Little Compass RoseCaribbean Compass September 2018

Ten Years After

Part Two: Predictions for the
Coming Sailing Season 2018–19

The Caribbean yachting sector has often been praised for its "resiliency" in the wake of various negative impacts. After the 2007-2008 global economic downturn, Compass asked a cross-section of people in the Caribbean yachting sector to reveal their predictions for the 2008–2009 sailing season. These predictions were published in our October 2008 issue (page 22 at www.caribbeancompass.com/online/october08compass_online.pdf).
In last's month's issue of Compass, in ‘Ten Years After, Part One', we revisited 2008's predictions to see how clear, cloudy or cracked our correspondents' crystal balls were!
Now, we ask Caribbean yachting sector members to give us their predictions, in light of the past decades' events, for sailing season 2018–19. Thanks to all the fortunetellers who participated!

How do you foresee this coming season - ‘business as usual' or will there be significant changes from past winter seasons?
Julie San Martin of St. Croix: "Will there be significant changes? Yes - we had no ‘winter season' in 2017-2018! Relief workers filled all available hotel rooms and the harbor was still littered with sunken boats. This year will be a significant improvement!"

Loïc Bonnet of Dream Yacht Charters tells of business as usual, but relocated: "When you do business in the Caribbean, you need to respect Mother Nature as she is a great leveler, both literally and figuratively. Last year the Irma and Maria hurricanes had a devastating effect on our BVI and St. Martin fleets.
"Customer confidence was slow to return for some of the hardest hurricane-hit areas, although we were amazed at the loyalty shown by the diehard British Virgin Islands super-fans. We recovered our operations swiftly, re-opening last November through the relocation of our fleet, acquiring aligned companies and ordering newbuilds.

"Although parts of the Caribbean were severely damaged, we're widely spread with a network of bases in the Caribbean so we could relocate customers quickly. Our clients have great affinity with the islands and we were positioned to accommodate the many sailors who still wanted to sail, but in different parts of islands than originally planned, such as Grenada and the Bahamas."

From the Western Caribbean, Julia Bartlett notes a difference: "The summer norm in Guatemala is for cruisers to spend a couple of weeks after their arrival putting their boat to bed and then heading off to their home countries, but this year there are many more staying around for the whole season. They are organizing all sorts of onshore adventures and activities, which is great for the local economy. This increase in activities is in part just because there are many more boats here, but also it's less expensive to stay put."

JoAnne and Bill Harris of the trimaran Ultra say, "We believe that business should remain as usual. The communities that were hit extremely hard [by hurricanes last year] depend on tourism and yacht chartering is a large part of it. From a cruiser's perspective, the basics are important: chandleries, boat services, fuel, provisioning and food. It is important to continue to visit these islands to provide tourism dollars so they can continue to rebuild."

If you predict changes, are you doing anything special in relation to them?
Julie San Martin of St. Croix Yacht Club says, "Right now, St. Croix has an active year-round junior sailing program, but keelboats race infrequently. As a regatta organizer… we would like to attract multihulls. Cruising multihulls can be raced - if you want to race badly enough - and there are currently several schemes to figure out handicaps so they can enter Caribbean regattas. Our motto is ‘No boat turned away from our race!'"

James Pascall, owner-operator Horizon Yacht Charters Grenada & St. Vincent, says, "Financial conditions globally continue to make the [charter] market price sensitive. As an owner-operated company, we can respond to this and can keep our prices highly competitive.
"Owners are now looking for more options regarding safe havens for their boats and we are seeing a significant increase in boats relocating to the southern Caribbean. They are also looking for new and different charter options such as more flexible charter plans and more comprehensive hurricane-season storage plans.

"There have also been considerable changes in the insurance industry, which also impact on the character of business. For example, some insurance companies have withdrawn from the Caribbean yacht insurance market completely, while others are imposing far greater restrictions - not just on the geographical areas accepted, but also on the type and conditions of storage. This can pose significant challenges to charter companies, particularly those with big fleets."

Jacqui Pascal of Horizon adds, "We are definitely seeing increased demand for more sophisticated specifications from our clients and in response to this we are now fulfilling our long-term plan to add new boats to our fleet.
"Since we opened our St. Vincent base at Blue Lagoon there has been an increasing trend towards one-way charters through the Grenadines. Customer feedback has been extremely positive and this is something we see continuing to grow."

Loïc Bonnet notes, "The yacht charter industry has reached a pivotal development point and is now undergoing profound change to make leisure yachting accessible to all. There is a growing consumer need for ‘on demand' products within the tourism industry and we're seeing new product development, such as collaborative boat-rental schemes, boat clubs and innovative leisure boat chartering. The growth of social consciousness means people no longer want to just visit a destination and sit on a beach in a resort, particularly the younger generations, and this is what our by-the-cabin offer caters for. We will continue to encourage non-sailors to explore outside of the resorts and sail with us to the smaller islands, helping their economic development."

