Charter companies have offered flotillas for quite a while. And if you are an experienced yachtsman, you probably have a pretty negative perception of the flotilla concept: You can envision this bunch of boats leaving all at the same time, following the lead boat like little ducks following their mom!
Well, things have changed for quite a while! Charter companies have understood the need to modify the approach of the flotilla concept. Unlike the herd-ish old-fashioned flotillas, the current breed is very flexible in allowing charterers to be as much or as little independent as they like. There’s plenty of free sailing time for the flotilla members to explore the area alone if they so desire. At night, they can either join the social activities or not. In short, the members can benefit from all the advantages (see below), and mingle with the other charterers only if they want to. In short, it is not 'follow the leader like a bunch of ducks'. It's sailing your own boat with the chance of meeting new friends with on-site help when needed. That seems like the best of both worlds to us.
A typical flotilla will have 6 to 12 boats, and will cost about $250-$300 per boat depending on the charter company, in addition to the regular charter fee of course. The main areas where we have located possible flotillas are:
- The British Virgin Islands – of course!
- The Ionian, Greece
- The Sporades, Greece
- Canouan and other Grenadines areas
Because the demand keeps growing, new destinations are added regularly, and charter companies have indicated to us that they are ready to add new destinations and dates at any time.
This is what flotillas have to offer to the charterers:
A lead boat, typically with a very experienced skipper, a hostess, and a dedicated boat mechanic. The lead boat carries spare parts to take care of the most common failures aboard a flotilla boat right on site. Generally speaking, the mechanic will look after your yacht and make sure it is in working order throughout your vacation. Seems like a good comfort to us in remote locations.
A flotilla skipper who is also a guide extremely familiar with the sailing grounds and makes sure you will not miss the best anchorages - the ones everyone knows and the secret ones you would not have found by yourself! He/she often has historical knowledge of the area and will show you everything there is to see and know — if you wish to. Captains and hostesses know all the great snorkeling spots, restaurants and night spots.
Assistance as needed. The skipper and his crew will land a hand for a hairy docking session (tried to 'med-moor' in a crowded and small Greek harbor lately? ;-) or any situation that may arise which calls for help.
Planned activities for the group such as morning skippers' briefings on the itinerary and weather, route and any point of interest along the way. Beach parties and an informal regatta are typically all part of the week. None of these activities are mandatory in any way, of course. Many people report that this is the best part of their charter, but it is obviously a matter of taste.
This concept should appeal to both first time and repeat charterers for several reasons.
First-timers like it for the security the lead boat brings, as well as the opportunity to learn from someone who is an expert on the cruising grounds. The idea of meeting other sailors and socializing is also viewed as an extra benefit.
Repeat charterers who are new to the area like the comfort of having a lead skipper taking them to the best spots that they may have missed otherwise. They may also like the social aspect of the group charter.
Personally, I am not a fanatic of the social aspect - I see enough crowds as it is during the year - in fact, I am a fierce individualist. And I do not need help sailing, docking or whatever. But I must say that I am not against the idea of having a "guide" on hand if I am going cruising for the first time in completely new and/or challenging sailing grounds. The good part is that the guide is not even on my boat and I don't have to feed him/her! I also like to have a mechanic at hand in some remote areas where help is not possible.
For both groups above, the idea of a multicultural experience is also appealing as the charterers who compose a typical flotilla come from all over the world.
As a wrap up, we will use a charter company extract. It markets its flotillas as a "relaxed, friendly and fun way to enjoy everything that bareboating has to offer but with the addition of an experienced lead crew close by should you ever need their assistance."