Charter companies based in the British Virgin Islands, such as MarineMax Vacations and The Moorings, have resumed operations and are bringing guests back to a region that Hurricane Irma devastated.
Editors from several Active Instant Media marine publications, of which Soundings Trade Only is a part, visited the area with MarineMax and The Moorings.
Though they are normally rivals in the archipelago, the companies are working together to spread awareness that the region, which relies on tourism, is ready for charter-boat, cruise-ship and independent boaters to return, even as it rebuilds.
“It was a pretty incredible experience,” Power & Motoryacht editor Dan Harding told Trade Only Today. “I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I really came away with an appreciation for not just the islands, but more for the people there.”
Harding, who visited the islands for the first time, was initially nervous about doing so.
“I was worried that was going to be an uncomfortable feeling,” Harding said. “Here we are cruising on a yacht, listening to music, all self-sustaining. What got me over that was talking to people. They are genuinely thrilled to have boaters and tourists back on their shores again. Any unease I had quickly went away. Without fail, they’d say, ‘Let people know we’re open. We look forward to seeing them again.’ ”
MarineMax Vacations has become busy again after an initial slowdown after Hurricane Irma, which slammed into the islands as a Category 5 storm Sept. 6.
“We haven’t really had any cancellations like we had at the beginning,” MarineMax Vacations vice president Raul Bermudez said. "Now we’re starting to get more calls.”
The company has been releasing videos to help people understand that the operations are back up and running, and that has helped, Bermudez said.
Check out one of them here:
The Moorings lost about a third of its fleet at its Tortola base. Another third was damaged and in need of repair — a struggle because there aren’t enough people to do the work, said Josie Tucci, sales and marketing vice president for The Moorings.
“We reopened our base with about 120 boats, which considering everything is pretty amazing,” Tucci said. “We have boats coming on line every day. We’re maybe up to 160 or 170. It’s well under half what we would normally expect this time of year, but that’s still a lot of boats. We’re very happy about that.”
Of MarineMax Vacations’ 50 boats, only four were a total loss, Bermudez said, adding: “We were pretty fortunate.” Now the company is donating 10 percent of its revenue to the BVI.
With every day comes news of more establishments reopening, Tucci said, which makes social media sites such as the BVI Traveller Facebook page helpful.
Things are still spotty, detailed on the Sailors Unite #CaribbeanComeback website in the BVI Comeback Tour tab.
On a normal day, MarineMax Vacations and The Moorings are “two really fierce competitors,” Harding said. “For them to work together on this joint cause of bringing tourism back to the islands is pretty amazing.”
“In an unprecedented initiative, the editors of the AIM Marine Group banded together to get a firsthand look at the damage the recent hurricanes inflicted and the recovery mission underway,” said Gary DeSanctis, group publisher and general manager of the group.
“What we experienced was shock on one hand, but inspiration on the other,” DeSanctis added. “The residents on the islands are a shining example of what the human spirit is capable of when faced with daunting challenges.”