Below is the second installment in the series.
In 2017, hurricanes Irma and Maria dealt a significant blow to the yacht charter industry in the BVI. The unthinkable had happened. Sailing charters were the life-blood of the islands, with more than half of all visitors to coming for the sailing, but now there was destruction everywhere. Post-Irma, boats were littered on the shorelines, turned upside down, flipped up onto mangrove trees, rooftops and roads, or just completely sunk. Marinas were severely damaged. A catamaran was resting atop what was left of the West End Ferry Terminal building. Everyone was in shock.
In an article in the Guardian written by local BVIslander, Alex Dick-Read, he quoted local marine surveyor Michael Hirst, who said that, “Around 80-90% of the BVI’s charter fleet was damaged and of those, between 40 and 60% will probably be write-offs.” Alex added that a total of about 1,000 vessels were believed to have been destroyed by the storms.
Thus, it is no surprise that since the hurricanes, the yachting sector has seen a significant drop in the number of vessels berthed in BVI waters. A recent report from the BVI Tourist Board pointed out that available berths before the hurricanes were about 3,800. But, as of April 1 this year, berths had fallen to 1,500.
The good news is that, as of January, 2018 just about all of the sailing charter companies were back in business including 32 charter companies and 15 charter brokers. The bad news is that, although they were operational, they all had lost significant portions of their fleets in the hurricanes. While most companies had made repairs and many had taken deliveries of new boats, as of April 1, 2018 they were, on average, still only at about 40% of their pre-Irma fleet capacity.
Fast forward to July and things are looking much, much better. For example in talking with Barney and Lin Crook, owners of TMM Charters, they indicated TMM had 36 boats pre-Irma, but as of July 2018 they are already back to 60% of their pre-Irma capacity with 21 boats in their fleet. “By year end we will be back to 100% of our pre-Irma capacity with 34 Catamarans and 2 Mono Hulls in the water”, they added. Barney and Lin are already looking ahead to a robust year for BVI charters next year saying that, “We have another 7 new cats on order for 2019.”
There are other bright spots as well. Shortly after the hurricanes, The Catamaran Company set up a group on social media to provide a forum for visitors concerned about the condition of the BVI. Members of their “Operation Sail it Forward” Facebook group are reporting that the sky is blue, the waters are warm and the sailing is as good as ever with un-crowded anchorages and most restaurants and beach bars open for business. In July, charter client Sherri Allen voiced her sentiments on Facebook, “We just returned from our charter in the BVIs. We had a wonderful trip and met so many wonderful people along the way! You still see the storm damage but for the most part our beloved BVI is back. If you are thinking of going… GO!” Comments similar to Sherri’s have been popping up all over social media since late November when the first post-Irma boats went out.
Nothing short of heroic, marinas including the Moorings, Nanny Cay and Leverick Bay have been repaired and rebuilt. Also, I have received reports from Epic yacht Charters, The Catamaran Company and TMM Charters that, while business is still up and down, they all had their best month ever this spring.
Knocked down, but coming back strong, the BVI is well on its way to respectable sailing season in 2019.