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Stretching your charter budget

A yacht charter can be a good value even in lean times, and with deep discounting and a large menu of options to choose from, charterers can trim their costs to fit a tight vacation budget, charter operators say.

A charter still prices competitively with a beach house or mountain condo rental, says Van Perry, brand manager for The Moorings, of Clearwater, Fla. “Short of taking just an out-and-out driving vacation, it still compares very favorably when you consider room, board, entertainment and sightseeing are all wrapped up in a yacht charter.”

Bareboat charter firms are holding the line on rates, and many are deeply discounting them for early and last-minute bookings, and offseason charters. Discounts of 10 to 30 percent and offers of 10 charter days for the price of seven — even promotions for free fuel on power charters — are enticing charterers to book.

Prices vary widely with location, and size and type of boat. A 10-day summer bareboat charter out of Tortola, British Virgin Islands, on one of Footloose Sailing Charters’ 33-foot monohulls could cost as little as $1,365, which includes three free days of charter time. (The Footloose fleet comprises “second-career” boats taken out of charter with The Moorings and Sunsail.) At the higher end, a seven-day charter with The Catamaran Company on a new 2009 Lagoon 50 catamaran out of Union Island in the Grenadines is listed for $11,900 in the high season.

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“People still are traveling,” Perry says, but they are looking for ways to cut costs. Some are booking later to get better deals or trimming their discretionary vacation spending. Others are chartering closer to home to keep a lid on rising airfares, which have put a damper on many kinds of vacation travel.

The Moorings advises clients chartering from its Wickham’s Cay base in Tortola to fly into St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, which is cheaper than flying into the BVI, and catch the fast ferry to Tortola for a fare negotiated by The Moorings. “We want them to reach the islands in as cost-effective a manner as possible,” Perry says.

Virgin Traders Motor Yachts, a BVI company that charters motoryachts, power cats and trawlers, also is aggressively meeting the challenge of higher airfares and fuel costs, says Virgin Traders director James A. Burgess. Virgin was offering eight- to 10-day charters for the price of a seven-day charter, with one to three days of free diesel fuel, at different times during the summer. “We picked up some good bookings from those promotions,” he says.

Addressing the stresses caused by the reduced schedule of flights into the Caribbean, Virgin has bought a couple of light, twin-engine aircraft. It plans to ferry its clients and those of sister charter sailing company Horizon Yacht Charters to and from Puerto Rico and charter bases in the British Virgin Islands, Antigua and some of the other islands “shortly,” says Burgess. “The costs will be almost identical to existing operators, but the aircraft will be dedicated to our clients,” he says in an e-mail to Soundings. “[Planes] will wait [for charterers], and there will be no last-minute dashing about trying to make connections. On board will be chilled drinks and a sense of peace and the commencement of the vacation.”

Sunsail, which ranks with sister The Moorings as one of the “Big Two” charter outfits, continues to expand its bases and choice of boats, says Josephine Tucci, the Sunsail brand manager. Sunsail opened two bases in Italy this summer, in Tropea on the southwest coast and in Palermo on Sicily’s north shore. Tropea is a gateway to Italy’s south coast, Palermo a base for cruising the Egadi Islands, Malta and the Tunisian coast. “The sailing is easy, the water is deep, and the winds are predictable” says Tucci of the May-to-September charter season.Europe has been a tough sell to U.S. vacationers because of the declining value of the dollar relative to the euro. “People have not been traveling as far,” Tucci says.

But the dollar appears to be strengthening, and Sunsail is offering more options for its charterers, who Tucci describes as “more adventurous” types. Sunsail has opened a third base in Thailand, at Koh Chang on the eastern Gulf of Thailand. The base opens the 50 islands of the Koh Chang Archipelago and pristine Koh Chang National Park to charterers from November through April, she says.

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