Why wait until next summer to go sailing in the sun? Escape abroad for and charter and some warm weather cruising this winter
Charters for winter cruising in the sun
There is a time every year when even the hardiest sailors begin to think of chartering in warmer climes. If the thought of braving the January weather at home is unappealing, then so is the idea of not sailing again until April or May! The answer often lies only a flight away, amid swaying palms and steady Trade Winds, floating on clear blue waters teeming with tropical fish. The charter holiday market has opened up globally over the last few decades so that destinations previously reserved for only the most adventurous of blue water cruisers are now accessible to those more used to weekend marina-hopping. We look at 10 mouth-watering charter destinations to consider. Resist their lure if you can…
If you’re happy to put up with a higher chance of rainfall than you’d find further afield, in exchange for a shorter flight, then Malta may well appeal. This English-speaking Mediterranean island is only 100 miles from Africa and the sea and air temperatures rarely drop far below 20°C. Charter firms operate all year round and the island caters well for yachtsmen.
Nearly all Transatlantic and round-the-world cruising rallies start from the Canaries, and participants often bemoan the fact they didn’t leave more time to explore this fascinating group of islands. Each of the seven main islands has its own distinct character. Yachtsmen need to look out for the charted wind acceleration zones, where the normally steady NE Force 3-4 is funnelled into a sharp increase in velocity. The climate is rarely outside the twenties. With a flight from the UK just four hours and no time difference, it is an anomaly that the Canaries are not more popular with charterers.
Cape Verde Islands
Much like the Canaries, each of these 25 islands is infused with a strikingly different influence, be it colonial, meteorological, geographical or touristic. What remains constant is the warm weather and sea temperature. The sailing can be challenging at times, with enough fetch between most of the islands for an Atlantic swell to build up in the steady, northeasterly trade winds. There are shorter inter-island hops for those after more relaxing sailing and plenty of sheltered anchorages. Get used to the island custom of hiring a ‘boat boy’ to look after the yacht while you’re ashore.
British Virgin Islands
Outside the Hurricane season, September to November, you’ll find 24-28°C, reliable F3-5 trade winds, warm, clear water, spectacular beaches, great sailing and simple navigation, with the next stop rarely more than an hour or two away. It’s a sailor’s paradise, which is why the BVIs are home to the biggest bareboat charter fleet in the world. If you’re keen on partying, aim for high season, December to April, but you may struggle for a mooring if you arrive somewhere after lunch. May to June is quieter but you’ll still find excellent sailing conditions so this is probably the best time to take your little pirates to the Caribbean. From August onwards, the winds ease and you really begin to feel the heat of summer.
One of sailing’s lesser-known charter gems, this English-speaking country on the eastern side of Central America offers cruising as good as anywhere in the nearby Caribbean islands. Underwater visibility stretches hundreds of feet, making it a prime diving and snorkelling destination. The hundreds of coral beds make up the world’s second-longest barrier reef and create a largely flat-water cruising ground. Hire kayaks to explore limestone caves along the coast. As with the Caribbean, the Trade Winds are constant and the main season corresponds neatly with the UK winter. Flying from the UK, change at Miami for a 12- or 13-hour journey.
Sea of Cortez, Mexico
Also known as the Gulf of California, the sea lies on the west coast of Mexico but enjoys shelter from the Pacific, courtesy of the 900-mile Baja California peninsula. Sailors will enjoy hassle-free navigation and if visiting over the UK winter, should find settled conditions. This unspoilt wilderness is teeming with exotic sealife and cruisers will often spot whales, sea lions and manta rays. The area boasts incredible vistas from the mountainous to the wild western and myriad anchorages along hundreds of miles of solitary cruising. Most of the coast is uninhabited, so charterers should provision well at the main departure points of La Paz or Puerto Escondido. Away from these, the desert surrounds you.
With the distances between these Indian Ocean islands never much more than 30 miles, the archipelago’s steady winds of around 20 knots, plus its time difference to the UK of just four hours, it is no wonder that ever more charterers are heading here instead of the Caribbean. The flight, from most European airports, takes around 10 hours. The Seychelles are nowhere near as crowded as the Caribbean and there are two seasons, from May to October and from November to April. Navigation is not entirely simple – there are many unmarked rocks. You’ll also be keeping an eye out for the stunning beaches and sealife.
Phuket is a major tourist trap for landsmen, but for yachtsmen it offers magical cruising and access to places the majority of holidaymakers never reach. The island is famed for its beaches and a charter catamaran means low-draught access to the best of them in style. It is the exotic landscapes that really make this a charter to remember. National park Ko Rok Nok is a highlight, as is the place where the film The Beach was shot, Maya Bay. The east coast is peppered with protected anchorages and the bold can venture up one of the mangrove rivers, where they will only find the calls of monkeys and birds to disturb their peace.
There are 99 islands within this archipelago in the Andaman Sea, separated from mainland Malaysia by the Straits of Malacca, and only two of them are inhabited. Charter a shallow-draught catamaran that you can beach on the unending stretches of white sand, fringed with palm trees and lush forest behind. The deserted anchorages, bays and coves you’ll find are countless. November to April sees north-east winds with fine weather and flat seas, sheltered by the Thailand peninsula. Happily for those visiting during the UK winter, the rainy season runs from the end of May until October. Why not visit the Langkawi Sailing School and do an RYA practical course in tropical waters? It’s a 12-hour flight from London.
It’s a 22-hour flight to Sydney and then a two-hour internal flight up to Hamilton Island, so you’ll want to make this a two or even three-week charter. The year-round tropical climate of these 74 islands, their breathtaking beauty and the straightforward eyeball navigation will make the jetlag well worthwhile. Good snorkelling sites abound and the best one in the world, the Great Barrier Reef, is only 35 miles away by yacht or seaplane. Most islands are uninhabited.