“After spending so many years sailing the Caribbean, I was frankly astounded at how much more I enjoy the Mediterranean,” says Scott Farquharson of charter brokers Proteus Yacht Charters. “The culture, the history, the food, the weather, friendly people, crystal-clear water—there is just so much more to it.”
He’s right, of course. The Caribbean’s the place to go in winter for its sunshine, great sailing breezes and laid-back vibe, but if you truly want a summer sailing holiday that takes you into a whole new world of experiences, the Med will provide that.
First Things First
Before you start planning your charter, and even before you settle on a destination, you need to get your paperwork in order. Most European Union countries will require the skipper to have an International Certificate of Competence (ICC), which can be attained through a company such as Nauticed (nauticed.org), which is affiliated with Britain’s Royal Yachting Association (RYA), whose Day Skipper qualification is accepted by all charter companies. You’ll have to take an online theory course and a practical exam. The ICC on its own will not be enough to convince a charter company that you know what you’re doing; a strong sailing resume. If you have progressed though the American Sailing Association (ASA.com) or US Sailing’s (ussailing.org) practical courses up to bareboat cruising level, you can apply for an International Proficiency Certificate in lieu of the ICC. But again, you’ll also need to convince the charter company that you have relevant experience.
Where to Go
The most popular charter spots in the Med are Croatia, whose lengthy coastline on the Adriatic Sea is home to dozens of beautiful anchorages and harbors, and the Greek islands, whose appeal remains undimmed by their popularity. The southern Italian coast has lately caught on with vacationing sailors, while France’s glittering Côte d’Azur has its own charms.
First-timers in the Med will likely want to narrow down the many tempting possibilities to match their skillset.
Entry level: Just as the British Virgin Islands remain the most popular Caribbean destination for first-timers, Croatia has cemented its reputation as the go-to destination in the Med, offering easy sailing, attractive weather and a bustling boating scene. Such is the nature of the coast that you could sail here for weeks and never anchor twice in the same place.
A little farther down the same coast, Greece’s Ionian Sea is not only an ideal entry into Mediterranean sailing but will be keeping you coming back for more. Start at the beautiful island of Corfu and meander around islands redolent of history. On the other side, you could start from Athens and explore the Saronic Gulf.
The French Riviera, or Côte d’Azur, extends from the Italian border to Marseille and blends glamorous hotspots like Antibes and Cannes with sheltered coves and islands. It’s also possible to charter a bareboat on Spain’s Costa Brava. In Italy, the charter scene really starts from Naples, on the stunning Amalfi coast, south to Sicily and the Aeolian Islands.
A little south of Sicily you’ll also find the tiny islands of Malta, Gozo and Comina, where you can easily spend a week sailing on and swimming in the clearest water you’ll find anywhere.
For the adventurous: Spain’s Balearic Islands don’t get much press in the United States, but they’re a popular chartering ground for Europeans. From charter bases in Palma, Mallorca, you can explore the rugged coastline and, on a longer charter, perhaps make a couple of open-water passages to the islands of Ibiza and Menorca.
Closer to Italy you’ll find the islands of Corsica and Sardinia, and a smattering of smaller islands in between, where the sailing can be as spectacular as the coastlines. Sardinia especially is known for strong summer winds, which can be rewarding or challenging, depending on your experience.
Between the Greek mainland and the Turkish coast, the Cyclades, Aegean and Sporades island groups offer longer passages and sportier sailing conditions than the sheltered Ionian. That aside, the attractions are the same: picture-postcard harbors and villages, sparkling blue water, excellent seafood and a good smattering of history.
Until recently we would not have classified Turkey as a destination for the adventurous, but this is how it has turned out. The good news is we are not aware of any incidents involving sailors or, indeed, tourists in general. The cruising areas are also well away from Syria and Iraq, while the Turks remain hospitable and friendly, and the coastline is gorgeous. Although most of the major charter companies have left, it’s still possible to find the odd bareboat.
Sailors cruising the Med like to say that there’s either too much wind, or not enough. In the western Mediterranean, you’re more likely to find longer periods of light air punctuated by winds like the Mistral or Tramontana, which can reach storm force and whose effects can reach as far as Corsica and Sardina and the Italian coast.
In the Adriatic the Bora, a strong northerly packing winds of 40 knots or more, can spring up on short notice and blow for a day or two, often only locally and seldom south of Dubrovnik in Croatia.
In high summer, the Meltemi can blow hard for several days at a time in the Aegean, making for some sporty sailingh around the Cyclades and Sporades.
Dream Yacht Charters dreamyachtcharter.com
Croatia (Dubrovnik, Pula, Trogir, Zaton), France (Corsica, Cote d’Azur), Greece (Athens, Corfu, Lavrion, Kos, Lefkas, Paros, Rhodes, Skiathos), Italy (Naples, Sardinia, Sicily), Montenegro, Spain (Costa Brava, Mallorca)
Kiracoulis Mediterranean kiriacoulis.com
Croatia (Biograd, Trogir, Zadar), France (Bormes), Greece (Athens, Corfu, Rhodes, Kos. Skiathos), Italy (Agata, Marsala, Punta Ala, Sardinia), Malta (Birgu), Turkey (Bodrum)
The Moorings moorings.com
Croatia (Agana), Greece (Athens, Corfu), Italy (Procida, Sardinia, Tropea), Spain (Mallorca)
Navigare Yachting navigare-yachting.com
Croatia (Trogir), Greece (Lavrion), Italy (Cagliari, Olbia), Spain (Mallorca), Turkey (Gocek)
NCP Charter ncp-charter.com
Croatia (Agana, Dubrovnik), Greece (Athens, Corfu, Lefkas), Italy (Palermo, Portorosa, Procida, Sardinia, Tropea), Spain (Mallorca)
Ed Hamilton & Co ed-hamilton.com
Proteus Yacht Charters proteusyachtcharters.com