SUMMERTIME AND THE SAILING IS EASY
Steve - April 2009
We've published blogs that have touched on this subject before, but now that the days are getting longer and Spring is imminent, it's a good time to write about summer sailing in the Caribbean. It's clear that many people remain wedded to the misconception that Summer, (or even Spring), is a bad time to sail the Caribbean. Not only are the Spring and Summer months not a bad time to go, in many instances there can even be notable advantages over sailing in the Winter months.
It's probably best to first discuss the great bogeyman, (largely created by the relentlessly sensational main stream media), of the Caribbean Summer: hurricanes. Hurricane season officially runs from June through November. When customers considering a June charter ask me when hurricane season is, and I give them the above answer, there's almost always dead silence on the other end of the phone. The reality is that hurricane season relates solely to when tropical storm formation is statistically possible, rather than when it's probable.
The key to understanding the risk of having your sailing vacation cancelled or interrupted lies in not only the when, but the where, that you choose to charter. The months of June and July, combined, on average see one named storm every two years; and a named storm means a tropical storm with sustained winds of at least 34 knots, in June or July it's less likely that storm ever becomes a hurricane. Perhaps more poignant is where this every-other-year storm appears: in June and July the statistics overwhelmingly point to the Gulf of Mexico, with a very low probability of the storm forming in the Caribbean Sea. As the storms move east to west, it's quite unlikely that a June or July storm would affect your Caribbean sailing plans.
In August and September, particularly from the second half of August on, the odds of the eastern Caribbean being affected by a major storm increase notably, and becomes a viable concern when planning a charter. As a rule of thumb, I'd generally avoid August 15 - October 15, if possible, but wouldn't hesitate to charter in June or July. You can further mitigate your risk by purchasing travel insurance, which I'd strongly urge you to consider anytime, but especially during hurricane season.
The other common concern about sailing in the Caribbean is that it's hot in the summer. Being islands without a significant land mass to capture and radiate heat, the Caribbean islands' temperature remains well moderated by the ocean. The average temperatures in the BVI, for example, fluctuate a mere 5 degrees from January to July - the average high and low in January is 83 and 72, respectively, as compared to July when it's 88 and 77. If this is a major concern for you, most crewed yachts have air conditioning and a ever-increasing number of bareboats are so equipped as well. You can read more on the necessity of air conditioning, as well as view the results of our survey, in our archived article on the subject.
While the reality of the downside to sailing the Caribbean in Summer remains esoteric to many, I think the benefits are equally overlooked. The primary benefit, in my view, is how great the sailing is, and how much more of the Caribbean is opened up for exploration. The Winter months can be very windy - with the average wind speed being over 20 knots. This in turn makes the sea state less comfortable, especially if bringing along guests relatively new to sailing. In conjunction with the higher wind speeds, North Atlantic storm activity periodically creates ground swell, which closes off many otherwise gorgeous anchorages that are open to the north.
This has perhaps more to do than any other factor with the Virgin Islands being overwhelmingly the most popular location for yacht charters. But the Spring and Summer months change all this. The average wind speed drops to 15 knots for May, June, and July, so there's still plenty of wind for a good sail, but without the uncomfortable seas. The North Atlantic, too, has settled down, and generally from April on the incidence of ground swell is very low. So for the many of you that I hear from that have sailed the BVI to death and want to explore somewhere new, the Spring and Summer is the perfect time to explore St. Martin, Antigua, the Grenadines or beyond, without fear of being bashed about by big waves for the whole week. For those of you who haven't sailed the Caribbean yet, I'd still recommend starting with the Virgin Islands, and the Spring and Summer are the perfect time to ease into your first Caribbean charter.
Two other benefits to chartering the Caribbean in Summer go hand-in-hand. Firstly, you'll have more of the anchorages to yourself, as it will be less busy. Perhaps more importantly, as a result of it being less busy, of course charters are less expensive. The Summer is a great time to try a catamaran, which is a wonderful boat for a family charter, as the pricing has dropped to more accessible levels.
There are also some great Summer specials, on top of the already lower prices. Many bareboat companies offer incentives to sail longer, such as 10 days for the price of 7, the majority of these specials run July 1 - October 31. Other companies, like Sunsail and The Moorings, are offering 20% - 35% off certain boats for charters as short as 5 nights. The Moorings is also offering $750 off their Signature Crewed yachts.
While crewed yachts typically don't discount as much as bareboats, Ed has put together a great selection of crewed yacht specials in the new specials page he's designed. With or without these specials, a crewed yacht is a great value for the traditional family summer vacation and an interesting alternative to an all inclusive resort or beach house rental - you have the full service of the crew to yourself, and you can explore more than one locale by yacht.
Whether you'd prefer the service of a fully crewed yacht, or the adventure of a bareboat, we'd be happy to discuss the options for Summer sailing with you and help you find the right boat and destination for you. To get started, simply give us a call, or feel free to tell us a bit about what would be ideal for your summer vacation.
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