Oct 14, 2021
by Marc Robic
If chartering is something you’ve been dreaming about, this series is really for you. BUT be forewarned…it can be addictive!
We’ve been bareboat chartering in the Caribbean every two or three years, returning many times to some of our favourite islands such as the British Virgin Islands (BVIs), St-Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) and Grenada. We’ve also sailed to the dual island of St-Martin/Sint-Marteen, St-Barth, Antigua, Anguilla and a few US Virgin Islands.
In Part 1, I introduced and discussed charter companies, types of charters, destinations and how to choose and book your charter boat and flights. Part 2 was about creating a sail plan, budget, setting and managing expectations and research… building excitement!
Part 3, will be all about the day to day of the charter itself with tricks and best practices to make the best of it.
Although there is a small airport on Beef Island in the BVIs, I always prefer landing in St-Thomas (USVI) for a few good reasons. Besides the flight carrier selection, costs and flexibility, we love taking the passenger ferry over to the BVIs. The views are amazing and it adds to the adventure.
Once you land and clear US customs in St-Thomas, you’ll grab a cab to the Ferry Dock in Charlotte Amalie. We use Native Son Ferry and purchase our two-way tickets immediately (unless we bought them online beforehand). During the ferry ride, there will (normally) be a stop in Soper’s Hole (AKA West End, Tortola) to clear British customs. Here you get off, clear customs and get back on the ferry, that will now proceed to the Road Town ferry dock. From there, your charter company will have a driver waiting for you. They are used to unexpected travel delays. So should there be any, do not panic. They will know and change the driver’s schedule accordingly.
Many of the charter bases are near Road Town Harbour. With Horizon Yacht Charters, we go to Nanny Cay, about a 15 minute drive.
When you arrive at the charter base you will be checked in, pay any outstanding balances and the security deposit. After that you will be introduced to your boat with a brief introduction of the main onboard systems to make the evening comfortable.
Since the boat will be plugged into shore power, with plenty of water available dockside, this is when you can take a shower and use all the water you want… Make sure to top off ALL tanks before leaving the dock! And make sure all passengers understand that the water you carry is all the water you have. There are few places you will be able to stop to fill up your tanks. In Leverick Bay for example, if you pay for an overnight mooring ball, it will include a water tank fill up the next morning before departure.
If you do arrive early enough the day before and did not pre-order your groceries, consider hiring a cab or a driver for a few hours to go grocery shopping with a stop at the liquor wholesaler. Plan to have dinner nearby. Nanny Cay has a beachside restaurant, Peg Legs, you can walk to at the end of the main peer. Road Town has many and the Moorings’ base also has its own restaurant on site. Since I am sharing, I will tell you one of my favourites is the Roti Palace in Road Town. It’s not a big place, but the roti is amazing and homemade.
Pre-departure: you will have a boat briefing that will include an inventory list for you to check and confirm. It is designed this way for two reasons: first to make sure all equipment is onboard and working properly and two, to make sure YOU know where it is. From tools to emergency equipment to first aid kits, etc. You will most likely be given a cell phone to be used to call the base directly should there be any issues, a breakage or have any questions.
If you haven’t packed your snorkelling gear with you, make sure to rent it from your charter company, but don’t leave without it! We always bring our own, we find it cheaper and more hygienic. A few inflatable floaties might be fun too. Also, if possible try to limit the hard luggage you bring with you onboard, it takes a lot of space to stow away. At the very least, bring those that fit one into the other (small, medium, large), instead of several large ones.
Depending on how many charters are leaving the same day, your chart briefing may be in a group or individual, onboard your boat. This is where the best and most recent information is shared such as upcoming events, any new navigation hazards not yet on charts, anchorages, best spots for lobster dinners, snorkeling, etc.
Once the boat and chart briefing is complete, TOP off all your water tanks and get ready to set sail. In many cases, and depending on the harbour design, the base may have a dock hand get the boat out of its slip and get you to the outer marker.
From that point on, enjoy the vacation and the adventure.
Some of our favorite BVI anchorages, beaches and restaurants include:
• Peter Island’s Deadman’s Bay for the anchorage, beach and the Deadman’s Beach Bar & Grill (drink and food amazing!)
• White Bay, Jost Van Dyke: Soggy Dollar Bar
• Great Harbour, Jost Van Dyke: Foxy’s
• Saba Rock, in Gorda Sound, Virgin Gorda
• Leverick Bay in Gorda Sound on Virgin Gorda (for the weekly beach party called “Jump Up”)
• Top of the Baths, Virgin Gorda for the pool side view and drinks overlooking the BVIs
• Soper’s Hole, West End Tortola. Super pretty village with stores, restaurants and provisioning outlets
• Cane Garden Bay, Tortola for the spectacular sunsets and beach side restaurants like Myett’s. Plus a visit to Callwood Distillery
• The Bight on Norman Island for snorkeling at The Indians outcrop and the caves at treasure point. If you don’t have children aboard, enjoy a wild evening aboard the Willy-T. If you do and want to dine ashore, Pirates Bight is a great bet!
The day before returning the boat, I also like to anchor in Manchioneel Bay at the Cooper Island Beach Club. Book a table for dinner and spend the afternoon enjoying the beach and drinks. There’s a nearby outcrop of rocks I like to dinghy out to and snorkel in! Amazing aquatic life.
From Manchioneel Bay, it’s a short sail back to Road Town or Nanny Cay. So no worries about getting the boat back late.
Just before arriving back to the base, you’ll need to call the base so they can coordinate someone to receive and guide you in to the fuel dock. From there, they will top off the fuel and water. This will probably be the last common expense of your charter. At this point, we normally gather all the extra food and drink we will not use and donate it to the charter staff.
While you are still onboard, the boat will be brought back to a slip and a final inspection will take place as soon as your luggage is all packed and you’re ready to disembark. This is where you can share any issues or problems that may need attention or maintenance. This is important for them to keep the boat in proper condition. If no damages are found, you will be refunded your deposit and sign the end of charter document.
The charter company will arrange for a cab or driver to take you to the ferry dock.
I hope you enjoyed this three-part series. But like I wrote at the beginning of each article, it can be addictive… Our next trip may be in Croatia, Italy or perhaps back to the BVIs to see how the post hurricane reconstruction has gone and discover new places!
Plotting the next trip!
BVI Tourism has introduced an truly great new BVI NOW app available to help plan your vacation. Download is free and is full of up to date information. A must have! WWW.BVINOW.APP
Another new and very useful app will allow you to pre-book a mooring ball, so you will not have to rush to your next anchorage. Although they have limited locations, more locations are bound to be added monthly. Download the app, book a mooring ball in the morning and relax! Enjoy the day, knowing your spot will be there. WWW.BOATYBALL.COM
• Chris Doyle’s Cruising Guide to the Virgin Islands
• Chris Doyle’s Virgin anchorages WWW.CRUISINGGUIDES.COM
• IMRAY-LOLAIRE charts (A233 BVI) WWW.IMRAY.COM
• also search Chris Doyle Cruising Guides on Amazon
Some of the bareboat charter companies servicing the BVIs:
For more, search: BAREBOAT CHARTER COMPANIES IN THE BVI for a full list
Marc is a member of the Canadian Power & Sail Squadron. He and his wife, Claude sail their Catalina 270, Aquaholic 3, out of the Ile-Perrot Yacht Club in Montreal, where Marc spent 16 years as Harbour Master. They are regular Caribbean bareboat yacht charterers. With over 40-years experience, Marc is also an avid onboard do-it-yourselfer.