Top 10 Mistakes to Avoid on a Yacht Charter Trip

mooring mistake with a single line through the pennant eye

Photo: catamaran with one line to secure to the mooring ball. This method can easily break the line and cast the yacht adrift. šŸ“ø Sean O’Leary

We all make mistakes.

That’s part of becoming a seasoned yacht charter skipper.

But, want to get a head start? Read these and you’ll be ahead of 75% of other skippers.

I also suggest you pick up a copy of the Smarter Charter – lots of good practical chartering advice. I usually give it a scan through as a review before my next trip.

These are my top 10 mistakes to avoid on your yacht charter trip, some of which I’ve had to learn the hard way.

  1. Arriving to your anchorage too late
  2. Entering off-limits, red lined areas
  3. Running a single line through the mooring ball
  4. Not conserving water
  5. Forgetting to pull the dinghy line in when mooring
  6. Ignoring weather reports
  7. Sticking to a planned itinerary
  8. Leaving your fenders out
  9. Letting your engines run unattended
  10. Racing through a mooring field
Cane Garden Bay | Read about an incident below that happened here as the result of arriving too late

Arriving to your anchorage too late

Don’t be that crew that pulls into the mooring field while everyone else is relaxing over a sundowner, or worse, after dark.

Most yacht charter trip contracts require you to be anchored or moored at least 1 hour before sunset.

There is good reason for this.

Arriving before daylight begins to fade allows you to safely navigate through the approach. This matters if you have to pass through a channel and identify the markers (such as Cane Garden Bay or North Sound). Or, you want to be able to see where you are dropping the hook – pick the sandy patch, not the coral.

Additionally it gives you time and the visibility necessary to inspect your mooring ball condition or to dive on the anchor.

What can happen if you arrive to your anchorage too late

Here’s a real world example of what can go wrong from an incident that happened at Cane Garden Bay in 2020:

  • The crew of a Helia 44 arrived after dark, tied off to a mooring ball, and then went ashore for dinner or drinks
  • The mooring ball they tied off to? A private, ill-maintained ball not designed for a 44 foot catamaran. If they had arrived with more daylight, they likely would have noticed it was not a regular ball
  • When they returned on their dinghy, the boat was missing šŸ˜® The yacht had broken loose and went adrift. Somehow no one noticed and it drifted past the reef
  • Luckily, it was later recovered off the north shore of St. Thomas, USVI
  • The crew learned an expensive lesson and had to pay a hefty fee for the recovery

Having a backup plan

Another reason to arrive early? What if your Plan A falls through? What if there are no mooring balls available?

You need enough time to be able to execute your backup, Plan B.

This yacht entered the red lined area between Beef Island and Little Camanoe in the BVIs
Off-limits passage between Little Camanoe and Beef Island
This red lined areas has claimed more charter yachts than anywhere else

Entering off-limits, red lined areas

Red lined, off limits areas present serious hazards to yacht charters.

Reefs, shallow water, and exposure to weather conditions such as north swells, to name a few.

Don’t believe me? Check out Groundings of BVI for some examples of the severe consequences that can result.

It’s simple.

Pay attention during your charter briefing and stay out of areas that are red lined. You can read about the more notorious BVI red lined areas here.

Running a single line through the mooring ball

I see this happen often with beginners.

When tying off to mooring balls, they run one line, through the pennant eye, and then tie it off to the cleat on the other side of the vessel..

This is bad practice.

As the yacht swings on wind and tide, the pennant eye acts like a saw on the line. Eventually it can break it loose, setting your yacht adrift.

Better idea? Run two independent lines, one from each side or pontoon. Secure the lines back to the same cleat on either side.

Check out my charter beginners guide where I posted a video about how to properly pick up a mooring ball.

The consequences of your yacht going adrift? Find out what happened to the Sunsail catamaran Panema.

Not conserving water

Ever heard of a navy shower?Ā 

Or better yet?

We like to bring reef-safe shampoo and take a sea shower off the back of the catamaran. Do your final rinse with fresh water.

Many yachts have water makers these days, but not all of them. Relying on a water maker to work for your whole trip is, well, playing with fire.

It’s no fun needing to pull into a marina to fill up your water tanks when you could be offshore catching fish or lazing on a beach.

Brief the crew: use water sparingly. Don’t take long showers. Do dish washing heavy lifting with sea water if you can.

If your water maker is working and you have just a couple days left with full tanks? Go wild! You are water rich.

Forgetting to pull in the dinghy line when mooring

Yup. I’ve done it.

I’ve wrapped the dinghy line around a prop.

Not a big deal, but I did have to spend 30 minutes diving on the prop to cut loose the line. If this happens you should also inform the charter company since there could be unseen damage to the saildrive.

Just make this one part of your crew’s anchor/mooring routine.Ā 

Have someone responsible for pulling in the dinghy so there is minimal slack in the line, every time.

Virgin Islands NOAA Forecast Zones
NOAA marine forecast zones for the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico

Ignoring weather reports

On my first trip to the BVIs, I didn’t pay attention to the weather reports at all during the trip.

That was a big mistake.

Luckily, we had the consistent, beautiful BVI trade wind weather that is often present.

But what if a north swell was running? I could have been caught off guard.

Take it a step further beyond the marine forecast printout you’ll receive (sometimes) at your charter briefing. Check the forecast resources everyday. In most charter destinations, cell phone coverage or wifi should be available most days.

If you are sailing during hurricane season, be even more vigilant.

I talk about which resources I use for by bareboat charter trips in my BVI marine weather post.

Dodging squalls
A squally day on a recent trip to the Dry Tortugas, the least of the challenges we encountered

Sticking to a planned itinerary

Be. Flexible.

The boat is going to have a maintenance issue.

Someone of the crew might be seasick.

A day or two of thunderstorms and squalls might interrupt your plans.

On my recent yacht charter trip to Key West to the Dry Tortugas, we had a lot of issues to deal with, but we adjusted. That’s part of the territory with yacht charter trips.

  • We had to swap boats after our first day
  • The AC didn’t work in August in South Florida ā˜€ļøā˜€ļøā˜€ļø, so we moved the boat to a better slip for a breeze
  • We added an extra day to the trip so we could make it all the way to the Dry Tortugas
  • Lost a day of exploring in the Dry Tortugas, but it was better than not going at all
  • Lastly, we grabbed a hotel room the last night, well, because of ā˜€ļøā˜€ļøā˜€ļø

One of your jobs as skipper is to create a happy ship. Shake off the disruption, whatever it is, and adjust the trip as needed. Even if it means you have to cut out a favorite stop or destination.

Another good piece of advice? Don’t try to do too much on your first day. Have a short and easy passage. Let the crew get adjusted to the yacht. We also rarely get out of the marina as early as we’d like to.

Leaving your fenders out

Ok. This really isn’t that big of a deal.

But.

There is no better way to identify yourself as a beginner to other yachts šŸ˜Ž. Don’t be that skipper!

Letting your engines run unattended

It might be tempting to charge the batteries in idle while your ashore enjoying a specular meal.

No one likes to hear the engines running.

But seriously, don’t do that. We don’t run any systems – engines, generator, or water maker, when we are not on the yacht.

