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8 Secret Charter Destinations

Summer chartering doesn't have to be endlessly repetitive-here are eight alternatives to break up your usual routine.

October 4, 2007

When it comes to summer charters, it’s easy enough to “round up the usual suspects”: the Northeast, the Mediterranean or the Pacific Northwest. Popular for good reason, these are great places to cruise- but sometimes you just want something a little more off the beaten path. Something that you haven’t done before. Some place that offers new vistas, and new memories.

Not at all in the spirit of “been there, done that,” but in search of good old-fashioned adventure, we’ve talked to dozens of charter brokers, polled our editors and listened to comments from our readers to gather eight destinations that will get you out of that charter rut.

Here’s your chance to do something different on your next summer charter getaway.

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Aeolian Islands, Italy

Named by the Greeks after the god of winds (Odysseus released them on his epic voyage), these seven Italian islands are northeast of Sicily and often overlooked by charterers who head for Amalfi and Capri to the north.

Lipari is the largest, with a charming village and an interesting history that includes the Greeks, Romans, Turks and even the Normans. Vulcano is a nearby extinct volcano notable for the spectacular formations both above and below water. Snorkeling is excellent with brightly colored fish, but scuba diving best reveals the bizarre shapes.

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Stromboli is a continuously active volcano with no good anchorages, but it’s well worth an evening cruise to see the white-hot lava flow into the sea with fireworks from rocks blasted high in the air.

Panarea is tiny, but picturesque with white houses, bright yellow flowers and three boutique hotels that attract the jet-set crowd.

Tips: Be sure to see the Grotto of the Sea Lion on Filicudi, savor (gently!) the locally made malvasia dessert wine on Salina and wallow in the mud baths on Vulcano.

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Monaco Historic Grand Prix

Some destinations are actually events, like the Monaco Grand Prix. But unless you’re a Grand Prix insider, a celebrity well known in Europe or you have impeccable contacts, it’s tough to get one of the coveted (and expensive) moorings overlooking the track.

The fun of having a yacht at the Monaco Grand Prix is being able to Med-moor and watch the cars howl past just off your stern while you sip Krug Clos du Mesnil and nibble Tsar Imperial caviar, so finding yourself stuck out at anchor in mid-harbor is going to be, well, disappointing.

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Here’s an insider’s tip for the best race-watching ever: Go a week early. The Monaco Historic Grand Prix is held every two years on the weekend before the Formula One Grand Prix and if you go then you’ll have more fun for several reasons.

First, the older cars are more open, so you can actually see the driver in the cockpit wrestling the wheel on the narrow streets. Second, it’s more relaxed so you can get closer to the pits. Most important, it is much easier (and less expensive) to get a prime mooring.

If you’re of a certain age, the names Connaught, Lotus, Tyrrell and Maserati may bring back memories; since there was a Monaco GP for sports cars in 1952, there’s also a class for cars like C-type Jags and Talbot Lagos. Dates for the next Historic Grand Prix are May 20 and 21, 2006.

Tip: If you stay ashore, ask for a harbor view at The Hermitage and you may get a room in which scenes from the classic movie, Grand Prix, were filmed.

Croatia

With an Adriatic coastline that makes a saw blade look smooth, Croatia was a popular European cruising area until war ripped the country apart through the early ’90s. Now peaceful, this is prime charter territory. Regulations governing charters are intricate, however, so rely on a good charter broker to sort out the details.

Dubrovnik is a beautiful point to start or end your charter, but the more than one thousand islands are all gorgeous. Hvar is medieval, Trogir is winding alleys and courtyards, and the Kornati National Park has spectacular snorkeling with colorful fish and coral.

With generally mild winds and calm seas, Croatia is perfect for first-time charterers who will find the clear waters and magical islands a delight. (See also “Dalmatian Dalliance” by William F. Buckley Jr. in the December 2004 issue.)

Tips: If you like jazz, don’t miss Troubadour (just outside the Dubrovnik walled city) which has live sessions nightly. When ashore, find a “konobe” (rustic restaurant) for homestyle local cooking. Prsut (prosciutto) is superb, the best wines are from the Plavac grape, and be very, very careful with loza, a local grappa consumed cold in the morning with figs.

Galapagos Islands

This is another adventure that requires a knowledgeable charter broker because of the rules on charter yachts imposed by Ecuador. Located 600 miles off the Pacific coast of South America, you’ll join your yacht by flying from Quito into Isla Baltra. From that point on, you’ll be following in the footsteps of Charles Darwin.

