Our Favorite Places

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Family Vacations, Summer 1996

Our Favorite Places
By Meg Lukens Noonan

The Big Picture Warm, Windex-clear water, pristine beaches and reefs, short distances between anchorages, and steady tropical trade winds make this 35-mile chain of hilly islands one of the world's premier winter charter destinations. Few people know, though, that summer may be an even better time to sail here, especially for families who don't want to be in competition with other charterers for prime moorings, dinner reservations, or kicking room in the choice snorkeling spots. But summer does carry the risk of hurricanes, particularly as the season wears on. So to be safe, plan on completing your trip by mid-August.

Plotting A Course Because the islands are so close together, you can design your route as you go, backtracking several times if you wish. On a seven-day cruise, you might depart from Road Town on Tortola and sail for Norman Island, about two hours away. After overnighting there, sail three hours to Cooper Island. The following day, make the two-and-a-half-hour crossing to Marina Cay and moor for the night. In the morning, sail for Virgin Gorda, about two hours away (you'll want to give yourself two days to explore here). Then, making the three-hour passage to Guana Island for lunch, push on for another three hours to Cane Garden Bay on Tortola. The last day, sail to Sandy Cay or Jost Van Dyke, an hour and a half away, then return to Road Town.

Best Reasons To Dock The Bight on Norman Island has great snorkeling, and if you motor around the corner to Treasure Point, you'll find shoreline caves that once held pirate treasure and are said to have been the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island. The Cooper Island Beach Club (800-542-4624), on a protected bay, rents small sailboats ($15 per half-day), sailboards ($35 per day), sea kayaks, and snorkeling gear, and serves mahimahi and conch fritters at its restaurant, plus tunes by local reggae bands. On Virgin Gorda, you'll undoubtedly visit The Baths, a jumble of boulders and hidden grottoes that's become the Wal-Mart of the Caribbean-nobody sails by without stopping. Near the northeast end of Virgin Gorda, the Bitter End Yacht Club (800-872-2392) has moorings for transients, a shark pen, a good restaurant, and free movies at the outdoor Sand Palace. Snorkeling is best just off nearby Prickly Pear Island, where you'll see multicolored sponges, coral polyps, parrotfish, and barracuda. Back on Tortola, in tranquil Cane Garden Bay, Stanley's Welcome Bar & Restaurant will serve you a cool drink while your kids frolic on the beachfront tire swing.

Local Wisdom Make sure everyone in your party wears reef shoes. A coral cut, which is highly susceptible to infection, can keep you out of the water for the rest of the trip.

Getting Underway The Moorings (800-535-7289) has customized bareboats out of Road Town from 31 to 51 feet for $1,330 to $3,850 per week in the summer. With a skipper, add $90 per day; with a cook, add $70 per day. Caribbean Yacht Charters Inc. (800-225-2520) charters boats from 36 to 51 feet for $1,995 to $3,320 a week. Their charters originate in St. Thomas, and itineraries usually include St. John.

The Big Picture A week on these waters is a cruise through quintessential American freshwater summer, from the Cherry Festival in Traverse City to the stone-skipping contest on tiny Mackinac Island. Along the way, you'll make stops to swim off clean, sandy beaches, hike wooded trails, visit historic forts, and walk through the prim resort towns with their fudge shops and whitewashed inns. Summer sailing conditions are ideal, with temperatures in the 80s and moderate winds. Storms are capable of whipping up big waves in the open-water portion of the trip. When that happens, simply buy a box of fudge and hole up in port till the weather gets better.

Plotting A Course From Traverse City, sail four hours to Northport and get a slip for the night. Leave Northport in the morning and arrive on Beaver Island, 30 miles offshore, about six hours later. The next day, plan on sailing for six and a half hours from Beaver Island to Mackinac Island. Spend two days on the island, then work your way back to Traverse City, overnighting in Charlevoix, about eight hours from Mackinac, after making a stop in Harbor Springs.

Best Reasons To Anchor In Traverse City, visit the Madeline (616-946-2647), a full-scale replica of an 1850 Great Lakes schooner. The Cherry Festival, with pageants, concerts, and parades, takes place the second week in July. On tiny, walkable Beaver Island, stop in at the St. James Boat Shop, where canoes, dinghies, and boat models are made, and the Beaver Island Toy Museum. Rent bicycles (Iroquois Bikes, about $5 per hour; 906-847-3221) or horses (Chambers' Riding Stables, $20 per hour; 906-847-6112) and ride some of the 144 trails of Mackinac Island, most of which is a state park (906-847-3328). Fort Mackinac, also in the park, is a restored eighteenth-century landmark high on a bluff above the town docks. Harbor Springs is a pretty resort town with lots of manicured waterfront estates, sidewalk cafes, and galleries. The best beach in Charlevoix is Mount McSauba, which has an eight-mile network of woodland trails behind its dunes.

