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Charter choices continue to grow

Whatever your preference — sail or power, catamaran or multihull, big boat or small — the fall and winter charter menu is big enough to satisfy just about any taste.

Whatever your preference — sail or power, catamaran or multihull, big boat or small — the fall and winter charter menu is big enough to satisfy just about any taste.

The choice of destinations just keeps growing. The Moorings of Clearwater, Fla., has added five charter bases in Italy, another five in Sweden and Finland, and two in New Zealand. The Italian and Scandinavian destinations operate under The Moorings’ Preferred Partner Program, which brings leading independent charter operators into its fleet — now 895 boats at 41 locations.

Sailitalia, for example, has 35 yachts from 31 to 52 feet at bases in Procida, near Naples and within cruising distance of the Pontine Islands (also known as the Ponza Islands) and Amalfi coast; Vibo Valentia on the Calabrian coast, a jump-off point for cruising eastern Sicily; Palermo, Sicily, offering cruises to the Aegadian islands, Malta and Tunisia; Portorosa, in the east near the Lipari islands; and Palau, Sardinia.

The Moorings’ Scandinavian partner, Midnight Sun Sailing, has 60 yachts from 31 to 51 feet at four bases in Finland and one in Sweden, which opens summer cruising to more than 50,000 islands in a land where the sun never sets for part of the season.

The Preferred Partner Program “is a way for us to offer up new destinations for our people and utilize [existing charter providers] that are experts in the area,” says Van Perry, Moorings marketing director.

The charter companies also are adding new boats: more powerboats, more big boats, more catamarans. “We’re seeing more big cats and fewer monohulls,” says Barney Crook, managing director of TMM Yacht Charters, with 75 to 80 boats at two bases in Belize, and one each in Tortola in the British Virgin Islands and St. Vincent in the Grenadines. Crook is adding a Bahia 46 to his Tortola fleet. The big sailing cat can sleep 10, and is equipped with air conditioning and a generator — de rigueur now in the big–boat fleets. Two or three families or four couples can charter the boat together, and more people are doing that.

“I don’t quite understand it,” Crook says. “I’m not sure I know three other couples I’d like to go sailing with, but if you split the cost between four couples it’s a reasonably priced vacation.”

Weekly charter rates for the Bahia 46 range from $9,500 in high season (Dec. 20 to Jan. 10, and Feb. 1 to April 4 at TMM) to $5,600 during low season (June 6 to Nov. 1, and Dec. 6 to Dec. 20).

Crook also is adding a 44-foot Lagoon catamaran, a 44-foot Hunter monohull and two powerboats — a Heritage 46 motoryacht and a Lagoon 43 power cat — to his fleet. The Lagoon is in Belize, the first big power cat for charter he knows of there. Crook says it is popular with divers, who can charter it bareboat inside the reef or venture to the reef’s outer edge with a hired captain who is also their guide.

“The diving out there is tremendous,” he says.

The Moorings, too, is bringing new boats online. Its new Beneteau-built Cyclades series of dual-helm monohulls — named after the Greek islands — includes The Moorings 51.5, a Berret-Racoupeau-designed 51-footer with four double cabins (en suite shower and head) and a single berth forward with a head and sink. It’s big enough to accommodate eight plus a skipper, says Josephine Williams, The Moorings marketing director. The second in the series, The Moorings 44.3, has three double cabins, each with en suite shower and head. The Moorings 39.3 also has three double cabins — two aft and one forward — and one head and shower. The Cyclades series are built using state-of-the-art modular construction so that many parts of the three boats are interchangeable, Williams says.

The Catamaran Company of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., which runs 19 catamarans out of Tortola’s Nanny Cay Marina, is putting a big Marc Van Peteghem-Vincent Lauriot Prevost designed Lagoon 500 on line in December. The cat has five double cabins, a single V-berth forward, and six heads with showers. It sleeps 11. “It’s the only Lagoon 500 in the Caribbean,” says Joann Higgins, the company’s charter consultant.

The cat charters for $11,000 a week during the Dec. 21 to Jan. 6 and Jan. 25 to April 7 high seasons, but can be had for $8,000 from July 29 to Oct. 24 and for prices in between at other times of the year. “If you have four couples aboard and you don’t want to charter it bareboat or sail it yourself, you can have a skipper for an additional charge,” Higgins says. Or if no one wants to cook, they can chip in and hire a chef who sleeps in the V-berth. Skippers are $135 a day, a sailing instructor/captain $155 a day, and cook $125 a day, plus meals.

Sunsail, with 1,000 boats at 39 destinations, is giving frequent charterers a price break with its Sunsail Around the World program, offering five one-week charters over 24 months on a 40-footer at any of 36 Sunsail destinations for $15,000 (see accompanying story). Sunsail also planned to finish refurbishing its Sunsail Club Colonna in Antigua this summer, and had revised its rate schedule to include meals for all charters scheduled to depart out of Colonna after Nov. 1. It continues to offer 24 different activities — from golf, fly-fishing and scuba diving to photography, dinghy sailing and kitesurfing — out of its base in the British Virgin Islands.

The Moorings is offering a new 10-night yacht-villa package at its base at the Bitter End Yacht Club in Virgin Gorda, BVI. Designed for couples and honeymooners especially, it offers a flexible package of five nights on a 32-foot Moorings boat and five nights ashore at the yacht club, with the charter scheduled any way the charterers want: first, last or sandwiched between stays at the club.

In August charters during hurricane season and from late October to pre-Christmas were being pretty heavily discounted. The Catamaran Company was offering a 10-percent discount on a seven-day charter, or a 10-day charter for the price of seven days from Oct. 25 to Dec. 20 on all its boats except the Lagoon 500, says Higgins. TMM was offering 10 days for the price of seven for all of hurricane season, June 1 to Nov. 1. The Moorings was offering discounts to 25 percent for charters before Dec. 16 in Tortola, Canouan, St. Lucia, Martinique, St. Martin, Belize or the Bahamas, but they had to be booked by Aug. 26.

“There are good deals for anyone who wants to venture down to the Caribbean in hurricane season,” TMM’s Crook says. “It can be great. It’s not as crowded. You just have the element of risk.” He says a charterer can cover that risk with travel insurance.