A robust charter yacht season is officially underway in the U.S. Virgin Islands. That’s the take-home message from the USVI Charter Yacht Show, held November 7 to 10, at IGY Marina’s Yacht Haven Grande St Thomas, and hosted by the Virgin Islands Professional Charter Association (VIPCA) as a fully vaccinated event with COVID-19 protocols in place. Over 100 brokers from the Caribbean, U.S., and Europe attended in person, with an additional 40 virtually, a figure that combines to underscore the Show’s must-do nature for this global charter yacht sales force. Nearly 40 yachts were open for show, a number down from past years yet due to the industry’s success in that many yachts were already out on charter. Solid ongoing sponsor support from local and U.S.-based businesses and the Government of the Virgin Islands provides the firm foundation for the continued growth and success of the charter yacht industry and its economic contribution to the U.S. territory as part of the vibrant marine tourism sector.
Photo: Aeolus, Best Yacht in Show – 56ft – 65ft, L to R: Captain Mayon Hight and Mate Elizabeth Bork. Credit: Kody Zenger.
The Honorable Albert Bryan Jr., Governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands, attended the charter brokers welcome event on November 7th, and made opening remarks:
“A year and a half ago we made a conscious decision that we were not going to close our shores to sailors. We were going to honor what is in our Virgin Islands national anthem, the Virgin Islands March, to ‘hold out a welcome for one and all’. That attitude has certainly paid off. I’d like to thank all the charter brokers who made last season one of the most amazing seasons on the water. Including, for the first time, charter boats in Christiansted and Frederiksted on St. Croix. Totally amazing,” says Governor Bryan.
Looking ahead, Governor Bryan added, “we are investing in the infrastructure of our blue water economy not only in the charter industry but in fishing and cruising by putting in new ports, new boat launches, and moorings. And we will be putting in a tender pier on St. Croix so charter yachts can not only cruise over but have their passengers come ashore as well as they already enjoy in St. Thomas and St John.”
A ‘Must-Do’ Show
This year’s USVI Charter Yacht Show format provided safe and effective ways for brokers to see the yachts and crews. These included small group tours and meals aboard the yachts, and open-air socially distanced social functions onshore. Real-time videos of the yachts tours and crew interviews gave virtual attendees an up-close view.
“The show offered a great cross-section of the different boats in the fleet for charter. I do not believe there is any substitution for stepping on the boats, meeting the crews, and interacting with all the different industry personnel. Any guest that steps aboard a vessel in the Virgin Islands is about to experience one of the best vacations in the world. The natural beauty, wonderful cuisine, and people really make the Virgin Islands stand out. Additionally, with COVID changing the charter industry, I have been pleasantly surprised with the rediscovery of the USVI’s as a charter destination,” says Nick Cirillo, based in Havre de Grace, MD, owner of Blue Ocean Charters, and winner of the Show’s 2021 Broker of the Year award.
Similarly, says Ann McHorney, chief executive officer and charter broker for Fort Lauderdale, FL-based Select Yachts, “I missed the show last year due to COVID and so it was doubly good to have a chance to reconnect with familiar crews and boats, meet new and catch up with fellow brokers as well. When charter guests come to the Virgin Islands, they want to get on a boat, leave their cares at the dock, have fun, eat well, play, laugh, and enjoy the marine life. That’s just what this fleet offers.”
A Boutique Fleet
The boutique fleet of yachts ranged from 45- to 120-feet in length, and included monohulls and multihulls, power, and sail. Each yacht and its crew together provide a distinct experience such that no two are alike.
“What’s special for us in winning this award is that this is our second season in the term charter industry and first year showing in person. A lot is new and fresh, and we’re still learning, but we work as hard as we can to put forward the best product. It’s nice to have this acknowledgment in the award and it shows we are evolving in the right direction,” says Captain Ish Alexander, who with Chef Julia Malone charter the Lagoon 52, Southern Comfort, and who won Best Yacht in Show in the Up to 55-foot category.
It’s the little things that set the 2021-build Lagoon 65, Aeolus, apart, according to Captain Mayon Hight, who with Chef Therese Gorsich, and Stewardess/Mate, Elizabeth Bork, earned Best Yacht in Show in the 56- to 65-foot category. “We have high-end bath products, water toys like Seabobs and Subwings, and at the end, each guest gets a custom video of highlights of their charter.”
Burn Rate, a 120-foot Palmer Johnson motor yacht, earned Best Yacht in Show in the 66-foot and over category.
“For us, it is an honor to be able to work on Burn Rate and we have a lot of pride in keeping her in mint condition. All the credit goes to the crew for their hard work in keeping that high standard,” says Captain Evert Theron, also speaking for crew Chef Tanya Theron, Stewardess/Mate Karien Koekemoer, Deck Mate, Daan De Beer, and Engineer Louis van Wyk.
Photo: Burn Rate, Best Yacht in Show – 66ft & Over. Credit Kody Zenger
Over a decade of charter experience among the crew is just one feature that earned Captain Ryan Querry, Chef Dani Querry, and stewardess/mate, Christian Doyle aboard the 2021-launched Lagoon 65 Justified Horizons, the Best Crew Award.
