November is the month when both cruising yachts and megayachts start piling into the Caribbean for another season. This month, we chart the changes in two islands that have traditionally been home, and look at one where they might be going in the future.
The self-styled ‘Megayacht capital of the Caribbean’ has no intention of letting complacency foul up proceedings. The island’s surging growth from Franco/Dutch quirk to full-service home port has been well-documented. Key to success was the widening of the Simpson Bay Bridge to allow megayachts to enter the lagoon, along with a Duty Free environment that makes these 37 square miles the logical place to refit, refuel and replenish.
In addition, the creation of the St Maarten Charter Yacht Exhibition, with stunning results, has shown the marine community’s willingness to invest both in the future, and in the wellbeing of its visitors.
The majority of marinas are now ISPS-compliant (International Ship and Port Facility Security Code), but there’s more to SXM than docks alone. Captains and engineers are well-supported from the local service economy, Chefs can score arugula at midnight and owners can park their jets with the minimum of fuss.
One of the biggest changes set to take place over the coming years is the diversion of attention away from Simpson Bay Lagoon. Great Bay’s renovation, both at Bobby’s Marina and Dock Maarten should be ready around November 2007, and is designed to cater to ‘Ultra Yachts’ over 300 ft in length, who want to head off to St Barths and beyond without the constraints of bridge openings.
With four harbours capable of handling some 100 megayachts with drafts up to 12 feet (Nelson’s Dockyard, Falmouth Marina, Antigua Yacht Club Marina and Jolly Harbour), Antigua has been a logical destination for decades. According to John Duffy, the start of the season is the Antigua Charter Yacht Show in December, which is then followed by the Super Yacht Cup and the Mega-Yacht Challenge in March. In April, both classics and moderns pass by again for Sailing Week and the Classic Yacht Regatta.
The challenge locally is, according to Duffy, “finding ways of encouraging yachts to stay longer… and to persuade them to use Antigua as a base. It is frequently perceived that St Maarten is cheaper as it is duty free, yet duty free stores and fuel are available in Antigua for yachts in transit. This is often not understood by some skippers. Antigua offers probably the best harbours and anchorages in the Caribbean but suffers from being the originator of the charter yacht business and, therefore, now lags behind newer yachting venues which have developed with their Government’s backing.” Key to change in Antigua will be increased Government involvement.
Asked about concerns for the future, Duffy is adamant: “There is no doubt that a growth in yachting tourism in the Caribbean benefits everyone. Concerns here are that Antigua will not keep its market share if it does not control its costs, modernise its systems and reduce bureaucracy.”
The solution? “The ABMA (Antigua and Barbuda Marine Association) is working with the Government to try to facilitate some of these changes but it also needs a change in attitude by those on the periphery of the yachting industry who seem to think the ‘the season’ is only five or six months and, therefore, try to make all their money in that period plus close down for the rest of the year. Antigua needs to be open for business in summer as well as the rest of the year,” he argues.
“The first phase of CapCana marina will be opening early next year,” says Marta Fernandez de Marzal, Public Relations manager for the largest marina project in the Caribbean.
The development will incorporate a ‘ Grand Canal’, with a protective harbour with slips for over 500 yachts, providing berths for some of the world’s largest megayachts. While the DR is not traditionally a megayacht hunting ground, a Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course, five-star service and the island’s legendary beaches might be able to turn a few heads. Other attractions are local game fishing and the chance to witness humpback whale migration between the months of February to April.