The islands of the Bahamas south through the Caribbean’s Greater and Lesser Antilles form one of the best cruising grounds in the world. Here, year-round sunny weather, steady trade winds and bathwater warm seas combine with mostly line of sight navigation along over 7,000 islands, rocks and cays. It’s no wonder this region makes the perfect yachting holiday. The only challenge is choosing which island destination in which to charter. Here’s a sampling of seven suggestions:
1. THE BAHAMAS
This archipelago located southeast of Florida, north of the Dominican Republic and northwest of the Turks and Caicos is easy to get to and offers something for every type of charterer from relaxing and partying to snorkeling and diving.
“We’ve experienced an up-turn in requests and bookings for the Bahamas,” says Dick Schoonover, manager of the crewed yacht clearinghouse, CharterPort BVI, in Tortola, British Virgin Islands (BVI). “Nassau is so close to Miami, a cheap and cheerful flight of less than an hour.”
The Exumas are a little over 100 nautical miles to the south of Nassau.
“The advantage here is total seclusion. White-sand beaches, surrounded by water in every shade of blue, and island coves you can have all to yourself. If you want to get away from the hustle and bustle, this is the place for you,” says Ian Pedersen, marketing manager for Clearwater, FL-headquartered, The Moorings, which has bases in seven Caribbean islands. “The disadvantage is also the total seclusion. If you are bareboat chartering, you must be fully prepared before leaving the dock, and have confidence in your abilities, as there is little infrastructure throughout these islands.”
2. PUERTO RICO
This Greater Antillean island’s eastern shore has long been a yachting mecca due to its proximity to the U.S. and BVI. Along the way, it is Puerto Rico’s offshore islands of Culebra and Vieques, nicknamed the Spanish Virgin Islands, that offer fantastic chartering.
“Everyone really loves this area because in addition to the great cruising between the islands there is also lots to see and experience locally,” says Debbie Veiga, owner with husband Jim of Sail Caribe Yacht Charters’ base at the Puerto del Rey Marina, in Fajardo, PR. “Puerto Rico has many direct flights from the U.S. and Europe to San Juan. A 45-minute drive puts you at our base in Fajardo.”
Veiga adds that at least 10 years of boating experience is required to sail in this area as there are reefs everywhere.
The recent easier ability to add the Spanish Virgin Islands to destination options when chartering out of the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) is incredibly exciting, says Lynne Campbell, who with husband Joe, are yacht charter brokers and owners of Carefree Yacht Charters, in Fort Lauderdale, FL. “Being able to now offer the Spanish Virgins as an alternative to or in addition to our typical USVI and BVI itineraries not only expands the destination unto itself, but further solidifies why the Virgin Islands are the most popular charter destination in the Caribbean.”
3. THE U.S. AND BRITISH VIRGIN ISLANDS
Direct and affordable flights from the U.S. makes St. Thomas the ideal gateway to the BVI, according to Carefree Yacht Charters’ Campbell. “This enables clients to take in bustling St. Thomas and the laidback island of St. John.”
The BVI is ideal for families or couples with easy sailing, an abundance of islands and anchorages, world class snorkeling and diving, stunning beaches, and unique beach bars, Campbell adds. Plus, supplies like ice, rum, fuel and more are readily available.
4. ST. MARTIN & ST. MAARTEN
St. Martin-St. Maarten and its surrounding Leeward islands is a step beyond the BVI in terms of sailing challenge, and best for experienced sailors, says The Moorings’ Pedersen. “Longer sails are involved, and the wind and waves are generally more intense on average than you’d find in the BVI.”
These cruising grounds offer an opportunity to visit numerous countries and cultures within one week of charter.
“French St. Martin has great restaurants and beach bars, plus some intriguing nature preserves, while Dutch St. Maarten is lively with casinos and shopping,” says Ann McHorney, founder and director of yacht charter brokerage, Select Yachts, based in Fort Lauderdale, FL. “Anguilla, a British island, is surrounded by some of the prettiest white sand beaches, plus it has fine restaurants, spas and snorkeling spots. Then, of course, there is tony St. Barths, a.k.a. the Saint Tropez of the Caribbean. One will see the rich and famous, astonishing megayachts in the heart of the charter season, and it’s certainly beautiful there. Of note, and a reasonable sail from St. Barths is St. Kitts, a verdant island steeped in the tradition of sugar, bearing an authenticity of the old Caribbean. If that’s not enough, there are the quiet islands of Statia (St. Eustatius) and Saba, part of the Netherlands, with famous diving,” explains Select Yachts’ McHorney.
Antigua, a Leeward Island that includes nearby Barbuda, is the birthplace of Caribbean chartering. Specifically, former British Royal Commander VEB Nicholson first took guests from the Mill Reef Club on sailing trips aboard the family’s 1903-built 70-foot schooner, Mollihawk. This year, Nicholson Yacht Charters celebrates its 70th anniversary.
“Antigua and Martinique are very popular among the European market, yet do not receive as much attention and are less well-known in the U.S. Both are fantastic sailing destinations and I see interest possibly changing for U.S. sailors in coming years,” says The Moorings’ Pedersen.
An overseas department of France located north of St. Lucia and South of Dominica; Martinique is a destination for which Select Yachts’ McHorney says her company is receiving more charter requests. “They recently lifted the VAT (value-added tax) on charters, so that is a considerable savings. There are more charter yachts available in the area now too.”
7. GRENADA & THE GRENADINES
This Southern Caribbean charter destination spans from St. Vincent to the north and its Grenadine islands, which include Bequia, Mustique and the Tobago Cays, south to the ‘Spice Isle’ of Grenada.
“Grenada and the Grenadines offer an excellent sailing charter for the experienced sailor,” says Lesley Hayes, St. Vincent-based reservations specialist for Horizon Yacht Charters, with bases also in the BVI and Grenada. “The islands are unspoilt and not marred by mass tourism, the locals are laid back and friendly. Each island has its own unique ‘vibe’ from the sophistication of Mustique to the peace of uninhabited Sandy Island. There’s great snorkelling and sundowner spots, and what can be argued, the best sailing winds in the Caribbean.”