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Old 05-26-2013
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BVI Charter Lessons Learned

I won't bore you with my itinerary of a week in paradise but just my general observations of the state of paradise.
Charter companies.
Just a few years ago there was only a handful of charter companies in the BVI. Now there is a more charters than you can shake a stick at. Seems everyone is getting into the act. Furthermore, it is not just in the BVI but everywhere up and down the east coast of the US. This industry in changing and in a big way.
The big guys, Moorings, Sunsail one company now but still operating as two plus their other sibling, Footloose for older yachts, used to rule the charter business. Now there are over 15 charter companies just in the Virgin Islands. That is increasing yearly. Brokers are the biggest reason for this escalating market. As the downturn years hurt sales of new and used yachts, brokers are turning to "Boating as a Business" to boost sales. Most of the big brokers are turning to this marketing scheme. They are consolidating this marketing scheme to charter their boats under a universal charter company like Dream Yacht Charters. This is a concern of mine. Having chartered from a few companies over my 20 plus years of sailing, I have found out not all charter companies are what they seem. Even the big companies your experience with vary by who is running the base and the infrastructure of base of operations.
Charter boats take a beating in use. We all know that. Three years of charter service will put over 10-15 years of normal use for a boats not in charter service. Maintaining those boats in a serviceable condition is a big undertaking for these charter companies. It is in this area that I worry about charter service for these new companies that are cropping up. I have found that they don't have the personnel to maintain these boats and/or depending on the lease back to the charter company how and when things will get fixed and who pays for it. So buyers/charter's beware here.
Concierge Service If you are a new to charter or new to the area or even new to sailing you might want to avoid some of the newer companies. You need to check out what services they offer. If you need a full boat brief, full chart brief, captain check out, provisions or crew charter you need to ask a lot of questions of the charter company you select. You might have to wait 3-4 hours on your first day of charter to get someone to your boat just to give you the required boat brief because they don't have the personnel on hand if they have a large "launch the fleet" day.
Safety equipment. Make sure you touch every piece of safety equipment. Know the location and how to use them. On my charter most of it was missing or wrong piece that fit its function.
Here is my list. Flares and gun (check onboard and current), life vests for each person, emergency tiller (put the tiller in the hole to make sure it is the right one, Mine was missing and the one they brought was the wrong one), portable VHF, flashlights, binoculars, fire extinguishers, bilge pumps that work (test them, one did not work on my charter), enough dock lines to dock the boat while out, anchor system that works and not a rust bucket (don't go there with me on this one), oil for boat engine and dinghy to name a few. If you find something not working or missing it will take time away from your charter to fix what is wrong.
Know how to reef the boat. DO IT AT THE DOCK WITH charter company demonstrating. I cannot over empathize this. My reef lines were labeled backwards. One 3 boats I have chartered the reef lines were not routed correctly.
Electronics. Expect the unexpected. Most work, well sometimes and if they do take it for a grain of salt. 100% of my charters most of the electronics were either not working and if they did were out of calibration. I ALWAYS DROP a lead line to check the depth sounder. If any gauge needs to work and work right is this one. Know if the depth soundings is water depth or offset for draft of the boat. Running aground is BAD BAD BAD. Chartplotters hit and miss depending on the area. If they did NOT put the datum correction in the software calibration and you rely on it to get you through some tricky passage, you will run AGROUND; BAD BAD BAD. My chartplotter had me on land more than once on this charter. You must be able to read the water and use PVR rules. Prudent seamanship is always paramount.
On my first day I always dive the boat to check for any underwater damage. Note damage and call the base immediately if you find any. Good time to cool off, check your anchor/mooring ball, state of bottom growth and propeller.
Plans. The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men Gang aft agley! Be flexible. Weather, boat problems, crew needs and that special place you will find will change what ever you dreamed about your charter. Go with it and enjoy each day. The BVI is a great place to enjoy and will suit every sailors needs from the crazy anchorages to solitude. Don't rush going from place to place just to say you have been there. I had goals for this cruise and so did each crew member, Make sure you cover most of everyones goals and not just your own. A happy cruise is a memorable cruise. For us, 7 days was not enough. 10 days would have been perfect. We just got into the flow of things when our charter ended. A seven day cruise is really just 5 days. The first day is wasted doing briefings and preparation and the last day you must return between 10 and 12pm depending on the charter company. Also your return to home must come into play here as well.
BVI weather. We had great weather and big winds. Drake Channel can get real choppy for those not used to such sea state. In some ways it reminded me of the Gulf Stream chop with a north wind. We had winds on 3 days over 20 knots and in some areas up to 30 knots. The monohulls got beat up going from place to place. Most of the great snorkeling spots were unusable and dangerous even when picking up a day mooring ball. We witness people getting hurt trying to get on a bucking boat. Not a memorable cruise. Save the Baths, Indians, Dogs for a calmer day or your next cruise.
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Melissa Renee
Moondance
Catalina 445, Hull #90
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