Deep winter is the perfect time to escape the winter doldrums and head south – or even just to dream about it. Here are a few of our favourite yachting and watersport destinations.
Ambergris Caye, Belize
This lovely island off the coast of Belize is a dream destination for anyone who loves the water. Located a kilometer inland from the Belize Barrier Reef, a UNESCO world heritage site, Ambergris Caye is one of the best dive and snorkel sites in the world. And yet, it’s not yet over-run with tourists, even though it’s got an excellent marina and is well equipped to handle yachters from around the world. There are a smattering of other, smaller islands nearby, perfect for daytrips in your RIB. The channel between the island and the reef is swimming pool calm and shallow, which makes it the perfect place to practice your stand-up paddle-boarding or to teach a nervous swimmer how to snorkel. There’s no shortage of animal life to see – nurse sharks so tame you can pet them, sting rays who will ruffle around your feet begging for chum, turtles, manatees, eagle rays and more. And for experienced divers, the famed “Blue Hole” is a dive site that can’t be missed.
Tiburon may not be quite as tropical, but this northern California town makes up for its weather in charm, and its proximity to great California destinations like San Francisco and the Napa Valley wine region. Located in Marin County, roughly 30 minutes from San Francisco proper, this delightful sea-side town has one of the few (cheaper) public docks for pleasure boats, as well as one of the most well-established yacht clubs in the region. The town itself is full of boutiques and restaurants, including the famous Sam’s Anchor Café, built in 1920, which hosts a public dock of its own. Favored by celebrities, you never know who you might be rubbing shoulders with as you explore this area.
Tortola, British Virgin Islands
Yachting just doesn’t get better than this: calm, crystal clear waters, white sandy beaches, laidback villages. Tortola has it all. What makes this destination stand out from so many other tropical dream locations is its calm waters and easy navigation, with many sheltered bays that make anchoring a breeze. The island's villages are a treat to explore, and are well-stocked with provisions should you want to venture on a longer sailing trip. One of the highlights of the area is The Bight, a cave and cavern system where fresh and salt water mingle, showcasing two distinct eco-systems in the same place. There are few places in the world where the snorkeling is as diverse, so close to such easy sailing and anchorage.
Horta is the primary stopping place for yachts crossing the Atlantic, and as such is extremely well-prepared for ocean traffic. It has been an export centre for more than four hundred years, and that great maritime history and tradition is still alive and well. Its walls and walkways are decorated with the names of seafarers and their vessels, and this city in the bay lives and breathes all things sailing. And because the Azores island chain is so remote (roughly 1400 km off the coast of Portugal), the culture and food is unlike anything you’ll find elsewhere in the world.
For a truly exotic destination, think the Seychelles, roughly 1500 km off the African coast in the Indian ocean. Teaming waters full of marine life, and multi-cultural locals make Mahe a dream trip. The islands themselves are home to unique flora, including the carnivorous “Pitcher Plants” and the rare and endangered “Jellyfish Tree.” Sailing in the area requires more advanced skills, given ocean currents and hidden rocks, but it’s well-worth the distance and the challenge.
Now, time to start dreaming—or packing?!