A yacht charter can be a good value even in lean times, and with deep discounting and a large menu of options to choose from, charterers can trim their costs to fit a tight vacation budget, charter operators say.
A charter still prices competitively with a beach house or mountain condo rental, says Van Perry, brand manager for The Moorings, of Clearwater, Fla. “Short of taking just an out-and-out driving vacation, it still compares very favorably when you consider room, board, entertainment and sightseeing are all wrapped up in a yacht charter.”
Bareboat charter firms are holding the line on rates, and many are deeply discounting them for early and last-minute bookings, and offseason charters. Discounts of 10 to 30 percent and offers of 10 charter days for the price of seven — even promotions for free fuel on power charters — are enticing charterers to book.
Prices vary widely with location, and size and type of boat. A 10-day summer bareboat charter out of Tortola, British Virgin Islands, on one of Footloose Sailing Charters’ 33-foot monohulls could cost as little as $1,365, which includes three free days of charter time. (The Footloose fleet comprises “second-career” boats taken out of charter with The Moorings and Sunsail.) At the higher end, a seven-day charter with The Catamaran Company on a new 2009 Lagoon 50 catamaran out of Union Island in the Grenadines is listed for $11,900 in the high season.
“People still are traveling,” Perry says, but they are looking for ways to cut costs. Some are booking later to get better deals or trimming their discretionary vacation spending. Others are chartering closer to home to keep a lid on rising airfares, which have put a damper on many kinds of vacation travel.
The Moorings advises clients chartering from its Wickham’s Cay base in Tortola to fly into St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, which is cheaper than flying into the BVI, and catch the fast ferry to Tortola for a fare negotiated by The Moorings. “We want them to reach the islands in as cost-effective a manner as possible,” Perry says.
Virgin Traders Motor Yachts, a BVI company that charters motoryachts, power cats and trawlers, also is aggressively meeting the challenge of higher airfares and fuel costs, says Virgin Traders director James A. Burgess. Virgin was offering eight- to 10-day charters for the price of a seven-day charter, with one to three days of free diesel fuel, at different times during the summer. “We picked up some good bookings from those promotions,” he says.
Addressing the stresses caused by the reduced schedule of flights into the Caribbean, Virgin has bought a couple of light, twin-engine aircraft. It plans to ferry its clients and those of sister charter sailing company Horizon Yacht Charters to and from Puerto Rico and charter bases in the British Virgin Islands, Antigua and some of the other islands “shortly,” says Burgess. “The costs will be almost identical to existing operators, but the aircraft will be dedicated to our clients,” he says in an e-mail to Soundings. “[Planes] will wait [for charterers], and there will be no last-minute dashing about trying to make connections. On board will be chilled drinks and a sense of peace and the commencement of the vacation.”
Sunsail, which ranks with sister The Moorings as one of the “Big Two” charter outfits, continues to expand its bases and choice of boats, says Josephine Tucci, the Sunsail brand manager. Sunsail opened two bases in Italy this summer, in Tropea on the southwest coast and in Palermo on Sicily’s north shore. Tropea is a gateway to Italy’s south coast, Palermo a base for cruising the Egadi Islands, Malta and the Tunisian coast. “The sailing is easy, the water is deep, and the winds are predictable” says Tucci of the May-to-September charter season.Europe has been a tough sell to U.S. vacationers because of the declining value of the dollar relative to the euro. “People have not been traveling as far,” Tucci says.
But the dollar appears to be strengthening, and Sunsail is offering more options for its charterers, who Tucci describes as “more adventurous” types. Sunsail has opened a third base in Thailand, at Koh Chang on the eastern Gulf of Thailand. The base opens the 50 islands of the Koh Chang Archipelago and pristine Koh Chang National Park to charterers from November through April, she says.
The fleet there includes Oceanus 361 and 411 monohulls, Sunsail 43 and 39 monohulls, and Sunsail 404 catamarans. Sunsail also opened a base in April in the Bahamas, at Marsh Harbour in the Abacos. In addition to bareboat and crewed charters, the Marsh Harbour base offers flotilla charters. Similar to those in the British Virgin Islands, the flotillas are cruises in company with other boats and a lead boat that serves as a guide. The fleet there includes Sunsail 362 monohulls and Lagoon 38 cats.
Tucci says Sunsail plans to introduce a Jeanneau 44i, the newest in its “i” series of performance monohull cruisers, in October at the U.S. Sailboat Show in Annapolis, Md. (It also has a 32, 36 and 39 in this series.) “These aren’t raceboats,” she says. “They are really well-performing cruising boats.”
The Moorings opened a base last November for sailing and power charters at the CostaBaja Resort and Marina on Mexico’s Baja Peninsula. Offering monohulls from 35 to 51 feet, catamarans from 40 to 43 feet and a 47-foot power cat, the base is expected to be popular with charterers from both Mexico and the U.S. West Coast. “We had a sail base [on the Baja] at a different location,” Perry says. “This is a five-star luxury resort with home sites, a beach club, shops, restaurants, entertainment. It’s working out really well.”
Responding to demand for charter boats with more stingy fuel consumption, Moorings Power will debut a new 37-foot power cat in October at the U.S. Powerboat Show in Annapolis. Powered by 110-hp diesels, it is a “very fuel-efficient boat,” Perry says. It has a top speed of 21 knots.
On the sail side, The Moorings is upgrading its 46-foot cat so the helm station is accessible from the cockpit. It also is putting some new Beneteau 372 monohulls into the fleet, reflecting a commitment to satisfy “both the larger and smaller ends of the market,” he says.
The Moorings and other companies under the Clearwater-based TUI Marine umbrella — Sunsail, Footloose Sailing Charters and Moorings Power — have moved into their new consolidated Wickham’s Cay II base in Tortola. Perry is planning a grand opening there in November and other activities in 2009 to celebrate The Moorings 40th anniversary.
Another major player in the Caribbean, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based The Catamaran Company, with 30 bareboats and 15 crewed yachts at Nanny Cay in Tortola, has opened a second base at Chatham Bay Resort on Union Island in the Grenadines. The resort offers 15 bungalows, a restaurant, bar and private beach. The Catamaran Company is operating Lagoon 50s, 44s and 42s out of the resort, according to charter broker Joann Higgins. Sailing north from Union Island, charterers can visit Petite St. Vincent, Carriacou and Grenada, and to the north Mayreay, St. Vincent, Palm Island, the Tobago Cays, Mustique and Bequia.
TMM Yacht Charters, a Lake Geneva, Wis.-based company with power- and sailboats in Tortola, the Grenadines and Belize, is adding a Jeanneau 45 monohull to its St. Vincent fleet and a Salina 48 catamaran in the BVI, says TMM director Barney Crook. Charters are doing well, he says, but sales of boats to put into charter are very slow. The Jeanneau and Salina were still for sale as they head into charter.
The price tag on a 70-foot French-built catamaran has soared from $675,000 to $800,000 over the last year or two because of the weakened dollar. “People are sitting on the fence waiting to see what happens,” he says.
Charter fees for many of the larger, faster crewed power yachts and some of the big crewed sailing yachts are going up with the rising price of fuel, or in some cases charter operators are tacking on a fuel surcharge, says Ed Hamilton, owner of Ed Hamilton & Co., an online charter booking firm. Hamilton says the really good crewed boats are busy. “The marginal ones stay empty,” he says.