Create your own Caribbean cruise on a private yacht, from chic St. Barth’s to Antigua’s 365 white sand beaches.
After a week of leisure even the most picture-perfect setting can grow tiresome-unless the view changes. Spontaneously flitting through the islands of the Caribbean ensures the stimulation of ever-emerging scenery. All you need is your own private yacht.
You could be forgiven for thinking that there is little more to the Caribbean than beaches and turquoise waters, but this vast area is a virtual collage of idyllic island chains. Each has its own colorful mosaic of culture, cuisine and language courtesy of the different colonial powers that laid claim to them, lending each unique charm. From the scalloped coastlines and white sand beaches of the Virgin Islands to the chic Leeward Islands and the Grenadines in the Windwards, the Caribbean Sea has a fascinating history. Further north, the Bahamas lie just off the Florida coast and continue 600 miles to the Caribbean.
With over 700 islands and nearly 2,500 cays spread across 10,000 miles of blue water, dive sites and fishing grounds, launching a private yacht charter adventure involves two major decisions: First, getting the boat, and second, deciding a course among the thousands of thrilling routes through the islands.
The yacht is the easy part. Charters run the gamut to fit most any budget and ability, from smaller 60-foot luxe sailboats you captain yourself to the boats offered by companies like Camper & Nicholsons International (CNI). Multiple megayachts from 100 to 300 feet are hosted by CNI, most with full-time captains. Boats like the 230-foot Sherakhan are at the top of the food chain, a floating city unto themselves, and offer the ultimate in a luxury yachting experience. Previously a Dutch Navy training vessel, Sherakhan was transformed by owner Jan Verkerk into a modern benchmark of elite yachting. Expansive deck areas surround an enormous interior that includes a vast, double-height saloon and a large spa and gym below deck. On the sun deck, there is another spa pool and a barbecue, and the aft deck has a posh dining area. Sherakhan’s chef, Frank Tijs, customizes dishes to your tastes, conjuring up black tie dinners.
Foremost in many sailors’ hearts are the Leeward Islands. These cruising grounds span some 120 miles from Anguilla in the north to Dominica in the south, but it is the sophisticated French island of St. Barths, the old world charm of Antigua, and the soporific island lifestyle of Anguilla that combine to provide all the essentials.
Stylish and sexy St. Barths is the epitome of Caribbean chic-especially from the decks of a superyacht. During the summer, anyone who is anyone takes up residence in the Cote d’Azur or the Hamptons. And come winter, elite living follows nature’s lead as the jet-setters migrate south to St. Barths on their yachts. The island is French through and through, from its joie de vivre and cool nonchalance, to its great cuisine and laissez-faire spirit.
You need do nothing more than eat, drink and look fabulous in the most flippantly barefoot style. Restaurants, beaches and boutiques abound, including the ultra-cool Nikki Beach Café, where you simply must arrive by yacht for maximum impact. St. Barths’ first hotel, Eden Rock, remains its most famous and is audaciously built on a giant rock in Saint Jean Bay. Enjoying a glass of Muscadet and a sensationally fresh seafood platter at the Sand Bar allows you to watch over the bay on this hip strip of sand, famous for its bronzed bodies, windsurfing and people watching. Its capital, Gustavia, is one of the prettiest and where the yachts queue up for the prime berths on New Year’s Eve.
From St. Barths, head to the tiny island of Anguilla where you can hide amid the proud and loyal locals. The island radiates an unspoiled innocence and is internationally renowned for exclusive five-star luxury resorts, top-ranked beaches and cuisine. The Altamer Restaurant is magnificently set on the shores of Shoal Bay West, where dining can be enjoyed beside the lapping waves. Escape the midday sun at Gwen’s Reggae Grill on Shoal Bay East with a cool rum punch and a live reggae band.
Further south the island of Antigua is famous for its white-sand beaches (there are 365-one for every day of the year) but its appeal is far more diverse. By Caribbean standards Antigua is sophisticated and boasts many attractions, including its maritime history-even though a naval posting to Antigua was once considered a consignment to hell. Today one of the world’s most atmospheric port areas is Nelson’s Dockyard in English Harbour. Georgian warehouses have been converted into accommodations, restaurants and boutiques. Cruise around to Carlisle Bay for dinner ashore at Indigo on the Beach at the Carlisle Bay Resort. Nearby, Curtain Bluff is worth a visit for its highly regarded wine cellar boasting over 25,000 bottles from around the world and weekly tastings.
The Windward Islands stretch down the eastern Caribbean from Martinique, St. Lucia and St. Vincent to the Grenadines – a chain of islands with lush rainforests, dramatic mountains and sheltered bays fringed with white sandy beaches. Grenada, the southernmost of the Windward Islands, is your next stop aboard Sherakhan. A romantic place remarkably unchanged, Grenada has been spared the negative impact that mass-tourism brought to some of its neighbors. The current flurry of sustainable development on this stunning spice island has it poised to become the St. Barths of the Windwards. There is talk of a new Four Seasons and a Ritz Carlton coming, but it is British entrepreneur Peter de Savary who currently spearheads the island’s future. De Savary’s project includes a marina, two hotel and property developments and two outposts in the island’s interior aimed at providing a sophisticated lifestyle while retaining the charm of the island. The grand marina project, Port Louis, is billed as the Caribbean’s answer to St. Tropez. With a lively marina village and waterfront development, the project offers a wide range of options for those seeking the yachting life.
