If youre in the thinking-about stage of planning a charter vacation, youre probably in the process of collecting information about the cruising ground(s) on your must-do-sometime list. How do you find out about the weather, the sailing conditions, the best itineraries? Tourist guides wont be much help, and your local library probably doesnt stock cruising guides.
For me, step one is visiting the Web sites of companies that have boats in areas Im interested in; most post the kind of information Im looking for. Check all the companies in that area; theres plenty of info on Caribbean and U.S./Canada destinations. Save time by using the links on the lists of charter companies on sailmagazine.com. If youre looking farther afield, try The Moorings and Sunsail for destinations worldwide, Voyage (Spain), and TMM (Belize).
Here are some other useful sites Ive found in my cruises on the Web:
• sailonline.com has a wealth of information on all things relating to chartering, mostly bareboating: advice for first-time charterers, cruising logs from around the world, difficulty ratings for charter areaswhatever.
• Ive mentioned sailing-adviser.com in this column before. Check here for information about bare and crewed boats, booking tips, destinations, sailing licenses (if youre thinking about Europe), and more.
• charterwave.com is the Web site of Kim Kavin, an experienced journalist who is currently the charter/cruising editor of Power & Motoryacht. Not surprisingly, she focuses more on crewed charters and powerboats, but she still has useful information on bareboats in various destinations around the world. The site is well organized, the blog is interesting, and shes not afraid to express her opinions.
• Ed Hamilton is an experienced charter broker who books both bareboats and crewed boats around the world. Try his Web site, ed-hamilton.com, for basic information on both types of chartering (including costs) and on charter areas worldwide.
While I was getting ready for a charter in Greece, I started by studying the suggested itineraries on the companys Web site. A Google search turned up sailingissues.com, which has almost everything you need to know to cruise Greek and Turkish waters, starting with figuring out which of the numerous cruising grounds is the best for you. Once I narrowed down the choices to the Ionian Sea, I supplemented my information by reading blogs on Ionian cruises (moderately helpful) and Lonely Planets Greek Islands volume to help me decide which islands to visit and what to do when I get there. There will, of course, be a chart briefing before we take off, so I expect there will be further refining based on unbeatable local knowledge.
I think its best to come to a chart briefing with your homework done and some questions in mind. Unless youre chartering for more than a week (and even if you are), its unlikely that youll be able to see it all, and the distances youre considering as a days sail may be something else entirely.
If youve come up with other Web sites youve found helpful in planning a charter vacation, please share them with other SAIL readers. Send your ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org, and Ill pass them along.