Charter Review: VOYAGE Charters, VOYAGE 520 Silver Lining
Dates Reviewed: June 16 - 22 2014
Charter Location: VOYAGE Charters, Sopers Hole, Tortola, British Virgin Islands
Yacht Chartered: VOYAGE 520 Owners Version - Silver Lining
Locations: Sopers Hole, Tortola, British Virgin Islands (BVI)
Charter Advisors Recommendation
The VOYAGE 520 Owners Version is a modern, sleek yacht for a family or three couples, so long as two of those couples aren't the jealous type (I'll explain later). It would be a mistake to assume that all VOYAGE 520's are equal, they aren't. All have proven to be excellent but they can be different. And that's a good thing. The four-cabin charter version maximizes cabin space, but the owner's version lovingly indulges its crew with extra space. If you consider a huge cabin with lots of space an indulgent yet must have luxury, then the owners version is for you. All of us at Charter Advisors like the various "flavors" of yachts in the VOYAGE Charters fleet. With owners version options, there's more to like and more options when looking for the right yacht for a sailing vacation. And we already knew we liked the 520 (see our review of the VOYAGE 520 Windscape), but add in copious amounts of cabin space, and now you have a 520 that sails awesome, but also makes you feel like your living large. And isn't that what a yacht is suppose to do?
Charter Company Overview
Reviewing yachts at VOYAGE Charters is always a unique experience. Their fleet is a standout among the BVI Charter fleets. They design, build, customize, charter, and sell VOYAGE Yachts exclusively. Chartering through VOYAGE Charters means your chartering from the actual company that built the yacht your booking. You may be wondering... And that's an interesting tid-bit, why? Because the yachts they build have evolved based on their customers feedback. And their customers sail the British Virgin Island's predominantly. All this adds up to a yacht that was born and bread for the Caribbean waters of the B.V.I. and chartering ease. In other words, these are bespoke yachts designed for the B.V.I charter sailor.
What They Say About Themselves
As published on the VOYAGE Charters website
Experience a boutique; family operated Charter Company in the British Virgin Islands supported by excellent staff and crew. Enjoy great service from our USA Charter Reservations Team. Sail aboard our award- winning yachts, manufactured by VOYAGE Yachts in Cape Town, South Africa. Our teams endeavor to provide quality service, a great product and a wonderful vacation to our valued charter clients and vessel owners.
If it's a catamaran your after and like (or need) extra space then emphatically, yes! The VOYAGE 520 owner's version Silver Lining is an outstanding value. Of course this space comes at the sacrifice of the usual forward starboard cabin, replaced by a massive full hull starboard cabin. Not a bad "sacrifice" huh? Keep the crew to three couples or less, and you really will be living large. I'll let you in on a secret, I have a bit of a preference for Owners versions. They tend to have a slightly higher "spec" when it comes to onboard goodies and that massive owners cabin doesn't hurt either. These are good things.
Recommended or Chosen Charter Yacht
Silver Lining is a sister-ship to the newly launched WindBorn and WindScape, which we reviewed back in July of 2011. Like her siblings, Silver Lining comes packaged in the same forward-looking high-performance VOYAGE design. Sharp piercing bows, a quick turn of speed, and comfort amenities in spades. The only thing that can make the combination better is additional space. Now this would normally mean moving up to a bigger boat. But not in this case. Simply swap over from the four cabin VOYAGE 520 to the Owners version and poof, you get a VOYAGE 520 with a cabin as large (or larger) than some 70 footers. Lets face it, if your going to take a yacht out sailing in the Caribbean you want to "do it up right". Silver Lining is a very good example of how to do exactly that.
Getting the shopping done pre-charter through a provisioning company can be very helpful, but it can also be a bit of a pain in the... Well you know. The location of your charter base has a lot to do with your provisioning plan. Book with the Moorings or BVI Yacht Charters for example, and you're going to want to pre-order provisions as the grocery store is going to entail a taxi ride. This is not the case at the VOYAGE Charters base. With its location in Sopers Hole at the west end of Tortola, there is no need to pre-order provisions. The Harbor Market is located right along the dock-front making shopping for and transporting provisions very easy. You can roll the shopping cart right to the boat. And when I say provisions, I mean PROVISIONS. Everything you could need is here, from charcoal, to garbage bags, to food and drink. They even have a fresh deli! But, if you still want to pre-order, that's ok too. Ample Hamper situated in Sopers Hole will gladly provide you with provisioning services. For this trip I only pre-ordered provisions I didn't want to carry to the boat, like cases of drinks, gallon bottles of drinking water, and some basic breakfast and snack items incase we arrived late after the market closed. Everything else was bought at the Harbor Market the morning we shoved off.
I took a slightly different route this time, all be it slight. After arriving in San Juan, I enlisted the service of Fly BVI. Why? As it turned out, I could charter one of their planes for about the same as a normal connecting flight (for four people). And they could make the transfer later in the evening than the big commercial carriers. There would be no chance of missing our connection. Turns out it paid off. American Airlines delayed our initial flight by over an hour. We would have missed our usual connection, causing an extra over-night in San Juan. But we didn't because we were a little smarter this time. On arrival in San Juan we were met by a Fly BVI rep. They walked with us to collect our bags, then ushered us through a secure exit to the tarmac where our island hopper awaited, a six seater that was all ours. We flew over dark ocean for only a few minuets before the lights of the USVI came into view. A few more minuets later we were on final approach to Beef Island airport. After deplaning, I realized another bonus of arriving at an off-hour. No lines! Customs and Immigration seemed to be just for us. Not another soul in line. Now that's how to do that. Are you sensing a theme? Doing it "the right way" perhaps? Well, it's only my millionth visit, it's about darn time!
A taxi was waiting for our arrival. It was nearing 10 pm and in the islands that means one of two things. Your either drinking or sleeping. So I was relieved when I saw our driver and he was doing neither of these. Forty minuets later we were pulling up to the familiar surroundings of Sopers Hole. The smell of that sweet salty air, the sensation of dew on the skin, and the feel of dock boards under foot. Bliss.
