17 of the world’s best places to charter can lead you on a round the world adventure (published August 2015)
For many of us, the point of the cruising life is to enjoy the world’s best and most interesting sailing areas. The ocean passages between them may offer challenges and a unique sense of self reliance. But, 747s cross oceans, too, and get you to the next great cruising ground without fuss or bother.
So instead of taking your own boat around the world, you can explore the planet one charter at a time and take years to sail in the storied islands and cruising grounds that a circumnavigation has to offer. For the fun of it, we take you on a west-about circumnavigation and highlight the charter areas that you can enjoy.
It is not unusual for cruisers to spend several seasons in the Caribbean before heading west into the Pacific. The islands are beautiful, the sailing great and weather spectacular. So the Caribbean is where we begin and nowhere better than the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, the world’s most popular chartering area.
Whether you choose to begin in St. Thomas or Tortola, the Virgins offer hundreds of anchorages, numerous beachside bistros, plenty of fun evening entertainment and some of the best snorkeling anywhere. For the most part, the sailing is tame and the weather benign. Plus, you have the benefit of many charter companies and boats to choose from. It’s a great place to cut your teeth on cruising and chartering and gain the skills you will need for more challenging venues.
Once you have your sea legs, then chartering down island will be the next leg on the world cruising route. You will find charter bases in St. Martin. Guadeloupe, Antigua, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and finally in Grenada. Each island has its own unique charm and fun anchorages and shoreside entertainments. On the European islands, you will find modern facilities, excellent restaurants and many tourist attractions. On the home islands of the West Indies, you will encounter the Caribbean in its more natural and rustic state.
Antigua is a famous chartering center and you can easily spend a week or 10 days exploring the island. Perhaps the jewel of cruising in the West Indies, however, is the Grenadines where there are dozens of anchorages, lots of islands to explore, magnificent reefs to dive on and a true laid back Caribbean tempo.
From the Eastern Caribbean, the next leg of the voyage can be to the Western Caribbean and Belize in particular. You will discover that special Central American hospitality, sail among the Caribbean’s largest coral reef system and even enjoy some eco-tourism ashore. The sailing and navigation will be fairly straightforward and although considered a Third World nation, you will find Belize to be a great place to charter.
It takes the better part of a year to cruise your own boat across the South Pacific. A 747 does it in 12 hours. After leaving the Americas heading west, the first and most fabled landfall is French Polynesia. For chartering, you head out to Raiatea in Les Isles Sous Les Vents where you will start your cruise. From there you can explore the amazingly beautiful islands of Huahine, Tahaa, Bora Bora and even the remoter island of Maupiti, where you will think you had sailed back in time to the French Polynesia of old.
You will find Polynesians to be friendly, welcoming and fun loving. They live in paradise and seem to know how lucky they are. Their music is happy, their dances sensuous and their laughter straight from the belly. The best months to sail in FP are from March through October, with July being the month for the famous Hieva festival.
From FP, cruisers head west with the trade winds and will almost always make the Kingdom of Tonga a primary landfall along the way. It is a six day sail from FP to Tonga. But you don’t have to make the passage. Just fly into the Va’vau Group, hop on a charter boat and sail away.
Tonga has never been colonized by western countries so its monarchy has remained intact and functions as the national government. The Va’vau Group has some tourist facilities but the outer islands are still very rustic and the native Tongans live a hand to mouth existence. You will find that the feasts offered to cruisers by the locals are a great way to fold yourself into the culture and discover what these friendly and gentle folk are all about. Plus the diving, whale watching and reef exploring is magnificent.
From Tonga the cruising route leads west and southwest. Many voyagers will spend the southern cyclone season in New Zealand and you can too if you charter a boat in the Bay of Islands.
If you follow ocean racing and the America’s Cup scenes, you will know that New Zealand is a madly keen sailing nation. For sailors it is like discovering the country where sailors live and many cruisers end up emigrating there when their voyaging days are done. The Bay of Islands and Hauraki Gulf offer good, sometimes boisterous sailing, many safe harbors, famous Kiwi hospitality and breath-taking scenery. You will encounter boats from all over the world and cruising camaraderie like nowhere else.
At the end of the South Pacific segment of the circumnavigation, many cruisers end up in Australia, New Zealand’s larger and noisier cousin. The best pace to bareboat charter will be in the Whitsunday Islands at the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef and on the edge of the Coral Sea. Airlie Beach is home to most of the charter companies in the islands and from there you can spend weeks exploring the 74 islands in the group. You’ll find excellent sailing, good to great diving and the famous Aussie hospitality. Because the Whitsundays are a renown tourism destination, you also find resorts, tour boats and lots of shoreside entertainments.
ASIA & INDIAN OCEAN
When cruisers leave Australia, they usually head “over the top” around Cape York and make their way to Indonesia, Singapore and then to Malaysia and Thailand. This is some of the most exotic cruising in any westabout circumnavigation and should not be missed by those who are sailing around the world one charter at a time.
