After more than six weeks of opening up activities and businesses to welcome tourists back to Greece, Mykonos is attracting an array of private yachts. Looking out over the beach bays of Ornos or Psarou, the phenomenon has created what looks like a parking lot for the luxurious vessels designed for posh travel on the water.
This past weekend, Petros Nazos, of Mykonos Live TV captured the scene at Psarou with more than 50 ships anchored in the bay.
The normal markers of a tourism uptick, such as more flights scheduled for arrival, an increase in ferry schedules as well as hotel bookings on the rise, do not count the many private yachts that travel across the Aegean. However, the increase is noteworthy as it can be physically seen and counted simply by looking out at the water.
As a self contained entity of transport, accommodation and often catering, yachting is a unique form of tourism that makes the impact on local economies in Greece difficult to calculate.
And why is Mykonos suddenly such a popular yachting destination?
Is there a secret yachting convention, known only to those who set sail — or is there something else causing the increase in dockings and moorings in the waters surrounding Mykonos?
Yachting in Mykonos Means Sun and Fun
The island has always had a reputation for fun in the sun and seaside celebrity watching, with beach clubs and restaurants overflowing with champagne, top notch cuisine and a clubbing scene that starts from sunset and ends past sunrise.
Many of the restaurants at local beaches have set out moorings so their daytime customers can tether their vessels as an added convenience for arriving at their venue. Most of the boats have their own tenders to transport their owners back and forth from ship to shore.
The tenders even compete in the “bigger is best” boat competition, as some are simple inflatable five-foot motorized dinghies that seat three; others are fiberglass inboard-motor 20 foot-long craft that can accommodate up to 12 individuals.
Almost all the beaches have temporary floating docks to make embarking and disembarking easy for their passengers, to avoid sinking in the sand or getting soaked by the sea.
Safety, freedom and the heat wave are probably the three main reasons for this sudden influx. Traveling on a private yacht limits exposure to the Coronavirus as well, of course — much more than using commercial flights or even staying at a five-star hotel.
As everyone has become more conscious of being exposed unnecessarily to the disease, if people can afford to, they will use private means rather than those available to the general public.
Freedom of movement factors high as well in this phenomenon. On an already busy island, travel by car to go from one beach to another can take up to 45 minutes of congestion on roads that normally require 15 minutes of travel time. At sea, congestion is not an issue when going from beach to beach — although anchoring may be.
And as temperatures soared in Greece this past week, hitting 110 degrees, everyone wanted to be in close proximity to the water as an easy way to keep cool. And if you have a super yacht to do so, it isn’t even a question of where you will be during a heat wave.
Greek shipping magnate Harry Vafias has been cruising the Greek archipelago since he was about five years old. Vafias has visited about half of the almost 2,000 islands. He stated, “Mykonos is my all-round winner, because it has the best of all worlds. It has more than 20 fantastic strips of golden sand. And these beaches cater to all tastes: family beaches such as Lia, trendy beaches like Psarou and quiet beaches such as Agios Sostis. Mykonos is also in the middle of the Aegean, so if you want to go west or east, it’s very convenient.”
The owner of the AE Cap D’Antibes said the island of Rhenia, also known locally as Megales Diles, in close proximity to Mykonos, is also a draw for yacht owners. Vafias noted “Rhenia is more of a niche island, it’s very small and situated just south of Mykonos. It has only two or three small bays that big yachts can use, but it’s got very good protection from all kinds of weather, because the bays are quite deep.”
According to Vafias, “It has some of the cleanest seas, and a huge fantastic sandy beach that’s shallow for a long way out. There is nothing on the island apart from a few ancient ruins, and the huts that farmers use when they arrive by boat to tend their livestock and land.”
He added, “There are no restaurants or tavernas, so you can have your dinner on the beach in complete solitude. It’s only 45 minutes from Mykonos by boat, so if you need a couple of days with a change of pace, go to Rhenia, relax and enjoy the quiet and the beach. When you get bored you can quickly get back to Mykonos.”
Jacob Maehren, the CEO and founder of Mähren AG, a Berlin-based real estate investment company established in 2002, says “For me, being able to embrace and enjoy everything that is right now in my life is the ultimate success,” The owner of the 145-foot-long yacht called “Forever” has moored it regularly at Agios Yiannis.
His yacht was purchased at the Cannes and Monaco boat shows in autumn of 2017. He began coming to Mykonos in 2020 and by all appearances, he plans to weekend on the island throughout the summer.
Mykonos Free for Massive Yachts
Yachts make Mykonos their temporary home using three different schemes: dropping anchor in a bay or offshore, tethering to a floating mooring or docking at the island’s marina at Tourlos.
According to Dimitris Manesis, President of the Mykonos Municipal Port Fund, the ships that do not dock at the port move freely in and out of Mykonos waters without paying any fees.
The multimillion-dollar ships have the privilege of enjoying the waters surrounding the island without making a contribution to the local municipal fund.
The normal procedure for ships docking in port is to contact the marina manager. According to Tourlos marina manager Nikos Roussolatos, arrival at the port requires a call or text message with the date of arrival; date of departure; the type of motor it has, or if it is a sailing vessel; and the ship’s length and how much water it draws, as well as its ports of origin and destination.
Larger yachts can be docked at the old port, putting passengers in walking distance to town, but berths there are limited to a maximum of 10. Currently there is a Turkish tanker that has been impounded by the Cyclades District Attorney since March of 2020 and has been taking up space amounting to at least another six berths.
Incredibly, Greece has about 500 harbors but only 40 marinas. According to Marine Reservations, annual fees for Greece are between $100 to $210 per foot. Nightly mooring fees can run from $30 for smaller boats to $100 for larger yachts during low season and triple those figures during high season, normally June through September.
Mykonos Marina at Tourlos is a simple facility, and small and large cruise ships dock on the outer breakwater.
The Mykonos Marina is divided into two areas. The western part is reserved exclusively for fishermen, but in the eastern part, which is intended for yachts, many fishing boats have already taken up dock space. Currently there are a few anchorages on the quay on the south side of the harbor. There are about 300 well protected berths. The chains for mooring lines were already laid on the ground.
Electricity and water connections can be used with a prepaid card on the south quay and a service building is located at the harbor exit. Fuel is supplied from a tanker truck delivery on the quay.
But many of the larger vessels and superyachts are not giving their business to the local municipality in port and docking fees.
According to Manesis, imposing fees for making Mykonos a home away from home for the yachts that do not dock in the port and anchor off island coastlines, must come through national legislation.