The First-Timer's Guide ToBy Jeanne Craig
Published: June/July 2012
Why do many experienced boaters spend so much time running to and from the same ports season after season? Perhaps they don't know about the options available for great bareboat chartering? So many reputable companies operate reliable fleets of power and sailboats in some of the world's most spectacular cruising grounds. Four of those destinations — ideal choices for those venturing out of their home waters and onto a bareboat for the first time — are profiled here. Each spot can satisfy the desire to explore a new and beautiful place, yet these regions aren't so foreign that they'll challenge a skipper's seamanship skills or make the crew uncomfortable. In these beautiful coves and anchorages, it's easy to feel in command while exploring a new and exciting place.
The Inside Passage
The Allure: For some boaters, cruising is all about the view, so if it's big, breathtaking vistas you're after, plot a course to the Pacific Northwest. Granted, steep tides, strong currents, and unpredictable weather can classify this region as a black-diamond run for boaters with no local knowledge, but some charter companies make those things less of an obstacle. Northwest Explorations, for instance, offers guided flotilla charters from the company's base in Bellingham, Washington, up the Inside Passage and as far north as Sitka. You can book one of the Grand Banks trawlers in the fleet and sign on for one or more legs of the journey. Guiding the flotilla is a boat crewed by a professional captain, naturalist, and deckhand.
This type of charter is a good choice for the person who's ready for an adventure in a part of the world renowned for its raw, natural beauty and wildlife, but who also wants the security of running along with a fleet.
Don't Miss: Glacier Bay is a star attraction on the Sitka-to-Juneau leg of the guided tour. "Because the tidewater glaciers in southeast Alaska are receding, it's only a matter of time before these natural wonders won't be around," says Brian Pemberton of NW Explorations. "Here you can nose your boat up to the tip of one, grab a chunk of 10,000-year-old ice, and put it in your scotch." There are few places in the world where you can travel in this type of wilderness, yet you're almost always in VHF contact."
Another top spot is Princess Louisa Inlet, where you can point the bow at lovely Chatterbox Waterfalls and leave the stern on the edge of an underwater cliff with a 1,000-foot drop.
Know Before You Go: The crew of the lead boat will teach charterers how to read the tide tables, calculate currents when running through narrow passages, and make the most of the electronics suite onboard, which includes radar because chances are, you’ll run into fog. Even so, with the guidance of the company's local experts, newcomers to the area often feel secure traveling into the wilderness north of the San Juan Islands, as the run is done in mostly protected waters.
Cost: Cruises start at $2,550 during low season for a week aboard a 36-foot Grand Banks Sedan. www.nwexplorations.com
Pine Island Sound
The Allure: Located in the southwest corner of the state, it's one of the finest cruising grounds in the country, and one of the most boating-friendly, thanks to the protected waters, relatively good weather year-round, and a sand bottom with no rocks or reefs. From Fort Myers, where the Southwest Florida Yachts bareboat fleet is based, you can run north to explore the barrier islands of Sanibel, Captiva, Cayo Costa, and Gasparilla, and never leave the safety of the sound to venture into the Gulf of Mexico. Here you'll find award-winning beaches, and you can see them from one of Southwest Florida Yachts' trawlers or motoryachts sized to 43 feet. The islands are close together, too, so you won't have to waste a day of vacation running long distances to get where you're going.
Deciding where to stay each night is part of the fun of cruising here. There are a number of first-class marina/resorts, as well as pretty anchorages that put you up close to herons, spoonbills, and other indigenous wildlife. "Many people out for a week-long charter do two nights on the hook and five in marinas," says Barb Hansen, vice president of Southwest Florida Yachts. “That's part of the flavor here. You tie up in the afternoon, head to the beach, then enjoy the marina's restaurants and amenities."
Don't Miss: Boca Grande on Gasparilla is Old Florida at its best, or "stuck in time," as the locals say, a seaside village with a five-and-dime store and ice cream shop. For anchoring out, head to Pelican Bay on the backside of Cayo Costa. This secluded nature preserve attracts many of the 200 species of birds in the area. Cabbage Key is a popular stop for boaters, many of whom swap sea stories at the bar best known as "the place with all the money on the walls." The staff here has been serving cruisers for over 60 years.
Know Before You Go: You can pass on the provisioning package when booking a charter here, as most marinas are close to grocery stores and other shops. Supplies are easy to come by, as are reasonable dockage fees. The average cost to tie up at a marina in Pine Island Sound is just $2 or $3 a foot per night.
Cost: A seven-day charter aboard a Grand Banks 32 in winter (Florida's high season) costs $2,631. www.swfyachts.com
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