Graphics by Anouk Sylvestre
Graphics by Anouk Sylvestre

Chartering in the Caribbean has come a long way in the last 50 years. In the ’70s when Charlie began his career as a charter yacht captain, charterers had to work hard before they arrived at that pristine anchorage and could finally settle back in the cockpit with an ice-cold beer or rum concoction. It was such that there were many who thought yacht chartering would never succeed – I mean who wants to go on vacation involving a lot of work? As it turned out there were many.

Nowadays it’s a piece of cake – navigation is done for you with a chart plotter, electric winches haul up your sails, water makers turn sea water into potable and acres of fridge/freezer space have the galley slaves purring with delight. The onboard gen set provides the power for air conditioning and is becoming the norm. Catamarans turn on a dime with two engines and more and more mono hulls have bow thrusters. Fast inflatable dinghies whiz you to the beach bar or snorkeling site. There’s even Wi Fi on board. Then, as now, to get the boat moving in all directions requires a bit of sail trim and you have to tie up securely to a mooring ball and/or anchor safely – but hey, it’s not really rocket science. Oh, and before I forget, there are the nav. rules and they can be quite complicated. Answer: Stay well clear of all other vessels in good time, especially those with sails flogging and flapping in all directions. Likely they will have Credit Card Captains (See You Tube Video).

The neophyte, though, is often bewildered by all the lines, the sheer size of vessel and the switches, buttons and bells that operate all the mod cons. So, a professional captain is still often requested at least for a day or two. But then there is the ultimate mystery: Why do you sail in that direction when your destination is in another direction?

It’s easy to explain how a boat sails downwind but it becomes a bit more complicated when you try to explain how a boat sails to windward. Okay, so there’s the ‘No Go’ zone somewhere between dead ahead and 30 and 50 degrees off the wind, but even after that you’re still sailing towards the wind until the wind comes aft of the beam and you’re being pushed. All the ‘how to’ books explain it by describing the Swiss mathematician, Bernoulli and the Bernoulli effect with lift as on an airplane wing – but here’s the problem – planes can fly upside down!

So, there are other factors that play into the equation. Things like angle of attack and downward air flow and drag. It gets complicated, so if you’re instructing a student on the art and science of sailing it’s better to concentrate on the ‘how’ rather than the ‘why’.     

The Caribbean is still the most popular chartering destination in the world and the downside of this is the overcrowding at popular anchorages. The answer is to plan your trip taking advantage of good anchorages with no facilities ashore – and there are still plenty and they will be quieter. Make sure you know how to anchor securely and then off you go to explore untrammeled locations in peace. Even consider sleeping under the stars and an early morning skinny dip. And one other thing – even if it’s not described as a snorkeling spot, there’s always something to see.

Julian Putley is the author of ‘The Drinking Man’s Guide to the BVI’, ‘Sunfun Calypso’, and ‘Sunfun Gospel’.