Closer to home, the Bahamas trickle from the tip of Florida down the glorious blue waters of the Atlantic. From the Abacos to the Exumas, these shallows are home to more than 30 diving destinations, unspoiled reefs, a plethora of wrecks and the spectacular Blue Hole. If you desire as much privacy ashore as you have on a boat like the Sherakhan, then Little Whale Cay is a 93-acre private island available for exclusive hire. Lying amid the Bahamas’ Berry Islands chain, the island is home to a colonial-style main house, two guesthouses, a small village for staff, a harbor, a lighthouse and a 2,000-foot landing strip. The surrounding Berry Islands provide 30 isles and close to 100 cays to explore. Set on the eastern edge of the Great Bahama Bank, the waters are known for bonefish and sailing, but the main appeal is seclusion on a desert island.
St. Thomas, Virgin Islands
Charlotte Amalie is the capital of the U.S. Virgin Islands, so the Yacht Haven USVI is perfect for your visit to St. Thomas. You’ll find pastel waterfront houses against the emerald hills near world-famous duty-free shopping and restaurants.
Sport & Leisure
Twenty minutes from St. Thomas’ Yacht Haven is the 18-hole, Par 70 championship Mahogany Run Golf Course with its famously challenging Devil’s Triangle – the signature trio of the 13th, 14th and 15th holes overlooking the Atlantic.
Dining & Nightlife
The Old Stone Farm House Restaurant at the Mahogany Run Golf Course is located in a 200-year-old plantation field house noted for excellent food and wine. Alternatively, The Banana Tree Grille overlooks the harbor, while Hervé Restaurant and Wine Bar is ideal for a romantic evening. The historic Hotel 1829 has a charming bar, or order caviar and champagne at Epernay. For jazz head to The Sugar Mill, or dance into the small hours at The Green House.
St. Maarten, Leeward Islands
The smallest island in the world to be split between two nations, St. Maarten (St. Martin) is a wonderful mix of cultures. The Yacht Club at Isle de Sol is on the Dutch side. Venture to the French side to explore the restaurants and sights.
Sport & Leisure
On the Dutch side of the island is Mullet Bay, an 18-hole course with beautiful lagoon views. On the French side, disappear into the divine Elysées Soa at La Samanna Hotel, or head to Orient Beach for a bit of parasailing.
Dining & Nightlife
St. Maarten is known for gourmet delights like the Temptation, and Antoine Restaurant in Philipsburg is the place to go for lobster thermidor. Hotels host beach barbecues with steel drum bands, or head to a casino in Philipsburg, such as Rouge et Noir or the Coliseum Casino, or the Vegas-style Pelican Casino in Simpson Bay. The Axum Jazz Café is a great place for upbeat jazz and reggae.
Grenada, Windward Islands
The Port Louis Marina overlooks the island’s capital (St. George) with pastel buildings, regal churches, red-tiled roofs and sailboat masts. The marina is a lively waterfront development with duty-free boutiques, restaurants, bars, a spa, boutique hotels and a white sand beach. Nearby are 300 yacht slips.
Sport & Leisure
Grenada is surrounded by pristine dive sites. Snorkelling Moliniere Bay is eerie with a gallery of sculptures anchored below the surface. In January the island hosts the Grenada Billfish Tournament and the Port Louis Grenada Sailing Festival, followed in February by the Grenada Classic Yacht Regatta. October sees the Grenada Cricket Classics Festival.
Dining & Nightlife
Savvy’s Restaurant at the Mount Cinnamon Resort boasts stunning views overlooking Grand Anse, one of the island’s best beaches. The marina is only a short hop from the bars and restaurants that line St. George’s, and the Victory Bar is on-site.
Great Abaco, Bahamas
Abaco Beach Resort & Boat Harbour on the sheltered southeastern shore of Great Abaco is one of the finest marinas in the region and a stopover with fantastic dining, entertainment, sport, leisure and shopping.
Sport & leisure
Home of the Bahamas Billfish Championships, Great Abaco is the place for a deep-sea fishing trip. Also nearby is the 18-hole Treasure Cay Golf Club. Divers love the San Jacinto wreck (a steamship that sank in 1965), with numerous reefs and sun-dappled caverns teeming with tropical fish. The marina resort also has tennis courts, pools and a gym.
The Pool Bar at the Abaco Beach Resort has a terrace café with live entertainment. Try the Tipsy Seagull Bar at the Treasure Cay Hotel Resort and Marina for entertainment and dancing, or wander along the harbor and drop in at the local watering holes along the way for an authentic taste of island nightlife.