Jol Byerley’s Dec 06 Letter from Antigua

By the time you get a chance to read this, the 45th Antigua Annual Charter Yacht Show may well be all over for another year. For many, many years it was simply called the Nicholson Charter Yacht Show having been run by Commander V.E.B. Nicholson R.N. Retired, his two sons, Desmond and Rodney, and their wives, and there is no doubt that it was responsible for everything to do with the charter business in the Lower Caribbean.

I well remember when it started—a get-together of the few agents in America and Europe that specialized in this entirely new branch of yachting. They were very jolly affairs and most people, who were not familiar with just what it meant to take a yacht into the then-empty cruising ground, quickly fell in love with everything about it. To say it was the true beginning of what was to become a massive, brand-new business would be putting it mildly! Unfortunately the Commander passed away several years before the charter business got to where it is today. But there is no doubt that he would be completely amazed to see the level chartering in the Caribbean has reached.

This year the Show will run from December 6th to the 11th, and at the time of writing, over 115 boats have already entered with many more are expected in the next month. In those far off early days, the charter yachts were a group of vessels run by ex British military officers, and the word “professional” was not often used. Now, many of the finest yachts in the world with their white-clad young crews take masses of guests into a West Indian world which is seldom seen by the average tourist.

The purpose of all this is to familiarize the agents responsible for getting the charter bookings on their boats of choice and have the charterers met at the airport by an eager crew members and taxi drivers who are tried and trusted. In the old days it was not unheard-of to have charter guests met by the wrong taxi driver, deposited on the wrong yacht, and take off the following morning in the wrong direction. Now, a monumental blunder like this would never occur—hence the fact that the charter business and everything about it is as efficiently-run from start to finish as the Savoy Hotel in London’s West End—and the crews of these mega yachts  are trained to look after their precious cargo.

At the moment, in the beginning of November, 267 of the world’s most successful agents are entered and the captains and crews will have their vessels looking at their absolutely very best. There will be a packed schedule of events open to both agents and charter crews and it is fun to wander amongst them. The old hands, captains and crews alike, are supremely confident—but the new ones may be just a little nervous tripping over anything in their way. Peter Sellers couldn’t have done it any better. But by the end of the week, the crews have become old hands at dealing with even an agent on his first visit to the Caribbean and who thinks the topping lift is getting a ride in a Rolls Royce.

We already know that a lot of brand new boats, including the incredible 289-foot Maltese Falcon, square rig and all, the 215-foot motor yacht Calister, a glut of Perini’s averaging over 180 feet, Charlatan, all the way from Australia especially for the show, all mixing it up with Gli Gli,a genuine built Dominican Carib canoe with a group of warriors that would put the fear of God into Captain Cook. There is a new company from Chile in South America, (which could in all honesty be called Chile Wind), a genuine Turkish night with Belly Dancing for all and (can you believe) a seminar about cruising around Antigua in ALL weathers.

So, the 45th Charter Show will probably be one of the best of them all. But one thing is for sure. No where else in the Caribbean will have such a vast number of very beautiful, very well-run yachts. This year the Show will be run by Sarah Sebastian, Assaneh Franklin and Lyn Bardoe. The National Parks are represented by Ann Marie Martin and Paul Deeth, the Marinas by Carlo Falcone, the Ministry of Tourism by Nigel Benjamen, and Jeanetta Miller representing the M.B.M.A. The dates for next year’s Show will be December 5th to 10th,  2007.