Looking for a bareboat charter that is long on sunsets and short on hip hop bars? If you’re tired of fighting for the last mooring ball or have had it with all night generators and party crowds, consider these five destinations for your next charter. You’ll have a more exotic vacation and nobody at the yacht club will be able to one-up you as you recount the trip – primarily because it’s unlikely they have ever been there.
Like a time capsule in the middle of the South Pacific, Tonga is today what Tahiti must have been like 30 years ago. Made up of three major island groups (Tongatapu, Ha’apai and Vava’u) Tonga has 170 different islands. The northernmost set, Vava’u, is the only area that can be explored on charter via Sunsail. The cruising grounds are relatively small with the islands concentrated in a manageable area. Beware the reefs however, as the depths here go from 300 feet to 3 feet in just a couple of boat lengths.
Getting to the main village of Neiafu is surprisingly simple with direct flights from Los Angeles to Fiji and then just a short, 2-hour hop to Vava’u. Provisioning can be challenging as you’re likely to visit five different stores plus the produce and fish markets before you load up for a week’s worth of fare. Although there are some small eating establishments on various islands that are open during the high season, there is no other place to re-provision. And that’s some of the allure. Most of the time it will be you, a few salty cruisers and the locals who are unbelievably friendly and welcoming. Tongans pride themselves on their hospitality so a dinner or a church service with a family can be arranged and there’s never any need to worry about leaving the boat open while you’re off exploring caves, snorkeling coral gardens or lounging on a sugary beach by yourself.
Canarreos Archipeligo, Cuba
The resort town of Cienfuegos hosts Dream Yacht Charter, the major charter company in Cuba. A short flight or a long bus ride from Havana, Cienfuegos is worth a day of exploration in itself with its charming architecture and laid back vibe.
Cienfuegos Bay is a large and deep harbor with one twisty outlet to the Caribbean Sea. Once outside, the decision is made whether to go east toward Jardines de la Reina (Gardens of the Queen) or west toward the Canarreos Archipelago. Either way, the first day will be a long one (approximately 40 nautical miles) and depending on the winds, either a lovely downwind reach or a bash to windward.
When heading toward Canarreos that is renowned for its beaches, the first stop will be a red and white rocket ship-like lighthouse on a long, narrow and weather-beaten island. It’s a must to climb the nearly 300 steps inside for a stunning view from the top.
After that, the islands are closer together until you reach Cayo Largo and its resort with the only WiFi available for miles. Nearby Playa Sirena is sublime and if you time it right, you’ll have it to yourself. Be sure to provision all that you’ll need for the week. There’s nothing to purchase out here except fish and lobster fresh from that day’s catch by the locals. The currency is rum – no cash accepted. Sometimes you can trade rice, sugar and flour with the fisherman. Here, the sunsets are spectacular, the bars are few and the fish are tasty.
Milos Island, Greece
If you’re wondering how any charter in the Med could be called “remote” given the number of sailors of all nationalities, rest assured that Milos Island, about 80 miles south of Athens is a perfect hideaway with some spectacular natural formations. Dream Yacht and Moorings both have bases near Athens and from there you can hop down to Kea (charming) and Mykonos (lively) and then take one long day to reach Milos that is too far for Greek weekenders and often overlooked by charterers heading to Santorini.
Tie up Med-moor style in the horseshoe harbor and wander the quay where Greek vendors (all resembling Zorba) pitch their day tours of the islands sights. Collect the brochures and the next morning, time your excursion to leave about 2 hours after these vessels. You’ll arrive at each location just as they load up their multitudes of resort guests and head onto the next stop, leaving you in blissful peace to enjoy caves and rock formations that are like no other. The topless cave of Sykia is magical if you’re the only party there and around the corner, depending on the weather, you may be able to anchor for the night among the formations of Kleftiko. That way, you can continue your circumnavigation of Milos the next morning until you reach the moonscape caves of Sarakiniko where busloads of tourists will look out at the lucky yachties (you) enjoying the view from your private deck. Timing is everything on Milos but if you get it right, you’ll be the only ones anchored in lovely silence.
The Seychelles is an archipelago of 115 islands in the Indian Ocean, about 1,000 miles off Africa’s eastern coast. These beautiful islands are fairly isolated, receiving some South African and European visitors but very few Americans due to the distance. But if you have the time and want to sail among spectacular reefs, put the Seychelles on your bucket list. With a population under 100,000, these islands are diverse creating a culture mixed of British, Indian, Middle Eastern, French and African influences. Creole is often spoken, as is English.
The outer islands are low-lying atolls but the inner islands like Mahe are mountainous and lush with granite peaks and tropical forests full of unique and rare birds. Giant tortoises can be found nesting on the white sand beaches that are ringed by azure seas.
The main charter islands are clustered close together but offer many secluded coves where you can hide from anyone else. Winds are usually steady at 10-20 knots and because these islands are so close to the equator (about 500 miles), the temperature stays mostly constant in the mid to low 80s. Currents can be strong in narrow channels and the tidal change averages approximately five feet.
Mallorca, Balearic Islands
The city of Palma on the island of Mallorca off the eastern coast of Spain is an amalgam of Spanish, Roman, Byzantine and Moorish cultures. Part of the Balearics, Mallorca is no stranger to cruising boats but on a shoulder season (meaning definitely not August) you can explore the anchorages of the island in relative peace. The winds get boisterous in the western Mediterranean but the beaches are nice and the coastline is dramatic.
Palma, the capital of Mallorca, is breathtaking with its skyline dominated by the gothic cathedral also known as La Seu. It towers over the busy harbor below and sits just on the sidelines of Palma’s medieval old town with Arabic and Roman architectures quite visible. Palma is an extraordinary and busy place from which to start a charter but then you can escape to more isolated anchorages or charming resort towns like Soller, Port d’Alcudia and the Dragon Caves on the eastern side with their underground lake.
Stick to Mallorca or on a longer charter, sail to Menorca or Formentera. Just beware Ibiza and its thumping nightlife. There are many smaller isles where you can drop the hook especially the national park on Cabrera. Build in time for land tours of these islands and in the Fall, visit vineyards where grapes have been made into wine since Roman times.
Some of the cruising grounds above are for more experienced charterers who want to spread their wings. Once you get a few Caribbean trips under your belt and feel good about reefing, navigating and anchoring, consider sailing to the beat of a different drum.
Searching for other destinations to explore?
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