyclades | Greece] – The island of Kea is located about 12 nm east of Cape Sounion. At Cape Sounion, you can glimpse the sea from the ancient temple of Poseidon. Other than a few small valleys with orchards and vineyards, the island is fairly bare. The bay of Agios Nikolaou is a hot spot in this yacht chartering area because it is one of the safest natural harbours in the Aegean. The Meltemi can cause violent squalls to come in from the high mountains around the port. In summer, the anchorage of Vourkari is popular in the northeastern part of the bay.
Kythnos [Archipelago: Cyclades | Greece] – The most beautiful anchorage, but also one of the most visited in this yacht chartering area, is Kythnos of Ormos Kolona, which is separated from Ormos Phykiada by a sandbank. As alternatives, try the more southerly bays of Merihas or Ormos Loutra in the northeast of Kythnos.
Syros [Archipelago: Cyclades | Greece] – Ermoupolis (Ermoupoli) is the capital of the island of Syros, as well as the administrative and commercial centre of the Cyclades. Old town houses and impressive churches adorn the cityscape. The berths in the centre are quaint, but not very well protected. Alternatively, sail to Ormos Phoinika and take a taxi to Ermoupoli. Please note that during the Meltemi, strong gusts can occur. When anchored you should pay attention to the old mooring line that runs parallel to the concrete pier.
Andros [Archipelago: Cyclades | Greece] – The northernmost and second largest in the archipelago after Naxos, Andros is the most fertile and green of the Cyclades islands.
The natural harbour, Gavrion, in the northwest of the island, offers the best protection.
Tinos [Archipelago: Cyclades | Greece] – Separated by the narrow Andros strait is the rugged island of Tinos, the Island of the Blessed Virgin. It offers complete protection, even from strong southerly winds, which is great for newcomers to the area.
Mykonos (Mikonos) [Archipelago: Cyclades | Greece] – The island has become a firm favourite for tourists. Fig tree covered rocks, sandy beaches, secluded coves, windmills, white houses with blue roofs, tiny chapels and countless tavernas give it its wonderful character. The flair of Mykonos offers a refreshing change to the simplicity of the other islands. Although Mykonos Marina is a dusty port, it provides better protection from the Meltemi than the Old City Marina which is 1 sm to the south. Ormos Korphos in the southern part of the bay of Mykonos can be good against southerly winds. In northerly winds we recommend Ormos Ornos and Kalafatis Ormos.
Delos (Dilos) [Archipelago: Cyclades | Greece] – The small island of Delos was the former cultural centre of the Cyclades. Even today it is surrounded by maritime trade routes between Crete and the Dardanelles. You can’t anchor or stay on Delos.
Central Cyclades – Serifos, Sifnos, Antiparos, Paros, Naxos, Donousa, Iraklia, Schinoussa, Koufonisia, Amorgos and Levitha.
Serifos (Seriphos) [Archipelago: Cyclades | Greece] – A ridge dominates the island from the southwest to the northeast. The centre of the island rises to about 600 meters above sea level. In the port Leivadion (Livadi), anchorage is difficult because of a strong, offshore wind blowing down from the mountains. A good alternative is Ormos Koutala on the south coast.
Sifnos [Archipelago: Cyclades | Greece] – Sifnos, with its olive trees and vines, is considered to be pretty green in the Cyclades. A windy strait separates the island from neighbouring Serifos. A must for a trip to the area is Ormos Pharos, in the southeast, and Ormos Phykiada, a beautiful bay with a chapel, on the southern tip. Ormos Vathy, on the southwest side, offers all-round protection.
Paros [Archipelago: Cyclades | Greece] – The flat, oval-shaped island with monasteries and vineyards as far as the eye can see, is certainly one of Cyclades’ highlights. There are two sheltered bays: the new Marina Parikia in the west and Naoussa in the north.
Please note there are a lot of rocks – some of them underwater – in the passage between Paros and Antiparos, so be extra careful. The fjord outside Antiparos offers protection from the Meltermi in the north east of the island, however, there aren’t many berths.
Naxos [Archipelago: Cyclades | Greece] – Naxos, the largest of the Cyclades islands and the most fertile, was important in ancient times. According to Greek mythology, its people worshipped Dionysus, who in turn blessed their island with rich vineyards. Naxos is still rewarded with pretty good wines. The landscape here is dominated by rugged mountains alternating with fertile valleys and rushing streams.
When entering port Naxos (the island’s capital), on the northwest coast, the Venetian castle is a wonderful sight. The Meltemi can be strong here, and with the frequent ferry activity, Naxos Marina is frequently choppy. Noise can’t really be avoided as the marina is situated right next to one of the main promenades. As alternatives, we recommend Ormos Kalanto in the south east or Ormos Moutsana to the east, which both offer good protection.
