Together Time on a Charter Vacation

The Caribbean’s Windward Isles recharge the batteries of weary parents who leave their three high-energy kids back home and steal away aboard a 38-foot sailboat.

As I floated in the marina’s shallow pool, the rum was going straight to my head. I was ogling a woman, somewhere in her 40s, wearing a flattering floral-print bikini. She was sitting alone on the edge, with one leg dangling in the water, the other outstretched.

When she took a sip from her plastic cup, she tilted her head back to swallow, closing her eyes as she turned her face toward the warm Caribbean sun. Her tight brown curls fell gently against her shoulders, with delicate wisps streaming in the breeze.

I’d been captivated with her for a few minutes, and I finally mustered my rum courage, gave two gentle, sweeping arm strokes and glided my float toward her. She didn’t notice my approach.

“Hey, hot stuff,” I blurted out. “What do you say you and I take a walk down to my yacht over there ... maybe get acquainted and go off sailing for a few days?”

After a moment’s pause she raised her head slowly, glared at me through blue-mirrored sunglasses, and then cocked her head and cracked a smile.

“Sure, honey, whatever you want,” she responded with coy sarcasm. “You’re funny.”

Why Dana, my wife of 15 years, thought I was joking I have no idea, but it was the response I expected. For the first time in many, many months we were truly alone, about to start a seven-day bareboat charter, without our three children (ages 12, 10 and 3 at the time). She knew my frisky advances would be forthcoming and she was more than happy to play along. A few minutes earlier, we’d had our first uninterrupted conversation in a long time. “It’s nice, isn’t it?” she asked.

“Yes, it is,” I answered. “Now what was I saying?”

This is exactly why we were on a getaway charter in Grenada, sailing out of the small Horizon Yacht Charters base tucked into True Blue Bay on the island’s southern coast. Our escape wasn’t a second honeymoon, an anniversary, or anything else worthy of a Hallmark card. It was simply a reconnection — a rekindling, if you will. The two of us, in our early 40s, are not different in any way from our peers back home. We’re your typical overscheduled parents, spinning on life’s great big hamster wheel. There’s school, work, sports, play dates, bedtime stories and intimacy, usually in that descending order. That last one needs more attention than we often realize. Life is indeed too short, but nowadays it’s too busy as well, and when that happens, distance quickly creeps into relationships.

When there are only two, alone in a 38-foot sailboat, that distance vanishes. Instantly.

We chartered together long ago, before kids, and a few times more with groups of friends, on big catamarans. But this time I wasn’t interested in sailing from beach bar to beach bar with a rowdy posse. I was keen for some isolation and some long days of sailing on empty seas … maybe something crazy, like — gasp — sailing naked once in while. We wanted uninterrupted conversation, adventure and intimacy.

St. Vincent and the Grenadines, I was told by a colleague, was where I would find it.

In late March we secured a Bavaria 38 from Horizon Yacht Charters’ fleet in Grenada, the island nation next door, to the south. Catamarans make excellent Caribbean bareboats, but getting from Grenada requires a lot of upwind work, so I wanted a boat capable of close angles. The nimble three-cabin Bavaria, the smallest in Horizon’s fleet, was more than enough boat for the two of us.

Ahhh … the two of us.

“It’s actually becoming quite rare to have only one couple on a charter,” said Horizon’s reservations manager, Jacqui Pascall. “With the catamarans, everyone feels they need to fill the cabins to help spread the cost, but the smaller monohulls are absolutely affordable for a couple.”

Another advantage, we discovered immediately, is how much easier it is to provision when there are only two mouths to feed. After an hour-long trip to the modern supermarket nearby in Grenada’s capital, St. George’s, our fridge was packed for five nights of meals, with room to spare.

Our boat briefing on the first day of our charter was the most thorough I’ve experienced in more than a dozen charters. It might as well have been a marine survey, which explains why the boat was in impeccable shape despite its years in charter-fleet service. Twice as long, however, was our chart briefing with Horizon’s customer service manager, Bernadette Noel. To get to Tobago Cays Marine Park, the gem of the Grenadines, Horizon has a seven-day itinerary from its True Blue base. On paper, it’s an ambitious plan that requires clearing customs and moving every day — all to get one night on the hook in Tobago Cay. The itinerary is based on a noon departure from the base, with a two-hour sail around the southwestern tip, to anchor off St. George’s. The next day, it’s an “exhilarating day’s sail” to Tyrrel Bay on Carriacou, and from this rustic fishing outpost it’s a few more hours of sailing to the Grenadines’ Union Island to clear customs. Provided you make the office’s calling hours before they go on break, or worse yet, close, you can carry on another hour or so north to Mayreau. If all goes to plan, you wake up in picturesque Saltwhistle Bay and hustle over to Tobago Cays as quickly as possible. With only one night in the anchorage, it’s time to start reversing the route: to Union and then over to the private island of Petit St. Vincent. From there it’s an 8- to 10-hour sail to Prickly Bay on the south coast of Grenada, for one last sleep aboard.

