Happily Every After

How About a (Sun)Set Sail as Bachelorette Party Aboard Barnegat Witch

By VICTORIA FORD | Mar 20, 2017
Courtesy of: Capt. George Gottiaux

Now entering his fifth season with the Barnegat Witch, Capt. George Gottiaux brings 40 years of experience on the water to his charter sailing operation. Based out of Barnegat Light since 1975, he’s the longest-running boat captain at the Viking Village docks. His “normal” line of work the last 10 years has been dredging. He resides in Ocean Acres but lives largely untethered, free to sail where he pleases at different times of year and spend time in Key West. He’s doubled his business each year with the Witch since he started.

His sunset trips from July to September are popular choices for small groups looking to relax in style, celebrate a milestone or mark a special occasion. Parties of six or fewer might be the perfect bachelorette outing or couples’ excursion (bachelor parties tend to be too rowdy, in his experience); or a bride might consider booking a trip as a thank-you to her family or bridesmaids. He’s even had about 20 wedding proposals on board.

Groups can bring their own food and beverages. The deckhand serves wine, makes conversation, keeps it entertaining, and provides music and a festive atmosphere, to make it a happy trip. “I look for a gregarious, intelligent person,” Gottiaux said. “You can’t be lazy.” A good deckhand will spend time up on the bow, engaging with the clients, not hiding below deck.

Capt. George does two- to four-hour cruises (it can take 30 minutes to get out through the inlet to the ocean), and he makes sure his passengers reap maximum enjoyment from every minute. He even designed a seating area on the foredeck to give passengers a better view.

“As soon as I pull out of the dock, the sail goes up,” he said.

He’ll sail past the Barnegat Lighthouse and basically tailor the trip to the needs and desires of the party, even making special considerations for nervous types or those who have a fear of water.

For groups that are interested in a hands-on experience, he’ll get them involved in the sailing, by having them help raise the mainsail and turn the winch. Kids especially get a kick out of that. A lot of people with physical limitations especially enjoy sailing, he added, because of the sense of freedom and adventure within their grasp. “Once you turn the engine off, there’s no noise, just peacefulness.”

About the vessel: Barnegat Witch is a spacious 39-foot Halverson Freya, its name invoking the legend of the river siren Lorelei. It’s a double-ended offshore cruiser designed by Trygve Halvorsen of Australia – a proven passagemaker, built to handle circumnavigation.

“This boat raced around the world,” Gottiaux said.

She’s rigged for single-handed sailing, he pointed out.

A handsome boat with an upstanding bow, flush foredeck and a small trunk cabin aft, it was designed as a cutter with a large sail area and hull-stepped mast. It’s heavily constructed with thick layers of fiberglass in the hull, and the deck is mainly fiberglass with a plywood coring.

All USCG safety equipment compliances are met. Gottiaux said he likes to teach sailing, but only to qualified students – he’s a worrier when it comes to safety.

Not-just-wedding-stuff going on: Gottiaux will run a “Wednesday Witches” promotion for individual women to sign up, meet other women and learn to sail. In October, when the whales are around, he’ll book whale watches and take people back in the bay. Later this year he’s planning a long cruise down the Intracoastal Waterway before next winter, and he’s looking for one or two passengers to share that adventure with him. The trip could take two weeks to a month, with stops for sightseeing along the way. The plan is to find a place to store the boat for the winter, somewhere south of Palm Beach.

Gottiaux built his first seaworthy boat when he was 10 years old. As a young man he would buy and restore antique boats and live on them in the summer, then sell them for enough money to sustain him all winter.

Working as a deckhand paid better than teaching, so he stayed with it. He worked for the old salty captains, admired their grit and knowledge and learned a lot from them. He developed a business catching tuna and marlin before others were doing it. “I like offshore fishing, but it’s not how it used to be,” he said. He bought his first charter boat in the ’80s.

Gottiaux’s habit is to be constantly looking at his options, he said, new ideas to stay ahead of the game.

“I’ve never lost money on a boat,” he said.

He traded a sport fishing boat for the Witch. Charter sailing is far less stressful than just about any other form of boating for a living, he’s found.

Gift certificates are available, and booking can be done by phone or email. Be sure to reserve as far in advance as possible. It’s all weather-contingent.

Visit sailbarnegatwitch.com, email sailbarnegatlight@gmail.com or call 609-494-0500.

— Victoria Ford

(Courtesy of: Capt. George Gottiaux)
(Courtesy of: Capt. George Gottiaux)
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