Sailing into the sunset — it’s the most potent of travel fantasies. Yet, possibly connected with some formative experiences in Scotland, I also associate it with being very wet and cold. There’s the expense too.
However, boat-sharing is on the rise. A new breed of websites is connecting boat owners and would-be sailors and passengers, making it much more affordable and allowing you to arrange trips from a day to as long as you like. Some are for experienced sailors where you skipper the boat yourself. Others — and these are the ones that interest me because my sailing knowledge is extremely limited — match you with captains.
Built in 1992, Voilactus is a 13m yacht moored in Antigua
Faced with a night’s stopover on a late November trip to the Caribbean, I dismiss the idea of spending it in a hotel and decide to be a little more daring; I arrange a night’s stay and sail on Voilactus, a 13m yacht moored in Antigua.
So in Antigua, for only 24 hours, with a solid dose of factor 50, I’ll be able to escape the shackles of land or air travel. When I reach the island, though, it becomes clear that I might not have to factor in the sunscreen. Arriving in a torrential downpour, I find myself in a shared taxi with the Coles family. They are here for a friend’s wedding. I’m here, I tell them, because I used a boat-sharing website called Antlos. “It’s a bit like Uber for boats,” I say.
Russ, the father, pricks up his ears. They’re a sailing family, based in Harwich, Essex.
“We only have a few Laser dinghies,” he says. “You know what they say about owning a boat, it’s like standing in water ripping up £50 notes. We looked at chartering one for a day or so while we were here, but we’d have needed a second mortgage. And you never quite know about the weather.” We pause and listen to the rain hammering on the roof of the taxi before they make a dash to their hotel.
Jolly Harbour is large, but I’ve been given detailed directions. Voilactus is moored by the Al Porto restaurant, yet getting to the boat soaks me. The owner is Ed, an Argentinian based in the US, but the skipper, Disco, an Antiguan-born Rasta, is there to meet me. Usually during his Antlos bookings he doesn’t sleep on the boat, but conducts daily sailing trips round the island. He also works at the boatyard, but not, he points out, on days such as this. Nor, he says sympathetically but firmly, as he hands me a towel to dry off, is there any chance of going sailing today.
“The wind’s coming from the northwest. Too dangerous. Not even the fishermen are going out,” he says. “I think you have to relax instead.” So, rather than going for a sail, he shows me how the shower and the loos work.
The boat, a Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 44 built in 1992, is spotless before I squelch all over it. There are three cabins and two showers. The kitchen isn’t exactly a galley either, but spacious and fully equipped. On the deck there are fairy lights and a large area in which to relax. I can imagine being up there with a few beers. Yes, it’s a bit of a squeeze, but I’d say it would be comfortable for four. Sheets and towels are provided and, in the best nautical tradition, everything is there, but tidied out of sight.
At one point Disco reaches into a cupboard and produces a selection of plastic carrier bags — each neatly tied — for my wet clothes, and there is also that most intoxicating of things, trust. When Disco goes (a nickname; he was christened Enoch Alexander Jeremiah), there’s nothing to stop me wreaking havoc. Instead, I make myself a nice cup of tea.
Antlos started in 2015, created by three Italian sailing fans. It has more than 1,000 boats across the Med and the Caribbean signed up, offering everything from day trips to week-long cruises, all with fully experienced skippers. A night’s stay on Voilactus starts at £49pp, including fuel (but not meals). For guests it’s a no-brainer because it provides taster sessions at reasonable costs. As for Ed, Voilactus’s owner, I would hazard a guess that he doesn’t hugely need the money. However, as he points out by email, renting it out gives employment to cleaners, skippers and mechanics. And he gets to share his love of sailing.
Today, though, we’re going nowhere. Instead, there’s a radio playing Calypso Christmas hits and eventually I brave the rain again and head back to the Al Porto, where Disco joins me for a pizza. From my distant sailing past, I remember the friendliness, where the barman knows every regular’s favourite drink and where people greet strangers when they come in. I end up at the bar with Keith from Broadstairs in Kent and Mike from Annapolis in Maryland, who has just brought his boat down, a trip that has taken 12 days from the mouth of Chesapeake Bay.
Heading back to Voilactus, I may not get the glorious freedom of sailing, but I get peace, a slight rocking motion, the comforting sound of the mast creaking. Sometime in the middle of the night the rain stops and I wake to the sort of Caribbean morning we all dream of. There’s a light breeze and around me boats are beginning to prepare for a day on the water. Except I have to head to the airport because time, tide and airline schedules wait for no one.
Hire a boat
Boat sharing in Greece
Incrediblue (incrediblue.com) matches passengers to skippered boats. Extra crew, including nannies, can be arranged. It costs from €28pp (£24) per night (based on eight sharing).
US boat rentals
Sailo (sailo.com), Boatbound (boatbound.co) and Get My Boat (getmyboat.com) allow skippered and boat-only rental. For example, Sailo charges from $1,025 (£813) a day for a catamaran in the British Virgin Islands sleeping six, including a captain.
Sailsquare (sailsquare.com) allows individuals and groups to join skippered holidays. From €379pp for seven nights in the Canary Islands.
If you don’t want to leave port, Airbnb (airbnb.co.uk) rents houseboats and berths in sailing boats and motorboats; from £104 a night in Amsterdam.