The west coasts of Malaysia and Thailand are the most popular regions to charter with bases in Lankawi and Phuket. Along this coast ,you will find pleasant mild sailing conditions, dozens of harbors and coves, beach bars and restaurants and an international mix of sailors and tourists. Pang Na Bay has many incredible anchorages with huge rock formations and tropical jungles. The outer islands have great diving and clear water. The food in Thailand and Malaysia is some of the world’s best and the local cultures are ancient and fascinating. A week is not long enough to explore the region. Many cruisers stay for months or even years.
The crossing of the Indian Ocean to South Africa or the Red Sea is one of the real “big ones” on a voyage around the world. The southern route is long and boisterous. The route to the Med takes you through pirate country, although piracy off Somalia has waned dramatically. Out there in the middle of the Indian Ocean not too far off the East African coast lie the Seychelles, known as some of the most beautiful islands on the planet.
Local tariffs and red tape make the Seychelles difficult for cruisers. But for those flying in to charter a boat, the islands are a pure cruising heaven. The water is pristinely clear, the beaches blindingly white and the scenery out of central casting’s version of paradise. Crewed charters are a favorite way to sail these islands since there may be a few overnight passages between islands. The local foods are exotic and delicious with seafood dominating menus. For a sailing vacation like almost no other on the planet, the Seychelles are as exotic as it gets.
The Red Sea is the route from the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean but lately it has been less well traveled than in years past. From Thailand, cruisers spend up to five months sailing to the Med and the Red Sea portion can be some of the most challenging cruising on the route around the world. But, the Med is worth it.
The Mediterranean Sea offers so much interesting and beautiful cruising that voyagers often spend two or three years exploring its many countries and smaller seas. Charterers could spend a lifetime discovering the Med one charter at a time.
Coming from the Red Sea, the first charter region is the Turquoise Coast of southeastern Turkey. With charter bases in Gocek, Marmaris and Bodrum this coast has a wonderful blend of sailing destinations and historical treasures from the early Greeks and Romans to the Byzantines and Ottomans. In summer, the coast can be blistering hot so the best times to charter are spring and fall. Turks are lovely people and welcome North Americans warmly.
Right next to Turkey lies the Aegean Sea and Greece where there are many charter bases and endless islands and harbors to explore. Most charters will originate near Athens and from there you can choose to island hop to your heart’s content. In summer, the Meltemi blows down the Aegean with force so veteran charters prefer spring and fall.
Through the Corinth Canal and the inland sea, cruisers sail on to the Adriatic Sea where they find a host of interesting islands to explore from the Ionia Islands to the coast of Croatia to the north. The Adriatic is another cruising paradise with a perfect blend of good sailing, outlying islands, amazing ancient villages and cities and cultures that stretch back into the mists of history. In Greece, you can sail to Odysseus’ home island of Ithaca, visit the ruins at Delphi and discover the leisure pleasures of Corfu.
In Croatia, you will find diverse cultures since the Balkans have long been a crossroads between Europe and Asia. The ancient villages are picturesque and set in some of Europe’s most beautiful landscapes.
Two days of sailing takes cruisers to the west coast of Italy where there are numerous charter bases for those flying it. From Palermo, Sicily to Naples and north to Elba, you will find bareboat charter operations that put your right into some of the Med’s best cruising. Favorite regions include the Aeolian Islands, the Amalfi Coast, the Bay of Naples, and Elba. Italy is a sailing nation to rival New Zealand and is home to some of the largest boat building companies in the world. The cruising in summer is excellent and life ashore is brimming with wonderful food, wines and good cheer.
From Italy cruisers will head to the south coast of France and then on to Spain. For chartering in the western Med, the Balearic Islands are the place favored by long term cruisers and veteran charterers. Sailing out of Palma, Mallorca you can explore the Mallorca coast and then hop over to rustic Menorca for a pleasant visit to Mahon where the British fleet in the 18th Century was based for a hundred years. Or you could head south to Ibiza where the parties rage all night long and Europe’s beautiful people strut their stuff.
From Spain, voyagers heading west would close the circle with a transatlantic passage via Madeira, the Canary Islands, The Cape Verde Islands and then across the Atlantic to the Caribbean. Of these, only the Canary Islands have charter bases where you can bareboat or cruise on a crewed charter. The islands of Grand Canaria, Lanzarote and Tenerife are tall and beautiful. Lanzarote is almost a mountainous desert while the other two islands are tall and verdant. The islands have man-made harbors where you can Med-moor and many beautiful bays with wide beaches. The islands are in the eastern Atlantic so the weather is more oceanic than in the Med and the sailing more challenging. But for discovering a new island group where Columbus set off to be the first European to cross the Mid-Atlantic, it is worth it.
For cruisers, it is a 15 to 20 day sail across the Atlantic to the Caribbean where they can close the circle on their circumnavigation. For our round-the-world charterers, it’s a six to eight hour flight home with a circumnavigation of sorts under their belts.