Sail Away

Chang­ing your char­ter plans—where to go after the hur­ri­canes

SAIL - - Contents - By Zuzana Proc­hazka

Irma and Maria wreaked havoc in much of the Caribbean leav­ing us with heart­break­ing im­ages of dev­as­tated homes, dis­placed cit­i­zens and de­stroyed bare­boat fleets. Pho­tos of dis­masted mono­hulls and flipped cats have flooded the In­ter­net, with the fleets look­ing more like piles of fiber­glass, bent alu­minum and stain­less than ac­tual plea­sure boats. The char­ter in­dus­try has taken a se­ri­ous blow, and per­haps your own plans to warm up this win­ter have been im­pacted. We will have a full ex­am­i­na­tion of the dam­age and the plans for re­cov­ery in a sub­se­quent is­sue, so stay tuned. But in the mean­time, if you had a char­ter booked in St. Martin or the Bri­tish or U.S. Vir­gin Is­lands, act now to shift to an­other base or look else­where for your an­nual win­ter sail­ing fix.

The BVI, which is home to the lion’s share of Caribbean bare­boat char­ters, took a beat­ing, as did St. Thomas and St. John on the Amer­i­can side, and, of course, St. Martin and St. Barts farther east. How­ever, char­ter com­pa­nies, some of whom lost up to 80 per­cent of lo­cal fleets, are mov­ing quickly to put to­gether as much of their busi­ness as pos­si­ble. Hori­zon Yacht Char­ters is of­fer­ing An­tigua as an op­tion. Al­though low-ly­ing nearby Bar­buda all but dis­ap­peared, An­tigua fared bet­ter with a ser­vice­able air­port and an in­tact fleet. Hori­zon also op­er­ates bases in St. Vin­cent & the Gre­nadines and Gre­nada that are farther south and less likely to find them­selves in the path of a hur­ri­cane (al­though in 2004, Hur­ri­cane Ivan caused more than $23 bil­lion in dam­age there).

Dream Yacht Char­ter also has a num­ber of op­tions, and its bases in Mar­tinique and Gre­nada are op­er­a­tional. If you can swing the new U.S. gov­ern­ment travel re­stric­tions, their Cien­fue­gos, Cuba, base is also a gate­way to the beau­ti­ful is­lands of the south.

Mean­while, the charm­ing Sea of Abaco may be cruised on fleets avail­able from Dream, Moor­ings and Sun­sail, with Moor­ings also ser­vic­ing the 100-mile-long is­land chain of the Ba­hamian Ex­u­mas. In the Western Caribbean, bor­der­ing Gu­atemala and Mex­ico at the heart of the Cen­tral Amer­i­can jun­gle, is Belize with turquoise wa­ters and reefs that divers adore. The Moor­ings and Sun­sail both op­er­ate here.

Head­ing farther south in the Caribbean, Moor­ings and Sun­sail both have boats in dra­matic St. Lu­cia, as well as ver­dant Gre­nada and his­toric An­tigua. Flights to Gre­nada op­er­ate ev­ery day from mul­ti­ple U.S. cities so travel isn’t as oner­ous as you may think.

Of course, th­ese are only the op­tions in the Caribbean. Don’t for­get that you have yet more choices if you ven­ture farther afield, al­though there are some is­sues. The Mediter­ranean, for ex­am­ple, isn’t re­ally that warm in the win­ter, so many char­ter com­pa­nies close up shop from De­cem­ber through Fe­bru­ary. How­ever, March and April are great times to visit Greece, Italy and Croa­tia. The towns aren’t packed, there’s a more “lo­cals-only” at­mos­phere, the sum­mer Mel­temi wind is a non-is­sue and you can al­ways find space on the quay for a Med moor.

That said, al­though the his­tory in Europe is om­nipresent, there’s no trop­i­cal breeze, so if you’d rather en­joy win­ter un­der a sway­ing palm, opt for a va­ca­tion in the South Pa­cific. Dream, Moor­ings, Sun­sail and Tahiti Yacht Char­ters all have large fleets in Ra­iatea in French Poly­ne­sia. Also, the Whit­sun­day Is­lands in Aus­tralia are ac­ces­si­ble via Dream and Sun­sail and you can loop around the hun­dreds of islets of Tonga with Sun­sail. New Cale­do­nia is ser­viced ex­clu­sively by Dream but just about ev­ery char­ter com­pany works in Thai­land.

Here’s the rub: Win­ter in the North­ern Hemi­sphere is sum­mer down south and that means cy­clones, which are their ver­sion of hur­ri­canes. I’ve been to Tahiti in April as well as Novem­ber and had won­der­ful times, but dur­ing the deep months of a North Amer­i­can win­ter, you’ll be tak­ing your chances in the South Pa­cific. Also, Thai­land is ei­ther wet or sti­flingly hot be­tween De­cem­ber and May, so there’s a trade­off as well.

Nev­er­the­less, don’t de­spair, you still have op­tions to hoist sails, have a fruity rum bev­er­age and dig your toes into warm sand. And if you char­ter of­ten, con­sider sup­port­ing the in­dus­try by book­ing a va­ca­tion soon and help­ing them get back on their feet with new fleets that are bound to ap­pear soon. s

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