Charter Review: VOYAGE Charters, VOYAGE 520 - WindScape
Dates Reviewed: July 25 - 30 2011
Charter Location: Sopers Hole, West End Tortola British Virgin Islands
Yacht Chartered: WindScape - 2011 VOYAGE 520
Locations: Sopers Hole, West End Tortola, BVI
Charter Advisors Recommendation
VOYAGE 520 - It's All New, Redesigned, And Amazing On Charter
Exclusive First Review!
The VOYAGE 520 is a brand new model in the VOYAGE charters line up. Developed with input from VOYAGE charters customers, the 520 retains all the best of VOYAGE yachts before her, with chartering friendly, modern twists. Our review 520 WindScape was the definition of easy sailing and live-aboard luxury. She's a gorgeous sailing yacht inside and out. Not to mention flat out fast.
WindScape's unique layout is suited well for charter groups, sailing families and water sports nuts (like us!). Her new wide-open cockpit and transom deck is so big it comes with a full size teak table and chairs! That's right... Actual chairs. Charterers who need space for up to eleven (nine if we don't count the forward crew quarters), enjoy a turn of speed, and want to be pampered doing it, the new VOYAGE 520 is built to do just that. The entire Charter Advisors crew is in unanimous agreement, recommending VOYAGE charters, VOYAGE 520 WindScape, awarding her our highest award, Five Sails! She does everything that well. And I do mean Everything.
Charter Company Overview
The brand new 2011 VOYAGE 520 is the third in our review series on VOYAGE charters. And one I've frankly been looking forward to for at least a year. Ever since Susan over at VOYAGE charters began telling me about a new redesigned yacht, on the way. What got me thinking was that this one was being redesigned with the input of VOYAGE charters customers. Being that VOYAGE charters is exclusively in the British Virgin Islands, they've taken the liberty of designing a bareboat sailing yacht that is specifically well suited to their home waters and the chartering ways of their customers.
What I remember most about the VOYAGE charters base is the colorful marine village it's situated in. Sopers Hole is pure "Caribbean," including a colorful history, having been a pirate a stomping ground for the likes of Blackbeard. Heck, all you have to do is look at the name of the island astern of the Sopers Hole mooring field for proof. Thatch Island. Said to be named for Blackbeard himself who also went by the name Edward Thatch (or Teach). It's easy to imagine tall ships anchored in the deep-water bay, surrounded by mountainous hilltops. Now days it's the home to VOYAGE charters and a whole new breed of pillaging. Namely the kind you do with your credit card drawn!
Sopers Hole is a full service marina "village" with everything from restaurants and markets, to boutiques and dive shops, to fuel and ice. The VOYAGE charters base sits centrally along the dock-front walking distance from Pussers restaurant and the Marina Market (provisions!). One of the crew's new favorite "Sopers" shops, Island Surf and Sail has every watersport toy they could think of for weekly rental, where we couldn't help indulging (more on that later). Sopers Hole has everything anyone would need to kick off a charter, and then some.
Situated in the east end of Tortola, Sopers Hole makes for a great first day departure point to Norman Island, Jost Van Dyke, or Cane Garden Bay, all within a couple hours sail.
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 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.
A 52-foot catamaran for the price of some 44-footers is quite a deal. Never mind that it's brand new and forward thinking. It may look like the VOYAGE 520 is filling a size gap between the 500 (50-foot) and 580 (58-foot), which may be true, but what the 520 really is, is an evolution of the VOYAGE design.
With room for four couples in the main cabins, the ability to forgo water refills (thanks to the onboard water-maker), efficient turbo diesels, and efficient hull form, WindScape kept the ancillary costs down. But these extra cost savings pale in comparison to the outstanding value in chartering a brand new, spacious, and speedy sailing yacht that has no size competitors in the British Virgin Islands charter scene. VOYAGE charters has something special on their hands with the new VOYAGE 520.
Recommended or Chosen Charter Yacht
About a year ago, Susan over at VOYAGE charters clued us in on a new VOYAGE yacht in the works. She told us this new one was being created from an entirely new mold, with a brand new hull form, a new cockpit, and aft deck layout, just to name a few. She also told us about the design process and the extensive input from their chartering clients. In a nutshell, this new yacht, the VOYAGE 520 was going to bring together all the best of VOYAGE yachts plus charter customer-recommended "tweaks." When Susan called with news their new 520 was in the water, it didn't take us long to grab our passports and head out.
The VOYAGE 520 represents the next generation of VOYAGE yachts. With a 52 foot waterline and a 27 foot beam, she sports long sleek wave piercing hulls with a wide low-slung stance. She looks eager to go at the dock. Almost as if she was tugging at her dock lines, asking to be sailed.
We were the third crew aboard WindScape. Charter yachts don't get much newer than that. When we stepped aboard, the differences between the new 520 and her sibling ships was readily apparent. The 520's wide-open transom, huge swim platform, and refined hull profile make her distinctive among the VOYAGE charters fleet.
Inside, the VOYAGE 520 seems to follow the "big is beautiful" theme. Though the 520 sports a sleek exterior, the inside space is exactly what we've become accustomed to reviewing VOYAGE yachts. WindScape has wide-open spaces, a separate area for everything, and a wonderfully outfitted gourmet galley. The cockpit is so big there's enough room for a full size teak table with matching chairs. Calling it a "cockpit table" would not be doing justice. The 520's "beautiful" part was apparent when we first laid eyes her, but then I opened the sliding glass door and saw her "inner beauty." Setting her apart are her gorgeous teak and holly sole (wood floors for the nautically challenged), and granite countertops.
Provisions were purchased upon arrival in Sopers Hole. Pre-provisioning comes in real handy when the nearby market is a cab ride away, when there's a big group to feed, or if there are specific items that just have to be had. We had none of these needs. The Harbor Market is so close to the docks the crew pushed the shopping carts right to the yacht. The Market is well stocked with most of the goodies we're use to finding at our local grocery store, including a deli! If it's food or a common provision (like charcoal for the grill), they have it. The other plus to provisioning in person is that I can "see" what I'm actually buying and I get to pick my own substitutions, unlike ordering off a pre-provisioning list. And if the Harbor Market doesn't have it, there is always Kelly's Superette a two-minute walk down the way. Provisioning on arrival may not be for everyone, but in Sopers Hole it works well for most. Including our crew. I don't plan on ever pre-ordering provisions if the charter is sailing out of Sopers.
Here is something our crew has learned though years of reviewing charter companies and yachts in the BVIs. You don't need a ferry reservation or pre-arranged taxi to get from the airport to the charter base. In fact, the sooner "Island Time" is adopted, the better. Go with the flow. There has never been a time when I had a challenge finding a taxi or a ferry.
Taxis are staged at the airport in both Tortola and St. Thomas (depending on the arrival airport). We flew in to St. Thomas on this trip, but no matter where we arrive there are always plenty of taxis waiting and a ferry departing when we need one. When we fly directly into Tortola, (Beef Island ) it's even easier. Once through the airport doors, taxis are queued up and ready to go to all points on the island.
