Charter Review: Dream Yacht Charters - Lagoon 400 S2 Big Dog II
Dates Reviewed: Oct 26 - 29, 2013
Charter Location: Marsh Harbor, Abaco, Bahamas
Yacht Chartered: Lagoon 400 S2
Charter Advisors Recommendation
What a welcome respite from hectic city life Big Dog II and Dream Yacht Charters offers! Our first review in the Bahamas had our crew anxious to get to know the marina and the lay of the (is)lands, and the Dream Yacht Charter team did not disappoint. Our short time aboard the brand new, 40-foot Lagoon, Big Dog II provided us with fun, relaxation, adventure, and serious VALUE. We would recommend Big Dog II for a stress-free couples getaway with or without a Captain, or an island escape with family or close friends. This boat is versatile, spacious, super comfortable, and easy to operate, making it the perfect choice for a getaway with those you cherish.
Charter Company Overview
I cannot give enough praise to Terriance and Sierra manning the Dream Yacht Charter base at Marsh Harbor. Their first year in the Bahamas, Terriance has made Dream Yacht Charter's presence seem natural and native, and our entire experience was smooth. With full yacht services, and a fleet of shiny new catamarans and monohulls, Dream Yacht Charter's Marsh Harbor base is on we look forward to visiting again.
What They Say About Themselves
As published on the Dream Yacht Charters "about" page
Our [Dream Yacht Charters] yachts are meticulously maintained and carefully checked between charters. We update our fleet regularly to assure that we have the widest selection of the latest premium mono-hulls, catamarans and power catamarans of any major charter company. We offer a wide range of models from manufacturers such as; Beneteau, Jeanneau, Dufour, Catana, Lagoon and Fountaine Pajot. Our fully equipped yachts are ready to sail right down to the crisp linens, snorkeling gear and fully fueled dinghies.
What's abundantly clear is that the Lagoon 400 S2 is built with value in mind from the start. She measures just under 40-feet in length but packs in the goodies we're used to aboard 50 and 60 footers. It's all there - four cabins, excellent galley, room around the saloon settee for everyone, and lots and lots of deck space. Top it off with a raised helm station and you have something that very much emulates her bigger sister, the Lagoon 450 at a much lower cost. That's what we call a real value.
Recommended or Chosen Charter Yacht
Big Dog II, our charter Lagoon 400 S2 was our home for our time in the Abacos. This model proved to be more than comfortable and spacious for our crew and captain, with 4 double cabins and 2 heads. I especially appreciated a glass door that could be closed to separate the toilet area from the shower in the head, keeping the sink and cabinet area dry while showering. The designers of the Lagoon 400S2 took suggestions from previous model owners and designed the boat with these ideas in mind, creating a more spacious, lighter, and modern version of the Lagoon 400.
While we did not partake in provisioning this time around, Dream Yacht Charters does offer options to help you pre-provision before arrival. Or, if you're in no rush to leave the dock on day one, there are plenty of in-town options for groceries and provisions of all sorts. Provisioning in March Harbor is not a difficult affair.
We flew from DFW to Marsh Harbour, with a connection in Ft. Lauderdale. From Ft. Lauderdale, we boarded a small aircraft that carried us to the tiny airport in the Bahamas. The arrival in MHH was pleasant. The airport is small and simple, and we breezed through customs and collected our luggage fairly quickly. As we walked outside to navigate the taxi area, almost immediately we were approached and called by name by our friendly taxi driver. He had been expecting us and was waiting for our arrival - certainly a major perk when you are groggy after a long flight!
Arrival at Base
This was most certainly one of the easiest and well-tended arrivals I've been privileged to have. Dream Yacht Charters made me feel like a superstar from the prompt meeting at the airport, our greeting and welcome at the Marina, and the assistance to set off on our journey. I'm big on first impressions, and Terriance and his crew really blew me away.
