As the plane banks into a turn and my ears pop on our final descent, I’m seated with my nose pressed to the glass, astounded at how beautiful and deeply blue the water is now that we’ve come down from the clouds. Rocky islets rush by, brilliant white surf crashing on their windward shores. We can see individual waves now. Instinctively I try to gauge their size to get a feel for the wind that awaits us. I look hopefully for sailboats to see their angle of heel. Then as the land rushes up, whitecaps disappear, and the water below turns that spectacular aqua of the tropics that promises a sandy beach or perhaps the shallows of a reef to be explored. It’s at this moment that it finally hits home: Another charter adventure is about to begin.
I love the moment, replayed with every landing I’ve made into the tropics, because it’s so, well, focused. My mates and I—family, friends, or maybe both—have just tossed work and worries aside. As we touch down and the hot sticky air flows in and overpowers the climate-controlled cabin, a very big, blank page in the logbook awaits, and we’re poised to pass like Alice through a looking glass, knowing we’ll return from our adventures filled with stories that will be retold in sailors bars and on night watches for years to come.
My colleague, Elaine Lembo, CW‘s charter editor, refers to these magical getaways as “sailing vacations.” I like that term. Vacations, after all, are opportunities to rekindle the spirit and soul; visits to exotic places certainly do that. Vacations can charge you up so you push your boundaries in new, rewarding ways, or they can lull you into a peaceful pace that lets you kick back and recharge batteries that have been run seriously low by daily living. Sailing fills both those bills so well. The go-getters can steer, trim, and pilot until their weary hands drop from the tiller. And the rest of the crew? Well, they can sit back and enjoy the ride and rum. I’d never be one to complain about fewer bodies looking to hog the wheel.
A charter trip, for me, anyway, is as much a vacation from how—and what—I sail at home as it is a visit to somewhere new. On a well-tuned “borrowed” boat, I don’t have to worry about my endless to-do list or explain to newcomers just how all my little workarounds work, or don’t. Decide on a destination and line up traveling mates, and we’re free to grab the ride that suits our style. Maybe pick a new boat or a snazzy boat, a bargain boat or a big boat, or even try out a cat, if that’s our fancy. Pull out the credit card and heck, they’ll even toss in a captain and crew if need be. Now that’s a stress-free option.
Cruising World‘s Charter Address Book (August 2012) contains entries for 170 or so bareboat- and crewed-charter companies operating out of bases that can be found literally in any ocean of the world. That’s a whole lot of sailing-vacation options. My advice would be to pick one and go.