Arrival at Base
It was nearly 11 pm by the time we arrived at the VOYAGE Charters base. But this was a non-issue. I strolled down the dock, located Silver Lining and hopped aboard for a quick look. The staff at VOYAGE Charters had the A/C and saloon lights on ready for our arrival. I actually prefer it this way. After a day of travel, there is nothing quite like a waiting yacht with no one else around. It's the polar opposite of a crowded airport terminal. No more lines. No more people rushing. Nope, none of that. Just a starry night, Caribbean breezes, and a beautiful sailing yacht.
The next morning we'd check in with the base office. For now, its time get cozy for our sleep aboard night.
The basic provisions I ordered from Ample Hamper arrived right on time the same night we arrived. With our late arrival, I was very happy to see that the provisions were delivered on time. All of the water, snacks, and drinks were on hand. Good thing too. The crew was hungry after a day of traveling. True, we didn't have a proper meal that night, but who has a proper meal at half till midnight? We were well set for the evening and grateful we didn't have to carry all those drinks and jugs of water.
I'll let you in on a little secret. I've been known to stay an extra day in Sopers Hole just because it's so nice. That's not something often said about a charter base. But the VOYAGE base is exactly this. Beautiful. Where else do I need to be besides here? Needless to say the sleep aboard night was near perfection. No banging the dock. No noisy dock lines squeaking. Just still water, a quiet marina, and that sweet Caribbean breeze.
Silver Lining was an oasis of cool A/C, inviting us to relax after a long day. Which is easy to do when you have a massive wrap around couch / settee and the biggest single cabin in the fleet (until they decide to do a VOYAGE 600 owners version). I found my way into the owners cabin, got lost on the way to the head, then settled down for a long summers nap.
Yacht Check out Checklist
The morning arrived quickly. With a 6 am sunrise, that tends to happen. After getting the sleep out of my head, we headed to D-Best Cup for D-Best breakfast on Tortola and waited for the VOYAGE base office to open. With tummies stuffed with Caribbean season eggs and some seriously tasty coffee, I headed off to the office to take care of the yacht charter paperwork. First I gave our deposits, then we reviewed the contents of the "boat boxes". These two plastic boxes contain just about everything you need for the boat. Everything from the cruising permit to sail tape, a few common spares, a boat phone, and tools. I like being prepared. I really like it when the charter company I'm working with is just as prepared.
With the boat boxes sorted, we moved on to the all important chart briefing. Normally this includes a detailed map review for safe navigation and understanding where the "no-go zones" are. Being that I've chartered and reviewed VOYAGE Charters previously, they knew I had a good hold on the cruising grounds and tailored our chart briefing to match. Much appreciated!
If you're the type that likes to prepare ahead of time, check out the Nautic Ed Chart Briefing certification for the BVI's. It's written by yours truly and is widely accepted by nearly all BVI Charter companies. You'll be well informed the moment you arrive. And for charter companies that accept the certification, you get to skip the chart briefing and get on the water sooner. It's available on tablet devices through iTunes and iBooks. It's also an awesome resource when you're on the water. Many people use it to navigate the islands, bone up on BVI history, and locate a few of my special spots (I can't give away all of them now can I?).
With the office work done, I headed back to the boat to meet my yacht briefer, who I found waiting for me and already making his way through the checklist. The inventory checklist details everything that is supposed to be aboard. It was very nice that he got a head start on checklist, but I still started from the beginning to be sure I knew where each of the items on the list was placed. Sure, I've sailed a VOYAGE 520 before. But I would never assume that anything is in the same place on different boats, even if they are the "same".
Yacht Mechanical and Safety Briefings
Silver Lining is well cared for. Nothing was out of place or missing. So it was on to the final step, the yacht mechanical briefing. This is where each system aboard and its operation is explained. Again, this was not a new boat model to me, but I still listened like it was my first time. Every briefer has there own wisdom to impart. I never assume I know it all, even when I think I do. And guess what? I didn't in this case. I learned that the 520's like a single reef in the main when the wind is over 18 knots. True, you don't need to reef at that low of a wind speed, but if you do, as it turns out, you'll be sailing faster. I would have never thought to do that. But these guys know their yachts, their systems, and how they sail. The entire briefing lasted about 30 min. It was time to shed the formalities (meaning: put on swim suits and remove shirts) and get the Sliver Lining out on the water.
Getting a 52 foot long, 28 foot wide catamaran out of a marina slip can be daunting, even for an experienced captain. That's why the folks at VOYAGE pull the boat out of the slip for you. They will either hop a dinghy back to shore after casting you off, or park you at the fuel dock so that you can leave on your own.
I started warming the engines dock-side as the VOYAGE crew hopped aboard and tied their dinghy to the inside of our starboard bow. We untied dock-lines together as their captain pulled the boat expertly from the tight slip. Clear of the pilings, Sliver Lining spun like a top to starboard, pointed her bows into the mooring field, and we were off to clear water. The VOYAGE crew handed the wheel over to me wishing us a happy and safe voyage just before they hopped into their dinghy and zipped back to shore.
After a quick shakedown run around thatch island, we returned to a mooring ball at Sopers Hole for our first photo shoot. Full disclosure... I had intended to do the photo shoot at Jost Van Dyke, but the surroundings at Sopers Hole were so ideal I couldn't justify a the trip over. So we shot right there in Sopers, happy to have extra time to shoot a beautiful yacht. I was even happier we were freely floating away from the docks. Though we were close to where we were the previous night, we felt a world away, and very, very free. Like I've said before about sailing charters in the Caribbean, when you're in paradise does it really doesn't matter where you're moored. No matter where you are, you're already there. So, no rush. Savor, enjoy, repeat as necessary.
VOYAGE yachts are not what you'd expect if you're used to chartering with some of the big name charter companies. If this is the first boat you sail on charter, you just might become spoiled. Let me explain. For the seasoned folks out there... You've no doubt seen all kinds of crafty packaging, cramming all kinds of cool and useful amenities into unusually small spaces. You get all the amenities you desire (and probably a few you'll never use), you just need to remember where it's all hidden and what to turn off before you use something else. Boarding Sliver Lining, I feel more at home than on many other yachts. There is a living room with things a living room has. The galley has all the things a galley should have (including ice maker). The high-bar table has high bar stools as they do at home. In other words, there is no need for origami inspired woodworking to fit it all in. For those of you new to sailing, this helps make the adjustment to life aboard much easier.
