Charter Review: VOYAGE Charters - VOYAGE 600 Off The Grid
Dates Reviewed: March 18 - 22 2013
Charter Location: Sopers Hole, Tortola, British Virgin Islands
Yacht Chartered: VOYAGE 600 - Off The Grid
Locations: Caribbean, Sopers Hole, Tortola, British Virgin Islands
Charter Advisors Recommendation
Living And Sailing BIG
VOYAGE Charters one-upped the bareboat charter sailing industry with their newest creation: Off the Grid, the brand new VOYAGE 600! She's a 60-foot long, 30-foot wide catamaran that anyone with a bit of bareboating experience can get their hands on and sail confidently. Let me state this up front, I would not recommend a yacht of this size to our bareboating readers if she was a handfull. Which she isn't! She's intuitive, simple to operate, and sails like a dream without the crew even breaking a sweat! Recommended for families (even multiple families), groups of couples, or those looking for the ultimate in size, space, comfort, and amenities while charter sailing.
Charter Company Overview
Working with Susan in the VOYAGE Charters reservation department seems to be more like talking with a friend than working out a charter reservation. I set up our review trip in a matter of minutes. Later that same day I received an email with links to the VOYAGE Charters online "charter system." Without having to set up an account, I was able to enter in our flight info, sailing resume, crew roster, and facilitate initial payments. All our charter docs were loaded into the "charter system" for easy reference. Everything we needed to know and provide was all here in one spot.
We've reviewed VOYAGE Charters 500, 520, 580, and now their newest addition, the VOYAGE 600 out of their Sopers Hole base on Tortola. Our crew never tires of their idyllic location nestled between the high green hills surrounding this large natural harbor. This was also the spot preferred by the infamous Blackbeard when he was in the region. It's pure Caribbean through and through.
VOYAGE Charters' fleet is made up of exclusive catamarans designed by them and built in South Africa. Chartering though VOYAGE Charters means you sail a VOYAGE yacht, designed for ease of use and trade-wind sailing in Caribbean waters, and built strong to withstand the riggers of off shore South African sailing.
What They Say About Themselves
As posted on the VOYAGE Charters website
Discover performance sailing in the British Virgin Islands on our exclusive fleet of premier, award winning catamarans.
VOYAGE charters luxury catamarans have a very high standard of amenities onboard each of our yachts. Designed by sailors, from bow to stern these yachts are built to ensure high performance under sail as well as style and comfort at anchor.
If you are looking for a bareboat charter, a bareboat with a Skipper only, an all-inclusive crewed charter, or spectacular day trips while you are in the British Virgin Islands, or are planning a large multi-boat group charter, look no further. VOYAGE charters offer outstanding service from the beginning of your charter planning until you step off the yacht. Our friendly and professional sales and base staff go the extra mile to ensure you have a wonderful experience on your charter vacation.
The 2013 VOYAGE 600 is a floating villa. Quite literally. The value in a movable luxury villa is simply priceless. True, this is not a yacht for everyone's budget, but if you bring four couples together the weekly price falls in line pretty quick. And even with four couples, there will still be two cabins empty. Fill those and now we're talking a sweet deal on the biggest bareboat anywhere in the Caribbean. And no, space and privacy won't be an issue!
Recommended or Chosen Charter Yacht
I heard about the VOYAGE 600 a little over a year ago, while she was being built. The folks at VOYAGE were abuzz with excitement about offering the one and only 60-foot charter sailing bareboat. With the launch of "Off The Grid," VOYAGE Charters cornered the market in the biggest bareboat segment. At the time of publishing, "Off The Grid" is the only bareboat of this size (though we hear hull number two just might be in the works). Both the Charter Advisors crew and VOYAGE Charters were eager to see how a self-captained boat this big does in our charter review.
For provisioning, the crew visited the Rightway market website. After we added our list of goodies to the shopping cart, we discovered nothing was actually saved for check out. Thinking the mistake was on our end, we spent the next 30 minutes re-entering all of our provisions. Once again, we had an empty shopping cart. So it was off to Ample Hamper. We ordered from these guys online last time without a problem, so off to AmpleHamper.com we went.
Ordering from Ample Hamper is a bit more hands on. Though they have a full online store, a call has to be placed to facilitate payment. It's not a major hurdle though. Every time it's been smooth and simple. I only wish the selection was a little bigger. Rightway has everything you could possible need or want, thus our reason for going this route first. Even so, as usual, we ended up with more provisions than we needed for our 5-day review charter. The extra shopping at the Harbor Market in Sopers Hole when we arrived ensured it!
Unlike our last few trips, we chose to fly into Beef Island directly, skipping the ferry ride that comes with arrival in St. Thomas. One of the reasons I chose this route is because of our new Gold level "VIP" status with the BVI Tourism folks. No, this isn't unique to us. Anyone with multiple trips to the British Virgin Islands qualifies. All it takes is faxing copies of your passport visa stamps to prove your patronage, and a couple of months of waiting. What's the benefit? Well, that's exactly why we flew direct, to find out. We got to skip to the front of the immigration and customs lines and they even helped gather our bags up for us. If we didn't have a pre-arranged taxi, they were there to help with that too. Basically, they made the airport portion of our travels as smooth and quick as possible. As it turns out, being a VIP has its benefits!
Arrival at Base
The Charter Advisors Crew gathered in Trellis bay before heading to the VOYAGE Charters base in Sopers Hole, Tortola. Why? D-Best Cup that's why. This locally owned restaurant is a 5 min walk from the airport and has D-Best sandwich I've ever had. They call it their Honey Mustard Chicken Sandwich, but I call it freaking awesome! After our quick lunch we left full and happy, ready for the 30 min. taxi ride to the west end of the island.
After loading in our gear, we were off via a large van taxi. The trip though Road Town to Sopers Hole is like a sightseeing tour unto its own. As we drove nearly the length of the Tortola, I started the process of slowing down a bit, letting the island and its beauty transform me from my daily self to something else all together. I'm not sure what you'd call it, but I do know this, during that 30 min. drive everyone in that taxi become a more laid back, relaxed, and happier versions of ourselves. Island time is a wonderful thing.
Pulling into Sopers Hole is like traveling back though time. Stepping out of our taxi we were surrounded by tall mountainous green hills and palm trees. The harbor is lined with colorful shops, restaurants, and charter bases, all connected by a long boardwalk. Standing on the dock next to the VOYAGE Charters office looking out over the marina, it's real easy to imagine all the reasons why Blackbeard called this his home port while in the Virgin Islands. Protected, great breeze, and crystal clear water flowing though the docks.
Snapping out of my daydream I stepped into the VOYAGE office (and their blissfully cold A/C). The formalities could wait, for now the VOYAGE crew was thinking the same thing we were, get everyone on the boat and settled. In the most friendly South African accent the folks at the base said, "Off The Grid is at the end of the T-Dock. You're welcome to hop aboard and get situated. Paper work can wait!" Agreed! The crew and I do as we are told, so it was off to Off The Grid, the biggest boat on the dock!
Actually, there was one other thing asked when I checked in at the VOYAGE base. The VOYAGE crew asked, "Where are your provisions? They haven't arrived yet?" When I mentioned the provisions were coming from Ample Hamper, they asked why I chose them? I mentioned the issue we had with ordering from Rightway. I took this exchange to mean that they encourage people to use Rightway for provisions. Frankly I'm good either way. What will be will be and usually that's a good thing in the BVIs. And in this case, our arrival to the base was a bit later than we planned, so I was actually happy provisions had not yet arrived. They would have been sitting in the sun for two hours if they were on time!
