By Land and Sea: Land-based sailing vacations offer the best of both worlds
In this magazine, extolling the many pleasures of charter cruising is likely preaching to the choir. Who hasn't dreamed of steaming mugs of coffee in the cockpit on a sultry tropical morning, brisk reaches across impossibly blue waters to the next anchorage, dining al fresco as the sun drops into the sea, and falling asleep to the purling of water along the hull? These are glorious things.
Yet, let's be honest; we've all probably considered shoreside vacations at one point or another. Maybe you have younger children or a partner who is less enthusiastic about onboard living, and you feel a resort or cottage would be a better fit for them. Perhaps you're new to chartering and are reluctant to commit your entire holiday to the venture. Or you simply might have wondered, as you sailed through an exotic cruising ground, what a land-based experience would be like.
As it turns out, you can have your cake and eat it too. SAILING Magazine recently found quite a few venues around the world that offer "stay-and-sail" packages for their guests. They're in the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, the Florida Keys and Mexico. They're along the United States coastline, in the Great Lakes and even in landlocked reservoirs. And they range from international corporations and esteemed local
businesses that have made sailing holidays their official mission to colorful mom-and-pop operations staffed by passionate sailors who hope to share a little slice of their dream.
Sunsail Beach Club
Greece is one of those countries. Just saying its name evokes an image, even if you've never been there: turquoise water, sugar-sand beaches, dazzling white architecture and cozy tavernas overflowing with ouzo. And that's exactly what you'll find at the Sunsail Beach Club in Vounaki.
Sunsail is one of the better-known brands in the sailing industry, renowned for its worldwide charter fleets. Many people may not be aware that Sunsail also offers this beach-club experience, accommodating more experienced sailors with bareboat cruises and flotilla vacations while also welcoming novices with professional instruction and families with shoreside accommodations, resort amenities and the Kids Club.
Whether you choose to stay on land for your entire stay or do a one-week-ashore, one-week-sailing combo, the water will always be the major focus. Vounaki is famous for gentle morning zephyrs that build to steadier afternoon breezes, providing user-friendly learning conditions under sail. You can enroll in Royal Yachting Association classes or clinics, and a variety of sailboats, dinghies, powerboats and sailboards are available for instruction and for your own adventures.
For $789 per adult, $479 per child ages 2 to 11 and $119 per infant, you'll get a week's accommodations in a standard room, a "Half Board" meal plan that incorporates all breakfasts, two lunches, five dinners and Sunsail's traditional tea and cakes daily. Also included are nightly festivities, hiking, tennis, mountain biking, windsurfing beginner clinics and all beach watersports activities.
Since a key part of vacation is relaxing, parents will appreciate the Kids Club, which accepts children ages 4 months to 17 years. All age groups are free except the "Minnows" club for ages 4 months to 2 years; this is $409 per child per week.
Bitter End Yacht Club
Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands
Westward across the Atlantic, along the eastern rim of the Caribbean Sea, lie the celebrated British Virgin Islands. Beloved among sailors for their warm, protected waters and steady, moderate trade winds, they are home to the sheltered 4-by-2-mile sailors' playground called North Sound. And there, on Virgin Gorda, you'll find the legendary, accessible-only-by-water Bitter End Yacht Club.
The name "Bitter End" has become virtually synonymous with the idea of stay-and-sail vacations, which BEYC pioneered in the 1980s to provide a unique alternative to chartering. These holidays have proven to be wildly popular among new sailors as well as among couples or families who are a blend of those preferring to stay ashore and those hoping to spend most of their time messing about in boats.
Lucky for the latter group, BEYC has a fleet of more than 100 beach boats, small daysailers and other watercraft, including Hobies, Lasers, International Class 24s, Rhodes 19s, 420s and Optimists. If you're new to sailing, BEYC's US Sailing-accredited Sailing & Windsurfing School teaches courses from Basic 101 up to Learn to Cruise and Racing 201. Guests also may enjoy weekly excursions to well-known BVI destinations such as The Baths, Jost Van Dyke, The Dogs, Norman Island and the Willy T, Eustatia Reef, Fallen Jerusalem, Anegada and the wreck of the RMS Rhone. And, if you're keen to add scuba diving to your list of adventure sports, Kilbride's Sunchaser Scuba offers instruction and guided dives.