There's only one word for the saloon aboard Silver Lining. Grand. There isn't much this side of 60 feet that can compete with the interior volume of the 520's saloon. Opening up the cockpit sliding glass door reveals the massive expanse of the saloon. A large curved settee with throw pillows situated behind a knee-high coffee table greets you first. All of it facing the navigation station with a 30-inch flat screen looking back at you.
From my spot on the "couch", I can control the radio, TV / DVD, while watching the sun set off the back deck. It's not just all functional and comfort though. Actually, that would be good enough, but this owner's version took it a step farther. Custom decor, pictures, sculpture, and hand picked artwork add to the exclusive and personal feel. The first time I sailed a VOYAGE yacht with similar decoration I wondered, Why put this stuff out on shelves and tables on a sailboat? I just assumed it would all come tumbling down the first time we hit a wave. Not so. These boats are so stable we never once turned over a sculpted anything.
Ahh, the galley! This is where the magic happens. Really. It usually takes a sprinkle of magic to fit the cook, a helper and the actual food all into the galley space. You don't need magic or a skinny cook (never a good sign) aboard Silver Lining. Why? Because like the saloon, the galley is huge! Three people fit easily with plenty of room for actual food and, you know, movement too. There's more counter-space than we ever needed cooking for a crew of four. In keeping with the more is more theme, there are two "fridges" in the galley. The fridge is built into the counter, with the freezer right next to it, both opening from the top (a front opening door lets the cold air spill out more easily). And it does freeze. I accidently put eggs in there one day and had frozen eggs within two hours. Ops!
The list of goodies in the galley rivals what most people have in their homes. Microwave, blender, toaster, coffee maker, ice-maker, stove, oven, its all there. There's even a handy trash chute built into the counter
A spacious and functional galley gets used. Over the course of a week, we had breakfast and dinner aboard most every night (and lunches too). It just didn't feel like work prepping and cooking a meal. If that speaks volumes, to me.
On most VOYAGE yachts the saloon and galley are the interior party pieces. But Silver Lining takes it up a notch. Remember, she's an owner's version VOYAGE 520. So she still has the awesome saloon and galley, but it's the owner's cabin that really takes the cake.
Stepping down the starboard companionway you're placed right in the middle of the owners cabin. To the right is the "bedroom" area, to the left is the full size head. In between the two ends sits a hall with seating, a desk, and lots and lots of storage space. And because you don't have separate cabins to starboard, light washes across the expansive cabin though large portlights running the length of the hulls.
Bunks in all cabins are situated chest high. Large steps provide easy access to the bunks and make for some neat multi-story end tables at night. The owners cabin brings more space, a huge head, with a full size separated shower, big king-size bunk, and a flat screen DVD TV. Being out on the water is rarely this civilized. I found myself watching a move in bed one night and had to remind myself I was on the water. Weird. A good kind of weird though.
Here's the scoop. All VOYAGE yachts come with electric flushing heads and an automatic bilge pump for the shower. Silver Lining is no exception. But, being an owner's version, she had a bit more in-store.
The port side cabins have ensuite heads, with the aft port head acting as a day head. Both have plenty of storage and elbow-room to spare. But the headline attraction (see what I did there?), as I mentioned earlier, is to starboard in the owners cabin. The owner's head occupying the entire forward cabin space, is huge! There's a sitting / dressing area, then you move into the "washroom" area, then through a tall glass door to a full stand up shower with enough room to house a small family.
Like all other VOYAGE yachts, the 520 uses the boom crane system to haul the dinghy on deck. It's a simple, easy to operate mechanical crane that I used every morning. With the dinghy on deck, I'd untie the lashings securing it to the deck, and attach the lifting halyard. With tension on the halyard I'd lead it to the powered coach roof winch and begin the lift. With the dinghy hovering just above the deck, I clip the halyard line down, remove it from the winch and replace it with the red boom extension line. This line extends the boom out past the back of the boat, taking the dinghy with it until it's over the water. Then with the red line clipped tight, it's removed from the winch and the halyard goes back on the winch (there are two haylards aboard, one for lifting, one for sailing). With the winch holding the weight, I release the halyard clip and ease the line slowly as the dinghy lowers into the water. Once in the water the dinghy painter is tied off and the halyard line is removed.
Now you may be asking, why did he bother with this every day? First, it's harder to explain than to do (it really is very easy). Second is security. A dinghy on deck isn't going to go anywhere. Thirdly, sailing. Why would you drag a dinghy behind when it's this easy to pop it on deck? If you're actually interested in sailing, you just wouldn't. And, it's good fun. Guys, you hear me on this one, I know you do. Who wouldn't want to run a little crane a couple of times a day?
VOYAGE yachts have a strong family resemblance. As such, if you walked past a VOYAGE 450, 500, or 520, you might not notice they were three different yachts. They each have the signature VOYAGE wide stance, low sheer, long piercing hulls, and that signature teak swim platform / deck at the stern. But stop and take a look at each of them, and suddenly they each of a personality and look that's unique to their model.
To my eye the 520 is the sleekest in the VOYAGE family of yachts. Her sheer-line a bit lower with less rise at the bows than the 500 or 600, giving her a low-slung, fast, wave-piercing look. And I rather like it. The layout in-between those hulls is a well thought out refinement of the VOYAGE design. If charter yachts have DNA, Silver Lining is infused it. Her family relation was apparent from the moment I first laid eyes on her, but with a special blend of luxurious and athletic asthenic. The 520 points the way forward for VOYAGE design.
The cockpit has been revised slightly, but thankfully still includes the all useful wet bar by the cockpit door. The space feels more open, omitting the wrap around "booth-style" seating seen in the VOYAGE 500 in favor of two long bench seats on each side with one more bench settee aft, all ringing the cockpit table. Each bench is long enough to take a nap on (don't ask why I know this). The aft seating position is unique to this particular 520. The four-cabin charter version omits the rear bench in favoring more swim platform space. The cockpit is spacious, fully protected by a hard bimini festooned with tread-able solar panels, along with an integrated dodger for those occasional Caribbean squalls. This last one I kept unzipped unless it was raining. With the dodger down the breeze feels so sweet, like the breath of life distilled. Somehow refreshing, invigorating, cooling, and warm all at the same time. For those of you who have yet to experience a breeze across the foredeck of a sailboat underway in the Caribbean, I can't recommend it highly enough.