Local Wisdom In mid-to-late July, two long-distance regattas, one from Port Huron and the other from Chicago, terminate on Mackinac Island. Most of the marina is reserved for race participants; cruising sailors should arrive early to lay claim to a first-come, first-served mooring.

Getting Underway Bay Breeze Yacht Charters in Traverse City (616-941-0535) has bareboats from 24 to 44 feet for $700 to $3,360 per week. With a captain, add $125 per day.

The Big Picture They may share a similar topography and climate, but the Elizabeth Islands, Martha's Vineyard, and Nantucket are anything but homogenous-that's what makes cruising these waters so appealing. One day you're anchored off a grassy, uninhabited island watching deer graze along the shoreline, the next you're docked near million-dollar homes and trendy restaurants. But your kids probably won't really notice the vast gulf in economies and wealth on these shores; they'll be too busy swimming in the Gulf Stream-warmed waters, picking blueberries, fishing for striped bass and bluefish, biking through scrubby moors, and watching the big ferries come and go. Midsummer brings prevailing southwesterly winds and relief from the morning and evening fog typical of spring and early summer.

Plotting A Course From Mattapoisett, just north of Cape Cod, sail about three hours across Buzzards Bay to Hadley Harbor off Naushon Island. Spend the night, then head to tiny, uninhabited Weepecket for lunch. It's another two and a half hours to Cuttyhunk Island, where you'll anchor for the night. In the morning, sail through Quick's Hole, stop at Tarpaulin Cove for lunch, then make the three-hour crossing to Edgartown. Spend the next two days exploring Martha's Vineyard, then sail for Nantucket, a three- to four-hour trip. You can anchor, moor, or dock at the boat basin. After two days on Nantucket, head across Nantucket Sound to Quissett Harbor on Cape Cod, about a six-hour journey. The next morning, make the three-hour trip back to Mattapoisett.

Best Reasons To Anchor Hadley Harbor and Tarpaulin Cove, both off Naushon Island (owned by the Forbes family), offer great swimming and sandy beaches. On Martha's Vineyard, bicycles are the best way to get around. Rent them at Wheel Happy (508-627-5928) or R.W. Cutler (508-627-4052) for $10-$15 per day. In Oak Bluffs, stop by the Flying Horses carousel (508-693-9481), the oldest in the country, and the Victorian cottage community known as Oak Bluffs Campmeeting Association. For big surf, head to three-mile-long Katama Beach; for calmer waters, try Joseph A. Sylvia State Beach, between Oak Bluffs and Edgartown. In Menemsha, a working fishing village, the catch of the day can be viewed and bought from markets along Dutcher's Dock. Rent surfboards, Boogie boards, sea kayaks, sailboards, and small sailboats at Wind's Up! (508-693-4252). On Nantucket, rent bicycles at Young's Bicycle Shop (about $20 per day; 508-228-1151) or in-line skates at Sports Locker on Wheels ($16.95 per half-day; half-price for kids; 508-228-6610) and hit the 37 miles of paved bike paths that traverse the island. In Nantucket town, visit the excellent Nantucket Whaling Museum (508-228-1894). Tiny Children's Beach, a short walk from the harbor, and the much larger Jetties Beach, are an easy bike ride from town and are the best bets for families with small children. Strong surf can be found at Surfside and Madaket beaches, both on the bike paths.

Local Wisdom These islands are infested with Lyme disease-carrying ticks. If you venture off the beaches into grasslands or woods, wear long pants tucked into socks and check for ticks daily.

Getting Underway Cape Yacht Charters (800-345-5395) has bareboats from 28 to 45 feet for charter ($875-$2,500 per week) throughout the southwest Cape and Buzzards Bay. For a captain, add $125- $150 per day.

The Big Picture You could spend weeks poking along the gentle shoreline of 200-mile-long Chesapeake Bay, living on crab cakes, and holing up in hidden coves. Along the way, your kids would be soaking up the unique history and culture of the bay-the 300-year-old port towns, the seaside museums, and the parade of boat traffic that features everything from schooners to skipjacks, crabbers' boats, and container ships. Although midsummer- with its threat of frequent thunderstorms, light winds, and high heat-is not the Chesapeake's prime cruising time (spring and early fall are considered ideal), many charterers, relishing the season's slower pace, scale down their itineraries to fit the conditions.

Plotting A Course Spend two days exploring Annapolis, then sail for St. Michaels on the eastern shore, a five- to eight- hour trip. After two nights in St. Michaels, head south to Oxford on the Tred Avon River, where you will overnight. Plan on a half-day to get to Solomons, on the tip of the peninsula where the Patuxent River empties into the Chesapeake. On your final day, turn your boat north for the daylong cruise back to Annapolis.

