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St. Maarten Charter Yacht Exhibition

“If everything goes to plan and all the captains are happy, that’s what we’ll call a success,” exhibition chair Kass Johnson-Halliday told All At Sea back in November, when looking forward to the inaugural St Maarten Charter Yacht exhibition.

By the close of play on December 11th, she will have been able to tick the boxes marked ‘It did’, ‘They were’ and ‘We can’. Months of meticulous preparation, slick marketing and a large volunteer contingent came together to pull off an event that looked like it was celebrating a jubilee year rather than treading new ground. Cue sighs of relief and a fair degree of mutual back-slapping from a marine community that doesn’t so much blow its own trumpet as hire an orchestra. Those who were waiting for a bum note, however, went home disappointed.

Boat shows are supposed to be about boats, but the idea of the St Maarten Charter Yacht Exhibition (or SYCE) was to attract brokers to the island – with reason. St Maarten is already the preferred winter port for hundreds of megayachts, thanks to duty free fuel and provisioning and a high concentration of entertainment and skilled technical support. The show’s tally of some 50 registered yachts is a fraction of the number that pack the marinas during the season. The challenge, then, was to attract the all-important agents. Of the 140+ who came from the Caribbean, US or Europe, around 40 per cent were visiting St Maarten for the first time. Tickled pink, many pledged to return next year.

The other function of the show was to bring together the local marine businesses and vendors in a coherent, formal single exhibition. While the St Maarten Marine Trades Association has been busting a gasket for the last ten years to bring yachts to the island, its members rarely have an opportunity to perform in unison. Most of the 70 or so vendors who exhibited reported a steady trickle of genuine interest, further pushing St Maarten’s claim to have a solution to any technical or logistical problem a yacht can have.

One problem no one can find a solution to, however, is the local traffic. A horrendous weekend in which curiously-timed road works brought most of Simpson Bay to a standstill meant the marinas and La Palapa and Simpson Bay Yacht Club suffered, but an impeccable water taxi shuttle between these two, Isle de Sol and Port de Plaisance meant no one had to miss out. Indeed, the highlight of the SYCE was at La Palapa, with 280′ beauty Annaliesse, one of the widest boats ever to come through the bridge, tied up alongside the dock for all (with a pass) to see.

Although the show threw open its doors to the public on the Saturday, the decision to restrict access to a registered attendee-only basis (due to security regulations) was vindicated. A potential public clamour for more access never happened, and yacht Captains, crews and brokers were able to go about the seduction business in peace. Likewise, a program of seminars covering topics from ISM and Immigration to Satellite Communications, ISPS and Wine kept the mood business-orientated.

St Maarten can now boast two major events that mark it down as the yachting capital of the Caribbean. The first one, a 25-year-old Regatta named after a beer, grew both chaotically and spontaneously from a quiet local race to a major international affair. It could be that, within a much shorter period of time, St Maarten becomes equally well known for the second one – a Charter show that started out on a completely different tack, exploding onto the scene with a clear mission and with not so much as a lightbulb unchecked.

SCYE in brief

Congratulations to Gavin Opie of Star Ship and Leon Walker of Que Sera, who won the Showboats International Chef de Concours competition in the 125’+ and under 125′ categories respectively.

In the days following the show, the Captain and Crew of M/Y Star Fire invited children and teachers from Prins Willem Alexander school aboard, to give a tour of the boat and donate audio visual equipment and arts and sports supplies.

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