The helm stations on VOYAGE yachts are essentially the same. Once you've taken the wheel of one, you can pretty much sail any of them. All lines run to the starboard helm with the exception of the port jib and boom derrick lines which run to the port winch. The port and starboard primary winches are powered, making the heavy lifting, very, very light. Helm station controls include a high-resolution navigation screen, wind speed / direction and water depth gauges as well as the all-important autopilot.
Moving forward, the generous foredeck has plenty of room for lounging between and around the forward storage hatches, but if you really want to lime right, the twin trampolines are where you'll want to be. In the VOYAGE style, even trhe trampoline isn't standard fair. Rather than tightly stretched hammock netting under foot, VOYAGE uses a grid set up with two-inch wide straps. Pretty much sag free, tuff, and just as comfy as the netting. But what I really like is that I can walk on it without falling all over myself. Try running up to grab a mooring ball on a net trampoline, then try it on a VOYGE yacht. You'll see exactly what I'm on about.
If we go all the way aft, we find another VOYAGE signature item. The ultra wide teak rear deck / swim platform. I think this feature is a stroke of genius. Because once the boat is at anchor, the back of the boat is where the crew hangs out. Swimming, kayaking, or just relaxing. The aft deck is the great spot to hang out, swim, sunbathe, grab an ice cold drink, etc. You read that right, a cold drink is only an arm reach away. You see there are two hatches built into the back of the cockpit bench. One is a regular hatch. The other is a fridge! As Mr. Burns would say, "Excellent!" When underway, this space becomes purely functional, turning into a parking spot for the dinghy. These are big yacht features folks.
We were blessed with idyllic Caribbean weather. Eighty-degree days greeted us with only the occasional refreshing sprinkle wetting our sails. Funny thing though, if we would have sailed different routes we'd have seen more rain. The Virgin Islands create their own little micro-climates. Warm most air hits the hills of Vigrin Godra or Tortola, and it rises and creates a very very local rain shower. You can see these little showers forming miles off and are very easy to avoid. It's like watching a cartoon rain cloud tracking over the top of one unlucky boat (there's always one that doesn't get the memo) Then again, "unlucky" is a subjective thing. Who knows, perhaps the folks under that little cloud knew exactly what they were doing. A little cool down and boat rinse perhaps? These showers rarely last more than a few min and carry very little additional wind. Me, I kept these little showers astern anytime I could avoid them. It's a fun game, you should try it.
Noteworthy While Underway
Like shaking hands with an old friend
Because VOYAGE Yachts share the same DNA, controls fall into hand intuitively. Well, that is if you've sailed a VOYAGE yacht at some point. If not, controls still make perfect sense. Why? Because everything is where you expect it to be. The wheel is in front of you, the throttles are by the wheel, the main powered winch is on the coach roof ahead of the wheel, and all the electronics are situated in a dashboard of sorts behind the wheel. In other words, straight forward. Why mention something so basic and arguably simple? Because it makes the first moments behind the helm stress free. Ever test drive a car you didn't know much about? The new environment can be distracting, even a bit distressing (dare I even say dangerous). It's the same on a charter yacht, only magnified. Especially if you remember that the yacht you're helming cost more than a couple of new Ferraris 458's. Being comfortable behind the controls on day one is important then. This is exactly why I mention it. Rather than stress over what does what, you get to relax and let the controls fall into hand.
Comfort and Space
Going with an Owners Version is a sure bet if comfort underway is the goal. Having an entire hull to ones self is an indulgence. A wonderful and recommended one. Not that the standard VOYAGE charter "four-cabin" is cramped quarters, because it isn't. Taking the usually spacious VOYAGE layout and making it even more, well, spacious, is a good way to spoil yourself in the best way possible. Extra space aboard a charter yacht is normally a hard commodity to come by. That's not the case here, and why Sliver Lining is a perfect example of onboard luxury. True, there are other yachts with more flat-screen TV's, flashy electronics, etc. But the one thing they can't add is more room for the occupants. Space and privacy aboard are the ultimate luxury. Especially when its packaged in something that sails and handles as sweetly as the VOYAGE 520.
Sailing performance and comfort are a hallmark of the VOYAGE range of yachts. And Silver Lining is no exception. Like her sister-ships, her long, sleek, wave piercing hulls and extra wide stance combined a low center of gravity and powerful sail-plain delivers a boat that steps through the waves and keeps her composure. In my not-so-scientific test, I placed a full can of Coke on the cockpit table, opened it, and went sailing. It didn't tip or move the entire time. Except for when I tipped back it that is. VOYAGE yachts are among the few that pass my "a can of coke on the table" test. You might laugh, but believe me, this is the kind of test data tells me all I need to know about underway comfort.
Some say that a "real sailor" doesn't turn on the motor unless absolutely necessary. I'm calling B.S. on that one right now. If it were true, then who are all these people out here on the water with me? "Imaginary sailors"? Everyone motors, especially that guy with his sails up going inexplicably faster than everyone else (especially that guy). There's no shame in firing up the motor. Charter sailing is supposed to be relaxing and fun. And you get to define what that means. Power to the prop comes form of twin 75 HP Volvo marine diesels with power to cruise at 8-9 knots at 2300 RPM in smooth seas. Revving to 3000 showed 12-14 knots but chews through diesel nearly a third faster. Stick to cruising speeds.
I chose to test Silver Lining's motoring performance on a windward bash to Gorda Sound A.K.A. "The North Sound". Realistic to a typical charter sailing situation, I had a choice in my route. Either take the day to tack my way up the Sir Francis Drake Channel to the North Sound of Virgin Gorda with reefed sails or fire up the motor, aim the pointy bows at the destination and get there in a couple of hours. I did what I think any self respecting charter sailor on vacation would do. I fired up the motors and took the chop in the teeth, in the straightest line possible.
