Charter Cruising the BVI
By Pierce Hoover
An increasing number of charter companies are adding cruising powerboats to their fleets. As compared to sailing vessels, these craft may offer a significantly different cruising experience.
This is true even in locations such as the British Virgin Islands, which have long been considered the world's favorite sail-charter destination. While power cruisers exploring the BVIs may take in the same scenery and visit the same harbors as their sailing counterparts, they can create a unique float plan, based both on higher boat speeds and a lack of dependence on variations in wind direction and strength.
On our recent charter vacation, for example, we cruised aboard a 46-foot power cat capable of speeds approaching 20 knots. This potential allowed us to set a more far-ranging route than would have otherwise been possible during a 7-day voyage - and it also allowed us to spend more time at our destinations and less time in transit.
Which is not to say that we spent most of our water time at high speeds. On numerous occasions, we would set out at a fast, ground-covering cruise speed, then slow to explore a passing shoreline, or simply to enjoy the passage.
During the course of a week, we ranged from Jost Van Dyke to Anegada, by way of Soper's Hole, the southern islands and Virgin Gorda. Sailors familiar with these waters would consider this an extremely ambitious 7-day itinerary.
By contrast, we seldom spent more than three hours a day underway. In addition to rapid transits, cruising a fast powerboat also allowed us to modify our route to hug leeward shores during certain parts of the trip - something a wind-driven vessel would typically not choose to do. One other feature we felt was an advantage was the relatively limited draft of our boat, which allowed us to pick up near-shore moorings or anchor in shallower waters - either placing us closer to shore services or farther away from the crowd.
If you are planning a power charter in the British Virgins, here are a few thoughts we'd like to share from our trip:
If the charter is based in Tortola, fly into Beef Island rather than St. Thomas. It takes most of a day to make the transfer by ferry, plus there's the extra hassle of the extra baggage transfer.
If possible, arrive at least one day before the start of the charter, and pack your most essential items in carry on luggage. One member of our crew had a baggage delay that took 24 hours to resolve. His bags made it just before we cast off. Extra time on the front in help you to settle into island time, stock up on last-minute provisions and resolve any potential glitches in the charter arrangements.
Pay attention to the boat briefing, ask if you don't understand, and consider taking a few notes. Talk to the guys who have to service the fleets and you will learn that most "problems" encountered on bareboat charters are actually simple human errors. Most charter craft are configured for simplicity of operation, but each boat is different, and the smart skipper is not afraid to ask for an explanation when unsure.
Travel lighter. After you finish packing for the trip, reopen your suitcase and take out all those extra outfits. Space is always at a premium on a boat - even a larger one. In the same vein, use soft-sided luggage that will stow easily when not in use.
Screen yourself from the sun. Salt air and trade winds can mask the intensity of the sun, and bare skin unaccustomed to the tropics burns quickly. More than one cruiser has fallen asleep while sunbathing on the bow, and awoke to a nasty sunburn that takes the fun out of the rest of the trip. Hats, sunglasses and plenty of sunscreen will help you limit unwanted solar exposure when you are on deck or in the dinghy.
Unless you are really into cooking and washing dishes, opt for the "split provision" plan. Cooking aboard is fun, but after a few days, you'll also want to sample some of the excellent restaurants found on many of the islands.
Consider a low-season trip. The calmer months of summer may not only provide smoother cruising, but also lower charter rates. And unlike sailors, who drift and sweat when the wind dies, you have a generator and air conditioning.
Don't try to see and do it all. With so many ports and activities, it's tempting to try and cram as many destinations as possible into a 7-day period. A better option would be to select those destinations that you are most interested in seeing, and to leave enough room in the itinerary for a few spontaneous additions or changes.