“Fantasy, it gets the best of me. When I’m sa-ailing . . .” Christopher Cross sang those words in 1980, when “yacht rock” was a thing, but the escapist fantasy endures. How enticing to sail into the sunset and leave the god-awful mess that is 2020 behind! But boats are expensive, and require maintenance, transport, and winterizing. That’s too much commitment for most of us (especially now that we all own corona pets). Plus, here in the Northeast, the boating season is woefully short, making ownership even less desirable. So what can you do if you don’t have a FWB (as in Friend With Boat) and you’re itching to “sail away and find tranquility” a la Chris Cross? Here are some options.
The Airbnb of Boating
In this sharing economy, there are those who’d like to go boating, and those who own pleasure boats and would like to defray the cost of their toys. Enter the matchmaker, GetMyBoat.com, the largest boat rental listing service in the world. This peer-to-peer app, browser, and mobile messaging system connects wannabe boaters with boat rentals and “water experiences.” Currently, GetMyBoat offers 130,000 listings in 184 countries. Rental options include sailboats, powerboats, pontoon boats, Jet-skis and personal watercraft, fishing boats, houseboats, and paddleboards. Prices vary, from around $100 per hour for a basic powerboat or small sailboat to $1,000 or more for a luxury yacht. (We saw a 36-foot sailboat, the Emma Rose, listed in Marblehead for $99 per hour.)
Boat dealers and private owners list their watercraft on the site as independent contractors, who are vetted by the service. All vessels are required to have life jackets and other safety equipment on board. You’ll deal directly with the boat owner on the app, and both renters and owners can leave detailed reviews for the community. “The biggest benefit that we offer our users is all the reviews,” says marketing manager Val Streif.
How it works: You go on the site and filter for location, price, number of guests, type of trip (fishing, powerboat, sailboat, etc.), preferred trip duration, and trip dates. Your inquiry goes to the boat operator, who will then respond to you with details. You pay, you show up, and you’re on the water.
Boat owners and charter operators are super-conscientious about cleaning their boats after each round of guests, says Streif. A typical protocol would include washing down the entire boat with environmentally friendly detergent and allowing it to dry in the sunlight, wiping down storage lockers, grab rails, and helm controls, and supplying hand sanitizer on board.
Given the price tag, events like birthdays and marriage proposals often inspire boat rentals — especially these days, when a big party is out of the question. Or maybe that special occasion is simply surviving the quarantine. www.GetMyBoat.com
Community Boating, Boston
Community Boating, the nation’s oldest continuously running public sailing program, has taught generations of Bostonians to sail since its inception in 1946. If you already know a jib from a gybe, you can rent one of their vessels — or a kayak or a stand-up paddleboard — and get out on the water in the Charles River Basin.
Because learning to sail in a dinghy is a close-contact activity, sailing is currently limited to current members of Community Boating who have received ratings (proving their competency on the water). In light of COVID-19, “It’s hard to imagine that we will have programming to get novices on the water this summer,” says Charlie Zechel, executive director. “But I’m hopeful that we will be able to tell people, ‘If you have a high level of dinghy experience, contact us and we’ll see what we can do’ ” about renting out a Mercury keelboat. Only members of the same household are allowed to sail in a boat together.
Don’t exaggerate your skills in the hope of securing a boat; the folks at Community Boating will suss it out. “We have a saying around here: It’s the big talkers who end up in the water!” Zechel says.
If you haven’t sailed or paddled in the Charles River, you’re in for a treat — it’s a lovely urban waterway. You’ll glide past greenery and shorebirds (we saw a black-crowned night heron here once), a cool contrast to the city skyscrapers rising in the distance. The sailing zone lies between the Mass Ave. and Longfellow bridges. Kayak and paddleboard rentals, Wednesday through Sunday, $30 for two hours; Mercury keelboat rentals, price and timing TBD. www.community-boating.org
Like Community Boating, Courageous Sailing is a nonprofit organization, with the main goal of getting city kids out on the water by teaching them to sail. Adults and families are part of the mix, too. Sign up for a membership “and you can sail one of our boats on Boston Harbor or the harbor islands whenever you like,” says Caitlyn Ridgely, director of adult and family programs.
