Nov. 8, 2004 Optimism prevailed at the 30th annual V.I. Charteryacht Show held at Crown Bay Marina last weekend. Three factors buoyed participating boaters and brokers – renewed confidence to travel in the wake of 911, a stable U.S. national economy and an unscathed hurricane season.
Carter Wilbur, general manager at the St. Thomas-based clearinghouse Flagship, said, "Bookings are strong. By July, we had all our eight-passenger boats fully booked for New Year's week. Clients are now back in the mindset of knowing they need advanced reservations. This wasn't the case after 911 when people were wary about traveling and there were more last minute deals and reservations."
Ed Hamilton, a thirty-plus-year broker veteran and owner of Ed Hamilton & Co, in Wiscasset, Maine, agreed. "We already have 80 percent of our winter bookings. The show is a chance for us to confirm what we know about the boats and crews. The key is really trying to fine tune and make a good match between the charter yacht and client."
Hamilton added, "Because bookings are now on the average booked up to six to nine months in advance, I wish the spring show was bigger. May is the time when people are planning their winter vacations."
Gene Costa, captain aboard the luxurious 85-foot power yacht, Obsession, sees a rainbow on his horizon too. "We have 21 charters on the books already this season and that's great."
Wilber roughly estimated the charter-yacht industry's impact on the V.I. economy. "At Flagship alone, our fleet of boats have a total of some 800 bookings annually at an average of $9,000. Roughly twice this would be the total that comes in from U.S. Virgin Islands' based yachts."
This number tallies to some $15 million. It's not the $70 to $80 million of the charter yacht heyday in the 1970s and 1980s. Boaters plough this income back into the V.I. economy in fuel, food and beverage provisioning and marine repairs. The $15 million doesn't count mega yacht charters or spending by visitors before and after their charter.
Another positive economic sign is the number and diversity of new brokers stepping into the industry.
Wilbur said, "We had ten new brokers this year. One was a previous charter guest who fell in love with this type of vacation and wants to spread the word. Another is from the ski industry and is looking at off-season alternatives. Yet another rents luxury villas in the Caribbean and wanted to branch out to luxury charter yachts."
With Yacht Haven under construction, the forty-two yachts showing squeezed into every available vacant slip at Crown Bay Marina. Some 90 to 100 charter brokers – the sales force for the crewed charter yacht industry, from the U.S. mainland, Europe and Caribbean visited the mix of monohull, multihull and power yachts open for show.
Hamilton said, "There was a tendency for a while for more and more catamarans. Now there's almost a shortage of monohulls."
Wilber added, "We have a number of new power yachts this year."
Power yachts have always been the fewest represented in the fleet.
Costa explained, "We can carry ten people aboard, so there's the opportunity for three generations to cruise together. Plus, we're so big that we have lots of water toys."
While many USVI-based charter crews sail to the British Virgin Islands, Jane Arnold and Gary Messick, aboard the 50-foot sloop, Lady Jane, also charter to Puerto Rico's eastern offshore islands.
Messick said, "Our newest passion is a number of charters to Culebra and Vieques. It's a nice alternative."
Hurricane Ivan, which devastated Grenada, was a topic of discussion among boaters and brokers alike.
Wilbur said, "Each year, about 40 percent of the charter yachts that base out of the Virgin Islands during the winter season head to the southern Caribbean. At Flagship alone, we had four of our yachts in Grenada that were damaged by Ivan."
The VICL hosted a boat show finale Charity Poker Tournament.
Wilbur added, "Instead of cashing in your chips at the end, proceeds will benefit the relief effort in Grenada. While the initial trauma of the storm is over, we remember that there's a long period of rebuilding and economic recovery afterwards."
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