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Chartering a yacht for two in the British Virgin Islands

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By Carol Sottili
Sunday, November 22, 2009

We just know the type of sailing the Byrons want to do has got to be better than our seasick journey in the open Atlantic from the Florida Keys to New York. Alarms will not be blaring at 2 a.m., signaling your turn at the helm in the pitch-black rolling seas as massive freighters bear down on your formerly impressive 42-foot yacht, which is now in danger of morphing into a speck of flotsam.

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But I digress. Boating in the British Virgin Islands is all about Jimmy Buffet-style blue skies, calm seas, snorkeling, swimming, gourmet meals and drinks adorned with spears of fresh fruit. The waters of the Sir Francis Drake Channel, situated between the main island of Tortola and a group of smaller islands, are protected from ocean swells, yet the trade winds are fairly constant. Navigation is by sight, as an island is always in view.

The Byrons' budget is on the lean side, but we'll try to avoid setting them up with Captain Ron Rico. (For those who don't get the reference but do share a sophomoric sense of humor, rent the film "Captain Ron" starring Kurt Russell.)

There are no nonstop flights from Washington to the British Virgin Islands. American Airlines offers quick connections from Washington Dulles or BWI Marshall through San Juan, Puerto Rico, to Beef Island Airport, which is across the bridge from Tortola. The fare should be about $550 per person round trip.

Hundreds of yacht owners and brokers offer crewed charters, so I started the search by focusing on the budget and the types of boats available. Crewed motor yachts are not as plentiful, and they're typically more expensive. Catamarans are common and popular, as they're usually more spacious and stable than monohulls, but they're also more expensive. To go it alone and stay in budget, a monohull sailing yacht is the best bet. If you're willing to share, look at larger catamarans.

Understand that these charters put you in close quarters with the crew. Although most crew members have learned to get along with just about anyone, it's not a bad idea to connect before booking. And check exactly what extras, such as fuel, food, booze, entrance fees, taxes, etc. are included; crew tips, typically at least 10 percent of the charter cost, are always extra. Most itineraries are very flexible and are based on whether the guests prefer to snorkel, hang at the beach, learn to sail, etc. But again, check before you book.

A typical booking is for one week, although some of the smaller yachts are more flexible. It may be a good idea to spend the first night in a hotel before embarking, because most cruises depart around noon. It takes about 45 minutes to drive the length of Tortola (a $35 cab ride); pick a hotel that's close to your marina. Most crewed yachts sail from marinas near Road Town, but some use Soper's Hole, Nanny Cay and other marinas on the island's west side. A popular pre-embarkation hotel for the Road Town area, for example, is Village Cay Hotel (http://www.igy-villagecay.com), where rooms start at about $150.

Most yachts are individually owned, and most owners work with brokers or agents, who book the trips. Internet searches of available boats can give you a general idea of the going prices, trip lengths and what's included, but you need to make sure that the agent is reputable. I often start with the area's official tourism Web site, especially if it's well maintained and detailed. The British Virgin Islands Tourist Board (http://www.bvitourism.com) has a long list of crewed charters and brokers; John Riggin, a spokesman for the board, said companies that receive a pattern of complaints are removed from the list. Another good resource is the BVI Charter Yacht Society (877-211-5268, http://www.bvicrewedyachts.com), a nonprofit organization of crewed yacht owners; the Web site lists yacht specifications and contact information for more than 60 yachts and provides a list of brokers. Here are some specific choices:

Regency Yacht Vacations (800-524-7676, http://www.regencyvacations.com) represents smaller sailboats with crews of two that sail from Tortola and could work for this trip, including:

-- The Windborne, a 40-foot yacht built in 2001 with two double berths for guests. (It can sleep four plus the two-person crew.) Price for one couple renting out the entire yacht for seven nights is $4,000, including all meals and drinks.

-- The Corus, a 45-foot ketch built in 1986 with one queen berth for two guests. The price is $5,600 for seven nights with all meals and drinks; there is also a $5,000 option that includes all breakfasts, three lunches, three dinners and drinks.

Other brokers include Vacances Sous Voiles (http://www.vsvbvi.com), which represents several smaller yachts and larger catamarans. For example, the six-passenger, 46-foot Bleu Azur costs $2,100 per person double for a week-long trip; the six-passenger, 50-foot Bleu Turquoise is $1,700 per person double, as is the four-passenger, 39-foot Lady Jacqueline.


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