22 Beautiful Sailing Destinations for This Winter

Atolls of the Maldives at dusk

Looking for warm and hospitable sailing destinations for this winter? I looked around for some of the best destinations to stay warm and entertained while having good sailing conditions as well.

Check out our list of 23 beautiful, warm, winter sailing destinations:

  1. Tenerife, the Canaries
  2. Mauritius, South Indian Ocean
  3. Pulau Bunaken, Indonesia
  4. Phang-nga Bay, Phuket, Thailand
  5. Palawan, Philippines
  6. Zihuatanejo, Mexico's West Coast
  7. Banderas Bay, Mexico's West Coast
  8. Mindelo, São Vicente, Cape Verde
  9. Atolls of the Maldives
  10. Cabo, Bay of California (Baja California)
  11. Vera Cruz, Gulf of Mexico
  12. Barbuda, Caribbean
  13. Mahé, Seychelles
  14. Intracoastal Waterway (ICW), South Florida
  15. San Francisco Bay
  16. Lake Lanier, Atlanta, Georgia
  17. Mustang Island, Texas
  18. Canyon Lake, Texas
  19. Lake Ray Hubbard, Dallas
  20. Huntington Lake, California
  21. Clear Lake, California
  22. Big Bear Lake, California

Tenerife, the Canaries

Coastline of Tenerife at dusk

The Canaries are the European gateway to the Americas - but it's much more than that. This volcanic island has many climates and some incredibly diverse nature. On the beaches, it's what you'd expect: blue oceans, white beaches, lot's of (very large) aloë vera and palm trees. However, when climbing the volcano at Tenerife's northside, the temperature drops 10 degrees, the trees change … and I've even seen snow there. That's right: snow.

The north side of the island is mostly scattered with forests and is more difficult to reach by car.

The south side has a lot of marinas and charter companies - and also: parties. The broad boulevard at Los Christianos is very vibrant and has lots of great bars and restaurants.

Sailing conditions: ever-blowing trades, moderate winds, and high temperatures all year round. Good sailing infrastructure available. Seven islands in total. The sailing distances are minor (10NM on average).

Best time to go: Tenerife is located 110 miles offshore from Western Sahara, and it has very mild winters. Mid-winter temperatures range from 60 - 72 °F. There is little rain with light winds. The winter season is also the low tourist season, making it very easy-going round this time of year.

Good to know: I've descended in the Masca Gorge, at the northwest-side of the island. It's a breathtaking descent of 0.4 miles, but it will take you up to 6 hours. It's the most awesome hike I've ever done. You can't drive up to Masca yourself, as the roads are so steep, only cab drivers are allowed up there. And mind the cyclists (who are training professionally for the Tour de France) - they are everywhere.

Grand Bay Yacht Club, Mauritius, South Indian Ocean

Aerial view of the island of Mauritius, South Indian Ocean, with the underground waterfall

Want Carribean-like weather, but tired of the sheer number of tourists? Seychelles are Africa's Windwards. Off the coast of Madagascar, you'll find Mauritius, a lively island with excellent sailing conditions, and incredible natural features. Also called 'heaven on Earth' - and for a good reason.

The Southside has an underwater waterfall, and on the island, you'll find the seven-colored earth in Chamarel.

The South Indian Ocean is an excellent destination in winter. From November until March, it's the northeasterly monsoon, which means light winds, dry air, and moderate temperatures. Temperatures during the day are around 77 °F and nights are cool at 55 °F. So it's plenty hot for some winter medicine.

The best time to visit is November - March. It's the tourist low season and the best weather. Temperatures are between 68 - 86 °F during the winter months.

The Grand Bay Yacht Club has all modern facilities, resorts, and so on. There are a lot of tourists, especially during the winter months, but there's plenty for everyone. The Grand Bay Yacht Club is situated at the island's north side, which is flat and has a lot of wind. But the tradewinds calm down at night.

Pulau Bunaken Marine Park, Indonesia

Island in coastal sea of Bunaken, Indonesia

Shallow coral reefs, with an enormous diversity in corals and fish, Pulau Bunaken is mostly famous for its diving. A dormant volcano in the background, friendly people, and a couple of high-end resorts. But also plenty of island-hopping.

Best time to go: January. The sailing weather can be unsettled in winter, but besides that, there are a lot of sunny days with clear, blue skies. Temperatures here are around 75-85 °F in winter months.

North-Sulawesi offers plenty more, like lots of islands with white beaches, tropical weather, small villages with traditional fire dances, the list goes on.

Phang-nga Bay & Phuket Island, Thailand

Beach in Andaman Sea, Thailand

The Andaman Sea of the coast of Phuket Island is sailors paradise. It's an increasingly popular sailing destination, and the scenery is beautiful. It has excellent sailing opportunities, with dozens of small exotic islands. The Andaman Sea is well-protected, with little swell and stable weather. North, you'll find Phang-nga Bay, a national park with beautiful bays, and a 100-foot rock with a castle on top.

