WITH the growing popularity of soft-adventure activities, sailing holidays are becoming an increasingly popular option for consumers looking for something more stimulating than two weeks on a beach.
Customers can choose to do as much or as little sailing as they please, with the options ranging from completely crewed yachts, through flotillas, where a group of boats sail together, to bareboat charter for experienced skippers.
Many operators feel this market is reaching the boom days of the late 1980s, and are introducing new destinations and sailing itineraries to cater to a growing audience.
Sunsail spokesman Chris Clode described the market as "buoyant" and points to increased business to the Caribbean following Sunsail's direct Britannia Airways charters into St Thomas and the subsequent reduction in prices.
"The new Club Colonna in Antigua has proved a huge success and is virtually fully booked for July and August," he said.
Bareboat charters in the Maldives, Seychelles and Thailand are also on the increase. Closer to home, Clode believes there is a trend towards family sailing holidays in the Mediterranean, with shore-based accommodation and activities on the water. "You don't need to be able to sail to enjoy these holidays," he said. "People come to our clubs for the facilities, location and kids' clubs."
Sunworld Sailing has been rebranded as Neilson to reflect the expansion of the product to include cycling holidays, gulet cruising, scuba diving and water sports and to bring all of its parent company's activity product under one umbrella.
Among the new product featured in the Neilson 2000 preview brochure, due out today, is a scuba dive/sail option, based in Bodrum, Turkey. Clients stay aboard a wooden Turkish motor sailing yacht with a crew to sail and cook for them. The boat accommodates up to seven clients plus crew.
The package includes two dives a day for three days, and costs from £429 for seven nights full-board accommodation, flights and transfers.
Also featured in the 32-page brochure are yacht-racing holidays and surf, sail and cycle holidays in the Caribbean and the Mediterranean.
Mark Warner operates 10 Mediterranean beach clubs offering sailing tuition. Marketing manager Nigel Ragg said:"The sailing forms part of the overall holiday package, so it's quite laid back and we don't offer any qualifications."
Sunvil started a sailing school in 1990 and emphasises structured training courses working towards Royal Yachting Association qualifications.
Croatian flotilla holidays are new this year, while Sunvil's winter brochure, out September/October, will include an RYA school in Gibralter and expanded programmes to Australia and Florida, where there will be the option of combining sailing with camper-van touring itineraries.
Belleair Holidays also offers RYA accredited courses based in St Julian's Bay, Malta. General manager Martin Zahra said:"We've been featuring these courses for five years and find that people return year after year to take the next level course."
Prices start at £399 per person, based on bed-and-breakfast accommodation at the Cavalieri Hotel with flights from Gatwick. A two-day dinghy taster course costs £68.
For the experienced sailor, bareboat chartering offers the ultimate get-away-from-it-all experience. The Moorings director Robin Paine estimates a 12% growth in bookings this season, although no figures were disclosed. "It's becoming increasingly popular to combine a yachting holiday with a hotel stay," he said.
"Next year we plan to gear the Stay and Sail brochure towards bareboat charters, as well as crewed sailing."
This year has seen Miami introduced to the bareboat programme, while Paine considers chartering from Cuba to be imminent.
Marketing manager of bareboat specialists Top Yacht, Sandra Emmett, said there is room for growth in the market, but added that bareboat chartering isn't suitable for everyone.
"You really need experience to charter a yacht as it is quite a specialised activity," she said.
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