Short on time? Have a boat too small for long-range cruising? Ready to explore new waters? The solution: assemble a group of friends and book a roomy yacht from a base island a short flight away.
Since you already know how to sail, your check-out will be a snap. The main challenge will be deciding what you need to bring, as I learned while chartering a Moorings Beneteau 473 out of Tortola with two other couples this year. Like any vacation, a bareboat charter is more carefree if you travel light. Inter-island planes often have luggage weight limitations—in our case, just 25 pounds per person on Seaborne Airlines from St. Croix to St. Thomas. Paring down to the essentials, we decided to bring along:
Congenial traveling companions
In close quarters you need like-minded travelers for a harmonious voyage. Discuss key issues before making a deposit. Is your group willing to spring for the cost of a boat with private head and cabin for each traveling party? (Well worth it.) Do you envision cooking on the boat, or prefer to dine out most nights? Does anyone have must-see islands for the itinerary? Do you want to start out early each day and snag good moorings by early afternoon—or party till midnight and sleep in late? Will one person be official captain or will you take turns being in charge? Make sure everyone has similar expectations or risk losing a friendship.
Our group wanted to enjoy the great restaurants everywhere in the BVIs and avoid heavy-duty galley-slaving. We pre-arranged for The Moorings to stock the boat with the heaviest items like bottled water, spirits, and soft drinks. We brought a few lightweight items from home like tea bags, zip lock bags, coffee filters, and sweetener. On boat-boarding day, we strolled over to Riteway in Tortola and brought back breakfast, lunch, and snack fare. Prices in stores and restaurants were about the same as in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Tip: Survey the galley before your shopping trip so you don’t buy the dish soap that’s already on board. Save your plastic grocery bags to carry off trash during the week.
You already know that collapsible duffel bags make more sense on boats than hard-sided luggage. A couple of bathing suits, a few pair of shorts, sun hat, boat shoes, sandals and some tee shirts—you’re good to go for a bareboat holiday. Some sailors in our group wore long sleeves for sun protection and we all brought sunscreen. Women packed loose pants outfits and the men in our group added collared shirts for evenings at the nicer restaurants ashore. Forget about hairdryers, makeup, and fancy clothes. Tip: lightweight backpacks work better than camera bags or purses since they leave both hands free during dinghy embarkation.
Your own snorkel mask that fits well is worth bringing, along with your own snorkel tube—just pick up a set of the fins your charter operator will provide. One couple in our group was smart enough to pack their small walkie-talkie radios—they were a luxury for quiet communication between captain and bow crew during anchoring or mooring. Another handy item is a small light or colored bulb to hang in your cockpit when you leave for dinner—differentiating your boat as you dinghy back through a dark mooring field of similar vessels.
Odds and Ends
The usual travel gameplan applies regarding cash, credit cards (accepted most places in the BVIs), and passports. With a sudden episode of back pain the first day, I was glad I had a prescription painkiller and plenty of Tylenol; pack your favorite remedies for colds, allergy attacks, bug bites, cuts, and so on. You’ll need sunglasses, of course—regular and/or prescription—with spare glasses or contact lenses. Add a home-size bar of soap to your toiletry kit—the ones on the boat are tiny. Hand sanitizer liquid is great on a boat. Bring your digital camera, favorite CDs, and reading material.
What not to bring
We could have left beach towels at home—The Moorings provided them in the courtesy package along with other linens and homey items like dish towels, pot holders, sponges, toilet paper, paper towels, and matches. Our boat also had a coffeepot, binoculars, a box of clothes pins for securing wet towels on safety lines in the breeze, flashlight, a first aid kit, Off bug spray, and a flyswatter (well-employed one night off Jost Van Dyke.) The boat had an ice chest, foul weather jackets, life raft, tool box, fire extinguisher, charts of BVI waters, and books on the flora and fauna of the Caribbean.
A perfect vacation
It’s hard to beat sharing lobster crepes by sunset with your buddies at Donovan’s Reef on Scrub Island, then heading back to a sailboat for a glass of champagne under the stars with no one else around—unless it’s awakening to a cup of coffee and making plans for another day’s adventure in the British Virgin Islands. Our bareboat holiday was perfect— and the rest of the Caribbean is waiting.
Chris Goodier is a freelance writer from Washington, DC who moved to St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands in 1999, and is editorial director for All at Sea.