Here’s an example of what can happen if you don’t take my advice.

Anegada Setting Point anchorage and mooring field
The somewhat crowded mooring field at Setting Point, Anegada

Racing through a mooring field

Don’t try and race another yacht to try and pick up the last first come first serve mooring ball at Cooper Island.

It’s dangerous, and not worth it.

Lots of people, myself included enjoy swimming off the back of the boat and would love it if you don’t run us over šŸ¤.

Thanks for reading my post about the top 10 mistakes to avoid on a yacht charter trip and making it all the way to the end! If you enjoyed it, please subscribe or check out some of my other articles, like this one about my favorite BVI anchorages.

Exuma Fishing Tips: How to Catch More Fish in the Bahamas

filleting a wahoo in the Exumas

Photo: filleting a fresh caught Wahoo

We recently returned to the Exumas for a bareboat charter and had a great trip. You can read the trip report here.

One thing we did differently this time? We took our fishing seriously, and, it worked. On our first time to the Exumas we rented one set of fishing gear and bought 3 lures at the small marina store. The result? Two barracudas.

But this time, we knew where to fish, planned around weather conditions, and brought the right equipment.

The fishing in the Exumas is outstanding thanks to itā€™s proximity to the drop where the Exuma Banks fall off sharply to the Exuma Sound – several feet to thousands, very quickly. On part of the northern section of the Exumas, the drop is only a stones throw from some of the cays!!

You fish the drop for the prize – mahi mahi, wahoo, tuna, and other sportfish. You can even catch marlin or other billfish there – just keep in mind they are catch and release.

In addition to the drop, there are also options for catching fish on the Exuma Banks and around the many reefs that pocket the area.

With some planning, you too can have some success on your next Exumas yacht charter sailing trip.

  • Bahamas fishing regulations
  • Exuma fishing techniques
  • Where to fish in the Exumas
Wahoo caught on the drop in the Exumas sound
Wahoo caught on the drop in December

Bahamas fishing regulations

OK, first, letā€™s make sure you are set up to fish lawfully in the Bahamas.

Exuma Bahamas fishing license

Fishing is allowed in the Exuma Bahamas and for sailing charters, and a permit is usually not required. But, please check with your charter company to confirm.

Fishing regulations in the Exumas

Make sure to familiarize yourself with the latest fishing regulations. Here are some of the highlights to be aware of:

  • The Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park is a no take zone – make sure you know where it is. It is clearly marked on most charts

  • Lobster – no more than 10 at a time; the season is closed from April 1 – July 31

  • Conch – limit of 6, and they must be mature (well-formed lip)

  • No more than 18 migratory species at a time (wahoo, mahi, tuna, etc) – I applaud you if you can catch that many!

  • All billfish are catch and release

  • Other fish must not exceed 60 pounds or 20 fish (such as grouper or snapper)

  • No more than 6 rods can be used

Catching lionfish in the Exumas
Lionfish we speared along the reef you can see in the background

Exuma fishing techniques

I put together aĀ sailboat fishing guideĀ that covers in more details the best methods for fishing in the Exumas ā€“ trolling, bottom dropping, jigging, etc.

Start with trolling. In the Exumas, you are generally sailing for longer distances between anchorages (as compared to the British Virgin Islands). Trolling allows you to cover a lot of distance and fish whenever you are moving.

I always use two rods and start with a diving lure and a surface lure. If one type is getting more action, we might switch it out. If youā€™re fishing in the Exuma Banks, it might be too shallow to use diving lures, so exercise caution.

If youā€™re in the market for some lures these are my favorite ones that we regularly get hooked up on.

Exuma surface lures

By far, my favorite in this category is the Iland Ilander. This version has a weight in the head which keeps the lure slightly below the surface. For colors, go with blue/white, purple, and pink.

Iland Ilander lure (TackleDirect)

This is a great all-around surface lure that you can often catch mahi, tuna, and king mackerel with. Blue/white, pink, and black/purple are my favorites.

Iland Ilander Flasher Series lure (TackleDirect)

Try a couple of the flasher skirts as well - the reflective mylar helps to attract some fish species.

Exuma diving lures

I like the Rapala X-Rap Magnum and the Yozuri Bonita in 5-6 inch sizes. They will dive 10-30 feet – these are your best bet for catching wahoo.

Rapala X-Rap Magnum lure (TackleDirect)

Try these in a variety of depths from 15-40 feet. I like Hot Pink, Bonito, and the Green Mackerel colors.

Yozuri Bonita lure (TackleDirect)

This has been my most successful diving lure recently, and I caught my first wahoo with it. In 6 3/4 in size, try the Flying Fish, Red Black, and Purple Black.

Spearfishing

To note, spearfishing with a gun is illegal in the Bahamas, but you may use a Hawaiian sling. You are also not allowed to use scuba gear. If you like free diving and snorkeling Iā€™d highly recommend bringing one or asking your charter company if they can provide it.

On our last trip we speared several lion fish and made some excellent ceviche out of it.

This is the type of speargun we purchased and brought with us.

5' Fiberglass Hawaiian Sling (Amazon)

This one packs well for travel and has several tips to choose from

When are the fish biting in the Exumas?

You can catch barracuda and go bottom dropping year round. For the deep sea fishing, hereā€™s when they are most active.

  • Wahoo – late fall and winter

  • Mahi – spring and early summer

  • Tuna – peak summer

Exuma Bahamas fishing map

Where to fish in the Exumas

This graphic I put together sums it up.

  • Deepwater pelagic species on the drop in the Exuma Sound

  • Youā€™ll mostly just catch barracuda trolling in the Exuma Banks

  • Be aware of where the park boundaries are

  • Good chances to spearfish lionfish, grouper, hogfish, and snapper on the numerous reefs. You can also try some bottom dropping on these with live/dead bait

If some of your group isnā€™t interested in fishing, consider arranging for a charter from one of the marinas – Highbourne Cay, Compass Cay, or Staniel Cay.

Shark bait in the Exumas
We got sharked on this one near the drop

Exuma Sound fishing

The drops are where the shelf falls from a couple hundred feet, to over thousands. These areas have swift currents that upwell nutrients from deep in the ocean. In turn, this provides a habitat for huge schools of bait fishā€¦and their predators.

In general, the drop runs from the northwest to the southeast. You can access it through numerous cuts between the cays – check the Explorer Chartbook for more details. Some are more narrow and treacherous than others, so itā€™s a good idea to know which ones to use when you head out for the day.

Catching sargassum
Check those lines frequently for sargassum

Also take note of the effects of wind and tide which can make passage through the cuts more challenging. I talk more about this in my Exumas cruising guide.

Also important – wind direction. Otherwise you might be in for a rough ride. Wind is more variable in the Exumas. The tradewinds blow here, but frontal passages are more frequent. Keep checking that forecast!

In general, winds are out of the east. So, trolling on you way south means you are going to have wind and waves in your teeth. We try and plan our fishing for days when weā€™ll be heading back north.

Each pin represents a fish where we hooked up

I like to troll over the drop in 200-600 feet of water or so. You can see in the screenshot a section of the drop and exactly where we hooked up. Another method – zig zag from around 200 feet until the depth sounder no longer registers. Then had back to 200 feet.