Following the "Island Time" philosophy, when we landed in St. Thomas the crew headed for the airport door where they found a large van with a friendly taxi driver ready to load us up. Within a few minutes we were at the ferry terminal buying tickets for the Road Town Fast Ferry departing 30 minutes later. Before I knew it, we were at the customs dock in Toad Town (about a 45 min. trip).
The immigration process at the ferry dock is identical to the Beef Island airport, except the lines tend to be a little shorter. No matter which ferry we choose, or which destination we arrive in (Sopers Hole or Road Town) we're though immigration and heading to our charter base on Tortola in 15-30 minutes.
Arrival at Base
Our crew pulled into the VOYAGE charters base around lunchtime ready to start our review. The folks in the charter office had everything ready to go the moment we walked in though the door. Well, at least when I walked in. The rest of the crew headed over for their traditional pre-trip lunch at D-Best Cup a few steps down the dock-front. Frankly, all I cared about was getting a good look at the new 520. VOYAGE charters had all the charter documents and receipts were organized and ready. It only took a couple of signatures to move right on to the chart briefing. The VOYAGE charters base office did an excellent job covering all the bases and getting me... I mean our crew aboard and settling in right away.
Sleep Aboard Night
No sleep aboard night needed this time around... But that didn't stop us! I know that doesn't make a lot of sense, but hey... That's just us. This is how we look at being on charter: so long as we're on a boat in a Caribbean locale, we're exactly where we want to be. The VOYAGE charters crew had us checked out and ready to go with plenty of time to sail to either Norman Island or Jost Van Dyke, but the entire Charter Advisors crew got caught up in going though the new 520 to such a degree that we spent the night at the dock, plugged into shore power, getting to know WindScape late into the night. But I have a feeling, for part of the crew it was really the Pussers dinner menu that kept them dockside.
VOYAGE charters was happy to accommodate our unexpected stay, though I bet they were wondering about these people chartering one of their yacht, then not going anywhere. We set our departure for 8 a.m. the next morning, then ordered dinner from Pussers, bringing it back to eat aboard WindScape of course.
Motion At The Dock
I've never had a bad nights rest in a slip in the Sopers Hole Marina or the VOYAGE docks. The deep, well-protected anchorage is almost always void of any swell. A constant current and consistent breeze keeps the yachts still at the dock and the bugs at bay. The VOYAGE charters dock crew makes good use of spring lines and a bow mooring line, adding a little extra "stillness" insurance to the whole equation.
The solid feel at the dock made it easy to settle in, relax, and enjoy the benefits that come with being plugged into shore power. A happy crew were we.
Provisions arrived every few days. I'll explain... Lately our crew has adopted a provision-as-we-go routine on charter, buying what we need for the first few days, eating shore-side and re-stocking along the way. We buy too many snacks and bottles of water on our first shopping trip anyway, even if we think we're only buying for a few days. The trick to provisioning along the way is knowing where provisions are available. In general, the BVIss have three "zones" for provisions once one the water: North Sound area, Central Islands, and East End. Soper's Hole is in the East End, Trellis Bay area is the Central location, and Leverick Bay up in the North Sound (Gorda Sound).
Charter Advisors Provisioning Tip: Another fun way to provision along they way is though "Deliverance." No, not that Deliverance, this one's a small provisioning craft that pulls along side with all kinds of provisions and snack goodies with a key of the VHF. They deliver (bikini clad) on the east end of the island chain. I've called them more than once while moored at Kelly's Cove at Norman Island for ice cream and fresh baked sticky buns. Yum!Morning Of the Charter
Chart Briefing and Check In
There are benefits to chartering with the same company more than once. A 10% discount for repeat customers and condensed chart briefings. The latter is one of the better perks in my book. The sooner the chart briefing is complete, the sooner I can dig into the yacht checkout and get on the water.
VOYAGE charters presented us with our boat bag, chart tube, and toolbox. They customized our chart briefing to us, reviewing no-go zones and asking about our intentions to sail to the USVI and Anegada. From there the briefing moved on to boat bag inventory. Boat bag: ships papers / yacht info folder, boat phone and charger, cruising guide, spare keys, binoculars, chamois, Cartography chip (back up, WindScape's chart plotter is pre-set with detailed local charts), and sail tape. VOYAGE also provided a full size nautical chart and a complete toolbox.
I was happy to see how VOYAGE charters adapted their briefing process to the customer, but no matter how many times I run though a chart briefing with the VOYAGE crew, I always manage to learn something new (even if I don't really intend to).
Briefing Note From The Professor: It would be wise if more than just the Captain attend the chart and yacht briefings. A lot of important information is covered in both briefings. The more ears to listen the better. - The Professor
Yacht Check-out Checklist
Visually inspecting WindScape was quick and easy work. Not a mark on her hull or deck anywhere. Heck, there shouldn't have been, only two groups had chartered her before us. Myself and Shaun from the VOYAGE charters crew walked and scanned the yacht stem to stern and confirmed there were no preexisting scratches, gel-coat dings, or the like. It really didn't take a "walk around" to discover she was in pristine condition though. It was easy to see from any angle on the dock.
After the visual inspection was done, Shaun flipped the page on the clipboard to the onboard item checklist. This also went very quickly (and accurately I might add). Being that this particular VOYAGE 520 had recently been outfitted, all items on the checklist we're easy to find, organized, and some of them brand new - still in the wrapper. This was fitting, being that WindScape is "fresh out of the wrapper" herself.
Yacht, Mechanical, and Safety Briefings
The mechanical briefing is my favorite briefing of all. It's where the whole crew learns what button does what, what buttons not to touch (especially important for us!), what color line runs what, and generally everything else about how to operate everything onboard. How can that not be fun? Shaun was joined by 20-year VOYAGE charters veteran sailor Kimo to take us though they're new VOYAGE 520 WindScape from mast to bilge.
Starting with the sailing systems, Kimo and Shaun identified each line, jammer, winch, and button. This part of the briefing went rather quickly being that we had recently reviewed the VOYAGE 580 with the same sail plan. Kimo put is best when he said "it's set up just like the other VOYAGE yacht." During our time around the mast, Shaun shared some great tips on how to get the most out of the sail plan and how WindScape likes to be sailed. A briefing crew with experience aboard the yachts they charter is always a good thing. As we moved forward, we inspected the anchor locker and went though an anchoring drill using the remote control and snubber.
From the bow we worked our way to the cockpit locating the water and fuel filler caps along the way. At the helm, we learned the ins and outs of WindScape's new chart-plotter, auto-pilot, and helm instrumentation. Then our briefers showed us the important stuff... like where the grill is stored, how to set it up, and where the snorkeling gear's kept! Both looked like they had yet to be used (up until we got onboard that is!). Before we we're done outside Kimo popped open both engine room hatches. He went though the engine bay high points and demonstrated how to do for the normal morning engine checks before they were fired up for the day. Our review VOYAGE 520 was so new even the engines looked "pretty" and had that "new yacht smell."
