Santorini sailing holidays
The spectacular approach of Santorini - Σαντορίνη by sea, usually entering the caldera from the north-west, is the apogee of many yacht charter holidays in the Cyclades.
Thira - Θήρα – Italian: Santorino or Santorini after the island's patron saint “Santa Irene” – together with the smaller islands of Thirasia - Θηρασία (9 km2 294 m) and Aspronisi - Ασπρονήσι (2 km2 71 m) are part of a volcanic crater, which has been engulfed by the sea.
In the centre are the Kameni - Καμένη islets, the cones of later volcanoes which came into being in historical times.
Hot springs and emissions of gas bear witness to continuing volcanic activity.
The steep caldera cliffs range in height between 200 m and 400 m, while on the outside the land falls away gradually to the sea, its fertile slopes covered with vineyards.
Yet, the island is treeless due to lack of water, though the artisanal inhabitants achieve a modest degree of prosperity through the export of wine, pulses, pistachios and tomato purée. Santorini also possesses a natural mineral resources such as pozzolana a hydraulic cement used in structures exposed to water (harbour works, canals and dams).
In recent decades large numbers of visitors have been attracted to the island by its extraordinary natural structure and the archaeological sites, which are among the most important in Greece and the Mediterranean. Alltogether the tourist trade has made an enormous (and crushing) contribution to the economy.
Also – with the EU-subsidized Vlichada marina – more yachtspersons are courted towards Santorini.
Geological history of Santorini
Santorini represents the most active area of the South Aegean Volcanic Arc, A 500 km long and 20 to 40 km wide arc that runs from Bodrum in Turkey to the Mainland of Greece, which includes the islands of Aegina, Methana, Poros, Milos, Santorini, Kos and Nisyros.
Volcanism in this Aegean Arc generally first occurred about 3 – 4 million years ago with the exception of Kos where Miocene deposits suggest eruptions 10 – 11 million years ago.
The local volcanic field of Santorini also includes the Christiana - Χριστιανά islands 11 nm to the southwest as well as 4 nm to the northeast the submerged Kolomvos volcano, which is ~17 meters below the surface, so it is possible to actually sail over its summit.
Non-volcanic rocks – which are exposed on Thira at for example Mt Profitis Ilias, Monolithos and the inner side of the caldera wall near Athinios – represent a former 9×6 km non-volcanic island similar to the neighbouring Cycladic islands of Anafi, Ios or Amorgos.
Volcanism in the area of Santorini – at that time just a small, non-volcanic island – started about 2 million years ago. In short, the important stages of Santorini's volcanic evolution:
- ca. 2000 – 500 ka (ka = thousand years back): The oldest volcanic rocks are found near Akrotiri and the Christiana islands. On the Akrotiri peninsula the up domed areas still are well visible and the marine fossils embedded in the tuffs tuffs suggest a minimum age of 2 million years.
- ca. 360 – 1600 BCE: The cyclic construction of shield volcanoes interrupted by large explosive and destructive events like the Minoan eruption at ca. 1645 BCE.
- 197 BCE till today: The formation of the post-Minoan Kameni islands, is recorded by human observation and documented by historians.
The ancient writer Strabo is the first to mention volcanic eruptions inside the caldera and described the rising of a new small island during the year 197 BCE.
After that, at least 8 eruptive phases followed in the years:
- 46 – 47
- 1570 – 1573
- 1707 – 1711
- 1866 – 1870
- 1925 – 1928
- 1938 – 1941
- 1950 as the most recent eruption
History of Santorini
In antiquity Thera was known as Kalliste “the Fairest island” or Strongyle “the Round island” and was inhabited in the 3rd millennium BCE (Cycladic culture), probably by Carians.
Archaean Greeks settled on the island about 1900 BCE, but were driven out by Phoenicians.
The excavations at Akrotiri have shown that Santorini was a flourishing and prosperous place in the first half of the 2nd millennium BCE.
It was in contact with Minoan Crete but had developed a distinctive culture of its own. It can be supposed that at least the city of Akrotiri was not ruled by some central authority but by a plutocracy of merchants and shipowners who had trading links reaching as far afield as Libya.
This trade, and perhaps also an ethnic connection with North Africa, can be deduced from the wall-paintings of astonishingly high artistic quality, which are now in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens as well as in Fira.
The Golden Age ended with the eruption of the volcano, which seems to have taken place in the mid 15th c. BCE, after premonitory activity in the 16th c. It must have been many times more violent than the Krakatoa eruption of 1883. A number of archaeologists, in particular Spyridon Marinatos, believe that it explains the sudden end of the Minoan cities on Crete.