Provisions arrived about an hour after we did. In the end, the timing worked out perfectly. The only gripe, no hotdogs. Somehow that got missed.
I had not intended for a dock side sleep aboard the first night of our charter. But because we arrived after two, and provisions at three, the day was getting on. I could think of no place I'd wanted to sail within a couple of hours that beat where we were already. So, I kept the shore power plugged in and took my time going though the check out briefings.
Being at the end of the T-Dock has its benefits. No neighbors and an unassisted easy departure the next morning (no narrow slip for the VOYAGE crew to pull us out of!). That night, tied up to the docks, we sensed little to no motion. Between the VOYAGE 600's large size, the properly sprung lines, and the calm sea-state, we were so comfy we didn't want to get off the boat! Not even for dinner.
Being that we were in full relax mode, the crew ordered to-go from Pussers and ate like kings around the cockpit table. I say "crew" because somehow they forgot the ol' Captain's order. Lucky for them I was too darn happy with our surroundings to care much. Twenty minutes later I joined them, even happier with a Pussers steak on my plate!
That night on the dock was one of the most relaxing nights I've had while tied to a hunk of wood. No rocking, no fenders rubbing, no wakes rolling though, no loud neighbors. Just cool blowing A/C, comfy beds, and a starry night. We hadn't even shoved off the dock but I felt like I was exactly where I should be. A good boat in the right place does that to ya.
Video - VOYAGE 600 On Deck Tour - VOYAGE Charters T-Dock
Morning Of the Charter
Our crew this time was made up of our regular Charter Advisors crew plus a couple of new additions. One a long time boater that had never sailed or ventured to the Caribbean, and the other my one year-old son. Seeing the morning sunrise aboard through their eyes was a special treat. And the number one reason we do what we do. The more times these beautiful BVI sunrises are seen by "fresh eyes" the more eyes become open to life's possibilities. Ok, enough of the touchy feely stuff. The new crew-members had no problem adapting. Not even my little kiddo. All hands were on deck by the time the sun filled the horizon. Not by Captain's order but by natural order. After a great night's rest in uber luxurious accommodations, everyone was ready to get underway.
As soon as the base office opened that morning I was at the door picking up our boat kit. VOYAGE Charters puts everything you need into water-resistant plastic boxes of sorts. I received a box with binoculars, boat phone, chamois, and chart chip. A second box with ships papers, and a third box with tools and common spares, and lastly a tube with full paper charts. I would have normally done all this the day before, but I got to "limin" a little early.
Because my crew and I had chartered numerous times, there was no need to do a full chart briefing. We reviewed no go zones, and were asked if we planned to sail to the U.S. Virgin Islands (which we didn't). I really like how VOYAGE charters tailors their briefings to the client. It's personal touches like this that make all the difference in the world. Now all that was left was to get the boat off the dock.
Yacht Check-out Checklist
The VOYAGE Charters crew took care of the check-out check list for us. They went though every bin, locker, and hatch to ensure all items that should be there, actually were. They also inspected the boat for any marks or damage left by the previous charter group. They could only find two. A snap plate on the inside of the coach roof that didn't quite catch at one corner (I didn't even notice it right off), and a rub mark that they saw that I never did find. With that, it was time to move on to the mechanical and safety briefings.
Yacht, Mechanical, and Safety Briefings
I expected the mechanical and safety briefings to be lengthy on a boat of well... this length. But just the opposite turned out to be true. This was partly due to the fact that we had sailed VOYAGE yachts before, and partly because of advances in onboard technology that dramatically simplify life aboard. We began the briefing, starting in the cockpit.
The VOYAGE Charters crew reviewed the helm with us rather quickly. Why? No need to spend much time on it. The helm is exactly the same as on the VOYAGE 500, 520, and 580! We've reviewed each of these, and it was nice to see the only real change in the helm was the larger chart plotter screen. From the helm we moved aft, looking in each hatch, and identifying the contents (snorkel gear, stern anchor, BBQ grill, etc). Like on the 580, one of the aft deck hatches is really a cleverly hidden cockpit fridge. I wish more boats had a fridge on deck somewhere. When you're on a charter vacation, these little additions make a big difference. No need to buy bags of ice. No cooler taking up space or sliding around on deck. It's both a smart and understated addition. While at the stern, we opened the engine room hatches to go over all the goodies that lie beneath. The engines, dip-stick locations, the powerful 9 kW gen-set, and the water-maker. The VOYAGE crew demonstrated what to check and how to use each properly.
Next we moved up to the sailing lines. Again, this took very little time. All the sailing lines are identical to the other VOYAGE catamarans. If you've sailed one before, the VOYAGE 600 is very easy to pick up and sail off with nothing new to remember. Halyard, starboard jib, and the first and second reef are all within reach of the helm and lead to a powered winch. The port jib, third and forth reef, and boom halyard and boom extender lines sit on the port side, also led to a powered winch. There were two differences that caught my eye. First was the absence of a winch handle. As it turned out, all the winches are powered. Not just the main halyard, all of them. The winch handle has been replaced by buttons next to each winch. But then while I was standing at the main winch I notice something else, no jib furling line and a couple of buttons by my toes. After squinting to see the jib waaaaay at the other end of the boat, I found my answer. An electric furler! Those buttons at my feet furled and unfurled the jib. No furling line to remember to un-clip, no grinding to bring it back in. This was the first charter yacht I'd ever reviewed with this system. Now I was really getting excited!
We moved indoors to finish out our onboard briefing. We were plugged into shore power and the A/C in the saloon made for a nice break from the warm humid morning. Our VOYAGE Charters briefing crew led us to the nav station to review the electronic systems with us. The main nav station is very straight forward with clearly labeled buttons, switches, and breakers. Then they popped open the cabinet above the nav station. More readouts and switches! I almost let out an audible groan when I saw that. Everything I saw was new to me. This is not an often occurrence. New electronic gadgets mean lots of very important stuff to learn quickly! Maybe my groan was audible because our VOYAGE briefer said (very quickly I might add), "this is all automatic. You don't need to mess with any of this stuff." All I needed to know is what a few lights meant to better monitor the boat. But even if we completely forgot about that panel behind the cabinet, it wouldn't have made a difference. Those are the kind of electronic boards I like! No fuss! I did wonder what this "automatic" thing was all about though. Automatically does what? I was about to find out. While plugged into shore power, the VOYAGE crew turned on the generator. I began to wonder if this was a smart idea (it's usually not). Then I saw two of the A/C banks turn off (remember the A/C was running full blast). This was the automatic system at work. It shut down the link to shore power, put us on generator, and shut off two of the four A/C compressors while the generator warmed up. After about a minute, the two A/C banks that shut off, flipped on by themselves. Automatic indeed. The system is so smart that you can do just about anything you want and if it's not wise, the boat will see it, and bring the desired systems online in the correct order, preventing overloading or overheating. The VOYAGE 600 Off The Grid is a big boat, but the systems aboard were the easiest I've ever used. No kidding.
Leaving the Docks
We had two options for leaving the docks the morning of our departure. Because we were at the end of the T-Dock, we could easily sail off the dock ourselves. Or we could have the VOYAGE Charters crew pull her off for us. We opted for the latter. Why? Two reasons. First, it's what our readers will most likely experience and second because a squall the previous day had packed the mooring field with yachts of all size. We had very little room to maneuver off the dock. Being that we had never even started the engines on Off The Grid before, I thought it prudent to watch how the experts moved this big girl around in tight quarters.