The drive from the airport to the Marsh Harbor Marina was about ten minutes, so in no time we were pulling up to Terriance's smiling face and welcoming handshake. From captain to crew, everyone was on hand helping to carry our luggage and escort us to our review Lagoon 400S2.
For this review, we didn't pre-arrange for any provisions. We made sure to tell Terriance we were sans groceries, and after we were settled in on board, he drove us to the local grocery and liquor store so we could stock up on goodies. The grocery store had everything I would normally expect, and even carried a small "organic" section. The Bahamas carries two local beers, Kalik and Sands, so we picked up both brands to get a full taste of local flavor.
Departure From The Dock
We were short on time, so our Captain got busy getting Big Dog II ready for departure so we could leave as soon as the crew returned with provisions. He was just as anxious as we were to get out on the water, and within minutes of loading our provisions onboard, we were pulling away from dock and heading to sea! Normally, we are quite cautious and attentive on the outset of a charter trip, but we felt so safe, informed, and cared for thus far that we threw formalities to the wind (temporarily) and decided to let loose a bit.
Every night was amazingly comfortable aboard. I chose the aft cabin and felt solid and stable at night and had no issues with motion or noise while sleeping. The placement of the windows and hatch let in just enough breeze for the nights when we turned the generator and A/C off, and when we kept it on, every cabin was equipped with it's own temperature control. The generator was reasonably quiet, softly humming us to sleep when we did leave it on.
Yacht Check out Checklist
Our captain checked all onboard inventory items before setting off. As Big Dog II is a 2013 model, she was fully stocked and nothing missing. Not even the boat hook!
Yacht Mechanical and Safety Briefings
We generally do a thorough mechanical and safety briefing upon arrival, but as we were in a hurry that first day and we were boarding a well sorted, brand new boat, we opted for a brief run down for navigation and yacht systems. Our Captain was quite knowledgeable of the boat, and was proficient in the mechanical and safety workings, making us very comfortable striking out with him at the helm. Once underway, we found everything where it should be, easy to access and understand...no surprises. And as it should be, the engine, control panels, and radio were all easy to access, use, and close at hand.
Leaving the Docks
Our crew was really pampered on this trip. Leaving the dock was the least work I've ever done as a crew member. The captain manned the steering while 3 members of the Dream Yacht Charter team pushed us gently out of the slip. I tried to help, but in that case I was most helpful just sitting back and relaxing.
We had a new (and quite excited) crew member on this trip who was anxious to do as much hands on work as possible. Even the expertise of our Captain, who gracefully motored us back and forth toward the mooring ball, couldn't quite make up for the learning of our newest crewmate (note: the particular level of difficulty seems to be unique to him). The first attempt may have qualified as footage for the famous "Mooring Show" that Capt. Kev is endlessly entertained by. To our crew's defense, I do think the hook on our mooring line was a little too big for most of the mooring hooks we anchored into. But once we learned that quirk, it made it much easier. Furthermore, when we attached the center mooring line on Big Dog II as an extra "security" line, we barely moved on the mooring. Again, so stable!
Big Dog II is a great boat for entertaining and hanging out on because of it's spaciousness. I felt I could move freely and comfortably anywhere on the boat.
My favorite aspect of the saloon was it's ability to open up to the outdoors. The sliding glass door opened to the left and the window panels above the counter area opened all the way across to the right, creating what felt like one big saloon/galley/cockpit play area. The circular window formation around the saloon and settee also created a bigger feel, and I almost felt like I was outdoors when I was really inside. Two sitting stools were placed on the end of the saloon table, which doubled as storage when the lids were raised. The nav station control panel is within reach from here, along with the stereo and radio. The stereo offered radio, cd, and auxiliary input for iPod or USB.
The galley offered everything one might need for a charter trip in terms of appliances. We had a pressure cooker, blender, 2 types of coffee makers, pots, pans, dishes, glasses, and all cooking utensils. The storage in the galley and saloon was copious but as usual, we bought too much, but we made it work, even if the bread ended up in a strange spot.
