Returning to Athens in time for the Games

Oct 5, 2004 by Guest Writer

By Capt. Alex Greenson

During my 15 years in yachting, I have travelled all over the world, including many trips to the Eastern Med, in particular the waters of Greece.

I have had many experiences in Greece, both good and bad. This year, I returned to Greece on charter for the end of the summer Olympics. 

I was delighted and a little surprised by the success of the XXVIII Olympiad, but a little dismayed by the apparent price gouging occurring on the waterfront.

My first experience cruising the waters of Greece was in the early 1990s while skippering a 1939 Camper & Nicholsons classic ketch called Aile Blanche

During that summer, I gained respect for the prevailing Meltemi winds that blow in July and August, and I experienced firsthand the ins and outs of dealing with the Greek authorities. 

It was during this summer that I learned that obtaining a cruising permit and clearing in and out of Greek waters could be an exhaustive affair.

With the formation of the European Union, things were supposed to get less complicated. But I have found on my return trips to Greece that the Greeks not only have their own alphabet, but their own way of doing things, which is why I find it helpful to employ an agent while there.

Last summer, I was hired on board a yacht in Piraeus at the Zea Marina. The yacht had already hired the well-known agency A+, based in Piraeus. I was happy with everything they did for us, particularly with the personal and efficient service of Mike Brewer.

Before we left Greece, I spoke at length with him about a possible return for the 2004 summer Olympics. He emphasized the need to book early, or risk not being able to get berthing during the Olympics. My return with that yacht was not to be, however, as she was taken out of service and put seriously up for sale.

During my stay in Piraeus last summer, I went to all the obvious places one visits when in Athens and spent time in a popular area called Plaka souvenir shopping and eating Greek food.

I thoroughly enjoyed the time I had ashore, but was totally convinced Athens would never be ready in one year to host the Olympics. This was the impression I had after just a couple of taxi rides around the city, a full year before the Games.

The author at the Acropolis in August, with a view of Athens behind him. Just above his left shoulder is Olympic Stadium. Photo courtesy of Alex Greenson

This spring, I was not at all surprised by the news that Athens was grossly unprepared and very much behind schedule on many construction projects that were critical to the success of the Olympics. These stories continued through the spring and into the summer, until the opening ceremonies Aug. 13.

In late July, the manager of a well-known charter yacht contacted me about coming on board for a charter starting in Corfu and ending in Athens from Aug. 17-29.  

The family wanted a relaxing cruise in the Ionian, around Peloponnesus and into the Aegean, ending in Athens. They had tickets for some of the events, including the closing ceremonies.

I accepted the job offer and was excited at the idea of being in Athens for the Olympics, partly just to see how things had changed in the past year.

Most of the arrangements for dockage had been done prior to my arrival. The charter broker had selected an agent to handle all of the particulars necessary for cruising Greek waters, and for obtaining berthing in Athens during the Olympics. The agency chosen was not A+, but another one that was highly recommended.

One of the items that became an issue before the charter began was the high price tag for dockage in Athens. Our agent, who had made all of our arrangements, told us that in order to secure dockage during the last three days of the Olympics, we would have to pay for the entire month’s dockage.

This necessitated a request to the client for additional APA money, by the broker, because the dockage was going to consume more than 30 percent of the funds. 

This detail was handled by the charter broker, and didn’t seem to be a problem for the client, who wanted to be there at any cost. The dockage wasn’t the only item to consider, as we still had a bill to settle for the agent’s services.

We arrived at the entrance of the Flisvos Marina late in the afternoon on Aug. 26.  Prior to arriving, we e-mailed photographs of the entire crew and passengers, as well as copies of all passports, all part of the heavy security that surrounded the Olympics.

We arrived before 1800, as instructed, to allow time for a team of divers to dive on the hull for a security inspection. Having found no bombs attached to our hull, they allowed us to move to our 8,000-euro berth.

After securing the yacht, with the aid of divers and a tug we did not require, we noticed that the marina had more than half its berths available. Not only did we notice this, but the client noticed as well. The tug, even though not needed, was mandatory, and a charge for it was on the final marina invoice.

Once we were secure to the dock, crew and passengers were free to leave and return to the marina anytime they wanted, provided they carried their passport. 

The marina entrance had a command post, complete with metal detectors and X-ray machines.  The marina was patrolled by armed military personnel who carried machine guns.  Security was visible everywhere you looked.

Our charter guests thoroughly enjoyed the events they attended. To them, it was worth the inconvenience and the extra money just to be there. They left us on the morning of Aug. 29, the day of the closing ceremonies. I took advantage of the time off and went up to the Acropolis to see how things were in the city. Everything exceeded my expectations. 

If you weren’t there, you may have seen on television how well the Greeks hosted the Olympics. I didn’t go to any of the events; the thrill of being there was just as good.

Contact Capt. Alex Greenson at