It took about a week after the monstrous, Category 5 Hurricane Irma plowed across the northern Caribbean in early September, but sure enough, rays of light started to beam out from amid the disaster reports—enough that charter experts felt confident accepting new client bookings ahead of the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.
Initially, two forms of damage were feared: to the destinations, and to the yachts. In terms of the destinations, the Virgin Islands, Sint Maarten, St. Barths and Barbuda reported severe wreckage, but Irma largely spared other islands including Antigua and St. Kitts, which both have international airports and superyacht marinas. And IGY Marinas—which operates Yacht Haven Grande and American Yacht Harbor Marina on St. Thomas, Rodney Bay Marina on St. Lucia, and Isle de Sol as well as Simpson Bay Marina on Sint Maarten—said about a week after Irma that repairs had begun and the company was “optimistic that our marinas will be operational in most, if not all, affected locations for the upcoming winter season.”
Many of the boats in fleets of crewed catamarans and smaller motoryachts (including Regency Yacht Charters in the Virgins and Select Yachts on Sint Maarten) survived unscathed or with minimal damage, and some larger yachts still in the Mediterranean showed every indication of sticking with plans to move to the Caribbean for the winter.
“I’ve already had calls from boats in the Mediterranean asking what they can bring when they come over for the season,” Sarah Sebastian of Nicholson Yacht Charters & Services on Antigua said in mid-September. “I just booked a 10-day charter, Antigua to Tortola, and he said, ‘If the islands don’t look nice, we’ll help in reconstruction. We’ll use the vacation to help.’”
Kathleen Mullen, who runs Regency Yacht Charters in the British Virgin Islands, said she expects the hallmark lush, green foliage to return by November, the bays to be calm and full of fish, and the beach shacks to be serving conch while larger facilities rebuild.
“I have been surprised, and pleased, with the volume of new bookings coming in for winter 2018,” she said about a week after the storm. “I hate to reveal how old I am, but although this is very, very bad, my experience after Hurricanes Hugo and Marilyn tells me that if we can remember to be kind and tolerant with each other, life will come back to these islands more quickly than you think at first.”
Ann E. McHorney, who runs Select Yachts out of Sint Maarten and southeast Florida, said some charter clients asked after Irma to change their itineraries to the pristine southern Caribbean, but she encouraged them to stick with the northern islands.
“Most of the bookings aren’t until Christmas and New Year’s, and you’re on a boat,” she said. “What else do you need besides fuel and provisions? Those things will be there. Maybe there will be rum shacks instead of beach bars—a little more like the old Caribbean—but Tortola had nothing when I started chartering. It’s still terrific.”
She added that as awful as the initial damage estimates were from the Florida Keys, reports coming out of the Bahamas post-Irma were great.
“The Bahamas is fine, at least in the Nassau area,” McHorney said. “There are no questions about charters happening there.”
Only one motoryacht based in Florida, Sebastian said, had canceled its registration for the Antigua Charter Yacht Show because of storm-related damage, and the yachting community on Antigua was providing help about a week after Irma, not looking to receive it.
“We’ve nearly got enough funds to fund a mobile hospital in Barbuda, with donations mainly from the yachting community and the people at English Harbour,” Sebastian said. “It’s hurricane-proof. We’re going to put all the supplies in there so that the doctor can go back and live on Barbuda.”
And she agreed with McHorney that, by the time charter clients return, enough of what makes the Caribbean so special will also be getting back to normal.
“The islands are all open for business,” Sebastian said. “They’ll look lovely and the feel will be the same. You can still snorkel the reefs and go to the beach, and the lush foliage will be back all around. The buildings might take a little longer, but it doesn’t matter about the buildings if you’re on a boat.”
All Eyes On Antigua
In the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, the Antigua Charter Yacht Meeting—also known as the Antigua charter show—takes a leading role in showing just how successful this year’s winter charter season in the Caribbean can be. In December, charter yachts, captains, crew, brokers, managers, vendors and media including Yachts International will converge on the popular charter hub, which, according to show organizers, was largely spared from the storms and is operating as usual.
For more information: antiguayachtshow.com