After stowing the shore power cord, we warmed up the twin Yammer engines, and untied our lines, as the VOYAGE crew expertly crabbed Off The Grid away from the dock. Once we were fully pivoted 180 degrees, pointing toward clear water, I took the helm and thanked the VOYAGE Charters crew as they climbed into a waiting dinghy. I still had the mooring filed to navigate, but at least now I was facing the right direction! And, as it turned out, leaving the mooring area was as simple as it's been on any other boat. Off The Grid might be 60-feet long and 30-feet wide, but she maneuvered through the tight mooring field like a Catamaran half her size.
I nudged the throttles forward as we entered the Sopers Hole marked channel, then turned to port leaving Frenchman's Cay and Tortola on port with St. John to Starboard. We were all glad to be underway and eager to see what the biggest bareboat in the islands had in store for us!
Noteworthy While Underway
Biggest Bareboat In The Caribbean, Possibly The World!
The first thing that became apparent was that we were the biggest bareboat on the water. And that's not a bad thing. Off The Grid's size made for a super smooth ride, massive room while underway, and the respect of other yachts on the loosing side of the "tonnage-rule." I'm not big into showing off or one-upping, getting something bigger than someone else just to have something bigger just isn't my style. All this just never really appealed to me. But there was this sense of pride that crept in when I'd pass another yacht, enter a mooring field, or pull into a dock. Out under sail the ocean seems to make everything look small, but she had a harder time shrinking the VOYAGE 600. Yes, the Caribbean sea's vastness did put us in our place in the world, but Off The Grid held her own, keeping me and the rest of the crew with a feeling of security, largeness, and opulence. This is no small accomplishment.
The true size of the VOYAGE 600 became most apparent in close proximity to other yachts. Her bows tower over all other bareboats. Her length leaves a clean wake as her long hulls passes each yacht for what must seem an impossibly long time to those we passed by. And once on the mooring I had so much room aboard I almost had a hard time deciding where to go next (aboard the boat!). Sometimes it can be hard to plan where you want to sail next with your boat, but this was the first time I had trouble figuring out where I wanted to go next while still on it! The good news here is that there is no bad choice no matter the mood, weather, or time of day.
Video - A 360 degree look at Off The Grid
One of the great things that a bigger boat affords is comfort. Comfort underway and comfort while living aboard. I had big expectations having reviewed VOYAGE Yachts before and with this being VOYAGE Charters newest and biggest flagship, my expectations for comfort, ease of use, and luxury were at an all time high.
Comfort underway is most important in my book. Getting comfy on the hook or at the mooring ball is an obvious requirement, but comfort while sitting still is a whole lot easier to attain than when underway in windswept lumpy seas. How you and your crew feel when underway is part of this comfort equation, it has to be. An unsettled ride can cause even our seasoned crew to dig for the sea-sickness tabs. Underway Off The Grid felt extraordinarily stable. The first day out I did as I always do when I see a roller bigger than the rest heading our way. I'd let the crew on deck know to expect a bit of a roll. This is the thing... the boat never did roll. In seas ranging from 2-4 feet, I can't say I can recall a moment when I felt the VOYAGE 600 pitch or roll. It must have at some point, the Caribbean Sea isn't flat, but if it did, we didn't feel it. Not even the most motion sensitive. A lot of design work goes into making a boat this comfy and useable. All the hard work has paid off. The VOYAGE 600, Off The Grid is possibly the most comfortable yacht I've ever sailed!
Live-aboard comfort can't be overlooked though. It's especially important to those of us chartering bareboats for more than a couple of days. We may spend a good portion of our days out sailing, but we spend even more time not sailing. Hanging out, snorkeling, sundowners, and evenings aboard add up to quite a bit of time. Each area aboard Off The Grid left me wanting for nothing.
Dominating the starboard side of the bridge deck (above decks), the saloon is as big as two saloons on some other charter catamarans. An enormous wrap around leather couch with an equally as large granite coffee table that raises up to turn into a dining table (I left it in the latter configuration) all facing a flat screen TV. The galley is situated to port and carries all the amenities of home with the exception of a dishwasher. Three sink areas, a four-burner gas stove top with matching gas stove. Large granite counter tops provide a wealth of space for the cook and a couple sous chefs. Having stowage for provisions is a necessity on a boat of this size, but when I have a lot packed away, I don't want to dig everything out to get that one item in the back I actually need. The clever stowage aboard the 2013 VOYAGE 600 made it easy to get what we needed easily. My only problem is that sometimes being this organized makes things harder on me. If I could only remember where I put that "thing" I was looking for! To put galley stowage in perspective, the crew loaded in three carts full of food and drink. When they were done, the galley looked so neat I couldn't tell any provisions were even delivered. More on the galley later.
Onboard comfort combines convenience, refinement, design, plushness, and a level of ease that makes the complex simple. When I ran out of water I could have changed the tank over to a full one, but better yet I could just push a button and poof, more water fills the tank. That's convenient and easy! I expected the new VOAGE Charters flagship to be well appointed, but I didn't expect to sail in surroundings with an interior decorator touch, surrounded by a a sea of granite, teak, leather, artwork, and fluffy pillows. That's refined. Nor did I expect an onboard electronic management systems that let me push any button I darn well please and somehow make my ham-fisted selections work! That's refinement, design, and convenience in action. Then there's the cabins with their oversized plush bunks, the easy motion below decks, and the large heads with full size showers. True comfort and luxury aboard should not be measured by the biggest spaces and snazzy show pieces. It's measured by how you experience the entire yacht. From the big and obvious to the smallest items that affect you and your crew.
No amount of comfort items or electronic wizardry is worth a thing if it's not easy to use. Amenities abound on larger yachts like the Off The Grid, but creating a yacht that anyone with basic sailing experience can use and enjoy with little instruction is a major accomplishment. I want to commend VOYAGE Charters for creating a bareboat yacht that checks every box. Bravo to the VOYAGE Charters design team that clearly understood what bareboat sailors wanted, needed, and most importantly... desired! Chief among these strides are her size, comfort, and especially ease of use.
Push Button Sailing
Big boats have taller masts and big sails. Handling these sails manually would be a worthy chore for sure, but given the task at hand, I was grateful for the full suite of powered winches complete with electric jib furler! Cabin top push buttons operate primary winches on port and starboard sides. The port winch handles the Jib and the boom crane. Winches on the starboard side run the mainsail and starboard jib duties. Unrolling the jib took another press of a button. Black and a red buttons are mounted on the floor next to the main winches on each side. The buttons are positioned smartly. I could press the main winch button on the coach roof to take up the slack on the jib while I pressed furler button with my toe, unfurling and trimming the jib at the same time. It might seem like a lot of multi-tasking, but it was actually very easy and intuitive. Just remember which button furls and which unfurls and you'll be in good shape!
Like I mentioned earlier, the VOYAGE 600 sails smooth and easy, stepping over chop and swell like it wasn't even there. But there's more to the story than that. Beyond being a comfy cruising sailing yacht, Off The Grid also demonstrated how easy she was to sail along with her sporty tendencies.
Raising the main and unrolling the jib came off without a hitch with one person at the wheel and one person operating the winch. I also found I could single hand this entire process so long as the jib was setting on the starboard side. The helm and starboard winches are set up right next to one another. I could steer the boat into the irons while raising the main with the push of a button, then with the main up, standing on the unfurl button while I took up slack on the jib with another button press (still keeping a hand on the wheel). It's like the person designing the boat stood at the helm and wondered if they could do everything they needed to get sailing from this one spot. I don't know if they did or not, but they pulled it off. No drama, no stress, and not a drop of muscular effort. Works for me!