Wahoo, my favorite eating fish, can be found on the drop in large numbers when the water begins to cool – starting as early as November. These fish are so much fun to reel in as well – they have the reputation as the fastest fish in the ocean.

Reel them up quick though! The tax man has gotten us before.

barracuda catch on a sailboat
Barracuda caught with a pink Iland Ilander lure

Exuma Banks Fishing

While the shallow turquoise water is breathtaking to sail through, that color means it has a sandy bottom. Fish donā€™t like hanging out here since they donā€™t have any protection. Mostly, you will just find their chief predator, the barracuda and perhaps a mackerel lurking.

Still, hearing the sound of the reel alarm going off never gets old, even if thereā€™s a barracuda on the end of the line.

As I mentioned earlier, you probably want to stick to surface lures, or anything that will swim in less than 10 feet.

Into fly fishing? The Exumas support some excellent bonefish populations in the shallows. If you want to do this it may be best to set up a tour with a local fishing charter guide.

Ship Channel Cay anchorage
We speared several fish on these small reefs you can see at our anchorage at Ship Channel Cay

Reefs

You can find shallow water reefs on the Exuma Banks side. These are great to go spearfishing since you donā€™t need a long breath hold to explore.

Deeper reef fishing can be found between the cays and the drop.

Another option? Stop for a lunch snorkel and fishing stop across the Yellow Banks – the shallower area you will cross that is scattered with bommies (reefs). They are easy to spot even if not marked on charts and support a lot of life. The ones we recently stopped stretched over a quarter mile.

Reefs in the Yellow Banks
Here's where we anchored to check out this reef on the Yellow Banks crossing | Source: Google Maps

If you want to check one out, drop the anchor in ~15 feet of water. This is best done during a slack tide otherwise youā€™ll be fighting a current if you go spearfishing.

Prefer to stay dry? Use a spinning reel setup to cast your lure over the reefs.

BVI Weather and Marine Forecast Resources for Sailing

example of backwinding while anchored

During my first bareboat trip to the BVIs many years ago, I didnā€™t pay much attention to the weather forecast. Big oops!

Everything was fine and we enjoyed the steady 10-15 knot easterly trades and an occasional isolated thunderstorm – typical British Virgin Islands weather. But – what if we were caught in Cane Garden Bay when a northerly ground swell picked up at 2:00am?

It could have been dangerous and at a minimum quite uncomfortable for the crew.

As Iā€™ve become more experienced (and wiser with age) I watch the BVI weather like a hawk before and during our sailing trips. Iā€™ve even figured out how to use an Iridium GO! and download Predict Wind forecast data over satellite.

The good news for the BVIs is that with decent cell phone coverage throughout the sailing grounds, you can get everything you need from the palm of your hand.

In this post, Iā€™ve collected all the info you need to plan for and monitor the BVI weather for your next boat trip. And, given the proximity of the BVI neighbors – USVI and Spanish Virgin Islands – this weather info will be just as good for those sailing destinations as well.

Hereā€™s what Iā€™ll cover:

Ground swells are well forecasted by NOAA

BVI weather features to watch out for

Northerly ground swells

This one can catch novices by surprise. Ground swells can affect northerly exposed anchorages, making them uncomfortable and potentially dangerous.

From Nov-Apr, strong storms in the far away North Atlantic produce these swells that then travel all the way down to the British Virgin Islands.

The result can be extremely rolly anchorages and even breaking waves on the shore. Boats have been known to be thrown ashore from ground swells, so take caution.

The good news is they are extremely well forecasted, so check that forecast often. You can also see the Cane Garden Bay surf report. For a live shot, check out Quitoā€™s webcam.

Notable BVI destinations affected by ground swells:

  • Cane Garden Bay: if any ground swell is forecasted, we avoid CGB. Try Diamond Cay or other Jost Van Dyke anchorages instead

  • The Baths: while not an overnight destination, the mooring field will be quite rolly and swimming ashore from the dingy tie-off can be very dangerous. If you donā€™t have schedule flexibility and need to fit it in, you have two options

  • Cooper Island: swells can wrap around into the mooring field, again, making this one unpleasant

example of backwinding while anchored
I was backwinded during this lunch stop at Muskmelon Bay | Easterly trade winds, but yacht is facing west

Backwinding while anchored

Backwinding is possible at some popular BVI anchorages. Make sure you understand what it means and how to plan for it. You can see at example above at Muskmelon Bay at Guana Island.

  • Strong winds (~15+ knots) blow, in this case from the easterlyĀ trade winds in the BVIs

  • When the wind reaches this speed and blows over tall terrain (like many of the BVI islands), it doesn’t just blow straight over. A vortex is created and creates wind at the surface in the opposite direction of the trades.

  • So despite easterlyĀ trade winds, at the surface you may experience a westerly wind which would push yourĀ catamaranĀ towards the shore (see the picture above when we were anchored at Muskmelon Bay – the bow is oriented towards the west as a result of being backwinded)

  • Given how close you have to be to shore, it can be a concern at some BVI anchorages due proximity to the shoreline – this can happen at White Bay, for example, when the wind is from the NE

  • Being backwinded can be acceptable if you plan for it and have enough swinging room to manage the phenomenon

Typical day in the British Virgin Islands with puffy trade wind cumulus clouds

What is the weather like in the British Virgin Islands

Itā€™s wonderful!!

But seriously youā€™ll enjoy some of the best conditions for sailing anywhere.

Generally, for weather conditions, you can expect steady 10-15 knot trade winds from the ENE-ESE, puffy tradewind cumulus clouds, and an occasional shower or squall.

Hereā€™s what you can expect during the various cruising seasons.

High season (December to March)

This is the busiest time of year. Hurricane season is over, and the annual pilgrimage of cruising boats has made itā€™s way from mainland U.S. and Europe to enjoy the warm Caribbean winter.

Days are shorter (~11 hours vs ~13 hours in the summer).

Most notably, you can expect the Christmas Winds: several days of strong winds (15-30 knots) created by strong high pressure systems in the Atlantic. Make sure you know how to reef those sails!

Wind is usually out of the E to NE and less precipitation falls this time of year.

Shoulder season 1 (April to June)

This is my favorite and I believe the best time to visit the British Virgin Islands for sailing trips. Weā€™ve been to the BVIs 3x in May. The crowds have thinned out somewhat and the weather has become more settled.

Expect easy 10-15 knots from the E to SE and an occasional shower to cool things off.

Peak hurricane season (July to October)

It can be hot, the trade winds lessen (5-15 knots), and tropical mischief can be brewing.

But, you might have the place to yourself. On the flip side, however, some establishments are closed, so keep that in mind if you are planning to hop around the beach bars.

This is the wet season thanks to developing low pressure systems.

Shoulder season 2 (November)

This is my second favorite time to sail in the Caribbean.

Again, the crowds havenā€™t arrived yet and the weather tends to be settled – similar to April-June.

Trades blow 15-20 knots with wind direction from the E.

The biggest downside of this time of year is the lessening daylight. It can make a difference if you plan to spend long days on the water.

Want to learn more about sailing in the British Virgin Islands? Check out my BVIĀ Beginnerā€™s Guide for other useful insights.

