A Guide for sailing in the Ionian Islands
Why do hundreds of sailors keep their boats in the Ionian Sea and thousands more head there every year to charter? Because sailing in the Ionian sea consists of a blend of warm, calm winds, good food in romantic locations and idyllic anchorages in abundant bays. If there is another area as tailor-made for easy comfortable cruising then they’re keeping it quiet.
Ionian Islands are located at the west coast of Greece. The Ionian is bounded by Greece, Italy, the Adriatic and the Mediterranean, but for most sailors the name refers to the west coast of Greece, stretching from the island of Corfu in the north, south past Paxos, Lefkas, Ithaca and Cephalonia to include Zakinthos in the south. The nature is wonderful, full with trees in the countless bays of each island. Ionian Islands host many monasteries, interesting for sightseeing. The turquoise color of the sea in many bays leaves an unforgettable memory…
The maistro is far gentler than the meltemi that howls down the Aegean on the east coast of Greece. Ionian gales are not unknown, but they are well forecast and do not last long. The wind is soft and the afternoon gives the opportunity of sailing for few hours.
The mountainous nature of the Ionian islands means there are plenty of localized effects as the wind converges and diverges around headlands, diverts down channels or is blocked completely, creating patches of calm and sudden gusts. Katabatic winds are also common in anchorages at the base of cliffs.
If you are chartering, flotilla or bareboat, it’s likely that either a daily weather forecast will be communicated to you or you will be briefed to call the base each morning to receive a weather update. You can also ask the port police.
First-time Ionian sailors tend to ask next about the climate. Temperatures in the Ionian range from the low teens in Celsius, in January, to the mid-30s in July and August. Towards the end of the season, in September, temperatures are more comfortable at the mid-20s Celsius.
Most charterers arrive by plane. Budget carriers like EasyJet and Ryanair fly direct to Corfu, Cephalonia and Zakinthos throughout the season. As ever, the earlier you book, the greater the bargain you can bag.
Another option is to make a touring holiday of the journey: drive to Italy in two or three days then catch a car ferry to Greece. These run from Venice, Ancona, Bari and Brindisi to one of Corfu, Patras, Igoumenitsa, Cephalonia and Zakinthos. The passage takes around 24 hours.
In most ports, you will be expected to moor stern-to. For first-timers this is often a source of anxiety. Certainly, it can be a little fraught if you’re not well prepared, so it pays to plan ahead. Find out how your boat behaves astern, brief the crew on what they are expected to do and when, and work out hand signals, so you don’t have to shout over the engine, windlass or fellow cruisers offering ‘advice’.
Ionian Sea is ideal for family holidays but also for young people because of vivid nightlife in the bigger islands. It’s also ideal for lovers of nature.