There are any number of reasons that a yacht might be based in a seasonal cruising destination like the Caribbean or the Med long after the bulk of boats have gone. Some yachts remain year-round because the owner lives in the region, others stay for service and still others are sequestered with a skeleton crew on board while the owner pursues other passions. But the captains of yachts that cruise in the off-season usually cite the same reason for staying on: solitude.
Solitude and service versus self-reliance and the threat of storms — these are the pros and cons of cruising in the off-season. Here are some tips on what to expect if you stay on after the “fair-weather” yachts have fled.
WEARING MITTENS IN THE MED
The advantages of cruising in the Mediterranean in the off-season months are much the same you will find staying behind in the Caribbean for the summer. The anchorages and ports, museums and historical attractions are quieter and less crowded, and it’s easier to find marine service providers.
In addition, unlike Antigua and St. Barths, the shops and restaurants of the South of France and other popular Med cruising destinations typically stay open year round (once you move inland off the beach). Fancy provisions also can be easier to come by, especially in the European ports.
Giacomo Spiaggi, president and CEO of Mansueto Marine, supplier of a full range of yacht support services in San Remo, Italy lists some of his favorite off-season ports:
1) Portosole, San Remo: Quiet, but with plenty of shops and services close by. Also centrally located along the Riviera, with more attractive dockage rates than many others. However, after seeing [January’s] crazy weather and rogue waves breaking over the seawall, I’d worry a bit about how protected it is compared to some other spots.
2) Port Vauban or the IYCA, Antibes: Good protection from winter weather, close to shops and services, close to what ‘action’ and nightlife there is during the winter in the South of France, close to the highways and routes into the Alps for skiing during downtime.
3) Palma, Mallorca: Good shipyard services, maybe the best winter weather in the Med, lots of activities to keep the crew entertained during downtime, incredible natural beauty.
The 63-meter Benetti Lionheart enjoys an extended Med season that lasts from April to November. In the off-season months, says her master, Capt. Thomas Jones, “We tend to cruise up and down the Riviera between Monaco and St. Tropez and enjoy what can be very, very quiet anchorages.”
The real drawback is the water temperature, which can put off owners and guests who equate yachting with watersports. The water gets down to fourteen degrees Celsius [fifty-seven degrees Fahrenheit] in April.
In addition, winter brings a vastly increased chance of inclement weather. As in the Caribbean, keeping an eye on the forecast can be a make-or-break factor when it comes to enjoying a successful off-season in the Med.
THE EXTREME OFF-SEASON
Capt. Henk Koster, owner, designer and master of the 158-foot classic motor yacht Grace takes off-season cruising to extremes: He spends the winter and spring voyaging with guests and charter clients on board along the western coasts of Sweden and Norway, north to the Arctic Circle.
“It has stolen my heart because of the light and the seasons of nature,” Koster says. Intense preparation is the key to a successful cruise in the far north, because services and amenities are few and far between, Koster says, adding, “If you are amongst the islands there, you are on your own. It’s important to have local knowledge and good friends.”
On the other hand, Capt. Koster often is moved by the reception Grace gets when she pulls into a small Norwegian village. “When we enter a fishing port somewhere, then the next day we are all over the local newspaper, because it’s so rare to see a yacht. If you have guests on board, the local people will go all out to be sure they have a good visit.”
While he says the west coast of Norway stays ice-free in the winter, gale-force winds sometimes keep Grace in port for a number of days. “There are some capes you don’t want to pass in those conditions, and they are really notorious,” he says. That’s only about 15 percent of the coast, however. “[Along] the rest, you can hide behind the islands and make a long voyage in the inner passage.” He adds that when transiting in rough seas is unavoidable, “The [guests] can hike overland to the next fjord and the yacht can go around.”