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On St. Thomas, most of the boat business is centered on the marina in Red Hook and Yacht Haven Marina in Charlotte Amalie.

The 50-foot Yacht Nightwind, Sapphire Marina (tel. 340/775-7017; www.stjohndaysail.com), offers full-day sails to St. John and the outer islands. The $125 price includes continental breakfast, a champagne buffet lunch, and an open bar aboard. You're also given free snorkeling equipment and instruction.

New Horizons, 6501 Red Hook Plaza, Suite 16, Red Hook (tel. 800/808-7604 or 340/775-1171; www.newhorizonsvi.com), offers windborne excursions amid the cays and reefs of the Virgin Islands. The two-masted, 65-foot sloop has circumnavigated the globe, and has even been used as a design prototype for other boats. Owned and operated by Canadian Tim Krygsveld, it contains a hot-water shower, serves a specialty drink called a New Horizons Nooner, and carries a complete line of snorkeling equipment for adults and children. A full-day excursion with a continental breakfast, an Italian buffet lunch, and an open bar costs $120 per person ($80 for children ages 2-12). Excursions depart daily, weather permitting, from the Sapphire Beach Resort and Marina. Call ahead for reservations.

New Horizons also offers New Horizons II (tel. 340/775-1171; www.newhorizonscharters.com), a 44-foot custom-made speedboat that takes you on a full-day trip, from 7am to 5pm, to some of the most scenic highlights of the British Virgin Islands. Trips cost $145 for adults or $95 for children ages 2 to 12. You will need your passport and will have to pay an additional $30-per-person Customs fee. New Horizons II leaves from the Sapphire Beach Resort at 7:15am and from the People Ferries' Dock in St. John at 7:45am.

You can avoid the crowds by sailing aboard the Fantasy, 6100 Leeward Way, no. 28 (tel. 340/775-5652; fax 340/775-6256; www.daysailfantasy.com), which departs daily from the American Yacht Harbor at Red Hook at 9:30am and returns at 3pm. The boat takes a maximum of six passengers to St. John and nearby islands for swimming, snorkeling, and beachcombing. Snorkel gear and expert instruction are provided, as is a champagne lunch. The full-day trip costs $140 per person for adults and children. A half-day sail, usually offered only during the low season, lasts 3 hours and costs $100 for adults and children.

American Yacht Harbor Marina, Red Hook (tel. 340/775-6454; www.igy-americanyachtharbor.com), offers both bareboat and fully crewed charters. Boats leave from a colorful yacht-filled harbor set against the backdrop of Heritage Gade, a reproduction of a Caribbean village. The harbor is home to numerous boat companies, including day-trippers, fishing boats, and sailing charters like Nauti Nymph Powerboat Rentals (tel. 340/775-5066). There are also five restaurants on the property, serving everything from Continental to Caribbean cuisine. Another reliable charter-boat outfitter is Charteryacht League, at Flagship (tel. 800/524-2061 or 340/774-3944; www.vicl.org).

Sailors may want to check out the Yachtsman's Guide to the Virgin Islands, available at major marine outlets, at bookstores, through catalog merchandisers, or direct from Tropic Isle Publishers, P.O. Box 12, Adelphia, NJ 07710 (tel. 877/923-9653; www.yachtsmansguide.com). This annual guide, which costs $17, is supplemented by photographs; landfall sketches and charts showing harbors and harbor entrances, anchorages, channels, and landmarks; and information on preparations necessary for cruising the islands.

Bringing Out the Sir Francis Drake in You

Tired of escorted tours? Nauti Nymph Magic Moments, American Yacht Harbor, Red Hook (tel. 800/734-7345 in the U.S., or 340/775-5066; www.yachtmagicmoments.com), reaches out to the independent traveler and adventurer. The knowing staff assists in designing a personal itinerary for a bareboat rental, or can hook you up with a captained day trip. A choice of Coast Guard-approved and fully equipped vessels ranging in size from 25 to 31 feet are available. Boats are kept in top condition. On your own, you can explore the British Virgin Islands, including such little-known islands as Jost Van Dyke and Norman Island, in the tradition of Sir Francis Drake. Norman Island, incidentally, was the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island. The fare for such sailing adventures begins at $425 per passenger, or half price for children 9 and under.

Racing with the Pros

ONDECK Ocean Racing, a company based in Portsmouth, England, maintains an armada of high-tech racing ships -- Farr 65s and Farr 40s -- which some experts say are the most technologically advanced wind-operated racing vessels anywhere. With Kevlar hulls and either aluminum or carbon-fiber masts, they set out between three and four times a day, weather conditions permitting, with groups of between 6 and 12 participants in each boatload. They then race against one another in circumstances that simulate Olympic racing conditions for experiences that are wild, foamy, and even scary. ONDECK recommends that passengers allocate 3 hours for an experience that invariably includes about 2 hours sailing. Expect blustery winds and the possibility of getting drenched as part of the process. Adults pay $99 per jaunt. The headquarters is at 9100 Havensight, Ste. 1 (tel. 843/971-0700; www.ondeckgroup.com).

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.