Chartering a yacht around the Dodecanese Islands: The Dodecanese extend from Patmos in the north, to the island of Kasos off the north-east coast of Crete. The name of the island group is derived from the number twelve (dodeka in Greek). Dodecanese literally means ‘twelve islands’.
The archipelago was originally part of the mainland of Asia Minor but, after a series of earthquakes and floods, it became separated from the mainland. Kos and Rhodes are green islands with beautiful wooded areas, offering a contrast to the other more barren islands in the group. Each island has its own character – some are picturesque, some remote and quiet, while others buzz with tourist activity.
The distances between the islands are pretty minimal; you’re unlikely to encounter more than 20 to 25 nm between islands. Particularly beautiful are the small islands that lie off the beaten track. The ghost towns of Tilos and Halki, the volcano on Nisyros, and the small tavernas on Kalymnos and Arki are all, in our opinion, highlights.
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Architecturally there’s much to write home about when it comes to the Dodecanese islands, whether it’s the wonderfully contrasting white and blue painted houses, a red domed church, the beautiful ruins of a castle or an impressive monastery like that of St. John’s on Patmos.
Wind & Weather: Sailing around the islands of the Dodecanese is less rough than the Cyclades, but you should still wary of the Meltemi. For this reason – but also because of the many well-protected bays and small Greek ports – we recommend the area for more experienced sailors.
The northwesterly/west Meltemi is the prevailing wind during the summer. It blows sporadically in June, then moderately to strongly from July to September, and becomes stronger again in October. During the summer months it can reach 4-6 Bft., sometimes rising to 7 Bft.
In early August you can expect up to 10 days of continuously strong winds. During summer these usually hit the leeward side of the islands – particularly around Patmos, Kalymnos, Kos, Nisyros, Tilos, Karpathos and Astypalaia. The sea between Karpathos and Astypalaia can be particularly rough, often lasting for several days.
In the summer months the Dodecanese often experience heat waves, which is why many sailors prefer to visit in spring or autumn. During this time, the wind often comes from the southeast at about 2 to 4 Bft. Occasionally storms may blow in from the north or south. If you plan a yacht charter towards the north or to Samos, Ikaria, or Chios, spring or autumn is the best time.
Best Sailing: May to June and September to late October
Difficulty: Moderate to difficult
Navigation: Most nautical charts for Greece are up to date. However, when navigating near land, caution is still advisable and it’s probably best to use terrestrial navigation or navigate via GPS.
Ports and anchorages: One of the northernmost islands of the Dodecanese is Patmos. It consists of three barren, volcanic rocks, which are connected by two narrow strips of land. Cruise ships land in the picturesque Scala. You can also anchor at Ormos Melogi, Ormos Agria Leivadia, Ormos Kampos, Ormos Grikou and Ormos Stavros on the southwest side. Be warned though, these anchorages can be subject to fairly strong winds.
Arki [Dodecanese Islands | Greece] – This island north-east of Patmos offers safe anchorages on the west of the island in Porto Augusta or outside of Porto Stretto. The small islands Grilousa, Stronglo, Maratho and Splato also provide good protection.
Lipsi [Dodecanese Islands | Greece] – 2 nm south of Arki is the island of Lipsi (Lipsos). This charming fishing port is located in Ormos Sokoro. Despite its pleasant looks, it’s worth noting that there are strong gusts in the bay when the Meltemi blows. To the east of the island Lera, Lipso offers three beautiful bays that provide good protection against winds.
Agathonisi [Dodecanese Islands | Greece] – This island is the northernmost point of the Dodecanese, only about 8 nm from the Turkish mainland. There are two deep bays – Georgiou and Ormos Poros – on the south coast of the island. Both bays offer safe protection against the Meltemi, but they’re very open to the south.
Leros [Dodecanese Islands | Greece] – Leros is much greener than most of the Dodecanese islands. In the port of Lakki you are well protected against the Meltemi.
Places of interest on the island include Ormos Alinthas with its Venetian castle and Ormos Pantheli with its pretty tavernas. Ormos Partheni on the north coast of Leros is well protected in any weather. In ancient times, Leros was a cultural centre dedicated to the goddess Artemis.
Kalymnos [Dodecanese Islands | Greece] – Kalymnos is an important site for sponge divers. Somewhat steep and bare, the island is located south of Leros, separated by a 1.5 nm wide passage. An insider tip is the anchorage on the east coast – the fjord-like bay of Ormos Vathy. The orange and lemon groves of the inland valley form a nice contrast to the surrounding red cliffs.
