5 Vacations from Culebra to Colonna

"Winter Getaways" from our December 2006 issue

DecFeatMartin

Charter in St. Vincent and the Grenadines and explore the Tobago Cays (above).Courtesy Of Tmm

Due to some unexpected planetary alignment, an act of kindness by normally vengeful gods, or just a simple stroke of good luck, I won the Winter-Getaways Bareboat-Charter Lottery, much to the chagrin of the other employees here at Cruising World. Once I was done gloating, I discovered that the prize came with one perplexing caveat: I needed to choose among five bareboat charters, each for one week during high season. Now wait. Before you start rolling your eyes and calling me an ungrateful so-and-so, let me explain how difficult this choice was. We're not talking Podunk or Dullsville here. I had to choose from chartering a catamaran in St. Vincent and the Grenadines; visiting Club Colonna, an all-inclusive resort in Antigua; taking a jaunt around the U.S. and/or Spanish Virgin Islands; enjoying a "budget" vacation in the B.V.I.; or sailing on a Mediterranean excursion to Greece, Italy, or Croatia.

Phew! Now you can appreciate the weightiness of my dilemma. Because my boyfriend, Charlie, would be coming along, I polled him on his first choice, last choice, and other thoughts. His input was helpful, but the final decision was up to me. (Hey! It was my lottery ticket!) Charlie and I were told we could bring along friends and family if we chose. Of course, said hangers-on would have no say in the final decision.
In case you're thinking, "Well, she works at Cruising World. How do we mere mortals go about planning a bareboat charter?," it's not as difficult or as daunting as you might suspect-just follow my lead.

The Grenadines
As part of the process, I got on the websites of five charter companies to see what they had to offer. Then, to help me make a final choice, I spoke with a representative at each company, starting with Lin Crook at Tortola Marine Management (TMM). Lin was an absolute wealth of information and gave me the hot tip that I'd need to book at least six months in advance to secure a catamaran during the high season, which for the Caribbean is from mid- to late-December through mid-April. Charlie is a licensed captain, but Lin said TMM doesn't require paper qualifications, just proof of experience. In fact, all of the companies I spoke with said experience, not official licensing, was what mattered most.

The winter brings some big winds to St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and the water can be choppy, so a smooth-sailing cat is a good choice, especially for crewmembers who aren't used to or don't like a rough-and-tumble ride. Lin said larger cats can easily accommodate up to eight people, so a two-family charter is definitely workable. In fact, hearty sailing conditions and the distance between some of the islands might compel us to invite two other couples with us, if we chose this trip. And besides, a catamaran is Charlie's dream boat.

Antigua
Although an all-inclusive resort usually wouldn't be my first choice, Susan Lengyel at Sunsail made Club Colonna sound awfully enticing. Vacationers can choose accommodations ranging from a hotel room to an apartment or a villa. There are loads of boating options, including sailing lessons and free clinics on the beach every day, a bunch of dinghies and go-fast sailers at your disposal, or larger yachts with flotilla options.
The resort is kid-friendly, with childcare services and activities for ages four months to 17 years. There's a pool and a gym, to aid you in working off all those rum drinks, and a brand-new spa for pampering. As a general rule, I absolutely love anything with the word "spa" attached, even if the spa treatments cost extra. There's one restaurant at the club, and the vacation package includes three meals a day, which would be perfect if we brought along my twin sister, Kerry, my brother-in-law, Dan, and their adventurous sailors-in-training kids, Anastasia and Peter. This is Charlie's last choice-he's not a resort kind of guy-but it's a tough call.

Spanish Virgins
John Jacob at CYOA had essential legal and logistical information regarding a bareboat charter in the U.S. and/or Spanish Virgin Islands. He reminded me that new federal regulations for U.S. citizens that take effect on January 1, 2007, don't affect travel between the United States and its territories but do require passports for travel to and from the Caribbean, Central America and South America, Bermuda, Mexico, and Canada. For details, consult the website of the U.S. State Department (www.travel.state.gov). He also detailed some navigational challenges in the Spanish Virgins, which include hard-to-see reefs and sometimes-rolly harbors.

With just one week in which to play, and with St. Croix 35 miles south of the other U.S.V.I., John advised choosing either the U.S.V.I. or the Spanish V.I. instead of trying to combine the two. If I want extra sailing time (to reach St. Croix), restaurants, and shopping, the U.S.V.I. would win hands-down. If I want an off-the-beaten-path vacation, I'd head for Vieques and Culebra, where there are few beach bars and little nightlife. The idea of a quiet, romantic getaway with Charlie (on a cat, of course) certainly appealed. Sorry-no company this time.

B.V.I. on a Budget
Another option I had to ponder was a "budget" vacation in the B.V.I. Just as I usually salivate when I hear the word "spa," I confess that I often gag when I hear the word "budget." However, I had such a delightful conversation with Emma Paull at Conch Charters that I could've been swayed. She told me that there are plenty of free activities, such as snorkeling or hiking. She also had terrific ideas about how to splurge on the cheap, like having a big lunch (when menu items are considerably cheaper) instead of dinner at the venerable Foxy's Tamarind Bar on Jost Van Dyke.

There are so many spots I'd like to see in the B.V.I., and the close proximity of all the islands makes that wish most doable. However, we'd have to charter a monohull in keeping with the whole budget theme, and you surely know by now that Chuck's a cat guy. This trip might be a great choice for anyone who didn't have my lottery ticket, but this high-life-loving, creature-comfort gal has other ideas.

On to the Med
I spoke with Barbara Daetwyler at The Moorings, and she spoke at great length when queried about the merits of Greece, Italy, and Croatia. This charter choice required picking one country from among these equally fabulous places.

The high season in the Med runs from the end of July to September 1, which would mean skipping a winter getaway for now, but it would coincide perfectly with Charlie's August 12 birthday.

There you have it: I've detailed my dilemma. So-the envelope please. It's going to be on a catamaran, with two other couples . . . in . . . Croatia! Why? Pretty simple, actually. It was Charlie's first choice-he didn't even hesitate-and hey, he has to steer! And me? I'm sure I would've been happy anywhere, but Croatia wins because unlike the Caribbean, I've never been to Europe.

Kitty Martin is a CW associate editor.