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30th CYS Boat Show

30th CYS BOAT SHOW Sparks Industry Optimism

When I first stepped on to the yacht Yes Dear, I immediately felt welcomed. Captain Ian Barber and Chef Jody Boyd were happy to see me and opened the 58-foot luxury catamaran's sliding doors into the cool and inviting main cabin. Within, Jody busied herself in the boat's galley to prepare a succulent snapper plate as Ian worked to dress the table to my liking. I put down my bags, kicked back and relaxed on the cabin's comfy leather couch. Just as I settled in, Jody offered me a cold and sweaty Carib. I couldn't resist. I could get used to this.


I visited Yes Dear not as a client but as a photographer. The crewed yacht is featured alongside 27 others in Dining on Deck, Charter Yacht Society of the British Virgin Islands' crewed yacht cookbook, published through aLookingGlass. During my brief experience on the boat, I imagined what it would be like to be floating through the Sir Francis Drake Channel or moored outside Spring Bay in Virgin Gorda. It's not hard to sell the Virgin Islands as a prime sailing destination, especially after abcnews.com recently ranked "Sailing in the British Virgin Islands" second in their list "100 Places to Visit Before You Die.", but each year those involved in the crewed yacht industry take steps to ensure that they fill their schedule with a long list of bookings. To do so, one of the best avenues for leads is the Charter Yacht Society's annual Charter Yacht Show, which marks 30 this month. There, boat owners and their crews get a unique chance to meet brokers and mingle with others in their respective industry. A lot has changed over 30 years of sailing, but the BVI's pristine waters and smooth trade winds have managed to stay pretty consistent.

I spoke with CYS Director Janet Oliver, who explained that probably the most notable change over the past 30 years of chartering in the Virgin Islands is the type of boat in demand. This month, following the trend of consecutive years past, the Boat Show will fill Village Cay's marina to capacity with about 65 yachts that are each aiming for an average of 20 bookings. In the early nineties, that would mean a marina full of monohulls, but today that means slips mostly filled out with large and luxurious catamarans. Larger boats mean larger groups who can occupy vessels that can comfortably charter groups of eight or more. It may be a more expensive package, but for a group pool, it inevitably cuts individual costs, Janet explained.

In the BVI alone, there are close to 1,000 boats–largely bareboats–that help to give the territory the reputation as the Caribbean's sailing capital. The CYS director estimated that about 100 boats make up the crewed yacht industry in the BVI. "And in that industry itself–it may seem small–but we believe we'll generate $40 million a year for the BVI," she predicted. For the economy, that means lots of jobs and consistent revenue, she added. In the Boat Show's 30th gathering, Janet said she has high hopes for today's industry and the future's, despite the looming economic cloud.


Dick Schoonover, who manages the clearinghouse CharterPort BVI, can attest to the apparent success felt in the territory, despite worrisome extraneous factors. To date, since 2008, numbers are actually up–from 619 bookings to 625 as of February.


"In a time of economic turmoil, we appear to be improving and just don't understand it," he said. "Since 2008, I think [clients] have discovered that the sky isn't falling like everyone said it would, and even if it does crash, they'll take that vacation, no matter what."

In Dick's business, it's the clientele that determines strength and consistency in the industry.

"It's the doctors, the dentists, the undertakers that never seem to have a problem," he said. "Even in harder economic times, their services are required, and their income is static, so they don't get hit–and that's what our clientele looks like."

When I spoke with him, Dick still had three months left before he closed the book on 2011 charter calendar. He may even break some personal records. And while those on Wall Street are predicting a double-dip recession, the charter industry middleman predicts full sails ahead.

I may not be a six-figure surgeon or lawyer, but living and working here in the BVI I've been fortunate enough to sample some of the finest yachting experiences in the world. It's a lifestyle easily taken for granted but brought back into perspective when noticing the wide eyes of guests and tourists perhaps having a Leonardo DiCaprio "king of the world" moment at the bow of, say, Yes Dear. It's these priceless moments that help to keep the charter yacht industry well afloat.

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