Three of the USVI’s biggest charter fleets are reporting increased bookings
While the Caribbean is recovering from two years of severe hurricane seasons, the demand for sailing charters in the US Virgin Islands (USVI) is growing, and so are the fleets destined to accommodate it.
Hurricanes Irma and Maria – rare back-to-back Category 5 storms – ravished the islands, but the USVI received little public attention as the storms tore into Puerto Rico, Florida and Texas. With tourism as the nation’s lifeblood, officials moved quickly to re-establish tourist trade.
“The US did a great job picking up sunken boats after the hurricanes,” said Andrea King, who with her husband Skip owns Island Yacht Charters (IYC). She told The St Croix Source that contrasts with some of the most popular cruising grounds in the British Virgin Islands (BVI), “Trellis Bay and Beef Island are still wrecked,” she said.
IYC lost its 2018 season after all 15 of its yachts suffered damage from Irma or Maria. King said they have nine boats available, with another being built in the US and due soon.
“We are 100% bareboat charters but we do book crewed yachts as a broker. We were sold out in winter/spring 2019… less boats and good demand. We will have a solid 2020, again, good demand and the USVI has fewer boats to accommodate,” King said.
Three of the biggest charter fleets in the USVI – IYC, Caribbean Yacht Owners Association (CYOA) and Virgin Island Yacht Charters (VIYC) – have all seen an increase in bookings for USVI-only charters – both so-called ‘bareboat’ charters that sailors pilot themselves and captained excursions.
They cite, in part, expensive customs fees in the BVI and untapped potential of the US and Spanish Virgin Islands for leading people to remain in US territory.
“We ran a promotion about hotels being out, and saw a 20% uptick in captained charters last April and May, said VIYC owner Kristi Query. “There is a huge cost saving and time saving by picking up the boat on St Thomas and staying in US territorial waters.”
VIYC has 16 catamarans plus two new boats ordered. The only boat Query lost was her personal live-aboard sailboat, when another boat was blown into it during the hurricanes.