Moving indoors to the saloon, Shaun sat us down at the nav station and covered WindScape's main 12 volt and 110 volt breaker switches and showed us the location of the main bus bar breakers incase we tripped one. Everything is clearly labeled, there's no guesswork here. Then it was on to the fancy digital power monitoring system. Shaun showed us how to page through the screens to check our battery levels, power usage or charging progress by percent, power level, or time. The last stop in the nav station was the generator and water maker controls. Shaun gave us a demo of both. He fired up the generators with the push of a button, then moved to the water-maker control panel and pressed start. With that we were making water. He reversed the process shutting everything down and continued the briefing in the starboard hull to talk water tanks. He pointed out where each tank lived, where the change over valves are located, and how to check the forward tank levels. I say how to check the levels because there's more than one way. The main tanks filled by the water maker have an analogue gauge on the forward saloon bulkhead, but the forward static tanks have a large dinner platter sized viewing window. That's right, a viewing window. It's very easy to see how much water is in those tanks! And I can attest to the clarity of the water and cleanliness of the brand new shiny silver water tanks. I saw it with my own eyes.
The yacht briefing lasted just over thirty minutes. The VOYAGE charters briefing crew kept the brief on point and covered what needed covering. Customer service comes in many forms, for me it was a charter crew that knew their stuff, and remembered we went though the VOYAGE sailing systems brief a couple of times already. Sure is better than having the briefer read the same book over and over again.
Leaving the Docks
I've officially decided to never "pull out" or "park" a charter yacht at the base again. When I'm playing with someone else's million-dollar yacht, I'm happy to leave it up to those that know the yachts best in close quarters. Sure, if you have the ability you can park the yacht at the dock when you return, but unless you really need to feed that ego, there's no real reason to. Now days, even yachts have a valet service. I can remember a couple of times where I stared down a solid concrete wall within a few feet of the bow, at which point a perfect 90 degree turn had to be executed to park along side the dock. Any mistake would have started a chain reaction of super-sized bumper boats, minus the bumpers! Those days are long gone. VOYGAE charters has one of the easiest "leave the dock" and return process in the British Virgin Islands.
Leaving the docks with VOYAGE charters is simple (the return might be even more so). I let the folks in the base office know what time we wanted to depart the docks. Right on time, Rane the VOYAGE base manager jumped onboard and asked, "Everyone ready to go?" We were. He fired up the engines and unplugged the shore power while I got to work shutting down the house systems that needed turning off. Working together, Rane and I unclipped the forward mooring line and released WindScape from her dock-lines. Rane expertly pulled the 27-foot wide, 52-foot long VOYAGE 520 out of her slip, rotating her 90-degrees to starboard, then out into the open and calm water of the mooring field. No rushing and no drama. A moment later a chase dinghy came along side and we bid Rane farewell. WindScape was all ours! And we were ready to hit the open water.
Noteworthy While Underway
The VOYAGE 520 Is The Same But Different
The VOYAGE 520 is like every other VOYAGE yacht, except where she isn't. We'll explain. The 520 looks like a VOYAGE yacht, but she has a different hull. She's got the same large teak "back-deck," but it's twice as big. She's got the same long streamlined hulls, but they have less dead-rise. Her bows are fine, but even more wave piercing than siblings before her. She's got a spacious cockpit, just with more open space. The VOYAGE 520 has been refined and redesigned from the bottom of the keel to the top of the mast (and everything in-between).
The VOYAGE 520 borrows luxuries found on the larger VOYAGE 580 and packs them into a new streamlined hull form and deck layout creating a charter yacht with the best of all worlds. The end result is a charter yacht that exceeded our crew's expectations, sails incredibly well, and is very comfy underway. WindScape is so well laid out that it was apparent that those in charge of her design listened to actual sailors and charterers. It takes a lot of guts to mess with an already successful, forward-looking yacht. Especially one that's widely considered to be the "luxury adventure" charter yacht. One thing we know for sure, VOYAGE charters has raised the bar for charter catamarans in the British Virgin Islands with the new VOYAGE 520.
520 Updates and Cool Stuff
Here's a little peek at one of our reviewer's notes on VOYAGE charters new 520: wood, granite, onboard experience, cabin layout, trim and sporty, galley like a 580, refined transom steps / swim platforms (recessed swim ladder), extra big "dive platform," crisp new sails, engine purr, underwater lights, nice dinghy, water-maker, simplicity of everything, EVERYTHING worked perfectly. A pleasure to be and sail aboard. Island Surf and Sail, awesome kayak and SUP.
The VOYAGE 520 is new in so many ways I had to cover a few of the new onboard goodies that stood out, like her new hull form and her totally revised cockpit. But, there's so much more here than her new visual appeal and cockpit layout. WindScape's "newness" is much more than skin deep. The following stood out most.
Revised hulls and bows
Ride quality and stability
A wide-open cockpit with new bench seating and teak table
Expanded dive platform
Dive tank stowage in two dive lockers (8 tanks)
Revised transom swim platforms with recessed ladders
Dual transom showers
Dedicated boom derrick halyard
Granite counter tops
Digital battery monitoring
Extra starboard "bunk-cabin" - (pictured, right)
Stability and Ride
The VOYAGE 520's redesigned hull reaches across the water with a 27-foot beam. That's a wide stance on a 52-footer and it makes for some serious stability and power to windward. WindScape's slippery new lower profile hulls and fine entry bows capitalized on this wide-track set up with extra smooth and quick sailing. It also creates comfort underway and spacious accommodations at the mooring.
From time to time I add a newbie to our review crew. This time our new crewmember was no stranger to the British Virgin Islands, but she had never seen them from a chartered sailing yacht. She gave us a whole new perspective on the VOYAGE 520 and the "aboard experience" WindScape provided. We mention this here because it's the ride underway that tends to be the first hurdle someone new to sailing has to cross. Sticking with the hurdle metaphor, with the 520, it was a pretty low hurdle to get past. The ride is so smooth and so stable that there wasn't a hint of seasickness anywhere. Even when the seas built and the squalls blew in. WindScape kept her composure and kept us safe and dry in all conditions. Not to mention keeping our newbie from turning green!
That Extra 2-Feet
When I was preparing to review VOYAGE charter's new 520 I didn't really know what differences to expect from a yacht that's a mere two-feet longer than the VOYAGE 500. After sailing her it became very clear that the word "mere" just doesn't do the VOYAGE 520 justice. That two feet made a bigger difference than I realized. The 520 gained a center-line bunk on the starboard side, 2 feet more beam and a completely revised hull and cockpit. It even gained speed, averaging 1-2 knots faster than the larger VOYAGE 580 without sacrificing the stable ride VOYAGE yachts are known for. The 520 isn't simply a longer VOYAGE 500; she's a different yacht all together.
WindScape is full of refinements. She's outfitted like the luxury level 580 in a package that fits the size of the average charter crew (avg. 4-9 people, max. 11) but can be handled by as few as two. That extra 2 feet really did make a difference. That's because the 520 is not a VOYAGE 500 with an extra 2 feet tacked on and a few more goodies thrown in, she's a completely new yacht designed with the charterer very much in mind.
