The Caribbean, and especially the British Virgin Islands, has long been the darling of the catamaran and yachting crowd and for good reasons too: the proximity, the regular trade winds, warm water and good weather year-round (barring hurricanes..!!), nice little islands to visit, friendly natives, great beaches, great snorkeling and SCUBA diving, reefs that are actually alive and still with pretty little colored fishes, the Caribbean has it all.
If you are chartering in winter, the best locations are in and around the Virgin Islands that are very protected from the Atlantic swells and waves. You can always find a nice little protected cove or bay to drop anchor or pick up a mooring ball and have a great time, no matter what the weather.
The most popular Caribbean yacht charter destinations include the BVI, (British Virgin Islands), the USVI (US Virgin Islands), the Bahamas, St. Maarten and St. Barth, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Cuba and the French West Indies islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe.
There is a great selection of both sailing and motor yachts in the Caribbean, but not all are created equal. We represent and recommend only crewed yachts and bareboat companies that have developed a reputation for reliability and good service and, especially in the case of bareboats, that offer newer models and good support and that are reasonably priced.
Although the Caribbean is great any time of year, there are distinct seasons: In Summer, it get’s really, hot and often rains. In winter the temperatures are more reasonable still warm by most people’s standards and it’s drier. The most protected waters for great sailing and exploring are the British Virgin Islands (BVI) The Leeward Islands and the Windward’s are better in summer since the Atlantic waters are largely settled and you don’t get the big rollers coming in from the East.
Let us Choose the Right Boat for You
There is always a good selection of spacious and stable sailing catamarans or motor yachts for charter in the Caribbean with accommodations suitable for up to 12 guests or more. The most popular yachts in this area are chartered under “Caribbean Terms contracts” which means, in the case of sailing vessels, that they are chartered on an all inclusive basis or all-inclusive package with the base charter rate, the services of the crew, the fuel, the meals, beverages, use of water sports equipment on board, beach towels, linens, etc all included in the price. The exceptions are some of the larger motor yachts that operate and are contracted for, on a “plus expenses” basis.
The most important element of a successful and enjoyable charter is the crew. The crew can make or break a charter. We try to match-up the most suitable crews for your group taking into consideration YOUR priorities like water-sports, diving or food; for example, we will always try to give you a crew that complement your group’s preferences. In a nutshell, we will always “customize” the boat and the crew around YOUR group.
In this regard, the boat itself and the age of the boat is not always as important as the crew. Most older boats have been re-fitted and have the look and feel of a much newer boat. Of course it’s always nice to have a spanking new boat, but it’s not as critical as the crew. They will make your experience unforgettable.
Our charter specialists attend the major Caribbean charter yacht shows every year. We always try and keep up to date with the new boats and crews that become available and with any crew changes that have been made.
The British Virgin Islands or BVI as they are known, continues to be the primary location for most sailors and has choice destinations for both fully crewed and bareboat sailing experiences in the Caribbean.
The reason is simple: it provides an excellent yachting experience ANY TIME OF YEAR.
Even in adverse conditions, you can always find a little bay, cove or anchorage with a nice beach that is protected. This means it’s almost like an insurance policy for your vacation.
Neither your broker, boat or crew can guarantee the weather or the sea conditions at any time regardless of how much or how little you spend, the BVI, however offers the best odds. The Virgin Islands are protected by the Anegada reef so your vacation will likely be a success, and your investment protected. Of course if you go down anywhere in the Caribbean during hurricane season, you’re at risk, so it’s better to buy trip cancellation insurance if your are chartering during the months of July, August, September or October.
The Virgin islands can get quite crowded at different times of year, especially during the December holiday season and Spring Break. Even during these peak periods however, you can have a relaxing and enjoyable vacation if you have a good crew who knows where to go, even if there are a lot of boats around.
Fly into STT or EIS and pick up your charter in either the US Virgin Island of St. Thomas or if you have a larger group charter party group, take the ferry to West End, Tortola that has fewer embarkation restrictions. Call us or email us for suggested itineraries.
The Leeward Islands are another great place for a yacht charter. The Leewards include St. Martin, Anguilla, St. Bart, Antigua and Barbuda, St. Kitts and Nevis, Saba, Montserrat.
The distances between islands in this area are much greater than in the Virgin Islands so you will find yourself actually sailing, or “under way” as the sailors put it, over larger expanses of ocean. The seas here can be steeper too especially during the winter so some prior sailing experience is advisable.
St Bart is the jewel of the Leewards, you’ll find it expensive and celebrity studded. It is a French island but the local influence is pervasive and provides a laid-back element to the fine French art of living. Haute living “lite” with great shopping.
St Martin is half Dutch and half French, which is an interesting mixture but there is an excellent international airport so visitors from Europe or the United States can easily fly into this larger island and it’s the best place to start your charter vacation. Take a day or two at the front or back end of your sailing vacation to explore St. Martin.
The West side of Anguilla is usually calm and inviting with great beaches and reefs for diving.
If you really, really, love beaches with a dash of history thrown in, Antigua is for you. It’s also a larger island with a good airport and direct flights from the USA.
