Sail away to the Caribbean

By | Category: Travel destinations

Looking to explore and enjoy the Caribbean away from the cruise crowd and clamouring package tourists? A charter yacht could be the way to go!

When it comes to holidays there are two types of traveller: those who know exactly what they want from their holiday – how to secure their favourite room in their favourite resort and where they’ll be dining on day three. Then there are those who seek excitement and new experiences far away from the madding crowd.

If you fall into the latter category, why not charter a yacht? You’re not obliged to wear a coloured bracelet in order to quench your thirst or have breakfast and the only people present on your yacht are those that you have personally invited. Translation? There’s no need to spend your holiday holed up with holidaymakers from hell like Frank the flirt, Wendy the whiner and little Christopher who won’t stop crying.

What makes this type of vacation triply satisfying is that unlike cruise ships (where itineraries are preordained meaning your boat will be in Turks on Tuesday, Saint Kitts on Saturday etc), on a charter yacht you get to dictate the pace and mood. Crazy about Cuba? Stay and play another day. Fancy a few more hours toasting yourself in the Bahamas? No problem. Want to spend longer in the water than a dolphin or to quaff a couple of coquitos in Puerto Rico? Go right ahead… As Charles Swaim, owner-operator of the Phaedrus – a 50 foot ‘two pack’ based in the US Virgin Islands – says: “There is no itinerary. Any given day is purely spontaneous.” It’s a stance shared by Julie Nicholson, a broker with Nicholson Yacht Charters whose client list includes Liam Neeson no less: “On a boat, it’s changing all the time and it’s therapeutic and cleansing to go out on a boat and see a wave curling in front of you.”

So what’s the catch? Only how to choose a charter for – like any successful vacation – arranging a seriously top draw charter, takes time, experience and more than a little knowledge. But don’t let the ‘shoulda, woulda, coulda’ put you off. CD Traveller is here to show you the way…

Location, location, location
A Caribbean charter ticks all the right boxes for anyone wanting a stress free holiday in an idyllic setting. With more than 7,000 islands to choose from the cruising options are endless but it’s a good idea to have a rough route in mind. Perhaps you want to get to grips with eastern Caribbean? Alternatively if you want to drop anchor and dine in some top-notch restaurants, factor the Cayman Islands into your voyage. The actual day-to-day itinerary need not be specific; after all the beauty of this type of holiday is the opportunity to adjust your course mid charter.

Dream boat
Next up you need to think about the boat that best suits you, your travelling companions and your wallet.

Amateur sailors who dream of spending days on end at the helm of a chartered yacht sailing where the wind takes you, could try a bareboat charter. Bareboat charters basically involve a person renting a yacht and operating it him or herself. However, tempting though it is to play captain those with less experience – or anyone wanting the playboy lifestyle – would be better off bypassing a bareboat charter in favour of a crewed charter.

As the name suggests, a crewed charter comes with crew who not only do the hard work for you (though you can get stuck in should you wish to) but also treat you like the diva or divo you really are. Vessels vary immensely in size, shape, style and function. They can be motor boats or sail boats and accommodate anything from two passengers (‘two packs’) to an entire football team.

Consult a charter broker
Once you have an idea of the kind of yacht you’re after and where you want to travel, it pays to consult a charter broker who will apply their knowledge of the available yachts and destinations to determine which boat best matches your desires. With private yacht charters no longer the best kept secret, chances are that a colleague or acquaintance will know of a reputable yacht broker, but if not choose a charter broker that is a member of a proper professional group like American Yacht Charter Organisation (www.ayca.net), Florida Yacht Brokers (www.fyba.org) or CYBA International (www.cyba.net).

To guarantee the best fit, it’s important to be as honest as possible with your broker from the get go. Your broker needs to know not only your yacht and cruising preferences but also your own passions. Swaim explains: “This is a people business. It’s really not about the boat. It’s not a hotel business. It’s much more of a matchmaking business.”

A wine connoisseur? A broker can match you with a yacht whose chef excels at food and wine parings. Conversely if you’re counting calories, your broker will ensure that the chef is au fait with Atkins or whatever diet du jour your following. Nicholson says that she always asks clients if “they want a Captains Courageous personality or someone philosophical who can talk about Kierkegaard? Do they want the crew to keep their distance and wear uniforms, or do they want to sit in the cockpit and have the captain explain the stars and teach them navigation? We ask them, ‘What makes your heart leap?’”

Back on dry land
After your charter is complete, it is customary to tip the crew. The amount is down to your discretion and usually determined by the level of service you received, but as a rule of thumb expect to tip the crew 10-15 percent of the charter fee. Talking of the charter fee, typically this takes care of the hire of the yacht and crew; all additional expenses are covered by the Advance Provisioning Allowance (APA) which is usually 30-35 percent of the charter fee and encompasses food, fuel and dockage fees.

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