As the economy slowly recovers, many sailors are choosing to take charter Staycations close to home (published March 2013)
With nearly 10,000 miles of navigable coastline on the Atlantic and Pacific Coasts and another 3,300 miles around the Great Lakes, North America has an almost endless supply of great places to sail and cruise, and in many of them you will find charter companies that are ready, willing and able to get you and your family out on the water for a sailing vacation.
And, with the British Virgin Islands and Bahamas offering offseason charter rates and cheaper airfares, a spring and summer sailing vacation in the tropics is much more affordable than a similar cruise in the winter.
Traditionally, a charter vacation will span a week or 10 days and most charter companies offer these time frames as their standard packages. But responding to the needs of their customers, many charter companies around North America will tailor the length of the charter to fit your needs.
In our over-scheduled and busy lives, long weekend charters have become more popular than ever. And more and more charterers are driving to their sailing destinations instead of flying. They are now taking shorter vacations closer to home, which has been called a “Staycation.”
Sailing around the American coasts also has the benefit of keeping you and your ever-tweeting, facebooking and texting offspring plugged into the U.S. cellular networks so they can stay omnipresent on their social media. Being cut off from their friends can be a huge barrier for the young when invited to come along sailing with the family.
And even for those of us who usually spend the summer cruising on our own boats, time constraints and normal life obligations often interfere with plans to sail from our home waters to new areas that are on our must-sail lists. If you have your boat in San Francisco and want to cruise in Puget Sound, it makes a lot of sense to park your boat in the marina and fly to Seattle where you can pick up a charter boat.
So, here is a quick tour of the best places to charter this summer around the U.S. and in the near Caribbean.
The second most popular charter destination in North America, after the British Virgin Islands, the Pacific Northwest offers a vast area of sounds, bays, passages and island groups to explore by sailboat or trawler. You can depart from several charter bases in the Seattle area and explore Puget Sound, the Peninsula and the San Juan Islands. Or, you can head north to Canada to explore the remote Desolation Sound. Either way, beautiful mountain views, charming towns and villages and secluded anchorages are in abundance.
The weather in summer tends to be benign with a fair share of sunny days to offset the regular ocean driven rain that the region is so famous for. And, the wind in summer tends to be light and variable for days on end so cruising often involves some motoring. Plus, the tidal currents that run through narrow passages between islands can flow at five knots or more which can be tricky for an underpowered sailboat. For these two reasons, trawlers are popular charter boats in the Northwest.
Even if you can only spare a long weekend, you will find the Northwest to be one of the best cruising grounds in the country.
For right and left coasters, the Great Lakes might be something of a cruising and chartering mystery. That’s too bad, because there is more great sailing and cruising to be had in the middle of America than there is along a lot of our oceanic coastlines.
While there is a lot of quality sailing and good sailors in Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, the famous cruising grounds and the largest charter companies are in Lake Huron, Lake Michigan and Lake Superior. That’s because the two favorite areas for cruising and chartering are Lake Huron’s North Channel and Georgian Bay and the Apostle Islands in Lake Superior.
The North Channel and Georgian Bay offer dozens of anchorages along the remote wooded Canadian coastline where the water is pure and clear and the anchorages snug. You can often anchor with stern lines ashore in the nooks between the rocky islets, allowing you to lie quietly at night under the amazingly bright stars.
The Apostles are not far from Duluth, Minnesota and offer several good anchorages and coves where you can tuck in at night, beaches to stroll, island pathways to explore and plenty of wildlife to gaze at. You are likely to see hawks and eagles aloft, deer on the islands and you might even glimpse a brown bear. For wild north country cruising, the North Channel, Georgian Bay and the Apostle Islands are really out there.
The Northeast Coast has long been a sailing Mecca and is home to many famous summer colonies and cruising destinations from Shelter Island on Long Island to Hyannisport and Nantucket, to Marblehead and the coast of Maine from Kennebunkport to Roque Island near the Canadian border.
In Southern New England, you can charter out of Newport, R.I., which puts you only a two-day sail from Nantucket in the east, to special harbors like Mystic, Conn. to the west where you can visit the iconic Mystic Seaport. You could easily spend an entire summer exploring the region where the water in summer is warm, the anchorages many and secure and the sights ashore vintage, charming New England.
