Amalfi coast sailing holidays

They say Odysseus bound himself to his mast and ordered his crew to stuff beeswax in their ears, so as not to be lured off course by sirens’ songs. These Amalfi Coast assassins were said to lure men to their deaths on the rocks. Depending on which legend you prefer, they might have had the bodies of birds, or they might have been mermaids.
Sailing out of Amalfi towards Capri you may well pass the rock stacks known as Li Galli – the cocks – or the Sirenusas, which are tied to the Odysseus legend as tight as he was bound to the mast. The rock stacks’ blinding white limestone is striking against the blue sea, just as elegantly as the more famous Faraglioni stacks off the coast of Capri, and the white cliffs of the coast itself – cliffs so steep and so high, that the best impression of them is from the sea.
At night, at anchor you can sit and watch as the town lights are turned on, one by one. Some days, the high cliffs are snagged up with cloud, whilst the sky above the sea stays beautifully clear.
There is a lot of to-ing and fro-ing along this coast. Naples is one of the biggest ports on the Mediterranean. Cargo ships bound for Sicily track across the horizon, and fast catamarans motor between the islands. Mooring costs are high and space is at a premium, but there’s a reason everyone is here. You’re sailing in the wake of legends.

Another legend picks up where Homer’s stops. When Parthenope the siren was rejected by Odysseus, she cast herself into the sea and washed up on the Bay of Naples – her head became Capodimonte Hill and her tail runs along Posillipo. To this day, Neapolitans also call themselves Parthenopeans.

Coastal towns

Off the Amalfi Coast you’ll have to point your binoculars up, not across, to see the next port of call. The towns climb high above the water, and their colourful facades and charming streets call more seductively than any bird-shaped siren.
From the water, navigating becomes a hunt for each town’s most conspicuous monuments. You can recognise Amalfi from the large gallery that runs alongside its cemetery across the hillside. The island of Ischia's main port is easily given away by its steady stream of ferries.
These Amalfi Coast towns were once fierce fishing rivals. “When a school of fish is sighted the lampara boats run for it,” John Steinbeck said, writing in Harper’s Bazaar about his visit to Positano in 1953. Then, the Amalfi Coast was on the cusp of its tourism boom. Nowadays, it’s more likely that you’ll see pleasure boats compete for mooring buoys. Fish are still caught today – tiny speciality anchovies, off the Amalfi Coast town of Cetara.

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Amalfi Coast sailing holiday, Italy

Amalfi Coast sailing holiday, Italy

Gorgeous beaches, ancient ruins & sumptuous fresh seafood

From £1969 to £2234 7 days ex flights
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What does sailing on the Amalfi Coast entail?

This is a brilliant sailing destination. With stable summer weather and gentle winds, the Amalfi Coast is well suited to first-timers. The flanking coast is dramatic and beautiful, with lots of huge villas and charming towns drawing the eye along the cliffs. The Tyrrhenian Sea, if not always at its cleanest around Naples port, is crystal clear for swimming elsewhere, and there are a number of small, but exquisitely situated pebble beaches along the way. There’s plenty of time for resting and sunbathing.

Cruising in company

On a small group sailing trip you’ll pay for a cabin and share the boat with other guests. A skipper and crew will do the sailing, so you don’t need any qualifications, and booking a berth is cheaper than booking out an entire boat. Space is at a premium on sailing boats, and solo travellers will have to share their cabin with another. The idea is that you won’t spend much time below deck. Most of these cruises factor in lots of swimming opportunities, and you’ll get meals cooked on board – with the opportunity to disembark for dinner.

Flotilla and bareboat

If you’ve got the qualifications, or know someone who has, you can charter your own boat. A flotilla holiday means that you’ll have your own vessel, but be part of a fleet. A head boat will support you and book all your evening moorings. In the daytime, you can sail as you please.
More confident sailors can go bareboating, which gives you the boat, and the boat alone. You’ll need to be more confident and organised, but you’ll also be able to travel further afield along the coast – like Ponza in the Pontine Islands. You’ll need someone in your party to hold an ICC – International Certificate of Competence, equivalent to a RYA Day Skipper.

Amalfi Coast sailing highlights

Pontine Islands

The remote Pontine Islands sit half way between Naples and Rome. Used in the Roman times – mostly as a place to banish misbehaving royalty, the islands were abandoned in the Middle Ages to pillaging pirates and then used again as prisons and penal colonies. These days the biggest, Ponza, is known for its geology, in particular its sea caves – and for its beaches. Ventotene is closer to Naples, car-free, and well known to birdwatchers.

Naples Bay islands

Procida, Ischia and Capri are the three islands that get the most visitors in Naples Bay. Procida is better known to locals than to tourists, but its large marina is a common embarking point for sailing holidays. Ischia is a popular beach getaway, once hosting many famous celebrities. Garibaldi stayed here, as did English composer William Walton, who planted the impressive Mortella Gardens as soon as he moved in. Capri is the most famous island in Naples Bay – even having a pair of cropped trousers named after it. Its sights – from its Blue Grotto to its boutiques, attract a buzz of visitors, but sailors can use Marina Piccola for a quieter mooring.

Amalfi Coast

Sorrento and Amalfi are two of a selection of charming coastal towns on the brief but beautiful 50km stretch known as the Amalfi Coast. Sorrento sits at the gateway to the coast, closest to Naples, whilst Amalfi is the unofficial capital. An Amalfi harbour worker is credited with inventing the first sailor’s compass, so modern-day sailors ought to stop and pay a visit to the still charming town. Both towns have a warren of maze-like streets climbing up the hill. Take them at a slow pace, or arrive at the top of the hill looking – as the writer John Steinbeck so gracefully put it “like a washcloth at a boys’ camp.”

Keeping it responsible

Sailors are very strict about never throwing anything overboard, and even picking up plastic they come across in the sea. It’s important that you don’t spend all your time on the boat – not just to avoid cabin fever, but to contribute to the local economy. Paying mooring fees, and stepping ashore at a quiet town to try the local restaurant will ensure the coastline you’ve been admiring benefits from your presence. A few limoncello shots down, you'll declare that it was a very good idea indeed.

Best time to go

Group sailing trips run from May to September, but you can bareboat and flotilla into October. Winters can be pretty rainy, but in the summer the weather is nice and stable. Winds can be remarkably gentle and the temperature sits in the high twenties and low thirties. The main winds here are the Sirocco –a hot, dry wind which comes from the south, across the Mediterranean from the Sahara – and the Tramontana, a cooler wind which comes off the Alps and the Apennines from the North. If you visit the Pontine Islands in spring, you’ll be joined by many migrating birds, who used Ventotene as a base.
Written by Eloise Barker
Photo credits: [Page banner: Joe Byrnes] [Port at nighttime: Gregory Smirnoff] [Coastal town: Jeff Cooper] [Flotilla: Andrew Buchanan] [Amalfi Coast: Silvia Trigo] [Dusk: Aliya Azumi]