British Virgin Islands
BoatU.S. Magazine November 2009
Here are four fabulous winter charter destinations ranging from close to home to exotic Central
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: BOB CARE/FLORIDA KEYS NEWS BUREAU, GREAT HARBOUR CHARTERS, THE MOORINGS, CARLA SHAMBLEN, ANDY NEWMAN/ FLORIDA KEYS NEWS BUREAU ROB KRIST/ FLORIDA KEYS NEWS BUREAU, PETER KING/KING YACHT CHARTERS, THE MOORINGS
British Virgin Islands Bahamas
America — and lots of insider tips on the best ways to enjoy them — By Louisa Beckett
BoatU.S. Magazine November 2009 29
B AB A C o s
efore you sit home all winter with your boat on the hard, stop and
think. If you daydream about cruising between verdant islands
with white-sand beaches lapped by a turquoise sea, now is a great
time to book a reasonably priced bareboat-charter vacation in
sunny southern cruising grounds.
If you’ve never chartered before, getting started is easy.
There’s a charter boat — sail or power, bareboat or crewed — no
matter your experience level or budget. A winter charter is a
great way to reconnect with your family without distractions
such as Game Boys and Wiis — although you’d be surprised how
well-equipped some of these charter boats can be. Companies
offer a choice between monohulls or catamarans; the latter have
more spacious accommodations and are great for landlubber friends
who don’t care for heeling.
These four destinations
offer great weather, beautiful scenery, and
a selection of charter boats from some of
the world’s most reputable companies.
The Turquoise Paradise
The Sea of Abaco, in the northern part of The Bahamas, is an
ideal bareboat-charter cruising ground. Protected from the Atlantic
by a 120-mile chain of barrier islands, it’s deep and breezy enough
to attract sailors as well as powerboaters. Several charter fleets are
centrally located in Marsh Harbour on Great Abaco Island, which
has an international airport. Settled by British Loyalists fleeing treasure Cay has one of the best beaches in the island chain – 3.5
America during the Revolutionary War, the Abacos have a quaint miles of soft white sand.
Colonial ambiance — although the vibrant colors of the houses Hope town on Elbow Reef Cay is the site of the barber-pole-
add a Bahamian touch. A boat is the best way to travel here, giving striped lighthouse that serves as the symbol of the Abacos.
bareboaters an advantage over resort guests. Fishing, snorkeling, Restaurants perched along the spine of this cay have steps leading
diving, ocean beaches, and local barbecues are among the many to the beaches on the Atlantic side.
attractions. off tHe traCk:
pelican Cays Land and Sea park, about 20 nautical miles south
SuggeSted StopS: This tried-and-true route takes you on a of Elbow Cay, is worth the trip for spectacular reef diving and snor-
counterclockwise circuit of the Sea of Abaco. keling. This 2,100-acre marine park is home to dozens of species
Man-o-War Cay, one of of tropical fish and seabirds.
the best-preserved Colonial Hot dateS:
ports in the Abacos, is the Junkanoo celebrations are held at Green Turtle Cay and Marsh
Green Turtle Cay home of Albury Brothers Harbour December 26.
Great Guana Cay
Boatbuilders, which has Bahamas Billfish Championship: The Treasure Cay leg is April
Treasure Cay been handcrafting skiffs for 21-24, 2010.
Man-O-War Cay generations.
Hope Town great guana Cay offers a
ATLANTIC OCEAN scenic anchorage, Bakers BrITIsh vIrGIn IslAnds
Bay. Nipper’s Beach Bar
and Grill is a local favorite
The Enduring Classic
Great Abaco known for its Sunday Wild Legend has it that Norman Island in the BVI inspired Robert
Boar Pig Roast. Louis Stevenson’s masterpiece novel Treasure Island. In fact, the
green turtle Cay gives entire island chain looks like the set of a pirate movie. The scenery
boaters the choice between ranges from green volcanic isles to small sandy cays to natural won-
STATES tying up at upscale Green ders such as The Baths. At the heart of it is Drake Passage, a wide
Turtle Club marina or swath of deep blue water blessed by steady gentle tradewinds.
anchoring off the port of There are quite a few bareboat charter operations located in Tortola,
??? New Plymouth for a stroll in the BVI capital. Access is easy, thanks to the international airport
its sculpture garden. on adjacent Beef Island. Protected anchorages are plentiful here,
30 BoatU.S. Magazine November 2009
ATLANTIC OCEAN Power cats are popular among bareboaters for their size and stability.
Left, many of the small islands in the Abacos are uninhabited, allowing you to
get in touch with nature.
??? North Sound
Jost Van Dyke the Bitter End Yacht Club, Oct. 31-Nov. 7.
foxy’s Music fest is an annual attraction in March at Foxy’s Bar
Cooper Island on Jost van Dyke.
Saint Thomas Saint John
typically next to a long white beach with an open-air bar. Unlike
some other charter destinations, the BVI blend natural beauty with
The Protected Islands
cosmopolitan dining and nightlife. Tucked into the Caribbean coast of Central America between
Mexico and Guatemala, Belize is home to unspoiled nature. Its
SuggeSted StopS: International charter brokers Peter and 350-mile reef, a World Heritage Site, is the biggest barrier reef in
Carol King of King Yacht Charters, who’ve led many charter flotillas the Western Hemisphere. Protected from waves behind this vast
through the BVI, share their favorite itinerary: reef are hundreds of uninhabited cays with a few rustic restaurants
Cooper Island: This anchorage is a short dinghy ride from the and resorts, home to teeming marine life, including whale sharks
wreck of the R.M.S. Rhone off neighboring Salt Island. Sunk by a — the biggest fish on the planet. While Belize is best known for its
storm in 1867, the Rhone’s bow and prop are a diver’s delight. world-famous diving and snorkeling, sailors love its gentle waters,
the Baths: A jumble of giant boulders on the beach, this is the consistent tradewinds, and uncrowded anchorages. The interna-
BVI’s biggest tourist attraction. Get here early, snag a mooring close tional airport is in Belize City on the coast. The bareboat charter
enough to swim in; no dinghies allowed. bases are located in Ambergris Cay and Placencia. In addition to
North Sound: This Virgin Gorda sound is usually aflutter with sails serving as gateways to the barrier reef, these towns are jumping-off
from the Bitter End Yacht Club’s fleet. Leverick Bay Resort features spots for expeditions to Belize’s lush rainforests, and the breathtak-
Jumbie dancing on Fridays. ing ancient Mayan city of Tikal, inland, a must-see.
Marina Cay: See the airport you flew into over the rim of a
Painkiller, the signature drink at Pusser’s. SuggeSted StopS: The Moorings charter company suggests
Jost Van dyke: Anchor in Little Harbor and enjoy a meal at gunkholing amongst these coral cays from its base in Placencia.
Sydney’s Peace and Love, then take a taxi or hike over the hill Wippari Cay: The fishing is excellent near this anchorage, and
(bring plenty of water) to famous Foxy’s for live music. the day’s catch often winds up on the menu at the Sea Urchin Bar
Norman’s Island: Snorkel the coral reefs around the dramatic rock and Restaurant.
formations called the Indians en route, then head to the William South Water Cay: Part of the World Heritage Site, this barrier
Thornton floating restaurant (the “Willy T” for short), known for island is near a drop-off that offers great snorkeling and diving.
its wild parties, if you’re game. thatch Caye: You can pick up a mooring off this eco-tourism
off the traCk: resort and come ashore to get a closer look at the wild coatimundi,
At the northwest end of the BVI, 14 miles from Virgin Gorda, is spider monkeys and iguanas that live here.
anegada. Formerly off limits to charterers, you can go if you get Lagoon Cay: Bird-watching, swimming and sunbathing are popu-
advance permission. This island has beautiful beaches and fresh lar ways to wile away the hours on this cay with its deep lagoon.
lobster. The Kings recommend uncrowded Cow Wreck Beach. Queen Cay: White sandy beaches dotted with tall palms overlook
hot dateS: fringing reefs ripe for snorkeling.
pro am regatta, featuring Olympic gold medalist Anna Tunnicliffe, placencia: Save time before your departure to visit this coastal fish-
BoatU.S. Magazine November 2009 31
ing village and sample Creole cuisine in its cafes.
Off The Track:
Scuba divers will want to extend their stay by taking a tour out to
the Great Blue hole on Lighthouse Cay, about 60 miles off Belize
City. A limestone sinkhole with a shimmering blue surface 1,000
feet across, it’s ringed by sheer walls plunging hundreds of feet.
fiesta de carnaval: This country-wide celebration is held the
ATLANTIC OCEAN week before Ash Wednesday, February 17, 2010.
Dive with the Whale sharks off Placencia, on the full moons
South Water Cay between February and May.
Queen Cay Pass FLORIDA KEYS
The American Gems
You don’t need to go overseas to find teal-green water, palm-
studded cays, tiki bars, shipwrecks and coral. Just an hour south
of Miami is America’s own tropical island chain, the Florida Keys.
Anyone who’s driven the 120-mile Overseas Highway from Key
Largo to Key West knows it’s better to make the trip by boat.
Charter skippers have a choice of routes: “inside” along Florida Bay,
where the flats fishing can be phenomenal, or “outside” in Hawk
Channel, dotted with popular snorkeling and diving spots. There
are bareboat charter companies offering power and sail options in
Miami and Key West; both are served by international airports.
The Keys are a year-round cruising destination, but be prepared for
chilly temperatures if you go in January and February.
suGGesTeD sTOps: We called Captain Danny Valls of Cruzan
Yacht Charters for his list of hot spots. How many you can hit
Snorkeling and scuba diving are popular activities for bareboaters off the coast depends on where you start your cruise.
of Belize thanks to the 350-mile-long barrier reef. Below, bonefish, tarpon, and key Largo: There are several marinas here and plenty of options for
permit are sought after by flats fishermen off the Florida Keys. dining and nightlife. Offshore, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State
Park offers some of the best diving and snorkeling in the U.S.