Sailing conditions: there is a good sailing infrastructure available. Locals sail here as well in holidays. The sailing distances are minor, with the bay being just over 26NM wide at its widest point.

Best time to go: Sailing season in Thailand is from November through March, with calm weather from the northeasterly monsoon. Little rain, moderate wind speed and lots of sun.

Palawan Island, Philippines

Bay in Palawan, Philippines

Beautiful long-stretched island in the West Philippines, with white tropical beaches and sea lagunes, Winter is the tourist season on the Philippines, so it can get pretty busy. It's also the coldest months in the Philippines, with perfect temperatures - around 80 °F - and almost no rain. The rain falls in the summer here.

Best time to go: November through March. Temperatures are cool, light to a moderate sailing breeze, and clear, sunny skies.

Zihuatanejo, Mexico's West Coast

Beach in Zihautanejo, West Coast of Mexico

Zihuatanejo, or Zihua, is the of home relaxed Pacific life. Friendly people, beautiful beaches, and great coastal sailing waters. In winter, temperatures practically stay around a summerly 86 °F - making it a great winter sailing destination.

A fishing town, Zihua has lots of local restaurants, cobblestone roads, guesthouses, and a fishermen's market. There is a growing tourist industry here - cruise guests stay in Ixtapa, only a mile away.

The best time to visit: the second half of November - December. It's the tourist low season and the best weather. Temperatures are between 68 - 86 °F during the winter months.

Good for: quiet long cruises along the coastline in good conditions.

Good to know: some moorings to get you started are Marina Ixtapa and Bahía Isla Grande. They have most of the facilities.

On Mexico's west coast are these two great sailing routes:

  1. Between Puerto Vallarta and Manzanillo, there's a stretch of about 175 miles of great cruising.
  2. Between La Paz and Puerto Escondido, there's a stretch of approximately 140 miles of islands and remote anchorages.

Zihuatanejo is right in the center of these two routes, and a great destination in and of itself.

Bahía de Banderas, Mexico's West Coast

Palm tree on beach of Puerto Vallarta in Bahía de Banderas, Mexico's West Coast

Banderas Bay is excellent sailing. It has good conditions all year round and has lots of beautiful destinations. Located in the bay is Puerto Vallarta, a lively port city with everything you need. It has a vibrant social (night)life and plenty of other sailors to hang out with. Puerto Vallarta is also a great starting point for cruising to Manzanillo, and on to Zihuatanejo.

Mindelo, São Vicente, Cape Verde

Colorful harbor town in Mindelo, São Vicente, Cape Verde

Cape Verde is called Africans Carribean, and the southern islands - being the Windwards islands - are little known, but breathtakingly beautiful. Mindelo is the only proper mooring in Cape Verde. Located on São Vicente, it has a lively music scene and grand colonial buildings. The people are friendly and welcoming.

Cape Verde is historically the perfect pit-stop on route from the Canaries to the Carribean. It's also one of the best winter destinations around.

Best time to go: sunny, dry, and warm weather from November through March. Temperatures range from 80 to 86 °F. Moderate, predictable sailing winds. No trades on route from the Canaries until the very end.

Good to know: the sailing infrastructure is meager - you need to be an experienced sailor and navigator to navigate these waters successfully. But the reward is immense.

Atolls of the Maldives

Atolls of the Maldives at dusk

The Maldives are an island group in the South Indian Ocean and consist of a string of 26 atolls. These are ring-shaped coral reefs that are difficult to navigate, because of the chance of running aground. But they are also unique and are sure to leave you speechless.

Sailing conditions: The sailing distances are moderate as you can say for more than four days to reach the northernmost atoll (460NM from southernmost atoll).

Best time to go: the Maldives have excellent sailing conditions from November through March. From May - October, the southwesterly monsoon may cause unsettled weather and cyclones. Temperatures range from 80 - 85 °F mid-winter.

Good to know: the port of Gan is very crowded - if you can avoid it, by any means, it is worth it to skip the port and head for the more quiet anchorages like Hulumale.

Cabo, Bay of California

Aerial view of Cabo, Bay of California (Baja California)

Sailing conditions: The sailing season in the Bay of California is from November to June. This time of year, there are little hurricanes. But the Bay's weather isn't tropical, with temperatures between 40 - 70 °F. Also, there can be heavy winds coming in from the north, of up to 40 knots. When the weather is unsettled, it can get pretty heavy, with short storms (chubascos).

Cabo is protected by mountains, making the weather relatively stable.

Good for: demanding sailing in mild weather, heavy weather & offshore sailing. There are a lot of yacht charter companies here, and it's easy to get started. If you are inexperienced with coastal sailing and safety procedures, please make sure to bring an instructor to get you up to speed.

Best time to go: Late October - Early November has little rain, and the ocean water is still warm. Late winter generally has the lowest hurricane activity.

