I’m back online after spending 5 weeks with my good friends Carol and Jim aboard their home away from home the S/V Windquest. Jim and Carol are on the leading edge of the baby boomer generation, retired and living an alternative snow bird lifestyle, cruising in the northwest Caribbean in the winters and returning to the States to be near family for the summers. After 5 years of this idyllic life, it was time to treat Windquest to a retrofit back home in the Philly area.
I was invited to crew for the first phase of their return, the 1000 mile passage from Windquest’s hurricane season berth on the Rio Dulce in Guatemala to her State-side landfall in South Florida. The experience offered some new lessons and reminders that should be taken to heart when planning a Bareboat Charter Vacation.
Crew Comfort – a 1000 mile passage is asking a lot of 3 part-time sailors in their 50s and 60s who haven’t been on a boat in almost a year. There’s little question that the crew, not Windquest, would need pampering. So even though we only had 3 weeks to make landfall in South Florida, Jim planned an itinerary with no stage exceeding two nights at sea and adequate rest between each stage. Though these passages were a bit rough, we had the energy and alertness to safely navigate these 200-300 mile stretches.
Bareboater Advice – Remember who your crew are when planning your itinerary, long slogs in rough weather without time for swimming and “shopping” can lead to a mutiny very quickly.
Acclimate – Like many bareboat charters, we had a fixed schedule for our trip. Even with that, once we crossed the sandbar at the mouth of the Rio Dulce, we took two nights at Ranguana Cay in Belize to acclimate to the boat and sea while resting for our 310 mile passage to the Yucatan Coast of Mexico.
Bareboater Advice – If possible, plan the first few days of your bareboat charter allowing the crew to adjust to boat life. Better to have smiles and giggles on board, than heads over the side.
Land Excursions – I don’t get to many opportunities to spend extend periods of time on a sailboat, but, even with that sometimes you just can’t pass the opportunity to explore. On this passage it was experiencing the Mayan Deer Dance in a small Eco-Tourism community on the Rio Dulce, climbing the ancient Mayan pyramid in Coba, Mexico, eating the best fish tacos in the world at Tacos.com in Puerto Morelos, Mexico, and recovering at anchor in South Beach Miami with Lincoln Blvd 10 minutes away.
Bareboater Advice – Make sure you mix in some land excursions whether that hike across the atoll, visit to a medieval castle, a cold beer over-looking the bay, or succulent local cuisine. Allow the culture around you and learn a word or two in the local language, it almost always gets a smile.
Weather – The right weather windows are critical to successful passages. Normally, when cruising, you have the luxury to wait for conditions that allow sailing off the wind and, if possible, flatter seas. Though the skies were clear our schedule required us to take advantage of slightest weather opening, so, we found ourselves beating to weather with a 2 knot following current for most of our 2 day passages. All I can say is thankfully the passages were relatively short.
Bareboater Advice – The best bareboating areas usually offer multiple options on any given day of your charter. I make a point to check weather daily and plan accordingly with particular attention to forecasted storms and wind directly. Better to be safe, than calling the charter company for help.
Reducing Sail – On the first night of our passage to the Yucatan, it was fast, but, very rough. Windquest enjoyed the challenge, can’t say the same for the crew. In the morning, we rolled up the ginny and set the storm jib, lost about ½ knot, and found our kidneys. There’s something to be said for sailing comfortably.
Bareboater Advice – Think of reducing sail early, particularly, if you have first time sailors on board. Often you don’t lose that much speed and it’ a lot more comfortable. Better to be safe, particularly, when you’re unfamiliar with local conditions.
Boat Systems – Jim is very meticulous about boat systems and can repair any problem with focus and ingenuity, even with that, we lost the engine 15 miles outside the entry of Miami harbor after motor sailing over night. It was a glorious sailing into Miami in over 20 knots off our stern quarter and a SeaTow afterguard just in case. Luckily, the engine ran smoothly once inside and out of the chop. Seems the low diesel level, sludge at the bottom of the tank, and a loose fuel line was starving the engine.
Bareboater Advice – It’s easy to forget to check boat systems during your charter, particularly, the engine. So, make a point to look in on it every now and then, and make sure that the diesel doesn’t get too low. You never know when you might find lumpy seas shaking up what’s left in the tank.