The locals swear that there are 365 beaches on this island, one for every day of the year, and if you’re a history buff you must visit English Harbour on the South side of the Island which was Lord Nelsons first posting after he graduated from naval college in England. The old Forts and other military installations have been well preserved and the whole complex is the venue for the annual Antigua charter yacht show that is held in early December every year.
Then, of course we have the French islands proper of Guadeloupe and Martinique, these islands are actually a part of France and are considered full “Departments” or Provinces of the Republic. The French language is generally spoken here and visitors are mostly French or European. As you can imagine, the food is superb but the Euro reigns supreme here and things tend to get a little pricey.
Then, on our Southward route we finally come to the marvelous island of St. Lucia and then St. Vincent and the Grenadines and of course Grenada itself.
Sailing charters tend to travel from North to South here due to the favorable winds. One way trips are preferred and quite common. The Grenadines include the smaller islands of Bequia, Mustique, Canouan, Union, Carriacou and Tobago and end up in Grenada.
Navigation in these waters is best in late Spring, Summer and Fall. During the winter months you can expect some fairly rough seas especially in-between the islands as you travel southwards. Although they have been known to occur, hurricanes are not frequent in these latitudes during the summer so it’s a place where the North Eastern Caribbean based boats tend to migrate to in summer in order to escape the hurricane belt.
I will include the Bahamas in this listing although these beautiful islands are not technically part of the Caribbean since they are not volcanic and are too far North to be in the tropical belt. Best places to visit in the Bahamas are the Sea of Abaco (you need to fly into Marsh Harbour), the Exumas chain of Islands (you need to fly into Nassau, Staniel Cay or Georgetown) and the Out-Islands (no place to fly to except to Georgetown and take a charter yacht from there.
The Bahamian people are delightful, especially the further away from Nassau and Freeport you can get.
This is a quick and dirty guide to the major Caribbean destinations, Please also check out our Caribbean destinations section where you will find additional and more detailed information on each of these areas. In the immortal words of Capt. Jack Sparrow: “Why is the Rum bottle ALWAYS empty….??”.
If you charter a fully-crewed charter yacht in the Caribbean, it will most likely include a Skipper and a chef, some of the larger catamarans and motor yachts may also have additional personnel on board – ranging from an additional deck-hand (or more than one, depending on the size) and stewards or stewardesses to make your trip more luxurious and enjoyable. However this article is primarily about the CHEFS and the Food you can expect on board.
First, kudos to all marine chefs – for the most part they prepare delicious meals and do incredible things in their small galleys (kitchens) on a moving yacht. There are many husband and wife or boyfriend / girlfriend combinations that crew the charter fleets. One of the two generally has control of the meal preparation, sometimes it is shared. Other larger yachts have a permanent chef and other yachts will recruit a chef from a pool of free-lance chefs that are available on the date of the charter. Check with your broker and READ the brochure carefully.
Here’s how it works: about 30 days before the date of the charter, you (the client / charterer) will receive a set of Preference Sheets from your charter broker. You will need to fill these out carefully, taking your WHOLE GROUP”S preferences into consideration. If there are special dietary needs or strong likes and dislikes or if there are allergies involved with foodstuffs, THIS IS THE TIME TO MAKE THEM KNOWN. If you have a preference for certain brands or types of beverages (diet, regular, lite), let us know. The crew and especially the chef will need to have this information available when the time comes to provision the boat for your charter. If there are questions, they should be discussed directly with the Captain or Chef before the charter. Typically there will be a phone conversation between you and the crew about 7 to 14 days before the start date.
Generally speaking, the food you will get on board a good charter yacht will surpass anything you can get ashore. Local restaurants in the Caribbean, with honorable exceptions, are uneventful and with similar menus. fried fish, burgers, conch fritters, jerk chicken, soggy salads, etc. Everything in the islands is imported from the USA in containers, the quality of food in the restaurants is largely dependent on when the last container came in. The yachts provision from the larger wholesale supermarkets that actually fly stuff in on a daily basis and they will shop (provision) for YOUR charter and go out themselves to purchased only those items that are fresh and recently arrived. Hard liquor is cheap in the islands. Wine is not and the wine selections are limited. The coke in arum and coke is more expensive than the rum. A bottle of rum costs less than a dozen eggs. You have make a major adjustment to your thinking…!!
Menus will vary from yacht to yacht depending on the chef’s specialty and training. Most are superb, furthermore they are catering to YOUR tastes with the finest and freshest ingredients available. Sample menus are sometimes available from the charter yacht you have chosen, check with your broker. Bon Apetit.
Booking Your Airfare
For the Virgin Islands it’s usually best to fly into St. Thomas (STT) in the US Virgin Islands that has an international airport that is serviced by many of the major US carriers like American Airlines, Delta, Spirit Air and others. There is also a small airport in Tortola in the BVI called Beef Island airport (EIS) that is serviced by SeaBourne airlines and Cape Air out of San Juan, Puerto Rico.
For the Leeward Islands, you should fly in to St. Martin (SXM) that has a large international airport that is serviced by both US and European carriers. Antigua is a possibility for the Leeward Islands but it’s a little out of the way.
If your charter includes the Grenadines, you should plan to fly into St. Lucia (SLU) that has an International airport and then onward to St. Vincent although some Grenadines charters can start directly from St. Lucia.