Smooth Sailing after the Storm
- March 24th, 2018
- in Yachting
It’s a widely known fact that the British Virgin Islands is the capital of the world for sailing.
While there may be some debates and naysayers, the region has proven repeatedly that it presents the most pristine waters for sailing, cruising, and the plethora of water-sports available on this great globe.
So the pressing question VIPY wished to ask is, what has happened to our charter yacht industry since Hurricane Irma?
We talked to some renowned BVI charter yacht companies and their customers about how they’ve found business since the great storm that passed through the islands back in September 2017 and we were pleased to discover that life on the water is actually better than ever.
The Moorings—who began in the British Virgin Islands nearly 50 years ago—reopened for business on December 9, 2017 and have been steadily ramping up their clientele since.
The Moorings was pleased to quickly rebound from the storm with a huge investment in the fleet.
Over the course of 2018 and into 2019, the company will be receiving a large number of brand-new yachts throughout the Caribbean to replace those yachts lost to the hurricane.
They used this opportunity to make improvements to their marina facilities.
Overall, they report that their guests have been pleasantly surprised by the state of the islands while on charter. The evidence of the storm remains in full view in many areas, but they have found that it’s not a major detriment to a charter holiday at this time. People are able to still vacation and enjoy a wonderful sail.
“I had a unique experience because I had chartered in February 2017 and then again in February 2018 – quite a different trip as far as our ports of call were concerned. We stayed close to Twitter and Facebook accounts from the different locales and one by one they were reopening. We knew that cancelling was not an option since this was one of the only ways to help support the people stricken by the hurricane short of a direct donation—which we also did. Careful adjustments to places and times were made and stops that we made in the year before could not be made this time around (Trellis Bay, Marian Cay, Saba Rock, Bitter End). We did stop at Leverick Bay, Anegada, Norman Island, and Jost Van Dyke.
“The people were so warm and welcoming and they all thanked us for coming. It made us happy to spend money. The BVI was still just as beautiful…[with]…lots of construction and rebuilding. It was a fabulous trip and we’re so glad we went. We’ll be back next year God willing…The Moorings staff are really great – from transfers, to check-in, to provisioning it was all there ready and waiting for us. The chart briefing was…beneficial since the winds were up and made us change up our journey a bit.
“The Moorings Captain came aboard and gave us all a thorough run down on systems and then gave me the helm. Our dinghy deflated when we were in Jost. I called in to tell them and they came out and swapped our dinghy within two hours of the call…Checking back into port, we had a fast checkout and gas up. Very professional on all counts!” – Thomas McCormick
Conch Charters who are now in their 31st year of business are a family-run, owner-operated company. Their staff are like their extended family and customer service is their ultimate priority.
The business has clients who have visited annually for over 27 years. These customers profoundly care and have wanted to know if the staff have been alright post-Irma, offering assistance.
Conch started a GoFundMe for their employees and raised north of $50,000 in over one month. It was their boat owners and charterers, who gave generously to the fund.
The guests on vacation charters that Conch have run since Irma—starting in late December—have had a great time and enjoy the fact that they’re supporting the rebuild of the islands by coming back to sail these waters again.
“The people of the BVI have shown their resilience with daring and character. My husband and I hail from southeast Georgia; our four guest crew members come from California; Harrisburg, PA; and St. Louis, MO. Although Hurricane Irma impacted the southeast U.S., the devastation suffered in the BVI was exponential. We followed the islands’ recovery efforts on the internet and were excited to see that the area was making Herculean progress towards readying the cruising fleet, as well as favourite beach bars/restaurants, resorts and hotels for the high season.
“We moored at The Bight on Norman, Great Harbor on Jost VanDyke, Cane Garden Bay, Trellis Bay on Tortola, Leverick Bay on Virgin Gorda, and Great Harbor on Peter Island (no facilities, but still a lovely spot). Provisions were readily available, as are great meals in restaurants which, although severely damaged, have been rapidly rebuilt and are sporting fresh coats of colourful paint.
“The rum punch and painkillers are flowing, and the Caribbean waters are just as clear and azure blue as ever. The coral and sea fans have been damaged (nature has built what looks like a coral retaining wall on Sandy Cay), but the tropical fish are teaming. Sea turtles are everywhere. A huge ray jumped high out of the water alongside as we sailed on a close reach. Adventure abounds.
“Conch Charters was very accommodating, from our first inquiry about the availability of bareboat charter sailboats right after the hurricanes, throughout the process of checking us in and instructing us about the equipment aboard. Staff are up-to-date on where you can find moorings, provisions, and services, and their information is spot on. We chartered an Oceanis 50 and she performed splendidly. The rigging and equipment on board made it easy for two old salts and four novices to handle her on any point of sail. And we did. Every single passage was a rollicking sail.
“It was exciting to beat between the reefs right into Leverick Bay, while so many others motored in. Conch did a great job re-commissioning Calypso II after her hiatus ashore in the mangroves, and getting her back into the fleet so we could enjoy the best sailing in the world.” – John and Lynn Heronen
Horizon Yacht Charters
Talking to Horizon who were established in 1998, priding themselves on immaculately presented yachts as well as first-class, friendly customer service, their guests have loved their charter experience in the BVI post-Irma.
The visitors feel they’re contributing to the island’s recovery as well as enjoying quiet anchorages, still beautiful surroundings, and amazing sailing.
Horizon reported that the crewed yacht charters are really busy at the moment as a lot of villa rental clients have opted for the luxury on-the-water all-inclusive experience.
