Boating Adventures | "Bareboat Sailing in the BVI: Reflections of a Novice" | Article and Photos by Vicki Totten

My reminder to the crew on our first day.
I don't consider myself to be all that brave. I have learned that to do something I perceive as scary, I have to first find a way to turn down the volume of my scared voice and ramp up the part of me that loves to learn and experience new things - even when they are scary. And while seasoned sailors might not agree, the idea of traveling thousands of miles from home and renting a 44' sailboat to sail in an unfamiliar ocean for a week is sort of scary. Maybe even terrifying.

But that is exactly what I did last week when my husband and I had our very first "bareboat" sailing adventure. Bareboat sailing is when you rent a boat without any crew or provisioning, and sail it yourself. Our seven days on the Caribbean was the most thrilling, nail biting, incredibly beautiful, and satisfying trip I have ever been on.

Our 44' home for the week.
So now that I am a "seasoned" bareboat charterer, I can offer some advice for anyone considering their own adventure. While calling myself a seasoned charterer may be stretching it a bit after only one sailboat chartering experience, keep in mind that experts are hard to find. And, of course, keep in mind, I am not an expert. But that has never stopped me from giving advice before - so here goes.

I am pretty sure my advice might also translate to other types of adventures someone might be considering. After all, when you think of "an adventure" that typically suggests something that is somewhat thrilling - and potentially scary. So, the first step is to find a way to lower the "scary" part of embarking on a new adventure. What helped make the idea of this trip less scary for me was discovering that we could charter a sailboat and be part of a "flotilla" of other boat charterers. In a flotilla, you don't even necessarily go on the same route every day or end up at the same place. But each boat in the flotilla, in this case there were 8 of us, have access to a lead boat that has a seasoned Captain and Engineer familiar with both the boats and the Caribbean. The discovery of the flotilla option helped to lower my scared voice enough to book the trip. That one tweak to our plan made it possible to switch from thinking we weren't ready, to taking the next step of picking a crew and booking a date.

Our crew were each dear friends who we knew we could spend a week in a confined space with, although none of them knew each other before the trip. So possibly going on this trip with people they didn't yet know might have been the scary part for them. Or going with us. We prepared by having lots of e-mail conversations, taking some on-line sailing courses related to sailing in that area, and having several Crew meetings run by my husband, the Captain.

While it took six months to bring to fruition, now that we have actually completed our very first charter adventure, I can offer a few tips for fellow adventurers.

And if you are not into sailing or boating, many of the items translate to other types of travel adventures.

Tip #1: Choose your crew (or fellow travelers) wisely
Beyond wanting crew members with some sailing experience, we wanted to be with people whose company we enjoyed.  For us, that usually means people who like to laugh (see tip # 4).  The friends we asked included two single Austin friends and a couple who live in New York.  By the end of the trip, everyone was already talking about which city we would have a post trip reunion in and when we would take our next charter trip.  As wonderful as the location and the boat was, it was our crew that made the trip special. 

Sometimes it takes a village to get those sails up.
Keeping a Lookout.

Tip #2 Match your Location with Activities you Enjoy
Our week long sailing trip was in the British Virgin Islands, an archipelago of 60 islands located in the Northeastern Caribbean.  The water is as clear as bathwater and the snorkeling is breathtakingly beautiful.  We have boating friends in Rockport who return annually to this location, and now we understand why.  There are so many unique islands to visit, that you could go for years and never return to the same place twice.  Some were like resorts, while others were very primitive.  They were all beautiful and filled with lushness and lots of marine life. But a big part of the joy was what was happening between islands.  There is something magical about standing on a boat in the middle of the sea with the wind blowing in your hair, and listening to the sound of the waves lapping against the boat as you look out on this turquoise blue water.  But all of that can change at any moment, just like the weather, which brings me to my next tip.

Walking along the Atlantic near Anagada.
Paddling against the current was quite a workout.
Megan checking the sail as it goes up.

Tip #3 Remain Flexible
My husband and I are comfortable on our 33' monohull boat docked in Rockport.  So, it was a bit of a stretch to book a 38' catamaran.  And when we arrived to discover they had "upgraded us" to a 44' boat, I was initially very resistant.  Unfortunately, the rest of the crew had boarded before me and had made an important discovery.  Instead of having two heads (bathrooms) this boat had four.  Even though my scared voice was shouting at me to resist this switch, the rest of the crew - and more importantly our Captain - were all in agreement that it would be ok.  And they were right. 

