Looking for vacation gold

As adventure-seekers, we take our sailing trips seriously. We want to unfurl our sails, explore far-off locations and leave the daily grind behind. But when the pennies start to pinch, vacations tend to be the first luxury to go.

This doesn’t have to be the case. With a few adjustments you can still enjoy the trip of a lifetime without breaking the bank. Stay closer to home and save money on a domestic flight or even a road trip. Check out seasonal discounts that may allow you to travel on certain days cost free. Consider going for a long weekend rather than an entire week. Challenge yourself to explore those destinations that have been in your backyard but out of mind all along—places like Washington’s San Juan Islands or the Northern Florida coast. You just may discover a hidden gem for an autumn adventure.

Pensacola, Florida is nestled in the northwest tip of the Florida panhandle, making it one of the nation’s most accessible sailing destinations. From the docks of Pensacola Yacht Charters, you can explore 154 miles of National Seashore, secluded anchorages and white quartz beaches. The sea and bird life along this coast are spectacular.

During your journey, stop in at Lulu’s Bar and Grill (operated by Jimmy Buffett’s sister), dine at the Pensacola Seafood Festival (Sept. 25 to 27), or anchor east of Pensacola Pass to marvel at the Blue Angels practicing out of Forrest Sherman Field Naval Air Station. Pensacola is celebrating its 450th anniversary and the community is sure to be abuzz with festivals and activities galore. Captain John Struchen at Pensacola Yacht Charters considers the area “the undiscovered sailor’s paradise” and is eager to share it.

Travel south to Ft. Myers, Florida and visit Southwest Florida Yachts, Inc. The husband-and-wife team of Vic and Barb Hansen are celebrating their company’s 25th anniversary by offering two free days on a week’s charter between May 1 and December 15. In addition, through the end of October, their stimulus package offers one free day of sailing with a two-day charter, lowering the price tag for a long weekend trip. Because SFY has been in the area for so many years, local marinas are helping celebrate by offering 15 percent off regular dockage rates. As Barb Hansen says, “We know once people get here, they’ll want to come back for more.”

This area caters to a variety of sailors, whether you’re looking to wine and dine in paradise or relax in seclusion. You’ll set sail from Burnt Store Marina and enter Charlotte Harbor, an area rich with wildlife and reliably great weather. Your itinerary can include stops at the surrounding islands of Sanibel, Cabbage Key, and Gasparilla, all known for their beauty and hospitality. Nearby Useppa Island is both lovely and secluded.

A private island, it requires Southwest Florida Yachts’s membership to tie up and go ashore.

For a different flavor, venture up the East Coast to Annapolis, Maryland, a community steeped in sailing history and surrounded by beautiful waterways. Annapolis Bay Charters has a fleet of over two dozen monohulls and catamarans and is offering 15 percent off on all boats under 42 feet through the end of October. The winds in this area are reliable and the weather is ideal, with crisp mornings and warm afternoons.

On the opposite coast, the Pacific Northwest offers an entirely different breed of adventure, ideal for sailors looking for majestic scenery amongst West Coast friendliness. You can travel around the San Juan Islands or cruise through Desolation Sound, surrounded by 7,000-foot peaks and waterfalls. You’ll experience an entirely different array of wildlife, including salmon, sea lions, seals, and even the occasional orca. SAIL has had good experiences with both Desolation Sound Yacht Charters and Anacortes Yacht Charters around this region.

So go ahead, keep seeking out adventure. From the northwest to the southeast, the recession needn’t put the brakes on your travels. With a dash of creativity and a willingness to explore, you may find your favorite destination was around the corner, waiting for you all along.

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