Antigua anticipates record season
Fires and storms haven’t dampened the resolve of Antigua’s superyacht industry as it readies for what could be its busiest superyacht season yet…
Nelson's Dockyard, Antigua, was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2016.
The people of Antigua are ready to kick off what could be a record superyacht season. With the coming months expected to be the biggest cruise season in Antigua’s history, the superyacht season and Antigua Charter Yacht Show looks poised to experience similar growth.
Despite the recent fire at the Antigua Yacht Club and tropical storms, the fears that Antigua will struggle to accommodate for the season ahead have been rubbished by leading industry figures on the island. Some marinas are fully booked, the Antigua Charter Yacht Show, which starts on December 4th to the 9th, is almost at capacity and businesses are ready for superyachting to return to the island.
“One of the main things I’m excited for is to show people just how we bounce back from this fire,” Shaun Falcone, MD, Antigua Yacht Club Marina & Resort tells SuperyachtNews. “We are in overdrive right now to get a solution in place, but we have a plan and it's in motion. I’m not sure what people are expecting to see, but they are surely going to be blown away when they do.”
The fire at the yacht club, which was likely caused by a surge of energy due to a lightning strike during a tropical storm, devastated several businesses. With the final steps of the demolition complete, the yacht club is ready to start anew, with construction expected to begin this week.
“We are going for the container park vibe that you see at the Volvo Ocean Races or the America’s Cups. It’s different for sure, but it is going to achieve a really special result when complete,” says Falcone. The containers themselves are already underway in Canada, with Sevenstar Yacht Transport generously offering free delivery to aid the rebuild.
Naturally, the fire at the yacht club caused some initial setbacks, with cancellations over fears of lack of capacity and services and the fact the yacht club will not be finished in time for the Antigua Charter Yacht Show. “Now we have a different problem, however. We are overbooked for the rest of the season, so I suppose it is a good problem to have,” says Falcone. “Not having the commercial centre ready for the show is a shame, but it will be ready for January. The main thing is we can still accommodate boats in the marina as of now.”
Falcone adds that the superyacht season is expected to be one of the busiest yet and that the idea that a small storm would prevent Antiguans from welcoming people to the Caribbean has to be immediately quashed. It’s a sentiment shared across the island.
“The storms have been of no hindrance to the overall season,” says Sherwin Mascal, Dockmaster of Nelson’s Dockyard. “The number of bookings for the upcoming months is interesting, to say the least, with around a 30% increase in the number of yachts heading to Antigua already.”
Robert Reiss, General Manager, Falmouth Harbour agrees. “If anything, we have been very lucky with the rain. Antigua is one of those places that never ceases to amaze me because we could go through a drought, the land be burnt brown and as soon as we get a little bit of rain, it bursts into a luscious green as far as the eye can see.”
Last year the island wasn’t so lucky, with a spell of bad weather in the Caribbean and on Atlantic crossings forcing some yachts that would spend time in Antigua straight to St. Barts ahead of New Year’s Eve. This year, however, there is no shortage in the amount of quality boats available at the Antigua Boat Show.
Falmouth Harbour & Marina is already filling up ahead of the Antigua Charter Yacht Show in a few weeks.
“We are going to be full, and I mean chockablock from November to March,” continues Reiss. “Seven Burgess boats are confirmed for the show, so we are anticipating an excellent season. Last year we extended one of our docks to 535ft in length, so we can handle even the largest boats when they come.”
Falmouth Harbour has also constructed a 180ft tender dock to meet demand. “Tenders were becoming a bit of a problem,” says Reiss. “Boats are coming ashore now with huge tenders. They used to be tiny little things that floated around. Now, the tenders themselves are worth over a million dollars, so we needed a place to store them.” The dock will be ready next week ahead of the Antigua Yacht Show.
The increase in the size of yachts and tenders has been widely documented, but other rising trends have caught the eyes of Antigua’s industry experts too. “Catamarans are becoming more and more popular every year,” says Mascal. “It’s been an upward trend that we have seen, around a 50% increase over the last five years in charter bookings for multihulls.
“It is kind of growing in tandem with the recent increase in yachting’s popularity, as I think some of those who are new to the lifestyle haven’t quite found their sea legs for a monohull just yet.” Catamarans themselves have also gotten larger and more stylish, making them a more attractive market too, he adds.
With tourism making up around 50 per cent of the nation’s GDP, Tourism Minister Charles Fernandes has made it a top priority to have everything from hotels to restaurants ready for visitors to the island.
“All of our numbers are up from cruising to yachting. We are trending, Antigua is the place to be. And so, we have all the airlines supplying daily flights to the island from the US, Canada and UK,” says Devin Joseph, Yachting and Sailing Business Development Manager, Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority. “We are constantly upgrading all infrastructure to make everything as smooth as possible when travelling to, from and around the island to our hotels, restaurants and areas of natural beauty.”
Security is also a main concern for government authorities. “It is of the utmost importance to the Government that visitors to the island are safe and have the most enjoyable experience possible here. “We meet with the local police before the upcoming season and discuss their plans for safety with regards to hotels, marinas and all the auxiliary companies associated with the yachting industry,” adds Joseph. “Antigua is one of the safest places in the Caribbean, and we intend on keeping it that way.”
The availability of inventory is a core factor in the island’s prospective success as a cruising destination. In recent years, the lack of available yachts due to poor weather conditions and shortage of space was to the island’s detriment. With recent investments in infrastructure, services, security and more quality boats to enjoy, Antigua looks poised for what could be a record season.
“Despite the stunning surroundings, beautiful beaches, delicious food and world-class hotels, the main attraction to Antigua is its people. We are resilient and ready for anything,” says Reiss. “When we were hit by Hurricane Louis in 1995, this country was rebuilt stronger. So, the idea that we are unable to participate in what is going to be an excellent yachting season is nonsense. We will be ready to welcome everyone to our white sandy shores with open arms.”
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