Ready for the islands – Sailing in the Cyclades

Sail the Cyclades during the high and Meltemi seasons with a small family crew? Why not, as long as you know what to expect. If you like a challenging sail on your holidays, then this is just for you. Island hopping as it should be – not always easy, but definitely fascinating and rewarding.

Of course, you can always plan your sailing trip. But you shouldn’t be too disappointed, if reality leaves your plans on the rocks. This is the first lesson that we, too, must learn as we leave the Olympic marina near Athens. Originally, I had wanted to spend the night in harbour and leave early next morning. However, check‐in for our Bavaria 46 Vision was quick and easy, all paperwork done in a flash and with provisions already delivered to the boat.

Sailing in the Cyclades: The sun shines warmly and the islands are tempting

It is an early Saturday afternoon; the sun is shining and the islands of the Cyclades beckon to us. Two catamarans with excited crews have already left and spread the urge to sail. Why wait any longer? One week’s too short anyway, so let’s go! Three different wind forecasts promise a gentle night, and our first goal is Milos, just 75 miles south. And even if the Meltemi should wake up, it would only push us along.

We pass the harbour entrance and are in for a small shock. Nearly 20 knots of wind and a short sea from the south greet us. Well, this is probably only a local, thermal effect that will soon die down. Or so we thought. But as the sun sets, the headwind is still blowing hard and the ugly motion dampens the holiday mood. A look at the chart and then we set course for the island of Fleves. Too small for any mention in the pilot books, but with an anchorage that is sheltered from the inclement weather from the south. It is dark as we enter, and two catamarans that we have seen before are already present, lying at anchor.

Milos Mon Amour

Sunday begins with an early start to continue our passage south. The strange red lights that we couldn’t identify the previous night turn out to be those of wind‐turbines that cover nearly all of the otherwise uninhabited island of Georgius.

Shipping is intense between Attika and the islands, as fast ferries and cargo ships run across our bows. Each morning, the charter company sends a weather update to our smartphones. A nice gesture, but the information is too general to be of much practical use. And the wind seems to do what it wants anyway. Just now, it is blowing from the Southwest. We leave the islands of Kea, Kythos and Serifos to port, saving them for the return trip. Our youthful crew has put Mykonos on top of the wish‐list. Theoretically possible, but highly dependent on the weather. 

Eleven hours later. The large bay of Milous, to the North of Milos, is guarded by two islets. We sail into the deep natural harbour in an increasingly gusty westerly breeze and enter the harbour of Adamas. We manage to secure one of the last vacant spaces on the floating pontoon and lie to many metres of anchor chain, the mooring lines mentioned in the pilot book are non‐existent. Water and electricity are available, but we need neither. And meanwhile we find the berthing fee of 14 Euros acceptable. Adamas fulfils all the criteria of a Greek postcard: White houses with bright blue shutters and a dazzling white church with blue dome. The harbour front promenade is rich in life and the most famous symbol of the island, the Venus of Milo, can be found in the shops and boutiques in all possible, and impossible, incarnations: As bottle‐opener, salt sifter or reading lamp – kitsch as kitsch can be. Meanwhile, we inspect the different tavernas and decide on the Kynigos, the Greek for hunter. We sit next to a couple from Sydney who are on a Mediterranean cruise. The food is good and the conversation interesting, while the wine does the rest. The mother of the family who runs the taverna orchestrates the whole bunch from her place by the cashier and keeps everything well under her control.

Milos Mon Amour: Idyll of a Greek postcard scene

Monday morning just after seven. Our Bavaria is moving and a nasty noise comes from the anchor locker. Still half asleep I go on deck to find our chain across that of another yacht, six places down from us, that now wants to leave. To avoid anchor chain chaos, those yachts arriving first should always leave last – but that is of course only the theory.

So, I start the engine, pay out more chain and the early bird can now easily depart. And now that we are all awake we might as well make the best of it and go ashore for breakfast. What a treat to just sit on the pier, coffee in hand, and watch the action. Ferries come and go, tourists in trekking outfits board buses, deliveries for the island arrive and the first day tripper boats depart. This is the signal for us to also get going, as we want to explore the nicest spots of Milos, of which there are many.

