Charter Advisors Special Feature
I'm On A (charter) Boat!
by Serena Jetelina
Growing up, my childhood dog didn't chase cars down the street...he chased motorboats racing down the lake. My parents owned a sailboat on a lake in Texas, where they would whisk our small family away from the bustle of our jam-packed schedules. I have fond memories of long weekends spent slowly sailing in the breeze, relaxing to the sound of our "sailing music," splashing my feet in the water as the boat heeled over on its side. A precocious child, I would look up whenever I heard the sound of sheets flapping and call out to my step-father, "You're luffing!" I thought I knew what sailing was all about. When I graduated high school, I went away to college and our trips to the boat became more infrequent. It was cool that I could still invite my friends for a weekend of sailing, and of course sailing aboard that boat was still my escape-from-the-world place. When I graduated from college, my parents decided they were moving to - gasp! - Arizona. "There's no water in Arizona!" I protested. "What will we do with the boat?"
Since those days on the lake, my sailing days have been confined to day long trips on rented boats in whatever body of water my family happens to be visiting while on vacation. In the hopes of gaining some self-confidence to sail on my own (and also convince some of my friends to sail with me more often), I took a sailing certification course, earning my Basic Keelboat Certification. I would entice my friends with thoughts of gliding through the open water, all cares being tossed overboard. Somehow wakeboarding and water skiing on motorboats always garnered the attention of my comrades. I wished my childhood dog were still around to fight the good fight with me. I still longed for the stars above my head as I slept on the foredeck of our sailboat.
This year, favorable circumstances knocked on my door. I joined the Charter Advisors crew and I was asked if I'd like a turn to be the "greenhorn" crew member for a charter review in the British Virgin Islands. Of course I accepted with hands and fingers waving frantically in the air. I would finally be able to put my sailing skills into action again! It wasn't until the captain called with our itinerary information that it hit me. Ten days. On a 47 foot Catamaran. In the Caribbean Sea! What was I thinking? I had never truly sailed the seas, much less aboard a chartered yacht through islands. My experience was limited to monohulls and lakes. I panicked. I called our captain, explaining that maybe I hadn't really explained my "skills" thoroughly enough. What about seasickness? I was a terrible back seat passenger on windy roads as a kid. He assured me I was fit to crew, and I finally acquiesced. After all, I love a good adventure and there was no way I could pass up the opportunity.
Near disaster struck before we ever made it to the airport. Due to circumstances outside of our control, our departure was delayed three days. Not necessarily off to the best start, I still was in high anticipation of what lay ahead. Cue near disaster number two. At our connecting flight in Charlotte, NC, I was informed I no longer had a seat on the plane. Not that my seat was given away, not that I had been relocated, but the actual row I was assigned did not actually exist on the plane going to St. Thomas. Being no stranger to the maladies that sometimes can befall travelers, I gave our captain a wave as he boarded the flight to meet up with the rest of the crew and crossed my fingers. An hour later, I was the last person to walk on that flight. Now I was finally on my way to the water!
Approaching our yacht from the marina, I felt a little light-headed with excitement. There she was - Moselle. The vessel we would call home for the next week. I hopped on, probably overly confident in my balancing skills, and began to look her over. The first thing I noticed was the sheer size. She was definitely bigger than any other sailboat I had been on. The second thing I noticed was the amenities. "This is a boat?!" I thought. It seemed more like a townhome to me, complete with air conditioning and private heads in all her four cabins. I immediately pictured my family there, happy and comfortable, and could see the allure that chartering holds for families and groups. I thought, "More people need to be out doing this!" Coming out of my stupor, I remembered I had to actually sail this yacht...that was a whole different element to get comfortable with.
The next day was our yacht de-briefing. Afraid to look like a total newbie, I planned to listen intently and nod my head in agreement as I heard nautical lingo that I thought I was sure to not understand. Surprisingly, the nautical jargon and terms were quite familiar, and I started to connect the sailing experience from my previous years to the sailing that was now intimidating me. It was all coming back to me, just as the captain said it would. I really was ready to sail the high seas!