Marc Rooijakkers of Curaçao Marine says, "We have been implementing quite a few changes at our facility. The most important was making sure to be able to accommodate more yachts during this hurricane season: we offered 250 spots on the hard instead of our previous maximum of 140, and we have been fully booked. We also ask the customers on the hard to communicate the work that they want done on their boats well in advance, as we need to plan ahead for everything to run smoothly. As of this year we can haul out bigger yachts; we have cleared special parking spots for them, and we dredged our entryway to be able to accommodate yachts with up to three metres draft.

"We also find it important to inform and to keep sailors up to date, not only about our marina and boatyard, but also about Curaçao as a great yachting destination in general. We do this through different mediums, especially online such as via our website, Facebook, Instagram and our quarterly newsflash. Visit www.curacaomarine.com to see all the changes that have been made and are planned."

Speaking of websites, Julie San Martin says, "The Internet has been a fantastic boon to businesses in the Caribbean. We all got our [2017 hurricane] stories out quickly, which was not possible in 1990, when Hugo wiped St. Croix. This time, we saw US and European sailors make additional efforts to attend regattas in the worse-affected Caribbean areas in 2018, because of the social media communications."

Ken Goodings of S/V Silverheels 3 adds, "Social media and the internet have changed how we communicate, for better or worse. The Grenadian cruisers' Facebook ‘experiment' of 2009-2010 has turned into a group for almost every island. Getting information is so much easier. This will continue."

Mary Stone of M/V Lady Astor also comments, "Smartphones (invented just ten years ago) changed everything. WiFi and digital data plans are now common in the Caribbean. Navigation, autopilots, GPS, radar, sonar, electrical systems, tank levels, safety systems and sat phones can all be monitored and controlled with smart phone or tablet apps. Add to that cruiser-related information websites for guides, safety and security information, social media, cruiser groups and forums, etcetera. If it is all working well, the cruiser is the best informed ever, by information generated from within the vessel as well as information generated from without the vessel and integrated into its systems.

"One of the dark sides is that when electronics fail it gets really dark and in some cases dangerous. Then there is the dark side of digital information from cruiser social media. Misinformation, disinformation, hardened opinions/positions, and consolidated control of cruiser social media groups promote the biases of the few to the many. Social media has exaggerated the best and worst of cruiser networks, and that will likely continue. For businesses it is a way to reach cruisers. For cruisers it is a lot of noise to filter.
"Am I doing anything special with regard to these factors? Yes. I have deleted all my social media accounts to reduce the noise. There are other ways I get only the information I need, when I need it."

Julie San Martin wraps up the adaptations to changes: "As someone whose family has lived on St. Croix for over 60 years, run a business here for more than 30, totaled the same boat (the 36-foot trimaran Three Little Pigs) twice in hurricanes - you get up in the morning, fix as much as you can, try to have fun, get a good night's sleep, and repeat!"
What else does your "crystal ball" have to tell Compass readers about Sailing Season 2018-2019?
Ellen Birrell and Jim Hutchins of S/V Boldly Go say, "It is still too early to predict whether sympathetic charter customers will again stream into USVI and BVI, but most charterers we talk to are exploring the idea of chartering in the Grenadines or Grenada.

"For the first time in nine years we do not plan to sail down into the Windwards for 2019 - we are bucking the trend. We plan to re-unite with two cruising buddy boats, like the good ol' days, in Culebra this winter. Having the Virgins/Puerto Rico area thinned out of cruisers and charterers will be nice for us, although not so nice for those whose livelihood relies on robust visitation by cruisers, charterers and land-lubbing vacationers."

Julie San Martin predicts, "We will continue to have fun - and welcome the cruisers when they visit. St. Croix is ready. After reading the article from ten years ago, I realized that St. Croix has become much friendlier to cruisers, and has much more to offer, than a decade ago. There are some benefits from a struggling economy! Our locals are not only friendly, they are thrilled to welcome cruisers.
"Both Christiansted harbor and the St. Croix Yacht Club have become convenient and safe places for visiting sailors. Christiansted harbor has seen significant improvements over the ten-year period, making it a great port for cruisers. And - an odd benefit from two hurricanes - contractors have removed wrecks off the bottom of the mooring field.
"St. Croix Yacht Club, founded 66 years ago for the purpose of ‘extending to visiting yachtsmen the hospitality of St Croix', is still extending hospitality. Plus SCYC is one of 30 places in the United States with remote access to the new US Customs & Border Patrol easy entry process."

Another contributor says, "I am nervous as I watch St. Maarten rebuild with the same materials that were stripped with the ease of a wet Band-Aid just last year. But if we have a quiet hurricane season, then this island will be going full force in the winter."

Karen Stiell of Grenada Sailing Week says, "Many boats are heading south again this year, trying to avoid the devastation of last year and because of insurance constraints. How this year will affect regattas in the southern Caribbean? We hope it will be business as usual, if not better."

