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Yachting: Article

Hidden Anchorages in the Greek Islands

A charter trip aboard Vaimiti explores unknown gems

George Nicholson, Camper & Nicholsons International's chairman and one of the most widely cruised and knowledgeable super-yachtsmen in the world, took family and friends on an unforgettable 11-day charter trip through Greece. Here is his personal cruising log, shared exclusively with International Yacht Vacations & Charters readers.

In August 2003, I chartered the brand new Jacques and Nicolas Fauroux-designed 40m cutter Vaimiti for a cruise in Greece with family and friends.

Vaimiti had just been launched in July and the settling down cruise was, in reality, the trip to Greece to pick us up in Mykonos on the 28th of August.

As we knew in advance that Vaimiti was surely going to be a fine sailboat, and at 40m overall length she was big, we planned our trip to take full advantage of the Meltemi wind that should have still been blowing at that time of year. We also had the added advantage of having sailed with her crew on the owner's previous boat, Vairea.

In the weeks preceding the trip, I had spent a lot of time planning the itinerary. I had cruised in Greece many times before, and wanted to visit places that I did not know and where, for the most part, our guests had not been either. I took into account the probable wind strength and direction, boat speed, and the time we would spend each day stopped somewhere nice for lunch and a swim, but also positioned to make it to our overnight anchorage before sunset.

I have to say that this prior homework paid off handsomely and our itinerary worked out just perfectly. I had also submitted it in advance to the captain, Jean-Luc Chaboud, to be sure that he thought we could stick to it. Being a keen sailor, he endorsed it with enthusiasm.

Cruises do not often come as good as this one and I would like to thank Jean-Luc Chaboud, Roberta, Philippe Torton, Bruno Mabire, and our chef Jacques Chastres and his wife Orati, for a wonderful holiday.

For those interested in costs, the price for Vaimiti for this 11-day cruise was $91,000. Seven people had a wonderful, high-quality holiday for $14,285 per head, or $1,300 per person per day. In my book, outstanding value.

If you want a yachting holiday, book early, choose your cruise companions carefully, take advice from your broker, and do some real route planning in advance. Planning the cruise in some detail is fun - a good way to pass rainy winter evenings.

An 11-day charter of Vaimiti in Greece
28th August to 8th September 2003

28th August
We all arrived in Mykonos from different directions. My wife and I had come from Switzerland. We flew commercial from Zurich to the huge new airport in Athens (specially built for the 2004 Olympic Games), and then took a helicopter from Athens to Mykonos.

 Vaimiti was waiting for us at the marina, and as the Meltemi was blowing hard, the signs were that we were off to a good start. The shops stay open very late in Mykonos and we had plenty of time to do some last-minute shopping. My wife and I, who had been there many times before, visited a few old friends with houses on the island. We also dropped in on Tassos Stamoulis who has had the Ilias Lalaounis shop (tel: 028 9022 444) for as many years as I care to remember. He always digs out his old photograph album which shows us shopping there in the 1970s! Dinner ashore that night, and the younger members of the party explored the nightlife, returning somewhat later to Vaimiti. The place still exudes a special Greek, cosmopolitan charm.

29th August
 We left the marina at about 10:30am for a brisk sail across the short stretch of water to Delos. It is possible to anchor in sheltered waters very close to the ruined town and go ashore in the tender. Half our group had already visited Delos, but had never taken a guide. As my wife and I had had the good fortune to once travel with guests who had a profound knowledge of Greek mythology, architecture, and history, I arranged for a guide to meet us on this trip. She turned out to be a lovely Greek lady who was a university professor in America and who just loved being a tour guide in summer. She was absolutely great, very funny, and really made the ancient lifestyle of Delos, a sort of utopia for wealthy men, come alive again just for us. We were back on board Vaimiti in time to glide down to the south end of the neighboring island of Rinia where the captain knew of a small but deep inlet (South Bay in Heikell) that gave us perfect shelter for our first lunch at sea. We tend to eat very simply, but well. Lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, and much more fresh fish than meat. If we eat meat at all, it is usually poultry. Our group hardly drinks any spirits, and very little champagne, but we all like good wine, both red and white, and have made sure that the boat is well-stocked.

