For those of you who have had yacht charter experience in the British Virgin Islands or elsewhere in the Caribbean the following answers to frequently asked questions about bareboat and crewed yacht charter holidays in the BVI may be of interest. For answers to some of the more basic questions, please see FAQ Part 1
If we have missed anything, please feel free to submit your question(s) and we will have our bareboat specialist answer you personally.
What can we expect upon arrival at the charter base in Tortola?
Head directly to the office where they will be expecting you. Following is a detailed check list which all guests should use each time you hire a bareboat to ensure that your BVI sailing holiday will be worry free.
Have the charter company take care of any deficiencies (if any) found while you are still at the dock. Once you are out on the water, a simple thing such as a blocked head or a shower which doesn't drain can be very unpleasant. Of course, these are things which the maintenance staff should catch prior to your charter, but human beings are fallible and can sometimes overlook things.
After having tried every possible item of operation, you are set to cast off and enjoy a marvelous and worry free sailing vacation in the British Virgin Islands!
Should we be concerned about chartering an older yacht?
Not necessarily. Some BVI charter companies have boats in the older age brackets (6 to 10 years) which are still quite reliable and have been maintained very well. Of course, they are not new, so some minor problems may occur. Look into the reputation of your broker or charter company before signing a deal. There are some very good Internet chat rooms where people will be able to offer you advice of all kinds. Keep in mind that boats are not inanimate objects and as such are vulnerable to breakdowns. As with cars or any machinery, older yachts have a greater likelihood of breaking down.
Having said that, there are some boats still in charter in the BVI which are well past their prime and should be retired from service. Remember always that you usually get what you pay for, but you don't always have to pay top dollar for a clean and reliable boat. Reputation is everything! If you hear one bad report, don't worry too much ... if you hear two or more bad reports, investigate further or back off and find something else!
The reputation of any charter company or broker is the key to a successful and pleasurable sailing vacation! Ask as many questions as it takes to convince yourself that the boat you wish to hire will be right for you. Ask for references. Check with the Chamber of Commerce to find out more details about the company you are dealing with. Go into any charter deal with your eyes open and don't take anything for granted. If you get evasive answers from the company or broker, look elsewhere. There are plenty from which to choose!
What are the tides, currents and swells like in the British Virgin Islands?
Tides are decidedly minimal in the British Virgin Islands at 6" to 12" maximum, year 'round. Currents in Drakes Channel can be quite noticeable and run between 3 to 6 knots. Some of the anchorages which are affected by minor currents are Soper's Hole at the West End of Tortola, Marina Cay at the East end of Beef Island, Cooper Island at Manchioneel Bay, Anegada at the main harbour and sometimes in the North Sound at Virgin Gorda.
If anchoring overnight, beware of ground swells on the North side of Tortola and in several other areas during the winter months. Consult other sailors or people who live in the area if in doubt about suitability of overnight anchorages. Ground swells can make for very uncomfortable and restless nights ... pitching, yawing and worrying about dragging your anchor. Most importantly, read the yachtsman's guide provided aboard. It will have plenty of information regarding the suitability of all anchorages, what to watch for and the best area to anchor.
We can't decide between a catamaran or monohull sailboat.
While catamarans are certainly more spacious than the average monohull yacht, it depends upon what you are looking for. Died-in-the-wool "sailors" would never consider chartering a catamaran. (A bit of snobbery in this area). Some say sailing a catamaran is similar to riding a bicycle with training wheels. I find that analogy to be fairly accurate ... if a little unfair. After all, you still get to go to the same places, do the same things and enjoy all the BVI has to offer. Its just a somewhat different experience in that the actual sailing part is a little changed.
Whilst at anchor or underway, a catamaran is certainly more stable than a monohull, which tends to make sleeping, cooking and entertaining more comfortable if you are not accustomed to the movement of a boat. They are also typically very fast while on down wind or beam reaches and frequently faster than monohulls. However, some catamarans tend to be sluggish on upwind legs and many sailors find this terribly frustrating if not unbearable. The greatest challenge to monohull sailors has always been sailing as close to the wind as possible and making headway upwind. Its the stuff yacht races are made of! If you are looking for the excitement of healing over and truly feeling as though you are sailing ... then most sailors would tell you that a monohull is the only way to go.