Julia Bartlett says, "The unpredictable political and weather climates we all discussed ten years ago here in the Caribbean Compass have become more exaggerated since then, with no indication that either will stabilize soon. I believe that this will lead to boaters in the Caribbean, and elsewhere, looking for safer havens for their investments, one of which is, of course, their boat.
"Guatemala is very cruiser friendly all-round, and becoming a year-round destination. Belize has loads of tiny unspoiled islands and not much more than a day sail from the Rio Dulce; I suspect many of the boats now in the Rio will be heading there.
"Offshore on the Honduran coast there are pirates lurking, which makes the run to Roatan and Utila and south nerve-racking. But once there you have great diving and all the restaurants, nightlife and dive shops you could want. Boats [now in the Western Caribbean] will also head farther south out of the hurricane belt altogether, joining those from the Eastern Caribbean to enjoy Panama and Colombia and their islands.
"I think all these destinations will benefit from last year's active hurricane season, possibly stretching the available facilities and resources, so a little Caribbean mañana might come in handy."

Loïc Bonnet predicts, "We expect strong growth in the Caribbean for 2018-2019 and we're committed to broadening the appeal of the Caribbean to those seeking adventure. Climate change is evident, but it's hard to know to what extent and the rate at which it will impact the charter industry at this stage. One thing I can see clearly is the growth in eco-tourism. Customers want to help protect fragile ecosystems."

Marc Rooijakkers says, "Winter in Curaçao is actually super-high season when it comes to tourism, but has always been low season for yachting. So at Curaçao Marine we are expecting a calm winter to prepare for next hurricane season. We do predict slight changes, as more sailors have been discovering Curaçao as an ‘off the beaten path' yachting destination. It is not only a safe place, perfect for provisioning and ideal for maintenance on the yacht, but also an island to explore.
"We foresee a great season. Everything will either keep steady or will keep on growing. And with our positive efforts, we see the latter happening in our crystal ball."

Ken Goodings and Lynn Kaak of S/V Silverheels 3 say, "Boat movements during the winter cruising season post IrMaria won't really change. I think we will continue to see a decline in full time, year-round, cruisers, with more people storing their boat for hurricane season and going home; this goes with having more money."
Mary Stone elaborates: "More and more cruisers come in waves. Gangs of cruisers move to the Caribbean in rallies and other organized events and then store their boats or leave them at moorings so they can return to their home country during the hurricane season. While this is not necessarily new, it does seem to be increasing behavior: one foot in the Caribbean, the other foot at home."

Thus, Ken and Lynn continue, "Storage facilities will be very busy. Insurance requirements will dictate where most boats will spend hurricane season, more than ever. Some insurers have changed their policies to ridiculous limitations, and some won't insure at all. Grenada and Trinidad will be very busy, and I think more boats will be looking at Guyana for a change, since Venezuela is basically off limits now. Colombia, if it remains safe, will become more popular.
"There seems to be more money out there, overall, which is great for the Caribbean marine industry. There also seem to be more investments being made in more facilities."

Mary Stone predicts, "With regard to safety and security, the usual suspect destinations will continue to be more or less as they have been. With digital and social media amplification we will likely hear more about roughly the same number of reported incidents. (Historically, it's been fewer than a hundred reports per year across 35 or more islands for decades, according to CSSN website data.)
"The basics for safer cruising still apply: chains, brains and bars; lights, locks and luck. And in problem areas, if local business interests, government and private security cooperate intensively to secure the destination for the benefit of visitors, then a safer Caribbean may emerge. We already know that when done well it is very effective and the business implications of secure destinations are significant.

"As fleets of cruisers move through the Caribbean they put serious pressure on dinghy docks, shore facilities, moorings and crowded anchorages. And more boats in small areas become target-rich opportunities for crime. The business implication is that storage, yard facilities and ‘minders' will be in more demand. Shore facilities will need extra capacity and security."
She concludes, "My overall conclusion is that cruising life has gotten more noisy and has become a stimulus-rich environment. At some point cruisers will need to deal with the fact that they have the world literally in the palm of their hand and can be connected to it at all times. That seems to be the antithesis of the reason a lot of people go cruising: to enjoy the beauty of different places, peace and quiet, and an escape from all the over-stimulation of modern life. Yet cruisers still bring all that with them and spend lots of time interacting with their device of choice, never really escaping much. It will be interesting to see how people deal with all that. For businesses, it will be a challenge to get attention and rise above the noise contained in the cruiser's hand."

Bill and JoAnne Harris say, "We feel that the bottom line is that we are all people and must continue to help the Caribbean community as a whole, and never stop remembering why we all left to go cruising in the first place. They depend primarily on tourism dollars, [and] we all had the dream to sail off to these amazing islands to have countless adventures."
Ken Goodings and Lynn Kaak bring us full circle: "Best quote in the original 2008 article? Julia Bartlett's: ‘My forecast for the 2008-2009 Sailing Season is that prices will continue to increase, boats will get bigger and the storms stronger, and there will still be sailors in small boats, dodging the pirates and enjoying every moment without ever playing Mexican train dominoes. Business as usual.'
"And she was right."






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