Chartering with a Crew in the BVIs
Most sailors I know—and there are many sailors where I live in coastal Massachusetts—are unmitigated do-it-yourselfers who like to do their own trip planning, boat prepping, provisioning, cooking and cleaning. I can only surmise that they don’t know how sweet it can be to book a boat with a crew, leave these chores in someone else’s capable hands, and enjoy a proper vacation.
We—my husband, George, and I, with friends Kathy and Bill McClaskey—sailed aboard Eyesie, a Moorings 4600 catamaran, out of Tortola for a luxurious week in the British Virgin Islands in mid-May. This big cat has more usable (and more attractive) space than the apartment George and I lived in when he was a student, and the boat’s cooking and dining facilities—to say nothing of the cook—were far superior to what we enjoyed in those days.
Our captain-to-be phoned me just prior to our departure to suggest he pick us up at Trellis Bay, on the east end of Tortola, to save time and unnecessary cab rides to and from Road Town. Our flights from Boston to San Juan and from San Juan to Tortola, were better than on time, so we strolled the short distance from the airport to the Loose Mongoose, a beach bar on Trellis Bay, for a traditional welcome rum drink, served in a coconut and a paper umbrella. There we met our crew, Capt. Garreth Donaldson and chef Jenna Newcombe, both from Durban, South Africa.
When I say we did “nothing”during this trip, I don’t mean to say that we really did nothing. What we did do nothing of were the usual bareboat chartering chores: deciding what to eat and where to provision; figuring out where to go and how to get there; keeping the boat tidy and the beds made; prepping and cooking meals; choosing good anchorages; and navigating the boat (not always a chore, of course, for sailors). What we did do—with enthusiasm, I might add—was indulge in the pleasantries of being in the BVI: sail, swim, snorkel, kayak, sightsee, read, take photos and, of course, eat.
Unpacking in one of Eyesie’s spacious cabins was not the conundrum it would have been aboard many smaller boats, and the prospect of living with an ensuite electric head and separate shower came as a pleasant surprise. Even more pleasant was the smell, and especially the taste, of dinner, as we’d somehow missed a meal or two while traveling. Then, too, there was brewed coffee waiting each morning, followed by a substantial and attractively arranged breakfast; after all, you have to keep your strength up when you’re at play in the great outdoors.
By 0925 the next morning we were motoring out of Trellis Bay, and five minutes later the sail was set in a 15-to-18-knot northeasterly breeze; the cockpit repeater told us so, and the wind and weather didn’t budge for the rest of the week. It wasn’t until we’d passed by the Dogs, three tiny islands west of Virgin Gorda that are among my favorite snorkeling spots, that I realized I’d neglected to put in a request to make a snorkeling stop there. Boat crews aren’t mind-readers, and you have to speak up if you have someplace you want to go.
DECIDE WHAT YOU WANT TO DO
If you’re inclined to think that you can’t always get what you want, be aware that getting what you want starts with defining it. The guest information sheet distributed by The Moorings to charter guests on crewed yachts is a good start; use the checklist to let the crew know which activities are important to you, whether it be sailing, nightlife, swimming, windsurfing, snorkeling, diving or shopping. Specifying your preferred activities and places is your responsibility, but if you work at it a bit, you can indeed get what you want.
If you’ve sailed in the BVI before, make a list of the islands, anchorages, passages, restaurants, snorkeling spots, beach bars and so on that you think merit a return visit. If you’re new to this cruising ground, borrow or buy a copy of The 2009-2011 Cruising Guide to the Virgin Islands, by Nancy and Simon Scott. The book is available from Amazon and from Cruising Guide Publications (cruisingguides.com). It’s full of useful information for captains, crews and guests; it also comes with a well-drawn chart that will help guide your navigation decisions. On a crewed boat these, of course, will be made by the captain, but the information will help you formulate your plans and desires.
WHAT TO BRING
The best answer is “not much,” unless you have elaborate social plans. I typically bring a minimal wardrobe in the smallest bag I think I can get away with. Essential items include sunblock, a seasickness preventive (just in case) and an SPF-rated T-shirt for extended snorkeling sessions. All these go into a backpack along with other travel essentials: camera, passport, and a drybag or two. Even though most charter companies can and will supply snorkel and dive gear, my other indulgence is to carry my own snorkel, mask and swim fins; we’ve been together for many years, and I like them.
WHEN TO GO
The week we spent in the BVI in mid-May was just about perfect weatherwise. “Balmy” is the best way to describe it: mellow seas and winds, water of the most perfect color and temperature. (You could stay in it all day if only someone would pass down a sandwich.) From roughly mid-December to mid-April, you’ll miss the high travel season and the attendant crowded flights (and possibly higher airfares), and can enjoy comfortable temperatures (warm, but not really hot).
ing and swimming spots. If you’re a diver, but haven’t been underwater in a long time, bring your C card and consider taking a refresher course. Unless you’re sailing with a crew of experienced divers and the boat carries dive gear, rendezvous diving is the best choice. Dive gear is included, and you’ll be picked up from and dropped off at your boat. Your crew can help you choose a dive company, and you can make reservations from your cell phone.
A SPECIAL TREAT
We requested a trip to Anegada, and we got one. I suspect many charter companies don’t allow bareboats to challenge the reefs on the way to Anegada’s two overnight anchorages (only one has moorings), so we felt lucky. It is an interesting place, and the beach is lovely. Like many visitors, we started with a taxi ride to Loblolly Bay on the north side of the island. Anegada is famous for its lobsters, so we ordered lunch ashore and brought two lobsters back for our crew.
AFTER YOUR CHARTER
If you’re a newcomer to the BVI, spend some time poking around Road Town (shopping is possible, but not on the same scale as in St. Thomas) and stop at the Roti Palace for lunch (a local favorite). Take a taxi tour of the island and enjoy several hours’ worth of admiring the scenery. Tortola is well supplied with restaurants, a number of which are quite sophisticated. If you’re looking for an island atmosphere, try a fish dinner at C&F (within walking distance of The Moorings base).
For more information on crewed yacht charters, see this video.
Photos by Amy Ullrich