“I don’t think Antigua could be doing any better than this,” observes Captain Giles Sangster of 80m motoryacht Talitha, while docked in Falmouth Harbour last week. His comments follow many reports that berths in Antigua and St Maarten have been unusually hard to come by this season.
“We tried to book our berth in August, but the ideal dates were full. Having spoken to a few other regulars here, they were booking their spots back in July. We never used to do that – we would always book on the way over while we were crossing the Atlantic because you knew that there was always going to be availability.”
And it is not only English Harbour and Falmouth Harbour that have seen an increased demand this season; the other Caribbean yachting hub of St Maarten is experiencing the same high volume of boats on the dock. With anecdotes circulating the industry that the Caribbean is losing favour as superyacht destination, this news may come as a surprise to some.
Falmouth Harbour, Antigua
But it could be that the charter market in the Caribbean is slower than usual, meaning more boats sat on the berths. “Charter here is definitely quieter than last year,” admits Sarah Sebastian, director of Nicholson Yacht Charters. “But I don’t think that means that the Caribbean is losing favour, simply that there are other options opening up worldwide."
Sebastian notes that Antigua in particular has grown in popularity as a destination for yachts picking up and dropping off guests due to increasing ease of customs and clearance procedures on the island.
“I have certainly heard that the Caribbean is supposed to be less favourable, but I definitely haven’t seen it,” agrees Captain Sangster. “From the cruising that we have done, I think this has been the busiest year in a while. We were down in St Vincent and the Grenadines for Christmas and New Year and there were significantly more yachts – it doesn’t feel quite as remote as it used to. St Barths and all the other popular areas were unbelievably crowded.”
Talitha in Antigua
The reports of more yachts and a shortage of berths in the region bode well for upcoming Caribbean marina Christophe Harbour in St Kitts, which during 2016 has already welcomed a plethora of prolific yachts such as Naia, Callisto and Perseus3. The planned 300-slip marina providing berths up to 91m will provide a welcome alternative to the overcrowded Caribbean hubs of Antigua and St Maarten.
“It reminds me of how Antigua used to be 25 years ago,” comments Captain Dan Jackson of S/Y Ranger, reflecting on the Kittitian marina development and the relaxed and authentic Caribbean feeling that the island exudes. Christophe Harbour has already seen a $100 million-infrastructure investment and, when the marina village is completed (scheduled for the end of 2016), it will feature a shore-side village with restaurants, boutiques and hotels and a large customs house, with extensive crew facilities.
Christophe Harbour, St Kitts
The most important thing for the increasing amount of yachts coming over to the Caribbean, Captain Sangster points out, is to have established infrastructure and an experienced workforce. “We need to be able to get our stores in, stock up, get fuel, have quick clearance procedures and be able to fly in from major cities,” he explains. “In Antigua there is also a plethora of guys and girls that can come and help you out.”
In the current Caribbean climate, now is the perfect time for a new hub to emerge and flourish, providing it incorporates all the amenities that superyachts need.