If you have older or very small people aboard who may be unsteady on their feet ... a catamaran may be best for your purposes. Personal preference is what its all about. Decide which is best for you and don't let "sailing snobbery" stand in your way!
How far in advance do we need to book our yacht charter in Tortola?
You may as well ask, "How long is a piece of string?" The answer is, you should make your reservation the day before somebody else charters the boat you wanted! I don't mean to be flippant, but no charter company or broker (despite claims to the contrary) has a reliable crystal ball with which to see future events. Since charter reservations are done on a first come first served basis; once a yacht is booked ... it is booked. If that happens to be the exact yacht you wanted to charter and the exact dates you want, I'm afraid you are out of luck. Time to start shopping again or adjust your yacht charter dates.
I'll go out on a limb and say that if you are planning to charter during any holiday period such as Christmas, New Years, Easter, Thanksgiving or spring break ... book at least 8 months to a year in advance if you want to be guaranteed to get the yacht of your choice. Keep in mind that the largest and smallest yachts book first. That's usually because there are fewer of them, so your options are limited. In general terms, booking 6 months ahead is usually a safe bet, but not always. (Sorry to be so vague but ...)
Some people like to take advantage of last minute specials (discounts) by booking about a month to 6 weeks ahead. These people are not picky and will usually spend a lot of time shopping around to find a boat which comes close enough to what they want. If you don't have any specific requirements and just want to get out on the water ... this can be an interesting and cost effective approach.
What is the etiquette regarding "saving" mooring balls with your dinghy?
I asked David Moir of Moor Seacure Limited (who owns a large majority of the moorings in the BVI) to clarify their policy for me. After he finished letting out a loud and sorrowful groan, he said he wasn't up to the task of rewriting maritime law! He then cited many instances where "one policy to suit all situations" simply isn't feasible ... and I wholeheartedly agree.
It is Mr. Moir's feeling that once a mooring ball has a dinghy tied on, it has effectively been reserved regardless of the size of the vessel tied to it. The presence of a dinghy is a clear indicator that the dinghy owner intends to return for the evening. By design, the moorings system is offered on a first come, first served basis. A dinghy is a boat and subject to the same fees as any other boat regardless of size.
David has had situations where people have become so irate to find a dinghy tied to a mooring ball that they have actually untied the dinghy and set it adrift! Of course, this is a criminal act and the owner or lessor of the dinghy has every right to press criminal charges against such an offender. In some cases, Moor Seacure has had customers who have stayed on the same mooring for several nights in a row and have used a specific mooring as their home base; tying off their dinghy to the mooring during the day and returning each night. This too is perfectly acceptable.
If you want to stay at a particular spot and don't want to sail there only to find there are no mooring balls available ... USE YOUR RADIO and call ahead! Should you find that no spots are available and If the anchorage is unsuitable for anchoring, then get out your Cruising Guide and go for plan "B"!
There are no hard and fast rules and regulations regarding mooring ball reservation etiquette. One can only hope that the yachting community will respect the property of others and will understand that the system was designed to operate on a "first come, first served" basis. It might also be wise to keep in mind that to board, untie or release a line from a boat (regardless of size) without the owner's permission or knowledge is unlawful! Those who advocate untying a dinghy from a mooring, tying their yacht to the mooring and then securing the dinghy to their yacht so the owner or lessor may retrieve it upon their return ... may want to think twice before doing so.
Will we be allowed to sail our boat to Anegada?
Many BVI bareboat charter companies have a standard clause in their contracts stating navigation limits which specifically exclude Anegada and St. Croix. The reason for these exclusions are insurance related and hinge entirely on the client's individual sailing and navigation abilities.
If you are a first time yacht charter guest (with a particular charter company) and you really want to go to Anegada, you must first make written application to the company requesting their permission to travel to Anegada. Detail your navigational skills by stating your experience. Frequently, and if you have chartered in the BVI before (without incident) ... the company will allow you to sail to Anegada, but you will need to get written permission from the charter company as an amendment to your contract. They may want to meet you first and will make their final decision after doing your chart and yacht briefing.
In recent years, the channel markers approaching the anchorage at Anegada have been greatly improved, making the approach much less dangerous than in former times. The Cruising Guide to the Virgin Islands provides some excellent information regarding the approach to Anegada and entry into the channel leading to the anchorage.
