Yacht or Not?

    23 June 2012

    The Mediterranean is ideal for boatlife. No tides; settled weather; warm water. Out in the breeze, away from the lines of landlubbing sunbathers, there’s bound to be a secluded cove just for you, your boat, perhaps a pair of Dutch naturists.

    There are challenges, of course. One is the rising flotsam of regulation: from this summer you’ll need a licence known as an ICC, or International Certificate of Competence (find out how to get one at, to hire anything bigger than a dinghy. And a maiden voyage through a crowded harbour with crossed mooring lines, angry fishermen and swimming children would have put Magellan off.

    A vintage Riva boat, Gardoni riviera, Italy
    A vintage Riva boat, Gardoni riviera, Italy

    But if the call of the sea is still loud in your ears, there are options for a day or two afloat. People say that if it flies or floats, rent it (you may have heard the longer version) and that’s what most people do — even the billionaires.

    The easiest option is a basic motorboat. Some have solid hulls and are easily dented. Others have rubber tops and are called RIBs, which stands for rigid inflatable boats. (In Spain they’re called semirigidas.) Nearly every seaside town has a rental operator of some sort.

    Beach at Brela, Croatia
    Beach at Brela, Croatia

    At the pretty little harbour in Aiguafreda, on the Catalan coastline around Begur, you’ll find Sylvie Portavella ( Sylvie charmingly manages a very efficient business, charging from €240 for a day’s hire between June and September. With a speedboat or semirigida, you’ll be free to explore the castles, caves, woods and islands of one of Spain’s most beautiful coastlines. There will be a local Sylvie almost anywhere you go, so ask your hotel or villa rental company.

    If you fancy something flashier, there’s nothing more stylish than a Riva Aquarama: the utterly gorgeous, handbuilt, wooden, 1960s film star’s speedboat of choice. And where else would you go in a Riva than to Antibes or Cannes? Don’t for a moment imagine you’ll drive it yourself though — a Riva is worth around half a million euros, but as you arrive at Club 55 on Pampleonne Beach you’ll feel like at least twice that, and for a mere €1,800 a day.

    Chartering a beautiful boat doesn’t mean you have to swank about among the beach clubs of St Tropez. You may consider that a little, well, vulgar. An immaculate 1930s sailing yacht with 80 feet of teak decks, white sails and gleaming brass fittings is undeniably stylish, though. One of these will cost you around €3,500 a day almost anywhere in Europe ( The experience of steering one of these in a fresh breeze across a sparkling bay is worth every penny.

    Blue caves, Zakynthos, Greece
    Blue caves, Zakynthos, Greece

    Much like Spain, Ibiza is best enjoyed by boat, especially in the busiest months, when you might feel the need to escape the hordes of revellers flocking to the island. Ibiza Nonsense has 11 boats of various shapes and sizes (mostly speedboats but there is one catamaran; the biggest in the fleet takes 12) and prices start at €400 a day. Formentera, an island six kilometres south of Ibiza, is the place to head to, where the water is Caribbean-clear. The trick is to pack a picnic and find your own spot to pass away the day, though if you want to head ashore for a fun and fashionable lunch, try Juan Y Andrea (the skipper will book a table for you).

    To the east, between Corfu and Ithaca, the Greek Ionian Sea offers some of the gentlest sailing waters known to man. Zephyrs waft you towards picturesque villages where you can enjoy a simple meal of local fish for roughly the same price as the fisherman’s house. You can rent small motor boats cheaply in many places (regulation is usually quite relaxed), while day trips on large gulets can be a great way of seeing the coast in comfort — though there’s always a risk of joining someone else’s booze cruise.

    The perfect sailing waters around Greece, however, cry out for a proper yacht. Boats up to 40 feet can be handled by any vaguely competent skipper, with a bit of help. Unfortunately, chartering one is a trickier enterprise, as most firms only take bookings by the week. Search carefully, though, and you can enjoy a day or two’s sailing by booking a month ahead. Sail Ionian  ( can give you a skipper if you don’t have an ICC or much sailing experience. They also rent day boats (a small, fast, open yacht with no cabin — the way God meant us to sail) with a skipper from €190 a day. They are based on the island of Lefkas, from where you can sail to Skorpios, Onassis’s island, and drop anchor or visit the pretty (and inexpensive) restaurants around Fiskardo’s harbour on Cephalonia. Stop at One House Bay on Atoko island for the perfect place to swim.

    For something different, try Croatia. It has become fashionable, but much of the coastline remains charmingly undeveloped. Try Dalmatian Destinations (, which have a range of glorious boats (crewed gulets and schooners, rather than motor boats). They know all the best spots.

    I could go on. The Mediterranean has about 45,000 kilometres of coastline (that’s more than once round the equator) so there’s plenty to explore. I’ll certainly be afloat in the Med this summer. Wave if you’re passing.