Bali 5.4 Review: Our Favorite Yacht Charter Catamaran

Bali 5.4 helm station view

We had the opportunity to sail a Bali 5.4 during our week-long sailing trip in the Exumas Bahamas.

The verdict? This was our crewā€™s favorite catamaran that we have ever been on for these sailing vacations (and weā€™ve been on many other Balis, Lagoons, and Leopards). If you want to know why I only sail catamarans for these trips, check out my catamaran vs monohull comparison.

This was also the largest multihull Iā€™ve handled and a bit bigger than we needed for our crew size. We were supposed to be on a new Lagoon 46 for this trip, but itā€™s delivery was going to be delayed. So instead, the charter company upgraded us to this brand new Bali 5.4.

How new? We were the second crew to use it after itā€™s delivery from being on display at the Annapolis boat show.

Letā€™s start this Bali 5.4 review with the living areas.

Bali 5.4 in the Exumas
~5 foot draft took us to some anchorages otherwise off limits for monohulls in the Exumas

This boat was made for relaxing!

This is exactly the type of catamaran that Iā€™d want with a big crew (8-10) on a sailing trip!

Letā€™s start with the flybridge. The helm station has room for two and affords excellent visibility perched high above deck. Itā€™s positioned on the starboard side so your immediate view isnā€™t blocked by the mainmast.

What I love about the flybridge is that it combines the helm station and lounge areas. The captain/helmsman still feels like they are a part of the action. Just behind the wheel is a large U-shaped seating area with two tables. And then behind that, are a couple cushions for sunbathing underneath the mainsail.

sailing the Exumas
Room for two at the helm station
Bali 5.4 top deck
Lots of room at the U-shaped seating area of the flybridge
Sunbathing on the Bali 5.4
Sunbathing underneath the boom on the flybridge

Other amenities of the flybridge: plenty of storage, speakers for jamming sailing tunes (yes Iā€™ve been on catamarans that donā€™t have this) a beverage refrigerator, and a sink! No need to go downstairs for fresh cocktails.

The trampoline, a common feature of most catamarans, is replaced with a solid foredeck – probably the one feature I disapprove of. I love laying on the trampoline at night for stargazing. Itā€™s a tradeoff on the Bali 5.4 to make room for the two single berths in the bows.

You can still lounge up front at the forward cockpit and we usually used this space in the morning for breakfast. Use the forward door straight out of the galley. This direct access is great. Enjoy some bacon, eggs, and coffee at the table as the sun rises over your anchorage.

Bali 5.4 forward cockpit
Breakfasting at the forward cockpit with direct access to the galley

Heading aft, another feature of Bali catamarans is the garage style door that rotates up. Our version had an electric winch to handle this, but on some models you may have to do this by hand (which is no big deal). So rather than have an indoor and outdoor dining table, you only need one. The door rotates up and large windows slide open so you get a true indoor/outdoor open space to enjoy!

We enjoyed dinners here and even popped up a sheet to make a big screen for Master and Commander.

Cooking in the Bali 5.4 galley
Making fresh wahoo sashimi in the spacious galley
Watching Master and Commander afloat
Pop up screen to watch Master and Commander | We have the garage door in the down position

The galley is plenty big for any amount of cooking and entertaining you plan to do. On the Bali 5.4, you have so much storage that we were able to stow most of our provisions away. Itā€™s also U-shaped which makes enough space for 2 cooks to prep meals without bumping into each other.

The gas grill is built in with a pop up cover. While we could never get it blazing hot, always a problem with boat grills, but itā€™s location and cover helped shield it from the breezes.

Below decks on the Bali 5.4

Honestly, below deck features on a sailing trip are the least of my worries. We sleep there, but otherwise donā€™t spend much time hanging out in the cabins.

Our version had 5 main cabins, each with itā€™s own head. In addition there are 2 additional single cabins in the bows of the two pontoons. We didnā€™t use them – I believe for a crewed charter, this is where the captain and hostess would stay. You might be able to fit a kid in each, but keep in mind they are separate from the main living space. Access is from a deck hatch and in our version they were not air conditioned.

This was the first time Iā€™ve slept on a mattress positioned perpendicular to the hull. The benefit is you have more space to maneuver in the cabin. The mattress was also bigger than, say, one shaped to fit in the bow of one of the pontoons.

One of our cabins was extra large – the biggest Iā€™ve seen so far. On some models, this can be shrunk to make room for a 6th cabin.

Compass Cay shark
Shark visitor in the Exumas | You can also see the hydraulic swim platform
Bali 5.4 blue lights in the Exumas
The underwater blue lights were a lot of fun

Systems/features that are great for sailing trips

Our version of the yacht came with all the bells and whistles.

Generator / air conditioning: it got real cold! We can thank how new the boat was. In case you havenā€™t been on a Bali, be aware that the galley area is not air conditioned. The reason? The pop up garage door doesnā€™t seal perfectly.

Watermaker: again, this worked great and required no mid-trip adjustments. Our charter base helped set it and forget it. All we had to do was check the pressure occasionally and turn it off when water tanks were full.

Underwater blue lights: this was the first time Iā€™ve had this and it was awesome!!! We put them on in the evenings – lots of fish and a couple sharks showed up to say hi.

Hydraulic swim platform:Ā another nice suprise. You can adjust it to any level and it double functions as the dingy lift.

Bow thrusters? The Bali was equipped with these (I saw the propellers while snorkeling) but the charter company advised us that they were not operable. So, we didnā€™t attempt it. There was a control for them at the helm station. This boat, like most catamarans, are so easy to maneuver with twin engines that Iā€™m not sure I would have even tried to use them.

Catamaran downwind sailing

Sailing Performance

We only averaged 10 knots of wind on our trip, occasionally cranking up to 15. As a result, we didnā€™t really get to put the Bali to the test under sail. We had to motor about half the time due to light winds.

But, we put the sails up whenever we could. The sails went up smoothly with help from 3 electric winches.

It has a self tacking jib – another nice feature that would make it easy to single hand for a captain.

On a broad reach we were able to get our speed up to about 7 knots – pretty good as far as Iā€™m concerned for a bulky yacht charter catamaran. Downwind we picked up 6 knots with about 10 knots of wind speed.

Bali 5.4 helm station view
You have excellent visibility from the helm station on the Bali 5.4

Under motor

This was the fastest catamaran Iā€™ve been on under motor. Revving to 2,500 rpms, we easily reached double digit speeds. Engines seemed at ease. The speed came in handy for our Exumas trip when we got a late start out of the marina on our first day.

I really liked the electric throttle controls. It takes getting used to since you need to let them pause in neutral when moving between forward and reverse. Once figured out, there is no guessing which gear you are in – have you ever asked yourself if you are really in neutral??

Sail Rocks North anchorage sunset
Great sunset on our last night in the Exumas

Another bareboat charter with the Bali 5.4?

So would I charter the Bali 5.4 again? Yes and no. For a crew of 5 (we had a few last minute covid-related cancellations), it seems a bit excessive.

The other big consideration is the price, which we did not have to pay (we payed a lower rate which was applicable for the Lagoon 46). This would probably be one of the more expensive yachts you can charter – especially for a new model.

