Features February 15, 1998 Issue

Is 88% A Good Number?

Results of our Reader Survey on yacht charters reveal that almost nine out of 10 persons have a good experience. Looked at another way, you’ve got one chance in 10 of having a lousy time.

If you want a nice vacation, a boat charter seems close to a sure thing.

Readers who responded to a survey published in last October’s issue indicated that you have an 88% chance of having a nice time.

Based on the survey question about whether they’d do it again with the same company, 76% said “Absolutely” or “Probably.” Another 12% said “Maybe.”

The remaining 11% of those who returned the survey indicated that they had something less than a good time, as indicated by their comments and a firm “No” to the question of whether they’d charter again with the same company.

Although some of those who returned the survey form were first-time charterers, the survey represents a lot of experience. One reader had chartered 21 different times. Many had chartered a half dozen times. Of the replies, all but a handful were bareboat charters; only a few were crewed charters.

Because there are several hundred charter operators, the numbers produced by the survey probably are statistically valid for all but one—the very predominant company called The Moorings. A whopping 40% of the survey responses involved that charter company.

The Moorings Is Big
In business since 1969, The Moorings, home-based in Clearwater, Florida, has about 350 boats in seven locations in the Caribbean as well as others in the South Pacific and the Mediterranean Sea.

Of those PS readers who chartered with The Moorings, 73% said they would do it again and 16% said they probably would. Only 10% said, “No.”

Typical of The Moorings’ customers is John Crozier, a patent attorney who lives in Nichols, Connecticut, and owns a Santana 37. He has chartered boats twice out of Tortola and once each in St. Lucia and Grenada. “Would not bother chartering with any other company,” he said.

A veteran Canadian charterer (10 times) named R.W.C. Barrett, of Toronto, said, “Have tried several charter companies. All failed to come close to The Moorings in all respects.” Barrett, who runs a business refurbishing office equipment, added, “The Moorings makes you a commodore after the first few charters. No big deal except that the title carries a good discount.”

Among the few who voted thumbs down on The Moorings were Karen and Michael Walker, of Mississauga, Ontario. In 1996, they chartered a Beneteau 405 for 10 days with another couple. Karen said, “There were too many things broken or not working on the boat. The freshwater tank leaked and had to be refilled often, the hotel was terrible, including a bad restaurant and poor and slow service.”

Another Moorings customer, Mike McCormick, an accountant in a Los Angeles suburb, offered a suggestion. Mike doesn’t own a boat. He belongs to the widely known Pacific Sailing Club, which keeps boats in Marina del Rey. In 1994, he chartered from The Moorings a Lagoon 42 (a catamaran) and had a fine time. In 1997, he did the same but drew a Lagoon 42 that was “old and tired.”

“Too many problems to list,” he said, “including a broken port engine throttle control, a sail slide we had to jury rig, the automatic bilge pump went on and stayed on, and so forth. To The Moorings’ credit, the one thing that broke and made sailing impossible, they came out and fixed within four hours. But my advice would be to ask how old the boat is. If more than two or three years old, I wouldn’t take a chance.

The Caribbean incidentally was the charter area that accounted for 72% of all replies. It also accounted for the second highest overall “Good” rating (topped only by those who chartered in Maine).

Smaller Companies in the Caribbean
For all the other smaller companies that offer charters in the Caribbean, the approval (would charter with same company again) rating was a very high 92%. Those with unblemished records (remember that the number of survey responses was small) were Barefoot Yacht (1 base/12 boats), Caribbean Yacht Charters (1/38), Freedom Yacht (1/10), Island Yachts (1/12), North South (1/25), Ocean Getaways1/15), Seabreeze (2/22), Sunsail (7/247), Sun Yacht (3/81) and Tortola Marine Management (2/41).

Negative comments and a “No” to whether they would charter with the same company were registered against two companies— Tropic Island and Stardust/ATM.

Greg Freeman reported that in 1994, 40 sailors from the Chicago Yacht Club chartered 10 boats from Stardust/ATM to sail from Guadeloupe to Martinique. “We were robbed the first night while we slept aboard at the charter base. In our group of 10 boats, four reported boardings and two, besides us, were robbed that night.”

After the trip, when Freeman wrote to Stardust/ATM to complain, the charter company manager brushed him off in a letter that said, in part, “It is a sorry world we live in. From the crime capital of the world ‘Chicago’, you had to come all those miles to the Caribbean and unfortunately were robbed. Robberies and murder are actually quite few in the Caribbean compared with almost any part in the USA.”