She's Got Wood (and Granite too)!
Walking though the cockpit sliding glass door into the saloon is instantly impressive. The glowing teak and holly sole, the shining black granite countertops and saloon table, and the brown leather wrap around settee look amazing. These items in particular give the saloon and galley a distinctive "first-class" feel. WindScape has interior appeal and space to spare. All of her counter surfaces are covered with granite, appliances are all stainless, and she's been decked out with a decorator's touch. From framed art on the bulkhead walls to books, to sculptures. Even the cockpit gets "fancied up." Rather than a small cockpit table, there's a full size teak table with teak chairs and tabletop runner with silver starfish and candles decorating the top. We had every dinner in the cockpit, it was too nice not to! VOYAGE charters has literally "taken it up a notch" with their new 520. We can definitely say we wholeheartedly approve!
I split my time between the Caribbean and Texas. For folks in Texas, outdoor cooking is a way of life. A good grill is therefore essential for our crew. When the Captain is happy, so is the crew! Like everything else aboard VOYAGE charters new 520, the grill is brand new and sizable. Stowed under one of the numerous cockpit floor hatches, the grill comes out in three parts. The grill itself, the mounting pole, and the gas line. To date I've have not come across a charcoal grill aboard a VOYAGE charters yacht. Frankly, I'm good with either, but when clean up time comes, the gas BBQ wins hands down. No coals to snuff out, no flying embers, and no clean out the next morning. Just wait til it's cool and put it away.
The BBQ mounting post slots into two holes in the aft dive platform with the grill attaching to the top of the pole via a groove and setscrew. The gas line gets attached to the gas port on the inside of the port hull and it's all set to cook. Speaking of cooking, the grill has enough room to cook dinner for the full crew all at the same time. Something as simple as the "right" sized grill really does matter. At the end of the day, no one wants to wait their turn for a burger while half the crew is eating. On charter, the little things can either the most frustrating or the icing on the cake.
BBQ Safety Note: Always move the dinghy amidships on the opposite side anytime you're grilling. A cooking fire, be it gas or charcoal above or near the dinghy (with an exposed gas tank) is just not a wise idea.
Ahh... The luxury of endless onboard water! We've said it before and we'll say it again. A water-maker is the most worthwhile addition to any charter yacht (Hint, hint, charter companies) for a multitude of reasons. The water-maker aboard WindScape is an exercise in simplicity.
WindScape's water-maker is a push button affair. Start the generator, keep the A/C off and press the start button on the water-maker panel in the nav station. That's it. With a 70-gallon per hour capacity, we topped off the tanks with fresh drinkable water in about less than an hour. Even with a water-maker aboard our crew still can't seem to break our water conserving habits. It took us until day five to reach a half full water tank.
The sizable water stores combined with on-demand fresh water does a bit more than keep the water tanks full. There's no need to be a water miser. The course though the islands does not need to be plotted with stops for fresh water letting everyone relax just that much more. There's something to be said for not ever having to ask (or worry)... "How much water do we have left?" A water-maker does more than make water. It's affords freedom, independence, and indulgence! Free flowing water aboard a yacht is a true luxury.
Just remember to make water in a pretty spot. I've said it before and I'll say it again. The prettier the place, the sweeter the water. Nothing scientific here, but it does figure that water made in a stagnant marina will probably not be as sweet as when it's made in quiet anchorage surrounded by coral reefs, or in a deep water bay. With a water-maker, it's all drinkable, but we'll always opt for the "pretty" water.
Underwater lights are just plain cool. Normally these are seen only on motor yachts or very large sailing yachts. With a flip of a switch the water under WindScape's aft deck lights up, beckoning tarpon, squid, and all kinds of baitfish to her stern. I can't tell you how many hours we spend each evening watching shimmering 8-foot tarpon circle and play. If given the choice between watching the flat-screen or hanging out on deck with the underwater lights on, our crew will be on deck. And it also looks really cool and makes the boat very easy to find driving the dinghy back from dinner ashore. Very!
Living Aboard, Saloon, Galley and Cabins
The VOYAGE charters 520 is one of those charter yachts I could move and live aboard. WindScape has every amenity our crew could need along with a few that we don't but enjoyed nonetheless. A wide-open inviting saloon, a gourmet galley, comfy cabins, and heads that flush with a push of a button. It's all very civilized.
The saloon on the 52-foot VOYAGE 520 is similar to the larger 580 (a 58-footer). Similar in that the space afforded is nearly identical. But the finish work is new and modern. The addition of the teak floors and granite counter surfaces adds polish and upgrades the "feel" onboard. There's a special feeling comes when when we step aboard a well-appointed yacht. No, nothing aloof or anything like that, it's more excitement and happiness than anything else. Excitement that "this one is ours" and happy that we had WindScape all to ourselves. The feeling reaches everyone on the crew. The right surroundings make all the difference in the world.
Light floods in through the large tinted saloon windows. Seated on the leather wrap around settee or walking around the saloon, there's a clear view of the mooring field and every Caribbean sunset. Forward opening (and lockable) hatches let the breeze blow through and a super cold A/C system makes the WindScape an oasis from the heat when the crew wanted to cool down.
Besides being the "indoor hangout," the saloon is also a home theater with a 36-inch flat screen TV with DVD and iPod compatible stereo system. Movies don't get any better then when you watch them aboard a floating yacht in the middle of the Caribbean.
Galleys aboard charter yachts run the spectrum. From basic two-burner match light stoves to multi-burner cook-tops. From cramped utilitarian spaces to large purpose built kitchens. On either end of the scale yacht galleys are functional, but the more room and space aboard, the nicer it is to take a turn in the galley. I found the 520's galley to be much more than adequate. It's one of the nicest galleys I've seen aboard a bareboat. It's like they plucked the huge galley out of the large 580 and set it in the 520 with updated appliances and wrapped it in granite.
The cabins aboard WindScape follows the same theme as other VOYAGE yachts, but add in a centerline "bunk cabin" in the starboard hull. The main cabins are in the four corners of hulls as is the norm for cruising charter catamarans. These are the largest of the cabins with huge queen size bunks, in-cabin heads and private stand up showers. Teak and granite seen in the saloon is also present in the main cabins turning the cabins into something that feels more like a suite.
The centerline "bunk cabin" is a completely new addition. We haven't seen something quite like this aboard a VOYAGE yacht (or any other charter catamaran in the BVIs). The closest comparison would be a "bunk room" found in larger monohulls where they stack two small bunks into bunk beds in a smallish centerline "room". Or the open hallway bunks found on larger charter cats (no room, just a bunk). The "bunk room" aboard the new VOYAGE 520 is something slightly different. Down the starboard companionway and to the left, the "bunk room" was easy to spot. Two white sliding doors reminiscent of a Japanese screen slide back to reveal a private full size bunk big enough for a 6-foot plus adult to sleep in air-conditioned comfort bliss. In fact this room turned out to be the coldest aboard. We also noticed that the white doors kept the smallest cabin from feeling closed in. It's an ideal spot for the single crewmember, kids, or anyone that likes the A/C extra cold!
