Foxy at the Annapolis Boat Show. Photograph by Susan Zaluski
Foxy at the Annapolis Boat Show. Photograph by Susan Zaluski

From October 4th-8th 2018, sailors from around the globe converged in Annapolis, Maryland for the annual United States Sailboat Show. Miles of docks in the tiny seaside city were packed with countless sailboats, while a labyrinth of marine industry vendors filled every available space on Annapolis’ waterfront.

Annapolis’ annual gathering of sailboats and sailors is recognized as one of the largest and most prestigious sailboat show in the world. The show is also critically important for the Caribbean’s charter yachting industry partners, many of which exhibit annually, working to lure sailors to their destinations with the promise of lush landscapes, optimal winter sailing conditions and state of the art sailing vessels. Walk the docks in Annapolis and you’ll notice robust participation by Caribbean and BVI-based company personnel and sailors who attend the event annually in gale force strength. Sponsors of the 2018 show include the BVI Tourist Board and The Moorings, which is a global brand today, but was founded in the BVI. 

A typically joyous affair, the atmosphere at last year’s show shifted to somber for Caribbean exhibitors in the wake of the catastrophic Atlantic hurricane season. The British Virgin Islands are presented as the sailing capital of the Caribbean; however, in October 2017 the yachting industry was still counting its losses. With the BVIs’ damaged infrastructure of supporting services, a denuded landscape littered with debris and the destruction of an estimated 90% of yachts, many were left wondering if the BVI sailing empire had fallen and if sailors would ever return.

Fast forward to October 2018 and this year’s show where the mood of the British Virgin Islands’ marine industry turned from morose to merry amidst projections about full bookings for the region’s 2018/2019 season. At the center of the hopeful attitudes about the BVIs’ upcoming year was legendary BVI islander Foxy Callwood. And if ever the BVI needed a monarch to defend its maritime moniker as the Caribbean’s sailing capital, Foxy Callwood could easily wear the crown – and the Annapolis boat show would be the high court.

Foxy Callwood and Ian Pederson, marketing manager for The Moorings. Photograph by Susan Zaluski

Along with the Moorings Company, Foxy’s namesake ‘Foxy’s Tamarind Bar’ is celebrating its 50th anniversary – underlining the close relationship between sailing and the BVIs’ tourist economy. When Foxy opened his establishment in 1968 – it was because he glimpsed the future in providing services to visiting yachts and yachtsmen on the tiny island of his birth.  The barefoot troubadour often serves as the de-facto ambassador of BVI tourism and has welcomed innumerable sailors to his bar and restaurant on Jost Van Dyke.

Following the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, land-based accommodations were virtually non-existent in the British Virgin Islands during the 2017/2018, season and businesses had to rekindle the territory’s roots as a charter yacht sailing destinations. Since sailing yachts are reasonably self-sufficient, sailors became the first tourists to return to the BVI, pumping a crucial influx of money into the damaged economy. The rekindled relationship with sailors is what prompted Foxy to travel to Annapolis to attend the annual show and to promote his own business, along with the rest of the BVI.   

At the 2018 United States Sailboat Show, Foxy performed at two events linked to the show– a private reception for The Moorings and a brunch hosted by the BVIs’ Tourist Board. During the show, Foxy was stationed onboard a brand new Leopard 50 catamaran, which will soon set sail for the BVI, to be inaugurated into Moorings’ fleet based on Tortola.  Strumming a guitar and cracking jokes from the catamaran’s cockpit, Foxy greeted and was greeted by countless sailors. Many recalled past stories about sailing in the BVI and expressed plans or at least hopes to return to the Virgin Islands. 

The BVI is back in business.  

Susan Zaluski lives in Great Harbour, Jost Van Dyke. She is the director of the Jost Van Dyke Preservation Society, a non-profit agency dedicated to the preservation of the history, culture and natural environment of Jost Van Dyke.