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Charter Trends 2008

Say ‘good-bye’ to the outward-bound experience of the past. Today, yacht chartering – both bareboat and crewed – has become a sought-after vacation experience, whether charter clients are planning a romantic getaway or a family vacation with the kids and grandparents along.

What are the hot trends in the charter industry today when it comes to boats, desirable destinations, water toys, cuisine and crew? Here’s what we found when we canvassed a cross-section of industry professionals:

BOATS: MULTIHULLS AND EASE OF USE RULE

Multihulls continue to dominate the charter industry, says Dick Schoonover, manager of CharterPort BVI, a Tortola, BVI-based yacht clearinghouse. “Out of our fleet, two-thirds have more than one hull.”

David Rohr, marketing brand manager for the Clearwater, Florida-based global yacht charter company, The Moorings, agrees. “There’s a huge trend towards catamarans. Beyond this, people aren’t necessarily looking for size. Instead, they are looking at ease of use – electric toilets and fixed propane barbecue grills rather than charcoal, for example; functionality – systems that work easily and well like davits for dinghies; and good platforms for fun – transoms that make it easier to get into and out of the water, for example. In general, boats are getting more technical today to make life easier for the charter client.”

Charter-friendly vessels are indeed a trend, says Narendra Sethia, charter broker at Barefoot Yacht Charters & Marine Centre, located in St. Vincent’s Blue Lagoon. “Good accommodation layout, simple deck plans, large tankage, and ease of handling are becoming the norm.”

However, size does matter, says CharterPort BVI’s Schoonover. “One used to be able to find a fair number of 45- to 50-foot yachts in the St. Thomas fleets. This isn’t so much anymore.”

Shelly Tucker, one of the Virgin Islands Charteryacht League’s (VICL) board members who, with husband, Randy, charter their 72-foot Irwin, Three Moons, adds, “Years ago, a 40-foot sailboat was considered a large yacht. Today, a 70-foot monohull is considered an ‘average’ size.”

The Mooring’s Rohr says, “We have seen a lot of excitement for power.”
The company will launch its new Robertson & Caine-built 474 powercat this fall and have it available to charter in the BVI, Bahamas and the company’s newest base in Mexico. “It’s very fuel efficient,” says Rohr. “By that I mean it can cross the Atlantic on one tank of fuel, burning an average of 3 gallons of fuel per hour.”

DESTINATIONS:  CARIBBEAN REMAINS NUMBER ONE, GRENADINES GROWING

The Caribbean is still the most popular charter destination in the world, with the USVI and BVI having some of the best sailing grounds in this region, according to the VICL’s Tucker.

However, CharterPort BVI’s Schoonover says, “St. Barths still commands the motoryacht fleet when it comes to where-to-be for New Years Eve.  The cruising areas are different…If the BVI is plain vanilla, St. Martin and the Leewards are Tutti Frutti, and the Grenadines are Chocolate.  St. Martin, Anguilla and St. Barths are chi-chi.”

The Grenadines are rapidly growing in popularity because they are more off-the-beaten-track, less spoiled, less crowded, and more pristine, says Barefoot Yacht Charters’ Sethia. “But cost and ease of air access are problems. That said, we have seen a 100 percent increase in charter activity in the Grenadines over the past five years.”

What’s ahead? The Moorings Rohr says, “the Caribbean will remain the most popular region in the world for yacht charters. Travel time and ease of travel makes this so. In the future, however, the next big charter destination to boom will be the Pacific.”

TOYS GALORE & MORE
 
Quality snorkeling and diving gear still tops the must-have list, says the VICL’s Tucker, adding, “There’s increased interest in water skiing, wake boarding, kneeboarding and especially kite boarding. Better, more reliable equipment in snuba gear-air regulators attached to portable surface air compressors have peaked the interest in several captains.”

Barefoot’s Sethia adds, “More popular than windsurfers, which many charter companies found expensive to maintain, are sea kayaks. These are cheap, easy to stow and maintenance-free.” Like the VICL’s Tucker, Sethia points out, “I think kite boarding is one water sport that is going to see a big increase. We are finding more and more people asking about this.”

Beyond water toys, onboard recreation today, says The Mooring’s Rohr, “includes plasma and flat screen televisions and DVD players – one in each cabin in some yachts. People just expect it. They expect this level of comfort.”

More practically, companies like The Moorings have switched from hard bottom to inflatable dinghies with larger engines. “These are three to four times more expensive, but they give a more comfortable ride.”

The VICL’s Tucker adds, “We’ve seen that the size of the tenders to all charter yachts has gotten considerably larger. Captains want to be able to keep their guests dry and comfortable. Ten years ago the average charter yacht had a 12-foot to 14-foot tender. Today, most everyone owns a 17-foot to 19-foot dinghy.”

In conclusion, as The Moorings’ Rohr points out, charterers lead busy lives and probably don’t have the time or resources to own the kind of luxurious, comfortable boat they can borrow temporarily for a week’s vacation in paradise. “The bulk of our charter clients are weekend warriors rather than traditional sailors. What drives this is income. People today are realizing it’s more economical to rent a boat and charter than to buy.”

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