Romantic flair in the picturesque coast of the fishing village Klima

Motoring around the island counter‐clockwise, we first reach the wonderful beach of Sikia. At our next stop, the picturesque rock formations of Kleftikos, we already share the scenery with a handful of day tripper boats. A short hop into the wonderfully green sea and off we are again, along the south coast of the volcanic island. Here in the South it all gets very colourful – yellow, brown and dark red, contrasted by white chalk: The local rock appears artificial and bizarre, as if an Art Director were paying homage to Salvador Dali. Mining is an ancient tradition on Milos, dating back millennia, and the sharp‐edged obsidian was the first export product, ideal for weapons, or as a razor blade. Probably, the mythical Bronze Age King Minos would have shaved with an obsidian.

Today, mainly kaolin, sulphur brimstone, baryte and pearl stone are still mined. The hot springs that Hippocrates loved also attest to the volcanic origins of the island of Venus. Somewhere along the southeast coast there is supposedly a beach taverna where meat is buried in the hot sand in the mornings only to be served, well cooked, in the evenings. 

With a heavy heart, we leave Milos and head for Polyaigos to the East. A wonderfully scenic and well‐sheltered anchorage lies hidden behind the rocky promontory of Manolonisi, which by this time of day would normally be full. However, the sky is overcast and so we still find a spot in which to drop anchor, after which we take a long line ashore by dinghy. Our two daughters take a garbage bag to the beach to do some cleaning up: A good deed every day…

In the evening we are alone. The sky presents dramatic clouds, the moon peeks through only now and then and scant rain drops fall. Not really your typical weather for Greece. The wind has also increased, but our anchor is well set. Planning the next day, we have to cancel the trip to the white chalk rocks at Sarakiniko to the North of Milos. We must head back North as the Meltemi is forecast, and from Wednesday, will be blowing hard…

Serifos, here we come

The next morning wakes us with sunshine, but also some wind, which has dispersed the clouds. This is why we don’t take the direct route between Kimolos and Polyaigos, where wind and waves are funnelled through the channel head on, but instead choose the longer, but easier way around Kimolos. Here we find shelter from the waves and, once free of the island, we head for Serifos at a better angle to the wind. Our Bavaria reveals her true potential and rushes along at up to 9 knots and more in 15 knots of wind.

The Bavaria 46 Vision shows its sporty side

From a distance, Serifos seems mountainous and unwelcoming, but once in the bay of Leivadion (Livadi) and on approaching the village of the same name, this impression changes. The whitewashed cubed houses line the hill to the Chora, crowned by a white church with a blue dome dedicated to Sant’Athanasio.

The stone pier seems to be hopelessly crowded with boats, so we drop our anchor in the bay and dinghy ashore. This island is quieter than Milos, and the atmosphere very relaxed. It seems that visitors are mainly Greek, probably people from Athens who flee the town during the summer. Hotels can be counted on one hand and there is very little nightlife. Serifos is ideal for trekking, and seven routes follow the ancient donkey paths criss‐crossing the whole island. Typical for Livadi are the bars and Tavernas on the beach, whose colourful wooden tables and straw chairs are all but in the water. We, too, have dinner here, with a view of our boat, barefoot on the sand. 

The next morning, our galley on board is enhanced with local delicacies. Wine from the island, capers, sundried tomatoes, honey and goat cheese in thyme with crusty bread from the bakery. The supermarket by the harbour makes no money from us. 

Today, we need to find a Meltemi‐safe anchorage. Along our way back to Athens, Kythnos, with an interesting double bay to the North seems the best choice. Will we be safe there? The forecast spoke of up to 40 knot winds. We can only go there and find out…

Heading to Kythnos

The beating upwind makes the island seem longer than it really is. In the evening, we made it, and the bay of Fikiadha really is cut in half by a sandbank. We opt for the right‐hand side, check out the topography and pay out all the chain we have – during check‐in, they told us there would be 70 metres of chain, yet now we find that we only have 50 metres. However, there is nothing we can do about this now other than hope that it will prove sufficient.

