Zakynthos sailing holidays

Zakynthos - Ζάκυνθος (Italian Zante), besides Kythira the southernmost island of the Ionian Islands, lies off the west coast of the Peloponnese.

The western half of the island is occupied by a karstic plateau rising to 758 m, the eastern half by a fertile and intensively cultivated alluvial plain with a luxuriant growth of vegetation.

With its beautiful scenery, convenient airport and excellent bathing beaches, Zakynthos is an extremely popular holiday island.

Zakynthos sailing holidays in the Marine Park.
Overview of the National Marine Park of Zakynthos:
The bay of Lagana with Cape Geraki in the foreground, the islets of Pelouzo and Marathonisi (vague) in the middle and Cape Marathia in the distance left. Hi-res image

History

The island has been known since the time of Homer by the name it still bears, said to be derived from the wild hyacinth (Hyacinthus orientalis L.). The name, like all similar names ending in -nthos, is pre-Mycenaean or Pelasgian in origin.
In Greek mythology the island was said to be named after Zakynthos, the son of the legendary Arcadian chief Dardanus.

Settled at an early period by Achaeans and Arcadians, it soon developed into a trading and seafaring town the influence of which extended as far as the Iberian peninsula, where it founded the colony of Zakantha, later known as Saguntum.

In 455 BCE the Athenian admiral Tolmides made the island a dependency of Athens.
After the Peloponnesian War it became a member of the Attic maritime league.
In 217 BCE Zakynthos was conquered by the Macedonians, in 191 BCE by the Romans.

After being devatasted by the Vandals it was captured by the Normans, and later was ruled by Frankish dynasts. It was occupied by the Turks in 1479 but recovered two years later by the Venetians, who held it until 1797. Thereafter, it shared the fortunes of the other Ionian islands.
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From its long period of association with Venice the island has preserved an Italian and Venetian stamp. As a result of the devastations suffered in the course of an eventful history and of severe earthquakes damage – particularly in 1515 and 1953 – Zakynthos has preserved few old buildings.

Sailing holidays Zakynthos island, South Ionian
Map of Zakynthos island; ports and anchorages.
British Admiralty Chart 203, 189

Zakynthos port

To explore the island's lush interior you can leave the yacht unattended in the Port of Zakynthos - Λιμένας ζακυνθου, which provides the best shelter.

The conspicous Castle hill (with the restored Venetian Castle) and the north breakwater of Zakynthos port.

On the approach mind the Dimitris reef directly east of the green harbour light. Once in port, go stern-to the waterfront or the north breakwater (between the water taxis and ferries). The river Charalampos delivers sand / mud to the bay: the south-western part of the port is often too shallow.

Like the “marina” facilities, the plans for a cruise ship quay and a commercial port to the south have yet to materialize. The marina basin meanwhile is used by tripper boats.

Strong S – SE winds, only probable in winter and early spring, mean you will have to relocate to the marina.  
Prevailing wind is NW, sometimes a violent NE, in which case the north breakwater has the ideal berths     ; mud and good holding; there are plenty of fast & indifferent ferries: keep some distance off the quay.

Due to the 1953 devastations as well as the surplus of superficial beach tourists, Zakynthos town / port is more practical than endearing.

Dine at “Ammos Taverna” overlooking the south breakwater.
Explore the refurbished Venetian Castle.
The Marine Park offers guided tours.

The port of Zakynthos, looking NNE, with the conspicous belfry between the “marina” and river on the right and the port basin on the left.

The splendid Sanctuary of Olympia – located on the Peloponese – is best explored from the secluded Katakolon port, a 23 NM sail to the south-east. Alternatively there are organized day-trips from Zakynthos via regular ferries to Kyllini / Cyllene port.

Porto Roma

Porto Porto Roma - Πόρτο Ρόμα is heralded by many guides as an idyllic anchorage suitable for calm weather, but we found that it is overcrowded with blaring beach tourists with several resorts appropriating the area. The bay is adjacent to the NE boundary of the Marine Park; nice fish restaurant ashore; reasonable shelter against the prevailing NW; good holding Lat Long

Map showing the 3 maritime zones of regulations of the Marine Park of Zakynthos. Hi-res image

National Marine Park of Zakynthos

The National Marine Park of Zakynthos - Εθνικό Θαλάσσιο Πάρκο Ζακύνθου envelops both southern capes of zakythnos and the bay of Lagana: NMP-ZAK, aiming to protect endangered species such as sea turtles, monk seals and posidonia as well as their habitats.

During 1 May – 31 October:

  • Zone A: no vessel may enter or moor / anchor; marked by circular yellow buoys separated by 75 m; no fishing.
  • Zone B: vessels may enter but maximum speed is 6 knots; no mooring / anchoring; there are 3 lighted buoys:
    • south of Marathonisi
    • near Cape Geraki
    • and in between these two
  • Zone C / Γ: conical shaped buoys spaced 150 m; maximum speed is 6 knots; fishing allowed.
    • Sostis port: the eastern basin usually has some free berths;
    • Keri port: also cramped with local fisher/tripper boats, best to anchor outside the breakwater or in the bay between these ports.
      The reefs to the north and west of Marathonisi are treacherous.  
  • In the wider NMPZ area you should travel at low speed to avoid colliding with turtles; no spear fishing is allowed. Note, that the inhospitable Strofades isles 25 NM to the south Lat Long are also a protected Marine Park.