Once the sails were up and drawing I had no problem getting her up to a cruising speeds of 7-9 knots. As the wind increased into the upper teens speeds rose into the double digits topping out just over 13 knots. No matter how fast we sailed along, Off the Grid remained a lady, graceful, elegant, and smooth. We had ideal easy sailing conditions throughout our review. Sunny days, 10-20 knots of breeze on any given day, 2-4 foot waves with the swell dropping from 6 feet on the first day to 2 feet by the third day. No mater what the conditions, I never saw spray over the bows or felt any, and I mean any, pitch or roll. The wide beam and long waterline of the VOYAGE 600 kept things more stable than I have ever felt at sea, while making it bone-headed easy to sail at double digits.
Steering under sail isn't much different than with the engines on. She has so much momentum that each tack pulls though the eye of the wind reliably every time without stalling. I did figure out a way to make things even easier as we pushed though tacks. Oddly enough this little tidbit was learned way back aboard a Hobie Cat. Back-winding the jib. It's easy to do, and it pushes the bow onto the new tack very quickly. Just leave the jib alone while you tack the boat, then move it over once on the new course. Rather than moving the main and the jib at the same time, slow it down a notch. Take care of turning the boat, let the boom come about, then as a last step, move the jib. The "back-wind" in the jib keeps some power in the jib, pushing the nose of the boat the direction you want it to go. Needed or not, being able to back wind the jib make sail handling just that much easier. Just how easy does the VOYAGE 600 sail? Well, my fuel bill for a week of sailing the length of the island chain and running the generator liberally each day and all night was just over 150 bucks! You don't move a 60 foot yacht back and forth the length of the British Virgin Islands on that budget unless she's easy to sail and sails well!
Video - VOYAGE 600 Under Sail
Quiet and powerful Yammers. Need I say more? The twin Yammers delivered reliable trouble free power with double thick sound insulation. The engine sound levels must have been ideal, they lulled my little one year old boy to sleep! I do have to admit that my fuel bill might have been a little higher than it needed to be for this reason alone. No sense waking a sleeping baby... right?
VOYAGE yachts use conventional catamaran engine placement. One in the aft of each hull just ahead of the stern steps, hidden under what looks like a "normal" hatch. The extra wide beam places the engines far apart, which is a good thing. Though Off The Grid is a big boat, she can turn with the best of them. Using the engines to steer makes navigating though tight mooring fields easy, dare I say fun! It's definitely not stressful that's for sure. She can turn on a dime, spin in one spot (within a single boat length), and hold a position (very useful when mooring) intuitively. Both throttle levers sync'd up nicely and reported identical RPM on for each engine with the levers even. This sounds like small potato's, but it's actually a big safety deal in my book. Try motoring a catamaran with the throttles mismatched. Imagine the revs matching with one lever pushed forward half way while the other is only pressed 10 percent of the way forward. Makes going in a straight line pretty interesting. It also makes it real easy to over-rev an engine. I want a charter yacht to be predictable. Surprises are welcome, so long as they aren't mechanically related and occurring near a dock or other boats! Needless to say, I didn't have this issue aboard VOYAGE Charters new VOYAGE 600.
To get the most out of our speed and gas mileage we kept the throttle at 2500 RPM, the low end of her cruising RPMs. Top cruising speeds come at 2800 RPM with full throttle at just over 3000. At our chosen settings we averaged 8 - 9 knots on the GPS in pretty averagely wonderful Caribbean conditions. When it came time to put her in reverse there was no rudder kick (no jerk in the wheel) and was easy to manage with clear sight lines to both aft corners (very helpful when docking stern to).
Mooring up is one of those things that can ether look comically clumsy or like the easiest thing in the world. And sometimes the boat doesn't make it any easier. This thought entered my mind as we pulled into the North Sound of Virgin Gorda. It was our first overnight mooring spot with Off The Grid. As usual the trade-winds were kicking up a steady 20 knot afternoon breeze though the mooring field. So a windy mooring field for a first mooring attempt with the biggest bareboat in the Caribbean (and the only one of its kind). To make things just a little more interesting we were just a few days away from the start of the "Round Tortola Nanny Cay Cup" regatta, and the "Rolex Regatta" had just ended a couple of days prior. Add to that, "Yacht Week" was right around the corner. What do you get? The largest collection of SuperMegaYachts, MegaYachts, Racing Sailboats, Maxi-Sailing Yachts, Mega Cats, Classics, you could ever want to sail among. It was quite a scene. We sure weren't the biggest thing in this yacht harbor!
In order to moor up we first had to navigate a moving "mooring field" of sorts. The Mega-boats were in a holding pattern waiting for their turn to pull into the Virgin Gorda Yacht Harbor. As they loitered around, slowing shifting position, I was hard on the throttle coming down the channel heading right into the whole billion dollar mess. Now I was the little fish in the pond again. Shifting down a gear I moved past one glistening hull after another, until the mega yacht to starboard started drifting our way in close quarters. The rule of tonnage came right to mind right off. You know, it's always the guys with the helicopter on the boat that cuts you off. Anyway, I backed off letting him pass very slowing across our bow, before one last burst of throttle brought us to the mooring field.
One of the things I like about mooring up in the North Sound is the spacing of the Mooring Balls. I've never heard of a rule that says "mooring balls must be spaced X far apart." Maybe a rule does exist. All I know is that though mooring fields may seem similar in layout, they can vary. North Sound should be the standard. Especially when you're parking something as sizeable as the VOYAGE 600. We easily found the ball we wanted, nosed into the 20+ knot breeze, and held position with engine steering while the crew ran the mooring lines to each bow cleat. They had no obstructions to work around and made it look easy. I do want to insert this note. Though this is a 60-foot catamaran, it can still be moored with only one crew on the bow. Sure, it can be even easier with two up there, but it's still pretty darn easy with one. She holds position so well, if a single crewmember needed 30 minutes to run the lines it wouldn't be a problem. Once at the ball it took no longer than 60 seconds to tie up to a mooring ball.
Docking is a pretty simple and straight forward affair. Like anything, the more times you do it, the better the routine and the softer the landing. I kept this in mind as I approached the inner portion of dock B in the Scrub Island Marina. Repeating in my mind how easy docking was kept me from thinking about the fact that Off The Grid is the biggest boat I've docked on a review trip. And she was going all the way down the long dock til she rested just shy of a slip partition (which looked like a toothpick next to the VOYAGE 600's bow). To make it even more fun, we had a large group at the dock awaiting our arrival.
On March 20th, 2013 we hosted our reader meet and greet at Scrub Island Resort. Part of the fun was bringing our readers aboard to tour the biggest bareboat in the Caribbean. To do all this, docking was in order. I radioed in to the harbormaster at Scrub Island when we were about 5 min. away (just clearing Marina Cay). He gave us our slip assignment, and let us know which side to put fenders and lines on. In our case he called for stern to docking on the very interior of the marina, with lines and fenders on port. Normally I go with the flow, but this time I asked for a reassignment. With the helm on starboard the port side is 30 feet away from where I stand. Docking on port in a boat I had about 10 hours worth of sailing aboard didn't give me a warm fuzzy. Nor did maneuvering deep within the marina knowing I didn't have room to actually spin the boat if need be. It would have been a semi-blind all or nothing shot. Those that have read our reviews before know I like a healthy safety margin. The initial plan didn't give me any margin. So, I let the harbormaster know politely that the slip assignment didn't make me comfortable. I asked for a docking assignment "along-side," on starboard. He was only happy to oblige. We received our new slip assignment, set our fenders and lines, and pulled into the dock. As we pulled close, a dockhand was standing at the ready to catch lines and cinch them up. Once secured, we plugged in the shore power cord and shut the engines down. The A/C was running cold within a few minutes of docking. Not that anyone was sweating from the docking. That was no sweat at all!