Like all VOYAGE charters yachts, WindScape comes outfitted with a forward crew cabin in the foredeck. Crew cabins come in many forms. From narrow unfinished spaces with little more than a bunk and an overhead hatch, to large open spaces with fans, A/C, and access from the inside of the boat. The VOYAGE 520 fits into the latter column. Twin fans, A/C, two large overhead hatches, and a queen size bed made this a very comfy space. The crew quarters can be accessed either via the two center hatches on the forward deck or though a small door adjacent to the forward starboard cabin. Having access to the crew quarters from the main forward cabin is a touch we very much approve of. And will be appreciated by anyone sailing with small kids. Opening the access door effectively combines the crew cabin with the forward starboard cabin giving parents a place to keep the kiddos close, while giving them their own space. A chartering friendly refinement like this is a good example of what the VOYAGE 520 is all about.
Water-Sports - Island Surf and Sail
We rarely make a recommendation on anything other than a charter yacht, but we made a discovery on this review in the form of Island Surf and Sail. These folks have a full stock of some of the best kayaks, SUPs (stand up paddleboards), surfboards, and fishing gear. They even have those roll up sun-floaty-things. In other words, all the essentials for water-sports fun. And they deliver to any charter base on Tortola for free. VOYAGE charters sources their water-sports gear from these folks. Some charter companies have a stack of kayaks and paddleboards, but rarely are they brand new. Island Surf and Sail carries only the best stuff and it's all kept in good nick. We tested out one of their latest SUP's along with a tandem kayak and a couple of those thick floats (neatly rolled up in their own carrying bags). The CA review crew are a bunch of water-sports nuts. When we're not out sailing we're paddling kayaks, canoes, paddleboards, and surfing. We can confidently say that the SUP and kayak provided by Island Sail and Surf were some of the best we've ever had on charter. Both the Kayak and SUP were stable, quick though the water, in new condition, and a whole lot of fun. They even took the time to size paddles, load everything onboard, and pick everything up when we the charter was done. No more carrying kayaks down the dock for us! We'll be giving them a call again the next time we're in town. You can check them out for yourself at BVIwatertoys.com. Charter Advisors recommended!
520 Chartering Adventure
Every yacht plays its role in the charter adventure and onboard experience. Heck, it should! Everything from the cabins to the sails to the sound the floor makes when you walk across it all flavor our time aboard. Beyond that, a bareboat is the launching pad for water-born adventures. Those behind WindScape's design seem to understand this. She gave us a totally unique experience while reminding us she was VOYAGE charters newest yacht. Everything added up well for WindScape, especially when it's we put her the test. Our time aboard was a wide mix of experiences and adventures. From stormy weather and rolling wind swept seas to sunshine and Sir Richard Branson.
Sir Richard Branson's Necker Belle
As we turned in to the Marina Cay mooring field we were greeted by the largest luxury catamaran in the BVIs anchored just outside the moorings. Sir Richard Branson's "Necker Belle." She's over 100 feet long, has a massive fly bridge, and her own folding dock hinged off the aft hull transoms. Hats off to you Mr. Branson. That's one heck of a cat you got there! It just goes to show, you never know what or whom you might run across sailing the BVIs. Needless to say we took the mooring ball closest to "The Belle." Why not? It's not often that we can say we're Richard Branson's neighbor.
New Crew - First Time Charter Sailors
Like we mentioned earlier we brought a new crewmember along to review VOYAGE charters new 520. A new boat deserves a fresh set of eyes! But, it's also a gamble bringing along someone new to spending time on the ocean. Will they be seasick the whole time? How will they adapt to living aboard for a week? Will they freak out when the weather kicks up? Will they get along with the rest of the crew? Will they want to become part of the crew or just stay out of the way? No matter what the answer is, we get to relive the first time experience and share it with you.
Our new crewmember was very excited to climb aboard and WindScape sure didn't dampen her sprits at any point of our 5-day trip. Just the opposite in fact. Our newbies experience onboard was so good that she was ready for another trip as soon as we returned the yacht. How a chartered yacht treats those new to the sailing experience is very telling. If they have fun without "working thought it," we know we've got something special on our hands.
Paddle Boarding In the Rain
While sailing to Monkey Point on Guana Island for some snorkeling and paddle around, we got caught in a "wall" of a downpour. As our youngest review put it, "oh well, we were planning on getting wet when we got to there anyway." Well played. And that echoed the sentiment of the rest of the crew. When we arrived the rain had died down to a trickle, but the air and water were warm and calm beckoning us to jump in. So we did, rain or not. Our newbie on board was the first to jump in. She had wanted to try a SUP for a long long time and she was not going to let something small like rain ruin her first foray on a paddleboard. We were all having so much fun that we camped out through lunch and played the afternoon away.
One morning sitting at mooring in Trellis bay we were having breakfast and watching little squalls go by. Nothing major, but I wanted a nice little weather window. Shortly after the crew finished their coffee, it looked like we had just the opportunity I was looking for. With the dishes clean, the crew dropped our mooring and we motored out, heading for the "Freebooters Gangway," A.K.A. the Sir Francis Drake Channel and Norman Island. As we approached the center of the channel we all noticed a dark spot in the sky, creeping up behind Virgin Gorda. It looked like the sunny "hole" we had been sailing under was just about to go away. And boy did it! Those dark clouds grew larger on the horizon, then we all stood and watched as Virgin Gorda disappeared behind a wall of rain and lightning. I thought, if this squall follows the same path as the rest of the morning showers, it would slide right by us, only it didn't. It came straight on. When the storm finally hit it blew in with winds over 48 knots, building the waves larger than I wanted to measure. Needless to say we were running under bare poles and were quickly learning the value of high-powered turbo diesel engines.
To make things more interesting, as Captain I had a choice to make, either head back to Trellis Bay or continue on our way across the channel, heading for the calm waters of Cooper Island to windward. Both we're equal distances away. Good seamanship says that the safest choice in a storm is a windward shore, so that's exactly what I did (lee shores seem easier, but if there are any issues, the wind blows you into shore!). Besides, it was just as far either way. The only trouble was that the large storm swells had built to over 10-feet and began running dead abeam to WindScape. Pitching around in a yacht is no fun, but it turned out not to be a major issue. It was then that we all truly appreciated the 520's wide 27-foot stance. It kept her planted and her slippery hulls made it easier for our turbo charged engines to press though the wind and waves. This isn't the first time we've been caught out in heavy weather, but it was probably the most fun we've had doing it! It must have been, because as soon as we pulled in to the Cooper Island mooring field, our newbie was ready for another round of rainy day paddle boarding!
We had no mechanical or yacht related issues aboard WindScape. She was well sorted and well prepped. Our challenges came with the weather, especially when it snuck up on us.