Lamentably, the beaches where turtles lay their eggs are invaded by immense amounts of sun bathing tourists during the day, while in the evening the ubiquitous loud bars produce enough light polution to desorientate the turtles. You might want to look at some heartening photos of the turtle conservation efforts

Not surprisingly, we have seen more – and larger – Caretta caretta in the Northern Sporades and in Monemvasia.

  To appreciate Zakynthos in its entirety → sail in April or earlier, which also means less “humans”…

Vromis

Porto Vromis - Πόρτο Βρώμη (Vroma in GWP) is one of the best anchorages on the island, sheltered in pleasant surroundings. Halfway in there is the Stamatis cave, and outside the inlet you can explore even more sea caves north of Giannaki rock.

Solid holding in sand / weed / rocks / chains so wise to use a tripline; taverna in the narrow east cove where there is a rough quay near the beach, which is largely claimed by tripper boats (→ Navagio) and fishermen.
Otherwise plenty of opportunities to take a line to the rocky shore.

Sailing south-east, away from Vromi bay, with the distinctive silhouette of Ayios Ioannis island at sunset.

The anchorages in Porto Vromis are unsuitable in south-westerlies and during the night katabatic gusts can sweep down the hills.    The passage between Ag Ioannis island and Giannaki rock is ~75 m wide, stay in the middle and steer a SSE or NNW course.

The exposed cove of “Navagio” in early spring looking SSE.
The island of Agios Ioannis to the right, in the distance.

Navagio - Ναυαγίο bay and beach became a famous icon for the Ionian islands when on 2 October 1980 the MV Panagiotis – a freightliner – ran aground here during stormy weather and bad visibility.

Shortly after, the original name of the bay “Agios Georgios” was replaced by “Navagio”, meaning Shipwreck in Greek.

It is a fair weather anchorage; best to leave within 15 minutes after the prevailing wind picks up, which can increase pronto.

Agios Nikolaos

Agios Nikolaos - Άγιος Νικόλαος, alias Skinari, is a lovely inlet and port guarded by its own homonymous islet. A partly artificial reef north of St Nikolaos / Skinari islet is marked by a red buoy.   There are two anchorages suitable in NW – NE winds below the islet Lat Long and Lat Long

The bay itself is open to the NE – ENE winds, but also in the prevailing north-westerlies you can expect strong gusts to sweep through the valleys in the late afternoon and evening.

The seabed rises quickly and once the anchor is properly dug in – while using as much chain as possible – the high! quay and roughly triangular mole offer excellent berths. The mole is also frequented by ferries and tripper boats transporting tourists to the Blue caves further north at Cape Skinari. The embankment screams “cement”, but the decor is charming.
Note, that the GWP gives an outdated and shallower chartlet of the port.

We were very delighted with these two tavernas: “Mandrakia” and “To Nisi”.  

Makris Gialos

The underrecognized bay of Makris Gialos - Μακρύς γυαλός is open to the northerlies and easterlies, but otherwise delightful.
The passage between the shore and Kapari islet is safe, although the headlands have reefs extending east → ideally approach from the north-east.
Closest to the beach there is perfect holding and you can take a line to the shore: superb sandy bottom Lat Long Further out in 6 to 8 m the seabed is sand, stones and rocks.
Several smaller caves to seek out, as well as the citable “To Petrino” taverna.

Xigia

Xigia - Ξύγκια is a minuscule mephitic anchorage with a circumscribed beach in crystal clear waters under bright green pine trees Lat Long
The area (including the open beaches further south) is a “natural sulphor spa”, so you will have to endure the noxious sulphorous smells; there are various grottos in the vicinity. Take the dinghy around the verdant cape to visit the “White cave”: great snorkeling Lat Long

Imray and Navionics fail to show the islets + rocks, west of the beach and opposite the cliff face, whereas C-Map and OpenSeaMap show the correct locations.
Furthermore, the winter storms cause the sand in the bay to shift → depths could vary by as much as 2 m compared to last season.  

Xigia beach and “Mineral Spa”, looking south-east.

Alikanas

Alikanas - Αλικανάς is an open bay with meagre shelter: the berths inside the port are reserved for local (fishing) boats. The fecund valley is dominated by tourist resorts, the long beach by squadrons of parasols.
Note, that the even shallower port of Kavos - Κάβος is equally inutile…
Also see Greek chart terms.

Sea caves

Although there is a plethora of sea caves (e.g. see Vromis and Xigia); two stand out:

  • The Blue caves (Galazies Spilies) are located along a stretch of 0,8 NM Lat Long mind the notorious reef extending from one of the caves.
  • Fokias is a colossal grotto: 100 m deep, 22 m high, 35 m wide. The depth just outside the entrance is 5 m and inside still 3 m Lat Long