Chartering a yacht to compete in a Caribbean regatta is nothing new. Case in point, the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta has in the past welcomed over 160 bareboats, the largest of any regatta in the region. But, times are changing. For one, the bareboat market has severely contracted with numbers for all Caribbean regattas showing a decrease in entries of between 50 and 70 percent over the last decade, according to Paul Miller, racing director and principal race officer for the St. Maarten Heineken. This is largely due to big increases in cost of bareboat charters, and recently due to fleet damage from the 2017 storms. Conversely, there is a growing trend for the charter of highly competitive racing boats. Miller has seen the number of these entries grow from about 4 a decade ago to 20 in 2017. Even post-hurricane in 2018, the number only fell to 17 and over are 20 are expected in St. Maarten this year.
“Since we started 11 years ago, it seems there are more people chartering good racing boats rather than bareboats,” says Bradford Boston, from Virginia, USA, who has chartered a Beneteau First 40 to race the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta, and who to date has chartered racing yachts to sail four Caribbean, four U.S. and two highly-competitive European regattas.
The main centers for this type of charter are the U.K., specifically the Solent, the Mediterranean, and the Caribbean, according to the St. Maarten Heineken’s Miller. The Caribbean is the second largest market attracting many U.K. boats plus additional boats from the Mediterranean and Northern Europe.
“I think teams are becoming more aware that they can charter a fully race prepared performance yacht similar to what they race at home,” says Lucy Reynolds, who with husband Christian operate the UK-based LV Yachting, formerly Performance Yacht Charters. Racing yachts in the company’s fleet that participate in all Caribbean regattas from January to May ranges from a Swan 80, which charters for US $64,000, to a First 40, J/122 and Elan 450, whose charter price ranges from US $13,000 to $20,000.
Switzerland’s Daniel Heine chartered LV Yachting’s Pata Negra, a Marc Lombard 46, to race in last month’s RORC Caribbean 600. “For all sailors who are interested in this market segment, I see it is a fantastic opportunity to sail a competitive regatta without having to ship your own boat from Europe to the Caribbean just for one or two races. So, at the end of the day it’s a purely financial question – at least as long as you speak about the competitive end of the market.”
Cost need not deter chartering to race competitively. For example, with over 20 one-design IC24s on the start line each year, and nearly 20 races sailed over three-days with the winner often decided in the last race, this is one of the most competitive classes in the St. Thomas International Regatta (STIR), in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. The St. Thomas Sailing Center, located adjacent to the STIR host St. Thomas Yacht Club (STYC), offers a fleet of 10 IC24s for charter.
“We have a few boats still available for STIR 2019 (March 22-24),” says director, Dave Franzel. “The charter price is $2200 with good sails (or if you bring your own) and $2700 with new sails. The price includes a practice day the Thursday before the event and a 30-day membership at the STYC.”
Experience, or lack of, doesn’t need to be a hindrance either. There are opportunities to charter the whole boat or by the crew slot.
“We cater to full boat charters, meaning we charter to an individual who will bring in their own crew. We’ve had teams made up of all pro-sailors, to teams of friends and families. We like to think of it as ‘step on-step off’ racing,” says Bob Hillier, of the U.S. and St. Maarten-based Caribbean Yacht Racing Ltd., which charters it’s frequently podium placing J/122, El Ocaso. “However, the wonderful thing about racing in the Caribbean is that you’re not required to be part of a team. Numerous charter companies offer the opportunity for anyone to purchase a spot on the crew. This is a great way to go for someone that wants to experience Caribbean racing.”
One company that does charter by the crew spot is Ondeck, in Antigua. Per person prices range from US $1750 to $2450. Included is all dockage fees, fuel, tank water, shore and maintenance support, event management, race entry and accommodation on board, if required.
“It is probably individuals, cruisers and novice racers, where the main growth in race charters has and will come from, particularly in North America,” says director, Peter Anthony. “We are set up for these people. On our Farr 65, we may get to a crew of 12 to 18 people, who are each assigned a role, learn it, then remain or rotate during the regatta. If there are a lot of novices, we up the number of pro crew to ensure that all get involved.”
Finally, for those who want to race charter or make the switch from bareboat to competitive yacht, the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta’s Miller offers two words of advice: “Do it! You get all the pleasure of a well-prepared and well sailed boat and much, much less of the pain. The professional skippers know the region, and they know their boat. You can pick how much you want, from whole-boat charter to a single seat, and every type of boat right up to a 100-foot Swan.”