Planning and sailing a charter boat in the Dodecanese Islands
By Van Diehl
Fulfilling a lifelong dream of sailing to faraway destinations, my wife, Cida, and I have organized four charters, two in the British Virgin Islands and two in Greece. On our first Greek charter, we sailed around the Cyclades Islands in a Bavaria 45. For our second Greek charter, we wanted to sail the Dodecanese Islands, which was on my bucket list.
When we started planning the charter, the first person I contacted was Bob Miller, the San Luis Rey Sail & Power Squadron educational officer. He and his wife, Sharlene, loved the idea and signed up, along with their friends and former squadron members Neil and Renee Scheuerlein. Eudes and Beth Lopes from Brazil and Werner Rech from Germany rounded out the group.
The charter plan
We spent a long time planning: deciding where and when we would sail, which charter company to choose, which boat to use and how much everything would cost. While time-consuming, coming up with our charter plan did give us ample opportunity to learn about our destination.
The Dodecanese Islands lie in a chain along the west Turkish coast in the Aegean Sea, consisting of 12 large islands and 150 small islands, 26 of which are populated. The main islands—Astipalea, Kalymnos, Kos, Leros, Nisyros, Patmos, Rhodes and Symi—are situated in the southeastern Aegean Sea just off the coast of Turkey and are steeped in history and culture.
When to go
We decided to charter in early September, a time less likely to have the strong Meltemi winds peculiar to the summer months. In early September, the Meltemi winds end and charter prices decrease. Just days before our charter, the area had 25-knot winds, but during our charter, we experienced mostly light winds and motored quite a bit.
You can get to Kos by flying to Athens and continuing on by plane or ferry. Cida and I flew to Athens and then to Rhodes, where we stayed a couple of days before taking a three-hour ferry to Kos. This was the least expensive way, but a number of European airlines fly from European airports directly to Kos.
Securing bareboat charter approval
Unlike the BVI charter companies where the skipper’s sailing qualifications are determined by the charter companies, in Greece the Port Authorities check qualifications. Typically European sailors have Coastal Navigation certificates issued by their country’s maritime authorities. Cida and I have United States Power Squadrons-issued Boat Operator Certificates for Coastal and Advanced Coastal Navigation, which were accepted for both of our Greek charters.
Choosing the boat
Our selection criteria was a boat with five cabins and heads, air conditioning and a generator to run it. (We ran the diesel-powered generator every night!)
We chose Oceanos, a 2002 Ocean Star 51.2. In very good condition, the boat had a wide selection of equipment and instrumentation, an overall length of 51 feet, a water capacity of 254 gallons and a fuel capacity of 122 gallons.
Cida, Sharlene, Renee and Beth took charge of planning the food and drinks for the charter. We made many trips to the supermarket with our small rental car. At the end of the charter, our remaining food was distributed to Syrian refuges in Kos.
We planned to start at Kos, visit the islands to the north and then the islands to the south. This way, if we had any Meltemi winds, we would beat against the wind going north and would be broad-reaching or running coming back to Kos. We also selected short-leg destinations, which gave us more time to explore the islands and visit their many bays and harbors.
To make our first destination, Palionisos Bay on Kalymnos Island, we had to tack all the way against moderate winds. We sailed against the backdrop of the Turkish coast a few miles away. The Mediterranean’s blue waters and the many sailboats with Greek and Turkish flags made for a great first day on the easy-to-sail Oceanos.
Reaching Palionisos in the early afternoon, we took a white mooring ball from the Taverna Kalidonis on the left-hand side of the canyon, where we enjoyed an inexpensive yet excellent dinner with a good view.
The next morning we sailed southerly along the east coast of Kalymnos Island and reached our destination, Vathis, in a couple of hours. The tiny harbor has only a boat length or two in which to turn and barely enough room at the dock for more than eight yachts. The narrow, fjord-like entrance to Vathis opens up into a tiny fishing village at the head of the bay. The village boasts one main street and a collection of houses scattered in the valley. A walk around Vathis shows that the rocky, narrow entrance opens up into a broad, fertile valley. The rich earthy-red soil supports citrus plantations and even the odd vineyard. From the cliffs around the harbor’s entrance, you get a magnificent view up the valley at sunset.
In Vathis we were introduced to “Mediterranean mooring,” which involves dropping anchor a couple of boat lengths off the dock and backing down to dock stern-to. As you reach the dock, you secure the boat with a pair of stern lines. The boat often won’t back straight, veering left or right depending on the propeller type, wind and current. Sometimes you have to dock between two boats with just enough space for the boat’s beam and fenders. Once the boat is secured, you can sit back and watch everyone else attempt the maneuver.
Of the Kalymnos Island destinations, we found Emborios Bay the most interesting. The quiet, remote seaside village has few inhabitants but many seaside restaurants, coffee shops, taverns and rooms for rent. Protected from the Meltemi winds, the bay has a few nice tavernas that offer free mooring balls.
In Emborios, we stayed two days tied to a mooring ball at the Kastri, one of the seafront restaurants. We came to know the owner, Maria, well. Also the restaurant’s cook and server, Maria made us a multi-course Greek farewell dinner, which we enjoyed.
Next, we moved on to Patmos, where we stayed for two days. A beautiful island with many caves to explore, Patmos is where the Apostle John is said to have written The Book of Revelation near the Skala harbor.
One of the few places we anchored out was at Pandeli Bay on Leros. On the island you can visit the Kastro, a castle which houses an Ecclesiastical Museum and a small church. From the castle you can view the Pandeli and Lakki harbors and Vromolithos bay.
We completed our charter by visiting Xerocambos Bay on Leros Island, Lipsi Harbor on Lipsi Island, and Port Augusta on Arki Island before returning to Kos.
Van Diehl and his wife, Cida, always dreamed of sailing to distant and unknown destinations, and they have been making their dreams a reality in their sailboat, DreamQuest, a Hunter 37.5, and in bareboat charters. Van dedicates a lot of his time teaching advanced grades, elective courses and chairing the advanced grades board. Van and Cida are proud members of California’s San Luis Rey Sail & Power Squadron in District 28.