For those who don’t have a boat in the Antilles, chartering is a good formula and certainly not the most expensive of the two options. More to the point, the choice is huge and the prices competitive thanks to the growth of large charter fleets in the Antilles, particularly in the French islands and Virgin Islands. It’s certainly one of the biggest concentrations of yachts in the world.
Types of charter
There are two ways of going about chartering a boat and each has its variations:
• chartering a whole, fully-equipped boat without crew for your exclusive use (usually called bareboat chartering).
• going either as an individual or as a group, and generally paying by cabin, on a large, fully crewed charter boat.
This offers free choice of:
• the model and size of boat according to how many people there are in the party
• the itinerary to be pursued (depending on limits set out in the charter contract) When an agreement is made, the charterer (you) then assure the company:
• that you assume entire responsibility for navigation and safety
• that you and your party will handle all manoeuvres of the vessel and keep it clean and in good order.
Some companies offer, for additional payment, skippers and hostesses who can assume some of the usual duties of the charterer. This course of action may be unavoidable if the skills of the charterers are not up to handling the size of boat they have chartered or the itinerary they wish to follow.
Because bareboat chartering is a more and more popular solution to sailing in the Caribbean when you do not have your own boat, tough competition has developed between at least some companies.
This sort of chartering allows you to take a boat from one charter base and, if the company has more than one base, leave it in another. Alternatively you can have the boat brought back to base from where you want to go by the charter company’s delivery skippers. The latter usually incurs a supplement to which you need to add the cost of getting yourself back on an inter-island flight. Averaging out the costs, the advantage of a one-way charter is that it enlarges your cruising radius by removing the need to return to your starting point.
Chartering a berth or a cabin
Taking this option frees you from any responsibility for keeping watch or navigation because these are entirely the duty of the skipper and his professional crew (see box). In some cases, given the size, on-board equipment and quality of service aboard offered on some highprestige vessels, this can be equivalent to setting sail in a first class floating hotel. But here, as before, there are several categories of chartering and so various different rates.
The downside maybe, unless you and a group of friends take the whole boat to yourself, is that you must fit in with other charter clients in a pre-organised programme. Going off cruising on this sort of charter is currently called ‘long chartering’ to distinguish it from ‘day chartering’. The latter are simple outings lasting a day, often organised by travel agents, hotels or underwater dive clubs as part of, or supplementary to, their package of leisure activities. It follows that a day charter allows a tourist to enjoy for a short while the delights of sailing or the discovery of some otherwise inaccessible spot.
Don’t confuse chartering a berth or a cabin with paying to sign on as participant crew. This system, followed by some boat owners and by some clubs or other associations, comes at a much lower cost to you. But that’s because you, as well as paying your share of the costs of the cruise, also do your share of the work aboard.
Once you’ve decided on what sort of chartering you prefer, you need to decide on:
• the kind of boat and its cost
• the charter company or agent to use
• the season you would like to sail in
• the itinerary of your cruise
Boat and price
As a general rule in the Antilles, charter companies or specialist agents offer new or fairly new and well-maintained boats (though there are naturally exceptions proving the rule!)
Whatever the size or model of boat, they fall into two quite distinct categories:
• multihulls The boats in the first category have the devotion of their numerous besotted fans. For them sailing is still linked to certain mythic ingredients: the heel of a boat, the siren calls of a ballast keel, the tapering hull and a hard beat to windward.
Multihull enthusiasts, on their side, guarantee their privileged clientele the huge acreage of deck and vast interior, to which they add the virtually level ride.
And there are also other polemical and fanciful arguments in defence of each type, about speed, closeness to the wind, stability, etc.
In the end, and provided we’re well enough informed about both, each of us will find in one or other type of boat pluses or minuses depending on our own chosen criteria.
And finally, when a choice must be made, there is the crucial relationship of quality and price - one of the most important considerations because when it comes down to it, although some rates seem very attractive, they don’t always turn out to be the cheapest !
So you have to bear in mind:
• what supplies and services are included in the price and what’s an optional extra •what model of boat is it and when was it first commissioned (recently or some time back)
• what insurance is included and what is the deductible or excess
• what are the condition and quality of the boat’s fittings
• whether the whole boat and all that comes with it have been well maintained.
And you need also to remember:
• that an older boat can be in excellent condition if it has been regularly and well-maintained.
• that a fairly new boat can have problems if it is over-used and its maintenance intervals are too far apart
Charterers and agents
To get your bearings you must first of all distinguish between:
• Management companies (normally called charter companies) who manage a fleet and whose principle job, once the company is established, is to maintain the boats and welcome clients.
The role of these people is fundamental because it is they who guarantee the supply and maintenance of the boats.
• Agents, who sell the services, whether bareboat or charter. These too have their uses because most of the time they package together the charter price with the costs of flights and other relevant services (for example overnight accommodation), so the whole business has become associated with the idea of a ‘package’, which often comes competitively priced.
That said, the main function of agents is to make the best selection for their potential clients, in terms of quality versus price, from the range of charter fleets or ‘long charter’ yachts on the market.
(see also section on Climate above)
The Antillean climate is at its best in the winter, especially in comparison to storms and freezing temperatures in northern regions of Europe and North America. It is also from November to May that the trade winds are at their most constant, squalls less frequent and, bar the odd exception, hurricanes nonexistent. That said, it’s worth remembering that in winter the trades can blow pretty freshly (20–30kn) and that squalls still occur.
In summer, although the trades are weaker and more irregular, that’s still not a flat calm.
As for hurricanes, despite a perceptible increase in frequency over the last few years (see section on Hurricanes), not every island is hit by one every year. And it’s also worth remembering that the nature of the season is reflected in charter prices.
The best prices are on offer in low season (outside the peak winter period, festivals and school holidays). This period also goes together with anchorages being less crowded, which is no small point.