It’s safe to say that hundreds of private yachts migrate south to the Caribbean for the winter from colder climates up north in the U.S. and Europe. Add to this number a repositioning of boats from other destinations to bolster island-based charter fleets to meet rental demand. Then, combine this with two other facts. First, there’s a finite amount of waterfront, and this is increasingly protected making it harder for marina developers to create new facilities. According to a 2013-report from the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, out of 22 island nations, there are 111 marinas with 5814 berths. Secondly, a greater number of mega and superyachts mean more dock space required for fewer total vessels. The question then becomes: Does all this add up to transient slips being at a premium in Caribbean marinas?
Yes and no.
“The Caribbean’s winter season is the busiest of the year because people look for warm weather, calm seas and in our case, a place where they can enjoy many experiences, beyond yachting. So, I would have to say yes,” says Sarah Pelegrin, public relations manager for Casa de Campo, in La Romana, Dominican Republic, where 30 percent of the 350 slips at Marina Casa de Campo are reserved for transient boaters.
Krisztina Phillips, general manager at the 44-slip St. Croix Marine Center, in Gallows Bay, on the U.S. Virgin Islands of St. Croix, agrees and adds, “Yes, slips can fill up fast in peak season, especially if we get a few larger vessels. We lost one of our docks to Hurricane Maria and are waiting on the repair/replacement. This reduces the number of slips we currently have. However, about 50 percent of our slips are available for transient vessels.”
Hurricane damage also continues to affect slip space availability on islands like St. Maarten/St. Martin.
“Our marine inventory is still quite depleted since Irma,” says Christopher Marshall, managing director of FKG Rigging, Hydraulics and Fabrication in and board member of the St. Maarten Marine Trade Association. “This applies more to the French side and what is available for the smaller cruisers, which is defined as people living aboard their monohull boats or catamarans up to 60 foot as opposed to the larger sailing and megayachts. On the high end, the larger marinas have done a good job of re-building their inventory. That would be IGY at Isle De Sol, Port De Plaisance, LA Palapa and then a new Skyport Marina that has 6 large berths. Beyond this, the percentage of home ported vessels to transients is probably close to 30:70. So in the off season you could expect that less than 30% of the entire available slips are occupied. This will be more extreme in the cases of the higher end marinas. For Instance IGY Isle De Sol can be totally empty in the off season and 100% booked in season whereas a smaller more cruiser oriented Marina like Lagoon Marina will probably only fill to 50% in the off season, but it means that they have more long term clients making it more difficult to get a longer term berth in season.”
The majority (85 percent) of the 155-berths at the Jolly Harbour Marina, in Jolly Harbour, Antigua, are for transients and it’s especially busy from November to May, according to Jo Lucas, general manager of Eastern Caribbean Marina & Boatyard Ltd, which owns the marina. “Many owners select Jolly Harbour Marina as a safe place to leave their vessel if they have reason to return to their home or travel in between sailing. We welcome visitors from around the world.”
Within the winter high season, there are additional peaks of demand for slip space.
“Generally, we don’t fill up completely at the marina. Although if there is an event like a rally, the ARC+ or Viking Explorers, it can fill up fast,” says Sophia Hadley, general manager of the 20-slip Blue Lagoon Hotel and Marina, in St. Vincent. “In general, 10 to 15 percent of our slips are available for transients in high season.”
Justin Smit, manager at the Nanny Cay Marina, in Tortola, British Virgin Islands, also sees peaks in slip demand, sometimes unpredictable, in the winter season. For example, “Christmas winds can be predicted but people only react once they actually are happening. Suddenly we would get an influx of vessels if a northerly swell or high winds come up. We also consider professionally crewed charter vessels as part of our transient group. They can flood in over this week prior to Christmas and fill up marinas in prep and provisioning for the charter over Christmas and New Year. Yet, Nanny Cay has the largest offering of slips it has ever had to offer and we are yet to be fully loaded. We have a total of 320 monohull berths for varying sizes. Around 100 of those slips are available to transient vessels.”
Come off-season or in the late spring, summer and early fall, many Caribbean marinas remain busy.
“Snowbirds coming down from the U.S. steadily fill slips fast since Puerto Rico is the gateway to the Caribbean, meaning our marina is a great staging point for boaters going to the BVI’s, USVI’s and other nearby islands. However, the summer season generates more local traffic from the area but stays are longer due to the great weather,” says Carlos Ponce, sales and customer manager at the 1000-slip Puerto del Rey Marina in Fajardo, Puerto Rico. “As of now, we are allocating 10 to 12 percent of our total wet slip capacity towards transient boaters. This means we have about 120 slips for our visiting boaters.”
The docks are busy year-round at Clarkes Court Marina & Boatyard in St. George’s Grenada, says Richard Murphy, boatyard manager. “This is because of our sheltered location, protection during hurricane season and excellent repair facilities. That said, all of our slips are for transient vessels. We have up to 20 slips and can accommodate vessels up to 140-foot LOA.”
In the end, a ‘sooner the better’ approach is best when it comes to reserving transient slip space.
“We recommend reserving ahead, one or two weeks in advance, since by then one’s plans would be more concrete,” says Shane Macauldy, marketing, sales and events manager for IGY’s Rodney Bay Marina, in St. Lucia, where out of the total 253 slips, 221 are available for transient and visiting sail/powerboats with the 32 remaining slips reserved for superyacht berthing. “However, we shan’t turn away the boater who calls us on Channel 16 from the outer bay requesting a last-minute berth. We understand that cruising in the Caribbean predisposes boaters to spontaneity and the contagious laidback Caribbean vibe, so we in turn offer flexibility to the travelling boater.”