Sailing holidays are a great way to learn to sail and have a special appeal for anyone looking to spend their vacation travelling wherever they want to go, including places that are impossible to access from land, and enjoying the privacy that a sailboat offers. To beginners, however, the prospect of skippering their own yacht and being left to their own devices on the open sea for extended periods of time can be a daunting one. First-time skippers are often faced with a myriad question about everything from the technical challenges of sailing and anchoring to the physical tasks of operating a sailboat, the costs of fuel and marina fees, and the choice of destination.
Skippering a sailboat requires both experience and qualifications. For this reason, many novice sailors opt for a skippered yacht charter for their first sailing vacation, as this allows them to relax and simply soak up the sun without worrying about sails, tides and mooring. A qualified skipper can also offer advice and guidance that one does not always get in sailing schools, and there is no better way to learn than seeing it first-hand.
A flotilla holiday is an excellent option for beginners who want to try their hand at skippering their own boat. Joining a group of sailboats led by a skipper is a gentle, stress-free and fun introduction to sailing. It offers almost all the advantages of bareboat sailing, but also provides less experienced skippers with the support of the flotilla crew and the lead skipper.
These types of holidays are suited both to beginners and those who have only sailed in small sailboats or dinghies. While they do not offer the same amount of freedom as bareboat charters, they are usually quite flexible and sailors get the added benefit of spending time with like-minded people, learning new things and exploring exotic beaches and bays together without having to share the boat with people they do not know.
Picking the right sailboat is critical to having a great first sailing holiday. Monohull yachts are favoured by many because of their ability to handle a broader range of conditions at sea and the sheer feeling of sailing they provide. Catamarans, on the other hand, sail much faster in the right conditions and are more stable and comfortable, which is why they are often chosen by families and groups travelling with children or pets. However, catamarans require a wider range of skills and at least some experience, so they are not well suited to complete beginners.
When planning their first sailing itinerary, novice skippers must make sure that the destination is suited to their skill level. The best destinations for a first bareboat charter are those with favourable sailing conditions, moderate winds, calm seas, and short distances between anchorages. There are several sailing areas in the Mediterranean and the Caribbean that are hugely popular among both beginners and experienced sailors for those exact reasons.
The British Virgin Islands are one of the world's safest sailing areas and make the perfect destination for learning the ropes. They offer all the advantages of the Caribbean weather and stunning landscapes, as well as easy, line-of-sight navigation and many sheltered stops for anchoring. With picturesque white sand beaches, luxury seafront resorts and amazing food, the islands are an amazing place to visit and, most importantly, all are within sight of each other.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines are also excellent for a bareboating holiday and a particular favourite among families with young children. The islands offer plenty of shallow waters to swim in and opportunities to watch dolphins and whales or visit mesmerizing waterfalls. Tobago Cays Marine Park is a must-stop, drawing thousands of yachts to its majestic Horseshoe Reef and countless divers to the world's third largest coral reef.
The Leeward Caribbean Islands, including the popular St. Martin and Antigua, offer more challenging sailing, with stronger winds and reefs that require some experience.
A number of popular Mediterranean destinations are ideal for first-time sailing holidays. With plenty of sunshine and short distances between ports, Greece, Croatia and Turkey offer some of the most relaxed sailing in the world, as well as a more varied choice of routes than most European countries. Western Mediterranean destinations such as the Balearic Islands, the French Riviera, and the islands of Sardinia and Corsica generally have deeper anchorages and more challenging winds.
The Greek Ionian Islands are famous for their easy sailing conditions, steady winds and countless safe bays to drop anchor. The area between the mainland and the islands of Lefkas and Kefalonia is particularly favourable for less experienced sailors and the islands themselves harbour some of the most spectacular landscapes and beaches in the Mediterranean.
The Dalmatian coast and islands offer the benefits of sheltered passages, short sails and many things to see. Historic cities like Zadar, Split and Dubrovnik, countless traditional fishing villages, buzzing tourist towns and the islands of Murter, Hvar and Brač can be visited in a week and allow sailors to get a real authentic feel for the Croatian coast. The national parks of Krka and Kornati make excellent stops on any sailing itinerary.
Turkey's Lycian and Carian coasts are among the world's most relaxing places to visit. With moderate seas and friendly winds, they welcome countless first-time sailors each year. While some of the places along the coastline are still undeveloped, sailors can find plenty of facilities near the main yachting hubs, Fethiye, Marmaris and Bodrum. With numerous small towns, ancient ruins, sheltered coves, inlets and caves, any sailing route along Turkey's long Mediterranean coast will leave little to be desired.