If you take anything away from our docking experience its this. You know the boat you're on better than the folks at the dock. You also know what you're comfortable doing. If you should ever get instructions you either don't understand or don't "like," speak up. The folks at the dock are there to help. And help they will. Last tip, if you don't have much experience docking, don't be afraid to give it a go. And don't be afraid to share any apprehension or your level of experience with the harbormaster or dockhands. They can make docking quite easy if they know how to help.
It would be easier to list what Off The Grid doesn't have! Full boat air conditioning that can be run while motoring, water-maker, generator, self managing power system, bar, three refrigerators, ice maker, WiFi, flat screen TV's in every room, DVD, every galley item you could need (including blender, ice maker, and microwave), light dimmers, electric heads, automatic bilge pumps in the showers, locking hatches, dive tank stowage, infrared gas grill, power winches, power furler, solar cells, the list just goes on and on.
Expansive and beautiful. The surroundings gave the impression of a high-end luxury villa. It reminds me of the VOYAGE 580 with extra refinement and more space. Granite countertops, leather settee / wrap-around couch all facing a flat screen TV above the nav station. The white floors of the 580 have given way to a teak and holly sole. The combination of the granite, tanned leather, and wood floors gives the entire space a warm and comy feel. I really like the adjustable oversized granite coffee table that rises up to become a full dining table. This extra flexibility converts the space from more formal to casual with the twist of the couplers under the table. Within arms reach of the settee is the Reflex sound system running the indoor and outdoor sound for the radio, TV, CD, DVD, and iPod / iPhone. It comes complete with an iPhone / iPod docking station (Fits up to iPhone 4s). It kind of reminded me of an 8-track from the old days. But instead of inserting a clunky plastic cassette tape, I just slid my entire iPhone in and closed the door. After that, every song and playlist became accessible from the Reflex console. Pretty cool stuff (just don't leave the iPhone in there when the trip is over!). All sound can be adjusted from the main interface behind the couch or via a remote interface installed right under the TV. When it was time to go to bed, the Saloon was lit by indirect LED pinhole lights letting off an illuminating blue white glow from under the couch settee, counter top, and down the companionways. They gave an elegant night-time feel and made it really hard to trip over things when I raided the fridge.
We hung out in the saloon in the evenings mostly. The weather was so nice taking shelter indoors wasn't warranted, but indulging was something else all together. My version of lux-plush living aboard involved a fresh galley cooked meal, good ol "Captain Ron" on the flat screen, sinking into the throw pillows while chuckling though my meal in A/C'd bliss. But hey, that's me. Most of the time we didn't use the saloon as a proper separate indoor space though. The cockpit sliding glass door pushes back opening up the doorway, but then it push further sliding the entire doorframe and glass window all the way into the bulkhead, opening up the saloon into the cockpit space. It creates a massive amount of space on a bareboat! Its also another example of how VOYAGE Charters really seems to understand how we charter sailors actually USE the yachts.
On port, adjacent to the Saloon sits the galley. One that's bigger, nicer, and better outfitted than the kitchen in my first house. No joke. The granite countertops found on the dining table and nav station continued throughout the galley, wrapping around a high-top breakfast bar. Even the large top-loading freezer was sunk into the counter and topped with, you guessed it... more Granite. And on that fancy counter sat a microwave, four-burner stove and a triple sink (one being a drain / drying sink) with fresh and saltwater faucets. Even the garbage disposal has been thought through. Two round cut-outs in the countertop hid the trash collection from site and made clean up after a meal simple. When meal time does arrive, a simple flip of the gas solenoid switch on the bulkhead next to the stove got the gas flowing for both the grill, stove, and oven. Keeping provisions fresh and the drinks cold was made extra easy with a fridge in the bar and two in the galley along with an ice-maker.
The galley got the most use in the mornings. Coffee, tea, pancakes, eggs, toast, bacon, more eggs, more pancakes, more bacon, you get the drill. Want can I say, breakfast is our thing. But weather we were under way or at anchor, we could still cut paper thin slices of just about anything with the sharpest of galley knives and not worry about lopping off a finger. Stability has it advantages. Especially in the galley!
Video - Saloon and Galley Tour
Cabins And The Awesomeness Of A/C Aboard
Off The Grid has six cabins, three on each side. The forward cabins have king size beds, with queen size aft, and full in the centerline cabin. I also noticed that the aft cabin bunk was situated a little over a foot lower than on the VOYAGE 580, the design the 600 was based on. This makes getting into and out of the elevated bunks even easier than before. All cabins get the flat screen TV treatment along with fans, reading and overhead lights, and light dimmers. Each Cabin also has its own head and shower. Like the VOYAGE 580, the 600 moves the sink that would normally be in the head, into the cabin area. Moving the sink created more room in the head for things like full stand up showers with room enough for two.
Cabin comfort is top notch. No matter which cabin or bunk we chose, they were all equally comfy though each cabin had a bit of a personality unto itself. The aft cabins tended to get extra cool in the evenings because of how the A/C vents are routed, and center cabins get a little more white noise because of the A/C air return, the forward cabin bunks sat across the hull rather than along the waterline. But no matter which cabin, you can adjust things to suite with the independent A/C controls. Our crew knows what they like and need to have a good trip, and a comfy stay aboard. The VOYAGE 600 accommodated everyone's "particulars." With beds as comfy as Off The Grid's, its hard not to doze off and slip into a world of complete relaxation. Now, if we could only push the snooze button on that sunrise!
Video - Tour VOYAGE 600 Cabins
One of our younger crew mates put another cabin's feature, the flat screen TV through its paces daily. With one in each cabin, everyone can watch what they want, or have a quiet night in. There is something to be said for getting cozy with good movie with the one you came with, hatch open, under the stars. But for our younger crew, it was Disney mornings and Pixar nights.
Each cabin is a mini suite unto itself. There's so much privacy that I'd actually have to go looking for people on the boat to find out where everyone was! The set-up is ideal for a family with kids, for several couples traveling together, or pure indulgence.
Like I mentioned before, to each their own head. All heads are set up to be as automatic as possible. Electric flushing, auto bilge in the shower (no need to push a button to pump shower water down the drain), and large full size stand-up showers in the fore and aft cabins. Centerline cabins are also stand up style shower with dedicated shower-head (no doing double duty with a sink faucet that pulls out). All heads have overhead hatches and portlights (inward facing in the center cabins). During our review we had no issues with any of these "systems." No odd smells, strong water pressure (with hot, hot water). The VOYAGE 600 is also set up with an easy change over from holding tank to external flushing. So, you can always adapt to where you are. This is both environmentally friendly and sensitive to nearby neighbors and swimmers!
Cool Gear: Wifi - Solar Panels You Can Walk On, And More!
I had a pretty good feeling that the new VOYAGE 600 would raise the bar in the cool onboard gear department, and I wasn't disappointed. Stand out goodies included her WiFi, self-managing "smart" house systems, tread-able solar panels, huge chart plotter (with fish finder!), electric winches and furler, infrared grill, central iPod dock, cockpit fridge, and the water-maker! That's a nice list of goodies no matter how you cut it up.
Technology aboard Off the Grid is anything but "off the grid." She's set up with the next generation of everything. The WiFi is pay by day and can support multi-users. A full seven days was a reasonable one hundred fifty bucks. This simple little addition made runs to Pussers for free WiFi a thing of the past.