Vera Cruz, Gulf of Mexico

The Gulf of Mexico offers excellent coastal hopping, from easy Florida bays to Texas' Galveston Islands, on to La Pesca and Vera Cruz. The weather on the northern Gulf coast is mild in winter, although it can get pretty cold, at between 50 - 60 °F in January.

Crossing the Gulf is a challenge as the weather conditions can change rapidly when cold fronts pass over every week or so. However, if you keep an eye on the weather, you can coastal-hop south to Mexico. It is intense sailing, as there are a lot of reefs, but it's worth the trip.

Skip Tampico, as it is said to be corrupt and dirty. Head for Vera Cruz, which is great in winter. It's a clean and neat seaport city with good facilities. Temperatures range from 65 - 75 °F mid-winter, with little to no rain. The Veracruz Yacht Club has good boating facilities.

Best time to go: Vera Cruz is great year-round, but the weather is mildest mid-winter.

Barbuda, Caribbean

Harbor village on Barbuda, Carribean

Barbuda is one of the Caribbean's best-kept secrets. A wonderful, small island with golden beaches and a resort. There are a couple of good, protected anchorages. Jolly Harbour, for example. There are little tourists here, making it a great winter destination for sailors who like it quieter.

Sailing conditions: There is decent sailing infrastructure, some well-protected anchorages, and some resorts and restaurants. Being part of the Leeward Islands, it offers good sailing conditions year-round.

Best time to go: December through February is great sailing and good temperatures at 72 to 85 °F. It's a great Christmas destination, but you have to watch the weather closely, as the hurricane season can carry on until the end of November.

Mahé, Seychelles

Tropical shore at Mahé, Seychelles

Seychelles are just as great as the Carribean, but a lot quieter. Maybe it's because it's so far out (for world cruisers it's not, of course) - but it can be worth chartering a yacht here. With 115 islands, stretching over 700 miles, it's easy to see how to keep at it. It's also a UNESCO World Heritage site, and one look at it makes that easy to understand. Seychelles are outside the hurricane zone.

Best time to go: November - March. Seychelles are perfect mid-winter, with temperatures being not too hot (around 85 °F) and not a lot of tourists or sailors. This time of year, it's again the northeasterly monsoon, meaning dry, steady weather and moderate winds.

Sailing conditions: Sailing distances vary, ranging from just 20NM or less in the inner group of islands to 50NM for the second circle, up to 626NM to reach the outer most islands. The sailing infrastructure is meager, except for the inner islands. Good marinas are in Victoria on Mahé. You need to be an excellent navigator to sail these waters, with a lot of reefs.

Some Great U.S. Winter Sailing Destinations

If you're not a bluewater cruiser, that's fine. But you still might want to get some decent temperatures. Here are some U.S. inland destinations to try out over the winter:

  1. Intracoastal Waterway, South Florida
  2. San Francisco Bay - the U.S. Mediterranean coast. Has mild winter temperatures, less fog than usual, lighter winds, but some winter storms.
  3. Lake Lanier, Atlanta, Georgia - has mild winter temperatures, not very hot, and it's the tourist low season.
  4. Mustang Island, Texas
  5. Canyon Lake, Texas
  6. Lake Ray Hubbard, Dallas
  7. Huntington Lake, California
  8. Clear Lake, California
  9. Big Bear Lake, California

Map With All Destinations

What To Look For in a Good Winter Sailing Destination?

You want to have:

  • mild to good temperatures
  • favorable winds - but still some wind of course
  • sailing distances of half a day to a day
  • decent to good sailing infrastructure
  • no hurricanes

Places You Probably Want to Avoid in Winter

  • Mediterranean - The Meds are okay in winter, but when the weather is unsettled, it can get pretty rough (it has its own kind of hurricanes, called Medicanes). Also, the temperature can get as low as 32 °F.
  • North Sea
  • Sea of Ireland
  • Baltic Sea
  • In fact, it's better to avoid every European sea in winter
  • Sea of Cortez
  • In late winter, Australia and New Zealand start to have favorable sailing conditions.

Conclusion

As you're making plans for this winter sailing season, I've tried to make a list with non-obvious, unique destinations that are actually worth paying a visit. Some destinations are perfect for sailors that prefer to keep to themselves. Other destinations are lively and vibrant, with lots of people and things to do. Whether you like it a bit quieter or want to have a massive Christmas celebration, I've found some cool places to migrate to and avoid the cold and dark winter days to come.

Now it's up to you to choose. What's your perfect snowbird migration destination?

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Comments


s/v Silkap

Hi Shawn,
Canary Islands are really a nice destination. All the islands are so different from each other. In fact, low season on Tenerife and other islands is from Mai to August and high season the rest of the year. Why? Sailors come to the Canaries to cross the Atlantic and tourist come to enjoy nice warm weather they don’t have in Europe. It also is full of big enormous cruising ships.
Hope this helps.
s/v Silkap
www.svsilkap.com


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