Cabins and AC
I primarily slept in one of the aft cabin because it was a little bit bigger and quieter when the generator was on. It was perfectly comfy, and the Dream Yacht Charter crew had arranged all of our sheets and pillows and blankets so we would feel cozy. There was a small closet with hangers, below floor storage, A/C temperate control, a hatch, and dual controlled light switches in all the cabins. I usually bring a head lamp with me so I can read at night and go to sleep without having to get up and turn the light off, but Big Dog II has dual control lights that let me switch them off from my bunk (nice bonus).
The Lagoon 400S2 is set up for ease. The davits can be operated manually or using the electric deck winch. The set up on Big Dog II is one that's been used on Lagoon Sailing Yachts for years. The old saying, "if it's not broke, don't fix it" comes to mind. This uncomplicated davit system works very well and can be used by anyone except the very young. One thing to look out for (common to all these davit types), be sure your lifting lines are seated in the top pulley. If not, when you lift, the line will wedge in tight and require some leverage from a handy screwdriver. In a decade of sailing, we've only had to un-wedge" a lifting line, once. It's not common, but worth checking before you lift.
The designers of the Lagoon 400S2 opted for some environmentally friendly and weight saving features, like the cabinets, which are all made from sustainably sourced wood.
They provided ample room and secure stowage for all the toiletries. The actual heads are electric and run with a touch of a button, which is always nice. The shower had full standing room with another push button for the drain. Just remember to turn on the water heater if you haven't been motoring much. Otherwise, your hot shower will turn cold, mid-shower. This is a normal sailing "quirk", not a knock against the designers and architects at Lagoon. Rounding out the Heads are two small hatches that provided good ventilation (note, never a "head smell").
Sunshine, sunshine, and more sunshine was bestowed upon us during our time in the Abacos. The wind was actually rather light, except the last day we were there. A fresh squall was forming out at sea making for some speedy sailing aboard Big Dog II. That day swells and the seas grew, and we were incredibly happy to have our captain navigating the shallow waters through the Cays.
Noteworthy While Underway
A few features of Big Dog II that especially stood out to me, mostly for reasons of comfort and accessibility. The autopilot was extremely easy to operate, and coupled with the electric wenches controlled by foot buttons, this made manning the boat a dream. The helm area was positioned mid-way between the deck and the cockpit, allowing for easy access from both areas, but conveniently out of the way. It was covered with a removable bimini, creating great sight-lines from the Captain's seat. Visibility at the helm is always a picky issue for me, and this location is ideal - I could see around, in front, behind, the sails, and the lines without obstruction. But, if you want to know where the "best" spot is, without hesitation my favorite on a catamaran is always the trampoline, but the cockpit of Big Dog II offered a side seat where I could comfortably lounge about and read and write while under way. This quickly replaced my traditional spot forward.
Fun Stuff We Did
Our Captain was full of entertainment and secret spots. He took us to an unmarked shipwreck to snorkel around with sea turtles, set up fishing lines off the deck so we could fish, went free diving for conch, and showed us the best spots on the islands for food and drink. We played beach games, sailed along with dolphins, hit up the famous bingo night at Captain Jacks, toured historic sights, and even spotted some sharks! This trip was definitely centered around adventure, though it all eventually lead to a calm anchorage and relaxation by days end.
We had a fairly decent split of time spent motoring and sailing. Our first day out we coasted along at 6.5 knots with just the motor and when we added the jib we picked up another 1/2 knot (this was actually the fastest speed we reached on the trip). Our Captain said the speed was uncommonly slow for the area, but we didn't mind. Especially as the sound level coming from the engines wasn't intrusive, even for a sailing purist like me.
