If you've ever dreamed of setting sail for Tahiti, or gliding into a Mediterranean port aboard a luxury yacht, or exploring the Galapagos Islands by schooner or catamaran, no doubt Mary Crowley has the yacht for you.
From her office aboard ahouseboat in Sausalito, Crowley, 39, is the exclusive broker for 150 yachts around the world, with access to another 150 vessels that will take you to places as remote as the Antarctic or as inviting as Antigua, from Micronesia to the Maldives, from Samoa to Sri Lanka.
Crowley is founder and director of Ocean Voyages, a dream-maker of a business that stands ready to transform the most imaginative sailing or cruising fantasy into a memorable reality.
"Once in a lifetime comes a vacation you'll never forget. This was it." Those were the words of David Feldman after his dream sail aboard Zarik, a 49-foot ketch that cruises the bays and islands of the Aegean.
Ocean Voyages doesn't offer the popular yachting experience of bareboating, although some vacationers enjoy taking their hand at the helm and helping to hoist sails, while others want to learn navigation and sailing techniques.
As a sailor from Kentucky recalled: "I have chartered and crewed on private boats; with Ocean Voyages, you get all the fun and none of the hassles."
All of the vessels come with a skipper, often the owner of the boat, and most have a chef on board as well, plus other crew members, depending on vessel size.
Everything from challenging trips for veteran sailors to learning experiences for novices are available from Ocean Voyages. Special interests can be accommodated, too.
For example, if you want to study archeology in the Greek Islands, you can be paired with a captain who's an expert in that field. Or your expedition to the Galapagos can be arranged with a naturalist guide as well as a local skipper. One vessel and crew are preparing to head for Antarctica on a documentary film project.
At the top of the line, the most expensive voyage Crowley has arranged so far was a $90,000 charter voyage in the Mediterranean. Over a three-week period, six to 10 people sailed aboard a luxury motor yacht that plied the Italian and French Riviera and the Balearic Islands on a floating party where the host was generous and money was no object.
Another upscale venture was a three-week honeymoon trip at $7,500 a week aboard a 72-foot custom sailing yacht in the Caribbean.
"Some of our people want to help sail or learn about sailing," Crowley said. "Others have no interest in sailing at all but they realize that a vessel is the best way to see the Seychelles or French Polynesia or the Greek Islands. There is something very nice about being on a boat. It's a leisurely way to travel."
The least expensive vacation with Ocean Voyages is a six-day sail out of San Diego to the Channel Islands at $595 a person. The Rowdy, a 54-foot yawl, explores the offshore islands, anchoring in little coves to swim, snorkel and hike. Some of the trips get involved in races of vintage yachts. Others follow the migration of the California gray whale.
Ray Ashley, Rowdy's skipper, figures he has logged more than 50,000 miles in the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean as captain of sailing vessels. But he's not just a sailor; he's been a teacher and his interests include history and anthropology.
Sailing around Samoa, Tonga and Fiji is a new luxury schooner, the 101-foot Whales Tale. Owner Paul Myers says that one of thebest sailing routes in the Pacific begins in Pago Pago, sailing to Western Samoa, then on to Tonga and concluding in Fiji, exploring, in each of the island groups, distinct cultural traditions and history. He will take along parties of four to six (or eight by special arrangement) on custom trips, from a week at $8,500 to three weeks at $19,500 for the group.
Or picture yourself on a simple 37-foot sloop sailing the outer islands of Tahiti, the Iles Sous le Vent, skippered by Jerry Sauzier.
Two to four people can sail with Sauzier to the islands of Raiatea and Tahaa, bounded by one reef, and through the bays and by the motus (small reef islands) of the lagoon. Then they sail to Huahine and Bora Bora, the island James Michener called "the most beautiful island in the world."
Trips can be custom designed and, by special arrangement, the boat can make a stop at Rangiroa in the Tuamotu Archipelago. Rangiroa is an atoll, a string of reefs and islets around a huge lagoon.
"The other tourists couldn't believe the places we visited," said George Nowak after chartering a ketch out of Huahine. "They had never heard of those places, and that's what made it all so great!"
Crowley has been sailing for as long as she can remember. As a child in Chicago she went sailing with her father, a circuit judge, on the windy waters of the Great Lakes. After college she made boat deliveries for a couple of years, then taught aboard a Norwegian square-rigger that sailed around Europe.