“The BVI is and will always be one of the most beautiful sailing grounds in the world. What makes them so special are the combination of the deep blue waters, majestic volcanic mountains, and most of all the warmth and friendliness of the people. That warmth that radiated so strongly after the storm was immeasurable. Coming to the BVI for over 20 years, I sought out some island folks who have been friends for a long time. We talked at length about the storm, we learned of the terrible hardships that people endured and yet, there was only a positive response about how the BVI will rise again. We visited all the islands, dived and snorkelled, and found the beauty to be more intense than in previous years…The BVI is a second home to me, the beauty is in the heart of the community and its spirit.
“I have chartered from many different companies in the BVI and they have all been wonderful…For the past five years, I’ve been using Horizon Yacht Charters for many reasons. Their selection of different yachts offer unique features and layouts that are fun to experiment with. Their service is impeccable and always there to lend a hand or pass over some knowledge about an unknown feature or system on the boats. They are fun people, enjoy their jobs, and that comes through and adds to the whole experience.
“Sylvia, the owner of Horizon is a warm and inspirational woman who has built a great business for the folks working there and the community of Nanny Cay.
“Giles, Courtney, and the rest of the crew simply get it.” – John d’Arbeloff
MarineMax who are in their sixth year of business with their MarineMax Vacations division boast a charter fleet consisting of pure-bred power catamarans.
With this comes an unrivalled experience on the water, ultimate and efficient power, spacious areas, upgraded luxuries, and amenities like water-makers, electric grills, genset, and air conditioning.
The company has been very busy with 400 guests in December and larger numbers every month since. Their feedback has been great and people are thrilled to see their favourite spots reopen, reacquainting themselves with local music, food, and fun.
“Our experience was fantastic – there is no other word for it. This was our first bare boat trip and we wanted to experience the BVI with a large degree of independence provided by bare boating. We were interested in seeing the beautiful islands, scuba diving, snorkelling, beaches, cool breezes…and we got all that.
“Damage from the storm was still obvious, but it didn’t get in the way of enjoying the overall experience…The service from MarineMax was just crazy good. As first time bare boaters—two families—we had a lot of questions before the trip. Kelly Wooley and the rest of the MarineMax team were very responsive even in the face of dynamic conditions on the island…The MarineMax team was with us all the way, planning, re-planning, and re-re-planning as our travel situation changed. The on-site team was phenomenal as well, handling a couple of small maintenance items nearly instantaneously.
“I’d have to say it would be impossible picking just one highlight of the BVI. Our first night was in The Bight Bay on Norman Island and we had a blast at The Pirates Bight – everyone there was having a great time and there was a good atmosphere. Second, the scuba diving was brilliant. We dove for three days and the dive boat—Dive BVI—picked us up at our boat every day; every dive was better than the last. Finally, we had all heard a lot about the Soggy Dollar, and we moored directly off the bar for two nights, having fun and visiting local restaurants…” – Paul Cummings
Voyage who have been running since 1995 have had more demand than available product in aftermath of the storm. Boats are being repaired as quickly as possible and put back in the charter fleet or replaced with new product. Their new boat order books are filling up.
Offering luxury, performance-sailing catamarans with outstanding, personalised service from reservations to operations, Voyage have exceptional crews.
For those who have chartered since the storm, there has been an extremely positive response in view of how quickly the recovery and rebuild process is happening.
“I am a charter captain that arranges and then captains charter sailboats in the Caribbean. I typically arrange/captain three charters per year…I had arranged to charter a 50-foot cat from Voyage Charter for a week…Voyage Charters provided the boat and the personal service that I had always received in the past…in spite of the very damaged Soper’s Hole harbour area and the extremely limited resources available after the storms. The sailing was reminiscent of the BVI 30 years ago…uncrowded and with minimal services…yet very adequate to make our trip as special as we wanted it to be.
“The major attractions were still the same – the same beautiful beaches, the same clear waters, the same consistent winds, and especially noticed were the same (and even better) local people ‘belongers.’ They really appreciated us being there.
“I had considered this an ‘exploratory’ trip to see if I should recommend the BVI to my future clients. And, with actions louder than words, upon returning from the Feb cruise, I immediately booked three more Voyage Charter cats for next season…always on a full moon week. The best part of the post hurricane trips. The sunsets seemed even more special. – Captain Robert Chatmas
“Let me just start by saying, ‘Wow!’
“From the minute we boarded the boat to the minute we waved a sad goodbye, Captain Blade and Chef Clare were absolutely fantastic. They made our experience one that will never be forgotten.
“They were professional and acted as if our experience was the most important thing on their mind. They fit right in with our group and were considered family when we ended our journey. I’m so thankful that we had them on this trip.
“Blade was very knowledgeable about the entire area and its history. His stories and all the information helped make us feel like we had been there before. He didn’t just point where to go, he took us there.
“They would actually try to respectfully give us our own time in the evenings, but we…preferred that they hung with us. We just loved them…As for Clare, she was adored from the get go. Her food was so good that all of our wives are wanting her to share her recipes. It helped make the trip. She prepared every meal as if they were for the royal family. Everything was beyond expectations.
“We will miss them both and thoroughly loved every minute of our trip…Blade and Clare made this trip special for us. We are already talking about a return visit and I wouldn’t even think about using anyone but these two. Bottom line…Well beyond our expectations… – Mike and Lori Lingo