As the winter 2014/2015 yacht charter season approaches, it might be fair to say the Caribbean is becoming a bit passé. More and more owners are putting their boats in places such as the Indian Ocean and South Pacific, and it looks to me as if the new great horizon for winter yacht charters is the west coasts of Mexico and Central America.
To be clear, crewed charter yachts have long been available on a catch-as-catch-can basis from the Mexican Riviera to Costa Rica and Panama’s San Blas and Las Perlas islands. A few have come and gone every winter, usually en route from Alaska through the Panama Canal to the Caribbean. My first charter in the region was more than a decade ago aboard the 125-foot Delta Marine Centurion, which at the time was trying to open the megayacht charter market there full-season.
Our itinerary included scuba diving with moray eels whose heads were the size of a man’s thigh; pulling fruit off the trees at a banana plantation; river rafting through Class IV rapids and waterfalls; and hiking through tropical forests filled with screeching howler monkeys. (Costa Rica definitely has a different vibe than St. Barth’s.)
That yacht owner’s vision was way ahead of its time. Eco-tourism and a desire to visit new frontiers are both travel trends just now starting to affect the yacht charter industry, and Mexico, Panama and Costa Rica are at the forefront. Edmiston and Company, Fraser Yachts Worldwide, and Sunreef Yachts Charter together are offering more than a half-dozen crewed yachts—big megayachts and entry-level catamarans alike—for charter this winter in Mexico. B&B Yacht Charters just welcomed two yachts into its fleet for year-round itineraries in Panama, where Neo Yachting has been promoting a 68-foot Azimut in the San Blas Islands. Well-respected charter yachts that used to base in the Caribbean each winter, including the 161-foot Feadship Teleost, have started returning to Costa Rica annually; last winter was her third season there.
Now comes word from Yachting Partners International that we can add the 84-foot JFA sailing catamaran Rose of Jericho to the list. She’s another successful charter yacht (one of the largest cats available anywhere) that has spent recent winters in the Caribbean, and is branching out this season with itineraries in Panama and Costa Rica.
Rose of Jericho is a 2002 build that a previous charter client bought in 2010. He did some major refit work on systems and machinery, along with an interior upgrade, to make the yacht ready for cruising in far-off destinations such as Central America. Then he—smartly—spent the past few winter seasons developing a happy clientele of Caribbean charter clients, whispering in their ears that if they want a change of scenery, the yacht they know and love will be spending the next season in Panama and Costa Rica.
It’s a smart business plan, one that combines the current tourism desire for unique experiences with all of the outstanding options that exist in places like Mexico, Panama, and Costa Rica. Marina developments are catching up with yacht owners’ needs for provisioning and other services, and my guess is that during the next five years or so, we’re going to see many more charter yachts heading in this direction, as these early adopters establish the market.
That’s great news for charter clients who want to set the GPS toward a new heading. I’m happy to be in the passenger seat with market trends fully in control at the helm.