Capt Kev our publisher had prepared me for the shallow waters in the Abacos, but it wasn't until we set sail that I really took in how nerve wracking that could be. At one point we had both sheets up in 14-18 kts of wind, cruising along sans motor at 6.5 knots, and our depth was just a mere 7 feet! The nervousness was fleeting though - the navigation station and chart plotter clearly laid out depths and route, and our Captain is very experienced in the thin water sailing. On our last day we headed back to base at Marsh Harbour where we found ourselves in the heaviest winds of our trip. We had planned to go snorkeling at another shipwreck, but after what seemed like our 20th attempt to hook into the mooring ball, we let the gusty wind win and headed back to base.
I wish I could say we experienced some tumultuous and raucous movement while underway, but this catamaran is seriously stable. It's true the weather was fairly mild while we were visiting, but I've never experienced such a consistently smooth ride. I even played around with doing yoga moves on deck while gliding through the water and was able to maintain my balance! Our speed averaged around 5 - 5.5 knots the whole trip, with and without the motor.
Lagoon 400 Big Dog II Sailing The Abaco Sea
Our Path Through The Bahamas
The feelings of anxiousness I felt about being unprepared for a review in a totally new location (at least to me) washed away with the seaweed as I peered out the windows of our tiny airplane, overlooking all the cays that make up the gorgeous Abacos. How could one worry in beauty such as this? Sure, my crewmate (and photographer) was a first time sailor and this would be my first time chartering a catamaran (I'm the monohull review girl usually), but as these trips out to the islands generally affect me, once we arrived, I was ready to sail whatever they put in font of us. Tropical weather and warm seas tends to do that.
Our taxi driver Fabian was super friendly and had us at base in no time. After meeting Terriance, the manager for Dream Yacht Charters in Marsh Harbor, meeting our captain, and picking up some goodies from the grocery store we decided to set out for our first destination - Guana Cay! Our Captain, Mr. Brian Adderlee (of the Cannonball Adderlee lineage for you jazz fans out there), had made some itinerary suggestions, and we decided to trust his judgment on the best mooring spot for the night considering our late arrival and trip duration.
Even as we motored through the water, I could already feel the busy-ness of city life drifting out to sea. There is nothing more calming to me than the sound the water makes as a boat cuts through the currents of the watery deep. I generally like to take a few moments of solitude at the bow as the journey begins to just breathe in the salt air and feel the breeze...you know, I think that's called relaxing. As I was taking my alone time and our first time crew member was getting sailing 101 from the captain, I had two unexpected visitors - dolphins! We hadn't even been out on the water for 30 minutes before these friendly creatures came to greet us! I squealed as if I had never before seen a dolphin in my life, and as the Captain laughed I already felt like the trip had been worth it.
Arriving into Guana Cay right at sunset we found plenty of mooring balls to choose from. Adam, our photographer, was eager to show off his newly learned skills and impress the captain with his hooking technique. As we approached the mooring ball, he found the line and made contact with the hook but made a slight misjudgment and upon my insistence that he let go of the ball he actually let go of the hook instead. A charter perfectionist I was a little flustered, but Adam had no shame and just jumped in the water after it, hooking us in while bobbing up and down with the mooring ball. Our captain was encouraging, showing me again that there's really nothing to be worried about in the Abacos.
We made the choice to celebrate our first night by dining out. Capt. Brian told us about two good dining spots. We chose the smaller of the two, Grabba's, for our first night. Grabba's is a comfortable and laid back establishment right on the beach, perfect for sunset watching and kicking back. Between drinks and bites of food we play beach games, laughed and sharing stories into the night. The fish was fresh and I was able to get a mound of grilled vegetables and a baked potato to satisfy my veggie craving. We headed back to the boat early, but stayed up late lying on the trampoline marveling at the expansive clear sky and counting the falling stars.
There was a strong breeze that night so we decided to experiment with leaving the generator off. I was awoken sometime in the middle of the night to the beeping sound of the battery alarm - without the generator, the battery was drained - so we turned the generator back on and slept the remainder of the night with the AC running on low. Either way was sound and comfortable sleeping for me.
