[NOTE: Scroll to bottom for important post-hurricane update]
Lesser Antilles, Leeward Islands
Whether you call it St. Martin (as they do on the French side) or Sint Maarten (as they do on the Dutch side), this island is a popular destination for casinos, shopping and Caribbean resort life. Many superyachts base here, which means that arrival aboard Meteor is likely to include a chance to see some of the largest yachts in the whole of the Caribbean.
Anguilla is a British territory with clear water that rings magnificent beaches. High-end resorts such as Malliouhana, Belmond Cap Juluca and CuisinArt Golf Resort & Spa attract the rich and famous. While celebrities go to the island of St. Barths to be seen, they go to Anguilla for privacy. On Anguilla, the right balance of super chic and slightly funky prevails. Singer Bankie Banx’s Dune Preserve is a must-visit for that funky vibe (and a rum punch). Sandy Island, Anguilla, is an oasis of greenery and palm trees in the center, with chalk white sand and transparent water all around its edges. A beach barbecue is great fun here, perhaps with some beach volleyball. Next is a sail to the Prickly Pear Cays, which are uninhabited islets great for snorkeling along a coral reef.
St. Barths (the nickname for Saint Barthélemy) is the “it island” for charter clients who enjoy St. Tropez style. There is a hint of Sweden here too: The French island’s capital, Gustavia, is named for the Swedish King Gustav III, because the island was a Swedish colony starting in 1784. Many of the street names are still Swedish. Even still, charter guests will find plenty of French rosé served during lunches at Nikki Beach and La Plage Restaurant, where a midday meal can go on for hours and blend into dinnertime. Popular restaurants such as Bonito, L’Isola and Maya’s have world-class cuisine, and Gustavia’s shops are reminiscent of Fifth Avenue in New York (think Cartier, Hermès and Louis Vuitton). During the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, Gustavia’s harbor is the place to see and be seen for the yachting crowd.
A respite from the hoopla awaits on unpopulated Tintamarre, an 80-acre island northeast of Sint Maarten. Tintamarre was purportedly a base for submarine operations in the 1940s. Today there are simply unspoiled beaches and calm water for relaxation.
Another option is a sail to Saba, an island that consists largely of a dormant volcano known as Mount Scenery. Hiking here can be memorable, and the village ashore has “gingerbread houses” as well as lovely flower gardens. At and below sea level, Saba is surrounded by a marine park and renowned for diving. The island has waters that are home to sea turtles, sharks and underwater mountains.
GALLERY | Lesser Antilles, Leeward Islands
Itinerary courtesy of Capt. Dean Maggio | 169-foot (52-meter) Royal Huisman Meteor
Day 1: Arrive at Sint Maarten, where the airport is a quick ride from the charter yacht.
Day 2: Sail to Anguilla, where the yacht’s crew will set up a beach party on Sandy Island.
Day 3: Sail to the Prickly Pear Cays for snorkeling amid the tropical fish and colorful coral.
Day 4: Sail to St. Barths, where white sand beaches and designer shopping await.
Day 5: Sail to Tintamarre for lunch at anchor with a beautiful view, and then sail back to St. Barths for a walk around Gustavia, the island’s capital.
Day 6: For the adventurous, sail to Saba for an island tour and a hike to the peak, and then lunch at Queen’s Gardens Resort & Spa. That night, sail back to St. Barths for a calm anchorage.
Day 6 alternative: Enjoy a day of sailing and have lunch at anchor in Colombier Bay, St. Barths.
For more information: edmiston.com
Eastern Caribbean, Windward Islands, St. Lucia, Grenada
Each island that is part of a yacht charter itinerary from St. Lucia to Grenada is a sovereign country with its own style and charm. The big islands are topographically sensational, with lush volcanic mountains, rich rainforest hikes and beachfront scenery. Scattered between St. Vincent and Grenada are dozens of smaller islands and cays, only a handful of which are inhabited. These islands, known as the Grenadines, are part of St. Vincent to the north and Grenada to the south.
