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I had the incredible fortune of taking a group of Chicago Yacht Academy students down to the BVI’s and bareboat charter a 45ft. Powercat out of Tortola. The trip itself was an absolute blast and an incredible learning experience. The objective was that each student would graduate with the skills and knowledge needed to skipper their own bareboat in a foreign country. Scouting and training the whole way, we did everything the British Virgin Islands has to offer, from lobster on Anegada to snorkeling the Caves at Norman Island.

At the end of our trip, we all agreed that when it came to packing, the “must-haves” were pretty straightforward and obvious; sunscreen, sunglasses, comfortable non-cotton clothing, plenty of cash in small bills, you can probably guess the rest.

But! What to pack beyond that is not so clear. For context, bareboat really does mean BARE boat. It comes with little more than the boat itself – some safety equipment, bedding, a few pots, pans, and cooking utensils. That’s it! To complicate matters further, the tiny puddle jumper planes used to fly into and out of Tortola put a 50-pound weight limit on baggage – you do not have the option to buy your way into an overweight bag just to bring more gear. With precious pounds adding up quickly, the must-wants gear list took some discernment.

On a luxury trip, you’re naturally going to want some luxury items. These are our top ten “not-a-must-have-but-desperately-don’t-want-to-go-without” items worth bringing aboard your bareboat in the BVIs.

#1 Snorkel Gear

Being in and out of the water is a way of life in the Caribbean, and you don’t need to be a serious scuba diver to enjoy the marine ecology. While most charter companies will rent you snorkel gear, nothing ruins a dive like a leaky mask. At a minimum, it’s worth checking out your local dive shop and getting some help picking out a mask that fits your face and your budget.

#2 Dry Bag or Box

A trip can easily be ruined by a wet cell phone or passport. Just ask our crew member John whose phone got the rice treatment after his dry bag leaked during our swim into the Baths. Our favorite brands were Watershed for dry bags and Pelican for wallet-sized case storage.

#3 Navionics App

A smart device equipped with the Navionics App is hands down the best way to plan and navigate your way through the British Virgin Islands. The ability to put in your boat’s dimensions and autoroute anywhere you want to go is akin to magic previously reserved for road trips. It does not remove the need for human verification, and you should always study your route thoroughly before navigating it. But the stress of pouring over charts, guidebooks, and plotting meticulous routes one waypoint at a time is a thing of the past. Having something like a Ram Mount to hold your smart device near the helm puts this game-changing tech in eyesight and at your fingertips without being a distraction in your hand.

#4 Spices 

Bareboats do not come equipped with a full spice rack. We brought salt, pepper, and a few of our favorite spice blends to liven up the meals we made onboard. For steak, the TJ’s BBQ Rub was a smash hit, as well as Everglades Rub for chicken and fish. McCormick also makes small single-use season packets that we used for tacos and guacamole.

#5 Cocktail Shaker and Meat Thermometer 

Okay! I know this is two items, not one, but they’re the two kitchen utensils that I don’t bareboat without. Nothing ruins and great meal aboard like undercooked or overcooked meat, and a high-quality instant-read meat thermometer will help any amateur chef nail it every time. Nothing adds to a meal like a top-notch cocktail shaken to icy perfection. Accordingly, a travel cocktail shaker with a built-in juicer can take your sundowners to the next level.

#6 Coffee or Tea

It’s not that you can’t get coffee and tea at the grocery stores or the provisioners on Tortola; it’s that you can’t get coffee and tea that is nearly as good as your local coffee shop. Bringing a bag of your favorite coffee only enhances each morning that you wake up in paradise.

#7 Stereo Adapter

Not the best cook? No problem! The DJ is just as important come mealtime. There’s no guarantee that your boat will come with Bluetooth capability, so being prepared to plug into a 3.5mm jack with an aux cord and phone adapter is crucial for crew members to share their tunes and get the party started.

#8 Towel Clips

Nothing dries quickly below deck, so hanging wet towels and suits from the lifelines is the best way to dry them. Regular clothespins aren’t strong enough to keep up with the consistent breeze that makes the BVIs the sailing mecca it is. Accordingly, towel clips were our first choice for hanging anything out to dry.

#9 Fairy Lights

It’s not that the boats aren’t well equipped with proper lighting. It’s that all the boats are pretty much equipped with the same proper lighting. Not only will a good set of solar or USB rechargeable fairy lights add to your yachts ambiance, but strategically hung, they can help you identify your boat at night. This is particularly resourceful if you’re dinghying back from dinner and drinks ashore in a crowded anchorage full of identical-looking charter cats.

#10 Flags or Stickers

If you are a member of a yacht club, boating group, or just really into your own brand, bring a way to leave your mark on all the places you go in the BVIs. Almost all the beachside restaurants and bars from Cow Wreck Beach to Soggy Dollar to Foxy’s are decorated in a hodgepodge of burgees and stickers left behind by visiting boaters. These eclectic yachty hot spots would love for you to add to their collection.

 

Certainly, this top ten list is not set in stone. I am confident that great gear was left off this list, and better substitutions can be made. The reality is that aboard a 45ft. Powercat, it’s not necessarily about having enough room to stow everything. These boats have gobs storage for the necessary provisions, crew gear, and so much more. When the qualifying factor becomes what you’re willing to carry with you through airports, layovers, customs, taxi cabs, and down the dock, these were the things that we’ll be packing time and time again for our British Virgin Island bareboat charters.

Fortunately, there’s still room for experimentation, so if there is something you think should be on this list, Chicago Yacht Academy would love to hear about it.

In the meantime, you can check out our 2022 class schedule to brush up your skills and/or get your certifications.

 

If you have additional questions, please reach out Captain Scott Souders via email or phone at 312.666.6670 ext. 109

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