The Coast of Maine in Northern New England is one of America’s sailing and cruising treasures with hundreds of miles of variegated coastline and hundreds of islands, many of which are uninhabited. From Casco Bay in the west, you can cruise east to Penobscot Bay and then on to Mount Desert Island where you will find Northeast and Southwest Harbors. Farther east the coast gets wild and wooly, but a visit to remote Roque Island is worth the effort. You can charter from several companies in Maine and it is only a six hour drive from New York.
THE CHESAPEAKE BAY
The continent’s largest river estuary, The Chesapeake Bay is a huge maritime environment that offers plenty of great shoal water and protected cruising. Annapolis, Maryland fancies itself the sailing capitol of country (in their own minds, anyway) and this is where most charter vacations will originate.
From Annapolis, you can sail up the bay to bustling Baltimore for a night on the town or up the Sassafras River where you will find quiet anchorages surrounded by farmland. South from Annapolis you can visit historic Eastern Shore villages, Oxford and St. Michaels and then explore the ancient village at Solomon’s Island, still home to old-time, oyster farming waterman.
If time allows, you can cruise south to the Potomac River and then north up stream to Washington, DC. What better way to visit the nation’s capitol while sleeping aboard a sailboat in the marina not far from the Mall? Given two weeks, you could easily cruise all the way to Norfolk and back and stop in unique, lovely anchorages every night along the way.
FLORIDA & THE GULF
For sailors, Florida is two completely different sailing venues connected by the interesting Florida Keys. On the east coast, you find miles of ocean beaches and the mighty Gulf Stream just offshore. Inside the beaches, lies the Intracoastal Waterway, which meanders from river to lake to channel and along the way runs through well-known winter colonies like Palm Beach, Vero Beach and Ft. Lauderdale. When cruising along this coast, you can make miles while enjoying warm sailing out in the ocean and then tuck in through one of the cuts to find a quiet anchorage for the night. Or, you can just poke along quietly in the ICW, meandering from anchorage to marina as you go.
The West coast of Florida faces the Gulf of Mexico and offers good cruising from Tampa Bay south to the Everglades and then on to Key West. Along the northern stretches, you will be staying nights in marinas while farther south you will find anchorages amongst the low lying isles, on the edges of the Everglades or in the protected waters near Key West.
BAHAMAS AND B.V.I.
The Bahamas are at their best in spring, summer and fall when the trade winds blow steadily but more gently than in winter and the threat of a strong northerly gale drops to zero. The Abacos in the north offer fine cruising with numerous quaint anchorages, villages and white beaches to stroll. The waters of the Abacos are shoal and reefs make navigation interesting. But, if you can read a chart, follow a GPS and read the color of the water, you will have no trouble. You can charter from the U.S. and sail across, checking in at Bimini or West End, or you can charter in the islands. Either way, you can have a very happy few days or weeks exploring the Bahamas.
You could also jet off to the Caribbean for a sailing vacation in the B.V.I. where you will find low airfares, bargains on boats and fewer fellow charterers to contend with. Spring and early summer are the best seasons for the B.V.I. since you will find moderate trade winds and few blustery days of augmented trades.
Whether you can get away for a few days or a few weeks around the coasts of America, in the Great Lakes, across the Gulf Stream in the Bahamas or a short flight south to the B.V.I., you can find a summer sailing vacation aboard a bare or crewed charter boat that will make lasting memories for everyone in your crew.
ABC Yacht Charters
Anacortes Yacht Charters
Sail Northwest Charters
San Juan Sailing
Windworks Sailing Center
The Great Lakes
Bay Breeze Yacht Charters
Traverse City, MI
Lake Superior, Lake Michigan,
Superior Yacht Charters
Bareboat Sailing Charters
Blue Nose Yacht Charters
Newport, R.I., Portland, ME
Hinckley Yacht Charters
Southwest Harbor, ME
Maine Cat Charters
The Chesapeake Bay
Annapolis Bay Charters
Annapolis Yacht Charters
Bay Yacht Agency Charters
Dream Yacht Charters
Let’s Go Cruising
Blue Water Sailing School
Ft. Lauderdale, FL
Florida Yacht Charters
Palm Beach, Miami,
Key West, St. Petersburg
Sailing Florida Charters
St. Petersburg, FL
Southwest Florida Yachts
North Ft. Myers, Punta Gorda, FL
Bahamas & B.V.I.
B.V.I. Yacht charters
Dream Yacht Charters
Horizon Yacht Charters
Maine Cat Charters
BVI & Bahamas
TMM Yacht Charters
VIP Yacht Charters