Within one week's time no less than two sets of California friends asked me about chartering a boat in the Caribbean. One group included an offshore racer who could no longer count the number of times he had raced a sled to Hawaii, Ensenada or Cabo and his wife had flown in to greet him. The other group included three top level husband and wife Snipe teams who had raced their dinghies in events all over the world. The Bahamas, Japan, Sweden, Uruguay – they had sailed at every exotic place imaginable but not one of them had ever been to the Caribbean! Their sailing resumes were more than adequate to satisfy the charter companies of their sailing ability.
My friends had saved up frequent flyer miles and had determined that they were going to the BVI's. The offshore racer wanted to try something really different, so he decided to charter a catamaran. The three couples on board the cat could enjoy their privacy and have plenty of storage space by using the spare cabin to stow extra gear. The Snipe sailors opted for a monohull.
For the weeks before the great vacations, everyone took up a vigorous exercise routine. I spied the ones who lived in my neighborhood running early in the morning and late at night, pushing child-laden baby carriages up hills and going to the gym for spin classes, extra sets of sit-ups and core exercises. They wanted to look good in their bathing suits and they wanted to eat and drink with near reckless abandon while they were on vacation. In the case of the Snipe sailors, it would be the first vacation that they had taken without their respective young broods in over five years. While charter companies make available large numbers of boats for charter during regattas such as St. Martin's Heineken Regatta, the Californians were taking a break from racing also.
I rattled off my list of favorite spots just as my Virgin Island friends had done with me the year before. I told them that there were so many great places to kick back and relax that they wouldn't be able to visit them all in one week. I gave them pointers about the wind and sea conditions and where I would go given certain wind directions and sea states and then I reassured them that most of their questions would be answered in the book that they would receive from the charter company well before they left the dock. The book and assorted brochures and charts that would be provided to them would make things pretty clear and their orientation, complete with slides showing the approaches to popular mooring areas and harbors, charts and maps indicating heavily frequented bars and restaurants would make everything crystal clear.
Off they went to Tortola's Road Harbor where The Moorings, Sunsail and Barefoot Yacht Charters have their hubs. One group brought some cereals and dry goods with them to complement the provisioning package that they selected from the charter company. The other group planned on dining out for every meal. Both sets were determined to visit every sailor's paradise, The Bitter End Yacht Club. Over the years they had heard so many stories about Jost van Dyke that a visit at Foxy's was unanimously voted into their voyage plan also. At least one of them was hoping to get shipwrecked there.
Tortola is incredibly accessible by plane and by ferry and I am sure that plenty of sailors have walked from the airport to the dinghy dock in Long Bay or Trellis Bay to meet up with their crew. However, if you are chartering, Road Town is a must see. Four hundred Moorings, Sunsail and Footloose charter boats are based in the marina, that's about 350 more than are at any of the other charter hubs in the world. Monohulls comprise approximately 60% of the fleet. The rest are catamarans, including 25 power cats. Powercats are becoming more popular because they offer space, stability and comfort. Good seamanship is a must on every boat, but operating a powerboat does not require the same skill level as needed to operate a sailboat.
Line of sight navigation throughout over two dozen islands, warm water, dependable wind and a smartly developed infrastructure to cater to charter boaters and cruisers, the BVI is the most popular cruising ground in the world, but it is not the only one in the Caribbean. The Moorings' Caribbean bases include the BVI's, Antigua, Guadeloupe, Martinique, St. Vincent and St. Martin. Belize and Grenada have been added to its offerings this year. Each set of Caribbean Islands has its own flavor, culture and festivals that will make each of your Caribbean charter vacations special in its own right. My friends enjoyed their experience so much that before they returned to their routines in California they committed to booking another bare boat charter in the Caribbean.
Lynn Fitzpatrick's articles on sailing appear regularly in international publications including AARP The Magazine and Cruising World. She has been a highly competitive Snipe sailor and was the 2008 Sports Information Specialist for sailing at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.