If money were no object and I had a large crew of 10-12. Absolutely!!! We loved it.

Catamaran vs Monohull: Why the Cat is Better for Your Sailing Trip

Catamaran vs Monohull

You have a big decision to make.

You’re the captain, planning your next week-longĀ bareboatĀ sailing vacationĀ in theĀ caribbean. What type ofĀ sailing yachtĀ do you choose? Make sure you don’t disappoint the crew.

There are more than a couple things to consider.

I’ll preface this so you know my bias up front – I only sailĀ catamaransĀ forĀ yacht charters. This is what I recommend.

That said, I don’t think there is a right and a wrong answer.Ā 

TheĀ catamaranĀ is a good fit for our crew – 4 couples in our 30s. A couple reasons why:

  • We enjoy the extraĀ loungeĀ space a cat provides, especially aĀ flybridgeĀ if available – that’s where we’ll spend most of our time during the day
  • We like the common areas being above theĀ waterlineĀ and the better stability
  • We care less about sailing performance – we are the type of crew that is OK dropping sails if the winds are light or it’s more convenient to motor
  • As the captain, I appreciate the maneuverability twin engines provide for docking – it keeps some stress out of the equation
  • Most tend to come with generators, AC, and water makers: all features we enjoy on these trips

Here’s aĀ review of the Bali 5.4Ā I put together that talks about some of these reasons, including lots of pictures.

Catamaran vs monohull comparison
Catamaran vs monohull - which has the advantage?

I came up with a few criteria to consider as a framework for your next trip…just remember – choose what makes the most sense for your group and budget.

If you want to learn more about handling and sailing catamarans, check out the Smarter Charter Guide or ASA’s Cruising Catamarans Made Easy.

Smarter Charter (Amazon)

This covers everything you need to know including docking, sailing, and anchoring a catamaran. I like to review it as a refresher before our bareboat charter trips.

Cruising Catamarans Made Easy (Amazon)

Another great resource is the American Sailing Association's Cruising Catamarans Made Easy.

Let the catamaran vs monohull debate begin.Ā 

I’ll go through each of these in more detail:

Lounging on the catamaran's top deck
You'll find lounging space everywhere on a catamaran

Space &Ā lounging

Advantage:Ā Catamaran

I enjoy the added living space that a catamaran offers – there are many areas for hanging out and lounging. The beauty of many of the designs is that these spaces blend together – it doesn’t feel compartmentalized.

The trampoline and flybridge are some of our favorite places to hang out. You absolutely can’t beat the visibility and view from a flybridge. Neither of these are available on a monohull design.

Catamarans tend to have bigger cabins with more headroom and privacy. Although we don’t spend much time in the cabins, it’s a vacation – treat yourself!

Lastly, I prefer the galley to be above the waterline. The below deck space in monohulls feels claustrophobic to me.

And if you are the one prepping a meal on a cat, it still feels like you are part of the action. Look out the windows and enjoy the view.

Some people enjoy the thrill of heeling over in a fresh breeze

Sailing performance

Advantage: Monohull

I have to give the advantage to the monohull for sailing performance. And if you have less sailing experience, you may find it’s easier to sail a monohull.

When sailing upwind, monohulls can usually sail closer to the wind. They will also make less leeway (sideways drift while moving forward) since they have deeper keels than a catamaran. This means the monohull can get to a destination faster at this point of sail.

Many people also find that sailing in a monohull can be much more exhilarating since you can feel the power of the wind as it heels over.Ā 

Catamaran downwind sailing
Easy downwind sailing with just the mainsail

Tacking is usually harder on a catamaran since it is sometimes more difficult to maintain momentum through the turn. In part, this is due to leeway. It is possible in such a scenario to stall out and getting the cat moving again can be difficult.

If that happens, it can help to fire up the motors and use the added power to regain momentum.

Speed – most charter sailboats aren’t particularly fast, topping out around 8-10 knots on ideal points of sail and fresh breezes. While the monohull is faster upwind, the catamaran is faster on a downwind, beam reach.

Strong winds – since catamarans don’t heel over (which can be used as a warning that you are overpressed), you need to be more vigilant in a cat about reducing sail/reefing early. Capsizing is rare, but the possibility is always present.

Visibility – on average, catamarans are going to have better visibility since the helmstation is often perched higher. This is especially true if your cat has a flybridge (flybridge for the win!).

Dinghy – on monohulls during sailing trips, you are unlikely to haul the dinghy aboard. You’ll need to tow it behind you. A minor point, but it might slow you down some and you’ll need to be careful with the line in the water during anchoring. On catamarans, you can always raise the dinghy out of the water.

Pirate's Lair Warderick Wells Exumas
Twin engines helped me stay on station as the tide ripped through this mooring field at Warderick Wells

Maneuverability

Advantage: Catamaran

TwinĀ engines on the cat means that you can spin on a dime and make precise corrections for docking. The bigger ones might even have bow thrusters.

It’s also helpful to make adjustments and stay on station when picking up a mooring ball – this can be particularly useful if you have fewer experienced crew members aboard.

Docking

I would point out that for a week-long trip, you can get away without docking. The only reason you must dock mid trip would be to refuel or take on water.Ā 

Running out of fuel has never been an issue for us, even on trips where light winds mean we have to motor more frequently. I’ve never had to refuel more than half a tank at the end of a week-long trip

As far as water goes – this depends on your crew and usage behaviors.

Catamarans have bigger water tanks. Usually there are two of them. If you educate the crew about how to conserve, you shouldn’t have a problem with running dry.

Water makers (although sometimes they malfunction) are another luxury that should keep you off the dock.

Lastly, on the way back to the base, you can always radio the charter company – they can send someone out to dock the yacht for you.

Catamaran in shallow water at Staniel Cay
The catamaran can help you access shallower water anchorages | This one is at Staniel Cay in the Exumas

Draft

Advantage: Catamaran

Most catamarans are going to have a shallower draft than monohulls. However the difference in the bareboat fleets is probably only about a foot.

  • Catamaran draft: ~4-5 feet
  • Monohull draft: ~5-6 feet

If you areĀ sailing in the British Virgin Islands, this probably won’t matter much since most navigation is line of sight in relatively deep water. The anchorages are also less shallow

However, if you are planning a trip to theĀ Exumas Bahamas, the shallower waters will make a difference. You will most certainly be able to access some anchorages in a catamaran that you would want to avoid in a monohull. On ourĀ last trip to the Exumas, we visited several of these, such as Fresh Well Bay at Shroud Cay.

Bali 5.4 blue lights in the Exumas
This cat we sailed in the Exumas that had all the bells and whistles, including underwater blue lights

Comfort & stability

Advantage: Catamaran

Hands down, the cat is the easy pick here. At anchor, the cat will pitch and roll much less if a swell is wrapping it’s way into the anchorage.

While sailing, some people prefer not to heel – if that’s the case, the cat is your choice. This is generally a good idea if you are aboard with a family and some younger children.

For those more susceptible to seasickness, you will feel the effects of the sea less in a cat.

While more stable in heavy seas, water can slap the catamaran’s bridge deck. This tends to be more of a nuisance than a disadvantage.

