by Annette Bignami

Charter boats offer coddled comfort, a skipper and crew to handle the details like mooring and meals, but bare boating's definately a step past POSH. Bare boating, for those new to the water, puts you in charge of your own fate.

Nothing can be more romantic than mooring out in the Virgin or San Juan Islands miles from anyone. Author at the helm


Annette at the Wheel

photo credit: Louis Bignami


With modest skills you can do well in sheltered unless weather brews, anchors drag, you can't read charts, someone drops the only can opener overboard, the couple you're with suddenly fall out of love or you suffer from what experienced boaters sometimes call "Pilgrim problems." My husband, who has sailed for nearly 50 years has war stories about the "lame and lazy" that are incredibly amusing -- at least the first time I heard them -- and quite astonishing given lawyers, doctors and other professionals who should know better run out of fuel, drop unattached anchors, go aground and worse.

To overcome these problems, indeed to build the skills you need before anyone will charter you a boat without a skipper, requires hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars invested into sailing skills. This is one reason nothing says "old money" like the ability to handle a 50-foot ketch. If you see rumpled sail types run to Topsiders with holes, shorts older than most starlets and a rather rough and ready approach to proper dress at restaurants with moorings, you'll know they're probably CEOs. After all, who's to impress when you've formal garb at home, his and hers BMWs in the garage and an income near the Gross National Product of Togo.

You can build the skills you need for bare boating with Coast Guard and other classes, a couple of summers crewing and purchase of your own "hole in the water into which you pour money." Copping out with a power boat, if it comes with its own Jet Ranger and PWC, might get you a few points, but the old money set has always been "ragbaggers" not "stinkboaters.

To sample the life consicer charter cruises custom-tuned to your needs that avoid the dubious joys of bare boating usuallly swept under the keel by most nautical writers.

Charters can put you into schools of Blue Tangs, let you anchor out off the most lively bars, or hide away in remote covers off Virgin Gorda. This without the problems of cruising that Mark Twain felt, ". . . offered incarceration with the certainty of seasickness and the possibility of shipwreck." It's your choice, your time and your chance to relax. Hired skippers for bare boaters with intermediate experience on, say, inland lakes, let you samplebigger craft without the responsibility of solving nautical problems.

A great number of charters are run by couples who live aboard and enjoy the nautical life on their own between charters. A typical couple offers carefree comfort for your trip as they apply hard-won local knowledge to your specific needs. Want to fish, dive, explore the shore, snorkel, laze, cruise the British Virgin bars or whatever; they'll build a trip to suit.

Best of all, you'll sail, not motor! Sailing, while it does make a few more demands on your seamanship, is the ideal way to laze away the day as the trade winds waft you down the Sir Francis Drake Channel. There's a light breeze and the sense of Drake and Morgan and the other ancient mariners whose wakes you retrace. Of course, if you must get somewhere fast, large power craft are available. Obviously, I'm a prejudiced "rag bagger!"