Solitude and service versus self-reliance and the threat of storms — these are the pros and cons of cruising in the off-season. Here are some tips on what to expect if you stay on after the “fair-weather” yachts have fled.
The off-season in the Caribbean divides up into different distinct periods, according to Simon Manley, owner of Shore Support in St. Maarten, which provides yacht agent, concierge and provisioning services to boats in the region year-round.
“April, May, June and July are still booming; we have quite a lot of boats that remain…the weather is just stunning,” Manley says. “August through October, the heart of the hurricane season, are not nearly as busy. September is the real hurricane month. On October fifteenth, the boats start coming back down.”
Ironically, the weather in the islands actually enticessome boats to stay through the early summer months. Capt. Lambert says, “The temperature, we found, doesn’t vary excessively. We had al fresco dining and the guests were outside a lot. But it’s definitely humid and it’s definitely wet.”
“I actually prefer the Caribbean during the off-season, especially the summer,” says Capt. F. Brian Bennett, former master of the 184-foot Trinity Pangaea, the 165-foot Lürssen Blue Shadow, the 155-foot Feadship Sea Jewel and other yachts. “The wind has stopped howling and maintains a nice ten-knot-or-so breeze. The anchorages are quiet…the diving is much better since the reefs are empty, and the water is warmer and clearer”.
“While captains and crew typically have a more hasslefree time in the Caribbean off-season, it’s important to prepare owners, guests and charter clients so they won’t have the wrong expectations. As Capt. Lambert experienced on St. Barths, the owners of a lot of restaurants, shops and other shore-side attractions take advantage of the off-season to close their doors and do renovations or leave the region.
“The islands are quite different in terms of what’s available,” Manley says. “In the BVI, a lot shuts down. Antigua is quite seasonal as well, as is St. Barths — the French tend to take vacation in August and September. St. Maarten is more year-round. All the beach restaurants stay open due to the timeshare activity we have.”
Yachts that cruise in off-season waters may find they need to rely on their chef for just about every meal. That puts more pressure on provisioning, which can be trickier in the Caribbean in the summer months. “Supermarkets tend not to bring in luxury items,” says Manley.
“Courgette flowers and specialty mushrooms are harder to get.” The solution is to plan ahead and be prepared to pay for certain items to be flown in.
Naturally, the number one deterrent to summer cruising in the Caribbean is hurricane season. The roulette like nature of when and where a major storm may strike not only keeps many yacht owners off the water, but it also makes it difficult to book charters, knowing you may need to cancel or reschedule the trip. Happily, however, weather forecasting is becoming more accurate and hurricane warnings are being broadcast to mariners farther and farther ahead.
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