Currently, membership sales are closed as they’ve been navigating COVID-19 guidelines and trying to get current members out on the water, but “we hope to open for new [membership] sales by early July,” Ridgely says. The fleet includes Rhodes 19s (stable, sloop-rigged keelboats that are great for newbies), plus J/80s, Pearson 26s, and a cruising fleet of boats from 30 to 34 feet that are used for day-sailing and overnight trips.
Right now, members and their guests (from the same household) can sail Rhodes 19s on a limited schedule, but the expansion of state guidelines will allow Courageous Sailing to offer private lessons and family sails on weekday evenings and weekends starting in July, Ridgely notes. They’ll likely be closed on Mondays for deep cleaning, and will continue to use Zoom for the “chalk talk” classroom lessons, instead of doing those in person.
For now, the best way to get out onto the water with Courageous Sailing is on a private two-hour sail; up to four people from the same household can participate for $190. Not bad for a coastal cruise. “As they say, salt water heals, and who doesn’t need a little healing right now?” Ridgely says. Courageous Sailing has locations at Charlestown Navy Yard, UMass Boston, and Jamaica Pond. www.courageoussailing.org
Boston Sailing Center
Operating from Lewis Wharf in the North End since 1977, Boston Sailing Center offers courses for adults that culminate in certification from the American Sailing Association. BSC maintains a fleet of 73 boats ranging from 23-foot day-sailors to 40-foot inboard cruisers.
Classes are offered in six levels. Basically, if you pass a learn-to-sail or cruising course, or have equivalent experience and pass their on-the-water evaluation and written navigation test, you can take out their boats — for a day, overnight, or an extended cruise of up to seven days, depending on the membership program you choose. Their mini plan costs $565 and includes 30 consecutive days of access to the day-sailing fleet (Solings and Sonars) for day sails on weekdays and weekends from 9 a.m. to sunset. For unlimited access to the day-sailing fleet for the entire season (weekdays and weekends), the fee is $1,415. For use of larger vessels (and overnight and extended cruises), rates go up.
Currently, Boston Sailing Center is offering learn-to-sail and advanced courses with reduced class sizes on the water and online classroom sessions. Membership is available at every level. “Our members can take out boats as often as they like during the season, and sail along the Boston waterfront, explore the Boston Harbor islands, or take overnight trips to Marblehead and longer sails to destinations like Provincetown, Martha’s Vineyard and Newport,” says the BSC’s Alex Jackson. www.bostonsaiingcenter.com
Join the (boat) club
If you want more than an occasional zip around the harbor but don’t want to commit to boat ownership, a boat club might be your best bet. You’ve probably seen Freedom Boat Clubs up and down the coast — they’ve got 14 locations between Newburyport and the Cape.
Freedom Boat Club is a franchise organization. The majority of the fleet is made up of powerboats in the 18- to 25-foot range, a good size for most people to handle on their own. The clubs own the boats, and members can choose from among a variety of designs — center consoles, bow riders, pontoon boats, deck boats — depending on the selection available at that club. If you’re traveling someplace (say, Florida, or France) where there’s a Freedom Boat Club, you get reciprocal privileges. You can bring family, friends, even pets aboard. Basically, you reserve your boat, show up at the dock, and board the vessel, which is fueled up and ready (you pay for the gas you use).
How it works: You pay a one-time membership fee of $6,900 (in the Boston area) and a monthly fee of $399 for the length of membership you choose. Prices vary per location and state. New members are required to take a four-hour class on boat skills and safety. Classes are one-on-one and have implemented social distancing measures.
If you’re the spontaneous type, beware. One of the criticisms of boat clubs is that you can’t always get a boat when you want one — say, on a gorgeous Sunday in July. Once a boat is reserved, it’s gone. Freedom Boat Club members can reserve four dates at one time, up to six months in advance, so planning ahead is key. That said, “If you’re flexible as to boat model and type, you might be able to snag one at the last minute,” says Matthew Carrick of Freedom Boat Club of Greater Boston. Or check out the fleet at a club in a neighboring state — more driving, but new waterways to explore. Now get that “Sail Away” playlist ready. www.freedomboatclub.com
Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org