“We leverage our combined talents to offer an experience that is a step above,” says Chef Dani Querry, who adds that they already have 22 weeks of charter on the books for the 2021-2022 season. “We capably handle our jobs individually and we work together well as a team so that no guest is left wanting. Ryan is a dive instructor, I’m the chef, and Christian ties it all together with incredible touches like tablescapes. We are the only 6-cabin Lagoon 65, which means we can take 10 guests. One of our niches is celebrations. We go over the top with decorations and a homemade cake for guests celebrating special occasions.”
Strong Season Ahead
In the last five years, the U.S. Virgin Islands’ charter yacht industry has proved resilient 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 map as an unsurpassed self-contained jewel of a charter yacht destination. Many yachts have near to fully booked seasons, and that season started earlier this year as of November 1. With enhanced marine infrastructure projects slated, the season ahead will further solidify the U.S. Virgin Islands as a prime yacht charter destination in the Caribbean – and World.
“We are looking at an unprecedented number of sailing and charter vacations in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and this year feels like we are prepared for it,” says Dare Blankenhorn, VIPCA president and owner of St. Thomas-based Charter Caribe. “The Government support that we have received has allowed us to focus heavily on developing our products within the territory. Every week, we are seeing infrastructure progress and feel the pace and rhythm of the U.S. Virgin Islands increase. Our goal today is to be grateful for our opportunities, and to take care of the things that matter to all of us… protecting our beautiful environment, creating a healthy balance between tourism and our infrastructure needs, and making sure that everyone is living, working, and experiencing the best aspects of the U.S. Virgin Islands.”
Mark Your Calendar for 2022
Awards and prizes included for each winner a $500 store credit at Harbor Shoppers, amounting to over $4000 between all winners. Also donated as a prize was a Galaxy phone by Viya, STCW basic training course by the Captain School, Ultimate Cabana days for up to six from Lovango Resort and Beach Club, leatherman’s by Budget Marine, oil changes by Multitech Marine, and vouchers to culinary winners from the Ashburton Cookery School & Chefs Academy.
Sponsors of the USVI Charter Yacht show include the USVI Department of Tourism; Yacht Haven Grande; IGY Marinas; Offshore Marine; the Gowrie Group; Catamaran Central; Moe’s Fresh Market; Grey Goose, distributed by West Indies Company; Veuve Clicquot and Captain Morgan, distributed by Bellows International; Parts & Power Ltd., distributor of Northern Lights; Pamlico Group; the Charter Yacht Broker Association; Cardow Jewelers; Harbor Shoppers; and Viya Business Solutions.
SIDEBAR: 2021 USVI CHARTER YACHT SHOW COMPETITION WINNERS
Best Yacht in Show – 66ft & Over
Winner: Burn Rate ◦ Crew: Evert Theron, Tanya Theron, Karien Koekemoer, Daan De Beer, Louis van Wyk
Runner Up: Lady Sharon Gale ◦ Crew: Keith Cressman, Annette Sharpe, Frans Cornelisse, Zara Browne
Best Yacht in Show – 56ft – 65ft
Winner: Aeolus ◦ Crew: Mayon Hight, Therese Gorsich, Elizabeth Bork
Runner Up: Le Reve ◦ Crew: Dirk DeLo, Sandra Anderson
Best Yacht in Show – Up to 55ft
Winner: Southern Comfort ◦ Crew: Ish Alexander, Julia Malone
Runner Up: Sea Dog ◦ Crew: Keagan Steyn, Olivia Boyd
Best Crew in Show
Winner: Justified Horizons ◦ Crew: Ryan Querry, Dani Querry, Christian Doyle
Runner Up: Aeolus ◦ Crew: Mayon Hight, Therese Gorsich, Elizabeth Bork
Broker of the Year – 2021
Winner: Nick Cirillo, Blue Ocean Charters
Runner Up: Lynne Campbell, Carefree Yacht Charters
Cocktail Mixologist Competition Grey Goose – 2021
Winner: Mixologist: Amy Cann, Let’s Play Too
Runner Up: Mixologist: Zara Browne, Lady Sharon Gale
Cocktail Mixologist Competition Captain Morgan – 2021
Winner: Mixologist: Ish Alexander, Southern Comfort
Runner Up: Mixologist: Ryan Querry, Justified Horizons
Culinary Competition – 2021
1. Tanya Theron, Burn Rate
1. Annette Sharpe, Lady Sharon Gale
2. Dani Querry, Justified Horizons
1. Annette Sharpe, Lady Sharon Gale
2. Therese Gorsich, Aeolis
2. Tanya Theron, Burn Rate
VIPCA is the territory’s 501(c)(6) nonprofit marine association, whose purpose is to promote, protect and further the capabilities of charter yachts and the marine businesses that sustain them. Projects and initiatives VIPCA membership supports includes producing a marine directory of local information, technical advice, and resources; improving Customs and Border Protection facilities; facilitating access for charter vessels between the USVI and the Spanish Virgin Islands; compliance guidance; installation of territory-wide new transient moorings; and marine vocational training for V.I. youth under the organization’s charity fiscally sponsored by Community Foundation Virgin Islands (CFVI.net), the Marine Rebuild Fund.