February 25, 2014

Where best to charter a sailboat in the Mediterranean?

By Robert Cross

I have skippered or sailed yacht deliveries in most parts of the Mediterranean, and I get regular updates from clients on what's happening where. So my information on Mediterranean destinations is current. But in looking forward to a trip back next year, the decision on where to go for the three weeks I can afford is still not an easy one. As I consider the options for a Mediterranean charter, I would like to share ideas and what I've learned in a series of articles.
Les Illes de HyedesLes Illes de Hyedes
A French Riviera itineraryA French Riviera itinerary
Villa FrancheVilla Franche
Corsican architectureCorsican architecture
Aeolian islandsAeolian islands
A quiet bay in the Balearics A quiet bay in the Balearics
Greek TavernaGreek Taverna
Corfu, Ionian Isands, GreeceCorfu, Ionian Isands, Greece
Cove in Majorca, Balearic IslandsCove in Majorca, Balearic Islands

The main considerations for choice of destination will come down to the culture, landscape and architecture you wish to experience, what regions are best suited to your level of sailing ability, and where you can get the balance of sailing and shore time that's right for you and your crew. As a charter yacht broker, it makes no difference to us where we book a boat for you, other than to ensure you get the holiday you are looking for. To do that, it's important we get a detailed brief on which to frame our advice.

We want to colour your world with a rich experience that meets all your expectations. Tell us as much as you can: who is going with you, what their interests are, how much sailing you have done, how much sailing your crew expects to do, and of course answer the standard questions such as budget, desired destinations and size of boat sought. And please, I cant stress enough, let loose in the comments box!

Let's put Mediterranean boat chartering in a "nutshell", starting in the west.

The Balearics - Spain
The general perception is that this region is very tourist-orientated and busy, with the constant beat of house music in the background. This reputation has in recent times influenced many charter sailors to go elsewhere, when in fact on a boat, you will not be subjected to the Belearics "brand", unless you want to be.

On the Balearics, there are still many undeveloped islands and beaches to enjoy, while the places that are busy have the advantage of the best marina/mooring management system in the world. Here the sailing is good with no extreme local weather patterns to concern you. And when the wind does blow, there are many lovely spots to find shelter in. The Balearics is a good choice if you want vibrancy and excitement ashore, knowing a place to just relax in peace is a very short sail away.

The Cote d'Azure, like the Balearics conjurs up a certain impression - in this case that it is expensive and always busy in-season. However we are told that marinas outside the main centres can be used at very reasonable prices. There are several located on quaint seaside village frontages tastefully retained as integral parts of a larger town adjacent. While hotel prices here aree astronomical, your yacht is your hotel, at a berthing price at least comparable with places still perceived as low-cost, such as Croatia.The sailing here is good, and you are in the South of France - c'est magnifique!

Corsica is a popular charter destination, having the quaint seaside towns without the population of the mainland. This French island functions to a more Mediterranean pace of life, and is rich in history. Always a good choice, Corsican charters sell out quickly, so you need to book early. A cuise in the island's south would likely take in Sardinia and the Lipari and La Maddelina islands. Starting from the north you can cross over to the mainland, taking in the Elba Islands in short hops as you go.

Italy has so much to offer the charter sailor - it's a country with a huge maritime heritage and rich seaside culture. I can only ponder why Italy has become fashionable for renting a villa in inland Tuscany. Rather than stuck there in the countryside, On a boat you get to see and experience so much of this historical gem. All regions have that rich Italian culture, but at the same time every sailing region has its own unique flavour. 

Naples, Amalfi and Cilento Coast. The Gulf of Naples is all about anchoring off fashionable beaches or staying in marinas to enjoy the 24/7 goings on. The Amalfi Coast features a rugged landscape and the stunning architecture that adorns it, with lovely cafes nestled in narrow streets and vibrant shore life, until you want to get a way from it back on your charter boat. The Cilento Coast furtehr south is the lesser know part of this region that will surely surprise - a Unesco World Heritage area that should be included in any Amalfi Coast itinerary.

Sicily and the Aeolian Islands offer the coolest of small seaside towns, while the region's dramatic volcano Islands give your holiday a balance of cultural delight and natural wonder.

Sardinia, like Corsica has limited boats for charter and tends to book out fast. My advice is always to take two weeks anywhere you go bareboat sailing, but here even more so.Starting out from Sardinia, a week can easily go by before you move on to the La Maddalena islands. If Corsica is in the program, you need at least two weeks, or ideally two separate charters.

This is a destination with several distinct sailing regions, all with their own good reasons for visiting. What I like most about Croatia is the quality of the operators - people we have got to know over the years, family businesses of true sailors who love to share their country and their enjoyment of sailing with you. They take your experience to heart, and live to see their customers happy.

If a first time charterer in Croatia, I recommend you start out of Split and cruise the Dalmatian Islands. Back home, research the other regions for your inevitable return to this wonderful bareboat sailing territory. Further north, the Croatian coast takes on a Venetian influence and is worth seeing for its own special features. Friendly Island life is what Croatia is all about.

There will be a moment in Greece when you sit back after a tasty meal and the realisation will hit you of where you are and what that surprisingly means to you. Or maybe you won't, but I certainly did and it was pure romance. For me, growing up in New Zealand, a country of only 200 years' western history, it was about who I am. For those like me, Greece is where our civilisation was nurtured into life with democracy, literature, art and science. Somehow, it's easy to understand how the ancient greeks wer eso inspired, as you relax and observe the setting sun followed by brightly lit stars and a glowing moon.

There is nowhere like Greece to charter a sailboat. The challenge is in making yoru choice from the many sailing regions. So don't hesitate to take advice.

Last of all, consider sailing the Turquoise Coast of Turkey, alternating with the Dodecanese islands of Greece. Officially you need to clear in and out of Turkish customs as you do so. We hear that few do, and officials are inclined to turn a blind eye rather than turn your business away. But be aware of this,m the responsibility lies with you the charter boat skipper. Customs and Immigration rules affect a number of charter territories and potential itineraries, and we attempt to allow for this when giving advice. Wherever possible our packages cover clearance by customs agents in and out of a sailing region, and this is the case in Turkey. 

This Mediterranean in a Nutshell blog will be followed by individual destination blogs that offer a better understanding of sailing in the various countries and regions. .

This "nutshell" analogy reminds me of the comedy movie "Land Of The Lost" where Will Farrell as a palaeontologist comforts his fellow travellers when challenged by a dinosaur outside their cave. He reassures them them its brain is only the size of a walnut. The T Rex abruptly returns with a walnut big enough to cover the entrance of the cave.

A sailing holiday should be larger than life, somewhere close to fantasy, an escape from where you live, a place that really makes you feel alive.

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