Everything about catamaran cruising is easier. It was easier to pilot the boat (having twin engines), it was easier to moor the boat, because the deck was lower, it was easier to anchor because the boat was lighter. The crew had an easier time sleeping, and as a result, we never had to stop in a slip, which saved a lot of money. Because of the better kitchen, we didn't eat out very much at all, which meant that we saved even more money. The boat also sailed very quickly: we saw the Rya Jen, a boat I had sailed on the previous trip, and it looked like it was standing still compared to our catamaran.
The best time of year to go is probably in November. We lucked out and didn't get much rain at all on this trip, but the mosquitoes were quite something. I'd rather get fewer mosquitoes and slightly cooler weather, plus the charters are cheaper in November. Nevertheless, I'm pretty happy about doing the trip in April as well.
The decision to skip the US Virgin Islands was the right one. It's not that they aren't interesting, it's that if you only have 7 days, you can't possibly squeeze them in and the custom crossings and still have adequate time. I would recommend having at least 14 days if you want to add the US Virgin Islands to your itinerary.
|From Escape Catamaran 2012|
The hardest working person on a boat is the first mate, and Arturo was no exception. He got up at 6:00am every morning, at the same time I did, and was always happy to do whatever it took to get the boat moving. When it came to mooring, Arturo was always on the ball. Even though it's the skipper's job to snorkel and dive to check the anchor, Arturo always did that whenever I did. In addition, he would pick dive sites, lead dives, and always did everything cheerfully and with full of energy. This trip would have been twice as hard without him. Thanks, Arturo!
By the way, if you do charter in high season, make sure your boat has at least 3 morning persons. That's because if you cannot get to the favor'd spots (such as the Indians or the Baths) early enough, your experience could be entirely different, turning a relaxing vacation into a stressful hunt for mooring balls or anchorages.
Shauna and XiaoQin split the kitchen duties, with Shauna doing a lot of the cooking and XiaoQin doing a lot of the cleaning. It was great.
I have mixed feelings about UBS Dive Center. On the one hand, I really liked Tony a lot, and he was very accommodating, getting our Wifi unit back to Horizon for us. Despite his own boat being burnt up, he managed to make good on his commitments to us. On the other hand, his equipment was frequently leaky, and the tanks he gave us sometimes looked like they were filled up without someone looking at the pressure gauge. There was also one time when he promised to pick us up and didn't. The lack of organization would be disturbing.
In any case, the next time I do a trip with substantial diving, I should probably get my own gear. It's a pain to deal with rental gear every time and learn to use the equipment each time, and redo all my buoyancy tests.
The WiFi unit Horizon rented us was a bust. It did not work most nights, and during the day it gave decent coverage but during the day we were always sailing, diving, or doing stuff, and only would have time to upload photos/post to blogs in the evenings. It's not worth what they charge for it, and I would not use the service again.
When you tell people that you're cruising the Caribbean, most people think of the giant cruise ships. That's not the right way to travel. Even if you're not a sailor, hiring a skipper doesn't cost very much ($150/day, which is $20/day split 8 ways), and in exchange you get the freedom of going where you want to go when you want to go. I can't imagine visiting the area any other way.
As for myself, one reason I eschew paying for a skipper is that it's a crutch. It's a completely different feeling when you're the one making the decisions: should we anchor here, or weigh anchor and move in search of a different anchorage? Should we go for a mooring ball, or look for anchorage instead? One more dive? Or do we have to start looking for a place to sleep. Are the swells big enough to warrant recalling the crew from a shore shower? These decisions are all part of learning good seamanship, and if you have a professional next to you, the temptation would always be to lean on his judgement instead. Having sailed with people who have a lot more experience, I would say that no only are those judgements sometimes suspect, ultimately, you need to develop your own leadership style, which is something you can do only when there isn't a "real captain" elsewhere on the boat. Ultimately, the personal development and satisfaction of picking the right place to drop anchor (for instance) is a good reason to bareboat, and if you were to do so, there's no better place than the British Virgin Islands.
In any case, I'm already dreaming of the next sailing trip to the Caribbean. If all this sounds like fun, send me e-mail and ask to be put on my mailing list. And as I write in my book reviews: Highly Recommended