So, you like to charter in the Caribbean with its warm waters, swaying palm trees, steady trade winds and strong rum drinks. What’s not to love? It can be easy, though, to get stuck in a rut when chartering year after year in the same place. Sure, the British Virgin Islands are always a go-to with short distances, plenty of infrastructures and easy sailing. But is it maybe time to branch out? Let’s look at a few candidates that will let you stretch your wings and your skills as you learn to navigate new waters that in many cases offer the same great benefits.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines
The Grenadines are a crescent in the Windward Isles where no two islands are alike. You can charter in St. Vincent and head south or start out in Grenada and head north. Many companies like The Moorings, Sunsail and Dream Yacht Charter offer one-way itineraries so you can do a leisurely week without having to rush back to base at the end.
Bequia offers a great mix of idyllic anchorages and boisterous bars. There’s also the “Bread Man” who will bring you fresh baguettes, croissants and banana bread right to your boat in the morning. The Tobago Cays are heaven on earth, with turtles and rays swimming by and outstanding beach barbeques done island-style. Union Island serves up great hiking and fantastic views as well as Happy Island in Clifton where you can dinghy to a tiny bar to watch the sunset. There are enough other islands in this beautiful chain that you’ll never get bored, even if you do a two-week charter.
St. Barths, St. Maarten and Anguilla
Three islands very off on their own are St. Barths, St. Maarten and Anguilla, a trio of destinations offering up a mix of experiences and nationalities. You’ll board your charter boat in St. Maarten, a spec of land divided into a French and a Dutch side, where you’ll find plenty to explore both on land and by boat.
Next, sail down to St. Barths and its glitzy shops and famous regattas. Don’t forget to check out St. Barths’ freaky small craft airport where planes buzz your head as they go in for a landing. For a complete change of pace, sail north to the British Anguilla with its pristine beaches and few crowds.
Antigua and Barbuda
The iconic English Harbor in Antigua is home to Nelson’s Dockyard, part of a national park and a UNESCO Heritage Site. It’s a historic district that’s named after Admiral Horatio Nelson and is also home to Antigua’s many yachting events. It’s a great place to stroll and explore the fort as you soak up island’s rich history. Antigua is steeped in British maritime past and is quite developed, so there’s plenty of nightlife as well as restaurants and shopping.
While you’re there, head to nearby Barbuda for a real change of pace. Unlike its more populous neighbor, Barbuda is less developed and focuses instead on natural beauty like its pristine beaches. You’ll find a frigate bird sanctuary, pink sand and caves to explore.
Don’t forget, there are other Virgins out there besides the BVI. Check out a boat in St. Thomas in the USVI and explore the mesmerizing island of St. John, most of which is a national park. From St. Thomas, you can also sail to the Spanish Virgin Islands, although you’ll need to get permission from the base in order to do so. (Lots of companies do business here including Horizon Yacht Charter and CYOA; you can also charter directly out of Puerto Rico with companies like Sail Caribe or Dream Yacht Charter.) More formally known as the Puerto Rican Virgin Islands, the Spanish Virgins consist primarily of Vieques and Culebra. Presumably, Christopher Columbus stopped at Culebra on his second voyage in 1493. These undeveloped islands form a camera-friendly wildlife refuge with ridiculous sand beaches you’ll never want to leave. The entire area is protected, and the snorkeling is sublime.
Sea of Abaco and Exumas, Bahamas
Finally, a bit to the north, but still considered a part of the Caribbean are the spectacular Bahamas. For a somewhat compact adventure, charter in the Sea of Abaco, a body of water almost like a tropical lake with mostly protected waters and easy sailing. You can also fly to Nassau and sail south to the exquisite Exumas chain. Although shades of blue here have to be seen to be believed, the water is shallow the coral heads plentiful. You may find yourself having to stretch your navigation skills, but it’s worth every minute of the learning curve.