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  First Time Charterers Sample
Crewed Cat Sailing in the BVI

"Where did that come from?" asked Jen, the first mate of our Australian crew aboard the Twin Delight, a sleek 45-ft Moorings catamaran anchored in the lee of Virgin Gorda. It was early on the last day of a blissfully relaxing five-day sail through the British Virgin Islands. A major gust of wind had come down hard upon our rigging, rattling a few wires and rumbling the kayak and windsurfer lashed up on deck.

After checking the wind gauge at the helm and dashing back inside the cabin - that was infused with the aroma of fresh-brewed arabica coffee - Jen exclaimed with devilish glee, "That one was 45 knots!" "No worry," said a calm, deadpan Ben, the captain and second half of our Aussie crew. This was the exciting finale to our short off-season vacation in the British Virgin Islands, the most popular chartering destination in the Caribbean.

With a tempest brewing outside, the high winds added only to the sense of adventure. In addition to hospitality, Jen and Ben Harvey knew their 'sailing stuff' and immediately took charge of the situation. Time for another Bloody Mary! Safely holed up, all aboard would easily survive that morning's blow. We only learned later that we had been in the 'operating room' for the birth of Tropical Storm Dean.

We have traveled aboard cruise ships before. The all-inclusive pricing, water views, and the joy of waking up in a new port always held an allure for us. But those big ships never offered intimacy with a destination. Disgorging several thousand passengers at fixed port calls always meant long lines, crowded streets, and tours in the company of hundreds of other passengers. Being sailors, we thought a crewed yacht sailing vacation would be different. These boats are free of crowds and cattle-bus tours. It's just you, your friends and the wind that determine your itinerary.

As most Latitude readers probably know, The Moorings offers a variety of options aboard both crewed yachts and bareboats, including booking 'by the cabin'. But families and groups of friends do especially well by chartering an entire boat - a crewed yacht in our case. In addition, discounts of up to 30% are offered during the low season from August 1 to December 19. At that time of year, however, you run the risk of experiencing a little exciting weather, as we did, but the odds are greatly in your favor of seeing nothing too serious.

Chartering is not inexpensive, but off-season rates make it much more affordable. You are paying for a comfortable home aboard; all-inclusive meals and all beverages; and friendly, attentive service. And yes, Grandma, you can turn on the A/C and sip the Johnnie Walker. Since catamarans don't heel over, they make it easier for first-time sailors to gain their sea legs. This is something we monohull sailors quickly learned. Even if just Dad (or Mom) is the sailor, the rest of the non-sailing family can come along. Two long hulls hold guest cabins in four corners of the boat, giving privacy to all.

On the 45-footer we chartered, a cavernous bridge deck links the hulls with a galley and dining settee. Out on deck there is another large settee and table under the suncover in back and an Olympic-size trampoline up front - plenty of space to call one's own.

Twin Delight is typical of the Moorings charter program. Just two years old, she has a queen bed and private bath in each cabin. The crew can be involved in as much of, or as little of, your vacation as you wish. Benjamin and Jennifer Harvey, down-to-earth and Down Under-friendly, immediately became a part of our group. In their early 30s, they had already sailed throughout Malaysia and Thailand, and Jen's cuisine was delightfully infused with exotic flavors from those regions.

"No worries" is the mantra aboard these boats. Tired of the view? "No worries," just sail to another pristine, isolated cove and sunny beach. The BVI cruising grounds are a compact, shimmering silk sheet of blue-green water about 30 miles long, ringed by pillows of lofty volcanic islands, slets and peach-colored reefs. You are always in sight of land and never more than an hour or two from another island discovery - unless you sail out to the remote flamingo haven, Anegada Island.

Located well north of the territory's main cluster of islands, Anegada is a coral-formed island with a massive fringing reef. Out there, you can see the ocean waves approach in sets. We learned this while perched on Twin Delight's bow pulpit seats, as we screamed along on the 15-mile crossing from Virgin Gorda. On the first wave, the bow politely dipped, with water gently lapping the tops of our feet. By the last wave we were as wet as tea bags, yet were laughing with delight.

Most of the British Virgin Islands are still the way other parts of the Caribbean used to be, unspoiled and largely undeveloped. You'll find quiet, secluded bays, botanical gardens and bird sanctuaries. No high-rises. No casinos. And off-season, nightlife - even at the resorts - is on the quiet side.

Leaving The Moorings Tortola charter base on the first day, we snorkeled and kayaked amongst the colorful fish at Monkey Point off Guana Island without another boat in sight. Our days blended together in a fusion of sailing, swimming, snorkeling, eating and drinking.

On land, we enjoyed rum punches and 'painkillers' at the Big Bamboo at Anegada's Loblolly Bay. The bartender offered to put us in touch with the director of the Flamingo Sanctuary, but it was time for cocktail hour on board. One evening, while at Anegada, we decided to jump ship for a delicious dinner of local lobster at the Cow Wreck Beach Bar & Grill and a romantic walk on a soft, lonely beach followed.

On Virgin Gorda, we visited one of the region's most dramatic marine parks called The Baths. A maze of granite boulders, some about the size of a Miami mansion, are scattered along the beachfront like giant dice. We wandered through and around the boulders and explored their natural caves, tunnels and sandy bottom tide pools.

Each and every night, we looked up at the night sky, filled with thousands of brilliant stars and were thankful for another perfect day.

- scott & april croft
new jersey

Scott and April - Many thanks for your report. Having enjoyed more sailing trips in the BVI than we can count, we probably tend to underestimate the impact those magical islands have on first timers. Ever since the birth of the yacht chartering industry four decades ago, the British Virgins have been a perfect venue for initiating newcomers into the magic of vacationing under sail - and the territory remains a wonderful destination for repeat visits as well.

Although the BVI has seen considerable development during the past 20 years, almost all of it has been thoughtfully done, in ways that enhance, rather than detract from the experience of vacationers. The local government is cautiously bullish on adding infrastructure to support its one-crop economy - tourism - but not to the extent that new development overwhelms the natural environment. In fact, about a decade ago the waters of virtually the entire territory became a marine sanctuary and, as a result, BVI reefs and fisheries are healthy and abundant.

- Ed.

This story was reprinted from the World of Charter section of the November 2001 issue of Latitude 38. To order a copy (complete with photos in living black & white), use the subscription order form, and specify the 11/01 issue, or just drop us a note with a check for $7 to Latitude 38, Attn: Back Issues, 15 Locust Ave., Mill Valley, CA 94941.

Please note: After a couple of years, the actual issue may no longer be available, but we will still be able to make photocopies of it.

©2001 Latitude 38 Publishing Co., Inc.