Charter vacations are by far one of the best parts of cruising. Showing up to a boat that you don’t own or have to do maintenance on, sailing through stunningly clear tropical water and strolling beautiful beaches is all part of that.
But for some, especially those in charge, the first few days of a charter can be intimidating and nerve-racking. Which is okay, you are out of your home waters, on an unfamiliar boat and sailing in conditions that you may or may not be used to. Here are a few tips to help you get the most from your next charter.
You may be an experienced charterer, and you may have sailed boats very similar to the one you are chartering before, but it is important to make sure someone from the charter company takes the time to walk you through the boat you will be sailing before shoving off. I suggest having the skipper and one other person go through this boat show so you have two sets of ears listening and will then be able to convene and compare notes later if something goes wrong or if you have any questions. You don’t want to be calling back to the charter base everyday for help.
It is also important to go through all the boat’s systems on your own to familiarize yourself with how they work before you leave the dock: The sails, electrical system, navigation equipment, anchoring gear, engine, water pumps, stereo, safety gear, dinghy and engine, heads, steering system and any dive gear that you may be bringing. Then, once you’ve become familiar with everything, walk your crew through the boat to give them a rundown on safety issues and explain any nuances you found along the way.
If you are chartering in a popular locale such as the BVI, you are going to be picking up moorings almost everywhere you go. And for some people, mooring pick-ups can be an intimidating endeavor.
The following scenario plays out all too often. A charter boat pulls into a mooring field and takes numerous attempts at picking up a mooring buoy. As the attempts pile up the captain shouts at the frantic crewmember on the bow, and all the while people on other boats have become spectators. This is not a comfortable position to be in and it is not fun to watch either.
But the situation above doesn’t have to happen. Completing a successful mooring pick-up just takes a little preparation and patience. Before entering the mooring field, locate your boat hook and get one or two dock lines ready and cleated at the bow. If the person on the bow is inexperienced, give them some instruction on what to do before sending them forward and work out hand signals to help communicate. It also works well to switch jobs and have the most experienced crewmember pick up the mooring, since the person at the bow is actually the one guiding the boat to the mooring and getting a line attached.
When approaching the mooring figure out how the wind and current are going to affect the boat. If possible, always try to approach the mooring from downwind and down current. A good tip here is to look at how all the other moored boats are laying and approach at that angle.
Once you are at the mooring, try to bring the mooring ball and pennant to one side of the bow or the other as it is harder for the person at the bow to reach over the bow pulpit than over the side of the boat. If you are the person on the bow, be patient when the mooring comes alongside. Trying to hurry will cause you to fumble with the boat hook and dock line, so take your time. Once you have snagged the pennant or buoy, get the free end of your dock line through and cleated back on the boat. Don’t worry if it is not set up perfectly, you can always adjust the lines later.
I have seen the final set-up for mooring lines done many different ways. One tried and true method is to simply cleat one end of a dock line at the bow, run it through the mooring pennant or buoy and then cleat it again on the other side. I always recommend using two lines if you are going to stay overnight. This setup works well because it allows you to easily adjust your distance from the mooring and when it comes time to leave you simple uncleat one side and pull the lines in.
Most charter destinations have fairly moderate breezes that can kick up to heavy at certain times of year, such as the “Christmas Winds” in certain parts of the Caribbean. Knowing how and when to reef a sailboat is critical to keeping the boat balanced, in control and comfortable for everyone aboard. As the old saying goes, “The right time to reef is when you first think about.”
On most boats—including charters—if you are overpowered and experiencing too much weather helm and heeling, the first sail to reef will be the main. And depending on the size of the headsail, I’ll often reef the main twice if necessary before touching the jib.
To successfully reef the mainsail you will be moving all three corners of the sail; tack, head and clew. As mentioned above, always check the reefing system before you leave the dock so you are familiar with how each part of the sail will be moved. It is much easier to do this before leaving than out on a heeling boat in a good swell. Also, if the boat has in-mast furling, make sure you know how the system works when it comes time to put a reef in.
Most charter boats have mainsails with either single line reefing or a reef line on the clew and a cringle on the tack that attaches to a reefing hook. No matter what the system, your first job once the main has been depowered is to ease the halyard. While easing the halyard tighten up the reef line if you have single line reefing or go forward and attach the new tack to the hook at the gooseneck. Next, bring the halyard back up and make sure it is snug. If you have single line reefing you are done, but if you have a reef line at the clew now is the time to pull that tight. With your reef now tucked in, trim the mainsail back up and away you go.
When cruising on any boat it is imperative that you pay close attention to how much water, fuel and electricity you are consuming while underway. Chartering is no different.
The company you are chartering from will (should) have everything topped up for you, but it is a good idea to confirm that your water and fuel tanks are full and that the batteries have a good charge on them before shoving off.
In my experience teaching charterers, water is the first to go. Coming from home people tend to use too much water for dishes, showers, brushing their teeth and washing their hands. The key here is, don’t take two showers a day and don’t leave the faucet running if you don’t need to. Sure, you might be able to pull in and find water as you cruise, but that takes precious time out of your schedule.
When it comes to energy, most charter companies are going to give you a recommended amount of time to run the engine per day to keep the batteries above 12 volts. Try that during your first 24 hours out and you may find that you need to do more or less charging based on how much energy you consume. Also, make sure to turn lights off when you don’t need them and if you are charging electronics on an inverter, pay attention to how much energy it uses.
Fuel is usually the least of your concern when chartering because it is unlikely that you will use a full tank during a single week of cruising. That being said, check to make sure the fuel gage works and keep an eye on it each day; motoring in and out of anchorages and running the engine to charge the batteries will deplete your fuel supply.
Chartering a sailboat is, and should, be one of the most relaxing and memorable cruising experiences you’ll ever have. By effectively employing the tips above, you should be able to ease into those first few days of you charter experience and get the most from your vacation.
By Andrew Cross