There comes a point in the journey of most cruisers when it’s time to fill the cruising kitty. Money is running thin, decisions have to be made, and often someone is forced to use the J-word, job! Mike and Rebecca Sweeney sailed from Canada down the East Coast in 2010, with an eight-week stopover in the Chesapeake Bay. Their PDQ32 catamaran Zero To Cruising took them on many adventures over the next three years all throughout the Caribbean.
“Rebecca and I were nearing the point where we knew that we would have to start earning some money in some way. When we left Canada after selling our house, business, and possessions, we knew that we didn’t have enough money to cruise indefinitely,” says Mike. “We didn’t know how exactly we’d earn a living but we were confident that something would come about.”
That faith in things working out is part of what makes cruisers a unique tribe. A chance meeting a couple of years before in the Bahamas turned into a friendship that eventually turned into the next step for Mike and Rebecca. A man named Michael Eckert had an idea. He was going to buy a catamaran and wanted the Sweeneys to run it as a charter in the Virgin Islands.
“When Michael first presented the idea to us, we truthfully didn’t really believe that he’d follow through,” remembers Rebecca. “About 1000 emails later, and after having him travel to Grenada to meet us face to face, we came to the arrangement that we find ourselves in now.”
Mike and Rebecca now run the sailboat One Love, a Robertson and Caine Leopard 4600 catamaran. The boat was built specifically for charter, and the Sweeney’s have been involved in tricking her out for charter fun and safety since the day she was purchased. It seems ideal; the couple jumped from a small cruising cat to a big one and get paid to sail around the islands and have fun while their boat home waits for them on the hard to go cruising again one day. But it’s not all sunsets and cocktails with new friends. Running a charter is hard work in exotic locations.
“We knew that it was going to be work,” says Mike. “Other than the fact that we live on a boat full time, running a charter boat is nothing like cruising. When cruising on ZTC, we were very minimalist, and now we’re on a yacht with all the bells and whistles. I think we visited a dock only once or twice in several years of cruising on ZTC. Now we’re on one every week. I think that perhaps the biggest difference is that when cruising, we never had a schedule. Now we always do. I’ve even taken to wearing a watch again!”
Running a charter means wearing many hats 24/7 while guests are aboard. Captain, mate, chef, maid, plumber, tour guide, entertainment officer, dinghy chauffeur, bartender, vacation planner, and so much more. And the work doesn’t stop when the guests go home either. Mike and Rebecca need to keep the boat spotless and in perfect working order. Anyone who’s owned a boat, especially in the tropics, knows what a chore that can be.
The Sweeneys had to work toward charter life before they even started the job. Not just anyone can run a boat for paying customers. Mike and Rebecca needed to get all kinds of certifications. Mike first went for his captain’s license. “Not being American, the USCG route that most of my friends had taken was not available to me. My research ultimately led me to the RYA (Royal Yachting Association), and when I found that there was a school offering training and certifications through them located right in Grenada where we were spending the hurricane season, I jumped into it full force.”
Then he and Rebecca each completed a fire fighting safety course, a VHF radio course, and CPR with first aid. Plus they have spent countless hours researching and working on recipes, great places to anchor out with guests, sights to see, local weather patterns, snorkeling spots, and more. With all the right credentials in hand, what really matters when they are working on One Love though is that Mike and Rebecca love sailing, love people, and love to have fun. And of course being former cruisers does help them to do their job, too.
“Having visited just about every island in the Eastern Caribbean; we have a lot of experience navigating our way into new and strange harbors and bays. The success that we’ve had with that has given us the confidence to visit some out of the way places here in the Virgins, so for our guests that want to avoid the crowds, we have a few special not-so-well-known spots that we can take them,” says Rebecca.
“We also learned to be pretty self-sufficient when cruising and that has carried over onto One Love as well. When things happen, and they always do, we’re typically pretty well prepared to deal with them,” Mike says.
For guests, it all seems like a dream vacation, and the hard work behind the scenes translates into a week of relaxation and tropical adventure. Fresh local food, sundowners in the cockpit, paddle boarding, spying turtles and rays in a special snorkeling spot, and of course comfortable and smooth sailing on a luxurious catamaran, all without doing any work yourself. Mike and Rebecca have only been running One Love for about 10 months now but they have managed to book more than a dozen charters in that time with loads more on the horizon. They get rave reviews, and guests look blissed out in the photos they post on their company Facebook page.
“Hands down, there really is no better way to experience the Virgin Islands than on a boat! Imagine staying at a luxury floating hotel where you can travel with all of your stuff from place to place, wherever you like, whenever you like,” Mike gushes. “The schedule and itinerary are yours to create. Having a professional crew look after the boat, prepare scrumptious meals and serve you, and ferry you wherever you like is as close to living the rich and famous lifestyle as many people will ever get."
With all that love and attention going to One Love, could their wee little cruising boat all alone on the hard in Grenada feel neglected?
“We decided to keep ZTC at the beginning, just in case the charter gig didn’t work out for us, a bit of a fallback position,” Mike states. “A few days ago, we just gave serious thought as to what we were going to do with her this season. Do we sell her or keep her? To tell the truth, we still haven’t fully decided. We love that boat!”
Whatever they decide, Mike and Rebecca have managed to create a path for themselves that may be hard work, but is the envy of many. They’re saving for the cruising kitty; they’re doing work they love; and they still get to live on a boat in the tropics and sail every week meeting new people. Not bad for a J-O-B.