The twelve islands of Dodecanese are the best sailing area to learn about Greek island traditions and experience the unique mix of European and oriental cultures.
Sea & Coast
Literally meaning “The Twelve Islands””, the Dodecanese are a group of islands (12 big ones and 150 smaller ones) off of Turkey’s southwest coast. Just 26 of these islands are inhabited, forming a prefecture in modern-day Greece, the rest being nothing more than rocks sticking out of the sea.
However, among the Dodecanese are the oldest inhabited places on Earth, such as Rhodes island, a famous destination.
Among the other most important islands are Astipalea, Halki, Kalymnos, Kassos, Karpathos, Kos, Leros, Lipsi, Nisyros, Patmos, Symi and Tilos.
Bathed by the south Aegean Sea, all of them display a rocky relief though from the crustacean fossils found on top of these cliffs, it’s clear that they formed under water and rose gradually. For the boat crew this means lots of islets, underwater rock formations, coves and crevices which can prove difficult to maneuver around.
The overall climate can be described as ranging from temperate to dry tropical. Apart from the mild and wet winters, the islands enjoy a prolonged period of summer, which is hot and dry, with lots of sunlight and little to no winds, thus perfect for aficionados and sun worshipers coming here in search of relaxation and a nice, golden-brown tan.
The vegetation consists mainly of pine, cypress, olive and cedar with lots of aromatic plants (oregano, thyme, lavender). The many deserted islands became a bird watcher’s paradise, as the Dodecanese are located on the migratory path for many species. In the waters too there is a bounty of creatures, including the elusive Mediterranean seal, dolphins, turtles and a myriad of mollusks and crustaceans that invariably end up on tourists’ plates in restaurants.
Culture & History
The islands played an important role in history in early antiquity when they became the cradle of the Minoan civilization, the remnants of which can still be seen today in places like Rhodes Town. Then, in Roman times, the island of Rhodes became a learning center, though in time they became an integral part of the empire rather than an ally.
Numerous empires then passed through, starting with the Byzantines, the Ottomans and then changing hands numerous times in the late middle ages and prior to WWII. After rejoining Greece, the islands became a popular destination, continuing to grow in importance and increasing its number of tourists each year. The islands of Kos and Rhodes are among the most popular.
Seamanship & Experience
Though they offer a great number of sailing itineraries, the Dodecanese are not the best place for beginner skippers. The prevailing wind in summer is called meltemi and it blows from the northwest with a force ranging from 4 to 7 knots. Though it doesn’t blow daily, it does happen to blow for 5 to 10 days at a time on occasion. This makes heading north very difficult in July and August. Thusly, a good idea would be to plan a south sail during this time of the year.
However, for the intermediate and the advanced skippers, a trip to the Dodecanese can prove an unforgettable experience, as there are plenty things to see and do and there is great sailing to be has between the many islands. The best time to arrive here is from May to October, when air temperatures during the day can go as high as 35 degrees Celsius due to plenty of sunshine.