It’s finally time to start planning your dream private charter in The Bahamas. A search online leads to a long list of options – seriously long and not for the faint of heart.
The vast array of options attests to the allure of The Bahamas as a charter destination, with secluded anchorages, short passages, coves sheltered from the wind and waves and hundreds of delightful islands, most uninhibited, and all beautiful.
First, make a list of your ‘must haves’ and ‘would likes.’ As with life, do not compromise on your must haves!
Choose Your Destination
Charter options in The Bahamas are as abundant as the 700-plus islands and cays that call themselves paradise. Like the islands themselves, there’s a charter option to suit every personality. Fancy a day under sail or a luxurious stay on a megayacht? Either way, the expression ‘no problem mon’ applies.
The islands boast unbelievably clear waters teeming with marine life: a boaters’ haven, perfect for exploring in the dinghy, enjoying water activities with the family, or lazy days enjoying the sun, a book and a cocktail on the deck or the beach.
The islands lie only 50 miles from the coast of Florida, making access incredibly convenient. Several international carriers fly into the islands, particularly the Abacos, Exuma Cays, and Nassau/Paradise Island – the three most popular charter locations. Abaco, the northern-most island is about 160 miles from Palm Beach.
Charter opportunities abound and include days under sail to nowhere, motorboat island hopping adventures, sunset dinner cruises, fishing trips, and private beach picnics on desert islands.
Day charter providers are available from all the main islands, and most established tour companies also offer private charters If there is a particular tour or experience in which you are interested, go ahead and enquire. Chances are you can find it.
Typical multi-day itineraries range from four to 21 days. There are budget-friendly options for exclusive or non-exclusive seven- to 10-day charters, with or without a crew, on a monohull or catamaran with companies like Navtours, a Canadian company specializing in chartering in the Exumas.
The Moorings has a base in the Abacos that provides clients with options for crewed, bareboat, sail and power yachts.
Both Navtours and The Moorings qualify clients for bareboat based on sailing experience, so you’ll need to submit a sailing resume. Clients of either company can also combine the vacation experience with onboard sailing school.
There’s no shortage of independent, locally owned and operated charter companies, offering the added advantage of a local crew with extensive and knowledge of local waters, history, culture and interesting sites.
Cliff and Liza Block, owners and crew of Catamaran Solstice, with nine years of full-time chartering experience in the Exuma Cays, suggest that understanding and researching your cruising area is crucial, and the crew can offer a wealth of insight.
“Cruising in the Exumas is a bit more adventurous and remote than cruising in other areas of the Caribbean,” they add. “If going to a different island bar/restaurant every night and having constant wifi are priorities, then the Exumas are not for you. If you enjoy secluded anchorages, deserted islands and dive sites all to yourself (with an occasional island bar), then the stunning waters of the Exumas will amaze and delight.”
To select the right yacht and crew, the Blocks suggest asking questions up front to make sure your expectations can be fulfilled. “On a sailing charter such as ours, the crew is a huge part of the vacation, and you want to ensure a good match,” they said.
Crewed or Bareboat
An experienced and personable crew sets the stage for a stress-free charter experience, particularly for the first time charters or those looking to spend more time in the drink literally and figuratively.
A great crew will take care of all your needs and help plan the perfect itinerary that gives you what you want while avoiding the things you don’t.
If its bareboat or nothing, then do your homework, follow all safety procedures, and inspect your vessel with the charter company reviewing all equipment prior to departure. Ensure everything is where it should be and in good working condition; don’t take anything for granted. Be clear on what equipment is standard and included and what is not.
File your float plan with the charter company and a loved one, and do not deviate from it without advising those who need to know. And most important, do not be lulled into a false sense of security by the gentle breezes and tranquil waters. As every experienced boater knows, conditions on the water can deteriorate surprisingly fast, and the waters of The Bahamas are no exception.
If you love fishing, then familiarize yourself with the local fishing regulations to avoid any problems. If a dedicated sport fishing charter is what you’re shopping for, the Bahamas are excellent fishing grounds for deep sea as well as light tackle reef fishing.
Capt. Mike Russell, owner of Chubasco Fishing Charters, the largest Bahamas sport fishing charter company, advises, “Gather as much information as possible on the available charter operations, talk to the captain or operator, make sure they understand your expectations… Don’t go with an operation just because they were recommended by a taxi driver, doorman, guest service personnel or tour rep – most are looking for commissions and will recommend whoever is paying them the most.”
A referral by a friend that has fished with an operation is a good place to start. Websites and testimonials from clients are also good. Don’t go with an operation just because their price is the lowest. There are reasons their prices are cheaper than other operations, and most of the time not good ones.
Plan Your Itinerary
Fun-filled island hopping adventures can include stops at popular sites like Thunderball Grotto at Staniel Cay where scenes from the 1965 James Bond movie were filmed. Dinner at Staniel Cay Yacht Club is another favorite. Amazing food is served by friendly and competent staff at scheduled sittings announced by bell. Getting up close and personal with stunning coral reefs, swimming pigs (watch out for sharp hooves on inflatable dinghies – these pigs are not shy), grape-loving iguanas, sharks and stingrays, are just some of the wonderful experiences available.
The action at the most popular sites on busy bays can be somewhat overwhelming for those who would rather spend days on deserted islands and nights in solitary anchorages – objectives that are easily achievable.
If it’s important to include hobbies and special interests like scuba diving, stand up paddle boarding or fishing in your charter experience, then be sure to choose a company and boat that offer these amenities. While snorkel equipment and dinghies are standard equipment, there are fewer boats that are fully equipped for scuba diving or boast a crew able to give yoga instruction.
Elizabeth grew up in Jamaica and now resides in The Bahamas were she is an avid hatha yoga practitioner, photographer, sailor, diver, poet and lover of the sea. Her photography, poetry and contact information is available at lightinblu.com