When you're ready for your charter adventure, BEYC partners with a variety of charter companies to provide the right boat for your group; both bareboat and crewed charters are available. For example, the Island Cruise Package allows a family, couple or two couples to stay shoreside for five nights, then enjoy three to five nights aboard a captained/crewed catamaran.
A weeklong BEYC Admiral's Package starts at $3,000 during the October 15-December 19 sailing season, and $3,800 in the January 1-April 8 high season. Packages include shoreside accommodations in beachfront, bungalow-style guest rooms, all meals, excursions and use of the club fleet, which is the world's largest complimentary fleet of watercraft. The resort also has 70 moorings, 25 marina slips, two restaurants, a full-service spa, shops, a freshwater pool and three private beaches.
And don't forget to savor a Pusser's Painkiller at sunset. Ahhh.
Key Lime Sailing Club
Key Largo, Florida
If you're looking to stay closer to home, the Florida Keys coral archipelago provides a tropical island experience without the overseas trip. The Keys are home to John Pennekamp State Park and the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, where you can find North America's only living coral barrier reef. Running from Key Biscayne near Miami to the Dry Tortugas in the Gulf, this is the third largest barrier reef in the world.
The Key Lime Sailing Club on Key Largo is a good base for exploring the Upper Keys, providing a hearty dose of quintessential island life with its quiet shoreside cottages, private docks and myriad watercraft. Rent one of the five cottages or two homes, and enjoy bareboat sailing aboard one of the club's 22-foot Catalina and O'Day sailboats, ideal for cruising Florida Bay's calm waters. If you don't have quite enough experience, take classes at the on-site sailing school; captains are also available.
Sail around Florida Bay, explore uninhabited Keys and Everglades islands-including one with a mud bath-and check out nearby attractions, where you may swim with dolphins, try parasailing and even visit a favorite hangout where the Humphrey Bogart movie "Key Largo" was filmed. Owner Paul Keever can provide a wealth of local knowledge and tips on where to go.
Key Lime Sailing Club also has kayaks, canoes, paddleboats and rowboats for additional silent-sport adventures. Check out the "mangrove jungle tour," during which you sail into the Everglades, anchor, kayak into a maze of water trails and discover Hidden Lake with its resident manatees. Enjoy the wildlife along the way, from waterbirds and iguanas to tarpon and dolphins.
Grand Rivers, Kentucky
Believe it or not, you don't need oceans or the Great Lakes for outstanding land-based sailing vacations. The Southeast is home to some major reservoirs, and they are not to be ignored. These lakes feature impressive stretches of open water, myriad coves and inlets to explore, lively shoreside venues and plenty of warm-water, raft-up hotspots.
In 1944, the Tennessee Valley Authority built the 8,422-foot Kentucky Dam on the Tennessee River. When 184-mile Kentucky Lake filled behind the dam, it became the largest artificial lake by surface area in the United States. Together, Kentucky Lake and its sister, 118-mile Lake Barkley just to the east, form the largest body of water between the Great Lakes and Gulf of Mexico.
With more than 210,000 acres of water and 2,300 miles of shoreline, the sister lakes provide plenty of room for sailing and waterfront fun. The community of Grand Rivers is located at the LBL north entrance, on both Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley. And here you'll find Lighthouse Landing, which has been accommodating sailors of all experience levels since 1977.
If you're new to sailing, the Lighthouse Landing Sailing School can provide two- and four-day courses. If you're more experienced, take advantage of the stay-and-sail package, with 26-foot Colgate sailboats available for full- or half-day rentals. This versatile, forgiving keelboat is perfect for students; in fact, the school offers two-, four- and six-hour lessons in combination with a full-day rental.
A Lighthouse Landing stay-and-sail package is priced at $420, plus taxes, for two nights in a cottage and one day of sailing aboard a Colgate 26, based on double occupancy. A two-night stay in a two-bedroom cottage for four people with one day of sailing would be $530, and a two-night stay in a three-bedroom cottage for six with one day of sailing would be $640.
All cottages provide private decks and lake views, which you'll enjoy after a long day on the water. And this water is bigger than it looks. If you've never visited Kentucky Lake, be prepared, it's the real deal.
Oriental, North Carolina
As all East Coast sailors know, plenty of sailing meccas can be found north of the Florida state line as well. One of the more popular destinations is Oriental, North Carolina, located where Pamlico Sound, the Neuse River and the Intracoastal Waterway meet at mile marker 173. This is where sailboats outnumber people, three to one.