We also had a very specific route that our trip was to follow.  And then the Northern Swells (who knew there was such a thing?) came and changed all that.  In order to avoid some of the most extreme ones, we had to change the islands we would be visiting.  So, all of our research about the specific islands we thought we would be visiting had to be discarded.  The weather and sailing conditions are both good teachers in learning to be flexible.

Tip #4 Bring Your Sense of Humor
This one is essential.  One way that our sense of humor came through was in the assigning of the various roles needed by the crew.  Our crewmate Megan, was the best at coming up with new names for her jobs.  She liked to refer to herself as The Launch Lady for taking care of the lines and fenders when launching, or Ms. Baily for her willingness to jump in the dinghy and bail out water after it rained, or Dumpster Diver for always gathering up the trash when we came to a new island.  Or when we needed to open the bilge to release the contents of the toilets, she liked to refer to that as taking care of the "poopouri" from the "tinklelariam." Lots of potty talk.

Then there was the day we decided to sail between two shorter monohulls that had been in front of us.  We were so close to them that we could have had a conversation.  During this tense moment, one of our crew blurts out "Do you have any grey poupon?"

Kevin didn't want to lose his cookies the day the swells were high enough for us to don our lifejackets.

Tip #5  Honor your Fear without Letting it Run Things
I started off talking about not considering myself to be very brave. I know that if I deny being scared, it just makes it worse.  It also makes it worse if I voice it and someone tries to dismiss it or convince me I am wrong to have it.  After all, sometimes our fears are valid and need to be honored or acted upon.  Thankfully, my partner rarely tries to convince me that I should not be afraid.  Instead, he will usually listen to determine whether he is in agreement, if we need to adjust our plan because of my concerns, or whether he just needs to give me some time to calm my fear down. Since when our emotions get triggered, we are not able to think clearly, finding ways to lower our emotions is key.  And, on the last day at sea, I got the chance to test this. 

The swells had reached 3 to 4', which caused our Captain to have us don our lifejackets.  My first impulse was to try and convince the crew that we should just head back to our home base instead of stopping to snorkel at the island we were headed for. In this particular instance, after I voiced my concern, I went inside the cabin and began organizing things.  By moving my attention elsewhere, I was able to calm down and eventually the swells calmed down also, and instead of heading back to our base, we spent the day on one of the most beautiful, idyllic islands we had encountered.  

Memorable Moments
There were so many memorable moments from this trip - including losing use of one of the engines right before our first mooring, the generator going down, and two crew being sea sick the first day.  Fortunately, the many magical moments far outweigh any challenges. Just sitting on the cockpit and listening to the water lap against the boat and the wind move through the sails was always a memorable moment.

And then there was the night we were awakened by a loud bang against the boat, followed by violent rocking.  I stumbled out of my cabin and pushed the sliding door open from the galley to the cockpit, to be suddenly facing a group of people standing there with drinks in their hands, looking at me.  It took me a few minutes to figure out they were on the huge boat that had been having a fancy sit down, catered meal when we went to bed.  Apparently their mooring line had been too loose and when the tide and wind shifted, it caused their boat to swing around and make contact with our boat - which turned out to be our dinghies making contact with one another and with our boat, which caused the bang.  Really, that would have been a perfect grey poupon moment. 

Another memorable moment was at our last dinner on the boat, listening to the crew praise the Captain - my husband. They praised him for not once yelling at us, for his patience, and for being such a good teacher.  But it is also the crew that deserved praise - praise for their flexibility, their sense of humor, and for not allowing their own fears to keep them from embarking on this incredibly memorable trip together.  And the next time we go, we won't be novice bareboat sailors any more. 

Our wonderful Captain, Stan Irvin
Our Crew - Saying Goodbye and Heading our Separate Ways.

"Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take but by the number of moments that take our breath away." quote written on the wall at The Daily Grind Coffee Shop.

There were some wonderful moments that took our breath away and I can't wait to do it again.

Vicki and husband, ceramic artist Stan Irvin, are both retired professors who have discovered the joys of Rockport and living part-time on their 33' sailboat, while exploring new sailing destinations and adventures.

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