The Caribbean’s charter yacht industry certainly boasts iconic pioneers such as Commander V.E.B. Nicholson in Antigua, of Nicholson Yacht Charters fame, and Charlie and Ginny Cary, who founded The Moorings in the British Virgin Islands.
Equally among these pioneers is the Barnard Family whose Barefoot Yacht Charters in Blue Lagoon, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, is the longest-established yacht charter company in the southern Caribbean. Though the doors to this business opened comparatively recently in 1984, for over two centuries the family’s ancestors sailed the same waters charter guests do today.
“We feel the Grenadines is a location worth sharing with other sailors, having spent many years ourselves sailing here and enjoying every minute and, despite the extra effort required to get here, that people would come to get away from the over paved, over crowded northern islands,” says Mary Barnard, who started the company with husband Martin.
Son, Philip, dates the family’s history to Samuel Barnard born in 1797 in Antigua and more recently to grandfather, Cyril, aboard whose 40ft sloop Nyala the family has made many happy sailing memories.
Today, third-generation Jason also works for the company.
Mary began working in the yachting industry as a manager for Bimini Yacht Charters after the family sold its plantation. A few years later, Bimini started to fail and Mary bargained with the owners to stay on and work off the company’s debt in exchange for ownership. It was a struggle, but she eventually succeeded. It was at this time that Tradewinds Yacht Charters opened a base in St. Vincent across from Barefoot. When that operation closed shop, Mary hired Narandra ‘Seth’ Sethia, who originally worked at Tradewind’s U.S. location. She credits Seth, as well as her family, for much of the Barefoot’s growth and success.
“We started with two boats, CS 36s, and grew into Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 47s and Sun Legends 42s. We reached a fleet of 28 boats but found 25 was a perfect number considering our facilities and charter demand in the Grenadines,” Mary explains.
Back in the 80s, she says, charter guests looked primarily for basic boats that worked well. This, instead of yachts akin to camper vans with gadgets on board ranging from auto pilots and chart plotters to blenders and hair driers. A hammock and a barbecue were the most common requests for simple luxuries. In this era too, as well as today, Mary says the typical Grenadine charter client is one who is comfortable with open ocean sailing conditions and seeks more adventure in locations less on the beaten track than other popular cruising destinations.
The recession in the late 2000s hit some yacht owners hard and Barefoot was left with half its usual number of boats. However, rather than try to boost fleet numbers, Mary and her team concentrated on keeping their yachts as busy as possible and maximizing returns to the owners who were left. The smaller market matched the smaller fleet of yachts and proved successful in keeping Barefoot’s business going and growing.
“The sailing school was opened when we recognized we had the perfect location to teach people how to sail. Our mix of open ocean conditions and protected lagoons means sailors can practice in conditions in or out of their comfort zones as required by the instructor to learn lessons in a meaningful way,” Mary says.
Over the years, the company added crewed charters and programs to embody its motto ‘Barefoot Yacht Charters, No Shoes No Stress No Mess’. The no stress part comes via the company’s Lifestyles App, available on a tablet aboard all the company’s boats, which offers healthful local menu selections, beach workout ideas and musical favorites to play while cruising. Meanwhile, no mess is an eco-friendly initiative in which the company is committed to evolving into a zero emissions and zero pollution outfit with programs like tree planting to reforest the goat-riddled Grenadines and provisioning with local foods when possible.
When not working, Mary says: “As a family we still love to sail and the Grenadines remain our favorite place to go. Each year we spend time reestablishing the ties and friendships, which make the Barefoot charter experience different from other foreign companies who just operate in this area.”