That's no surprise. Resident and visiting sailors enjoy Pamlico Sound's steady breezes and broad stretches of open water. They also appreciate the lack of commercial traffic on the country's second-largest estuary. Here, not only do you have access to world-class, big-water sailing, you're also within a stone's throw of North Carolina's renowned coastal destinations and historic maritime sites.
Oriental also is also home to a boating-focused community called River Dunes; at its heart is Grace Harbor, which features durable ipe floating docks, 400 protected slips and a sailboat-friendly 8-foot depth.
You also can come to River Dunes for a land-based sailing vacation, North Carolina style. Charming, fully furnished one-, two- and three-bedroom cottages are available for rent, each equipped with a fireplace, morning kitchen and full bathroom.
You'll have guest privileges to use River Dunes' bicycles, carts and Harbor Club facilities. You'll also enjoy a saline pool with private cabanas and hot tubs that overlook the harbor, as well as fine and casual dining options, the Chandlery, a library and even a billiards center. Rates in the cottages start at $220 per night.
Then there's the sailing, of course. River Dunes offers junior sailing camps for ages 6 and up, boater safety courses and U.S. Coast Guard-approved Captain's License Courses, all taught by professional instructors. Best of all, you can customize a weeklong stay-and-sail package to incorporate instructional sessions, destination sails or bareboat charters. If you'd like an expert aboard, a licensed captain can guide you to places like Ocracoke Island, Beaufort and Cape Lookout National Seashore, with favorite stops including Howard's Pub, The Back Porch and The Beaufort Grocery.
Ozark Yacht Club
Lake Ozark, Missouri
Also consider Missouri's Lake of the Ozarks. In 1929 to 1931, the St. Louis-based Union Electric Company built 2,543-foot Bagnall Dam in the city of Lake Ozark, impounding the Osage River and tributaries Gravois Creek, Niangua River and Grandglaize Creek. Known as "The Magic Dragon," this 55,000-acre Ozark Mountains reservoir features nearly 1,200 miles of shoreline. And while it may be better known among powerboaters, sailors will find that it's easy to navigate and provides plenty of sea room.
The Ozark Yacht Club serves as an excellent base camp for visiting sailors. Not only is it the nearest marina to both St. Louis and Kansas City, it's located in Lake Ozark's Jennings Branch Cove at mile marker 1. That means you're near the Bagnall Dam Strip and the area's many shops, restaurants and attractions.
This full-service facility rivals serious marinas everywhere. It features 80 covered and open-dock slips accommodating boats up to 60 feet. It also has a fuel dock, a pump-out station, the LakeSide Cafe, a ship's store and a clubhouse with showers, laundry, full kitchen and dining facilities, pool, sauna and more.
For those who wish to enjoy the lake under sail and ashore, Ozark Yacht Club has single- and multiple-day charters with on-site lodging. Charter options range from 24 to 39 feet; they include 24- and 39-foot C&Cs and 34- and 36-foot Catalinas. If you prefer smaller boats, you may choose an 8-foot Open Bic, a 12-foot Catalina Expo and a 14-foot Laser. The club also has an American Sailing Association-certified sailing school and offers sea trials aboard the 39-foot racer-cruiser Enzian.
Prices range from $180 to $1,500 for a three-day charter, and current lodging consists of the Dock House, a single unit that accommodates up to eight people. For less than $200 per night, you'll be able to enjoy all of the club's amenities.
And the biggest amenity of all: location. You'll be close to grocery stores, restaurants and, if you brought the kids, family attractions. If you've forgotten anything, visit the club's on-site Sea-Store.
Some of the lake's best sailing is right here, as are many popular waterfront destinations. Must-visits include the Horny Toad Bar & Grill in Camden on the Lake, Coconuts Caribbean Bar & Grill in Gravois Mills and Lake Ozark's Lodge of the Four Seasons. Clearly, if you've never considered the Missouri Ozarks for a sailing holiday, you might want to think again.
If you've never been to the Great Lakes, you may not realize that you can head inland for a sailing holiday that rivals any along the U.S. coastline, in the Caribbean or in the Med. These five appropriately named "inland seas" contain more than 20% of the world's fresh water, with nearly 8,000 miles of shoreline and an astounding 35,000 islands, and sailors have vacationed here for more than 150 years.