The seas ran a frothy two to three feet with the breeze building to more of a light gale. I could see thirty knots showing for our apparent wind speed, right on the nose. The bows slicing and stepping over and through the Caribbean Sea like a Ginsu through a steel can (and a nail, and a tomato, act now any we'll also include...). Engine RPM settled at 2300 I saw six to seven knots. Pushing the RPM up to 2800 gave a reliable seven to eight knots no matter what the sea state. After arriving in the calm protection of the North Sound saw it break eleven knots on the GPS speed-o! That's hauling for something that displaces over eighteen tons.
Like all good catamarans should, the VOYAGE 520 can dance on a dime when you arrive at the mooring field. Motor steering at the helm is intuitive with good sight lines forward and aft with zero rudder kick back when reversing.
The VOYAGE 520 seems to be a refinement over the 500 rather than just being a bit bigger. The hulls really are sleek and quite sharp. When I say wave piercing, its not hyperbole. They really do pierce and slice the water like a knife. This has a profound effect on boat speed and feel aboard. There's less up-and-down as the boat is thrusting forward. But the best part, the speed! Under sail I saw 14 knots regularly. Reeling in and passing other yachts never gets old. As one of our regular readers recently reminded me, "If your next to another boat, you're racing." Racing or not, we had Silver Lining flying. The best part, we weren't even trying to push the boat. She just went! The swell of speed combined with a planted and smooth ride made quick (and easy) work of many of our fellow BVI sailors.
As you may have read in a previous article, the crew and I spent some time on Sir Richard Branson's private island, Necker. Not wanting to be rude by staying away too long, we went back again. I mean, why wouldn't you? It's a paradise wrapped in paradise, rolled in paradise, with an extra sprinkle of paradise on top. So it's pretty nice then. As they say, "if you want to visit Necker Island, all it takes is Gumption". Indeed! So I did what any Captain worth his salt does, I got on the radio and hailed Gumption. No reply. Turns out this is the twenty-first century and if you need Gumption, Facebook and texting work better than the radio.
Let me explain for the uninitiated. Gumption is the owner and Captain of Sea It Clear Glass Bottom boat tours. And he's mentored by Sir Richard himself. Thus, the only person allowed to conduct tours on Necker Island. Lucky duck. I had planed to meet Gumption in the North Sound but we never actually picked a l place to meet. It's the Caribbean, details just seem too formal, and things just tend to work out. In true Caribbean form, Gumptions boat glided to a stop next to Silver Lining and tied off. Within minuets the crew and I were on board his glass bottom boat, speeding off to Necker Island. We spent the day hiking, playing with Lemurs (you read that right), Giant Galapagos Tortuous (read that right too), and feeding Flamingos. Not a bad way to spend the afternoon! There really is only one problem with the whole thing. Eventually someone is going to ask how your day was, be prepared to be branded a liar. No really. Something this amazing really is hard to believe. Goes like this. "What did you guys do today?" To which I say, "Spent some time on Necker. They needed a hand massaging the new Flamingos". The response, "Liar, you did not." I think its actually pretty funny. I mean, really? I couldn't make that up. All the more reason to mention it here. Charter sailing takes you places you wouldn't imagine. And you end up doing things you never dreamed of. Silver Lining was our ticket. And because she's well appointed and spacious, I anchored just of Sir Richards beach for two solid days and soaked in life aboard the VOYAGE 520 Owners edition in one of most ideal locations on earth. I can report, she rose to the occasion, layering luxury upon luxury while overlooking paradise, wrapped up in paradise... Well, you get where I'm going.
Nothing to report here. The weather was ideal, Sliver Lining didn't miss a beat, and our island adventures were nothing short of amazing. Adversity, not this time. Not even a whiff of it. This was probably the most trouble free, review I've ever been on.
As you might have noticed by this point, the VOYAGE 520 sails very well. The ease Silver Lining piles on speed is as unexpected as it is simple to achieve. But, lets back up for a second.
Setting sail takes little effort, thanks to two powered coach roof mounted winches. The main took less than sixty seconds to raise and set. The jib following closely behind in the next 30 or so seconds. Sailing ease shows the moment the sails are set. Lets face it, a rig that's difficult to raise or set can turn something fun into an early morning chore.
First, upwind in 18 knots true breeze. Sailing along, the apparent wind rose to 28 knots with Silver Lining doing an easy 10 knots. The VOYAGE 520 is a mighty thing into the breeze. Those purposeful bows slicing the chop and piling on the speed. 10 turned to 12 knots with a little sail adjustment, but even at this speed I was lulled by the motion of the boat. Or lack there of. It just didn't seem possible we were going this fast. Cross checking our Speed-o on the GPS showed us we weren't doing 10 knots after all. We were doing 12! And in complete comfort, as stable as can be.
Downwind is much the same story at a slightly more sedate pace. Silver Lining easily matched the true wind speed downwind, but to get any more meant bearing away, which I didn't bother with. For me, windward is where I like to get my kicks and get the water spraying. Downwind I'd rather just enjoy a nice smooth, quite ride. Which is exactly what I did. Something to do with oneness with the wind and sea I think. Sounds good at least.
Sailing a 52-foot catamaran is still sailing. Its no more complex than that, but in some ways it's easier to sail a yacht like this. It's stable. Very. The heavy lifting is all done via powered winches, and she can keep her own course and "auto-tack" using the auto-pilot (very handy if you happen to be named "dad" and are effectively sailing short handed). There's no heeling, no hobby-horsing, and no tripping over deck hardware. And under sail you get to do two polar opposite things at the same time. Sail fast and sail in complete comfort.
Our Path Through The British Virgin Islands
Our first day on the water began with a sleep aboard night at Sopers Hole, Tortola at the Voyage Base. We spent the day getting provisions and getting situated aboard. We actually expected to push off on this day, but decided to enjoy taking it slow on day one in Sopers Hole. The area is steeped in pirate lore and looks like a postcard perfect picture of what most expect the Caribbean to look like. After Breakfast at D-Best Cup we moved Silver Lining from the dock to a mooring ball so we could pick up and leave as we pleased. But we didn't. So we took the dinghy ashore and enjoyed both lunch and dinner at Pussers and went to bed with the sun to get an early start the next day.
