Freediving & sailing holidays in Greece

Is this the dreamiest of the extreme sports? Freediving is all about concentrating on your breath in search of longer, deeper dives. Take the plunge and commune with the deep.
Sail across breezy straits between fir-topped Ionian islands. Anchor alongside cave-riddled limestone cliffs. Submerge yourself slowly, and discover the euphoric sensation of pushing yourself to the limit. Forget fiddly scuba gear – free diving is the freest way to enjoy the sea.

If you’ve free dived before, you’ll know it as a meditative experience just as much as an exercise in endurance. Wearing long, graceful fins – or without any artificial aid at all – you can seek out the depths of some of the bluest waters in Greece. The Ionian islands are excellent terrain for freedivers. There’s great visibility and an underwater topography that includes caves, shelves, coral – and even wrecks. In between dives, make landfall on the quiet, under-explored coves of the Ionian islands to hike to tiny chapels and vine-dappled tavernas.

Sailing and freediving are natural bedfellows. You can go from bunk to sea bed in a matter of minutes. Enjoy the supreme freedom of freediving: no fiddling around with scuba gear, no filling tanks (just your lungs). In this exhilarating sport, your own endurance sets the only limits. It’s a holiday that’s filled with pockets of silence. Underwater, you won’t hear the rasp of loud breath sucked through scuba equipment. On deck, you might stir to the occasional clanking of the halyard against the mast, or the flap of a sail as the wind shifts.

Our top Extreme adventure Holiday

Freediving and sailing holiday in Greece

Freediving and sailing holiday in Greece

-sail, freedive and explore the Ionian Sea

From €1250 6 days ex flights
Small group travel:
2020: 26 Jul
Travel Team
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What exactly is freediving?

Simply, freediving is diving without the use of breathing apparatus. Divers learn to equalise their inner ear pressure with the growing water pressure as they go down. You might use long fins to propel yourself down and you might wear a full body suit for hydrodynamism, and to regulate your body temperature. You might also wear a mask, but you don’t actually need to use anything at all. This is the oldest kind of diving in the world, and it’s intensely evocative. Feted French director Luc Besson’s 1988 film The Big Blue cemented freediving in the public imagination as a dreamlike voyage into the depths. The current record depth for a dive is an astonishing 300m.

What does freediving & sailing
in Greece entail?

On your freediving and sailing holiday you’ll live aboard a small modern sailing boat with a maximum of eight guests and two crew. A licensed freediving instructor is on hand to teach – and you could try your hand at spear fishing under their tutelage, too (everyone will be grateful if you get good enough to put dinner on the table that evening). You’ll have the opportunity to gain a freediving certificate at the end of the trip.

If you’re a skilled sailor and a skilled freediver, all credit to you. If not, the crew are on hand to help you with both activities. The focus of this holiday is on freediving, rather than learning to sail, but your skipper can teach you about the boat and you can participate as much or as little as you like with anchoring, winches and lines. Once the freediving starts there’s much to learn. Most lessons – even theory – take place in the water, so you spend as much time in the sea as possible. Holding your breath and equalising are skills that you can improve rapidly, especially if you’re diving multiple times a day.

Everyone sleeps on board in one of the double cabins or the bunk bed cabin, and there are shared bathrooms. Breakfast is provided and guests can cook their own lunch and dinner on board. There’s an opportunity to shop for supplies at the start of the trip, and to top up the fridge en route. Every day the boat will leave for a new destination, anchoring for a lunchtime exploration, and coming to a sleepy harbour to berth safely for the night. The boat navigates fairly short distances every day, a couple of hours at most, so that there’s plenty of time to enjoy each destination – above or below sea level.
The norm on trips like this is to bring your own freediving equipment, but you can arrange the boat to source your equipment in advance if you want, including full-length diving suits, the characteristic long fins (snorkelling fins won’t do here) and masks. There’s spear fishing equipment as well as a hefty pile of skandalopetra stones. The boat also provides the necessary lines, buoys and weights for safe diving. There are also snorkelling bits, water toys and there’s a little dinghy with an outboard. As trips depart in high summer, expect heat and pack a hat, sun cream, a few pairs of shorts, and a jacket for cooler evenings. There are opportunities to hike, so pack trainers or walking shoes, and not just flip flops.

This trip endeavours to operate with the lightest possible impact on the environment. Rather than participating in a mass flotilla holiday, you’re part of one small boat which avoids single-use plastic and aims to minimise all its waste. Divers are encouraged to pick up any litter they find on the sea bed. On land, you can pick wild sage and oregano instead, to jazz up your evening meal. Local products are used whenever possible and crew can also recommend family and locally-run restaurants on shore – and steer you towards sustainable choices on their menus, too.

Is freediving safe?

When it’s done properly, yes. Just like scuba, you should never dive alone, and you should know your limits. Equalising the pressure in your ear when you dive is one of the main problems divers have, as the pressure can cause pain. When pushed to the extreme, freedivers can black out – but this is unusual and every measure is taken on this freediving trip to dive safely. You’ll be supervised by a trained instructor at all times.

Freediving in Greece

In Ionian Islands you’ll find yourself back at the historic root of the sport. People have been free diving in Greece for millennia to search for sea sponges. Some of their techniques are still used today. On this trip you can use skandalopetra to improve your dive. You might recognise the Greek word ‘petra’, meaning rock, and skandalopetra are hydrodynamic hunks of marble or granite rock. Held by divers, they help them reach great depths without much exertion. The skandalopetra is then hauled back up to the surface by its rope. It’s an ancient diving technique, wholly elegant in its simplicity.

Where will I be going?

Leaving from Lefkada Island, you’ll sail between the inhabited and uninhabited Ionian Islands, including Kefalonia – the sixth largest island in Greece, little Ithaca next door, and Meganisi, just off the coast of larger Lefkada. Lefkada is quiet, but Fiscardo, Kefalonia’s bustling northernmost port, is busy with daytrippers, and the famous Melissani caves near Sami are popular for their dazzling water and stalactite ceilings. Your trip will also take you to harder-to-reach pockets, like Papanikilos sea cave on Meganisi, rumoured to have harboured a Greek submarine during Word War II, uninhabited Atokos island and quiet Vathi, the sleepy main town on Ithaca.

Practicalities

Participants in freediving and sailing holidays in Greece must be 14 years old or over. The best airport to fly into is Aktion Airport in Preveza on the mainland, as it’s just 20 minutes from Lefkada Marina. Tours run in July. Luckily, the Ionian islands are amazing in high summer. Greener and breezier than the eastern side of Greece, they stay cooler than, say, Crete, and the water temperature is at its best. Visibility underwater is a respectable 20-30m at this calm time of year – great for divers.
Written by Eloise Barker
Photo credits: [Page banner: Marco Assmann] [Intro: Farhan Sharief] [What exactly is freediving?: pxhere] [What does freediving & sailing in Greece entail?: Phuket@photographer.net] [Where will I be going?: dronepicr]
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