Marigot Bay at St. Lucia is one of the most idyllic protected harbors in the Caribbean, with dense, forested hills surrounding three sides. The Pitons on the southwestern end of St. Lucia make for as dramatic an anchorage as Marigot is bucolic. If charter guests plan to hike one of the Pitons, then the yacht’s crew can arrange for a local guide and an early start (it can get hot on the trail as the day wears on). These hikes are great aerobic adventures and allow for guilt-free dining on board the charter yacht afterward, along with a swim to cool off and perhaps an afternoon nap on the sundeck.
Rarely on the radar for travelers, St. Vincent is a sleeper of a tourist island that a charter yacht can access. This Caribbean island’s interior is as lush and tropical as Bali’s or Tahiti’s in Indonesia or the South Pacific. Cumberland Bay is ringed in palm trees and has a volcanic black sand beach. Locals may come out in their small boats, offering fruit and vegetables for sale. And the Cumberland Nature Trail traverses rainforest and farmland—great for bird-watching.
On Mayreau, the smallest of the inhabited islands in the Grenadines, wake up in the lovely cove known as Salt Whistle Bay. From here, the Tobago Cays and Canouan are close by. The Tobago Cays is a marine park of five uninhabited islands with great snorkeling and diving, and the chance to spot green, hawksbill and leatherback turtles.
Canouan has been developed quite a bit during the past 25 years, creating a contrast with the sleepy local culture. The Tamarind Beach Hotel is here with a golf course and spa where the charter yacht’s crew can make reservations for guests who want to go ashore and indulge.
Grenada is a large and diverse island with a lot to offer. Some charter guests choose to disembark here and stay an extra day or two on land, to hike to the waterfalls in Grand Etang National Park, tour a chocolate factory, see parrots and monkeys in the rainforest, and shop for nutmeg and other spices in the thriving St. George’s market.
GALLERY | Eastern Caribbean, Windward Islands, St. Lucia, Grenada
Itinerary courtesy of Capt. Allan Rayner | 142-foot (43-meter) Palmer Johnson Lady J
Day 1: Arrive at Capella Marigot Bay Resort and Marina on St. Lucia and meet the yacht.
Day 2: Visit the towering Pitons on St. Lucia for dramatic photo opportunities.
Day 3: Cruise to Cumberland Bay off St. Vincent and explore a black volcanic beach.
Day 4: Stop at Mayreau, an uninhabited island in the Grenadines where peace and tranquility reign.
Day 5: Spend a day at the Tobago Cays archipelago, with its protected marine park for snorkeling and diving with turtles.
Day 6: Cruise to Canouan, where a golf course and spa offer relaxing shoreside excursions.
Day 7: Return to the Tobago Cays for one more day of underwater beauty and fun.
Day 8: Cruise to Grenada, which has an international airport at the far south of the Caribbean.
Antigua, Guadeloupe, Îles des Saintes, Dominica
Antigua, in the Eastern Caribbean’s Leeward Islands chain, is where Admiral Horatio Nelson was stationed during the 1780s. The historic naval base—Nelson’s Dockyard at English Harbour—is unique for its national museum with restored officers’ quarters, capstans and artifacts from Nelson’s era.
Accessing this historical site is convenient for many charter clients because Antigua’s V.C. Bird International Airport got a new terminal in 2015, with direct flights available from many U.S. and European cities. The transfer from the airport to the charter yacht is less than an hour, putting guests in the heart of not only Nelson’s Dockyard, but also such historic sites as Shirley Heights and Fort Berkeley on Day One.
Day Two’s cruise to the uninhabited Green Island for a day of water sports gives charter guests access to a pristine beach as well as encounters with lizards, hermit crabs and birds on land—and good snorkeling underwater. The nighttime anchorage is at nearby Falmouth Harbour, where the marina hustle and bustle mixes with small and charming restaurants, live music into the wee hours and local joints offering fried chicken and rotis.
The next morning, cruise to the French island of Guadeloupe: a topographically diverse piece of land that, when seen from overhead, is shaped like a butterfly. Anchor on the northern end of the island in the sheltered bay just off Deshaies, a fishing village dotted with local eateries and bars. Visit a wild tropical river and a botanical garden. (For fans of the BBC One/France 2 comedy series “Death in Paradise,” some filming locations are here.) Nearby is Pigeon Island, where the main attraction is the underwater Cousteau Reserve. The charter yacht’s tender can take guests there for diving and snorkeling.