The sun comes up at 6 am (almost on the dot) every day and we were all up to witness the multi-spectrum sunrise while we sipped our morning coffee. That's about all any of us need to get amped for the day. It wasn't long there after that the dinghy was craned up onto the back deck and we were motoring out of the channel. Today's destination, Diamond Cay at Jost Van Dyke. From Sopers Hole its only an hour or so sail, not far. We took our time, threw in a few extra tacks between the Tortola shoreline and Jost Van Dyke and got into the groove with the VOYAGE 520 again. A boat like this is just fun to sail. I wish I had some fancy way of explaining it, but fun is about the best word I can think of. Anytime I'm at the helm of one of these, I just want to stay out on the water and play. I imagine it's what my two year old feels when he's lost in his own world playing with his Hot Wheels. He keeps on playing and playing for the sheer fun of it all. And that's how I spent my first day sailing Silver Lining. Lost in the fun of it all. Eventually, we pulled into the small mooring field at Diamond Cay right next to Foxy's Taboo.
After an outstanding lunch at Foxys Taboo, I gathered the crew for the obligatory hike to the Bubbly Pool. If you have never been, you need to. Especially if the North Swell is up. I only wish I could tell you where it is... It's one of the secrets of the BVI's you'll have to discover on your own. It's only ever spoken about in hushed words. But, if you go to Foxy's Taboo, and ask around, you'll be put on the right "path" (Ha! See what I did there?). I was in for a shock when I arrived at the Bubbly Pool though. A new, large "health and safety" sign was waiting to greet me. I was dumbfounded. Why was this so shocking? A "warning" sign in the middle of nowhere. "No lifeguard on duty". "Possible under current" warning. "Rocks" warning. Etc. That's right folks, lawyers tagged our bubbly pool with the worst kind of graffiti. What's the point in posting a sign in the middle of nowhere for a tiny swimming hole everyone knows is waaaay off the beaten path? If you don't understand that jumping off of rocks into water full of rocks is a bad idea, no sign is going to help you. If you need a reminder that there are no lifeguards on duty in the middle of a rain forest, you just might need your head examined. We spent a couple of hours splashing in the water and waves, trying hard not to let that new blight on the landscape mess up why we came here in the first place. To forget civilization even exists.
With the new "health and safety" certified Bubbly pool in the rear view, we hiked back to our waiting dinghy and back to the boat. The sun was getting low in the sky meaning only one thing. Sundowners!
That night we stayed up too late staring at the sky. No seriously. There are so many stars out here, it's distracting. And on this night, we had added distraction in the form of many, many shooting stars. No one wanted to look away for a second, else risk hearing, "Did you see that one?!" Once I finally pulled myself away from the starry show, I settled into my cabin and was quickly lulled to sleep by the sound and the gentle motion of the sea.
Today we strike out for the North Sound of Virgin Gorda. The question is, do we sail around the end of Tortola to get there, skirting Camino island along the way, or do we head for the cut? For those that have been before, you'll know the decision. We we're planning to meet a friend of ours, Gumption in the North Sound later that afternoon, so talk turned to timing. Which route would get us there with time to spare? The cut. It was decided then. We'd take the cut. For those that haven't been, the "cut" is a narrow waterway between Little and Great Camino Islands. It allows yachts to literally cut right though the middle of the island chain safely. And it cuts time down too. There is one catch, it's a motoring trip. Sailing though a narrow waterway with boats astern, ahead, and heading right at you, isn't wise. There just isn't any room to maneuver under-sail.
After a quick breakfast aboard, we fired up the twin engines, cast off our mooring and made for the cut. See as how we were in motoring mode, I took the opportunity to make this our motoring test day, testing everything from close quarters work to flat out speed. And speed she did, making short work of a run dead into the wind and chop all the way up the Sir Francis Drake Channel. Two and a half hours later I was motoring Silver Lining into the calm turquoise waters in the North Sound of Virgin Gorda.
With the boat moored, the crew set up for lunch aboard and a quick swim off the back. I know, these two things don't really go hand in hand, but somehow here in the British Virgin Islands, they do. For me, there's no finer dining than reclining in the trampoline in a dripping swimsuit, cold cut sandwich in one hand and, ice cold Coke in the other, and a can of Pringles rolling back and forth across the deck with the breeze. Yes, I can hear the experienced among you saying, "but you have Leverick Bay, Bitter End, Saba Rock, the Sand Bar all right there, and you opted to eat a crummy sandwich aboard?!" Yes, that's exactly what I'm saying. Besides, they are all degrees of the same paradise.
Lunch finished, it was time to go ashore and meet up with a good friend, Gumption. Which didn't take long (it's a "small island" as they say). We talked about a special trip over to Necker the following morning. You see Gumption owns "Sea It Clear" glass bottom boat tours. He's also the only person allowed to give tours of Necker Island and it's wildlife. We've written about him and his tour before (See Feature Article: Wild Time On Necker Island). Worth every penny if you're so inclined. Business done, it was time to head back to Silver Lining, gather the crew, and spend the rest of the day limn (relaxing) ashore.
That evening we ordered dinner from Saba Rock. Yep, take-out from a restaurant on a rock in the middle of the sea, picked up via dinghy. Just be sure the dinghy gas tank doesn't slide into the bags holding the food and it'll work out fine. It was the best dinner I've ever had aboard any yacht. Who would have guessed an Asian steak dish in the Caribbean could be so damn good. No kidding! To make it even better, just as the sun dipped below the horizon we saw the Green Flash. Amazing! Dinner and a show!
Necker Island day! Sir Richard Branson's own paradise, and today, he was going to have to share it with the Charter Advisors crew thanks to our friend Gumption (sorry about the cactus Richard). After breakfast aboard, we we're swept to Necker aboard Gumptions custom glass bottom boat. The trip over to Necker from the North Sound of Virgin Gorda is pretty amazing by itself thanks to that huge glass window in the bottom. I've navigated this area for almost two decades now but I've never seen what's under my keel like I can riding with Gumption. And I'm kind of glad I never saw. As we crossed the Eustasia reef there are some places where there are only inches under the prop. Gumption expertly pilots through the coal heads like its something he does every day (which is pretty much is). Gumption has a respect for these islands. If there is anyone who can "get close without touching" its him. But, seeing the close proximity of the coral gave me the chills. I dinghy though this area. I'm always careful and have never touched, but seeing it through that big underwater window gave me a whole new respect for just how shallow some areas really are. It just goes to prove the point, you're never to old or experienced to learn something new.
