If you have ever been to the BVI Charter Society Boat Show, held on the docks of Tortola’s Village Cay, in its 30th incarnation this past November, you wouldn’t have been at all surprised.
If you were a first time visitor then you were in for a shock.
Sixty-plus boats dockside, catamarans that would cost you half-a-year’s salary to charter for a week, fashion shows and a dancing girl whirling around on stilts (a traditional BVI Mocko Jumbie sky-dancer), a soiree on the sweeping veranda of the governor’s mansion and a let-down-your-hair party on nearby Scrub Island.
Though it’s basically a trade show – where owners/operators and crews meet charter brokers and charter clearinghouse staff over the course of four days – you’d be forgiven your confusion.
Other event organizers could take lessons from these guys. For one thing I had a lot of fun even though I’m not even in the show’s target market. And I got the point – a serious case of combination boat lust and wanderlust. Participants ranged from the 120ft Freedom to a sailing multihull called King’s Ransom, complete with a hot tub inset into the transom. Plus potential cruising grounds that span the Caribbean.
“The show helps both sides get to know each other,” says the Charter Yacht Society’s Executive Director, Janet Oliver. “The crews and the owners are looking for exposure. The brokers look to see the boats and get the feel for the crewsâ€”right in time for winter charter season.”
Barrington Hall Yachts’ Andrew Buys agrees. “This is the single best way to get a handle on the crew. That’s the essence of a successful charter – a good fit between guests and crew.”
With four full days devoted to yacht tours, brokers can assess both the boats and the crews. Conversely, the crews get to meet the brokers.
“A charter like this is not a camping trip,” says Buys. “People pay for comfort, stability and space. The show gives me a chance to check out each one of these characteristics.”
For owners/operators Michelle Guerra and Michelle Riva, from Canada, the show is a must-do. “This is the single best way for us to get to know the brokers and get our product out there,” says Riva. This is their fourth year at the show.
It’s the first show for owners Paul and Lauren Robbins. They just bought Yes, Dear and now they’re learning the ropes first-hand. “Mostly we keep out of the way,” says Robbins with a laugh, “but it’s great to see the interest in our boat.” Lauren Robbins wears two hats this week. She’s also a charter broker.
For Virginia Lee, owner of Xiuma and a first-time attendee “it’s a chance to get to know the industry better.”
But sometimes it’s not enough just to check out the boats dockside, or merely chat with crews and owners. The organizers have taken care of that too.
On the last day brokers and central broker staff experience the seaworthiness of the various craft on day sails. One night boasts a ‘Travel the Nations’ Yacht Hop complete with passports where participating boats share both their culinary prowess and their skills at mixology. Thursday’s highlight is the culinary challenge where a slate of judges dispenses kudos in the kitchen. This year also marks the launch of a great cookbook called Dining on Deck, featuring the favourite recipes of participating chefs.
But it’s not all fun and gamesâ€”or eating. Participating boats also compete for bragging rights in several categories. Takupuna‘s gets the nod for best monohull. Nutmeg wins in the under 50ft multihull class, while Catsy is rated best over 50ft multihull. Freedom is rated best power yacht while best in show kudos go to Avalon.
“There is a vibe here like no other in the world,” says Buys.
That’s because the 30th annual BVI Charter Society Boat Show is no ordinary trade show.
Mark Stevens is an award-winning travel writer whose specialties include Canada, the Caribbean and boating. Credits range from Sailing magazine and Canadian Yachting to the Washington Post.