Mediterranean waters provide smooth sailing for yacht charters

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NEW YORK -- Cruising in Aegean and eastern Mediterranean waters aboard a chartered yacht is often a convenient and affordable way to explore little-known islands, secluded coves and ancient ruins that most tourists miss.

Among the selling points of chartered yachting, according to Cynthia Orr, president of Philadelphia-based Greek Private Sailing Club, are that groups have the yacht to themselves and a yachting vacation comes with transportation by water, accommodations, meal plans according to choice and sightseeing.

Yachting is not for those collecting ports of call; rather, it offers the chance to see more of certain islands at a leisurely pace, to swim from the boat whenever clear waters beckon and to dress casually for dinner.

Some 15 years ago, my husband and I sailed with six friends in the Greek Cyclades islands, from Athens to Santorini, on a refitted caique (a traditional wooden Greek boat).

Symi northwest of Rhodes, is where yachters come in search of undisturbed Greek island life. We chartered the crewed 80-foot motor sailer directly from a broker in Athens; the cost came at a mid-1980s price of $150 per person, per day, with two meals daily.

Our routing included such off-beat ports of call as Sifnos, known for its hill town of Kastro, and Tinos, a scenic island dotted with pretty villages.

Ten years later, we were again a party of eight, cruising the Turkish coast on a stylish but informal crewed gulet (traditional Turkish wooden boat) along the Mediterranean coast between Bodrum and Gocek.

Chartered through the World of Oz in Virginia Beach, Va., the mid-1990s cost still was about $150 per person, per day, with daily breakfast and lunch.

Generally, chartering a Turkish gulet is cheaper than chartering a comparable vessel in Greece.

Our vessel was first class, but according to company director Wynn Oz, custom-made deluxe gulets are available, with en suite bathrooms, hair dryers, queen-size beds and on-board amenities such as fax machines and satellite TV.

The cost of a deluxe six-cabin vessel for a weeklong charter ranges from $825 to $1,650; for eight cabins, $900 to $1,725. Meals are additional.

A two-meal-per-day plan costs $40 per person; three meals costs $50 per day.

With two passengers per cabin, this comes to $69 to $137 per person for a six-cabin vessel, and $56 to $108 for an eight-cabin vessel.

Recently, my husband and I celebrated a wedding anniversary in Greece and, along with 10 friends, sprang for a top-of-the-line clipper schooner, the Ariadne, with a crew of six.

Chartered through the Greek Private Sailing Club, the clipper schooner is a 123-foot-long vessel with automatic sail rigging, spacious deck and seating areas aft and such cruising frills as televisions and stereo (piped to cabins), Jet Skis and dinghies available for beach excursions.

Our cruising ground for seven nights was the Saronic Gulf, with an added circuit route to the southeast coast of the Peloponnesian Peninsula.

It is an ideal private yachting ground, as distances are fairly short between islands and mainland harbors, leaving lots of time for visits to classical ruins and Byzantine monasteries.

We spent the first night in Poros, dining at a harborside cafe. The next morning we took the 10-minute water-taxi crossing to the mainland port of Galatas and then an hour overland-taxi ride to the ancient city of Epidaurus.

We stayed the next afternoon and evening tied up at the pretty harbor at Spetses, hiking along the coast toward the lighthouse and the old harbor of Paleo Limani.

The Ariadne then headed for the mainland, where highlights were the rock-bound medieval village of Monemvasia and the ruined palaces and Byzantine monasteries of Mystra, a day's excursion inland.

Returning to the Saronic Islands, we spent the last two nights anchored in Hydra, a town that rises like an amphitheater behind the harbor.

Late afternoon in Hydra, when the cruise ships are gone, is a good time for shopping. We had delicious grilled fish dinners in little restaurants, the best of which we found tucked off streets away from the harbor.

The sightseers among us rented donkeys -- fitted with incredibly uncomfortable slatted-wood saddles without stirrups -- for the staggering ride up the rocky incline to the monasteries of Prophet Elijah and St. Euphrasia.

En route back to the Athens port of Piraeus, we docked on Aegina Island for a swim and a walk to the fifth century Temple of Aphaia (Athena).

This year's cost to charter the most deluxe yachts, such as the eight-to-12-passenger Ariadne, is $5,500 per day.

The per day charter price of the top-notch motor sailer, the 10-passenger Hermina, is $3,200.

Yacht charters come in all sizes and price ranges, but meals and wine are always additional.

Aboard deluxe yachts, the per person additional cost is $45 for the modified American plan; $55 for three meals daily.

Greek Private Sailing Club
Phone: (800) 732-6786 or (212) 247-3903
Fax: (215) 247-1505
Web: www.gpsc.com

World of Oz
Phone: (800) 248-0234 or (757) 496-8108
Fax: (757) 496-8097
Web: www.worldoz.com

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