Our first day out was filled with high levels of excitement and anticipation as we headed up the Sir Francis Drake Channel on our way to Virgin Gorda about fourteen miles away. The weather was a bit ominous, and being that one of our crew had to cancel at the last minute, and the other two members (myself included) weren't incredibly experienced, we decided to take it easy and just motor on over. Now, you may think that motoring through the Caribbean on a 47 foot Catamaran sounds insane. Did I mention that this particular catamaran is constructed of carbon fiber and has the capability of speeding along the waters at up to 25 knots (that's around 28 mph)? Our captain was a smart man to let us get acquainted with the ocean before raising a sail on Moselle. The ride over was mighty fine, even without the sails raised. So fine actually, that I nearly forgot about the task of mooring once we reached the Gorda Sound....
For me, nights spent on the water have always been secured via anchor. In the British Virgin Islands, you secure your vessel via mooring ball. Our captain had already told me tales of catastrophic moorings he has witnessed...boats crashing into others, a never-ending series of forward/around/back maneuvers while trying to tie up, boats going aground by getting too close to shore, people falling overboard reaching for the ball. He has even affectionately referred to these events as "the moorings show," the hour when all the amateurs come cruising in to tie up for the night, which he watches with a mixture of disdain and delight. Being the perfectionist that I am, of course I did not want to be a fumbling spectacle for onlookers. Approaching the ball, my crew partner and I were eyeing our target with intensity. I had been assigned the task of hooking the mooring pennant with the boat hook and tying running the first mooring line. I tried to recall visual images of all the knot preparation I did before the trip, but to no avail. We were upon the ball, and in one fell swoop I reached out, hooked the pennant, pulled the line through, handed it off to my to my crew partner, and we were mooring poetry in motion! Only a couple minor adjustments from the captain and we were in place - our first success as a crew and it felt great!
The next couple of days were spent relaxing and exploring the northern end of Virgin Gorda, enjoying snorkeling, hiking, eating delicious food, and people watching. While this was certainly paradise, I was still yearning to put those sails into action.
Leaving Virgin Gorda, the weather put it's best elements forward for perfect sailing conditions. Today was our day! After motoring out past the channel, our captain gave the signal and we starting raising the main. Up it went, almost to the top...I could feel the boat becoming lighter. Being assigned forward, I was in charge of making sure lines weren't tangled and watching out for other boats. From the aft I heard the captain yell, "Pull down the main, pull down the main!" Apparently a piece of rigging was stuck and no matter how hard we pulled, the main would not fully rise. Instead of running at half-mast, I pulled down the mainsheet, enthusiasm crushed. I kept thinking we were doomed to never sail this boat, motoring from island to island all week (which, looking back, is not a bad way to spend a week). Undeterred, our captain turned downwind then instructed us to unroll the massive gennaker. Another chance! Again, we prepared, and again we pulled. As the sheet unfurled, I crossed my fingers and prayed to whatever sailing gods were out there. Victory! We turned the motors off, and a sailing we went, charting our speed all the way up to 14 knots with just that one sail!
Aside from our minor hiccup, I was amazed at how smooth everything went throughout the week. Moselle was built to sail either as an easy rider or a hard racer, and she could handle anything in between as well. The difficulty of navigating on the smaller monohulls I was used to was completely diminished, as the technology on Moselle did most of the work. This was truly a way to spend a relaxing vacation. One I realize now that's within anyone's reach. We sailed to Pirates Bight on Norman Island, and spent a night there, listening to the rowdy revelers at Willy T's into the wee hours. As we awoke to a gorgeous rainless rainbow the next morning, I could see why Norman Island was the inspiration behind Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island, and I smiled for the 1000th time on the trip.
We spent the last night docked at the marina, packing and pretending our early morning flights didn't exist. Looking around the boat, I was reminded how much of our daily possessions we don't need, how much of our obligations are more to keep us feeling busy than they are genuinely important. All of the little things I worried about before the trip - vegetarian food options, boat shoes, nausea, daily yoga practice, sleeping and showering aboard - had barely even entered my consciousness during the trip. The week had been about adventure, about forming relationships with my crewmates and people I met from all corners of the globe, about disconnecting from needless busy-ness, and about connecting with what really matters.
By the end of my first review trip I didn't feel like that same "greenhorn" consumed with questions and nervous excitement. I realized chartering a yacht is something everyone can do - whether they're a complete beginner, seasoned expert, or someone like me, who grew up around boats but hasn't had a chance to experience sailing as an adult. It's a chance to test your limits in comfort, to do something out of the ordinary, and to find out what it's like to unplug and find out what sailing is really all about.
- Charter Review: The Moorings 5800 Ocean Suite by Captain Kev
- Charter Review: VOYAGE Charters, VOYAGE 520 Silver Lining by Capt. Kev