#53 – How Does Chartering Fit?

If cruising can be said to be exploring the world from the comfort of your own home, how does chartering fit?

In ten years, Don and I cruised through the waters of at least ten major charter destinations.  How weird it was to travel thousands of miles only to wake up with the oh-so-familiar logos of a Moorings yacht to one side and Sunsail to the other!  It felt like we’d never left the Virgin Islands!

It’s hard not to ask yourself in such a moment if chartering those major destinations might be an easier way. In Raiatea we met a couple doing just that.  Having bought a boat in the Moorings ownership program, they were entitled to twelve charter weeks a year at nearly thirty destinations!  And so they had been jumping from the Caribbean, to the Med, to the Indian Ocean to the South Pacific!

If sailing popular island groups is your sole goal, then by all means, consider this option. But it is not the same as cruising. Instead of those twelve weeks, we’d had 52, and while they’d had a week or two to enjoy the lovely Society Islands, we’d had four months plus time in the Tuamotus and the Marquesas. Then, instead of leapfrogging from there to Tonga (another Moorings base), we’d had the wonderful experience of remote Suwarrow atoll and the Samoas as well.

Yes, we’d had long passages in between, but that’s a proud part of sailing the Pacific.  Yes, we’d had maintenance to do ourselves, but that’s the proud part of being self-sufficient.  And yes, our boat was older and more worn than the shiny look-alikes from the charter companies, but she also was better equipped, had more character and comfort, and for sure had a more complete larder and galley than any rental! In short, she was home.

Debbie of Illusions puts it succinctly, “Chartering is a vacation, cruising is a lifestyle.

Still, chartering plays a role in the careers of many a cruiser.

In 1989, Shelly & Randy Tucker chartered with Gwen Hamlin on s/v Whisper. 8 years later, they bought their own charterboat, THREE MOONS, and ...they are still in the yacht charter business!
In 1989, Shelly & Randy Tucker chartered with Gwen Hamlin on s/v WHISPER.
8 years later, they bought their own charterboat, THREE MOONS, and …they are still in the yacht charter business!

It was a charter in the Virgin Islands that revealed to me a whole world and lifestyle I’d never imagined from a New York City apartment!  That charter quite simply changed my life.

Chartering is also often a step for sailors who’ve made the decision to go cruising but are trying to choose a boat.  Do they prefer the handling of a fin-, three-quarter or full-keeled monohull? Do they want a center or aft cockpit? Do they want to check out the plusses and minuses of a catamaran?  Chartering can be a great way to experience different kinds of boats in real conditions before you spend the big bucks.

Some cruisers use chartering as a means of finding out where they want to go with their own boat.  “Bareboating has definitely had a place in our lives even since we bought our IP35 in 2000,” says Lorraine of  Twist of Fate.  “It was a bareboat trip in Greece in 2002 that convinced us we wanted to take our boat to the Med.

Of course, a charter can also tell you where you don’t want to go and save you much time, money and/or sea miles.

Ellen Sanpere cruising France's canals on a charter boat
Ellen Sanpere cruising France’s canals
on a charter boat.

We’d been giving some thought to buying a canal boat to spend 4-5 years doing Europe’s canals,” says Ellen of Cayenne III, who recently shared a charter in France with two friends. “It was a great trip … so many priceless experiences,  but because I also realized the time, money and energy I would have to invest plus the frustrations of France one would have to put up with, I don’t see us pursuing the idea after all.

The unlikelihood of doing certain areas in your own boat motivates a lot of active cruisers to plan charters away from their own boats.  For example the French canals, with their mast and draft issues, puts chartering a canal boat on the “To Do List” of many.  Similarly, it’s why Lorraine and her husband left Twist of Fate in the Med to do bareboat trips in faraway New Zealand and Thailand. “We love our boat, but realistically, we can’t have it everywhere at the same time. So, when a new urge comes up, we charter.

Finally, when cruisers end their voyage – whether temporarily for family or work or because full-timing has become too much – chartering is a way to keep in touch with the lifestyle.  Don’s and my recent 10-day charter to British Columbia in tandem with former cruising buddies was such a trip.