When we did our pre-charter research, however, we convinced ourselves this itinerary would require too many stops, too many variables and too many schedules. There wasn’t enough of the one thing we wanted most: sitting still and enjoying each other’s company. We’d leave our schedules and stresses at home. Our minds were set; The Grenadines were out.

Departing the marina the following morning we headed for Dragon Bay, a tiny anchorage halfway up the relatively undeveloped western coastline. The cruising guide says this is the best anchorage to seek in the area, but a few other acceptable ones are nearby.

Past the airport runway on the southwestern tip, the seas flatten, and under a thin veil of clouds and a light southwesterly we set off on a leisurely 10-mile reach. With a straight shot to Dragon Bay, I let the autopilot do all the work, and started making my moves with the woman I lured from the poolside.

When we reached Dragon Bay it was already occupied, so we went to Grand Mal Bay, a deep and open anchorage to the south. Here we found six new moorings from which to choose. I was told they’d recently been serviced, and it was true: Our yellow polypropylene pennant was so fresh it still had its waxy coating. Alone in the mooring field, we swung on a golden, glassy sea as the sun dipped below the horizon. After a quick snorkel excursion to the underwater sculpture park, we sat drying in the cockpit with my back pressed against the starboard wall. With Dana nestled between my legs, her warm back melting into my chest, there wasn’t a millimeter of distance between us. We both already missed the kids, and each of us commented aloud about how they’d enjoy the view as well. Next time.

With the long beat to Carriacou ahead of us, we got underway after breakfast and a swim. Short-tacking the coastline, we stayed far enough to avoid the high island’s wind shadow. It was the kind of sail I’d hoped for, 15 to 20 knots, hard on the wind. As a racing sailor at heart, I thoroughly enjoy a long day of driving to streaming telltales, trimming sails and feathering in the puffs. For five hours the boat crested, slided and glided over easterly swells. I drove. She read. She drove. I fidgeted with the chart plotter, the jib leads and the sail controls, tapping into any half-knot of boat speed I could find.

In the process we skirted the underwater volcano Kick ’em Jenny — wishing it would come to life as we sailed past — and threaded through The Sisters, towering white-rock formations that brought welcome relief from the bumpy seas and strong current. We furled the headsail and coasted along in the lee of Isle de Ronde while we ate fruit and crackers and drank the first beers of the day — which are always and will forever be the most satisfying.

Four more hours of upwind sailing got us to Tyrrel Bay, on Carriacou, just before sunset. After two attempts in the packed anchorage, we slotted into a comfortable spot on the harbor’s southern side. With little daylight remaining, we sped the dinghy into town and stretched our legs with a brisk walk and a hunt for a few forgotten spices. The cellular signal was strong in the harbor, so after an unrivaled meal of grilled jerk chicken and vegetables, we checked in with the kids for the first time in two days. They missed us. We missed them, but more importantly, all was well at home.

At Carriacou we took Horizon’s advice and set off early the next morning for Sandy Island, a 30-minute commute from Tyrrel Bay. The cruising guides say anchoring off Sandy Island is forbidden, and while a few others anchored in close, we followed the rules and used one of three marginally safe moorings. A snorkel inspection and a gentle forecast gave me confidence we could hang on it for the night.

After breakfast we took the dinghy to Sandy Island and ambled down to its southern tip, where we discovered a small, shallow lagoon. Alone again, we took advantage of this little deserted island, snorkeling, sunbathing and drinking up each other’s company. When a squall suddenly began storming down from the north, we hurried back to the boat and hunkered in the V-berth as rain pelted the foredeck, eventually lulling us to sleep.

When we awoke several hours later the sky was bright and the water glassy and blue, so we piled into our dinghy for the long ride to Paradise Beach, one of the longest and prettiest we’d seen by far. We were on a mission for ice, ever so precious in these parts, and our search led into the island’s interior, where we purchased two blocks of ice placed inside two plastic baggies — for $5EC apiece. It would have to do until we could get to Carriacou’s commercial port in Hillsborough Bay on our next stop.

Hillsborough had everything we needed to replenish our stores: two glorious 5-pound bags of ice, fresh bread, and our one indulgence: a bag of potato chips. But a busy seaside port isn’t the place to hang around, especially when the quiet, pristine anchorages of Petit St. Vincent were calling. After a quick exit from the dinghy dock, we were under sail once again, reaching along Carriacou’s lush green coast while passing empty, golden-rimmed anchorages.

As we rounded the northern coast of Carriacou, we easily made out Union Island. I started to second-guess our plan to abandon the Cays and wondered if I was a fool to pass up anchoring inside Tobago’s perfect Horseshoe Reef, with its abundant turtles and fish.

“We can still do it — go to Tobago, that is,” I said to Dana as she stood in the companionway half-dressed, looking at Union through binoculars.