We slept in that first morning, and woke up to fresh coffee and clear skies. We made a big omelet breakfast on board and then chose to go back to shore. A trip to Guana Cay wouldn't be complete without a visit to it's most famous bar and concert venue, Nippers. So we all three headed over to Nippers with snorkel gear in tow. Our Captain had a lot of fun with my ooohhing and ahhhing over the beach view at Grabba's the night before because he said the beach at Nipper's was so much better, and when we got there, I could see why. Nippers is situated on the top of a sand incline, so it looks out and down at the radiant blue water of Guana Cay. It really is a gorgeous sight. Our Captain decided to hang out upstairs while the crew went to scope out a good snorkeling spot. There was already a group of snorkelers out, and we were excited to get in the water and see the fish. As it turned out, we didn't have to get in the water at all. As we were meandering around, about to jump in, we noticed a couple guys waving their hands, but we didn't pay much mind. I briefly imagined a scene in a movie where two non-suspecting tourists are happily snorkeling along, oblivious to the world until catastrophe strikes in the form of some wild creature. I decided to err on the side of caution, so we walked over, and sure enough, they had spotted sharks! Sharks are incredible to see in their natural habitat, and so we followed them up and down the shore, picking out their shadows moving gracefully through the waves, taking photos, and making friends with fellow shark gawkers. The sharks didn't bother the other snorkelers, but we decided to stick to the shallow water and beach, just in case (it helped that this was some of the softest sand my feet have ever sunk into). We went back up to Nippers to enjoy some drinks with our new sharky friends and indulge in the famous Sunday pig roast buffet. It was quite the treat to have before heading on to destination two, Green Turtle Cay. And it wasn't even 2:00 yet!
Green Turtle Cay is a bit of a treat to visit, because navigation can be somewhat challenging. Our Captain advised that a novice is best to ask for a Captain or additional help when navigating through the shallow waters on the way to Green Turtle Cay. We headed up the Atlantic side of Whale Cay, using the motor and sails to get us there quickly, and at one point the depth was most shallow I've ever seen with sails up. I would have been a sweating mess trying to safely steer through these waters, but not our Captain. He was as cool as a frozen daiquiri still in the blender. With the wind gusting up to 12 knots, we moved along at about 6 knots, over 8-foot depths, entertaining ourselves with sailing tales and enjoying the sunshine. Once we arrived to Green Turtle Cay we dinghied ashore to explore New Plymouth while the Captain anchored with the express purpose of napping in the breeze. New Plymouth was quite charming, and had the feel of a New England seaside village with an island twist. In fact, New Plymouth is one of the areas settled by British Loyalists in 1785, and we visited The Memorial Sculpture Garden that depicts these Loyalists and freed slaves as a tribute to new life in the Bahamas. While locals use golf carts to take to the small roadways, we found the village easily walk-able, and moseyed through the sleepy streets until we came across a small house that had opened it's backyard up as a community area and bar. People were swimming, laughing, swinging on swings and enjoying beverages. We stopped to whet our whistles, chat with friendly folks, and check out a massive collection of conch shells piled up here.
Tip - if you want to go to the museums and/or purchase groceries in New Plymouth, arrive before 4:00 PM, as everything closes by then.
We headed back to the dinghy dock to be picked up by our Captain, then one aboard, we motored our way into the protected bay of White Sound at Green Turtle Cay to moor for the night. It was then that we discovered our Captain hadn't just been resting, but had been cooking us freshly caught conch chowder and seared snapper for dinner! He used a family recipe for both dishes, and it was hands down one of the best meals I've ever eaten and shared with fantastic company.
