Skip to main content

A Brief History of Chartering

The way we were: The Moorings’ BVI base back in the 1960s

The way we were: The Moorings’ BVI base back in the 1960s

The following story is part of SAIL magazine’s recent 50th-anniversary coverage. For more, click here.

Watching a tropical sunset from the deck of a sailboat that’s yours for the week may be a common pastime today, but the bareboat charter industry wasn’t always a thing. Only just over 50 years old, the charter business came from an unlikely place and has evolved significantly in recent years. How did it start, and how has it grown?

A New Jersey dentist, Jack Von Ost, is the father of the modern charter market. He founded Caribbean Sailing Yachts (CSY) in 1967 in Tortola with the idea of creating a fleet of similar boats, professionally maintained and equipped with standard features. He opened with a fleet of 16 Capri 30s and eventually went on to develop two purpose-built designs, including the Carib 41 and the CSY 44. Van Ost also pioneered a number of now-familiar concepts, including owner lease-back programs, onsite provisioning, multi-base operations, a standardized manual for boat systems and suggested local itineraries.

Unfortunately, the company foundered partly due to its own success. When the Peter Schmitt-designed CSY 44 was introduced in 1977, Van Ost decided to build the boats himself to feed the charter business. Although the design proved popular (400 were built from 1977-81), the boatbuilding operations weren’t well managed and soon funneled money out of the charter side of things—so much so that the latter closed its doors in the early 1990s, handing over its remaining bookings to The Moorings.

The Moorings has its own history with founders Charlie and Ginny Cary opening their doors with six Pearson 35s. The company started operating in 1969, also in Tortola. The company eventually expanded throughout the Caribbean and into the South Pacific (Tonga and Tahiti) in 1984. In 1989, the company grew again, this time into the Mediterranean with a base in Greece. Eight years later it introduced catamarans to its growing fleet, setting into motion a trend we see fully realized today.

Other companies also joined the market, including Sunsail, which launched in Greece’s Saronic Gulf in 1974. Founder Janet Green started operations on the island of Aegina with seven 25ft Snapdragons and enjoyed a good run. As Sunsail grew, its parent company took over French-owned Stardust Charters. Then, in December 2005, Sunsail merged with The Moorings, which turned 50 in 2019.

In fact, the charter business has been a bit incestuous throughout its development. Many of the same managers have moved between brands or started new ones. Such was the case with Loïc Bonnet who started at Stardust, made his name at The Moorings and eventually founded his own company, Dream Yacht Charters (DYC) in 2001. Bonnet launched with six boats at a base in the Seychelles, after which he went on an aggressive expansion campaign, enlarging the company by acquisition as well as organic growth. Today, DYC has 1,250 yachts in 60 locations throughout the world.

Of course, many smaller charter companies have popped over the years as well, with dozens of smaller specialty players opening their doors throughout the United States, Europe and Caribbean. These include companies like Horizon Yacht Charters, which have multiple bases, as well as others with a single base, like CYOA in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Cruise Abaco in the Bahamas, Southwest Florida Yachts, or Conch Charter and TMM in the BVI. The end result is a vast fleet of well-built, well-maintained boats aboard which you can enjoy the incredible privilege of being a yacht owner for a week pretty much anywhere in a world—something to think about next time you’re sipping a rum drink in your own corner of paradise. Cheers! 

For more charter advice read Chartering Again for the First Time, Your First Day on Charter and Charter Advice for First-timers.

For the latest on chartering and border openings, visit SAIL's Charter Resource Directory

October 2020

Related

East-River-Rapids

Escape from New York Part 1

I was never supposed to take my boat through New York City. After getting sucked backward through the Cape Cod Canal on my way south from Maine, when the speed of the current exceeded the maximum speed of my little electric auxiliary, I wanted nothing to do with Hell Gate and ...read more

LEAD-Celeste-in-the-Tuamotu

A Watermaker Upgrade

As a classic-boat sailor, I’ve long held that simpler is the better. I still think this is true: a simpler boat is cheaper, she has less gadgets to break down and there’s a certain satisfaction in knowing you’re able to handle a bit of discomfort. Thus, for a long time, I sailed ...read more

01-LEAD-IDECsport_180919_032

Sailing Speed Records

Although the 1903 defender of the America’s Cup, Reliance, was deemed a “racing freak”—the boat pushed design rules to their limit and couldn’t be beaten, at least in very specific conditions—designer Nat Herreshoff was nonetheless onto something. A century later, purpose-built ...read more

BVIFeetup

Chartering with Non-sailors

Three tips on managing the madness First-time charterers and first-time sailors aren’t at all the same thing. One group may struggle with beginner chartering issues, like sailing a multihull, catching a mooring or dealing with base personnel. For the other group, though, ...read more

AdobeStock_455372159

A Gulf Stream Crossing at Night

Even the dome of light glowing above the city behind us had disappeared as if swallowed in a gulp by Noah’s whale. The moon was absent. Not a star twinkled overhead. The night was so dark we could have been floating in a pot of black ink. The only artificial lights to be seen ...read more

00-Lead-549215sJL2uLEa

Summer Sailing Programs

Every year, countless parents find themselves navigating the do’s and don’ts of enrolling their children in a summer learn-to-sail program for the first time. While the prospect of getting your kid on the water is exciting, as a sailing camp program director, there are a lot of ...read more

ntm

Notice to Mariners: U.S.A! U.S.A! (Well, sorta…)

Some thoughts on a couple of recent developments on the U.S. racing scene that are more than a little at odds. To start with, congratulations to the US Sailing Team (USST) and its outstanding showing at the 53rd French Olympic Week regatta in Hyeres, France, with not one but ...read more

01-LEAD-11-Katrina-Zoe-Norbom-850_9438

The 52 Super Series

The 52 Super Series is widely considered one of the top circuits in the world for monohulls, and in this era of rapid change, the TP52—or TransPacific 52—has managed to stay the series’ boat of choice for 10 years. Not only that, but as the class marks its 20th anniversary the ...read more