The tavern at the end of the sandbank almost merges with the Mediterranean surroundings

To fortify ourselves for the anticipated windy night ahead, we follow the siren call of the taverna ashore. This is not the usual white‐washed idyll, more the trendy version of an eco‐style that seems to be catching on in Greece. House and terrace are built of the same brown stone that surround it and seem to merge with the scenery. The cuisine is highly creative, especially for a remote place like this. 

During the main course, we still discuss the anchor watches for the night, but with the dessert we are not so keen to continue, and by the time of the digestif, we abandon of the idea of an anchor watch altogether. And for once, our nonchalance is not punished. The wind is not half as fierce as anticipated and the waves are just forceful enough to aid our care‐free slumber. 

The next morning, a frustrated young generation faces us across the breakfast table. Are these the first signs of a mutiny? Harsh accusations are being made: all this panic for nothing, in these lame breezes we could easily have made it to Mykonos instead of heading straight back. Now, their assorted partying tips are all for nothing. We try to pacify them: We will sail the eastern part of the Cyclades on the next holidays. Big promise!

Cape "Poseidon" Sounion

The next stop is only 25 miles away and already the end of this much too short week. Not an island, this time, but already the southern tip of Attika. But the temple of Poseidon sits high above on Cape Sounion, and we as sailors feel obliged to pay a visit to the boss. After another sporty sail we enter the bay of Sounion towards late afternoon. Apparently, this stop is popular with all charter crews and we count 40 yachts at the end of the day. Up by the temple you are promised a wonderful view of the sunset but that, of course, is also public knowledge by now. At least four busloads of tourists add to the many yachties and everyone pulls out their smartphone to capture the sinking sun. Add some chill‐out music and you could picture yourself at the Café del Mar on Ibiza…

We retreat to one of the many tavernas on the beach, but these also lack the charm of those on the islands. Welcome back to civilisation. And now, all hopes rest with the Greek wine… 

Almost unreal looking floating boats in Cape "Poseidon" Sounion

The last day

Hand‐over day. This means that you must be in a certain place at a certain time. No time to hang around or to follow the wind. Which is now blowing in ideal strength and direction. From Cape Sounion, it is around 17 miles back to base.

For one last time we can enjoy the sailing performance of our Bavaria and when the wind drops below 15 knots, we feel a bit bored. Just for fun I head towards our first overnight islet and there is actually a wonderful „pirate bay“ in the South of Fleves, where we drop the hook. Not far away, the chart shows a wreck and in the clear water, it is easy to spot. Our daughters grab the snorkelling kit and are gone – this is something that Mykonos does not offer. 

The last miles back are nothing but routine. We are surprised to learn that Athens had been hit by an earthquake this very afternoon, as out at sea we felt nothing. And that evening, in the old quarter of Athens, you’d believe none of the news of „thousands who had fled to the streets“. The ancient temples are still stoically there and the Taverna are all full to the last seat. An earthquake? Nothing, apparently, to shake the Greeks… 

The ancient temples of Athens in the sunset. And the last day comes to an end.

Info on sailing the Cyclades

We chartered with My Yacht Charter at Navigare Yachting, a Bavaria 46 Vision. The Athens base of the Swedish company is located in the Marina Alsity in Agios Kosmas. The former Olympic Sailing Centre was home to the Olympic fleet in 2004. Very efficient check‐in by two persons and administrative details are further simplified by the highly recommended All‐Inclusive‐Package costing EUR 350. This includes the deposit‐insurance without retention, as well as bed linen and towels, end cleaning, snorkelling gear, tender and outboard and a Wi‐Fi‐internet‐mobile box with 3 GB download.

One week is obviously much too short for the Cyclades. Milos alone has enough bays and places of interest to justify an entire week. During our week we could only see the left half of the island and had to leave the larger islands such as Paros, Naxos and Mykonos for the next visit. In this cruising area, then, it seems better not to plan too ambitiously and always have a reserve day in case you meet the Meltemi.