The charter world has its share of classic destinations: the Western Med, the Virgin Islands, the Bahamas. With awesome beauty and amenities galore, it's no wonder they're so popular. But mention them to charterers, and you're likely to get, "Been there, done that." Fortunately, for those with a passion for exploration, there are still plenty of off-the-beaten-path locales to visit. These emerging charter grounds are the anticlassics, if you will, and that's not a bad thing. They might be the new kids on the block, but they're no less magical than the old-standbys.
This location is awash with secret spots that are only just being discovered by the charter market—and I mean just. Take the Tuamotu Islands, for example, a chain of 78 coral atolls in the Pacific Ocean, each bursting with exotic flora and fauna. The main appeal here? Privacy.
Allan Jouning of Fraser Yachts put me in touch with Capt. Lon Munsey, who runs Askari, a crewed yacht that currently charters exclusively in French Polynesia. He explains, "There are no special facilities for charter yachts in the Tuamotu Islands, and this is part of the appeal for visitors. It's an area where you don't see many other boats and usually have the anchorages all to yourself." This near-complete isolation means visitors have access to a veritable private ocean—good news, given that the local waters are teeming with loach, meru, and squirrel fish. And, of course, chartering a fully stocked yacht means that she'll be equipped with all the toys guests need to enjoy their time in the water. "Scuba diving, surfing, and kite boarding are the main activities that keep people returning holiday after holiday," explains Munsey.
According to Munsey, most charters in the Tuamotu last two weeks. Askari begins in Fakarava and finishes in Rangiroa, an approximately 150-mile circuit. "Fakarava...has a lagoon [that's] 30 miles long from north to south. Beautiful beaches and wonderful diving make this one of the most popular atolls," he says. Several airstrips in the area are equipped to handle scheduled commercial flights, charter flights, or private jets. "People can step off their plane and straight into the tender and be aboard within moments of arrival," Munsey adds.
For most boaters, the Chesapeake Bay isn't a new destination. But it is just now gaining popularity with luxury charterers who often prefer tropical turfs. For those willing to think a bit outside the box, this area is a great option. Capt. Dan Cole, who runs Red Sky Charters with his wife, Capt. Libby Cole, explains, "The reason the Chesapeake is a standout choice is that you have such a variety of cruising options, depending on what your interests are. History, wildlife, and maritime museums abound. The destinations are relatively close, so you can cruise half the day and play tourist the other half." For that tourist time in Maryland, the Coles suggest visiting St. Michaels' Maritime Museum or biking through idyllic Oxford to admire its beautifully restored houses.
Dan adds, "Another big positive is that the Bay's tributaries, cut by glacial runoff, are deep and allow great protection, so you rarely have to be stuck in port due to bad weather." This means you can cruise rivers and creeks that let you get close to countryside and farms that dot the scenery and date back to the 1600's. Another benefit of cruising this area, Dan says, is that the bottom is all mud, so if your yacht happens to bump, the captain can pull off and head out in another direction.
He does caution clients to carefully consider when they plan their trip: "[My] one piece of advice would be to charter at the right time of year. In the spring you get fair weather early (April through June), and the Bay area is in full bloom. After the heat of August, September through November is a very romantic time to go cruising. You get all the waterfowl in the sky, fall colors, and a relative tranquility cruising from town to town."
Sandwiched between North and South America, in the heart of Central America, sits Panama, a stunning country that offers its visitors a tremendous variety of activities. Care to visit a bustling metropolis? Head to Panama City. Hoping to spot some exotic birds? Trek through Isla Sonora's pelican breeding grounds and spy on some big-billed beauties.
It's strange then, that in spite of Panama's dazzling range, this gem is still best known to many charter clients as nothing more than the site of the 1989 U.S. invasion. Panama is "very diversified topographically," says Shannon Webster, whose eponymous company, Shannon Webster Charters, is based out of Flagler Beach, Florida. "There's close access to the San Blas Islands (a 30-minute flight from Panama City) for cruising on the Caribbean side and the Pearl Islands on the Pacific side of the canal." Webster has cruised in Panama herself, and it's clear she was thrilled by her experience. She says she "drove some of the highway along the canal, locked into the Pacific at Mira Flores Lock, and went to the market," enthusiastically describing the trip as "great fun."
A canal-locks tour lets charter clients see how the Panama Lock System operates and experience first-hand what it's like to lock down or up, depending upon which direction you're heading. Webster recommends that yachts enter at the Mira Flores Lock and then spend a few days exploring the canal's interior ecosystem. "This is an opportunity of a lifetime: to marvel at the creation of man and nature within the Panama Canal system," she says.
Webster also advises clients to be aware that vessel selection is somewhat limited, therefore timing can be an issue. Having just had two Panama inquiries the week I spoke to her, she cautions, "It does take a bit longer than normal to get responses regarding availability of yachts. Also, the inventory list of yachts is a whole lot smaller, but there are a few good yachts that now base there." Of course, guests who deal with these potential (and oh-so-minor) headaches are rewarded handsomely with a spectacular adventure in this unique country.
"Alaska is a wonderful frontier—the marine life and wildlife are fantastic," says Jody Lexow, a charter broker who has cruised between Sitka and Juneau. She admits that she doesn't have too many clients booking charters in Alaska, but her enthusiasm for the state is palpable. She recalls swimming in hot springs and searching far and wide for the elusive Black Bear.
Lexow says people most often visit Alaska on cruise ships, which she feels is detrimental to the experience. "You don't really touch [Alaska's] nature unless you're traveling on a private yacht," she explains. And it's that spectacular nature, from nesting bald eagles to the rare harbor porpoise, that Lexow believes is the real reason to charter in this relatively undiscovered charter ground: "You can literally touch Alaska. There's so much to see in a wilderness that's thankfully still there."
The one drawback? "It's not a Caribbean, sun-drenched, warm environment," admits Lexow. But for those who time their trip wisely—she advises June to August to avoid rain and black flies—"the weather is fabulous, but it's a different concept. It's beautifully cool. In the Caribbean you're playing in the water; in Alaska, you're playing in the wilderness." She also cautions that the state works hard to regulate charters in order to protect the environment. Such regulations often mean a bit more hoop jumping, but Lexow doesn't mind: "Boats have to get licenses, but it's a good restriction." Protecting the environment helps ensure that future charter clients who venture to Alaska will continue to immerse themselves in a rugged wilderness, the likes of which they've never experienced before.
Jody Lexow Yacht Charters
Red Sky Charters
Shannon Webster Charters
This article originally appeared in the October 2007 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.