A contemporary hotspot is Wisconsin's Bayfield Peninsula, along Lake Superior's south shore. Sometimes called the "Caribbean of the North," the city of Bayfield serves as a gateway to the Apostle Islands, a 22-island, 720-square-mile archipelago that includes the tourist haven of Madeline Island as well as the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.
The Apostles have become a top cruising destination for a variety of reasons, including the islands' proximity to one another, the numerous protected waterways and anchorages, the relatively short driving distances from the Midwest's major urban areas, and the delightful combination of restaurants, shops, art galleries and attractions with the national lakeshore's pristine woodlands, deserted sand beaches, sea caves, rugged cliffs and lonely lighthouses.
To accommodate visitors who would rather daysail than live aboard, who wish to combine land- and water-based activities or who hope to enjoy sailing while family members and friends spend time ashore, Superior Charters has created a "Land & Sea" package in conjunction with area lodging partners.
First, the staff will help guests choose the right boat. Superior Charters has the largest range of privately owned charter sailboats in one U.S. harbor, with more than 50 boats available. These include a 27-foot Island Packet, 33- to 50-foot Jeanneau models and a 38-foot Lagoon catamaran.
Lodging options include two-story waterfront townhomes with private slips at Superior Charters' home marina - Port Superior Marina, located 2 miles south of Bayfield. Any of its charter boats can be moved into a townhome slip; rates start at $1,200 for two nights with a 30-foot sailboat. Another option is the Bayfield Inn, whose lodging includes one-bedroom and efficiency condos at Brookside Hideaway on the marina property. Rates start at $1,100 for two nights and a 30-foot sailboat.
In addition, for guests who wish to stay at the inn's properties in downtown Bayfield, Superior Charters can relocate its boats to the downtown marina. These packages start at $1,200 for two nights and a 30-foot sailboat. At the other end of the spectrum, a three-night package with a 38-foot Lagoon catamaran and U.S. Coast Guard-licensed captain for three daysail trips will run $4,500.
Caribbean Soul Charters
Similarly enchanting days filled with sun, sea and sailing can be found farther west near Marathon Shores. There, on 10-acre Conch Key, Caribbean Soul Charters provides a quaint, quiet, island-style holiday while still offering easy access to the diving mecca of Key Largo and to the sundown-celebration revelry of Key West, each about an hour's drive away.
Located 10 miles north of Marathon at mile marker 63, tiny Conch Key has just 50 homes, painted in a riot of Bahamian colors and surrounded by working lobster traps, nets and assorted bits of fishing gear. In fact, fresh fish, lobster and stone crab are available every day.
Caribbean Soul Charters specializes in getaways for couples and families with teenage or adult children. This is not a resort; rather, you'll be renting a traditional-style Keys home. Each has a full kitchen as well as an outdoor barbecue, and owners Tom and Peggy Horachek have lovingly decorated the living spaces with an impressive array of authentic nautical- and Keys-themed antiques.
When you're ready to sail, 23-foot Com-Pac pocket cruisers are ready to carry you onto Florida Bay and into the waters of Everglades National Park. Bring your snorkel gear, or rent some nearby at Hawk's Cay Resort, and explore the bay from one of the boats or from shore. Popular day trips include Key West and the Everglades, while divers flock to Key Largo and Pennekamp park, as well as to Sombrero Reef off Marathon.
Rent a canoe or walk through the old hammocks at Long Key State Park, just 4 miles away, and enjoy a primeval island experience with abundant wildlife and native palms. Rent a bicycle, or read a book underneath a coconut tree. Just don't miss a dramatic Keys sunset, and remember: Watch for the green flash.
Hacienda Del Sol
La Paz, Baja California Sur, Mexico
Every once in awhile, it's worthwhile to look at a prime charter destination and peek beyond the shadows cast by the larger brands. You might just find a truly unique getaway.
Mexico's 760-mile-long Baja California peninsula has long been a magnet for sailors. And La Paz, the nearly 500-year-old capital city of Baja California Sur, has become the favorite jumping-off point for Isla Espiritu Santo, a federally decreed Flora and Fauna Protection Area and a United States Biosphere Reserve, and the rest of the dazzling Sea of Cortez.
