By Joe Mattioli
In March of 2020, I took my family on a seven-day charter on a 52-foot catamaran. Our son had recovered from a major health issue, and we promised we would take a family vacation of his choice. He suggested that we rent a boat and I started searching and asking questions. We connected with a broker, and she got us hooked up on a wonderful boat, based out of St Thomas, US Virgin Islands. The boat had four guest cabins, each with its own ensuite bathroom, and a cabin for the captain and his chef/first mate. The boat was like new and had all kinds of bells and whistles, but what made the cruise memorable was the crew.
For seven days, we cruised, sailing a few hours each day to a new island. There were seven of us, including four kids in their 20’s, my wife’s best friend, my wife and me. It was by far the family best vacation imaginable!
The captain was incredible, and our chef prepared three gourmet meals a day. Food and all beverages were included, and the only additional cost was a well-deserved tip for the crew.
Weeks before the cruise, we were in touch with the captain planning the islands we would visit as well as our food and beverage choices. Our son’s girlfriend preferred a vegan menu for herself and that was not a problem.
For the most part, the Caribbean is very calm, and the water is incredible, with wonderful visibility. The stability of the catamaran made the trip even better. They are fast, and remain upright, not leaning over like a mono-hull sailboat. Additionally, they only draw about four and a half feet, allowing us to get very close to the islands we visited.
The islands we visited, based on the captain’s recommendations, were amazing. Norman Island is home to a floating bar, the Willy-T, where we could jump off the roof into the water.
We rented small Jeeps on Anegada to drive around, and then finished the day eating local lobster grilled right on the beach, followed by limbo competition. The Baths in Virgin Gorda features massive boulders stacked on top of each other with great snorkeling. The list goes on and on, with islands in both the US and British Virgin Islands within easy reach.
Other interesting stops include: Jost Van Dyke, Peter Island, Saint John, Tortola, Virgin Gorda, St Thomas.
We would occasionally eat ashore, if there was a remarkable restaurant, though most of the time we ate aboard. When we were not exploring, we were snorkeling, paddle boarding, sunbathing, swimming or being towed on a tube behind the dinghy. The captain even let us steer the boat!
We all had such a great time that we booked another charter, between Christmas and New Year’s and had another wonderful experience.
After the second cruise, I started researching the possibility of buying a catamaran that we could use and when we were not aboard, could charter. When we told our kids, they were all about it! It is always hard to spend quality time with grown kids and this was a great solution. Also, we do a lot of business entertainment and the ability to host guests was another incentive.
I contacted our broker and told her what I was thinking about, and she put me in touch with Dare Blankenhorn, owner of Charter Caribe in St Thomas, USVI. It proved to be a marriage made in heaven! Charter Caribe is not a big operation, focusing on quality and not quantity, and only have about twenty boats in their program. They will only take on new boats or boats they know, in order to maintain the quality of their inventory. Dare walked me through all the details of buying a boat. Being a dealer for Lagoon, one of the premier catamarans manufacturers, was a great plus. At his direction, we ordered a brand new Lagoon 52F in January of 2021. The boat was built in Bordeaux, France. We got our order in just in time. Since the pandemic, boat sales and demand for crewed catamaran vacations are at an all-time high.
The boat we ordered has four staterooms for guests, and a room for the crew. Four staterooms have queen size beds and the fifth has bunk beds. All staterooms have their own restroom and shower. We asked Dare to include everything he thought would give our guests the best possible experience, including all kinds of toys like paddle boards, kayaks, scuba gear, snorkeling equipment as well as a freshwater maker, air conditioning, etc. We even have a drone to video outdoor adventures!
The next task was to equip the boat with a tasteful color coordinated interior, which I left to my wife and Dare’s wife, Leigh Ann, to figure out. We hired the help of a local interior design firm to help create a welcoming vibe and a unique, elegant atmosphere.
The two remaining tasks included naming the boat and finding a great crew. After a lot of debate, we settled on a name that we think describes what we want to experience to be and settled on “Liquid Zen.”Dare then went on a search for a crew and literally pulled a rabbit out of his hat. Before the captain, Michael Wilson, followed his dream to the water, he got his Master’s in accounting and was an Equity Research Analyst of Oil & Gas Finance at Simmons Energy. He is a certified Yoga teacher, and a certified scuba instructor. He has extensive sail experience sailing in the Caribbean and throughout the Mediterranean. His mate, Casey Strickland, is also well educated, with a Bachelor of Science from the University of Florida, majoring in hospitality, recreation, and event management.
She is a self-proclaimed foodie and attended the Ashburton Culinary Academy in England to secure her Yacht Chef Certificate. She has worked at luxury, all-inclusive golf resorts before transitioning into residential real estate. After years of the work grind, she decided life on the water was the path she would follow. While their bios were impressive, we had to wait until our first charter for guest feedback.
Liquid Zen was delivered to St. Thomas in mid-November 2022 on a cargo ship. Dare and his crew, along with Michael and Casey, had only a few weeks to get her ready for first Charter on December 19th, but they did it.
While we thought Michael and Casey would do a good job, we were not expecting the rave reviews received on the first charter and everyone since. Michael and Casey offer a lot of extras including the ability to hire a reggae band to perform on the back of the boat, with our guests and neighboring boats cheering them on. Other extras include island tours, onboard massage and more!
With the incredible reviews we have gotten, we now have over 20 charters booked, with more coming in every week. There are still some open weeks between now and August when we take the boat to Grenada for hurricane season. The boat stays in Grenada until mid-October and then will be back in service by November 1st for the 2022-23 season.
Rates and availability can be found at under the “Rates” tab at www.chartercaribe/charter/liquid-zen
Rates are based on a seven-day charter. The normal rate for eight guests is $34,000. That works out to $8,500 per couple, about the same as an all-inclusive resort, the only difference is that you are vacationing on your own yacht with friends and family! Christmas week is $35,000 and New Year’s is $40,000.
If you are interested in learning more Liquid Zen, or other charters in the Caribbean, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photographs by Steve McCauley, Charter Caribe and Capture Photography