Our review was right in the middle of hurricane season. We often charter during this time of the year because of the warm water and balmy breezes (and the great prices), but we also know that we'll see a few showers. Neither of the low pressure systems in the area tracked directly for us, but they did send showers, the occasional squall, and mixed up seas. We received a thorough weather briefing from the VOYAGE charters staff and were reminded to monitor weather channels 5 and 6 on the VHF radio for updates. They also let us know that if dangerous weather should track in our direction, they would call us in to base with time to spare. We set off well informed and stayed on top of daily weather with the VHF and our trusty iPad weather apps (Hurricane, TropSats, MyRadar, and Weather Bug Elite). But even as informed as we were, we still got caught "out in it" more than once. And that's ok. That's sailing. Aboard a charter yacht like WindScape, it just added to the fun and adventure.
Sailing VOYAGE charters 520, WindScape
When I first approached WindScape and saw the new 520 form in person she just looked like she was begging to be sailed. After the crew climbed aboard we were all in complete agreement, we couldn't wait to get her sails up. Something about this new VOYAGE 520 got all of us going. She looked so nimble and quick, so spacious and new. She just made us want to set sail from the moment the crew laid eyes on her.
That first night at the dock was almost torture. Not because we weren't comfy, but because we really wanted to get sailing. So the crew and I kept occupied by poring over WindScape from stem to stern. It was surprisingly satisfying. Luckily evenings come quick and the morning even quicker in the Caribbean.
Once we departed the VOYAGE charters base I could feel how different the 520 really was. She's just as stable and easy to sail as any of the other VOYAGE yachts we've reviewed, but this one was different. She felt slippery as she moved though the water, her hulls feeling extra slick. WindScape's bows sliced though the water so cleanly they hardly made a sound. With the twin turbo engines running at cruising speed we made an easy 8 knots as we headed for the open water between Tortola and St. John to set our sails.
The open cockpit / transom on the VOYAGE 520 sets her apart from the crowd and creates a ton of open space and flexibility while underway. There's plenty of room for everyone to spread out. We had one reviewer sitting at the huge cockpit table taking advantage of the G3 signal from St. John, another stretched out on the long padded cockpit bench, another literally wandering around on the back deck (yep, there's space to just wander), while another sorted the sailing lines (without having to step around anyone). This new open cockpit is obviously designed with different chartering types in mind, be them wanderers, loungers, or sailors.
The time had finally come to brace the main. But before the mainsail went up, I did one extra check recommended by Shaun back at the dock, doubled checking that our extra boom derrick halyard was clipped out of the way and not twisted around the topping lift. With that done, the crew hoisted the main effortlessly with the push of a button.
Heading into the wind, the main set with one of WindScape's two electric winches in a snap. Her mainsail began to fill just as the genoa was rolled out as we fell off the breeze to starboard. The newness of our review VOYAGE 520 really hit home when I looked up and saw her brand new crisp black-trimmed, white sails. That image was just fresh in my mind when I felt them start to pull. Before I knew it we were doing 12 knots on a single tack to Little Jost Van Dyke. Not too shabby for only 25 knots of apparent wind.
The easy speed is also matched by an easy ride. Aboard some yachts the sensation of speed is readily apparent, but on others it kind of sneaks up on you. Like, "wow! we're going how fast?!." The VOYAGE charters' new 520 definitely snuck up on us. She got into her groove and gave us a smooth speedy ride with no hobby horsing or jarring motion, even in big seas and heavy weather. Remember that lounging crewmember I mentioned a few paragraphs back? They woke up to the sound of the sails coming down when we got to Little Jost. WindScape is that smooth.
The 520 is as much fun to sail as her looks allude to. She's refined inside and out while keeping the sailing fun and most importantly, simple. For some, the thought of sailing a 52-foot yacht might seem daunting. From my experience aboard, I can confirm that this "big boat" can be easily sailed by anyone with charter catamaran experience.
Mooring a yacht as wide as some yachts are long is another one of those things that can raise an eyebrow. No need to increase the ol' heart rate though, the 520 shares the same desirable "around the mooring field" traits of her VOYAGE siblings. Her smooth throttles made it easy for us to creep up on our mooring, spin her 180 degrees into the wind, and hold position while the crew tied off the mooring lines, even in gusty conditions. Personally, I like a charter yacht that makes me look better than I actually am! WindScape makes things easy and look even easier; I just happen to be the guy behind the wheel.
VOYAGE charters' newest boat got through her paces during our review. The weather gods made sure of that. WindScape stood tall, gave our crew a great experience, and never complained once. Most importantly the VOYAGE 520 inspired confidence, really letting us relax and just enjoy our time aboard. Zero worries and zero problems tends to do that!
Our Virgin Islands Sailing Route
Like most charter trips, where we plan to go and where we end up going are generally two different things. Out sailing, plans are nothing more than good intentions anyway. When things change, the adventure of it all kicks in. This time around we got a healthy dose of adventure thanks to a couple of low pressure systems threatening to turn "tropical." But that's Caribbean sailing in July for ya! Like our youngest review says when it rains... "We were planning on getting wet today anyway!" And she's right. It's all part of the fun.
Day 1. Sopers Hole Tortola to Jost Van Dyke
After the morning briefings wrapped up, we set sail for Jost Van Dyke. Clearing Sopers Hole, we turned to starboard, set the sails, heading for the mooring field between big and little Jost Van Dyke (Diamond Cay), one of our favorite spots in all of the British Virgin Islands. Just as we turned the corner around the east end of Tortola we were greeted with large rolling swells. Hurricane season was in full swing and we had a couple of low pressure systems to keep an eye on. On this day they were stirring up the seas and kicking up the sea breeze. Both were fine by us. We rode the swells powered by 25+ knots of wind in the sails. The 520 showed in these first couple of hours just how stable and how quick she really was. We managed an easy 10-12 knots in less than flat conditions and never saw a bit of sea spray make it back to the cockpit. WindScape sliced right though rolling seas and chop, smoothing out the ride all the way to Jost Van Dyke. We arrived at the mooring field adjacent to Foxy's Taboo and put VOYAGE charters' new 520 on the mooring ball with a downwind approach and an opposite throttle 180 degree spin. WindScape pulled the maneuver off with ease and grace. This is also where I learned just how good her sight lines are. I could see the mooring ball clearly from the helm up until it was time to come to a stop and tie up. Upon arrival, I also learned the stirred up seas and swells were working their way into this usually very protected mooring field.
The sun was shining, the swell was up, and we were at Foxy's Taboo. All that can only add up one way... lunch at Foxy's followed by a dip in the Ol' Bubbly pool. Our crew lowered WindScape's brand new dinghy into the water. We splashed our way though the chop to Foxy's newly refreshed dinghy dock for a bit of hummus, the best burger I've ever had in the Islands (The Tabu Burger with pepper jack cheese and mango chutney, yum!), and "boat drinks" before making the hike to the Bubbly Pool (no, I won't tell where, but the folks at Foxy's might).