Bali 5.4 top deck
This cat, the Bali 5.4, is at the upper end of what you'll pay for a yacht charter | The top deck even has a refrigerator

Cost

Advantage: Monohull

I’ve generally found that monohulls are more cost effective, especially if you have a smaller crew.

For a similarly equipped yacht that accommodates the same number of crew, you can almost always expect to pay more for the cat…sometimes many thousands more.Ā 

Why is this? Catamaran’s are more expensive to build and maintain. That cost is passed on to you as a charterer. I also believe that catamarans are in increasingly in higher demand from the bareboat community for the reasons described above.

If you enjoy docking for a night or two in a different marina during your trip – expect to pay more since cats take up a full slip. Fuel costs will also be a bit higher.

I hope that clarified a few points for you when considering catamaran vs. monohull for your next bareboat sailing trip. If you’re interested in learning more about taking sailing vacations, check out our beginner’s guide.

Our Favorite Things to do While Sailing

Sail Rocks North anchorage

Long, lazy days on the water. Sails up with a fresh breeze. Rocking out to someĀ sailing tunes. A snorkel stop for lunch. Freshly caught fish for dinner. A secluded anchorage with a gorgeous sunset across the horizon.

That is all I need for a perfect day during a sailing trip in the caribbean. There are many other things to do though!

Besides sailing, of course, these are our top activities.

muskmelon bay at guana island in the bvis
You'll find snorkeling opportunities everywhere

Snorkel secret reefs

Access secret snorkel spots other vacationers canā€™t! There will be plenty of lunch snorkel stops and many anchorages that offer great underwater sea life.

You might want to consider bringing your own snorkel and mask – many charter companies have stopped providing these due to Covid. You can check out the model we have listed on our sailing trip packing list page.

HMS Rhone snorkeling
Diving the HMS Rhone in the BVIs

Scuba dive a famous wreck

We usually rent dive equipment and tanks (if you are certified, of course). All you have to do is jump off the back of the boat! Ask your charter company and they can arrange a dive equipment provider to meet you at check-in.

This picture above is from the HMS Rhone, one of the most popular dive sites in the area.

If are new to diving or want a local guide, you can also arrange with local dive operators to pick you up right from your anchorage or mooring.

Northern Exumas Wahoo
Recent wahoo caught while trolling

Catch some pelagic fish

Some of the best fishing destinations also happen to be popular for yacht charters. We fish almost whenever we are sailing, and we usually land a few fish to make tacos or ceviche. It doesnā€™t get any better than that!

We mostly troll surface and diving lures and target the drops where you can catch wahoo, mahi, and tuna. Bottom dropping at anchor is another easy way to add some excitement to the trip.

Step up your fishing game –Ā our guideĀ will provide you with some tips to land more fish.

Sail Rocks North anchorage sunset
Secluded sunset in the northern Exuma Cays

Enjoy a sunset at anchor

The golden hour is my favorite time of day. Some of the best sunsets Iā€™ve ever seen have been on a sailboat. It gets even better when you have the anchorage all to yourself.

Hiking on Compass Cay Exumas
Hiking to Crescent Beach at Compass Cay

Hike to secluded beaches

You can find trails at every sailing destination. Some of my favorites include the hike to theĀ lighthouse at Culebrita, the baths at Virgin Gorda (BVI), and exploring the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park on Warderick Wells in the Bahamas.

Get a birds eye view of your yacht lying at anchor down below and check out beaches that can’t be accessed any other way.

Painkiller at the famous Soggy Dollar Bar in Jost Van Dyke

Sip tropical drinks at a beach bar

We love taking it easy with a tropical beverage at one the many beach bars and restaurants accessible from your dinghy.

Some of our favorites include theĀ Soggy Dollar BarĀ in the British Virgin Islands,Ā Cow Wreck Beach BarĀ in Anegada, and theĀ Staniel Cay Yacht ClubĀ in the Exumas, Bahamas.

Stand up paddleboarding in the Exumas
Paddleboarding in calm conditions in the Exumas

Paddleboard around the anchorage

In addition to snorkeling and diving, you can kayak or go stand up paddle boarding. Most charter companies will give you the option to rent the equipment. Stow it right on the sailboatā€™s deck. Weā€™d recommend the SUP since itā€™s lighter and easier to deploy.

Sailboat regatta

Join a regatta

If you enjoy sailboat racing, enjoy the camaraderie and competition of a regatta. TheĀ BVI Spring RegattaĀ is one of the more popular ones that you can join. Sign up early!

BVI Fishing Tips: Here’s Where to Find the Fish

Fishing in the Virgin Islands

Photo: Jack we caught trolling with an Iland Ilander surface lure

So you want to hook some fish on your BVI sailing trip?

On our first bareboat trip to the British Virgin Islands about 10 years ago, we rented a set of fishing equipment, trolled a cheap lure from our sailboat, and didn’t catch anything!

Lesson learned? You need to do some prep work, bring the right equipment, and know where to find them.

Now, we routinely catch many good eating fish – mahi mahi, wahoo, and snapper to name a few.

In this guide, I share some of our secrets including successful techniques, my favorite lures, and where to find the big fish in the BVIs. For a more in depth guide about sailboat fishing techniques, check out this recent post of mine: Sailboat Fishing.

Who is this BVI fishing guide for?

This is primarily for boaters that will be doing their own fishing from a catamaran or during a yacht charter. I won’t cover shore fishing or bone fishing / fly fishing techniques (since that’s not my area of expertise!).

Here’s what I’ll cover in this article:

fresh mahi caught on a sailboat
Fresh mahi hitting the deck - caught in the Virgin Islands with an Iland Ilander lure

BVI fishing license & registration

First, let’s make sure you can lawfully fish in the BVIs from a vessel. You’ll need to check two boxes:

  1. Individuals (18+ or older) that intend to fish MUST each obtain a BVIĀ fishing license
  2. The vessel you are going to fish from MUST be a BVI registered fishing vessel

How to obtain a BVI fishing license

Here’s what you need to do:

  • Fill out theĀ BVI Form 20aĀ (application)
  • Fill out theĀ credit card authorization
  • Obtain a copy of your identification – they recommend a scan of your passport
  • Submit all three items to cfd@gov.vg for approvalĀ 
  • Additional notes:
    • It costs $45/person (as of Jul-2022)
    • It is also referred to as a Pleasure Fishing License or Fishing Permit
    • Plan for at least a 2 week turnaround for approval – so don’t wait until right before you leave for your trip
    • The license will be good for 30 days – you get to choose the start date
    • Here’s the most currentĀ guidance from BVI

How to make sure you are sailing on a registered fishing vessel

OK this is the tricky part and can cause angst for some ahead of their sailing vacations. The vessel owner/charter company must register the vessel for fishing.

The Moorings in the BVI, for example, only registers their catamarans for fishing, but not their monohulls.

Some charter companies, such as BVI Yacht Charters, Horizon, and TMM are known to register all of their vessels.

And if you plan to clear into the BVI from the USVI on a USVI vessel, there is a good chance it will not be registered to fish in the BVI.

