If you want to go on a charter vacation, you are spoilt for choices. Fleets of new or nearly new monohulls and catamarans await you in any number of exotic locations.
But what if you’re the type of person who wants to sail every day and sleep ashore in a nice, cozy and, above all, stable bed? Or what if some members of your family just aren’t into sailing and would rather hang by the pool, doze on a beach or otherwise occupy themselves ashore? You’ll rapidly find your options narrowing.
Many beach resorts have a couple of Sunfish or Hobie cats for guests to play with, but for them sailing is only regarded as a casual diversion, and the boats are often poorly maintained. Few resorts combine land-based accommodations with a quality sailing experience. Sunsail has a beach club at Vounaki, in Greece’s Ionian Sea, that combines a full-on sailing and windsurfing program with room and board ashore, tied in with a kids’ club and lots of organized activities. It’s also a base for a charter fleet, so you can steal away for a couple of days on a bareboat if you like.
In the Caribbean, you can’t beat the Bitter End Yacht Club, the original upscale sailing resort. The sailing equipment and boat staff are top-notch, the food is excellent, the cocktails are strong, the thatched-roof cottages are charming and the location is stunning. Between the Lasers and the Hobies, the windsurfers and the kayaks, the Whalers and the paddleboards, every boating itch can be scratched at the BEYC.
The problem with the BEYC is that for many people in these straitened times it can be prohibitively expensive to get down to Virgin Gorda. Even for a couple, the combined peak-season airfares from the mainland United States to Tortola can exceed the cost of a five-day stay at the resort itself. If money’s no object, then no problem: otherwise, you have to look closer to home.
Among the easier-to-get-to options is Steve and Doris Colgate’s Offshore Sailing School, which offers courses that combine daytime on-the-water instruction with the tempting amenities of the South Seas Island Resort in Captiva, Florida, or the Pink Shell Beach Resort in Fort Myers, thus offering enough variety to keep a family happy.
Then there is the Key Lime Sailing Club in Key Largo, Florida, an establishment about as rare as it is fun. Picture a handful of cozy cottages scattered around a smallish beachfront, a pair of well-used docks crammed with shoal-draft Catalina 22s. For about the price of a room in a decent hotel, you get a cute cottage (some sleep up to five) and your own boat to mess around in. Each cottage has its own kitchen, but there are plenty of restaurants within walking distance if you don’t want to cook.
It’s the kind of place where everyone seems to have a smile on their face; I was certainly grinning as I piloted our little 22-footer across the shallow, protected waters on the Gulf side of Key Largo. KLSC owner Paul Keiver, a transplant from California whose laid-back West Coast persona meshes perfectly with the funky vibe of the Keys, obviously has a soft spot for the Catalina 22. Some 15,000 of these pocket cruisers were built, and Paul has a sizeable collection of them, either afloat or “resting” in a nearby lot along with plenty of other interesting watercraft. I have to agree with Paul that the 22s are ideal for his purpose: easy to handle, comfortably seating a half-dozen people for day sails, and drawing just 2ft with the board up. The fact that you can pick them up for short money helps too.
As with everything else around KLSC, there’s a story behind this boat; a C/S/K design built in Hawaii in the 1960s, it was owned and raced by actor Buddy Ebsen of Beverly Hillbillies fame.
But a place like the Key Lime Sailing Club isn’t just about the boats any more than it’s just about the accommodations. It’s about the lifestyle. If you like kicking back in the warm sunshine and doing not much at all aside from messing around in boats, this is as fine a place as any, and better than many.