Next on the itinerary is Îles des Saintes, a small group of islands where the main town is Bourg des Saintes. It has “gingerbread houses” with red tile roofs, restaurants and shops, all ideal for a walkabout. Linked historically and culturally to Brittany, Îles des Saintes feels even more French than the popular Caribbean island of St. Barths. One well-known boutique is Maogany, with handmade fashions that often are dyed a distinct indigo blue.
From Îles des Saintes, cruise to Prince Rupert Bay at the north end of Dominica, which is part of the Windward Island chain. Christopher Columbus “discovered” Dominica in 1493. The French colonized the island in the 1690s, and the British took over in the 1760s. Dominica became independent in 1978. Arguably the wildest and most ruggedly beautiful rainforest island in the Caribbean, Dominica is an adventurer’s dream. A hike to the volcanic Boiling Lake—rife with waterfalls and rivers, and flora and fauna—is memorable.
GALLERY | Antigua, Guadeloupe, Iles des Saintes, Dominica
Itinerary courtesy of Capt. Chris McKenna | 155-foot (47-meter) Christensen One More Toy
Day 1: Arrive at Antigua and join the yacht at historic Nelson’s Dockyard.
Day 2: Sail to Green Island for water sports. Anchor out in Falmouth Harbor for the night.
Day 3: Have breakfast underway, en route to the charming village of Deshaies, Guadeloupe.
Day 4: Snorkel and scuba dive at Pigeon Island, Guadeloupe, and the Cousteau Reserve.
Day 5: Cruise to Îles des Saintes and the pretty anchorage at Pain-de-Sucre on Terre-de-Haute island.
Day 6: Arrive at Dominica’s Prince Rupert Bay and the town of Portsmouth for an Indian River boat ride.
Day 7: Spend a day hiking in Dominica’s tropical rainforest.
For more information: camperandnicholsons.com
Exuma Cays, Bahamas
The only problem for an Exumas charter client is determining how to take everything these 365 vibrant islands and tiny cays offer and squeeze it into a seven-day itinerary. This archipelago is a pristine retreat just a short distance from the U.S. mainland, accessible via direct flights into Nassau and then, if part of the itinerary, a short hopper flight to the heart of the islands. The Exumas are quite a contrast from the more touristy parts of the Bahamas, with white sand beaches, translucent waters and untouched reefs.
Compass Cay offers charter guests an opportunity to swim with—and pet—the resident nurse sharks. Do it. These sharks may as well be rough-skinned puppies, as curious about people as we are about them. Charter guests must mind their fingers (as the yacht’s crew will helpfully instruct as they stand by and watch) and then the experience is exhilarating. Some charter clients say that meeting the nurse sharks at Compass Cay is one of the best memories not only of their vacation, but also of their life.
Just around the corner is one of the best swimming holes in the Caribbean. The deep, crystal-clear, blue lagoon known as Rachel’s Bubble Bath gets its name from the wave action. A rocky outcrop detaches the pool from the ocean, and at mid- to high tide, the waves get high enough to crash over the rocks and into the lagoon, creating bubbles of white foam like a natural spa tub. The spot is ideal for a swim or a well-timed leap off the rocks into the water.
With so many unspoiled cays, charter guests here often have beaches all to themselves—except at Big Major’s Cay, a small, uninhabited island where resident pigs, some quite large, swim out to greet people on the incoming tenders. The pigs are friendly, especially if they see that food is available (the yacht’s crew will prepare carrots and the like), but the pigs are wild animals, so the crew will help guests to treat them respectfully.
Near the pigs’ home is Thunderball Grotto, named for the James Bond movie “Thunderball.” The grotto’s entrance is small, almost hidden—and to get inside, even at ebb tide, charter guests have to hold their breath, dive underwater and swim for it, trusting that they will come up able to breathe on the other side. (Don’t sweat it; the yacht’s capable crew have done this many times and will be right there.) Once inside, prepare to be dazzled by the placid water teeming with a kaleidoscope of brilliantly colored fish and the cavernous walls that echo overhead like a sonic fortress.
