A Caribbean sailing holiday is waiting for you - now!

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When winter gales set in or the cyclone season arrives the dream of a sailing holiday means you have to think of somewhere like the Caribbean. But how much skill is needed, where to go and how to do it? Can you crew on someone else's boat or do you have to charter your own? Once chartered, will you be on your own or can you sail with others? In the Caribbean all these options are possible..

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Beginning sailors:
If you are a beginner sailor, there's no need to discount a sailing vacation. In fact, you could use your holiday to earn a bareboat certificate at sailing schools based in the Caribbean. In just about a week, these courses will turn a novice into a sailor ready to take a boat out on their own.

Going bareboat:
If you're a confident experienced sailor, then going bareboat is probably the way to go. However, going bareboat doesn't have to mean you're completely on your own. If you want to sail your own boat, but are (sensibly) a bit short on confidence, you can take a skipper with your party - they cost less than $200 a day, but of course that will be one fewer berths you'll have for friends on the boat. If you want some added luxury, you can also take a chef, or pre-packed meals (which don't occupy a berth).

Sailing in company:
Whether you want the security of sailing with other boats or would just enjoy some extra company, think about a flotilla. A flotilla is when a group of boats, usually arranged by a charter company, follow a lead boat and travel together on a trip.

This style of sailing is popular and is great for those who have just completed a bareboat certification class. Sailing in a flotilla doesn't necessarily mean always following the leader. Sailors can choose to be as independent as they want. This type of sailing also offers a great social aspect, as many of the boats will meet up at night for dinner or Caribbean cocktails.

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Choosing your boat:
This is best discussed with the charter company. Describe the make-up of your group - a family with kids will want a completely different boat from a group of friends who want to include diving in their holiday. Some boats have top of the line entertainment systems, spa services, or everything needed for scuba diving. Some sailing holiday enthusiasts may be looking to participate and learn to sail, while others want a completely hands off vacation sunbathing on the hull. Explain in detail the experience you want to have to the charter company so that you'll be properly matched.

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The value of a charter broker:
Charter brokers can fulfill a need, specially with help to choose the right boat, and crew if you are needing a crew. Naturally when you speak directly to a company they will tend to optimise their own suitability. A charter broker knows the ropes and has had plenty of feed back. They will only recommend crews and boats others have had positive experiences on, so clients can rest assure they too will have an amazing vacation.

A broker can match the number of guests, interests, and preferred locations with a crew and a boat suitable for their wants and needs. Charter brokers are also available to answer any concerns about sailing in the Caribbean, from seasickness to hurricane season dates.

In addition, the broker will hold the charter payment in escrow. This is great for travelers who are worried about paying upfront for a disappointing vacation.

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What to bring:
Lay out all you think you'll need on your vacation, then cut it in half. It's important to pack light on any sailing trip as space is often very limited. Remember to also bring lots of sunscreen, a hat, sunglasses, and a light long sleeve shirt. Please don't take a suitcase - take a soft sports bag, which can be folded and stored more easily.

Approximate prices: According to a Moorings spokesperson, the price of renting a boat varies from $400 to $1,800 a day for the boat, regardless of the amount of people. For example, a monohull 37ft may cost about $2,300 for five days with a maximum of six people, while a larger catamaran will cost upwards $5,000 for five days.

The price of a chartered boat varies greatly on the size and luxury amenities. 'For instance, on a large, luxury catamaran, the cost per person with 8 guests on board can be $5,000/week all inclusive,' said Yates. A midsized catamaran will cost about $2,500 per person per week. An even smaller and affordable catamaran will cost even less at under $1,800 per person per week.

Which destination will I choose?:
There are so many it's hard to tell, but if I had to make a quick answer, it would be either the Windward Islands or the British Virgins (BVE). Sailing the Windwards is a delight in that the string of islands is north/south and the wind is coming from the east/north east. This means that, apart from short gaps between the islands, you are always sailing in the lee. What a delight that is, the each island has something charismatic of its own to offer. On the other hand, sailors in the Virgin Islands can visit several islands in a single day, which, in part, is why the Virgin Islands are the most popular sailing destination in the Caribbean.

Yes, sailing in the Caribbean is more than just a vacation, it's a lifestyle. You'll be able to enjoy the freedom of sailing where you like, cruising between small, lush islands, anchoring at private coves, swimming at secluded beaches or visiting the villages, experimenting with the local restaurants, shopping for souvenirs and hiking the mountains. It's all up to you.

Do your homework, but no matter what you decide, you can be sure that at this time of year when sailing is difficult in other places, you are bound to have a fantastic vacation if you sail the Caribbean.