Freeman said he did not appreciate having his home town “insulted by the guy who manages operations for a company with whom I had just spent $3,000.”

Other Companies, Other Waters
There was not a single negative comment made by those who chartered in Maine waters—from three different companies, Hinckley Yacht Charters, Bay Island Yacht Charters and Johanson Boatworks.

In the Chesapeake Bay, Allied Yacht Charterers, Gratitude Yachting Center and Haven Charters had perfect records. Only one, an Ericson 28 charter out of Maryland Marina (and arranged by a Baltimore charter company) turned out mediocre, not because of the boat nor the area, but “because of the flies and the threat of a hurricane.”

In Florida waters, a Vacation Yachts, Inc. charter aboard a Gemini 3400 with a captain turned out to be ideal for Jean-Marie Lambert and her engineer husband, George, who live in Milford, New Hampshire.

“It was very relaxing,” she said, “and our captain, Lee Reeves, made it a great trip.”

Two others companies, Florida Yacht Charters in Miami Beach and St. Augustine Sailing, got good scores, one from the reader who has chartered 21 times.

Going Foreign
Of those who “went foreign,” a far smaller percentage had a “we’d do it again” experience.

Of several replies about chartering in Turkey, one had a fine time, but another said, “Never again,” mostly because the boat, a 38' French catamaran, although new, had “props that gave only five knots under power, was rigged incorrectly and the anchor windlass was very poorly set up.”

The three readers who chartered in Greece, two of them in 1997, all through a company called GPSC/Unique Yachts in Philadelphia, had a poor to miserable time because of poorly maintained boats, the shortage of potable water, difficulties with the actual boat owners (or their representatives) and communications problems. For instance, on one boat, not one of the gauges worked, the outboard motor’s shear pin had to be replaced, the refrigerator didn’t work, the jib furler -jammed when either furling or unfurling the sail, and the shower sump pump was inoperative.

Are The Boats Perfect?
The fact that most Practical Sailor readers were pleased with their charter experience should not be taken to mean that the boats were perfect. On just about half of the replies, respondents indicated that something had gone wrong or didn’t work on the boat. Most frequently mentioned as a problem was refrigeration. Next came sail handling and running rigging problems (one respondent said all charter boats should be equipped with lazy jacks). But obviously, for those who gave companies good reports, the problems were minor, quickly fixed or tolerable.

For example, Richard Small thought he was chartering a Hunter 40.5 from Florida Yacht Charters. He and his 16-year-old son were given instead a Hunter 42 Passage because the 40.5 had mechanical problems.

“But on the 42 Passage, the GPS was missing,” he said. “An employee loaned me his personal GPS. Then, the generator didn’t work. Took four hours to figure out how to jury rig it with a plastic garbage bag tie. Finally, the pedestal compass was off to starboard by 5°. But we had a great time.”

Small marked “Maybe,” on the charter-again-with-same-company question.

Perhaps to sum up the question of whether the boats performed flawlessly, the cheery comment of Dan Clements says it best. A county finance director who lives in Everettt, Washington, and keeps an O’Day 27 in Friday Harbor, Clements said, “Part of the fun of chartering is not knowing what will not work and then having to jury rig.”

The Bottom Line
Chartering can and usually is a magnificent way to (1) have a good time, (2) sail in waters you’d not normally be able to reach in your own boat and (3) try out different boats.

It may seem expensive, but it compares well with a trip to Disney World, a family automobile tour or a vacation in a big city such as New York or Washington. If the cost of chartering the boat is divided between two or three couples and you can resist going ashore to eat, it can come close to being a bargain.

For first-time bareboat charterers, it’s probably best to stick with one of the big companies like The Moorings (800/535-7289) or Sunsail (800/327-2276) that have been in business at least 20 years.

An equally-good alternative is to charter from builders like Freedom (800/999-2909), Hinckley (800/492-7245) and Nautor Swan (800/356-7926) who have charter subsidiaries and are purposefully interested in impressing you favorably with their boats. One survey respondent, Michael Albert, of Sarasota, Florida (he’s president of a company that makes boat trailers) in 1996 chartered a Freedom 45 in the British Virgins. He said, “Three-year-old boat in ‘like new’ condition. Fast. Easy to sail. We subsequently bought one.”

For a crewed charter, the survey showed nothing but satisfaction from those who used a broker. Among the most experienced are Nicholson Yacht Charters, in business 46 years, (800/662-6066); Whitney Yacht Charters, 32 years, (800/223-1426); and Lynn Jachney Charters, 27 years, (800/223-2050). They know their boats and their business.

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