Like our previous visits we hiked across Necker Islands from beach to beach. You can tell which shore your on by the wildlife. On the near side, Lemurs. On the far side, Flamingos. All manner of Caribbean wonder lay in-between. Panda Lemurs, Ring Tail Lemurs, Macaws, rare Red Tortoise, Giant Galapagos Tortoise and even the extinct Caribbean Ibis. Well, they were up until Richard Branson was able to conger up the 30 or so that now inhabit the island. It's the kind of place where it's acceptable to pinch yourself everyone once in a while just to be sure it isn't all a dream. Our tour wrapped up back on the beach we started from two hours after it began.
On the way back to Silver Lining, Gumption took us on a detour. When I saw where he was going, I told him I knew where he was taking us. He just said, "Ya Mon." This can mean two things in this context. Either, "cool" or "so you think you know". In my case, it turned out to be the latter. Which, when I saw what he was on about, I didn't mind in the least.
Gumption calls it Starfish Valley and it's absolutely astounding. Again, some context, we just finished taking selfies with flamingos, riding giant tortious, and wrestling with lemurs. Even so, what I saw took my breath away and made the days wild adventures fade into the background momentarily. An undulating seabed covered with bright red starfish of every size imaginable. They were arranged like a giant under-sea puzzle with their arms fitting in next to one another, painting the sea floor red. Its one of those things you don't forget. Gumption asked, "So is this where you were expecting?" I think he knew the answer, but I answered anyway. "Nope". I pointed to a rocky outcropping about 100 yards away. "That's where I thought you might take us". He was quick to reply, "No, no, no mon. Everyone knows about the squid over there!" followed by laughter. Privately I was relieved. I hate squid.
We wrapped up our fun with Gumption at Saba Rock with fish tacos, burgers, and good friends. Oh, and Ice cold Coke-a-Cola.
Waking up onboard a yacht like a VOYAGE 520 can be a bucket list item all to itself. Especially when your waking in a cavernous owners cabin, but for me this was just the beginning of what would turn out to be an amazing day. More on that in a sec. Todays schedule calls for lots of sailing and a photo-shoot in one of my most favorite locations in the world, Virgin Gorda. It's still a bit "old school Caribbean" over here. No massive resorts. No casinos. And over in the North Sounds, no roads. What does that add up to? A location that can only be reached by boat, where just about everyone you meet is a sailor. Good company then. And here is where I'll be putting Silver Lining through her paces and taking her beauty shots. Like I said, waking up to a dream morning was only the start of the goodness.
First breakfast in the cockpit. A hearty portion of eggs, pancakes, toast, and bacon straight from the galley. Bellies full, we hit the water, dinghy stowed on deck for a day of sailing. We released our mooring, motored to the middle of the sound, headed the wind, and raised the main. Now, we weren't actually sailing yet. Motoring out of the North Sound Channel is a must. Yes, yes, you can sail technically, but don't. Really. Boats go aground on the reef just outside the channel. Shallows extend on either side as you near open water (I know, backwards right?). You'll see noted on every map (digital and printed), "Do Not Enter Under Sail". Some take it one step further to get the point across, "Ships Graveyard, Do Not Founder". Point taken I'd say.
Clear of the final channel marker, the jib unfurls with powered ease then, its time to kill the engines. Turing to port she catches the 20 knot breeze and we accelerate steadily up to 13 knots. That first push from the wind always gets me. Natures unending torque puts its hand on your back and gives you a friendly shove. It always puts a smile on my face.
I took a long lazy loop that day. Mosquito island to the starboard, Necker Island dead ahead. But at 13 knots it didn't stay that way long. We looped behind Necker, threw in a tack and took Silver Lining on a broad reach in building open seas. In breezy and rolly conditions the extra wide beam and stiletto hulls really come into their own. No overt rocking and rolling today! Silver Lining handled it like the lady she is (speedy lady at that).
After several hours of tacking, jibing, and working the 520 up and down wind I discovered something. It's actually hard to sail Silver Lining badly. The Voyage 520 just wants to sail. About the only way to mess it up is to drive her dead first into the irons. And even then, she falls off and goes sailing once again. There is one point of sail I did try to avoid. Dead downwind. Speeds nearly match the wind speed, but it's a tad warmer. Sailing with the wind means no breeze across the deck. Take my advice, sail off-wind and enjoy the breeze.
That evening back in the North Sound of Virgin Gorda, under a pastel colored sunset I fired up the BBQ and treated my crew to burgers, brats, and beers around the cockpit table.
North Sound to Norman Island. Time to move on and do some point-to-point sailing. We rose early that morning, sipping coffee and eating croissants we picked up from the Chandlery at the Bitter End Yacht club on the trampolines, watching the first rays of the sunrise pierce the clouds above the peaks of Virgin Gorda. The wind funneling through the Brais Creek pass was cool and constant. There wasn't a lot of talking. The changing colors of the sky kept our gaze as to not miss the next change of hue. Eventually, the colors blended to a brilliant blue and the roosters stopped crowing. The day had officially begun. Time to get things stowed for our run to Norman Island.
Engine oil, check. Coolant, check. Generator off, check. Nav, VHF, Radar, Check, Check, Check. Time to shut the hatches and fire up the engines and get going.
Rule of Charter Sailing Number 23: "If you think it's a good time to set sail, so does everyone else."
It's true too. No sooner had we left our mooring than three other charter sailing yachts joined in, jockeying to get in the lead before the first channel marker. Two more soon cast off and started to chase. That's six including us now for those of you keeping count. The peaceful morning just became a very localized traffic jam. But the view was nice. After about fifteen minutes we were clear of the final marker and turning wide to starboard to get some distance from the rest of the pack. Sails set with that push button ease we've become accustomed to aboard Silver Lining. We laid our first tack, taking us between the Dog Islands and Virgin Gorda, leaving the famous Baths to port along the way. Nearing Ginger Island we threw in a jibe pointing us to the middle of the Sir Francis Drake Channel and Tortola, setting us up for a final tack, past Peter Island and the Indians, all the way to Norman Islands.