Here’s what you can do:

  1. Charter with a company that registers all of their vessels for fishing
  2. Check with your charter company if the vessel you are booked on is registered. If it is, you are all set!
  3. If it is not registered, you have a couple options
    • Ask to be switched to a boat that is registered
    • Switch to a different charter company
    • Appeal to your charter company that you would be willing to pay the fee if they could handle filing the paperwork (around $100). Start this process early, weeks before your trip. Assume this will not be a priority for them
Mutton snapper caught while trolling in the Virgin Islands
Great size mutton snapper | Caught while trolling over some bottom structure

BVI fishing regulations

Familiarize yourself with the most currentĀ BVI fishing regulations. Know what equipment you can use, where you can use, and what you can keep.

A couple highlights:

  • Using a speargun is illegal at all times – stick to fishing rods
  • Goliath grouper and turtles are off limits at all times
  • There are no specific size limits (that I have been able to find)
  • Conch, whelk, and lobster may not be taken at all by visitors

BVI fishing techniques

Check out myĀ sailboat fishing guideĀ for a full breakdown of the various ways you can catch fish in the BVIs – trolling, bottom dropping, jigging, etc.

I’d suggest you focus on trolling – it’s the best way to cover a lot of distance and fish whenever you are moving.

We like to use two rods, with a diving lure and a surface lure. These are my favorite lures that we regularly get hooked up on.

BVI diving lures

I like the Rapala X-Rap Magnum and the Yozuri Bonita (look for them in 5-6 inch sizes). They will dive 10-30 feet – these are your best bet for catching wahoo.

Yozuri Bonita lure (TackleDirect)

This has been my most successful diving lure recently, and I caught my first wahoo with it. In 6 3/4 in size, try the Flying Fish, Red Black, and Purple Black.

Rapala X-Rap Magnum lure (TackleDirect)

Try these in a variety of depths from 15-40 feet. I like Hot Pink, Bonito, and the Green Mackerel colors.

BVI surface lures

By far, my favorite in this category is the Iland Ilander. This version has a weight in the head which keeps the lure slightly below the surface. For colors, go with blue/white, purple, and pink.

Iland Ilander lure (TackleDirect)

This is a great all-around surface lure that you can often catch mahi, tuna, and king mackerel with. Blue/white, pink, and black/purple are my favorites.

Iland Ilander Flasher Series lure (TackleDirect)

Try a couple of the flasher skirts as well - the reflective mylar helps to attract some fish species.

Where to fish in the British Virgin Islands?

Focus on these areas for your best chances of catching fish. But, don’t be afraid to put a line in the water anytime you are moving the boat – that’s what we do!

Offshore

When we are serious about catching the best eating fish: wahoo, mahi, and tuna, we drop the sails and motor over the two drops. Zig zag back and forth trolling in 200-600 feet of water for your best chances.

south drop in the bvis
Depths fall off sharply at the South Drop near Norman and Peter Islands | source: Navionics

The drops are where the shelf falls from a couple hundred feet, to over thousands. These areas have swift currents that upwell nutrients from deep in the ocean. In turn this provides a habitat for huge schools of bait fish…and their predators.

South Drop

This drop is more accessible than the north one. We usually hit it when we plan to anchor at Norman island. Try it in the afternoon after a snorkel at the Indians, making a clockwise loop around Norman in the drop area (clockwise is best considering the prevailing trades).

North Drop

If you want to try and catch marlin or sailfish, the north drop is probably your best bet. It is said the north drop gets more blue marlin bites than any other location in the Caribbean.

It is not as easy to reach as the South Drop, but here are two ways to fish it.

  1. On your way to Anegada, instead of a straight shot, head NE from Virgin Gorda and around Horseshoe Reef to the drop. Continue counter clockwise around AnegadaĀ trolling the drop. This will be a longer day on the water, so get an early start (~50 nautical miles). This is best done in settled weather.
  2. Head straight to Anegada and spend two nights at Setting Point. On your second day, leave the anchorage for some North Drop fishing in the morning. Return back to Setting Point in the afternoon.
barracuda catch on a sailboat
While not the prize, you will inevitably catch some 'cuda - they are fun to reel in nonetheless

Shelf or inshore fishing areas

North of Tortola, including between Anegada and Jost van Dyke

You should have a good chance in this area. Depths range from ~30-100 feet and you can catch mackerel, bonito, and mahi while trolling.

Between Anegada and JVD lies the wreck of the 246 foot refrigeration vessel Chikuzen, sunk during a hurricane back in 1981. This is a GREAT wreck to troll over – there are a lot of big fish that hang around it. If you have ballyhoo, this is a good time to use them.

The grid coordinates of the Chikuzen are 18Ā° 37.129′ N 64Ā° 30.969′ W.

If you want to do some bottom dropping or jigging, check out the structure at Kingfish Banks which is about 5 miles northeast of JVD. Good chance you are able to hook up on snapper or grouper.

South of Norman and Peter Islands

We hooked a mahi once on the shelf in about 100 feet of water on our way to the south drop.

Sir Francis Drake Channel

Honestly, we’ve never had much success in SFD Channel, but we drag our lines anyway. If you’re lucky you’ll hook a spanish mackerel, but more than likely you’ll get nothing (or a barracuda).

At anchor

Unless you are in a protected anchorage, we find it is always fun to drop a hook in the evenings while at anchor. We will usually get some type of action. Most recently we caught a horse eyed jack that was fun to reel in.

Use a bottom drop setup with a weight and 2-3 hooks. Any type of live or dead bait works.

Instead of a casting net, we bring a couple sabiki rigs to try and catch the live bait.

A fishing spotlight and some live bait work great for catching tarpon. Try this in North Sound, they are a lot of fun to reel in and release.

Bareboat Charter Boat Briefing Checklist

Staniel Cay anchorage near Thunderball Grotto

The most important pre-departure step for your bareboat charter trip is the boat briefing with your charter company. It serves two purposes:

  1. Familiarize you and the crew with the charterĀ boat operations and safety gear
  2. Introduce you to the sailing grounds and convey important local knowledge

We take these briefings seriously even if we are familiar with the boat type and islands. We usually have months, if not years in between trips – such as our recent Exumas trip. It had been 3 years since we last visited.

That’s enough time to forget and it’s hard to recall all the important details.

All boats are different too – even the same model will have it’s own peculiarities or equipment.

In addition to the captain, try and have at least one or two other crew members participate as well.

The briefings are usually quite thorough, but we still bring our own checklist to make sure we don’t forget to cover important items. We’ve learned some of these the hard way over the years!

If you’d like a pdf version that you can print and take with you, sign up for my free newsletter.

