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Sailing in Greece 2011, by Neil Armitage
Article Index
Sailing in Greece 2011, by Neil Armitage
Athens and Lefkas
Ionian Inland Sea
Argolic Gulf
Saronic Gulf
Gulf of Corinth
After Thoughts
All Pages

Thoughts of extended cruising in the Eastern Mediterranean were seeded after our 2008 flotilla cruise in the Saronic and Argolic Gulf of Greece. We talked about sailing for several months each year and so we transitioned into bareboat chartering, at first spending 6 weeks sailing in the North and South Ionian seas in 2009. Again in 2010, spending 4 weeks sailing north through the Dodecanese and out to the central and southern Cyclades.

church at santorini

We had been attracted to the notion of buying a yacht; the ultimate ticket to freedom but we never did pursue this in any meaningful way until returning home last year from the Dodecanese trip. Not unsurprising, sitting at home in the middle of winter having just returned from a wonderful cruise our thoughts immediately return to Greece and we wished that our stay could have been for much longer. And couldn't we buy a boat and spend half of the year cruising in the delightful waters of the Eastern Mediterranean.

Idly browsing brokers websites for yachts of a type that we were familiar with we chanced upon one Greek broker whose philosophy gelled with us and to whom we sent an email to begin to unravel the mystery of buying a yacht in Greece. It was a carefully crafted email outlining our previous yachting experiences, our advancing age, types of yachts that we had sailed recently that we thought would be suitable for living aboard for extended periods. The broker seemed to read our needs quite well obviously having dealt with many people just like us. In his reply our perceptions we had gained from chartering were interspersed with the realities of owning our own yacht. "The main difference between chartering and your own boat is that in your own boat you will need more space. The main reason is that the new boat will be your ‘cottage'. Slowly you will move many personal things on board that will not be very easy to move as you travel between Greece and New Zealand each year."

Sage advice indeed, but more to the point the broker went to great lengths to identify annual costs of owning a yacht in the mid 30 foot range. One that could have reached the lower end of its depreciation cycle so might be expected to hold a resale value closer to the purchase price than a newer yacht would. There were many yachts in this category. Most having started life in the charter fleets of the eastern Mediterranean. Some now 10-15 years old and may have undergone recent refits, others just 6-7 years old that would last a year or two before requiring a refit that would incur a great expense. Annual survey costs, engine and sail maintenance, lifting and under water servicing including antifouling, marina fees. In addition, coming from outside of the European Community we would be exempt VAT but we would have to deregister any Greek registered yacht and re-register it as a New Zealand vessel and then purchase a six month transit log each year.

The broker was a great communicator he was very thorough in his advice to us and clarified any issues that we had. He tempted us with descriptions and photos of 3 fantastic looking yachts. We had to try and assemble all the information from the broker into a coherent model that could handle variables of yachts of different ages, lengths and types. We constructed an excel spreadsheet that identified all costs, including the variables associated with age and length and the time cost of capital and depreciation. The model then produced an annual cost, which was clearly greater than the actual amount spent each year, but we thought would be a realistic cost of yacht ownership based on the data we had been given. A downfall with this model at the time was the very favourable NZ-Euro exchange rate. While the annual cost in Euros looked ok, when these were converted back to NZ dollars the model painted quite a rosy picture.

Having now a method by which we could estimate an annual cost of owning a yacht, which might only be used for 5 months a year at the most, it was time to do a reality check. I contacted the charter company that we had used for the last 2 years and explained what we were up to and asked if they would quote on the cost of chartering a 34-foot yacht for 5 months. We stressed that the yacht should be near the end of its life in the charter fleet and therefore typically one that we might consider buying. Having received a reply we then added the charter cost to the excel model and reduced both the charter cost and the equivalent annual ownership cost to a weekly rate over 5 months. It was quite surprising that no matter how we adjusted the inputs for ownership the costs broke even at about 13 weeks chartering.

We sent the excel model to both the broker and the charter company explaining how the model worked and asked both if they had any comments on the cost assumptions in the model. Both concurred the assumptions were reasonable and the annual ownership costs were realistic. Well the next step was a bit of a risk because we then asked the charter company if they would charter us a yacht for 13 weeks (3 months) at the same weekly rate that we had used in the model. The charter company agreed to a price that was based very closely on the weekly rate used in the model. It took no time at all for us to accept this offer and so planning began once again for another extended cruise in Greece in 2011.

We were please when the charter company offered us Spyros again, the Bavaria 33CR that we had chartered in 2009. This brought back great memories because we thought back in 2009 that she was very comfortable, spacious, light inside and the set up made her easy to sail, particularly with headsail and in-mast mainsail furling systems.


Spyros carried 150 litres of diesel and 210 litres of water so we knew how long we could go before finding a port to replenish water and fuel. On Spyros the bimini could be easily folded away so it was going to be great to have a clear view of the sails while sailing and shade when we got to port. While the wind instrument on Spyros used to give a fair account of wind speed it was not to be relied on for wind direction. In 2009 I tied strips from a blue plastic shopping bag to the shrouds to appreciate apparent wind direction. For this new charter I made two wind pennants from some wire and plastic that I could tape to the shrouds in the hope they would be robust enough not to buckle or blow away during sailing. Few, if any charter yachts, would have a light line on board that would be so helpful for retrieving anchors or towing out a long line ashore, so I added to the luggage a 17metre 8mm polypropylene line.

Preparing for our previous cruises was always exciting and quite straight forward but preparing for the 3 month cruise to which we were now committed was of a much greater scale. Assessing the various debit card options for obtaining cash while in Greece was something we had not done in the past as previously we had carried cash. Staying in contact with home and managing banking were important issues that needed a better solution than internet-cafés. Having innocently sailed into a couple of force 7's and 8's in previous cruises there became a more pressing need to get better weather information. We researched PAYG mobile-internet plans in Greece to ensure, as best we were able, that we could get a 3G SIM card to fit in our Telecom USB T stick. Researched web-based weather sites and added the Greek site and to our favourites. Calculating the quantity of contact lens solutions Yvonne would need over 3 months, as well as quantities of other staple items that we usually brought with us so as not to be reliant on trying to find supplies when we ran out in Greece.

Spyros was based out of Lefkas in the Ionian Sea. There were only a few options to get to Lefkas, more so when we started making our travel arrangements in October 2010. After spending a few hours searching the internet we decided to fly to Athens by the most direct route we could find, via Hong Kong and London. We then planned to rely on the coach services to Lefkas that could be arranged on the day. For our return journey at the end of July we would retrace our steps to Athens by coach, to London with BA then home to New Zealand via Los Angeles. We weren't looking forward to the short transit in Los Angeles, even less so when we realized just before leaving NZ in April that we needed to obtain an authorization under the Visa Waiver Programme before we would be allowed to embark on the home flight from London. The bitterness in the pill came with a US$14 fee each for just a 1 hour 45 minute transit at Los Angeles.

A cold Thursday 28th April was soon upon us. With bags packed and sporting ultra short haircuts that were to last 3 months Yvonne and I headed to the airport for the 8:30pm flight from Wellington to Auckland, then to London and on to Athens to arrive at 2:35 on Saturday morning.