Norman Island is famous for inspiring the book, Treasure Island. Locals even found gold here in one of the caves here. Actually, no one knows for sure, but they do know that the "discovering" family in question suddenly up and moved to St. Thomas, bought a nice house and opened a business. But, who knows? Could be, right? Anyway, I like it here. The "Bight" is a protected mooring and anchorage that's a short dinghy ride from the Indians, the caves, and the all-important Willy T's (important if you want to party on a pirate ship bar and jump naked from the top deck). This is the place where "Party Like a Pirate" was invented. A recreation this ain't. So it's obvious where I went. That's right, Pirates in the Bight. My "free Willy T's" days are fewer and farther between these days. Don't get me wrong, if you haven't been, it's a must. Back to Pirates (the restaurant in the bight, not the people on the Willy T's) for a sec. Eat dinner or lunch here and you wont be disappointed. It's a proper restaurant to Willy T's bar food. Run by locals serving up awesome West Indian fair (roties!). Be sure to order the dessert. You haven't lived until you've inhaled an entire dove bar all at once (it just happens, you'll see), or been presented with frozen snickers ice-cream bars (two mind you) set upon a scoop of ice cream, drizzled in strawberry sauce. And like the dove bar, must be inhaled upon arrival. Remember folks, its hot and humid. Inhaling ice cream is as much a necessity as it is a reaction to being presented with it.
Merrily sick on ice cream, we motored the dinghy back to Silver Lining, who was sitting unique among the fleet that was now moored up for the evening. I reflected on that for a moment. In a "me to" world, we the Silver Lining really stood out. And for all the right reasons. The Voyage 520 has a presence about her, and I was glad she was the yacht we were heading back to.
That evening we sipped sun downers as the sun downed, then spent the next three hours laying in the tramp stargazing. Another must at Norman Island. I lost count of the shooting stars, but as always you dare not get up and go to bed, you might miss the next one.
Return To Base The thing about the last day aboard is that you either want to get back to base right away, ready for solid land under foot or it's a day of dread. The day the sailing stops and the plane trip back to reality begins. It all depends on the experience aboard during the previous seven days. For me, I didn't want it to end. When I'm aboard a yacht like the VOYAGE 520 owners version, I have absolutely no need for shore life. None. Never-the-less, the last morning of the last day had at last arrived. Wanting to make the most of the time we had, I was up at 5 am, waiting on the sunrise with a cup of coffee and a pop-tart (we ran out of croissants) in hand. The roosters woke shortly after, followed by the rest of my crew.
If there is a "silver lining" to the last day aboard it's breakfast. It would be a shame to let the food that's left go to waste. Time to feast! Eggs, bread, jam, bagels, pancakes, bacon, sausage, it all got cooked up and dished out family style. Sitting down to eat, I caught a glace from someone aboard a yacht anchored nearby. I couldn't quite figure out the look on his face. It looked like he was upset and happy at the same time. Then I realized, he was downwind. Suddenly it all made sense.
Everyone stuffed to the gills, time was ticking and we had a return time to make back at the base. I sailed Sliver Lining very slow that morning under sunny azure sky, as close to the wind as I could and still keep a bit of wind in the sails. I wanted the short trip to last as long as possible (while still arriving back at base on time of course). I easily doubled the time it would have normally taken. There's something to be said for sailing slowly. The sea comes along side to great you. There is no anticipation of the next tack. And the ride is more luxurious than anything Rolls Royce could muster. Slow ride or not, all to quickly the entrance to Sopers Hole at the west end of Tortola came into view, time to drop the sails.
VOYAGE Charters offers charter clients two methods to return the yacht. Either grab a mooring ball and their expert crew will guide the boat to the fuel dock for you, or pull on in to the fuel dock yourself. Option one can be very handy if the dock is full or nearly full, and it's the option I often choose. We moored up close to the VOYAGE charters base and radioed ashore to let them know we were back. Waiting on the moorning ball the crew gathered up their gear while I got the fenders out, making for easy unloading dockside. I've grown accustomed to this "valet" service, and I'm not ashamed to say, I think I like it.
We waited all of 20 minuets for the VOYAGE crew to arrive by dinghy and guide the boat into the dock where fueling and water top ups started nearly the moment our fenders touched wood. While the boat was filled up with vital fluids again, I visited with the folks in the base office, paid for the fuel and water we used, and that was that. Our trip had come to an end. Or had it? Yes, our time aboard the VOYAGE 520 Silver Lining was indeed over, but our trip wasn't nearly done. It was time to head for Scrub Island and some shore side R and R. Hey, whoever said the trip has to end just because the charter is over? Answer, no one. Time to grab a taxi to Trellis Bay and hop on the Scrub Island ferry. But that's a story for another time.
Having reviewed the charter version 520 I really wasn't sure how different the owners version could be. After all, it's the same boat. Or is it? True, it has the same hull form, and sail plan. She measures the same in every conceivable way except for one. Live aboard comfort. The charter version is extremely comfortable already. But changing up a gear to the owners version takes it to a whole new level. One usually reserved for, well... Owners. Owners of big, big boats to be more specific. There's an opulence to space, especially when it's deposited in something like a sailboat, which aren't normally known for being cavernous. Large spaces aboard any boat would be an indulgence. Its space for the sake of space. And it's awesome. I found something unique on this review. Something I didn't expect. I found that you could ice the icing on a cake. Charter the owners version and you'll know exactly what I'm on about.
By The Numbers
At the time of publishing, the following are the listed weekly rates for Silver Lining. Please note that Charter Advisors provides this information for reference purposes only. These rates do not include insurance deposit, permits, water, or fuel fees.
Weekly Rates (7 days)
Low Season $11,214
High Season $15,344
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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- Charter Review: VOYAGE Charters, VOYAGE 520 Silver Lining by Capt. Kev