We made a fast passage from Rinia to the almost deserted island of Donoussa where we arrived at dusk. By now it was blowing a steady 25 knots with gusts well over 30 knots, but we were very comfortable with two reefs in the Mainsail Yacht and about three rolls in the genoa. Vaimiti has a slab reefing Mainsail Yacht and lazy-jacks. Jean-Luc and his first mate Philippe Tourton, together with leading hand Bruno Mabire, have reefing down to a fine art, and can take in a reef, or shake it out, in a couple of minutes, four at most!

Athough we could hear the katabatic winds thundering down on Vaimiti during the night, the anchorage off the small village of Dhendro was calm.

30th August
 By morning the Meltemi had moderated considerably and we had a fine sail to the group of small islands just south of Naxos, sometimes called the Lesser Cyclades. These are attractive islands and offer a variety of anchorages. We chose to go through the narrow passage between Koufonisia Island and Katokoufonisia and anchor in crystal clear water on the south side of the latter, with the stern tied up to some rocks. The swimming was perfect, but even better were the delicious fresh sea urchins (oursins) that were collected and expertly opened by Jean-Luc and Philippe with special bent scissors. Sea urchins are an acquired taste and are superb directly out of the sea as we had them, but they are also very good in scrambled eggs.

 After lunch we set sail for Amorgos. I had never been to Amorgos and was keen to visit the monastery which is built into the cliffs on the south side. Jean-Luc suggested that we go via the south side of Karos Island. We had a spectacular sail under impressive cliffs that produced gusts of wind up to 35 knots, but as the water was totally calm, the sailing was fantastic with the crew taking in reefs and shaking them out again as if this was business as usual. Great fun. As we cleared the small islands, the wind dropped off. We wanted to check out an anchorage for the night that not even Jean-Luc knew so we decided to motorsail to be there before dark. Vaimiti has a 500HP MAN diesel and can do more than 10 knots at cruising RPM. The engine is very silent, and totally free of vibration, so when motorsailing, one has the impression Vaimiti is only sailing and that she is a very fast sailboat indeed!

Our chosen spot for the night was perfect, under the lee of a small island called Nikouria in an anchorage called Kalotiri. Calm, quiet, and deserted.



31st August
After breakfast, always taken on deck, we went into the little port of Katapola to find taxis to take us to the monastery. Katapola is small, typically Greek, and most of the moderate number of tourists seemed to be backpackers coming by ferry to spend a few nights in the many small townhouses offering bed and breakfast. Two taxis were required to take us over the top of this mountainous small island to the south side. Although I am a keen participant in classic car rallies, even I was impressed by this run, some 20 minutes in each direction on cliff-hanging roads with no guardrails, blind corners, and at rally speeds in cars that were anything but rally cars! The eyes-shut trip was definitely worth it for when we finally reached the monastery it was spectacular. In size this monastery is not on the scale of the monasteries of Mount Athos in the north of Greece, but the cliff-hanging position is amazing.

Having survived the return taxi journey we left at noon to sail to the island of Astipalaia. We decided to anchor for lunch at the western tip of Amorgos at a place called Kolofana under the lee of Gramvousa Island, an excellent deserted anchorage with just a few curious goats on the beach to watch our well-earned swimming and lunching. After a very leisurely lunch we set off for Astipalaia.

Light winds again, but we elected not to start the engine and just enjoy the peace of a gentle sail. This relatively slow passage meant that we would not reach Maltezana on the south side of Astipalaia before dark. As the next day was scheduled to be a long day of sailing we decided to head for Panormous, a quiet and deserted anchorage on the eastern tip of Astipalaia, which we could reach before sundown. We were not disappointed. Panormous is a great anchorage for our type of trip - nothing but us, some fish jumping, and very pleasant surroundings without another boat in sight.

The next morning we left quite early for Santorini (or Thira). This would be one of our longest passages and take us to the east. Santorini makes a truly spectacular first visit no matter how many cruise ships are anchored in the huge volcanic bay, whose islands in the middle were formed by volcanic eruptions, some as recently as 1926. A huge earthquake in 1956 caused a lot of damage to the principal towns of Finikea and Thira. We arrived there just as the sun was going down in the west, reflecting on the cliffs and white painted town of Thira perched on top. At the right time of day, and from the right direction, it is one of the most spectacular sights in Greece. We got it right!