The self managing "smart" house system is a thing of beauty. Off The Grid's digital system manages all the power on the yacht. All you have to do is supply the power and start flipping switches. If you turn on too much at once, the self managing system sees the spike in power, and only turns on what should be. But within a few minutes, this new VOAGE 600 finds a way to turn on everything, no matter how much I loaded it up. Even with the engine and generator running while plugged into shore power! This wonder of technology makes bareboat sailing easier. With smart systems like these bigger yachts become more accessible to more people taking all the guess work out while adding an extra layer of safety. Because of the systems aboard Off the Grid, she's both the biggest and most simple to operate charter bareboat I've ever sailed.
The boom crane might as well be a VOYAGE yacht trademark. I've never sailed one that didn't have it. It's compact, handy, and easy to use. Two lines and a powered winch is all that's necessary to pluck and launch the dinghy from the aft deck. With practice it's simple enough for one person to operate, but as a general rule, I always have a helper on deck anytime we're doing a lift. The helper's job is to stay out from under the dinghy when lifted, to keep it oriented, and keep it from swinging should a wake come though. A bridle is mounted to the dinghy with a central ring. Clipping the crane line (a spare halyard) is literally a snap. Next I take up the slack on the lifting line at the winch (by hand). Then it's safe to untie the lashings securing the dinghy to the deck. The last prep step is to tie off the painter line to the aft cleat with plenty of slack. At this point, so long as there aren't little ones scurrying around on the back deck (or big rum soaked ones), its time to lift. First I wrap the crane halyard around the powered port winch (three wraps) as usual, lifting the dinghy clear of all deck obstructions. Keeping the line clutch closed, the halyard line comes off and the red extender line goes on the winch. This one extends the boom and the dinghy out over the water. Once fully extended and the line clutch closed, the extension line comes off, and the halyard goes back on. This time lowering the line manually with the winch, the same as easing a sheet. With that the dinghy is in the water. It takes us about a minute to go from deck to water. About the same as a davit system, but with the added benefit of having the dinghy tied down on deck when we're underway.
Springtime in the BVIs is just beautiful. The temps for our late March review ranged from the low to mid seventies in the morning to highs in the low eighties. At the very beginning of our trip I actually got cold one evening. A rare event in the islands for sure (at least for me). Oddly enough the cooler weather didn't make the days or water feel cold or affect our ability to bake ourselves in the sun. It was quite literally the perfect weather for being outside. We were always warm but never hot. And at night, the A/C was truly optional.
I had been told to keep an eye out for larger than normal swells moving though the area. The week before we arrived seas were running over six feet. I saw the tail end of the large swells on our first day out, but after that, it was quite literally smooth sailing with seas under two feet.
Wind was on the light side for the British Virgin Islands ranging from eight to fifteen knots. Admittedly these are nearly perfect sailing conditions, but in an area that usually sees the trades rising into the 20s and beyond what I saw from the helm was easy sailing in very manageable conditions suitable for any level bareboat charter crew.
The one thing I saw more of on this trip than any other trip weather-wise was rainbows. Every day, sometimes a couple of times a day there would be a small pocket of light rain just off in the distance (never near us) that would produce the most brilliant rainbows. Waking up to the sunrise flanked by a rainbow is always a sign of a great day ahead.
Scrub Island Resort Party!
All of us here at Charter Advisors wanted to say thank you to all of our readers in a big way. Trouble is, everyone is all over the world! But most of us have one location in common, the BVIs. So, with the help of Scrub Island Resort and VOYAGE Charters, on March 19th we hosted our first ever Reader Meet And Greet at Scrub Island Resort and Marina. I couldn't have hoped for a more ideal set up. A private tropical island, the biggest bareboat in the Caribbean and guests from all over the world, now that's a party!
The marina was ideal for those sailing in, with easy access slips and free shore power for party guests. Everyone had their fill of drinks, pizza, and sailing schwag. I do have to admit, word of our little shindig spread around the islands bringing eager to learn non-sailors and past sailors out for some yachting fun.
The welcome mat was open to all comers. Everyone was free to tour Off The Grid and hang out to there heart's content. But, when things wrapped up aboard, the party just moved poolside at the resort. Scrub Island resort welcomed our guests as if they were their guests, giving everyone the first class treatment.
New Gear Tests And Sailing Fashion!
During this review we took the opportunity to test out some new sailing gear. We experimented with carefully selected brands of sunglasses and apparel that claimed to work as good as they look, and donned some high fashion sail bags made from America's Cup yacht sails.
MARO Sailing Couture
What do you get when you combine Italian leather and craftsmanship with Americas Cup Sails used aboard Luna Rosa in Valencia Spain? Some very special "sail bags." Very! MARO Sailing Couture is the only company making sail bags from Americas Cup sails and as far as I know, the only one that's taken sail bags into the realm of high fashion. We tested a bag, a tote, and a duffel, the Gocek, Cala Moresca, and Cala Violina. Check out our special report in Captain's Corner.
These guys saved my back after a day of sun overexposure. Sailing along one day, one of the crew said, "hey, put this on." I wasn't real keen on putting on another guy's shirt, but then he told me it was one that Coolibar had sent for us to try out. I felt much better about that. So off with the t-shirt and on it went. And wow, it felt almost like wearing nothing at all. The blue, SPF, collared, long sleeve button down shirt was, light, airy, almost silky feeling and went seamlessly from a sailing to dining ashore. Roll the sleeves up and snap the built in strap, and it became my go-to over my trusty sailing T's. Roll the sleeves down, button it up, and head to the nearest resort. Unless your deodorant lets you down, they'll never know you've been wearing it all day! The shirt didn't even wrinkle! Coolibar also sent their foldable sun hats. When I unfolded mine, it looked like it had been deeply creased. Bummer. But when I came back to it a few minutes later it looked fresh from the store. The crew loved the hats. They stayed put in the wind, held fast by a cinching chinstrap and adjustable hat band. I've worn my red Mt. Gay for so long it's earned "lucky hat status," but even so, I found myself wearing the Coolibar hat out on the water. Hats designed to shade and protect from the sun are often hard not to notice, both by onlookers and the wearer. I don't like to notice my hat is there. Coolibar did a good job at this in particular. I didn't have to look around the brim or constantly adjust the hat. Coolibar makes great looking, easy to wear, comfy, and highly functional apparel ideal for sailing Caribbean islands.
We put a few well know brands to the test on the Caribbean Sea. Over the duration of our spring BVIs review we put some of the top sunglasses brands through their paces. Oakley, Maui Jim, Kenon, Costa, and Flip Up. I have to admit up front I wear Oakley just about anytime I'm sailing. But, something interesting happened. I found myself wearing different sunglasses in different situations aboard and ashore. Each pair quickly demonstrated their strengths and made it really easy to grab the right one for the situation, which up to this point was always a pair of Oakleys. So trust me here, if I'm putting something other than Oaks on my face, there's a very good reason. Check out the full sunglasses review in the expert advise section.
Otto's day off
Every so often I get a hiccup on charter. No, not me personally, the boat. This time the little hiccup appeared right off the bat (good!), before we even left the dock. Might as well get it out of the way. And by little, I do mean little.
During our mechanical briefing I was informed that the auto pilot (A.K.A Otto) was not working. VOYAGE Charters had the part inbound, but it had not arrived to the dock just yet. It was the first time the folks at VOYAGE said they had ever seen this particular part fail. But, frankly, I didn't really care. If the lack of auto pilot ruins your trip, sailing probably isn't your thing. Given the option of waiting a couple of hours for the new part or sailing sans Otto, I chose the latter. Delaying a sail in the BVIs for a part that sails the boat for me just doesn't seem logical. But hey that's me.
