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Chartering on a Budget

The British Virgin Islands are a sailor’s paradise that can be enjoyed by charterers on a variety of budgets. Photo by Daniela Clark.

Vol. 2, No. 7

Meet my group setting sail aboard a 38′ catamaran out of Tortola tomorrow.  We’re 4 couples in our early thirties.  We’re photographers, architects, environmental engineers, and the like. So in order to afford a bareboat charter vacation in the BVI, we had to plan carefully to keep the cost down.  I have some experience to help with this.  I’ve lived in the BVI on two occasions, and chartered a few times before.  I’ve even chartered a boat without a working engine…

Six years ago, while living on Tortola on a sailing instructor’s salary, I chartered a Jeanneau ’37 with a blown head gasket.  I was well-connected in the BVI at that time, and arranged to charter the boat for $50/day, knowing that we couldn’t use the engine.  We just had to keep the fridge stocked with ice, and make sure the wind stayed up.  For myself and my boyfriend, now husband, picking up moorings under sail was no problem at all.  We were long-time Longshore Sailing School instructors, and we could do anything with a rudder, a keel, and two sails.  We had a great time.

So this time around, any boat I could charter would feel luxurious, but I wanted my first-timer cousins to have a good experience.  My plan when booking was to keep the cost down, but not sacrifice any of the fun.  This time we’d spring for a working engine.  Here are a few of the money-saving tips that I can share:

1. Get a catamaran.  Though cats are more expensive than monohulls, my theory is that a group can get away with a smaller cat without feeling claustrophobic.   Our boat is a 38′ Lagoon with 4 cabins and 2 heads.  For the same price, we could have gotten a 47′ monohull that would fit the group.  But I have stayed aboard a 50′ monohull with only one other couple before, and it would have been quite crowded with a full crew.  With the extra outdoor space and the increased privacy that the separate hulls provides, a small cat should be more comfortable.  And while a packed monohull would make us want to get off the boat whenever possible, a catamaran provides a great party platform.  We should enjoy barbequing a few dinners on board, which will be more fun and less expensive than going to restaurants every night.

2. Go in the low season.  It’s not the same as getting out of the cold in February, but going in May or October can still be very pleasant, and a lot less expensive.

3. Book an older boat.  Ours is 9 years old.  Since it’s sailed all the time, and maintained regularly by the charter company, I’m not concerned.  We booked with BVI Yacht Charters, one of the smaller companies like Conch Charters, and TMM, that cater to more budget-minded groups.  And their service is no worse–probably better–than a huge company like Moorings or Sunsail. I’ll let you know.

4. Share heads.  If you’re young couples (and cousins) like my group, or if you’re a group of families with kids, you might not mind sharing a head.  Having one fewer head in each hull saves a lot of space, allowing you to rent a smaller boat.

5. Provision on your own.  Even if they’re not marking up the food, as some claim that they don’t, when you allow a charter company to provision for you, you’re going to pay more.  There’s no way that a charter company can guess the quantities of food you will want to eat as well as you can.  Most of the charter companies on Tortola are very close to the bigger grocery stores on the island, like the RiteWay and Cash and Carry in Road Town.  Cash and Carry is like Costco, and can be a great place to stock up for less.

6. Sleepaboard, and find a good deal.  Most, if not all, charter companies offer a sleepaboard option the night before the charter starts.  The Moorings sleepaboard price is more expensive than many of the hotels on the island.  But BVI Yacht Charters charges only $30 per person.

I’m sure there are more ways to save, but these are a few that I kept in mind while making our arrangements for this year.  I’ll let you know how the week goes: whether we’re miserably cramped in a 38-footer, or happy with our party platform!  No matter what, a week sailing in the BVI is always terrific.