In the aftermath of hurricanes Irma and Maria, bareboat and crewed fleet managers and owners are mobilizing to secure the 2018 winter chartering season in Florida, the Bahamas and the Caribbean.
Depending on departure place and date, vacation sailors will be impressed with the speed of recovery and breadth of fundraising efforts to help locals whose lives and livelihoods were directly affected by the powerful storms.
Perhaps most remarkable in the face of Irma’s massive destruction is the resilience of the communities, as well as the oft-sounded reminders from business owners to sailors not to forsake island chartering destinations they’ve grown to love for their beauty and for the local people who are like family to them.
“We need our tourists to return to the islands as quickly as possible because they supply the lifeblood to the local community members, who are much more involved in the tourist sector than the financial sector,” says Sylvia Driver, director of Horizon Yacht Charters, whose base at Nanny Cay Marina in Tortola, British Virgin Islands, suffered badly.
“We are working hard toward having a skeleton charter fleet operational by January 2018, and while the islands may be a lot different than before, the sea and beaches will still be beautiful and the winds as constant as ever,” she says. “There may not be as many beach bars to choose from, but without those tourist dollars coming in, a lot of local businesses will not be able to afford to rebuild.”
Other companies made victim of Irma’s, and later Maria’s, full forces, including the hurricane-spawned tornadoes with gusts of up to 270 mph that flipped boats like decks of cards, are in the U.S. Virgin Islands, St. Maarten and Puerto Rico.
Those with bases in Antigua, Grenada and St. Vincent and the Grenadines have offered to reschedule or move charters for clients. In that category are companies like The Moorings, Sunsail, Dream Yacht Charter and Horizon. Besides offering to move charterers to unharmed destinations, The Moorings and Sunsail announced that they were planning to resume operations in the BVI, and St. Maarten on November 1, 2017.
Single-base companies in the Virgins, such as CYOA Yacht Charters in St. Thomas, TMM Yacht Charters, Conch Charters, Voyage Charters and Catamaran Company, have asked clientele for patience while conditions are assessed, hoping to be back in action by mid-January 2018. MarineMax Vacations, whose fleet of 45 powercats at Hodges Creek Marina on Tortola’s east end are amazingly afloat, is expecting 15 more boats by winter 2018. “The way to help the island people is to make sure we have jobs for them,” says Raul Bermudez, vice president of the charter division of MarineMax Vacations. “The painkillers will be even better this year.”
Some companies are issuing vouchers to clients for a later date. Virtually all companies are communicating with clients through websites and social media, particularly Facebook. And they’ve set up relief funds to assist their own workers. As of press time, and notwithstanding quickly evolving circumstances, here’s more of what’s worth noting:
Among Florida locales up and running are Southwest Florida Yachts in Cape Coral; Florida Yacht Group at its Miami, Key West, St. Petersburg and Bahamas bases; Harmony Yacht Vacations in Key West; and Steve and Doris Colgate’s Offshore Sailing bases in St. Petersburg, Fort Myers Beach and Captiva Island. Offshore staff are contacting students and moving courses from its two BVI locations to Florida.
Fully operational after Irma are charter companies and individual crewed yachts in the Bahamas, including the Abacos and Exumas. The Bahamas had little exposure to Irma, with winds not exceeding 40 mph.
About 85 percent of crewed yachts booked regularly by Swift Yacht Charters escaped harm and are available for charter, says Hope Swift. And broker Tom DeMartine, of Virgin Island Sailing, is downright upbeat. Every fall, he says, his bookings total about 5,000 clients, primarily on bareboat but also crewed yachts, and this year is no different, with only one confirmed cancellation. “Most of our clients love the BVI and the BVI people so much they want to support them,” he says. “People feel positive — the Virgins are open for business.”
Nonetheless, the road to recovery in places like the BVI’s Virgin Gorda, home to the popular Bitter End Yacht Club and Richard Branson’s exclusive Necker Island resort, is a long one. John Glynn, vice president of sales and marketing for the destroyed yacht club in North Sound, has put out a call to crewed yachts to assist in the resort’s recovery efforts for Virgin Gorda’s residents in Gun Creek and Spanish Town, as the Bitter End’s docks have survived. Boats are now needed to house people who are helping rebuild the local community. Branson’s Virgin Group has also organized a relief effort.
Another rebuilding effort and sailing incentive is through Hank Schmitt’s Offshore Passage Opportunities, which has started a free list for people who want to help crew boats to or from the islands with relief supplies, or bring new charter boats to the bases once they are operational.
One sailor who poignantly expresses the charter community’s sentiment is Steve Clawson, who lost Love Knot, his 2016 Fountaine Pajot Lucia 40, which was part of the Horizon fleet at Nanny Cay (see “Categorically Cool,” June/July 2016). “My wife and I chose the Lucia 40 and outfitted Love Knot to be a special experience for charterers, as well as an enjoyable activity for us and our family, for many years to come,” he says. “We are passionate about sailing and love being with other sailors, so hopefully we will have another boat sometime and somewhere.
“We also want to help the people and small businesses of the BVI to recover and rebuild. Among all the Caribbean islands I’ve visited, these islanders have a very special pride and spirit. And the infrastructure to support chartering and cruisers grew dramatically in recent years — with even better marinas, provisioning sources, scuba shops and other recreational activities. I think we all should be thinking of ways to help the BVI now. Then we should return to the islands to do what we can to help, either by lending our expertise or sweat equity, or by spending our vacation money where it’s now badly needed.”
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Elaine Lembo is CW’s chartering editor.