M/Y Elite, a 92-foot (m) Sunseeker, won Best in Show at the U.S. Virgin Islands Charter Yacht Show last week. The yacht is represented by Bluewater Yachting.
Hosted at Yacht Haven Grande in St. Thomas Nov. 12-15, the show marks the beginning of the winter cruising season in the Caribbean. About 50 charter brokers examined the nearly 60 vessels exhibiting in the show, hosted by the Virgin Islands Professional Charter Association (VIPCA). About 100 charter brokers attended the show’s virtual platform, which included seminars, crew interviews, and yacht tours.
“U.S. Virgin Islands-only itineraries are growing in popularity,” said Capt. Gus Bolanos of M/Y Elite. “Magens Bay and Santa Maria Bay are gorgeous anchorages on St. Thomas’ northside. Lameshur Bay on St. John’s southside is one of our favorites. Over in St. Croix, we’ll stop at Buck Island and take the tender in to hike the trails there. The Frederiksted Pier has unbelievable pillars of beautiful corals, and the sight of the historic town in the background makes a beautiful backdrop.”
Crew and cuisine are signature features of all-inclusive crewed yacht charters.
“Knowing how to read your guests and identifying early on how best to fulfill their needs, considering the little things or small details about what they enjoy, and remembering that although we’ve done many charters, including in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, Greece, the BVI and now USVI, that for each guest this is their special, perhaps once-in-a-lifetime trip,” said Chef Daniela Cox, who crews the Lagoon 56 S/Y Respite at Sea with Capt. Ross Matthews. They won the Best Crew in Show award.
Chef Denise Melton of the Fountaine Pajot 60 S/Y Blue Pepper won the Crew Culinary Competition. One of over a half dozen small bites she prepared included Caribbean-sourced watermelon topped with goat cheese and a drizzle of Grand Marnier-flavored balsamic reduction.
“When you vacation on land, you can dine out at different restaurants,” she said. “On a charter, we are the restaurant. That’s why everything from the guest’s preference sheet pre-charter to letting them know the daily menu while on charter is very important to me and the entire charter experience.”
“With the difficult protocols in place for some areas, we have many clients who are moving to other parts of the Caribbean, specifically the U.S. Virgin Islands,” said Nancy Van Winter, owner of Maryland-based Envy Yacht Charters/International Yacht Charter Group. “This was not an area that was featured on many charters in the past, but the crews are exploring the region and developing incredible itineraries, and are invigorated about giving charter guests a fantastic week.”
Despite global challenges, the U.S. Virgin Islands is looking at a promising charter season. U.S. Customs and Border Protection recently issued a ruling to VIPCA that enables member yachts to offer charters to Puerto Rico’s offshore islands of Culebra, Culebrita and Vieques.
VIPCA has also partnered with the Department of Planning & Natural Resources, Division of Coastal Zone Management, for a grant to install 200 moorings in various bays of the U.S. Virgin Islands to reduce anchoring near ecologically important coral reefs and seagrasses.
“The end of this successful 2020 Charter Yacht Show marks the beginning of a new phase for the USVI marine industry,” said Dare Blankenhorn, VIPCA president and owner of St. Thomas-based Charter Caribe. “We recognize the challenges that still sit in front of us, but we are confident in the agility of our business community and the greatness of our natural assets.”