As yachts get bigger, so do marinas

As the yachts get bigger and more numerous, the Caribbean is running out of parking space.

The answer to this invasion of the so-called mega-yachts? Mega-marinas.

From the Bahamas in the north to St Lucia in the south, island governments and entrepreneurs in the Caribbean and western Atlantic are developing waterfront property and expanding marinas to handle yachts that range from 24m to longer than a football field.

The goal is to lure the ultra-rich yachting set and the millions of dollars it can pour into the local economies.

Leading the pack is Yacht Haven Grande in St Thomas, United States.

Virgin Islands is being upgraded at a cost of $200-million in a part of Charlotte Amalie harbour once so blighted that boaters called it “rat haven”.

Promoted as the largest mega-yacht facility in the Caribbean, the marina has hosted Rising Sun, a 138m, five-storey behemoth with 82 rooms and a generator capable of powering a small town. The mega-yacht, the world’s fifth largest, was built for Oracle Corporation co-founder and CEO Larry Ellison.

Yacht Haven Grande features in-slip systems that can pump 568 litres of fuel a minute, supply ample electricity, remove sewage and oil and provide gourmet food and drink served by marina employees in crisp uniforms.

In Grenada, workers recently broke ground on a privately funded $562-million resort and marina with spaces for 280 boats, a dozen of them for yachts longer than 76m, plus two hotels and hundreds of condos and apartments.

In Puerto Rico, the Ports Authority is seeking a developer for a marina with at least 60 slips for mega-yachts.

And in the Caribbean’s duty free Mecca of St Maarten, the government expanded the Simpson Bay Lagoon channel by 6m and rebuilt a bridge to accommodate the Dutch territory’s increasing mega-yacht traffic.

Critics say the owners of smaller sailboats will ultimately be squeezed out and the environment will suffer. But there is little organised opposition.

“Anything of any mega-size is obviously a concern in the industry, but it doesn’t seem that anyone has raised any red flags,” said Deirdre Shurland, director of the Puerto Rico-based Caribbean Alliance for Sustainable Tourism, a hotel-owners group that advocates eco-friendly tourism.

Meanwhile, the popularity of mega-yachts—for those who can afford them—is red hot.

In 1993, the world had fewer than 700 private owners with boats over 24m. Today, there are an estimated 7 000 yachts over 24m in use, according to ShowBoats International, a publication that tracks vessel construction.

At the same time, Forbes magazine reports there were 793 billionaires last year—317 more than in 2003.

“People want to build their own island, their own safe and secure private world. No better way than aboard a yacht,” said Jill Bobrow, editor-in-chief of ShowBoats International.

Americans, the world leaders in big-boat sailing, are largely driving the craze. But builders say more are emerging from the Middle East, Russia and Eastern Europe.

Mediterranean mega-yacht berths outnumber the Caribbean’s by 10-to-1, according to Michael J Howorth, a British maritime writer and yacht captain. “There’s no place else to build in the Mediterranean and there’s a lot of local antipathy to new marinas.”

In the Caribbean, mega-yachtsmen suffer from “an acute shortage of large mega-yacht marinas”, said British entrepreneur Peter de Savary, a mega-yacht owner who is financing the Grenada project.

Many in the region’s nautical industry, from harbour masters to marine suppliers, say the bigger-is-better trend has taken them by surprise, but they welcome it.

“It’s been great for the economy, so I say ‘Long may the mega-yacht live’,” said Tom Patterson, manager of the Antigua Yacht Club in English Harbour, Antigua, which has slips for mega-yachts.

“These people are the wealthiest tourists in the world.”—Sapa-AP

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