Gauna Cay Nippers for drinks, met folks. Beach - saw sharks. Sailed Atlantic side of Whale Cay up to Green Turtle Cay - dove for conch, fished from boat. Green Turtle Cay - gave tour of boat to curious group of couples. Sculpture Garden and Pineapples - found conchs, had drinks. Moored for night in GTC at White Sound. Had conch chowder and seared snapper for dinner aboard boat.
The next morning we woke up early to finally get some real sailing in! We also wanted to get some good shots of Big Dog II on the water. As a testament to the facility of the boat (and our Captains capabilities), We were able to raise both sheets by singlehanded while the photography crew, launched the dinghy off the back, motoring around Big Dog II, filming her in action, from the water. Once we docked the dinghy with the "Mother-Ship" and hopped back aboard, we got a good feel for how she handled while underway with no motor and both sheets up. When the wind gusted 17-20 knots we held around 5 knots of speed, topping off at 5.6 knots with 23 knots of breeze. Our destination today was a wreck not far away. We headed to a underwater wreck site where we were pretty confident we would be able to do some safe snorkeling and see some fish. We spotted stingrays, sea turtles, and more species of colorful fish than I can name (parrot fish, angel fish, big groupers, and tangs, to name a few). After an awesome snorkel, we raised anchor and had lunch underway while we headed to our final destination for the night, Hope Town, made famous by it's Historic candy-striped lighthouse and Colonial architecture. We found a mooring spot easily. As soon as we were situated, we all went over to explore the Lighthouse before it closed. The Elbow Reef Lighthouse at Hope Town is one of the last remaining manual lighthouses in the world and is definitely worth a stop if you appreciate historical preservation, not to mention a sweeping view from the top. Since it was our last night we wanted to really take in this evening. We ambled along the boundless, peaceful beach at Hope Town Harbor Inn and Lodge and explored the village. Because we arrived late to the mooring field (again) all the shops were closed, but we loved people watching, wandering around without a destination, nor care, and even made a new furry friend, Bennigan the dog comes to mind. After debating where to get dinner, we finally settled on what appeared to be the life of the party that night - bingo night at Captain Jack's! Captain Jack was there himself handing out bingo cards and bottlecaps and we munched on delicious food while trying our hand with island luck. Which apparently we have very little. We ended the night back on board enjoying a last opportunity to see a sky flooded in starlight before returning to the "big city" again.
Hope Town Left GTC, sailed to shipwreck off Man O War. Sailed to Hope Town and moored. Went to historic lighthouse. Explored island, Hopetown Harbor Lodge (met new managers), ate at Captain Jack's and played bingo.
Our last day was spent on the water as much as possible. We made our way back without any stress or rush, and arrived in time to re-fuel, clean up the boat, pack up, and eat lunch before clearing up paperwork and heading back to the airport. Terriance the Dream Yacht Charters base manager was there to greet us and had our same taxi driver ready and waiting to take us back to the airport.
Simply put, we when from Hope Town back to Marsh Harbor on our last day. We docked up, re-fueled, cleaned up our stuff still laying about in the boat, packed up, and had lunch aboard. When we departed Big Dog II the only item left was to pay our final bill for fuel and water Shortly there after, our pre-arranged taxi picked us up for a smooth and quick trip to the Airport
Four days was definitely a small amount of time to spend chartering a sailing yacht, and usually we go for much longer when doing reviews. However, I found the four days to still be ample time to learn the in's and out's of Big Dog II, get a feel for Bahamian culture, see some beautiful parts of the Abacos, decompress, and have fun. On Big Dog II this amount of time would be perfect for anyone based out of the USA, say a family "long weekend" vacation, a trip with a group of friends or a couples getaway.
In comparison to the BVI's, I found the Abacos to be an equal paradise. Less crowded than the BVI's, there is still a ruggedness to the Abacos that I appreciate; this combined with modern amenities, laid back and friendly people, and of course the gorgeous beaches will have you forgetting that the word worry or stress even exists. The water is fine! Jump on in! Just not head first, it might be shallow.
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.
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