Imagine zip-lining through the swaying treetops of St Maarten or taking a decadent sunset cruise and scuba diving in sophisticated St. Barths. Then again, maybe swimming with sea turtles and sport-fishing in St. Thomas is more your thing, Whatever you’re looking for in terms of the ultimate hedonistic yachting experience, the Caribbean has it covered.
With visitor figures back up to robust pre-2016 levels, the winter season is ending on a high for IGY and it’s clear that the allure of golden beaches, relaxed dining, eclectic boutique shopping and an inimitable sense of joie de vivre across the region has never been more attractive.
Following 2017 weather activity, IGY and the Caribbean in general has ploughed millions of dollars into rebuilding, revamping and upscaling marinas to ever dizzier heights of service excellence.
‘Whether you’re looking to be where the beautiful people are, where the parties are or want to relax in the most secluded and serene areas in the world, within reach of excellent provisioning, the Caribbean offers a multitude of world class destinations. You might be out of touch but you’re never out of mind.’
That also goes for yacht crew, whose needs are more than amply catered for. ‘There is no better organisational structure for crew than what has been created by IGY,’ adds Bert. ‘On site it includes the gym, internet, food and beverage as well as bars which are dedicated to crew only.’
‘We have high security protocols in place to help them do their jobs and also offer career advancement support; it’s not just about having a good time but embracing all aspects of their occupation. We take a holistic approach to the crew environment and our investments in that regard are unparalleled internationally. We have initiated a lot of crew-centric activities and have an innovative crew platform dedicated to meeting their needs.’
Understanding and embracing local culture at IGY’s 17 marinas across 10 countries is crucial to success. ‘It’s so important when a boat pulls up that the bartender, the dock hand and the manager are all integrated members of the community,’ adds Bert. ‘They are St. Maarteners St. Lucians, Virgin Islanders, Colombians and it’s important that they understand that this is their marina, not just an island within the community. That attitude is very important to the livelihood of entire nations.’
Never has that attitude been more valuable than during the aftermath of Irma and Maria 18 months ago. Not only did IGY commit serious funds to the cleanup operation and redevelopment, they also pushed further on their community outreach project Inspire Giving Through You, to put back into the areas they operate in, organising hundreds of volunteers to carry out beach and national park clean ups, storm debris clearance and school building renovations.
With confidence fully restored to the region, world class provisioning and highly effective reservation systems, the bar is set even higher than before and the general mood is buoyant.
‘We had vessels returning within months,’ says Bert. ‘Foliage is growing back, infrastructure has been rebuilt and people are looking forward. We’ve achieved a huge amount since the storms of 2017 and our properties are better than they have ever been. Key improvements have been made with dock repairs and amenities are right back at top tier operational levels and are second to none, whether it’s power, electric, water or provisioning.'
‘We had to move forward knowing that our strength is not only during the good times but also in the bad times. We have 500 employees who banded together to make things even better than before. Confidence is strong because of the region’s resilience. There was an education process to the infrastructure but there was never an education process to the spirit of the place because the resilience of the people was never in doubt.’
As one of the largest investors in the region, with opportunities to expand towards destination-approached locations rather than purely marinas, and plans for a 2019 opening in the French town of Sète, IGY is also embracing sustainability with gusto. ‘We take care of our employees and their livelihood, paying a strong living wage as well as taking care of what we have around us, be it the sea, land or air.’
One of the most outstanding jewels in IGY’s crown is Rodney Bay in St. Lucia. Located in the picturesque north west of the island at Gros Islet, Rodney Bay provides one of the safest and calmest anchorages for owners, with five star hotels, a golf course, kite surfing, supermarkets and provisioning a mere five-minute walk away as well as a doctor, dentist and post office.
The four-acre marina also boasts a duty-free chandlery, customs and immigration, rigging and repair at the in-house sail loft as well as a multitude of cuisines including Latin American, Japanese, Italian, Thai and the ubiquitous health food café situated on the waterside boardwalk.
‘The team here are very proud of what we have, it is one of a kind in the southern Caribbean,’ says General Manager Sean Devaux. ‘We are the finish point for the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC) which started 30 years ago and now have a Plus and a World ARC which brings a great buzz to the marina.’
An expansion in 2007 saw Rodney Bay extended by over 100 slips to accommodate 253 berths and the short transfers from Miami, Toronto, NYC, Montreal, Washington and South Carolina as well as 12 flights a week from the UK make it a stress-free and idyllic getaway. 'You can anchor along the west coast from Rodney Bay Marina to the National Marine Reserve beneath the twin Pitons in Soufriere and enjoy diving and snorkeling in 1000ft of turquoise waters.’ says Sean.
'You can sail 27 miles to Martinique or 50 miles south and experience the stunning natural beauty of the Grenadines. A cruiser has the option to easily enjoy different cultures and anchorages in a short distance in the southern Caribbean. Those factors attract the ultimate superyachts such as M/Y Venus and cruisers alike.'
Another undeniable attraction is that St Lucia offers duty free status to any foreign registered vessel, ensuring a seamless transition in terms of bringing in tax-free parts or goods. Many owners take advantage of that benefit to replace engines or other equipment and Rodney Bay also has a state-of-the-art shipyard with a 75 tonne travel lift.
‘We are a one-stop shop and offer consistency with the same team throughout your time with us,’ adds Sean. ‘We get to know the client and that adds the all-important little personal touch.’
A St. Lucian himself, Sean believes cultural links and local networks help tremendously. ‘To be working somewhere you grew up and have a long-established network is a major bonus,’ says Sean. ‘St Lucia is small, and the goodwill of the community here allows us to meet every client’s demand no matter how mountainous the request may be.'
Photo credits: All courtesy of IGY Marinas