Cruising from Guadeloupe to Grenada, heading more or less south with the wind east-northeast, basically on the beam the whole way—yup, sign me up for that! That’s how I approached a recent delivery charter of 12 days and 400 miles, including a few loops and harbor hops. With only three of us aboard a 43ft cat with a full-sized fridge, that made ice, what was there not to love?
The genesis for the trip was the fact that Dream Yacht Charter in Guadeloupe needed to move a Bali 4.3 to its busier base in Grenada. The one catch: it was the last two weeks of October (hurricane season) and Maria had just stomped over Guadeloupe’s Les Sainte Islands, devastating Dominica, our first stop. Of course, I didn’t know this when I signed up four months earlier. But that knowledge wouldn’t have stopped me anyway, as it was a great (and inexpensive) way to cruise a good swath of the Caribbean, including islands I have been longing to see again for some time.
In fact, one-way chartering, often helping a charter company move a boat, can be a fantastic way to see a larger part of the world affordably, as many companies will provide a deep discount and some may even pay for fuel. Not all charter companies offer this, as they would rather pay licensed captains with experience and insurance. However, for those that have large fleets to shuffle around in order to leverage their various busy seasons, this may be an answer to chartering on the cheap, if you’ve got the time, skills and attitude. Contact your charter company and ask, or have them put you on a standby list if you’re flexible.
Four Things to Consider
Although you don’t need to be a delivery captain to enjoy one-way delivery sailing, you do need to know what you’re doing. If you’ve just completed your second sailing class training and feel that the British Virgin Islands would be a challenge, then you aren’t quite ready to deliver a vessel, even if it is a charter boat. Expect the charter company to check your cruising resume thoroughly—as they should.
Many charter boats need to be moved at inopportune times of the year, like at the start or near the end of hurricane season, so your “vacation” may not be guaranteed. Weather can also be a mixed bag. We expected 20-25 knots with 6-8ft seas, but what we got (for at least two days) was 35-40 knots of wind and seas up to 8-12ft. If that sounds like something you’d rather never experience, think twice about this option, because these boats need to move on a schedule, and it’s not always going to be when you’re feeling up to it.
When crossing between bases and possibly on longer stretches, you’ll also need to be completely self-sufficient if something goes wrong. There’s no “four-hour charter guarantee” like when your chartering coastal, so be prepared to roll up your sleeves and/or get creative with the locals. In our case the boat did very well except for two things. First, after a sufficient two-day thrashing, something in the starboard holding tank jiggled loose and clogged it up. (I never allow toilet paper in the heads, but who knows what the last charter group was up to?) We ended up enlisting the help of a local in Bequia to dive the boat for two hours and get things moving again. It cost us four beers and $200, but was worth every penny.
The second issue was that our batteries drained overnight (don’t trust those battery readouts!) in Mustique on the morning of a national holiday. Our only option, therefore, was to make quick friends with the crew of an inter-island ferry, which loaned us some jumper cables, a forklift battery and an engineer to get going again. That cost me a bottle of rum and another $50. Again, money well spent.
Beyond that, know when to say when. I ran the trip like a delivery for the first three days until we reached St. Lucia (because we needed to make our southing early if we were to enjoy the Grenadines). However, after that I knew enough to pull into Rodney Bay Marina to fuel up, rest and give the crew a break. We rented a car, drove around the island and enjoyed a ridiculously expensive lunch at the insanely romantic Ladera Resort overlooking the Pitons. It not only changed the mood on the boat, but after that our days were shorter and easier.
In the end, our passage read like a cruising guide through (some) Leeward and (most) Windward Isles: Guadeloupe, Dominica, Martinique, St. Lucia, Bequia, Mustique, Tobago Cays, Union Island, Sandy Island off Carriacou and St. George’s in Grenada. Along the way there was some work to be done, but there was plenty of fun to be had as well, not to mention plenty of sightseeing to enjoy. When I posted a photo while lying atop our flybridge sunpad, enjoying a cool white wine after having snorkeled with turtles, well, let’s just say, it was clear that this was no ordinary delivery. Seriously, there was nothing not to love.