Some people will say that sailing to Anegada is a piece of cake. True ... if you know where you are going or have been there before. However, should you find yourselves in the unfortunate position of sitting atop a reef after having holed the yacht you chartered and sloshing around in salt water up to your knees ... you may resent the cavalier attitude with which those offering their sage advice treated this particular issue.
If you have doubts as to your ability to safely navigate to Anegada, don't do it ... at least not alone. There are plenty of other places to visit and things to do. As lovely as Anegada is, its not the end of the world if you miss it your first time here. Another option is to hire a skipper for a day or two. Yes, you will have to pay the skipper about $100.00 to $150.00 per day plus meals ... but what price do you put on the safety of your crew, the yacht you have hired and a worry free sailing vacation? Once you have sailed to Anegada with a skipper aboard and provided you were paying attention, you will never have to worry about this issue again.
Another option is to join a flotilla from the North Sound, Virgin Gorda. The danger here is that you may follow somebody who has never been there and has no idea where they are going either. Make sure you know who is leading the group and their experience, then do your own navigating as you go to double check all way points.
We will be flying into St. Thomas, USVI - Can you pick us up there?
Yes ... but it will cost you! Firstly, the charter company will have to hire a captain for the day to sail over to St. Thomas to pick you up. Secondly, he would have to clear out of BVI Customs and Immigration and into USVI Customs & Immigration. He may also have to pay for dockage or a mooring. This all takes time and money. The costs would be passed along to the charter guest. You would be required to pay the captain's fees, plus a full day charter fee. If you are prepared to pay the additional fees AND go directly to the charter base in order to do your yacht briefing and take care of the paperwork ... then yes, it is possible, but expensive.
It is much easier and faster to take the ferry from either Charlotte Amalie in downtown St. Thomas or from Red Hook to Tortola. The ferry takes approximately 45 minutes. Ferry schedules may be found on the BVI Vacations site shown at the top of this page.
What are the advantages or disadvantages of using a yacht charter broker versus booking directly with a bareboat company?
Generally speaking, yacht charter brokers will have a much wider assortment of yachts to choose from (as they usually represent several companies) and are therefore able to select from a greater number of yacht models to better suit your needs. In addition, a yacht broker is not compelled to sell charters aboard any yacht he or she feels is substandard. However, brokers often don't have intimate or first hand knowledge of any given yacht as they are usually based in another country and must therefor rely on what the charter company feeds them. It can be a trade off in some cases.
Most brokers rely solely on the reputation of the charter company, without having any personal knowledge of the specific yacht you may be interested in chartering. Others specialize in certain territories and are well informed about the yachts they offer for charter. (A little shameless self promotion here) ... Such is the case with Bareboats BVI. We live in the British Virgin Islands year 'round and have hand-picked each and every yacht we represent ... but we do not represent every yacht a particular bareboat charter company offers. We are not obliged to sell any yacht in which we have no faith. You need to find out which is which. Not every broker knows what they are selling and all bareboat companies are obliged to sell charters on ALL their boats!
In the unlikely event of a dispute between you and the charter company, the broker will act as your advocate. There is no price difference regardless of whom you book with. In the end, the choice is yours. I suggest you book your charter with whomever you feel most comfortable and with whomever provides the service you desire and answers all your questions in a timely manner.
May we book our sailing vacation through our travel agent?
Some travel agents know a few things about yacht charters and may have a charter yacht specialist in their company ... but for the most part, they do not. Some bareboat companies deal with travel agents and others do not. Many brokers don't. Ask first and find out what is what. If you go through a travel agent, they will simply do the hunting on the Internet for you and then will add their percentage onto the actual charter cost. Why pay more than you have to for the same thing? A good yacht broker is worth their weight in gold and will provide much better information much more quickly.
If you are concerned about booking a charter and sending your money to a foreign country, check with the local Chamber of Commerce to find out more about the reputation of the company you plan to deal with regardless of where they are located. The Chamber of Commerce is the first to hear the whispers of a company in trouble and they will not recommend a questionable company ... rather, they may reserve comment and recommend a different charter company or yacht charter broker instead. If you get the thumbs up, there shouldn't be a problem.
Need more information about BVI bareboat or crewed yacht charters?
Call or write our yacht charter specialist!
Phone: (284) 495-4168 Tortola, British Virgin Islands
Copyright © 2001-2006 BVI Vacations - Bareboats BVI . All rights reserved.