We made the decision to stay the night moored off Foxy's, after all, there's nothing quite like watching the sun set behind Jost Van Dyke and rise over Tortola. The thinking aboard was that rolly anchorage would settle down overnight. We were wrong. The local weather systems had the swell working its way into usually well-protected spots. That night was a grand experiment in sleep aboard comfort, especially for our newbie, It was her first night sleeping on the water. We watched the moored yachts around us bob up and down making our crew wonder how we looked to everyone else. However we looked out there the motion onboard was quite comfy, dare I say, barely noticeable. The motion was muted, almost as if the swell was half the size it actually was. Designing a new yacht for speed and "cool looks" is one thing, but nothing beats onboard comfort. Especially when conditions aren't at their best.
Day 2. Jost Van Dyke to Marina Cay (Via Monkey Point)
We journeyed from one of our favorite overnight spots to one of our favorite snorkeling spots. When the morning sun rose with a golden streak across the ocean, it appeared we had an idyllic day on our hands. The swell was still rolling, but the sun was shining, the sky was blue, and those swells weren't looking all that big anymore. Not after we saw how the 520 cut them down to size the day before. Though the wind beckoned, the smell of bacon and pancakes called slightly louder. We had a wonderful breakfast sitting around the teak cockpit table watching the sunrise over Tortola. This is when it kind of hit us, that we were sitting at a full size table with "proper" chairs in the cockpit. We had so much table space and somehow the thing fit without getting "creative." We don't mean to spend a bunch of time on this teak table, but it's not often we review a sailing yacht of this size that has a cockpit big enough for this sort of thing. Let alone stable enough for it to remain in place without being bolted down.
Before we got to sailing we needed to do a bit of post breakfast cleaning up. We even got a bit of help from the locals; not Islanders, the little ones under the boat. After we remove anything that shouldn't go into the water, the crew rinses the plates in the water off the transom steps. Sure WindScape has all the amenities to take care of everything in the galley, but what fun would that be. As soon as we dip a plate in the water, little yellow tails and Sargent fish come right up for a nibble, followed by the amoras. They kind of look like sharks with gills on the top of their head. They aren't very big, only 2-4 feet maybe, but they are a blast to watch. They get a little treat and we get rinsed off plates plus a show!
Sailing time arrive around 9:30. A bit later than we wanted to head out, but that breakfast was worth it. We had the sails up and drawing by the time we past Sandy Spit and her rolling breakers, tacking our way upwind for Monkey Point on Guana Island. Around 10:30 the wind picked up, by 11:00 it really picked up and the sky started to grow dark rather quickly. Our route to Monkey Point on Guana Island took us along the backside of Tortola, but we weren't close to shore. Five miles off and in the middle of our route, the building wind shifted to dead ahead. That was our queue to get the sails down. And we're glad we did, that wind shift also brought with it wind gusts between 48 and 52 knots! The mast and rigging whistled as the twin 40 hp engines pushed us closer to the lee of Guana. Even in these conditions the VOYAGE 520 made an easy 7 knots with a comfy ride. We pulled into a rain veiled Monkey Point and moored the big 520 in pouring rain. No sooner were the lines tied then the sun came out. Go figure. Our newbie was quickly in the water for a first round of paddle boarding and I was quick to the galley for a sandwich. The rest of the crew snorkeled to their heart's content, making good use of WindScape's huge dive platform. It sprinkled on and off the remainder of the day, but it sure didn't spoil the fun, or even dampen the gear in the cockpit. VOYAGE charters' new 520 has to have one of the driest cockpits I've seen on a sailing bareboat to date.
With Monkey Point playtime over it was off to Marina Cay for the evening via the Camino Pass. A short 45 minute run under motor though the narrow Camino pass between little and big Camino, I pulled up to a near empty Marina Cay mooring field. The only other yacht was anchored just astern, Sir Richard Branson's Necker Belle. We're not much for "star gazing" and we're definitely not into "celebrity types," but we found out our newbie was. From the moment we told her who's yacht that was, she was transfixed. We've got her to thank for the great shot of the "Belle." Nice shoot'n Kristy!
Bucking tradition, we skipped dinner at the Marina Cay Pussers, cranked up the BBQ and dined on some awesome steaks we picked up at the Harbor Market in Sopers Hole. The next day's intention was to sail for Norman Island and after today's romp in the rain everyone was ready for an early night. Only one thing, that mystery swell that worked its way into the mooring field at Jost Van Dyke had made its way behind the reef at Marina Cay (not something we normally see). But it made no matter, we all slept like babies with the A/C set on 74 degrees.
Day 3. Marina Cay to Cooper Island
Remember that thing about intentions? Another lazy morning, another outstanding breakfast from First Mate Jen, and more intermittent rain and sunshine. It took a bit of patience, but I finally saw a weather window and set off for Norman around 10:30. At least that's what I thought. As we motored out of the protection of Marina Cay's reef, the swells doubled in size. The low pressure system coming across the Atlantic was parallel to the BVIs, but staying to the north. We didn't have "tropical" weather per se, instead we had a mix of sun, stirred up seas, swells, on again off again squalls, and some really great wind.
As we passed the Bluffs on Tortola heading for the more open water of the Sir Francis Drake channel, the sky grew dark over Virgin Gorda a few miles off our forward port side. The wind and seas built quickly. Luckily we hadn't set our sails just yet. Once again we were seeing wind speeds between 40-50 knots (apparent), except this time on our beam. To make things more interesting we were once again "out in the middle" and had converging currents coming though the Round Rock Passage mixing with the seas even more. These were some of the most "square" lumpy seas I've experienced in the BVIs. The VOYAGE 520 stayed on her legs nicely and once again pushed through like it was "easy stuff." What might have been a bit daunting on some charter yachts was nothing less than fun aboard WindScape. At one point along the way someone passed around a plate of freshly sliced cheese and crackers. That says all that needs saying about the 520 ride and stability. Talk about confidence inspiring! We were about halfway between Marina Cay and the nearest protected cove, Manchioneel Bay on Cooper Island. Norman was going to have to wait til the weather came down a bit. No matter how stable the yacht or how able the crew, sailing in a gale isn't our personal favorite. We set course for Cooper Island and took shelter in her well-protected, but oddly swirly cove. We stuck like Velcro to this once-private beach club for the remainder of the day, kayaking, paddle boarding, and eating ashore. Rain on charter is a funny thing. It really doesn't ruin anything (unless you leave personal electronics out on deck). It instead points us in an unplanned direction for unexpected adventure.
Day 4. Cooper Island to Norman Island
Waking up in the still water of Cooper Island was a nice change from the more "rolling" mooring fields of the previous days. The light rain was still with us, but it didn't matter. No matter what mother nature had in store we knew the VOYAGE 520 was up for it. Around 9:00 the clouds moved on and the sun came out. I took this as our queue to drop the mooring and head for Norman (finally!) before the heat of the day kicked in. We motored out in next to no breeze and a more settled sea-state, heading dead downwind. As we cleared Cooper and were just about parallel with Peter Island I glanced back to see Manchioneel Bay engulfed in another rain shower. We left just in time. Sure we had a little rain squall chasing us, but WindScape's twin engines kept us ahead of the storm, even passing other yachts that motored out before us. Escaping the rain is exactly what we did. We watched the last rain for this trip slip away astern with Norman Island and sunny skies dead ahead.