After the eruption Santorini remained uninhabited for 500 years, until the beginning of the 1st millennium BCE, when it was resettled by Dorian (Minoan) incomers from Crete, who established themselves on a limestone ridge south-east of Mount Profitis Ilias.
In 630 BCE their king, Grinos, founded a colony at Cyrene (present-day Libya) – the largest Greek colony in North Africa. Allied with Sparta at the beginning of the Peloponnesian War, Santorini was required to pay tribute to Athens from 427/426 BCE onwards. It enjoyed a measure of prosperity under the Ptolemies, when an Egyptian garrison was stationed on the island. Thereafter it came under Roman rule.
In 1207, after the Fourth Crusade, Santorini was conquered by Marco Sanudo, Duke of Naxos, and thereafter remained in Italian hands for three centuries. In 1539 Santorini was taken by the Turks; in 1830 reunited with Greece.
The volcanic force which originally built up the island round the older limestone cone of Mount Profitis Ilias and then destroyed it shortly after 1500 BCE continued to manifest itself in later centuries. The last violent volcanic phenomena, combined with earth tremors causing considerable damage, was the Amorgos earthquake in 1956
In the night of 6 April 2007 the cruise ship Sea Diamond sank near the mooring buoy beneath Fira town (Skala) after hitting a reef – just south of Kameni islet – inside the flooded crater of this volcano and making water. The weather and visibility were ideal and these waters are well charted.
On the photo on the right she is already listing while passengers are evacuated by rescue boats. With a dramatic slow movement the Sea Diamond sank nose-up surrounded by liferafts to a depth of 200 metres ending on the rocky seabed of the Santorini caldera. BBC News: 1, 2, 3.
Several colossal cruise ships visit Thira each day, putting too much of a burden on the island, the locals and even the donkeys: please discourage donkey rides!
Wines of SantoriniThe strong volcanic soil seems to deliver a faint smoky bouquet to the famous local Santorini wines. The grapevines are pruned in a distinctive way to encourage them to twine around in a basket shape called a stefani. This preserves the scant moisture and protects the vines from the omnipresent winds that scour the surface of these treeless slopes.
- Parea Tavern
- Το Κofini
- Casa di Te Santorini
- Theoni's Kitchen
MuseumsIn somewhat particular order:
- Akrotiri Museum
- Archaeological Museum of Thera
- Museum of Prehistoric Thera
- Tomato Industrial Museum (Vlichada beach, near the “marina”), seemingly irrelevant – I know… – but compelling old machineries and heritage
- Maritime Museum (Oia), dainty and small
- Museum of Minerals & Fossils (Perissa)
- Musical instruments Museum (Oia), exhibits from 2800 BCE (for some of my crew, this is the premier museum in Santorini)
Ports and anchorages
The uncompleted marina of Vlichada (Vlihada or Vlikadha) - Μαρίνα Βλυχάδα at the south tip of Santorini is regarded as the only port safe enough to moor the yacht during storms or leave the yacht unattended whilst exploring the islands. It has been unfinished for many years, but since summer 2009 – and some ungoing additions since 2017 – most of the planned facilities can finally be appreciated.
The marina was subsidized by the European Union for € 3.5 million to attract visiting cruising yachts, either private or chartered yachts.
Important: the approach is rather treacherous with two submerged ancient moles blocking the most logical way in. To avoid these and other obstacles: steer a course of 45° towards any point between the chimneys and the blue hotel till you see the entrance of the marina at 90°.
Note, that lots of charts and guides erroneously mention only one breakwater. And although the northern one (not fully indicated in the map above) is much shorter and not the dangerous one, it is certainly there!
Once inside, you still need a watchful eye since the entrance is quite often badly silted up and a nasty submerged block awaits you at your starboard side.
The lighted yellow buoy is often (re)placed rather randomly: don't rely on its position, its colour or even its existence.
However, and this is a huge however, the Vlichada marina is nearly always fully packed – even in the shoulder seasons – with local vessels, day charter yachts and catamarans/tripper boats. Visiting yachts are rarely welcomed.
Moreover, due to winter storms the entrance silts up badly and each year an extensive dredging operation is required to keep the harbour as well as the entrance at a depth of 3 metres minimum – expect depths of much less than 2,5 metres.
To check whether the marina has been dredged after the winter ask the Santorini Port Authority or at the marina via VHF 10 and mobile 6974939399.
Marksbikes.net (Perissa village) will deliver scooters right to the yacht; the best way to explore Santorini is by scooter or motorbike.
