‘You take your first look at her, and you know she’s special. She’s bold. She’s beautiful. She’s classy. She has a past. You gaze at her lines and you see she’s fast. She wants to go places. Suddenly you will do anything to go there with her’.
The opening paragraph is taken from promotional material put out by Captain Laurie Gumbs and his partner Deborah Vos, owners and operators of the Anguilla day charter boat Tradition.
Day charter boats once were ten-a-penny in the Caribbean but now setting up a successful day charter business is a challenge. Countries that once turned a blind eye to undocumented boats now vigorously enforce maritime rules and regulations, and it doesn’t end there. Once compliant you have to carve a niche in the market and that can be the toughest job of all.
The story of how Gumbs and Vos began their business should be studied by anyone thinking of entering the day charter trade.
Of all the boats to put into day charter a 37-year-old, 55-foot, traditional wooden sloop is not a logical choice, so why pick such a vessel?
“Because it was red!” Gumbs said. “Because it encompassed everything I loved about boats. Classic. Gaff rigged. Built in the West Indies. The unique West Indian Heritage of a longtime trading vessel.”
A wonderful answer that made me smile, but I knew that purchasing the boat was a tiny step along a bumpy road and it would be a long time before the first charter guests ever walked the boat’s deck. I wasn’t wrong.
“The two greatest difficulties were trying to shoehorn in the commercial requirements while ensuring that the boat retained its originality,” Gumbs said. “I never wanted to lose the authenticity of Tradition, of what she represented as a West Indian Trading Vessel.”
Nice sentiments but they came at a high price. Wooden boats need specialized care and repair and although they may say they are skilled, not all shipwrights are qualified to work on traditional boats. This was driven home when work on Tradition came to a halt as carpenters, lacking the skills to complete the work they had started, turned a three week haulout into a five month stay on the hard. To solve the problem Gumbs flew in skilled shipwrights from Carriacou to take over the repairs.
“We [Laurie and Deb] painted, sanded, varnished, planed, rigged, sweated, and kept on going,” Gumbs said. “Some days it felt like we were never going to get the boat back in the water. But we were in it for the long haul, and we had this dream of chartering Tradition. We refused to let go of the dream. Together we got through, and while all that time in St. Martin really set us back financially, emotionally, mentally and physically … we kept moving forward. We had to constantly find the money, the energy, and the time. But we did it! And now we’ve just finished our first season and we’re getting a fantastic response about Tradition Sailing Charters. It’s been so incredibly gratifying for us because of all those obstacles we’ve had to overcome to get to this point.”
Once a boat is in good shape and legal it’s time to go to work, but what to offer? Gumbs and Vos already had a lot going for them.
“We offered the experience of authentic West Indian history. A classic West Indian sloop with no winches, no windlasses, a rustic historical Caribbean sailing vessel,” Gumbs said. He added, “We love to sail, we provide exceptional service, and we really care that every guest feels like they’ve truly tasted a little bit of paradise.”
Food and drink are an important part of any day charter. On Tradition, lobster, champagne and fine wines are available. And the boat tailors excursions to individual needs including romantic weddings.
Gumbs and Vos are passionate about what they do and share a genuine love of sailing and the sea. Running a successful day charter business is not for the faint of heart. Captain Gumbs offers the following advice to those wanting to follow in their footsteps.
“Be passionate about providing great service and exceptional experiences. Pay attention to the details of maintaining your boat, of all the safety concerns that come with having guests on board, and of the products you provide. Know that during the ‘season’ you’re probably not going to have much of a life outside of the business. Know also that it is a weather driven business and some weeks you’re going to have to reschedule a number of excursions because it simply is not safe for the boat or your guests to be out on the water. Get enough sleep! And through it all: Love what you do.”
Info: www.tradition-sailing.com. Reservations: 264-476-7245 or [email protected]
Gary E. Brown is the Editorial Director of All At Sea and the author of the thriller/sailing adventure Caribbean High. For information, visit: garyebrown.net