Modernist author and noted sea enthusiast Ernest Hemingway once said, “The sea is the same as it has been before men ever went on it in boats.” While that may be true, a great deal has changed about the boats, the lifestyle of seagoing, and perhaps the men and women themselves. For many, bareboat chartering–renting a boat and skippering it yourself–is now the ultimate goal of learning to sail, and with good reason. The charter options, variety of destinations, and accessibility we enjoy today might make even the notoriously adventurous Hemingway jealous.
The question, then, is how to get the most out of the bareboat charter experience. Likely you already have an idea of where you see yourself spending a dream vacation, whether it’s the Virgin Islands, down-island in the Grenadines, exploring the nooks and inlets of Chesapeake Bay, or navigating the cliffside fishing villages of the Mediterranean. But what do you need to know before you embark? Here are 5 essential skills to master before you leave the dock.
1. Basic Sailing Proficiency
If you’re going to be the skipper, it’s crucial that your sailing competency is up to the job. Each sailing ground is different, and some are far more challenging than others. Being honest with yourself about your experience and skill level is the best way to have a fun, stress-free adventure. Necessary seamanship skills include: Competency in steering under power and sail, trimming, reefing, and handling the sails, anchoring and mooring, and navigating using charts and line-of-sight. All of these skills and more are taught in ASA 101 (Basic Keelboat), 103 (Basic Coastal Cruising), and 104 (Bareboat Cruising). Sailors who have completed these courses have proven their ability to safely skipper a bareboat charter and are welcomed by charter companies virtually everywhere.
2. Any Special Skills Needed Where You’re Going
Again, with apologies to Ernest, the sea may not have changed, but neither is it any single, comprehensible entity. Everywhere you go, there are differences, both subtle and drastic, in the sailing conditions. If you’re chartering in the San Juan Islands, for example, you need to make sure you have a grip on tides and currents, while these are a complete non-factor in many other places. In the Mediterranean, you need to know how to pull off the famous “med-moor,” which involves tying up with your stern to the dock. The Caribbean is popular with beginning charterers for its steady tradewinds, light seas, and easy navigation, but even so, there are always things to watch out for. Make sure you consult with your charter company about what you need to know for the area you’re visiting. Pick up a copy of the local Cruising Guide and seek out those who have been there before. (The ASA community on Facebook and Twitter is a great place to bring your questions.)
Like Odysseus escaping the island of Calypso, the Charter Check-Out is one of those rites of passage every sailor must undergo. No, it’s not the most fun part of your trip, but don’t underestimate its importance. This is your chance to go over the boat and make sure everything is in working order, that you know how to use everything on board, and that you’re getting exactly what you paid for. A representative from the charter company should be on hand to show you around, answer any questions, and repair anything that isn’t working. It’s mandatory for the skipper, but we recommend having some or all of your crew participate. The more people on board who understand the vessel’s systems, the greater the likelihood that you can solve any problems that may arise.
A sailing voyage without good food and drink is unthinkable. You have two main choices when bareboat chartering: The charter company can provision the boat for you, or you can provision it yourself. Many charter companies will provide you with a comprehensive order form, allowing you to have the boat stocked with exactly what you want. Others have more generic provisioning “packages.” Depending on where you’re chartering, the most delicious and cost-effective method might be to buy your own provisions from local vendors or markets. Nothing can compare with local fruits and fresh-caught seafood. Many charterers opt for a combination of the two strategies: Buy your “staple” provisions from the charter company, and garnish it with those specialty items you can only get from the locals.
5. Choosing and Managing Your Crew
You don’t always get to choose the people who surround you in your daily life, but you can choose whether or not to bring them sailing. Do it wisely. Many bareboat charters are family trips, in which case you can skip this step. But if you’re planning a vacation with friends, spend some time thinking over the arrangements carefully. Remember, a sailboat is a smaller living space than you’re used to. People will be in tight quarters, and it’s important that they get along. It’s also key to consider whether they share the same interests. Will they want to stay up late or turn in early? Are they party animals or soul-searchers looking for serenity and relaxation? Some people prefer to spend more time ashore, and others will be looking for any excuse to dive, snorkel, and kayak. To keep everyone happy, make sure they understand the itinerary beforehand.
Ready to cast off?