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Why we decided not to do a Nassau Yacht Charter

A week ago, I almost booked a yacht charter out of Nassau. Now I’m so glad I didn’t.

Wait. The Miles Mom, obsessed with saving money on travel, was going to charter a yacht?

I know! Off brand, to say the least. But here’s the story: For years, my husband has been saying that he wanted to celebrate his 50th birthday by chartering a yacht in the Caribbean.

We’ve never set foot on a yacht.

My husband gets seasick.

He doesn’t even love watching the reality show Below Deck like I do.

So where did he get this notion of chartering a yacht for his 50th? Beats me. But as his travel concierge, I wanted to make this dream come true for him. So I started researching.

Challenges of Caribbean yacht charters

Right off the bat, I learned that this wasn’t going to be an easy trip to plan. Not only are yacht charters inherently expensive, but we wanted to travel between Christmas and New Year’s, the most expensive time of the year for any trip.

I learned that flights from the San Francisco Bay Area to the British Virgin Islands, the most popular Caribbean spot for yacht charters, can be especially expensive — and time consuming. A lot of the flights I found had us flying to the East Coast of the US and staying overnight somewhere, before finally going on to the Caribbean. So I started looking around for a more affordable airport that we could fly into, with a simpler flight plan.

Nassau looked ideal for our yacht charter

a screenshot of Google Flights showing planes from the San Francisco area to the British Virgin Islands

I used the Google Flights tool to explore tons of potential flight paths from California to the general Caribbean area, and finally, I discovered Nassau. This is of course in the Bahamas, not technically the Caribbean, but close enough for me. At first I was excited! We could fly there for about 8,000 American Airlines miles apiece. While flying home right before school resumed would be more expensive, the whole trip wouldn’t be nearly as financially prohibitive as flying into the BVI.

But then I started to read about Nassau, a place that had been totally off my radar. I didn’t like what I read. People complained about the large number of cruise ships that dock in Nassau daily, the chain businesses like Senor Frog’s and the high crime right.

But hey, I figured. That’s OK. We’ll be getting on a boat and leaving Nassau as soon as we arrive.

Reading the reviews on Nassau yacht charters

I found a yacht broker who worked with a company that sailed out of Nassau, and started poring over different boats and prices. We’d be hiring a captain, who would need his own cabin, which meant we couldn’t rent the smallest boat. I spent a lot of time agonizing over whether our teen son would need a full cabin or if he could sleep in a forepeak. The family and I discussed at length whether it would be worth it to charter an even bigger yacht — one with four cabins — to have room for a cook as well as the captain.

We had our decision narrowed down to just a couple of yachts when I started reading the reviews of the company we’d be yaching with (The Moorings), specifically of their base in Nassau.

Some of the reviews made my hair stand on end.

Mind you, The Moorings in general has 4.5 out of 5 stars on Trip Advisor, a great rating. But when I searched those ratings for “Nassau,” I saw almost exclusively one-star reviews. About half of them seemed to contain some version of “our dream trip turned into a nightmare.”

Unavailable yachts in Nassau

One family reported that they arrived in Nassau to learn that the yacht they’d reserved had a broken engine. No replacement was available. Another family reported that they arrived to learn that the boat they were supposed to take had broken a week earlier — but they hadn’t been notified until they checked in at the office for their charter.

Broken down yachts in Nassau

Another common story in the reviews of yacht charters out of Nassau were maintenance problems. Broken watermaker, broken AC, broken windlass that wouldn’t pull up the anchor, cracked hull, broken toilets, clogged toilets, broken generator. One family was stranded at sea for three days when the engine broke.

Bad captain behavior in Nassau

These were the reviews that really made me nervous. When you pay for a captain to pilot your boat, you usually also pay a fee for their provisions. One revier said that even though they’d paid the provision fee, the captian ate their food for all meals and even expected his bill to be taken care of when the charterers went to a restaurant!

“He … brought only a bottle of catsup, mustard, mayo and 5 slices of bread. We provided all of his food and bottled fresh water and had to re-provision on the islands because we hadn’t allotted for this. When we dined ashore it was just assumed that we would pay for his meals.”

Bad crew behavior beyond Nassau

The scariest reviews I read actually didn’t specify where the charter started, but they were in The Moorings British Virgin Islands section of TripAdvisor. Like this tale of a captain who drank, threatened an elderly client, and disappeared throughout the charter:

“Our experience with the captain started out fine, I guess, if you don’t mind them getting wasted on the first night and praying out loud to god in the middle of the night asking him to forgive his sins, etc.”

Later, the captain pulled the review writer aside “to say my father was not ‘respecting him’ and if that kept up, we would see an ugly side of him.”

I. Would. Be. Terrified!!!

Then there’s the captain who “asked my teenage nanny for her phone number so they could ‘get together’ next time she was in town.”

On the same charter — and this was a fully crewed charter that cost $32,000, not a bareboat + skipper like we were looking at — the cook was unfortunately dealing with seasickness and some other issues. They often had to serve themselves and clean up after meals, which was supposed to be the crew’s job. “[The cook] regularly sat or layed on the benches of the dining tables listening to loud religious music or watching crime TV shows on her ipad that I did not need my 6 year old to be seeing. Took naps on the dining table benches.”

What we decided to do after reading the bad yacht charter reviews

This may seem silly, but just that one bad chef review was enough to convince me not to hire a chef for a yacht charter. Even though lots of other reviewers said their chefs were wonderful, and even though having someone cook for us was part of my husband’s concept of this dream trip. The idea of having an extra person on the boat who might cause anxiety or unhappiness just didn’t seem worth the risk. Besides, I didn’t want to miss out on checking out restaurants in the ports. And the final nail in the coffin of the chef idea: Now that we knew that some captains could be scary, we didn’t want our son sleeping in the saloon. We would have to use the third cabin on the charter for him, not for a cook.

However, the bad experiences some other charterers had in the Bahamas did not convince us not to charter a yacht.

Instead, we decided to charter a yacht out of Abaco, with the company Navigare. Navigare’s reviews on TripAdvisor are almost 100% positive.

Could we still end up with some kooky captain who gets drunk, prays loudly, and asks my teen daughters for their phone numbers? Of course it could happen. And after all my research, I understand that spare parts are scarce in the Bahamas, so it could still happen that there are some things broken on the sailing catamaran we’re chartering.

But I do feel like my research may have saved us from Erik’s dream vacation turning into a nightmare.

Do you obsessively research travel like I do? Did your research ever save you from a nightmare trip?