Best Reasons To Anchor In Annapolis, tour the visitor center and museum at the United States Naval Academy (410-263-6933). The Naval Academy band performs Tuesday evenings on the Annapolis City Dock, Thursday evenings on the academy grounds, from mid-July to mid-August. In St. Michaels, a yachting center on the Miles River, visit the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum (410-745-2916), which has a boat-building workshop and small-craft displays. Rent bicycles and power boats at St. Michaels Town Dock Marina (410-745-2400). The town of Solomons has a quiet harborfront lined with shops and restaurants and the Calvert Marine Museum (410-326-2042), with special hands-on children's exhibits. Kids love Solomons Crab House, a converted firehouse where diners open hard-shell crabs with wooden mallets.

Local Wisdom Sea nettles sometimes inundate the bay. Some charter companies rent "boat pools," large inflatable tubes from which nets are suspended, allowing you to swim safely out of jellyfish-reach. If you do get stung, Adolph's meat tenderizer takes the sting away.

Getting Underway Hartge Chesapeake Charters (410-867-7240) in Galesville, Maryland, has bareboats from 28 feet to 44 feet; seven-day charters range from $730 to $1,750. Tred Avon Yacht Sales & Charters (410-226-5000) has 30- to 45-foot boats, bare and captained, for $1,100 to $2,100 a week. Annapolis Bay Charters (800-292-1119) organizes flotillas and charters bareboats from 29 to 51 feet for $960 to $3,250 per week. For a captain, add $150 the first day, $110 each additional day.


The Big Picture This sunny, easy cruising route will give your family an overview of California beach culture-from big-league urban attractions like San Diego's zoo and museums to the more traditional oceanside pleasures of snorkeling, swimming, boardsailing, and bodysurfing. Santa Catalina Island, 22 miles offshore, adds another dimension. Despite its popularity with day-trippers who arrive by ferry, the rugged, mountainous island is quite wild. Buffalo, boar, goats, eagles, and seals populate the 21-mile-long island, most of which is maintained as a conservancy. Comfortable temperatures, calm waters, and reliable 10- to 15-knot winds make midsummer an ideal time to sail here. By late summer and early fall, powerful Santa Ana winds sometimes make the crossing difficult or impossible for boats smaller than about 25 feet.

Plotting A Course From San Diego Harbor, head north to Mission Bay, four to six hours away. Overnight in the big marina or anchor in adjacent Mariner's Basin, just off a sandy beach. After spending a night or two, sail about six hours north to Oceanside Harbor, where guest slips are always available. Start at dawn for Catalina, 22 miles across the San Pedro Channel. You'll arrive in Avalon, the island's pretty, Mediterranean-style resort town, by early afternoon. Divide your time between Avalon and Two Harbors, two hours away on the undeveloped northwest end. It's a ten- to 12-hour broad reach back to San Diego, but schools of tagalong dolphins make the trip go faster for restless kids.

Best Reasons To Anchor Before you leave San Diego Bay, spend at least half a day at the San Diego Zoo (619-234-3153). In Mission Bay Park, take your dinghy under the bridge into the huge aquatic playground with designated sport-specific areas for activities such as boardsailing, kayaking, fishing, and waterskiing. Rental gear and instruction are available at Mission Bay Sportcenter (619-488-1004). Sea World of California (619-222-6363) and the Giant Dipper, a restored wooden roller coaster, are also nearby. On Catalina, there are several wildlife-viewing bus and boat tours; one of the best is Catalina Adventure Tours's (310-510-2888) glass-bottom boat trip over giant kelp beds (adults, $8; children, $4.25). The beaches near Avalon are crowded; those at Two Harbors are nearly empty. There's good snorkeling at both ends of the island, where you can see California garibaldi, rock bass, and blue and button perch. Catalina Stables (310-510-0478) offers guided horseback trips for $20-$45; mountain bikes can be rented at Brown's Bikes ($20 per day; 310-510-0986). For information about hiking, horseback riding, or mountain biking, contact the Catalina Island Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau (310-510-1520).

Local Wisdom If you moor in Avalon Harbor, remember to leave your trash out on your swim step before you go to bed. A garbage boat collects trash each morning from visiting boats.

Getting Underway San Diego Yacht Charters (619-297-4555; 800-456-0222) offers bareboat and crewed yachts, and arranges flotillas. Bareboat rates range from $160 per day for a 28-foot boat up to $395 per day for a 42-foot boat. Marina Sailing (800-600-7245), in San Diego, offers bare, crewed, and flotilla charters from 28 feet to 42 feet for $1,390-$2,990 per week, plus a skippered 55-foot charter for $4,300.

Copyright 1996, Outside magazine

More at Outside

Elsewhere on the Web

Not Now

Got Wanderlust?

Escape your daily grind with Outside’s best getaways.

Thank you!