Time to get the sails up! It was 100 under sunny skies in the British Virgin Islands, is there any other choice? We spent the next three hours testing VOYAGE charters latest offerings: light air performance, tacking downwind in 10 knots of breeze. Those newly designed hulls and crisp new sails made an easy 6-7 knots, turning what would normally be a slow leisurely cruse into a civilized romp all the way to Kelly's Cover at Norman Island.
Mooring up in Kelly's cove is like mooring in an aquarium. Crystal clear water and the number of colorful fish are just ridiculous. And we can always count on a handful of sea turtles hanging around. Needless to say, the snorkeling is awesome! The location is pretty good too, with a clear view of the open Caribbean sea, St. John, Tortola, and the Indians all on the same horizon. The sunsets here are spectacular (green flash even)! The cove's limited number of mooring balls makes for fewer neighbors, quiet nights, and is still an easy dinghy ride away from all the fun over at Willy T's and Pirates Bight. Just be sure to bring a flashlight to find your way back!
Video - VOYAGE 520 Deck Tour at Kellys Cove
Day 5. Return Day - Norman Island to Sopers Hole, Tortola
It always comes too quickly. The last day was upon us and neither I nor the crew was ready to end our time testing the new VOYAGE 520. WindScape was putting on a clinic on how a charter catamaran should treat its crew and we wanted more. Our crew hates that "last day" feeling, but if we're looking forward to it, it couldn't have been that good of a trip to begin with. This time was especially hard.
We all woke at sunrise. No, we didn't have anything to do, but each of us wanted as much time as aboard we could get this day. The earlier to rise, the more time with WindScape. Each of us had our own reasons, but the end result was a crew that bonded with their ship. That's no small feat in five days and probably the best testament to our chartering experience with VOYAGE charters and the 520. That morning we cooked up all the eggs, bacon, pancakes, English muffins, and anything else breakfast-worthy we had left. That big teak table and that great view was the perfect setting for our farewell breakfast.
We casted off around 9:30 that morning under prefect sunny skies and glassy smooth water. These were the most idyllic conditions we'd seen all through the trip (isn't that always the case on the last day?). With a 16-18 knots of breeze filling in over the aft starboard quarter, we carried only a bellied out jib that pulled us effortlessly toward Soper Hole and the VOYAGE charter base.
We slow sailed our way back (yes, we were dragging our collective feet) to Sopers Hole and the VOYAGE charters base. Even then, the 520 made such good time we arrived a little over an hour early. So we grabbed a mooring ball, made lunch aboard, finished packing up the few items we still had out from the sail over and changed into our "airplane clothes." About 30 minutes before we were ready to "park" the boat, we set our fenders and dock lines on starboard, and called into the VOYAGE charters base letting them know we were ready to come in.
A few minutes after our call, Kimo from VOYAGE charters putted along side in a dinghy and took the boat from the mooring fuel dock. It doesn't get much easier than that. Being able to hang out on the mooring ball makes the return super simple, and eliminated the need for a timed arrival. Returning a yacht in this manner is very helpful for those new to sailing or anyone who stresses over docking. VOYAGE gives us options. We can pull into the fuel dock directly (assuming there's space at the dock) or hang out on a mooring ball and let one of their crew pull the boat in. I'm not shy about docking, but I prefer to let the charter company pull in the boat back at their base. Besides being the easy way, it also gives the entire crew a chance to learn a few new docking tricks along the way.
After docking, the VOYAGE crew did everything that needing doing. They topped off the tanks, refill water, and even helped off load our gear and bags. Full service all the way around. While all the topping off was going on, Shaun our briefer jumped back aboard to do the final check out checklist and discuss any items onboard that didn't meet expectations or may need "fixing." We had absolutely nothing to report. And with that, Shaun and I walked though the yacht together, above decks and below, repeating the checklist we completed when we checked in. Once done, it was time to return the "boat bag" and charts and grab one last bite to eat at D-Best Cup before heading for the ferry and the St. Thomas Airport.
The return process at VOYAGE charters is quick, efficient, and painless. From beginning to end the return took less than 30 minutes. We had many bright spots though the duration of our review, but if we have to choose one thing that sticks out most when we reflect on our time reviewing VOYAGE charters, it's their high quality yachts and customer service that stand out most. WindScape and their check-out and return process are great examples of just this. These guys know how to take care of their charters and it seems their charterers in turn take great care of their yachts. Hey... what goes around, comes around!
Fuel And Water
"How long will the fuel and water last?" Put it this way, it's not something we had to worry about. WindScape carries 132 gallons of fuel and 210 gallons of fresh water, but that really doesn't matter. Burning though the fuel stores on a typical 7-day charter would take an intense and deliberate effort and with a water-maker on board the fresh water tanks are bottomless. The effect on charter? Freedom.
We checked the main water tank levels via an analogue gauge at in the saloon and the static forward tanks though a large viewing window just under a removable floor panel. We could easily see the water level, but we could also see how clean and clear the water was all the way to the bottom. WindScape's "simple solution" for checking the forward water levels stood in sharp contrast to the 520's modern amenities and form, but matched our experience with VOYAGE charters. Their yachts seem to be a blend of the best of "all worlds," from high tech to, well... water tank viewing windows. All we can say is the blend works well.
The VOYAGE 520 WindScape is a big boat, but her size was not one of those things that dominated our review. Why? Because whatever her size, she just felt "correct." Her overall dimensions we never a hindrance nor were they imposing. Her size was never negatively noteworthy. In fact, just the opposite is true. VOYAGE charters' new 520 is tailor made for BVI chartering. Her size gave us speed, stability, and comfort. She has all the amenities anyone could ever need on charter without being complicated to operate. Not too big, not too small, not too wide, not too tall, perhaps they should rename her "Goldielocks".
By The Numbers
Once again Susan Lepthien of VOYAGE charters helped us arrange everything for this review. She and her crew personalize the booking process. We've learned though our experience with her that she walks the walk. We've even run into her at Willy T's while out reviewing. It's not often we see the folks booking our trips out on the water. It's nice to know we're being taken care of by someone as passionate about sailing the BVIs as we are.
Weekly rates range depending on package; our five-day, four person review trip breaks down to about $2000 per person or just over $400 per night per person. A typical four couple crew brings the per-person cost down to $200 per person per day or $1000 per person for a five-day charter. VOYAGE charters posts specials to their website and exclusive offers through email. Emailed discounts are not always available on their website.
Fuel costs for five days of generator use and motoring came to just over $170, far less than expected. We attribute this to the VOYAGE 520's refined, clean slippery hulls, brand new engines, and new (and apparently very efficient) generator. Size for size, WindScape is one of the most fuel-efficient yachts we've reviewed to date.
We had free water thanks to the water maker. We saved approximately 60 bucks in water costs because of this little amenity. Not to mention time saved forgoing the water docks.
At the time of this review VOYAGE charters VOYAGE 520 is the only 52-foot bareboat charter catamaran in the BVIs preventing us from making direct cost comparisons. For weekly rates, the 520 compares to a well appointed 48 or 50-foot charter cat from comparable charter companies.
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