The 19 main islands provide almost constant surprise. Though mostly bleak and volcanic, each is a world unto itself where creatures have adapted to the harsh environment in amazing ways. Evolutionary species like the Darwin finch, iguanas and flightless cormorants are only a start for this land that time forgot, which has a mix of polar and tropical species from penguins and seal furs to flamingos and giant tortoises.

In their own way, the Galapagos are like an insider’s tour of a wonderful zoo and are a great place to instill the wonder of nature on youngsters. Plan to spend time on Isla Santa Cruz to visit the Charles Darwin Research Center, where you might see Lonesome George, an 80-year-old tortoise that is the last of his breed.

Tip: Bring postcards to send from Post Office Bay on Isla Santa Maria, where 18th century whalers left mail for homeward-bound ships in a wooden barrel that is still in use today as a post office.

Bahamas

The Bahamas are a staple on the charter yacht scene but-wait! We’re talking about summer charters and the Bahamas are only good for winter charters, right?

Wrong. Not only are the Bahamas absolutely delightful in the summer, they’re also close enough to use for a long weekend getaway. Even better, the tourists are going elsewhere so you’ll find the streets quiet, restaurants with empty tables, and quiet anchorages.

While there are a multitude of cruising destinations from Nassau, you might want to think outside the box and meet your charter yacht at one of the outer islands. You can make the hop in a small aircraft and spend all the saved hours snorkeling.

Smaller yachts have the shallow draft needed to explore areas like the Abacos and you can find an ever-growing charter fleet of 70- to 90-footers that are now based in the Bahamas year-round rather than making the usual trek north to New England in the summer.

Tips: If you’re in the Abacos, take a business card to stick on the wall of Miss Emily’s Blue Bee Bar on Green Turtle Cay. For great diving, don’t miss Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park off Staniel Cay.

The Whitsunday Islands

Australians know that the Queensland coast along the northeast corner of Oz has the legendary Great Barrier Reef (which is visible from the moon) as well as the protected waters of the Whitsundays, a chain of 90 National Park islands ringed with coral reefs and flawless beaches.

Don’t plan on going too far each day, because the warm clear water and fleets of brilliant fish will encourage many stops. Hook Island is notable for spectacular coral as well as having Butterfly Bay, so named for the flutterbys that swarm there. Two fjord-like inlets, Macona and Nara, are memorable anchorages.

Hamilton Island not only has a jet-sized airport, but a 50-acre park with kangaroos and koalas. You’ll also see small coastal kangaroos bounding around Hinchinbrook Island.

Tips: When you just have to dine ashore, Hayman Island is a five-star paradise with the posh La Fontaine restaurant. If you’d like to wet a hook, choose a yacht with good sportfishing gear because this area is where anglers hunt the legendary 1,000-pound “grander” black marlin.

Sardinia

The Costa Smeralda or “emerald coast” has been a high-profile jet-set destination since the Aga Khan discovered it from his yacht in the late ’50s, but American charterers often overlook it. This roughly 15-mile stretch of stunningly beautiful coastline is dotted with five-star hotels and bougainvillea-covered multimillion-dollar villas.

But the Maddalena Islands just off the northern tip of Sardinia are as quiet as the Porto Cervo discos are noisy, with calm bays perfect for watersports. Corsica is a short cruise further north with Bonifacio at the southern tip, clinging by its winding lanes to a sheer cliff.

A multitude of cruise choices are available for Sardinia and Corsica, where you can have a morning swim in a quiet cove seemingly miles from civilization and finish the day with dinner at a five-star restaurant.

Tips: Be sure to sample “suppa cuata” (soup under a layer of aromatic cheese), and you should finish your meal with a “seada,” a cheese-filled crepe topped with honey. Yum!

Great Lakes

Not surprisingly, most charterers look farther afield than the huge inland sea called the Great Lakes, but these are summer adventures to be savored without crossing oceans.

The inventory of yachts summering on the Great Lakes each year varies and, at press time, it’s too early to tell how many yachts will choose to stay in fresh water this season, so check with your charter broker. Most yachts start their charters in major cities, making access convenient enough to allow short getaways.

Depending on your starting point, you can harbor-hop along the shore or head directly for a more distant objective. Mackinac Island on Lake Huron seems a time warp because it doesn’t allow motor vehicles, relying instead on horse-drawn carriages and the ubiquitous bicycle.

Further afield, the Apostle Islands on Lake Superior offer a wild landscape of pine and hemlock, eagle and bear. And the Thousand Islands (actually 1,864 islands) northeast of Lake Ontario on the St. Lawrence Seaway between the U.S. and Canada can provide weeks of exploration.

Tips: Even if you don’t have a sweet tooth, don’t miss Mackinac Island fudge. In the Thousand Islands, try to time your visit with the Clayton Antique Boat Show in August for a look at vintage boating.

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