How do you find these gorgeous boats and attentive crew and check out all your options? One of the best ways is through the Charter Yacht Society of the BVI, a non-profit organization that serves as an umbrella group for over 70 independent crewed yachts that choose to place their boat stats and crew information in a collective forum. Not a clearinghouse or boat charter brokerage, "CYS" as it is known, helps promote the independent term charter operator who does not belong to a large company-owned fleet. Formed in 1982 by a group of BVI crewed yacht owners, CYS has a three-fold mission that includes acting as an advocate for yacht owners with respect to the laws of the BVI government; fostering a healthy business climate for services to the boating community and making sure that yacht crews show respect for the territory's social standards. Just like the Hotel and Commerce Association, CYS is a body recognized by the BVI government.
A visit with the petite and energetic Executive Director, Janet Oliver, in her ground floor office bordering a footpath tucked behind Village Cay Marina, gives me a much greater insight into this special niche of the yachting industry. Janet's desk, a continual hub of activity, is what you might call "organized chaos." Orderly stacks of papers have stick-it note reminders. A desk phone and cell phone appear to be in constant use and a computer quietly hums alongside. A question or query sends her right to the relevant stack with a quick answer. Beneath her brown tousled bangs and quick smile, one can see that a laid-back "yachtie" would instantly feel comfortable in her presence. "I still take out the garbage, but they call me Executive Director," she laughs. Janet is there to assist with over 15 years of experience at the helm and a wealth of knowledge about the marine industry in the British Virgin Islands. Her role is multi-faceted. She takes a new charter operator through all the exhaustive steps necessary to navigate the various government agencies in order to be properly qualified as a BVI based term-charter boat.
If this was not enough to keep Janet busy 24/7, she also is the principal organizer for the BVI Charter Yacht Show, held annually the first week of November, hosted by CYS in conjunction with the BVI Tourist Board. This four-day event brings yachts and international brokers together for a pre-season yacht preview. Both motor and sailing yachts fill the slips at Village Cay Marina, buffed to a "T" and displaying all their wares, with crews in matching yacht attire putting out the welcome mat for the many visiting brokers walking the docks. In the evenings, business is put aside and everyone parties irrespective of which yacht chef won the gourmet cooking contest, or which crew placed first in the most creative towel presentation. The annual event is a great showcase for the yachts, a chance for brokers to personally meet the crew and get a sense of which yacht might be a good match for their clients. The show also fosters a real camaraderie between yacht crews, who will be anchored alongside or sailing past each other's vessels throughout the season.
I realized that choosing between a spacious catamaran, or a beautifully appointed monohull with custom wood touches would require further "research" and I would need to board a few of these "queens of the sea" and talk with the crew. I was first invited aboard Flying Ginny VII, a 55-foot Lagoon catamaran, crewed by a young English couple named Tom and Gemma. So far they have logged three seasons chartering in the BVI although earlier versions of Ginny have been in these waters for years. Captain Tom, with an affable smile and a head of thick wavy locks, described how they fit into the yacht crew stereotype, a unique job challenge with its own set of demands. "There are basically three captain and cook groups; the couples before making families, the no kids group, and the older couples with kids already grown. We fit in the first group," he laughs. Right now it is a perfect fit for this young couple, who are able to charter in tropical waters during England's coldest months and return for a visit off-season, which is August through October here. "We have had our share of ups and downs while chartering, but we also have those magical memories of sighting a whale or swimming with dolphins." Lots of space is one of the main selling features on Flying Ginny and Gemma appreciates how steady and stable the cat is.
Next I asked "permission to board" an elegantly maintained monohull named Sayang, a Jeanneau 54 owned and operated by Paul and Ratna, a seasoned married couple with experience sailing in most parts of the world. Paul, a dual French and British citizen, had years in the IT world before leaving that to follow his sailing dream. Ratna, originally from Malyasia, has a background in music and cooking and is also a keen traveler. As boat owners, this couple carries the added responsibility of boat maintenance out of their own pockets, not an inexpensive proposition in the BVI. However, both love what they do and feel chartering is the ideal life for them. "There is no typical charter," Ratna explains, "that's the beauty of this business, each charter is custom-tailored to our guests." The yacht's well-appointed interior reflects their love of Asian art in colorful Balinese paintings, and even the vessel's name means "sweetheart" in Malaysian. Paul feels a monohull gives the "true experience" of sailing and feels his clients are drawn to their yacht for this and their years of experience.
A chance to see some of these stately yachts is right around the corner with the 29th annual BVI Charter Yacht Show commencing from November 4 to 7. Although onboard viewing is reserved for the charter brokers, the docks are open for all to stroll down and consider someday booking one's own dream week charter. For more contact www.bvicrewedcharters.com