“We could,” she said, the binoculars pressed hard to her face. “Or we could hang for a few days and spend more than a few hours somewhere.”

And with that, the wheel immediately turned 10 degrees to starboard and I pointed the bow straight to Petit St. Vincent, which technically is a part of the Grenadines but whose proximity to Grenada prompts lax adherence to customs requirements. With a blazing warm sun overhead, music playing softly on the radio, the breeze blowing across the beam at 15 knots and a purpose ahead, our plan was a sound one. The Cays would have to wait because I wasn’t about to.

Bernadette Noel had given us good advice during our long briefing: If we were going to skip the Grenadines, she said, then Petit St. Vincent would be the next-best destination. We anchored easily in 12 feet of water with a pure sand bottom and admired the palm-lined beach of the exclusive private-island resort. We weren’t allowed to walk the private beach that encircles the island but the view from the cockpit was second to none. Besides, the boat was a far better place to be than the beach: There was no sand in my shorts, the cooler was near, the cushions were softer, the shade was better and I could swim naked if I wanted to.

I’m sure the Tobago Cays are stunning, but as I gazed at my wife peacefully napping on the foredeck, the brim of her straw hat just covering her tanned face, I was convinced she’s a far more beautiful specimen than any turtle or ray could ever be. For the next two days, as we swayed back and forth on our anchor, reading quietly, swimming and talking about nothing, we agreed that the intimacy was exactly what we came thousands of miles to enjoy. Sometimes, we just have to go farther to be closer.

I’d heard that phrase a long time ago, and it came to mind as we sat for dinner at the Petit St. Vincent Beach Restaurant and Bar on our final night before the 50-mile return to Grenada. The restaurant is public, and we agreed it was to be our one date-night splurge.

The place was nearly empty so we were seated at a priceless waterside table for two. The dim candlelight that spilled from a lantern in the center of the table illuminated my date, that stunning woman from the pool back at True Blue. We’d covered many miles and had another 50 to go, and in this moment we seemed to enjoy each other’s silence. Our presence was enough. We knew the kids were safe and happy back home, we had each other, and in five days of sailing we’d drawn closer together than ever, living, laughing and loving — and I had the sunburned backside to prove it.

Charter Brokers: Here to Help

When you consider what a seamless job good charter brokers do for vacation sailors, I can’t understand why everyone doesn’t use them. Simply put, their top priority is to ensure your time on the water — whether on a crewed yacht or a bareboat —is the best possible experience ever, and it doesn’t cost you a dime.

Thanks to Steve McCrea of Ed Hamilton Yacht Charter and Melody Delgado of Virgin Island Sailing, here are a few key benefits of consulting a broker:

Impartial Advice: "This is the overall advantage of using a broker, and it covers all aspects of a charter, from vetting the boats, crews and charter companies to speaking candidly about the sailing conditions to expect," McCrea says. "A broker can book just about any boat available for charter at no additional cost to the customer, so we're free of any motivation to push you toward an option other than the one we genuinely feel is best suited to you and your guests."

Efficiency: "We understand your time is valuable and therefore we will do all the research to find the perfect yacht for your group," Delgado says. "Just one contact with an expert gives you access to the most reputable charter companies."

Full Service: "While it's important to cover as much detail as possible before committing to a charter, most people actually have more questions after they've made their reservation," McCrea says. "We have a team dedicated to pre-charter coordination and planning. From arranging ground transfers and provisioning, to answering questions on local customs and where to find what you're looking for, we help arrange your charter from initial inquiry to when you step aboard."

Trust: "We visit the bareboat companies yearly to inspect their yachts and facilities," Delgado says. "We also monitor their quality of yacht maintenance and service through our clients' charter reviews and our own charters. You save time and get the best value by putting your charter into expert hands."

Easier Access to the Grenadines

Horizon Yacht Charters recently opened a base in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, making it far easier to reach the Windward Islands group than from the company's base in Grenada, farther to the south. Located at the redeveloped Blue Lagoon Marina, the new St. Vincent base has a fleet of monohulls and catamarans, ranging from 37 to 51 feet, as well as crewed and bareboat charters.

Dave Reed is the editor of Sailing World magazine. This article first appeared in the December 2014 issue of Cruising World.

Sailing Vacation in Carriacou
Local lobstermen haul the day’s catch.Dave Reed
Carriacou’s Sandy Island

Carriacou’s Sandy Island

Carriacou’s Sandy Island has a long beach made for relaxing.Dave Reed
Horizon Yacht Charters Bavaria 38
The Horizon Yacht Charters Bavaria 38 made for swift passages between Grenada and the Grenadines.
Carriacou’s Paradise Beach
The white sand and crystal-clear water of Carriacou’s Paradise Beach made for a perfect late-afternoon walk.Dave Reed
Windward Islands Sailing Holiday
The moorings in Windward Islands anchorages allow easy access to surrounding beaches.Dave Reed
Relaxing on a sailing vacation
The author, Dave Reed, relaxes.Dana Reed