Out on the water I did run into the occasional situation where I found myself reaching for the "auto" button. Sometimes it was to trim the port jib line, other times it was simply the call of nature, but at these times I had something better than auto pilot, I had my crew. Handing the wheel to a crewmate left me free to do what needed done. It also gave all of us taking turns at the wheel a good feel for how the VOYAGE 600 handled under power and under sail. Off The Grid demonstrated just how easy modern catamarans are to sail (or motor). Even without all the technical wizardry.
There were times when we were holding a straight course with lots of water and few boats around. At times like this I reverted back to the old version of auto pilot. Locking the wheel. At anchor or at a mooring, the wheel is locked via a hand tightened locking hub in the middle of the wheel. This keeps the rudder in a fixed position and helps to keep the boat from swinging from side to side more than necessary at anchor or on mooring. Keeping the rudder fixed came in real handy on those long stretches of empty water. Off The Grid didn't hold a constant fix on a waypoint like she would with Otto at the helm, but she kept her sails full and kept pointed in the right general direction. More than enough for me to take a hand off the wheel, have a bite to eat, and enjoy the ride. I never once missed or even thought about Mr. Otto.
Our Trip Through the British Virgin Islands
This time though the BVIs we had a schedule to keep. True, having a deadline or specific schedule while sailing the Caribbean is a good way to spoil a perfectly good trip, but sometimes we've got to risk it. It's an specially worthy risk when it's for our readers! We had a party to throw on Scrub Island, a Flotilla to the North Sound, and a yacht to put through its paces.
Day 1: Sopers Hole Sleep Aboard
We arrived in Sopers Hole by taxi around 2 p.m. the first day of our charter. Because of our late arrival, we decided to take it easy and enjoy our surroundings. Sopers hole is a popular destination when out sailing, so from where I sat, I was already where I wanted to be. Not rushing off the dock gave us extra time to get to know the new VOYAGE 600, fill in the gaps in provisions at the Harbor Market, and fill our bellies at Pussers. The village-like surroundings, the high mountainous lush green hills, and accommodations provided by VOYAGE Charters at their docks gave me no reason to shove off and race to the nearest mooring field.
That evening, the Charter Advisors crew including the Professor and his wife, sat in the cockpit eating takeout and swapping stories. It doesn't get much better than good friends and a beautiful yacht.
Day 2: Sopers Hole Tortola to Scrub Island
By the morning of the second day, we were all itching to get underway. It was time to get the big VOYAGE 600 Off The Grid, off the dock! Casting off our lines, we left Sopers Hole with St. John on Starboard, heading for the Sir Francis Drake Channel. Turning the corner, we pointed along the coast of Tortola for a motor run to Scrub Island for our reader meet and greet. This was our first opportunity to really see and feel the VOYAGE 600 in action, and boy we weren't disappointed.
About the time we turned the corner around Beef Island I realized we were running ahead of schedule. We were showing nearly 9 knots of speed over the ground (SOG) on the GPS, more than I expected. I probably should have looked at our GPS speed before we got this far along, but no matter. Early is good. I pulled Off The Grid into the mooring field at Marina Cay for an early lunch aboard and so we could prep the boat for our party visitors. But pulling in to Marina Cay also had another side benefit. We got to see just how easy she was to moor and how such a large yacht would fit into a packed mooring field. Off The Grid's size made the moorings seem much closer together than the last time I came though, but not cramped. I had plenty of room to maneuver and no problems picking up or leaving the ball.
With our lunch stop over, we dropped our mooring lines headed for Scrub Island and their new marina. Along the way we received our slip assignment from the harbormaster via VHF, readied our dock-lines and fenders on starboard (see the docking section for more on this). As we pulled in, a dockhand was standing at the ready to catch and tie off our lines. As we tied off, we saw an audience of early arriving party guests making their way down the dock. Glad we got things ready for the party before pulling in!
With our Charter Advisors banner flying proudly our first annual reader Meet and Greet kicked off. We spent a good part of the day aboard with guests, touring Off The Grid, answering questions, and sharing a few tall tales. Later, after the party had wrapped up, we moved poolside for some fun, sun, and good food with new friends.
When evening came and it was time to return to the boat, our shore powered A/C had the entire yacht cool and comfy. And thanks to our little party, we had neighbors tied up all around us for the next day's flotilla. Our crew got split up a bit that evening. Some joined other crews for dinner and more story swapping, others, hung tight on Off The Grid, whipping up dinner in the galley, with a movie on the flat screen. Me? I headed for the spa like showers set up for marina guests. How could any man resist having a large bathroom all to themselves?
Day 3: Scrub Island to North Sound Virgin Gorda
The new additions Scrub Island Resort made to the marina breakwater really made a difference! In the past, I'd feel a slight roll come though when tied to the docks here. Not anymore. We sat still with little movement and slept like a baby though the night. When daybreak came, we were all well rested and ready to get back on the water. Only one thing to sort out, where that cat sleeping on deck came from.
We made our activity on deck that morning a little more apparent than normal. We were sending signals that the floatilla to the North Sound of Virgin Gorda was about to get underway. The signals must have been picked up on, because the other yachts around us started to do the same. Stepping off onto the dock, I spoke with the captains from the surrounding yachts, laid out the plan, and we scheduled departure for 10 a.m.
Right around 10 a.m., the shore power cords came aboard, cockpits were neatened, and the lines came off. We left the beautiful surroundings of Scrub Island for the gorgeous deep blue hue of the Sir Francis Drake Channel. I once again picked my way though the mooring field at Marina Cay, rounded the corner by the beautiful breaking reef off the Marina Cay beach, and raised sail. Our course was plotted to be easy to follow, with as few tacks as possible. Anytime we're leading a flotilla two things come right to mind: safety and easy sailing. Once clear of Marina Cay, I put the Dog Islands on the port bow, and mountain point on Virgin Gorda on the starboard bow. This was our course all the way to Mosquito Island. Once there we dropped sail, lit the engines, and jockeyed for position to enter the channel leading into the north sound. It was becoming clear by the amount of boat traffic that I wasn't the only one with plans for the North Sound of Virgin Gorda. Apparently every racing crew and mega yacht had made this their home base. Add charter sailing traffic to all that, and you've got one heck of a floating boat show!
Our flotilla entered the channel together, then parted ways. Some had designs on Leverick Bay for the Michael Beans "Pirate show," while others were angling for the Bitter End Yacht Club and Saba Rock. We were in the latter group. So I waived a happy goodbye to our new friends as they peeled off, and headed into what looked like an area full of floating mountains. Mega yacht mountains!
We found a mooring ball off the Bitter End Yacht Club, and readied the dinghy for a trip to the pub for a late lunch.
We spent the remainder of the sunlight eating, relaxing on the beach, and searching for our friend Mike the Iguana. A trip to the North Sound of Virgin Gorda (A.K.A. Gorda Sound for you paper map readers) is always worth the trip.
Having stuffed ourselves all day, we opted for an early night and BBQ aboard. That evening I stood in front of the latest infrared propane grill, flipping burgers on the aft deck watching the sunset over the Caribbean Sea. This is the kind of cooking I'll gladly do anytime!
Day 4: North Sound to Norman Island
We had today and tomorrow left for our charter review. But we faced a dilemma that every charter sailor must deal with once per trip. Where to spend the last night aboard? There are two factors here, choosing the spot, and making sure it's close enough to the charter base to get back on time without getting up before sunrise? I also add weather into this mix. If I wake up to storms, I don't want the day I have to fly back to begin with being soaked to the bone.
