Charter Advisors Special Feature
Go From Thinking About It to Chartering It!
by Capt'n K.J.
Let's get down to the brass tacks for a moment. New charters or folks considering chartering have a few hurdles. These can be hurdles of the unknown or hurdles of their own creation. It all comes down to this: understanding how to set up the right charter for you and learning what you do and don't know.
I can remember my first charter like it was yesterday. For me, it was a leap of faith. Feeling my way though the process as I went. And there WERE a few surprises. Some good, some surprising, but none daunting. The tips below help remove some of the mystery for the first-time charter (these were mysteries to me the first time I chartered!) and take those hurdles down to size.
A major reason for Charter Advisors' existence is to lift the charter "curtain" and give our readers a "back-stage" look at the nuts and bolts that make up chartering. We want you to be empowered with good info so you can make the decisions that matter to you. Maybe even more importantly, we help show the way, so you know what to expect and so you don't have to feel your way like I did.
So, Let's get Started
Get The Right Charter Yacht At the Right Price
Sounds simple enough. But after a quick Internet search you'll be facing page after page of search results. Way too much to digest. To add to the confusion, the search engines will show you charter companies, charter brokers, search marketing pages (pages with grouping of links to various charter-like websites), articles, etc. The best place to start is with the Charter Advisors BVI Charter Company Links page. We scrubbed our list to only include BVI charter companies and we update it often. True, we don't endorse any of these companies, but at least you can save some time with a compiled list.
The Short List
After you've looked though what each company offers, you'll have a short list of yachts that fit your style, crew size, and general budget range. Most charter companies post costs; if you run across a site that does not disclose prices up front, let that be a caution to you. It's not a deal killer, but it requires you to deal with a sales rep rather than letting you figure things out for yourself. It always made me curious why a company would not disclose their costs openly.
Availability / Discounts
With your short list in hand, email the charter companies to verify availability and find out if there are any current specials. While waiting on response, check to see if the charter companies on your short list have a FaceBook or Twitter page. If so, you're likely to find unpublished specials. It's worth the look. Many of the "social media" specials are not offered outrightly on the charter company website. You have to tell them about the special and that you found it on their FaceBook (or whatever) page. Kind of like, "Mention Bob sent you and get a deal." Currently there are unpublished ten days for seven promos and 10 - 20% discounts to be had though these sources. I'll put it this way. The last paid Charter Advisors review I was on, we chose a Catamaran that lists for more than $7,000 in the high season. I timed it for the day after high season prices ended and found discounts online. In the end the Charter Advisors crew paid just over $4000 for 8 days (one extra day). Never once did we tell them we were Charter Advisors (we don't play this card for paid reviews, fair is fair).
With your availability confirmed and discounts in hand you have all the info you need to make your comparisons. If you only have time for a seven-day trip, discounts are a great way to go. If you have a more flexible schedule, you might opt for the extra days if they are offered. Extra days are often more valuable (cost wise) than a 10 or 20% discount.
Before you pick up the phone to book your yacht, check the airfare!
Note: You can ask for a free 24-hour hold on the yacht while you sort out airfare.
Air Travel and Airfare
Pick your arrival airport. You don't have to fly to the BVI to get to the BVI! The choice... Beef Island Airport, BVI or St Thomas Airport, USVI. If your goal is to fly into Tortola, Beef Island, American Airlines is about the only option for Americans. They offer flights from most states directly to Miami or San Juan. Somehow both options get you to Tortola, Beef Island Airport (EIS) at about the same time. Why? The island hoppers flying from San Juan to Beef Island are the equalizer. If you get to San Juan early on a direct flight or if you transfer in Miami, the flights from San Juan to the Islands run at pretty standard times. If you arrive at three, you'll be on the 5 PM flight. If you arrive at 4, it's the same 5 PM flight. The next flight leaves a couple of hours later. So in the end, unless you have it timed to the minute, the total travel time is about the same on either route. Both are easy and generally trouble free. If there is going to be a hiccup along the way it will be in San Juan on your way in. Don't be surprised if you end up leaving late out of San Juan (no real reason other than island time). The key is to just roll with it. It's a short 30 - 45 min. flight from San Juan to Beef Island and you won't miss your taxi or hotel ferry. They're on island time too. So in a weird way, it's all still in sync.
If you're looking to fly into St. Thomas USVI you'll have a wider choice of airlines. American Airlines doesn't fly there for some reason. From St. Thomas, you'll taxi to the ferry dock, take a fast ferry (45 min. ride) to Sopers Hole in the West End of Tortola, and grab a taxi to your charter base. Charters take both routes to the BVI. The cost is very similar either way. The route you take has more to do with where you're departing from rather than where you're going.
