By Dorie Cox
Capt. Trevor Weaver of M/Y Sirona III started small on his wish list when asked what he and his crew look for during visits to St. Maarten.
“Consistency,” Capt. Weaver said. When crew are off duty and head for a burger or a workout at the gym, they often find a business closed, he said.
“These are small, but crew need activities close by,” Capt. Weaver said. “If crew are happy, things are so much easier.”
Jesse Peterson and several other government and business leaders listened intently and took notes as Capt. Weaver and several other captains answered questions during a roundtable discussion hosted by Yacht Club at Port de Plaisance at La Rascasse in the Acrew and International Marine Management (IMM) space during the Monaco Yacht Show on Friday.
As director of operations with Marine Management Consulting, the operational company for the Yacht Club at Port de Plaisance, Peterson asked about other concerns.
Safety is at the top, agreed several captains. Capt. Philip Hopson recounted past times working in areas considered unsafe and said it is vital that crew are safe in marinas and surrounding areas. He cited Rybovich shipyard in West Palm Beach, Florida, as a good example of a facility where crew like to stay on property with amenities provided.
“This type of setting creates a sense of ownership,” Capt. Hopson said. “Crew stay around longer if they think they’re being looked after.”
Peterson agreed in the value of keeping crew happy and meeting their needs, and he added that many people outside of the industry don’t understand their workload and stress levels. To help with that, several employees on the marina staff have yachting backgrounds, he said.
Acknowledging that everything can’t be close, Capt. Weaver suggested better options for bus or water taxi services to bars, restaurants and other services around the island.
“I know it’s an added expense,” Capt. Weaver said. That segued the conversation to the relatively narrow Simpson Bay Bridge through which Yacht Club at Port de Plaisance and other marinas are located.
“Why not widen the bridge?” asked Capt. Weaver.
Peterson and Stuart Johnson, the St. Maarten minister of tourism, economic affairs, transportation and telecommunications, both weighed in with answers. The bridge was widened in 1999 and additional work on the bridge, the main access into and out of Simpson Bay Lagoon, is still on the island’s plans, they said.
“We have had setbacks,” Johnson said. Hurricane Irma in 2017 re-prioritized spending toward other infrastructure projects. The government wants to dredge to deeper than the current 17-foot depth, but there is first a focus on dockage and what crew will do when they visit, he said.
On that note, he mentioned that both French St. Martin and Dutch St. Maarten have signed an MoU (memorandum of understanding) to work together with a 5- to 10-year plan to increase depth and widen the bridge.
Capt. Ivan Aenski initiated a conversation about boats in the lagoon during heavy weather and wind conditions, to which Peterson acknowledged 30-40 knot winds in certain seasons and the damage from the hurricane.
“We never saw something like Irma,” he said. Boats were allowed to stay in the harbor, “but we noticed there was no protection with this hurricane.”
The damage from the Category 5 storm shapes current discussions with engineers on how to build docks and moorings. The topic of redevelopment led to the roundtable discussion, with MMC interested in how captains feel about new marina development.
“It’s a double-edged sword,” Capt. Weaver said. Where the boat goes depends on the yacht owner, he said. Some want to experience remote natural areas, others want easy access to marinas and cities.
“For me, the whole point to go into this career was to experience other parts of the world,” Capt. Weaver said. He enjoys undeveloped areas but admitted that part of the job requires the have access to parts, spares, supplies and provisions.
“It’s important to have both,” Capt. Hopson said. “But it is a long-term struggle because to get those things, an area can be ruined.”
On that, Capt. Weaver said he and the crew on M/Y Sirona III have especially enjoyed the trails on St. Maarten, but found many closed or in disrepair recently.
Mapping, cleaning and signage have been fixed on several hiking trails, according to Ichel Moeslikan, head of visitor relations and product development with the St. Maarten Tourism Bureau.
To continue to balance the development equation, the government wants to promote year-round visitation to the island. Since Hurricane Irma hit, business growth has recovered and boomed, Johnson said. About 300 new restaurants and 200 new businesses have registered, he said, and hotel occupancy is up. Vehicular traffic improvements are under discussion and progress is underway for the airport to have U.S. customs clearance. Flights are expected to expand to Texas by summer.
That led to the topic of immigration.
“It’s easier with agents in some places but is harder in remote areas,” Capt. Weaver said. “But it is part of the experience.”
Basically, like in much of the yachting industry, rules are in place, and we all need to stick by them, Capt. Weaver said.
The frustration of getting cruising permits and navigating visas and passports can be enough to put off travel to a country that requires too much in fees, Capt. Hopson said. “They get our taxes, but not if we don’t go, another double-edged sword,” he said.
BWA Yachting’s operations manager in Simpson Bay Marina, Melissa Jouan, addressed several specific questions on travel between the two sides of the island, as well as crew that enter on a yacht, yet fly out. Basically, she said, there have been no changes to immigration rules.
As the discussion wrapped up, Johnson said the government has initiated an impact study to “sensitize and educate” the public on a large scale. This brought the conversation back around to specific needs of yachts and crew to access businesses during off hours.
“Our business is 24 hours a day, not closed on Saturday and Sunday,” Capt. Weaver said.
To end, Capt. Weaver said crew are not all about having their needs met; they also want to improve places they visit.
Yachts have used clothing, linens and other items that they would like to donate to charities on the island.
“All About a Smile” is a charity program to help foster children and others in need, Peterson said. Although slow to get going, the group recently acquired refrigerators and freezers to accept food donations. BWA Yachting also accepts donations from crew.
Capt. Weaver agreed, and added, “The more we know how, the more we will do.”
Dorie Cox is editor of The Triton. Comments are welcome below.