Chartering a yacht for a Caribbean cruise is less complicated than many people think. You can, in fact, keep it quite simple by dealing with just one charter agent and by not confusing things, as some neophytes tend to do, by consulting two simultaneously. The best Caribbean charter agents are on cooperative terms with each other, and if one does not have the boat you want, he will scout around to find one who has.
Before you choose an agent you should decide in which region you wish to cruise. Caribbean sailing is divided into two main areas: the Virgin Islands and the Antigua- Grenada region. It is only on the rarest occasions that the charterer crosses over from one to the other.
There is a good reason for this. Between Anegada, at the northeast corner of the British Virgins group, and Anguilla and St. Martin to the southeast, lies Anegada Passage. Even seasoned Caribbean sailors treat this strait with respect, and it is no place for the newcomer.
On either side of the passage, however, the pleasure-bound yachtsman will find what has often been called "the finest cruising grounds in the world." You need never relinquish sight of land; there are strings of excellent harbors, and there are those non-ferocious, ever-dependable trade winds that blow reliably from a predictable direction at least 360 days of the year.
Which area you choose depends only on your whim or the length of time you wish to sail. If it is just a week, the Virgin Islands are ideal. Closely rivaling them, and growing rapidly in popularity, are the Grenadines, confettied in the sea (there are about 600 of them) between the islands of St. Vincent and Grenada.
On a two-week sail for instance, you can make the run from Grenada to Antigua or vice versa. But better still is taking in just a segment of this 300-mile, north-south stretch. Save another segment for another year. Popular possibilities are Antigua to Martinique, or the reverse. As for where you embark or debark on such a cruise, the choice is yours, but you must make it at the time of chartering.
What kind of yacht? The selection ranges from 35-foot sloops to 110-foot schooners, with most in the 50-to 60-foot range. Among alltime favorites are Harbinger, a 93-foot auxiliary Marconi-rigged ketch; Spearhead, a 49-foot Bermuda-rigged trimaran; Shango, a 51-foot ketch; Caravan, the 51-foot sister ship of Irving Johnson's new Yankee; Alano, a 36-foot Bermudian cutter; and Lord Jim, a 72-foot gaff schooner. Interesting newcomers include Staffordshire, a 40-foot auxiliary Newporter ketch; West by North, a 49-foot cutter-rigged, Alden-designed Sea Sailer; and the "world's largest trimaran," the 65-foot Triptych, which will carry up to 10 passengers, all in spacious double staterooms. All of these, naturally, come complete with skipper and crew.
Or maybe you are the kind of pro who would like to do it himself? There are bareboat charters available, but you must definitely prove your prowess beforehand to the charter agent. In St. Thomas, Caribbean Sailing Yachts has a spanking new fleet of 14 identical Chris-Craft Capris. The Boat-house there also has a number of bareboats, as does Island Yachts, which is building up a fine group of Robb 35s (built by Cheoy Lee of Hong Kong). Island Yachts in Grenada has several bareboats, too, but, again, you must prove yourself first.
What will it cost? A week's charter for two can cost from $50 to $70 per person per day. The average for two aboard runs just below $60. However, you will find prices as high as $95 per person per day, two aboard. Prices generally drop perceptibly for parties of four or more (most charter groups consist of two compatible couples). Four aboard runs from $27 to $42 per day per person, with the average around $36. Exceptions go from $50 per day per person down to $25.
Windward Island Tours' one-week-aboard, one-week-ashore package (including breakfast, lunch and maid-cook ashore) costs from $21 to $41 per person per day for four. For two aboard, from $31 to $49. The above figures represent overall expenses. However, you will find some charter agents do not include food in the charter fee they quote, so be sure to double-check this point.