Layover, Sleep Aboard, Charter Hotel
Decide if you're going to sleep aboard or stay in a hotel the first evening. You will most likely arrive in the British Virgin Islands late in the day. Making these decisions early on can also help you with flight plans and maybe even save a few more bucks. When I fly straight through I get to the Beef Island Airport around 6 PM at the earliest, 10 PM at the latest. It just depends on what time I depart. Arriving in the evening puts me at the charter base after they close. But that's ok. I book a sleep aboard night for the night I arrive. Choosing the sleep aboard option over a hotel for the arrival night night is all about personal preference. It works for me because I like to get the charter started early on the first day and it lets me pull my bags and gear in at my own pace. A sleep aboard night is often much cheaper than a hotel room if not free (a few, not all, will offer you a free sleep aboard night)! When the morning sun starts to invade my ports and hatches, the yacht is ready to go and I already feel like the charter has begun. The morning is mine for unwinding and poking around the yacht till the charter office opens.
Note: This is my preference, so I thought it was worth sharing. There is enough to do on the first day of a charter without adding unpacking to it. But then again, one last long hot hotel shower can go a long way after a long flight too. If you're not the sleep aboard type or if your yacht does not have A/C (Marinas are generally not breezy) there's always a hotel near (or connected to) your charter company.
Now that you have the yacht availability, discounts, airfare, and plans for the first night, its time to book everything. Let the excitement begin!
Eating on the boat, eating out, or doing a bit of both... all takes a bit of forethought. It's been my policy to never go too nuts on pre-provisioning. Most often, when I do try to provision for every every meal of every day, I end up with way too much! Instead I pre-order a few staples, snacks, and meat for the grill. To these I add anything I don't want to carry. The heavy stuff. Charcoal for the grill, Water Jugs, bottles of water, bags of ice, cases of cokes / beverages. When and if I need more, I'll stop by one of the local stores. It's usually a bit cheaper buying at the local grocery or bakery anyway.
Bread is different. Don't pre-provision enough bread for the whole trip. Get what you need for the first few days. After that it will go stale. It's a fact of life on the water.
The locals bake bread fresh daily and you will have the opportunity to pick up a variety of fresh bakery goods almost daily if you like. Each island has it's own style and taste. And they are all awesome (hard to say about bread, but its true!). I've gone on too much about bread here. There's good reason. You'll see what I mean when you get there. And, keep in mind you'll grab a few lunches and dinners ashore. There is no need to overstock from day one.
Get rid of the jitters
The Jitters... the unknown, the worry, and the wonder. The jitters are the main reason would-be-charters put off chartering for the Ol' standby vacation. Viva Vegas, The Magic Kiddydom, maybe that 16 flags place? The jitters are powerful! Knowing what to expect and knowing "what's next" is a major decision making factor. The resources on Charter Advisors gives you the info to answer most any chartering question. More importantly, knowing "what's next" lets you relax, knowing you have things well in hand (and knowing it was a whole lot easier and fun than you could have imagined). Through the years I've been surprised by some of the small things that holds folks up. Things like worry about driving the boat out of the marina for the first time, returning the yacht after the charter, docking, mooring, and anchoring. Like most things, sailing is not difficult to do. But until you do it, all that hands on stuff is a mystery. One easily solved though. Here's a bit of a cheat sheet. You might be surprised on just unmysterious (is that even a word?) this stuff really is.
Leaving the marina the first time
Most charter companies do a "drive out." They take you from the slip and through the marina. They do the tight work so you don't have to. If your charter company does allow drive outs and you'd prefer that they clear the marina, just ask. Charter companies are happy to help.
Returning the Yacht
You have two options with most all charter companies on the last day of your charter. You can either pull the yacht into the fuel dock yourself or, you can opt for the charter company to bring the yacht to the fuel dock for you. If you opt for the drive in, a dingy will meet you just inside the breakwater. Charter company personnel will hop onboard and guide the yacht to the fuel dock and then to your slip. Some marinas are tighter than others. When I'm reviewing with the Charter Advisors and the marina is tight, I ask the charter company to bring the boat in. Not all charter companies have tight fuel docks. It's the Horseshoe shaped ones get me! I'll let the local experts do the narrow work. Why not?
Docking for Fuel
Docking during charter is only necessary if you are running low on water or fuel. It would be a rare case to need a fuel refill. Only those driving a sailing yacht like a powerboat run into this situation. And even then it's rare. Just about any sailing yacht is good for quite a long distance before needing to take on fuel. I've never HAD to fuel up a charter yacht during charter. In the most extreme situation I burned 3/4 of a tank.
