So, you’re going on a charter vacation. There’s so much to plan, pack and ponder, but who has the time when all you can think of is umbrella drinks under a swaying palm tree? The boat, the sun and the sailing should be enough, right? It is for some. For others, though, additional toys will make the trip better, which means you need to think ahead about what your group likes to do and add a line item for toys to the overall budget.
Single or tandem kayaks can generally be rented from your charter company. Some companies will bring them onto the boat and secure them for you. Kayaks are great for kids engaged in endless hours of water play, and they’re fun for adults too. Kayaks also provide exercise for the fitness buff and are a wonderful way to explore shallow coves, tide pools or rivers. Some people will even want to take them fishing, and they make a good backup tender for when the dinghy is busy. Finally, some folks may just need a bit of a getaway, because it’s not always easy living in close quarters for days on end, even with family and friends.
Rental kayaks generally come with one or two paddles included. Because they’re made of rotomolded resin, they can be fairly heavy, so you’ll need a plan for who launches and retrieves them. Depending on the charter company, kayaks tend to rent for about $30 per day, adding over $200 to your budget for the week.
Standup paddleboards have surged in popularity and many companies now offer them. They’re also rented by day (around $20) and come with a specialized paddle. Again, they’re great exercise and a convenient way to get to shore or a remote cove. For people who’ve never tried them, it can be quite a show. I once had a group of septuagenarians who amused themselves for hours trying to stay upright. The videos alone were worth the price of admission.
Boards are generally lighter and easier to manage than kayaks, although they can get banged up and once their outer shell is penetrated, the interior foam can become waterlogged making them heavy. SUPs are best used in less windy anchorages or early in the morning. Paddle upwind first when you still have some energy, as fighting a breeze can be a bear. (Kneel to reduce your windage.) Bring along an umbrella and you can even “sail” downwind. This works for kayaks too if you want to cheat a little.
Most charter outfits will include masks, snorkels and fins as part of your charter. These are essential for exploring the underwater world, checking out the bottom of the boat or getting a visual on your anchor. The company may ask for the foot sizes of your guests so they can bring the right gear aboard. Then again they may just let you rummage through a box of gear until you find what fits.
It’s best to check all masks for leaks prior to departure. A leaky, foggy, ill-fitting mask can be discouraging when you’re set to snorkel with turtles, for example. You’ll also want to clean your snorkels, not only because of the number of mouths they have been in, but because this gear is usually stored wet and can become covered with impressive life forms. Dish soap and freshwater should do it, while rubbing some toothpaste on the inside of a mask will prevent fogging. If you’re just too grossed out by the idea of using well-worn gear, pack your own mask and snorkel, but skip the fins. They’re too bulky to pack.
Speaking of bringing your own gear, some supplemental toys you can actually bring from home. Cheap inflatable rafts and rings, for example, will entertain kids for hours or let adults tan at water level where they’ll be cooler. Similarly, paddleball sets can be fun on the beach or in shallow water, while a folding fishing rod or your favorite lures are also an option (although the hooks will not make it in your carry-on and you’ll need a local fishing license). Beware: beach balls on a sailboat generally create problems, and will likely be lost on the first day.
Another fabulous addition for both young and old are pool noodles. Some charter companies rent the Styrofoam kind, but you can also bring your own inflatable version. They’re small, super lightweight, and lots of fun for kids or anyone else needing additional flotation while snorkeling.
Toys come with responsibilities. Never tow kayaks or SUPs when on the move. Painters break, seats come loose and the drag slows the boat under sail. Also, be sure to stow all toys onboard at the night and tie them down. This helps prevent both theft and flight. A gust of nighttime wind once lifted an entire kayak off the trampoline of a catamaran in Tahiti, and we found it the next day on the beach on the other side of the lagoon.
Small items like rafts and noodles also tend to fly easily, so tuck them into a locker or under the Bimini. Finally, if you find when it’s time to go back home that you can’t fit these items in the original packaging they came in, consider leaving them for the local kids, because they deserve to have some fun too.
Photo courtesy of Arawak expeditions/arawakexp.com