Our stop in Santorini was scheduled to be a visit to the town and dinner ashore. Once off the yacht and on the quay, there are three ways to get up to the town of Thira. Walk up the pedestrian-only causeway, braving the donkeys; take the funicular; or ride up on a donkey. The latter is by far the most fun, and this is what most of us did. It is really one long giggle from bottom to top, but beware those who suffer from vertigo as the rather perverse donkeys seem to take pleasure in getting the primitive stirrups hooked over the parapet and it is one hell of a long way to fall if you were to be flipped over! Remarkably, it never seems to happen. However it is better to come down on the funicular! We all reached the top safely, did our respective shopping, and had an excellent dinner in a small village on the south side of the island, away from the crush in Thira.



A fairly early start this morning to avoid the cruise ship activity. On leaving Santorini we headed in the direction of Milos as I had never explored the small islands of Kimolos and Poliagos just to the east of Milos, and I wanted to make the passage between Milos and Kimolos, the Kimolos channel, the next day. We had a good sail in a northeasterly direction and as the wind had backed a little toward the east, we found ourselves beating to windward in ideal conditions. We had our usual lunch break at the island of Folegandros and then sailed up into the wide bay formed by Milos, Kimolos, and Poliagos. We sailed all around the bay and settled on a very secluded anchorage on the island of Poliagos. Although we were entirely alone in this beautiful spot, there were signs of plenty of past nautical activity. We had a perfect night and the keen photographers among guests and crew decided that the early morning sun would bring a great photo opportunity, which turned out to be correct.



Having taken the photos, and breakfasted in this lovely spot, we set off to sail through the Kimolos channel. The weather was perfect with the wind still just east of north which meant a beat through the passage. Calm water, good sun, and 10/12 knots of wind created another photo opportunity and we put the tender in the water to take pictures under sail. The tender zoomed around us as we sailed past the Pelekoudha light on the south side of the Kimolos channel, and then we were through and on track for Sifnos, our next island destination.

Jean-Luc had been to Sifnos before, but many years ago, and his memory was a little hazy. Neither I nor our guests had ever been to Sifnos, nor had many of our Greek friends whom I had questioned about Sifnos before our cruise started.

We made our landfall at the southern tip of Sifnos where Jean-Luc remembered an attractive but very small inlet called Fikiadha. This anchorage was so small that we had to turn around in the entrance and proceed in in reverse. However the effort was well rewarded as the inner end revealed a small chapel that seemed to have been privatized by locals with a young family. The only other inhabitants were some goats that had decided to rest in impossible niches in the low cliffs that surrounded this charming little inlet.

I had hired a van and driver to explore the island, and when we returned, Vaimiti was waiting for us but not yet fully moored for the night, and the Meltemi was starting to build again. Wind or not, we were so taken with the little fisherman's taverna right on the water's edge that Jean-Luc joined us for local olives and taramasalata, all washed down with a generous supply of Sifnos white wine. This experience was a real throwback to what Greece must have been before tourism ever started. Reluctantly we rejoined Vaimiti to assist Jean-Luc in maneuvering her into a safe berth for the night with two anchors out and plenty of lines ashore. The barometer was dropping fast and we were already on the receiving end of some robust katabatic gusts of wind.

 The gloomy sky and gusting wind confirmed the barometer's message of the previous evening. Not only was it blowing very hard, but it was raining too. The Meltemi is a northerly wind, and our next destination was to be Monemvasia, due east of us on the Peleponnese, a sail of some 65 miles. It took us about six and a half hours to reach Monemvasia, but it was far too rough to find a safe anchorage under the lee of this hump-backed island connected to the mainland by a low causeway. We opted to anchor to the north of Monemvasia in a bay called Kremidhi, which offered adequate shelter while we waited to see what the wind and sea would do.

The wind moderated enough later in the afternoon to allow us to sail around to the south side of Monemvasia. We were still keen to visit this old fortified town of Byzantine origin; it was rebuilt by the Venetians, and remained an important port of the southern Peleponnese until the 20th century. The climb to the top of its Gibraltar-like structure to see the church of Ayia Sophia was a challenge.