I opted for Norman Island. Norman is a popular first night stop for people chartering from VOYAGE Charters. It's a quick couple hour hop from the base, it's beautiful, and the snorkeling at the Caves and Indians is epic. So, for me, this was a natural choice. And the fact that Norman Island was about the furthest away of all the BVI's only made the prospect better. It meant a full day of sailing! Hurray!
After a huge breakfast loaded with eggs, pancakes, bacon, sweet sticky buns, and lots of coffee, we got Off The Grid ready to head back to sea. Within thirty minutes of the last plate being washed, we were dropping the mooring ball, and motoring out.
It was 0800 as we entered the channel leading out of the North Sound. Must have been a good time to head out, just as we dropped our lines, the maxi-racing sailing yachts left the docks for the channel. They were accompanied by a flurry of ribs, power-boats, spectators, and charter boats. Our wide-open channel became jam packed before we could get there. I was happy to see that most everyone kept pace and kept their heading. Everyone except a racing yacht right off our bow that had no one at the helm, wandering from one side of the channel to the other at varying speeds. After a few minutes of frustration, I put the pedal to the medal and the VOYAGE 600 showed her muscle, blowing past those matching shirt collar-poppers.
Free of the channel, I pointed down the coast of Virgin Gorda, raised sail, and kicked back at the helm feeling the rudders and the puffs in one hand while sipping my ice cold Coke a Cola in the other. We had a mega-comfy boat, sunny blue skies, a steady 14 knots of wind, and seven to eight knot boat speed the entire way. I wish every day sailing could be this good!
As we closed in on Norman Island, I pushed a few buttons to get the sails put away (love the electric jib furler!), got the engines fired up, and pulled into the Bight at Norman Island where the crew ran the mooring lines like it was second nature. Off The Grid may be long and wide, but hard or difficult she is not.
Lifting the dinghy off deck, we drove from the most outer mooring ball (my most preferred place at the Bight), to a completely refurbished Pirates Bight. And by completely, I do mean completely. The bight boasted white walls, new chairs and tables, and decor. It almost looked too good. Some of the charm has changed, but I the new look has a charm all its own. Now Pirate's Bight is a real alternative to Willy T's. If you want something with nicer surroundings than "Willy" can offer, do head to Pirates Bight. You wont be disappointed. Especially if you order the ice cream dessert!
After a big lunch at Pirates Bight, lounging beach-side, and some light duty treasure hunting (this is the ACTUAL Treasure Island after all), we made our way back to the dinghy floating in glowing turquoise water. As we climbed in, the sergeant fish circling our RIB scattered and the little barracuda took refuge under the dock. With a pull of the cord, we were slowly putting our way back to the outermost mooring in the field, back to Off The Grid for what would be our last dinghy ride of this trip.
We watched the sun set that evening over Tortola and St. John with nothing but a mega-yacht to obscure the view.
Day 5: Norman Island to Sopers Hole
Like many times before, I woke up to the serene surroundings in the Bight of Norman Island. But as always, each time here is different. The boat, the time of year, the weather, and the crew all add up to make every trip unique. Even though I've used Norman Island as the setting off point for the "return to base day" many times before, it's never the same experience twice. This is especially true aboard the biggest bareboat in the Caribbean, surrounded by loved ones, on one of the most ideal mornings I could ever wish for. I found myself reflecting on our week sailing and realized then that I just might have developed "feelings" for Off The Grid.
The VOYAGE 600 is a unique yacht, at anchor or underway. On this last morning aboard, I was getting the sense that I understood her, from how she served her crew to how we as crew needed to serve her. She never asked much and she always gave more than she requested. As I fired up the engines for the last time, I felt somber that the trip was coming to an end. Keyword here: Coming. It hadn't ended yet. We still had a few hours to enjoy all Off The Grid had to give.
After motoring out of the Bight, we immediately got our sails up. We didn't have much wind that morning, but it was enough. Besides, I really wasn't in a hurry to get back. The day was beautiful and our review VOYAGE 600 was slipping smoothly through the nearly still water. It was quiet aboard as everyone snapped their last "on the water" shots and relaxed in the trampolines. We had a great week aboard, and none of us we're eager to get back. If that's not a sign of a really good charter yacht, I don't know what is.
We entered the Sopers Hole channel around 1030 and had her tied up to a moorning ball five minutes later. With that, we shut down the engines, thanked Off The Grid for her service, and called the VOYAGE Charters base, begrudgingly letting them know we were back.
Docking a 60 foot long, 30 foot wide yacht might seem daunting. But as I found out first hand at Scrub Island, she's as docile as any well sorted charter catamaran. Simple and straight forward thanks to her twin engines and good sight lines. Even though, I always prefer to have the charter company park their own boat.
Unlike some other charter companies that meet you as you enter the harbor or channel aboard an inflatable to take the boat in for you, VOYAGE Charters has an entire mooring field. All I had to do was tie up to a mooring ball, call the office, and within ten minutes, a little inflatable boat was heading our way to pilot Off The Grid over to the fuel dock for offloading and topping off.
The VOYAGE crew did an outstanding job ushering us back to the dock and helping with the gear. By the time I had the VOYAGE Charters supplied ships papers, toolbox, and communication goodies back to the office, they had all our fuel and check-out info ready to go. In one stop, one rather quick stop, I had signed the boat back in, officially ending our charter. Only one thing to do now, head to D-Best Cup for an awesome late breakfast!
Rather than heading for the airport that last charter day, I opted for a day ashore at Myett's in Cane Garden Bay to get my land legs back. It was the perfect way to wind down a BVIs trip before having to rejoin the modern word and the airport hustle. Look for our special feature on Myett's in upcoming additions of Charter Advisors
Fuel and Water
Before we departed I put a $250 deposit on fuel. When we returned I had only used $135 bucks of it. I wasn't gentle on the throttle, nor in the use of our generator and still we sipped gas. So, for those of you that think bigger size automatically equals bigger fuel bill, it's just not the case here. In fact, I've spent a heck of a lot more using the engine and genny less! New tech comes with new levels of efficiency apparently. Paying for water wasn't something I had to concern myself with. When we ran low, all it took was the push of a button and the tanks were full once again. With a 70 gallon per hour water-maker, it took just under two hours to top off the single tank (she has four tanks) we managed to empty.
Off The Grid is the fourth VOYAGE Charters yacht we've reviewed. Each time we review their yachts, we're left with two distinct impressions: great customer service and spacious well sorted yachts.
The level of service and personal attention given by the VOYAGE Charters crew is top notch. I could ask anyone just about anything, and if they didn't have the answer, they got someone who did. They were flexible with our changing plans and always made sure we had what we needed.
Off the Grid is the tangible coming together of all that VOYAGE has learned and gleamed about what a ocean going catamaran built for charter should be. Her smooth sailing tendencies, ease of use, simplified systems, and huge amounts of space on deck and below make her a stand out. Notice I didn't say her size. Sure, she's big. However, her size does not define her, it's how she treated her crew. And for that, I have to say; The VOYAGE 600, Off The Grid deserves our highest honor: Five Sails.
Only one question remains, could a VOYAGE 620 or 680 be next? I've got my fingers crossed!
By The Numbers
Note: Minor fees and deposits such as permits and insurance deposit, are not listed. The above totals are not to be used as exact costs as these costs change often. This budget summary is intended for planning purposes only and to give a good idea for the average costs involved. The costs listed above are as per what we were charged at the time of charter.
- Charter Review: The Moorings 5800 Ocean Suite by Captain Kev
- Charter Review: VOYAGE Charters, VOYAGE 520 Silver Lining by Capt. Kev