I hope you’re having a great summer. I’ve just returned from visiting my baby grand-daughter in the UK for a week and enjoyed having cooler weather than we get in Greece at this time of year.
Here’s the second of my posts on the sailing options for you once you have passed your RYA Day Skipper course. Last time I talked about going on a mile-building trip. Now I want to tell you about flotilla sailing holidays – what they are and the advantages and disadvantages.
What exactly is a Flotilla Sailing Holiday?
A flotilla holiday consists of a group of yachts (normally between 4 and 10) that sail in company. There is a lead boat with a crew, usually consisting of lead skipper (flotilla leader), hostess, and engineer. The lead skipper decides upon the route for the week and each morning he will brief the skippers of the other yachts in the flotilla, giving them their destination, the weather forecast, and advice for the day, including any possible hazards or difficulties.
If you pick a suitable flotilla for your level of experience you won’t be required to follow the lead boat like a chicken following a mother hen. The lead boat normally waits for all the yachts in the flotilla to depart in the morning and then sails ahead to reach the destination port first. The flotilla leader will try to save spaces for all the yachts to moor (it’s amazing how many boats can raft up together in a small space!) and will be there to help everyone in. During the day you can normally contact the lead boat by phone or radio if you need further help or advice.
The flotilla hostess organises on-shore events including some evening entertainment and can advise on where to shop. The engineer is there to look after the yachts and to sort out any mechanical or electrical problems that arise. As any sailor will tell you, yachts operate in a hostile environment and so are prone to frequent minor problems. Blocked ‘heads’ are a common issue so,if you want to remain popular with the flotilla crew, learn how to operate your marine toilet properly and make sure you don’t put paper down the pan!
Most flotillas will require you to sail to the designated destination for the first couple of days. Once they are satisfied that you are competent you can often do one or more days ‘free sailing’ where you go off on your own, meeting up with the rest of the flotilla at the end of the week.
The main advantages of a flotilla sailing holiday are:
- you don’t have to worry about planning a suitable route for your holiday. It can be difficult for novice skippers to make good decisions about a route in an unfamiliar area but this is taken care of for you.
- when you finish sailing at the end of the day you’ll know there are people to help you moor. The flotilla leader will tell you where to moor, talk you through Med mooring if you need it, and you’ll always have someone to take your ropes.
- although you’ll have support from the lead crew you are in charge of the yacht and you’ll have to make the decisions on board. You’ll learn a lot from this and it is a great way to build your confidence and experience in a safe environment.
- for many people the social side of flotilla sailing is a big part of the enjoyment. You’ll soon make friends with the other crew and will exchange stories at the end of the day. Some flotillas are very good at organising evening events of various kinds.
- if you have children, a flotilla can be a good choice in the school holidays. There may well be others of a similar age for your children to mix with and the hostess will often organise special events for the younger members of the flotilla.
- Some companies operate flotilla yachts where you can join a crew as an individual or couple. This is useful if you don’t have friends to sail with.
- You may be able to join a flotilla where the lead crew speak your language.
On the other hand, the drawbacks are:
- each evening the lead crew have to find places for several boats in port, preferably fairly close together. It isn’t possible to reserve spaces and so they will normally ask you to be in port early to ensure that you get a space. The biggest disadvantage of flotilla sailing is that you may find you are already tied up in port when the best of the afternoon wind kicks in. You have to balance this against the potential problem of not finding a suitable space to moor if you arrive later.
- most flotillas are geared to people from one particular country. There are many UK companies offering flotilla holidays and I’ve come across flotillas from the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Scandinavia and Russia. This is great if you want to mix socially with people who speak your own language and have your own culture but some people miss the international, multi-cultural aspect of sailing. There is a small flotilla company on Poros, the next island to Aegina, that typically has clients from several countries so let me know if you want to find out about them.
Choosing a Flotilla
Searching for flotilla sailing holidays on the Internet should provide you with some possibilities. Alternatively, the advertising section of sailing magazines is a good source of information.
If you can attend a boat show, such as the London Boat Show in January, you’ll be able to visit the stands of many flotillas. Chat to the staff and get an idea of the ‘feel’ of the company, their lead boat crew and customers. That is a good way to pick a flotilla.
Flotillas vary a lot and a key factor in how good they are is the quality of the lead crew. If you can get a recommendation from a friend for a company that still has the same lead crew that’s the most reliable method of finding a good flotilla. If you have been on aflotilla holiday that you would really recommend to others on my sailing mailing list I’d love to hear from you. Please email me and I’ll pass on your suggestions.
In Greece, the majority of flotillas are based in the Ionian and it can get very crowded there in the summer. You’ll also find flotillas in the Saronic Gulf and the Sporades. They don’t operate in areas such as the Cyclades where conditions are often too challenging for novice sailors and families.
We don’t operate flotillas ourselves but we can help our Crew Club members to find yachts on a flotilla. Contact me and tell me what size boat you are looking for and your dates and I’ll see what I can find for you.
My next email will be on bareboat charter. In fact, it will probably be two emails as there is so much to say.
Meanwhile, if you still want to sail with us this year we have a few places left in September and October. We have now filled one 50ft mile-builder yacht for 5 October and we’re taking bookings for the second one. Contact me for more information.
PS: I know some of our instructors are a little dismissive of flotillas but I think they are a valuable entry point to the world of chartering as they provide a half-way point between having a skippered charter and going completely bareboat. In fact, the first time I came to Greece it was on a flotilla with five of my female friends. I will tell you some stories from that adventure in another post …