GALLERY | Exuma Cays, Bahamas
Itinerary courtesy of Capt. Brian Warner | 86-foot (26.2-meter) Ferretti Custom Line Slainte III
Day 1: Arrive at Staniel Cay Airport. Meet the charter yacht and cruise to Compass Cay. Swim at Rachel’s Bubble Bath and with local nurse sharks.
Day 2: Cruise to Warderick Wells. Swim and explore the Exuma Cays Land & Sea Park.
Day 3: Cruise to Highbourne Cay for offshore sportfishing on Exuma Sound.
Day 4: Visit the iguanas on Allan Cay, then cruise to a secret anchorage to snorkel and play with the yacht’s water toys.
Day 5: Cruise to Big Major’s Cay for a beach visit (and maybe even a swim) with the local pigs. Play with the yacht’s water toys.
Day 6: Dive or snorkel at Thunderball Grotto on Staniel Cay. Scuba dive on a plane wreck or play with the yacht’s water toys.
For more information: bnbyachtcharters.com
If total escape is the goal, then Belize is the place to charter a yacht. Its cruising grounds are rich in blue holes and barrier reefs—all situated in what feels blissfully like the middle of nowhere.
A rare dichotomy exists when venturing to such a raw and rugged aquatic playground aboard a superyacht. While the yacht comes with all the fineries and service expected of a five-star hotel in the heart of civilization, it is often anchored in the lee of a remote cay, miles from the mainland, where the only sign of human life may be a faint strobe from an airplane in the distance. Many yacht charter destinations claim to offer this type of “best of both worlds” experience, but Belize is arguably one of the places on Earth where it is best exemplified.
Sitting on deck, perhaps in the yacht’s hot tub, and simply gazing out at the region is an exercise in fantastic sights, sounds and feelings. The evening darkness advances from the east like a smooth jib unfurling over the diamond-speckled water. To the west, the mountaintops of southern Belize squeeze the last droplets from a drenching sunset, until water gently licks the yacht’s hull sides—the only sound to be heard. There are no throngs of cruise-ship passengers vying for the best camera angle; only solitude in its purest form. The isolation and feeling of vastness can be difficult for mainlanders to comprehend, and the sensations become something that charter clients remember for many years to come.
The southern out-islands of Belize encompass a panorama of jewel-tone water dotted with secluded sand spits, cays and atolls with lazily swaying palms and white sand beaches, all protected by the world’s second-largest barrier reef (first is the Great Barrier Reef in Australia). In fact, rolling backwards off a tender into the turquoise and emerald waters off Belize places charter guests above what is perhaps the richest coral reef system in the tropics. The waters are crystalline, and the local inhabitants range from inquisitive rays and skittish sea turtles to fiery sea fans and colossal coral heads.
Hundreds of mangrove-covered islands interspersed with creeks and picturesque lagoons make up Belize’s largest atoll, Turneffe. This unspoiled paradise has some of the best diving worldwide, for every level of diver. Wrecks, drop-offs and currents can make for challenging dives at certain sites, so Sequel P has a certified dive instructor on board. The exposed southern point of Turneffe Atoll, known as “The Elbow,” is a congregation area for schools of jacks and snappers. Thousands of groupers come here to spawn, and all the fish action attracts sharks and rays. “The Elbow” is a must-do for underwater adventurers.
GALLERY | Belize
Itinerary courtesy of Capt. Robert Verity | formerly of 179-foot (54.7-meter) Proteksan Turquoise Sequel P
Day 1: Arrive at the international airport that serves Belize City, meet the yacht and cruise to Goff’s Caye. Relax with sunset cocktails and dinner on the sundeck.
Day 2: Cruise to Turneffe Atoll. Dive or snorkel “The Elbow,” with its game fish, turtles and rays. Play with the yacht’s water toys.
Day 3: Cruise to Lighthouse Reef Atoll. Scuba dive off Half Moon Caye or cruise in the yacht’s tender to the Blue Hole.
Day 4: Cruise to Hatchet Caye. Play with the yacht’s water toys, scuba dive or snorkel, or head ashore for a meal at Hatchet Caye Resort.