There are many different ways to charter a boat. Most people think first of bareboating. Essentially the marine version of a rental car, you choose an area and rent the boat for however long you want, drive it yourself, and return it, hopefully in the same condition you got it.  This is suitable for those with enough experience to ensure the “returning it” part!  If, however, doubts about ability remain after the orientation, most bareboat companies will make available (or possibly require) taking a skipper for a few days or the whole week.

A Mooring charter fleet in the Caribbean
A Moorings bareboat charter fleet in the Caribbean

Less well-known are various crewed charter options.  Found in most major cruising destinations, these yachts come staffed by professional crews, often owner-operators, who oversee the sailing, navigation, cooking and maintenance worries for you.

Virgin Islands Charter Yacht League
If you want to charter a crewed yacht in the Virgin Islands, you can contact the Virgin Islands Charter Yacht League

Often operated independently, they are booked through specialized charter yacht brokers, (whose ads can be found in most sailing magazines or online) who strive to match you with the right boat/crew. Other crewed yachts are managed as a separate sub-fleet of the big bareboat companies.

Crewed yachts are more individual and better equipped than bareboats, and the captain/crew usually bring many years of local knowledge.  Crewed yachts are not just chosen by inexperienced sailors, but by experienced ones wanting to check out a particular boat, take advantage of a particular crews’ expertise, or enjoy a vacation free of responsibility.

Yet another charter option is flotilla sails organized by yacht clubs, sailing magazines, or sometimes by the charter company itself.  Here you can book a boat or a cabin aboard a boat, and enjoy, as Sunsail advertises, the reassurance of a flotilla leader and of “being part of a like-minded group of sailors.”

SEABISCUIT, the snazzy Saga 40 cruiser we chartered in Canada
SEABISCUIT, the snazzy Saga 40 cruiser
we chartered in Canada

Though most of us know the big names in international charter companies, there are many regionally-based companies, easily found online by Googling “charter” plus the area of your choice.

While the big companies have fleets selected from several standard product lines and painted and outfitted to match, regionally-based companies may manage a fleet of atypical boats placed in charter for a time by their owners, such as the snazzy Saga 40 cruiser we chartered in Canada.

The advantages of chartering are picking your destination and arriving to a boat, provisioned, equipped and ready to go.  You get briefings on the cruising grounds – complete with tips for good anchorages, restaurants, local sights or events – and someone to call for help when something breaks down. When the charter is over, you walk away.

Disadvantages, however, are that much time in an expensive week is spent learning boat systems, trying to fix whatever doesn’t work, or waiting out weather.

The stuff isn't what you are used to
The stuff isn’t what you
are used to.

Provisioning, cooking gear, and bedding are rarely what you’re used to, so everything feels makeshift and temporary.  You party, eat, sleep and rush around trying to see as much as you can, but you rarely have enough time to learn an area’s details or find special places off the beaten path.

Finally, with rare exception, charterers have neither time nor opportunity enough to truly connect with the cruising community, which most of us feel is a chief treasure of the cruising experience.

So, clearly, charter fits at many stages of a cruiser’s career – before, during and after. Need help fantasizing? Jimmy Cornell’s new book World Cruising Destinations includes charter info for 184 cruising grounds!

Contributing Admirals: Marcie Lynn, Nine of Cups; Sheri Schneider, PROCYON; Kathy Parsons, Hale Kai; Debbie Leisure, Illusions; Ellen Sanpere, Cayenne III; Lorraine Bramble, Twist of Fate; Kathy McGraw, PO OINO ROA; Shelly Tucker, Three Moons.

This article was published in the December 2010 issue of Latitudes and Attitudes.

More information (external links)

2 comments to #53 – How Does Chartering Fit?

  • Great article, as always, Gwen. I actually used chartering in the Abacos to introduce my future husband to big boats. He grew up sailing dinghys and had never thought about cruising. Well, he was hooked and the next season we bought a boat. The rest, as they say, is “history”.

  • Susan & Walt

    Thank you for the walk down memory lane. We sold our beloved 58′ Hatteras ‘Kingdom” last summer after 3 years cruising the Eastern Caribbean, and returned to enjoy family and friends in Arizona. I think I can survive living on land now that I have begun to plan a bareboat charter, not the same as liveaboard, but it will get us back on the water. (Great to see Ellen in the canal photo too!)

Leave a Comment




You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>