Sail dominated chartering in the Caribbean islands right from the start. On the crewed front, it was a 70ft schooner named Mollihawk that Commander Nicholson first chartered off Antigua nearly seven decades ago. On the bareboat side, it was four Pearson 35s that Charlie and Ginny Cary used to start the Moorings fleet in the early 1960s. Today, the tide is slowly turning. Power yachts are becoming a bigger part of charter fleets.
“Power yachts currently likely number less than 10% of the charter fleet on a year-round basis,” says Trish Cronan, president of Fort Denaud, FL-based Ocean Getaways Yacht Charters and president of the Charter Yacht Brokers Association. “With the influx of superyachts in the winter, power yachts jump up to probably 20% to 30% of the fleet.”
There are three main reasons why traditionally there have been a paltry number of power yachts in Caribbean charter fleets. One is price, says Cronan. “Until the influx of the new power cats, power yachts were in a very different price range and out of reach for the average luxury vacationer. Given that power yachts were ‘plus expenses’, this deterred clients looking for a predictable all-inclusive cost. Over the years, I have had many clients whose initial request was for a power yacht, and then they switched to a sailing yacht or catamaran due to cost.”
Secondly is point of reference, according to Raul Bermudez, vice president for MarineMax Vacations, based in Clearwater, FL. “Power boaters are new to the idea of chartering. Mention ‘chartering’ to a power boater and they think of a one-day fishing trip or a megayacht charter. The idea of bareboating and living aboard someone’s boat is a new concept. This is changing very fast with power cats, just like the explosion of sail cats that took place starting 15 to 20 years ago.”
Third, powerboats that were affordable, spacious and user-friendly were simply not as prevalent as their sailing counterparts until the recent development of the power catamaran, adds Ian Pedersen, marketing manager for the Americas, for the Moorings, headquartered in Clearwater, FL. “Power catamarans are currently one of the fastest-growing segments of the charter industry worldwide. They have opened the charter market to an entirely new segment of the boating market, allowing tens of thousands more people to experience and enjoy these phenomenal yachting destinations, people who may not have been able to do so on a sailboat. The past few years have seen the power market enjoy exponential growth in key Caribbean destinations.”
The appeal of power catamarans in bareboat fleets lies in being less intimidating to operate for the infrequent captain, says Kelly Graves, chef and first mate aboard the Leopard PC510, Wildcat Too, operated by Charter Caribe, in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands and a member of the Virgin Islands Professional Charter Association. “Typically, a popular size is 40- to 60ft with an eight- to ten-passenger capacity. Were this size of vessel a sailboat, a minimum of two experienced crew would be required to handle lines, but with the powerboat one man/woman is the only expertise required.”
The basics of a power yacht charter are very much the same as they are on a sailing charter; however there are a few advantages.
“You are not dependent on the weather. In any conditions, you can swiftly and efficiently move from one island to the next, without having to rely on the wind. Our upgraded engines are also incredibly fuel efficient, allowing guests to save on fuel costs. The added feature of the flybridge on our power catamarans provides additional living space, making the boat feel much more spacious,” says the Moorings’ Pedersen.
Power yachts also lend themselves to more amenities, luxuries and toys.
“One of the unique features on our larger 44- and 48ft power catamarans is a water maker. Power boaters really like that option and especially when they bring friends that are not as familiar with boating and the limited amount of water that boats can carry,” says MarineMax’s Bermudez.
Big inflatable water slides, large towed tenders and on deck Jacuzzis are often features, according to Ann McHorney, founder and chief executive officer of Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based Select Yachts. “Larger power yachts may have a massage room or a gym. Guest bars can be great gathering places, something a smaller sailing yacht just does not have space for. And you will find theme nights on both sail and motor yachts, but because of the larger storage space on the motor yachts the crew can and often do go all out to enliven the festivities in the evenings!”
Where do power yachts congregate in the Caribbean?
Walk down the docks in the lagoon of St. Maarten on an average January day (not this year!), or the Yacht Club Marina at the Antigua Charter Yacht Show, or on the dock in Gustavia on New Year’s Eve,” says Dick Schoonover, manager of CharterPort BVI, in Tortola. “You might think you were at the center of the earth when it comes to power yachting.”
For power catamarans, the British Virgin Islands offer the largest fleet for charter anywhere in the Caribbean, even after the recent storms, says the Moorings’ Pedersen. “The islands of the Bahamas are also very popular, such as the Abacos and the Exumas. Finally, Antigua, St. Lucia and Grenada are recent additions to The Moorings power portfolio, but offer smaller fleets.”
In the future, says Wildcat Too’s Graves, “I don’t think power yachts are ever going to overtake sailing (in Caribbean charter fleets). However, there is definitely a rise in the manufacture of power yachts and with a more competitive power yacht market the power product is more intriguing even to the sailor. Travel is, for many, all about the destination, and a power yacht provides the option of exploring more destinations, with more time once you get there for diving, snorkeling, watersports and shore-excursions.”
Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.