You'll experience what Jacques Cousteau once famously called the world's aquarium, as well as deserted white-sand beaches, pristine Sonoran desert landscapes, mysterious arroyos and hidden box canyons, with the distant Sierra de la Giganta providing a surreal backdrop.
It might seem to be a no-brainer to research charter options in La Paz itself, but then you might never discover the treasure just 11 miles to the southwest, in El Comitan. Here you'll find Hacienda Del Sol-a eclectic assortment of Mexican-style cottages, cardon cacti and palms just 100 yards from the beach.
The establishment is run by Eberhard and Renate Holzgraefe, a German couple who spent 12 years cruising the world before they "swallowed the anchor" in La Paz three decades ago. Their property includes cottages, cabanas and even a palapa for overnight accommodations; all are furnished and provide full kitchens.
A MacGregor 26X and a Hereshoff H28 are available. For $1,200, you can spend two nights in a cabana, one week sailing and a final night in a cabana before flying home. One week in a cabana and one week sailing will cost $900 for the boat and $390 for accommodations. If you'd like a week or more in one of the larger cottages, a minimum three-day charter can be added for $150 per day.
The Holzgraefes are able to keep prices low because, surprisingly, Hacienda Del Sol is a not-for-profit operation. After expenses, they donate the proceeds to local charities. Those low prices also mean you need to reserve space months in advance. Hacienda Del Sol receives approximately 3,000 inquiries annually, and more than 60%of their visitors are returning guests.
No surprise. They've all discovered the real Mexico, the one that the throngs of tourists in Los Cabos and Cancun will never see.
To the south in the Windward Islands, the folks at Oasis Marigot share a similar sentiment- that the beauty and magic of the Caribbean islands are found both on land and at sea. So the company devised several affordable packages that allow visitors to experience their home island of St. Lucia, as well as neighboring Martinique, St. Vincent and the gemlike Grenadines.
A typical package incorporates four nights and four days aboard a skippered Gib'Sea, Irwin or Catalina, followed by three nights in a quiet, romantic Ocean Cottage apartment suite on Marigot Bay. If you don't have much cruising experience and are just looking for a taste of the sea, fear not. Oasis Marigot has a package that provides Ocean Cottage accommodations and two daytime sailing tours around St. Lucia.
Prices range from $632 per person for seven nights' accommodations and two daysail tours to $2,155 per person for four nights' sailing, return airfare from the Grenadines and three nights' accommodations.
The Ocean Cottage's four private apartment suites each have a living room, kitchen, bedroom, bathroom and patio or deck that offers sunset views of Marigot Bay. Guests will enjoy the teardrop pool and tropical garden, as well as the easy five-minute walk to the beach, with its paddleboats, kayaks, Hobie cats, snorkeling area and lounge chairs. Also easily accessible are area restaurants, grocery store, bank and the dive shop Marigot Bay Dive Fair Helen.
View the rugged, mountainous landscapes of St. Lucia from the sea, explore the island's white- and black-sand beaches, and moor between the Piton Mountains. Take some time to experience shoreside attractions such as the Diamond Falls Botanical Gardens, Sulphur Springs at Soufrière, and the St. Lucia volcano, said to be the only drive-in volcano in the world.
At Pigeon Island National Park, you'll be able to see Fort Rodney, an old British military base. And don't miss a chance to go for a hike to the mesmerizing twin-peak Pitons.
For newbies, Oasis Marigot provides a way to find that balance between shoreside vacation and sailing adventure. For more advanced sailors, this is a great place to harness the northeast trades and set out on a true sailing voyage through the Windwards.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Ozark Yacht Club, 573-552-8401, www.ozarkyachtclub.com; Superior Charters,
715-779-5124, www.superiorcharters.com; River Dunes, 800-975-9565,
www.riverdunes.com; Sunsail Beach Club - Vounaki,888-350-3568,
Bitter End Yacht Club,800-872-2392, www.beyc.com; Oasis Marigot,
800-263-4202, www.oasismarigot.com; Key Lime Sailing Club, 305-451-3438, www.keylimesailingclub.com; Caribbean Soul Charters, 305-743-8454, www.flakeyscottage.com; Lighthouse Landing, 800-491-7245, www.lighthouselanding.com; Hacienda Del Sol, 011-52-612-123-5440, www.hacienda-sol.com