Does your dream sailing holiday mean a family or group getaway where you can all enjoy each other’s company in idyllic surroundings free of outside distraction? Then perhaps flotilla sailing is not for you. But read on before deciding. Meeting people through the common bond of sailing is a rewarding experience. It expands horizons and circles while leaving some of the very best holiday memories. And strength in numbers can bring peace of mind when sailing unfamiliar waters.
A Sailing Holiday in Flotilla
The flotilla concept - sailing in convoy following a locally-skippered lead boat - became popular in the 1970s when chartering was in its infancy. Shore services were limited, navigation was by line of sight or dead reckoning, and in many places maritime tourism was foreign to coastal communities. Local knowledge was essential to ensure a good time and safe holiday was had by all.
Flotillas made boating holidays accessible to sailors at all levels of proficiency. They had a positive influence on the industry’s development and are still a popular form of sailing holiday. Scheduled flotilla charters operate In-season in most of the world’s popular sailing destinations. Where they do not, opportunities periodically exist to join one-off or annual events.
There are real benefits in joining a flotilla charter. Opting into the company of others can enrich your party’s total sailing experience, while eliminating any concerns that separation from the crowd may cause.
Scheduled Sailing Flotillas
Participants in modern-day flotillas engage in all the leisure experiences of any sailing holiday, using the best-equipped boats available. Your holiday starts with boat familiarisation and introduction to fellow flotilla sailors, usually over dinner. This get-together includes a full rundown on what’s in store and activities planned during your cruise. That doesn’t mean you are tied to a rigid programme. Activities are optional so your crew has full sailing and vacationing independence between nightly stopovers.
Your flotilla has a designated lead boat, fully crewed by a skipper, cook and often an engineer. So there is always professional support close at hand.
Flotilla itineraries are designed to make the most of group dynamics. Rather than having to seek out your own evening entertainment, you may find a cultural night is planned in a town along the way, or there’s to be a group barbecue on some idyllic secluded beach. Dive or fishing trips can be prearranged in many locations, subject to availability and of course the weather. But all the time you are free to do your own thing, even sail a slightly different daily course if what’s planned is not quite right for your crew.
The flotilla concept effectively just requires that all boats rendezvous in the same bay or marina overnight. Important group briefings occur each morning, covering weather, places of special interest and things to look out for before meeting at the predetermined end-of-day anchorage. Each morning, the lead boat will generally see you off the anchor, then sail ahead towards the next port of call, helping guide you in as needed.
Flotillas often operate on seven-day itineraries from base to furthest point then a seven-day reverse journey. This scheduling structure provides the perfect opportunity for either a one or two-week sailing holiday, enjoying the company of others but largely free to follow your own interests along the way.
One-off and Occasional Flotillas
Scheduled flotilla operations are not available everywhere you can charter bareboat. But if there’s a market, there is always someone willing to step in and meet it.
Independently-run sailing tours become available from time to time, often in some of the very best niche destinations. The top charter boat brokers have access to some great flotilla sailing holiday initiatives operated by maritime tourism professionals. Less structured than scheduled flotillas, one-off custom flotillas are always rich in adventure and spontaneity.
As with regular flotillas, the lead boat or boats have the space aboard to offer cabin charters. So not only do flotillas accommodate full groups seeking to charter in company with other boats, but individuals and couples looking to join in the fun.
Chartering a boat as part of an organised flotilla gives you all the freedom of a sailing holiday with family and friends, with the added comfort of knowing you are part of a group led by professional sailors. On top of that you are in the good company of like-minded people. You are bound to make new friends and have experiences that aren’t so easy to come by on a fully independent charter in unfamiliar surroundings.
If joining a flotilla sounds like your way of participating in the great adventure of bareboat charter in an exotic location, talk to a broker who knows what the market has on offer to suit your sailing holiday time and place.