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There is a Difference - July, 2009

There is a Difference
by Tania Aebi

Ever since starting this column, the notion I ought to write one long story continued from issue to issue in an old-fashioned serial manner would come up whenever I’d have trouble thinking of fresh ways to fill a couple of pages. Instead, I often resorted to doing what is happening at this very minute - using lots of words to say what few could do just as efficiently. But, wordiness is part of the writer’s job description, and if you are now thinking: enough already, she’s really reaching, wait. Don’t go away.

Maybe this is sounding a little punchy, but today, I also actually have an idea. And, for once, it is a follow up to a recent column, which comes close to being a serial thing, hence the meandering introduction. The piece in reference was about the sailing adventure trip I led in Belize that ended with a question: where should we go next? You see, coming up with new and exciting, charter-friendly offerings can be as challenging as finding new writing ideas. After more than ten years of monthly deadlines, and sixteen years of organizing trips, there comes a point when it starts feeling as if all fresh material has been used up and it’s time to move on to recycled goods.

In Belize, all the ladies kept asking about the future, and when I returned home, it was to face a long list of email addresses of others also awaiting trip details that would help them plan vacations for the coming year. I didn’t know what to do. Not right away. But, it has been two months, the problem has been solved, we have two new junkets lined up, and I thought it might be nice to detail the behind-the-scenes choreography of planning an interesting charter—once you’ve gotten beyond finding people who want to go. So, here goes:

After several catamaran charters in a row, the first big decision this year was to reacquaint ourselves with the neglected monohull. Nowadays, catamarans are all the rage, and charter companies are constantly increasing their multihulled selection. I understand the reasoning. Yes, they’re spacious, yes, they’re more comfortable, yes, you can play Scrabble at the salon table while heading upwind into twenty knots. Yes, this is all very enticing, but they simply aren’t any fun to sail. I’m sorry cat people, but there’s no comparison between the clumsy sensation of steering a clunky shoebox and the fun of playing with the tug and pull of the wheel on a monohull spryly slicing through the waves. Monohulls are more thrilling, and some sporting exercise and movement is good on a sailing vacation. Otherwise, cruise ships have even more room, and you can play pick-up sticks at the dining room table.

The second decision to make was with the dates. When would be a good time to travel? December through February is a fine choice for northerners. When days are at their shortest and coldest, most folks are ready for a little warmth and Vitamin D, which can be had anywhere below the Tropic of Cancer, which encompasses a substantial chunk of globe. Then, in May, when everything starts heating up, and before summer vacationing crowds get going, the north has plenty to offer as well, which leads to the location decision. Where should we go?

If you consult a world map for inspiration, the possibilities may seem endless, and you need some process of elimination. I like to use Sunsail, not just for their boats, but as a research tool. Their website and list of international bases chosen because of ideal chartering potential and ease of access, is a very useful guide to narrowing down the options. For each base, they provide suggested itineraries, seasonal considerations, geographical names and points of interest, answering most kinds of preliminary logistical questions that can be followed up with cruising guides and charts later, after committing to a destination. We hadn’t done Australia and a couple other South Pacific Island groups yet, but at the time of year when people up here want to head south, that part of the world gets its most cyclones. In March 2008, we did a cusp season trip in French Polynesia and got more rain than was necessary for a vacation. So, no South Pacific for this year.

In terms of the exotic and the Indian Ocean, there’s always Thailand, Malaysia, or the Seychelles, all of which have charter bases and extremely tempting itineraries. But, we’ve already been to Thailand and the Seychelles, and know first-hand they are both very awesome … once you get there. All three also entail really, really long and expensive flights, and the endless journey to French Polynesia was still too recent to plan another far-flung odyssey. We’d have to save a return to those parts of the world for later. Once again, I turned to the Caribbean in our backyard and figured it was time to stop pooh-poohing the British Virgin Islands as too clichéd. Having just sailed the area this past winter with another group, I was reminded of how easy they are to reach, how the weather and winds are perfect for great sailing, safe anchorages abound, with plenty to do ashore, all great ingredients for an uncomplicated escape from winter. So, we narrowed down the options to a January offering with a Tortola start and a week-long circumnavigation of the island, dropping in on the neighbors—Norman Island, Virgin Gorda, Anegada, Jost Van Dyke. But, that was a medicinal quickie, a post-holiday, year-end island getaway with some fun sailing thrown in. What about a real adventure, something totally different?

When it’s not just about getting some sun, but also about soaking up cultures and cuisines, the Mediterranean is full of possibilities. We’ve sailed there many times, always in May and June, before the summer crowds and unbearable heat descend, and love it. My all-time favorite is Greece, all of the Greece I’ve seen—the Cyclades, the Corinth Canal, the Ionians, the Saronics. Many years have passed since the last visit and I wanted to go back, to a new corner of the ouzo-dolmades-templed nation, the Dodecanese Islands off the coast of Turkey. Looking at the map, however, you will see that these Greek Islands are within spitting distance of what is called the Turquoise Coast of the raki, hookah and tiles nation of Turkish delights. Could both be done in the same trip?

Many emailed queries to Turkish charter companies and research said yes, several of them would allow one-way, border-crossing charters. Bingo. We could spend two full weeks in the area, starting in Turkey, zigging west to the Greek island of Kalymnos, down through the Dodecanese to Rhodes, zagging back across to Turkey, to continue south along the coast to Fethiye and Gocek. Again, we’d stick with monohulls for more exhilaration with the down and crosswind Meltemi driven sails. Plus, those Mediterranean harbors can get pretty packed and it’s a much easier squeeze into a narrow dock space with one hull. We had a wrap. And there you have it, the first phase of how two trips were born.

Next comes putting deposits on the boats, then reading the pilot book, then looking forward to the day we welcome the swabbies aboard and begin to share again the rewards of visiting a few more corners of the world from the deck of a small boat, one and two weeks at a time.

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