 Much better weather today, and after breakfast we set off northwards as we wanted to take in Porto Kheli and Spetses before we headed for Vougliameni where we intended to end our cruise. Porto Kheli is currently the "in" place for many of the Greek ship-owning fraternity and Spetses is the mother island for little Spetsopoula, the private island of the late Stavros Niarchos which still belongs to his family. We were heading back toward civilization with very mixed feelings.

We continued up the coast to a place that Jean-Luc seemed to have visited before, but which was unknown to the rest of us. This is a nice bay with a small village called Kyparissi in a very attractive setting. Tucked away in the southeast corner of this bay is a very special anchorage where it is possible to take lines ashore to a tiny quay which was built so the local inhabitants could row across from the village to worship in a miniscule chapel.

Before we left, we walked to Kyparissi from our anchorage along a perfect path that was the alternative way for the villagers to reach their chapel. Thirty minutes each direction, and a look around the village, was a great way to build up an appetite for breakfast on this gorgeous sunny morning.

We reached Porto Kheli at about 11am and made a tour of the almost circular harbor. A lot of tourist development, but we found the port itself rather a disappointment. A nice breeze had now built and we sailed between Spetses and Spetsopoula, the Niarchos fiefdom. It is a lovely place, and on a par with Scorpios Island in the Ionian, the private island of Niarchos's great rival Onassis. We found a nice place to anchor for lunch on Spetses.

After lunch, the town and port of Spetsai beckoned. As this was to be our penultimate night, we opted for dinner ashore, especially as a very good fish restaurant in the old harbor had been recommended. Spetsai was a very pleasant surprise. The main town is attractive and lively, but the old fishing port, Baltiza Creek, lined with restaurants, tavernas, and little Dickensian boatyards, is a delight. Drinks in a quay-side taverna gave us some flying speed before sitting down to a superb fish dinner at Tapeanae (tel: 029 874 490), excellently prepared and served, and washed down with plenty of good Greek wine. We tended to drink the local white wines and red wine from the northern area of Thessalonica.

We rose the next morning with heavy hearts as this really was going to be our last full day.

 The wind was light, and we motorsailed along the coast to Hydra. I had not been in Hydra since the 1970s and was surprised to see how little it has changed. This is obviously due to the fact that there are very few cars, lorries, or roads. When we charter a yacht we always try to make the last lunch very special, and take it ashore with the whole crew. This means a safe anchorage with the yacht in sight! As we motored gently along the northern shore of Hydra we spotted a small group of houses above a quay; we stopped to investigate and went ashore in the tender to check out what seemed to be a restaurant. It was indeed a restaurant called Marina Taverna (tel: 229 805 2496), entirely family run, and on visiting the kitchen in the manner that is customary in Greece, I found that they were freshly stocked with live lobsters, and a lot of other fresh seafood too. The mother, Despina, had prepared a mouthwatering variety of Greek specialties, and they could manage a table for thirteen - our party, and all the crew of Vaimiti. As my wife will never sit at a table with thirteen people we had to have one of the owner's family take a drink with us on a rotation basis. Each change brought a new jug of local wine!

 It was one of the best meals I can remember and certainly ranks as one of the most pleasant. A lovely setting, eating outside with friendly people, and Vaimiti moving gently at anchor just under our noses. We would certainly go back again. As we proceeded towards Athens that afternoon, we all agreed it was a great ending to a superb cruise.

We could not face a crowded harbor for our last night on board so Jean-Luc took us to a little cove on the island of Fleves, a stone's throw from Vougliameni, where we were due to disembark the following morning.

To give us a last treat, Jean-Luc sailed off the anchor and we ghosted the final mile or two to Vougliameni. Taxis were easy to hail, and we took off for the short ride to the airport - and home.

More Stories By George Nicholson

George Nicholson, chairman of Camper & Nicholsons International
(CNI), probably has more firsthand experience in the world of
superyacht charter than anyone in the industry, having cruised aboard
many large boats with clients worldwide. With his finger on the pulse
at CNI - managers of the world's largest superyacht charter fleet -
he has expanded the market, not least with
the early introduction of, CNI's award-winning
superyacht brokerage and charter site. A yachtsman from an early age
and fifth generation of the Nicholson yachting dynasty, Nicholson
still races his Dragon actively.

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