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Caribbean panel reports strong recovery efforts

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Business owners, agents and yacht industry representatives from the Caribbean came to the Monaco Yacht Show on Sept. 28 to deliver this message: Please come back this season – we’ll be ready.

The panel discussion – a last-minute addition to the ACREW lineup – focused on the region’s recovery efforts after two recent hurricanes, and allowed those who have been there to provide firsthand accounts of how well the Caribbean will be able to cater to yachts in the upcoming season. The room was packed.

While many unknown variables remain after Hurricanes Irma and Maria, Kenny Jones, vice president of IGY, said the situation is not as hopeless as the media portrays. Security is sound and provisioning is good on St. Thomas, in the U.S. Virgin Islands, he said. IGY’s marina in Red Hook was up and running the next day, shipments are arriving to the island and the airport is taking bookings.

St. Maarten has faced far greater recovery challenges, but it is making progress, Jones said. Electricity loss was not a problem since the lines there are underground. Security has been restored by 800 U.S. marines on the island, and although most are scheduled to leave by Nov. 1, Jones said he has been told that one detachment will remain indefinitely. The airport on the French side of the island is open, and there is hope that the airport on the Dutch side will be open by the beginning of November.

Harbor soundings have been completed in St. Thomas, Jones said, and IGY has been urging officials to complete proper soundings of the lagoon in St. Maarten as well. Jones said he expects IGY marina facilities in St. Maarten to be 75 percent functional by December.

In the meantime, the panel urged yacht owners, charter agents and captains to head to areas lightly touched by the hurricanes this season rather than avoid the Caribbean altogether. Lucille Frye of BWA Caribbean said it will be a very different season this year – but the yachting industry is in a unique position to help in the region’s economic recovery. If yachts don’t come back this season, however, many support companies will face dire financial straits, even those on islands largely undamaged by the hurricanes. If those companies are unable to survive, it could mean a lack of yachting infrastructure and support for future seasons as well.

“The southern Caribbean has a lot to offer, and it’s very important that the yachts come back,” Frye said. She noted that Antigua and St. Kitts are likely to emerge as the staging area for yachts this season.

Melanie Bennet, guest services manager at Christophe Harbour, St. Kitts, said her island was very fortunate. There was no damage to the marina, the airport is open, and restaurants and excursions have remained open and operational. On Antigua, cleanup has progressed quickly. The airport is open, hotels are ready to reopen, and the Antigua Charter Yacht Show is still on track for Dec. 4-10. St. Barths also recovered quickly, and the St. Barths New Year’s Eve Regatta and Bucket Regatta will both go on as planned. It’s business as usual in most of the Bahamas as well, where only a few of the southern islands, near the Turks & Caicos, were impacted by the hurricanes.

Many on the panel noted that the situation could eventually result in a stronger yachting industry throughout the Caribbean. Islands that have previously been overlooked may develop a stronger yachting presence, while those islands heavily damaged by the storms have an opportunity to emerge with newly rebuilt infrastructures. Plus, brokers are seeing increased interest in yacht charters among clients who see it as a better option this season than the uncertainty of resort hotels and other land-based facilities, Jones said, which could lead to a whole new host of yacht charter enthusiasts.

Norina Edelman, owner of International Marine Management, a refit base and marina in Guadeloupe, said that island was largely untouched by the hurricanes. Edelman is also a partner in FKG Yacht Rigging and Fabrication in St. Maarten. She said it’s important for yacht owners and captains to know that there are still support networks in operation and great places to go this season. Edelman and other yachting professionals in the Caribbean have launched a website devoted to providing timely updates and progress reports for yachts. They are working to expand the website’s coverage through partners on other islands.

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