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Charter Tips for South Florida & The Bahamas

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Cruising grounds that range from deserted beaches in off-the-beaten-track destinations to those offering the glitz and glamor of big city dining and dancing. These are the opportunities for chartering in South Florida and the Bahamas. Its hard to find this something-for-everyone scenario elsewhere in the world. What’s more, it’s possible to enjoy a bit of both shoreside extremes in a weeklong charter.

“South Florida and the Bahamas are world-famous among boaters and vacationers alike,” says Ian Pedersen, marketing manager for The Moorings-North America, headquartered in Clearwater, Florida. “Between the warm waters, ease of access, abundant fishing and overall culture, it is no surprise that the region is extremely popular among charterers as well.”

Simply sailing Biscayne Bay for 3 to 4 days can be the simpliest fun, says Hannah Allison, co-owner of Maz Ocean Inc., a Dania Beach, Florida headquartered marine electronics business affiliated with several yacht charter companies.

For a week’s trip, “I suggest Fort Lauderdale to Islamorada, stopping in marinas for the first 3 to 4 days to enjoy the restaurants and night life between Fort Lauderdale and Coconut Grove,” says Capt. Warren East, founder and director of the North Palm Beach, Florida-based East Yachts Ltd. “Spend the remaining nights cruising from Biscayne Bay south to Islamorada taking advantage of the intracoastal waterway and the protected waters of the Everglades. Or, start in Miami and head north to the Vero Beach area. There are hundreds of excursions to enjoy in South Florida including beautiful gardens, historic sights, lively shows and alligator tours in the Everglades.”

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What’s nice about the Florida Keys is that there is always something happening, according to David Sell, owner of the Miami, Florida-based Florida Yacht Group, which offers multi and monohull power and sailing yachts for charter in Miami and the Florida Keys. “For example, there’s Fantasy Fest and Hemingway Days in Key West, lobster season for eight months of the year, and power boat races and sailing competitions year round. Sailing around the Keys is easy and with 150 miles of reef line, there is plenty of fishing, snorkeling and diving.”

Which islands in the Bahamas to visit depends on what your idea of adventure is, says Sell. “Sailing – everywhere; shopping – Nassau and the Abacos; fishing – Bimini, Exumas and the Abacos; Diving – the Abacos, Eleuthera, Andros and the Exumas.”

Personal favorite Bahamian destinations of the Mooring’s Pedersen include the Exumas, for its “picturesque waters, white sand beaches, world-class marinas and excellent fishing.”

East Yacht’s East agrees. “I have had the pleasure of running a 90-foot power cat out of Nassau for the last year. I haven’t seen anything close to the Exumas for all out beauty in my over 23 years as a charter captain, although Eleuthera and Harbor island down to Nassau is also a beautiful place to cruise.”

Maz Ocean’s Allison recommends the Berry Islands. “Few people go there and there is so much to see and do, from experiencing the quiet solitude to learning about the interesting history.”

What are the pro’s and con’s of starting a Bahamas charter in Florida versus this British commonwealth itself?

“The positive points to starting in Florida are the price of fuel and access to first class provisions and services. The obvious challenge is the Gulf Stream. I have had clients embark in Miami and Palm Beach with hopes of getting to the Exumas for their dream vacation, but conditions in the 55-mile passage to Bimini are so bad that they had to spend 3 days in the intracoastal instead,” says East Yacht’s East.

He continues, “If clients opt to sail out of Nassau instead of Miami or Fort Lauderdale, they are usually hit with a $4,000 to $6,000 fuel bill for a delivery and redelivery fee to and from Florida. For that reason, when I do a search for yachts in the Bahamas, I generally tend to focus on the ones that are already based there and that have a local charter license. Locally based yachts are usually more in tune to the ways of getting what they need and their knowledge of the Bahamas is considerably better.”

What type of yacht to choose and when to charter are important considerations.

“I wouldn’t say there is a particular advantage to sailing or power boating, but I do think that it helps to have a shallow-draft boat. Shallow-draft is more common on power boats and sailing catamarans. Monohulls with a deeper keel will find themselves limited in where they can go in certain parts of the region due to the shallow waters,” explains The Moorings Pedersen.

A large percentage of the Bahamas and Florida motor yacht charter fleet are in the 80- to 120-foot range, says East Yacht’s East. “This size of yacht draws between 6- and 7-feet, which makes them ideal. However, a vessel with a 4-foot draft can seriously improve the quality of the charter.

There is never a bad time to charter in South Florida and the Bahamas.

“Although the most popular time of year is the spring and early summer before the rainy season begins, and while the temperature is still in the 80’s rather than the 90’s. Be advised that contrary to popular belief, it can get a bit chilly here in the winter months,” says The Moorings Pedersen.

If you love this, you’ll love:
The Exuma Islands: Fifty Shades of Blue
Begin and End your Itinerary in Florida
Hot Spots in the Exuma Land & Sea Park

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Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.

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