Reports are only now starting trickle in from across the Caribbean and South Florida after Hurricane Irma, one of the strongest Atlantic hurricanes on record, barreled into some of the most popular winter yacht charter destinations. Suffice it to say, the impact appears to be greater than we’ve seen from any storm in a long, long time.
As of this writing, several dozen people are reported dead in the Caribbean, and contact has been lost with the Florida Keys, where the U.S. military is responding in a search-and-rescue effort. French and British military assets are reportedly also en route, as are several cruise ships, with hopes of getting people out and getting supplies in.
This is the scene at the Bitter End Yacht Club on Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands, a heartbreaking video of one of the most popular yacht charter destinations in the world:
The U.S.-based charter yacht brokers I’ve spoken with—many of them evacuating south Florida with their families and pets, fleeing Irma themselves—are already thinking about the upcoming winter charter season. There is serious concern not only for the industry’s friends and families suffering through the current emergency, but also for what’s yet to come. Historically, a hurricane may pummel an island, but yacht charter is able to help with rebuilding efforts by sending tourists who spend the money that the island needs to recover (along with supplies that yacht crew can deliver). The scale of destruction that Hurricane Irma has left indicates that the upcoming season is going to require far more than the usual assistance.
Sint Maarten, for instance, appears to be badly hit. Reports indicate that the airport has been destroyed: a key piece of infrastructure for getting charter clients to the superyachts that usually charter there.
One ray of light I’ve seen so far came from the staff at the Antigua Charter Yacht Show, which sent out an email in solidarity with its sister island, Barbuda (which suffered catastrophic damage), and added that normal operations had resumed for the show’s schedule in December. While the email offered no specifics about possible damage where the Antigua show is held at Nelson’s Dockyard, the Antigua Yacht Club or the Falmouth Harbour Marina, the implication was that the season in Antigua would be able to progress as normal.
Another hopeful sign came in an email from Charter Yacht Solutions, a management company for smaller yachts and catamarans that base primarily in the Virgin Islands. Amid the destruction in the Virgin Islands itself, the charter company is reporting that most of the yachts in its fleet are safe, including some that were in Sint Maarten, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
As the sun rises over Florida this morning, with millions of people under curfew and without power following Irma’s hit last night, we’re all nervously awaiting the damage reports from places like Fort Lauderdale, where some charter yachts were among those brought inland in hopes of escaping the worst of the storm’s impact. The fact that Irma jogged west overnight, while devastating for the people and towns on Florida’s west coast, may be a saving grace for the southeast coast yacht-refit yards that will be needed to have the Caribbean charter fleet ready to go.
Our best wishes go out to everyone that Irma has affected, and we encourage anyone who wants to assist in the islands to work with well-established charities such as YachtAid Global, which has set up this dedicated page on its website for Irma relief.