Donousa (Donoussa), Schinoussa [Archipelago: Cyclades | Greece] – More sheltered bays like Ormos Ormos and Dendron Roussa are located on the neighbouring island of Donousa, 9 nautical miles east of Naxos. The bay of Ormos Myrsini, located on the picturesque island of Schinoussa, south of Naxos, also offers adequate protection.
Amorgos [Archipelago: Cyclades | Greece] – The easternmost island of the Cyclades lies on the border of the Dodecanese archipelago. Amorgos’s coast is littered with steep cliffs and rugged rock formations, which have provided the backdrop for numerous film productions. Look to the north west side to find bays with sandy beaches. The enchanting capital of Katapola is in the west, on the banks of a rock fjord. On the east side of the island you’ll find the Byzantine monastery of Panagia Chozoviotissa set in the cliffs. The southern coast of Amorgos is to be treated with caution, as the Meltemi’s fierce gusts can soon make the sea extremely choppy.
Southern Cyclades – Milos, Kimolos, Folegandros, Sikinos, Ios, Anafi and Santorini.
Milos [Archipelago: Cyclades | Greece] – The volcanic Milos is the southwestern most island of the Southern Cyclades. Milos is known, not least, because of the ancient statue of the Greek goddess of love (Venus de Milo, Aphrodite of Milos), which was discovered by a farmer here in the 19th century. The port of Milos Adamas is a volcanic crater and now one of the safest natural harbours in the Aegean. The small but attractive sailing area between Milos, Kimolos and Polyaigos offers a number of well sheltered anchorages, such as Ormos Pollonia, Voudia, Psathi and Manolonisi, which are so pleasant you may find yourself adding an extra day to your itinerary.
Folegandros [Archipelago: Cyclades | Greece] – One of the numerous small rocky islands in the Cyclades. Located between Sikinos and Milos, Folegandros’s Karavostasi port, to the east of the island, offers good protection from northwesterly winds.
Sikinos [Archipelago: Cyclades | Greece] – Sikinos is located close to Santorini and one of the best places to visit if you want to relax away from crowds and get closer to nature. Sikinos has a number of marvellous beaches, sightseeing spots, picturesque settlements, scenic pathways and monuments. Ormos bay, to the east of the island, offers good protection from even the fiercest Meltemi gusts.
Ios [Archipelago: Cyclades | Greece] – Enchanting coves, long sandy beaches, shady olive groves and picturesque chapels make Ios extremely popular. The port of Ormos Manganari, and the bays in the eastern part of Ormos Mylopotamou, offer good protection from the strong summer winds.
Santorini (Santorini, Thira) [Archipelago: Cyclades | Greece] – The volcanic island of Thira is more commonly known as Santorini. The island is distinguished from other Cycladic islands because of its unique shape and multi-coloured cliffs that soar over 300 metres high. The harbour will take your breath away with white washed, sugar cube Cycladic houses lining the cliff tops which, in places, spill down the side of the terraced rock. When the sun sets the reflection on the buildings, and the glow of the orange and red in the cliffs, can be truly spectacular.
Thira is the largest known active volcano in the world. Although you’ll be well protected from the Meltemi on the east side of the island in Thirasia, there are still disturbing swells open to the south and east of the bay. The main island has several anchorages for sailors: Phoinikos, Skala Thira, Ormos Athinios and Monolithos. But limited capacity is a problem at all these locations. In Santorini, only Marina Vlychada, offers good all-round protection. The marina was dredged in spring 2013 so it can now accommodate larger yachts too. From here you can go on foot or by bus to Chora for a leisurely stroll.
Anafi [Archipelago: Cyclades | Greece] – The most southeasterly of the Cycladic islands rises like a smooth, oversized boulder from the water. During the Meltemi, there’s no protection here for sailors.
Regulations and authorities: To enter you will need a valid ID card. The skipper must be in possession of an official yachting license with coastal navigation. Another crew member should have sailing experience and – if possible – the documentation to prove it.
Getting there: It’s best to fly to Athens, which offers scheduled flights to the Cyclades daily. You might even be able to get a direct flight to your chosen destination. Lavrion is accessible by bus, taxi or an organized transfer in about 40 minutes. From Piraeus there are several ferries to the Cyclades islands. You can get direct charter flights to Mykonos and Santorini during the summer season.
Not to be missed: An excursion to visit the ‘Lion of Kea’ – a sculpture carved out of rock in the 6th century BC. The Lion of Kea is just outside Chora (the main town) on Kea. Also, you must try the delicious red wine from Paros, which has been highly sought after since ancient times.