Boat briefing checklist - boat systems and safety

Safety briefing and equipment

  • Life jacketsĀ (or Personal Flotation Devices –Ā PFDs): know their location and make sure there are enough for all the crew
  • VHF radio procedures: know how to place a distress or mayday call
  • Emergency tillerĀ and manual bilge pumps
  • Location of hull through fittings/seacocks: if you start to take on water, this might be the first place to look
  • Plugs: in the event of a hull breach
  • First-aid kit
  • Location of fire extinguishers
  • Man overboard procedures
  • Floatation devices
  • Distress signals
  • Sound producing devices
  • Life raftĀ location and procedures

Boat systems

  • Chart plotter and autopilot
  • Anchor system
    • Make sure windlass works
    • Snubber line functional?
  • Check weather vane functionality
  • Electrical system and battery charging
    • Switches if we let battery fall too low and we can’t start engines
    • Switching to generator and shore power
    • Generator reset switch
    • Cooling intake location
    • Inverter location
  • Air conditioning system
  • Bilge pumps – location and manual/auto switches
  • Depth Guage – where does it measure from?
  • Dinghy
    • How to raise and lower
    • Dinghy pump in case it goes flat
    • Drop it in the water and start the outboardĀ engine
    • Lock to tie off to the dock
  • Engine start procedures and operation
  • Music system – make sure you can connect with bluetooth
  • Fresh waterĀ tanks
    • Top off before you leave
    • If two tanks, how to switch them once one is empty
  • Check fuel level and request to be topped off, if necessary
  • Water maker operation
  • Key for locking the salon
  • Boat inventory checklist
  • Stove, oven, and bbq
    • Spare propane tank
  • Toilets – Know how to dump the tanks
  • Inspect the sailing equipment – ask any questions if you are unsure
    • I always make sure I understand the reefing lines since these always tend to be different
  • Handheld – for when you use the dinghy
  • Rod holders and gaff
  • Snorkeling gear
  • Ask if there’s anything inoperable or not functioning as it should

Procedures

  • What to do if there is a mechanical issue? Who do you call and how (radio or phone)?
  • Check out procedures – ask if you want help getting off the dock
  • Check in procedures on your last day
    • Return the boat the day before or the morning of?
    • What time is the fuel dock open?
    • Who to call for docking assistance
    • What to clean and what to do with linens/towels

Chart briefing and the sailing grounds

In addition to going through the boat operations and equipment, the charter company will also brief you on the charter area. Ā Take good notes, especially if it is your first time in the area.

Here are some other good questions to ask or confirm:

  • Any areas that are off limits
  • RecommendedĀ anchorages
  • Mooring ball availability?
  • Up to date local knowledge
    • Missing channel markers, etc
    • Weather concerns (such as northerly swells or frontal passages, tropical systems)
  • Where to go fishing
  • Any local events taking place during the week
    • Such as the presence of a regatta that could make certain areas busier than normal
New to sailing trips? Check out our beginner’s guide here.

Lionfish Ceviche Recipe

Fresh caught lionfish ceviche

On our recentĀ Exumas Bahamas sailing trip, we made an effort to get off the beaten path and explore islands that are avoided by most cruisers.

One of the benefits is that we enjoyed abundant marine life that would otherwise not be found in crowded anchorages.

Ship Channel Cay anchorage
Ship Channel Cay anchorage in the Exumas where we speared 2 lionfish on the coral heads next to the yacht

On the many reefs and coral heads that we snorkeled, it was all too common to see lionfish.

Lionfish are absolutely beautiful underwater, but they are actuallyĀ quite damagingĀ to Bahamian andĀ CaribbeanĀ reefs since they are anĀ invasive speciesĀ – they have no natural predators.

lionfish
Lionfish on a Carribbean reef
Spearing lionfish in the Exumas
One of the lionfish that we speared at Ship Channel Cay

They are a big threat to reefs and natural ecosystems. Because of this – we took shots at them with our Hawaiian sling (spear guns are illegal in the Bahamas) whenever we could.

Lionfish do need to handled carefully since they have 18 venomous spines. Before we fillet the fish, we trim each of these spines off with a pair of strong scissors.

Here’s a video on how to safely trim the lionfish spines.

The good news with lionfish is that they are excellent eating! They are great as fillets or in fish tacos – but my favorite way to eat them is in a ceviche.Ā 

Make it as anĀ appetizerĀ to share with the whole crew – it goes great withĀ tortillaĀ chips!

Here’s the recipe we used on our recent trip:

Lionfish CevicheĀ Ingredients

  • 2 lionfish fillets, diced (note: if you don’t have lionfish, you can replace with snapper, grouper, or even conch – they all work great!
  • 1 cup ofĀ lime juice
  • 1 cup of roughlyĀ choppedĀ cilantroĀ (half of a bunch)
  • 1/2Ā red onion,Ā diced
  • 1/2 green bell pepper,Ā diced
  • 1/2 red bell pepper,Ā diced
  • 2-3 tomatoes,Ā diced
  • 1 avocado,Ā diced
  • 1Ā jalapenoĀ orĀ serranoĀ pepper (optional)
  • 1 tsp salt, additional salt andĀ blackĀ pepperĀ to taste
  • Serve withĀ tortillaĀ chipsĀ or tostadas

Method

  1. Prepare your ingredients and mix everything together except for the avocado.
  2. Pour theĀ lime juiceĀ over mixture – make sure there is enough juice to cover all of the ingredients.Ā 
  3. Set aside and let the cevicheĀ marinateĀ for 20-30 minutes. The lionfish is ready when it turns opaque.
  4. Add the avocado and combine.
  5. Taste and add salt as needed.
  6. Serve with chips and enjoy!

This will make enough for an appetizer for the sailing crew (up to 8 people). If you have more lionfish fillets, just double the recipe.

Get Organized for Your Next Boat Trip

Getting the crew on the same page and organized ahead of your upcoming bareboat charter sailing trip can be challenging!

There is plenty to coordinate including the provisioning list, travel arrangements, crew information, and much more. It doesn’t get any easier when you have a full complement, such as 8 people on a catamaran.

Here’s the good news: there are plenty of free collaboration tools available to assist you! Don’t get suckered into sending emails back and forth. There is a better way!!

Notion: our boat trip collaboration tool

I use Notion for my business, so it made sense to give it a shot with the rest of the crew. There are, however, plenty of alternatives such as ClickUp or Asana. Use what makes sense for you!

I like Notion in this case because it’s simple and easy to use. None of the rest of my crew were familiar with it, but they all learned it quickly. Despite being user-friendly, it has some powerful features.

Here are a few of the ways we used Notion to plan for our recent sailing trip to the Exumas, Bahamas.

Easy access to your provisioning list

If you’re anything like us, the majority of your planning time will be spent perfecting the food and drink provisioning lists. It is essential you do not run out of beer. This is time well spent!

We always grab the last trips’ Google Sheet and update accordingly. Google Sheets is great to use because multiple people can access and edit the same document.

Notion allows you to embed the Google Sheet directly on a page for quick access.

Let everyone collaborate on the itinerary

Everyone in the crew loves to know what the plan is. Sometimes that information, unintentionally gets stuck in the Captain’s head.

I used a table database to make sure everyone was able to contribute and collaborate with the sailing itinerary. Create a record for each day and include fields like anchorage and meal planning.

In a similar way, we also use a separate table database to collect the crew’s info (passport, flight #s, etc). This is info the captain must submit to the charter company. This can save him or her a lot of time chasing it down from the crew.

Maintain your boat briefing checklist

The boat briefing is an important activity before departing the marina. You want to make sure you cover everything on your checklist, and do it efficiently so you can get out to the islands!

If you put your checklist in notion, you can divide and conquer some of the checklist items – some of the crew can go through the inventory while the others go through safety and operability.

Embed other commonly accessed links & files

We also used Notion to collect up links and files the crew would want to access frequently. This included: