You have heard it said that the Caribbean is one of the best cruising grounds in the world! But if you are new to cruising, how do you know that this area is really as great as everybody says?
Whether you are excited about sailing around the world or venturing beyond the West Indies, or you are happily island hopping in the Caribbean Sea for an indefinite period of time, there is no denying all the qualities the Caribbean has to offer as a cruising ground. While there are many more highlights for boaters in these islands than I mention here, like regattas, magical sunsets, good rum, people’s hospitality, and the cost of living, these are my top ten reasons that make cruising in the Caribbean such a joy.
1. Consistent trade winds
Often taken for granted, but arguably the most pleasant Caribbean feature for the true sailor is the consistency of the trade winds. It is always possible to sail between the islands – and windward of them – and often along their leeward side as well, if you are patient. Usually, our catamaran Irie made it from port to port quicker than expected and most trips were invigorating. Apart from great sailing, these easterly winds provide a pleasant cooling off effect at anchor – much needed to comfortably enjoy the tropics. Boats generally face into the wind, preventing collisions with neighbors, since everyone is doing the same thing, and dinghies lay neatly astern. Sun and breeze ensure that solar panels and wind generators work efficiently.
2. Comfortable anchorages
The availability and abundance of decent anchorages – comfortable, protected, with good holding – in the Caribbean is a treat compared to other parts of the world. Most anchorages offer a lovely setting and their diversity means there is something for everyone. Yes, there are quite a few areas where you have to wiggle yourself into the masses and claim a spot, but it is just as easy to find a remote piece of paradise and have it all to yourself! The Caribbean basin is bigger than you think and getting off the beaten track reveals plenty of peaceful hang-outs for the night, the week … or the month.
3. Rewarding social life
The Caribbean is a happening place! It is extremely easy to make new friends and bump into old ones. Hopping over to the neighbors to say “hi” is a common thing to do and onshore, bars with good happy hours, restaurants with a local scene and perfect beaches for a potluck abound. Because the island chain attracts so many cruisers, it is easier to find like-minded and similarly aged people to connect with.
One reason the Caribbean is such a popular cruising ground is because it is ‘easy to get and do things’. Wherever you run into a problem, a desire or a need, you are only minutes away from help or a solution. Goods and services, like food, boat parts, water, fuel, or propane are often within dinghy distance in the form of a grocery store, hardware depot, marina, market, fuel station or public transportation link. Reaching a boatyard or marine store might require the mother ship to be moved, but usually never further than a day away. Shipping parts in from abroad is very feasible and doesn’t break the bank, with the right amount of patience. Storing the boat long term is possible on many islands.
For North American and European cruisers, the Caribbean islands are conveniently located to receive visitors or leave the boat to fly ‘home’. Flights are regular, airports numerous and fares affordable compared to more remote cruising areas.
6. Short distances between islands
Another plus is the short distances between islands. If you are not fond of sailing long distances (which you can still choose to do, of course), a pleasant day sail will bring you from one tropical paradise to the next. Often a few hours’ sail will take you to a different country with its own culture, people, food, traditions, and wonders.
7. Abundance of attractions and activities
Even though they have a lot in common, each island offers a plethora of unique treasures. One can spend years in the Caribbean and still find new sights and experiences. The attractions are as diverse as the interests of their spectators and range from picture-perfect beaches, wonderful snorkeling, historic buildings and colorful markets to glistening waterfalls, challenging hikes to mountain tops, and heart pulsing carnivals. You can relax, you can be active; you can grab some inexpensive food at a market or sit down for a gourmet dinner. You can buy fish from a fisherman or catch one for yourself. You can meet the friendly locals ashore or you can enjoy the surroundings from your cockpit and have a romantic, quiet evening onboard.
8. Reliable weather forecasts
Imagine listening to weather forecasts, following weather reports and scrutinizing over weather models, being tuned into the SSB, VHF or internet sites (text and graphs) for hours a day to understand what the weather has in store for you and to plan the next sailing trip or passage. Then, on the day of departure – or even worse, while you are already underway – everything has changed. Wind speed and direction have altered and – if only you knew – you wish you would have stayed in that comfy, protected bay. Don’t worry … this doesn’t (shouldn’t) happen in the Caribbean.
9. Easy dinghy landings
Yes, it is annoying and disrespectful when other cruisers use short painters to tie their dinghy or leave their outboards in the upward position while parked next to other inflatables. But, at least there are (floating) docks to secure and safely leave your dink while going ashore. Or, there is a patch of smooth sand to drag your dinghy out of the water. Compared to rocky shores, reef strewn beaches, crashing surf and wooden docks with protruding nails or cement monsters with crusted barnacles and nowhere to tie a line; Caribbean dinghy parking can be bliss.
10. Common language
Apart from the French overseas territories and parts of the Spanish West Indies, conversations are a non-issue for English speaking visitors. Part of the allure of traveling is being able to communicate with the locals and exchange stories, experiences, thoughts, and laughs, while enjoying each other’s company. Having a language in common – with fellow cruisers or with folks onshore – enhances the cruising experience tremendously and is something we miss in other parts of the world.
While our wandering spirits have brought us far beyond the ‘easy and convenient’ Caribbean, my husband Mark and I have very fond memories of our years of exploring the island chain and venturing towards the basin’s western extremities. Adventure waits beyond the horizon, but the Caribbean is a cruising ground to cherish, enjoy and appreciate.