Day 5: Cruise to the Sapodilla Cayes Marine Reserve. Dive the shipwreck and then sip sundowners on Ranguana Caye.
Day 6: Cruise to Coco Plum Caye. Dive or snorkel off South Water Caye.
For more information: burgessyachts.com
CARIBBEAN CHARTER UPDATE: In the wake of the storms
After a brutal hurricane season, the yachts and islands in the northern Caribbean expect to be ready for winter charter escapes.
By Kim Kavin
It took about a week after the monstrous, Category 5 Hurricane Irma plowed across the northern Caribbean in early September, but sure enough, rays of light started to beam out from amid the disaster reports—enough that charter experts felt confident accepting new client bookings ahead of the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.
Initially, two forms of damage were feared: to the destinations, and to the yachts. In terms of the destinations, the Virgin Islands, Sint Maarten, St. Barths and Barbuda reported severe wreckage, but Irma largely spared other islands including Antigua and St. Kitts, which both have international airports and superyacht marinas. And IGY Marinas—which operates Yacht Haven Grande and American Yacht Harbor Marina on St. Thomas, Rodney Bay Marina on St. Lucia, and Isle de Sol as well as Simpson Bay Marina on Sint Maarten—said about a week after Irma that repairs had begun and the company was “optimistic that our marinas will be operational in most, if not all, affected locations for the upcoming winter season.”
Many of the boats in fleets of crewed catamarans and smaller motoryachts (including Regency Yacht Charters in the Virgins and Select Yachts on Sint Maarten) survived unscathed or with minimal damage, and some larger yachts still in the Mediterranean showed every indication of sticking with plans to move to the Caribbean for the winter.
“I’ve already had calls from boats in the Mediterranean asking what they can bring when they come over for the season,” Sarah Sebastian of Nicholson Yacht Charters & Services on Antigua said in mid-September. “I just booked a 10-day charter, Antigua to Tortola, and he said, ‘If the islands don’t look nice, we’ll help in reconstruction. We’ll use the vacation to help.’”
Kathleen Mullen, who runs Regency Yacht Charters in the British Virgin Islands, said she expects the hallmark lush, green foliage to return by November, the bays to be calm and full of fish, and the beach shacks to be serving conch while larger facilities rebuild.
“I have been surprised, and pleased, with the volume of new bookings coming in for winter 2018,” she said about a week after the storm. “I hate to reveal how old I am, but although this is very, very bad, my experience after Hurricanes Hugo and Marilyn tells me that if we can remember to be kind and tolerant with each other, life will come back to these islands more quickly than you think at first.”
Ann E. McHorney, who runs Select Yachts out of Sint Maarten and southeast Florida, said some charter clients asked after Irma to change their itineraries to the pristine southern Caribbean, but she encouraged them to stick with the northern islands.
“Most of the bookings aren’t until Christmas and New Year’s, and you’re on a boat,” she said. “What else do you need besides fuel and provisions? Those things will be there. Maybe there will be rum shacks instead of beach bars—a little more like the old Caribbean—but Tortola had nothing when I started chartering. It’s still terrific.”
She added that as awful as the initial damage estimates were from the Florida Keys, reports coming out of the Bahamas post-Irma were great.
“The Bahamas is fine, at least in the Nassau area,” McHorney said. “There are no questions about charters happening there.”
Only one motoryacht based in Florida, Sebastian said, had canceled its registration for the Antigua Charter Yacht Show because of storm-related damage, and the yachting community on Antigua was providing help about a week after Irma, not looking to receive it.
“We’ve nearly got enough funds to fund a mobile hospital in Barbuda, with donations mainly from the yachting community and the people at English Harbour,” Sebastian said. “It’s hurricane-proof. We’re going to put all the supplies in there so that the doctor can go back and live on Barbuda.”
And she agreed with McHorney that, by the time charter clients return, enough of what makes the Caribbean so special will also be getting back to normal.
“The islands are all open for business,” Sebastian said. “They’ll look lovely and the feel will be the same. You can still snorkel the reefs and go to the beach, and the lush foliage will be back all around. The buildings might take a little longer, but it doesn’t matter about the buildings if you’re on a boat.”