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Charter companies spice up offerings

The charter industry continues to add options for customers. From "activities cruising" that incorporates horseback riding, kite surfing, deep-sea fishing, spa treatments and more to an expanded roster of exotic locales and a growing fleet of power catamarans, a tropical vacation aboard has never been more enticing.

The charter industry continues to add options for customers. From "activities cruising" that incorporates horseback riding, kite surfing, deep-sea fishing, spa treatments and more to an expanded roster of exotic locales and a growing fleet of power catamarans, a tropical vacation aboard has never been more enticing.

In chartering - as in life - variety spices up the menu, so yacht charter companies are serving up some new offerings to tickle customers' palates in the coming winter-spring chartering season.

Annapolis, Md.-based charter giant Sunsail plans to introduce "activities cruising" in the British Virgin Islands in November. Activities cruising combines sailing with non-sailing activities, for either the non-sailor in the family or the Type-A personality who can't just lay out on deck in the sun and read, says general manager Peter Cook.

These charters - with captain provided - give boaters the chance, for instance, to go horseback riding, kite surfing, stargazing, snorkeling, scuba diving or deep-sea fishing, or play tennis, take spa treatments, learn to fly, rent an ATV, or go swimming with dolphins, all while they cruise the islands. Thirty activities altogether are offered. Cook says the cruises will be flexible. Each person in a charter party can do his or her own thing: sail, sit on the boat or join the activities.

"We're taking our sailing product to the mass market," says Cook. "You don't have to be a sailor to enjoy chartering."

Sunsail also is offering for the second year power catamaran charters on PDQ 34s, from Annapolis in summer and on Florida's west coast in winter. Those who've always wanted to cruise the Intracoastal Waterway can charter the cats for a week or two and deliver them between Chesapeake Bay and Florida in May and October - at half the price of a charter of similar duration, says Cook. "It's a great trip," Cook says. "We do it as a flotilla."

Sunsail also offers weekly charter cruises in flotilla in the British Virgin Islands and will start flotilla cruising in the Grenadines this winter, Cook says.

Sunsail's Platinum Collection - super-posh, captained charters on big luxury cats from 47 to 65 feet or monohulls to 77 feet - is downscaling a tad and offering a new, less costly option to chartering fully provisioned with a captain, first mate and cook. Its "bareboat with captain" program gives its Platinum charterers the option of operating and provisioning the boat themselves, but with a captain aboard who is ultimately responsible for the safety of the vessel.

"You can do the sailing, the navigation, hoisting the sails yourself," Cook says … or not. You can let the captain take over and do the sailing, as you wish. A bareboat with captain on one of these luxury yachts is about half the $25,000-a-week price of a Platinum charter with full crew and provisioning, Cook says.

Sunsail, with more than 1,000 yachts in 36 destinations, also is offering U.S. charterers "free Fridays" - they don't pay for Friday - if they book a 2005 Caribbean charter this year that starts and finishes on Friday. Cook says this is to entice more Americans to charter on a Friday-to-Friday schedule - the one most Europeans follow because their flights arrive on Friday for the start of their charter Friday evening.

The Moorings, another of the super-sized charter companies with 770 boats at 28 bases, is celebrating its 35th anniversary this year with two special flotilla charter cruises in the British Virgin Islands that culminate in a Nov. 4 birthday party in Tortola with Moorings founder Charlie Carey.

The Moorings opened a new base in Dubrovnik, Croatia, in April, less than a year after opening charter operations in Trogir, also on the Dalmatian coast. The Moorings has five 33- and 55-foot monohulls, and two Moorings 38- and 42-foot catamarans at Dubrovnik, according to press material. The Clearwater, Fla.-based company plans to open another charter base in Syros, Greece - between Athens and Kos - in the spring, giving its customers entree to Greece's central cruising grounds, says Van Perry, marketing director of The Moorings.

This winter the company is adding to its Caribbean, Belize, Bahamas, Australia and Seychelles fleets the Moorings 4000 catamaran, custom-designed for The Moorings by Morelli & Melvin, and built by Robertson and Caine in South Africa. With four double cabins, a forward berth in each hull and two large heads, the 40-footer has room enough for eight to 10, and is designed to accommodate an extended family or several couples, Perry says. The boat has a hardtop, a serving window from the galley to a large cockpit dining area, and big trampoline.

"It's good-sized but also easy to handle," he says.

Perry says The Moorings also plans to introduce a 44-foot monohull late this year in the Caribbean. Details were unavailable.

The charter company is increasing its number of BVI cruising flotillas to 22 in 2005. It also organizes flotillas in the Grenadines, Greece and Palma de Mallorca. The Moorings provides flotillas with a lead boat, mechanic, schedule of shoreside activities, and daily briefings on sailing conditions.

TMM Bareboat Vacations, with 75 boats in the British Virgin Islands, the Grenadines and Belize, also is celebrating a birthday, its 25th, with the introduction of two new boats. The Lavezzi 40 is a Fountaine Pajot catamaran that will charter out of Belize and Tortola in the British Virgin Islands, and a Lagoon 380 cat will be added to TMM's Belize fleet. TMM also charters five powerboats - a Lagoon 43 cat, two Heritage 36 motoryachts and a pair of Trader 485 motoryachts - out of Tortola, reflecting growing demand for powerboat charters.

Interest in power charters has always been there, says Barney Crook, owner of Lake Geneva, Wis.-based TMM. "It's funny," he says. "The powerboat population just doesn't realize they can do it, not the same way the sailors do."

Crook says, too, that catamarans, both power and sail, are increasingly popular as charter yachts because they are big, stable, loaded with such creature comforts as a generator and air conditioning, and with four double staterooms, four heads and four showers are designed to accommodate a crowd. Crook says TMM's sailing cats are booked 30 weeks in advance. "We need more cats," he says, which means he hopes more investors will buy catamarans and place them in charter.

Fort Lauderdale-based The Catamaran Company is riding the wave of the catamaran craze. The company sells catamarans and operates a 16-boat cat fleet out of Tortola. It plans to introduce a Lagoon 43 power cat in mid-November, a Lagoon 44 sailing catamaran in mid-December, and a Lagoon 38 sailing cat in January. The company also charters a cutting-edge Lagoon 41 sailing cat, Waypoint, equipped with electric auxiliary power. "It's very quiet, very environmentally sound," says Joann Higgins, the company's charter consultant. "It's been a very popular boat."

Waypoint carries twin 12-hp Solomons Technology ST 74 electric motors powered by a dozen batteries. The batteries' charge is renewed by leaving the power plants running when the boat is sailing so the props turn in the water, transforming the electric motors into an electric generator. If there's no wind, a 15-kw diesel generator recharges the batteries, says Mike Stevens, Catamaran Company's Annapolis salesman. Stevens says Waypoint can run four hours at 8 knots on batteries, or 6 to 10 hours at 5 or 6 knots. He says the electric-powered cat appeals to the company's most environmentally conscious customers. "They want to sail with a green wake," he says.