As the U.S. Virgin Islands continues to attract sailors seeking to charter and explore the pristine territory on their own, the immense growth and expanded options for a crewed yacht or term charters have exploded here over the past five years.
Last week, the USVI Charter Yacht show organized by the Virgin Islands Professional Charter Association (VIPCA) in St. Thomas hosted 65 charter yachts and 162 yacht brokers, marking not only a new season for this multimillion-dollar industry but also offering a chance to marvel at the growth and success of the U.S. Virgin Islands as a term-charter yacht destination.
The explosive growth in the charter industry here really began in 2017 when hurricanes Irma and Maria crippled the region, shuttering many hotels and access for cruise ships. At that time, federal assistance from the United States helped, and marine tourism proved nimble and popular at a time when more traditional accommodations and access here were unavailable. In 2020, the pandemic further expanded marine charter options, while decimating the cruise ship economy in the USVI. Hotel options were also limited, but the region got travel up and running relatively quickly, offering available vaccines early on for islanders and tourists. This made charter an even more popular choice.
Today, the marine charter’s economic impact to the USVI is upwards of $88 million and coincides with incentives for small businesses to grow in and around the coves and small harbors where yachts visit. It’s not just those who anchor around the pristine bays of St. John who are in awe of their surroundings, but visits to and around Lovango Cay, Water Island, St. Croix and the Spanish Virgin Islands are increasingly popular.
“Few vacations in the world have so much invested in them The customization of a charter comes from layers of expert collaboration; from deep knowledge by the charter broker of what a particular crew and vessel is capable of providing its charter guests, to the understanding of a fleet manager of how to prepare its vessels and crew with base support,” said VIPCA Executive Director Oriel Blake. “Furthermore, those behind the scenes including local government agents, VIPCA, and USVI marine vendors work year-round building marine infrastructure growing the strength of our home-based charter industry.”
Additionally, due to past restrictions on visits to the British Virgin Islands, captains and crew have grown far more familiar with the beautiful and pristine areas of the USVI. Meanwhile yacht brokers and travel agents find that, with direct flights to St. Thomas, boarding a U.S. based yacht and staying in the United States gives clients more time onboard enjoying their vacation rather than waiting for customs and immigration clearance in the nearby British Virgin Islands.
The British Virgin Islands charter industry has suffered somewhat due to the draconian restrictions on visiting yachts since the pandemic began, and for some time its charter industry and tourism leaders have been hoping for a change by the government. At the time of writing, the BVI and USVI did reach an important resolution after nine months of negotiation that will enable term charter yachts to move more freely between the two regions with far fewer restrictions on the vessels, captains, and crew. This will open up more options for all during the upcoming season.
“The pandemic allowed us to focus on the charter yacht industry, which took off and kept us afloat before cruise ships came back. We have continued to contribute more sponsorship and engage with the marine industry more and more,” said to Alani Henneman Todman, Assistant Commissioner, Marketing, and Communications at the USVI’s Department of Tourism, who noted during the recent show how much the charter yacht industry means to the region. “We are pleased that the governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands has announced there is an agreement to reciprocate charter regulations between the USVI and British Virgin Islands “
One of the benefits of the growth in the marine industry is the career opportunities now available to islanders who have benefited from VIPCA’s marine apprenticeship program and learn to sail opportunities at the St. Thomas Yacht Club and St. Thomas Sailing Center.
“I can’t believe how lucky I am to show everyone my island,” said Lukata Samuel, who along with his partner Benita Marshall will be working as captain and crew for Paradise Yacht Charters on board the new catamaran Boketto. Lukata, 26, began sailing Optimist dinghies at the St. Thomas Yacht Club and eventually earned his captain’s license. “What is unique is that my culture, history, and background is really tied to this land and sea. As we sail around this region, we can educate people as well about our islands. I also hope to share with others living here that learning to sail offers opportunities in the industry. I want to share the idea that you can do anything if you are from here.”
Second-year charter captain Stacy Smith and crew Dan Smith agree that there is so much to learn, see, and do in the USVI that they plan to expand their knowledge during their second season. “Last year we stayed mainly on St. Thomas and St. John,” Smith said. “This year we hope to go to the Spanish Virgin Islands more.”
The U.S. Virgin Islands’ charter yacht industry has shown immense resilience in the face of challenges such as hurricanes and a global pandemic, grown as an economic force, and put the U.S. territory back on the global map for boutique-style, exquisitely customized crewed yacht charter vacations.
“VIPCA has gone above and beyond to meet its mission of promoting the USVI as a destination of choice for the yachting community and protecting the interests of our marine community and businesses,” says the Honorable Albert Bryan Jr., governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Here is a list of winning yachts and chefs who were judged by experts over the course of the show.
Winner: Best Yacht in Show, 50 feet and Under
SY Ether – Richard Vincent & Dominique Vincent
Runner-Up: Best Yacht in Show, 50 feet and Under
SY Oceana – Umberto Genovese & Judith van de Nieuwendijk
Winner: Best Yacht in Show, 51 feet – 60 feet
SY Altesse – Kennon Jones & Stephanie Johnson
Runner-Up: Best Yacht in Show, 51 feet – 60 feet
SY Liquid Zen – Michael Wilson, Casey Strickland
Winner: Best Yacht in Show 61 feet and over
SY Seaclusion – Ricky Moss, Jessica Muller, Jacob Telford, Lyndsay Vos
Runner-Up: Best Yacht in Show 61 feet and over
SY Aeolus – Mayon Hight, Elizabeth Bork & Sam Middeke
Winner: Best Crew in Show
SY MY C’est La Vie – Robbie Sargeant, Sofia Ribeiro & Dean Cumberbach
Runner-Up: Best Crew in Show
SY Vicarious– Austen Anderson & Philomena Anderson
SY Pelican – Casey Laaro & Angela Wilt
Winner: Ocean Vibes, Neen Reynolds
Second Place: Libra, Renata Himiona
Third Place: Koru, Cara Whiteman
Winner: Mixology Competition Grey Goose Vodka
Nae Kae – Maya Walsh
Winner: Mixology Competition Captain Morgan Rum
Justified Horizons – Ryan Querr
For more on this show, visit usviyachtshow.org