Key Largo Lignumvitae key: Get back to nature on the walking trails of this
Botanical State Park, a virgin tropical hammock.
Islamorada: For nightlife and an all-around party atmosphere,
try Holiday Isle Beach Resort and Marina, home to a large fleet of
charter sportfishing boats.
Islamorada Duck cay: The Dolphin Connection at Hawk’s Cay Resort and
Marina lets you interact with dolphins — a sure-fire kid pleaser.
top to bottom: the moorings, bob krist/florida keys news bureau
Big pine key: See the native miniature deer at the National Key
Big Pine Key
ATLANTIC OCEAN Deer Refuge Center or dive on spectacular coral formations at Looe
Key National Marine Sanctuary.
Key West key West: One of America’s premier destinations, this charming
tin-roofed town is rich in history, culinary arts, and watersports.
Don’t miss Ernest Hemingway’s house and sunset at Mallory
Square, complete with mimes, fire-eaters, and other buskers.
Off The Track:
Dry Tortugas National park, 70 miles west of Key West, is a fas-
cinating destination for experienced skippers. Visit Fort Jefferson
on Garden Key, the 19th Century military prison that held four
conspirators convicted of aiding the assassination of President
fantasy fest: Key West’s annual costume parade and week-long
bacchanal, Oct. 23 – Nov. 1.
key West race Week draws tops sailors from all over the U.S.,
January 18-22, 2010.
Although this article is about bareboat charters, another great option is a cruise ship
vacation. BoatU.S. members receive discounts on Star Clipper’s tall ships; or check
BoatUS.com’s online database of cruises: www.BoatUS.com/Travel
32 BoatU.S. Magazine November 2009
B areboat charter companies will ask
you to fill out a Skipper’s Resumé
with the following typical questions:
How long have you been boating?
Have you ever done a bareboat charter?
What size and type of boat do you use at home?
Are you a lake, coastal or offshore boater?
Can you use nav instruments and read charts?
How experienced are you at anchoring?
Breaking Into Bareboating
sailing-school charters. Enroll in one of
these and your boating vacation will
be educational as well as fun. If you
want to leave the driving and cooking
to others, consider a crewed charter.
These boats come in all sizes; a captain
and chef take care of your every need.
Most charter companies will
provide advance provisioning for
a fee — which saves you from
“As a rule of thumb, you’ll be able to charter spending the first day of your
a boat four to six feet longer than your primary vacation in the supermarket.
boat,” says Peter King, co-owner of King Yacht Bareboat charter rates depend on the type of boat,
Charters. If your boating experience doesn’t mea- destination, number of guests, and the time of year.
sure up to the charter company’s requirements, Off-peak, you can find Caribbean bareboat sailing char-
no worries. Reserve a smaller boat or, King says, ters starting at less than $1,000 per couple per week,
“The company will give you a skipper for one or plus expenses; powerboat charters are a little higher.
two days.” In some cases, only a few hours are Rates are at peak during the winter holiday season
needed for a professional captain to show you when it seems everyone wants to be in the islands.
the ropes. (The Moorings provides that service “During holiday periods, we sell out in most loca-
free through its “Friendly Skipper” program.) tions,” says Van Perry, of The
When you book your trip, “make sure the com- Moorings. “The ‘shoulder’
pany has a chase boat that will come out if some- period between Christmas
thing breaks on board,” King recommends. This and Valentine’s Day is typi-
will ensure minimal disruption to your vacation. cally good value; you will
If you’re more comfortable boating in a group, find offerings on select boats
a number of charter companies organize annual of 10 to 15 percent off.”
“flotillas” in top destinations. These multi-boat trips For advice on what kind of
are led by veteran skippers who choose the itiner- charter, destination, and type
ary and provide support. For the past 14 years, King of boat is right for you and your
Yacht Charters has led sailing flotillas in far-flung budget, call King Yacht Charters, independent charter
destinations around the world. A chief benefit of brokers who work with companies throughout the
flotilla chartering is the camaraderie of other people Caribbean and around the world. BoatU.S. members
when you want it, and the privacy of your own get a 5% discount off charters booked through Peter
boat when you don’t. and Carol King; their services are free to members
For people interested (fees are paid by the company with which
in learning to sail or they book your charter). To see the flotillas
improving their boat- they offer, and their services, visit
handling skills, some www.sailingcharters.com, or call
charter organizations, such (800) 521-7552. Be sure to mention
as Florida Yacht Charters, you are a BoatU.S. member. — L.B.
Sunsail, and Offshore
peter king/king yacht charters
Sailing School, offer
Cruzan Yacht Charters, www.cruzan.com
Florida Yacht Charters & Sales, www.floridayacht.com
Great Harbour Charters, www.greatharbourcharters.com
King Yacht Charters, www.sailingcharters.com
The Moorings, www.mooring.com
Star Clippers, www.starclippers.com
BoatU.S. Travel, www.BoatUS.com/Travel BoatU.S. Magazine November 2009 33