Whether you own your own boat or not, chartering offers the opportunity to sail somewhere different without complication. Will Bruton takes a look at how to hit the water running
Hiring a charter yacht comes with a level of responsibility that some people, quite understandably, don’t associate with being on holiday.
Getting to grips with the boat’s systems, shaping family of different ages into a crew quickly and mooring to an uncompromising town quay with more ropes than you are used to can sometimes be challenges you might decline in favour of a beach and a sunbed.
A week’s charter has the potential to be more stressful than a week at work, but get it right and it needn’t be; you will find yourself anchored a long way off the aforementioned busy beach or swimming ashore to a private one of your very own.
Done right, charter is a mechanism to access destinations beyond any five-star resort, on your own terms.
A little planning can take you a long way…
When deciding where to charter, matching the destination to your most inexperienced crew member is a good place to start.
Cast off in the British Virgin Islands for a week and you can be assured of enough wind, no tide and flat water.
Go sailing further along the Caribbean island chain and the exposed water can make the sailing a good bit more adventurous, but potentially more rewarding for an experienced crew.
‘Getting the destination right is fundamental to making sure you have a good time,’ explains Frank Ziehe, managing director of Cosmos Yachting.
‘It’s worth considering how weather patterns change throughout the sailing season in different destinations, as even in the Mediterranean, this can vary from place to place.
‘For example, Croatia gets windy in June and September, but July and August offer easier sailing. In Greece, you’ll experience much more wind in the Cyclades from July to August, but places like the Ionian will be much tamer.
‘If you’re taking your family out for the first time, they won’t thank you for being overly ambitious and they are less likely to want to come again!’
The flotilla option
If you don’t quite feel ready to go it alone on charter, joining an organised flotilla can be a good way to take some of the pressure off the skipper, while also increasing the social side of your holiday.
Generally, run by a lead boat, including skipper, an engineer and a hostess or host, flotilla crews know each destination on the route well and take the edge off of passage planning by doing most of the work for you.
‘There’s a lot of misconceptions surrounding what a flotilla holiday actually involves.
It’s actually a relaxed opportunity to sail in company with a much higher level of support than you would have sailing alone,’ explains Frank. ‘Our teams know every location on the route really well.
‘There’s a morning briefing each day and everyone meets up in the evening, but you’re at liberty to explore on your own terms in the day and have your own adventures. If you want to spent a night away from the flotilla, just let us know.
‘We also offer flotillas based around themes, such as food and wine so you can get more out of the destination ashore as well. They’re a great stepping stone to chartering on your own.’
The right boat
Over the past ten years the standard of charter yacht has improved in most destinations, largely due to consumer demand for a higher standard of experience.
Perhaps the biggest change is the growth in demand for catamarans.
While many would discount the idea of sailing a multihull in UK waters, in charter destinations with family on board, they can make a lot of sense.
‘The catamarans get booked out first now and some yards can’t build them quick enough for the charter industry. They’re not like they used to be and now offer an environment that’s ideal for a holiday that includes everyone — even the non-sailors,’ explains Frank.
If you’re booking a monohull, it’s worth checking how well the boat is set up for the type of sailing you will be doing.
While a heavy-set yacht that performs in rough conditions might be the yacht you dream of owning at home, a comfortable cockpit that’s easy to swim from might be better suited to you and your family in sunny climes on charter.
A yacht built for the Med is also likely to be better ventilated.
Similarly, while your instinct might be to steer away from anything with in-mast furling, there’s a good reason many charter companies choose it.
It’s easily used short-handed and keeps everyone in the cockpit if you need to reef quickly.
Above all, choose a yacht to suit your crew.
Is every berth built for an adult?
Is there enough privacy for two families sharing?
Will one couple not thank you for not realising one double berth is actually the saloon? All worth considering in advance.
What level of sailing ability is really necessary to charter a yacht?
And what qualifications do you need?
It’s likely to depend on how confident you feel.
Not that long ago, charter companies would often accept little or no qualifications if you could convince the base manager you could competently handle the boat.
Perhaps sensibly, this is no longer the case in most places and a Day Skipper or International Certificate of Competence (ICC) qualification is a good baseline standard for the majority of cruising grounds.
Even so, ensuring you’re not too rusty before casting off is no bad idea so you can hit the water running on arrival.
Some skills are essential that might be less important in your home berth.
Getting to grips with anchoring confidently is crucial to making the most of the charter experience, while anchoring with lines ashore somewhere wild has a real novelty to it if you’re used to UK sailing.