We were able to use the showers in the Notos Hotel which overlooks the marina.
The dishes served at the nearby Taverna To Paraki are truly delicious.
The minute port of Monolithos - Μονόλιθος is as close to the airport as Skiathos port (where airplanes appear to graze the masts), fortunately also few landings/takeoffs.
The land flows gently into the sea, in stark contrast with Fira's rocky heights.
During Meltemi winds the short mole provides some shelter, but with any easterly component the little port becomes untenable.
Fully exposed to the S – NE; very shallow!; go stern-to or bows-to the end of the mole, i.e. take a long line ashore; mind the two unlit buoys 300 m north of Monolithos; immediately to the south constructions for a future marina underway; on the approach steer ~300° towards the power station.
East of Finikia - Φοινικιά village in the inlet of Armenis (Mouzaki bay) there is a 20 × 5 m pier.
Below Finikia there is a short L-shaped pier usually filled with caiques, and a mooring buoy.
Ammoudi bay - Όρμος Αμμουδίου, below Oia village has a short mole. We haven't been there.
The new (Nea) Kameni - Νέα Καμένη islet has a tight rectangular inlet on the south-east; caiques and tripper boats will claim most available reserved moorings, but very rewarding: remarkable views especially towards Fira, plus the experience of stepping on an active volcano, equalling Nisyros.
Thirasia - Θηρασία has only one anchorage in the bay of St Nikolaos. Take a line to the least minute pier, 100 m to the north of the conspicuous serpentine trail that leads up to Manolas village.
Beware of the small ferry, which is befittingly named Nissos Thirassia; use a tripline.
South of Cape Akrotiri - Ακρωτήρι there are two suitable anchorages in lighter conditions: “black beach” Lat Long and further east “red beach” Lat Long (shortest walk to the Akrotiri Museum); open to the south; use a tripline.
A third option would be “white beach”; reefs! Lat Long
Skala, aptly names as it provided access to Fira via 500 steps (or simply use the funicular), is far from ideal to anchor: the rocky seabed will most likely snag the anchor or foul the chain. Moreover, the seabed drops down to amazing depths even just a boatlength away from the quay. However, it is sometimes possible to take a strong line to the closest mooring buoy instead.
Fira (Chora), the capital of the island, was established in 1810 and grew into an elongated settlement along the steep caldera rim. The first houses where half-dug out of the softer rock in between steep alleyways and small cobbled streets of steps.
General: Residents in Oia, in Ammoudi and opposite in Thirasia have buoys for their boats or for safety reasons or to rent. A good size dinghy and a strong outboard are vital here. The large iron buoys under Oia can potentially be very dangerous for smaller yachts.
More photos and information can be found in the logbook of our trip from Athens to Milos, and in my Guide to sailing holidays and yacht charters in 8 steps.
The hilly island of Anafi - Ανάφη lies 22 km east of Santorini. According to the myth Apollo caused it to emerge from the sea to provide a refuge for the Argonauts on their return voyage from Colchis.
The inhabitants earn a modest susbsistence by farming and some fishing.
On the south side of the island is its chief place, Anafi (Chora), which is now increasingly being abandoned by its inhabitants. Above the village, on a spur of rock, are remains of a 14th c. Venetian castle.
North-east of Chora, on the round-topped hill of Kastelli, is the site of the ancient city, with remains of walls and fragments of sculpture.
At the east end of the island is the Monastery of Zoodochos Pigi “life-giving spring”, - Μονή Ζωοδόχου Πηγής built with stones from a Temple of Apollo which had previously occupied the site. Further north are the ruins of another Venetian castle.
At the extreme eastern tip of the island, prominently situated on a limestone crag (Mount Kalamos, 396 m) falling sheer down to the sea, is the little Church of Panagia Kalamiotissa - Ιερά Μονή Παναγίας Καλαμιώτισσας (1715). From the top of the hill there are far-ranging views, extending in clear weather to Crete.
South-east of Anafi are the rocky islands of Ftena - Φτενά (Flinia islets), Pachia - Παχειά and Makra - Μακρά.
Skala Anafi port
Ay Nikolaos - Άγιος Νικόλαος or Skala Anafi offers no berths for visiting yachts. It is possible to stay at the east ferry quay provided that you learn the time tables and leave before the liners arrive.
Otherwise, anchor in 3 – 5 m depth as far north as possible into the bay; it is possible to take a long line to the stubby mole; regularly dredged near the ferry quays; there are plans for a small yacht port, but for now completely open to the SSW – SE; gusts from NW and/or NE (so don't anchor to close to the breakwater).