Docking for Fresh Water
Depending on how you use your fresh water depends on if or how often you will need to refill the tanks. A large catamaran (40 feet or larger) with 3-4 people on board for a 7-day charter may never need a water refill. But a monohull of similar size will probably require at least one refill. You can conserve, and get away with a one-tank trip on most any yacht. Docking may look daunting the first time you do it, but afterwards you see how the unknown was much worse than the reality. Docking is easy stuff. When you realize this, you'll stop worrying about how much water everyone is using.
Water docks are plentiful in the BVI.
The water dock routine goes like this:
1.Call the dock on the VHF to let them know you're coming.
2. Attach your fenders as directed by the dock master (Place them on Port Cap!).
3. Attach docking lines on the same side as fenders.
4. Pull up to the dock heading the wind (just like anything else on the water).
5. Have a bowperson ready to toss the dock lines over to the dock hand (they will cleat off the line for you), starting with the Bowline.
6. You'll then toss the amidships docking line.
7.If there is only one dock hand, you'll send the bowperson onto the dock, hopping off amidships, and tying off. The Captain tosses the stern line to the bowperson for a final tie.
8. Follow the dock hand's instructions, during the docking process, and you're done.
9. Filler up!
Mooring is the most common daily task besides sailing. Every night you'll put up on a mooring ball. Mooring is easier than anchoring and far more simple than docking. No fenders and no dock lines!
Here is a simple and safe way to grab the ball.
When you enter a mooring field the Captain calls the ball.
Always approach the ball heading the wind (wind in your face).
As you get close, the Bowperson gives the Captain simple hand signals to tell them where the ball is and where to go. A wave to the right from the bowperson, Cap goes right. A Wave to the Left, Cap goes left. Wave backwards, and Cap backs up. Hold your hand up, and the boat stops. Best to keep it simple and easy to understand.
The bowperson leans down with the boat hook and grabs the pennant on the mooring ball (a line attached to the top of the mooring with a reinforced eyelet for you to attach your mooring line to).
With pennant in hand, the mooring line attached to your boat is clipped or run though the eye of the pennant and tied off. It's actually harder to write about than it is to do.
Quick Mooring Tips.
Monohull - I always attach the mooring line to one side of the bow. I don't attach one end of the mooring line to the starboard cleat and the other end to the Port cleat. This creates a bridal. On a Monohull it's a good way to swing a bit more than needs be.
By attaching the mooring line to only one cleat (I tend to use the starboard cleat) on the bow, the boat swings less, lays more solid, and it gives me an extra cleat on the port bow to tie off a safety line.
A safety line is a slacked line running from your free cleat to the top of the mooring ball itself. You'll need to get the dingy out to tie this one off. I always run a safety line. Should the pennant give out or our mooring line snap, I have a solid connection directly to the ball. Overkill? Yep. So?
Catamarans - They have a different set up. This is where a bridle comes into play. It's a slacked loop running from one hull to the other.
Shackle or Clip Bridle - These are tied off dead center for quick mooring grabs. If you have a clip, all you need to do is clip the clip to the pennant eye.
Bowline Bridle - If you have a tied off bowline bridle, you'll untie one cleat on the bow, letting you run the mooring line though the pennant eye. All that's left is to tie it off on the opposite hull.
Cats require bridle. Do not attempt to tie off on only one hull. There is way too much windage and weight for a cat to be moored on a single cleat. I also follow with the usual safety line described above. Make sure it is slack so that it does not interfere with the main mooring line. And not so slack that it tangles on the mooring ball. There is nothing better than an extra dock line backing you up.
Anchoring - You don't HAVE to anchor. Ever. If you don't want to. Anyplace worth anchoring has mooring balls (generally). The best snorkeling spots have day mooring balls. The best overnight spots have overnight mooring balls. There are a few exceptions. There are a couple of places on Jost that are anchorages only. A visit to Soggy Dollar or the "Original" Foxy's (Foxy's Tamarind), require anchoring. No balls. Sandy Cay and Sandy Spit are the same way. These are the exceptions, not the general rule. For those of you heading to one of these spots (or other spots like it), please check out our Expert Advice section for all the anchoring info you can shake a boat hook at.
I hope after reading this some of those hurdles shrunk and the mysterious has been demystified. Knowing how to get the boat, get to the islands, get the boat stocked up, and when and how docking, mooring, and anchoring come into play, can play havoc on the brain. The unknown is far more daunting that the actual reality is AMAZING. Get out here, give it a go, and you'll see for yourself. It sure is a whole lot more fun doing it than reading about it!
The trick? Charter Often and check out our Expert Advice.
For more on Choosing a charter yacht, booking your trip, sleep aboard vs. hotel, provisioning, mooring, and anchoring check out our Expert Advice section. It's all there (and much more!) and detailed for you.
- Charter Review: The Moorings 5800 Ocean Suite by Captain Kev
- Charter Review: VOYAGE Charters, VOYAGE 520 Silver Lining by Capt. Kev