Before leaving the charter base determine how much chain you have, how it’s marked for length and any particular bad habits the anchor set up on that particular yacht might have.
For example, small anchor lockers mixed with lots of extra chain can mean unjamming the windlass becomes a regular occurrence for your crew member.
Ask where the nearest easy anchorage is to the charter base to drop the hook shortly after you leave so you can get used to the yacht’s habits before diving into a narrow deserted cove where the unexpected is hard to handle.
This is also the perfect way to mark the start of the sailing after the invariably quite lengthy process of provisioning and checking the boat out of the marina.
‘It’s worth keeping in mind that we know you don’t sail every day. If it’s blowing a lot when you bring the boat back to the marina, we’re perfectly happy to bring it back into the berth for you,’ explains Keith Harvey from Sunsail.
‘It’s likely the type of boat is new to you too, so we would much rather you asked us how a system works early on so we can help you get to grips with it. We know there’s a lot to take on board when you first step on a charter yacht and that’s nothing to be embarrassed about.
‘Every year someone will damage a yacht by biting off more they can chew on a windy handover day, which makes for a sour end to an otherwise great holiday. Get us to help!’
Yacht charter can be enormously expensive but it’s also quite possible to sail at the beginning and end of the season with huge discounts taken off a yacht’s list price.
Specialist brokerages, such as Late Sail list yachts right up until the week of departure.
Smaller yachts are often particularly good value at short notice.
Keep in mind that, however well maintained, sailing a yacht at the end of the season, you are more likely to encounter equipment failure.
Charter yachts are generally worked hard over the course of the season so expect a slightly lower rate for end of season charters.
Costs are generally made clear in advance by charter companies but always check the damage deposit you will be expected to pay at the charter base, local taxes charged and if there is an additional cost for use of tender and/or outboard motor.
If you are only chartering for one week and a bit rusty, hiring an instructor from the charter company for the first 24 hours is a great way to get up to speed.
The right plan
The military adage of ‘no plan survives first contact’ always applies when it comes to planning a charter.
Sticking to a fixed itinerary is where things tend to go wrong.
Instead, spend some time well in advance reading into possible anchorages, absorbing which areas are suitable for which conditions.
Online resources, such as Noonsite are invaluable, but investing in an up-to-date pilot book will help you gain a broader appreciation of a sailing ground.
Sailing apps have come on a long way in recent years, so when out on the water, combining a pilot book with crowd-sourced information, such as that found on smartphone app Navily, will give you useful up-to-date info on what other sailors have recently experienced in a particular anchorage or marina.
It’s also an invaluable source of information on local restaurants.
Top tips to hit the water running
Keith Harvey is the base manager for Sunsail in Dubrovnik, one of the world’s busiest charter destinations.
‘Read up in advance on the destination you are going to be sailing in. Getting the most out of a place takes research,’ he says.
‘The information we supply in advance of the charter will save you time when you reach the base. In particular, it’s well worth establishing the nature of the insurance you have chosen and level of cover.
‘We also provide an eGuide in PDF format to each destination.
‘Checking into a boat charter sadly isn’t as quick or simple as a hotel, but it’s a two-way process, we’re here to help you get the very best out of the boat.
‘While a brand-new boat might sound like the best option, our slightly older boats are better known to us, so are less likely to have any teething problems!
‘Don’t overestimate what you can achieve in the time you have, if you’re on holiday with friends and family, 15 miles a day is a good ball park to plan your passages around.
‘We’re on call all the time; whether you’re concerned about the weather, or something on the boat, I’m sure I speak for most charter bases suggesting you call us earlier rather than later.’
Charters you didn’t know were possible
Not so fond of following in a thousand other wakes?
As the popularity for chartering grows, the number of unusual destinations has increased too.
Dream Yacht Charter claims to have the largest number of charter destinations of any charter company and currently offers:
The Exumas: Just 26 miles from Nassau, the Exumas island chain offers some of the clearest waters and most abundant marine life in the world.
Belize: Favourable trade winds and over 450 cays to explore. Various charter companies offer catamarans, perfect for exploring the shallower waters here.
Cuba: With a surprising amount of government funded infrastructure, Cuba is rapidly becoming a popular destination.
New Caledonia: A self-governing territory of France, in the Pacific. It features the world’s largest lagoon, roughly 14,912 square miles.
La Paz: Mexico offers more cruising than you might think: white beaches, well protected anchorages and pristine snorkelling in its national parks.