Pserimos [Dodecanese Islands | Greece] – Getting to Pserimos is best left until after six clock in the evening to ensure your arrival doesn’t coincide with the departure of the numerous tourist boats that visit each day.
Kos [Dodecanese Islands | Greece] – This green island is situated opposite the ancient Halicarnassus (now Bodrum). Kos was the hometown of Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine. The harbour can be quite busy and noisy in the summer. In contrast, the marina is quieter and more modern. It’s located southeast of the old port which now serves as a base for charter fleets. On the northwest coast of the island you’ll find the second port, Mastichari. To the east is Kardemena, originally a fishing village, but now a big clubbing destination.
Nisyros [Dodecanese Islands | Greece] – Situated between Kos and Tilos, Nisyros is one of Greece’s largest volcanic centres. As a starting point, we recommend the small port town of Paloi with its pretty tavernas on the north side of the island. For a welcome change to sailing, try hiring scooters and visiting the volcanic crater approximately three miles away. While walking the four km wide crater, expect warm feet and plenty of sulfur vapour. A shuttle runs regularly between Paloi and the crater, which stops in Mandraki, the capital of the island.
Astypalaia [Dodecanese Islands | Greece] – Although 35 nm west of Nisyros, Astypalaia still belongs to the Dodecanese group. The coast provides many safe anchorages, such as Ormos Malthezana, Marmari, Porto Agrilithi, Ormos Phocas in the south and Porto Vathy and Ormos Panormu – once a popular pirate hideout – on the north side. In the capital of Astipalia, yachts moor along the ferry quays. High up is the castle, from which you have a magnificent view to Ormos Leivadia and Maltezana.
Symi (Simi) [Dodecanese Islands | Greece] – Directly at the entrance to the Gulf of Symi is the island of Simi. This island was made famous by the construction of the galleys for the Order of Knights of St. John in Rhodes, and later on for the sponge divers. The port of Symi, bordered by box-shaped, pastel-coloured houses, is situated in a narrow bay. As you enter you’ll see the 450 steps of the Kali Strata, Symi’s main thoroughfare. A swathe of greenery sweeps down from here to Pedi Bay, where there is a manmade sandy beach and two more natural coves on the south side of the bay. A bus runs from the harbour via Chorio to Pedi and less frequently down the length of the island to the monastery of Panormitis.
Anchors [Dodecanese Islands | Greece] – Enjoy the silence when the many tour boats and ferries have left the port.
Rhodes – Rhodes is the largest island in the Dodecanese. Thanks to its strategic position, the island has been important since ancient times when the 35m high Colossus of Rhodes – one of the seven wonders of the ancient world – watched over the port entrance of Mandraki. The port is very busy which unfortunately means anchorages can be rather limited.
Moorings at Ladiko, on the east side of the island, are protected from the Meltemi. Lindos, a little further south, also has a very good natural harbour. In ancient times Lindos was the capital of the island. Positioned on the western edge of the city, on the top of the hill of Ayios Stefanos, the Acropolis of Rhodes dominates the views. When the tourists have left in their droves in the late afternoon, you’ll have plenty of choice with regards to selecting a berth. Do bear in mind that a southerly wind can create quite choppy sea conditions here.
Halki [Dodecanese Islands | Greece] – West of Rhodes, this island, together with Limin Emporeio and its uninhabited neighbouring island Alimia, offer well-protected alternative anchorages. Note, however, that there are countless underwater rocks and no lights between Halki and Alimia.
Karpathos and Kasos [Dodecanese Islands | Greece] – The southernmost islands of the Dodecanese are just outside Crete. Both islands are steep and mountainous. During the Meltemi period the eastern and southern coasts are plagued by squalls. The sea between Kasos, Crete and Rhodes is often rough. The small port town of Pigadia on Karpathos is very pleasant and friendly.
Regulations and authorities: Upon entry you need valid ID. The skipper of a charter yacht must be in possession of an official licence for yachts with coastal navigation. Another crew member will need sailing experience and should carry the documentation to prove it.
Check-in: Various charter airlines fly directly to Kos and Rhodes. There are also daily domestic flights from Athens to the two islands.
Not to be missed: Patmos. In AD 95 St John the Divine received a vision in the Apocalypse Monastery and wrote the Book of Revelations here. For this reason Patmos rivals Mount Athos as the second spiritual centre of the Greek Orthodox Church. Please wear appropriate clothing for tours of the monastery (no shorts or bikinis).